Harbour Defence Motor Launch
Post War Recovery
Carter's father, Lt F L Carter, RNVR,
supervised the construction of HDML 1301 and subsequently skippered her during
WW2. This is David's account of the recovery of the craft 60 years after the
war, interlaced with childhood memories. He followed in his father's footsteps
when he was appointed navigator for the craft's return from the Mediterranean to
the Netherlands in the noughties.
[Photo; ML1301 in
I have been connected with HDML 1301 literally
since before I was born. In autumn 1942, my father, Lt F L Carter RNVR,
appointed Captain while she was under construction in the yard of Wm Blackmore &
Son, Bideford, north Devon. He stayed in Bideford to
oversee its construction and arrange minor alterations and extra fittings. My mother visited the boat shortly before I
arrived and we were
both 'commissioned' within days of each other in March
In May 1943, my father sailed
1301 in a
convoy to Malta, in preparation for Operation Husky,
landings in Sicily. Radar was fitted and the original forward gun, a 2 pounder,
was replaced with an Oerlikon. I recently learned, that about this time,
Belfast had her Oerlikons replaced with Bofors AA guns. Was this a
coincidence I wonder?
Far from her original purpose of defending
harbours, ML 1301 was one of the first boats to go to the Sicilian beaches. Its
purpose was to lead landing craft to their designated beaches using her radar as
a beacon. At Salerno, 1301 operated to the north of the main beaches and made a
smoke screen as a prelude to the landings.
Operation Brassard, the invasion of Elba, her role was to land
commandos (Free French Moroccan forces – “Goums”) prior to the main invasion.
Unfortunately, having dropped off the commandos, she met a Flack lighter
and, in the ensuing skirmish, my father was killed and several of the crew seriously
After this action in June
1944, 1301 was adapted for
survey work and re-numbered MSU 2, (Mediterranean Survey Unit). She surveyed
harbours around Italy, the Adriatic,
Aegean and as far east as Cyprus, from
where she was shipped back to the UK. There, she was
re-numbered A352 and attached to the Hydrographic Office, surveying the
South Coast and later named HMS
Meda. She was one of two HDMLs to be named, the other being ML 1387 named
HMS Medusa, now preserved in Southampton.
was decommissioned in 1966 and sold, ending up with Hector Sheppard-Capurro, the owner of Sheppard’s Marina in Gibraltar. Hector
modified the boat for family use and re-named her “Gibel Tarik”.
The modifications included extra berths, an awning and a roof over
I had no idea
1301 had survived
the war. It was during a visit to see Medusa in 2000 that, Alan Watson
of the Medusa Trust (http://www.hmsmedusa.org.uk/),
Hector's yacht was the boat my father had skippered over 55
years earlier! This was amazing news. Introductions were
arranged and in the ensuing years, Hector's
hospitality in Gibraltar allowed me to stay on the
boat, often with my family,
even to the extent of giving them sailing lessons!
When Hector decided to sell
Gibel Tarik, I reluctantly
accepted that I did not have the means, skills or
facilities to buy and maintain it. Fortunately,
around this time, Klaas Spaans stepped forward with the necessary credentials. He
had served in the Dutch Navy and subsequently in the reserves.
Furthermore, his company in the
Netherlands, had connections with the sea through the production of Military GPS
and special navigation systems for small boats.
Plans & Preparations for the Journey North
I was invited to
be a crew
member on the craft's northward journey to its
temporary homeport of Ijmuiden in the Netherlands, a distance
of 1,400 nautical miles or 1,600 miles approximately. It would later be berthed at the Naval base in Amsterdam
as part of a
collection of vessels maintained by KTL (Keep Them Landing),
who have some access to Naval Base facilities for repairs and maintenance.
Navy and Marine personnel committed to keeping alive the history of old vessels,
landing craft and boats. Their interest in the HDML
was occasioned by the Dutch Navy's
use of the craft during WW2 and beyond, some craft finding their way to the
Dutch East Indies, now Indonesia and New Guinea, where
they were used as river patrol boats during various actions.
Towards the end of September
2007, I joined Klaas and his friends Dirk, an electronics expert and Ernst, who worked for
the Rijks Water Staat in the Port of Rotterdam. We initially
planned to sail 24/7 with a crew of seven, only
stopping to refuel, but three
withdrew before the departure date.
appointed me as
navigator, perhaps knowing
I'd learned navigation at the London Nautical School some 40 years earlier. I
was rather rusty, of course, and had to familiarise myself with GPS; a steep
learning curve. There were other navigational skills available in the guise of
Ernst, who had current sea-navigation 2003 and marcom-b. 2005 certificates and
Dirk, who set up the Raymarine GPS and tutored me on making waypoints
including checking and amending the route and setting up the screen display.
also had more traditional navigational aids
at our disposal,
such as route-planning charts, the Cruising Almanac 2007/2008, to identify good harbours and cruising tide tables 2007, to ascertain the height speed and
direction of tidal currents. We planned to receive 5 day weather forecasts from
local harbour offices as we progressed on our journey, supplemented by
up to the minute weather forecasts from a Captain of a RNN
survey ship who was a friend of Klass's.
Gibraltar. Work in progress.]
The first task for the long journey north was
to modify the boat. Anticipating the possibility of heavy seas, we boarded up the
large windows of the chartroom, made new boxes to stow the batteries and cleared
out surplus equipment. It was hot and thirsty work, but Klaas and I soon cooled
off when we plunged into the
water to disentangle a mooring line which had fouled the port propeller and its
On Monday 1 October, we sailed across the Bay to Algeciras to pick up
new life rafts. They were larger than expected
requiring Klaas and Dirk to spend a few hours securing them in place, while Ernst and I sailed
the boat to Cadiz, Puerto Sherry. This part of Spain has invested heavily in
wind farms much to the delight of my Dutch colleagues.
The following day, we sailed to the Marina in Vilamoura, in Portugal. We found this very welcoming with excellent facilities.
The security was much more noticeable than in Spain, with checks on passports
etc. The engines ran well although the diesel filters needed to be cleaned from
time to time. Dirk and Klaas laboured in the engine room, mostly between the very
noisy engines where the temperature was 55c or more. They also had to brace
themselves against the rolling motion of the boat. On 3 October, we rounded Cape
St Vincent and made for Sines arriving after dark.
this time we were getting more confident and thought we could save some time if
we were to sail overnight using a 2 man watch, 4 hours on / off, rather than the
mere 100 miles or so by day only sailing. We therefore sailed for Galicia.
Sleeping was not easy. My berth was in a room that had originally been the
starboard fuel tank. The bunk was about 4 feet from the starboard engine.
Surprisingly, I quickly adjusted to the noise but found the intermittent scream
from a partly blocked bilge pump much more disturbing. On Friday morning we
stopped at the pretty fishing port of Baiona, overlooked by the Castillo de
Monte Real, to refuel and finished the day at another attractive port of
Camarinas [Photo.] As befits a fishing port, we were recommended to a restaurant
where we were treated to a mountainous fish platter. It seemed to contain almost
everything that had ever swum, wriggled or crawled in the sea.
On the Saturday, we faced a major decision on
the approaches to the Bay of Biscay; we could either sail along the Spanish and
French coasts in one-day hops or, with the occasional overnight run, we could
head straight for Brest involving a trip into the Atlantic. The former would be
700 miles and the latter about half that. We were encouraged by a forecast of
high pressure over Biscay with light winds but storms over Bilbao on Monday.
Unanimously, we decided in favour of the Atlantic route and I'm so glad we did.
We soon left behind fishing boats and their nets and floats that litter the
coast and found ourselves alone... except for dozens of dolphins, flying fish,
whose red eyes could be seen in the night scope, and even whales. It was an awe
inspiring sight, our enthusiasm moderated only when we realised they were bigger
Until this point we had made good use of
“George” the automatic pilot. Just off Cape Finisterre, there is a dumping ground
for ammunition, old warships etc. The large amount of metal on the seabed played
havoc with the automatic pilot which failed, never to operate again. We had to
steer the boat manually for the rest of the voyage.
HDMLs are very maneuverable craft befitting of
a submarine chasers. They have a minimal skeg and no bilge keels which caused
the craft to roll excessively. To steer the boat “straight” across Biscay was,
therefore, quite a challenge, but with the GPS system monitoring our progress and
by plotting our course on the route-planning chart, we succeeded in making the
Marina at Camaret sur Mer on Sunday night.
[Map courtesy of Google Map Data 2019.
9 ports of call and a few nights at sea (unmarked).]
Monday morning brought fog with visibility about
200 yards. We hoped to use the inshore route round the Brest peninsular but with
all the buoys and rocks hidden in the gloom, this would be challenging. Again
the GPS came to our aid. By plotting the course in great detail, with waypoints
every 3-400 yards I was able to give very precise instructions to Ernst who was
steering, while Klaas was staring at the radar and Dirk was peering through the
binoculars. Together, we achieved a safe and very precise course avoiding all
the obstacles hidden in the gloom.
After about 12 miles, we welcomed clearer
weather for the passage through the English Channel. Again we decided to sail
through the night, knowing that the weather was likely to worsen. We reached
Dieppe in pouring rain on Tuesday afternoon. Although the decks had been
sheathed in marine-ply, the rain and rough seas found their way through in two
places, one over my bunk and the other over the day berth in the fore cabin. It
was good to go ashore and enjoy a shower and a hearty meal.
were advised by our RNN Captain friend to leave Dieppe at 8 on Wednesday morning
to take advantage of strong tidal currents. So, despite the storm, the lack of
route planning and the boat rolling violently, we set out. The flood tide pushed
us through the Dover Straights at 15 knots! Since the boat is only capable of
about 10 knots, this was a tide worth having! Around 3 pm, when we were near
Dunkirk, the engines shut down. The Douane (French Customs) had stopped us in
their large launch, complete with machine guns. They sent across an armed
boarding party in a RIB. It took about two hours to assure them that we were not
carrying drugs, illegal immigrants, arms etc and they searched the whole boat to
make sure of it. I was able to recount, that in a former life, the boat had
carried French Commandos and this seemed to break the ice.
We got underway once more and headed for Holland
and home for the others. We crossed the entries to Vlissingen and Rotterdam in
the night, having got permission to cross the channels. We arrived at Ijmuiden in
the early morning of 11 October, to much relief and celebration. I
was so pleased to have been involved in the return of the boat that my father
had taken to the Mediterranean 64 years earlier. A surreal
experience I could never have imagined which brought me much closer to
understanding my father's wartime experiences.
New Zealand HDML Restoration Project.
We bought an HDML here in New Zealand and
cruised her from Picton (top of the South Island) to Auckland; a great journey
over 5 days and 770 nautical miles and she didn't miss a beat - even in the 50
knot winds most of the time! She's pretty much restored to wartime
configuration and has become a bit of an icon here in Auckland.
Heather & Keith Reeves
HDML 1301 is now
onshore in an industrial museum in Dronten, Netherlands, being restored. I
am in touch with the people working on it and can give you an update if it
is relevant for this site. I am also Secretary of the Coastal Forces
Veterans Association (London Branch). We have a website -
We are grateful to David Carter for this account of
1301's post war
service and restoration.