Coastal forces of the royal navy

Coastal Forces was a division of the Royal Navy established during World War II under the command of Rear Admiral Coastal Forces.[1]


The Steam Gun Boat Grey Goose
The whaleback high speed air-sea rescue launch HSL 164 off Ceylon
Crewmen with a Molins Molins autoloading 57-mm gun on a Fairmile D motor torpedo boat during World War II

The Royal Navy had previously operated flotillas of small torpedo- and depth-charge-armed craft (Coastal Motor Boats) during the First World War[2]

The first Headquarters was set up at HMS Vernon in 1940. The Chief Staff Officer to the Admiral was Augustus Agar VC who had commanded Coastal Motor Boats during the First World War and British operations in the Baltic in support of the White Russian forces.

Post war MTBs and MGBs were all renamed as fast patrol boats. The Brave class fast patrol boats were the last to be built for the Coastal Forces and the Coastal Forces were disbanded as a separate unit and their last base (HMS Hornet) decommissioned in 1956.

The last sailors to wear the 'HM Coastal Forces' cap tally were the ships companies of HMS Dittisham and HMS Flintham on being taken out of reserve in 1968, before individual cap tallies for these inshore minesweepers had been manufactured and issued.

Units and craft

It included the following types of coastal defence craft:[3]

Type[4] Designation Built Lost Designed purpose
Motor Launches ML, HDML ASR Harbour defense and submarine chasing or for armed high speed Air Sea Rescue.
Motor Gun Boats MGB
Steam Gun Boats SGB 7 1 Hunting down German E-boats
Motor Torpedo Boats MTB

At the outbreak of war there were three flotillas of Motor Torpedo "short boats" between 60 ft (18 m) and 72 feet (22 m) long. These could typically maintain 40 knots and were armed with two torpedo tubes. They were built mainly by the British Power Boat Company, Vospers and Thornycroft.

In 1940 a modified craft, the Motor Gun Boat, was introduced. These were armed with weapons such as the 0.5 in Vickers machine gun, 2 pounder "pom pom", a single or twin 20 mm Oerlikon and ultimately the autoloader fitted 6-pounder gun.[5]

It was also apparent that larger craft were needed as the operational capability of the short boats was too restricted by sea conditions. Fairmile designed a series of larger coastal craft, up to 120 feet (37 m) long. The Fairmile A Type and B Type were Motor Launches and the C Type was a Motor Gun Boat.[6]

In 1943 the Fairmile D Type appeared. It was a motor torpedo boat – nicknamed the Dog Boat – and was designed as a counter to the German E-boat. It could be fitted as either a gun or a torpedo boat, so the designation MGB disappeared and all the craft were labelled MTBs. It was a good sea boat and could maintain 30 knots (56 km/h) at full load. The later D types carried four 18-inch (460 mm) torpedo tubes.[7]

The Vosper Type I MTB appeared in 1943. This was a 73-foot (22 m) craft with four 18-inch (460 mm) torpedo tubes and was capable of 40 knots (74 km/h) maximum.


British "Coastal craft operated mainly in the English Channel and North Sea waters, especially in the build up to the Normandy invasion of 1944. They were also used in the Mediterranean and Norwegian campaigns." They raided St Nazaire and Dieppe. They were used to attack German convoys and their E-Boat escorts, "carry out clandestine raids and landings and pick up secret agents in Norway and Brittany." "The coastal craft were manned by various Allied nationalities including Dutch, Norwegian, Canadian, Australian and New Zealanders."[8]

A number of Captain-class frigates were adapted to operate as coastal force control frigates.[9] These control frigates were involved in the destruction of at least 26 E-Boats,[10]

By 1944 Coastal Forces numbered 3,000 officers and 22,000 ratings. Altogether there were 2,000 British Coastal Forces craft. Affectionately known as the Navy's "Little Ships", they fought over 900 actions and sank around 400 enemy vessels, including 48 E-boats and 32 midget submarines. They fired 1169 torpedoes, shot down 32 enemy aircraft and carried out many mine laying operations. 170 of the "Little Ships" were sunk or destroyed.[11]


The Coastal Forces bases were around the British coast and at major locations overseas.[12][13][14][15]

South coast
West coast
East Coast

Commonwealth coastal forces

Although British Commonwealth coastal forces operated independently from Britain, they used similar vessels:

Coastal forces of Type Built Lost Notes
Canada Fairmile B motor launch
Fairmile D motor torpedo boat
BPB Motor Torpedo Boat
Australia Harbour Defence Motor Launch
Fairmile B motor launch
New Zealand Harbour Defence Motor Launch
Fairmile B motor launch

Surviving craft

Vessel Description Built Builder In the care of Condition
HDML 1387 Medusa Harbour Defence Launch which took part in the Normandy landings.[25] 1943 R.A.Newman & sons Medusa Trust[26] restored to original condition
MTB102 prototype for WW2 MTBs[27] 1937 Vosper MTB102 Trust[28] still seaworthy
MTB 331 55 ft (17 m) stepped hull motor torpedo boat - sole survivor[29] 1941 Thornycroft British Military Powerboat Trust[30] Intention to get her seaworthy
MGB 81 71.5 ft (21.8 m) Motor Gun Boat 1942 British Power Boat Company British Military Powerboat Trust[31] fully operational
HSL 102 64 ft (20 m) High Speed Launch, formerly RAF[32] 1936 British Power Boat Company[33] [34] fully operational
MTB 71 60 ft (18 m) Motor Torpedo Boat 1940 Vosper static exhibit

Some surviving motor launches in British waters were taken on as pleasure boats and a number of them are on the National Register of Historic Vessels.

See also




  • Cooper, Bryan. (1972) Battle of the Torpedo Boats. ISBN 978-0-330-23243-2
  • Holman, Gordon (1944) The Little Ship. London: Hodder & Stroughton OCLC 2300084
  • Konstam, Angus (2003) British Motor Torpedo Boat 1939–45. Osprey ISBN 1-84176-500-7
  • Lambert, John and Ross, Al (1990) Allied Coastal Forces of World War II, Volume I: Fairmile designs and US Submarine Chasers. ISBN 978-0-85177-519-7
  • Lavery, Brian (2006) ISBN 978-1-84486-035-7
  • Kemp, Paul J (1997) ISBN 0-946784-52-3
  • Konstam, Angus and Bryan, Tony. British Motor Torpedo Boat 1939-45. ISBN 978-1-84176-500-6
  • Pickles, Harold (1995) Untold Stories of Small Boats at War: Coastal Forces Veterans Remember ISBN 978-1-85821-176-3
  • Pope, Dudley (2006) Flag 4: The Battle of Coastal Forces in the Mediterranean 1939-1945. ISBN 978-1-86176-067-8
  • Reynolds, L.C. and Cooper, H.F. (1999) Mediterranean MTBs at War: Short MTB Flotilla Operations, 1939-45. ISBN 978-0-7509-2274-6
  • Reynolds, L. C. (2000) Home Waters MTBs at War: Channel and North Sea MTB and MGB Flotilla Operations, 1939-1945. ISBN 978-0-7509-2518-1
  • Reynolds, L. C. and Lord Lewin (2000) Dog Boats at War: A History of the Operations of the Royal Navy D Class Fairmile Motor Torpedo Boats and Motor Gunboats 1939-1945, Sutton Publications Inc, ISBN 978-0-7509-2454-2
  • Reynolds, L. C. (2002) Motor Gunboat 658: The Small Boat War in the Mediterranean. ISBN 978-0-304-36183-0
  • Scott, Peter and Hichens, Antony (2009) ISBN 9781591140412.
  • Royal Naval Museum - Reading list
  • Coastal Forces Heritage Trust - Books About Coastal Forces

External links

  • Royal Navy Coastal Forces Veterans
  • Coastal, inshore and special naval warfare
  • The Coastal Forces Heritage Trust
  • British Military Powerboat Trust: Boat Histories
  • Coastal Forces, Clandestine Naval Ops and Landing Craft
  • Coastal Forces
  • UK National Register of Historic Vessels
  • Royal Navy Coastal Forces training base, mainly for MLs
  • Royal Navy Coastal Warfare Vessels Lost at Sea
  • Motor Launches and MTBs of the Coastal Forces
  • Personal recollections
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