MGB 81

MGB 81 is a motor gun boat built by the British Powerboat Company for the Royal Navy and launched on 26 June 1942. She has been fully and carefully restored for the owner by Powerboat Restorations and re-launched in September 2002. 
MGB 81 is unique. She is the only fully restored and operational example of a Royal Navy Coastal Forces MGB which saw active service in WW2. As a result of the restoration techniques used, MGB 81 retains her original performance capabilities but is now stronger, lighter and requires less maintenance. 
Background, History and Restoration  The British Powerboat Company was founded at Hythe in 1927 and during the 1930s was to become the largest manufacturer of pleasure craft in Europe. The company was owned and run by Hubert Scott-Paine. Scott-Paine was a remarkable man. In 1914 at the age of 23, he founded Supermarine Aviation, later to become famous for its Schneider Trophy winners and the Supermarine Spitfire. It was Scott-Paine who hired Mitchell as an apprentice. Mitchell went on to design the Spitfire.

Scott Paine aged 24yrs

The involvement with military powerboats started in 1930 when the company was approached by the Air Ministry to produce an experimental 37'6" craft to act as a seaplane tender. The impetus for this development came from Aircraftsman TE Shaw (better known as Lawrence of
Arabia) who was given liaison responsibility for the development and evaluation of the new boat. The prototype, RAF200, was a great success, adopted by the RAF and put into production. Based on this success, but not content, Lawrence pressed for the development of a larger craft for off-shore work in the event of war. This new boat High Speed Launch 100 was launched in 1935. Alas, Lawrence died before the boat was launched. HSLs went on to play a major role in the war rescuing in excess of 10,000 air crew.

In parallel, the company had been approached by the Admiralty to supply the Navy with motor torpedo boats. The first modern MTB flottila was formed in 1936. These boats were supplied by the British Powerboat Co and incorporated the same hull form as HSL100.

Scott-Paine was convinced that war with Germany was inevitable, that ultimately the US would become involved, and continued to develop larger and more powerful craft. In 1939, he travelled to the US, met with Pres.Roosevelt and, at his instigation, Elco purchased PT9, a Scott-Paine prototype on which his new designs for 70' MTBs and MGBs were based. The first PT boat squadrons were equipped with boats to Scott-Paine designs and, during the war, the US built in excess of 650 PT boats of various types.

A Scott-Paine boat, PT 109, skippered by Lieutenant (later President) JF Kennedy, was rammed and sunk by a Japanese destroyer on 2 August 1943.  

MGB81 was one of a batch of ten 71ft 6in boats ordered for the Royal Navy from the British Powerboat Company on 26th November 1941. She was launched on 26th June 1942. These boats were to the Mark V design, a development by George Selman from the earlier 70ft boats. The hull comprising double diagonal topsides and triple diagonal bottom, all in Mahogany. The design was generally well regarded in respect of construction, performance and seaworthiness amongst all of the 'short' boats. The Mark V hull form was used as the basis for both MTB and MGB with differences in superstructures and armaments. '81' was powered by three American Packard engines giving a total in excess of 3,600hp giving her a top speed of 50mph. She carried ten tonnes of aviation gasoline. Her main armament was a two pound semi automatic (pom pom), mounted forward (later replaced by a six pounder). She had twin 20mm Oerlikons mounted on the aft superstructure, various machine guns, a grenade launcher and up to 12 x 500lb depth charges. For her size she was the most heavily armed ship in the Navy. The first of these new boats, numbers 74 to 81 became the 8th MGB flotilla (later the 1st MTB flotilla), led by Lt Cdr Robert Hichens in MGB77. Hichens was to become the most Highly Decorated and one of the most respected and successful Skippers of the Light Coastal Forces in WW2. Although most Gunboats were reclassified as Motor Torpedo Boats, with torpedoes added in 1943, '81' remained a Gunboat. As a Gunboat, she led in the Landing Craft of the U.S. Invasion fleet on D Day 6th June 1944.

'81' in action
MGB 81 served as part of the Plymouth Command based at Dartmouth and Nore Command based at Felixstowe, although she operated from various other ports on the South and East Coast.

Scott Paine with Lewis Guns

Sister ship 476 at HMS Hornet in 1943

Service life in a Royal Navy MTB was one of constant, repetitive and usually uneventful night patrols in the English Channel and North Sea, punctuated by occasional vicious bouts of action. The enemy comprised German coastal convoys protected by a mixed bag of purpose built patrol boats, escorts and converted trawlers all relatively well armed; The German E Boat was a fearsome opponent. Their primary role was Mine laying and attacking Allied Shipping, they were few in number, hard to replace and seldom looked for action with Coastal Forces. During her three years of action against the Enemy and, apart from various periods of repairing bomb and shell damage, and a two months refit in 1944, '81' was in action almost constantly.

On 13 and 14th August 1942,off Guernsey in company with MGBs 77,78 and 80; the flotilla attacked two armed trawlers at close range, seriously damaging one. In September '75,76,77 and 81 were involved in two actions off the Hook of Holland, first, 10,11, Sept., called to protect three British Mine layers under attack from armed trawlers, then on 14, 15th the flotilla attacked and damaged four armed trawlers as well as two motor vessels.

On 2nd, 3rd October 1942, again off the the Dutch Coast, '77, 78, 80 and 81 engaged four armed trawlers, '78 was sunk and her skipper taken prisoner.

On 27,28 Feb 1943, Hook of Holland, '77,79,81,111 were in gun battle with German convoy escorts, 79, sunk, 81 badly damaged, limped to Brightlingsea for repair.

11,12,September 1943 off Cap de la Hague, in action with enemy coastal batteries, .75, 80, 81 and 111 are engaged; MGB 81 damaged by shell fire, returned to Poole for repair.

27 April 1944, '77 and '81 directed by Kingswear Radar, to engage five E Boats in Lyme Bay on the South Coast. Two E Boats engaged at close range, MGB 81 hit again by sustained enemy fire. This was part of the aftermath of Exercise Tiger in which the American Army practised a beach landing at Slapton Sands, The E Boats attacked in force, 600 US Soldiers were killed, one Tank Landing Ship was lost others damaged. Such was the shock of this attack that news about it was blacked out and not released till well after the War.

6th June 1944, D Day found Gunboat 81 leading in the Invasion Fleet.

23, 24th June 1944, '81 as part a large force of MGBs MTBs, attacked a German convoy leaving Cherbourg, Able Seaman Simpson, Killed in Action during heavy bombardment and '81 limped home again with battle damage.

July 1944, '80 and '81 with two MTBs engaged patrol boats off Cap d'Antifer, the German craft were severely damaged, '81 hit again and returned to base for repairs.

Late 1944, as 30 CORPS  fought its way northward along the Belgium Coast,  MGB 81 was moved to Ostende.

On 27th April 1945, she Paid Off at Poole in Dorset.

Charles Gray