~ UNITED STATES LANDING CRAFT TANK (ROCKET) 439 ~
This is an account of WW2 United States Landing Craft (Rocket)
439 - USLCT(R) 439. This specialized landing craft carried 2896 5" x 4'
explosive rockets (127mm x 1.2m) designed to soften up enemy coastal defensive
positions immediately prior to the landing of the main Allied invasion force.
The Commanding officer was Lieutenant (jg) Elmer H Mahlin. 2nd in Command was
Ensign George F. Fortune the author of this article. (US Spelling used on this
On leaving college George Fortune volunteered for service in the United
States Navy. In 1942, at the age of 22, he attended Midshipman School at
Furnald Hall, Columbia University, New York City for three and a half
months. Furnald Hall was one of 3 halls at the University used by the US
Navy. Students stayed weekends with local people by invitation enjoying
tea dances and excursions to places of interest.
graduated in the top 15% of the 1000 students on the course and, as such, was allowed to choose his
first posting to Section Base
on Treasure Island which was close by the world famous San Francisco bridge
and to his home! For 6 months he learned ship handling including 3
months at sea on Errol Flynn's sailboat "Zaca"….700 miles offshore.
As the new ensign aboard George undertook the full range of duties of deck crew
members including ship handling and climbing up the rigging to the top
of the mast !
With sea skills behind him he was posted to Miami to learn the
duties of radio officer. It was a very hot journey and en route he was taken to a hospital in Chicago for
a fever check-up (mumps) and somehow ended up in Boston to learn about the
duties of a radio officer and the operation of Rocket ships! However, by July 1943
he found himself in Miami at the Subchaser Training Center and after 3
month's practice in radio work and ship handling he reported to the
Gunfire Support Craft Group in Boston, Maine for training in the use of
Thanksgiving week of 1943 (late November) he sailed to Scotland on the
Queen Elizabeth. Because of her high cruising speed of around 33 mph
(53kph) she traveled alone usually carrying 20,000 soldiers and
sailors. US Navy officers stood watch at night. Their primary purpose
was to enforce blackout regulations by guarding against any stray light.
All parts of the ship were visited during a typical watch including the con, engine room and the occasional visit with
the Captain. Lots of men succumbed to sea sickness and remained below
On arrival in
Scotland he was stationed at Roseneath Castle on the Firth of Clyde near Glasgow. Roseneath was commissioned on 15th
April 1942 and named HMS Louisburg.
However, after the attack on Pearl Harbor and direct American involvement in
the war, plans for the base were changed. It was paid off on 3/8/42 by the Royal Navy and handed
over to US control as an amphibious training centre. It was used during preparations for the landings in French
North Africa in November 1942.
By 1943, following the success of
the North Africa landings, Roseneath returned once more to British control as HMS
Roseneath. However, sections of the base were retained by the US Navy for a
maintenance force and berthing/supply facilities for the depot ship USS Beaver
and the boats of US Navy Submarine Squadron 50.
The officers and men lived in Quonset huts (similar to Nissan huts)
each accommodating 20 men or so. Officers had one hut to themselves
and the crews occupied the remainder. They slept on bunks with blankets
and sheets and ate in a mess hall where, once more, officers and crew
were separated. The accommodation was comfortable and clean
though somewhat damp from
condensation and "the food was basic and
typically English, with only cabbage, potatoes, and brussel
sprouts for vegetables, mutton for meat, no milk except canned and dessert
rarely. Pretty grim! It was so sparse and military there; even the hard toilet
paper had 'government issue' stamped on each sheet!"
Roseneath Castle was quite isolated so the ship's crews mostly stayed on
the base. Officers were permitted to venture outside the base
officially for the purposes of sightseeing. However, it was not always
the case as George recalls;
"together with a couple of crew members we took small boat trips from our base at Roseneath
Castle to call on our big ships anchored in the area. We bummed anything that we could beg, borrow or beg louder for. The best
ice cream maker that we later used to great effect in the heat of
North Africa at Bizerte! We let other rocket craft use our
freezer if they gave us some ice cream in return. It was in use
I still have a table cloth
that was given to me by a US tanker crew in Scotland."
While waiting for the
delivery of 12 new LCT(R)s George remembers,
"with Elmer's (my
captain's) permission and the cooperation of the rest
of the captains, I organized a training program for the deck crews of all 12
ships. Subjects included ship and line handling procedures for leaving and
entering port, docking, the Command structure, daily watches, helmsman duties,
signals and general seamanship. The specialized nature of the work of the Engine
room personnel excluded them from the training. All available officers helped
with the training which was undertaken in a positive atmosphere and good
spirits. The general consensus was that all had greatly benefited from the
training." [Photo; Crew of LCT(R) 439.
Officers 2nd row right George
Fortune with left arm on hip and Elmer Mahlin].
The waiting was over when in March of 1944 the
skipper, Elmer Mahlin, George and the crew picked up British rocket ship LCT(R)
439 at Troon in the River Clyde estuary on the west coast of southern Scotland. Although not known at the time there was only to be
around 10 weeks to prepare the craft and crew for the D Day landings on June 6th
1944. The 500 mile journey to the south coast of England provided an excellent
opportunity to break in the new 18 man crew. No problems were experienced with
prepared for the task ahead George recalls, "by spring of 1944
were berthed about a mile up the River Dart with the commanding officer's
quarters and offices in the home of Agatha Christie above us. One
day after maneuvers and practicing at low tide we went aground near the sand bar
Tennyson referred to in his poem “Crossing the
Bar” (from Southampton to the Isle of Wight). In the process we damaged the
craft's screws. Replacements were arranged through our base and fitted by
attended the Radar School at Hayling Island in Southern England for a week to
learn the British Blind bombing techniques and stayed overnight in London and
twice experienced the German bombing of the city.
Not all the preparations
for the invasion passed without incident as George explains, "We
hit a Personnel Carrier (PC) in the fog on our way back to the River Dart after
taking a full load of rockets aboard from stores
in Portsmouth. The PC
had the watch leading our convoy of about 10 or 12 small craft. We were last in line and out of
nowhere his craft loomed out of the fog heading straight for us!
A collision was unavoidable. Its
commanding officer was relatively inexperienced but in mitigation it was a dark
and foggy day.
But for the accident his vessel would have marked the 4000 yard buoy off Utah
beach on D Day.
fog was very thick one of our crew was manning the sound powered telephone on
the bow to give us some extra warning of approaching craft. On sight of the PC
he instinctively jumped down an open hatch and broke his leg. I hollered at him
to 'get the hell out of there!' just before we hit. I still remember the
crew trying to get the life rafts into the water because they thought we were
sinking. The skipper and I hollered at them to get back to their stations. Our
bow being horizontal cut through the PC's bow like knife through soft butter. We
came to a halt at the position of their 3" 50 caliber gun having cut through their chain
locker on the way.
bow door broke loose and hung down. Two or three of our crew dived into the
water to run a line through the eye bolt at the end of the door to crank it up!
proved to be too cold to work effectively so we proceeded slowly back to Dartmouth
for repairs. My radar training at Hayling Island certainly helped to bring us safely back to the
River Dart in near zero visibility. The fog might have been a blessing
because it protected us from U boat patrols! When we arrived in the Dart a Free French tug met us.
Despite the comedy of them yelling to us in French, and us yelling back in
English, we made it through. Good old Elmer Mahlin, our skipper, had brought us
safely to anchor... he got us everywhere we were supposed to go and we did our
All our preparations for D-Day
assumed that it would take place on June 5th but it was postponed at the last
minute because of bad weather. Most vessels had already set sail for Normandy
when the recall order was given. We were finally able to tie up to a buoy
somewhere off southern England. Boy it was a nightmare trying to follow the ship
ahead since the helmsman was not able to see over the tall blast shield in front
of him. It was up to the officer on the con to tell the helmsman what course to
About D-Day George wrote to his family, "On D-Day I watched planes fall from
the sky like exploding fireworks, ships around me turning turtle, blown up by
torpedoes and wave after wave of Allied planes flying over and bombing the Utah
beach landing area."
[Photo; 439 en route to Normandy from Southern England in July 1944.]
As executive officer George pulled the firing switches on 439's first salvo of
1448 rockets which took about 3 minutes. They roared over the heads of the
troops in the small landing craft en route to the beaches. The rockets landed on
the beaches to ensure the German troops were disoriented when the Allied troops
arrived shortly afterwards. Whilst our firing was on time and on target there
was some drama on board 439 as the skipper became stuck on trying to take refuge
in a hut provided to protect him from the heat of the rocket flames as they
ignited.... his bulky anti gas outfit and life jacket snagged on the door to the
hut and exposed his back to the fierce heat. Whilst his bulky safety apparel
caused the problem it also saved him from severe burns. The crew wore their
anti-gas outfits and life jackets for a week without taking them off!
After the initial salvo 439 reloaded and remained in the area of the beaches
ready for further action for 7 days. During this time enemy planes came over at
dusk to bomb our craft but the anti-aircraft gunners were too much for them...
the gunners even fired at the Allied planes because they were so nervous!
Post Normandy ~
Bizerte, Algiers and Naples
"After the Normandy invasion in June of 1944 our next assignment took our
then 9 rocket ship flotilla on a 1,500 mile journey through the Straits of
Gibraltar to Bizerte in Tunisia, North Africa where we stayed for 2 or 3 weeks.
In July we headed north in support of Operation Torch, the invasion of Southern
France, stopping off in Naples for fuel and provisions. The entrance to the
harbor was full of ships which had been scuttled by the Germans to keep the
Allies from using them and the harbor facilities.
On taking up position in the waters off Southern France between Marseilles
and Monte Carlo a wing of American heavy bombers passed overhead on their way to
the initial bombardment and we watched in horror as one opened up his bomb bay
doors and let go a whole string of bombs. Boy, were we praying that they would
miss us, and they did --PHEW !
At the time our 9 LCT(R)s were lined up in a row parallel to the beach and
ready to fire salvos of rockets onto the beach barricades. The US Navy sent in a
small fleet of radio controlled LCVPs loaded with explosives to blow up the
enemy underwater defensive obstacles such as hedgehogs. These were designed to
prevent landing craft from reaching the beaches to discharge their human cargos
of fighting men. Unfortunately the Germans intercepted the controlling signals,
turned the LCVPs around and headed them back towards our destroyers and
cruisers. Our big ships could not depress their guns low enough to sink the
craft so some PCs came in and blew up the 'hijacked' LCVPs.
We were ordered to steer east parallel to the coast until we could reach an
alternative landing area. At this time we suffered our only casualty in battle. Syers was a motormac and was under strict orders o stay below deck until the all
clear was sounded. He was writing to his folks and no doubt felt compelled go up
on deck to see what was happening. The Germans started firing their dreaded 88s
and bracketed us twice with the exploding shells throwing water spouts up on our
deck. Elmer was on the con and I was checking the crews, radar, and signalmen.
Someone hollered 'Man Down!' As medical officer, I examined Syers but I was sure
he was dead. We took him to a nearby hospital ship that was with the invasion
fleet and said a prayer as we transferred him. Although a difficult and
unwelcome task Elmer wrote a letter to Syers' parents. He was a good skipper,
always did what was right! [Photo; Elmer H Mahlin].
After the landings in southern France we anchored in the then safe
surroundings of Ajaccio Bay. We swam in the sea there and visited Napoleon's
home, Naples and later the harbor at Bizerte in Tunisia."
"USLCT(R) 439 was our workplace and our home for 4 to 5
months since we lived on board at all times - even when
berthed. The officers slept in bunks above the engine room and
mess room and the crew slept in hammocks forward of the mess
room. A cook served substantial hot, healthy food similar to
what was available at shore based establishments. We loved our
ship and worked together as a family. Leaving her for the last
time was an exciting experience but tinged with sadness since
it was the start of a process that would see our "band of
brothers" dispersed to the four winds.
On October 4th 1944 all the LCT(R)s were returned to the
Royal Navy. They were not, as expected, sailed back to England
but transferred to the British base at Messina on Sicily. All
US Navy personnel were repatriated. Clearly the job of the
Rocket Ships was done.
We returned to New York in September 1944 aboard the Army
troop ship General Meigs and ran into a terrible storm with
over 50 foot waves. Surprisingly this didn't bother the
sailors who were too preoccupied gambling and generally having
a good time."
In October of 1944 George was assigned to Commanding
Officers Training at the Little Creek Amphibious training base
which was near Norfolk, Virginia.
1) On this CombinedOps website read
US NAVY LANDING CRAFT TANK (ROCKET)
by Lt Commander Carr. His account concentrates on US Landing Craft Tank (Rocket)
operations in Normandy and Southern France in the summer of 1944.
2) Specification of LCT(R) 439 at
3) The National D-Day Museum
is located in New Orleans, USA. Amongst many other exhibits and material it has
the logs and records of LCT(R) 439 from Stu Mahlin of Cincinnati, Ohio, whose
father, Elmer Mahlin, commanded the vessel outfitted with rockets for close-in
support of landing troops. Mahlin was firing his rockets off Utah Beach on D-Day
The craft was decommissioned off Sicily on 1 October 1944, and Mahlin took
all its paperwork with him including every order he received during the war.
This valuable material included the original log of LCT(R) 439, the US log
starting 22 April 1944, when Mahlin accepted the craft from its British
commander, along with the American officer's diary, orders, sea charts,
snapshots and sea chest. Of particular interest is the American flag that flew
from LCT(R) 439 on D-Day.
Also included in the collection are Mahlin's sidearm and records pertaining
to his service as Commanding Officer of the Naval Reserve Training Center in
Lincoln, Nebraska. What has been received comprises the most complete record of
one sailor's service during World War II.
The information for this page was provided by George F Fortune who served as
Ensign on USLCT(R) 439. The information was redrafted for presentation on this
website by Geoff Slee and approved by the author before publication.