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MTB 219: What MTB Stands For, Its History and the Reason for Its Berth in Bridgwater Docks, Somerset

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Ann is keen to use history as a basis for writing, to remind us that war & conflict can (usually) be replaced by discussion & understanding.

Map of Bridgwater

The Docks, Canal & River Parrett can be seen in blue, surrounding the town.

The Docks, Canal & River Parrett can be seen in blue, surrounding the town.

An Unusual Visitor

Walk down to Bridgwater Docks, the marina area of the town ‘twixt canal and river, and you will be surprised. No, not by the narrow boats and small pleasure craft moored at the jetties. No, not by any remarkable new building or on-going festivities; not even by the charming surroundings. You will be surprised because there is an unusual visitor.

MTB 219 is moored by the jetty close to the canal end of the Marina. What does MTB stand for? Some of you will know but for those who don’t, it’s Motor Torpedo Boat. Incongruous, modestly majestic, never before has it been seen in our peaceful dock-side from where colourful craft chug slowly up and down the 12 mile long canal, to and from Taunton on a soporific Sunday afternoon, shooshing the swans and disgruntling the ducks.

In the past, you could have seen merchant craft making their way upriver then being winched into the docks to offload cargo. Seafaring ships can no longer access the marina; warring gun-boats certainly never did.

MTB 219

Berthed in the Docks

Berthed in the Docks

Near the old warehouses (now converted into flats) and keeping company with the narrowboats.

Near the old warehouses (now converted into flats) and keeping company with the narrowboats.

A Slice of History in more Peaceful Times

A Slice of History in more Peaceful Times

219's Origins & Specification

MTB 219 was built by Vosper in Portsmouth in 1940, as a 70ft long, 16ft wide, 38 ton, wooden torpedo boat. It was built for speed, to defend Britain in the English Channel against any threat of German invasion during World War II.

Launched in 1941, it was used by the Royal Navy Coastal Forces out of the port of Dover. They had the impressive name of ‘Iron Men in Wooden Boats’. Doesn’t that say it all?

219 in the English Channel 1941

219 in Action, torpedoes launched

219 in Action, torpedoes launched

Wartime Action

In February 1942 MTB219 was one of a pack of five MTBs which tried to attack the German battle cruisers, Scharnhorst, Gneisenau and Prinz Eugen as they ‘dashed’ through the English Channel, protected by destroyers, E-boats and the Luftwaffe. It was known as the Channel Dash.

The attack was unsuccessful as the battle cruisers managed to get through; however, none of them was able to return to attack allied shipping in the Atlantic again.

219 also rescued some of the crew from the Fairey Swordfish bomber aircraft which were shot down, as well as helping sink two German Raptor Class Torpedo Boats, including the Seeadler in 1942.

She was paid off in December 1945.

MTB 219 is the only surviving vessel of its type. It still has the scars of war damage; bullet holes can be seen in the forward saloon.

Further History

Since being decommissioned, MTB219 has led an interesting life. She’s been used by the Sea Scouts, for filming and, as a houseboat in Chelsea, was lived on for nearly 65 years (1948-2013). Its claim to fame as a film location was in the 1970s series 'The Professionals' and the 1980s' 'Dempsey & Makepeace'.

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In 2012, the hull of MTB 219 was condemned and in 2013 was passed on to Paul Childs, the present owner, as a donation. Mr Childs wants to turn her into a floating museum in Bridgwater. He is a master restorer of antique military vehicles and has started the Community Interest Company "Militaryboats CIC" to fulfil this aim.

The first stage of restoration was towing 219 under Tower Bridge from Chelsea to Tilbury Docks, where it was taken out of the water. During the second stage she was ashore at Durleigh Displays in Bridgwater for a year, where her hull was restored. This third stage brings us to its arrival in Bridgwater Docks, to fit out the interior and the engine room.

It has been totally restored by Paul Childs and the Militaryboats CIC team of volunteers, who live in Bridgwater, at considerable cost and with the help of various sponsors. Further restoration is necessary before it is then opened to the public as a museum.

The plan is to restore MTB219 to full wartime authenticity, so she is on the National Historic Ships Register. Once fully restored she will be eligible to join the UK Historic Fleet.

A Wreath & a Flag

A wreath has been placed on the bridge, to commemorate those who died on the vessel whilst in service and the hundreds who died in the campaign.

A flag flies from the bows reminding us of 219’s membership of the Coastal Forces.

Stage three of the restoration should take it to completion when it's hoped that 219 will be joined by the four other vessels of Militaryboats CIC.

How do you get an MTB into the Docks?

It’s not currently possible to sail in from the river; the lock gates are set in concrete (though apparently this can be moved). Nor is it possible to bring an MTB down the canal. So how come it’s sitting in the marina?

On Saturday 31st January 2015, Bridgwater’s most unusual visitor was brought to the Docks on a low-loader which slowly backed up to the canal-side end of the marina by Bowerings Animal Feeds warehouse. A huge crane was already waiting dock-side, a crane familiar to local residents in its role of adding or removing narrow boats to and from the marina.

A large crowd had been gathering in the sunshine since 11am, waiting patiently despite the cold wind. Albeit a little late, a ceremony was conducted in honour of MTB 219, as she sat patiently atop the lorry. The Mayor of Bridgwater and various dignitaries said their pieces relating to its history, its crew’s bravery and praising the efforts of Paul Childs. Skilful placement of cradling straps and manipulation of levers and hydraulics saw the craft lowered into the water. I was in awe of the expertise of the crane driver; it took a matter of seconds to manoeuvre the craft from low-loader to water.

For security reasons the boat was moved across from the bank to the opposite jetty; safely out of harm’s way as the only access is by coded entry via the marina gate, another boat or swimming!

It Nearly Sank!

Overnight it leaked! Apparently the normal process for ensuring the wood is watertight isn't possible in Bridgwater Docks so four electrical pumps were installed to pump out incoming water. The overnight generator failed and water flooded in. MTB 219 listed over and nearly sank! Fortunately firefighters from Bridgwater Red Watch rushed over to the docks on the morning of Sunday 1st February, pumped her out and re-floated her. The pumps were then put onto shore electric and the generator went off for repair.

On Saturday 7th February, we saw 219 go flying once more. The effects of being flooded were nearly disastrous, water pressure pushing out some of the corking completely, creating gaps that could have caused her to sink again.

It had taken on about 6 tons of water, so weighed around 18 tons when taken out of the water! A deluge poured from the hull as it rested precariously on crates, supported all the time by the cradling straps.

The search for precise locations of the gaps was made whilst MTB 219 was hanging above the quayside for most of the day. One of the sponsors supplied CT1, a specialist sealant (meant for buildings!) that cures in water, and even came on site to help with repairs. The leaks were sealed and the craft regained its dignity when returned to its berth.

Averting Disaster

Checking for Leaks

Checking for Leaks

Too much water!

Too much water!

Incidental Story

Another local resident told us a story about one wartime crew member who crossed the channel in an MTB to pick up Resistance fighters who were in danger. There he met a Jewish girl who was frightened that she was going to be taken to the gas chambers. When he went back later, he looked for her. He found her and she came back to Britain with him where they were married!

Glorifying War?

Are such renovation projects glorifying war? I don’t think so and it seems that the renovators have other motives too. Remembering those who fought and died for their country, the dangers and restrictions they had to endure and the efforts they made to help others, soldiers and civilians alike, is important. History not only recounts facts and events, it should also give us warnings, teach us lessons, so that the same mistakes are not repeated, so that we deal differently with disputes if possible.

As with our Armistice Day, remembering by wearing our poppies (bought to support the care of ex-soldiers), we should not forget. ‘Lest we Forget’ adorns our war memorials. Lest we forget that war is senseless, war is cruel, that it solves nothing and that peace should be sought after wherever possible.

Yes, there are times when defending and protecting a nation is necessary, against a ruthless enemy who knows no mercy, no negotiation and no compromise.

I believe it’s important not to lose sight of what our soldiers went through, for the very reason that these mistakes should not be repeated. Apart from that, I find the history fascinating. The old cliché, ‘Necessity is the mother of invention’, is well-proven during hard times, during conflict when it’s necessary to stay a step ahead of the enemy. Such ingenuity helped us fly high, break codes and out-play the opponent in that ridiculous game of chess which is war.

Spectators Jostling

Watching the Lift

Watching the Lift

The Legacy of MTB 219

This restoration and the launch at Bridgwater brought like-minded people together. On a beautiful, crisp winter's day a couple of hundred people gathered to watch; they chatted and some possibly made new friends. It was a spectacle. Everyone learned a little about the past, experienced a slice of history and most will follow the progress of MTB 219 until it reaches its status of museum. They met the restorers, realised how much time and effort had gone into their project and marveled at their expertise, along with the skill of the crane driver. Many children will be telling that story for a while, if not longer.

Seeing MTB 219 sitting in the waters of Bridgwater marina gives me a sense of pride, a feeling of sadness but most of all it brings a smile to my lips because it’s now a weapon of peace, a lesson to all who look at her, to all who search her history, that yes we fight for right but we do it only when pushed to such an extreme where no other option exists.

I would like to thank Rhian Childs for drawing my attention to the facts and for providing me with incidental information for this article. I much appreciate her help.

History & Leisure

Torpedo Boat alongside Narrow Boats!   (the canal entrance is seen to the right of the MTB's prow)

Torpedo Boat alongside Narrow Boats! (the canal entrance is seen to the right of the MTB's prow)

Sources, Sponsors & Further Information ref Channel Dash ref Fairey Swordfish - used their yard during part of restoration - C.T.1 being used to seal MTB 219 on 7th Feb 2015

Other restorations:

'Historic Ships Register'

The restoration of HMS Gay Archer was completely self-funded by Mr Childs and his wife, Rhian, who bought her for just £1, but then sold their house and possessions to fund their restoration.

Militaryboats CIC registered as a Community Interest Company no: 08975176, 39 Bayford Road, Bridgwater, Somerset, TA6 3QW

War Museums

© 2015 Ann Carr


Ann Carr (author) from SW England on October 14, 2018:

Hello Christian A: Yes, the boat is still in Bridgwater Docks but I've seen no new evidence of extensive restoration though it might be that the interior has been done. There has been no extra local news about it, sadly, so I don't even know if it is continuing. There may be some contention about using it as part of the updating of the docks that they are contemplating. I can't get hold of anyone to find out.

Interesting to read of your experiences on the boat! So where are you now, as you said nearby?

Thanks for your input.


Christian A on October 13, 2018:

Hi Ann. Great article. Is MTB219 still at this location? I was excited to learn of its restoration and that it’s new home is relatively close to where I now live, having lived for a short time on the vessel when it wasn’t berthed at Cheyne Walk in Chelsea in 2000. At the time it belonged to the Campbells, I believe. It looks so different now. Life was always fun at Cheyne Walk, if a bit damp and musty. I remember a couple of good houseboat parties. Being awoken in the morning by the incoming tide gently rocking you was a lovely novelty too - especially given the central London location.

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on August 24, 2017:

Hello Jim,

Thanks for reading and for your marvellous input. It's great to find out some personal history of this boat, especially something first hand like yours.

My dates regarding the houseboat in Chelsea can't be accurate then, as you mention '84 to '94. My information was gleaned from bits and pieces of reporting as well as from the present owners so not entirely reliable! Was your brother in Chelsea?

Interesting for me that your brother used 219 as a studio; I dabble with charcoal and paint but not very well!

At the moment, the boat looks no different from when it was put into the dock but it may have had some refurbishment inside. I haven't heard any more from the present owners nor have I managed to find out any more regarding the museum aspect that they were hoping for. I'm going away for a week or so but will try to find out more when I get back.

I'd love to see the photos - can you email them to me? I would also suggest that you pass on your valuable history to the present owners who can be contacted at; I'm sure they'd be delighted to hear about your brother's ownership and your involvement.

Kind regards,


Jim McLellan on August 24, 2017:


Just a quick intro. My brother Andy McLellan lived on MTB 219 from '84 until his death in 1994. He loved that boat more than anything and would have mixed dealings on seeing the old girl end as a quirky houseboat and to her returning to her former glory.

I'm not too sure what photos you have of the inside but I have a few. We even have a charcoal sketch Andy made of the living room.

His room was in the bow which was also his art studio where he sketched and sculptured. He was an editor on the BBC news when he lived there and was his bolt hole from the stress of work. I spent many a night there, often drunk and often in hammocks on the deck.

It may be a surprise to you and quite a morbid one too but his ashes where thrown from the bow into the Thames but some were scattered inside the superstructure too. This was his wish with agreement from the then owner.

Best of luck with the restoration

Kind regards

Jim McLellan.

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on March 12, 2015:

Thank you, Ron. It's nice to know that people think it worthwhile to restore such things and to record it for posterity. I think it's really important to pass our history on to our children and to advertise it as widely as possible too. Thanks for the visit.


Ronald E Franklin from Mechanicsburg, PA on March 12, 2015:

Great story, Ann. I loved the photo of MTB 219 in action. Looks like the MTBs were what we call PT boats here in the U. S. I think it's great to preserve that history, and you're helping to do that.

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on March 12, 2015:

Hello Patricia! Yes, it's good to keep these things in the public eye. The story of the couple getting married is a lovely one, isn't it? I'm still trying to find out a little more about that but I haven't seen our neighbour lately.

Lovely to see you today; thanks for your comments and votes and have a lovely day!


Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on March 12, 2015:

How interesting and how wonderful that it is being restored and will be open as a museum. Too often pieces of history slip away and are lost for all time.

I love the story of the two meeting and then he went back to find her and they married....lovely.

thanks for sharing Voted up++++ and shared

Angels are once again winging their way to you this morning ps

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on March 12, 2015:

Thanks, RQ, for your kind words and your interesting input. Glad you enjoyed reading this. It's an ongoing story so I'll be updating when the restoration is complete and, hopefully, when the museum is up and running.

Have a great day!


Romeos Quill from Lincolnshire, England on March 11, 2015:

This was a fascinating article to read Ann, especially living on the coast where there floats docked barges and trawlers converted into public houses and museum heritage pieces.

Living history should be preserved, I believe, for the next generation as a careful reminder of the resistance against evil and the folly of war, of which the legacy of the MTB 219 you've so wonderfully photographed, fulfils admirably.

Thanks for the history tour.


Ann Carr (author) from SW England on March 01, 2015:

Thanks, Colleen. I'm glad this was enjoyable for you and close to your heart.

I know what you mean about visiting those kinds of sites. We went to the memorial on Flanders Fields and it was so moving. The thousands of names around the pillars took our emotions to an entirely different level.

I appreciate your visit and thanks for the interesting input.


Colleen Swan from County Durham on March 01, 2015:

Hi, Ann,

I really enjoyed reading this thorough and moving Hub. My dad spent most of WWII on shipboard, often in menacing waters. Still, he always retained a love of the sea, which I have inherited.

An American now living in England, I recall visiting the memorial to Vietnam veterans in Washington D.C. Somehow I needed to touch those names; they are imprinted on my heart.