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Notes on the introduction to the R.A.F. of high-speed craft

by W. E. G Beauforte-Greenwood

An account of Lawrence's involvement in the development of RAF marine craft written by a senior officer in the Marine Branch.

Source: National Archives, AIR5/1372. Obvious errors in the typescript have been corrected.


Towards the end of 1929, or early 1930, Mr. Scott-Paine approached me in regard to his 35ft. Motor Boats and for their use in Royal Air Force service. Mr. Scott-Paine explained that he was using Scripp, Booth, and Chrysler engines. My immediate answer was that the Air Ministry would not purchase boats with foreign machinery. Mr. Scott-Paine pressed the Air Ministry to try out his speed launches and enquired what English machinery would meet our requirements. I replied that the only up-to-date petrol engine manufactured was the 100h.p. Brooke, although this was not very lightweight. He asked that he might be given an order to build an experimental launch for the Air Ministry and suggested he mocked-up one to meet our requirements. I obtained Air Ministry sanction to purchase an experimental launch and suggested to Mr. Scott-Paine that if he increased the length of his 35ft. boat to 40ft. he would get much better results and improve sea conditions. He promised to consider this and he split the difference - hence the 37ft. Seaplane Tender of today.

A mock-up of the boat was prepared. Two 100h.p. Brooke engines were installed and trials carried out - a speed of about twenty-three knots being obtained. When the trials had been completed I informed Mr. Scott-Paine that the boat would be sent to a unit for service trials. He pointed out that he would like, if it were practical, the service trials of this boat to be carried out with a unit as far removed from the Solent as possible, in order that his competitors would not have an opportunity of seeing it and making a copy.

Knowing that T. E. Shaw (Lawrence of Arabia) who was at Mountbatten, Plymouth, was very interested in the improvement of marine craft in Royal Air Force service, I suggested to Coastal Representatives on the Trials that this boat should be sent to Mountbatten, where there would be no opportunity for any of Mr. Scott-Paine's competitors to see what was transpiring or to make a copy of his boat.

The first boat was No. 200 and was dispatched to Mountbatten by sea and a period of sea trials was carried out from Mountbatten, during which period Aircraftman T. E. Shaw was on board and trips were made as far as the Scilly Isles.

Whilst these trials were being carried out at Mountbatten Mr. Scott-Paine visited me at the Air Ministry and undertook within three months to produce a light type of petrol engine of 100h.p., nearly half the weight of the Brooke engine. He enquired whether, if this engine were produced, we would be interested, and the future possibilities.

My reply was that the Air Ministry would certainly be interested and whenever the first engine was ready I would arrange for trials to be carried out by Air Ministry representatives, under supervision at my Branch.

Towards the end of the summer of 1931 the first Meadows engine - which was the one Mr. Scott-Paine was referring to in his promise - was delivered and installed in a 28ft. open launch. For the purpose of carrying out a fifty hours' trial I arranged for T. E. Shaw and Corporal Bradbury to be detached from Mountbatten to carry out these trials, which proved very satisfactory and resulted in our, during the spring of 1931, arranging for the return of No. 200 from Mountbatten to the British Power Boat Co.'s yard for modifications to engine bearers and hull, for the reception of two 100h.p. Meadows engines.

This installation was completed, a long series of trials carried out, and the boat was navigated by me to Plymouth in June, 1931, to Mountbatten in under six hours in weather conditions with a gale blowing between 35 and 40m.p.h. in heavy sea conditions.

This launch remained at Mountbatten for several months, then it was brought back under its own power to Calshott in . . . . . . . . [sic. Beauforte-Greenwood's memory was wrong. The first trials at Mount Batten took place between mid-March and early April 1931. RAF 200 was then shipped back to Hythe by Coast Line Steamer. The launch returned to Plymouth on June 6 for further trials, and left again for Hythe under its own power on June 17].

Production orders for nine 37ft. Seaplane Tenders were placed as a result of service trials of No. 200, which were for use in the Schneider Trophy Contest.

Unfortunately, owing to a disastrous Works fire on August Bank Holiday, 1931, all these boats were burnt out and none were available, excepting No. 200, for the Schneider Trophy Contest held in September that year.

Due to the energy and driving force of the British Power Boat Co. they had their factory under working conditions again in October of that year and the nine boats which were ordered and had been destroyed in the fire were being delivered before Christmas of that year and definitely certain to the Air Ministry's financial year, which ended on 31st March 1932.

In March 1932, I was asked by the Air Member for Research and Development whether I could produce a Motor Boat armoured sufficiently to withstand 8lb. practice bombs. The problem was to provide sufficient protection for a crew, machinery and petrol tanks, in a boat which could travel at at least twenty knots, against bombs when dropped from a height of 10,000ft. with a striking velocity of 890ft. per second, approximately. I was to base my calculations upon the fact that 1 inch mild steel would be proof against an 8lb. bomb dropped from the height above mentioned.

The first situation which I investigated was the possibility of producing a suitable armour-plate of sufficiently light weight and I made many visits to Woolwich Arsenal and discussed with the staff there their gunnery experiments with corresponding velocity and weight of projectile fired from a gun, from which result I concluded that armour plate called Hadfields Resister, manufactured by Hadfields Ltd. of Sheffield, was the most likely type and of sufficiently light weight to meet our requirements.

I at once examined possibilities of a type of boat which we could use and the weight of armour which would be necessary for protective purposes. I came to the conclusion that the proposal to construct and armour a boat to resist 8lb. practice bombs was a feasible proposition and I reported to the Air Member for Research and Development to that effect, notwithstanding that many Royal Air Force Officers, including my own Director, considered my views as being most optimistic.

I decided that the only type of hull of sufficient strength and lightness and form of design was Mr. Scott-Paine's 37ft. Seaplane Tender, the freeboard of which I suggested to him should be cut down considerably aft and particularly forward, the object of this being to bring the weight of the armour as low down as possible.

This resulted in our placing an order with the British Power Boat Co. for two prototype experimental bombing target launches in May 1932. Mock-ups of this type of launch were prepared and many weeks of consideration were given to the question of modifications to the hull and the most suitable type and shape of armour.

The consideration, which culminated in the present type of boat, was the result of confidential discussions and collaboration of ideas of Mr. Scott-Paine, myself, T. E. Shaw, Captain Nicholson (of Hadfields) and very probably many other heads of departments and employees.

Two boats were completed, which Mr. Scott-Paine had greatly strengthened by box girdering and additional strapping to carry the weight of the armour, and with my suggestion to get the required speed a third engine was installed, making a triple-screw job.

Although some of the Admiralty were also interested they declared the extra engine would not give any more speed. When the first two boats were ready for trials, without armour, they were taken out and a speed of thirty knots was obtained.

We then proceeded to erect troughs, where it was proposed to fit the armour, into which was loaded the ballast, corresponding to the weight of the armour, so as to represent working conditions with armour as nearly as possible. Trials were carried out under these conditions and a speed of over twenty-three knots was obtained.

Instructions were immediately issued to Hadfields Ltd. to complete the armour protecting the crew and machinery, fore and aft bulkheads and the sides of the launch in way of crew, machinery and petrol.

On arrival of this armour it was fitted, to the design of Mr. Scott-Paine, so as to afford easy removal (or ease of access to machinery) and official trials were carried out, which resulted in a speed of ..... knots [sic.] being obtained.

Certain modifications were found to be necessary and when August arrived it was decided that these two boats should be sent to Bridlington for actual operations with practice bomb conditions. I navigated these two boats - one of which had myself and Mr. Barker on board and the other Squadron-Leader Norrington, T. E. Shaw and one of the firm's employees, Mr. Bullen. We left Hythe at 7.30p.m. on [July 11, 1932], arriving at Newhaven at 10p.m. We left Newhaven at 6a.m. the following morning and arrived at Felixstowe at 11a.m. We left Felixstowe at 1.30p.m. and arrived off the Lincolnshire coast at a spot known as Offer Falls at 5p.m., where we encountered heavy seas with a north-east breeze and thick fog. For some hours between 5p.m. and ten o'clock, the journey was accomplished very slowly with continuous use of the 'lead' to avoid running on to sandy beaches.

The armour was not shipped in position for this passage but arrangements had been made to despatch it direct to Bridlington for fitting on our arrival. Over the engines was fitted a canvas covering formed to keep out salt water, but owing to the heavy spray we encountered in the Lincolnshire coast the engines were subjected to salt water and the boat I was in had two of the three engines out at one time and the boat in which Squadron-Leader Norrington was had all three out of action. With one engine going in our boat I managed to tow Squadron-Leader Norrington's boat out of the breaking surf and [prevented it] from damaging itself on the sandy beaches.

Mr. Barker worked very hard, continually taking the depth and keeping the engines clear and the electrical instruments free from salt water. By 10p.m. still in thick fog and heavy sea we decided to anchor in 2 fathoms of water. I knew I must be somewhere off the North-East corner of the Lincolnshire coast, nearing the entrance to the Humber.

The night was without incident, excepting that a Trawler appeared on one occasion like a phantom out of the fog and passed within a few fathoms. We maintained watch and at 1a.m. the fog lifted and I was able to take bearings of the Spurnhead lightship and the Humber River lights, but decided not to move until daylight. At daylight, at 4a.m., the fog was thicker than ever. I decided to move. Squadron-Leader Norrington's boat had only one engine going. I had all three.

I laid my course corresponding with the bearings I had taken when it was clear, and very soon found I was in the mouth of the Humber. I still carried on and eventually found myself approaching Trinity Sands. I cut across from there on a course which should take me into Grimsby and after a very short while to our relief the fog lifted and we saw Water-Tower Grimsby dead ahead of us.

We remained in Grimsby several days as the engines were properly soused with salt water, and Mr. Barker arranged locally for fresh stout Admiralty canvas [covers] for the machinery before we proceeded to Bridlington.

The weather continued to be boisterous and notwithstanding we left Grimsby for Bridlington a few days after our arrival. During the voyage we encountered extremely heavy seas for this type of boat. As an instance the metal stanchion and dodger was completely carried away by a green sea and I was knocked back breathless.

During the passage from Grimsby to Bridlington, although both boats were quite close together, we disappeared in a trough in the sea and were unable to observe one another. We arrived at Bridlington thoroughly wet through.

The armoured boats were cleaned up in Bridlington. The armour arrived and was fitted by the British Power Boat Co., the boats going down to the allotted area for the first bombing attack.

T. E. Shaw was left for a period of about ten days to give any assistance to the marine crew section at Bridlington in connection with the boats and he actually arrived on the day when bombing practice commenced. At a later date that year I witnessed the attack on armoured boats from a safety boat, when 9lb. bombs were dropped by aircraft and no hits were recorded.

Many evenings and late hours were spent by me and Mr. Scott-Paine discussing the possibilities of the use of high-speed boats in wartime. I realised that with a sufficient number of high-speed launches with a really good turn of speed this form of craft would prove a very useful mode of attack on enemy ships.

I always realised that high-speed launches were most essential for the Royal Air Force service in saving life when crashes of aircraft occurred over the sea, both near to units or far away from the shore.

The late T.E.Shaw was most keen that we should eventually produce a boat with a speed of at least 50m.p.h. I brought many Air Ministry officials down from the Air Ministry, including the then Secretary of State, the Deputy Chief of Air Staff and the Air Member for Research and Development; and Mr. Scott-Paine produced a 32ft. launch into which was installed a 500h.p. Napier Lion engine. We went out with him on several occasions and a speed of something like forty knots was obtained.

The development of the Napier Lion engine in this particular craft resulted in the Air Ministry going out to various firms, including the British Power Boat Co., for a high-speed launch between 60-70ft. in length. This resulted in an order being placed with Mr. Scott-Paine for one 64ft. high-speed launch installed with three Napier Lion engines, No. 100 being the first boat.

Satisfactory trials were carried out, a speed of approximately 36 knots was obtained. There was also a long sea-trial run, which Mr. Scott-Paine accompanied, from Hythe to Grimsby and back to Hythe. This boat was ordered about the same time as the Admiralty ordered their first 60ft. M.T.B. in which they originally required two Napier Lion engines, but increased these to three when they discovered they could not get sufficient speed to meet their requirements with two.

About this time the condition of aircraft had been advancing and it was necessary to provide additional protection and to improve the first type of armoured boat.

I asked Mr. Scott-Paine to increase this boat from 37ft. to 40ft. and to fit twin rudders. Also the Air Ministry prepared a new armour plating arrangement which gave separate protection for the crew and engines and coxswain, and there was an alteration to the forward bulkhead - it had to be made vertical instead of raked fore and aft, to overcome the new conditions for bombing.

A long series of trials was carried out with ballast with this 40ft.-type launch, and eventually it was approved and is now the standard type.

From the very inception of armoured boats and also the 64ft. boat wireless telegraphy was installed, also in the 37ft. Seaplane Tender which was used as a safety boat during bombing. This wireless system permitted communication to be made with the Station from the practice camp where the aircraft took off and in many instances with aircraft themselves, so that it was possible to work out a scheme whereby constant contact between the armoured craft, aircraft and Station could be maintained.

Not until about 1935 was the 37ft. Tender fitted with wireless as general practice. The wireless fitted could both transmit and receive.

Armoured Boat. Arrangements were made for an emergency by the provision of eight smoke candles, which could be electrically discharged and could put up a cloud of smoke to indicate to the bombing aircraft in the air that the vessel had been hit and that bombing should cease until further notice.

T. E. Shaw was detailed to watch the interests of the Air Ministry and to carry out certain experimental work under Admiralty Officials.



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