~ H.M. LANDING CRAFT TANK 980 - HMLCT
HMLCT 980 was one of hundreds of similar vessels that saw
action on the Normandy beaches in June 1944 and again at Walcheren in Holland in
Nov 1944. It gives a good description of the vessel, its specifications and life
onboard after the action was over.
Let there be built great ships which can cast upon a beach, in any
weather, large numbers of the heaviest tanks. (Churchill)
LCT 980 was in service from 1943 to 1945. This is being written almost sixty
years later and there is only the writer’s memory to serve as a reference source
except where otherwise noted. Discussions have taken place
with Tony Chapman of the LST & Landing Craft Association
and Geoff Slee of this website in an attempt to reunite some of our
old crew members and this article is in response to a request by both for
information about our particular ship.
During the Second World War (WWII) many of these
vessels were built in the United Kingdom and in the United States for the
express purpose of landing tanks on enemy beaches such
as those of Normandy in France. Many other landings
had taken place in the Pacific and in the
Mediterranean theatres where LCTs
and many other types of landing craft played an important role. HMLCT
980’s operations were confined to the European theatre.
LCT 980 Specifications
LCT 980 was one of approximately 730 Mark IV vessels constructed in the UK.
These landing craft had a hull length of 187 ft 3 in and a beam (width)
of 38 ft 9 in and their displacement was 586 tons. The forward draught was 42
inches and they could carry a maximum load of 350 tons made
up of five large tanks, seven medium tanks, or
any other combination of military vehicles.
(Photo is of 980 in the Channel on D-1. Click to enlarge.)
The vessel was operated by a crew of twelve including two officers. The
engines were two Paxman Ricardo diesels, each driving a 21-inch propeller. They
could drive the craft at eight knots over a range of 1,100 miles. Twin rudders
were provided for steering. The armament on LCT 980 consisted of two 20 mm
Oerliken guns, two Parachute and Cables (PACs) and two
Fast Aerial Mines (FAMs). All of this was intended to be used defensively
against aircraft attacks.
The crew’s quarters were in the very stern of the ship and access was via a
vertical ladder. Living conditions were quite
primitive. There was no refrigeration and cooking was done on a stove which was
also our source of heat in the crew’s quarters. Just forward of the crew’s
mess-deck, separated by a watertight door, was the engine room containing the
two large diesel engines, and two separate hand cranked diesel engines to drive
the electrical generators rated at 5 kilowatts and 15 kilowatts which provided
all of the DC electrical power for the ship’s operation. Two very large 24 volts
batteries were used for starting the main engines and these were kept charged by
the generators on the diesels. They could be charged from the service generators
Ahead of the engine room was the sparse accommodation for the troops that we
carried. They had access to their accommodation from the rear end of the tank
space. The basic toilet facilities were located in the same area. Immediately
above the troop quarters and engine room was the bridge structure containing the
officers’ cabin and the wheelhouse.
The rest of the ship ahead of the bridge, the "tank space", was really a big
flotation tank consisting of many water-tight compartments which could be pumped
dry to increase buoyancy, or they could be flooded when we were underway with no
troops or vehicles. Along each side of the tank space were water lines with
hydrants for fire fighting. The entire ship’s bottom was flat and this allowed
good access to the beaches for unloading. There was no keel. The deck of the
tank space was equipped with drainage holes, and large rings were in place for
fastening the vehicles firmly to the deck so that they would stay in position
during a rough passage at sea. Heavy steel chocks were used to fasten the
vehicles to the anchoring rings.
At the bow (front) the landing ramp door is clearly visible
(see photo above). It was a very heavy steel
door, hinged at the bottom and raised and lowered by
two hand-operated winches, one on either side of the forward superstructure.
Each winch was operated by two men. During landings, the door would be lowered
until it rested on the beach and the vehicles would drive off, frequently having
to do so through water at the beach edge. On the stern deck an electrically
operated capstan was used to lower and raise a kedge anchor. The kedge anchor
was occasionally used as an anchor in harbour, but its main function was to
assist and guide the ship as it backed off the beach. There were few amenities
aboard and the men slept in hammocks. The officers had bunks in their
"wardroom". They ate the same food as the crew. Drank different stuff
LCT 980's Service
LCT 980 was put into service at Alloa, Scotland in late 1943 and I joined her
crew in January 1944 as the Wireman, (ship’s electrician). I had been sent from
Southend to the north-east corner of Scotland on the north side of the Firth of
Cromarty. Recalling the names of the entire crew is difficult after nearly sixty
years but some names come to mind..
Skipper – Lt. Peter A. Gurnsey, RNZNVR, (Photo
First Lieutenant – Sub Lt. John Bruce Tait, (Photo
Coxswain – L.S. William G. Brentnall
Motor Mechanic - P.O. "Mac"
Stokers – Albert Boxall Stoker &
AB Cyril "Ches" Cheshire & AB Gerald "Jake"
Wireman "Wires" Denis W. Garrod
Abel Seamen Les &"Scouse".
We briefly carried a wireless operator, "Sparks", after D-Day. If anyone
reading this has any information pertaining to this crew, I would dearly like to
hear from you. In those days we were all kids. I was about to have my eighteenth
birthday and most of the others were only slightly older. Our officers were a
little older than we were, the oldest being Tait. He was 29.
After I joined 980, we proceeded down the east coast of England. Along the
way, we noticed several "huge concrete blocks" sitting on beaches with no sign
of activity around them. We had no idea what they were but after D-Day we
learned that the blocks were hollow and they were towed down the east
coast and across the English Channel to Normandy where they were sunk to form the
breakwaters for two Mulberry Harbours. One section of
harbour made it all the way and the other was lost at sea and had to be replaced
by a "wall" of sunken ships. You can read about
The Mulberry Harbours elsewhere
on this website.
Preparations for Normandy
In the months following our arrival on the south coast we
completed many exercises in training for the invasion of Europe,
including a final exercise under "live fire" at "Bracklesham Bay". All of this
was for the main event which, for us, started 5 June 1944 when we set out in
convoy for the French coast and Sword Beach. Shortly after we left the south
coast of England, we all knew for sure what was happening as we were handed the
attached pamphlet over the signature of General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme
Commander, Allied Expeditionary Force (see opposite - will
enlarge to full size).
The crossing was a rough one for the soldiers we were carrying and they had to
fight the German defenders as soon as they left our landing craft ramp door.
We had crossed the channel in two lines astern in the 41st
flotilla of "T" squadron. During the night crossing there was little activity to
be seen at sea but as dawn broke we knew we were into the war for "real". We
spread out in line abreast as we approached the beaches. The sea was covered
with hundreds of vessels of all sizes and the noise reached unbelievable levels.
The stench of cordite was everywhere. This was to be our first taste of action
with the enemy. Huge guns at Le Havre were certainly able to fire at us but they
had other distractions such as the battleship H.M.S Warspite and several
others making the day unpleasant for the German gunners. Still, we met plenty of
opposition from smaller defences right along the beaches that we were attacking.
The first lines of defence were the beach obstacles that Hitler had caused to
be installed to protect "Fortress Europe" and which lined the miles of coast.
These obstacles were mostly timbered structures buried in the sands with an
explosive device, such as a small mine,
facing the incoming landing craft. Smaller landing craft could manage to find a
way through but it was almost impossible for larger vessels to get through
without striking one. There was a double row of these. The first was at low
water level and the second at high water level. (Photo; beach
D-Day - The Landing
At the time of landing, the tide safely carried us over the first row but our
skipper had to pick one in the second row to strike with our landing ramp door
rather than the side of our ship. The explosion blew a large hole right in the
centre of the ramp door and the military vehicles which had to disembark were
able to safely straddle the hole as they left. On the way into the beach it was
my job to drop the kedge anchor when so instructed from the bridge.
as we came to a stop, and the anchor dropped, I had to tear forward to the port side winch locker where
I took the left handle and "Ches" took the right handle. The disembarkation of
the troops was under the direction of our first lieutenant, Tait. It was his job
to take over the left winch handle from me as soon as the landing door was above
the horizontal position, and I was to dash back to the capstan to haul in the
kedge anchor but we were already starting to move astern. Before I had reached
the stern an explosion occurred off our starboard bow sending a large piece of
shrapnel into the winch locker striking Tait in the front of his head and
killing him instantly. Ches later told me that I missed that one by seconds. My
Maker must have been watching out for me
As we were moving astern we started to drift to port and we struck one of the
obstacles in the first row, crippling our steering. Using our twin propellers,
our skipper managed to get us off the beach and a couple of miles out to sea. At
this time, our coxswain, Bill Brentnall, sewed Tait’s body, along with one of
the heavy tank chocks, into a hammock and he was committed to the deep. With
operating engines but no steering we had to get back to England. Other landing
craft attempted to tow us, both alongside and astern, but in the rough seas, the
ropes and steel hawsers were not long before they chafed through. Eventually we
made it back near to Nab Tower off the Isle of Wight. We were then taken in tow
by an Admiralty Tug and safely delivered to Southampton Harbour where we sat for
a long period before repairs were made.
A newspaper article of the day reported on the experience of LCT 980.....
LONDON June 12th 1944. TANK FERRY. BEACH
LANDINGS. LIVELY TASK – DOMINION OFFICERS WORKING UNDER FIRE
"With one or two exceptions it was the worst weather I have
experienced at sea in a tank landing-craft," said Sub-Lieutenant A.P. Gurnsey of
Christchurch, commenting on the Channel crossing to France on D
day. He was one of very many New Zealand officers in landing craft of all types.
"My craft rolled like a barrel all the way," he said. "Our job
was to get the tanks ashore at the extreme left flank of the British front and
we ran into absolute hell. Our zero hour was 8.10 a.m. and by the time we
arrived the Jerries had woken up and were ready to give us a warm reception.
They sniped and used mortars both very unpleasant. In addition there were beach
obstacles and mines fixed on tripods."
"There were 12 landing-craft in our flotilla. It was a great
sight to see them, line abreast, going full speed for the beach. We avoided
those obstacles we could, but it was a case of hit or miss."
"One of the mines blew a hole four foot wide in my ramp door,
but we got all our tanks ashore. There were a lot of mortar bombs bursting
everywhere. One which exploded on the beach covered me with mud and water. It
covered my craft, too, which was most annoying, seeing it had recently been
given a nice new coat of paint. In addition to mortar bombs, shells also were
coming at us and my starboard bow was a mass of holes about as big as your fist,
caused by shell splinters. Unfortunately my No.1 was killed."
"When all the tanks were ashore I rang for emergency full
astern, for a quick getaway, but no sooner were we afloat than a mortar bomb
landed astern. The explosion was so violent that it stopped both motors, which
had to be started up again. Then the coxswain reported that the wheel was jammed
amidships which meant that we had no rudders and we were only able to turn round
by using the engines. It meant that we were sitting under fire for about ten
minutes longer than we should have been. Fortunately everything went all right
and we reached England under our own steam."
Repairs & Re-organisation
We were eventually taken into a huge dry dock along with several other
similar landing craft - five or seven of us. In that massive dock, looking down
from the top, those landing craft sure looked awfully small. Our rudders and our
landing ramp door were repaired as were any other minor problems. While there a replacement first lieutenant join us. He was a very decent fellow. I am
almost sure his name was Urquhart. If I have misspelled his name, I certainly
apologize. After the repairs, we made another supply run back to France on July
9th. Standing at anchor off the coast we watched the massive daylight
raid by the Royal Air Force on the city of Caen, about ten miles away. One of
the Lancaster bombers crashed into the sea on his way back north and a small
vessel rushed to the scene in search of survivors.
After our return to England we were reorganized into the 22nd
flotilla of "N" Squadron. Some of our crew are shown in the picture
opposite. This is from a very small photograph which I
treasure. Front, L-R, Ches, Harry, Mac, Jake -- Back: "Sparks" and me, "Wires."
The picture was taken on the Starboard bow superstructure, and over my
shoulder you can see the markings on our bridge - N22 980.
"N" Squadron, we discovered, was established to deal with any other landings
that might be required along the European coast on the Channel and the North
Sea. It was not until we were ordered to Ostend, in Belgium, that we were sent
into action again. This time it was Walcheren Island in the River Scheldt
estuary where heavy gun emplacements in the hands of the Germans made it
impossible for Allied shipping to use the port of
Antwerp. It was to the Royal Marines commandoes that the task was assigned and
it could not have been assigned to better fighting men.
We took them in with much smaller equipment than we had
landed in Normandy and their efforts have been documented elsewhere.
say here that those brave men cleared that island so that ships could carry
supplies for our troops in their rapid advance to the German homeland. By 8th
November the river was open. The big guns at Westkappelle no longer posed a
problem. Unlike on D-Day we had little support from the Navy’s General Service
but what we had was good consisting of battleship HMS Warspite and the
Monitors HMS Erebus and HMS Lord Roberts. The only other general
service ship in the action was the "Flagship", HMS Kingsmill, a frigate.
A heavy price was paid by many of our landing craft but LCT980 made it in and
out safely. In fact we made another supply run with food, fresh water, medical
supplies and ammunition on the 7th November.
(Photo above; Royal Marine commandos aboard LCT980, 20 minutes prior to
Courtesy: Gaumont British News).
It is worthy of note that many LCTs were converted for other operations. For
example, some became LCG which had one large gun mounted for beach bombardment
etc. Others for which I had been trained were made into LCT(R)s which were
rocket firing vessels with tremendous fire power. I saw one of these hit by a
German shell at Walcheren and it disappeared off the sea in one
mighty explosion. While we were only about three
hundred yards away, and I actually watched it happening, to this day I cannot
remember the sound of the explosion. Many of our vessels were completely
destroyed or damaged beyond repair.
Back to the UK
We returned to Ostend and received orders from "on
high" to proceed back to the UK in a violent storm with force-8 winds blowing.
We formed a small convoy escorted by a Harbour Defence Motor Launch (HDML).
Being flat-bottomed we took a severe beating from the rough and angry sea as we
smashed down from the top of one wave into the trough before the next wave. I
was standing at the port rail near our bridge, casually looking down the side
and I noticed a weld opening and closing under the stress. I notified our
skipper who came down from the bridge to see it for himself. He signaled the
HDML to say he was leaving the convoy and we went into Newhaven to wait out the
storm. After assessing the damage, we gradually crawled, port to port, along the
south coast to Portsmouth where the big shots evaluated our damage and decided
we were ready to be scrapped. We received instructions to make our way back
through the Channel as the weather allowed. We had
seen more than one LCT broken in half at the main weld between the tank space
and the stern section. With the stern section actually towing the bow section,
it presented a very strange image!
We continued as directed and after we turned north from the Channel we
received instructions to proceed into the River Thames and up stream to London.
After passing through the Tower Bridge we were stopped and our mast was cut off.
Without that mast we presented a "sad" sight. We continued on passing under
London, Blackfriars, Waterloo and Victoria Bridges. We turned around, almost in
front of the Houses of Parliament and came back under Victoria/Hungerford Bridge,
where we tied up on the south side of the river, along with several other
landing craft, beside a waste paper plant... property
on which I understand the "Festival of Britain" site now stands. There was an
abundance of shore leave available but at our own expense for traveling.
"buzz" was that we were 'parked' above an underground
railway tunnel to act as "cushion" in the event of an incoming V2 missile
thereby saving the underground tunnel. While we were never able to get
confirmation of that, we did get sailing orders almost as soon as the Peenemunde
rocket-launching site was destroyed and the V2 attacks stopped.
We did have some lighter moments too.
One day some young punks, who had not been drafted
into military service, decided to taunt us from up on
the walkway of Hungerford Bridge by throwing refuse at us. With the skipper’s
unofficial blessing, we installed two fire nozzles on the fire lines beside the
tank space. While the bridge was clear of people we set the nozzles at the
correct angle to put two water jets on the bridge.
In addition we decided to draw the
water from the bilges where there was an abundance of diesel fuel and other
oils. We waited patiently. Eventually, the punks came
back and taunted us again but this time we started the big pumps and put one
jet to their south and the other to their north. There was no escape except to
go through it and we had another fire hose waiting to follow them whichever way
they went. Need I mention that they never came back again?
With our sailing orders to leave the River Thames, we made a pathetic sight,
sans mast, going back under those famous bridges. There was
not even a place from which to fly our White Ensign.
They did not even have to open the Tower Bridge for our exit. We slowly made our
way to King’s Lynn where HMLCT 980 was to be broken up, in early 1945,
and our crew parted company to go on to other assignments. For us, an era had
ended. We were still just
kids but we had learned a lot together as we had contributed to the freedom of
Our skipper, Lt Peter Gurnsey, returned to New Zealand with his Scottish bride
from Catrine and he taught at Christ’s College in Christchurch. He died several
years ago from a heart attack and was buried at sea. His widow now lives on the
North Island. He was a fine man and a good captain of our ship.
Very recently, coxswain Bill Brentnall and I were reunited by telephone and
he and I have a lot of old times to rehash when we manage to meet in person.
Bill lives in the Midlands of
England at Redditch. He continued
to serve in the Navy until 1953.
"Wires" emigrated to Canada after the end of WWII, in 1947, married a
Canadian girl in 1951, worked for Canadian General Electric for almost twenty
years and then went into teaching electricity and electronics at a local high
school here in Peterborough, Ontario. He retired in 1985.
We believe Gerald "Jake" Fox lives in Edinburgh but a phone call to what
I thought was his number brought silence after the first "hello" from that end.
(Photo; LCT 532 landing amphibians at Walcheren ---
Identical to LCT980. Courtesy of Pathe
Cyril "Ches" Cheshire originated from Leicester, to the best of my knowledge,
and Harry Smith came from somewhere in Yorkshire. I have no clues to the
whereabouts of Les, Bunts, Scouse, Mac, Sparks or Sub Lt. Urquhart. Most of
these men would be 78 to 80 years old in 2004. If you have any knowledge of
these fine fellows, I would certainly like to hear from you.
There are around 300 books listed on our
'Combined Operations Books' page which can be purchased on-line from the
Advanced Book Exchange (ABE) whose search banner checks the shelves of thousands
of book shops world-wide. Type in or copy and paste the title of your choice or
use the 'keyword' box for book suggestions. There's no obligation to buy, no
registration and no passwords. Click
'Books' for more information.
~ On this Website ~
Operation Overlord - D-Day 2) Operation Infatuate -
Walcheren - Wartime Memories of a small
an account of their anti-submarine patrols on D-Day.
On other websites ~
1) Find out about
the German coastal defences
on this Walcheren website with a printable list of English translations of
selected words. Many interesting photographs.
~ Books (Overlord)
Day June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II by Stephen E. Ambrose - 1994. ISBN
Six Armies in Normandy by John Keegan. 1982. ISBN 0 7126 5579 4.
The Second Front - World War II by Douglas Botting and the Editors of World Time Books. 1978.
ISBN 0 8094 2498 3.
Short Sea Long War by John des S Winser. Published by World Ship Society, Gravesend, Kent. ISBN 0
9056 1786 ? - the story of 119 Cross Channel ships commandeered by the R.N. to fly the White Ensign.
Books (Walcheren) ~
They did what was asked of them, by Raymond Mitchell. Pub by
Firebird Books, 1996. ISBN 1 85314 205 O History of 41 [Royal Marine]
Commando - the book covers the period 1942-1946, but has a detailed
chapter on 41's role in the invasion of Walcheren.
In the Shadow of Arnhem
by Ken Tout. xiv, 242 pages and 42 illustrations. Published by Sutton
Publishing Ltd., Phoenix Mill, Thrupp, Stroud, Gloucester GL5 2BU
England. ISBN 0-7509-2821-2
Ken's book is
published in English. The subtitle is: The battle for the Lower
Maas, September-November 1944. Chapters 7 and 8 are about province
Zeeland and most about Walcheren and South Beveland. Chapter 7
begins at page 116 to page 133 and chapter 8 starts at page 134 and
ends at page 155. Jan H Wigard, Walcheran, Holland.
Battle for Antwerp; the liberation of the city and the opening of the Scheldt by J L Moulton.
1944 (London, Ian Allan, 1978) ISBN 0-7110-0769-1.
Tug of War - by W
Denis Whitaker DSO. Pub 1984. ISBN 0-8253-0257-9. This Canadian
author saw service at Dieppe and Walcheren. The book contains good detailed information on the Walcheren Causeway fight.
Battalion of Heroes:
the Calgary Highlanders in World War II
by David Bercusson.
Pub by The Calgary
Highlanders Regimental Funds Foundation 1994. ISBN 0-9694616-1-5.
Cinderella Operation by General Rawling.
Pub by Cassell Ltd
The Eighty Five Days - The Story of the Battle of the Scheldt
by R W Thompson. Pub by Hutchinson of London.
From Omaha to the Scheldt - the story of 47 Royal Marine Commando
by John Forfar. Pub by Tuchwell Press Dec 2001. ISBN 1 86232 149 3. 300 pages with around 150 B&W illustrations and maps. John Forfar was the
Senior Medical Officer attached to 47 RM Commando. For his heroism at Walcheren he was awarded the Military Cross.
Operation Neptune by Commander Kenneth Edwards R.N.
Published by Collins in 1946.The book covers the naval side of the
North West Europe campaign including Commando actions such as
Commandos and Rangers of World War 2
by James D. Ladd. Pub in 1978 by MacDonald & Jane's.
ISBN 0 356 08432 9
Commandos 1940 - 1946 by Charles
Messenger. Pub by William Kimber, London 1985. ISBN 0 7183
The Watery Maze by
Bernard Fergusson pub 1961 by Collins.
His Majesty's Landing Craft Tank
HMLCT 980 was written by Denis W. Garrod, "Wires".