Dog Boats at War: Royal Navy D Class MTBs and MGBs, 1939-1945

Article excerpt

Reynolds, Leonard C. Dog Boats at War: Royal Navy D Class MTBs and MGBs, 1939-1945. Gloucestershire, U.K.: Sutton, 1998. 260pp. $35

There are few untold stories left from World War II, but the actions of the Royal Navy's Coastal Forces can be described as little known and unappreciated. Serving in small plywood craft much like the more famous American PT boats, the Coastal Forces wreaked havoc with Axis forces in British and foreign waters. Operating from small harbors and primitive forward bases, theirs was a war of small, close-knit crews and close action with the enemy. They did it all, from convoy escort to shipping interdiction, clandestine landings to reconnaissance operations, and finally, distant screening for invasion forces. Coastal Forces were a ubiquitous presence in the European theater. Wherever there were Axis forces in coastal waters or areas, the Royal Navy dispatched Coastal Forces to counter them. Yet strangely, little has been published about these deadly fast-attack craft and their courageous crews. Dog Boats at War redresses some of that shortfall in naval literature. Written by a wartime motor gunboat commander, Leonard C. Reynolds, this book tells the Coastal Forces' story with an authenticity that can only be produced by one who was there. Reynolds focuses on the actions that took place during his service in 1942-45, and on the class of boat in which he served, the Fairmile D-class motor-torpedo and motor gunboat (MTB and MGB, respectively). The title, Dog Boats at War, is derived from the nickname given to the rather blunt-looking Fairmile fast-attack craft.

The Royal Navy entered World War II with two flotillas of underpowered MTBs. They proved woefully inadequate against the German Schnellbooten and Italian MAS torpedo boats. The Admiralty tasked Noel Macklin of Fairmile to develop a fast-attack boat to compete with the enemy boats. Macklin's design was ready by March 1941 and was put into production six months later after a rushed but successful testing program. The first boats entered service in the English Channel by early spring 1942. Originally intended as motor gunboats for convoy escort, they were converted to torpedo boats while under construction. Equipped with two twenty-one-inch torpedo tubes instead of a six-pounder cannon, the MTBs proved very effective at intercepting German convoys transiting off the Dutch and French coasts.

The "dog boat" was a simple and robust design, but its performance was not extraordinary. Its 115-foot hull had a blunt semi-hard-chine design and used four Packard 1,250-horsepower engines to achieve a maximum speed of thirty-two knots-some five knots slower than its German or American counterparts. The dog boats were also small in comparison to their opponents but rode better in a seaway. Their superior stability often proved decisive in the rough waters of the English Channel and off the Norwegian coast. In the end, however, it was the crews that made the difference. …