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15 October 2014
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His Majesties Motor Gun Boat No. 21 Part 4

by BBC Southern Counties Radio

Contributed by 
BBC Southern Counties Radio
People in story: 
J E Quinlan
Location of story: 
English Channel
Background to story: 
Royal Navy
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
02 July 2005

This story was submitted to the Peoples War site by Jas from Global Information Centre Eastbourne and has been added to the website on behalf of J E Quinlan With his permission and he fully understands the site’s terms and conditions

His Majesties Motor Gun Boat No. 21

Each message was numbered and details as to who they were addressed, time, indication of priority, etc all entered in a “ships” radio log, which was open to withdrawal and inspection by naval H.Q. On one occasion, at dead of night, when taking a message to the captain on the bridge I saw that there were four or five other navy vessels within a stones thrown distance from us including a British destroyer, (H.M.S. Onslow?) but no one told me what was going on, but it was obviously a pre-arranged rendezvous, I wondered if we were testing out the I.F.F. equipment.

Looking back I would say that our role in the channel was to act as a as a decoy in an attempt to bring the German E-boats out of the French ports so that they could be targeted; to give some protection to slower vessels; French coastline and installation photography and air sea rescue (saving our pilots and others that had to ditch in the English Channel), also that we were being used as one of a number of fixed “position” craft at sea using the Radar and I.F.F. sets for this purpose where we and our position in the channel of course could be recognised immediately by other British craft.

On one morning the captain asked me to take an addressed sealed letter to the American officers quarters and deliver it to the addressee personally. These officers had taken over the accommodation from our soldiers manning the big guns on Portland, it comprised a large dormitory holding around twenty four beds each with a dressing table on which stood various spray bottles and potions which at first made me think that someone was playing a trick on me as the place had a smell of sweet perfumed fragrance which made me wonder if I was in the females dormitory.

However I found the officer, handed him the letter and returned to the boat, and the next day probably as a result of what was contained in the letter the captain took the boat outside the harbour “for exercises” and trials later in the day, the sea was very calm with hardly a ripple, but we stopped engines and waited for an American P.T. boat to appear from inside the harbour, then there was a race over a couple of miles between the boats, with only a few yards away from each other, this I thought may have been an officers betting job, (?) we won but, I was told later, only by holding the automatic engine cut out buttons down (which previously I had been advised was highly dangerous).

Our boat was apparently touching forty nine knots at the end of the race, or should I say trials, a speed still considered very fast fifty years later, but during the build up, when racing parallel, according to one of our seaman, when the boats were racing neck and neck, a coloured P.T. engineers head appeared from a deck hatchway and shouted out “wheeze jess driftin along man”; my own opinion was that these war games are alright until something goes wrong, then they start looking for a scapegoat.

It may be considered, by cynics, that these naval gunboats were just rich boys toys and the war was just a game to them, but they had to have maniacs that would attack larger and faster boats and ships without a thought of personal danger to them (or their crews.) The original peace time job of the gun boat was to chase and apprehend smugglers, gun runners and other fast moving vessels but the British motor torpedo boat was built for aggression and even though much slower than us, carried adequate small arms, sometimes with a fifty millimetre gun aft in addition to the torpedo tubes on the port and starboard sides, the boat was intended to fire its torpedoes at the target, turn, and get away as fast as possible using the larger calibre gun on the stern if necessary to assist in the “escape”, and if things got a bit hectic, use the smoke making canisters to confuse the enemy, its use all depending on the strength and direction of the wind of course.

We had a flotilla of these larger “D” class torpedo boats moored to a jetty some distance from us but generally “guests” on other boats were not allowed, except for the officers.

German E-boats (I don’t know where the letter E came from as the Germans called them “S” boats, schnelboote) had been developed over many years pre-war and were far better in every respect than anything we had having a faster speed, and easier to manoeuvre, with up to date equipment (and fully trained crews), which the Americans attempted to emulate with their recently built P.T. boats, but their boats were not equipped with the new British invented I.F.F. or Radar systems, fitted on our boats.

With the new captain aboard and the action he took on arrival, the general assumption was that perhaps life would be more arduous with increased discipline but there were no inspections or religious services.

Although he had apparently only been in Portland a few weeks he was already dating one of the WREN officers, and talking of getting engaged (her suggestion) so he said, which luckily for us took up all his spare time. Later he even asked me on the boats bridge what I thought of the idea of getting engaged and excitedly showed me the diamond ring that he had bought her, I told him that it could be considered as a bond between two people and he seemed satisfied with my response, I presumed that he was so pleased with this conquest that he had to tell someone, although why ask me?

The food on board was average considering Jock prepared and cooked it.

A fixed sum of money was allocated to the boat according to the number of crew members and was obtained from the Royal Navy food warehouse, almost like a poor mans Tescos except that no money changed hands, the officers dined and wined ashore in the officers mess, in style, waited on by navy stewards.

There’s a memory lapse on my part on this subject as to the facilities for crews at the coastal base so it could not have been all that important, although the Royal Navy had established a depot with catering and accommodation there for many years.

One morning there was a call from the navy postman high on the jetty and he called out my name after throwing the mail down, I waved acknowledgement and he dropped a small parcel on the deck.

It however missed the boat completely and dropped into the sea and one of the seamen quickly grabbed a boat hook and whisked it back on board, I tore off a letter that had been tied on the outside wrapping paper and then kicked the parcel back into the sea again, the smell was absolutely awful.

The parcel contained an uncooked chicken which my mother had posted to me a few months previously and it had got lost in the post, (no sense of direction like a racing pigeon) I never mentioned anything in my letters about it, I doubt whether we could have cooked even a fresh one anyway, but it jogged my memory to the fact that now she was keeping chickens in the back garden, mainly for the eggs.

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