There are restorations – and then there are restorations so challenging and rarified that the very thought of them makes my teeth rattle and the fluid surrounding my brain boil. this is one of those…
Here’s what my correspondent Helen Aldom has to say about it…
‘One of 12 40ft fast torpedo boats built in 1917, CMB9 was discovered by marine surveyor [and my correspondent's brother] Robert Morley, who found her lying in a boatyard where she had been neglected for 40 years and was due to be broken up.
‘A crude attempt had been made at some stage to convert her into a cabin cruiser.
‘It is remarkable that she survived so long in those circumstances, and fortunate that Mr Morley was able to recoginise the hull shape straight away having worked on the restoration of a 55ft torpedo boat of the same era.
‘He had the boat transported to his yard at Avonnmouth, and while he feared she could break her back in the process, the boat had been so well made by the original builders, Thorneycroft, that she didnt even creak or groan.
‘This strength is partly due to the remarkable number of ribs placed close together.
‘She has a stepped hydroplane hull and is of double diagonal mahogany construction. Boats of this type were capable of 40 knots propelled by a single screw, and carried one 18 inch torpedo.
‘At present power is provided by two Leyland 400 diesels dating back to the 50s. Subsequent research has confirmed the identity of the boat. The records show she served with the Navy during WW1 and was based at Osea Island and at the Dover Patrol’s advance base at Dunkirk.
‘What adds to the historical importance of this boat is that in 1918 she was converted into a top-secret distance control boat and designated DCB1. In this role she was fitted with twin screws, bilge keels, radio masts and a small bridge with wireless controls – unfortunately, details of the tests remain classified.
‘She is the only surviving example of this type of boat. The unusual square super-structure that CMB9/DCB1 now has was added with the purpose of protecting the radio control equipment.
‘During the war she saw action at Zeebrugge and escaped unharmed from a German torpedo attack – CMB1 took a direct hit and blew up.
‘She is now registered with National Historic Ships and recently received an award from the Transport Trust.
‘Mr Morley hopes to get her back on water by next year in order to take part in events marking the centenary of the outbreak of World War I.’
The National Historic Ships page describing the vessel explains that distance control boats were under radio control from an aircraft some distance away – the vessels’ speed made them difficult targets to hit. The single torpedo was fired from the stern.
I don’t have access to classified records, but I’d suggest that DCBs would be unmanned and that they would have to be regarded as a kind of early drone.
DCB1 remained in service with the Royal Navy until the early 1950s and it is believed that it is the only surviving boat of its type. It would be interesting to know what role the boats may have played during World War II.
There is a Facebook page showing the restoration and recording interesting facts – see and ‘like’ it here.