At last the splendid record of the Royal Navy's M.T.B.s, M.G.B.s, and M.L.s can be revealed. During the war in Europe, Coastal Forces performed the following feats; fought 780 actions with the enemy at sea; sank more than 500 enemy vessels; carried our nearly double the number of individual minelaying operations carried out by all other Naval minelayers; fired 1,169 torpedoes, scoring 301 certain or probable hits – a percentage better even than submarines; and shot down 32 enemy aircraft.
The cost of these successes was the loss in action of 170 Coastal Force craft. This “midget” Navy – the largest M.T.B. displaces only 120 tons – expanded a hundredfold in four years. At the outbreak of war there were only two flotillas of Coast Force craft. In 1944 it employed 3,000 officers and 22,000 ratings. Over 1,200 craft were built in the United Kingdom and over 300 in the Empire and the United States. Over 90 per cent of Coastal Force officers were R.N.V.R. And the same percentage of ratings were “Hostilities Only”.
With the Germans holding the French coast, the need for these little ships became acute. Mass production and prefabrication had to be used to a considerable extent. There was so much to be done that the “utility” M.L.s originally designed for anti-submarine work in coast waters were also used as minelayers, minesweepers, convoy escorts, gunboats, smokelayers, air-sea rescue craft and for duties with Combined Operations.
Coastal Forces started their operational career in the Dunkirk evacuation and the fall of Holland. During that tense period they evacuated the Belgian Cabinet, Admiral Keyes, General Alexander and other notabilities. In the late part of 1940 the German E-boats appeared, and then began the four-year dual. In defending our convoys, gunboats, torpedo-boats and motor launches sank 48 E-boats and mauled twice that number.
The Navy's contribution to the famous raid on St. Nazaire was exclusively from Coastal Forces, with the exception of H.M.S. Campbeltown, the destroyer which rammed and exploded at the dock gates. Of the 18 small craft that went into the attack only four came back. In the latter half of 1942, M.T.B. operations were carried for the first time into the fjords of Norway. Raids from the Shetlands entailed long sea passages in severe weather conditions and a stay of often several days hidden amongst the fjords.
In a “cat-and-mouse” campaign in the waters of the Adriatic and Aegean, M.T.B.s developed the technique of boarding enemy vessels and capturing them. During the Invasion of France, a total of 28 M.T.B. flotillas were in operation at home.
In their most successful year, 1944, Coastal Forces averaged more than one action a day over the whole twelve months, actually having 378 engagements with the enemy. In one week working with destroyers during the evacuation of Le Havre by the Germans, Coastal Forces destroyed 20 ships without loss to themselves. In the final stages of the European War, Coastal Forces had to counter midget U-boats; of 81 midgets sunk or captured, Coastal Forces claimed 23.