Motor Fishing Vessel 1544
Walking alongside the Rive Colne at the Hythe on a glorious summer day is an enjoyable experience, especially at high tide. This wide river estuary which narrows at the Hythe; no longer contains the traffic it once did, as the industries she served have long since declined. This once busy port is now home to leisure and housing, the river bank home to wildlife as the river bed slowly silts up and nature creeps back in. Nestled by the river bank lies the remains of what looks like an old barge, in an unrepairable state of neglect and decay. On closer inspection this isn’t an old barge at all, but a piece of maritime history, slowly sinking into the silt, being consumed by nature with each rising tide.
This is a former admiralty Motor Fishing Vessel (MFV), one of over a thousand produced during the last war. MVF’s were conceived out of necessity due to the exigencies of WW2. Their roles were to be numerous in supporting the work of the navy and the capital ships. They helped keep these ships replenished with stores and personnel, whilst others worked in and around the coastal estuaries. Some of these larger vessels also performed other duties which included escorting convoys or as support vessels for the D-Day landings.
As in the previous conflict the government recognized that trawlers and fishermen had an essential role in maintaining Britain’s sea lanes. The navy requisitioned numerous fishing trawlers and their crews into service, who were mainly used for minesweeping and anti-submarine duties. Their crews were also requisitioned and they formed the Royal Naval Patrol Service. These fishermen also saved a lot of lives at sea, rescuing crews from stricken ships as well as British and enemy aircraft.
Throughout the war mines remained the deadliest of all the enemy’s weapons. Sea mines sunk more fishing vessels than any other weapon. In Sept 1939 a programme was introduced of forming fishing fleets into groups ranging from four to eight vessels of which two were armed with twelve-pound guns. In May 1940 those trawlers which had been fitted with guns were swiftly requisitioned and sent to help with the evacuation of Dunkirk.
All trawlers operated by the Royal Navy, regardless of origin, were typically given the prefix HMT which stood for His Majesty’s Trawler. MFV’s were designed like commercial fishing boats, which best suited the navy’s needs, as they would look similar to the requisitioned fishing trawlers. The idea was that they would be sold after the war to fishermen to replace losses which would help offset the initial costs of building them.
The MFV’s ranged in length from 45-feet to 61.5ft, 75ft and 90-feet. More than 40 different small builders around the country built around nine-hundred boats, of which, about a hundred of these were the longer length of 90-feet and over.
The wrecked MFV at the Hythe was number 1544 and one of ten ordered on 27th November 1942 from the Wivenhoe Shipyard Ltd for the Admiralty. The Wivenhoe Shipyard built several of these, whilst others were built at the Rowhedge Ironworks. She was commissioned into the Royal Navy in August 1945 and used as a harbour and coastal tender, mainly used for transferring men and stores from shore to nearby ships. She weighed 200 tons, was 97ft long, 22ft wide and fitted with a Crossley 4-cylinder diesel engine connected to a single shaft. She had a top speed of 9 knots with 240 BHP and manned by a crew of eleven. She was sold out of service whilst at Chatham in November 1993, before being moored on the River Colne late in 1995, where she has remained ever since.
Throughout the war, MFV’s played a vital role in protecting Britain’s coastline but this all came at a huge cost. Although the actual number of fishermen who died whilst serving with the Royal Navy isn’t known. Those losses recorded amounted to 2,385 officers and men from the Royal Naval Patrol Service, whose ages from sixteen to over sixty. The Patrol Service lost nearly 500 vessels including more than 400 trawlers, which were far greater than any other branch of the Royal Navy.