Canadian Motor Torpedo Boat Flotilla
A Brief Chronology - Part I - March
to June, 1944
Most of its officers and men had a long and lively experience
with British (R.N.) coastal forces in the English Channel, the
North Sea, or the Mediterranean.
MTB 459 during the working-up period at Holyhead.
(PAC PA 144587)
Working up at H.M.S. Bee, Holyhead, Anglesey.
Operational from H.M.S. Fervent, Coastal Forces Base off Dover
May 16, 1944
First mission assigned to boats 460,462,464 and 465; escort of
a hazardous mine gathering expedition to the coast of France.
They were to proceed to the D-Day beaches with two British
M.T.B.'s, and protect them while volunteers were landed by outboards
to lift sample mines from beach defence.
They managed to complete their mission undetected, and returned
with the German mines. What was learned from the dismantling
of these mines enabled our troops to avoid considerable casualties
when D-Day finally came.
May 20, 1944
Badly shot up an enemy convoy.
The tiny, fast M.T.B.'s joined forces with the Tribals (including
the Canadian 65th M.T.B. Flotilla) to put many enemy warships
out of action before the Channel became clogged with tempting
targets on June 6. They fought all up and down the Channel,
intercepting enemy coastal convoys, dueling with German E-boats,
luring German destroyers within the gun range of heavier warships,
shooting up escort ships, and torpedoing merchant vessels.
May 22, 1944
Boats 459,464,465, and 466 twenty four miles off Boulogne.
'Starshell' and high explosive bursts ahead of them indicated
that British M.T.B.'s were already in action with a convoy moving
between Dieppe and Boulogne. Then gun flashes lifted from the
dark shore, and a few seconds later 'starshell' burst above
the Canadians. They had been detected; shore batteries had them
in range. The German force, now thoroughly aroused and vigilant,
appeared to consist of four shallow craft, plus heavily armed
flak ships with accompanying E-boats. As the Canadian M.T.B.'s
ran in toward the convoy, the Germans swung their guns, and
turned their full fire power on the Canadians. A dazzling glare
of starshell blazed in the eyes of the Canadians. Through, it
the red, green, and yellow streams of tracer fire came arching
down. Replying with 'starshell' of their own, which must have
proven equally discon- certing to the enemy, the Canadians bore
in, and ran alongside the convoy for five minutes with all guns
firing. At the end of the line of German ships, they swung out
to sea, laying a smoke screen behind them. They had suffered
no casualties, and yet could report no definite losses on the
part of the enemy. They had certainly scored may hits; but the
brief, slashing action fought under a blaze of 'starshell' gave
no opportunity for an assessment of damages.
These nightly patrols, and this swift, fierce, incisive action,
were to form the pattern of the work of the M.T.B.'s right up
to D-Day, and for several months afterwards.
May 27, 1944
Moved to Portsmouth - based H.M.S. Hornet.
The 29th MTB Flotilla en route to Normandy.
(PAC PA 144576)
For the 29th Flotilla, the primary duty from the afternoon
of D-Day onward was the close-in protection of the eastern side
of the assault lines and anchorages. D-Day, off Point Barfleur,
at the western tip of Baie De La Seine, the M.T.B.'s of the
29th Canadian Flotilla were a part of the inmost patrol. They
were ordered to take up patrol in the Tunny South area, about
13 miles south-west of Le Havre. There were two troublesome
Eblings based on Le Havre, and the city's harbour was also an
important base for E-boats and R-boats.
June 6, 1944
It was a bad night for coastal craft, with a rough sea and a clear
sky which provided too much visibility.
At a few minutes after four in the morning, signs of battle
appeared to the northward. Running in toward what appeared to
be a gun action between British M.T.B.'s and German craft, the
boats of the 29th fired starshell over the scene at a range
of three thousand yards. The bursts revealed a line of six R-boats
moving in the direction of the anchorages. The Canadians opened
fire at a range of about seven hundred yards, closed to a range
of a hundred and fifty yards in the face of heavy return fire,
and saw one of the German craft blow up. The other German boats
turned away and ran for Le Havre, making smoke. All of them
had been hit, some of them repeatedly; and they had set off
on a route which would take them across the British minefield
laid in from off Le Havre. The action had already worked in
very close to the fringes of the field, and the boats of the
29th had observed two or three surface mines bobbing about them.
They therefore turned away, leaving the retreating enemy to
pick their way into Le Havre with what luck he could.
Four men had been wounded in the action. On return to the
anchorage in the morning the first task of the 29th. was to
find one among the hundreds of crowded ships which could take
the casualties on board.
June 7, 1944
During-the early hours of June 7, the E-boats were out in strength,
and it was with them that the M.T.B.'s first clashed. There were
no less than seven encounters during the night, in which the 55th
Flotilla, under L/CDR D.G- Bradford, D.S.C., R.N.R, and the Canadian
29th Flotilla, under L/CDR C.A. Law, D.S.C., bore the brunt of
The 29th saw the/two Elbings from Le Havre nosing their way
into the anchorage. The M.T.B.'s, hopelessly outgunned and without
torpedoes, had no means of attack. All they could do as to let
themselves be detected and lead the Elbings away from the assault
area on a chase-which ended some two miles off Le Havre. Although
denied any choice of offensive action, they had at least diverted
an attack; and in the morning their disappointment was tempered
by personal congratulations from Sir Philip Vian, Naval Commander
of the Eastern Task Force.
Inboard boat shows racks of small depth charges.
((PAC PA 144573)
For a short time torpedoes were removed from the MTB'S, in favour
of small depth charges to cope with the 2-men manned human torpedoes,
or Walter "W" boats, based at Le Havre.
June 8, 1944
Boats 459,460,465 and 466 returned to Portsmouth for a night's
The others - 461, 462 462, 463 and 464 - were on patrol in
the central part of Tunney South, and had chased some E-boats
which outran them to the west. Coming back onto station at a
little after two a.m., they stopped engines and began a 'listening
watch' by hydrophone. They had been 'silent and stopped' in
the dark for a little less than half an hour when, once again,
the two Elbings loomed suddenly in front of them, not five hundred
yards off. Having other preoccupations the German destroyers
had not sighted the M.T.B.'s; they were apparently just getting
into position to bombard the assault anchorage. Fired a minute
or so later, their first 'starshells', passed above their heads
of the Canadians to burst over the line of ships before the
beaches. The M.T.B.'s started their engines slowly, and cautiously
hoping to remain unobserved. They were scarcely under way, however,
when the German ships turned on them, and opened with rapid
and accurate salvoes that kept them dodging through a smoke
screen for ten minutes. Boat 464, stationed astern and making
smoke for the others, took the brunt of the action. One of its
men was killed and another seriously injured; but once again,
a projected attack on the ships at anchor had been broken up.
June 10, 1944
M.T.B. 459 picked up Vice-Admiral P. Nelles from a British transport
to take him over to H.M.C.S. Algonquin for a fast trip to Portsmouth.
Leading Seaman J. Borthwick had the honour of piping Adm. Nelles
(I made an awful job of piping. Adm. Nelles approached me
later, saying "It's a far better job you are doing here, than
worrying about entertaining an Admiral".)
June 12. 1944
Boats 461,463 and 464 were in position to fire torpedoes at the
two Elbing destroyers when they were ordered to retire. British
destroyers had appeared on the scene; their salvoes went arching
over the withdrawing M.T.B.'s, and the Elbings fled with smoke
rising from their afterparts.