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The 51st Flotilla

Written by: Andrew Browne

I was interested in the letter from R.Mackintosh sent in by Geoffrey Tyson and have often felt that the efforts of the 51st Flotilla have not been sufficiently recognised — I can add to what is known of the action in which MGB 611 was engaged in July 1943.

Early in that month, after training at Fort William, I was sent to Newhaven where I became a spare Midshipman aboard the S.O.’s boat MGB 611 (Lt. Cdr. L.D.Lyle RNVR) and I went to sea in her on every occasion until I was appointed to SGB Grey Shark in August.

There was no ‘raid on a French port’. I think that the writer is referring to an inconclusive battle which actually took place off Le Tréport in the early hours of 28 July, which was the very night after four SGB’s had been involved in a fierce battle off Cherbourg and a day or two before a D-boat commanded by Lt. H.W.Paton RNVR was hit on her bow stempiece by a German shore battery (See Peter Scott’s Battle of the Narrow Seas at page I47 et seq. and page 156).

On the night of 27/28 July. MGB 611, in company with another boat of the 51st Flotilla, was conducting an offensive sweep off the French coast. A report was received from Portsmouth W/T of enemy vessels off Le Trépor — I was in the chart room with the Navigator (Sub Lt. Stratford RNVR) during the approach — I recollect the S.O. saying “Nuts ahead Port”. The whole action lasted for about a minute until we disengaged under cover of smoke. The enemy force consisted, I think, of two well-armed defensive barges (probably converted for that purpose after the German had been thwarted in their ideas of invasion). Whether we inflicted any real damage on the enemy is uncertain. It is a pity that the flotilla was never fitted with torpedo tubes.

The two casualties in MGB 611 consisted of a serious head injury to the Pom-Pom gunner named Black. Nothing, useful could be done for him and he died on the way back to Newhaven. The port turret gunner named Ellis lost his right foot. At that point my ‘King Alfred’ training paid a handsome dividend because l had been taught how to apply a tourniquet and administer morphia, which lasted until we were met by two Hunt Class destroyers in mid-Channel, where the patient was transferred over the side to the care of a Surgeon-Lieutenant and taken direct to R.N.H. Haslar.

The D-boat in company (my recollection is that it was MGB 616 (but l am quite sure that her CO. was Lt. Johnson RNVR) was damaged but had no casualties. MGB 611 had sustained serious damage and had to be taken to Shoreham for repair. Before the action I had put on a tin hat — my cap which was lying on the chart table was badly gashed by a German bullet. I used to wear it at sea with pride subsequently, particularly when entering and leaving harbour. I hope that this account may inspire contributions from other members to help to put the record of the 5lst Flotilla straight. Andrew Browne, member no.1225

CFVA News: Edition: March 1997 Volume: 89 Page: 20