ML 207

Motor Launches (ML), Harbour Defence Motor Launches (HDML) & Rescue Motor Launches (RML)
Petty Officer
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Joined: Tue Jan 26, 2016 5:09 pm

Re: ML 207

Postby Gray207 » Fri May 14, 2021 8:37 pm


Your current thinking regarding your grandfather’s time with ML 207, certainly fits in with what I always thought was the case and, since I cannot remember my father mentioning the name of another coxswain anyway, for the purposes of the book, that’s what I will keep with - at least for the moment.

You may find more from your grandfather’s service record. However, I must admit to having become wary of official records and documents. I’ve encountered numerous contradictions, even in records that I thought would be beyond reproach and one hundred percent accurate. My own father’s service record is a good example. Like you, I have the original documents that my father was issued with when he left the Navy, so had never bothered to apply for a new copy. However, a member of this forum explained that when they applied for their own father’s records, they also received brief details outlining the deployment of their father’s ship. As a consequence, I decided to apply myself and obtained a similar record of ML 207’s deployment, which has been of some help, though it is very brief - just a few lines really - and does contain a lot of gaps. However, I was surprised to discover that, when it comes to my father’s postings, there are contradictions between the original service record and the new one. As an example, one document has him joining ML 207 just after Christmas 1944 – the date my father always said he joined, having previously served with MGB 55 based at HMS Attack in Portland. The other has him joining later. I can only guess as to the cause of such discrepancies. I imagine it is down to missing documents and errors, which is hardly surprising given the huge numbers of service personnel deployed during the war. Keeping tabs on everyone must have been a herculean task.

It was interesting to hear about your grandfather’s role with burials at sea. My father said that, sadly, there were a few. Though none relating to ML 207’s own crew or those of her sister ships. They related to bodies the crew came across in the water while undertaking their duties. He also said that the burials were always carried out with utmost dignity and respect and explained that your grandfather was the one who oversaw the sewing of the bodies into their shrouds. During the Normandy Landings the crew of 207 were told the ship could not recover any bodies they came across but must continue with their designated orders. There were vessels specially tasked with recovering those who had fallen with the aim of repatriating them, rather than burying them at sea. ML 207’s need to conduct maritime burials came later, after the initial assault, most especially when she was involved with clearing The Channel ports.

Once ML 207’s mine sweeping role had been completed, during the initial Normandy assault, along with other ships, she was tasked with protecting the anchorage from E-boats and other assailants. At one point there were apparent sightings of the E-Boats at the adjacent landing beach to Gold, Omaha Beach, and ML 207 was ordered to assist. As it happened, they never found any E-Boats and soon returned to the eastern sector; my father said that the crew doubted that they were ever any E-Boats there. Sadly, what they did discover, were quite a few bodies in the water. Understandably, the crew wanted to help recover their comrades in arms and found the fact that they couldn’t extremely distressing. The second in command told the crew he would radio the position to the authorities. Whether he did of whether it was just his way of pacifying the crew is a is a open to debate.

There was also one particularly sad occasion when the crew of ML 207 became involved in a burial at sea. It occurred whilst the ship was at Immingham on the East Coast. The port became the 1st ML flotilla’s designated home port when it was ordered to the Scheldt to help clear mines - though the ship spent the vast majority of its Scheldt deployment at Ostend and Terneuzen. My father said that a young sailor, from another Royal Navy Ship, have been reported absent without leave. What had actually happened to him came to light when some barges were moved and his body floated to the surface. Apparently, he had met with a tragic accident. The theory was that he had fallen from his own ship, hit his head as he fell and been trapped under one of the barges. The authorities seemed satisfied that there was no question of foul play. The family requested a burial at sea and ML 207 was chosen for the task. I understand the boy’s own ship had sailed some days previously and ML 207 happened to be available. A Royal Navy Chaplin accompanied the boy’s mother and another family member during the ceremony. Subsequently, ML 207’s commanding officer received a touching letter from the boy’s mother, which he read out to the crew, thanking the officers and crew for their kindness. My father said that he was always struck by what an irony of fate the tragedy was. Here was a young lad losing his life in a simple accident, when no-doubt his life had been on the line many times during front line action against the enemy.

Like most who served during the war, my father rarely mentioned the terrible sights he witnessed and it took a lot of persuasion to get him talk about them and include a few instances in the book. Mostly, he talked about the funny things that happened, that’s if my mum allowed him to – she was just like your grannie in that respect, though she always listened with delight when she finally gave way. I think her light-hearted protestations ensured that my father did not repeat the stories too often were her way of ensuring that my brother and I never grew tired of the tails. At times, listening to him, you would have thought my father was on some sort of extended holiday during his time in the Navy. He clearly enjoyed the time spent with his crewmates and comradery that developed was obvious.


Thankyou for your words of encouragement. I am pleased that you have found the information I have posted interesting. The research has been far more involved than I ever imagined!

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Re: ML 207

Postby Gray207 » Sat Jun 19, 2021 4:32 pm

I must correct my previous post regarding burials at sea. I’ve been going through some of my father’s hand-written notes looking for any mention a coxswain other than Longmate, so far without success. What I did come across, though, was something I had forgotten about. A burial at sea that occurred on the afternoon of D-Day, though it could also have occurred a little later. My father’s note implies that it happened on D-Day but can also be taken to mean one of the days that followed. The incident wasn’t related to the fighting taking place ashore and actually started out as a rescue. My father says that the crew spotted a man in the water wearing a life jacket when they were patrolling some way offshore. They raced over to help and hauled him aboard ship. It turned out to be a young American sailor in his late teens. Although he was unconscious, his skin was pink, so he seemed to still be alive. Longmate and the Midshipman got to work on him immediately, giving him artificial respiration. As they did so, the ML raced over to another larger ship and their doctor came aboard to help. Sadly, even though the men tried for some time, they were unable to save the poor lad and the doctor pronounced him dead. My father said that, once the medic departed, the Captain announced that they would conduct a burial. Here is how my father describes what happened next:
The midshipman removed his identity disk and other personal possessions, so they could be sent to the American authorities. Then under Longmate’s instruction, the crew prepared his body as best they could, finishing by tying a small concrete weight around his legs - we carried a number of these aboard to anchor floats when marking the position of wrecks. With the solemn preparations complete, the crew gathered silently in respect whilst the captain said a few words from the bible. As he said, “we commit this body to the sea”, or some such words, we slid the young man overboard. The burial had a very sobering effect on the crew. Other than the exchanges necessary to carry out their duties, it was some time before anyone spoke.

So, it was Longmate and Pennyworth’s father, Midshipman Wood, who tried to resuscitate the young man. If you’re reading this Penny, my apologies for unknowingly implying that the incident did not take place. No doubt your father mentioned it.

Petty Officer
Posts: 37
Joined: Tue Jan 26, 2016 5:09 pm

Re: ML 207

Postby Gray207 » Mon Sep 11, 2023 1:57 pm

I though members would be interested in one particularly nasty encounter that ML 207, and other ships of the 1st ML Flotila, had with E-Boats whilst escorting a convoy in the Channel. The incident involved convoy CW 243 and occurred in the early hours of the 31st of January 1944, a matter of weeks after my father joined the ship.

The convoy formed up off Southend on the morning of the 30th of January and departed around mid-day heading westbound for the Atlantic via the Channel. The admiralty always tried to ensure that Channel Convoys passed through the Straights of Dover during the hours of darkness to reduce the chance of becoming easy targets for the massive German guns stationed across the water near Calais. So, with the convoy sailing at a speed of around 7 knots, the noon departure was designed to achieve this.

Although it was mid-winter, my father said that, on the day in question, the weather was calm and clear. Soon after passing Dover, having finished his watch, he was crossing the deck and describes the scene he witnessed.

When I next emerged from the engine room we were between Dover and Folkstone; night had descended. It was incredibly calm, amazingly so for the time of year. On deck, the din of the engines below was replaced by the deep throbbing drone of their exhaust gases exiting the funnel; the rhythmic sound of the ML’s props cutting up the water providing an accompaniment. The cold night air was refreshingly bracing after the heat of the engine room; the briny aroma of sea and the night breeze buffeting my face, equally so. Although it was dark, I could see the churning surface that we were leaving in our wake glinting in the soft moonlight and, although the blackout was in force in the coastal towns, easily make out the famous chalk cliffs of Samphire Hoe to starboard. The ships of the convoy loomed off to our port side, appearing as a series of black shadowy hulks; the sea making a distinctive sloshing sound as it washed against their bows.

Later, having completed his next watch, my father was in the mess deck when the call for action stations went up. It turned out that the escorts had detected what was thought to be an enemy U-Boat and ML 207 joined others in a search for the assailant. Depth charges were released but, not for the first time during similar pursuits, no sub was found, although the 207s own ASDIC operator was convinced there had been one.

Some hours later off Beachy Head, while back in the mess deck once again, a bright star flare lit up the sky and, as my father and his crewmates looked on, more were dropped from a plane flying above on what as if it was carrying out some sort of search and rescue mission. Immediately the ship when to action stations and there was another rush for the companion ladder. This time slightly less frantic than the last and the mess deck emptied quicker as a result. My father took no more than a couple of steps on deck, as he headed for the engine room hatch, when there was a bright flash from the head of the convoy followed soon after by the sound of an enormous explosion – the convoy was under attack!

Here is how my father describes the scene:

I could see enemy vessels travelling at high speed, lit up by the flares from the plane, weaving and making smoke as they went. Another bright flash lit up the sky and a second massive explosion erupted, this this time to port. I made a final run for the engine room hatch and threw myself down the ladder. Mac was at the controls having been on watch when the mayhem broke out. Our guns were already in action, their recoil vibrating through the hull and the noise of their fire reaching us despite the roar of our engines at full throttle.’

Guns still blazing, we made a high-speed sweeping turn to port, eventually slowing as the guns fell silent. After what seemed an age, but couldn’t have been more than ten minutes, the telegraphs rang for dead slow and all hands were called to the deck, leaving just Mac, Ping, and Sparks below. We began a search pattern looking for survivors with every available man scanning the sea. As we did so, we passed one of the Navy trawlers stationary in the water, its bows wrecked and clearly sinking. ML 206 was by her side. One of the destroyers was also damaged and at least two of the merchantmen sunk.

ML 207 was soon instructed to return to its escort role alongside the remainder of the convoy as it continued west. ML 206 ferried the survivors of the stricken navy tug, the Pine, to Newhaven, plying them with rum on the way. Ten of the Pine’s crew had been killed. Two merchantmen, SS Emerald and SS Caleb Sprague, were also hit by torpedoes and the destroyer HMS Albrighton was badly damaged. Both merchant ships sank in seconds. The first taking all fifteen crew members with her. Twenty-two died on the second vessel. Incredibly, the Pine hadn’t sunk immediately but had been take in tow, eventually succumbing to her fate the next day. She went down off Selsey Bill as they tried to get her to Portsmouth. In all, some fifty men had lost their lives with more injured.

The attack had been carefully planned. Well before the convoy passed, E-boats had managed to get close inshore undetected. Then, using a navigation buoy as cover, launched a surprise attack from our starboard side. At the same time, another group of E-boats attacked the convoy’s port quarter, their gunfire and torpedo strikes made all the more accurate by the bright flares dropped by the plane. The crew couldn’t understand how the E-Boats hadn’t been spotted on coastal radar. Obviously, the buoy masked their radar signature once they were next to it, but that didn’t explain how the enemy got there without being detected. Nor did it explain why the E-boats that attacked from the port side hadn’t been spotted either. Many years later my father discovered that the E-Boats had been detected but an appalling communications mix-up meant the convoy’s escorts hadn’t been informed.

Willian Gosling, a gunner abord ML 206, described the attack in his 1980 interview with Ted Haley for the the Imperial War Museum. One of his stand-out memories of the incident was the discipline of the men abord HMT Pine. He says, ‘I will always admire those men,’ explaining that, despite many of their crew mates lying dead or badly injured, and with their ship clearly sinking, when ML 206 drew alongside, not a single man attempted to scramble to safety. Instead, one of them shouted out to ML 206's commanding officer, ‘Permission to come abord sir’, and only after permission was granted did they start moving to safety.

Over the last decade or so, the wrecks of the Pine and the two merchant ships have become dive sites. All are, of course, protected war graves and those diving have been very mindful of this. One diving club, Guildford Branch of the British Sub Aqua Club, adopted the Pine as a research project and produced an excellent and detailed report covering both the current state of the wreck and the background to the sinking. For those interested the report can be found VIA the following web link: ... i=89978449

The report explains that ML 206 rescued those on board HMT Pine, taking off 20 survivors. Then again going alongside the sinking Pine a boarding party took further 7 survivors from below decks onto the ML. The Pine’s skipper had broken his legs and been swept from the bridge to the deck by the falling mast. The sub-lieutenant had broken his jaw, the ASDIC rating was badly concussed and the signalman had what looked like broken ribs.’

It's interesting to note that the report, produced using official records, says that the convoy was ordered not to slow down and make best speed towards the safety of Portsmouth, leaving the crippled HMT Pine adrift behind them. It goes on to say that it was Lt-Commander Leslie close by in Motor Launch 206 who quickly came to save those still on-board HMT Pine. Elsewhere, the report refers to the escorts assigned to convoy CW 243 but dosen’t mention the four motor launches of the 1st ML Flotilla giving the impression that ML 206 simply happened to be in the vicinity when the attack happened. Not for the first time the smaller ships of Coastal Forces, and their vital role, appear to have been omitted from the official records.

HMT Pine.jpg

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