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Essex Through the Ages
WWI Essex
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Osea Island Coastal Motor Boat Base

The war at sea during the 1914-1918 conflict saw a number of remarkable developments, not the least of which was the employment of fast torpedo boats to act as raiding craft on enemy ships.  Launched from light cruisers, these Coastal Motor Boats, as they were officially called, were designed to attack in the shallow waters around enemy harbours where their high speed and manoeuvrability would make them difficult to hit.  First developed in 1916, they were in action the following year against German destroyers off the Belgian port of Zeebrugge.

During World War One, five Coastal Motor Boat stations were established around Britain, the most extensive at Osea Island, on the River Blackwater.  This base could accommodate fifty-two boats and included all the facilities for their supply and maintenance.  Work began on the base in December 1917, there being in existence on the island a hotel, sanatorium, four small bungalows and various farm buildings.  The hotel was converted to senior officers’ quarters and the sanatorium was converted to junior officers’ quarters.  Accommodation was provided for 144 officers, 375 men and 170 women, with around 40 huts and sheds.

Stowage was provided for fifty-two 40’, 55’ and 70’ boats which were hauled up the slipway by means of a capstan and thence on to a traverser, which ran in a 440’ x 35’ pit.  The traverser moved electrically along tracks to deposit the boats in two lines of berths, 26 north of the pit and 26 south.

Today, the most obvious survivor is the massive concrete traverser pit which at first sight appears as a dry-dock or inland harbour area.  It ran between the two rows of boat berths which lay at ground level along its north and south sides and the traverser in the pit carried each boat laterally along to its allocated berth, each on its own cradle.

Parts of the slipway, up which the boats were hauled, can still be seen, and much of the pier still survives.  The former hotel and senior officers’ quarters is now a private residence, as is the sanatorium/junior officers’ quarters.  A number of the buildings and huts remain, including the Mine Store, the Warhead Store, the Chief Petty Officers’ quarters, the Power House and the Coal and Coke House.  After eighty-six years, these buildings survive in a remarkable state of preservation.

© Fred Nash, ECC