Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Ride in one of the last Second World War high-speed motor boats

by Kathryn Hadley

Portsmouth Historic Dockyard announced this morning, February 9th, the recent purchase by Portsmouth Naval Base Property Trust (PNBPT) of two of the last remaining fully operational high-speed motor boats, MGB 81 and HSL 102, from the Second World War. The acquisition cost £750,000 and was largely made possible thanks to a grant from the National Heritage Memorial Fund.

At the time they were built, the two boats represented outstanding examples of British naval engineering and were amongst the fastest boats of their type in the world. They were designed and built at Hythe (near Southampton) by the British Powerboat Company, founded by the aviation and powerboat pioneer Hubert Scott-Paine (1891-1954). The company later went on to build the Supermarine Spitfire. The boats were known as Spitfires of the Seas. However, they were made only of plywood and had no real armament. With 3,000 gallons of fuel in their tank, they were also particularly vulnerable and exploded immediately if they were hit in the fuel tank.

MGB 81 was used during the US landings at Omaha Beach. After the war, she was disposed of by the Royal Navy and bought by a private owner. The motor boat was later used as an accommodation barge for a sailing school and then as a house boat. MGB 81 was restored in 1988. HSL 102 is the only surviving example of the 100 class high speed launch. She was stationed at RAF Calshot during the Battle of Britain and retrieved wounded soldiers from the sea. As a whole, HSL vessels are believed to have saved a total of 10,000 airmen of many nationalities throughout the duration of the war. In two months, HSL 102 is recorded as having saved 38 men from the North Sea, including the crews of two German bombers. She was restored in 1996 and re-launched by HM Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother.

Both motor boats have now been restored to their working condition and are currently on display at Gunwharf Quays Marina in Portsmouth. Portsmouth Naval Base Property Trust plan to make at least one of the boats available for charter so that people can experience something of their power and speed.


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