Vosper of Portsmouth (1871 - 1966)
Herbert Edward Vosper was just 21 years old when he formed Vosper Limited of Portsmouth at Camber, a small dock on the east side of the entrance to Portsmouth harbour. Initially, the company was largely employed in the refit and repair of coastal vessels.
The the company soon began producing steam reciprocating engines which were fitted into all types of craft, including yachts, tugs and launches, for the Admiralty and for export.
Vosper was also an early pioneer of the internal combustion engine, developing vaporising paraffin and crude oil engines.
In those early days, the company was not known as a builder of complete high speed craft. They did however, have the ability to design, develop and build their own hulls in either steel or wood, to which they fitted all kinds of engines, boilers and associated machinery.
In order to be able to offer complete craft, the company was privatised in 1899, changing their name to Vosper & Company, and started to produce a complete range of utility craft and transport vessels.
In addition to larger vessels, they continued to produced a number of bespoke and expensive pleasure craft in teak and brass, something of a passion for the founder.
During the First World War, Vosper & Company saw a rapid expansion of the company activities, with their main concentration focussing on hull design, especially to meet the speeds as demanded by the Royal Navy.
At the end of the conflict in 1920, Herbert Vosper retired from the business, after 50 years as head of the company. Large project marine work was scarce, with a large number of redundant naval vessels being scrapped or converted abroad and despite the hollow promise of new orders, Vosper & Co Ltd. were forced to revert to repair work on a small number of war-damaged vessels.
One major contract of note after the war however, was the virtual rebuild of Captain Scott’s Expedition Ship ‘Discovery’ which, after a £114,000 refit, set sail for a further Antarctic expedition in 1925.
The 1930s heralded a new era in the company’s history as they moved further into high-speed craft and record-breaking designs. H.E. Vosper himself still maintained his interest in the company, submitting innovative ideas almost up until the day he died at his home near Alton in 1934.
The company fortunes dramatically changed when Commander Peter Du Cane (MBE) became Managing Director in 1931, and the company started to concentrate on winning orders for high speed craft, including yachts, tenders and racing boats. Sir Malcolm Campbell’s Bluebird K4 was built by the company and took the world water speed record at 141.7mph on 19th August 1939.
In 1936, Vosper & Company had become a public company and again changed its name to Vosper Limited, whereafter a second yard was purchased at Flathouse, on the north side of Portsmouth Dockyard.
The yard was later compulsorily purchased by the Admiralty and with the capital gained, a new site was established at Portchester, within the Borough of Fareham, almost halfway between Portsmouth and Southampton.
In the same year, Peter Du Cane had designed and built (as a private venture) a 68ft motor torpedo boat which had achieved 48 knots on trials. The Admiralty showed great interest and immediately purchased the boat which it commissioned it as MTB102. This vessel became the prototype for a further 350 boats built both at home and abroad by Vosper during World War II.
With the success of the Motor Torpedo Boat (MTB) design, Vosper immediately began to develop a new generation of MTB's. These laid the foundations for the company’s concentration on small, high-speed warships, mainly using the planing hull design. To power these boats, Vosper obtained a licence to manufacture the Italian Isotta Franschini engine although when the supply of these engines became difficult due to the war, American Packard engines were fitted instead.
As to MTB102 herself, she was commandeered and became the Flagship of the Royal Navy playing a significant role in Operation Overlord and the Evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940. She famously crossed the English Channel back and forth 8 times and led the flotilla of small boats that repatriated many thousands of British and allied troops. Later and towards the end of the conflict, she was specially chosen to carry both Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and U.S. President Dwight D Eisenhower, as they reviewed the Fleet ahead of the Normandy Invasion and the D-Day landings in 1944.
Vosper continued to produce various MTB’s for the Royal Navy throughout World War II and beyond with the design being adapted by many overseas manufacturers, including the American Higgins PT Boats.
A 73ft MTB (1601) was built in 1948 which incorporated many novel ideas, including a modified hull form with a higher chine and deeper V section hull, as well as controllable pitch propellers with direct drive. This hull became the basis for later significant designs including the Brave Class Fast Patrol Boats.
Despite this work, there was a limited volume of orders available and the outlook was very bleak. With a very slim order book and facing a dire future, the company was only saved by the emergency shipbuilding programme, required by the Korean War. Although the 1950s saw the building of the Brave Class powered by gas turbine MTB, only 2 vessels were actually built after the Royal Navy abandoned the idea of large scale coastal forces in 1957.
During 1958, the controlling shares in Vosper Ltd were purchased by the Mineral Separation Company, who provided the financial support needed to sustain the company into the 1960s. During this period, several large twin and triple screw 'Fast Patrols Boats' were built for the German, Danish, Malaysian, Brunei and Libyan Navies. Vosper also designed and built Corvettes, alongside Fast Patrol Boats for Ghana, Peru, and Singapore, four of which came from the Singapore Shipyard.
This was a profitable and successful time for the company and in 1963, the controlling interest in Vosper was purchased by the David Brown Corporation.
By 1965, the Vosper Design Team (in collaboration with Vickers Shipbuilding) completed the design of its first Alvand Frigate, known as the MK 5. Four vessels were supplied to Iran although these were delayed, being eventually launched between 1968 and 1969, after the Vosper merger with Thornycroft.
The 1966 merger with John I. Thornycroft & Company to form Vosper Thornycroft gave the company the capacity and experience to produce the mush larger vessels that had been on the drawing board at the time.
|1871||Vosper Limited of Portsmouth|
|1899||Vosper & Company Limited|
|2008||BVT Surface Fleet|
|2009||BVT Surface Ships Limited|
|2011||BAE Systems Maritime|