Coastal Motorboats 1908 to 1918

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    Charles Tolcher

    I am trying to trace details on the use of Coastal Motorboats by the Royal Navy and the RNVR, pre First World War developments. Thorneycrofts designed the 1915 versions at sixty foot long.

    Is there any book on this subject?

    It is around the time of petrol engines / kerosene engines.

    Many thanks,

    Alastair Wilson

    By Alastair Wilson
    So far as I know, there’s no book on the CMBs specifically. But try contacting the Coastal Forces Heritage Trust ( So far as the RN was concenrned, there weren’t any pre-WW1 developments – other than that there were still some of the earlier steam Torpedo Boats around (the last of which were really coastal destroyers, and used as such). But the internal combustion-engined ‘speed-boat’ for war-fighting purposes didn’t come along until the war, when, as you say, Thornycroft produced the CMB – there were 40-footers, 55-footers and 70-footers. Agar won his VC at Kronstadt in 1919, in a 40-footer, CMB 4, now in the custody of the IWM at Duxford, would you believe. And the boats did well at Zeebrugges and Ostende in 1918.
    Before the war, a naphtha-powered launch was THE toy of the seriously rich American playboy, and some of their technology, I think, rubbed off on the CMBs

    Alistair Roach

    Charlie – I’m not sure how far you’ve got with your researches but the following may be of assistance.

    Plans of various CMBs are available via the NMM.
    Model Shipwright published a two-page article on the general history of CMBs in their June 1996 edition. No.96 – pp50-51.
    Marine Modelling International produced a four page article with a free plan for a Thornycroft 55ft CMB in their April 2008 edition. pp39-42. The author of this article quotes ‘Fast Fighting Ships 1870-1945‘ by Harold Fox (1978) and ‘Coastal Forces Vessels of the Royal Navy from 1865‘ by M.P.Cocker (2006) as his references.
    To get a flavour of CMBs at work Augustus Agar’s own book ‘Baltic Episode‘ published by Conway Maritime Press in 1963 is certainly worth a read. Part of the book relates to the action when Agar wins the VC and DSO with CMB4 (now at Duxford as mentioned above).

    There is a rather good film clip entitled ‘Osea Island, Essex: Secret Naval Base at Secret Island‘. This was taken during WW1 and shows the set up at HMS Osea, boats being armed and serviced, etc. It can be viewed on the internet via BBC-World War1 or just type in the heading. also has a rather good section on Osea Island showing a plan of the establishment when in operation, a list of personnel, a photographic reconstruction of the site – including launching ramps, etc.

    Hopefully some of the above may be of help.

    Best wishes
    Alistair Roach


    Hello Charlie

    David Brown’s’The Grand Fleet’ has a short section on CMBs and cites the following which may be useful re Thorneycroft:
    K C Barnaby, 100 years of Specialised Shipbuilding and Engineering (London 1964) which Brown says is largely based on a company booklet : A Short History of the Revival of the Small Torpedo Boat During the Great War’ (London 1918)

    Brassey’s 1913 edition has an interesting section covering the weight reduction of machinery including in TBDs pp114-121. At p116 there is a discussion on the use of internal combustion engines in destroyers .

    Dittmar and Colledge’s ‘British Warships 1914-1919’ pp137-140 has a list of CMBs giving: armament, engine type and output, name, MB no. Date completed, builder and fate.



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