The Royal Navy in Caen

8th March 2018

Four surviving vessels from the Royal Navy Normandy campaign are docked in Caen during the commemorations of D-Day 70. Each one has its own story to tell.

There are four ex-Royal Navy boats down at the edge of the canal as the sun sets over Caen. In a week that has seen plentiful commemorations marking 70 years since D-Day, these vessels stand proud.

The Royal Navy seaworthy survivors

These boats are the only known seafaring survivors of the Normandy invasion. Thr British Military Powerboat team have brought the vessels from Portsmouth Harbour to Caen. On board are veterans of Operation Overlord and currently serving crew.

On the evening of 7th June 2014, the boats had docked next to Quai Vendeuvre and Quai Caffarelli in the centre of Caen.

The Caen Canal in 2014

Views along the Caen Canal at sunset from where the ex-Royal Navy boars were docked during the 75th anniversary of D-Day commemorative week.

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

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 II.

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.

Veterans of the Royal Navy

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

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.

Newsletter Signup

If you'd like to hear more from WartimeNI, you can sign up for regular free updates to your inbox. Just enter your email address below.