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Book Review
British Motor Torpedo Boats 1939-45

by: Graham Townsend [ RIPSTER ]

Originally published on:
Model Shipwrights


Whilst they might not capture the imagination the same way as a mighty battleship does, the coastal forces of the Royal Navy still played a key role in the war at sea. They harried enemy convoys and protected our own, assisted in raids on docks, and even landed secret agents onto the continent. Later they took their war further afield, operating in waters as far-flung as the Mediterranean and even the Far East. This book takes a closer look at one of the most potent classes of the coastal forces, the Motor Torpedo Boat.


Paperback: 48 pages

Publisher: Osprey (18 Jun 2003)

Authors: Angus Konstam, Tony Bryan (illustrator)

Language: English

ISBN: 1841765007



Background: Pre-war development
Thornycroft and British Power Boat
Other British MTB designs
Lend-Lease production

Construction and Operation
MTBs in action

MTB specifications
MTB losses
MTBs listed by pennant number
Colour plate commentary


The pre-war ancestry of World War Two British MTBs can be traced directly back to Thornycroft designs of the First World War. However the first ever vessel to be officially designated as an MTB was built by the British Power Boat Company in 1935.

In the early 1930s Vosper began building fast pleasure craft, which became the basis for later MTB designs. Interestingly many MTBs were converted to pleasure craft in the post-war years, and indeed many of them are still running today (see the British Military Powerboat Trust website for a few of them).

Full details of the development of the various types of boat are given, along with comprehensive numbering information, which includes highlights of which vessels were conversions from MGBs. The story of Lend-Lease boats is given, and relates an interesting tale of how RN Admiralty inspectors looked over some ELCO boats being built in the USA and tried to have various modifications removed, such as an electric fridge, galley stove and bunks requesting that they be replaced with the items in use at the time by the RN. The fact that the current items (no fridge, a dangerous paraffin stove, and hammocks) were all inferior to the proposed upgrade did not seem to occur to the inspection team! This attitude was still alive and well only a few years ago; officials insisted that RN accommodation in the Fort Class RFAs should be downgraded, as it was far more comfortable than that being provided in RN ships at the time This has led to the ridiculous state of affairs that RFA personnel in the same ship live in much better conditions than their RN shipmates. Fortunately we all get the same food, which is usually excellent :-)


Propulsion. A few early boats were fitted with Isotta-Frashini Italian marine engines, however the supply of these understandably dried up somewhat when Mussolini formed his Axis with Germany. Subsequent boats were fitted with a variety of engines, including designs from Sterling, Scott-Napier, Rolls-Royce and Packard; these were continually refined through the war, with all boats capable of achieving 30+ knots the fastest could attain a still impressive 47 knots! The boats also carried auxiliary engines for silent running, enabling them to stalk their prey under cover of darkness and gain the optimum position for an attack before crash-starting their main engines.

Armament. The very earliest boats launched their torpedoes from a stern chute this required a rapidly executed turn by the launch boat in order to avoid being sunk by their own fish Later boats acquired the more conventional tubes mounted along the outer edges of their upper decks. Whilst 21 weapons were generally preferred for their greater punch, they also carried a significant weight penalty and so 18 torpedoes were often fitted instead. As the war progressed boats became more and more heavily armed, adding machine guns and other weapons up to 40mm Bofors cannon or 6-pound quick-fire guns. Depth charges were also carried for dropping in the path of enemy vessels on a shallow setting.


A short section describes the tactics deployed by MTB flotillas. The preferred RN modus operandi was for MTBs to lie in wait for their targets, running on auxiliary engines only. When a coastal convoy or other suitable target came into range they would then crash-start the main engines (doing so any earlier would of course warn the enemy through the horrendous noise that the engines put out), run in to attack, and then withdraw at speed to meet up with a covering force of MTBs. All this taking place at 30-40 knots, more often than not at night. Exhilarating, and I dare say pretty scary stuff! As you can imagine these small vessels attracted their fair share of flamboyant characters, and it was not unheard of for captains to order their crews to press home attacks with whatever weapons they could muster and fitted the bill even hand grenades were used, which gives a good indication of the ranges these short, sharp battles were fought at the maritime equivalent of hand-to-hand combat.

A table of specifications is also provided, covering all MTBS including those from the British Power Boat Company, Vosper, Thornycroft, Elco, White and Higgins, as well as CMBs (Coastal Motor Boats). All MTBs lost are listed, with details of place, date and circumstances. Finally there is a complete list of all boats built by pennant number.

Throughout the book you will find many interesting and detailed reference photos, that will provide an absolute gold mine of information and ideas for the model-maker, as well as several full colour plates depicting both scenes of MTBs in action and hull profiles.


Overall this book provides a useful potted history of these often-overlooked vessels, alongside a wealth of reference material that will prove invaluable to the modeller. Available at a keen price the book is excellent value for money and comes very highly recommended.

Post Scriptum

This note is made by the MSW Editor, with notes from the reviewer with the help of a well know Author, who has a great amount of knowledge on this particular area of Naval Warfare: Al Ross, who with John Lambert, are the Authors of Conway's Allied Coastal Forces , Volumes I and II.
Without wanting to start a war between Publishers, Authors and MSW, I have decided that this information bellow, should be presented to the member /user / costumer, so that all details are included, and a choice can be made.

Since I wrote this review I've been contacted by MSW member Al Ross, who as you will know is a great authority on Allied Coastal Forces, with several highly-regarded books to his credit. Al highlighted to me that this book does actually contain numerous factual errors - he drew the publisher's attention to this, with no result.
I still thinks it's a good little volume and provides a useful reference for us, but clearly I must add the caveat that some of the info in it should be cross-checked against other sources before being taken as gospel. Here are the mistakes that Al kindly identified, there may well be more...

On pp 19-20 Konstam talks about ex PT88, 90-94 (MTB 419-424) as being 77' ELCOs (which they were not), then as being 78' Higgins (which they were). The photo caption at the top of p.19 identifies the boat as a 70' ELCO; it's a 77' boat. Only the 77' ELCOs mounted the single Vickers MKV turret on the centerline of the trunk cabin. The 70' boats initially had two DeWandre turrets abeam each other at this location.

Continuing on p.19, Konstam identifies PT5-8 as Higgins boats. PT5-6 were, but 7-8 were built by the Philadelphia Navy Yard. He also identifies both 7 and 8 as aluminium; 8 was, 7 was wood. This information can easily found in readily-available credible published sources like Friedman's US Small Combatants. "
Osprey are rightly renowned for their military reference works, and this volume is well up to the usual standard modellers have come to expect. A slim volume, but packed cover to cover with useful and interesting information.
Percentage Rating
  Scale: Other
  Mfg. ID: ISBN 1841765007
  Suggested Retail: 7.60
  Related Link: Osprey Publishing
  PUBLISHED: Aug 07, 2006
  NATIONALITY: United Kingdom

About Graham Townsend (Ripster)

Copyright 2020 text by Graham Townsend [ RIPSTER ]. All rights reserved.


I'll list a few; there are more. On pp.19-20, the author lists exPT88, 90-94 |(MTB419-423) as 77' ELCOs (which they weren't), then as 78' Higgins (which they were). The photo on p. 19 is of a 77' boat, not a 70' boat. On p.19, he says PT5-8 were Higgins boats and that PT7 & 8 were aluminum. PT5 & 6 were Higgins boats, PT7 & 8 were designed and built at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. PT7 was wooden, PT8 was aluminum. Same page, the ten 77' ELCOs which were to become MTB 317-326 became PT 59-68, not Soviet Navy craft. Page 44, table "The pennant numbers 332-346' were allocated to Vosper, but were not used" Maybe not by Vosper, but MTB332-343 were 70' Canadian Power Boat Company boats; MTB344-346 were Thornycroft boats similar to their CMB types of WWI. Etc... These are easily avoidable errors, as this is basic data that has been around for years. This seems to be a persistent problem with publishers who produce large numbers of titles in soft-cover format. Authors with little or no obvious familiarity with the topic read a bunch of other folks' books, select bits and pieces from each, and compile them into a single volume. The author of this book, according to the bio on the inside front cover, has "...written over 20 books, many of which are published by Osprey." The maritime titles they list for him all deal with 16th to 18th century sail. How does that apply to 20th century petrol-powered small combatants? Having read all but three of the books listed in his bibliography, I can even tell from which books some of this material was derived. Al
AUG 07, 2006 - 07:07 AM
Hi Al, Well Bugger, no 1/35 MTB for me this year anyway. LOL, LOL Looks like this title is littered with inaccurate stuff, thanks for drawing the attention of members to this. There is nothing worse than innaccurate information. Question1 : Would any of the US ELCO boats have been based in England - I might move to plan B or was that Z!!!!! LOL, LOL Question 2: Would the RN have had any UDT Boats?? Graham, re the harbour scene I'm sourcing stuff at the moment. I have a couple of very rough sketches with the layout, the LCMs are ready to build and I might have sourced the UDT boat. British goods wagons and flatbeds for the pier are proving difficult but information is coming in slowly. I hope to have the base ready in about 2 weeks to mark up the layout and begin the landward side of the build. Old tyres for the pier and boats are starting to arrive form various members here on site and I've sourced most if not all of the figures I would like to use, some will have to be altered as I'd like a Bobby in the scene as well. Size has been set at 24" by 29". Cheers Al
AUG 07, 2006 - 09:57 PM
Hi Al, There were two 80' ELCO squadrons in the Channel - RON34 (PT498-509) and RON35 (PT510-521). They both arrived in June, 1944 but were all transferred to the Soviets by November 1944. Compared to the heavily-armed and dramatically-camouflaged Pacific boats, these looked rather tame. Based on photos of a couple of these boats, they had a 40mm aft, the usual .50 turrets, four MK13 torpedoes in roll-off racks, and a single 20mm MK14 to port forward. However, contemporary newsreel footage shows the 20mm replaced by a 37mm M4 on PT509, 515, 517, 519, & 520. There may have been other armament variations, as well, but I haven't seen any photos of such. Camouflage was MS13 - Haze Gray (5-H) vertical surfaces, Deck Blue (20-B) horizontal surfaces. Al
AUG 08, 2006 - 01:58 AM
Hi Al, Thanks for that - now that opens up even more possibilities and being based in the channel in 44 that would fit right in with my time frame. Would you by any chance have a photo re the camo scheme? Thanks for that - brilliant, this keeps getting better and better :-) :-) Cheers Al
AUG 08, 2006 - 02:48 AM
Hi Al I'm not averse to some surgery and scratch-building if I can make a boat that saw RN service out of this one. Could you give me some more specific guidance on what would be required, in addition to modifying the after end of the hull? Alternatively, if I have read ACF Vol 2 correctly, I believe as it stands the Revell kit can be used to build one of hull numbers 661-730, but not one of the earlier boats without major modification? All of these were built for the USSR - do you know which ones would have actually seen active service, and what paint scheme they would (might?!) have worn? Finally, the $64,000 question - what would you say are the best 1/72 MTB and PT Boat models on the market? Bet you're glad you joined MSW now that you're having all these questions fired at you! It will only get worse when the campaign gets underway you know... :-) Cheers Graham
AUG 08, 2006 - 04:18 AM
That's best answered by simply telling you to compare John's drawings of the two boats and see what you come up with. Perhaps the easiest way to do this is to make photocopies of the plans for the Soviet boat and one of the RN boats you want to build. Enlarge/reduce them to the same scale, then hold them over a light box or up to a window. The differences will be readily apparent. Correct Other than the information provided in the table, no. I haven't seen any photos of these boats in Soviet service, so can't comment meaningfully on the paint scheme. The photos I've seen of other Soviet CF types generally show them in an overall medium shade of gray. That's terribly vague, but is the best I can offer. I wouldn't. I'm one of those rivet counters who has to measure, compare against official drawings, etc., before making a qualitative statement. Al
AUG 08, 2006 - 05:30 AM
Thanks for the info Al. I think I will build her as a Soviet boat, just modifying the aft end of the hull as described and detailing or replacing the weapons, deck fittings, and so on. And overall grey she will be! Maybe with just a little red flag to set her off...
AUG 08, 2006 - 05:42 AM
Surprisingly, not that are particularly clear. Basically, everthing you see when looking at the side of the boat is Haze Gray (a light gray) and everything you see when looking directly down on the boat is Deck Blue (a very dark blue-gray). The latter includes the day cabin and charthouse roofs. Torpedoes are typically natural metal body with a dull bronze or dark gray warhead. You can get tins of correctly matched colors from White Ensign Models (WEM) over in your part of the world. LINK Al
AUG 08, 2006 - 06:06 AM
Hi Al, thanks for the reply on the paint scheme for the ELCO boat, much appreciated. Cheers Alan
AUG 08, 2006 - 03:41 PM

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