Like many empty spaces, the building adopted by The National Museum of the Royal Navy to serve as the Coastal Forces Museum looked more than big enough when empty. But – into it had to go MTB 71 (60 feet), a classic WWII motor torpedo boat, built for Norway but taken up by us in 1939, eventually crewed by the free Royal Norwegian Navy; and CMB – Coastal Motor Boat 331 (55 feet), a takeover of a WWI type being constructed for the Philippines as war began. Measurements had been quadruple-checked, but space was soon swallowed up when the two warships took pride of place. Like all ships, when close up and out of the water they look bigger than their measurements suggest – but make an imposing sight in their new home, telling a story by their very presence.
The site of the Coastal Forces Museum, in which MTB’s 71 and 331 are the star attractions (though there’s much more than the two ships for visitors to see) is opposite Portsmouth Dockyard in Gosport. Priddy’s Hard- 40 acres of farmland, and a boatyard – was bought in 1750 from Jane Priddy and the Vicar of Fareham, Revd. Thomas Missing. The site served for over 200 years as an ordnance depot, storing and manufacturing a fearsome range of banging machinery for the RN. Some of which can be seen now at National Museum of the Royal Navy’s ‘Explosion’!’ museum – including an example of the only type of missile ever to shoot down another, in the Gulf War (left of picture); from HMS ’Gloucester’, under the command of Rear-Admiral Philip Wilcocks CB DSC DL, in defence of the USS ‘Missouri’.
Of course the other shot you need is of the MTB 71 convoy full speed ahead to the Coastal Forces Museum. Fat chance of that on one camera, as the last time we saw the convoy with MTB 71 was when they crossed a bridge to get onto the motorway. After that we’d had it for stopping and shooting – nothing’s more likely to attract the attentions of traffic police, which means possibly a fine, certainly a delay as they tick you off. Dangerous anyway, as you can only use the hard shoulder to set up (scary) or a bridge (hard to get the right one but by chance we managed it.) So – step forward Andy Jones to be second camera, standing by at the gates of Priddy’s Hard – tight on the budget but it just squeezed in.
…with camera, to get shots of MTB’s 71 and 331 en route to their Gosport home at Priddy’s Hard. But it’s very difficult to capture all you need of an A to B journey unless you’ve got about five crews (as if.) You need first to shoot the convoy’s departure (picture). BUT THEN, you’re behind them… and you need to get ahead to set up in time to get a passing shot. Difficult to achieve, as most of the journey had to be conducted on those tidgy little A-roads. So… you somehow get your passing shot… but THEN you’ve got to overtake again. It’s a matter of quiet pride that my colleague David Botwinik and I managed to get what we needed. But we used all that we shot, most unusual in any edit. That’s how tight it was.
Sounds strange for a sea-going vessel, but the two central warships for the Coastal Forces Museum, MTB’s 71 and 331, have already had a peripatetic life on land before their latest journey to Priddy’s Hard in Gosport. They’d ended up at the Fleet Air Arm Museum in Yeovilton, another branch of The National Museum of the Royal Navy, stored off the main site in a large hanger housing stand-by exhibits. So a long journey by road beckoned, and not an easy one either – as anyone who’s ever been to the West Country on holiday knows (don’t get me started.) As they were both very non-operational and well stricken in years, sailing round was absolutely not an option. David Botwinik and I arrived ready and primed to film them en route. We knew it wouldn’t be easy. And it wasn’t.
Maritime Films UK has had many good friends in the leadership of the National Museum of the Royal Navy, to whom we’ll always be so grateful. Here’s one of them – Nick Hewitt. Nick has seen through many of the toughest assignments at the museum, including LCT 7074 – though no-one’s task there is ever easy. Dealing with irreplaceable and large maritime artefacts, i.e. ships, makes walking on eggs a daily duty. Nick’s last achievement for the museum, in close co-ordination with the Coastal Forces Heritage Trust, has been to shepherd a brand new Coastal Forces Museum into the museum’s already comprehensive inventory. It’s at Priddy’s Hard, a former ammunition store across the water in Gosport from the museum’s HQ in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard – already the site of ‘Explosion’, their collection of naval firepower. So… first, get your ships!
You’ll have to bear with this… as always, the Princess Royal gave generously of her time when she formally opened LCT 7074 at Southsea’s ‘D-Day Story’. There were around forty of us to meet. Nothing daunted, the Princess spent real time with everyone – and exchanged friendly words with me about the restoration, before touring the ship and dedicating her. And then she stopped for a moment on the way out to talk to me again (picture – courtesy The National Museum of the Royal Navy.) That gave me a chance to mention that my father, Captain Robert White CBE RN, had been at D-Day – in HMS ‘Hawkins’, shore bombardment, Utah Beach. It mattered because all that I do with Maritime Films UK is in grateful memory of him – a kind and generous father and an outstanding naval officer.
For once, acronyms that make sense! As did the encounter between the Princess Royal and LCT 7074, when Her Royal Highness formally opened the Landing Craft for ‘D-Day Story’ with Professor Dominic Tweddle, Director-General of The National Museum of the Royal Navy (picture courtesy the Museum.) The Princess is Museum Patron – but there’s more to it than that. She is also Master of Trinity House, and shows a deep interest in matters naval and maritime, carrying on her father’s love of the Senior Service – in which, of course, the Duke of Edinburgh served with distinction, notably as a young officer at the 1941 Battle of Cape Matapan, in which the RN successfully fought the Regia Marina; making it clear that the Mediterranean was in no way ‘Mare Nostrum’ – ‘Our Sea’ – as Fascist dictator Mussolini had declared.
Rob is a TV producer, reporter and camera operator with 30 years’ experience at the BBC, Channel 4 and ITN, in news, factual and documentary production. He is a four times award winner, whose awards include a coveted Royal Television Society award for his work on Channel 4 News. His association with The Maritime Foundation goes back to 1995, when he won the first Desmond Wettern Maritime Media Award for a series of reports that led to a major documentary on the loss of the bulk carrier Derbyshire.