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HMS Fox was a World War II Coastal Forces depot located in the harbour at North Ness, Lerwick on the Shetland Islands. The depot was commissioned in August 1939, and decommissioned on September 30, 1945, serving as the base for motor torpedo boats (MTB), and motor launches (ML) which supported local area auxiliary patrols. Lerwick harbour is a sprawling facility, and the location of HMS Fox is not clearly defined, however the resting position of the MTBs lost in a major at the depot has been recorded, and used to indicate the are of the depot.

Prior to World War II there had been fourteen Royal Navy ships named after the fox, the thirteenth of which was built in Portsmouth Dockyard in 1829 and was the first screw powered warship, converted from paddles in 1859. The name was used again, in 1968, on a Royal Navy Bulldog class hydrographic survey ship, pennant number A320, believed later sold for commercial use in 1989.

1943 Fire and explosion

On November 22, 1943, there was a major incident at the harbour when MTB 686 and MTB 626 were lost in a fire which resulted in huge explosions and a partial evacuation of the area, followed by the deliberate sinking of the craft by naval gunfire. Eight men lost their lives in the disaster, and a memorial plaque was erected on the wall of the Anglo-Scottish Quay by the Shetland-Norwegian Friendship Society and the Coastal Forces Veterans' Association, unveiled on May 17, 2000. The cause of the fire is now believed to have been the accidental discharge of the Oerlikon gun on 686, which ignited fuel being carried in the deck in additional 2-gallon cans, then spread to the fuel tanks and finally the ammunition store. The map marker shown below lies near the reported resting position of MTB 686.

Motor torpedo boats

MTBs were the fastest boats in service, powered by three Rolls Royce Merlin engines, marine versions of the famous Spitfire engine, and were known as the Spitfires of the sea. MTB 102 was the fastest wartime British naval vessel in service at 48 knots, powered by three Isotta-Fraschini 57-litre petrol engines producing 3,300 hp (2.46 MW).[1] The engines ran on avgas, a high octane form of petrol which meant that MTB operations carried the additional hazard of fire from the highly volatile fuel, compared to diesel powered craft.

Many Commando raids on occupied Norway were dependent on MTBs for transport, and the boats also harassed shipping in the Skagerak, the area between Norway and the northwest of Denmark. Eight boats formed the 30th (later 54th) MTB Flotilla which deployed in November 1942, to Lerwick in the Shetland Islands. From this base, a number of daring, but successful, offensive operations were launched against German shipping along the western coast of Norway.


1 The MTB 102 Trust

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