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Wartime motor launch given new lease of life

Wartime motor launch given new lease of life
6 January 2016
A wartime boat which served as the springboard for commando raids in occupied Europe and saved downed aircrew is to become a museum piece in Portsmouth.

Rescue Motor Launch 497 will join the collection of historic craft large and small maintained by the National Museum of the Royal Navy – thanks largely to a £90,000 lottery hand-out.

The 112ft wooden boat is one of the dwindling band of survivors of a class of around 650 launches built by, or under licence from, the Fairmile company between 1940 and 1945 to meet the tremendous demands placed on the Fleet by its second global conflict in a generation.

Crewed by 16 men and with a top speed of around 20kts, they were called upon to perform a myriad roles – submarine hunting, anti-aircraft protection, torpedo boats, gunboats and rescue duties.

In RML 497’s case, she served in the Channel carrying out search and rescue missions from Portland, acted as a target tug in the Orkneys and took part in a commando raid on the Channel Islands in the aftermath of D-Day.

RML 497 is an amazing survivor, full of original features and still fully operational, which is incredible for a wooden warship built for ‘hostilities only’ service during World War 2,”

Nick Hewitt, Head of Heritage Development at the museum

Sold off post-war, the boat spent the vast majority of her life – renamed Western Lady III and, in 2013, The Fairmile – carrying passengers around Torbay, Brixham and Dartmouth.

She was snapped up at the end of last year for just over £100,000 – the National Museum and the Coastal Forces Heritage Trust both threw £5k into the put with the grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund making up the shortfall.

“RML 497 is an amazing survivor, full of original features and still fully operational, which is incredible for a wooden warship built for ‘hostilities only’ service during World War 2,” said Nick Hewitt, head of heritage development at the museum.

“When she comes to Portsmouth she’ll be entering a whole new phase of her long life, and I’m sure our visitors will be just as excited as we are to step aboard her and see Portsmouth’s amazing naval heritage from the deck of a real warship.”

Meanwhile, confiscated wood will help to restore the decking of another of the museum’s maritime treasures.

Jutland veteran HMS Caroline is in the midst of a £15m revamp to turn her into a floating museum/visitor attraction in time for the 100th anniversary of the biggest naval battle ever fought in European waters at the end of May.

Border Force seized an illegal shipment of Spanish cedar – thought to have come from South America originally – and donated 19 tonnes of the timber to the restoration project, saving the team around £100,000.

The cruiser, which can be found in Belfast’s Titanic Quarter, will be formally rededicated on May 31, and opened to the public the following day.

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