~ LANDING CRAFT GUN - LCG 19 ~
LCG 19 (Landing Craft Gun 19) was one of a class of
converted landing craft that provided supporting fire in the area of landing beaches
during amphibious assaults in WW2. It was to be home to linesman
Harold Dilling for over two years
and it would take him into many very
hazardous situations both natural and man made.
In September 1939 two young people, both turning 16 that year, were living in the same road in SE London with their respective families. They lived close by the Hither Green railway marshalling yards and the area was, therefore, a target for the German bombers. During the Blitz one of the houses was rendered uninhabitable when its roof was blown off by a nearby bomb. The two families then shared the same house and that is how my parents came to know each other.
In the first year of the war dad spent his time as a marine engineering apprentice during the day, a reserved occupation, 1 and at the local 'Air Raid Precautions' (ARP) post at night. When incendiary bombs2 fell he would gather up unexploded ones, stuff them into his jacket, cycle back home and defuse them on the kitchen table! With such a "devil may care" attitude to danger, and perhaps because he damaged the family home on more than one occasion, he gave up his apprenticeship after a year and a half and volunteered for the Navy.
In early 1942 he found himself at HMS Royal Arthur, a requisitioned Butlin's holiday camp at Skegness which became a central reception depot providing basic training for new recruits. This was followed by mines, torpedo and electrician training at Portsmouth and Devonport. Whilst at Devonport he and some other recruits read a memo asking for volunteers for the Naval Commandos, they volunteered and soon found themselves in Scotland.
Their training in operating landing craft during mock amphibious beach landings took place in and around the River Clyde estuary in Scotland at including the No 1 Combined Training Centre near Inveraray; HMS Dundonald at Troon in Ayrshire, Lamlash on the Isle of Arran and the Kyle of Lochalsh. By late 1942 they were practising beach landings and learning unarmed combat. This was followed by a spell at Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands off the north coast of Scotland. There, he was assigned to LCT 368 (Landing Craft Tank) for torpedo nets training. The need for this type of training was beyond the understanding of the men but all would come into sharp focus as events there unfolded. [Photo; Harold Dilling is in the centre of this group.]One evening their LCT and other vessels were moored in the vicinity of HMS Malaya when a storm ran through, weather that was not unusual in these northerly latitudes. The following morning all hell broke loose as urgent orders were received to lift the torpedo nets and the associated boom that protected the fleet anchored in Scapa Flow from enemy submarines. In the process of the manoeuvres it became clear that a KGV (King George V) class battleship had been holed in the portside bow area by a boom that had broken loose in the storm. "There was a lot of gold braid anxiously peering over the side of the battleship that morning," said dad.
Training completed they left Scapa Flow by sea in early 1943 and then travelled by train from Thurso to Liverpool where they were taken to see a very bedraggled and forlorn looking LCT under conversion from a standard LCT (Landing Craft Tank) to a LCG (Landing Craft Gun). On completion the craft became LCG19 skippered by Lt Archie Walls from Stirling.
They set sail as part of a flotilla from Birkenhead to Falmouth via Milford Haven (to pick up the Marine gunners) but not before my father had expressed some concern to ‘Jimmy the one’ (first lieutenant) about the seaworthiness of the craft. Dad had acquired considerable knowledge during his marine engineering apprenticeship and he thought the open foc’sle area would take in huge quantities of water in heavy weather with the distinct possibility of overwhelming the pumps. As bad luck would have it they hit a storm in the Irish Sea and some similar craft were lost. The surviving craft in the flotilla were recalled to Birkenhead where LCG 19 was modified with extra steel decking fitted to the bow area.
On completion of the work LCG19 set forth once again in a flotilla bound for Gibraltar via Falmouth. However, she suffered engine trouble, fell behind and soon found herself alone in the Atlantic. At dawn the following morning a cruiser effected repairs and they continued on their way to Gibraltar. From there they headed along the north African coast to Algeria and then on to Bizerta where orders were received to sail to Sicily. The crew soon found that they were not alone when they awoke to find themselves surrounded by hundreds of ships of all shapes and sizes all pointing in the direction of Sicily.
LCG 19 was equipped with two pom-pom guns, one each on both the aft port and starboard sides of the bridge. They were manned by the Naval seamen, and the two 4.7 bofors guns were manned by Royal Marine gunners on the main gun deck. There were about 32-35 crew members, both Naval and Royal Marine seamen. [Photo; Zara, Yugoslavia, May 1945 on the port pom-pom; front left to right, Ginger Cowie and Alf Gooch; back row left to right, Bardy Smith, Costello, Gillen, and Burchell.]
In July 1943 LCG 19’s war began in earnest. They were involved in assault landing attacks at Licata in Sicily (with USA forces), Salerno, Anzio, Elba and Yugoslavia. According to dad "We worked our way up the entire western coast of Italy from the toe to the Bay of Naples.
During action in the vicinity of Elba in 1944 an Escort, Scouting and Control Group were included with the Battle Group (LCGs 14, 19 and 20) and the entire operation was commanded by Comdr Robert A Allan RNVR. The LCGs were to fire on targets and bearings received on PT3 radar and passed to the LCGs by radio from the Control Group (PTs) who were directing operations. The Scouting Group (PT’s) sailed ahead searching for and reporting targets and acted as a screen against destroyers if engaging the enemy.
The tasks assigned during this operation included gauging the range of enemy gun emplacements, ferrying supplies and small units from ship to shore such as the "Desert Rats", Ghurkhas and FOO4 parties and picking them up again as required. Dad said the LCGs were "first in and last out." He had great respect for the Ghurkhas of whom he said "They left the craft so silently that you wouldn’t realize they had gone and would return in the same fashion. You would find them turning out their "ditty bags" with their trophies from their exploits i.e. a finger or thumb etc. Thank heavens they were on our side!" 5, escorted by two destroyers, were spotted moving south along the coast near San Vincenzo, north of the island of Elba. The mixed force of American and British craft attacked. The LCGs task was to illuminate the targets with star shells causing the German gunners to fire skywards believing they were under attack from the air. To quote, "That gave the Royal Marine gunners on the LCGs all the opportunity they needed. Within 30 seconds one of the F-Lighters blew up with a tremendous explosion. Within 10 minutes three others had been set afire. The LCGs then reversed course and caught the last two F-Lighters as they attempted to retire from action. [Source "At Close Quarters" see Further Reading below].
Commander Allan praised the accuracy of the LCG gunfire and the way in which their hurried manoeuvres had been carried out. Of the six destroyed vessels he reported, "Two, judging by the impressive explosions, were carrying petrol, two ammunitions and one a mixed cargo of both. The sixth sank without exploding." [Source of quote "At Close Quarters"]. [Photo; a surrendered F-Lighter].
A second engagement is recorded in which LCGs 14, 19 and 20 were mentioned as part of the attacking force. On the night of April 24-25 1944 two enemy convoys were spotted. One was proceeding southward from Vada Rocks and the other moving northwards near Piombino on the Italian coast opposite Elba, only 25 miles south of Vada Rocks. Dad remembers slipping between these two convoys. After the northbound convoy had passed, the southbound one was attacked.
"Commander Allen moved in on the convoy and gave the order for the LCGs to open fire at 3,000 yards range. The first star shells illuminated the two F-Lighters. In less than 3 minutes they were hit by the LCGs and exploded. Star shells landed on high wooded ground near the beach and started large brush fires, which together with the burning and exploding F-Lighters, made a vast and brilliant glow visible in Bastia 50 miles away. A large ocean going tug and more F-Lighters were illuminated to the north. The tug was hit repeatedly by the LCGs and sank, one F-lighter blew up and another burned furiously and exploded."[Source "At Close Quarters"].
The Escort Group went inshore to search for and to pick up survivors. They took the opportunity to set ablaze an abandoned F-lighter meanwhile the Battle Group were sent to attack the target coming from the north. The LCGs were again called into action against three more F-Lighters and apparently caused two to burn through, exploding ammunition in the process.
Whilst patrolling around Elba, LCG 19 pulled a mine under itself. Dad had been on "watch and watch about" and instead of going below to sleep, decided to stay on deck. He found a suitable flat area in front of the wheelhouse to sleep on where he was shielded. The next he knew he was seeing millions of coloured stars and found himself slumped over the wheel in the wheelhouse with water pouring in from above. The ships engines were screaming and someone was calling over the intercom, "Slow ahead." Dad’s retort was, "The engines are b.......d!" He had to smash his way out of the wheelhouse as the door was jammed and then smashed the Captain’s cabin door in too as the Captain was stuck in his cabin. He then went below to check on Stoker Porter and came back on deck to find two seamen with one lifebelt between them having the following very polite conversation; "I think that is mine." (takes lifebelt). "No, I believe it’s mine." (other takes lifebelt back.). "No really, I think it’s mine." (first takes it back again.) Obviously both were in a state of shock. The craft wasn’t even sinking!
LCG 19 was towed to Taranto for repairs and the crew dispatched to Messina until the craft was repaired. Dad was sent over to Reggio to work on LCR (Landing Craft Rocket) maintenance and rejoined the rest of the crew in Messina making the return journey by rail to the ship. It took several days but seemed longer since they travelled in cattle trucks! He remembers the train stopping in the dark and one of the crew jumped down to get some fresh air and promptly fell into 3 feet of snow! On rejoining their craft it had been fitted with a 12lb gun at the bow – the only LCG to have such a powerful weapon.
The latter part of the war was spent going from Bari to the Dalmatian Islands where LCG 19 was involved in attacks at the islands of Pag, Krk and Cherso. Again the craft is mentioned in another article "Yugoslavia and The Dalmatian Islands" by Vernon Copeland, for the BBC’s WW2 People’s War, when LCGs 4, 19 and 20 joined up with other vessels for the actions in which the Partisans were set ashore to clear the islands.
At the end of the war, whilst waiting to return home, two naval seamen (one of whom was dad) plus two Marines, were selected for two days shore leave at Taormina. Whilst there they received a message, "Return to ship – paint pots and brushes at the ready. We’re going home."
Of Salerno he said "It was not good. To begin with, the whole assault fleet arrived well off shore but was held back a whole day. Apparently the Allied politicians/ Italian Government were negotiating the surrender of the Italian forces. It gave the Germans 24 hours to get fully ready for the attack.
Anzio was even worse. They wasted 3 days just establishing a beachhead with no opposition whatsoever. Then the Germans hit us well and truly." He further recalled a particular event off Anzio "A hospital ship lay starboard and astern of LCG 19 and was fully lit as required by convention at the time. With lights on and distinct markings the ship should not have been targeted by enemy planes or heavy guns. However, one day when I was aft, starboard side of the bridge an enemy plane come in from the starboard side. Kenneth Paynter, a signalman (bunting tosser), who was forward, port side, dashed round to where I was standing looking aft. He yelled, 'Germans coming in starboard side.' We mounted the pom-poms.
The planes flew so low that we could see their flight deck. Neither of us had any real gunnery experience and the single barrel pom-pom was a pig of an antique unit. We had to sight the gun and turn the control handles whilst standing on the gun platform and the whole thing juddered as we rotated it. We got off several bursts sufficient to put the pilot off his flight path towards our hospital ship although I'm sure we didn't hit the plane. We later heard that the Captain of the Hospital ship had made a recommendation for the action by LCG 19, which led to the abortion of the attack on his ship. As far as I can recall, Paynter got a mention in dispatches."
It is known that Paynter named "Jock" Cowie as his partner on the pom-pom that day, but it was in fact my father. Both dad and Cowie had ginger hair and in the heat of the moment a mistake in identity could easily have been made.
The attack on Elba was led by the French and was supposed to be top secret but dad maintains "As we came around the headland the Germans were ready and waiting for us. The operation was as leaky as a sieve."
During the attacks at Elba, seaman Costello was injured. He was standing next to my father and said to him, "I’ve been hit." Dad told him not to be so daft as he was still standing, but they nevertheless did a closer inspection. Costello had indeed been hit by a bullet that had passed straight through the flesh of his inner thigh, leaving a clean hole.
Photo Gallery - click to enlarge
1) FOO Party with some of the crew of LCG 19 (Dad is
back row second from right).
PostscriptThe 9th LCT Flotilla in October 1944. [Photo opposite; The Admiralty Girls" in Trafalgar Square (Mum is second from right)].
Because of her work in the Admiralty my mother knew that LCG 19 was coming home but, on this occasion, she broke with the Admiralty convention of secrecy and told the family, particularly her future father-in-law. He was a HM Customs Officer (Waterguard) and was able to pass a message to colleagues at Falmouth to assist the crew ashore with the minimum of fuss from the Customs. Hence, on reaching Falmouth harbour in early July 1945, they were quickly paid off and dispatched homewards. Dad had essentially gone to war on a one-way ticket with the proviso that if he survived he would be de-mobbed as soon as war was ended. He was one of the youngest on board – indeed possibly the youngest. On July 21st 1945 Mum and Dad were married. Sadly mum died in 2010 at the age of 86 after 64 years of marriage.
At Close Quarters" (PT Boats in the United States Navy) by Captain R J Bulkley 1962, p308-311, published by The Naval Institute Press. The author states that ""Operation Gun", designed to stem the flow of German shipping down the west coast of Italy, was built around three British LCGs, landing craft which had been fitted with two 4.7 inch guns and two 40mm guns, manned by Royal Marine gunners. The Battle Group comprising LCGs 14, 19 and 20, was screened from possible E-boat attack during the operation by an Escort Group, MTB 634 and MGBs 662, 660 and 659."
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This WebPage was written by Christine Cawdron on behalf of her father Harold Dilling, now 87 (2010), who served aboard LCG 19 as a linesman, service number 95684 (he thinks). It was redrafted by Geoff Slee for presentation on this website and approved by the author before publication. Harold Dilling rarely spoke about his war service but gave some photos to his daughter which, together with anecdotes and other information supplied by him, form the basis of this article. Supplementary information gathered by the family over the years and information gleaned from other sources was also used.
1. An occupation of importance to the war effort that excused
the worker from military service.
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