Just when you think that everything that could be written about WWII has been, up pops a new book that proves there is still so much to be written and, in the case of autobiographies and biographies, so little time to write it. The author has more than fifty years of acting and taking part in iconic television series. That means that those who know of him are unlikely to think of anything beyond his acting career. This book sets out with charm and humour the story of his wartime career as a skipper commanding an important type of coastal craft and the great adventure that it was for him. Joining the Royal Navy as a humble rating, he rose to commission and command of coastal forces vessels. The story has a good pace, worthy of a novel, with as many twists and turns to keep the reader turning pages to the end. An excellent story, very well told, highly recommended.
NAME: One Man’s War, an Actor’s Life at Sea 1940-1945
AUTHOR: Richard Beale
PUBLISHER: Bloomsbury, Conway
BINDING: hard back
GENRE: Non Fiction
SUBJECT: HMS Hood, HDML, Fairmile B, mosquito craft, convoy escort, submarine chaser, ML, Motor Launch, Greek waters, Croatian waters, Mediterranean, Eastern Mediterranean, spies, covert operations, bandits, minesweeping, WWII, World War Two, Second World War, 1939-1945, 1940-1945
DESCRIPTION: Just when you think that everything that could be written about WWII has been, up pops a new book that proves there is still so much to be written and, in the case of autobiographies and biographies, so little time to write it. The author has more than fifty years of acting and taking part in iconic television series. That means that those who know of him are unlikely to think of anything beyond his acting career. This book sets out with charm and humour the story of his wartime career as a skipper commanding an important type of coastal craft and the great adventure that it was for him. Joining the Royal Navy as a humble rating, he rose to commission and command of coastal forces vessels. The story has a good pace, worthy of a novel, with as many twists and turns to keep the reader turning pages to the end. An excellent story, very well told, highly recommended.
The author joined the RN and went through the usual initial stages of basic training and on-the-job experience aboard larger warships. During this stage of his wartime career he was an ordinary seaman but he demonstrated the qualities required for a commission. As an officer, he was put into the coastal forces operations and commanded two types of wooden patrol craft.
He commanded an HDML which was the smallest in the family of Fairmile designs. The Harbour Defence Motor Launch was designed to fill a selection of harbour patrol duties but it was used for more demanding tasks, including on occasion convoy escort. It shared with its larger sisters a wooden hull and superstructure, intended to reduce demand for strategic materials that were in scarce supply and to allow the vessels to be built by the smaller yards that were unable to build or repair steel warships of larger size. Many HDMLs were build by yacht boatyards, inland from the sea. In some cases, the yards had to tow the incomplete hulls down to larger ports for final fitting out because of the depth of water available in the rivers.
The Fairmile design bureau was responsible for producing a family of designs, but not to have a hand in production. The Government set up a number of depots which received components from all over the country, manufactured by small furniture fabricators, blacksmiths, small metal working companies, and other manufacturers who were not suited for heavier work, but had produced products that were no longer required during hostilities. The hulls were built on ply frames with double diagonal mahogany planking. As some stocks of planks were unloaded onto quays in major ports, they often collected shrapnel from enemy bombing. This required care by the wood workers to avoid damaging tools on the steel fragments and it was not unusual for Fairmile boats to carry enemy steel around for the duration of their lives. As the war continued, the Fairmile designs were considered suitable for manufacture abroad in addition to the yards that started the construction program. Some Fairmile designs were built in Egypt, India, Canada, the US and other countries.
The author’s final command was a Fairmile B which is arguably the most interesting of the designs. The Fairmile A was a hard chine hulled vessel of 110 ft in length, two officers and fourteen men, used for a number of tasks including coastal convoy escort and mine-laying. The Fairmile B was a 112 ft bilge keel and a true multi-role vessel, using tracking systems to allow rapid change of weapons systems to best suit a particular role. Originally, Fairmile took a scaled down set of destroyer lines and intended the main propulsion to be by three diesel engines but the work in producing high speed diesels at Perkins was running behind schedule and the designer switched to three American petrol engines from Hall-Scott. These engines were still expected to provide a full speed of 28-30 knots, but as they would have to be brought by trans-Atlantic convoy, someone decided to reduce the B to two Hall-Scott to allow more Bs to be built for the same cargo space from the US. This reduced speed to around 17.5 knots which was still more than adequate for many of the roles intended for the Bs, including mine sweeping, coastal escort, anti-submarine, and agent insertion/extraction. More than 700 Bs were built around the world, most having been constructed in British yards, and equipment included sonar and radar, with some Bs carrying a 4.5 gun on a powered mount on the fore deck. Single and twin 20mm manual mounts were carried and there was an ability to carry deck mounted torpedo tubes and depth charges producing a formidably armed vessel of great versatility.
The author was given command of Fairmile B ML 135. This vessel was built by Diesel Constructors, Iselworth, England, and completed 10.10.1940. The author was ordered to sail to the Mediterranean via Malta to the Eastern Mediterranean. In 1945 ML 135 was lent to the South African Navy, before returning to Malta where she was sold in 1946. Her final fate is unrecorded, but almost all Bs were either lent to other navies after 1945. or marked for disposal with their engines being removed and returned to the US under Lend Lease. In this condition they were sold off cheaply, often becoming house boats. Those sold in the Mediterranean often had a more exciting post-war life with new engines, running drugs, arms and other contraband.
Under the author’s command, ML 135 enjoyed an active life including covert operations and encounters with Greek bandits. This is an absorbing tale that has been told well and it would be wrong to spoil the readers’ enjoyment by detailing the story which reads like an adventure novel. A great read.