Replica Bus boat project launched

Plans have emerged for a full-scale operational replica of a wartime torpedo boat which served in the Shetland Bus operation.

A £3 million project is taking shape south of the border to recreate MTB 718, a Fairmile D torpedo gun boat. Built on the Clyde in 1944, the 110 ft vessel was among the many boats which took part in clandestine operations between Shetland and Nazi-occupied Norway.

It’s not known when the boat will be completed. But proposals are being drawn up to allow her – and paying passengers – to re-enact the daring missions which took place from the isles.

At the helm of the project is Yorkshireman Malcolm Tattersall, from Hebden Bridge. As a member of the Federation of Naval Asso-ciations, he is overseeing plans to raise the colossal sum necessary to bring the project to fruition.

He was in no doubt of what motivated him to do so.

“It’s World War II history, and it’s something that these guys did an awful lot of work for. It cost a lot of them their lives, against im-possible odds.

“History tells us who we are and where we came from. People forget about boats like this one. People forget about the Shetland Bus. It’s important to remember where we came from.”

He added it was important the vessel was used, not least so people could gain a real-life experience of what the missions were like for war-time sailors.

“What’s the point in spending a million pounds on a ship that is constantly tied up? Originally the boat had 26 crew. We will have six full-time crew, which will leave 20 spaces. Those 20 people will have to pay to be on the vessel for a fortnight, and they will experience first-hand what it’s like, whether it’s rough weather or not.”

Much of the fund-raising is being done by way of a special “plank fund”, which allows people to buy a plank to support the project. It is hoped EU funding will also be secured to help build the replica.

The vessel will use native larch hardwood, thanks to a project led by Fife-based Scottish Woods, which supports sustainable woodland developments.

Power will come from four diesel-powered engines provided by marine power specialists, Man, which – ironically – is a German company. The engines will feed power through high-speed ZF gearboxes.

Although the vessel will be a mirror image of the 1944 original, it will have to comply with modern-day health and safety regulations and be environmentally-friendly.

The original was, for a time, painted “Mountbatten pink”, which was seen as an effective camouflage in low light conditions.

The plans have been supported by the Shetland Bus Friendship Society.

Committee member Charlie Grant said it was important the links which were forged during the war between Shetland and Norway continued.

“If they can raise the money they feel quite confident to do it. We [the Shetland Bus Friendship Society] have sent a letter of support.

“If it becomes a reality they are hoping to recreate some of the missions to Norway. Some of the missions could start off from Shetland.”

The original boat was first dispatched to Dartmouth on the south coast. From there she set off across the Channel to pick up French resistance operators from Brittany and the Channel Isles.

She often ferried downed British and American air crew who had been helped by the French resistance. But she was called to assist with the Shetland Bus, picking up agents and a family from Batalden Island in a heavily defended area north of Bergen, where German vessels were known to operate.

MTB 718 also picked up agents and radio operators from the Egersound area of south west of Norway, who had been sent in from Shetland on the sub chaser Hitra.

When the Shetland Bus memorial was unveiled in Scalloway, Charles Milner – a radio operator on MTB 718 – laid a wreath on behalf of the Coastal Forces Association, a body formed after the war to raise funds for memorials.


Get Latest News in Your Inbox

Join the The Shetland Times mailing list to get one daily email update at midday on what's happening in Shetland.