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Torpedoes, Tea and Medals: The Gallant Life of Cdr. D G H ‘Jake’ Wright DSC** RNVR

18 Apr 23


(Casemate – £17.99)

ISBN 978 1 63624 140 1

209 pages

This book was written to support the opening of The Night Hunters: The Royal Navy’s Coastal Forces at War; a new permanent gallery at the NMRN’s Gosport site (aka RNAD Priddy’s Hard to those of us of a certain generation). As such, it seems at times to be aimed at the younger general public rather than the NR’s membership.  The language is inclined to be slightly clichéd – ‘Tea’ is almost invariably morale-essential, engines are honed to mechanical perfection and war is vicious. One factual error stuck out for this AWO(A) – Type VIIC U-boats did not sink merchant ships with a 20mm gun – their deck gun was an 88mm. [Editors note: The Interrogation of Survivors report for U-203, the Type VIIC U-Boat in question, held in the Naval Historical Branch highlights that both a 20mm AA and 88mm deck gun were fitted, and that the 20mm gun was considered by the crew to have “significant firepower”. The very graphic description of the sinking of MV Hopecastle by U-203, on pages 127-131 of The Decoys’(Bernard Edwards, Pen and Sword, 2016, ISBN 978-1473887084) states that “The weather was too rough to man the deck gun, so he [Oberleutnant Kottmann] resorted to the 20mm cannon which, after a great expenditure of ammunition, eventually set the Hopecastle on fire”.]

The author sets out to run two stories in parallel – Jake Wright’s wartime career as a very successful MTB[1] CO & his pre & post war careers in tea with Brooke Bond.  The two threads are constantly being linked by details of tea cargoes lost to the U-boats, although it is difficult to believe that Wright would (or should) have been able to be quite so aware, on such a regular basis, of which ships were carrying tea & when/where they were lost.[2]  [Editors note: One of Jake Wright’s fellow Commanding Officers at HMS Beehive was a tea-planter (see page 3 of We Fought them in Gunboats, HMS Beehive Edition, Golden Duck publishing, edited by Julia Jones, ISBN 978-1899262595), and Jake’s navigator in MTB 704 and 5008 (Bob Hales) later joined the tea trade (details in this book, pp 134 & 160), thus it is not unreasonable that conversations regarding tea were a staple during Jake’s war].

Pre-war, Wright was an experienced sailor & joined the RNVR[3] in 1937. He was called up in the first wave, four days before war started, and was swiftly (as he had his Yacht Master’s ticket) selected for officer training & sent to HMS King Alfred.[4]  Whilst there under training, he volunteered to help at Dunkirk and on returning to King Alfred, finished his training & passed out as a Temporary Sub-Lieutenant[5] in June 1940. Having volunteered for Coastal Forces, Wright was appointed to the Flotilla based in Lowestoft as ‘Spare Officer’. He swiftly advanced to XO of one of the boats & in October 1941, he was appointed in Command of MTB 331.[6] The author describes several of Wright’s actions against German shipping in the southern North Sea detail. It is clear that Wright was both an inspiring leader (hence his DSC***) & a good teacher. Unsurprisingly, in the early stages of WWII, there was no real tactical doctrine on MTB ops & Wright was instrumental in establishing it.

Wright ended the war as a Commander RNVR and Senior Officer MTBs at HMS Hornet, in Gosport. In this post, he got the chance to assess the German E-Boats[7] after their surrender and to join in at the Liberation of Jersey. He was demobbed in late 1946 and immediately returned to work for Brooke Bond.  Initially he was posted to Calcutta & then to Ceylon.[8]  He progressed to the Board of Brooke Bond before retirement in 1971. Amongst his civilian achievements is the definition of ‘Tea – Preparation of liquor for use in sensory tests’ – ISO 3103:1980 – which states that milk should be added first…

Jake Wright clearly had a really action-packed[9] war and this book skilfully combines his coastal forces experiences with his influential role in the tea business. I wouldn’t say rush out to buy it, unless you have a particular interest in WWII Coastal Forces operations.


[1] Motor Torpedo Boat

[2] Further research on the tea ration led me to William Sitwell’s highly recommended Eggs or Anarchy: The Remarkable Story of the Man Tasked with the Impossible: To Feed a Nation at War. 

[3] The Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve – sometimes called ‘Gentleman (i.e., yachtsmen) trying to be seamen’, whilst the Royal Naval Reserve were ‘Seamen (mainly MN officers) trying to be gentlemen’.  The Reservists repost was that the RN were ‘neither trying to be both’.

[4] Now the seafront leisure centre in Hove.

[5] The RNVR were also known as the Wavy Navy – the lace on their badges of rank being similar to that now used in the Sea Cadet Corps.

[6] Now CMB (Coastal Motor Boat) 331 & one of the stars of the NMRN’s new Gosport gallery. CMB 331 is a Thorneycroft 41 kt 55’ Torpedo Boat, ordered by the Philippines & requisitioned in 1940. The CMBs saw action against the Soviets in the Baltic after WWI & the design remained effective right up to WWII.  MTB 331 was decommissioned in 1945.

[7] Prosaically, E-boat just means Enemy Boat!

[8] Now Sri Lanka.

[9] Apologies for the cliché!