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Spitfire of the Seas sail-past at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard

A naval spectacular set sail on the waters of Portsmouth Historic Dockyard on the 26th August. A sail past of heritage vessels celebrating the centenary of the Royal Navy’s Coastal Forces provided a poignant reminder of the role that small boats played in the history of the Royal Navy. And wow, what a sight it was.

Spitfire of the Seas sail-past at Portsmouth Historic DockyardSymbolic of the wartime, the story of these boats isn’t particularly well known but rest assured each has a very different tale to tell. In essence, they were the fastest attack coastal defence otherwise known as the ‘Spitfires of the Seas’.

The sail past was led by HMS Medusa, a harbour defence motor launch, and last of its class in original seagoing condition to have served at Omaha beach on D-Day. Alan Watson, Captain of HMS Medusa, said “the ethos of the small craft was to rush in, cause chaos and get back out again.”

Spitfire of the Seas sail-past at Portsmouth Historic DockyardFollowing on was Motor Gunboat 81, Harbour Service Launch 102, ST1502 and HMS Smiter. Unfortunately, MTB102 couldn’t join the fleet due to the bad weather that was forecast.

From the vantage point of the stern of HMS Warrior, the naval spectacular sailed on by in true military precision at precisely 12.30pm.

In attendance were Veterans who served on the boats and other descendants of those who served on them as well as the Chairman of the Coastal Forces Heritage Trust, Vice Admiral Sir Paul Haddacks KCB and Heritage Trust Trustee, Captain Trevor Robotham.

Whilst on the decks of HMS Warrior eagerly awaiting the vessels return, we learnt that whilst HMS Warrior was commissioned in 1859 and built to be the fastest, strongest ship of its time, the guns were never used in anger – quite why, the truth will never be known.  

Spitfire of the Seas sail-past at Portsmouth Historic DockyardAmidst the hustle and bustle of the modern port with the Wightlink catamaran and Gosport ferry sailing by, reappeared the comparatively, but historically great, mini flotilla of classic vessels returning to the pontoon.

Captain Trevor Robotham, of the Coastal Forces Heritage Trust, said: “The centenary celebrates a branch of the Royal Navy which played a significant part in the naval success of both world wars”

It was a marvellous celebration of the Coastal Forces who with their courage, determination, heroism and sacrifice helped shaped the modern world.

To find out more about these boats and more, visit The Boathouse 4 Forgotten Craft exhibition.

Other things to do in the dockyard

Portsmouth Historic Dockyard is the only place to see the Royal Navy past, present and future. Step aboard the Tudor Masterpiece of the Mary Rose, hop on a boat for a harbour tour, explore the flagship HMS victory or bring history to life at The National Museum of the Royal Navy. The working Naval base is a great day out for all the family!

Opening times:
Summer (April to October)
10am – 5pm Daily

Winter (November to March)
10am – 4.15pm Daily
Open every day except Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day