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the crew of mtb 255
The men of MTB 255, destroyed in the fire and explosion at Ostend in February 1945 with the loss of ten of her crew. Able Seaman Cyril Roberts Nightingale, age 20, who died that day, is seen sitting front right of picture. (© C Stonier)

Anniversary of the Ostend Disaster — 14TH February 1945

February 14th is the anniversary of a catastrophic accident that occurred in Ostend Harbour, Belgium: one which saw the greatest single loss of life suffered by Coastal Forces personnel — sixty-two killed and many others injured — when twelve boats were destroyed in a fire and explosion there.

upturned motor torpedo boat in harbour after fire and explosion in ostend
Aftermath of the fire and explosion in Ostend Harbour © Library and Archives Canada

Eye Witness Testimonies

Leading Seaman Ken Forrester

“It was a rest day, and half the crew had been taken on a sightseeing trip to Brugge for the afternoon. It was around 3 o’clock in the afternoon. I had volunteered to make the tea and went up on deck to go to the potato locker which was just below the bridge. Before I got there I saw flames and smoke rising from the middle of a group of Tony Laws’ 72’ 6” Power Boats that were berthed in a large lock entrance some 30 yards away...I was just passing over the gangway that was level with the wall when the boat that was on fire blew up with a huge WOOMPH! like noise...Ammunition was exploding, torpedoes going off, pieces of flaming boats everywhere.” Ken Forrester

Chief Petty Officer Motor Mechanic Ron Matthews

“I was happily filing away at the vice in the engine room when there was a massive explosion followed by several more. We were tied up next to the jetty and there were at least two more boats tied alongside us. There were many MTBs, and MLs tied up in the harbour and my immediate thought was that Gerry was having a go at us and we were all sitting ducks...I started all four engines and put them in forward and then aft trying to break the ropes tying us to the jetty but they did not break.” Ron Matthews

Lieutenant Frank Lovegrove

“My HDML 1280 was tied up just outside the entrance to the dock...As I recollect, it was about 2 o'clock in the afternoon when I became aware of frantic activity amongst the trots of MTBs a cable’s length or so further down the harbour...There must have been noise as explosion amongst the boats succeeded explosion and engines started up, but in my minds eye today, things present themselves as in a silent film, as the trots broke up with the boats frantically casting off the one from the other and heading for the harbour entrance and the safety of the open sea, some bursting into flames or exploding as they went.” Frank Lovegrove

Chief 3rd Class James Lonie

“In order to remove wrecked boats we obtained the services of a dutch ship crane as an uplifter. As the torpedoes were all now armed because of the tide movement, I was loaned from the 65th Flotilla to disarm them. I was at that time a third class chief. I warned the Dutch crew to lift the wrecks evenly, however they lifted stern first and the torpedos, which were only held by 1/2 stops, all slipped out. The crew abandoned the uplifter when they learned of the danger and the dockyard was cleared, leaving me astride a torpedo 30 feet in the air. Staff were evacuated to the outer dock area, while I after much manoeuvring was able to remove the detonators and primers and render the torpedos safe.” James S Lonie

Photo above: Members of the Coastal Forces Veterans Association attending a memorial ceremony at the communal cemetery at Ostend
Able Seaman Arthur Edward Croydon of Liverpool
Casualty: Able Seaman Arthur Edward Croydon of Liverpool, crew member of MTB 438, who was killed along with three other shipmates.
Able Seaman Cyril Roberts Nightingale of Didsbury
Casualty: Able Seaman Cyril Roberts Nightingale, who was killed along with nine other members of the crew of MTB 255.
Survivor: Chief Petty Officer Motor Mechanic Ron Matthews was trapped in the engine room of MTB 771, and helped wrench the boat from its moorings to reach safety.
Survivor: Leading Seaman Ken Forrester, the forward gunner on MTB 771, had been first to spot the fire amongst the Canadian MTBs, and raise the alarm.

Further Reading

Destruction wrought to some of the boats at Ostend with an upturned Fairmile 'D' in the background
MTBs 486 & 485 which managed to survive the inferno
Surviving 'short' British Power Boat MTBs of the Canadian 29th MTB Flotilla
The bows of MTBs 486 & 485
A twin Oerlikon gun mounting floats on the water amidst the remains of one of the MTBs
The wreckage strewn basin at Ostend Harbour
Aftermath of the explosion and fire in Ostend Harbour
Emery Savage at Great Yarmouth (HMS Midge) taken on V.E. Day

Emery Savage Photo Archive

These photos taken of the aftermath of the explosion and fire at Ostend show the damage to the Canadian MTBs of the 29th Flotilla, and to 'Dog Boats' belonging to the Royal Navy. The album containing these photos came to light in 2014, after it was recovered during a house clearance in Plant City, USA by Jessica Santos, who helped preserve them for posterity. Jessica also managed to identify the original owner of the collection, who features in many of the photgraphs, by tracing members of his family. He was Emery 'Doc' Savage, a member of crew on MTB 746, part of the Canadian 65th MTB Flotilla.

VETERANS

The veteran's section contains latest branch news and announcements, as well as up-to-date information on boats that have been preserved. You can also learn something of the history of the Coastal Forces Veterans Association, and of the London Branch

LATEST BRANCH NEWS

London Branch February 2017 newsletter

London Branch February 2017

While I was away this past six months (you hadn't noticed?), there was some talk that as the regular attendance at our quarterly Belfast meetings was… Read More

South London Branch December 2016 newsletter

South London Branch December 2016

On Saturday 10th December 2016 nineteen of us sat down to a Christmas Lunch provided, without charge

Read More
London Branch December 2016 newsletter

London Branch December 2016

Due mainly to travelling difficulties the October branch meeting was again a very diminished affair, but luckily it was judged able to convene with… Read More

South London Branch October 2016 newsletter

South London Branch October 2016

Once again, our Chairman, Shipmate Cyril Mabin, welcomed all aboard T. S. Trafalgar for our meeting held on Sunday, 16th October 2016. I am pleased to… Read More
London Branch August 2016 newsletter

London Branch August 2016

Usually I take pleasure in first recording the business of our latest (17th July) Branch Meeting. But this time it's different. There wasn't one. It was… Read More

NEXT LONDON BRANCH MEETING

Sunday 9th April, 2017

DEATH NOTICES

Ioan Telford Hughes

24/11/2016

London Branch have been informed of the death of shipmate Ioan Telford Hughes. A member of the former Coastal Forces Veterans Association, he 'crossed… Read More

Arthur Terence Robinson

21/09/2016

Terence Robinson has died aged 98 after a short illness. Dubbed the 'Mr Coca-Cola' of Northern Ireland after the successful family run bottling business… Read More

Henry Ernest Checkley

26/05/2016

London Branch have learned of the death of shipmate 'Sparky' Henry Checkley who has gone "back to sea for the last time", having passed away peacefully,… Read More

Denis Cooke

26/01/2016

Denis Aubrey Cooke, a member of the former South Wales Branch died on 15th December, 2015 aged 92. Denis was Leading Seaman and Coxwain on ML 187, ML… Read More

Ted Childs

21/01/2016

London Branch have been informed of the sudden death of Ted Childs. As a deferred peacetime National Service candidate, Ted served at Hornet from… Read More

VETERANS INFORMATION

Book of Remembrance

The Book of Remembrance honours the memory of those who died in service on this day. The book also lists all casualties for each month of the year. A full search of casualties by name, or unit is available from within the casualty database

CFVA

The Coastal Forces Veterans Association (CFVA) was founded in 1974 and ran until the official laying up of colours in 2007. Former CFVA Chairman and London Branch veteran Peter Bickmore recounts the early days of the association

London Branch

News articles and announcements from the London Branch based on HMS Belfast on the Thames near Tower Bridge in London.

Branch Meeting

The Committee have agreed Autumn meetings on HMS Belfast should now be held in October to correct the existing gap between meetings, and address the anomaly of holding two meetings in November.

IN MEMORIAM

poppy wreath

On this day: 25th February

Ordinary Seaman John Stewart (H.M.M.T.B. 621)

At the going down of the sun and in the morning we will remember them


PRESERVATION

The Surviving Coastal Forces Boats

Over 2000 vessels of various types were constructed for use by Coastal Forces during the Second World War, including motor torpedo boats, motor gunboats and motor launches. On the cessation of hostilities nearly all boats were sold or otherwise disposed of. Some were donated to sea scout groups, while many more were converted for use as leisure craft, houseboats, or in some cases ferries. Over the decades the number to remain seaworthy has inevitably dwindled, leaving a precious few to be saved for the nation, or preserved for posterity by private individuals or trusts.

HDML 1301

Known for a time as Meda, this former Harbour Defence Launch is currently undergoing restoration in Holland. It originally served in the Mediterranean taking part in the invasions of Sicily and Elba, as well as the Salerno Landings

HDML 1387

Known as Harbour Defence Motor Launches, these boats were actually used in all forms of operations at sea in areas as diverse as Home Waters, the Mediterranean, and West Africa. HDML 1387 (Medusa) performed the role of navigation beacon during D-Day

MGB 81

This boat was completed as a Motor Gun Boat (MGB) but converted along with others for use as a Motor Torpedo Boat (MTB 416) in September 1943. It has since been restored to its original gunboat specification and secured for preservation by Portsmouth Naval Base Property

MTB 71

MTB 71 was built for the Royal Norwegian Navy as No 7 but requisitioned for the Royal Navy in July 1943. MTB 71 survived the war and was sold in 1945. It was acquired for restoration in 1993, and is now preserved as part of the Imperial War Museum collection at Duxford

MTB 102

An important craft in the development of the motor torpedo boat, MTB 102 was originally constructed by Vosper in 1937 as a demonstration model, before being sold to the Admiralty in 1938. It is now maintained by the MTB 102 Trust based at Lowestoft

MTB 219

MTB 219 was originally built for the Greek Navy as T4 before being requisitioned by the Royal Navy. MTB 219 survived the war and was transferred to Staines Sea Scouts in 1945, before being sold in 1948. It is currently being restored after use as a houseboat for over sixty years

P 1041

One of only twelve Gay Class boats designed by Vosper and built in the early 1950s for use by the Royal Navy as fast attack craft. Gay Archer (P1042) was the last of the motor boats to be powered using petrol engines

RML 497

As a Rescue Motor Launch, RML 497 carried out air sea rescue work in conjunction with the RAF in their high-speed Air Sea Rescue (ASR) launches, often putting to sea when weather conditions were too rough for the RAF boats. It has now been secured for preservation by the National Museum of the Royal Navy

RML 526

A Rescue Motor Launch, RML 526 is a version of the multi-use Fairmile B Class of motor launch, the largest numerically of the boat types crewed by Coastal Forces

SGB 9

The Steam Gun Boat Grey Goose, one of only seven to have entered service with the Royal Navy, and famously commanded by Sir Peter Scott, Senior Officer of the SGB Flotilla based in the English Channel. It is currently a houseboat