New Coastal Forces museum earmarked for Gosport

A £900,000 museum celebrating the Royal Navy’s ‘Spitfires of the Sea’ will open in Gosport next year – centrepiece of a £30m redevelopment of a former ammo depot.

The Coastal Forces Museum – featuring two restored vintage launches as well as a wealth of contemporary memorabilia – will breathe life into a disused mine store at Priddy’s Hard as the site undergoes an 18-month transformation, completing regeneration work begun more than 20 years ago.

The huge site on the western shore of Portsmouth Harbour was home to one of the Navy’s most important ammunition and armament depots until closure in 1988.

Two decades ago the Explosion! Museum of Naval Firepower reinvigorated some of the buildings around the 18th Century camber basin and grand magazine. Other structures were pulled down to make way for a dozen residential blocks.

But since then redevelopment has largely stopped – until now. Site owners Portsmouth Naval Base Property Trust have been given the green light for the second stage of the depot’s transformation.

That includes the first official exhibition dedicated to Coastal Forces, being established under the banner of the National Museum of the Royal Navy, the umbrella organisation for the four principal Senior Service museums.

The Spitfires of the Seas display is due to open in spring 2021, with two veteran ‘greyhounds’ at its heart:

  • Coastal Motor Boat 331: built in World War 2 but represents the design of WW1-era craft, she was based at HMS Hornet in Gosport throughout her active life.
  • Motor Torpedo Boat (MTB) 71: built in Portsmouth for the Royal Norwegian Navy, but commandeered by Britain on the outbreak of war. She saw extensive action in the Dover Strait and North Sea – including attempting to stop the breakout of German capital ships in February 1942 (‘the Channel Dash’).

Coastal Forces were an important component of the Royal Navy through both world wars. They attracted people looking for a bit of ‘derring do’ because the missions they performed were brimming with excitement and often action. These are the stories we want to tell.

Dr Dominic Tweddle, Director General of the National Museum of the Royal Navy

Dr Dominic Tweddle, Director General of the National Museum of the Royal Navy, says the story of the small boats is ripe for telling.

“Coastal Forces were an important component of the Royal Navy through both world wars. They attracted people looking for a bit of ‘derring do’ because the missions they performed were brimming with excitement and often action. These are the stories we want to tell,” he said.

“Although the boats were built by the thousand, there are not many survivors. The boats were expendable – they were not built to last. Those which did survive the war were often converted into houseboats and are beyond saving.”

At its peak in 1944, Coastal Forces numbered over 2,000 boats of various types, crewed and maintained by 25,000 officers and men.

They fought an estimated 900 actions between 1939 and 1945, sinking around 400 enemy vessels, laying minefields, intercepting coastal convoys, taking part in clandestine raids, dropping off and recovering spies from occupied territories. In doing so, one in every 12 boats was lost.

Among those who served in Coastal Forces who went on to widespread fame and acclaim were Avenger Patrick Macnee, Bond film/Battle of Britain director Guy Hamilton and the second Dr Who, Patrick Troughton.