The Navy’s Spitfires of the Seas Story Comes to Life in Museum Exhibit
The story of the stealthy coastal forces who carried out daring night raids on enemy Navy ships aboard small, high-speed attack boats is first told in a new permanent exhibit.
The exhibit, titled The Night Hunters: The Royal Navy’s Coastal Forces at War, tells the story of the small group of courageous young men who took part in the “closest thing to hand-to-hand combat” experienced within the Royal Navy.
Among those who piloted the attack craft were future Avengers star Patrick Macnee, second Doctor Who, Patrick Troughton, famed environmentalist Sir Peter Scott and James Bond director Guy Hamilton.
Coastal forces were established in 1916 for the purpose of conducting torpedo raids and during World War I were involved in anti-submarine operations, interception of suspicious merchant ships, rescue operations and the destruction of floating mines.
They were deployed in the Zeebrugge Raid in 1918, laying smoke screens to cover the cruiser HMS Vindictive and blocking ships as they entered the heavily defended harbor.
By the end of World War II, 1,850 ships had been built for coastal forces who had fired more torpedoes than the submarine service and laid more mines than dedicated Navy miners.
They have participated in over 900 operations around the world, including the St Nazaire Raid, Dieppe Raid and D-Day, and have sunk over 500 enemy ships.
And more bravery awards have been given to coastal forces than any other branch of the service.
Veteran George Chandler, 96, of Haywards Heath, West Sussex, served as a Seaman in the Coastal Forces between 1943 and 1946.
His boat, the MTB (motor torpedo boat) 710, hit a mine in the Adriatic 10 days before the end of the war, killing 19 of the 31 crew members.
Mr Chandler, who was a gunner, told the PA News Agency: ‘Someone must have taken care of me, I look back with pride and part of that pride is in the men around you. while you were on active duty.
“Sometimes when I look back it makes me cry.”
He also described how he was deployed to Omaha Beach on D-Day, where his boat provided security for US forces as they disembarked.
Mr Chandler said, “I was 19 and we saw these young Americans get slaughtered before they could get off their own assault craft. They faced cliffs with Germans using Americans as a training target. “
Of the new exhibit, he said: “I’m flabbergasted, it’s absolutely wonderful, I think it’s well deserved.
In the center of the gallery at the Explosion Museum of Naval Firepower in Gosport, Hampshire, are two of the historic WWII boats, the Coastal Motor Boat CMB331 and the Motor Torpedo Boat MTB71.
Immortalized as the “Spitfires of the Seas”, they were often deployed in the dark, at speeds of up to 35 knots.
Professor Dominic Tweddle, Managing Director of the National Museum of the Royal Navy which operates the Explosion Museum, said: “Their service has all the elements of an incredible story, but unfortunately they often paid off with the ultimate sacrifice.
“They were incredibly brave young men on board really pretty basic boats, loaded with fuel and ammunition, working at high speed, often under the cloak of darkness.
“Their service and sense of duty sends shivers down your spine and we are truly grateful to be working with the Coastal Forces Heritage Trust to open a gallery, so that their story can be shared. “