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the crew of mtb 255
The men of MTB 255, destroyed in the fire and explosion at Ostend in February 1945 with the loss of ten of her crew. Able Seaman Cyril Roberts Nightingale, age 20, who died that day, is seen sitting front right of picture. (© C Stonier)

Anniversary of the Ostend Disaster — 14TH February 1945

February 14th is the anniversary of a catastrophic accident that occurred in Ostend Harbour, Belgium: one which saw the greatest single loss of life suffered by Coastal Forces personnel — sixty-two killed and many others injured — when twelve boats were destroyed in a fire and explosion there.

upturned motor torpedo boat in harbour after fire and explosion in ostend
Aftermath of the fire and explosion in Ostend Harbour © Library and Archives Canada

Eye Witness Testimonies

Leading Seaman Ken Forrester

“It was a rest day, and half the crew had been taken on a sightseeing trip to Brugge for the afternoon. It was around 3 o’clock in the afternoon. I had volunteered to make the tea and went up on deck to go to the potato locker which was just below the bridge. Before I got there I saw flames and smoke rising from the middle of a group of Tony Laws’ 72’ 6” Power Boats that were berthed in a large lock entrance some 30 yards away...I was just passing over the gangway that was level with the wall when the boat that was on fire blew up with a huge WOOMPH! like noise...Ammunition was exploding, torpedoes going off, pieces of flaming boats everywhere.” Ken Forrester

Chief Petty Officer Motor Mechanic Ron Matthews

“I was happily filing away at the vice in the engine room when there was a massive explosion followed by several more. We were tied up next to the jetty and there were at least two more boats tied alongside us. There were many MTBs, and MLs tied up in the harbour and my immediate thought was that Gerry was having a go at us and we were all sitting ducks...I started all four engines and put them in forward and then aft trying to break the ropes tying us to the jetty but they did not break.” Ron Matthews

Lieutenant Frank Lovegrove

“My HDML 1280 was tied up just outside the entrance to the dock...As I recollect, it was about 2 o'clock in the afternoon when I became aware of frantic activity amongst the trots of MTBs a cable’s length or so further down the harbour...There must have been noise as explosion amongst the boats succeeded explosion and engines started up, but in my minds eye today, things present themselves as in a silent film, as the trots broke up with the boats frantically casting off the one from the other and heading for the harbour entrance and the safety of the open sea, some bursting into flames or exploding as they went.” Frank Lovegrove

Chief 3rd Class James Lonie

“In order to remove wrecked boats we obtained the services of a dutch ship crane as an uplifter. As the torpedoes were all now armed because of the tide movement, I was loaned from the 65th Flotilla to disarm them. I was at that time a third class chief. I warned the Dutch crew to lift the wrecks evenly, however they lifted stern first and the torpedos, which were only held by 1/2 stops, all slipped out. The crew abandoned the uplifter when they learned of the danger and the dockyard was cleared, leaving me astride a torpedo 30 feet in the air. Staff were evacuated to the outer dock area, while I after much manoeuvring was able to remove the detonators and primers and render the torpedos safe.” James S Lonie

Photo left: Members of the Coastal Forces Veterans Association attending a memorial ceremony at the communal cemetery at Ostend
Able Seaman Arthur Edward Croydon of Liverpool
Casualty: Able Seaman Arthur Edward Croydon of Liverpool, crew member of MTB 438, who was killed along with three other shipmates.
Able Seaman Cyril Roberts Nightingale of Didsbury
Casualty: Able Seaman Cyril Roberts Nightingale, who was killed along with nine other members of the crew of MTB 255.
Survivor: Chief Petty Officer Motor Mechanic Ron Matthews was trapped in the engine room of MTB 771, and helped wrench the boat from its moorings to reach safety.
Survivor: Leading Seaman Ken Forrester, the forward gunner on MTB 771, had been first to spot the fire amongst the Canadian MTBs, and raise the alarm.

Read more: The Ostend Disaster 1945