MTB 459 of the 29th Canadian MTB Flotilla

MTB 459 of the 29th Canadian MTB Flotilla

M.T.B.’s objectives were coastal convoys, E-boats, trawlers, and flak-ships. On a few grim occasions, they even tangled with destroyers. Their mode of operation varied little: out two or three nights a week, often more, weather permitting, and most of that time, every man aboard would be at action stations. They skittered over minefields, trusting in the magnanimity of God that the mines were sown too deeply to explode on M.T.B.’s carrying 2,500 gallons of 100% octane fuel. They hung around enemy ports – often two or three hundred yards off the enemy breakwater – waiting for ships to come out.

Physical discomforts generally meant little to the men who manned these boats. If they had, the men would have been transferred elsewhere for all were special volunteers. The boats were built for fighting, not for living in. The Channel, as now, was generally rough; and any kind of sea pitched the boats around like leaves in a breeze. It was impossible to cook hot meals at sea, except when weather was perfect. Sandwiches and coffee were staples. During the Normandy Campaign, they would often visit another larger naval vessel for a hot meal, or shower.

Any account of the invasion of Europe and the part played in it by Canadian Forces must surely include mention of the two Canadian manned motor torpedo boat flotillas. This book is about one of these flotillas, the 29th Flotilla, referred to as the “Fighting Sea Fleas.” The complement of the 29th was later augmented by M.T.B.’s 485,486 and 491 from the RN, but they were still maned by CANADIAN personnel. All crew members will remember the trials and tribulations for which they volunteered as the most exciting and exacting of the Navy’s jobs during the war.

29th MTB Specifications

Displacement (New & Dry) – 47 tons
Added weapons & equipment & soakage of timber – 55 tons plus
Overall length including 3 rudders – 72, 6″
Breadth – 20, 7″
Draught (aft) – 5′ 8″
Full Speed – 38 to 41 knots
Armament – 6 pdr gun and two Torpedo tubes
Other weapons – .303 -.05-20 mm – 40 mm

The boats of the 29th M.T.B. Flotilla were 71 1/2 foot, ‘hardchine’ craft, built by British Power Boats at Hythe. Originally designed as Motor Gun Boats (M.G.B.’s), they were redesigned Motor Torpedo Boats.

Driven by, 3 Rolls Royce or Packard V-12 Supercharged 1250 H.P. engines, each with a 2,500 gallon capacity of 100% octane gas, gave a radius of action on operations of about 140 miles while cruising at 25 knots. The wing engines drove direct through thrust blocks to the propellers; the centre shaft which drove forward was turned under the engine by a V-drive (the 1250 HP were later replaced by 1,500 horsepower engines). Two Ford V-8 auxiliary engine could be clutched to a shaft for silent running at about 6 1/2 knots. Extensive training and good timing were needed to change from auxiliary to main engines quickly in an emergency.

Main engines were silenced with dumbflows (dustbin affair). Exhaust noise, caused by the hot, high pressure gas expanding into the atmosphere, sounded like balloons bursting at the rate of 600 a second. The cylinders were cooled with water, – distilled when there was any – and of course that became very hot, too, and had to be cooled in turn by a constant flow of seawater a typically complicated cycle beloved of engineers. What more logical, then, than to whirl both water and hot gases round and round the dustbin until the gases, being cooled, contracted to near atmospheric pressure and emerged with but a silent murmur?


Originally hydraulic, the steering responded to finger-touch control, but was far too vulnerable to the smallest puncture while in action. This was replaced with a direct wire system with power assistance at the rudders; it was heavier to operate, but most coxswains preferred it, as the “feel” of the boat was transmitted back to the wheel. The original two rudders gave too wide a turning circle, so a third was added, directly abaft of each propeller.


Two, above-water, 18 inch tubes angled outwards 7 1/2 degrees from the bow. On entering the water, the torpedoes turned forward 6 1/2 degrees, having a spread of 2 degrees, or about 120 feet at 1,000 yards. Firing was by small explosive charge in a combustion chamber at the rear of the tube. Torpedo control was achieved by aiming the boat, with the Captain firing by remote control. Optimum boat speed on firing was 12 knots, or slightly less. Torpedoes would drive progressively deeper before achieving their set depths – a handicap in shallow water.

The Mark VIII Submarine Torpedo traveled at 45 knots and carried a 750 lb. warhead, which was admirable in all respects, especially with its safety range of 100 yards, and its contact-only detonator.


Twin 20-mm Oerlikon

The twin 20-mm Oerlikon was the after-armament on the 29th's MTBS.

1 – 6 pound or
1 – 40 mm Pom Pom
Power-operated mounting fed with hydraulic pressure by a pump on the centre main engine, joystick control.

.5 inch Vickers machine guns, high angle/low angle, 700 rounds per minute, armour piercing, incendiary and tracer ammunition.

303 inch Vickers gas – operated machine guns could be mounted on the torpedo tubes, or bridge (D-boat),

20 mm Oerlikon, 450 rounds per minute. High explosive, armour piercing solid and tracer ammunition. Since the guns were mainly to deter the enemy gunners and to cause diversions, a high proportion of tracer was included in the loading.


The challenge was a single letter flashed by Morse code, the reply, another. To identify herself, often under conditions of considerable urgency, a boat could flash the reply letter, fire a two-star firework, or switch on her coloured recognition lights on the mast. The letters and colours of the stars and lights were changed at stated times. Boats were fitted with Type 286 Radar. Communications consisted of one medium frequency W/T set.


Motor Torpedo Boat Signalman R. Lovelock with his flags; in the background with the Lewis gun is Tel. D. MacCallum.

Motor Torpedo Boat Signalman R. Lovelock with his flags; in the background with the Lewis gun is Tel. D. MacCallum.

(crews varied in number)
Captain – Lieutenant or sub-lieutenant
First Lieutenant -Lieutenant or sub-lieutenant
Coxswain – Petty officer or leading seaman Petty officer motor mechanic
Leading stoker
Able seaman – seaman torpedo man
Able seaman – seaman gunner
Ordinary seamen “Trained Man”

This number grew as new weapons and equipment came into service. A number of spare officers and ratings were borne at every base, and it became normal for one of these officers to be carried in each boat, making a total compliment of three officers: one in command, one navigator, and one for general supervision.

All Coastal Forces personnel were volunteers and had to undertake special training prior to joining the flotilla.