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~ 524 LCA FLOTILLA ~

524 LCA Flotilla took part in the initial assault landings on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day against heavily defended enemy positions. There were 18 craft in the flotilla, 15 LCAs (Landing Craft Assault) and 3 LCS(M) (Landing Craft Support (Medium). All were carried to the beaches on the SS Empire Arquebus. Part I is an account of the LCAs and Part II is an account of the LCS(M)s.

524 LCA Flotilla Jan 1944 (Not including the Marines of the accompanying LCS(M)s.)
[Photo courtesy of Ian Murray whose father is seated 8th from the left 2nd row. Click to enlarge.]

Part I - The Role of the Landing Craft Assault (LCA) by Officer in Charge of LCA 1026, S/Lt Murray.

Background D-Day Flotilla Report Acknowledgements Part II

Background

The LCAs were manned by Royal Navy personnel attached to the Combined Operations Command. Each carried around 36 fully equipped troops while the LCS(M)s were manned by Royal Marines whose primary task was to escort the LCAs to the landing beaches under cover of their heavy machine gun fire. At the time the LCSMs were described by the BBC as "mini destroyers." Until the beaches and their environs were cleared of enemy defensive positions, all craft were exposed to heavy enemy mortar, 88mm shells and machine gun fire. [Photo courtesy of Ian Murray.]

D-Day

LCA 1026 was part of 524 LCA Flotilla as were the two identical craft in the above photo. Larger landing craft made their own way across the English Channel to Normandy while those in the 524 Flotilla were carried on a large mother ship and lowered into the water from davits when close to their destination. The procedure was similar to that employed today in lowering lifeboats on ferries and cruise ships.

At 0615 on D-Day morning she was lowered into the choppy waters of the English Channel according to the plans of Operations Neptune and Overlord. The Flotilla formed up and proceeded to the landing beach under their own power. The initial beaching at 0710 was carried out successfully despite heavy mortar fire from the enemy defences and beach obstacles. After the initial landing the Flotilla formed up again about a mile from the beach (Jig Green) and waited two and a half hours for the larger LCTs (Landing Craft Tanks) to arrive with their cargoes of troops. Our task was to carry the troops from the LCTs to their designated landing beaches. The Flotilla Officer (FO) controlled the movement of his craft on instructions from higher authority. I loaded up with 25 troops and the Commanding Officer of the troops ordered me to beach on Jig Green to the west of Le Hamel.

By this time the tide had risen and beach obstacles, in the form of steel girders, designed to hole our craft, were just below the waterline as we approached the beach. I carefully steered the boat in to the beach with a bowman on lookout for obstacles in our path. Our luck ran out when our craft stuck fast with a steel stake through the bottom of the boat aft by the starboard bilge pump. We were about 20 yards from the beach. LS Williams tried to free the craft using the power of its two engines, but to no avail. When stoker Moule reported that the gearbox of the starboard engine had broken down and the Port engine had seized up it was time to disembark!

The ramp was lowered and the troops ordered out. The army officer in charge, accompanied by a soldier, waded ashore followed by a sergeant who was hit in the arm by a sniper. Although not seriously wounded, he fell down by the cockpit. The bulk of the troops were, by this time, reluctant to leave the relative safety of the craft but it was imperative for them to do so before the craft sank or was hit by mortar fire. I again ordered the troops to disembark and three more soldiers left and were shot by the sniper (or snipers) from a pill box at Le Hamel. After emptying a magazine of a Lewis gun at the pill box on the extreme end of the wall, the remaining soldiers disembarked and waded ashore to take cover behind an overturned Sherman tank directly in front of the our craft. We were at the mercy of the wind and tidal currents and our craft swung round facing the pill box with about 2 feet of water inside. We were sinking rapidly. The sniper was still firing at the boat and I hailed the Soldiers to fire at the pill box, but they were disinclined to do so.

I gave the order to abandon the craft, leaving the Sergeant under cover in the boat. It was impossible to drag him ashore and I considered that, for the time being, it would be safer for him to remain in the craft.

Just as the crew were about to abandon the craft, Able Seaman Bayliss, the bowman in the boat, was shot and died instantaneously. I picked him up and saw that the bullet had penetrated over his top left rib and into the heart. I laid him down on the craft and told Stoker Moule to go over the stern and crawl ashore. He took a Lewis gun with him, but had to let it go; he arrived ashore safely. Then I went over the stern taking with me the other Lewis gun which I left behind with the troops on the beach. I was followed by Able Seaman McCarroll and Able Seaman Taylor and finally Leading Seaman Williams. We managed to get ashore safely. Now the boat rested on the bottom in 2 feet of water. [Photo courtesy of Ian Murray.]

I led the crew eastwards along the beach towards some beached LCTs hoping to obtain a lift back to our mother ship. About a hundred yards along the beach I met the Commanding Officer 1st. Hants, who had been wounded in the arm and leg on the assault landing. We crawled about 600 yards along the beach where we met Sub Lt Laverton and his crew. After what we had been through, we were very pleased see them.

We rested a while and then proceeded further along the beach where we came across the crews of LCAs 920,1008,1005,1010, 602 and 656 who were all safe and sound. All the craft were stranded on the beach on the falling tide. After a meal Leading Seaman Williams took the crews to LCI 400 (Landing Craft Infantry) where they remained with the exception of the crew of LCA1010. I came along later with S Lt Chapman.

A sergeant from the Beach Party came aboard the LCI with orders for all LCA survivors to report to the PBM (Principal Beach Master who controlled all traffic on the beach). We mustered all 524 LCA crews on the beach with the exception of 1010 and 663. It was decided that the crews of the stranded craft, still in working condition, were to remain on the beach until they could be re-floated, while the four remaining crews were to embark LCT 472. S/Lt Davis was informed of the arrangements and Able Seaman Giddings took charge of the departing party comprising the crews of LCAs 1008, 920, 1005 and 1026. They carryied such stores recovered from the wrecked boats that they could manage and embarked on LCT 472.

S/Lt Chapman and I returned to the LCI where Leading Seaman Williams and Able Seaman Allen were attending Able Seaman N Davey, who was suffering from shock. The craft's doctor advised that Davey should remain aboard the LCI which was due to sail for Southampton that evening.

 

That settled, the rest of us returned to the LCT which was also to sail for Southampton that night. We anchored off Calshot the following afternoon at about 1430 to see the Empire Arquebus sailing past, heading for Cowes Roads.

We transported a "survivor" crew to HMS Glenroy where we were looked after very well, returning about 2100 when a SNOT (Senior Naval Officer Transport) arrived with his boat to take us to the Arquebus. [Photo; Lt Comm DC Murray, DSC, RN at Le Hamel pillbox.]

My party behaved exceptionally well during the whole period, in fact I cannot find words suitable; they all deserve the greatest praise. Their spirit was grand. Especially, I say that Leading Seaman Williams and Able Seaman Allen, who carried out their duties to the utmost of their ability as coxswains. I commend them for their devotion to duty during the whole period.

Flotilla Report by AF Ferguson, Lieutenant RNVR, Flotilla Officer.

FROM: Flotilla Officer, 524th LCA Flotilla.                                    TO: Commodore Force G

DATE: 11th, 1944

SUBJECT: REPORT AND OBSERVATIONS ON MOVEMENTS OF FLOTILLA.

 Movements of LCAs

The LCAs all beached to time after an uneventful run - in under slight fire of various types. The boats beached among the obstructions but these did not cause any casualties to craft.

A successful withdrawal was made by all craft. These craft with casualties on board were returned to the ship and were hoisted on board not without difficulty. The remaining craft were formed up, in deteriorating weather conditions, to await the arrival of the LCTs from the LSI. On their arrival, groups of craft were detailed to each LCT and ordered to carry out a ferry service until emptied.

By this time - about 1200 D Day - the wind had freshened and was blowing from onshore from a North Westerly direction. Many vehicles were drowned well off shore. The beach obstructions were awash with the mines on them. Craft were stranded and sunk on and off the beaches. Sporadic shelling and sniping were added to the confusion.

Under these circumstances all the LCAs beached and unloaded troops. Eventually, after several trips, all the LCAs except that of the Flotilla Officer, were impaled on beach defences or on drowned vehicles, were broached to or in some other way rendered inoperable.

The Divisional Officer collected the crews of the craft on the beach and arranged for their accommodation and 'fooding'. Those crews whose craft were not severely damaged were left with their craft. The remainder of the crews collected the valuable stores from the craft. These crews with their stores were embarked in an LCT which returned to the United Kingdom and thence to the Empire Arquebus.

The Flotilla Officer reported the confusion in its confusion to D.S.O. A.G. Jig Green and Commodore Douglass - PENNANT [sic]]{[[ R.N. The craft lay off the beaches, effected self repairs until the weather moderated and then resumed the ferry service p.m. on Wednesday, 7th June.

At high water p.m. 7th June two beachhead LCAs were towed off by the Flotilla Officer. By midday 8th June all the LCAs of the Flotilla, not sunk or damaged beyond repair, were hoisted in the S.S. Empire Arquebus. A signal was made to the PBM to this effect.

Movements of LCS (M)s

The three LCS (M)s were lowered to time and took station on the starboard beam of the assaulting troops. On approaching the beach the assaulting LCAs came under shell and small arms fire. The LCS(M)s engaged the MG (machine gun) posts in succession until all of them were silenced. This was effected after about one hour's firing. The LCS(M)s then lay off the beaches and laid smoke when ordered to do so by Force broadcast wave. All LCS(M)s were hoisted on the SS Empire Arquebus on the 8th. June, 1944.

Conclusion

It will be appreciated that in so brief a report, only the broad outlines of movements can be given. All Officers stated that their Naval ratings and Royal Marines worked hard in uncomfortable and difficult conditions with unflagging zest and great cheerfulness. It is a pleasure to work with such men. A list of recommendations for awards will be forwarded separately. 

Acknowledgments

We are grateful to Ian Murray, son of Officer in Charge of LCA 1026, Sub /Lieutenant Murray on whose recollections this account is based. Approved by Ian Murray before publication.

Part II - The Role of the Landing Craft Support (Medium) or LCS(M)

 

Urgent Appointment Familiarisation D-Day Post D-Day Postscript
Further Reading Acknowledgments      

Urgent Appointment

 
 

Unbeknown to former Royal Marine, HR ‘Lofty’ Whitting, his immediate preparations for D-Day began on May 30th 1944. His account of events continues. With several other Royal Marines, I arrived at the Royal Marine Barracks at Deal to begin a routine junior NCO's course. The following day, before our course had even begun, I and a few others were ordered to return to our unit at Sandwich in Kent. We had no idea what was going on or what was in store for us in the next few days.

The following day we were instructed to proceed to Poole in Dorset to locate the Royal Navy Landing Craft Assault (LCA) Flotilla 524. Attached to this particular flotilla were three Royal Marine manned  LCS(M)s (Landing Craft Support (Medium), one of which, I was to join.

[Although not recorded in the author's account, the three craft carried on the SS Empire Arquebus were the Mk3 LCS(M)s 78, 109 and 112. The other craft on board were Landing Craft Assault or LCAs 602, 654, 656, 663, 733, 920, 921, 926, 1005, 1008, 1009, 1010, 1026, 1254 and 1384. Those shown in Red are recorded as war losses sustained during the Normandy campaign. Lofty records below that all the craft of 524 Flotilla survived the D-Day assault. Certainly on June 19th 1944 the craft are recorded embarked in Arquebus but it was on that day the ‘Great Storm’ hit the Normandy coast. It's possible that the craft were lost during that three day period.] Tony Chapman LST & Landing Craft association.

The next day I travelled to London and onward to Poole. Arriving late in the afternoon I reported to the guard room and was given a medical, a meal and a billet for the night. By then the 524 Flotilla had moved to Hythe near Southampton! En route I called at several camps on the including HMS Mastadon (Exbury Hall) on the River Beaulieu. On arriving at Hythe, I had more medicals and enjoyed the same lack of success in tracing the 524 LCA Flotilla. Once more I was given a temporary billet for the night.

The following day I discovered that my LCS(M) was on board a ship in the Solent. I was taken to Southampton where a ‘liberty’ boat from SS Empire Arquebus picked me up. As I climbed aboard I was asked, 'You know where you're going tomorrow? Before I had time to reply the answer was provided... France!' So I was to be part of the biggest amphibious invasion force in history.

This was my first sight of an LCS(M), although I had been trained to man these craft and knew what was expected of me. I was, therefore both unfamiliar with the craft and the men I would work alongside. These unusual circumstances were explained when I learned that I had replaced someone who had failed to return to duty after home leave.

Familiarisation

The 524 Flotilla had 15 Landing Craft Assault (LCAs) manned by the Royal Navy and our three LCS(M) manned by Royal Marines. The LCAs were adorned with painted pictures and names of songs such as Blaydon Races, Suwannee River and Polly Wolly Doodle.

Our crew comprised our officer, Lt Richard Hill, Corporal Powell, Coxswain Andrews, Stoker Rowbotham, Marine Martin in charge of the CSA Smoke-Laying equipment, Gun Loader Jock Smith, Signalman Crispen, Smoke Mortar men Green and Howe and finally, Lewis gunners Pugh and myself - 11 in total. Corporal Powell manned the twin 0.5 inch Lewis gun in the Boulton Turret.

Sunday June 4th was cold and miserable with heavy rain, gale force winds and a very big swell on the sea. On the mess deck, at breakfast, I met ‘Ginger’ Waters. He had been given a last minute draft at Sandwich arriving on the Empire Arquebus during the hours of darkness. Ginger was not familiar with LCS(M)s having trained as a gunner on Landing Craft Flack (LCF), but thankfully his skills were transferable.

I spent that Sunday, June 4, scrubbing equipment, familiarising myself with the craft, stowing away stores and attending meetings, including a final briefing on our part in the great hazardous adventure that lay ahead the following day. However, we learned that D-Day had been postponed due to the bad weather so we attended more briefings and further studied our orders and instructions. I went to bed early that evening but could not sleep.

D-Day

As I lay there, I felt the shuddering of engines and movement as the ship set off. The Arquebus pitched and rolled in the rough waters as we entered the channel. Curiosity got the better of me as I took in the amazing sight of ships and craft of all shapes and sizes forming up in their predetermined positions. Excitement gave way to exhaustion and I eventually fell sleep.

Reveille next morning, June 6th was about 0330. We had a hearty breakfast of fried eggs and bacon with fried bread and butter. We were back on deck and beside our craft by 0430. It was time to go. Fully laden, we lowered away, slipped our lowering gear on reaching the water and cast off. Under our own power we moved away from our mother ship, at times riding on the crest of the waves and then slipping into a trough with nothing to see but sea!

The LCAs we were to escort into the landing beach were off another ship, so we rendezvoused with them. The troops carried on the Arquebus were from the Hampshire Regiment but we had no idea who we were escorting that fateful morning. We all felt very queasy and I was sick just once. Mortar man Howe suffered most.

As we approached the beach, all hell let loose. The big ships of the Royal Navy fired shells over our heads and rocket craft fired several salvos, each comprising dozens of rockets quickly followed by an almighty ‘woosh’ and the sound of explosions on the beaches.

As our craft moved towards the beach, Lt Hill stood on the deck by the 0.5" twin machine gun turret. It was firing towards the beach to force the enemy to take cover. However, one enemy 88mm shell burst to our right. In the belief that no two shells landed in the same place our officer ordered the coxswain to make towards the shell burst. Fortunately, the coxswain did not hear the order because another shell exploded in almost the same position! There was also enemy machine gun fire to our right which we could see hitting the water. The cacophony of thunderous explosions required our officer to scramble around the craft to deliver his orders to the crew.

We were sailing towards the village of Le Hamel which stood on the western flank of Gold beach. Our target was a pill-box on the top edge of the beach in the sand dunes. I can see it now, with a lone house to the right of it. This was our landmark and target which I fired on with my Lewis gun until it stopped. I immediately hit the ammunition drum on the gun to check if it was empty or jammed. If it ran freely the gun drum was empty, in which case I'd grab another drum, flick it into position and resume firing.

By this time ‘Jock’ Smith, the gun loader beneath the turret, had loaded the twin Vickers so Pughy, our other Lewis gunner and myself ceased firing. Corporal Powell continued manning the Vickers. As we neared the beach we were ordered to cease fire but to ‘stand by’ in case we were needed. The main job of escorting the LCAs to the beach was over, the assault troops of the 50th Division were, by now, on the beach.

During the morning we had shipped a fair amount of water, although the cause was difficult to detect. We appeared to be sinking by the bows and we could not get ashore. We signalled a nearby frigate for assistance, which they provided when we pulled alongside by pumping us dry. Meanwhile they passed down a container of hot soup which went down a treat. Otherwise our daily food comprised little blocks of concentrated meat, dried potato, tea mixed together with sugar, 5 glucose sweets, a bar of chocolate and 5 cigarettes and matches. Drinking water was stored in containers aboard our craft.

As the day wore on, the weather steadily improved, the rain eased off and eventually stopped. By early afternoon the cloud was lifting and the sun began to shine. We cruised around waiting for orders keeping out of the way of other craft. By the evening of D-Day most of the enemy had been cleared from the beach area. We ventured in closer to the beach to find craft of every description both on the beach and cruising around like us. An LCS(M) like ours had sustained shell damage and lay capsized on the beach. Clearly her crew had been less fortunate than us.

Later in the evening we hove-to alongside the other two LCS(M)s of our flotilla and received the latest orders and instructions via our officers. One signaller picked up news from a BBC newsreader who described the masses of assault landing craft sailing in formation towards the coast of France, escorted on the flanks by miniature destroyers. That was us!

In the evening we tied up alongside an LCG (Landing Craft Gun), a much larger craft with 4" guns and enjoyed a good night's sleep. At dawn we patrolled the beach to lay smoke in the event of an air attack. Operating the CSA smoke-laying gear was Marine ‘Mary’ Martin. This work was completed by daybreak so we continued patrolling the beach area awaiting further orders or instructions to return to our mother ship Empire Arquebus.

Post D Day

When our work was finally done we were hoisted back on to the deck of Arquebus with the rest of our flotilla, including the other two LCS(M)s. All the craft returned safely but, sadly, one sailor named Bayliss was killed and his boat officer injured. They were the only casualties sustained by our flotilla. We were all relieved and thankful to have survived the extreme danger of the initial landings. [AB Stanley Bayliss of 524 LCA Flotilla was a native of Minster Lovell in Oxfordshire, he was aged 19 on the day. He rests in the cemetery at Bayeux.] Tony Chapman of the LST and Landing Craft Association.

After several days of roughing it we highly appreciated a good wash, a change into clean clothes and a hot meal. We were all formally debriefed by providing an account of the events of D-Day but we also had opportunities to share our experiences informally with others. There was no counselling in those days but these informal sessions were a very good substitute.

In the days following the initial assault landings, the enemy were driven inland and the beach area became less hazardous but by no means entirely safe. An increasing number of troops were now disembarking from large landing craft directly onto the beaches. We returned to Southampton to embark more troops for the passage to Normandy but, in the absence of the earlier hazards we had faced, we thought that the job we had trained for was at an end. Our job had been to escort the LCAs from the mother ship to the beaches and to target known defensive positions and generally to help  secure a beach-head.

The first time I stood on terra firma after 5 days at sea mostly in a small landing craft, the land heaved and tossed as though we were still riding the waves! We returned to Hythe at some point where we lived under canvas. During this period Hitler’s new secret weapon, the pilot-less V1 flying bomb, terrorised those who heard its engine cut out before it fell to the ground. We instinctively dived for cover under anything nearby including the small table in our mess tent! After our stay at Hythe we were drafted back to the SS Empire Arquebus.

When the Arquebus was stood down, we sailed west along the English Channel, passing Plymouth and Lands End, through the Irish Sea into the estuary of the River Clyde to a berth in Helensburgh. Our craft were lowered away for the final time and moored alongside nearby. It was sad to leave behind the craft that had been our home and protector and, of course, to bid farewell to the Empire Arquebus. We were soon on our way to HMS Westcliff, in Essex.

Postscript

Having recorded these recollections shortly after the 50th Anniversary of the D-Day landings, I began to wonder if I had imagined it all. However, during June of 1996 I contacted my D-Day commanding officer, Lieutenant Richard Hill, RM.

We exchanged many memories of particular events and general impressions. He himself had given thought to writing a book about his D-Day experiences but his memories too had become somewhat clouded by the passage of time. However, the memories flooded back as we reminisced confirming that truth of our shared experiences.

We spoke of our LCS(M) taking water and going alongside a naval vessel to be pumped out. Richard had told the story many times over the years believing that our craft had hit something in the water or had been holed by flak or machine gun fire. Having returned to the Empire Arquebus, he found a bullet hole in one of his trouser legs and on further inspection three bullet holes through our Battle Ensign flying from the stern!

He also told me that one craft of our group of three had been forced to return early to the Empire Arquebus because her Vickers gun had jammed. This craft may have been commanded by Lieutenant Blackler RM, the remaining craft of our group being under the command of Lieutenant Dan RM.

[Tony Chapman of the LST and Landing Craft Association writes on August 25th 2007: I've been unable to determine which officers were in command of specific LCS(M)s assigned to 524 Flotilla off Empire Arquebus.]

Further Reading

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Acknowledgements

Part II of the 524 LCA Flotilla story is based on material supplied by former Royal Marine HR ‘Lofty’ Whitting (1994) and transcribed by Archivist/Historian Tony Chapman of the LST and Landing Craft Association (Royal Navy). Further edited by Geoff Slee and approved by Tony Chapman before publication.

News & Information

Battle of the Scheldt / Operation Infatuate / Walcheren.

70th Anniversary Commemorative Events - 2014

The Zealand Liberation Museum in Nieuwdorp, South Beveland is organising remembrance events for 2014. They are pleased to publish preliminary information of planned remembrance events for veterans involved in this important battle and their families and friends. Revisions to the plans will be posted here when received from the organisers. 25th October (English). 25th October (Dutch). 1st November (English). 1st November (Dutch).

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WW2 Combined Operations Handbook. This handbook was prepared for Combined Operations in the Far East. It illustrates the depth and complexity of the planning process necessary to ensure that the 3 services worked together as a unified force.

Legion d’Honneur Applications. In conjunction with events to mark the 70th Anniversary of the Normandy landings, the Government of France has advised the Ministry of Defence that it wishes to award the Legion d’Honneur to all surviving veterans; not only of the landings, but also the wider Battle for Normandy; the Invasion of Provence (Operation Dragoon); the Liberation of Paris and the Liberation of France.

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Follow in the footsteps of the Commandos. Exclusive guided tour of the places in Tunisia with advice from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Steve Hamilton of Western Desert Battlefield Tours.

 

 

Thames River Cruiser FARMAR. Do you know what this craft did in WW2? If so you may have information to help a restoration project. More information on our Notice Board.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Gazelle Helicopter Squadron Display Team. The Gazelle Squadron is a unique team of ex-British Military Gazelle helicopters in their original military colours and with their original military registrations. The core team includes four Gazelles, one from each service; The Royal Navy, The Royal Marines, The Army Air Corps and The Royal Air Force. A fifth Gazelle in Royal Marines colours will provide intimate support for the team. Their crest includes the Combined Operations badge. The last, and possibly, only time the badge was seen on an aircraft was in the early mid 40s. A photo of the Hurricane concerned is included in the 516 Squadron webpage.
 

 

 

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