Mayday - Tugs of War - Europe


Ships Monthly


by Nick Hall, Author

WORLD WAR II’s Atlantic storms proved a trial for the largest vessels afloat, but were much worse for the men who faced them in tugs. Theirs were the smallest vessels regularly accompanying convoys and they also faced the constant threat of attack while towing damaged vessels thousands of miles to safety.

Although tugboatmen are modest and unassuming, this two-disc set uses their reminiscences and archive film to bring the often unsung story of their work vividly to life. They saved thousands of lives, but perhaps their most important role was in towing Mulberry Harbour sections across the Channel for the Normandy landings. Disc one looks at their European operations including the North Sea, North Atlantic and Mediterranean convoys, while disc two covers a variety of modern day towing related subjects.

This is a well produced tribute to the heroic crews who served aboard the humble tugboat in World War II.

Navy News



SHIPMATES Francis Brown and Peter O’Malley, of the City of Glasgow branch, were invited to Edinburgh Castle to present a copy of the DVD Mayday Tugs to the National Museum Scotland.

Librarian Sarah Dallman was very grateful to receive a copy of the DVD because of its Connection to World War 2.

Peter enlisted in 1942 and served in the tugs Dexterous, Bustler, Growler and Jaunty. He also served in Atlantic and Mediterranean convoys, took part in the invasion of North Africa, Sicily and Normandy, and saw action in the Far East.

Sea Breezes

They Too Were Heroes
MAYDAY - Tugs of War: Europe
Rescues; by the forgotten Tugmen of World War II

by STEVE ROBINSON, Sea Breezes

Two very fascinating discs. Disc One has 34 chapters (103 mins) which leads the viewer from the Battle of the Atlantic through to the invasion of Normandy. Heroes all and with interviews of men who by their own admission could only have been aged 14-16 years when their war started, the atmosphere generated is gripping. How did they do it? It is right and proper that these videos will serve as a memorial to those who served and were forgotten. To the producer Robin Williams and the contributors must go more than a hearty three cheers. Disc Two (106 mins) is by way of a bonus, dealing with the modern day tugs, towage and rescues, along with film of Veterans Day 60th Anniversary, World War II glider pilots etc. In short if you ‘have the time’ this DVD offers 2 hours 29 minutes of captivation. Do not let this chance pass by.

Shipping Today & Yesterday

Shipping Today & Yesterday


Rescue Tugs participated in the early war operations such as the reinforcement of Malta in 1942, the Salerno Landings in 1943, and the West Coast of Italy operations in 1944. Those operations were followed by the invasion of Normandy.
This is a quite outstanding film, expertly produced by Robin Williams. The quality of the footage is remarkable and the commentary expertly delivered.
There is rare and previously unseen film taken by both the Allies and the Germans. The coverage of the construction of the Mulberry harbour at Arromanches and the role that the tugs played is particularly interesting. Tugs crews went backwards and forwards across the Channel without a break to ensure that the facilities were in order for our invasion troops to land with the appropriate hardware.
This part of the Naval effort in WWII has, up to now, been unrecorded, but this film goes a considerable way to honour these brave seamen. Several interviews with tug veterans are included and their first hand accounts of the conflict is fascinating. A song about the tugboat veterans composed and sung by a former crewman turned folk singer is particularly moving.
I unreservedly highly recommend this film to anyone whether they have an interest in ships or not, and especially to anyone who has seen service, or has been close to Veterans of any campaign.

New York Times

May Day Tugs of War

by NATHAN SOUTHERN, All Movie Guide

As helmed by documentarist Robin Williams, Mayday Tugs of War revisits the careers and wartime contributions of the WWII-era Deep Sea Rescue Tugmen. Though history has neglected to preserve their legacies sufficiently - rendering the group semi-obscure - the Tugmen nonetheless carried out the most powerful and successful assault during the war, dramatically slowed the progress of the Axis Forces, and saved untold numbers of military and civilian lives. Mayday Tugs of War creates one of the first full-scaled documentary tributes to the Tugmen, using rare archival footage to tell the chronological story of the group, from inception to battlefront action to disbandment. The story is replete with thrilling conflicts involving submarines, aircraft carriers, massive battleships, and a host of other wartime vehicles, yet predominantly, it posits itself as a tool for posterity, to help future generations remember the legacy of the Tugmen.

Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot

Tugboat heroes

Crewmen rescued many a sailor during the dark days of WWII. Laguna filmmaker brings their stories to light.


They braved the roiling, stormy seas of the North Atlantic. They jumped aboard sinking ships and saved lives. They ran head-on into flaming magazines of ammunition to put out fires.

The accomplishments of the World War II Deep Sea Rescue Tugboats were many, yet these heroes have gotten hardly a footnote in the history books. Laguna Beach Filmmaker Robin D. Williams hopes to change that with his new film, “Mayday! Tugs of War — Europe.”

Robin Williams“They’re bona fide heroes,” Williams said. “They’re very humble and they talk about it like it was nothing, but you know it was a hell of a thing to go through.”

The film, which won the Sponsor’s Honorary Mention at the 2007 Indie Fest Film Festival Nov. 2, explores the feats of tug crews from various countries including the U.S., Germany and the United Kingdom.

Williams has spent his documentary film career making movies about some of the most influential men in history including Charles Lindbergh, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Christopher Columbus. The story of the WWII tugmen was a story he’s been wanting to tell for 50 years, but could never figure out how to go about it.

The fascination with the small ships began in Cobh, Ireland, where Williams first saw one of the strange vessels docked in the harbor. On the voyage back across the Atlantic, Williams’ ship was imperiled by a storm. The large ship was tossed around by the waves. Williams marveled at the crews of the tugs who braved similar storms on much smaller craft.

“They’re very special and very unique vessels,” Williams said.

The tug crews were tasked with saving ships torpedoed by Nazi U-boats. The tugmen would come aboard and try to shore up the holes punched in the hulls. They would then tow them back to the safety of a harbor or sometimes run them aground.

It was an important part of the war effort. Not only were they saving lives, but they saved valuable supplies needed for the war effort in Europe. At one point, the U-boats were sinking 24 ships per convoy sent out of Nova Scotia, he says.

“Those guys had to go out no matter how bad the storms were and save people,” Williams said.

He filmed veterans of the crews telling their stories and even used folk songs by tugboat crewman Jim Radford. He also used rare archival film of the period to illustrate the risk these men put themselves in.

Williams has another film in the works that will explore the WWII contributions of rescue tug crews in the Pacific Theater of Operations. The film is shot, but he needs to gather to money to edit it.

Williams says growing up in Laguna Beach gave him a jump start on his path.

“From the very beginning of my career, Laguna Beach gave me the ammunition to get started,” Williams said.

After getting involved with theater at Laguna Beach High School, Williams later headlined some dozen shows at the Laguna Playhouse. He says the stage experience had a major impact on his film career because it taught him how to tell a story.

But it was more than just the theater experience that Laguna gave Williams. He says being able to interact with local artists throughout his childhood let him expand his own art.

Though his hometown planted the seeds of his filmmaking, it was Williams’ natural curiosity and imagination that carried him along in his career. He used to sit on a rock at his local beach and pretend to go to far-off places.

“I would sit on that rock and sail around the world at Cress Street,” Williams said.


Lloyd's List

Stories of bravery from the unrecorded heroes


MUCH has been written and reported, particularly in general terms, about the history of the Second World War. But below the surface of this episode in world history are many stories of the exploits of small groups and even individual tales that will probably remain untold.

A recently released documentary film sets out to recount the work of the deep sea rescue tugs which played an important, yet largely untold role in helping maintain the world’s shipping lanes during this time of conflict.

Produced by California-based Robin Williams Films, its makers have tracked down some of the dwindling number of people still alive and able to recount their exploits.

Deep sea rescue tugs, both military and civilian were, in effect, unarmed with these rescues just one of their roles.

Across the world’s oceans they accompanied Allied supply convoys, ready to save lives and the ships themselves when they fell victim to German U-boats.

The armed escorts would give chase to the submarine, leaving the rescue tugs to save what they could.

Their crews would often board burning and abandoned ships attempting to save the vessel before the fire reached the magazine. Often the tugs were not specifically designed for deep sea service and conditions on board were both hazardous and uncomfortable.

They were also involved in towing drydocks around the world and, particularly during the Normandy invasion towing the Mulberry harbours and blockships that transformed the beaches at Arramanches into the biggest harbour in the world.

It is pointed out at the start that motion picture cameramen were not permitted on board the tugs — a pity as more actual footage than the clips that are included would have enriched the story further.

But this unavoidable gap is more than made up by large amounts of never before seen film of the war both at sea and on land.

The first of two discs has 34 chapters that cover many aspects of the war, not restricted to the exploits of the rescue tugs. The passage of time means fewer people will have a natural memory of the war, so this has the worthwhile effect of joining the dots that make up the bigger story before dipping deeper into the tugs’ exploits in greater detail.

The most poignant chapters are the individual stories told by surviving members of the tug crews. They are clearly immensely proud of their achievements, despite recounting quite horrific tales in a matter-of-fact manner with little sign of emotion.

Clearly their experiences are scarred into their memories, given the detail they are able to recount. It makes humbling viewing in today’s world where standards of respect for their achievement are perhaps somewhat different from what was the norm 60 years ago.

Just one example is Jim Radford. Told he could not sign up for the naval rescue tugs as he was only 15 years old, he got a job with United Towing of Hull which operated outside the pool system and soon found himself in a civilian deep sea rescue tug.

He nonchalantly states that he won all his war medals before his 16th birthday. Thirty rescue tugs and 600 tugmen were lost during the war.

The second DVD includes 18 chapters which delve deeper into the lives of those featured and also wanders a little outside of the immediate subject area.

Interesting chapters are ‘guided tours’ of the National Tug Museum at Maasluis in the Netherlands and the HM Coastguard station at Dover.

Mr Williams also takes a trip out with the modern equivalent of the rescue tugs, the MCA chartered ETV Anglian Monarch. This chapter includes some dramatic towing footage and a frank interview with the tug’s master.

The veterans of the Second World War tugs would find this chapter particularly interesting for the changes since their days on the boats.

At over three hours running time, these discs are without doubt value for money and will be of interest to a wider audience than those simply with an interest in towage. But they also represent something of a social document.

The dwindling number of peoplestill able to speak first-hand and fluently, to tell their story in so few words againsta rich backdrop of archive footage included here makes this DVD set essential viewing.

An important opportunity to preserve these stories of bravery has been wisely taken.


Orance County Register

"Mayday" tugs at lost piece of World War II history

Laguna Beach filmmaker tells the story of an overlooked segment of the warfront.


Lying on the concrete beside a dock near Cork, Ireland, catching his breath after an icy jump into the harbor, Robin D. Williams caught his first glimpse of a deep-sea tugboat and was captivated.

Laguna Beach documentary filmmaker Robin D. Williams shoots footage of Cpt. John Reynolds of the rescue tug ANGLIAN MONARCHNearly 50 years later, Williams, now a documentary filmmaker, has captured the stories of the crews who helmed these oft-overlooked rescue ships during World War II on celluloid.

The documentary, "Mayday: Tugs of War," will be screened as a part of Wednesday's 2007 Indie Fest in Anaheim.

"Mayday: Tugs of War" focuses on the World War II deep-sea rescue tugmen and their struggles against enemy submarines, ships, aircraft and nature while towing sinking ships almost three times their size.

Williams gathered first-hand accounts of tugmen from across Europe and North America who fought in the D-Day invasion of Normandy, pulling the foundering landing craft off of beaches and repairing them to rejoin the action.

"This turns out to be one of the more dynamic stories of WWII, but it was never told because there were no cameramen allowed on the deep-sea rescue tugs because they would have filmed the stories that looked like we're being defeated," Williams said. "Ships were burning, filled with ammunition, and the tugmen had to jump on board and put a tow line on the bow of the wounded ship and tow it to the nearest port, and cut the tow line if it blew up or sank. It was the most dangerous job possible during World War II."

"Mayday: Tugs of War" will play at 2:15 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 31, at the AMC Downtown Disney 12 Theatres in Anaheim.


Orance County Register

Indie films crash Downtown Disney

Two film festivals come to Anaheim with independent films and an independent spirit.

By RICHARD CHANG, The Orange County Register

We've heard of two or more festivals occurring at the same time – that's common in a county with a large populace.

But two simultaneous film festivals organized by the same people? That's a first for Orange County.

The inaugural Indie Fest USA and the third Foundation for the Advancement of Independent Films (FAIF) International Film Festival both start Sunday with a filmmakers' reception party at Hotel Ménage in Anaheim. About 147 feature films and shorts are scheduled to run Monday through Thursday at the AMC theaters at Downtown Disney in Anaheim.

The festivals will close with an awards gala on Nov. 2 ($20).

For organizer Ray Gibb, the two festivals are an opportunity to showcase independent films and student projects, and provide exposure to filmmakers operating well outside the studio system.

"We were noticing how there isn't a true, true indie film festival for students and for the small inexperienced filmmakers," said Gibb, a resident of Garden Grove. "Some of these filmmakers make the best film you've ever seen. We want to make them more widely known to the public. That's what the film festival is all about."

The movies include "East of Euclid" (5 p.m. Monday), a comedy about a Russian gambler hiding from the KGB in Winnipeg, Canada; "Yellow Lights" (7 p.m. Monday), a drama about young love at college; "Saturday Morning" (4:30 p.m. Wednesday), a fantasy comedy about the utopian world that only exists between 6-8 a.m. on Saturdays; "Hunger" (10 p.m. Nov. 1), which tells the story of a sensitive writer from a small town trying to make it as a Hollywood screenwriter; and "Reagan's Wharf" (9:30 p.m. Nov. 1) a crime drama about two men who worked at a local wharf and find themselves on opposite ends of the law.

Local productions include "Mayday! Tugs of War – Europe," directed by Robin D. Williams of Laguna Beach. The documentary – screening at 2:15 p.m. Wednesday – tells the story of sailors who operated tugboats during World War II and saved ships, people and cargo, contributing to the victory on the European front.

"Their story has never been told," said Williams, also an actor who has made many appearances at Laguna Playhouse. "This festival is local, and I'm local, and this is one I'm going to attend. I'm very pleased and very excited. Whenever I have a film that appears locally, I try to get people to know about it."

The FAIF film fest previously had a two-year run at the Mann's Chinese 6 Theatre in Hollywood. Because of scheduling conflicts, and the fact that the organizers are Orange County residents, the FAIF was brought to Anaheim.

"There's 45 or 50 film festivals in the L.A. area," Gibb said. "In Orange County, we have the Newport Beach Film Festival. We have, like, three."

Co-organizer Don Taylor added: "The independent film community is constantly looking for new festivals. Orange County has established festivals, but there's not very many. It cuts down on the exposure for the filmmakers. Yet we have the best venues, experience and exhibiting space for the public."

The film fests are the product of a couple of nonprofit organizations whose aim includes educational workshops and "programs for disadvantaged and at-risk youth."

"Financially, we're not going to get rich," Gibb said. "But to see a film on the big screen, my dream is fulfilled. The feeling makes it all worth the time and energy we put into it."

In years to come, the organizers also plan to offer a stage for local independent musicians, who will compete in a battle of the bands. Two Latin bands are scheduled for the opening party, Mezklah and Umoverde.

Tickets for single screenings are $8.50, and an all-festival pass is $200. Admission to the opening party is $5.

For information and tickets, visit

Daily News

Letter to Editor: Help support Young Marines and Military Family Support Group

Sgt. John Minton, Marine veteran


You may already know that on Nov. 9 there will be a film showing at the State Theatre, "MAYDAY, Tugs of War - Europe." The Young Marines and the Military Family Support Group are both involved in this patriotic and worthwhile project.

The Young Marines are involved as it relates to the Young Marines Veterans Appreciation Week and the Veterans Project of the Library of Congress. The Young Marines and the Military Family Support Group will be in the lobby that evening selling tickets and raising funds for their groups as well. Tickets will be on sell before Nov. 9, for $5 and $8 at the door for adults, $5 for those under 18.

The Young Marines will present the colors and lead in the Pledge of Allegiance. Those people who are showing the film will have someone singing the national anthem.

The Daily News has been very supportive of the Young Marines and it is truly appreciated. The Young Marines of the Marine Corps League will also be assisting the Marine veterans of the Marine Corps League with a grave site memorial service, at the Corning cemetery, honoring Private France Silva, USMC, Medal of Honor recipient who served and was wounded at the Boxer Rebellion in the summer of 1900. He is considered the first Hispanic-American to receive the Medal of Honor.

Please try to have this information published before Nov. 9. Again, your support of all that we (Young Marines of the Marine Corps League, the Military Family support Group and PAL) is very much appreciated within the community of Tehama County and beyond. Thank you.

Sgt. John Minton, Marine veteran


A film by Robin Williams. Filmed in High Definition



What is a Rescue Tug






Film Festivals

Heart of England Award

MAYDAY Premieres in HULL

Public Performances


Photo Gallery

Meet the Men

Veterans: Share Your Stories

Links of Interest

About Robin Williams

Other Films by Robin D.Williams

Museums of America Corner

Museums of Europe Corner

Celebrity Corner




Mayday - Tugs of War

Shores of Normandy

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