~ COMBINED OPERATIONS ~

WW2 land, sea and air forces of the Allied Nations planning, training and operating together as a unified force on amphibious raids and landings against the enemy.

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HMLCT 318  ~

The Mk3 HMLCT 318 was built by Teesside Bridge and Engineering Company and launched on February 14th 1942. She was 192 feet in length and 33 feet across her beam and could carry 5 tanks or 350 tons of mixed cargo. Her armament comprised two 20mm Oerlikon guns and her crew complement, including her commanding officer and his second in command, totalled 12 men. This is the story of one Landing Craft Tank seen through the eyes of the craft's electrician. 

Conditions Early Days Mediterranean Return to UK D-Day Training
D-Day Epilogue Further Reading Acknowledgments  

Living Conditions

This class of vessel was built to cross the English Channel so living accommodation was not a high priority in their design. However, as events would prove, men lived under quite dreadful conditions for years made all the worse when operating in hot climates. 318 spent some time in the Mediterranean and there were few modifications to alleviate the misery. Later Mk3 'Star' LCTs sent out to the Far East were more suited for purpose and far better equipped. These LCTs bore pennant numbers in the 7000 series and had a crew complement of nineteen men. [Photo; the author Jim Routledge.]

The crew accommodation was built at the after end with the officer's accommodation at deck level. The officers had one very small cabin between them containing two bunks. They used the wheelhouse as a day cabin by stripping out the wheel and they shared one very small toilet. The crew’s quarters, some 19ft by 18ft, were below deck right aft containing the capstan motor and control gear, 10 crew lockers, 2 small tables, 1 small paraffin heater, 10 kit bags and 10 hammocks. The crew’s toilet facilities were at the forward end of the craft.

The living accommodation was grossly overcrowded and the resultant condensation was absolutely horrific. At night we had to cover our hammocks with our waterproofs to prevent the blankets being soaked. Not surprisingly chest ailments and tuberculosis were rife amongst LCT crews.

The galley was adjacent to the officers quarters. Cooking was carried out on a cast iron coal-fired stove. With a lot of imagination it could be likened to a very crude Aga. The only hot water was supplied from a 4 gallon tank attached to the aforementioned stove…the water tank was intended to supply the crew with all its needs! One area of the galley was taken up by a coal bunker on top of which all the meals were prepared. There was no official cook amongst landing craft crews. In the case of HMLCT 318 I assumed the role, without, it must be said, any training!

Early Days

HMLCT(3) 318 was commissioned during the period March/April 1942 and was assigned to the 4th LCT Flotilla under her commanding officer a Lt Green. Her first action was at Dieppe in August 1942 when she is believed to have carried Canadian troops. As far as I can determine 318 was never called in to the beach so did not therefore land her troops. As is well recorded the Dieppe Raid was a disaster.

During March of 1943 our crew joined LCT 318 while she was docked at Southampton, possibly under repair following the failed assault on Dieppe and/or refit in readiness for service in the Mediterranean. We were members of the 11th LCT Flotilla and were transferred from Scapa Flow where we had been providing protection for capital ships. The protection involved rigging steel anti-torpedo nets on to Mk3 LCTs which were then moored alongside the larger vessels. The nets were then lowered into the water to give protection to our ‘Big Sisters.’ In providing the ring of steel it seems the landing craft and their crews were regarded as expendable by the top brass!

The Mediterranean

In April 1943 HMLCT 318 and her sister ships of the 11th Flotilla sailed with another flotilla to Gibraltar. The journey took ten days and was not without incident. The flotilla navigator executed a 90 degree turn at midnight on a moonless night but one LCT did not see the signal. In a three column formation it's not difficult to imagine the consequences as the craft collided with its near neighbour in an adjacent column. Fortunately the sloping bow allowed the craft to ride up the side of the other and after some delay the two craft disengaged and we continued in convoy.

Thus in April 1943 HMLCT 318 and her sister ships arrived safely in Gibraltar, our arrival being duly reported by the Germans and by the Daily Mirror, much, it must be said, to the relief of my parents.

Over the course of the following weeks we collected a variety of cargoes from numerous ports on the North African coast, making ready for Operation Husky - the landings in Sicily. We also made trips to Malta often courting the attention of German and Italian fighter planes. Many landing craft suffered fatalities from air and submarine attacks.

In July 1943 HMLCT 318 and her sister ships loaded at Benghazi. We took aboard men of the 99th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment and set sail for Malta where the invasion fleet had assembled. The onward journey to Sicily was memorable for the sad spectacle we witnessed as we approached Sicilian waters. LCT 318 was not involved with the initial assault so we had a grandstand view of the unfolding events including the terrible sight of gliders crashing into the sea as inexperienced American pilots released them too early owing to them encountering enemy gunfire….some of the gunfire it must be said, came from our own guns! I also recall a hospital ship being attacked even though she was well away from the invasion fleet and fully illuminated.

When 318 eventually beached she discharged her troops at Avola (Green Beach). The men landed dry-footed and met little opposition. We then ferried POWs to captivity including some Italian troops wearing their pajamas. They had all had the presence of mind to pack their bags. We were then engaged in ferrying all sorts of war materials from the big cargo vessels to the shore as we followed our advancing army along the coast of Sicily.

On the 3rd of September 1943 we loaded up at Messina with lorries and other war materials and carried them on to the beach at Reggio de Calabria. The army shelled the area around the landing beaches from across the Straits of Mesina and the Air Force added to the mayhem. Resistance was light. Sundry raids were later made along the Italian coast harassing the retreating Germans, one such was at Vibo Valentia. It started quietly but unfortunately a German Armoured division arrived at a rather awkward time and proceeded to give us quite a bit of trouble.

In October of 1943 we were in Taranto when we were recalled to our base in North Africa. On arrival there all the repairs we had been requesting for months were finally completed after which we, with our base staff, took passage to Algiers where we stayed for several days. Such was the secrecy that we had no idea where we were going next although speculation favoured  home or the Far East. Fortunately for us we were homeward bound.

Return to England

In November 1943 we arrived in Gibraltar and replenished all our stores and spent all our accumulated pay on luxuries that were not available in England.  We set sail for England on either the 3rd or 4th of November and proceeded westwards to avoid submarines in the Bay of Biscay. The first five days out were calm but for reasons unknown we proceeded at a very slow pace. On the sixth day we encountered Force 9 gales and our convoy of twenty four craft were scattered. The 318 found herself alone and without radio contact owing to storm damage. The seas were mountainous with waves of 30 feet or more and substantial damage was caused. The fuel pumps on both main engines ceased to function and we had to resort to hand pumping fuel to the engines using the semi-rotary pump which was normally used to prime the engines. This arrangement continued for the remainder of the five days and nights it took us to arrive back in England.

We had no radio, no modern day navigation aids and no opportunity to take sun or star readings because of the weather. In reality, throughout that period the 318  was totally lost! We headed in the general direction of where we thought England should be and as the gale continued to blow our concerns grew as we were unable to keep the stove in one piece to provide us with hot meals and drinks. [Photos right to left: 320, 318, 413 and 399 on Porth Mellon beach after the gruelling trip from Gibralter; 354 on Newford Rocks; a commendation from The Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty which was lost, but now found again after a period of 44 years!]

On or about the ninth day out a Sunderland flying boat on anti-submarine duty discovered us and was able to give us a course for England. At dusk, on the tenth day, still struggling through the storm, land was sighted. A suitable beach was identified and, in near dark, we ran up the beach at full speed. The crew of 318 collapsed from exhaustion and the next morning we realised that we had landed at St. Marys on the Isles of Scilly. We were later joined by another four craft which had been escorted in by the naval unit based on the Scilly Isles.

We remained at St Marys for a period of some two weeks being pumped out and doing emergency repairs. When the spring tides came we re-floated and made our way to Swansea for repairs. The ship manager later reported that  rivets ‘by the bucket full’ had been recovered from the double bottom and that if we had been a welded craft we would not have survived. Let me here give thanks to the builders at Teesside who did such a marvelous job in the construction of 318 thereby saving our lives. Sadly two of the craft that sailed into that storm did not survive the journey.

Training for D-Day

We departed Swansea in February 1944 and called in at Cardiff to have the compass swung and the degaussing tested. Thereafter we sailed to our home port of Southampton where we were joined by our sister ships of the 11th LCT Flotilla which had all been undergoing repairs at different yards, mainly in the Liverpool area.

A period of flotilla training or ‘working-up’ followed after which we returned to Portsmouth where we were to have Mulock extensions fitted to our ramp. This, we were soon to discover, was to allow us to operate with a ‘secret weapon’…the Duplex Drive Sherman tank or ‘swimming tank’ as they would become known. The tanks had been modified and fitted with a canvas skirt which allowed them to disembark at sea and then ‘swim’ for the beach.

Manning the Sherman DD tanks were the men of the Canadian Fort Garry Horse. At the assault phase the DD tanks were intended to be launched two miles off the beach, thereafter, they would make their way to the beach, blow off their canvas skirts and then engage the defenders. This, it was hoped, would have a demoralising effect on the enemy whilst providing significant back-up for the incoming assault infantry.

D-Day

Much has already been written about the journey across to Normandy on June 5th/6th. Suffice to say that the seas were so rough at Bernieres sur Mer on Juno beach that the men of the Fort Garry Horse were landed dry footed.  HMLCT 318 ran directly onto the beach to discharge her quota of tanks. Opposition was quite heavy as we made our final dash. As we closed in the stern of the craft forward of us swung round and collided with our bows. Some damage was sustained and on attempting to lower our ramp it jammed solid. One of the 30 ton tanks moved against the bow door until it gave way under the pressure and 318 was able to discharge her tanks on to the beach.

By the time 318 arrived the enemy had realised that it had an invasion on its hands and all manner of ‘nasties’ were heading seawards. HMLCT 318 managed to avoid major damage but two craft of our flotilla were lost and they took casualties, notably two men who were killed aboard our sister ship HMLCT 317.

We withdrew from Juno beach and spent the remainder of the day cruising offshore while the beach-head was secured. For several days following we were involved in ferrying a variety of cargoes back and forth between England and France.

On one such trip back to Normandy 318 delivered American troops to Omaha beach. The weather worsened and soon we were in the teeth of a full gale. We anchored off the beach hoping to ride the storm out, but, we lost both Kedge anchors and both engine sand traps became clogged resulting in the loss of both engines. We drifted against the floating roadway which connected the Mulberry Harbour to the shore and regretfully sank many of the supporting barges. The 318 was at the mercy of the sea and we were finally washed up on to the beach…..we were helpless to prevent it.

HMLCT 318 was but one of many hundreds of craft that were damaged or lost during the storm that raged throughout that three days beginning the third week of June. For a week or more HMLCT 318 lay helpless on the beach until a beach party were able to weld her up and make her seaworthy. In the intervening period we had repaired the engines and we were able to limp home to our home port of Southampton. The powers that be had expected far greater losses amongst the landing craft following the landings in Normandy so crippled or damaged craft such as HMLCT 318 were not required thus she was laid up, we, her crew, were paid off.

Epilogue

Thus my association with His Majesty’s Landing Craft Tank 318 came to an end and I spent the remainder of the war in the UK, eventually, fortunately for me in a very cushy number in Poole Harbour looking after Lend-Lease craft from America awaiting repatriation after the war.

After I left 318 she was converted to Engineering Repair Craft HMLCT(E) 318 and later still to Maintenance and Repair Craft 1097. I suspect she was intended for duties in the Far East but have failed to discover if she arrived there. One of her sister craft HMLCT 320, also built at Teesside and also assigned with the 11th Flotilla on D-Day, became Naval Servicing Craft 1110 attached to the submarine depot ship Medway supporting the 10th Submarine Flotilla out of Singapore.

On the subject of what happened to LCT 318 John Rowsell provides the following information. My understanding is that LCT 318 was refitted to serve as a Maintenance and Repair Craft (MRC1097) - as James explains in his story. I know that in the early 1950s she was based in Malta, was in the Suez operation in 1956, and turned up in Bahrain in 1962 as base ship for the 9thMSS/MCMS from 1963 (I think) to 1971. I served on board her for 2 years in 1966/67 as a Tiffy. Little did I know then what her story was. I believe she was sold out of the RN in 1971.  [This 1970 stern shot of MRC 1097 taken in Bahrain was provided courtesy of Mr. Richard Gleed-Owen.]

HMLCT 318 was an extremely lucky craft. We only ever sustained three casualties, none was fatal and only one was due to enemy fire. If the stoker in question had remained at his station in the engine room he would not have been hit by a piece of flying shrapnel which severely injured his nose. However, it should be remembered that many similar craft, and the men who served aboard them, did not survive the war. Thank you for reading my personal recollections. By doing so you have helped preserve the memory of those who served their country in a time of great peril.

Any veterans who served with HMLCT 318, or the 11th LCT Flotilla please contact us if you have information or photos to add to this page.

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Acknowledgments

This account of the Mk3 HMLCT 318  is by Wireman (Electrician) James B. Routledge D/MX 95943. Photos courtesy of James B Routledge. Transcribed by Archivist/Historian Tony Chapman of the LST and Landing Craft Association (Royal Navy) and further edited by Geoff Slee for website presentation.

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