Leslie J. Sprigg (1920 - 2016)       ex: Leading Telegraphist.   Royal Navy.


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My time on Motor Launch 108

ML108                 (11/04/1942 - 20/09/1943)


Leslie J. Sprigg ex: Leading Telegraphist. RN.


Now ready for battle; I was posted to HMS Wasp at Dover and my first boat ML108.  This was an “A” Class ML.  The earliest type of which only about a dozen were built.  They formed two flotillas, the 50th and the 51st ML.  The armament was sparse, a 3 pounder for’ard, a twin .5 Lewis gun, Holman projector and depth charges.  They had an overall length 110 feet and were powered by 3 Hall-Scott petrol engines giving a speed near 30 knots. 

ML108 Crew Photo:

Click on individual crew member below to zoom in


Soon after I boarded we started various tests including speed trials.  Unhappily these did not go according to plan.  We were travelling at a fair speed when the bridge rang down for half-speed – nothing happened.  On investigation the two stokers were found sprawled in the engine room, both overcome by fumes.  They were quickly brought aloft and laid on deck when someone said “Where’s Sparks”?  Another scramble below found me lying in my cabin, oblivious.  Soon there were three ‘bodies’ on deck, all with green froth at the mouth, suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning!  All made a slow but groggy recovery.  There followed an inquiry which resulted in the funnels of all boats being removed and the exhaust diverted through the sides of the vessel. 

There was also a Norwegian mine laying flotilla at Dover.  They had ‘B’ Class MLs, quite different from the ‘A’ boats and a tendency to roll a bit.  We worked well together and I made many friends.  To this day, at Christmas, a Norwegian spruce is delivered to Dover and a short memorial service held with my old comrades from the mine laying flotillas present.  Following the sinking of 108 and on leaving, my oppos’ presented me with a Norwegian pennant which I still have.

The Norwegian Pennant

(Navy version of the Norwegian flag. In Norwegian it is called a "orlogsflag".)





All boats were adapted for minelaying of which we carried any of three main types. There were ground mines (magnetic), moored mines which we sank to a pre-determined depth and were activated by a ship striking any one of the numerous prongs, and magnetic mines which were activated by the rise and fall of a ship’s engine. As the ship approached, a clapper would start to rise and continue until maximum. As soon as the ship’s engine started to fall, the clapper would fall and detonate the mine.

    ML108 at speed (by Leslie J.Sprigg)

Our task was to lay mines in the coastal shipping supply lanes close to the shores of France, Belgium and Holland. Leaving Dover at dusk, we would zigzag through our own known minefields and other hazards and head for the coast of France. The engine would be slowed and silenced (by baffles) as we crept along the coast to our laying areas. The flotilla would consist of about 6 boats, each carrying between 5 and 9 mines, according to the type. When in position, the mines would be laid in 20 second intervals.

My job was to call up to the bridge “Out pins No. 1. Lay No. 1” and so on, until we moved out of line and the next boat continued the lay. Regarding the mines, “Out Pins” was the process of activating the mines and disengaging the straps. Once activated and entering the water, it took about 20 minutes for the soluble plug to dissolve.  

On completion of our mission, we would move away from the area and either return to port or look for small enemy craft to attack. On some occasions, we carried out diversionary attacks to draw some of the enemy away from a gun battle that was causing them problems. Our task then was to head in the general direction of the skirmish and make a lot of noise (gunfire) to try to draw some of the enemy away.  

It was not unusual for our own aircraft, returning from an aborted raid, to drop their bombs towards us, having been told to pick a suitable target when their own mission was cancelled for any reason. 

On one occasion when the weather deteriorated and we were recalled we managed to get stuck on the Goodwin Sands.  After several efforts to get free had failed it was suggested that if we ditched the mines we would get away, being that much lighter!!  This brainwave was not taken up and our renewed efforts and resolve succeeded.   

Safely back in Dover, we would tie-up alongside, wash the decks and clean ship before turning in.   At Dover we often saw the flash of the big gun firing from Calais, then the bang, then counted the seconds until the shell landed, quite frightening!   

Each month we were issued with “comforts” which I had to collect from a store in the centre of town. These consisted of a free cigarette and chocolate ration and various knitted items donated by well-wishers. On one occasion, I borrowed a bike from a lady dockyard worker, to save the walk into town, and duly collected our allotment. On the return trip, I was cycling along quite happily, when as I headed across the main square towards the dockyard, a rather large policeman on traffic duty, held his hand high. I put the brakes on but nothing happened. I dropped my feet to the ground and skidded along, but too late. I hit him amidships. He sat down rather abruptly! I decided not to hang about so pulled the bike away and pedalled furiously for the dockyard. Unfortunately, in my hurry, I got caught in the railway track alongside the jetty. Off I came and the bike and “comforts” disappeared over the side, into the drink. The dockyard worker proved to be not such a lady after all although we rescued her bike and my shipmates were less than pleased at the loss of their month’s comforts. I was in fear and trepidation of a large policeman seeking me out. 

Whilst we were on board we had endless tasks, cleaning ship, washing clothes, writing home, studying, etc. 

When off duty and ashore in Dover we would go to the cinema, a services club or shopping. Often the cinema screen would flash up a notice for the crew of boat number (?) to return aboard immediately, at the same time a lorry with loud hailer would slowly drive down the main street relaying the same message. We either jumped on to the lorry or hot footed it back to the boat.  Sometimes the weather abated and the patrols or minelaying was back on, maybe an aircraft down and volunteer crews to search for them. 

PT An instructor would arrive and all boats had to release as many crew as possible to do standing exercises and then a double run round the harbour, many would hide behind the sheds on the way out and rejoin on the way back!   

ML108 football team

ML 108 and indeed the rest of the flotilla were versatile boats. On several occasions we took passengers, (special agents) to row ashore at a designated spot and some days later, returned to collect them. This did not always prove successful, either they did not get to the pick-up area on time, although we always waited as long as we dare, for the signal, or they had been captured. We would also take Special Forces over to one of the harbours; row them in, where they would select a suitable-sized ship. Having decided on their target, they would plant limpet mines beneath the hull, swim back to the dinghy, be rowed back to 108 and off home again. Sounds straightforward, doesn't it. 

I was in my cabin on one minelaying sortie, and about to lay, when we had a violent crash just behind my cabin. I came off my seat and turned in time to see the bows of some vessel withdrawing from the starboard side. There was a heavy mist at the time and we had no idea what had hit us. They disappeared very quickly. We had to ditch the mines, and stuff the damaged side with mattresses etc., to stem the water. We took in a large amount but managed to return to Dover where we were patched up then sent to Tough Bros. Yard in Teddington for repairs. On our way up the Thames the skipper misjudged the tide, and we lost half the bridge structure passing under one of the river bridges. We had leave of course whilst repairs were carried out, and then it was back to Dover. 

The minelaying etc., continued until 5th September 1943. We were laying magnetic mines and had just completed our lay, when there was a huge explosion aft, which lifted the back end out of the water. We started to fill quite quickly but at a high level it seemed to stabilize. We were taken in tow by one of our sister boats, and headed slowly back towards Dover. Unhappily a large sea swell developed and the boat gave up the struggle and sank by the stern

The last moments of ML108, the crew being picked up by ML101

I well remember our First Lieutenant, Hugh Fordham, swimming round, asking each in turn “Are you all right’?” before shepherding us to the rescue boats. All the crew were saved and most of us ended up aboard ML 101.


We lost all our personal possessions of course as we lived aboard and at Dover we were issued with a new uniform and sent to await a new posting. Not a long wait.   

Sign the ML108 Ships Log



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This page was last updated Tuesday February 09, 2016