Motor Launch Chico & Dunkirk

When on holiday in Rothesay recently, we spent much of our time gazing from our panoramic window out over the Clyde and watching the boats come and go. On one of the days we were struck by the beauty of a couple of the boats moored adjacent from us.  Being an inquisitive sort of person I decided to look two of the boats up and discovered they were both available to hire for a jaunt around the West Coast of Scotland. The one boat however had a quite remarkable story, which I feel on today of all days is worth the share.

Chico 1932 St Monans in Fife

M/Y Chico was a built in 1932 at the Miller’s Yard in St Monans Fife and had three owners in relatively quick succession; a luxurious yacht of pitch pine on oak with a copper sheathed hull she was named by her first owner Frank Robinson Beavan, Frebelle lll.

The Frebelle lll was then sold to Sir Malcolm Campbell a journalist and record breaker of both water and land speed records in the 1920’/30’s in vehicles named Bluebird/Blue Bird. This struck me as a fantastic coincidence as here I was in Rothesay just a matter of weeks after Sir Malcolm’s son Donald’s famous vehicle Bluebird K7 had arrived to be put in the water once more, some 51 years after Donald’s fatal attempt at breaking the water speed record in January 1967.

The Frebelle lll was sold on to The Countess of Oslo in July 1935 with whom it remained; until the yacht was requisitioned for service with the Rear Admiral Minelaying Squadron where it had echo sounding equiptment installed in 1940 and was re-named Chico and based at Dover.

As the War in France intensified it became apparent that evacuation of The British Expeditionary Force in Dunkirk would need to take place. On 25th May 1940 at 21.30hrs the Chico along with seven trawlers five of which towed motor boats, two other yachts, named the Grey Mist and the Conidaw and two drifters sailed for Calias Roads where they awaited orders to evacuate troops at a moments notice. At 23.00hrs two destroyers HMS Windsor and HMS Verity also left Dover for Calais where at 03.00hrs on the 26th they were ordered that Calais was to be defended at all costs. This signal was then delivered by hand to the forces on shore and the ships on this occasion were all ordered to return to Dover.

Chico 1932 St Monans in Fife 2

Under Sub-Lieut. J Mason, RNVR the Chico left Dover on 30th May for Dunkirk, where it took on board 217 troops before returning to Dover. The following day the Chico was responsible for rescuing and ferrying nearly 1000 exhausted and embattled soldiers from the beaches of Dunkirk to awaiting ships before returning to Dover with an estimated 100 soldiers on board.

The Chico continued to serve with the minesweeping force and was involved with the destruction of an enemy bomber believed to be a Junkers 88 on 20th March 1941 at 14.00hrs. The Chico again came under fire on the 4th April with bombs landing not too far away but causing no damage.

After being compulsorily acquired by the Navy on 7th May 1941 the Chico went on to be used for servicing, it often came under fire but although sustaining minor damage the Chico continued to serve throughout the remaining years of the war, until 16th February 1945, when the Chico was moored at Mears Yard Twickenham, under the care and maintenance of the Director of Sea Transport, until it was decommisioned in the August of 1946.

To find out more about the Chico and other small boats involved in the Dunkirk landings visit The Association of Dunkirk Little Ships

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  1. Thank you for Chico’s story. I knew she was one of the D Day little ships. My aunt, Beth Tenison, owned Chico from 1950s. She was berthed at Bowling Basin. She and her Australian husband, Gary, sailed extensively and I remember as a child going aboard at Bowling. Four years ago, I caught up Chico and her owner, Gus, who showed me around her. Very few things had changed and it was a very special visit. I have many family photos of Chico and found a step 3rd cousin in Tasmania through searching “Chico” on She sent me more photos of Chico to add to my collection.

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