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Captain Chris brings WW2 hero to life to inspire today’s generation of sailors

A torpedo is fired from an MTB moving at speed
21 January 2022
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Mine warfare expert Captain Chris O’Flaherty hopes to inspire today’s generation of young naval leaders and honour men of wartime dash and courage.

The naval officer has brought one of the Navy’s most decorated WW2 heroes back to life, with all proceeds from his biography of Derek ‘Jake’ Wright helping to maintain the memory of all those who served in Coastal Forces.

He’s driven by a desire to raise awareness of the crews of the ‘Spitfires of the sea’ – small, fast, heavily armed motor torpedo and gunboats which protected the coastline and took the fight to the enemy in the Channel and North Sea throughout WW2.

The deeds of Coastal Forces have recently been brought back into the public eye thanks to the opening of a new museum in Gosport, while the Royal Navy has recently resurrected the title for the parent squadron of P2000 patrol boats operating around the UK.

Captain O’Flaherty believes though technologies and vessels have changed substantially, today’s generation of sailors can learn much about psychology, leadership and tactical development from the men of the MTBs.

“The selfless gallantry of our coastal forces heroes, such as Jake Wright, provides many lessons for our Royal Navy warfighters of today – notwithstanding technological evolution, they will often have to put themselves directly in harm’s way.

“Through superb leadership, our highly realistic training, and given our carefully developed tactics that evolve in response to enemy actions, the modern Royal Navy can emulate such past successes and therefore win in future maritime battle.”

That was something at which former Brooke Bond tea taster/buyer excelled. A keen sailor pre-war, he was assigned to Coastal Forces shortly after the Dunkirk evacuation in 1940 and demonstrated a rare flare for action, dash and coolness under fire which meant he rose to the rank of commander by the time the war ended, having earned the Distinguished Service Cross on three occasions, making him one of the most highly-decorated naval reservists of WW2.

Thereafter he returned to the tea business, becoming Brooke Bond’s Director of Global Tea Purchasing. He even helped perfect the perfect cup of tea, setting the conditions for the first international standard in how to brew an exceptional ‘wet’.

The selfless gallantry of our coastal forces heroes, such as Jake Wright, provides many lessons for our Royal Navy warfighters of today

Captain Chris O'Flaherty

Proceeds from Capt O’Flaherty’s biography of Wright - Torpedoes, Tea, and Medals, published in mid-February by Casemate (ISBN 978-1636-241401 £16.99) ­– is the second book focusing on a Coastal Forces hero and the third book he has penned.

The first two were written during his tenure as the Royal Navy’s Hudson Fellow at St Antony’s College, University of Oxford – a fellowship established in 1997 to commemorate Lieutenant Guy Hudson DSC RNVR… and the subject of his first tome, Crash Start.

Hudson was another MTB pioneer who developed the tactics and drills for the radar control of the boats in close action. The reservist was left deeply traumatised by his experiences and suffered from undiagnosed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, turning to alcohol to help him cope with his own personal crashes.

Long before veterans’ mental health became the prominent issue it is today, it was Guy Hudson’s second wife who recognised this condition then helped him to recover his legal career, through which he earned enough money to establish the Hudson Fellowship which is now his legacy.

And in honouring his roots as a minewarfare specialist and clearance diver, his second book Naval Minewarfare: Politics to Practicalities is a comprehensive strategic and operational assessment of the history of this ‘weapon that waits’. It was Naval Review’s ‘book of the quarter’ in spring 2020 and was also nominated for the Mountbatten Book Award.

The royalties from all three of Chris’ works go to naval charities; to the Hudson Fellowship from the first two, to the Coastal Forces Heritage Trust for his newest book, helping to preserve the heritage and memory of coastal forces heroes.

Images courtesy of the Wright Family and the Naval Historical Branch.

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