~ LANDING CRAFT SUPPORT SQUADRON
Support landing craft in the form of LCGs, LCFs and LCRs (guns, flack and
rockets) provided fire power to soften up entrenched enemy positions on and near
the beaches in advance of troop landings. This account provides an insight into
the establishment of a support flotilla and its deployment.
Christmas 1942 and six weeks leave had passed quickly. I reported
back to RNB Portsmouth on February 2nd. The next day I was on the move again,
this time to the Diesel School at Chatham for a three weeks course on Paxman
diesels, after which I was transferred to Combined Operations. At the end
of the course I was drafted to H.M.S. Dundonald a Combined Operations
training establishment in Troon, Ayrshire. On arrival at the railway station I was
taken to lodgings in the town because there was no room in camp. At Dundonald,
Tank Landing Craft were commissioned and worked up before leaving
for other bases to train the army in landing exercises. [Photo;
the author, Chief Engine Room Artificer (CERA) Robert Wallace-Sims with
wife and son.]
After three weeks in Troon, during which time I don't
remember doing any work, I reported to Harland and Wolff in Belfast, to take
over the maintenance side of the 8th LCT Flotilla. Once more there was no
accommodation and I was billeted out with a delightful old lady who suggested my
wife might like to come over. Belfast was a prohibited area but, after a week
trying to obtain the necessary travel documents, she arrived.
The Landing Craft
In the meantime I reported to the Flotilla Officer and found
things to be rather hush-hush. There were twelve LCTs in Harland and Wolff’s
undergoing conversion to Landing Craft Guns (LCGs). These conversions included
decking over the tank deck, converting the resultant space to magazines and
living quarters and mounting two 4.7 inch guns on the deck forward of the
bridge. Twelve more craft were undergoing similar conversions in London whilst
in other yards twelve more were being fitted out as Landing Craft Flack (LCFs) and
twelve more as Landing Craft Rockets (LCRs) to carry rocket launchers.
The whole would eventually join forces as a support squadron to
cover landings. The maintenance crew consisted of myself, 4 Engine Room
Artificers (ERAs), 2 Motor Mechanics and 4
Stokers, a Shipwright, two Joiners, an Ordinance Artificer, a
Seaman Gunner and an Electrical Artificer and three wiremen for the electrics.
Our collective job was to maintain all twelve craft in operational condition.
On arrival I found the maintenance crew,
excepting me, were either hostilities only (HOs) or Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve
(RNVR). This was my first experience
of RNVR Officers and HOs, but they turned out to be a fine and competent crowd.
None of the maintenance staff, including the Engineer Officer, who was a Croxley
Heath dirt track rider, had more than six months service, but they all knew as
much as I did about Paxman diesels, having done the same course.
The first two craft to be finished left Belfast at the end of
March for Falmouth, but they had a serious design flaw which would prove to have
fatal consequences. The forward end of the tank deck had been left open with the
bow door and winches in a fully usable condition. The tank deck of an LCT had a series of
drains running down to a duct keel, which could be pumped out. Although
watertight bulkheads had been fitted the drains had not been sealed off so, in
was no real water tightness.
Off Milford Haven the two craft ran into very heavy
weather and sea-water was shipped over the bows which found its way
into the duct keel and up into the mess decks and magazines. The one bilge pump
in each craft
could not cope with the amount of water and both craft foundered with most of
their crews. Orders came through for the doors to be welded up and the deck to
be fully covered in. The result was a very strong, stable and sea worthy craft
but it was mid May before the whole squadron arrived in Falmouth.
In Falmouth one
ship of the 6th Flotilla joined us making each flotilla 11 strong. From Falmouth
we sailed, in company with many LCTs, to Dijelli in North Africa. Here the
Squadron split into two, half remaining in Dijelli, the others proceeding to
Sousse. Our section spent about five weeks in Dijelli
before moving on to Malta early in July. This was my first visit to Malta since
Christmas 1941. The damage done by German bombers was colossal and yet
it seemed that all the pubs we had used then were still
On July 9th we moved out for the invasion of Sicily, arriving
off Regussa in the early hours of the 10th. We were in the lead, followed by
masses of landing craft and ships of all shapes and sizes. Our LCGs went in with
all guns firing whilst behind us came the Rocket craft. They opened fire about
two miles off shore and the sight of a salvo of about 200 rockets from each
craft flying over head was somewhat scary. These craft carried about 600 rockets
fired in banks of about 200. Having exhausted the 600 they retired to reload.
Below are the diary notes of an unknown veteran which gives some sense of the
Fri 9th July
Stand by call to action stations.
Sat 10th July
02.25 All's well. Flashes of AA fire from the beach. Beach well in sight,
cruisers and destroyers steaming on starboard beam.
02.35 All's well. Beach lit up by star shells. AA fire. Waiting to go in.
First wave of RM Commandos in LCG3 believed gone in.
02.45 Our wave ready to go in, LCGs 9 & 10 with Canadians. LCG3 just going in.
RAF still carrying out softening process.
03.00 No action as yet. Bombing and AA fire still active.
03.15 Moving into beach on port side. A’s and M’s loaded with RM Commandos
disappear in darkness towards beach.
03.30 Standing by to fire. Steady bombing still in progress. Range approx. 2
½ miles, 4000 yards.
03.45 Still moving in, covering port side of landing.
04.00 No shelling as yet. Intensified bombing still in progress. Range
approx. 4000 yards.
04.25 All guns loaded with reduced charges. Exchange of fire between MLs and
machine gun posts. Still closing with beach. Range 3500 yards.
04.30 Prepare to fore on machine gun posts from which tracers are pouring.
Range 1000 yards. Dawn is now breaking. Troops still pouring in.
04.35 Manoeuvring for covering fire and bombardment. No sign of any action
against ships yet.
04.40 Heavy smoke screen covering island. No shots fired at us as yet.
Rocket ships fired salvos and cleared machine gun posts.
04.45 Dawn has broken. Everything is clear. Destroyer fires two salvos and
then withdraws. Battery opens up at us. A large number of ships on the
horizon. Still training guns on target but still no shelling. Shots straddle
ship and make it shake. Enemy shore batteries firing at LCGs.
04.55 Begin firing in reply to enemy guns. Enemy guns silenced. Bridge
reports ammunition dump hit. Clear daylight, action well under way.
Expecting next shot to hit us. LCG firing closer to beach. LCAs standing off
beach. Troops pouring in. Shelling growing strong.
05.20 LCG 9’s gunfire effective.
05.30 Not much reply from the enemy, must be engaged by troops. Odd shots
dropping by craft. Many of our planes visible. Enemy battery silenced by us.
Complimented by craft coming alongside. Fires starting on shore, landing
craft standing off. Troops pouring in – 8th Army.
05.40 Resistance not heavy, it appears that aircraft supported overhead.
Pongos being ferried ashore. Shelling still continued, enemy guns silenced.
05.50 No important developments. Tanks, troops and amphibians still
streaming ashore. Bursts of Bren fire on shore.
07.45 Town appears to be taken. Fighting continues but not very heavy.
Machine gun fire coming from hills. Large explosion in water, just off
08.00 No further developments. Expecting enemy naval forces. We are now
lying 800 yards of landing beach, 200 yards off rocky point. Water is only
25 feet deep, too shallow for LCIs to beach. Troops being taken ashore in
LCAs. Just said hello to some pals in an LCA passing on the starboard
quarter. It’s a small world. 51st Division still pouring in. More
troop ships than that standing by, out to sea. Monitors and Destroyers which
took part in shelling from further out, standing by, also awaiting orders
09.00 We are now at a large bay at east tip of island. The town is on our
port beam, and on port bow large fires with dense smoke have started. The
landing beach is sandy, merging into fertile countryside, with flat hill in
the distance. Artillery landed sometime before, and are now engaging enemy
positions. Circling aircraft are keeping a stout vigil.
09.30 Heavy explosions now occurring regularly on shore. Hands to cruising
10.45 Bombardment by 6" cruiser and destroyer. Enemy resistance on land.
Aircraft bomb positions. AA fire returned. Ten minutes bombardment.
Amphibians moving in to land. Tanks visible on beach. LCIs still unloading
troops. Other landings reported successful.
15.00 Aerodrome captured. Shelling not required.
15.45 Enemy being shelled in town by 15" monitor. Range accurate. Fall of
16.00 Rumble of gunfire on ridge from top of island. Heavy fighting
continues. Casualties unknown.
19.55 Bombardment by 6" cruiser to assist our troops.
21.30 Sing song in progress on B gun deck. Ammunition issued to all Marines.
21.45 Moving out of bay to edge of convoy to watch for mines and E boats.
22.00 Air attacks commencing. The sky is lit up like Blackpool
illuminations. Dive bombers attempting to destroy troopships.
22.30 A stick of bombs has just fallen 50 yards astern and ahead, and two to
port and two to starboard.
22.45 A large bomb has just dropped on starboard quarter. Bombing is getting
more accurate. Two minor casualties. The Marine Officer has been grazed on
the leg and Yorky was struck in the stomach with a small piece of shrapnel.
23.15 No ship appear to have been hit. Smoke clearing away. Two LCIs are
alongside, and cannot reach their parent ship.
Sun 11th July
01.00 Shelling by 15" Monitor. Flares on beach.
05.35 Firing with rifles at believed enemy mines and suspicious objects.
Enemy opposition on shore against tanks serious. RM Commandos did splendid
job. Silenced machine gun posts and captured 1,000 Italians.
08.00 Bright sunshine. General clean up of ships. Standing by for further
The landings were successful and we had no
casualties. The next few days found us moving round the coast in the support of
the advancing army and by the 16th August the whole of Sicily was in our hands
and the 8th Flotilla was resting up at Augusta. Not that there was
much rest for the maintenance crew since all craft were due for top overhaul on their main
engines. This included grinding in twelve exhaust and twelve inlet valves
and refitting 12 fuel injectors on each of 22 engines - we had our hands full.
Even with help from the craft motor mechanics and stokers it was a tough order
but we had no lines of demarcation and ERAs, OA, EA and Shipwright all mucked in
together and by the 31st August we were at Messina with the Battleships
bombarding the Italian mainland.
On Sept 2nd we covered landings at Reggio De Calabria. Again no
casualties and 3 days later the whole of Calabria was in our hands and on the
12th Italy surrendered and we saw the Italian Fleet pass by to give itself up
On the 13th Sept half our Flotilla was giving support in the
heavy fighting off Salerno. I was not on this operation and here we had our
first casualties. One of our craft was hit on the bridge and all Officers and
Coxswain were killed, leaving one Petty Officer, the motor mechanic to take
command. This he did and with the Sergeant of Marines continued the fight until ordered to withdraw. He then took his craft back to Malta and
received the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal (CGM) for his efforts.
Shortly after this the whole squadron returned to Dijelli, where
we split into two, one half to stay in the Med, the others to proceed to Milford
Haven, my staff to accompany those going home. We encountered no enemy but in
very rough weather five tank landing craft (LCTs) foundered with the loss of all lives.
In addition two broke in two but the crews were taken off. Our craft, with their covered
holds, had no problems other than engine breakdowns... I changed craft six times
on the trip to deal with big end failures.
On arrival in Glasgow, we never did get to Milford Haven, all
engines were due for major overhaul. Only 11 out of 22 engines were running on
all cylinders. The others had scoring of the crankpins which prevented the
fitting of spare bearings. To allow the engines to operate in this condition the
pistons on the affected cylinders had been removed, balance weights fitted to the
cranks, and to prevent crank case fires, inlet and exhaust valves had been
fitted with telescopic push rods to stop them opening.
Three weeks after arrival in Glasgow, the craft having been
handed over to Ship Repairers, the Flotilla was disbanded and we went down to
HMS Westcliff for leave and to wait for our next appointments.
After three weeks leave over Christmas I reported back to Westcliff.
A week later I was on Euston Station
in charge of a draft of 30 to form the staff of the 332nd Support Flotilla.
reporting to Combined Operations offices in West Nile Street, Glasgow, I found I
had rejoined my old 8th Flotilla. This time the Flotilla Officer was a
Lieutenant RN, the Engineer Officer an RNVR Lieutenant, who in Civvy Street was
the engineer in charge of Post Office transport in Scotland. He informed
me, "I don't propose to interfere; maintenance of all craft and supervision of
the maintenance staff is yours." This suited me well and later on he told me he
had pulled strings to get me.
We were to be in Glasgow until the end of March
and my wife joined me. Work was fairly easy since all the craft were fitted with
replacement engines by private contractors. My job was to check on progress, but, as the craft were in seven different yards on both sides of the
Clyde stretching from Rothesay to the centre of Glasgow, a lot of travelling
was involved. We had a 350 cc BSA motorbike and a jeep for this.
In early March the staff was made up to full complement and for
the first time in my life I was able to pick those I wanted as my crew. I got half of my
old staff back, the rest had been drafted elsewhere. At the end of March I
returned the BSA to the garage and we sailed for
HMS Turtle at Poole. Here we commandeered a house near the beach for the officers and later I
found the motorbike at the back. The EO had brought it down because he thought I
might like to live at home in Southampton!
A month in Poole and we moved again, this time to the Beaulieu
River. The Officers were billeted in Exbury House, the Ratings in bell tents on
the lawn and yours truly at home. At Exbury the craft were out on exercise daily
and we carried out essential maintenance until the end of May, when we moved to
the Eastern Docks. These were full of craft and ships of all types and sizes. We
stored our ammunition and supplies to full capacity and on June 4th were ready
to sail for the invasion of Normandy. We were to leave at 2000, arriving off the
French beaches at 0600 the next morning. However, the weather was against us and
we actually sailed 24 hours later.
It was a rough trip and the American Mark V Tank Landing Craft had
a particularly bad time. Several of them capsized and quite a few were taken in
tow. They were very small craft, never meant for anything but calm weather.
From one we picked up our Flotilla Officer from the 8th Flotilla!
At 0400 the next morning we went to action stations. Our
job was to go in first together with the Flak and Rocket Craft to lay down a barrage
before the troops were landed. We went in line abreast followed by the rocket
craft. Out beyond them were destroyers and cruisers and further out two monitors
and HMS Warspite. All opened fire a little after 0500, the noise was
horrendous and morale in the enemy ranks must have dropped to zero. The landing
craft on our beach had very little trouble at first although resistance
gradually increased. With the assault troops went Bombardment Liaison Officers
whose job it was to find where the army wanted shells placed and report back to
us. Our two guns fired continuously from 0500 until 2300 that day then we were
out of ammunition and had to retire to an ammunition supply ship to replenish. Thus ended what became known as the "Longest Day" ... and long it was.
After D-day we spent the next three days throwing 4 ½ inch
shells at unseen targets, Army Forward Observation Officers positioned inland giving us instructions.
D plus 5 arrived and LCG2, in which I was billeted, was ordered to close the
shore and attempt to draw the fire of an enemy shore battery which had defied
the efforts of the RAF to destroy it. With not a little trepidation we weighed
anchor and proceeded inshore firing in the general direction of the battery.
There was no response from the enemy until we made a 180 degree
turn to avoid beaching. As we headed away from the cliffs our guns were now unable to bear
on the enemy position. There were then three
explosions, the first lifted our stern out of the water, the second was a 15"
salvo from HMS Warspite, and the third saw the end of the battery as eight 15" HE
shells hit their target. I was afterwards told that this battery was mobile, on railway
lines and normally ran into a tunnel at the first hint of danger.
The enemy shell had exploded between our rudders and
had put our steering gear out of action -
it was impossible to turn the wheel. However, we had been lucky. If the incoming
shell had had twenty feet longer range I would not be writing this.
Using the main engines for steering we put the ship on the beach
and when the tide had fallen far enough examined the damage - both rudders were bent outwards
and since they could not
be straightened in place we dug deep holes in the sand, disconnected the rudders
and dropped them out of the ship. Meanwhile our signaller tried in vain to
locate a repair ship... but all was not lost. There were many craft on the beach some of
them apparently damaged beyond repair so I decided to cannibalise one of them. I rounded up my four ERAs
and some Stokers and set off along the beach.
walked about a mile before we found a craft which had the same gear as our LCG 2. I
went aboard and found her deserted and very high out of the water. Whilst the Stokers dug holes in the sand the ERAs disconnected all the
gear and then, just as we were going to drop the rudders, a voice behind me said,
"What are you doing?" A young RNVR Lieutenant informed me that he was
sailing for Southampton at 0800 the next day. It was now 22.00 hrs so we replaced all the gear and rather forlornly began our trek back to LCG 2.
We hadn't gone far when out of the dark came the challenge "Halt, who goes
there?" I replied "Friend." "Advance friend and be recognised."
It was a Royal Engineer NCO who informed me that the beach was mined and had not yet
been swept. The rest of our walk along the beach took much longer than when we
By now the tide had risen so we turned in and, at the next low
tide, we replaced the old rudders and requested instructions from the Senior
Officer. We were to join the evening convoy so that repairs could be carried out in Southampton. At
22.00 hrs, together with 14 other landing craft, we
sailed, steering by engines. We should have arrived at Southampton at 09.00 hrs
the following morning but come daylight we were alone. However, through the haze we could
see the Isle of Wight and at 10.00 hrs we berthed at Town Quay. An hour later a
tug arrived and took us up the Itchen to White's Yard.
Back at the Normandy beaches we found there had been some excitement the
night before. E boats had got in amongst the assembled ships and craft and one
of our ships had been sunk. This resulted in all Flak and Gun ships being
re-assembled as the Support Squadron, Eastern Flank, and each night we formed a
protective screen around the ships and Mulberry Harbour. This lasted three weeks
during which time there were a few sporadic raids. However, by the end of July the army was too far inland
for the squadron to offer support so we returned to Poole to refit
and to lick our wounds.
- Operation Infatuate
The next couple of months were employed in routine overhaul
and maintenance duties. We were beginning to feel that the war had passed the Support
Squadron by. Then towards the end of October we prepared 6 LCGs, 6 LCFs, 5 LCT(R)s together with 6 smaller support craft armed with guns
and smoke mortars and 2 LCG(M) (medium) for a further action. This done we sailed
from Poole for Ostend and on October 31st we received our orders. D-day was Nov 1st
with H-hour 09.45. Our purpose was to support the Royal Marine Commando landing at Westkapple on Walcheren in the Sheldt estuary. Three heavy warships,
HMS Warspite and the monitors HMS Roberts and HMS Erebus, all with 15-inch guns, were to support us. We
would go in under cover of an aerial bombardment.
The morning dawned cold and miserable with low visibility.
Unfortunately this poor weather was general all over Northern Europe and the RAF was
grounded by fog. The air support, which was an integral part of the original
plan, was not available. However, after a hurried conference it was decided that
the landing should go ahead.
action started with a bombardment by the heavy ships whilst the LCGs closed the
Westkapple battery with the object of destroying it. Our 4.7-inch shells bounced
off the concrete emplacements. We had been firing for some hour and a quarter
when the Rocket Craft opened fire. Two got the wrong range and their rockets
fell in the area covered by the LCGs and LCFs. LCG2 and 2 of the LCFs were
damaged. It was my most terrifying experience of the war.
Then, as the Marines closed on the beach, the enemy batteries
opened up on them and we were told to get in as close as possible to
draw the enemy fire. The two LCG(M)s went close in to the beach, No 1 was
literally blown to pieces almost at once. There were no survivors. No 2 was
repeatedly hit by 88mm shells, but managed to withdraw only to sink in deep
water with only six casualties - 2 killed and 4 wounded.
LCG 1 went in with all guns firing and closed to 600 yards in
spite of being hit three times and set on fire. She was hit several more times
and put out of action. LCG 17 tried to take her in tow but she sank. LCG 17
continued to give support, but was hit several times and was set on fire. She
was ordered to withdraw. LCGs 10 and 11 were also damaged but continued support
until Walcheren was taken on the 8th of November.
Of the 6 LCGs one was lost and 5 badly damaged. Of the LCTs 2 were
lost and 3 were damaged and only 2 of the Rocket Craft required no repairs. Of
our crews 172 had been killed and 204 wounded. However, the enemy fire had been
drawn from the Marines and they were ashore with far less casualties than the support squadron
Photos l -r: (1) Amphibians (Buffalos) coming ashore at
Westkapelle; (2) Oranjemolen (Orange Mill) at Flushing (Vlissingen)
where No. 4 Commando landed early on 1/11/44; (3) French
Commando Officers in Flushing - Lt. Guy de Montlaur, Lt. Guy Hattu,
Commandant Phillippe Kieffer & Lt Jacques Senée; (4) Bunkers of
the German coastal battery at Westkapelle. The first two are for 9.4
cm artillery and the third for fire direction; (5) Lt./General
Wilhelm Daser, Commander of the 70th Infantry Division & Fortress
Commander of Walcheren led into captivity accompanied by Major Hugh
Johnston of the Royal Scots.
The cumulative effect of our shells, including the 15 inch, was to put one gun out of action when a 4.7
inch from one of the LCGs passed
through the firing slit. Had the enemy ignored the Support Squadron and
concentrated their firepower on the landings, there is no way the Marines
could have made it. With the battle over we crept back to Ostend, a tired and ragged convoy, some under tow, few with both engines running
and all with pumps going flat out to keep afloat. At Ostend we patched up the
hulls as best we could. Some had plates bolted on, we found it virtually
impossible to weld mild steel plates to the hulls. Cement boxes covered a lot of
the holes. LCG 17 had 47 patches on her hull as she left for Poole.
Following the action 200 mine sweepers cleared the Sheldt
Estuary and the port of Antwerp was opened to Allied ships - a vital link in
supplying the Allied armies as they advanced towards Germany. Click on
Operation Infatuate for a more comprehensive account
of the action.
The Run Down
The Battle of Walcheren saw the end of the war for the Support
Squadron. We stayed at Poole for a few months and then moved down to Appledore
in Devon to lay the ships up in reserve. We spent about six weeks drying out the
engines and pumping round inhibiting oil to prevent rust. This done we left the
ships and returned to Poole. Here we spent the next few months laying up US Tank
Landing Craft on the beach at Arne.
Gradually my staff were drafted away to other jobs
until I was left on my own. I was then absorbed into the Base Staff to maintain
the few landing craft still on the Channel run.
Early in July 1945 I was told to stand by to commission a new
Flotilla of LCGs converted from Mark10 landing craft. They were to be 'tropicalised'
so I was sent to Hall's of Dartford for a refrigeration course. At the end of the course
I returned to Poole, but I never did commission the new
Flotilla since the war ended before they were ready.
The coming of peace brought orders to close some of the Combined
Ops bases, among them HMS Turtle. It took about three months and then I moved up
to Troon and closed down there. Next a draft to HMS Tullicuan a shore base at
Loch Lomond. Why I was there or what I was supposed to do I never did find out.
No ships, no small landing craft or even a motorboat and no engine room staff.
The only thing I remember doing there was checking through service certificates
and issuing medal ribbons!
By now I was the last Chief ERA in Combined Operations, all the
others having returned to General Service. I was hearing daily from my old
staff, all of whom were 'Hostilities Only', saying they were being demobbed. I was
beginning to wonder if the Navy had forgotten me when I received orders to report
back to RNB Portsmouth on May 31st. 1946. I had been away for three years and
four months. Having spent all this time with none of the usual Naval Bull,
it was with some trepidation that I returned. Three weeks leave and three weeks
playing snooker found me on the move again this time to HMS Indefatigable, at
the time the largest of Britain’s carriers. 28,000 tons and 152,000 HP. This
came as a bit of a shock, but I found I had charge of the main engines,
workshops and Diesel Generators - the latter were Paxmans,
the same as in the LCGs... but all that's another story.
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Written by Chief Engine Room Artificer (CERA), Robert Wallace-Sims.