- LANDING SHIP TANK (LST) ~
HMS Misoa - a WW2 Landing Craft Tank (LST) -
the wartime memories of a young Royal Navy
seaman in the Mediterranean (North Africa, Pantellaria, Sicily and Italy) and
then the Normandy landings. His landing ship was called HMS Misoa
and, although it didn't have the lines and style of a sleek cruiser, it
came through many actions relatively unscathed.
My posting to HMS Misoa was not the result of careful career planning. For
reasons I cannot now understand or remember I initially volunteered for sub-mariner training at HMS Dolphin but fell foul of the Naval
discipline code resulting in my being confined to barracks (CB) on a couple of occasions. Nothing serious - just youthful exuberance combined
with a little disrespect for authority! Anyway, I was returned to "general service" at Portsmouth barracks and worked as an ambulance
driver while waiting for a posting. With the posting to HMS Misoa there was a mystery - nobody knew anything about it! To all intents and
purposes it didn't exist on paper except, presumably, on files marked "secret." About 100 of us were transported by train to Liverpool where we boarded the troopship Monarch of Bermuda. We had no inkling as
to our destination until we arrived off Gibraltar. We were housed in barracks and for a week I unloaded sea
mines from railway wagons into the relatively safety of the tunnels in the Rock. Four of us then joined the destroyer HMS Venomous for Oran but
were diverted into the Atlantic on a fruitless search and destroy mission involving German submarines. We made Oran in due course and that is where I first
set eyes upon HMS Misoa. [Photo: the author Archie Spence c 1942].
She was no sleek-lined Destroyer or Cruiser - more like a dirty old oil tanker! She was one of three shallow draught tankers especially designed and built to operate in the
waters of Venezuela's Lake Maracaibo in the northern part of South America. The others were HMS Tasajera
and HMS Bachaquera. As WW2 progressed the planners saw a need for
vessels with a capability to move close inshore to off-load heavy tanks, trucks, equipment and men directly onto enemy held beaches - an
essential requirement for any sizeable amphibious landings against entrenched defensive positions.
The three vessels required substantial
modifications before they were suitable for their war-time role. Space was at a premium so oil tanks were removed from forward of
the after bulkheads in an area of the engine room. Approximately half the tanks remained and these were used for fresh water and ballast. A deck
was added above this area and a coating of asphalt, with 7 lanes for vehicles, was laid. The bow was cut off square and the resultant gap was bridged by a
heavy steel door approximately 1 foot thick. Hinged to the top of the door was a massive extension which, together with the door, provided the
100 foot ramp needed to safely unload vehicles and men on or close to landing beaches. This was achieved through a system of winches and pulleys
operated by the engine room crew. As the main door lowered the hinged extension was raised thus creating a continuous ramp when both sections
reached a near horizontal position. Across the tank deck bolts were fitted for the purpose of securing vehicles by chains - a
necessary precaution because the shallow draught of the vessels caused them to roll even 'on wet grass!' In operation the pounding of the
waves hitting the blunt bow door sent a booming noise throughout the vessel.
[Photo of Misoa taken in the 1930s courtesy of William Russell whose great
uncle, William Marshall Russell, was the Master of the Ship when it was an oil
tanker, prior to its conversion to a tank landing ship.]
Above the tank deck there was a steel 'top deck' covered in 12" by 4" timber planks of various lengths.
In this deck
there were two large hatches aft with 2 X 50 ton derrick cranes nearby to lift clear broken down vehicles from the tank deck below onto the top deck. The bridge
and wheelhouse were covered with steel plates as protection against shrapnel and gun platforms were placed around the top deck. These comprised a
40mm Pom-Pom gun, six 20mm AA guns and Lewis guns on stanchions, one forward and two aft. The Kedge anchor was located at
the after end.
Sleeping quarters for crew and passengers were very constricted. They consisted of rows of round steel bars
attached to the deck-head on which hammocks were rigged. On
completion of the conversion work the
designation 'Landing Ship Tank' (LST) was used.
HMS Misoa was 382ft in length with a gross tonnage of 4,900. The draught when fully
loaded was 15' aft 4' forward with a double hinged ramp reaching 100ft from bow door to shallow water. Carrying capacity was eighteen 30 ton tanks, twenty two 25 ton tanks or 33 heavy trucks.
Berths for 217 troops and a crew of 98 Combined Operations personnel were provided. Armaments comprised one twin 40mm, six 20mm, three Lewis guns
and one smoke mortar. She had a distinctive flat bow and an equally distinctive ships crest of a tortoise with the words Veni-Vidi-Vici - I came,
I saw, I conquered - around it.
Sea Trials and Training
information from the commissioning crew indicates that sea trials and training with Commandos
took place in and around Loch Fyne in Scotland where the Combined Operations Training Centre was located at Inveraray.
further information on sea trials and training would be very welcome.)
Operation Torch - North Africa
HMS Bachaquera was the first LST to engage in operational duties in WW2 off the beaches of Madagascar on
the 6th of May 1942. HMS Misoa and HMS Tasajera made their active service debuts in Operation Torch - the invasion of North Africa at Oran on the 8th of November
1942. The 16th Infantry Regiment cleared "Z" beach for the 3 a.m. arrival of the 1st Armored Divisionís Combat Command B, under Brig.
Gen. Lunsford E. Oliver. Misoa and Tasajera, rumbled up to the beach at 4 a.m. and put out pontoon bridges, to enable their loads
of M3 Stuart light tanks to roll ashore. The process took four hours. Once the tanks and their 4,772 men were ashore, they seized the La Senia
and Tafaroui airfields, and supported the parachute assault on them. In the wider area of conflict along the coast Misoa was later variously engaged transporting American men and equipment from Algiers to Bone, further to the east, until that part of North
Africa was in Allied hands.
Passage to Sousse in Tunisia followed to provide support for
future operations involving the Eighth Army.
During this time the importance of supplying fortress Malta remained a priority for the planners and HMS Misoa made a couple of trips
from Sousse to Malta with munitions and fresh meat and vegetables stored in the ship's large freezers. On return she made a routine call at a dry dock in Tripoli
remarkably left unscathed after intensive bombing by the Allies. There were sunken ships all over the place and we
negotiated a roughly zig-zag course to reach the only dry dock usable. That night there was an air raid on the nearby airfield and there were
reports of German paratroopers in the area. I was on gangway sentry duty that night and only me and the dry-cleaners know how scared I was!"
[Photo; The author (centre) with friendly
French North Africans and two shipmates in Algiers c1943.]
In between periods of hard work and danger we made our own entertainment. On one occasion we acquired a piano in
Sousse. A small area of the tank deck was cleared and this became the place for a number of impromptu sing-songs. There were a lot of comedians
and entertainers among the crew supplemented by the troops when they were on board. One memorable evening, while tied up at Sousse, the strains of
the bagpipes could be heard. It turned out that the piper who led the troops at the start of the Battle of El Alamein, was marching up and down
the quay alongside our ship. He and his mates enjoyed the
traditional hospitality of the Navy which included several tots of rum! It was a most enjoyable evening for all. There were other distractions
from the realities of war ranging from Roman ruins to local "fleshpots," both of which were educational in their own ways!
On completion of this work in early June 1943 HMS Misoa was loaded up with
the tanks and crews
of the Guards Regiment for passage to
We arrived about dawn. Overhead there were so many
bombers that they were impossible to count. Such was the intensity of bombing that by mid-day the Italian garrison, totalling around 12,000,
surrendered so the landing itself was relatively easy. The ship made for a small cove with road access inland. There was little to which the ship
could be secured so we resorted to tying her to rocky outcrops. Our cargo of men and machines was successfully landed so my shipmate and I took a
stroll into a nearby vineyard and helped ourselves to some grapes. The landings may have been unopposed but these heroic invaders beat a hasty
retreat when an irate farmer, with pitchfork in hand, came to the defence of his crop!"
Later in the day HMS Misoa set off on the return passage to Sousse where more men and equipment
were embarked, this time for the islands of Lampadusa and Linosa. Once more the Italian garrisons had surrendered. During this period HMS Misoa
transported Italian prisoners of war to Sousse, guarded by paratroopers.
Sicily and Italy
With this success behind them the next stage in the Allied advance was the invasion of Sicily.
Husky was scheduled for July 9/10. In preparation for this HMS Misoa embarked
Eighth Army troops and tanks from Sousse for transport to a beach just south of Syracuse in Sicily. During
the 2 months it took to pacify the island the vessel made frequent passages to Sousse with German and Italian prisoners, captured tanks and other
equipment. The return journeys to places such as Syracuse, Augusta and Catania on Sicily, included supplies, materials, men and on one occasion a
load of 'occupation' Italian Lira in dozens of ammunition boxes. It was for the use of allied occupation troops in Sicily and Italy and was kept
under guard by military police during the passage. So frequent were the journeys across the Mediterranean at this time that they blur into the impression of a regular ferry
service plying the goods of war to wherever they were needed in Sicily and Italy, and on return trips transporting captured
Axis men and materials to north Africa. One memorable cargo consisted of friendly Arabs and their mules. The mess they left behind is best imagined than
described in detail! However they performed well in remote, inaccessible mountains carrying supplies to the advancing
Secret negotiations for the surrender of Italian forces were concluded in Lisbon and an armistice was
signed at Syracuse on the 3rd of September - the same day as the uncontested landing of Allied forces at Reggio in Calabria on the Italian
mainland. Taranto was seized on the 9th again unopposed. On the way to Taranto I saw much of the Italian fleet,
including 4 battleships and 6 cruisers, heading south for Malta to surrender to Allied forces.
Return to the UK - preparations for Normandy
Of our final days in the Mediterranean I remember that we loaded up with the latest captured German and Italian guns, tanks, communications vehicles and half-tracks.
We left Taranto for Algiers and then on to the UK arriving at Plymouth in early January of 1944. The vessel needed repairs and
modification for her next major role - the Normandy landings. These included the replacement of the forward single 40 mm Pom-Pom with a twin version, engine repairs,
general maintenance work, the addition of some form of radar (?) and a complete camouflage repaint.
During the refit the crew were given leave and I spent my 21st birthday on the 16th January 1944 at home in
Glasgow. A few weeks later, on completion of the refit, we were involved in sea
trials in the English Channel from Plymouth in the west passed Portsmouth to Southend on Sea in the Thames estuary. As D-Day approached the ship
was berthed at Tilbury Docks. We loaded up with Canadian troops and tanks and the ship was sealed. For three days we were confined to the vessel
and because of this we learned more about the coming action than was usual. I was privileged to be with the troops when they were briefed
on their mission including details of their landing zone on Juno beach and their objective of the city of Caen about 7 miles (12 k) inland.
6th June 1944 - D-Day
We set sail from Tilbury on June 4th before the decision was taken to postpone
D-Day because of rough weather. As our convoy killed time sailing around the English Channel we
were all apprehensive and many of us scared not knowing what the day would bring. The sea was choppy and many of the soldiers suffered from
sea-sickness as our shallow draft vessel pitched and rolled. We arrived off Juno at about daybreak on D-Day and were close enough to see
the action on the beach - it was like watching a film set. At one point two tanks came into view, one chasing the other, guns blazing. Two ton
shells could be heard overhead as the German large gun emplacements attempted to destroy allied battleships out at sea. Our sister ship, HMS Bachequera, which was off the neighbouring Sword beach, was hit by an 88mm anti personnel shell. Damage was slight and casualties few. As the
Coxswain it fell to me to take the Captain by launch to the Bachequera to see first hand if assistance was
We disembarked the men, their tanks and equipment the
following day. By then the Germans had been pushed inland so there was little enemy fire on the
This done we returned to Tilbury Docks for a
second cargo of tanks, vehicles and soldiers. On arrival at Juno disembarkation began but almost right away there was a mishap with a tank.
It slipped sideways blocking the ramp and delayed the
disembarkation to such an extent that the tide went out and stranded the ship on the beach until the following morning. During this time a couple of
German fighters strafed the beach in a half-hearted attack. No damage was done and from the relative safety of my vantage point under the ship, painting
the bottom, I had a clear view of the action. [Photos
right; HMS Misoa and HMS Tasajera on Juno beach 1944.]
There were lots of small craft operating in the area such as motor torpedo boats (MTBs) and motor gun boats
(MGBs) whose job it was to help protect the beachhead and supply ships from enemy attack. We anchored off the beachhead
and acted as mother ship to these vessels providing medical services, mess facilities, showers, and in the case of a shipmate and
myself, a profitable and legal haircutting service! When the anchorage became safe our engineers also provided a repair and maintenance service.
We became a semi permanent fixture off the beach as stores and provisions were brought to us from supply ships.
Most of this time was uneventful as we slipped into a routine but on the 18th of June we had a rude
awakening in the form of a severe storm. Ships dragged anchors all over the place and one collided with the starboard side of our bridge causing
structural damage and smashing a lifeboat. Since the bridge contained an ammunition locker holding 20mm A A shells all hands were deployed to
remove them to a safer place.
The routine was interrupted for a second time towards the end of October when we took on board a Royal Marine outfit
off Arromanches - men,
vehicles and fighting gear. Rumour at the
time was that they were bound for Walcheren, a heavily fortified island
defending the approaches to the port of Antwerp in Belgium. While the Germans were entrenched on Walcheren the port, which was already in Allied
hands, could not be used to supply the advancing armies. A couple of days after embarking the order was cancelled and the marines disembarked without sailing.
As the months passed and the Allies pushed the Germans eastwards, organised weekend visits were made to places of
interest such as local mansions and movie shows in local barns. On one occasion my mate and I thought a trip to Paris would be nice. It was well over
100 miles (160 k) so we stayed overnight at an army barracks near Lisieux. We learned that there was still fighting in the Paris area so being
"non-heroes" we set a new course for Rouen where a good time was had.
We remained on station at Arromanches until early 1945 when we were recalled to Harwich to dispose of obsolete
Bangalore torpedoes by dumping them in the North Sea.
Our work done we returned to Inveraray on Loch Fyne, Scotland, the home of the Combined Operations Training Base
where HMS Misoa was decommissioned - but not before four of us, who were cutter boat crew, were given medical checks prior to being
drafted to the River Rhine in Germany to man landing craft operating across the river. As was often the case in the war there was a change of
plan and the posting was cancelled much to my chagrin.
As a Scot I was proud to be a member of the ship's company. We came from the UK, Eire, Australia and South
Africa and we stood together through all emergencies and enemy action. The ship was hit once by a skip bomb which
failed to explode. Although there was slight damage to the mid-ship super structure there were no casualties. Over the years in the various
theatres of action there were many near misses. HMS Misoa was a very lucky ship indeed and when in April/May of 1945, her crew, my mates
and myself, dispersed from Inveraray to different bases throughout the UK, there was a sense of melancholy at the passing of a unique shared
experience. I celebrated Victory in Europe day in Portsmouth on May 8 1945.
The ship had been my home for just over two and a half years. Living
conditions were very confined and when the hammocks were slung out, walking upright was impossible. The sounding of action stations caused a form
of organized chaos. When troops were on board the priority was for the naval crew to reach their action stations. Everyone wanted to be on deck
at the same time so guards were posted to keep
the troops below until all action stations were fully manned and operational. There was never any panic and we seemed to cope well with these
The mess deck was part of the living quarters. Each mess comprised 12 sailors and a leading hand or senior hand,
the latter to keep order and to deal with complaints. Seating arrangements were simple - 6 sailors each side of a long table. In weekly rotation two
sailors were detailed as cooks with responsibility for ordering provisions from the NAFFI store within prescribed limits. The food was stored in
large urns and as required taken to the galley where "real cooks" prepared the meals using steam as the heat source. Most of the food
was dried - beans, peas, porridge, eggs, fruit, meat and tons of rice. Occasionally tinned vegetables and fruit were available. A tot of rum was
issued with lunch which helped to brighten the day.
At 1100 hrs an announcement about the issue of the rum was piped throughout the ship. It was collected by senior
members of the Mess. Across the Royal Navy there were three strengths of rum determined by the quality of living conditions - the greater the
deprivations the stronger the rum! At the one extremity barracks and big ships received one part rum and two parts of water and at the other,
which included HMS Misoa, neat rum was issued. In between the ratio of water to rum was 1:1.
There was no privacy to speak of and there was another major deprivation as well. On the occasion of a visit to the ship
by Lord Louis Mountbatten he was left in no doubt about the men's main grievance - "No mail!"
never had any prior notice of the ship's destination but that didn't stop rumours and speculation. The usual form was for the Captain to make an
announcement to the ship's crew over the intercom once the ship was at sea.
I was finally demobbed in April 1946 with two months leave due. My pay, during my period of service, ranged from two shillings and six pence
(12.5p) to seven shillings and six pence (37.5p) per day. Settling back into 'civvy' life was never going to be easy and although I could return
to my pre-war job with the NAFFI I preferred to try something different. The Labour Exchange suggested employment as a stone mason which I
'politely' declined. Next a visit to the Broomielaw down by the River Clyde in Glasgow where I signed up for the Merchant Navy. The next 15 years
were spent variously on tramp steamers and oil tankers worldwide, rigger work on a dam in Victoria Australia, steel erector and shark fisherman
in Tasmania, tuna fisherman in New South Wales, forestry work in Victoria, steel erector in Melbourne, Merchant Navy in New Zealand and, having
married and settled down, 25 years in forestry until retirement in the mid 80s.
Much of the time in the Mediterranean was routine where, with the passage of time, one day has blurred into the
next. However there were times of great danger which heightened my awareness of the terrifying nature of modern warfare. The runs from Algiers to
Bone in convoy saw us attacked by German bombers using both conventional bombs and torpedoes. In the case of the latter the planes flew in so low
that we were in danger of being hit by our own side's gunners as they lowered their sights to a horizontal position. We were also very vulnerable
to air raids, of which there were many, while in port.
Pantelleria was quiet but in Sicily and Italy the Italians engaged in high level bombing while the Germans
strafed the beaches from just a few hundred feet. We also found ourselves in the middle of a minefield in Taranto Bay with all the associated
risks of being blown out of the water. A minesweeper came to our rescue and swept a safe passage for us.
Off the beaches of Normandy we disembarked our first cargo of men and tanks on D + 1 but we were close enough to
the beaches on D Day itself to be aware of what was going on during the initial landings. Those brave men in the small landing craft knew that
many of them would be killed or seriously wounded... and yet wave after wave of them made for the beaches. It would not have been human for those
of us watching the action from a safer distance, to feel anything but gratitude that, on this occasion, we were spared the ordeal. As I watched
the armada of small landing craft pass us by I said to myself, "Good luck you guys!" .... and that was the nature of total war. For the
average serviceman the difference between life and death or serious injury was all down to luck - being in the right place at the right
time. Although there were times of great danger on board HMS Misoa she, and her crew, came through unscathed. When I left her for the last
time in 1945 I had far more respect and affection for her than when I first saw her as a "dirty old oil-tanker!" She was indeed a lucky
ship! [Photo - the author c 2002].
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Attached are pictures of a ship's bell which may have come off the ship
described on your website.
My father in law purchased the bell for $60.00 sometime between 1970 and
1972 at a pawn shop on Pine Street in Philadelphia, Pennslyvania. How the bell
ever made its way to Philadelphia in America we may never know. He displayed
it outside his house in Broomall, Pennslyvania for 40 years and used it to
call the children home for dinner when they were out playing in the
neighborhood. My wife and I now have the bell on display at our home in
Lancaster, Pennslyvania and are conducting research on the history of the
Misoa to share with friends and family when they visit our home. What we have
found out thus far is very interesting and we now realize that we have a
wonderful piece of Royal Navy History. Thank you so much for your comments and
feel free to use this information on your website as you see fit.
Robert (Bob) Hevner
HMS Misoa - a WW2 Landing Craft Tank (LST)
by Archie Spence.
Redrafted for website presentation by Geoff Slee.