Lend-lease Vosper MTB 281

Motor Torpedo Boats (MTB)
reinaart
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Lend-lease Vosper MTB 281

Postby reinaart » Mon Aug 15, 2016 10:04 pm

Hi, I'm looking for info on/photos of lend-lease Annapolis Vospers used by the Royal Indian Navy. I found one pic on the IWM site showing MTB 281 and two sister boats. Apparently these MTBs belonged to the 17th Flotilla. For some reason there do not seem to be (m)any pics of these particular vessels. To tell the truth, I have no idea what operations these boats were involved in.

http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205154701

http://www.navsource.org/archives/12/05920.htm

Regards,

Arjan

reinaart
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Re: Lend-lease Vosper MTB 281

Postby reinaart » Tue Aug 16, 2016 10:18 am

This probably explains why there is so little info about this MTB Flotilla (disbanded after only a year and apparently not much action) :

"Motor Torpedo Boats (M.T.Bs)

In June 1943 three flotillas of Vosper 72 ft. Motor Torpedo Boats were commissioned in Bombay and Calcutta. Later 22 boats of these flotillas formed into the 16th and 17th M.T.B. Flotillas based at Madras and Vizagapatam. Both flotillas were manned entirely by Royal Navy ratings with R.N. and R.I.N. officers. Owing to their limited operational range and absence of targets for their torpedoes, it was decided by the Admiralty that M.T.Bs were of no practical value in the South-East Asia Command and therefore in July 1944 both flotillas were paid off and placed in care and maintenance."

Source:

https://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/UN/Ind ... IN-11.html

Arjan

Admin
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Re: Lend-lease Vosper MTB 281

Postby Admin » Wed Aug 17, 2016 11:27 am

reinaart wrote:Owing to their limited operational range and absence of targets for their torpedoes, it was decided by the Admiralty that M.T.Bs were of no practical value in the South-East Asia Command and therefore in July 1944 both flotillas were paid off and placed in care and maintenance."
Three flotillas of Vospers which had originally been intended for Australia to operate in the Pacific were diverted to India instead, with one flotilla, the 18th, being lost in transit after the ship carrying them was torpedoed. Though the India-based Vospers of the 16th & 17th Flotillas never saw action, the reason for their being stationed in India was to act as a deterrent to the Japanese fleet, should it have encroached at any point into the Bay of Bengal, and at the time, they were the only craft in the region, bar submarines, that were armed with torpedoes and capable of performing this task. As Lieutenant Commander K Cradock Hartopp, SO of the 16th MTB Flotilla, recalled:
They trained to total operational fitness, by which time there were no targets within 2000 miles for them to attack with torpedoes. Nevertheless they would have presented a significant deterrent to the Japanese had the 14th Army not been able to prevent invasion of India by land, which would have provided many good targets in the Bay of Bengal.

reinaart
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Re: Lend-lease Vosper MTB 281

Postby reinaart » Fri Aug 19, 2016 9:07 pm

Thanks a lot for the additional information.

Kind regards,

Arjan

Stephen
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Re: Lend-lease Vosper MTB 281

Postby Stephen » Fri Aug 19, 2016 9:46 pm

From Trombay to Changi... The Story of Arakan Coastal Forces has some information in it.

According to this book, the original plan was for three flotillas (16th, 17th, 18th), but during transportation from the US two MTBs were lost. The decision was made to group the MTBs into two slightly larger flotillas rather than three and the 18th Flotilla never materialised.

The book mainly concentrates on the ML and HDML flotillas, which saw far more action and acknowledges that the MTBs were left waiting for the enemy to come within range, but never did. In the appendices are some interesting details; apparently the hulls were mahogany but some sections were of inadequate Canadian pine. It's also claimed that the massive stresses on the hull caused by high speeds in the monsoon season and the poor pine rendered the hulls useless by summer 1943. There is a listing of officers for each craft; MTB 281 was commanded by Lt Macfarlane RNVR and the first lieutenant was S/Lt Heap RINVR. If I've understood the final column of these lists correctly, Lieutenant Commander Cradock Hartopp's nickname was Crankshaft!

There may be more in the book but, as there's some 300 pages, a lot of facsimile copies of documents and no index, it's hard to be sure.

reinaart
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Re: Lend-lease Vosper MTB 281

Postby reinaart » Sat Aug 20, 2016 8:54 am

Thanks Stephen, much obliged ! Very interesting details regarding the shortcomings of the boats' construction. Of course the climate conditions in this particular war theater were more extreme than those in the Mediterranean but it makes me wonder if the quality of the lend-lease Vospers made by Jacobs was not superior to those constructed by Annapolis. I believe (from the top of my head) that only one Annapolis Vosper (MTB 378) soldiered on in the Italian Navy after the war, whereas there were numerous Jacobs' Vospers lasting well into the late fifties/early sixties.

Lieutenant G.P.H. James, commander of MTB 378, was very positive about his Annapolis Vosper. He stated that it had a better lay out/ design than the British built Vospers which made it easier to service the engines. He also praised the American radar equipment. I read somewhere that the U.S. built Vospers were lighter (and therefore, faster) than their British counterparts but less sturdy.

Kind regards,

Arjan

Stephen
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Re: Lend-lease Vosper MTB 281

Postby Stephen » Sat Aug 20, 2016 9:50 am

No problem. To give you the exact details from the appendix, the pine that was "...used in places [was] some inadequately seasoned Canadian pitch pine". Apparently the 11 boats of the 16th Flotilla were part of the 275-306 set of US build Vospers,* delivered as deck cargo on liberty ships to Calcutta in approx May 1942. The boats of the 17th were delivered to Bombay at the same time and sailed as a flotilla to Madras via Cochin and Tutticorin.

Each flotilla had 11 boats:
16th: MTBs 275, 277, 278, 279, 280, 282, 291, 292, 293, 299, 300
17th: MTBs 276, 281, 283, 286, 294, 301, 302, 303, 304, 305, 306

Apparently it was widely rumoured that exposure to the sun during delivery contributed to the hull's damage. However S/Lt John Milles, RINVR (first lieutenant of MTB 282) asserts that both flotilla's boats had excellent hulls throughout 1942. Once the hulls were "rendered useless by the summer of 1943" by the pine and stresses of monsoon weather, "To apply full power... was impossible and they became a menace to their crews."

* It says in the introductory text to the flotilla list that the 16th Flotilla boats were part of "363-378, the first batch of 72'6" Vospers built in the USA", but I presume this is a typo as it states earlier that 275-306 was the first, and all the boats in both flotillas fit within the 275-306 number range.

Stephen
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Re: Lend-lease Vosper MTB 281

Postby Stephen » Sat Aug 20, 2016 10:10 am

PS. It's worth noting that little of this tallies with the information in Allied Coastal Forces of World War II, Volume II, which puts the launch date of MTBs 275-282 as the summer of 1942 and their completion and transfer to the RIN as November/December 42. Later numbers weren't completed until between February and April 1943. MTBs 284 and 285 are the two identified as lost en-route, when the transport sank on 9th September 1943.

From Trombay to Changi does say near the start of the book that the MTBs destined for India were being built in the US in May 1942. I suspect that the delivery dates are wrong and possibly the appendix is out by a year.

reinaart
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Re: Lend-lease Vosper MTB 281

Postby reinaart » Sat Aug 20, 2016 10:52 am

Thanks Stephen, you've provided some very interesting info. The lend-lease Vospers of the 16th and 17th MTB Flotilla were apparently built by at least four different American companies : Annapolis, Jacobs, Herreshoff and Harbour Boat so it's probably not correct to assume that Annapolis Vospers were any worse than those built by the other American ship yards. Here are some nice pics of MTB 275 under construction at the Annapolis yard :

http://www.navsource.org/archives/12/05914.htm

Regards,

Arjan

Stephen
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Re: Lend-lease Vosper MTB 281

Postby Stephen » Sat Aug 20, 2016 11:20 am

No problem. Allied Coastal forces of World War II, Volume 2 provides a complete list of each MTB, its builder, construction, launch and completion dates, service and date of return to the US (in most instances).
Regards, Steve

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Re: Lend-lease Vosper MTB 281

Postby Admin » Sat Aug 20, 2016 12:39 pm

I would assume any materials used during construction of some of the American-built Vospers, if different from those specified in the plans, would have been cleared beforehand, and deemed serviceable before the boats were accepted from the yard for commissioning, but it's possible that flaws in a particular batch of wood used only emerged later. British-built boats experienced problems too from time to time and had to be returned to their yards for strengthening.

This piece from one of the old Coastal Forces Veterans Association (CFVA) newsletters relates particulars of the story.
Some additional information has come from "Digger' Lee-Smith (Lt R M Lee-Smith RN).

What is known is that in 1942/43 the only ships of any allied navy in the whole of the Bay of Bengal capable of sinking Japanese battleships and aircraft carriers were two flotillas of 72" Vospers. After their arrival the Japanese never strayed much west of Singapore and never attacked again or invaded the east coast of India. This is the story of those two flotillas.

Three flotillas of 72" Vospers (22 boats total) were built at New Jersey in 1941/42; their PO Motor Mechs stood by during building and were intended to be shipped as deck cargo to Townsville, Australia, with a forward operating base at Thursday Island. By the time they were ready, the Americans had taken over the defence of the region, which is only 350 miles from the site of the Battle of the Coral Sea.

Thus the three RN flotillas with RN crews were sent to India. One of the ships carrying them was sunk and the PO Motor Mech of one MTB was saved, the other could not swim and was last seen climbing up the freighter's funnel. Thus 22 MTBs reached India, but one of the three SOs became ill and was sent back to the UK, so that the 18th flotilla was never formed and the 16th and 17th flotillas were of 11 MTBs each.

During 1942 and 1943 they were the only ships of any navy armed with torpedoes (except possibly a submarine or two including a German one) in the whole of the Bay of Bengal. They were also possibly the finest MTB flotillas, with Canadians, Americans, Australians and British hand-picked to exact revenge for the sinking of the Prince of Wales and Repulse. The whole point is that these two flotillas were all that we could muster to prevent an invasion of the east coast of India, Lt. Cmdr. K. A Cradock-Hartop RN, SO of the 16th MTB Flotilla in Trinco and Lt E. F. Hamilton-Meikle RN, SO of the 17th flotilla at Madras were ready, willing and able to tackle the Japanese fleet if it had attempted to repeat its dominance of the Bay of Bengal in 1942.

An example of the capability of these two flotillas occurred in 1942 when a design weakness was covered by AF0161/42 calling for hull strengthening. UK boats were just returned to their builders' yards. 16th and 17th flotillas had to set about the job themselves. They took on 4 or 5 Chinese shipwrights (Lt (E) Vincent came from Thornycrofts at Singapore and spoke Chinese). According to 'Digger' they ordered up the timber and fastenings — the deck stiffening was a mahogany plank 22' long × 12" × ¼" and the gunwale stiffening was 30' × 11" × ⅞" (he still has the sketch).

However, John Benson, who was Lt. Cmdr on the staff of Captain Coastal Forces at Trombay, had been a planter in South India and always got the job of solving impossible problems. Mahogany is a tropical wood from the New World. The experts all said that no other wood will marry with mahogany and there was none in the East. John Benson had a vague recollection of an avenue of large mahogany trees growing at Nilambur, about 60 miles inland from the west coast above Calicut. He contacted a chum in the Indian forestry service at Madras. H. P. Ward went into action and a few trees were felled, planked, seasoned and sent down to Madras. This is a good example of the cooperation between planters in India before the war who knew the languages and knew the ropes.

CFVA News: No 55: September 1988
Last edited by Admin on Sat Aug 20, 2016 2:14 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Reason: Corrected (2 boats total) to read 22 boats

Stephen
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Re: Lend-lease Vosper MTB 281

Postby Stephen » Sat Aug 20, 2016 1:29 pm

There does seem to be quite a discrepancy between dates here. It seems unlikely that boats that were not completed until between 10th November 1942 (earliest boat, MTB 276) and 3rd July 1943 (last boat, MTB 294) could have been in India at all in 1942.

The two boats that were lost en route - MTBs 284 and 285, were on board the MV Larchbank, which sank in the Indian Ocean on 9 September 1943 (see: http://www.wrecksite.eu/wreck.aspx?58939). Given that 283 and 286 completed on the same day (3rd April 1943), they were probably in the same convoy, quite possibly with 275, 291, 292, 293, 299, 300, 301, 302, 303, 304, 305 and 306, which, according to Allied Coastal Forces of World War II, all completed between February and April 1943. 276 to 282 were only completed between November and December 1942, so couldn't have got to India much earlier.

I'm not doubting any source, but these dates simply don't add up, and the loss date of Larchbank strongly suggests that most of the MTBs can't have got to India until autumn 1943.

Admin
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Re: Lend-lease Vosper MTB 281

Postby Admin » Sat Aug 20, 2016 2:58 pm

Yes, Len Reynolds in Mediterranean MTBs at War cites the two flotillas as having operated from 1943–44, so the reference to 1942/43 may be an error in recalling the details, or there may have been some early arrivals towards the very tail end of 1942, though they would have struggled to have been in much of an operational state.

reinaart
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Re: Lend-lease Vosper MTB 281

Postby reinaart » Sat Aug 20, 2016 4:15 pm

"the deck stiffening was a mahogany plank 22' long × 12" × ¼" and the gunwale stiffening was 30' × 11" × ⅞" (he still has the sketch)."

Interesting, I had wondered about the function of these planks . I know these were standard fittings on later Vospers but I didn't know that these boards had also been retro-fitted to earlier boats.

Arjan

Peter
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Re: Lend-lease Vosper MTB 281

Postby Peter » Mon Aug 22, 2016 4:41 pm

MTB 410.jpg
MTB 410.jpg (512.23 KiB) Viewed 4107 times
MTB 410.jpg
MTB 410.jpg (512.23 KiB) Viewed 4107 times
It is with some interest that I join in this post . The 28th Flotilla was made up of as we knew them as American Vospers and as a Radar operator was keenly interested in their very updated dome Radar,( ie PPI ) this flotilla joined in the Yugoslav Island campaign late in the Autmen of 1944 .These boats were crewed mostly by those from the paid off 24th flotilla , sadly some of us missed out including myself when I was drafted to MGB 647 for which I am truly thankful of a great crew , except that I may be a little jealous to miss the opertunity of the PPI Radar .
Pictures from Harold Garlands paintings of MTB 410 Lt Woodhouse and MTB 409 Lt Claude Hollaway
Peter Bickmore BEM


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