Frank Owston RN

Frank Owston in Naval Uniform

Frank Owston in Naval Uniform

In early 2020 the son of Frank Owston donated archive material relating to his father’s wartime service in the Royal Navy (RN) as a Radar Operator in MTBs (Motor Torpedo Boats). The material consists of RN service documents and a photograph album containing over a hundred photos.

Frank Owston was born in the village of Rillington, North Yorkshire in 1924 and was a forestry worker before his enlistment in the RN in March 1943 as an Ordinary Seaman.

After initial training in Wales, he attended the Radar Training School at HMS Valkyrie on the Isle of Man in May-June 1943, and qualified as a Radar Operator on 25/6/43. A brief spell at the RN Signals School in Hampshire followed and, after a week at HMS Hornet (a Coastal Forces shore base at Gosport), he embarked for overseas service in India in mid 1943.

Frank Owston (far left ) and shipmates

Frank Owston (far left ) and shipmates

Frank’s service record lists his arrival at HMS Braganza, a major naval shore establishment in Bombay (now Mumbai), on 17 July 1943, and his photographs illustrate his naval service in India as a Radar Operator on an MTB.

The only MTB flotillas in India at this time were the 16th and 17th, based at Madras (now Chennai) and Vizagapatam (now Visakhapatnam). From examination of his photos it appears most likely that Frank was with 17th MTB flotilla serving on MTB294, though the numbering on the boats in the photos is somewhat confusing.

MTB 294, 17th Flotilla

MTB 294, 17th Flotilla

The 17th MTB flotilla, and its sister flotilla the 16th, had been formed in 1943 (see http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/UN/India/RIN/RIN-11.html Chapter XI, page 236 of the Official History of the Indian Armed Forces in the Second World War), and each flotilla consisted of 11 MTBs, all of the Vosper 72 feet type class, and all built in the USA and shipped direct to India. Each MTB carried an armament of 2 x 18” torpedoes, 2 x 5” Anti Aircraft (AA) guns, & 2 x .303 machine guns. The two flotillas carried out patrols off the east coast of India in the Bay of Bengal. Coastal Forces Veterans (CFV) website forum page (http://cfv.org.uk/forum/viewtopic.php?f=13&t=611) quotes from an article in CFV Newsletter 55 of Sep 1988 in which Lt R M Lee-Smith RN writes that, because of the torpedoes they carried, the boats of 16th & 17th MTB Flotillas were for a time “….. the only ships of any allied navy in the whole of the Bay of Bengal capable of sinking Japanese battleships and aircraft carriers, ‘ and that “….. After their arrival the Japanese never strayed west of Singapore and never attacked again or invaded the east coast of India

MTB's on Patrol

MTB’s on Patrol

Frank Owston remained in India until August 1944 and was promoted to Able Seaman during his service there. Following his return to the UK he served first at HMS Hornet, a Light Coastal Forces base at Gosport Hants, and then from October 1944 at HMS Mantis, a Coastal Forces base at Lowestoft, on east coast patrols.

RN Crew manning a Vickers Machine gun

RN Crew manning a Vickers Machine gun

After the end of the war in Europe he was at two naval shore establishments to the end of 1945, and then from December 1945 to his demob in September 1946 he was based at HMS Gosling, a naval air station near Warrington, where the main work involved radar training and the production of radio and radar vehicles.

After his demob in September 1946, Frank returned to his native North Yorkshire and joined the Co-op with whom he spent the remainder of his working life retiring as a branch store manager.

Second World War Experience Centre
August 2020

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