Veterans launch campaign to sail last World War II Gunboat, MGB 81, back to Normandy

By Ben Miller | 13 June 2012
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A photo of a large white boat with flags above it sailing on calm waters at sea
The MGB 81 could be about to hit the high seas again© Portsmouth Naval Base Property Trust
Sixty-eight years after its finest hour, Britain’s last World War II Motor Gunboat is at the centre of a new adventure.

“MGB 81 and small craft like her kept the beaches safe from marauding Nazi warships, allowing the Allied armies to get safely ashore,” reads a plea issued by a group of Coastal Forces veterans at Gunwharf Quays Marina.

“Boats like this, and the men who crewed them, helped to free Europe.”

A photo of a large white boat with flags above it sailing on calm waters at sea
The boat will return to Normandy under the group's plans© Portsmouth Naval Base Property Trust
The aim is to stir both emotions and pockets in a bid to collect £70,000 – one for each year since D-Day – and drive the boat back across the channel to the Normandy beaches.

Originally saved three years ago by the Portsmouth Naval Base Property Trust, who have restored her weaponry, paintwork and two working engines, the “grand old veteran” will undergo a complete refit, particularly to correct its defective central engine, if a waiting team of skilled local engineers can secure funding.

“To have MGB 81 running again, travelling across the channel and sitting off the D-Day beaches, would be an incredible achievement,” says historian Dan Snow, saluting this “visceral connection to our history”.

“It would also be a statement that, even as the veterans grow old and pass away, the memory of what happened in those terrible years will never fade.”

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