Portsmouth’s speedy ‘grey ghosts’ which were the army’s navy

Fast Launch Isinglass bound for Wales in the early 1970s.
Fast Launch Isinglass bound for Wales in the early 1970s.
Opening of the new school by the home secretary in October 1927. The headmaster, Canon Barton, is on the lowest step, on the left. Dorothea Barton is possibly there, somewhere. (PGS Archive)

NOSTALGIA: A red bluestocking at Portsmouth Grammar School

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My recent picture, below, of a boat on board a low-loader belonging to Park’s of Southsea, aroused much interest.

I confess I had no idea what kind of vessel it was, but Dave Fricker and Trevor Pearce recognised it instantly.

With Fast Launch Corranach in the background, soldiers of the armys  navy are inspected at Gunwharf, Portsmouth.

With Fast Launch Corranach in the background, soldiers of the armys navy are inspected at Gunwharf, Portsmouth.

Turns out she was a Royal Army Service Corps Second World War Fast Launch.

Dave says: ‘These boats served notably at D-Day and during the liberation of the Channel Islands, and also extensively worldwide.

‘For many decades these splendid RASC/RCT Fast Launches were a very familiar sight here at their military base of HM Gunwharf Portsmouth. They were built locally on the Isle of Wight.’

Trevor also recognised the 48ft Derby class Fast Launch, used by the Army.

The original picture of a 48ft Fast Launch on the Park's low-loader.

The original picture of a 48ft Fast Launch on the Park's low-loader.

He says: ‘These grey ghosts were built from 1941-1946 at Groves and Gutteridge and JS White on the Isle of Wight.’

He reveals they were all named after Derby-winning horses and there were 21 of this class.

They were: Barham; Blue Peter; Captain Cuttle; Coronach; Call Boy; Cameronian; Felstead; Flying Fox; Grande Parade; Humorist; Hyperion; Isinglass; Ladas; Lemberg; Manna; Minoru; Omeonde; Spion Kop; Sunstar; Taigo, and Windson Lad.

Of the original picture, Trevor says: ‘Certain features indicate this is probably a very early picture, I would say 1945/46. This vessel has the original top with an open centre section as used in foreign service during the war.

‘These vessels were laid up at the Hilsea Royal Army Ordnance Corps’ depot for some years before being refitted and modified with the newer type wheelhouses which were added in 1950 largely, again, at Groves and Gutteridge.

‘In the 1970s and ’80s these were still operating as range safety craft based at 18 Sqn RCT in HM Gunwharf Portsmouth and served on detached duties at Weymouth and Pembroke Dock in addition to training, VIP and general duties in and around Portsmouth.’

He adds: ‘They were unusual as they had three Perkins SM6 engines and were very powerful.

‘You used to start them up with one engine running slow astern or they took off forward like a racehorse.’ Perhaps that’s why they were all named after thoroughbreds.

Trevor was an engineer on Isinglass, Hyperion and Captain Cuttle in his early days with the RCT Fleet, working largely in support of army operations on the Welsh coast. He sent the picture, top, of Isinglass leaving for deployment to Wales about 1972.