This is the story of one Canadian volunteer's training in small landing craft operations. Thousands of landing craft of many different kinds, together with a well trained force of Navy personnel to operate them, were essential for any major seaborne landing against entrenched enemy positions. In short, without them there would have been no D-Day.
Landing craft of many types and sizes were required for the planned large scale invasion of Europe which was later to become known as D-Day. Every one of these craft had a unique and vital role to play and their design and operating techniques were constantly under review as feedback from training exercises was assimilated. A large scale base and headquarters for small landing craft training was set up in Inveraray in the west of Scotland. (Click on lower map to enlarge).
The primary objective was to provide the expanding invasion force with training in the latest amphibious landing techniques but there was also a need to train the navy crews in the operation of the various small landing craft. There was a shortage of navy manpower to crew the landing craft and Canada responded by providing 60 officers and 300 men for training under the Combined Operations Command of which Inveraray was an important part.
The Canadian Navy insisted that the men be kept together as a Canadian unit 'attached Royal Navy', and not posted individually among Royal Navy Combined Ops personnel. The fact that these men worked together throughout the war made for strong bonds of friendship and loyalty, which still exist among those who are left. This is the story of Kendall 'Happy' Kidder's training for war taken from the testimony of his friends and shipmates, his letters to family members and the recollections of his wife Jill Kidder.
It was April 21 1941 when Kendall became Probationary Sub Lieutenant Kidder in the Royal Canadian Navy Volunteer Reserve. His application had, however, not been plain sailing. A rather fussy Navy Recruitment Officer on learning that Kendall was born in Mogollen, New Mexico, a small mining town where his father had been working at the time, gave him the address of the Air Force recruiting station with the encouraging information that "they will take anybody." However with a bit of perseverance he was later assured that his name would be added to the Navy list of those with officer potential on completion of the appropriate form. [Jake Warren]
Kendall was somewhat taken aback when the form he was given was for able seaman. The authorities apparently regarded him as a mere landsman without any seafaring background or experience. With a little bit of imagination some vacation experience he had had in surveying and prospecting up north was transformed into 'extensive experience with small craft in inland waters.' It worked!
By the fall Kendall was sent to the officer training establishment at Royal Roads on Vancouver Island. Recruitment had been stepped up a few gears to meet the demands of both the Canadian and British Navies. There were 125 officers in each intake with an average age of 22. The training period lasted about 4 months and included navigation, small boat handling, gunnery, seamanship etc. War seemed a long way off until the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour on December 7 1941. For a while rumours abounded that the Japanese were invading the west coast of Canada and a limited supply of .45 rifles were issued 'to repel boarders.'
Around this time Commander Grant called twenty of us into his office. We were all single; the oldest was thirty. He told us that officers and men were needed for service overseas in what he described as a 'hazardous mission.' Fourteen volunteers were required from among the officer cadets at Royal Roads. Anyone not interested, for whatever reason, would be excused without any blemish on his record. Two dropped out for family reasons. Slips containing the names of the remainder were placed in a hat and fourteen volunteers were chosen at random. As I understand it, a similar process was carried out at King's College in Halifax where another group of sub-lieutenants were taking their training. A total of twenty-eight officers were thus selected including Kendall. [Bill Sinclair]
By February 1942 Kendall was in Halifax Nova Scotia en route to Scotland and an uncertain future....
We arrived here last Saturday night and reported on Sunday morning. I did quite a bit of shopping, bought a new pair of boots and had my old ones fixed, got a new strap for my watch, besides a hundred and one other things. Your Christmas parcel was here when I arrived and it was grand to have a second Christmas.
The train ride from Montreal to here is anything but a pleasure, and this miserable town is anything but an enticing goal. I have never seen filth to equal it. We haven't as yet been able to find a room or even get a chance to live in barracks, so we are living in a much too expensive hotel. We haven't any idea when we will be leaving but it can't come any too quickly to suit me. For the last three days we have been doing PT (physical training) for three hours every afternoon at this point every muscle in my body is very sore and very stiff. My address here is: Nelson Barracks, Fleet Mail Office. [Kendall Kidder in letter to parents].
At Halifax the officers and men from Royal Roads met their counterparts from 'Kings', and were given some idea of what lay ahead of them. The 'hazardous duty' for which the men had volunteered was Combined Operations whose primary mission was to plan and prepare for the invasion of Europe by amphibious landing. This purpose was soon reinforced when the nature of Kendall's training became known. Churchill was the prime mover in setting up Combined Operations believing that by training the three services to work under a single command, inter-service communication would be strengthened and inter-service rivalry would be avoided thus producing a much more effective invading force.
The name, could not be better, for although clad in blue and paid by the Senior Service, nearly all the work is with the Army. It is very difficult to tell where the Navy leaves off and the Army takes on. On approaching an opposed beach, the Navy and Army officers together have to decide whether it is advisable to land or not, and each thinks of the other's problems before coming to a decision. Our work entails not only landing Commando and Assault troops, but also tanks, guns, heavy lorries, jeeps, ammunition, gas, water, and many supplies. So we deal with every branch of the Army. [Ian Barclay].
Training bases for 'small' landing craft were set up at Hayling Island on the south coast of England and at Inveraray in Scotland. The first Canadian flotillas joined the RN in January of 1942. Kendall was posted to HMCS Niobe in Scotland on March 1, 1942. It was the main manning and pay depot for the Canadian Navy in the UK.... a gloomy brick building which had been a mental hospital and was locally known as the 'loony bin.'
There were many types of landing craft in use but Kendall would eventually be involved with three. Here is a description of those landing craft (Photo; troops going ashore in an early morning landing exercise on the shores of Loch Fyne. The landing craft was crewed by RN personnel).
The initial drafts from Canada arrived in Scotland and soon were shipped to Hayling Island east of Portsmouth for initial training in the smaller 'landing craft assault', LCA's, for about three weeks. Hayling Island had somewhat the same shape as Portsmouth so on occasions lights in the fields were dimly lit to appear much like Portsmouth to the German bomber pilots. This ruse gave Portsmouth some relief from the daily bombing the civilians suffered. Didn't please the farmers of Hayling Island much to become the target. [Bob Crothers].
After this training the Canadians were moved to HMS Quebec near Inveraray on Loch Fyne in Scotland, the main training establishment where literally hundreds of thousands of Allied troops were trained. The Canadian sailors ran the various landing craft to help train the Army in embarking and landing on hostile shores. This was undertaken mainly on the shores of Loch Fyne under realistic conditions including simulated air attack by 516 Squadron. (Photo; Hurricanes 'attacking' a landing beach off Furnace on Loch Fyne).
After HMS Northney on Hayling Island, we entrained for Scotland and took the MacBrayne's paddle steamer for the tourist trip to HMS Quebec at Inveraray.
There were time intervals between basic training and the more serious exercises leading up to major raids and invasions. Before these exercises there was a pleasantly relaxed time at Quebec with light duties due to recurrent breakdowns and shortage of boats. The elastic discipline of Combined Ops kept the men together at Inveraray. We waited to learn rope tricks and cliff climbing, the threatened characteristics of Commando activity, but found they were not in our job description after all. So Quebec turned out to be a lot less demanding than we had expected. In fact quite the contrary.
Time was on our hands. Some of us had tea with the Duke of Argyle while others used 'Mill's' bombs to fish his salmon streams, climbed his mountains and explored his deer park land. The light 'casualties' among his sheep were suspect. Some of us had leave with all the pleasant, exciting, educating experiences of days in the British Isles.
But then we were called together. For a while we had our own ships to carry our landing craft about. They were strange creations indeed. HMS Iris and HMS Daffodil were called Landing ships (stern chutes). They could carry thirteen LCA' s mounted on trolleys. The LCAs were picked up in the stern chute and hauled up onto the main deck and then by a complicated switching system made snug on three tracks on the covered deck.
The main excitement was launching the craft by pushing them to the chute one by one and watching them race down the track and plunge into the sea, splashing up a great wall of water. Very spectacular but we couldn't quite crowd out of our minds the possibility that the LCA's would just keep on going down to Davy Jone's locker, though it never happened to us. I dread to think what would have happened if we had to launch in rough weather.. . I believe this method of launching was later abandoned.
Our LCA's were then moored on the Ayrshire coast. We were housed in Nissen huts and tents at HMS Dundonald. The pubs of the harbour were well used. Our camp was surrounded by a barbed wire fence; some enterprising matelots found them penetrable... Len Birkenes and others went back and forth through the fence to enjoy Scottish hospitality.
The largest exercises were Schuyt 1 and Schuyt 2 manned by Combined Operations. The name picked was that of a class of agreeable small Dutch vessels carrying cargo about the peacetime European coast and waterways. A number had escaped the Nazis and now worked on the British coastline. In conception and organization these exercises were planting the seed that matured on D-Day. The exercise troops were loaded from the mainland and great excitement was present since the beaches would be attended by dignitaries including King George VI, Winston Churchill, and our new chief, Lord Louis Mountbatten. They had assembled to witness the 'shape of things to come. [A fellow officer].
The training was perhaps less physically demanding than some officers were led to believe but there were testing moments set against an unfamiliar background.
The strange new world of landing craft, tides, currents, cold wind, rain and darkness beckoned those of us who were raw recruits, still getting used to the grub, currency and customs of a new land. In Scotland the heather looked lovely through the early morning mist and sun. We acquainted ourselves with further landing craft and their side effects - wetness, oil, hunger and tiredness. A strong bond was forged among this Combined Operations group of officers and ratings which still exists today.
Officers cried orders in the pitch dark as we trained. 'Keep closed up!' or 'Out kedge!' and just before hitting the beach, 'Down door!' and 'Up door!'. Seamen straining at the cranks on the windlass as the coxswains worked the helm and motors against unfamiliar tides and currents. We were green but learning fast. The seamen, good naturedly, accused the stokers of being seamen with their brains bashed in, but those same stokers never let us down, and it was sure good to have someone you could count on. No one wanted to be left stranded on the beach, nor were they. This was an unwritten law. [Seaman Doug Harrison].
The Canadian stokers are mentioned many times in the annals of Canadian Combined Ops, always with praise. Our craft were the various types of assault boats driven by Diesel and gasoline engines. The Canadian stokers (mechanics) were very adapted to this sort of work and received much praise from all those who came in contact with them. Our greatest difficulty was trying to keep them with us as several senior officers of the Royal Navy thought they should have some of them. [Ian Barclay].
There were lighter moments too as Kidder's natural talent for being in the centre of any slightly 'dubious' activity that was going on. One story, which spawned a number of variants, concerned a docking operation in front of Admiralty House in Inveraray. Kidder's craft went aground and without giving it a moment's thought he stripped off his clothes (except cap) and went overboard to lay a kedge anchor to winch the craft off the obstruction... as Commodore Coltart and guests, newly returned from a church service, watched in amazement! Ken was on the carpet next morning but beat the rap when a kindly Aussie pointed out that the buoy marking the shoal was of the wrong type. It was a middle ground buoy indicating safe passage on either side.
Later the story was embellished in the telling. This time the docking manoeuvre took place in front of the WRNS (women's navy service) training establishment. Kidder ordered his men to strip off, jump into the waters below and free the craft... all in full view of any WRNS 'lucky' enough to have been watching. However a WRN officer was not amused and she lodged a complaint about the exposure of her charges to what we would call today the 'full Monty!'
May 1942. I was so glad to get your letter dated April 9 saying that you had received my first letter. It is a relief to know that they actually do get across. I was beginning to think they were on a one way street, because I had a received all of yours. I hadn't numbered them, but starting with this one as one I'll keep track of all I write.
We are through with our training now and are working with the army. Our job doesn't require much brain work and I feel I could be learning a lot more if I was back in general service at sea, but if we are wanted here I guess we must make the most of it. In all the time we have been here, over a month and a half, I haven't even had a chance to go to town and I am afraid we are all getting slightly bushed.
For the last week or so we have had a lot of fun exploring an old silver mine that is about a mile from camp. The mine is owned by the Duke of Argyll who seems to own everything in these parts, the roads are even privately owned. Several went down to see him last Sunday. He is very interested in Canada because his uncle, Lord Tweedsmuir was Governor-General. When he came back to the estate Lord Tweedsmuir built a log cabin and planted a large number of silver maples. They are big trees now and the only ones I have seen since I have been over.
I am so glad you are sending a parcel. The one thing we miss more than anything else is good Canadian chocolate, but there is no need to try to send too much. English cigarettes are horrible and it is virtually impossible to get woollen clothing. We would all enjoy the occasional magazine, just to look at the food ads. [Kendall Kidder].
During wartime the information servicemen could give in their letters home was very restricted. Kendall's letters do not for example describe the nature of the training, precise locations or times. It was only in the post war period that his wartime experiences and his letters could be put into context.
They are just about as good a bunch of lads as you could ever hope for. Here are their names and jobs.
Landing Craft. By the time of the Normandy landings the range of specialised landing craft had increased enormously in keeping with technological advances and the changing conduct of warfare. The craft were; LCA - Landing Craft Assault, LCF- Landing Craft Flak (anti-aircraft use), LCG - Landing Craft Gun, LCGm Landing Craft Gun (medium), LCI - Landing Craft Infantry, LCM - Landing Craft Mechanised, LCOCU - Landing Craft Obstacle Clearance Unit, LCP - Landing Craft Personnel, LCRU - Landing Craft Recovery Unit, LCV(P) - Landing Craft Vehicle & Personnel (American equivalent of LCA), LCS - Landing Craft Support, LCT - Landing Craft Tank, LCT(R) - Landing Craft Tank (Rocket), LSD - Landing Ship Dock, LSG - Landing Ship Gantry, LSI - Landing Ship Infantry, LSP - Landing Ship Personnel, LST - Landing Ship Tank and LVT - Landing Vehicle Tracked (also known as amphibian).
Kendall went on to be involved in the North Africa landings in Nov 1942, Sicily in July 1943, Italy in September 1943 and Normandy in June 1944. In common with many service personnel Kendall "Happy" Kidder's war was a surreal mixture of periods of inactivity leading to boredom on occasions, with periods of intense activity and danger where death and destruction were but a heartbeat away. By the end of June 1944 the Canadian Combined Operations unit was disbanded although the ferrying service across the channel continued into July and August. On Sept 9 1944 Kendall was granted leave and passage to Canada but returned to the UK in December on an entirely new assignment. [Photo; Harry Trenholme and Kendall Kidder inspecting their troop on the deck of the MV Otranto (?)].
This account of one man's experience of training in the operation of small landing craft in WW2 was written by Jill Kidder and adapted for website presentation by Geoff Slee.
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