OPERATION BRASSARD - 17 JUN 1944
This account of the role of Harbour Defence Motor Launch HDML 1301 in Operation Brassard will be of greatest interest to researchers or those with a special interest in the subject. It provides a valuable insight into the complex and detailed planning which preceded all raids and landings. It was prepared by David Carter whose father, Lt F L Carter, RNVR was killed in the action.
The author, together with Dutch Commandos, was recently involved in the recovery of his father's vessel HDML 1301 from the Mediterranean to Holland. Plans are in place to restore it to its 1943 appearance. The photograph (right) was taken on 11/06/08 by Jack van Sligter and shows ML 1301 sailing on the Haringvliet.
The Harbour Defence Motor Launch (HDML) was designed by W J Holt at the Admiralty in early 1939. During World War II 486 HDMLs were built mainly by yacht builders in the United Kingdom and a number of other allied countries. [Photo - ML1301 in Mousehole, Cornwall]
HDMLs were originally intended for the defence of estuarial and local waters. They proved to be such a sea-kindly and versatile design that they were used in every theatre of operation as the war progressed. They were to be found escorting convoys off the West Coast of Africa, carrying out covert activities in the Mediterranean and undertaking anti-submarine patrols off Iceland. [from "Medusa" by Mike Boyce].
HDML 1301 was laid down in the yard of W Blackmore in Bideford, Devon in September 1942. She was launched in January 1943, completed in Appledore and commissioned in April 1943. She was under the command of Lt F L Carter RNVR who oversaw construction and was able to stipulate minor variations to the basic design such as armour cladding to the bridge.
Her armament, initially, consisted of a 2 pounder gun on the foredeck, a 20 mm Orlikon on the stern cabin, a .303 Vickers machine on each side of the bridge and eight depth charges on racks at the stern. After working-up in the Bristol Channel HDML 1301 was grouped into a convoy in Milford Haven, and sailed for Malta via Gibraltar. In Malta the 2 pounder gun was removed and replaced by second 20 mm Orlikon. From Malta, HDML1301 took part in Operation Husky, the invasion of Sicily, and later the invasion of Italy at Salerno after which she was based in Naples. [Photo - HDML 1301 in Malta for fitting of Orlikon guns].
[Much of the information that follows was taken from National Archive ADM/199/2424].
In late 1943, the Navy reorganised the Coastal Forces in Italy as follows;
Commander in Chief, Mediterranean Central Mediterranean.
SOIS is to operate all surface light forces in this area against enemy supply lines (under direction of FOWIT) and act as C in C’s representative in Corsica for the purpose of co-operation with French Naval Command in Corsica. The Naval Officer in Charge Maddalena to command all Allied Naval Forces in Sardinia (under FOWIT). This duty to be carried out by the Captain in charge of the 10th Submarine Flotilla (Captain Dickinson appointed to this post 2/11/1943) and responsible to C in C for the operation of submarines in the western basin of the Mediterranean, notwithstanding his responsibility to FOWIT for the Naval Base at Maddalena.
The officer in command of all the sub-areas in the Central Mediterranean to organise local convoy movements and operate local forces under their command in accordance with the general instructions of the C in C.
By early 1944, HDML 1301 operated from Maddalena. Boats re-fueled there since the facilities at Bastia were unusable due to the presence of ships sunk by the retreating enemy.
490 men from the Battalion de Choc and 70 from Groupe de Commando will be landed 3 hours before H-hour. They will be carried in LCI (L)s and MLs of Group 2 and 9and LCAs of 577 Flotilla to Louise Green (Beach).
HDML 1301 is to take station 200 yards, 335o from LC (H) 315 ready for LCAs to form up. He is to show a steady red light towards the group. Craft are to be manned and formed up as quickly as possible in accordance with the diagram below. Lt P W Spencer will be embarked on LCI (L) 303 with the Commander of Battalion de Choc and is to transfer to HDML 1301 as LCAs are forming up.
At H–2.45hrs HDML1301 is to lead off to position 211, Marina di Capo light 25.5 cables, marked by PT 211 who will flash Z’s. HDML 1301 is to pass him at H–2.10hrs and steer to arrive at the inner release position 236, Marina di Capo light 21.5 cables at H–1.95hrs. This course is in line with Mt Caponne, the highest point on the island. Should the PT be off station, he will flash the true course to inner release position when he sights the formation. The Folboat in position 248, Marina di Capo light 17.2 cables, will be flashing L’s to seaward from H–2.25hrs until passed by the LCAs. Don’t worry if the light not sighted – the light may not have made it. As soon as the HDML 1301 stops, the Flotilla Officer is to reduce speed and turn his flotilla to starboard and make straight for the beach. His course should take him past the Folboat towards the lowest part of the skyline. He should approach to within 300 yards of the beach before taking his column in to touch down at H–1.80hrs followed in turn by the two remaining columns as soon as the beech is clear.
The beach is about 100 yards long, to its rear is a terraced slope between two hills. If you cannot find the beach, go to Louise Red. On clearing the beech craft are to return to HDML 1301 at slow speed, on no account rev up engines unless fired on by enemy. Form up in original order except both LCS (M) on starboard side ready to return to waiting area. When Lt Spencer in HDML 1301 has collected his group, he is to steer at slow speed to waiting area C for 10 minutes. After this, he is to check compasses with Flotilla Officer. [Photo - an HDML on patrol in the Mediterranean].
During the Main Assault Lt Spencer in HDML1301 will wait at (R). When the group arrives, he is to take up a position 100 yards east of LST 4. LCV (P) are to form up as follows: As each LST completes loading her 5 craft, they are to form up and close HDML 1301 which will be stationed 100 yards east of LST4. At H–85, HDML 1301 will lead off to join up astern of main assault flight which will be marked by HDML 1246 showing a red light toward convoy.
Assault on Kodak Green Beach. On reaching position 093o Marina di Capo light 10 cables, HDML 1301 is to lead the 14 LCV(P) round to starboard until heading for the beach, when he is to stop. LCV(P) Flotilla Officer is to proceed on in and to touch down in two waves, first at H–10. Both waves must beach on either side of the rock in the centre, the fist wave clearing outwards to allow the second to come in.
On clearing the beach, LCV (P) are to rejoin HDML1301 who is to lead them out in line ahead on a reciprocal course keeping as close to the coast as possible. Major LCs will be entering at some time but it is the responsibility of the minor LCs to keep out of their way. HDML1301 will lead them back to (R) proceeding on a track ½ mile east of approach course. Lt Spencer in HDML 1301 is to proceed at full speed to (T) as soon as LCV(P) have found parent LSTs. On arrival he is to take up position as "Return Convoy Controller" where he will be joined by LCI(L)316 and transfer to it.
F-lighters are used for actual conveyance of stores in convoy and for protection. Some have been armed with 1, 2 or even 3 88 mm guns with 2 or possibly 3 quadruple 20 mm mountings. They may also have concrete or armour protection to their sides. It is reported that some of these specially armed craft have been given the task of protecting harbours of Elba. 3 F-lighters have been seen in Kodak section at one time.
These craft have been seen in the lettered position shown opposite. (Around Marina di Campo). It is possible that they may be in Kodak Sector during the assault. Reconnaissance at last light on D – 1 will be made to confirm their positions, if present, and the results signalled using these lettered positions.
Details of F-lighters: Length: 154 feet, Beam: 21 feet, Height of upper deck amidships: 10 feet. Armament mounted on centre line with base plates of guns slightly below upper deck level. Each 88 mm gun is probably in a circular gun shield. The humped continuous upper deck, characteristic bow and narrow beam should serve to distinguish these craft from our own LCTs and LCGs. [Planning File ADM/199/2425 Copied from Orders issued by Senior Naval Officer (Landing) P1 Naval Party 893 on 11 June 1944].
The first enemy throughout the Mediterranean campaign was the German F-lighter, an ingenious multi-purpose vessel with very shallow draft which could be used in the role of freighter, troop-carrier or flak ship according to need, or the three roles simultaneously. In its most offensive role it boasted a firepower which no MTB or MGB could hope to match: an 88mm dual-purpose gun, a 40 mm and multiple 37 mm and 30 mm and bristling machine guns. Because of their shallow draft they were very difficult to torpedo, and for a while the only method of attack was to get in so close under cover of darkness that their guns could not be sufficiently depressed to make a hit. Copied from [The Longest Battle – The War of the Boats].
The Action [National Archive ADM/199/2425. Captain Errol Turner, LC(H) 315 9 July 1944].
The assault on Elba differed from any previous one carried out by the force. Owing to the danger of mines it was considered inadvisable to use LSI, LST and major landing craft, and MLs, therefore, had the dual task of transporting the assaulting forces and towing the minor landing craft from the advanced base to the release position. In fact we were presented with the problems of a Short Range Assault.
As we expected, the French military staff were completely ignorant of the science of combined operations. Unfortunately in many cases they seemed loath to accept facts given by us and considerable delay ensued.
There was no vehicular training through a watersplash, due to the lack of waterproofing material, but the French were not unduly worried by this. As a result several vehicles stalled when disembarking. Reputedly the best performance of driving was by French lady ambulance drivers.
Finally I wish to state my personal admiration for the way in which all naval personnel under my orders carried out their duties. There was a noticeable spirit of determination throughout the force which has been commented on from outside sources.
Official Reports of Proceedings on the role of ML1301 [Lt Spencer - Operation Brassard LC (H) 315 - Landing of the Battalion de Choc.].
On the South Coast one or two F-Lighters thought to have been evacuating Pianosa Garrison, possibly accompanied by an E-boat were sighted at 0030 by the PT boats. … Short engagement, both PT boats damaged, one man killed. One of the F-Lighters then encountered ML1301 which had just released the 9 MCAs making the most westerly landing. ML1301 came under heavy cannon and machine-gun fore to which she replied. The Captain was killed, First Lt and 5 ratings injured. F-Lighter then passed into Golfo di Campo without sighting the landing craft. The F-Lighter appears to have rounded Elba to the west after encounter with PT Boats. [Operations Brassard LC (H) 315].
During all this time ML 1301 and her 9 LCAs and 2 LCS (M) for Louise Green were not having such an easy time. They led off from position (R) at 2350 hours and the approach to this dispersal point was not entirely to plan. The only exception was PT 211 who was well over to eastward but as the details of the land were clearly visible this caused no difficulty. The Folboat was in the correct position.
At 0055 ML 1301 was lying pointing roughly North-West having released the LCAs at 0040 in position 9 cables 198o centre of Louise Green, when a vessel was sighted off the Port Bow steaming South-East about 2 cables distant. It looked like an F-Lighter and this was confirmed a second or two later when German voices were heard. Guns were trained on the enemy but it was hoped they would not see us.
The enemy opened fire about 10 seconds after we first sighted him with intense 20mm and machine gun fire. At the same time, fire was returned and many of the ship’s company reported hearing screams as Orlikon bursts found their marks. The enemy disengaged and when last seen was steaming for Golfo di Campo. At 0105 hours, course was set for position (R) as I considered it paramount import to report presence of the enemy and secure medical assistance.
It has now been established that the enemy never sighted the LCAs and did not realise the Island was being invaded until 0347 hours when the alarm was given.
Just after the Squadron Officer had left, ML 1301 arrived alongside. Lt Spencer gave us the full story and reported that the CO was dead, the First Lt and 4 seamen wounded. Miraculously no major damage sustained by hull or engines. All casualties were transformed to LC (H) 315 and Sub Lt Rossiter, one of SNO (L)’s staff and one signalman lent to him. ML 1301 then proceeded to the LST to gather up the 14 LCV (P)s he was to lead to Kodak Green Beach.
Lt Peter William Spencer, awarded DSO 6 September 1944. During the landing on the South Coast of Elba, Lt Peter William Spencer in HDML 1301 was responsible for finding Louise Green Beach and for landing 9 LCA carrying the French Battalion de Choc at 0100 on 17 June 1944.
After releasing the craft for the last position of their run in, HDML 1301 was attacked by a German F-Lighter. In the action which followed, the Commanding Officer of HDML1301 was killed and the First Lt wounded. Lt Spencer took charge and brought the HDML back to SNO(L) in LC(H) 315, 4miles from the beach in time to lead in the US landing craft in the main assault on Kodak Green Beach at 0400. This officer displayed outstanding gallantry, initiative and determination of purpose. [Errol C L Turner, Captain RN, CO].
This recommendation is strongly concurred in. The successful manner in which the US landing craft were manoeuvred and brought in for the assault under heavy fire after the damage and casualties sustained by HDML 1301 in her encounter with the enemy 3 hours previously, was a splendid example of resolution and fighting spirit. [Rear Admiral Trowbridge].
I concur. C F Stanton-Colville, President, Award Committee
I concur. Admiral Cunningham, Admiral C-in-C Mediterranean.
Alan John Godfrey, Temporary Sub-Lt RNVR, awarded Mention in Dispatches. At about 0100 on 17 June 1944, HDML 1301 in which he was First Lt., had a close engagement with a German F-Lighter off the coast of Elba. He was wounded many times by shrapnel in the chest and back, and in spite of this he went aft to superintend the making of smoke. By doing so, he set a fine example to those around him, many of whom were wounded. [Errol C L Turner, Captain RN, CO].
I concur Rear Admiral Trowbridge
I concur. C F Stanton-Colville, President, Award Committee
I concur. Admiral Cunningham, Admiral C-in-C Mediterranean.
Harry Donald Davies, Commanding Officer ML 1246 and Squadron Officer awarded Mention in Dispatches
Under heavy fire, found alternative landing place, provided smoke, reconnoitred inner beaches despite heavy fire. Displayed courage of highest order, efficiency, complete disregard for enemy.
Beachhead Assault by David Lee. The Story of the Royal Naval Commandos in WW2. Foreword by Tony Parsons. Published By Greenhill Books in October 2004.
The Beachhead Commandos by a Cecil Hampshire. Published by William Kimber & Co Ltd in 1983.
The Restoration of HDML 1301 [Written in 2007 by David Carter].
~ Background ~
I have been connected with HDML 1301 literally since before I was born. In autumn 1942, my father, Lt F L Carter RNVR, had been appointed Captain while she was under construction in the yard of Wm Blackmore & Son, Bideford. He stayed in Bideford to oversee its construction and was able to request certain extra fittings. My mother also visited the boat shortly before I arrived. The boat and I were commissioned within days of each other in March 1943!
In May 1943 my father sailed the boat in a convoy to Malta, where they were based in preparation for Operation Husky - the landings in Sicily. Radar was fitted and the original forward gun, a 2 pounder, was replaced with an Oerlikon. I recently learned that about this time, HMS Belfast had her Oerlikons replaced with Bofors AA guns. Was this a coincidence I wonder?
Far from her original purpose of defending harbours ML 1301 was one of the first boats to go to the Sicilian beaches. Its purpose was to lead landing craft to their designated beaches using her radar as a beacon. At Salerno 1301 operated to the north of the main beaches and made a smoke screen as a prelude to the landings.
However, in Operation Brassard, the invasion the invasion of Elba, her role was to land commandos (Free French Moroccan forces – “Goums”) prior to the main invasion. Unfortunately, having dropped off the commandos, she met a Flack lighter and in the ensuing fight my father was killed and several of the crew seriously injured.
~ Post Brassard Service ~
After this action the boat was adapted for survey work and re-numbered MSU 2, (Mediterranean Survey Unit). She surveyed harbours in Italy, the Adriatic and Aegean, reaching as far east as Cyprus, from where she was shipped back to the UK. She was then attached to the Hydrographic Office, surveying the South Coast, and re-numbered A 352 and later named HMS Meda. It was one of two HDMLs to be named, the other being ML 1387 was named HMS Medusa and is now preserved in Southampton.
The boat was eventually decommissioned in 1966 and sold, ending up with Hector Sheppard–Capurro, the owner of Sheppard’s Marina in Gibraltar. Hector used the boat as a yacht and re-named her “Gibel Tarik”. In the process he modified the boat for his family’s needs, including extra berths, an awning and a roof over the bridge.
I had no idea that the boat had even survived the war. It was during a visit to Medusa in 2000 that Alan Watson realised that Hector's yacht was indeed the boat my father had skippered. Introductions were arranged and in the ensuing years Hector's hospitality allowed me to stay on the boat and even sail it. I have taken my family to Gibraltar most years since then and they’ve all had sailing lessons!
The event that led to us working on 1301 in Gibraltar was Hector's decision to sell the boat and my reluctant acceptance that I did not have the means, skills or facilities to buy and maintain it. Fortunately, Klaas Spaans stepped forward with the necessary credentials. He served in the Dutch Navy and subsequently in the reserves and his company in the Netherlands had connections with the sea through the production of Military GPS and special navigation systems for small boats. [Photo; Work in progress].
I was invited to help sail the boat to its temporary homeport of Ijmuiden for later onward passage to its permanent homeport at the Naval base in Amsterdam where the boat will form part of the collection of vessels maintained by KTL (Keep Them Landing). There they have some access to the Naval Base facilities for repairs and maintenance.
KTL are a group of former Navy and Marine personnel committed to keeping alive the history of old vessels, landing craft and boats. They were particularly interested in the HDML because the Dutch Navy operated them during WW2 and beyond. Some of these craft found their way to the Dutch East Indies, now known as Indonesia and New Guinea, where they were used as river patrol boats during various actions in that part of the world.
I joined Klaas at the end of September, together with his friends Dirk, an electronics expert and Ernst, who worked for the Rijks Water Staat in the Port of Rotterdam. We had hoped to sail 24/7 only stopping to refuel but 3 others who had declared an interest were, in the end. unable to come.
Klaas nominated me as navigator perhaps because I'd learned navigation at the London Nautical School some 40 years earlier. I was rather rusty, of course, and had to familiarise myself with GPS; a steep learning curve. There were other navigational skills on board in the guise of Ernst who had current sea-navigation 2003 and marcom-b. 2005 certificates and Dirk who set up the Raymarine GPS and and tutored me on making waypoints including checking and amending the route and setting up the screen display.
We also used more traditional navigational aids such as route-planning charts and Cruising Almanac 2007/2008 to identify good harbours and cruising tide tables 2007 to ascertain the height speed and direction of tidal currents. We received mostly 5 day weather forecasts from local harbour offices as we progressed on our journey. This was supplemented by up to the minute weather forecast received by phone from a Captain of a RNN Survey ship who was a friend of Klass.
The first task for the long journey north was to modify the boat. Anticipating the possibility of heavy seas we boarded up the large windows of the chartroom, made new boxes to stow the batteries and cleared out surplus equipment. It was hot and thirsty work, but Klaas and I soon cooled off when we took to the water to disentangle a mooring line which had fouled the port propeller and its A-frame support.
On Monday 1 October we sailed across the Bay to Algeciras to pick up our new life rafts. These were larger than expected so Klaas and Dirk spent a few hours securing them in place while Ernst and I sailed the boat to Cadiz, Puerto Sherry. This part of Spain has invested heavily in wind farms much to the delight of my Dutch colleagues.
The following day we sailed to the Marina in Vilamoura, in Portugal. We found this very welcoming with excellent facilities. The security was much more noticeable than in Spain, with checks on passports etc. The engines ran well although the diesel filters needed to be cleaned from time to time. Dirk and Klaas laboured in the engine room mostly between the very noisy engines where the temperature was 55c or more. They also had to brace themselves against the rolling motion of the boat. On 3 October we rounded Cape St Vincent and made for Sines arriving after dark.
By this time we were getting more confident and thought we could save some time if we were to sail overnight using a 2 man watch, 4 hours on / off, rather than the mere 100 miles or so by day only sailing. We therefore sailed for Galicia. Sleeping was not easy. My berth was in a room that had originally been the starboard fuel tank. The bunk was about 4 feet from the starboard engine. Surprisingly, I quickly adjusted to the noise but found the intermittent scream from a partly blocked bilge pump much more disturbing. On Friday morning we stopped at the pretty fishing port of Baiona, overlooked by the Castillo de Monte Real, to refuel and finished the day at another attractive port of Camarinas [Photo]. As befits a fishing port we were recommended to a restaurant where we were treated to a mountainous fish platter. It seemed to contain almost everything that had ever swum, wriggled or crawled in the sea.
On the Saturday we faced a major decision on the approaches to the Bay of Biscay; we could either sail along the Spanish and French coasts in one-day hops or, with the occasional overnight run, we could head straight for Brest involving a trip into the Atlantic. The former would be 700 miles and the latter about half that. We were encouraged by a forecast of high pressure over Biscay with light winds BUT storms over Bilbao on Monday. Unanimously, we decided in favour of the Atlantic route and I'm so glad we did. We soon left behind fishing boats and their nets and floats that litter the coast and found ourselves alone... except for dozens of dolphins, flying fish, whose red eyes could be seen in the night scope, and even whales. It was an awe inspiring sight, our enthusiasm moderated only when we realised they were bigger than us.
Until this point we had made good use of “George” the automatic pilot. Just off Cape Finisterre there is a dumping ground for ammunition, old warships etc. The large amount of metal on the seabed played havoc with the automatic pilot which failed never to operate again. We had to steer the boat manually for the rest of the voyage.
HDMLs are very manoeuvrable craft befitting of a submarine chasers. They have a minimal skeg and no bilge keels which caused the craft to roll excessively. To steer the boat “straight” across Biscay was therefore quite a challenge but with the GPS system monitoring our progress and by plotting our course on the route-planning chart we succeeded in making the Marina at Camaret sur Mer on Sunday night.
Monday morning brought fog – visibility about 200 yards. We hoped to use the inshore route round the Brest peninsular but with all the buoys and rocks hidden in the gloom, this would be challenging. Again the GPS came to our aid. By plotting the course in great detail, with waypoints every 3-400 yards I was able to give very precise instructions to Ernst who was steering, while Klaas was staring at the radar and Dirk was peering through the binoculars. Between us we achieved a safe and very precise course between all the obstacles hidden in the gloom.
After about 12 miles we welcomed clearer weather for the passage through the English Channel. Again we decided to sail through the night, knowing that the weather was likely to worsen. We reached Dieppe in pouring rain on Tuesday afternoon. Although the decks had been sheathed in marine-ply the rain and rough seas found their way through in two places - one over my bunk and the other over the day berth in the fore cabin. It was good to go ashore and enjoy a shower and a large meal.
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