ROYAL ULSTERMAN ~
HMS Royal Ulsterman was a Landing Ship
Infantry and had an illustrious career in virtually all major actions in the
Mediterranean and Normandy. These are the recollections of some veterans who
were there during the years 1942-45.
[This account was received from
Steve Robertson whose father, the late S/M Freddie Robertson (photo opposite) served on HMS
We sailed from Penarth, South
Wales, in September 1942 for Greenock and started manoeuvres on Loch Fyne
with the 1st. Battalion American Rangers and British Army Commandos. The
exercises finished in October 1942 and the ship was then provisioned in Gourock
on the River Clyde. We sailed with the invasion fleet for North Africa in the
3rd week of October. It was said to be the largest convoy of all time.
(Ranger Seymour Miller
"Yes Steve, I was one of your dad's
'tough cookies' and I do remember the Royal Ulsterman which I
believe was originally a channel ferry. I was on board her for over twenty days
en route to Arzew, North Africa. I have several memories of this trip; first and
foremost was being seasick for the first time in my life. The seas were
extremely rough and it was my understanding that, to make this ship capable of
going into shallow waters, part of the keel was removed. This of course made it
bounce around like a cork. One day when I was on deck a giant wave grabbed a
landing craft and left it hanging by just one davit A second wave reached up and
finished the job!
On another occasion I drew guard
duty at the foot of the grand stairway that went up to the officers' mess. A
Navy officer on his way up to the dining room offered me a sardine sandwich.
After one bite, I decided I wasn't hungry when the ship's cat came down the
steps. I offered the lovely sandwich to him but after one sniff and a meow he
went on his way. I thought he was just as sick as I was which was confirmed next day
when I heard he
Another first for me was sleeping
in a hammock. We were set up in, what during the day was, the enlisted men's mess.
The hammocks were good for sleeping but difficult to get into. From the nearby
kitchen there was the delicious aroma of mutton stew. It was cooked all night in
what seemed like Diesel oil.... the whole ship smelled of diesel oil! We did
envy your dad and his shipmates when they lined up with their tin cups for the
ritual of the doling out the ration of Rum...it was something to see."
Africa - 7 Nov 1942
We landed 1st Battalion
American Rangers assault troops on beaches at Arzew, a port south of Algiers, at
2 a.m. on the 7th of November 1942. There was very little action through the
night but in the morning there were some air attacks by Vichy French aircraft.
They caused no damage and were soon fought off. Once the Rangers had
consolidated their positions on the beaches we sailed on to Algiers companioned
by the Royal Scotsman, Ulster Monarch, Queen Emma and
Princess Beatrix. Our task was to ship troops from Algiers to Bougie and
then, as the Germans retreated eastward, to Phillipville and Bone to meet up
with the eighth army in Tunisia.
The five ships were nicknamed 'The
Moonlight Squadron' and the route up the North African coast became known as
'dive bomb alley' because it was there that we were greeted by Stuka dive
bombers on every voyage. After the fall of Tunisia we moved on and
operated from the ports of Souse and Sfax.
Pantellaria - 11 Jun 1943
The next operation we were involved
in was Operation Corkscrew, the invasion of the
island of Pantelleria when we took on board the lads of the Eighth Army from the
North African coast. They were not very happy about it because they had already
fought right through the western desert with Monty. The landing at 10 am on the
morning of June 11, 1943 was, in the event, very quiet although we did hit
trouble in the late afternoon after our escorts of cruisers and destroyers left
the area. We were dive bombed by Stukas flying in from Sardinia but we destroyed
3 of them which was our best single bag throughout the war. That invasion was
very easy compared to the rest of the landings including those that followed..
Sicily - 9/10 Jul 1943
The next exercise was in
preparation for Operation Husky, the invasion of Sicily
on 9/10 July 1943. This time it was easier for us since we were already invasion
trained in previous actions. Before we left Sfax to join the Sicily Invasion
force, Lord Louis Mountbatten, then Chief of Combined Operations, came aboard
and gave us a pep talk. He also got all of our mail sent from FMO Gibraltar
before we sailed. We had received no mail for over 6 weeks prior to that.
There was fierce opposition when we
landed on the southern tip of Sicily at Porto Paolo. On this operation HMS
Royal Ulsterman was H.Q. ship directing the movements of landing craft and
personnel. The German defences were very strong but with sea and air bombardment
the opposition was overcome. After the troops established a beachhead they moved
inland. We then sailed for Malta where we stayed for 3 weeks. Then back to
Tunisia for a spell, then to Tripoli. Meanwhile Sicily was taken and the Army
had advanced into Southern Italy, an operation we were not involved in.
Later we were engaged in more troop
movements between Sicily and Italy. On one of these trips we struck a wreck in
Taranto Bay and damaged a propeller. We returned to the U.K. via Belfast, to
pick up a new screw, and then to Mount Stewart dry dock in Cardiff where repairs
were carried out. In the four weeks we were there the local people of Tiger Bay
adopted the Ship and they were presented with our Battle Ensign as a gesture for
their hospitality to the ship’s company.
We returned to the Mediterranean
(Algiers) to prepare for the Salerno landings. We thought that it was going to
be fairly easy because the Italians had capitulated the day before the landings.
We started off heading north, towards Naples, turning south towards Salerno at
midnight in an attempt to fool any German air or sea patrols... but it didn’t
German aircraft picked up our
positions as we steered south at midnight and German land forces had taken over
the shore defences from the Italians. By the time we landed at Salerno they were
ready and waiting or us! It turned out to be a rough ride getting the assault
troops ashore and they had quite a battle just to get off the beaches. For some
time, while the situation remained uncertain, we stood by ready to evacuate.
However back-up forces were bought in earlier than intended and sorted matters
out. It was very busy for a few days with bombing and shelling from shore
batteries and we were relieved when our contribution towards the invasion of
Salerno was over.
Things eased off for a while and we
had some shore leave in Algiers. Then we did a couple of commando raids along
the Italian coast and one job as a decoy ship when we sailed close to the coast
to attract gunfire from German shore positions. Once their guns ‘flashed’ The
Nelson, Rodney and 2 cruisers located the gun emplacements and shelled them
from about 10 miles out.
Account. (Ranger Jud 'Lucky'
"Steve, I was with the US Rangers
in the landing at Anzio. The two ships we used were the Royal Ulsterman
and the Princess Beatrix. At my age, 82, it is hard for me to remember
for sure but I think I landed with the Princess Beatrix, they were both
the best. Many Rangers from other landing craft were drowned because they were
disembarked too soon. As a result a rumour spread that Col Darby asked for the Royal Ulsterman and the
Princess Beatrix to be assigned to him for any further invasions. It was
said by many of the Rangers (in admiration not in any disrespect) that if those
crazy Limey's had roller skates on the bottoms of their boats they would take us
inland! I know that I was only wet up to my knees at Anzio. Some of the crew
saved up their R.N. Grog ration for their Ranger friends. The crew were a good
bunch of men and were highly respected by the Rangers."
Anzio - Feb 2 1944
We then landed troops at the Anzio
beachhead. It started off very quiet because the Germans had retreated inland
but they counter-attacked and it ended up a bloody battle. Lots of lives were
lost including a large percentage of the American Rangers. Despite the heavy
losses everything turned out all right in the end. That was the end of the
Royal Ulsterman’s and other LSI’s duties in the Med. We returned home to
'Blighty' for a spot of leave and then preparations for D Day.... "the Big One."
D-Day - Jun 6 1944
On return to the UK we docked for 2
days in Greenock, then on to Southampton for some repair work and new assault
craft. We embarked the assault troops at berth 37 in Southampton harbour and
sailed from our holding position on the Solent (Area 19E North of East Cowes),
at 1600 hours on the 5th of June 1944. Our convoy was assault convoy J14 ( J3
Reserve Force under the command of Acting Lt. Commander W.R.K.Clarke D.S.C. RD
R.N.R.). We were on station at our lowering point, ready to winch down the LCA’s
at 0808 hours on the next day - D-Day. We carried troops of the 9th
Brigade of the 3rd Canadian Division. Comprising of the following regiments;
the Highland Light Infantry
the Stormont, Dundas &
the North Nova Scotia
a total assault force of
approximately 400 men.
The first of our troops were landed
at NAN WHITE (Berniers-Sur-Mer) and NAN RED (St. Aubin-Sur-Mer) at 1133 hours.
These beaches were within an area of JUNO Beach. All troops were recorded ashore
by 1150 hours. We lost some army lads when one of our LCA’s was hit by gunfire.
Our Sub-Lieutenant lost his arm. After the landings we were engaged in bringing
wounded back to England and shipping more troops to France. This lasted quite a
long period after which it was easy going to de-mob.
LSI(H) Royal Ulsterman came
through with flying colours, just showing signs of her old age. It was a great
honour to have served with S/M Freddie Robertson and the rest of the ship's
company aboard LSI (H) Royal Ulsterman.
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I was really thrilled to see your page on The Royal Ulsterman. My grandfather,
Captain Henry Paterson DSM, served with the Royal Navy through WWI and was in
the Merchant Navy at the start of WW2. He was with Burns and Laird who
provided a ferry service from Glasgow to Dublin/Belfast and Londonderry.
During WW2 the ships of the line, including the Ulsterman, were commandeered
for Navy use. My grampa was seconded to other duties as he was in the RNR. He
served in the Narvik convoys amongst other duties and managed to survive both
wars unscathed despite numerous close shaves.
He was reunited with the
Ulsterman after the War and remained Master of her, her sister ship and the
Laird's Loch (on rotation) until his retiral in the mid 60s. Sadly, he died
very shortly after retiral. His sons, William (my dad), and Harry served in
WW2 also. My dad, an ex Artilleryman, is still going strong, but my uncle was
killed in his 21st year while serving in the Fleet Air Arm as a pilot. The
Ulsterman went on until 1967 on the Irish routes and was later scrapped after
being sunk off Beirut on 3rd March 1973. I believe she struck a mine. It seems
such a pity to end in that way after her brave war service. I hope this is of
interest to you!
I was interested to read about HMS Royal Ulsterman. My father was in the
North Nova Scotia Highland Regiment
so the odds are good that he was on that ship when it sailed off to D-Day.
Paul Schwartz, British Columbia, Canada.
Thanks to Steve Robertson whose father, the late
S/M Freddie Robertson served on HMS
and to George H Saunders.