Allied Coastal Forces of World War II – Volume I – Book Review

Allied Coastal Forces of World War II – Volume I, written by John Lambert and Al Ross deals with Fairmile Designs and the US Submarine Chasers. It was published on 12 December 2018 by Seaforth Publishing, an imprint of Pen and Sword Books, is 256 pages long and has ISBN: 9781526744494*(see below).

I do love naval history and I have a particular interest in small boats (and big ships and all in between truth be told). This volume deals with some of my favourite vessels, the Fairmiles.

Fairmile Marine was a British boat building company founded in 1939 by the car manufacturer Noel Macklin using his garage at Cobham Fairmile in Surrey for manufacturing assembly. His company was run as an agency of the Admiralty, the company carrying out business without turning a profit, the staff being in effect part of the civil service.

Fairmile B – Admiralty Light Modification Scheme

His first design was the Fairmile A Motor Launch (ML) but the most ubiquitous of the Fairmiles was the Fairmile B ML. Over 600 of these were built over the period 1940 to 1945. Originally designed as submarine chasers the Motor Launches were fitted with ASDIC. Later versions of the Fairmiles (the C, D and F versions) were fitted out as gunboats with the Ds also rigged as Motor Torpedo Boats.

Coastal naval warfare in both the North Sea and the Mediterranean were fiercely fought skirmishes between the Allied MLs, MGBs and MTBs and the Axis E-Boats, R-Boats, MAS boats and the like. The Fairmile boats made up a considerable portion of Coastal Command and fought in all theatres.

Fairmile B – Admiralty Dark Modification Scheme – a harbour defence ML

The illustration here are some of the vessels illustrated with differing camouflage designs are taken from the book. Apologies for the quality, I photographed with my tablet and one hand and it is a heavy tome.

The detail, drawings, plans and photographs in this book are super. The authors cover the details of the vessels, the equipment that was present on the vessels, selected weapon systems and additional data, including the fate of most of the vessels. For example, we can see the builder, when a vessel was completed and its fate. In the case of ML 400, this vessel was built in New Zealand and completed on 18 November 1942. It served in the RNZN where it sailed as HMNZS Kahu, being sold in 1947 and sailing then as the Dolphin.

US Submarine Chaser, SC497, part of a class of 110′ sub chasers in measure 14 camouflage

The US Submarine Chasers are covered as well, although not in as great a detail.

The table of contents, apart from the usual sections of Forewards, Authors Notes, Prefaces, Abbreviations and the like  covers:

  • The Fairmile company
  • The Fairmile B ML
  • The Canadian Fairmile B ML
  • The Fairmile C motor gunboat
  • The Fairmile D MTB/MGB
  • The Fairmile F MGB
  • The Fairmile H Landing Craft
  • The SC 497 class 110 ft sub chaser
  • Depth Charges and anti-submarine equipment
  • British Coastal Forces radar
  • British Coastal Forces camouflage
  • Engines and engineering
  • Weapons systems (depth charge projectors, flares, machine guns, 1- and 2-pounder guns, 4.5in guns and the like

The extensive appendices include:

  • Schedule of British Builders
  • Fairmile production analysis Yard analysis Consumption of major materials
  • Area comparisons
  • Building times

all in all, 12 appendices.

The writing in the book is clear an easy to both follow and understand. Best, most of the book is in shorter chapters making it easier to read and follow over shorter reading sessions. I have learnt so much from this work that I am really itching to start on their volume 2 which covers perhaps the most famous of the Allied coastal vessels, the Vosper MTBs and US Elcos. There is a third volume being prepared covering the British Power Boat 70ft MTBs and MGBs which were very successful boats.

This really is a must have book for anyone interested in coastal warfare. There is nothing I can think of that is really missing from this coverage. Best, it is on special at the moment (20 July 2019)  at Pen and Sword.


* Please note the following (21 July 2019):

This work was originally published in 1994. in the US it was published by the Naval Institute Press (and I am guessing by Conway’s in the UK). In 2005 it was reprinted and published by Conway’s in the UK (and I am guessing that the Naval Institute Press may well have republished then too). I have not seen either of those editions so I can’t comment on any change in content in this edition. I can, however, note that a new copy of the 1994 version is selling on Amazon for US $225 dollars and the 2005 version new for US $165.60. The £32.00 current version from Pen and Sword therefore looks good value by comparison.

I should also note that unfortunately, the third volume covering the British Power Boat 70ft MTBs and MGBs was never published.

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