A Short Biography of Hubert Scott-Paine Marine and Aviation Pioneer
Thanks to Deltic History
Hubert Scott-Paine was born in 1890, the son of a ship chandler. He had no formal engineering training, but at the age of 23 he founded Supermarine Aviation, the company that later went on to build the famous Supermarine Spitfire aircraft. He made his fortune during World War I by designing and building flying boats. After the war he pioneered the use of flying boats in civil aviation and established the first international flying boat service. This service was designed to link together the more remote parts of the British Empire.
Scotty, as he became known, decided to enter the chase for speed. He sponsored the 1922 and 1927 British entries of the Schneider Trophy seaplane race, which were won by his aircraft. These were designed by his young designer, R J Mitchell (later the designer of the Spitfire). He designed many fast motor boats, including Miss Britain III, the first single-engined boat to travel at 100 mph. In 1927 he sold his interest in Supermarine in order to found the British Power Boat Company, where he developed the most efficient boat-building company in the world, earning a tremendous world-wide reputation for designing and building revolutionary types of fast boats. Scott-Paine saw the potential for fast, wooden planing boats for use in the armed forces and persuaded the Royal Navy to accept the concept of fast, lightweight motor torpedo boats.
His career was always a fight to convince the British Admiralty that money spent on inexpensive motor torpedo boats would be a better investment than that spent on huge, costly battleships. The Admiralty were more allied to his principal competitor Vospers, who were yacht builders and as such had a great following. They tried many tricks to provide Scotty’s competitors with British Power Boat’s hull designs; such as calling for Power Boat’s plans to be used as the basis for a competitive tender from several manufacturers. Scott-Paine was always alive to these manoeuvres and never would co-operate, which alienated the Admiralty further. His reputation with the Army and Air Force was always good, so that most army boats and air-sea rescue boats were built by the British Power Boat Co..
Early in the war, Scott-Paine recognized that Britain would be hampered by lack of supplies of engines and other materials and so Scotty decided that he would look to the other side of the Atlantic for supplies of both machinery and timber. He had, in the past, relied on Napier Lion engines to power his vessels. These were engines designed at the end of WW1 and although they were lightweight and efficient they were not powerful enough for the aircraft of that time. (The ‘Lion’ engines later went on to add the world land speed and water speed records to the air speed record that they had won earlier.) To obtain more power, Napiers had switched their production line to their newer ‘Dagger’ and ‘Sabre’ engines and consequently, had little capacity for production of the old ‘Lion’ engines. The air cooled ‘Dagger’ engine was unsuitable for marine use and the ‘Sabre’ was not yet available. To obtain the 1,000 bhp he needed, Scottie needed a new engine manufacturer.
He traveled to America with one of his MTBs, PT9, which impressed the Americans not only by her speed, that was demonstrated as 47.7 knots, but also by her sea keeping. When matched in a race against a US Customs boat, the American vessel was left far behind and was forced to retire hurt, having the front 18 feet of planking requiring replacing. Scotty’s boat was completely undamaged. One official wrote “as a sea boat PT 9 has my unqualified approval and I have such confidence in the boat after observing her in rough water that I would not hesitate to take her anywhere under any conditions.” As a result he received orders for several boats based on his designs.
He also impressed the Packard Motor Company enough to agree to build a marine engine based on the Rolls Royce Merlin but to his own marinised design. This would achieve the 1,000 bhp that he needed for his boats. This manufacturer could produce enough engines to meet expected demands from both the American and British Navies. He worked with the Elco boat building company to produce vessels of his design for the American navy.
Scott-Paine remained in North America building fast war boats for the duration of the war, either with Elco or with his own company the Canadian Power Boat Company. This was while the City of Southampton and the boatyard of his British company were flattened by air raids. Consequently despite the air raid damage, there was a continual supply of boats to Britain from ‘across the pond’.
He persuaded the American Government that a batch 9 of MTBs that he had built for them, should be sent to Britain as part of the lease lend agreement. This was because Britain’s need for these little ships was acute. However, it set the British Admiralty inspectors sent to accept them, a real problem as they were equipped for use by the Americans. The decision to throw away the refrigerators that were fitted was simple. It was no problem either to throw away the nice safe electric stoves and replace them with dangerous paraffin stoves which had caused untold numbers of accidental fires. The fact that these were on gasolene-engined vessels, where fire was the greatest fear of all, made no difference. However, they were stumped by the fact that berths were fitted for the crew. The problem was that these were integral with the hull design and acted as bracing for the deck. Of course British sailors had to sleep in hammocks and there was no room to sling these. Eventually the ships were sent with the berths intact but making these decisions delayed their departure from May until August. The only reason that the decisions were made then was because of Scott-Paine’s intervention.
Motor Gun Boats (MGB) equipped with sonar and depth charges, proved to be one of the most efficient means of destroying U-boats. One use for his boats proposed by Scott-Paine, but not approved by the British Admiralty, was to have an MGB towed by a merchantman, traveling in convoy to cross the Atlantic. When the convoy was set upon by the packs of U boats marauding there, they could be released as U boat killers. It is thought that this tactic could have brought the war in the Atlantic to a much earlier conclusion. It seems a far less risky alternative to the scheme which was in fact used; merchantmen carrying an aircraft which would be ditched after its use. This aircraft would not even attack the U-boats, but only attack their high flying aircraft which gave instructions to the U-boat packs.
An American naval architect, an advisor to President Roosevelt, once wrote Scotty “would undoubtedly rank as being the greatest Marine Engineer and Naval Constructor of the era since the steam boat superseded the sailing boat.”
After the war Hubert Scott-Paine was ill and worn out. Having all the war contracts cancelled and thinking that there would not be any further demand for fast small warships, Hubert Scott-Paine decided to close down his factories and return to Britain. He died in 1954.
Scott-Paine’s work during the war, was recognized by the American government, who gave him an award of $200,000. In Britain it was decided that as he had spent the war as a tax dodger hiding in North America he should not be recognized in the ‘honours list’ (this is the means by which Britain honours her great men by awards from the monarch, which may be a simple medal, but it might be a peerage).