Hornet News

HORNET TAKEN OVER BY THE RAF

Shock news and a short history for Club members.

Relax! This happened between 1927 and 1938 when the Hornet berths were used by the Royal Air Force as a base for marine rescue craft.

The site of the Hornet Sailing Centre on Haslar Road has an illustrious naval history as HMS Hornet, the home of the Royal Navy’s Coastal Forces during World War II and until 1957. Coastal Forces comprised the Motor Torpedo Boats (MTBs), Motor Gunboats (MGBs) and Motor Launches (MLs) that protected Allied shipping around our coasts and which sought out and engaged enemy naval forces with great success.

Prior to 1921 Coastal Forces were based at HMS Osea on the River Blackwater in Essex but were transferred to Haslar Creek in 1921. These were initially administered by HMS Vernon at Portsmouth before HMS Hornet was first commissioned in July 1925 as the Coastal Forces base. However, this did not last long and the base was decommissioned in the following year. Coastal Forces were then administered by HMS Dolphin.

The outbreak of war in 1939 and in particular the threat from the extremely fast and powerful German E-Boats, accelerated a building programme for small, fast craft. HMS Hornet was commissioned again as the principal Coastal Forces base on 20 December 1939 and it remained in commission until its closure in 1957, when the Royal Navy ceased to operate Coastal Forces.

The MTBS, MGBs and MLs from Hornet contributed to all aspects of the war at sea off the south coast achieving great success, deterring enemy E-Boats and other attack craft. A major concentration of Coastal Forces gathered in the Haslar Creek at the time of the Normandy Invasion in 1944. At that time it was possible to walk in a direct line from HMS Hornet to HMS Dolphin, across the water, by stepping on the decks of boats.

With the inevitable post-war naval contraction, boats were paid off and sold and a boat could be bought, with engines, for a standard cost of £100; the post war years saw many of these used as houseboats around Haslar creek. HMS Hornet remained in commission, with many hundreds of officers and men walking back into civilian life through its gates. After WWII a whole series of new Coastal Forces boats were based at Hornet: Fairmile class boats built by Camper and Nicholson Ltd; Bold Class craft; Gay Class in 1953, at the start of the Korean War; and the Dark Class. However, the size of the Royal Navy was reducing quickly and its role was changing to meet a new maritime operations environment. HMS Hornet decommissioned in 1957, thus ending a long naval tradition on the site.

Rumours abounded about the future of the site and the buildings slowly decayed, with no one appearing to want the place. In fact, this was far from true, because with the vast increase in sailing since the war, the various naval establishments in the area required suitable moorings for their growing number of craft.

After several representations, mainly from officers of Flag Officer Naval Air Command at Lee on Solent, and through the sympathetic influence of the then CinC Portsmouth, Admiral Sir Wilfred Woods, the Admiralty finally agreed to Hornet’s use for the berthing of service and private yachts of serving and retired service personnel. It was firmly stated that no public funds would be made available, naturally. The Hornet Naval Yacht Centre was officially opened on 23 May 1964. Its renaissance was attended by Admiral Woods and the Mayor of Gosport and it has proved to be a boon to naval sailing enthusiasts ever since. The future of Hornet as a yachting centre was given further assurance when, in 1972, the Ministry of Defence established the RN funded Joint Service Adventurous Sail Training facility on the site, which continues to operate today.

However, back in 1954, before the closure of HMS Hornet, a scheme, which had long been dormant, came to fruition. While waiting to be demobilized at HMS Hornet at the end of the war, Lieutenant Commander Charles Jerram DSO DSC RNVR, an architect in civilian life, designed a War Memorial. It took a number of years to raise the necessary money but the Memorial was finally built and it was unveiled on 17 September 1954 by Mrs Catherine Hichens, the widow of Lieutenant Commander Robert Hichens DSO* DSC** RNVR who became perhaps the most renowned of all Coastal Forces Officers. Hornet remains the home port for the Coastal Forces veterans and their families, many of whom attend the annual Remembrance Service at their War Memorial.