Type Two 63 ft HSL

The Type Two HSL was a 63 feet (19 m) high speed launch craft made by British Power Boat Company (BPBC). The craft were used during the Second World War for air-sea rescue operations to save Allied aircrew from the sea. The Type Two superseded the 64 feet (20 m) high speed launch, and itself was replaced by the 68 feet (21 m) Type Three HSL also built by the BPBC. It was nicknamed the 'Whaleback' due to the distinctive curve to its deck and humped cabin.

Whaleback HSL 164 off Colombo with a Hurricane overhead
Class overview
Name: Type Two 63 ft HSL
Builders: British Power Boats
Operators: RAF Marine Craft Section, UK
General characteristics
Type: High speed launch
Displacement: 21.5 tons
Length: 63 ft
Beam: 17 12 ft
Draught: 3 34 ft
Propulsion: 3 × Napier Sea Lion each of 500 hp (373 kW)
Speed: 36 kn (67 km/h)
Range: 500 miles (800 km)
Complement: 9 (including captain and a medical orderly)
Armament: originally 2 × 0.303 machine guns, later 2 × 0.303 machine guns in single turrets, 2 × twin 0.303 machine guns, 1 × Oerlikon 20 mm cannon


The Type Two was designed in 1937 by George Selman, Chief Designer and Naval Architect of the British Power Boat Company, which was founded by Hubert Scott-Paine at Hythe. Scott-Paine had previously owned the Supermarine Aviation Company, later builders of the Supermarine Spitfire and several flying boat types.

A low set cabin contained the wheel-house, chart room and a sickbay. For defence against enemy aircraft, on top of the cabin were two aircraft-style turrets made by Armstrong-Whitworth initially with a single .303 in Vickers machine gun or Lewis gun (this was later improved - see Variants below). The mahogany[1] hull was of the hard chine, planing type.


During the Second World War, the retrieval of pilots and aircrew who had been shot down over, or who had had to ditch in, the sea around the British Isles was the responsibility of the Royal Air Force Marine Branch, (motto: "The sea shall not have them"). Rescue of downed aircrew was coordinated using RAF aircraft, aircraft operated by Coastal Command and the Royal Navy and rescue launches operated by the RAF Marine Branch and the Royal Navy.

The Type Two was supplied to RAF marine craft units from the middle of 1940. In total 69 craft were manufactured between 1940 and 1942.

Post war a number of the Type Two craft were transferred to the Royal Navy and a small number were given to the Italian Air Force. The vast majority of the Type Two craft belonging to the Admiralty were subsequently stored and later sold off as houseboats. None are currently owned by any museum or trusts.


Following their performance during the Dieppe raid in August 1942, the Type Two was modified. Extra armament was fitted — paired .303 in machine guns mounted either side of the wheel-house and a single 20 mm Oerlikon on the (strengthened) rear deck. Protection was improved by adding anti-shrapnel padding around the forward cabin area.

See also


  1. "Whaleback". British Military Powerboat Trust.
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