The design and acquisition of the ML evoked a heated debate among the boating community of Great Britain during the war years. This debate found its voice primarily with MINA, editor of "Yachting Notes" in the pages of The Yachting Monthly, serving in its capacity as both the official publication of the RNVR and as a voice for the yachting and boat-building community.

While an American perspective on the design and deployment of the ML was clearly biased towards an "American can-do fills a desperate need for the Brits" opinion (see Nutting's comments in The Cinderellas of the Fleet) MINA held a decidedly different opinion as we shall see below. This is not to say that the he held anything but the highest regard for the officers and men serving aboard the ML—nor was there any question of the deeds performed by them during the war. Simply that the the design itself was less than ideal, was executed in poor fashion, and that certain people within the Admiralty had perhaps been dealing with the Americans behind the scenes in a self-interested fashion that slighted the British ship-building industry at a time of great economic need. Indeed, this last point would lead to questions raised in Parliment after the war.

The Yachting Monthly perspective—really aimed at the RNVR and yachtsmen rather than the general public—was not above sarcasm. Clearly the ML developed its reputation quickly. And through the course of the war—and after—odes in song and verse would be published in the magazine, often (though not always) bemoaning the fate of the officer condemned to serve aboard the ML.
Sleight of Hand
The rumour from "somewhere off the earth" that an officer of the M.L. Fleet had lost a gold watch, the same having been taken from his bunk by a native who had got his hand through a plank seam, appears to have no foundation in fact. While it is possible that the man may have gained access for his hand, it is unlikely that there was sufficient space to admit his arm also. On the face of it, an idle canard.

The Yachting Monthly, July, 1916

In the same issue is the first hint of the controversy to come with regards to the ML deal. It does sound a bit petulant...
The "M.L." Deal
It is perhaps unfortunate that silence is generally accepted as consent. The "M.L.'s" have come, and some of them have gone - as the song has it, "When, where none of us can tell." But some of us can guess, and if we guess aright, others do not. Sailors like plain words, and the alliterative nickname one hears is not justified. The officials and civilians responsible for the production are known to those concerned, and it is a pity that others should be wrongly identified with the venture. Some day the mysterious transaction will be explained, and those connected with it may render an account of their stewardship. Meanwhile let us not jump to conclusions. "Theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do and die" is an apt quotation - for the moment.

The Yachting Monthly, July, 1916

A bit more than a year later we see the issue come up again in the pages of The Yachting Monthly —this time with a bit more detail.
The Story of the "M.L." Contract
Not unnaturally perhaps the American Press finds material for pride at the production of so many what they call submarine chasers, and everything connected with them is attributed to American brains. "It is singular," one paper states "that the British should have gone to the Electric Boat Company for this work....Mr. Henry R. Sutphen's was the master mind in all the work. He arranged the contract and then with efficient aid worked out the details." This being so his story of the transaction as published by The Rudder is interesting:
"It was in February, 1915, that we had our initial negotiations with the British Naval authorities. A well-known English shipbuilder and ordnance expert was in this country, presumably on secret business for the Admiralty, and I met him one afternoon at his hotel. Naturally the menace of the German submarine warfare came into discussion; we both agreed that the danger was a real one, and that steps should be taken to meet it.

I suggested the use of a number of small, speedy gasolene [sic] boats for use in attacking and destroying submarines. My idea was to have a mosquito fleet big enough to thoroughly patrol the coastal waters of Great Britain, each of them carrying a 13-lb. rapid fire gun.

I explained that I had in mind two distinct types. The first would have an over-all length of about 50 feet, and would be fitted with high speed engines; such a boat would show a maximum of 25 knots. The alternative would be something around 80 feet in length, with slow turning engines and a speed of 19 knots. I added that my preference was for the larger and slower type.

He asked me how many units of that class we could build in a year's time, and I told him that I could guarantee fifty. He said that he would think the matter over, and we parted.

A few days later I had another interview and was told that the British Government was ready to give us a contract for fifty vessels of the larger type, the whole lot to be delivered within a year's time.

On April 9th, 1915, the contract for fifty "chasers" was signed.

* * * * *

The Lusitania sailed on her last voyage May 1st, 1915, and a week later her torpedoing by a German U-boat was reported. My English friend was sailing that same day from New York, and we were giving him a farewell luncheon at Delmonico's. When the appalling news was communicated to him he appeared much depressed, as indeed was natural enough, and also very thoughtful. Before he said good-bye he intimated to me that he intended advising the Admiralty to increase the number of "Chasers"; he asked me if I thought I could take care of a bigger order. I told him that I could guarantee to build a boat a day for so long a period as the Admiralty might care to name.

After he reached England, we shortly received a cablegram ordering five hundred additional "Sutphens," our code word for submarine "Chaser"; in other words we were now asked to build five hundred and fifty of these boats and deliver them in complete running order by November 15th, 1915." [JLC - clearly a typo and they meant 1916]
Briefly that is the story of the contract, and it cannot fail to arouse astonishment and curiousity, for at that time our builders were unable to find remunerative work, notwithstanding that they had in open competition proved themselves to be the best builders of such craft in the world. However, we got the goods, as the saying goes, and the boats were 80 ft. by 12.12 ft., with a draught of 4.33 ft., the speed being 19 knots.

They were a great success, we hear, so it comes as a surprise that the Russian Government are building 72 ft. boats with a speed of 28 knots, while the Italian chasers are 58 ft. by 9 ft., with 26 knots. Moreover, the United States Navy Department, presumably not dead to the value of experience, have placed orders with thirty private firms and six Navy yards for a much smaller number of high speed craft 30ft. longer than ours.

The Yachting Monthly, August, 1917

The very next article in this issue of the magazine details the editor's personal experience with the design parameters that would become the ML—with his opinion that the concept of the ML really originated with a New Zealand yachtsman!
The Origin of the "M.L."
The American Press claims for the United States the initiation of the M.L. Patrol, and I have denied their right so to do. I have no wish to disparage the fine work done by Americans, but I feel it is but right that credit should be awarded where it is due. It is indeed my duty to give the following information, for probably none other can do so:

On the outbreak of war three New Zealand brothers offered their services, which were immediately accepted. Being yachtsmen they looked to the sea for work, and two of them joined the Naval Division. These were the eldest and the youngest, Oscar Freyberg and Bernard Freyberg. The body of the former now lies at the bottom of the Mediterranean, he being drowned on June 7th of last year. Bernard, aged twenty-eight, is brigadier-General Freyberg, V.C., D.S.O., now fighting in France, and the youngest officer of his rank in the British Army. The third brother, Paul Freyberg, served with the New Zealand Expeditionary Force in France, and many a charming letter I received from him, written in the trenches, and all breathing the same sentiment - a great desire to get back to the sea and to the boats he loved. I say loved, for recently his letters ceased. I made enquiries as to the cause and I have just learned of his death. It was some time before I discovered the identity of the brothers, and I believe a fourth, Second-Lieutenant Cuthbert Freyberg, is in the Royal Flying Corps and now in training.

However, all this is beside the question, and can wait. My present concern is with Oscar Freyberg, the eldest of his family. It was when the war was young that he first called upon me, whilst going through a course of training with the Naval Division in which he held a commission. The problem of the submarine was arousing some concern at the time, and Freyberg having employed a novel method of hunting whales in New Zealand, formulated a scheme for submarine warfare on the lines of his whaling experience. He had, he said, a fast motor launch which carried a harpoon gun forward. With this boat he attacked his quarry and wore it down. Speed and one reliable weapon accounted for the whale; why not a submarine? With that idea he developed his system, which was to build a large number of motor launches carrying one good gun and having a speed of 25 to 30 knots. That was his scheme, and in the light of fuller experience its shrewdness cannot be denied. He put the matter before the Admiralty; the idea met with approval and he was invited to put his boat on paper, with the details of construction and power installation. To do so he came to The Yachting Monthly, which he knew as an old New Zealand subscriber. He told me of his proposals, told me of "My Lords' " request, and within a short time he was in touch with a naval architect, capable of producing the necessary facts, and figures. When next we met he had the satisfaction of knowing that his idea was accepted; but, unfortunately perhaps, he was not retained to follow subsequent stages of the scheme. It was, I understood, turned over to the "proper department,'' and with great satisfaction I awaited events. What a magnificent chance for our builders, I thought, hundreds of lissom, clever craft, manned by our more experienced yachtsmen! And what sport! With 25 to 30 knots tucked away in the engine room, and a good gun in the eyes of her ! I made suggestions and enquiries alternately. Courteously thanked for the former and sidetracked in regard to the latter I remained a puzzled if expectant watcher. It is not difficult to imagine my grief when I learned that the whole contract was taken to the United States and placed there at rates which were sufficient to "boost" boat building stock to levels beyond the dreams of avarice. And while British builders were trying to keep the wolf from their yard gates by building, as direct or sub contractors, gigs, cutters, and pinnaces for war vessels in course of construction. That matter, however, can wait also.

But to Oscar Freyberg of Wellintgton, New Zealand, and some time Lieutenant in the Naval Division, belongs the credit of the M.L. Patrol as far as its inception is concerned, and I think it is due to his memory that he should receive full credit for it.

The Yachting Monthly, August, 1917

In response to the articles above a former naval architect wrote to indicate that he, also, had proposed such a design in 1914:
Sir, I see (p. 247) that Mr. Sutphen claims to have been the first to suggest to the Admiralty the use of small, fast launches as submarine destroyers, and he gives the date as February, 1915. This being six months after the outbreak of war, I feel sure others as well as Mr. Freyberg must have been well before him.

In August, 1914, many private launches were taken over for patrol work, and which were soon found unsuitable. After a few months' observation I wrote to the Admiralty (31st October, 1914), pointing out that they would not meet requirements, and offering to show them plans of fast armed launches which I had designed for Continental patrol service. I suggested that our builders, being slack, could put up some 50ft. boats. This was three months before Mr. Sutphen suggested the same size of boat. Doubtless other architects and builders suggested something of the kind. The Admiralty reply to me, declining my offer, is dated 2nd December, 1914.

As I am not now a professional designer, kindly do not mention my name.

The Yachting Monthly, September, 1917

Clearly the notion of a fast, small, attack craft designed for U-boat hunting and general coastal patrol work was nothing new in 1915. It did not spring fully-formed from the mind of Mr. Sutphen, nor from anyone else. It likely evolved over the previous couple years as different minds on many fronts considered the newly evolving problem of the U-boat. The Italians and Russians were working on their own designs (they also purchased several of the Elco ML's during the course of the war, perhaps for comparative perposes?), the United States Navy explored smaller designs in the 50–80 ft. range (and settled on the 110 ft. SC's).

Even so, opinions, often well-considered, continued from The Yachting Monthly. Particularly in regards to the "business" aspect of the whole thing. A distinct feeling of having been "had" by the Americans is pervasive:
"M.L." Criticism
I would like to make it clear that I have never criticised the "M.L." at sea. I have no experience of them, and therefore no right to judge them. Innumerable opinions have been proffered, and by those who ought to know what they are talking about; but I have a rooted objection to giving the opinions of others as my own, and so the matter must remain in abeyance. I have seen the boats, however, and as such they are nut much to enthuse over. Extenuating circumstances may be pleaded; but why such circumstances? As they arrived they were shoddy jobs, and they cost a deal of money to put right. There were some clever ideas in the construction, but none of our builders would have produced much of the work. Like our American contemporary, I wonder why we went to America for so many boats at a reputed price which seems astonishingly high; or, having gone to America, why place the boats with a firm of whose work we knew practically nothing. The United States Government has psread its order, and no other government has seen fit to follow the lead we set. The circumstances are the more obscure as our own yards were short of work, and compelled to dispense with their hands at the time this "piece of fat" went abroad. It would appear from American company statistics that the Electric Boat Company (the "Elco" Company) was founded in 1899 to run boats at some exhibition.
The preferred stock is 8 per cent. non-cumulative. The initial dividend on the preferred was 2 per cent. quarterly, paid in October, 1903, and similar quarterly dividends were paid in January, April, July and October, to July, 1910, inclusive, the October 1910 dividend being passed. On September, 1st, 1915, paid 8 per cent. on the preferred from the earnings of 1914. On October1st, 1915, paid 8 per cent. on the preferred from the earnings of the first six months of 1915. On December 31st, 1915, paid 15 per cent. extra on the preferred. The initial dividend on the common stock was 2 per cent., paid December 31st, 1906, annual dividends of 2 per cent, each being paid on the common in December, 1907, 1908 and 1909. On September 1st, 1915, paid 4 per cent. on the common, on October 1st, 1915, paid 8 per cent., and on December 31st, 1915, paid 15 per cent.

The company's report for the year ending December 31st, 1915, showed net earnings, $5,622,855; depreciation, $457,149; dividends, $1,764,183; balance surplus, $3,401,522; surplus account, December 31st, 1915, $4,857,033."
In August, 1915, this company was acquired by the Submarine Boat Corporation, the officers of the old company (H.R. Carse, E.B.Frost, and T.C. Dawson) going over to the new company in their original capacities of president, vice-president and treasurer respectively. No value is registered for the stock of the new concern, but it will be seen that the old company did remarkably well, and 1916's earnings should be much larger. Probably we shall hear more of the transaction later, and I have no doubt an explanation will be forthcoming; meanwhile it is distressing that so much of our money should have gone past a worthy home industry.

The Yachting Monthly, September, 1917

Of course, in fairness to the Admiralty and Elco, the question had to be asked "Who can produce enough of these ships in the shortest possible span of time?" And, regardless of the efficacy of the ultimate design, it must be granted that Elco was capable of the sort of assembly-line production at high speed that would be necessary to fulfill the Admiralty demand. As far as I am aware, and I certainly welcome correction should it be warranted, there were no ship-builders in England at the time set up to produce so many craft, so quickly. And it's likely the physical resources necessary to do the job would have been difficult to obtain given the U-boat blockade then in full effect. One can probably argue the wisdom and fairness of spending so much money in another country entirely rather than shoring up one's own industry in a time of war - and it seems clear that Elco made the proverbial killing with this deal. But it must be acknowledged that, with all its faults, only Elco could have produced the ML as quickly and consistently as it did at that point in time.

As something of a postscript, this bit of opinion from MINA came after the war:
Lieut.-Commander Dean, V.C., R.N.V.R., M.P.,
is to be congratulated on securing his seat for Blackburn by a big majority. The interests of his consituency will claim his parliamentary attention, but he might well give some time to the Service of which he is so distinguished a member. I would suggest as a beginning the quest for some light on the M.L. contract. no one has yet offered any explanation of this remarkable contract's migration to America, or the basis on which the very large price was arranged. I understand that the boats are to be offered for sale by public auction after the engines, too extravagant for private use, have been scrapped. Tentative offers in the vicinity of £100 per boat have been made. Some depreciation, as poeple say in the land of the M.L.'s birth.

The Yachting Monthly, January, 1919