October 18th 1942 - a meeting between the Admiralty and S.O.E.(Cairo) where the idea of an M.L. was accepted. Lt. Commander Pool and Lt. Commander Campbell went on to do a round of the yards and picked out M.L. 361 for S.O.E. operations. In early January 1943 she was ready to leave the Cairo yard and went down the Sweetwater Canal to Port Said to have her armaments fitted. These were quite revolutionary, far beyond anything previously carried by a gunboat of her size. The ordinary “B” Class Fairmile was fitted with twenty depth-charges, all carried on the upper deck. Campbell retained just two, the saving of top-weight allowing him to have guns and ammunition lockers installed without making the vessel top-heavy. On the foredeck amidships was a 20-millimetre Oerlikon (instead of the usual six-pounder), with a 40-millimetre Breda on either bow (as in Armadillo). Each bridge wing had a twin Vickers, gas-operated, .303 machine gun, with a pair of .5 Browning heavy machine guns fitted abaft them, and then two 20 millimetre Breda automatic cannons. The usual 20-millimetre Oerlikon amidships aft was retained.
To man this armament it was necessary to carry a larger crew, but as M.L. 361 carried no Asdic the usual two Asdic ratings were dispensed with. The ship’s company ended up as 18, being sufficient to man the guns likely for either an air attack or for use against surface craft - some of the guns being suitable for one, but not both, kinds of engagement. This was all topped off with a camouflage scheme of Mountbatten Pink on the topsides and a delicate pastel shade of apple green on the upper works, making her as inconspicuous as possible at night.
The Captain was Lt. Bob Young, R.C.N.V.R., with Lt. Norman Hinton R.A.N.V.R. appointed as his First Lieutenant. February 9th. Operation SOULBURY. M.L. 361 sailed from Alexandria for Mersa Matruh, Bardia, and finally Sollum (due to a heavy swell running into Bardia). The object of this operation was to land two S.O.E. agents, a quantity of stores, and Sergeant Moir for M.I.9.
February 14th. M.L. 361 sailed from Sollum for Crete at 0730, with a fresh westerly wind and a considerable sea running. The conditions improved in the afternoon but, as Crete was approached, the wind went northerly with heavy rain and poor visibility. This increased until at midnight it was blowing gale force, with low cloud hanging on the mountains making it difficult to pick up landmarks.
February 15th. After steaming up and down close to the shore, blinded by the stinging spray blown into their eyes, M.L. 361 arrived at her rendezvous at 0200, an hour late. Paddy Leigh-Fermor was in charge of the beach, or rather rocky crevice, and had the evacuation well organised. Ferrying the 27 evacuees aboard [including George Psychoundakis and Tom Dunbabin] was completed in ¾ hour.
With little more than two hours left before dawn they set off at top speed, making good seventeen knots, until at daybreak a quartering sea compelled a reduction of speed. As they got clear to the south, away from the protection of Crete, the seas increased and the M.L. yawed wildly as each wave came under them. At 1000 a further reduction to 10 knots was necessary.In the overcast weather only two aircraft were seen, flying low towards Crete, but they flew straight past without altering course. Landed in Mersa Matruh at 1315. THE FIRST OF MANY SUCH OPERATIONS.