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Bob C’s  Everything you Didnt Want to Know about British Coast Forces and how to play them.

Bob C’s Everything you Didnt Want to Know about British Coast Forces and how to play them.

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Project Blog by bobcockayne CoG Member

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About the Project

I have had a love of the Fairmile D MTB/MGB for around 30 years, Cruels Sea revived my interest on what to many may be a confusing boat in what may be a confusing aspect of naval warfare.

This Project is Active

Torpedoes the sticky rule problem

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When talking about Coastal warfare and the use of Motor torpedo boats perhaps its a good idea to look at these weapons as they are major feature in most games and can swing games dramatically. As most of the smaller types of gun used by coastal boats were variants of land based wpns we are more familiar with them with their range and effects, but how good are we with torpedes  I think nearly all rules under estimate their effect Torpedo’s and their tracking has always been a bit of game problem. Early 1970’s to 1980′ early naval rules  ran them as almost a short range super gun, in that once in range they were launched and hit in one move with just a variation of the gun rule modifiers. One torpedo hit historically could be the death nell for most ships. Yet how much do we actually know about them, to help with this little project I did a bit of background research on wiki , which may no be accurate but lets use it as a start . So far I’ve only looked at the British Torpedoes being used and that brought some surprises not mention a couple of re-writes of below


The British used two types of Torpedo on its MTB’s initially:

They used the Mark  8 or 10 21″ torpedo initially the mark 8 had a range of 5000 yds at 40 knots carrying a 75olb TNT warhead , this was developed as war went on to a version capable of multiple settings increasing range to 7000 yds and changing the warhead from TNT to a Torpex load of between 722 to 805lb

Torpex developed way back in late 19th century but initially  considered to expensive for military applications is 50% more powerful than TNT by mass explosive power. Its use in Allied Torpedoes in the later part of the war certainly took the Japanese by surprised and had it most dramatic effect in the sinking of the Musashi the Sister to the Super Battleship Yamato, these ship armour belts had been designed to stop torpedoes with tnt and were unable to cope with the more explosive Torpex.






Std 21Std 21" torp MkVIII

They later began to use the lighter Mk15 version of the 18″ torpedo a later version of those developed for launch from aircraft capable of a speed of 40 knots for ranges up to 2500 yds and 30 knots for up to 3500 yds carrying  Torpex warhead weighing 545lb. With the increase in explosive effect this torpedo would be just as effective as the early war 21″




1818" Torp in its Aerial mode.

They also developed  more reliable  detonators  for instance over coming the the problem magnetic detonators which caused nearly tragic problems during the Bismark Breakout. These were improved to the point they would detonate when they got into proximity of the target rather than having to hit. In the Mediterranean this solved the problem the allies had when engaging Axis convoys made up of shallow hulled F-lighters and Seibel Ferries as prior to their development torpedoes where considered useless as they ran to deep and would pass under them.


Gaming Problems

So in just looking at British Torpedoes we have to take into account

A) the different Types

With the small boats in Cruel Seas you could argue that the drop in torp size for British boats was made up by the increase in explosive power, but if large ships such as destroyers are added as many player are requesting then the different sizes need to be taken into account

B) Wartime developments just with British torpedoes (and American) they  became more effective as the war progressed in their explosive effect

This can be easily coped with plus or minus to the dud roles, plus allowing smaller targets to be hit for later periods of the war.

In addition

C) Tracking of Torps

The early rules ideas of they were just a supergun got round the gaming problem of tracking them  but then the  problem with this that they don’t actually move much faster that of warships and around 3-4 times faster than the average Merchantman. But they take time to get there and if spotted the target can try and manoeuvre out of the way. In some ways in fleet actions their ability to actually the target to change course can be almost useful as actually hitting them. One only has to look at the Battle of Jutland, when the High Sea Fleet launched a mass wave of Torpedo’s at the British Grand Fleet, as far a I remember only one hit, but their main effect was to force the British to turn away allowing the now badly mauled German fleet to break of the action.

A lot of modern sets use markers (really nice ones for Cruel Seas) which are placed on table and these then these are moved in a straight line forward, and hits are rolled when they actually hit a model. A die roll is still needed as the model scale is usually much greater than ground(sea) scale. Also a torpedo may not travel is a totally straight line due to sea currents ,weather conditions etc . To reflect this in an old WW1 set of rules we had we had a increasing size of torpedo marker for each move it ran getting wider at the end of each move. in the role to hit the base chance  to hit reduced each move.


D) The fog of war , in are they spotted or not.

The problem with a visable marker  is that the  player who’s ship it is can see it coming and will try and manoeuvre out of way. In 1/300th the scale of Cruels Seas make this more difficult but I have read accounts of some interesting ship manoeuvring in the facebook forums.

Now there is a chance that torpedoes will be spotted particularly when they are fired from the tubes. (One of the reasons the U.S PT boats moved to using aerial torpedoes was because there was a distinctive flash when the traditional tube fired its egg, particularly at  night, aerial torps were dropped in a similar way to mines).

Ideally the torps should be concealed when firing but this is probably more a nightmare than its worth , I remember one set of rules had the idea you stuck a post it on the table with and arrow on it (face  down) pointing the direction it was to go, with a piece of string with move lengths on it and then lai it out if you thought you had a chance of a hit yeah……………that’s so practical, not to mention that your lovely seascape games table looked like it had got measles. We didn’t actually try that one.

An idea we came up with to help with the fog of war was the idea of Dummy Torps. Now obviously these did not exist but the basic idea was that they represented positions were a torp may have been fired if you are an observer. We limited the number mainly for practical gaming reasons, but the idea was that a player would down markers recording whether they were real of dummy. More often than not they were actually real but the option was there and the targeted player never knew.

An idea that has come to mind and we will be trying is to use a similar method to Richard Clarkes Chain of command activation.

In it each unit has its own activation card put in a pack and drawn at random. If a card was put in for torpedo movement and when it is drawn all torpedoes move, I think most of the problems will disappear and so will  the need for dummy torpedoes . The activation system will then allow for spotting or not spotting of incoming torps. A member of one of the cruel seas forum as made some very nice torpedo track Markers out of clear plastic and cotton wool as a movement aid, it looks like he has made to the length torp moves per move so approx 40 cm long by what look like 1cm wide, which he lays down when the move. They look really great and do seem to help him in identifying hits an misses ( he was lamenting his amazing ability to miss and one photo showed a cinematic torp racing down the side of a destroyer without actually hitting it.)

E) The angle at which the torp hits the ship.

I was reading Bryn Coopers ‘War of the Gunboat’s’ and he was explaining the total lack of success of British MTB’s in torpedo attacks, partly due to firing to early which would effect D and how they had to learn the best angles to fire at. Like an armour piercing shell it could be deflected off if it hit at the wrong angle (this was a new one on me) so attacks such a previously mentioned bow on  not only had the problem of it being a smaller target but also the would have the chance of bouncing off.




Coastal Forces Tactics Part two game play ideas

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Off course having mentioned what actually happened in most of the actions how do you play it?

Now for any of the non historically minded games who have read above and have not stormed off in disgust , pulled their hair out etc .

I know most games now hand wavium spotting.

But spotting and detection but if played right can be made fun,  and give lots of tatcical advantages almost as a separate part of the game (I,m thinking how this would work as I write)

If you get the stealth and hidden movement too accurate you end up both sides sailing past each other ( this actually happened in a trial game we had when play-testing my own set of Rules aptly named ‘Dog Boats’.) No this may be historically accurate but not a lot of fun. But without some sort of hidden movement and fog of war , you are going to find your little motor boats are going to be turned to floating plywood before they can get into firing positions for their torps, and even then the target can see the torps coming and try to manoeuvre its way out of the path.

One of the things that comes out of reading the historical engagements was that torpedo boat loss’s  often came about because they were surprised by a previously unseen enemy, even when engaged in battle a boat could be surprised by a previously hidden opponent  coming out of the night often at quite close and very deadly ranges. This meant that it was not necessarily the wpn with the biggest range but the one able to punch out the most destructive power in a short period that was the most effective.




But But

As can be seen once a boat was speeding up in action its wake made it begin to stick out like as saw thumb , another hidden boat may easily get the jump on it.


Another aspect difficult to game is the friendly fire problem , often escort vessels in the heat of an engagement could miss-identify their own boast as enemy and some quite fierce firefights could result, often allowing the actual enemy to slip away. Many British Accounts mention this of German escorts when they engaged them. Which is not totally surprising as often the Gun-crews on German escorts were not actually Navy but were either Army or Luftwaffe co-opted into the role (particularly on F-lighters and Siebel Ferries) who may not have got there sea legs and may never have seen an MTB/MGB before.

A very basic method in games is just to put the models on the table and then role to see if they spot, but this method does not really reflect the above aspects of the genre.


Now for any of the non historically minded games who have read above and have not stormed off in disgust, pulled their hair out etc.

I know most games now hand wavium spotting rules and detection but if played right can be made fun, if you use Richard Clarkes of Two Fat Lardies you could have  a patrol phase almost as a separate part of the game (I,m thinking how this would work as I write).



Now a couple of ideas come to mind , using a variation of Richard Clarkes of Two Fat Lardies  patrol phase from chain of Command , moving blinds until they get within a roughly effective spotting range which may be scenario specific based on type of night fog etc . Then role for spotting, if spotted place the actual model a specified distance in any direction from the spot , or take the blind off completely at the controlling players discretion ( he has to be careful in completely removing the blind as each time he does it reduces the no of places he can deploy) and if not place a marker and on idea would be to use any spare plastic model boats of either side, painted in black or grey or even white.


Keeping the Cruel Seas activation dice idea you put in one dice (possibly a different colour)

This acts as the activation point for all that player’s non revealed markers. When pulled that player can move it as a blind or reveal it as part of his force, taking the action at that point and then putting its actual dice in the bag.


This give players the option to stay hidden but suffer a limit to the times they activate or be seen and activate more often. But it should also allow player to activate and draw their opponents attention whilst other ships remain hidden, Give  a  negative  effect on spotting roles, if a ship is actually engaging an enemy.

Coastal Forces Tactics

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For most people Coastal warfare if they are aware of it at all are taken in by the Image as shown in Part 1 on the Airfix box of boats charging into action, all guns blazing, shell splashes all around them as the target and its escort fires everything including  the coal scuttle helmets at them.


In fact that is very much one of the early scenes in ‘They were Expendable’, to some extent the box cover on Cruel Seas could also give that impression.

Even the S-boat image has thems shown speeding into actionEven the S-boat image has thems shown speeding into action

Hollywierd may have done above for the dramatic effect, and it may have been true in some of the very early engagements particularly as the many of the early British MTB’s were modelled on the WW1 Coastal Motor boats which droped the torpedo out of the back and therefore charging forward  intially at full speed was a necessity to avoid the ‘briefly ’embarrassing prospect of being hit by your own torpedo.


It was certainly the view that many of the Worlds Navies had of how they would be used to some extent based on how they envisioned the old Torpedo boats and Torpedo Boat Destroyers in Fleet actions.


To anybody reading that wants to play it the way fine have fun and I would not want to put you off but having played one game already you will find it fairly bloody , I sank my target but lost all my boats. Again fine if that’s what you want and for a quick evening game can’t fault you as you will be getting a game based on the few but fun movies on coastal warfare.


So far my project has been mainly about giving players enough background so you know what your lovely little models actually represent as they are not the normal Destroyer, Cruiser , Battleship , Aircraft Carrier that you may have envisaged when thinking of modern(ish) naval warfare.


But…….. Wait for it!

Bill Slim commander of the 14th Army in Burma in WW2 commented in his book on the campaign in Burma:


‘Why does the British Army always fight  its battles in the Dark in the pouring rain, on  a hill were two maps meet’.


For much of coastal warfare the above (apart from the hill) the above pretty much applies.


Not sure of exact figures but around 95% of battles fought by coastal forces were at night, though they did try to avoid the pouring rain as it generally meant bad weather, even moonlit nights were frowned on.

Ideally Torpedo boats liked to lay in wait either stopped or running silently at low speeds on known convoy routes. They would then fire the torps and if not spotted would slink away hoping that the escort would not spot them , and only racing away at top speed if spotted. . In some instances this was such a successful tactic that if the target was alone or had next to  no escort the resulting explosion would be put down to mines. I have read accounts from Survivors of ships sunk in such actions that the first thing they knew was being woken up by a bang to find the ship sinking beneath them.

This was not an unsurprising mistake to make as a lot of coastal boat missions on both sides had involved laying mines in estuaries of the enemy’s ports.

Until the development of effective small radars even spotting the target could be very hit an miss as both sides were basically  sleeping black cats in the dark. A primes example of this is the famous case on PT109 being cut in half at night  by the very Japanese Destroyer it was trying to catch. The best that could be  generally expected  would be a possible movement of  silhouette in the murk, and in fact most times the enemy was located by sound rather than sight.


Coastal Forces Tactics

If they still had torps unfired they would try it again if they were able to shake of pursuit in the dark. This was also the tactic if spotted before they were able to get into a suitable firing position.

British coastal forces had the added problem in that Germany had a small mercantile navy compared to the British Merchant navy at the time, so there were far less targets available to them than their German Adversaries  and what their was had much heavier escorts on their coastal convoys often with only a couple of merchantmen escorted by about 10 or more escorts made up of Armed Trawlers , Corvettes not to mention S & R boats.

With the splitting of British Coastal Forces into MGB’s and MTB’s a favoured tactic particularly if engaging heavily Escorted German Convoys was for the the two types of flottilla to stalk the convoy from opposite sides and then the the MGB’s would charge in all guns blazing as per the image above to draw off the escort whilst the MTB’s would continue to quietly stalk their prey , loosing off their torps and slinking off in the confusion.

  1. In fact though engagements by both sides were actually rare, and being engaged by the enemy was rarer. Even then early in the war both sides motor boats carried insufficient firepower to really damage their opposite numbers, and most early damage on reading accounts tends to be from them ramming accidentally their own side , the dock , passing seagulls etc.
  2. In fact one of the 1st times British MGB’ managed to catch and sink an S-Boat had been when the German force had managed to ram each other in bad visibility and were then ‘bounced’ by a force of Gunboats led by Lt. Cmdr Hitchens.

‘Long periods of boredom punctuated with brief moments of sheer terror’, probably sums it up .

So if playing historical you need rules for night time with spotting rules a must.

Cruel Seas does have night rules but they are in the scenario briefs if you have not found them yet.


Dog Boats 'The Fairmile D

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The Fairmile D


We now come to the main protagonist of this project the famous’ Dogboats’ a name given them to by the press at the time. From the outset heavily armed , initially being built as either MGB’s or MTB’s with the later carrying  less gun mounts if favour of 2 x 21″ Torps.


Again designed by Bill Holt of the Admiralty to specifically combat the e-boat threat some 227 where completed beginning in 1942 with MGB 601 the  first handful of boats did not have the distinctive torpedo baffle in  the hull. 115 ft long and weighing with std load 102 tons for the MTB and 90 for the MGB. Capable initially of around 31 knots it their single form dropping to 29 knots with the later combined boats.


The MGBS had respectable armament intially of 1 x 2pdr pom pom  on the bow , an old Hotchkiss 6pdr at the stern, a powered twin 20mm amidships , 2x twin .50 Hmgs either side of the bridge and around 4 x twin .300 vickers k guns scattered around the boat.

The main difference with the MTB is there was no rear 6pdr , the twin 20mm taking its place and no midship gun , but carrying 2x 21″ torpedoes.

top layout of MTB minus torps and lower the MGB layouttop layout of MTB minus torps and lower the MGB layout

The forward 2pdr was replaced on both types by a naval version of  6pdr anti tank gun with a semi automatic loader and was a totally different type of gun to the old Hotchkiss still on the back.

Later 6pdr mountLater 6pdr mount

This on the later comibined boats was also replaced by a the by 6pdr semi auto.

The .50 vickers had an inability to penetrate the armoured briges on and were replaced by single 20mm orlkens at the very least some may have been twin manual mounts. There is  a fuzzy picture  in the book ‘Dogboats at War’ of one on the Thames which could be both mountings on the Bridge sides and fordeck.

Late Dog boat 55th FlotillaLate Dog boat 55th Flotilla

Dogboats were operated by the RN the Royal Canadian and about 7 boats by the Norwegian Navy who braved  long North Sea crossing from the North of Scotland to operate in the Fiords of Norway.

They could be in mixed flotillas operating with their smaller brethren or Dogboat only flotillas like the 55th (famous for the shark teeth bows on the front on most books on Fairmile D’s) operating in the Channel, North Sea, Med and Aegean. In the latter two theatres they could operate in Battlegroups with American PT’s the former providing the gun power and the later acting as scouts as they were equipped with Radar.

The 1st Dogboat Gunboats on the way to the MedThe 1st Dogboat Gunboats on the way to the Med

Steam Gun Boats SGB' s and MASB's

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  1. These are the the missing Coastal types mentioned in part 1.

Motor Anti Submarine Boats

  1. MASB’s Originally intended as named for coastal waters , their design by the  BPP company lent itself to use as MGB’s due to their heavier armament 60′ long and armed with 2 or 4 .50 vickers HMG’s and a 3pdr.

Steam Gun Boats SGB’s

Originally 60 were ordered but this was reduced to only 7 as one was lost in its 1st action due to the vulnerability of its steam powered engine. Re-armoured thes boats built by Denny are considered the Battleships of Coastal forces at 145 ft in length and weighing 175 tons, initially modestly armed they later bristled with gun ranging from multiple 303 vickers k guns to a 3″ and could include multiple 2pdr pom poms , 6pdrs and 20mm orlikons in both single and twin 2x 21″ torpedoes and mines.

They were of sufficient size that they lost their SGB no (3-9 , 1 & 2 being cancelled) and were given animal names pre fixed by the word Grey to beome Grey Wolf, Grey Fox, Grey Seal, Grey Owl, Grey Shark and the most well known Grey Goose. The latter mainly to its skipper wartime book ‘Battle for the Narrow Seas’, by Peter Scott who became a well known ornithologist in the 60′ and 70’s, plus he was the son of Robert Scott or Scott of the Antartic.

SGB in its early wpns layoutSGB in its early wpns layout
SGB later wpn layoutSGB later wpn layout

Part 2 Long and Short boats

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To make British Coastal Forces even more confusing when then have the types broken down to Long or Short boats which could appear in nearly all the major coastal force types.

MTB’s, MGB’s and ML’S.


The short boats are probably the ones most people are familiar with and include both the Revell and Airfix MTB’s the RAF rescue launch etc. Ranging from 60′ at the start of the war to 73′ ft at the end. On the whole built by 2 main companys Vosper and British Power Boat or BPB, with the former producing MTB’s and the later initially MASB’s becoming MGB’s and later excellent MTB’s




Part 2 Long and Short boats

The Vospers designs increased in size as the war progressed for 70′ to the 72.5 shown above and finally the 73 ft design shown earlier in the Airfix version.

All the boats armament increased  as engines got more powerful eventually would become heavily armed mounting 6pdrs/2pdrs and mulitple Orliken 20mm in both unpowered and powered variants, until most boats carried as standard a Semi auto 6pdr on the bow, and powered or unpowered twin 20mm amidships and various .5 and 303 machine guns usually mounted on the tubes

Part 2 Long and Short boats

Whilst Vosper concentrated on MTB’s , British Power Boat worked on MGB’s

developing the pre wars MASB , as it was found that aircraft were more than capable of keeping U-boats out of coastal waters , their 1st MGB’s were mainly variations of this design, but even these were found to have insufficient armament to counter the e-boat menace. By 1942 a new more powerful 71ft design was introduced initially armed with a 2pdr pom pom on the bow and a power operated 20mm orlikion in a powered turret set high and capable of firing over the bridge. Eventually this design was converted into what became possibly the most effective of the short designs mounting 2x torps 1 x6 pdr and a twin Orliken similar to the Vosper Mk 2 73 ft boats.

The long boat came about as the above had generally been to lightly armed to deal with e-boats and were an attempt to rectify the problem by building a bigger boat and the Fairmile company was approached.


As it happened shortly before WW2  the British industrialist Noel Macklin   had already submitted to the Admiralty  an innovative plan for the series production of a an ML. The design used prefabricated parts, which allowed various small concerns, such as furniture and piano manufacturers, to produce the individual components. These components could then be assembled in separate shipyards. The hull was to be made of double diagonal maghony  planking with plywood  frames divided into nine watertight compartments.

Initally the Navy  rejected the concept, but the prototype was built as a private venture. In July 1939, two months before the outbreak of war, the Admiralty had a change of heart and awarded Macklin a contract to build eleven further Type A Fairmiles.

Fairmile AFairmile A

From this small start 3 more types of long boat were developed


The Fairmile B Motor Launch


Using the same pre faricated design idea Bill Holt from the admiralty came up with the idea for a different type of long boat base on based on the lines of a destroyer hull Fairmile took up the idea and took over the  design.


Over 600 were built and as previouslty mentioned they served pretty much all over the world and in most of the Commonwealth Navies and 16 the 18 motor boats sent on the St.Naziare raid, losing 12 of their number due to their light frames. Some of  them became slow MTBS for the raid as they were given torpedoes for targets of opportunity.


They were pretty much maids of all work , escorting convoys , minelaying, acting as navigation guides during the Normandy Invasion etc.

Fairmile BFairmile B
  1. The Fairmile C MGB


Pretty much intermediate design learning from mistakes on the Fairmile A , 24 boats were built and were used for close escort work , 5 were lost during the war one MGB 314  being the sole MGB at St Naziare which although heavily damaged survived the battle,  but was later scuttled on the way home to prevent capture by the Germans.

Fairmile CFairmile C

Part 1 How I became interested in the Fairmile D, and British coastal Forces in General.

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The whole coastal warfare genre can look like a bit of minefield to non-historically orientated gamers and when I began playing it in the ancient past it was even more a mystery with only a few tables in a at the time a new set of rules  and few basic models in 1/1200th to go on. My only knowledge of the genre had been the old two PT boat movies, ‘They were Expendable’ and PT109. The later my father had taken me to see when I was a Bairn, I never remembered the film title and came to call them Machine Gun Boats ( I also saw the tv series ‘The Rat Patrol’ and came to call jeeps machine gun trucks)


Later I learned the British had Machine gun Boats from  the airfix models of the Late Vosper MTB’s and the RAF Launch and poss the PT’s by Revell. plus the dastardly Germans had them in the form of E-boats with Airfix’s early E-boat model  .These were always shown as the fast sleek boats from the box covers. The only other boats I knew about was the Denny Steam Gun Boats, particularly the ‘Grey Goose’ as there had been a series of articles on building one in the old Military Modeller magazine.

Part 1 How I became interested in the Fairmile D, and British coastal Forces in General.
  1. Therefore depending which side of the pond you are on , it your knowledge may be of either the battles with PT’s in the Pacific or Battles in the Channel and North Sea. In fact though during WW2 it happened just about anywhere there was a coastline, shallow waters, islands etc. and extended to Norway , the Med. Aegean, Normandy Invasion, Black Sea, and involved British MTBs, MGBs, German S Boats, R Boats, Italian MAS boats Russian boats both mass produced and cobbled together locally, likewise for the Japanese, not to mention Frigates, Corvettes, Minesweepers, Sub Chasers, Ferries, landing craft and just about anything that floated and you could put a gun on.


Therefore the Fairmile ‘D’ or old Dogboat as it was nicknamed, to many may be a bit of funny beast to anybody being introduced to it the New Warlord Game ‘Cruel Sea’s. This is not helped by its designation  of MTB/MGB a boat that appears to be on steroids, powerfully armed and for its class fairly slow. I know when 1st came across in its 1/1200th version from a long gone company Leicester Mirco models wasn’t sure. what to make of it.

The little model itself wasn’t much more the MTB shaped blob with little detail and in the game itself it always suffered at the hands of a late war S boat due to peculiarity in the rules we used at the time. It later turned out that the version of S boat we were using with 3 x twin 30mm mounts was rare if ever seen at all. It then turned out its main weapon the twin 30mm had never got past testing stages. We were not helped that in those days by  no internet and books on subject were rare and expensive , if available even if I could find them as a 6th former at school so as a project it sort of went on a back burner during my entry into the RAF other than reading the occasional Douglas Reeman book when on night shift. Funnily enough this novel gave quite a good account of Fairmile D later in the book


Part 1 How I became interested in the Fairmile D, and British coastal Forces in General.
  1. This caused even more confusion as the armaments mentioned had no relation to the models I had seen or made.


I have since learned quite a lot about Dogboats and with their release by Warlord, which show 6pdrs the wrong way round on the Warlord preview models I thought I would pass on  what I know in a quick guide.



A brief description of the British Boat types

The Royal Navy had 6 types of fast boats

Motor Torpedo Boats( MTB’s), Motor Gun Boats (MGB’s), Steam Gun Boats( SGB’s) , Motor Launches (ML’s) Harbour Defence Motor Launches (HDML’s) and Motor Anti Submarine Boats ( MASB’S).


The Fairmile D is often described as an MTB/MGB as initially it was either one or the other though by around the end of 1943 this changed as pretty much all MGB’s of all types had torps fitted and became MTB’s. A question that comes up is why did the British have these so many  types when both the Germans and Americans combined them in the their S-boat and PT boat designs




The Torpedo boat had been around since the development of the modern Torpedo by Whitehead way back in 1866 and had been quickly developed by numerous small powers as cheap deadly way to counter the massive Battle Fleets of the major powers right up to the outbreak of WW1. In fact the development of Destroyers in today’s modern fleet can be traced to the Gunboats or Torpedo boat destroyers developed to counter them. In fact German Destroyers throughout the 1st world war were still called Torpedo boats.

They had gone through various incarnations appearing and disappearing in the world navies despite some spectacular success by both the Italians and British at the closing stages of WW1 and Russian Civil war.

The Germans had developed the early S-boats (E-boats to the unfamiliar) as a fast way of gaining some parity with the vastly superior numbers of the Royal Navy, and in response a handful of boats had been built based on the coastal motor boats of WW1 by 1940 consisting of 3 flotillas one in the channel, one in the med and one at Hong Kong. This developed into 100’s of boats by the end of the war

Initially lightly armed gunwise the armament grew as the war developed and better wpns became available.



One of the reason this type of boat came into being was the small no’s of MTB’s avail at the start of the war and the need to provide some sort of protection to the numerous Convoys that ran up the East coast of England.

Secondly early MTB’s main weapon the torpedo took up much of the wpn carrying capacity of the small boats leaving very little room for offensive wpns other than a few machine guns with the heaviest wpn being the twin .50 vickers machine gun. Most were lighter wpns generally Lewis guns in single, twin or in some cases quad mounts. None of these wpns were really capable of stopping of sinking the s-boats that were starting to cause heavy damage to the coastal convoys.Torpedoes were unable to target these shallow hulled vessels and would have been a wasteful use of such a wpn  on such small targets.

A fast heavily armed torpedo boat destroyer was needed, almost in parallel to the early development of the Destroyer mentioned above. As it happened a boat had been designed with slightly heavier armament the Motor Anti Submarine  Boat or MASB and these were pressed into service as early gunboats.


One of the big problems with theses stop gaps was again the lack of heavy armament capable of stopping the s-boats. Particularly as the heaviest armament  (3pdrs or if avail 20mm orlikens) was at the back  and in most case the  boats would be fighting stern chases as the S-boats tended to attempt to avoid combat when intercepted.

Various ideas began to be developed to find a solution, see part 2


Motor Launches ML’s

I remember a description of these as being slower and less heavily armed all round motor vessels than the specialised MGB’s and MTB’s and on 1st seeing one was certainly confused by the less heavily armed bit as it was covered in guns most heavier than the average MTB.


  1. In fact it was an early war description and similarly to the brethren they became increasingly more heavily armed as the war went on, they were effectively the British version of the German R boat )again which was a boat used for multiple purposes and sometimes confused with S-boat as they were all called e-boats or enemy boats by the allies). They actually served in all theatres of the war , in fact being the only British Coastal forces used in the Pacific post the fall of Hong Kong in 1942

Harbour Defence Motor Launch (HDML)

I don’t know a fat lot about these apart from having some models in my 1/6ooth collection so have added the description below from Wikipedia

HDMLs were originally intended for the defence of estuarial and local waters, but they proved such a seaworthy and versatile design that they were used in every theatre of operations as the war progressed. They were to be found escorting convoys off the West Coast of Africa, carrying out covert activities in the Mediterranean and undertaking anti-submarine patrols off Iceland. They also played major roles in Operations Glimmer and Taxable, deception operations to draw German attention away from the Normandy landings.

In Royal Australian Navy service they were used for coastal patrols around northern Australia, New Guinea and Timor, and for covert activities behind Japanese lines in South East Asia.

HDMLs were initially transported as deck cargo on larger ships for foreign service, which is why their length was restricted to 72 feet.[clarification needed] Later in the war, with many merchant ships being sunk, it was found to be much safer to move them abroad under their own power. Some HDMLs, undertook fairly substantial ocean voyages. Many belonging to the Mediterranean fleet sailed from the UK to Malta via Gibraltar in convoy, voyages which necessitated going well out into the Atlantic in order to keep clear of the enemy occupied coast. Three HDMLs were fitted with a second mast and sails with the intention of sailing to the Caribbean. In the event, they did not make this voyage, joining the Mediterranean fleet instead.

British HDMLs were normally manned by Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR) officers with temporary commissions, and “hostilities only” ratings. The crews, however, gained an enviable reputation for their skill and expertise in the handling and fighting of their vessels.[citation needed]

Part 1 How I became interested in the Fairmile D, and British coastal Forces in General.

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