Somerset, England - 24th April 2003
Nautical Natter from 'Nautibits
They say that as you get older time accelerates - this certainly seems to be the case for us! It hardly seems a moment since the heavy frosts of Christmas - now we are on the eve of another summer.
The Oldnautibits website continues to develop. Judging by the growing number of daily "hits", it would appear that our worldwide customer base likes what we are doing. We have had some very positive feedback to date - please keep it coming, as we do take note of your comments and act on them where we can.
The quest for fresh new stock continues to challenge us - while we enjoy the hunt, it is becoming increasingly difficult to track down quality items in both the Marine and Aeronautical areas of our business. We are travelling further to acquire quality pieces, but over the last couple of months we have managed to secure some unusual items.
For starters, how about this unique Rocking Chair crafted from the complete bow section of a Merlin Rocket racing dinghy? The 'Merlin Rocket Class' evolved from the Jack Holt designed 'Merlin' of 1946 and the 'Rocket' dinghy of 1949. These two designs were incorporated into the one 'Merlin Rocket Class' - 14 feet long, carrying 100 square feet of sail, launched in 1951.
This piece is a one-off example of a boat builder's skills. He bought the complete dinghy with a view to a full restoration so that she could sail once more with this classic class. On stripping her down, however, it was found she was "too far gone" to be saved, so the sound bow section has now been incorporated into a throne-like chair, which will enable the Merlin to continue rocking for years to come! This is a classic interior designer's piece, surely destined to be the focal point in a beach-side cabin or riverside loft?
Another fabulous nautifact (acquired this month) with great historical interest, is a rather special Kieninger & Obergfell/Aldingen Ship's Clock from a WWII German U-boat. This timepiece (one of six which would have been carried on board a U-boat) was "liberated" by a member of Stalin's Red Army, while allied forces converged on Germany during the time that the Third Reich was crumbling in the spring of 1945. It was taken home to the Soviet Union in a soldier's kit bag (taking a few knocks on the way, but that just adds to the character!) - it has spent the last 50+ years keeping time at his home in the former USSR.
During WWII the German military authorities laid down strict regulations concerning the issue of timepieces - the Kreigsmarine (German Navy) had overall responsibility for the issue and maintenance of all military timepieces. Any clock requiring maintenance had to be returned to the Kreigsmarine, where inventories were kept at the naval ports of Wilhelmshaven, Kiel and Gotenhafen.
Our bulkhead clock - U-Boat Type IX C - dating from c.1942, is mounted in a turned brass case and has the original lockable waterproof bezel. It carries the national symbol on the silvered dial together with the issue number 9886 and below the letter 'N'. This indicates the clock was issued to a U-boat of the Nordsee (North Sea) Fleet. The reverse of the case is numbered 6621, which corresponds to the number on the movement. We have been unable to trace the number of the U-boat from which the clock was removed; the soldier who "liberated" it is deceased.
Unfortunately, although the original 7-day clock movement is fitted, someone has removed the complete platform and escapement mechanism - so currently this classic wartime clock resides silently on our office wall. The hunt is on, however, for an original platform and associated parts - perhaps you can help in our quest? The movement is by the well known German clockmakers Obergfell and we think that some pre-war movements made by this firm would fit our clock to bring it back to life. If you can help in tracking down the missing parts we would really like to hear from you.
We particularly like items with specific ship associations. We were, therefore, excited to buy in a Ship's Name Board from the Royal Navy (Daring Class) Fleet Destroyer HMS Diamond. These Destroyers, built in the 1950's, were of wartime design, so somewhat cramped below decks. At 3500 tons, over twice the size of their predecessors, they were the largest of their type ever to serve the British Royal Navy. They were specifically designed for operations in the Pacific region. As a result of our research we have found that the Fleet was used to prevent "oil-busting" supplies reaching Ian Smith's Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) in the late 1960's. HMS Diamond was the last of the class to be built; she had seven sister ships: Daring, Dainty, Duchess, Decoy, Defender, Delight and Diana. Diamond saw extensive service, in the late 1950's she was refitted - the aft set of quintuple torpedo tubes was removed and the deck house extended.
HMS Diamond was decommissioned in 1969 and scrapped in 1980. Two of her sister ships had a stay of execution and were sold to the Royal Australian Navy, where they served for many years. Our Name Board, which is 1.25m long, is made from African mahogany with heavy brass lettering and was fitted to Diamond's starboard quarterdeck. The board has slotted ends and would have been removed to below decks while the ship was at sea.
The final maritime artifact which we have added to our stock this month (already listed on the site - Ship's Fittings Ref 643) is from a far smaller Royal Navy ship - Motor Torpedo Boat (MTB) 769, weighing in at 95 tons displacement. We were fortunate to be offered her Maker's Plaque, dated 1943, which has been mounted on a heavy piece of mahogany above a Ship's Rail Klaxon in full working order. We have researched a little of 769's history; she formed part of the batch 724-771, ordered in August 1942 - a Fairmile 'D' MTB, of which 232 were built. These boats were designed by, and ordered from, the Fairmile Marine Company. The company had kits of parts made up by furniture factories and other woodworking businesses - the components were then passed to small boat yards who would not normally have built such large vessels. MTB 769 was 115 feet long with a beam of 21 feet, powered by four 1200 HP Packard petrol engines which gave her an impressive 30 knots of speed! She was handed over to the Royal Navy in June 1944 to serve with the 63rd MTB Flotilla based at Dover, Portsmouth and then, from December 1943 to June 1945, at Yarmouth.
She saw action on 24/25th August 1944 off the Hook of Schouwen (to the north of Walcheren) where she detected a German patrol of four vessels - an M class, an armed trawler, an armed coaster and a TLC. Commander Wright, who was in charge of the flotilla of MTB's, ordered his boats to attack a target each. Two ships attacked the larger Kreigsmarine M class, opening up at a range of 900-1200 yds, the M class and trawler were sunk, MTB 769 seriously damaged the armed coaster.
On 29/30th October 1944, MTB 769 was in action again - she received a hit during a skirmish with 12 enemy 'R' boats off Schouwen. The three boats in the 63rd flotilla were kept at bay by heavy enemy fire, before being forced to withdraw.
MTB 769 was transferred from active service in 1946 to the Sea Cadets, based at Fareham. She was finally sold out of service in April 1956 - what happened to her subsequently is a mystery. We would be pleased to hear from any readers who might be able to add to our research or, perhaps, provide a photograph of MTB 769, at the moment we only have this picture of one of her sister ships.
Many thanks to Philip Simons Honorary Historian to the British Military Powerboat Trust in helping with research on the history of MTB 769 and for supplying this photograph of her sister ship.