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Fast and Furious

Catalogue number 16030

Russian torpedo boats, detail

The Russian Navy seriously began the design and construction of fast torpedo boats only in the late 1920's. They were to be based mainly in the Baltic and the Black Sea. Most Soviet high-speed motor torpedo boats were of the type G5 which had the following characteristics: stepped hull, length 19.10m, breadth 3.33m, moulded depth 1.75m, displacement 14.84 tons, maximum speed 48 kts. Equipped with two petrol engines acting on twin shafts, two 53.3cm torpedoes and a 12.7mm machine gun on the bridge. The Duraluminium hull suffered damage from vibration and salt-water corrosion. Note machine gun at the rear of the bridge on the left boat. Wireless aerial running from stump mast on bridge to bow staff.

Recto: Short text in Russian.

9.1cm x 12.6cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 57058

Russian G5 boats in Spain

During the Spanish Civil War, four G5 torpedo boats were transferred to the Spanish Republican Navy. In this stern view, we can see the two torpedoes stowed on the launch rails.

10.4cm x 6cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 128034

Russian G5, bell-shaped torpedo launcher

In the G5, the 21-inch torpedoes were pushed out of the stern trough by an explosive-activated piston with a bell-shaped head pushing back onto the torpedo nose. This photograph shows one of the two Russian G5 boats captured by the Finns in 1942. Note the 0.5 inch DSHK machine gun on the small bridge.

Verso:"Russian torpedo boat S-57. Photo taken when the boats were captured by the Finns in 1940 (sic)" in French

7.8cm x 13cm printed image


Catalogue number 79076

Italian motor torpedo boats

Like other European Navies, Italy began to expand its fleet of high speed torpedo and gun boats (Motobarca Armata Svan o Silurante, MAS) at the start of the First World War. Numerous problems arose - insufficient supply of suitable engines, slow speed, lack of seaworthiness, choice of propeller - and there were many different series of MAS. Most of the early MAS boats were considered too unreliable for offensive operations and were relegated to convoy work, anti-submarine and harbour defence duties. This image shows a group of MAS boats from the MAS 23 to MAS 52 series of 1916 at the Ansaldo shipyard in Sestri Ponti.

21.9cm x 14.1cm Printed image


Catalogue number 72106

Thornycroft Coastal Motor Boat

M.T.V. 4 was one of two 55ft motor torpedo boats built by Thornycroft in 1928 at Woolton, UK for the Finnish Navy. They had a one-step hydroplane hull and were made of pine with elm frames and double diagonal mahogany with a steep V-shape. They were powered by two Thornycroft Type Y/12 main engines and, interestingly, had one Thornycroft Type RA/4 cruising engine. They could move at 40 kts with a crew of 5. The two 45cm torpedoes were launched from rails over the stern of the boat. This required the boat to quickly get out of the way of the launched torpedo and this could be difficult when navigating alongside other boats or in confined waters.

Verso: "Thornycroft 55ft Coastal Motor Boat. Built for the Finnish Navy. " in pencil. Ink stamp "John I. THORNYCROFT & CO., LIMITED Engineers & Shipbuliders THORNYCROFT HOUSE, WESTMINSTER LONDON, S.W.1."

19.8cm x 14.7cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 71083

French Navy VTB7

The French Navy became interested in fast motor torpedo boats after the First World War. Two Thornycroft boats (a 45ft boat and a 55ft boat) were bought in 1921 and then began a building programme of Vedette Torpilleur type B boats (VTB) similar to the Thornycraft 55 ft boat. However, the authorities were not satisfied with these boats and solicited a design from the French company Silbur at Meulin sur la Seine. VTB8 (in service 1935) was one of the two twin petrol-engined boats built and reached 52 kts unloaded on trials. Lightly built with three layers of mahogany, the design was dropped when the second boat broke up when running at full speed. At the level of the bridge, we can see one of the two torpedoes that were launched over the side, port and starboard.

11cm x 8cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 71084

French Navy VTB10

VTB10 was a departure from the previous designs using a stepped hull. Developments had been made with the hard chine hull which, if reducing maximum speed, gave better sea-keeping qualities. The Ateliers et Chantiers de la Loire built VTB10 around the 650hp Hispano-Suiza aero engine. The boat made 55kts unloaded on trials powered by four of these petrol engines, two to each shaft.

11cm x 8cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 44048

Early British Motor Torpedo Boat

At the beginning of the Second World War, the Admiralty, as a stop-gap measure, decided to convert about half of the existing motor anti-submarine boats into motor gun boats (MGB). The craft in this photograph from 1940 looks like a British Power Boat Company 60ft motor torpedo boat of 1940-1941, note the lifebuoys marked "HMMTB" (His Majesty's Motor Torpedo Boat). It has two tubs with quadruple Lewis guns and we can see a depth charge just behind the starboard gun mounting. There's not much room on the bridge - note the ship's lights and crest. This is the MTB crest "Caudae Spiculum Caveo" "Beware the sting in the tail". A zoom on the bridge just above the crest shows what appears to be a dromedary mascot!

Verso: "These pictures show the Navy motor torpedo boats on duty off the East Coast. These craft are used for patrol work and are capable of fast speeds and have a big cruising radius. Photo shows- Gunners at action stations on board one of the motor torpedo boats during duty off the East Coast. Judging by this picture enemy aircraft would certainly get a warm welcome" with "2 MAART 1940" (translated from Dutch as 2nd March 1940) stamped in blue.

14.2cm x 19.6cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 104009

US Navy PT303, detail

The United States Navy only became interested in high speed torpedo and gun boats (PT boats in American nomenclature) when they became necessary for naval operations, notably in the Pacific and the Mediterranean Sea. This photograph shows one of the 197 boats mass produced by Higgins Industries, New Orleans, USA, thanks to standardisation of engines, armament, equipment and fittings. PT306 "Hogan's Goat" is seen here in the pass at Taranto, Italy late 1943 or early 1944. Two twin 12.7mm machine guns are in turrets either side of the bridge with what looks like the barrel of a Bofors gun on the aft deck and a 20mm Oerlikon cannon on the foredeck. The warhead of one of the four 53.3cm torpedoes can be seen just aft of the bridge. A British Royal Navy officer is looking on maybe impressed - or otherwise! - by the customised turret and the jacket of the crew member.

14.3cm x 10.7cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 88

Free French Vosper MTB96

The image of a flotilla of MTBs and MGBs roaring off into the sunset with all guns blazing away to attack the enemy is rather a Hollywood cliché. With a low profile and capable of a sudden turn of speed, making the most of a poor visibility, they would wait in ambush, engines stopped or idling (some of the first Vosper 70ft boats had a Ford V-8 wing auxiliary engine fitted to enable the boat to approach the enemy at slow speed and in silence) whilst listening for the noise of an approaching enemy. Both Allied and Axis forces used such tactics. Another tactic when being chased was to drop depth charges with a shallow setting in the tracks of the pursuing enemy. This Vosper 76ft 6-inch boat was loaned to the Free French Forces in 1942, we can see the French flag flying from the stump mast. A hard chine hull of double skin, diagonal mahogany powered by three Packhard petrol engines with a maximum speed of 35kts, range was 400 miles at 20kts. Two 21-inch torpedoes were carried, with twin 0.5-inch machine guns in a powered turret abaft the bridge and two machine guns on mountings either side of the bridge (one is visible at the level of the wheelhouse roof and alongside the torpedo tube). The crew consisted of 2 officers and 11 men.

38cm x 27.7cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 101192

Construction of Vosper high-speed boats

Although this photograph shows the construction of Vosper Air Sea Rescue launches, the techniques are the same as for MTBs and MGBs - a hard chine hull (i.e. a sharp angle at the bottom of the V hull and sharp angles where the V joins the side of the hull), double diagonal mahogany on wood (pine and elm) frames and planking. Note the close framing and the bulkhead just aft of the bow.

Verso; "LAUNCHES FROM THE AIR SEA RESCUE SERVICE. Sea Rescue Launches, built by Vospers, which operate round our coasts, have been the means of saving the lives of many of our air crews brought down into the sea by enemy action. Photo shows. Sea Rescue Launches under construction at one of the Vosper factories.

20cm x 14cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 102007

Vosper 70ft MTB

Loading one of the two tubes with a 21-inch torpedo, freshly greased apparently as there is a barrel of grease and rag waste between the two air intakes. The aft hand-operated, shielded Oerlikon twin machine guns can be clearly seen. Aft of the air intakes is the smoke generator on its blocks.

10.9cm x 14.3cm Gelatin silver print

Catalogue number 35183

American Coast Guard launch, 1917

This photograph illustrates how the US Navy, from humble beginnings, developed a fleet of high-speed torpedo and gun boats of nearly 800 craft. This photograph shows a US Coast Guard motor launch with a belt-ammunition machine gun in 1917. One crew member has a pair of binoculars and another is doing contortions whilst trying to aim and fire the gun but the gun mounting is totally inadequate for the task. The Commissariat general à l'information, source of the photograph, was a French propaganda ministry aimed at boosting moral and mobilising public opinion against Germany. Personally, my moral wouldn't be too high if I was told in 1940 that the American coastline was defended by the type of boat shown in this photograph!

Verso: "American motor boat with machine gun (USA 1917) type written in French and ink stamp "Commissariat général à l'information 30MAR1940",

16.8cm x 11.8cm Gelatin silver print