My tour of the ML 852 – schoolboy memory by H.J. Bremner
My father conducted business on behalf of the South African Railways with both Geo.Parks & Sons and Thesen & Co. and he was friendly with their executives.
Thesen & Co. were building the Fairmile class B Patrol boats for the Royal Navy as their contribution to the war effort. Even today looking back, this was a significant achievement for a small company in a little town. Ten of these 112-ft long, 60 ton timber boats were built in Knysna using Burmese teak for the decks, with laminated hulls of Iroko, Sapele, Limba and other West African timbers. The boats were powered by two 1200 horsepower Hall-Scott “Defender” petrol engines. The armaments were gradually changed from the first boats to the last, which appeared to have one six-pounder forward, one two-pounder Rolls-Royce aft, and an Oerlikon amidships, plus depth charges and throwers.
In total, Thesens built 347 larger boats of trawler size and above, and 293 smaller boats of 10ft to 14ft 6in in length. The ship building area was restricted for security reasons, but through contacts my father arranged for a tour of one of the Fairmile ships. I recollect there being two completed ships, numbers ML852 and 853, alongside the Thesen jetty, but we toured one only. For schoolboys from Johannesburg this was an unforgettable experience and I can still remember today counting twenty-one depth charges carried on the deck of the boat, but from information in the Knysna Museum it is stated that these boats were only equipped with about twelve depth charges; however, as the armaments varied, my memories may be correct.
Source: ‘Memories of Knysna’, researched and compiled by Mrs Margaret Parkes & Mrs Vicky Williams