Spy boat involved in daring missions during Russian revolution goes on display

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Coastal Motor Boat (CMB) 4 arrives at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard (Andrew Matthews/PA)

A speedboat which took part in “James Bond-style” missions during the Russian revolution has gone on display.

The spy operations involved the Coastal Motor Boat 4 (CMB4) carrying out raids into Russia 100 years ago, earning its Secret Service skipper, Lieutenant Augustus Agar, a Victoria Cross.

Now the vessel is being loaned by the Imperial War Museum to the Memorial Flotilla of Portsmouth Naval Base and is on display at Boathouse 4 in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.

Coastal Motor Boat 4 at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard
Coastal Motor Boat 4 arrives at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard (Andrew Matthews/PA)

CMB4 was designed and built under great secrecy in 1916 by J Thornycroft in Hampton and its pioneering hydroplane design enabled the boat to skim across the surface at 35 knots over minefields and very shallow water.

A spokesman for the Portsmouth Naval Base Property Trust said: “In June 1919 Lieutenant Augustus Agar (later Commander Agar) from MI6 skippered the boat on a top-secret mission in support of the Czarist White Russian forces running couriers in and out of Petrograd (now St Petersburg) on the Baltic Sea.

“The crew also took part in audacious raids against the Russian Bolshevik fleet based in Kronstadt, sinking the Russian cruiser Oleg, and then led a further raid that destroyed several ships and disabled the Bolshevik fleet so it could not pose any further threat.

Coastal Motor Boat 4 at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard
CMB 4 will go on display to mark the 100-year anniversary of her role in the Baltic Mission during the Russian Revolution (Andrew Matthews/PA)

“The CMB service was formed in 1916 and was known as ‘the Suicide Club’ because of the perilous nature of their operations. Lieutenant Agar was awarded the VC and the rest of the crew were also decorated, which was very unusual for MI6 Secret Service personnel.

“A replica VC medal is still on display outside the office of the head of the Secret Service in Lambeth.

“CMB4 also saw considerable action during the First World War as part of the Dover Patrol and the Ostend Raid of April 1918 when she sank a German destroyer.”

Peter Goodship, chief executive of the Portsmouth Naval Base Property Trust, said: “The Baltic Mission is not very well known but was hugely significant for the British coastal forces and for MI6.

“The crew showed incredible bravery on these missions and were rightly decorated for their actions.

Coastal Motor Boat 4 at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard
Coastal Motor Boat (CMB) 4 has been loaned to Portsmouth HIstoric Dockyard by the Imperial War Museum, arrives at Boathouse 4 at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard (Andrew Matthews/PA)

“We see Daniel Craig as 007 James Bond on our cinema screens doing this sort of thing as a work of fiction. Well, this was the real thing – Secret Service agents from MI6 in this actual boat on daring operations against an enemy of that time, through minefields and strongly defended harbours.

“We are in the process of building our own replica of CMB4, which we anticipate will go on display in 2021, so to get the real thing on loan from the Imperial War Museum now, on the centenary of the Baltic Mission, is fantastic.”

CMB4 will be on display in Boathouse 4 in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard from June 26 2019 until June 2024.

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