Meet the last of the British Coast Defenders, who piloted the “Spitfires of the Sea”

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Coastal forces have participated in more than 900 operations, sinking more than 500 enemy ships. By the end of the war, they had fired more torpedoes than the submarine service and laid more mines than the dedicated Navy miners. In doing so, the Coastal Forces became the recipient of more Bravery Awards than any other branch of the Navy. The 3,000 decorations, including four Victoria Crosses, awarded to his men testify to the dangerousness of the operations in which they served. The same is true of the striking figure that out of 30,000 men, 1,500 were killed in action.

Wickham, who permanently lost hearing in his right ear from an enemy shell while on ATVs, is now one of the last witnesses to this extraordinary chapter and has seen their contribution drift away from public consciousness in recent decades. “We are truly a forgotten part of the Navy,” he said.

Next weekend, however, the first permanent exhibition dedicated to the coastal forces opens at the National Museum of the Royal Navy in Gosport, after a 30-year campaign led by veterans. The centerpiece of the exhibition hall is two of the beautifully refurbished boats from WWII: the Coastal Motor Boat CMB331 and the Motor Torpedo Boat MTB71.


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