~ H.M. LANDING CRAFT TANK 861 - HMLCT 861 ~
H.M. Landing Craft Tank (HMLCT) 861 was a unit of the 38th Flotilla of Assault Group S3
Support Squadron. Their task on D-Day was to support the first assault wave by
providing withering fire onto enemy targets on or near to the landing beaches
and thereafter to discharge their cargo of tanks and men onto the beaches.
1. Lieutenant Eric Crees
After two years as a sea-going radar operator I was a Temporary Sub.
Lieutenant RNVR and the commanding officer of the Mk4 HMLCT 861 which I
commissioned in Alloa, Scotland, during August 1943. Second in command was Midshipman Eddie Burton and there were twelve crew
members. For most it was their first sea-going draft and all, with the exception
of the officers and Motor Mechanic Lickess, were under twenty years of age.
The craft was 187 feet long and close to 40 feet across the bows and had two
Paxman-Ricardo diesel engines each of 500-hp. The draft was variable by flooding
or pumping watertight compartments. [Opposite; water colour of HMLCT 861 by J Adams of Portsmouth. Photograph copyright Martyn
Cox 2008. This image must not to be reproduced.]
We sailed up the east coast of Scotland and down the west coast to Troon in
Ayrshire where there was a Combined
Operations base. We worked-up in and around the Firth of Clyde for several months before going to
Inverness to meet a section of the 76th Field Regiment Royal
Artillery, under the command of Lieutenant Turnbull whom we would be carrying to
There we worked long and hard in the Moray and Cromarty Firths through a cold
and rough winter undertaking beaching exercises and repeated night landings on Culbin Sands
and other isolated beaches. We were sometimes accompanied by our sister craft of the 38th
LCT Flotilla to practice working together in formation and landings. The Flotilla Officer,
Lieutenant Commander Tom Unite, was a genial and well liked South African. The crews
were well motivated and worked with a will and determination. We became well acquainted with our army
guests who reciprocated by entertaining us at their base at Fort George.
In the late spring of 1944 we sailed south and through the Dover
Straits to Portsmouth and in early June we were re-joined by our detachment
of the 76th Field Regiment. We embarked four self-propelled Priest 105mm howitzers mounted on a Churchill
tank chassis and two half-track reconnaissance vehicles at Gosport hard (the
name given to a concrete area on the shore line) and then
joined many other fully loaded craft at anchor in Fareham Creek.
There was a lot of excitement and anticipation in the air which was heightened
when cheering broke out in Portsmouth Harbour. It increased as a motor torpedo boat came into view carrying King George VI
and Winston Churchill. They waving and cheering along with the rest. What a
morale booster it was and the signal quickly spread…."Winnie wants to come with
us but George won’t let him!"
On the afternoon of June 5th, the day after the false start owing
to bad weather, our contribution of six craft set sail to Nab Tower to join up
with our part of the fleet, which, in turn, was part of the greatest armada the
world had ever seen. Minesweepers had laid lit buoys to provide a mile wide
corridor and we sailed down this discretely illuminated sea-way in rough
conditions. When it became dark we kept station on the dimly lit stern light of
the craft ahead. Throughout the night streams of aircraft flew overhead,
squadron after squadron. We were all going the same way, it was a long, long
night with very dark heavy cloud overhead.
We approached Sword beach between Ouistreham and Hermanville on a
pre-determined line of bearing. We opened bombardment at a distance of 11,000
yards from the beach. Our fire was reported by Forward Observation Officers in a small craft well
inshore and before long we received a new target our original target having been
The fire-power of the 24 guns carried by our six LCT was quite awesome in
itself but we were small in comparison to the totality. 16 inch shells were roaring overhead from a nearby battleship, hundreds of shells
were being released by rocket firing LCTs, the guns of close support Royal Navy
ships were firing in rapid sequence, swimming tanks and LCAs full of troops were making for the beach.
area was alive with activity and noise and it became almost too much to take in and witness.
At 2000 yards from the beach we ceased fire, it was just H-Hour, 0725 hours
on the morning of June 6th 1944. Through binoculars the beach appeared within touching distance, the flail
tanks were trundling up the beach exploding mines as they went, closely followed
by the Sherman swimming tanks and wave after wave of soldiers. HMLCT 861 turned away and sailed on a reciprocal bearing
and the gun crews changed from bombardment to combat ammunition.
At the appropriate distance we turned once again to go in with the fifth wave
and we beached under the direction of a beach-master at H-Hour+1 hour…that being
at 0825 hours. It was a case of ‘down ramps’ and our army friends left with all speed and
our blessing. Then, it was up ramp and away, but our kedge anchor was fast
against some underwater obstruction and the capstan could not shift it, I had to
order the cable to be chopped. [Photo; Mk6 USLCT 776 found on
June 8th by the crew of LCT 861. Richard Fawcett recalls that she was towed to
Portsmouth by LCT 861. See 1 below.]
As we approached the assembly area some three miles off-shore Petty Officer
Motor Mechanic Lickess reported that 861 was making water
below. Beach obstructions
had penetrated a number of water-tight compartments but with continuous pumping 861 was holding her own.
On reporting to our HQ ship I optimistically expressed the view that we could make it back to England
under our own power which we did. On arrival back in England 861 went straight into dry-dock. There were over twenty holes in
the bottom of the craft but because the hull was a series of water-tight sections welded
together she retained enough buoyancy to keep afloat.
The dock engineers reported that the damage would take some ten days to
repair so I requested four days leave for each watch. We had spent many months
without that luxury. The flag officer’s office was agreeable so, on the toss of
a coin to determine who went ashore first, I found myself back home in West Bromwich two days after
On D-Day our flotilla lost one landing craft, sunk by gunfire on the beach
but with no casualties. The commanding officer of another LCT won the DSO for his
rescue work on the beach.
HMLCT 861 of the 38th Flotilla made seventeen more crossings to
different areas such as Gold beach, Utah beach and Cherboug and later Dieppe and
We carried American soldiers, tanks, reapers for forward airfields, a detachment
of the Grenadier Guards, Bailey Bridge pontoons. The 861 followed up behind the army until
she developed an alarming crack amidships and her task was at an end. By Easter
of 1945 she was paid-off.
My memories of the crew of LCT 861 now fail me as this is written during
August 1996. I remember Lieutenant Eric Crees our commanding officer, Signalman
Thompson, Stoker Turnbull, Wireman (Electrician) Keppel, Motor Mechanic Lickess,
other names recalled are Winrush, Dyatt and Bales.
Our initial task on D-Day was to support the first wave going ashore. Our craft
carried 6 tanks to my recall and before landing them they were deployed to give
covering fire to the small LCMs (Landing Craft, Mechanised) that were
off-loading troops on to Sword beach during the first wave. Having completed
this task we regrouped for the landing of our own troops and tanks. The weather
at the time was atrocious but the men were safely off-loaded at a time when resistance appeared to be lessening apart from mortar
bombs and small arms fire.
The men of the 3rd British Infantry
Division had had enough. They could not get ashore quick enough and appeared not
to care about the enemy. They just wanted to get on dry land and away from all
the buffeting and heaving up and down……they were a great bunch of men. [Photo;
the author of this section; Leading Seaman Coxswain Richard Fawcett.]
Having off-loaded our cargo we proceeded to kedge off the beach-head only to
discover that our port engine had failed, making it doubly difficult to release
our bows from the beach. However, our kedge anchor held and with our remaining
engine we managed to drag ourselves free. Around this time scrambling nets were slung over the port side (left) of
LCT 861 in an abortive attempt to rescue two paratroopers who had fallen well
short of their destination. I recall Seaman Dyatt and Stoker Turnbull struggling to
recover them but the rough sea conditions and the drag of the boat coming astern
made recovery impossible.
During this time I was at the helm looking
through the wheelhouse observation slots. Although my vision was somewhat
restricted I saw an LCF (Landing Craft Flak) and an LCTR (Landing Craft Tank, Rocket). The
former took a direct
hit from a shore based heavy gun and fire immediately spread through the craft and
the whole of the top deck was swept clear. It was all very a terrifying sight.
was next in line and she too was hit. 861 was astern of the rocket ship so we too were at risk. Then, what I believe was
the monitor HMS Roberts was brought into play. Roberts was standing a few miles off
shore and, having laid a shell for direction and distance with the help of a
spotter plane, she opened fire on the shore based gun. It was silenced much, it
must be said, to our relief. [See 2 below].
As LCT 861 came away from the beach-head on that June morning I had the
opportunity of waving farewell to my uncle whose craft was making for the beach.
It was to be the last I would ever see him as he was killed soon
after. My brother, Coxswain William
Fawcett, was aboard the HMLST 403 on June 6th 1944 thus my family
provided two D-Day coxswains. [See 3 below.]
My uncle's name was John (Jack) Tait. He was second in command of another LCT making for
Sword beach. He was officer in charge of the foc’sle party whose task was to
lower and later raise the bow door. His craft and flotilla escape me as this is
written. [See 4 below.]
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1. The Mk 6 USLCT 776 is recorded under the
command of C W Hasee and Arrat. Intended for Dog Red sector of Omaha beach at
H-Hour+120 minutes on the morning of June 6th 1944 to deliver men of 149 Beach
Engineering Battalion. She is
recorded as being damaged and sinking after undergoing repairs but that detail
appears to be incorrect, since she went on to see service in Vietnam.
2. I am unable to confirm that it was indeed the monitor H.M.S. Roberts of Acting Captain R.E.C.Dunbar R.N. with her 15" guns as
mentioned above. She was certainly in the vicinity, she arrived off Sword beach
at 0520 hours on the morning of June 6th having departed the Solent
at 1730 hours on June 5th as part of Bombarding Force D, arriving
with Assault Convoy S6.]
3. HMLST 403 of Temporary Acting Lieutenant Commander W R
G Garling RNR was a unit of the 8th LST Flotilla of FORCE L FOLLOW-UP
out of Harwich and the River Thames. Prior to her time in Normandy she had seen
service in Sicily, Reggio de Calabria, Salerno and Anzio as part of the 1st
4. Sub. Lieutenant John (Jack) Tait was second in
command of HMLCT 980 of the 41st Flotilla
of ‘E’ LCT Squadron of Assault Group S3. Click on the link to read the story of
Transcribed by Tony Chapman, Official Archivist/Historian for
the LST and Landing Craft Association (Royal Navy) from information provided by Commanding Officer Temporary Lieutenant Eric Crees
RNVR and Leading Seaman/Coxswain Richard Fawcett. Further edited by Geoff Slee
for website presentation.