Motor Launch

A Motor Launch (ML) is a small military vessel in Royal Navy service. It was designed for harbour defence and submarine chasing or for armed high-speed air-sea rescue. Some vessels for water police service are also known as motor launches.

WW I Motor Launch - ML 59
Class overview
Builders: Elco
Operators:  Royal Navy
Built: 1915–1918
In commission: 1915–1920s
Completed: 580
General characteristics ML.1–50 series
Type: Motor launch
Displacement: 34 t
Length: 75ft
Propulsion: Petrol engine
Speed: 19 kn (35 km/h)
Complement: 8
General characteristics ML.51–550 series
Type: Motor launch
Displacement: 37 t
Length: 86ft
Propulsion: Petrol engine
Speed: 19 kn (35 km/h)
Complement: 6
General characteristics ML.551–580
Type: Motor launch
Displacement: 37 t
Length: 80ft
Speed: 19 kn (35 km/h)
Complement: 8
  • 1 × 13-pdr
  • later replaced with 1 × 3-pdr

World War I service

Although small by naval standards, it was larger than the preceding Coastal Motor Boats of 40 and 55 ft length. The first motor launches entered service in the First World War. These were five hundred and eighty 80-foot-long (24 m) vessels built by the US Elco company for the Admiralty, receiving the numbers ML-1 to ML-580. They served with the Royal Navy between 1916 and the end of the war, defending the British coast from German submarines.[1] Some of the earliest examples, including ML 1, also served in the Persian Gulf from June 1916. After the Armistice of 11 November 1918 a flotilla of 12 RN Motor Launches travelled down the Rhine performing duty as the Rhine Patrol Flotilla.[2] The only known surviving example of a World War I era Motor launch is Motor Launch ML-286, which now lies in a poor condition on the banks of the River Thames.

World War II types

Type Length Weight Speed Built Total Lost Designed for
Fairmile A motor launch 110 ft 57 tons 25 knots (46 km/h) 1939 12 Submarine chasing, later minelaying
Fairmile B motor launch 112 ft (34 m) 85 tons 20 knots (37 km/h) 1940-45 1,284 Submarine chasing, many later roles including air-sea rescue
Harbour defence motor launch 72 ft (22 m) 54 tons 12 knots (22 km/h) 1940-45 486 47 Defending harbours; anti-submarine
RAF Type 2 Whaleback 63 ft (19 m) 21.5 tons 36 knots (67 km/h) 1940-42 70 Rescuing downed aircrew, particularly in the English Channel

Post-war, many motor launches were taken on as pleasure boats. A number of them are on the National Register of Historic Vessels.[3]

See also


  1. Gardiner, p. 101
  2. Jeffrey Charles. "The Rhine Patrol Flotilla Part I: Establishment of the Flotilla".
  3. Gardiner and Chesneau, p. 71
  • Gardiner, Robert, Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships 1906–1921 Conway Maritime Press, 1985. ISBN 0-85177-245-5.
  • Gardiner, Robert and Chesneau, Roger, Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships 1922–1946, Conway Maritime Press, 1980. ISBN 0-83170-303-2.
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