17 Sep 2014
In the summer of 1919, with WW1 recently concluded and Russia in the throes of revolution, a British spy, Paul Dukes had infiltrated the Bolshevik Government and obtained copies of vital documents. MI6 urgently needed to evacuate Dukes and the documents from Petrograd, but numerous attempts had failed resulting in the torture and execution of those involved.
Sir Mansfield Cumming (C”), the Head of MI6 approached Augustus Agar, a young Naval Lieutenant who had experience with fast motor boats, to lead an audacious mission to enter the Gulf of Finland in Coastal Motor Boats, pass the fortifications at Kronstadt and recover Dukes at a designated rendezvous.
Coastal Motor Boats were vulnerable and unreliable. Constructed entirely of wood and 40 feet long they were manned by a crew of three. The boats were fast but noisy, they sat shallow in the water, which, when the tide was right, would allow them to travel over the underwater harbour defences.
On the day of the rescue attempt, Agar's little boat reached the rendezvous point, though Dukes did not, however Agar had seen the Russian battleships attacking the fortress at Kronstadt and had an idea, he would try to torpedo the battleships, Andrei Pervozvanni and Petropavlovsk, which were bombarding the fort. On two nights his boat broke down but on the 17th June Agar returned, only to find the battleships were gone. Instead the cruiser Oleg and her escort were there, and despite a 20 minute delay to replace a charge, Agar was undetected by the Russians and slipped between two destroyers and torpedoed the cruiser, which rolled over with the loss of 544 lives - it was not enough to save the fort, but the Admiralty was convinced that a similar attack could neutralise the battleships.
Larger motor boats were brought in and the tide would be right in mid-August. The motor boats were to attack in 3 groups. Group 1 would attack the battleships and a submarine depot ship, Pamiat Azova, Group 2 were to attack the dry dock and Group 3 another ship with mines aboard.
The success of the raids was such that three VCs and one DSO were awarded, Agar was known as the Mystery VC” as he went unnamed for operational reasons.
The Coastal Motor Boats had proved their worth and were to return in the cross channel raids of WWII.
SMHS Member John Ross has an MA from Exeter University and Coastal Motor Boats were the subject of his dissertation. John is a Member of RUSI.
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