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Picture: Pete Langdown
nation’s heart’
THE nation – and the R
oyal Navy – face “hard c
hoices” when the
fundamental shak
fi rst
e-up of Britain’s Ar
med Forces in 1
2 years tak
The government has set out its broad vision f
or the future of the
Services, inviting comment from the public so it can shape the N
and Air Force.
The Green Paper – A
daptability and P
artnership – is the
fi rst
wn the length
y path of a full strategic def
ence review – the
fi rst
since 1998.
It invites comments from within and without the Services – the
latter can hav
e their say via
– whic

h will help Whitehall shape the def
ence review, due to be
produced after this spring’s g
eneral election.
Because it’s a consultation document, there are f
ew specifi cs
relating to any of the three Services.
But there are some basic issues whic
h are unlikely to c
hange as a result of the paper: the
need to protect incoming and outgoing trade worldwide; the need to protect the 1
Britons who liv
e ov
ersees; the need to def
end the UK’s borders beyond the con
fi nes of our
The paper also believ
es that militar
y operations in the
fi rst y
● RAF rescue launch HSL 102 and veteran RN
continue to be dominated by the con
ear of the review will
fl ict in Afghanistan.
Motor Gunboat MGB 81 return to their old ‘stomping
Beyond that, the document’s authors believ
e our nation f
ground’ in the Solent
aces threats from g
terrorism – not just Al Qaeda and its associates, but also on the domestic front from
dissident Republic g
roups in Norther
n Ireland.
Fragile or failing states, suc
h as Somalia, will also pose continuing problems directl
y or
Whitehall believ
es our Armed F
orces could increasing
Spitfi res of the
ly be called upon to deal with
international crime – as presentl
y tackled by the RN and RF
A in the Caribbean and Middle
And there is the ev
er-present problem of natural disasters at home (the
2007) and abroad (hur
fl oods in
ricanes in the Caribbean or the recent ear
y lead to a response from Britain’s Ar
e in Haiti) whic
med Forces.
Seas saved
To meet these, and other
, challenges the nation does f
ace substantial obstacles, notabl
cost – at a time when the econom
y is in a very fragile condition. THESE magnifi cent boats – among the last reminders of craft which
With that in mind, the paper wants to look at whether the number of senior personnel – scythed through the narrow seas at high speed – have been saved for
military and civilian – is justi
fi ed and whether more of the def
ence estate can be sold of
the nation.
Put simply, sa
ys the paper
, “the more we
prepare to do, the higher the cost”. And that
Seven decades ago, Motor Gunboat 81 and High Speed Launch
cost, both of maintaining a tec
hnological edg
102 were ‘the Spitfires of the Seas’, among the fastest craft the nation
e over our adv
ersaries and of pa
men and women to do the business of war
ying for the possessed.
, will rise abov
e the rate of in
These are not c
fl ation. Seventy years later, they’ll be tearing around the Solent thanks to a
hallenges faced by the UK alone. T
o that end, Whitehall believ £580,000 grant which allows the duo to be preserved.
work more closel
es w
y with our Allies, especiall
e should
y the European U
The craft have been snapped up by Portsmouth Naval Base
Announcing the paper
, Defence Secretar
y Bob Ainswor
th said fundamental to the future
Property Trust, aided by that handout from the National Heritage
of Britain’s Ar
med Forces w
ere two questions: what role did Britons wish their nation to
Memorial Fund, plus private and public donations and fund-raising.
play on the world stag
e; and how muc
h were they prepared to pa
The result is that both boats, currently on display in the marina
While there has been considerable media speculation about the future of some of the
y for defence?
at Gunwharf Quays, should be running around Portsmouth Harbour
RN’s most expensiv
e programmes, notabl
and the Solent – not just for the public to admire, but to ride as
y the replacement car
embroiled in an inde
riers, when the nation is
fi nite
confl ict on land, the Def
ence Secretar
balanced militar
y stressed maintaining a The aim is to allow people to charter the boats and experience
y remained the core aim.
the thrill of a plywood boat cutting through the Solent at upwards
“Afghanistan is the top priority toda
y, but we must also ensure that our Ar of 40kts, as well as travel at a more leisurely pace from Portsmouth
are ready to confront the c
med Forces
hallenges of tomor
row. There is no more im
to the Explosion Museum at Priddy’s Hard – where motor boats
a government than def
portant function f
” Mr Ainsworth said.
were once based.
“We cannot assume that tomor
row’s confl ict will replicate toda
“Those of us who particularly cherish these boats are very
future w
y’s. In planning f
e must anticipate a wide rang
or the
e of threats and req
grateful,” said Lt James Shadbolt (pictured right), a veteran of 8th Motor Gunboat Flotilla
“Hard choices and im
portant decisions lie ahead.”
with which MGB 81 served.
The full document can be f
“It’s wonderful to know that future generations will be able to experience these extremely exciting
ound at www
net/ machines first-hand, just as we did as young men during the war.”
Of the two craft, MGB 81 was operated by the Royal Navy between 1942 and 1945, serving with
the 8th MGB Flotilla and later 1st MTB Flotilla.
She saw action in the Channel and North Sea, suffering damage in a clash with a German convoy
off the Hook of Holland and harassed enemy traffic of the Cotentin Peninsula during the Normandy
She was sold after the war and eventually turned into a houseboat before a lengthy programme
very sensible, and reasonable, and The Secretary of State is quick involved in all kinds of other career
to restore her began in 1988.
easy. But these people and these to scotch recent media reports opportunities.
HSL 102 was used as a rescue boat by the RAF – a precursor to the search and rescue function
ships have to be totally integrated about infi ghting among the Service “But I would love to have done
performed today by the RN, RAF and Coastguard.
with RN capability – and that’s chiefs protecting their interests – I would absolutely love to have
The air force craft is credited with saving the lives of 102 downed airmen (including two Luftwaffe
without even talking about a high- in the light of the forthcoming done. I think it was an opportunity
crews); it’s thought around 10,000 aircrew owe their lives to the HSL class.
threat environment that might Defence Review. missed.
Both vessels were built by the British Powerboat Company at Hythe in Southampton Water,
arise.” He said: “We have three new “There is something very
where the designs were tested by a certain T E Shaw – a pseudonym of T E Lawrence, Lawrence
He added: “So long as we single Service chiefs who all came romantic about sailing out of port.
of Arabia.
capture all of the requirements, into post in the summer of last Whether it’s a warship or any other
The two craft can still reach the top speeds they were capable of when in service – 39kts for HSL
and as long as we really look at it year, just after I did, and they’ve ship it’s a fantastic experience. I
102, one knot faster for MGB 81.
in the round, then I don’t think we been a fantastic team.” would have loved the adventure,
The boats join a growing list of more than 1,000 iconic objects in the UK which have received
should run away from effi ciency “Of course there’s a difference and there’s still a huge opportunity
money from the National Heritage Memorial Fund over the past three decades, including the Mary
studies. If we can do things better, of emphasis. The First Sea Lord for that.”
Rose, Flying Scotsman, HMS Cavalier and the papers of Sir Walter Scott.
we should.” has a responsibility to make sure Given the Navy’s declining size
“The purchase of these boats is just what the fund was set up to do – to defend the most
Against the backdrop of a global that people understand the naval and infl uence between those days
outstanding parts of our national heritage at risk as a memorial to those who have died for the UK,”
economic crisis, the Government side of the house, just as the and now, would he still encourage
said Bob Bewley, the fund’s director of operations.
is struggling to meet rising fuel Chief of the General Staff makes young men and women to join?
“These gunboats are integral to our rich seafaring history.”
and utility costs, increases in pay sure that we understand the land He said: “I think it has got a lot
and pensions, and cost growth environment. to offer. It still turns boys into men
on major equipment projects. So “But I’ve been hugely supported and girls into women. I think it’s a
is there much chance of getting by all of them and they have taken great opportunity, whether it’s the
more money out of the Treasury some very diffi cult decisions Navy or the forces generally.
for defence? together. “I meet lots of bright guys in
“We are in diffi cult fi nancial “We moved £300 million last the Forces and I meet lots living in
times and I don’t think they’re year in order to get more money civvy street for whom I think the
going to get easier in the next into the Afghan campaign. Some Armed Forces would have been a
couple of years,” said Mr of that was at the expense of naval fantastic opportunity.”
Ainsworth. capability, and put a little bit more Mr Ainsworth continued: “But
“Assuming that we’re going to squeeze on certain aspects of the there is a great tradition in our
get more money is going to be Naval Service.” country of supporting the Navy.
very diffi cult, and we’ve got to be He added: “There are massively “There was a love for the city-
able to prove over time that we’re diffi cult decisions to be taken class ships – I know, coming
capable of delivering value for and they take them in the best from Coventry, which is about as
money.” interest of defence, aware of the far away from the sea as you can
He continued: “We do get consequences of every single part. get – and a real reaction that we
attacked on the procurement They work as a team.” weren’t able to have a new HMS
programme and while ours might As Secretary of State for Coventry.
not be worse than other countries Defence since June 2009, Bob “I think the whole of the
in the world, I’m sure there is Ainsworth’s career could have country is romantically connected
room for improvement. We’ve got taken a very different turn. to the Navy because of our history
to be seen to deliver real effect in He clearly loves the Navy and as and the sea and because we’re
all the theatres and give good value a boy growing up in Coventry he an island. The Navy has got the
to the taxpayers. became a Sea Cadet and seriously most fantastic tradition and the
“What they’re paying for is an considered joining up. nation for centuries has owed it so
insurance policy, and our Armed He said: “I very nearly joined much in terms of its safety and its
Forces are our ultimate insurance the Navy when I was a young lad. character.”
policy. I thought the young girls would go He added: “It’s got a fantastic
“But it has to be the right policy, for me in the uniform as much as history, it’s embedded in the
otherwise it’s not worth buying. anything! nation’s heart. We depend on the
And they have to be able to afford “But I bottled out – I was very Navy for our security today and
the premium as well.” young and I wound up getting we will do tomorrow.”
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