The incredible story of the small wooden boats referred to as the 'Spitfires of the Sea'

Tap to find out about the coastal forces in this video report by ITV News Meridian's James Dunham

The incredible story of a naval unit made up of hundreds of small wooden boats in the first and second world wars is being told at a new exhibition.

The Night Hunters: The Royal Navy’s Coastal Forces at War AT The Explosion Museum of Naval Firepower in Gosport, Hampshire is highlighting the work of the Coastal Forces who played a key role defending the South and South East's shores as well as taking down enemy convoy.

30,000 men formed part of the division and sadly 1,500 lost their lives but by the end of the second world war the division had fired more torpedoes than the submarine service and laid more mines than the navy's dedicated minelayers.

  • Watch: George Chandler, a veteran who lives in Haywards Heath in West Sussex, reflects on being part of the Coastal Forces.

The fleets ability to reach speeds equivalent to 40 miles per hour was a huge advantage, as the craft went into quickly for attack.

First constructed in 1916, the boats carried out torpedo raids on enemy boats helping battleships such as HMS Vindictive at Zeebrugge in 1918.

Despite their success during the first world war, the small motor boats were effectively cast aside during the peacetime period.

However, in 1939 an order was given to ramp up production and 1,850 tiny boats were built.

Medusa is one of the last remaining coastal forces boats Credit:

Among them Medusa, a harbour defence vessel that launched in 1943 and now one of the last remaining craft of its kind to still be seaworthy.

She was a navigation leader and was used in the D-Day landings to guide American troops through a German minefield into Ohama beach.

To this day Medusa acts as a training boat for Royal Navy cadets and she's even appeared in the Oscar winning 2016 Warner Bros film 'Dunkirk'.

Alan Watson from The Medusa Trust said,

"She's quite a lucky ship she was built in 1943 and she is now the last 464 of these that is is as original and fully operational. She's exactly as built and still the original engines."She's hugely important in herself and what this typifies it's the memory of a whole load of young people that did an impossible task, who came off the streets, trained rapidly as sailors, did incredible things and disappeared again."If you go on one of today's royal navy patrol vessels you can see where they've been designed from, it's virtually medusa so the design has lived on."

Unsung heroes

Motor Gun Boat 81 - which first launched in Weymouth in 1942 Credit:

Nick  Hewitt, from The National Museum of the Royal Navy said,

"The south east is the epicentre of coastal forces work in home waters. "They've got two core functions, one of them is about protecting uk coastal shipping which is all going on in the north sea, through the straights of dover, and up through the channel."The other one is taking down the enemy coastal shipping and for doing that, they're operating at bases all across the south coast.

"It's very much an unsung story of the second world war. Their only protection is their speed.

"They're fighting these actions that are over in four or five minutes and most of these people went back to their civilian lives which I think is one of the reasons why the story is not widely known."