On the afternoon of February 14, 1945, disaster struck the Canadian 29th Motor Torpedo Boat flotilla during the Second World War. In advance of a patrol that night, many of the sailors were asleep on their boats docked in Ostend, Belgium (spelled ‘Oostende’ in the local Flemish language). Spilled fuel that had ended up floating on the surface of the harbor suddenly ignited and, before an alarm could even be raised, a raging fire quickly spread amongst the closely-moored vessels. Fuel and ammunition supplies exploded as boat after boat caught fire. Many of the men were trapped on board and had no escape as even the water was aflame. By the time it was over, the 29th flotilla had lost 26 Canadian sailors and five of eight of its vessels were destroyed. An estimated 35 British sailors and seven Royal Navy vessels had also been lost.
Motor torpedo boats (MTBs) were small warships about 22 meters long and six meters wide. Equipped with powerful engines, torpedoes, light naval guns and machine guns, the Canadian MTBs operated chiefly at night in the English Channel as fast attack boats that disrupted enemy shipping off the coast of occupied Europe, and defended Allied shipping from the German’s own fast attack boats and midget submarines. The MTBs also played an important role on D-Day when they helped protect the huge Allied fleet from German warships.
The MTB crews had an extremely dangerous job – their boats were small, the seas of the English Channel were rough and German guns and mines were never far away. To commemorate the disaster of February 14, 1945, the Oostende Naval Memorial to the Canadian 29th Motor Torpedo Boat Flotilla was erected on land donated by the city of Oostende near where the fire occurred. Made in Nova Scotia and funded by Royal Canadian Navy Associations, the 2.4 meter high granite monument bears a picture of a motor torpedo boat and the names of the Canadians who lost their lives. Two granite benches face opposite sides of the block monument which was dedicated on May 8, 2003. A memorial service is held each year on February 14 – the anniversary of the disaster.
- from Veterans Affairs