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)

This year marks the 70th 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

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.

Photo left: Members of the Coastal Forces Veterans Association attending a memorial ceremony at the communal cemetery at Ostend

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In Memoriam

On this day: 28th February

Petty Officer Motor Mechanic George Terry Eachus (H.M.M.G.B. 79)
Sub-Lieutenant Hector McIntyre (H.M.M.G.B. 79)
Leading Seaman Michael John Walsh (H.M.M.G.B. 79)
Able Seaman Bert Gibson (H.M.M.L. 310)
Sub-Lieutenant Godfrey Ronald Price (H.M.M.T.B. 72)

View the Book of Remembrance

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

London Branch

February Newsletter

The February edition of the newsletter carries a message from the new Chairman Ken Gadsdon, who carries the very best wishes of the branch in his new post. As well as an update from the Treasurer, this edition also carries the first report from the City of London Sea Cadets detailing their recent achievements. Finally there is a reminder of the reality of war in a letter sent to deceased branch member Harry Leader DSM by Frank Coombes DSM, recounting their time in MTBs 621 and 622, both part of the 31st MTB Flotilla

London Branch February 2015

Coastal Forces Veteran Ken Gadsdon

Cometh the hour, cometh the man! The newly appointed London Branch Chairman Ken Gadsdon

British Veterans of Vis 2015

The details of this year’s visit by veterans to Vis have been formalised, and are now available to read on-line. The dates for the package deal are Wednesday May 20th to Wednesday May 27th, 2015, with the Vis Veterans Commemoration Day to be held on Tuesday May 26th. The commemoration event will once more be supported by the British Ambassador and Embassy.

British Veterans of Vis 2015

A commemoration service in the port of Komiza, Vis, the wartime location for the frontline base of Coastal Forces in the Adriatic.



The articles section contains accounts written by veterans detailing aspects of their service in Coastal Forces during the Second World War.Read our articles

Coastal Forces Craft

Find information on a specific Motor Torpedo Boat (MTB), Motor Gunboat (MGB), Motor Launch (ML) or Harbour Defence Motor Launch (HDML).Search the database

Veterans Area

Visit the veterans area to get up-to-date news and information from the world of Coastal Forces Veterans by reading the latest branch newsletters.Visit the veterans section


The photo gallery forms a visual record of the history of Coastal Forces and contains many records of the working environment of boats and their crews.View the photo gallery

Map Room

The Maps Room employs Google map technologies to chart the location of all former Coastal Forces bases world-wide with a note on the history of each.Visit the Map Room

War Reports

In the War Reports section you can read official war reports written during the Second World War that offer revealing insights into the role of Coastal Forces.Read the War Reports