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Night Hunters Coastal Forces Exhibition

The Spitfires of the Seas

The Night Hunters - Coastal Forces

  • Major new permanent gallery The Night Hunters: The Royal Navy’s Coastal Forces at War pays tribute to the high-risk, high-octane operations of the coastal forces in both world wars.
  • Two remarkable surviving historic boats take centre stage in the fascinating permanent gallery, the first of its kind, at Gosport’s Explosion Museum of Naval Firepower 
  • A total of over 3,000 decorations won, including four Victoria Crosses pay testimony to the dangerous operations undertaken, often at night and at high speed

Coastal Forces craft were used to attack German convoys, defend allied shipping, carry out clandestine raids and landings, and pick up secret agents. They took part in over 900 operations all over the world, including the St Nazaire Raid, the Dieppe Raid and D-Day and sank over 500 enemy vessels.  

The remarkable and little-known story of the Royal Navy’s Coastal Forces which made such an extraordinary contribution to both world wars is to be told for the first time in a major new permanent gallery opening onSaturday 9 October 2021.

OPENING TIMES:
Wednesday - Sunday: 11:30am -3:30pm (from Saturday 9 October 2021)

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NEW PERMANENT GALLERY IN HAMPSHIRE 

Night hunters-Coastal Forces Exhibition
Source: Studio MB

The Night Hunters exhibition at Explosion Museum of Naval Firepower in Gosport, pays tribute to the small band of young, courageous men who manned the heavily armed wooden craft as they engaged enemy naval forces at close range. It is said that it was the nearest thing to hand-to-hand fighting experienced within the Royal Navy in the Second World War. For this, their service was recognised with an unprecedented 3,000 decorations, including four Victoria Crosses.

The National Museum of the Royal Navy (NMRN) partnered with the Coastal Forces Heritage Trust (CFHT) and Lockheed Martin to fund and develop this exciting new gallery.

 

WHAT TO SEE  

RARE ARTEFACTS

See rare photographs that capture the intensity of serving in the coastal forces and the off-duty antics of the crews. Because of the stealthy nature of their operations, only few photographs exist of them in action. Sketches, notebooks and some of the more personal ephemera gives a fascinating insight into the lives of these heroes.

Larger objects on display include a Holman Projector, a relatively crude anti-aircraft weapon operated by compressed air that was an effective stop-gap measure to deter German aircraft; a Mark 11 Oerlikon anti-aircraft gun and a buoyant acoustic mine, representative of the many thousands laid by the boats.

A gripping audio-visual display vividly recreates the drama and adrenaline of a motor torpedo boat (MTB) night attack on a convoy.

HISTORIC BOATS

Night hunters historic boat in gallery

Taking centre stage in the gallery are two of the Second World War historic boats, Coastal Motor Boat CMB331 and Motor Torpedo Boat MTB71, that made such an extraordinary contribution to naval warfare. Immortalised as “Spitfires of the Seas” they were often deployed in the dark, at incredibly high speeds as small but fast attack craft travelling at speeds up to 35 knots.

CMB 331 was commanded by Commander Derek ‘Jake’ Wright who quickly gained a reputation for bringing his crew back alive. He was one of only 44 to be awarded three Distinguished Service Crosses during the Second World War. The gallery features some of his personal artefacts including uniform which by modern standards would barely have managed to protect the crew from the elements.

THE COASTAL FORCES CREW

The crew, although very young with an average age of just 21-years-old, were highly trained and exhibited an exceptionally high esprit de corps in a theatre of war punctuated by high risks, incredible danger and challenging working conditions. Among them was the future Avenger Patrick Macnee, who became a household name in the 1960s, the second Dr Who, Patrick Troughton, renowned conservationist Sir Peter Scott and James Bond director Guy Hamilton.

The Night Hunters also highlights the essential role played by the Womens’ Royal Naval Service (WRNS) who managed and worked the 23 shore bases all around the UK coast from which the boats operated. Shore bases were also located across the globe from Iceland to the Far East. 

ROBERT HICHENS MEMORIAL EXHIBITION

The gallery is named the Robert Hichens Memorial Exhibition. Lieutenant Commander Robert Hichens was a legendary figure, pioneering successes against German fast attack E-boats in the North Sea and English Channel. He became the most highly decorated RNVR (Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve) Officer with two Distinguished Service Orders, three Distinguished Service Cross and three Mentions in Dispatches. His death in 1943 sent shockwaves through the coastal forces. 

 

VISIT THE NEW GALLERY

The Night Hunters: The Royal Navy’s Coastal Forces at War exhibition is located at Building P (Old Mine Store), Explosion Museum, Priddy’s Hard, Gosport.

Entry to The Night Hunters and Explosion Museum is included in the ticket for Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. The joint ticket gives extraordinary access to world-class attractions based across the Portsmouth and Gosport sites including the Royal Navy Submarine Museum, HMS Victory, the Mary Rose Museum and HMS Warrior.

For further details about tickets, including the Ultimate Explorer Ticket which gives 12-month entry to all attractions, visit www.historicdockyard.co.uk.

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