of Portsmouth

Manufacturers and Designers of some of the fastest marine vessels in the world

Vosper of Portsmouth


H.E. Vosper
Herbert Edward Vosper formed Vosper Limited of Portsmouth when he was only 21 in 1871 at Camber, a small dock on the east side of the entrance to Portsmouth harbour, largely employed in refit and repair of coastal vessels.

They 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 high speed craft, but were able to design, develop and build its own hulls in steel and in wood, engines, boilers and associated machinery.
In 1899, the name was changed to Vosper & Co Ltd and started to produce a range of utility craft and transport vessels as well as bespoke, expensive pleasure craft in teak and brass.
Vosper Ad 1901 Vosper & Company Advertisement from 1901
The First World War saw a rapid expansion of the company’s activities, with the concentration focussing on hull design and speed.

One major contract of note after the war 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.

H.E. Vosper had retired at the end of the war after 50 years at the head of the company and this heralded a new era in the company’s history as they moved further into high-speed craft and especially record-breaking designs.  He still maintained an interest in the company, submitting innovative ideas almost up until the day he died in 1934.

The company’s 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 II was built by the company and took the world water speed record at 141.7mph in 1939.

In 1936, Vosper & Co. had become a public company and again changed its name to Vosper Ltd and a second yard was purchased shortly after at Flathouse, on the north side of Portsmouth Dockyard; this yard was later compulsorily purchased by the Admiralty and so a new site was established at Portchester in the Borough of Fareham, almost halfway between Portsmouth and Southampton.

Du Cane designed and built (as a private venture) a 68ft motor torpedo boat which achieved 48 knots on trials. The Admiralty immediately purchased the boat and commissioned it as MTB102, which became the prototype for a further 350 boats built at home and abroad by Vospers during WWII.
Vosper MTB102 Vosper MTB102 became a hero of the evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940
Vosper immediately began to develop a new generation of MTB, which laid the foundations for the company’s later 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 but when the supply of these engines became difficult due to the war, Packard engines were fitted.

As to MTB102, she became the Flagship of the Royal Navy playing a significant role in the Evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940 where she crossed back and forth 8 times. She was also the chosen vessel to carry both Churchill and Eisenhower when 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.  The design was adapted by many overseas manufacturers including the Higgins PT Boats.

A 73ft MTB (1601) was built in 1948, and incorporated many novel ideas including a modified hull form with a higher chine and deeper V section hull, and controllable pitch propellers with direct drive. This hull became the basis for later designs including the Brave Class Fast Patrol Boats.

Despite this work, there was limited volume of orders and the company was only saved by the emergency programme required by the Korean War.  Although the 1950’s saw the building of the Brave Class powered by gas turbine MTB, only 2 vessels were built after the Royal Navy abandoned the idea of large scale coastal forces in 1957.
H.E. Vosper Brave Class MTB Brave Borderer (P1011) at sea
During 1958, the controlling shares in Vosper Ltd were purchased by the Mineral Separation Company which provided the financial support needed to sustain the Company into the 1960’s, during which time several larger twin and triple screw Fast Patrols Boats were built for the German, Danish, Malaysian, Brunei and Libyan Navies.

The Company 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 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, had completed the design of its first Alvand Frigate known as the MK 5 of which it supplied 4 vessels to Iran (eventually launched in 1968 / 69 after the merger with Thonycroft).

The 1966 merger with John I. Thornycroft & Company gave capacity and experience to produce the larger vessels being designed by Vosper with the new group being known as Vosper Thornycroft.


1871 Vosper Limited of Portsmouth
1899 Vosper & Company Limited
1936 Vosper Limited
1966 Vosper Thornycroft
1977 British Shipbuilders
1985 Vosper Thornycroft
2002 VT Group
2008 BVT Surface Fleet
2009 BVT Surface Ships Limited
2011 BAE Systems Maritime


More information

National Maritime Museum - Greenwich, London www.nmmc.co.uk
National Maritime Museum - Falmouth, Cornwall www.nmmc.co.uk
National Museum of the Royal Navy - Portsmouth, Hampshire https://www.historicdockyard.co.uk/