French naval tall ship rekindles wartime memories

French naval tall ship rekindles fond memories

French naval tall ship rekindles fond memories

First published in In Port
Last updated

Memories will be rekindled in Falmouth and the Helford River with the arrival with the tall ships fleet of the French sailing vessel Mutin, the oldest ship in the French navy, which has strong wartime links with this area.

Launched in 1928 at the shipyard of Florimond-Guignardeau, Sables d'Olonne, Brittany as a tunneyman, the cotre (cutter) never went fishing. Instead she was used by the Piloting School at Saint Malo to train pilots.

In 1940 Mutin arrived in England where Lt. Commander Gerald Holdsworth of the Special Operations Executive (SOE) spotted her. He was tasked to establish a sea transport service to and from Brittany for men and materials.

Holdsworth set up a base at Ridifarne, a secluded house on the banks of the Helford River. Mutin became base boat for the Helford Flotilla.

Secret agents were trained in the art of getting in and out of scows (dorys) at Bosahan on the river.

German aircraft attacked Mutin off the Lizard in June 1941 and Frenchman Jean Piron was fatally wounded. The Helford Flotilla comprised of a French coaster, the Roger Joliette, Trebouliste, a ketch, a high-speed seaplane tender and the trawler Serenini.

Renamed Jean Piron after the crewmember killed by machine gun fire, Mutin sailed for the Isles of Scilly in 1942 where she anchored off Great Ganilly island. Here she was repainted to make her look like a French tunneyman.

Working in conjunction with RAF St. Eval the Mutin would set sail for the Bay of Biscay to join the French tunny fleet. It was here that her crew would persuade the French fishermen to take back to France tuna made out of carefully moulded plastic explosive.

 The Helford Flotilla was split in to two sections in November 1942 and Mutin went to the Mediterranean with the SOE. She returned to the Helford in late 1944.

After the war Mutin was refitted at Fowey and returned to the French.

Nowadays she acts as a navigation training ship for French naval students working with the sail training ships Bell Poule and Etoile.

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