Coastal Forces Books

There is a wealth of books and publications available to build a brilliant understanding of life in the Coastal Forces.  The descriptions and reviews below will guide the interested reader or researcher straight to the most interesting and relevant publications.

Dog Boats At War

By Leonard Reynolds

This meticulously researched book is the absolute authority on Fairmile ‘D’ class ‘Dog Boats’, which served with great distinction in the Royal Navy of WWII.

It is not only a great read in itself, this book is also a superb reference regarding many WWII torpedo and gunboat actions.

Torpedoes, Tea and Medals

By Chris O’Flaherty

This biography of World War II hero Commander Derek ‘Jake’ Wright DSC** Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve vividly describes the battles, strategy, emotions and tribulations of Motor Torpedo Boat Command, as well as his life after the war had been won.

Nominated for the Mountbatten Book Award 2022, it is a wonderful read.

HM Small Ships

By Warren Armstrong

Written during the war as part of a propaganda series, this is a wonderful, contemporary, account of the intense battles fought by the Royal Navy’s coastal forces.

Full of superbly descriptive narratives of battles, complemented by some great quotes based on interviews with the participants. A real treat to read.

The Battle of the Narrow Seas

By Peter Scott

This is a fascinating insight into the intense wartime battle that raged in the southern North Sea during WWII, fought mainly by the smallest warships of the Royal Navy.

This is an often highly personal account that must be read if one is to fully appreciate what these amazing small-ship warriors endured and achieved.

Gunboat Command

By Anthony Hichens

A gripping and compelling biography of a genuine WWII hero.

Lt Cdr Robert Hitchens was a legend – and you can understand why when you’ve read this great book.

Crash Start

By Chris O’Flaherty

This is a rollercoaster story capturing the life of Lieutenant Guy Hudson DSC Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. After leaving Oxford University to join the wartime Royal Navy, he saw high-seas action during the sinking of the German Battleship Bismarck as well as in Coastal Forces off Tunisia and the northern coast of France.  But he also saw many things that led to PTSD and alcoholism after the war.

His amazing life culminates with his bequest to the University of Oxford of £500,000 which led to the establishment of the Guy Hudson Memorial Trust, and which now pays for Royal Navy and Royal Marines Officers to study at St Anthony’s College, Oxford.

British Coastal Forces

By Norman Friedman

A superb and very detailed book chronicling the debates and evolution of British Coastal Forces.

This is the go-to reference for anyone wanting to discover the history of Coastal Forces procurement and the debates about the utility of our smallest warships.

Seedie’s List of Coastal Forces Awards

By ‘Seedie’

This is the essential reference work for all Royal Naval Coastal Forces medals and awards throughout World War II. It has a very easy to follow style with an excellent index.

The sections break down awards into people, which units they served in, their awards (including a very brief description of the action or actions), and when they received their awards and medals. It also includes unit and Command awards for Coastal Forces.

Uncommon Courage

by Julia Jones

A lovely collection of inspiring stories of yachtsmen-turned-volunteers who joined the Royal Navy during World War II as ‘Hostilities Only’ officers and ratings.

The bravery, gallantry and sacrifice shines through in this lovely volume of anecdotes and tales.

The War of the Motor Gun Boats

By A J Chapman

An incredible autobiographical account of life in Coastal Forces in the war.

From losing shipmates in horrific circumstances, to close battles into the Mediterranean, to the simple daily routines of life onboard a Motor Gun Boat, this is a vivid and highly descriptive volume.

A Prisoners Progress

james david - a prisoner's progress - AbeBooksBy David James

An amazing tale of a Coastal Forces officer captured when his Motor Gun Boat was burnt from under him during a battle with German e-Boats in 1943. He was picked up by a German trawler, along with his fellow survivors, and taken to Germany as a Prisoner of War.

Using a level of audacity and sheer courage that makes many WWII prisoner movies look tame, he arranged the escape of a number of his fellow captives, and himself.

The tales of daring do and deception as he brazenly strolls through occupied towns en-route back to Britain make for compelling reading.

The Cruise of the Naromis

By G A Jones

A delightful short tale of the author’s exploits in the months leading up to the Second World War as he took his small private boat on an audacious cruise around various German ports.

Written in ‘diary’ format, he regales various scrapes and bluffs that enabled him to gather a gamut of vital intelligence to support the subsequent war effort.

The Author served throughout the war as a Paymaster Sub-Lieutenant (promoted eventually to Lt Cdr), further tales of which occupy the final chapter.

In Harms Way

By Geoffrey Hobday

A New Zealander, Geoffrey Hobday commissioned into the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve just after the war started. His service started in Motor Launches, but he soon moved up in size and speed in order to fulfil one of his favourite maxims.

“I wish to have no connection with any ship that does not sail fast, for I intend to go in harm’s way” (per John Paul Jones, 1747-1792).

He certainly did go in harm’s way, fighting motor gun boat battles in the Mediterranean and North Sea, including rescuing a German E-Boat flotilla leader after one very fierce action.

Coastal Forces At War

By David Jefferson

An enlightening and often detailed account of life and fighting in the ‘Little Ships’ of the Second World War. The Author served in the post-war Coastal Forces and thus writes from a position of knowledge of the conditions and culture of the sailors in small ships.

This lovely study is often very personal to individuals who recollected specific memories to support the author’s research – these really add to the historical value and also the poignancy of this work.

Royal Navy Motor Gun Boat Owners’ Workshop Manual

By Stephen Fisher and Diggory Rose

An excellent addition to the reference shelf of every Coastal Forces aficionado. The book was written during the restoration of Motor Gun Boat 81, which is once again a seagoing vessel. The consequence is a superbly illustrated guide to both Motor Gun Boat 81, but also to many other wartime Coastal Forces craft.

The photographs alone make this book worthy of a special place on a bookshelf or coffee table, with the accompanying narrative truly enlightening the reader regarding our wartime smallest ships.

Night Action

By Peter Dickens

A very personal, very intense and often detailed account of one man’s war in Motor Torpedo Boats. The patriotism of the author drives a penetrating thread through this lively and swashbuckling autobiography of one of the Royal Navy’s decorated wartime heroes.

His accounts of battle are vivid. His accounts of camaraderie are touching. His accounts of war are inspiring. And his writing style is very readable indeed.

A true classic.

Hostilities Only

By Brian Lavery

This is a very thoroughly researched and engaging account of the training of Royal Naval Volunteer Reserves during World War 2. For historians of this period, it captures with considerable precision and a suitable level of analysis the challenges of rapidly transforming a peacetime organisation into a much larger outfit already involved in war.

The small ship tales are especially inspiring whereby officers and some ratings were thrust from their peacetime occupations as solicitors, tea brokers, craftsmen or labourers almost straight into the violence of a hot war, and often after as a little as 10 weeks of training. There are many lessons for today’s armed forces packed into this excellent work.

Allied Coastal Forces of World War II – Vol 1 – Fairmile Designs and US Submarine Chasers

By John Lambert and Al Ross

An absolute gem of a book which goes in to a huge level of detail regarding the design evolution, line drawings and technical details of UK Fairmile coastal forces vessels and some US boats.

The line drawings and amplifications present are an intriguing and educational glimpse into the minds of those who designed these small warships in the midst of conflict. The annexes (as well as descriptions within the text) then deliver further encyclopaedic value through detailing the precise location of the build of each boat, along with some analytical statistics regarding who built the most boats and at what rate.

A weighty tome that is packed with facts.

Allied Coastal Forces of World War II – Vol 2 – Vosper MTBs and US Elcos

By John Lambert and Al Ross

An absolutely delightful continuation of the highly detailed compendium of Coastal Forces facts, figures, line drawings, design details and building background of our smallest WWII warships.

The level of detail in the research is superb and the contribution to the intellectual knowledge of these vessels is outstanding.

Flag 4 – The Battle of Coastal Forces in the Mediterranean.

By Dudley Pope

A very exciting, well illustrated and highly readable account of the battles of Coastal Forces craft in the Mediterranean during WWII.

It should be seen ask an ‘unofficial history’ of the Coastal Forces battles in that area, but one which comes with significant endorsement (the Foreword was written by the First Sea Lord) and which goes into much greater detail than other and broader official histories.

Very well worth a read to understand life and action in a small warship.

The Battle of the Torpedo Boats

By Bryan Cooper

Billed by the author as the first complete survey of the history of MTBs, it delivers in spades.

It is a comprehensive look at the background and battles of Motor Torpedo Boats of many nationalities, but with an enduring focus on those of the Royal Navy. It then uses a series of inspiring vignettes from specific actions to illustrate key points and histories.  It also has a lovely personnel touch as it seeks to highlight the bravery and antics of some of the greatest and also less well known heroes and heroines of the wartime coastal forces community.

A very good read.


By Lawrence Paterson

A great deep dive into the world of German Torpedo Boat design, command/control, and operations.

Using original archive materiel from the German navy (some of which was captured by the Allies in 1945) the author generates a series of readable and vivid descriptions of the small ship battles as fought by the ‘enemy’, when compared to the victorious histories written about Royal Navy exploits.

This book is a lovely contrast to the usual histories of this topic and is a very good balancing read.

The Little Ships

The Little ShipsBy Gordon Holman

Containing the utterly brilliant quote “The sea is the natural element of the British. On it, they are unbeatable” this is a superb wartime propaganda book that describes in boy’s-own detail the exploits of our wartime warriors around the coast of Great Britain.

The author also digs into the band of brothers formed by the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve officers who had unexpectedly been thrust together to deliver war fighting success.

A lovely read that is the perfect bedtime inspiration for some active dreams of action.

Motor Gunboat 658

By L C Reynolds

A very personal history of one specific Motor Gun Boat and the life of the author whilst serving in her.

Vivid, often dramatic, occasionally sad, and in incredible detail, the author transports you to the daily life and ardour of being a small ship warrior.

Champagne Navy

By Brian Nolan and Brian Street

A meticulous and outstanding history of the Royal Canadian Navy’s contribution to the small ship battles off Europe during World War II. Built from both personal accounts and also official sourced histories, it is a warts-and-all look at the exploits of the brave sailors who travelled across the Atlantic in Britain’s time of need.

The descriptions of some of the actions is especially valuable and detailed.

The RNVR – A Record of Achievement

By J Lennox Kerr and Wilfred Granville

This is a superb primer into the rise and glory of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve as a core part of Britain’s winning naval forces.  It goes well beyond the coastal forces for which the RNVR are often lauded, detailing the exploits of aviators and big-ship warriors alike.

For anyone who wishes to understand the true history, valour and breadth of battle-winning activities undertaken by the ‘Yachtsmen Volunteers’, this is a must-read.

We Fought Them in Gunboats – HMS Beehive edition

We Fought Them in Gunboats: HMS Beehive edition: 5 (Yachtsman Volunteers series)By Robert Hichens

There are two versions of this book.  The first was published in 1943 just after Robert Hichens was killed in action.  The wartime censor had taken their red pen to over 33,000 words of the original text in order to preserve operational security.

The ‘HMS Beehive’ edition, published in 2023, restores these censored words to make this an invaluable contribution to our understanding of the wartime trials, tribulations and exceptional successes of fighting in motor gun boats.  Vivid, raw, emotional, dramatic – all adjectives that perfectly describe this autobiography of an absolute hero.

Last Ditch

By John Wingate

This is a delightful and personal account of the battles in the English Channel in the period 1939-1943.

John Wingate saw at first hand many of the actions and puts these into context for the reader as well as describing the detail of the action from a first-person perspective.