The Royal Navy in Caen

WartimeNI visited Normandy during the 70th anniversary of D-Day celebrations. We found four vessels of the Royal Navy in Caen, still sailing strong in 2014.

On 7th June 2014, there are four ex-Royal Navy boats in Caen, Normandy. In a week of 70th-anniversary commemorations, these veterans of the Second World War stand proud, docked in the Caen Canal.

Docked at Quai Vendeuvre and Quai Caffarelli, these boats are the only known seafaring survivors of the Normandy invasion. The British Military Powerboat team have brought the vessels from Portsmouth Harbour to Caen. On board are veterans of Operation Overlord and currently serving crew.

HDML 1387 "HMS Medusa"

HDML 1387 is a harbour defence motor launch. Yacht builders across the UK produced 486 such boats during the war. HDML 1387 took her position in the English Channel on 5th June 1944. Her role in the Normandy campaign was to act as a channel marker. The crew of 1387 gave directional aid to the fleet as they advanced towards Omaha Beach. In combat, the motor launch saw action at Arromanches.

HDML 1387 Crew circa 1944

The crew of HDML 1387 "Medusa" on board around 1944. Medusa is one of the only vessels still sailing that saw action during the Normandy campaign. Photo from The Medusa Trust.

HSL 102

High-Speed Launch 102 is a sea rescue vessel attached to the Royal Navy. First built for the Royal Navy by the British Powerboat Company, she launched in 1936. 102 did not play an active role in the D-Day campaign although many sister HSL crews did.

The crew of HSL 102 carried out daring rescue missions during the Battle of Britain. She was responsible for retrieving many aircrews from downed planes. Of the UK 100 class, she is the only survivor. This was one of the first fast offshore rescue boats in service with the RAF.

MGB 81 and HSL 102 in Caen

MGB 81 and HSL 102 docked in the centre of Caen as part of a small fleet that sailed from Portsmouth to commemorate the 70th anniversary of D-Day. Photo taken on 6th June 2014.

MGB 81

MGB 81 is a motor gunboat built by the British Powerboat Company for the Royal Navy. Launched on 26th June 1942, she was one of the lead boats to land at Sword Beach. British and Canadian troops took part in the Normandy invasion as MGB 81’s crew. Now restored and based at HMS Hornet in Portsmouth, MGB 81 remains operational in Royal Navy Coastal Forces. She is the only currently active vessel that saw service in World War Two.

Veterans of the Royal Navy

Three Royal Navy veterans reminisce about the Normandy campaign 70 years before in Caen.

MTB 102 "RASC Vimy"

MTB 102 is a motor torpedo boat designed by Commander Peter Du Cane CBE. This vessel has quite a history despite only playing a supervisory role in the Normandy invasion. Launched in 1937, known as RASC Vimy in 1944, she carried both Churchill and Eisenhower. In the run-up to D-Day, both leaders travelled on RASC Vimy as they reviewed the southern coastal ports of the UK. When the invasion began, she provided cover for the advancing fleet. Kelso Films restored the vessel for the Michael Caine movie ‘The Eagle Has Landed’. Since then, she has appeared on TV, movies and several commemorative ceremonies.

MTB 102 - RASC Vimy

Imperial War Museum Photo: FL 24783 (Part of the Ministry of Defence Foxhill Collection of Ship Photographs). MTB 102 'RASC Vimy', a Royal Navy motor torpedo boat, which carried both Churchill and Eisenhower during the Operation Neptune campaign and later appeared in the Movie 'The Eagle Has Landed'.

In the nearby O’Donnell’s Irish Pub, there are a few Royal Navy veterans. They’re enjoying a whiskey and reliving their experiences from 70 years ago in Normandy. This post makes up part of our travel diary from the 70th-anniversary of D-Day in Normandy 2014.