Gordon Williamson, 2011. E-Boat vs MTB: The English Channel 1941-45. Osprey Publishing.
Osprey titles can sometime be a bit hit or miss. While there are many excellent books on a variety of topics, every once in a while, a poor quality title seems to slip through. In many respects, their ‘duel’ series set themselves up to be a weaker book. By taking two adversaries — two particular aircraft, two elite ground forces or two types of boat — they risk pigeonholing the actions of their subject and not giving them the full coverage they often require.
This is certainly the case with this title. The concept of MTBs versus S-boats seems, on the face of it, an expected contest through the Second World War. Unfortunately this wasn’t really the case. Although S-boats and MTBs did engage each other, MTBs were designed to attack larger targets and sink them with their torpedoes, not ‘mix it’ with the S-boats, a target that their armament was not really suited to.
This wouldn’t be so bad if the book focused on a wider range of Coastal Forces craft, particularly MGBs, who were attempting to engage S-boats. Unfortunately MGBs take up less than a page in the introductory chapters and receive little more attention through the book.
This brief introduction to MGBs also highlights the many flaws in the detail of this book. We’re told that Fairmile were the most important MGBs and there is a short description of Fairmile Bs and Fairmile Ds. In fact, although often heavily armed, Fairmile Bs were not designated as MGBs (more were made as MTBs!). There is absolutely no mention made of the ‘short’ MGBs built by British Power Boat, except in the caption to a solitary image. Similarly White and Thornycroft do not appear in the book. In fact anyone reading this publication may assume that Vosper were the only MTB manufacturer during the war. Almost all of the images come from their archive and the impressive graphics and artwork all recreate Vosper boats.
The book also makes some confusing errors with MTB armament. In an early chapter it is stated that the 6pdr gun was only fitted towards the end of the war and was never used against S-boats. Ignoring the fact it was most certainly used against a range of targets in 1944 and 1945, there is then a picture of such a gun in a chapter dealing with the middle war years. The caption also incorrectly claims that it was affectionately known as the Pom-Pom.
This is just one of the numerous errors in the book, some of which are quite unfortunate. Although maps in the book list Le Havre as an S-boat base, its later stated that it was not a formal base and had no protective bunkers. In fact it did have dedicated S-boat bunkers, which were practically destroyed in an RAF raid shortly after D-Day. Le Havre was also the base from which German torpedo boats (the equivalent of small destroyers) sailed from to attack the Allied fleet on the morning of D-Day, sinking the Norwegian destroyer HNoMS Svenner. In the book this attack is wrongly ascribed to S-boats sailing from Cherbourg – the other side of the Bay of Seine! Elsewhere in the book the same S-boat attack on a post-D-Day convoy is described twice and as two different actions.
On the other hand, the book does manage to create a good balance in one important respect. This is not just a book about RN Coastal Forces and there is an equal amount of coverage of S-boats designs, armament and crew. This is an improvement on the somewhat nationalistic publications of the post-war period, but it doesn’t manage to save the book from the obvious flaws already mentioned. The vast majority of the combat the book covers did not involve MTBs and S-boats engaging each other, rather they were engaging other targets and occasionally came into conflict, but almost always with other vessels present. The absence of MGBs from this book is a serious deficiency and a better book might try and cover the engagements between ‘short’ Coastal Forces MGBs, as well as actions involving R-boats as well as S-boats on the German side.
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