FAIRMILE MOTOR LAUNCH - Radio Fit

GENERAL

This motor launch was designed by the Fairmile Company in England and was one of the smallest warships used by the Royal Canadian Navy. Eighty were built in Canada for the RCN - 59 of them in Great  Lakes boatyards [1], fourteen on the west coast and seven in Weymouth N.S. They were numbered ML050 to ML129. An additional 8 were built at Weymouth for the Royal Navy which were then turned over to the USN.

A Fairmile could play any of the following roles: Convoy Escort Vessel,  Minesweeper, Minelayer, Navigation Leader, Coastal Raider, Patrol Boat, Ambulance Launch or a Rescue Launch. The RCN used flotillas of six Fairmiles for anti-submarine patrols in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and along the shores.

Constructed of wood and powered by two, 630 hp gasoline engines (ML050 to ML111), the launch could attain a top speed of 20 knots. Later versions, ML112 to ML129, were fitted with larger 700 hp engines [2] thus increasing  top speed to 22 knots. Accommodations were rather cramped, but comfortable.

The Fairmile was commonly armed with a three-pound (1.36 kg) gun at the fore and machine guns at the aft, although there were variations in the armament. One big feature was the ability to easily change the type of armament and on very short notice. A Canadian Fairmile could have been armed in any variation of the following:

* Three,  20mm Oerlikon guns,
* One 9mm Sten gun,
* Two .303 machine-guns, two .303 rifles, three .45 revolvers.
* 17 to 20 depth charges of 300 pounds each.

The launchers for the depth chargers were known as 'Y' guns due to the Y shaped device which held the depth charge prior to launching . ML095 is confirmed as having a Y-gun. A small derrick also had to be installed in order to lift the charges from the deck to the cradle.

The design of the Fairmile version 'A' was unsatisfactory in a number of ways, mainly related to the hard chine hull form but another design existed within the British Admiralty for a similar sized vessel with round bilges. This vessel was known to have better seakeeping qualities. Not only that, the Admiralty was impressed with the idea of having wooden kit boats assembled locally so the contract to produce the boat kits was awarded to the Fairmile Company. The new boat became known as the Fairmile 'B' Type Motor Launch, and like the 'A' Type, the kits were delivered to boatyards around the UK (and later around the world) for assembly. Later in the war, Canada began to produce her own Fairmiles . These boats were narrower, with a greater draught, and their slightly more powerful engines gave them a two knot speed advantage over the British boats.

The Fairmiles  proved themselves to have excellent seakeeping qualities in most weather conditions, although there was a tendency towards broaching in seas of Force Eight or above from the stern or stern quarters. Once the seas got up to Force Ten the boats had to heave to, by steering just off the wind at minimum speed. In such weather conditions, the boats showed themselves to be more durable than their crews, who suffered badly in such severe weather. These small boats were thrown about by the sea and were continually being covered in spray.

Most of the Fairmiles were sold at war's end but a half dozen remained in service as training ships on the Great Lakes right into the 1960's. These were Beaver (ML-106), Cougar (ML-104),  Moose (ML-111), Racoon (ML-079), Reindeer (ML-116) and Wolf (ML-062). A seventh, namely Elk ( ML-124),  served on the west coast. These animal names, recalling those of the armed yachts whose duties the Fairmiles had taken over,  were bestowed in 1954 and the class became known as the Animal Class Patrol Vessels.

fairmile_photo_pa-134191lg.jpg
Fairmile ML084 is likely on a training exercise in St. Margaret's Bay, Nova Scotia, just west of Halifax Harbour. Each Fairmile carried around 2,500 gallons of high octane gasoline. (Photo by Gilbert A. Milne. Department of National Defence / National Archives of Canada, PA-134191)
In the above photo the flags are not fluttering in the breeze yet the vessel is underway. Don Wagner offers an explanation as to why the flags are not fluttering. "The wind is blowing from the stern or port/starboard quarters at the same speed as the vessel is traveling thus there is zero wind across the signal halyards so they remain limp."

Telegraphist George Crowell recalls a crew complement of 15 aboard wartime Fairmile ML064.

2 Officers
1 Chief Stoker
2 Stokers
2 Gunners
1 Signalman
1 Telegraphist
1 Torpedo Rate
1 Asdic Operator
1 Leading Seaman Coxswain
2 Ordinary Seamen
1 Cook

They had an additional man in the ML095 operating the radar for a total of 16.

VITAL STATISTICS
Length: 112 feet  Beam: 17 feet
Draught: 4 foot,  9 inches  Displacement : 79 long tons
Top Speed: 
20 knots ML-050 to ML-111
22 knots ML-112 to ML-129
Typical Canadian complement: 3 officers and 14 men.

RADIO OFFICE


fairmile_radio_office.jpg
This drawing of Fairmile ML064's radio room was made by Telegraphist George D. Crowell, VE1LB. The Radio Office was in the hull on the starboard side just below the Wheelhouse and a little bit aft of the Wheelhouse. There was only 18 inches of legroom available under the desk. The desk and office chair were varnished but the rest of the room was painted ivory. In later versions of the Farimiles, the battery charging panel was moved to starboard.  (Submitted by Spud Roscoe) 

 
fairmle_q112_ wt_room.jpg
The radio office of Fairmile Q112 while she was still at the J.J. Taylor and Sons yard in Toronto. There is still more equipment which had to be fitted. Note the battery charging panel near the centre top of the photo. Batteries were stored in the cabinet to the left. (Photo # A21071-12 from the photo collection of  James Taylor)
Each Fairmile was fitted with ASDIC, radar, and radiotelegraph and each carried one radio operator.  HMC ML064 left her builder's shipyard with a Canadian Marconi FR12 transmitter/receiver and MSL5 receiver as her main station with two antennas. Later the Fairmiles were  fitted with a Canadian Marconi CM11 transmitter. During the early program, Fairmiles ML050 to ML111 inclusive, left their builders yard with the FR12/MSL5 station combo. As CM11's became available they replaced the FR12 in the later program.

Initially the FR12, then the CM-11 was connected to the antenna by antenna trunking. This trunking went up through the radio office deckhead, through the Bridge and terminated on an insulator at the top of the enclosure. Connecting to the insulator was a T wire supported at the top of the mast with one end connected to the top of a jack staff on the bow while the other end was attached to an iron frame mounted on top of the engine room hatch. At this point it is not certain what Fairmiles used as an earth ground,  however it is believed to be a sheet of copper affixed to the outside bottom of the hull. In those days, a 3/4 inch brass bolt connected the earth ground through the hull and then to the electronics.

The MSL5 antenna was a wire from a jack staff back on the stern up to the masthead down to a jackstaff on the bow. The transmission line came up through the mast and into the radio room.

To gain access to the radio office from the exterior deck, one had to go through the  foc'sle hatch to get below. This hatch was located just forward of the funnel. When not in use, the Radio Office door was always kept locked and the telegraphist held the key.

Fairmiles, operating in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, copied the Gaspe Broadcast from CFL on LF, probably around 125 kcs. The broadcast was hard to copy once any Fairmile went up the river  past Cape Chat, Quebec. CFL was probably using a PV500 transmitter. The  transmitters and receivers were located in the same building just outside the gate of HMCS Fort Ramsey, Gaspe. An improved counterpoise was installed on the antenna  of CFL with hopes of improving this problem but there is no record of any  improvement. CFL Gaspe is believed to have been able to communicate with ships on 425 kcs, the port wave frequency, while making the broadcasts on 125 kcs.

The Fairmiles around Nova Scotia would copy the CFH broadcasts and the Fairmiles serving elsewhere would copy the broadcast for their assigned area and communicate with the stations in that area.  They used to exchange flag signals with the Gate Vessels going in and out of port, like any other ship, and they could contact CFH direct on 425 kcs when entering and leaving Halifax.

Additional details on any of the equipment shown on this page are listed in this document.

ASDIC

According to the late Rear Admiral  Bob Welland, type 127D, introduced in 1937,  was the set used in Fairmiles. "It had two transducers fixed into a bomb shaped casing and was affixed to the ship's bottom. One transducer looked ahead and the other looked abeam on both sides. There was no backplate on the abeam transducer, so both sides of the transducer sent out the same beam. The search procedure was to use the abeam transmitters for normal search. When an echo was heard, the ship was turned to pick up the target again. There was a fifty per cent chance of turning the wrong way. When the echo was recovered, its bearing was taken and the ahead transmitter was switched on from the beam transducer. The target was then tracked by weaving to and fro across the target. Some skippers became very proficient at this manoeuvre."

In February 1945, the RCN ordered [3] that all the type 134A ASDIC sets in the type B Fairmiles be upgraded to either 134C or 134D models.  This would suggest that Fairmiles were intially fitted with type 127D, then introduced or upgraded to type 134A at some point during WWII.  Then, the final upgrade to types 134B and and 134C.

First introduced in 1939, the type 134 ASDIC used a hand-operated, retractable, tadpole shaped dome which could not be housed. Inside the dome were two fixed transducers. The single-faced transducer faced forward while the double-faced transducer faced athwartships.  It employed a HFMA (High-Frequency Motor Alternator) and a resonant circuit to produce the sound pulse in the 14 to 22 kHz band. Electrical gear [4] for the set was the same as Type 127. Six variants were produced: 134A (1941) for motor launches; 134B (1942) which had a single trainable transducer; Type 134C (1942) which was a double-faced trainable transducer and AVC (Automatic Volume Control); Type 134E (1944) had compass stabilized training.  Type 134S had a reflecting plate in the dome for echo sounding and possible use for wreck detection. Type 134F (1952) was modified to detect small objects.


OTHER RELATED INFORMATION

CONSTRUCTION PROGRAM

 Canada built a total of 88 Fairmile Motor Launches during World War II. The RCN turned 3 of their  80 Fairmiles over to the Free French Navy on January 15th, 1943. These were HMC ML052, HMC ML062 and HMC ML063 and they were based at the French islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon on the south coast of Newfoundland during the war. All three were returned to the Canadian Navy at the end of the war. The John. H. LeBlanc Shipyard, Weymouth, Nova Scotia built 15 Fairmiles. Seven of these, namely, HMC ML064, HMC ML065, HMC ML083, HMC ML084, HMC ML111, HMC ML120 and HMC ML121 served with the Royal Canadian Navy with the majority of their sisters. Eight were built for the Royal Navy: HM ML392, HM ML393, HM ML394, HM ML395, HM ML396, HM ML397, HM ML398 and HM ML399. These eight were transferred to the United States Navy under reverse lend lease and were commissioned into the United States Navy in October and December of 1942.

All eight were of the early program and were the ones with the American Hall Scott gasoline engines. These eight became: USS SC1466, USS SC1467, USS SC1468, USS SC1469, USS SC1470, USS SC1471, USS SC1472 and USS SC1473. All U.S. naval ships are assigned a four letter international call sign with the prefix N. USS SC1467 was assigned NCPV, USS SC1468 was assigned NCQE, USS SC1472 was assigned NCTN and USS SC1473 was assigned NCVH. Those are the only four of the eight call signs that have been found so far.
 
 

fairmile_damage.jpg
High octane fuel used by Fairmiles was a constant threat to safety . This photo  illustrates what happened when the gasoline fumes ignited while the cook in the galley prepared breakfast for the crew in HMC ML082. Two crewmen were killed in the accident. Another received a bravery citation for jumping in the water and rescuing his mate (Photo courtesy "Victory in The St. Lawrence" by James Essex. Submitted by George Crowell, VE1LB)

One will probably never know what radio station was fitted in these eight American Submarine Chasers. All eight sailed to Boston as soon as they were commissioned and were given a good fitting out. The naval museums in Boston and Washington have no record of the radio station fitted in these eight little ships. Claude Hall was a radioman in the American Submarine Chasers during the war and stated that his American built sub chaser had a 500 watt radiotelegraph/telephone transmitter and two high frequency receivers. VHF and UHF transmitter/receivers were added towards the end of the war. USS SC1466, USS SC1469 and USS SC1471 were transferred to the Mexican Navy on November 20th, 1943 at Miami, Florida. As a result Canadian built Fairmiles served in the navies of five nations during World War II.

FAIRMILE BASE SUPPLY SHIPS

Normally there were six Fairmiles in a flotilla when sufficient Fairmiles were available. George Crowell says that  when he was first drafted in ML064, there were only three vessels in company until they managed to acquire three more Fairmiles to form a flotilla.
 

fairmile_provider_f95.jpg
HMCS Provider. A ship such as this had a displacement of 4,670 gross tons. (Photo source unknown) 

The fleet of Fairmiles had two "Mother Ships" which were identical and specially built and fitted out to service these small vessels.

These two were HMCS Preserver (F94) , which was based at various Newfoundland ports and HMCS Provider (F100),  which was based at Halifax and served as far afield as Bermuda and the West Indies. Provider was assigned call sign CGLJ while Preserver used CGNR. These mother or base ships were equipped with machine shops, radar shops, radio shops, food supplies, and anything these  vessels might require, including fresh water, fuel, and, a well-equipped hospital. Each ship was also fitted with a heavy derrick. This resembled a  bowsprit but was heavy and powerful enough to lift one of these Fairmiles completely out of the water for repairs if need be. Each mother ship had accommodation facilities for fifteen officers and ninety-four enlisted men. At least half of the enlisted men were highly skilled tradesmen in the various trades necessary to maintain the fleet of Fairmiles.

The other Fairmile Flotillas were attended by their respective shore establishments on the St. Lawrence River, at Halifax, Saint John, Shelburne, Sydney and on the West Coast.
 

For additional information about Canadian, Australian and New Zeland Fairmiles, please refer to the following links: 
The Fairmiles - Canada's Little Shipsby Spud Roscoe
Fairmile Restorations
Other Fairmile Photos
Fairmiles of the Royal Canadian Navy by Marc-André Morin 

Footnotes:

[1]  They were built at the following yards: Benson, Vancouver, British Columbia; Greavette, Gravenhurst, Ontario; Grew, Penetanguishene, Ontario; Hunter, Orillia, Ontario; Le Blanc Shipbuilding, Weymouth, Nova Scotia; Mac Craft, Sarnia, Ontario; Midland Boat Works, Midland, Ontario; Minette Shields, Bracebridge, Ontario; Star (Mercers), New Westminister, British Columbia; Taylor, Toronto, Ontario; Vancouver Shipyard, Vancouver, British Columbia.

[2] ML064 had the Hall Scott Engines like the majority of the early program. ML095 had V12 Rolls Royce super charged engines. The Class ' B' Fairmile had the habit of setting her stack on fire if running  at full speed for an extended duration.

[3] In a letter dated 24 Feb 1945 and signed by K.C. Cooper on behalf of the Secretary, Naval Board.

[4]  This is the description from "Seek and Strike by Wilhelm Hackman", however from the webmaster's viewpoint, this is an incomplete explanation since there is no definition here for electrical vs electronics. If both sets shared the same electrical gear what is the difference that would cause a new model designator to be created?



Contributors and Credits:

1) George D. Crowell, VE1LB.
2) Spud Roscoe <spudroscoe(at)eastlink.ca>
3) Juno Beach Centre http://www.junobeach.org/e/4/can-tac-fai-e.htm
4) James Davis, WW2ships.com web page  http://www.ww2ships.com/britain/gb-sc-001-b.shtml
5) Ships of Canada's Naval Forces (1910-1993) by Ken Macpherson and John Burgess.
6) Ronald Yaschuk <ronlynn(at)rogers.com>
7) Don Wagner  USN Ret'd.< navwags(at)earthlink.net
8) Douglas Stewart <dougjoy(at)ns.sympatico.ca>
9) Victory in The St. Lawrence by James Essex.
10) Marc-André Morin <marc-andre.morin(a)videotron.ca>
11) Seek and Strike by Wilhelm Hackman

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July 1/12