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Harbour Defence Motor Launch (HDML) 1301 - Operation Brassard.

17 June 1944

Harbour Defence Motor Launch (HDML) 1301.

The role of Harbour Defence Motor Launch 1301 (HDML 1301) in Operation Brassard, as one of two HDML craft that spearheaded the landing of Commandoes prior to the main assault,  provides a valuable insight into the complex and detailed planning which preceded all raids and landings. This account was prepared by David Carter, whose father, Lt FL Carter, RNVR, was killed in the action. David Carter and some Dutch Commandos, recovered 1301 from the Mediterranean and returned her to Holland with plans to restore her to 1943 condition.

[Photo; ML1301 in Padstow, Cornwall.]


The Harbour Defence Motor Launch (HDML) was designed by W J Holt at the Admiralty in early 1939. During World War II, 486 HDMLs were built, mainly by yacht builders in the United Kingdom and a number of other allied countries.

HDMLs were originally intended for the defence of estuarial and local waters. They proved to be such a sea-kindly and versatile design that they were used in every theatre of operation as the war progressed. They were to be found escorting convoys off the West Coast of Africa, carrying out covert activities in the Mediterranean and undertaking anti-submarine patrols off Iceland. [Source "Medusa" by Mike Boyce.]

Harbour Defence Motor Launch (HDML) 1301.HDML 1301 was laid down in the yard of W Blackmore in Bideford, Devon in September 1942. She was launched in January 1943, completed in Appledore and commissioned in April 1943. She was under the command of Lt F L Carter RNVR, who oversaw construction and instigated minor changes to the basic design such as the addition of armour cladding to the bridge.

[Photo; HDML 1301 in Malta for fitting of Orlikon guns.]

Her armament, initially, comprised a 2 pounder gun on the foredeck, a 20 mm Orlikon on the stern cabin, a .303 Vickers machine gun on each side of the bridge and eight depth charges, on racks, at the stern. After working-up in the Bristol Channel, HDML 1301 was grouped into a convoy in Milford Haven and sailed for Malta via Gibraltar.

In Malta, the 2 pounder gun was removed and replaced by second 20 mm Orlikon before she took part in Operation Husky, the invasion of Sicily in July 1943 and later the invasion of Italy at Salerno, after which she was based in Naples.

Command Structure [Much of the information that follows was taken from National Archive ADM/199/2424.]

In late 1943, the Navy reorganised the Coastal Forces in Italy as follows;

Commander in Chief, Mediterranean Central Mediterranean.
Western Italy Sub Area under Flag Officer West Italy (FOWIT).
Harbour Defence Motor Launch (HDML) 1301.HQ at Naples, including Sardinia and Corsica, with minor sub-areas.
Senior Officer Inshore Squadron (SOIS), Area Combined HQ in Bastia.

[Map courtesy of Google Map Data 2017.]

SOIS was to operate all surface light forces in this area against enemy supply lines (under the direction of FOWIT) and to act as C in C’s representative in Corsica for the purpose of co-operation with French Naval Command in Corsica. The Naval Officer in Charge Maddalena was to command all Allied Naval Forces in Sardinia (under FOWIT). This duty was to be carried out by the Captain in charge of the 10th Submarine Flotilla (Captain Dickinson, appointed to this post 2/11/1943 and responsible to C in C for the operation of submarines in the western basin of the Mediterranean, notwithstanding his responsibility to FOWIT for the Naval Base at Maddalena.

The officer in command of all the sub-areas in the Central Mediterranean, was to organise local convoy movements and operate local forces under their command in accordance with general instructions from the C in C. By early 1944, HDML 1301 operated from Maddalena. Boats re-fueled there since the facilities at Bastia were unusable, due to sunken ships left by the retreating enemy.

Harbour Defence Motor Launch (HDML) 1301.Preparations & Plan

The main components of the plan to invade Elba provided for 490 men from the Battalion de Choc and 70 from Groupe de Commando, to be landed 3 hours before H-hour. They were to be carried in Landing Craft Infantry (Large) (LCI (L)s), Motor Launches (MLs) of Groups 2 and 9 and  Landing Craft Assault (LCAs) of 577 Flotilla to 'Louise Green' landing beach.

[Map courtesy of Google Map Data 2017.]

HDML 1301 was to take up station 200 yards and 335o from Landing Craft Headquarters (LCH) 315, ready for the LCAs to form up. 1301 was to show a steady red light towards the group as a navigational aid. Craft were to be manned and formed up as quickly as possible in accordance with the diagram below. Lt P W Spencer was to embark LCI (L) 303 with the Commander of Battalion de Choc and to transfer to HDML 1301 as LCAs formed up.

At H - 2.45hrs, HDML1301 was to lead off to position 211, Marina di Capo light 25.5 cables (2.5 nautical miles), marked by PT 211 flashing Z’s. HDML 1301 was to pass PT 211 at H - 2.10hrs to arrive at the inner release position, 236, Marina di Capo light 21.5 cables (2.1 nautical miles) at H - 1.95hrs. This course was in line with Mt Caponne, the highest point on the island. If the PT was off station, it would flash the true course to the inner release position when the formation came into view.

Harbour Defence Motor Launch (HDML) 1301 - Operation Brassard, 17 June 1944.The Folboat, in position 248, Marina di Capo light 17.2 cables (1.7 nautical miles), would flash Ls to seaward from H - 2.25hrs until passed by the LCAs. If it had not achieved the desired position, there would be no light, in which case they were to proceed as planned.

[Map courtesy of Google Map Data 2017.]

As soon as HDML 1301 stopped, the Flotilla Officer was to reduce speed, turn his flotilla to starboard and make straight for the beach. This course would take him past the Folboat towards the lowest part of the skyline. He would then approach to within 300 yards of the beach before taking his column in to touch down at H - 1.80hrs, followed in turn by the two remaining columns as soon as the beach was clear.

The beach was about 100 yards long, to its rear was a terraced slope between two hills. If the beach could not be found they were to proceed to Louise Red beach. On clearing the beach, the craft were to return to HDML 1301 at slow speed, on no account should they power up their engines unless fired on by enemy.

Harbour Defence Motor Launch (HDML) 1301.They were to form up in original order, except both LCS (Ms) on the starboard side, were to be ready to return to the waiting area. When Lt Spencer, in HDML 1301, had collected his group, he was to steer at slow speed to waiting area C for 10 minutes. After this, he was to check compasses with the Flotilla Officer.

[Photo; Jack van Sligter shows 1301 sailing on the Haringvliet, Holland in 2008.]

During the Main Assault, Lt Spencer in HDML1301, was to wait at (R). When the group arrived, he was to take up a position 100 yards east of LST 4. LCV (P)s were to form up as follows: as the 5 LSTs completed loading, they were to form up and close on HDML 1301 which would be stationed 100 yards east of LST4. At H - 85, HDML 1301 would lead off to join up astern of main assault flight, which would be marked by HDML 1246 showing a red light towards the convoy.

Assault on Kodak Green Beach. On reaching position 093o, Marina di Capo light 10 cables, HDML 1301 was to lead the 14 LCV(P)s to starboard until heading for the beach, when he was to stop. LCV(P) Flotilla Officer was then to proceed to he lan and to touch down in two waves, first at H - 10. Both waves must beach on either side of the rock in the centre, the fist wave clearing outwards to allow the second to come in.

On clearing the beach, the LCV (P)s were to rejoin HDML1301, which was to lead them out in line ahead on a reciprocal course keeping as close to the coast as possible. Major Landing Craft would be entering the area at some time but it was the responsibility of the minor LCs to keep out of their way. HDML1301 would lead them back to (R) proceeding on a track ½  a mile east of approach course. Lt Spencer, in HDML 1301, was to proceed at full speed to (T) as soon as the LCV(P)s had found the parent LSTs. On arrival, he was to take up position as "Return Convoy Controller" where he would be joined by LCI(L)316 and transfer to it.

Harbour Defence Motor Launch (HDML) 1301.The Action (National Archive ADM/199/2425. Captain Errol Turner, Landing Craft Headquarters (LCH) 315 9 July 1944.)

The assault on Elba differed from any previous one carried out by the force. Owing to the danger of mines it was considered inadvisable to use LSI, LST and major landing craft, and MLs, therefore, had the dual task of transporting the assaulting forces and towing the minor landing craft from the advanced base to the release position. In fact we were presented with the problems of a Short Range Assault.

[Photo; an unidentified HDML on patrol in the Mediterranean.]

As we expected, the French military staff were completely ignorant of the theory and practice of combined operations. Unfortunately, in many cases they seemed loath to accept facts given by us resulting in considerable delays.

There was no vehicular training through a water splash, due to the lack of waterproofing material, but the French were not unduly worried by this. As a result, several vehicles stalled when disembarking. Reputedly, the best performance of driving was by French lady ambulance drivers!

Finally, I wish to state my personal admiration for the way in which all naval personnel under my orders, carried out their duties. There was a noticeable spirit of determination throughout the force, which was commented on from outside sources.

Official Reports of Proceedings on the role of ML1301 

1. Lt Spencer - Operation Brassard LCH 315 - Landing of the Battalion de Choc.

On the South Coast, one or two F-Lighters, thought to have been evacuating Pianosa Garrison, possibly accompanied by an E-boat, were sighted at 0030 by the PT boats. … Short engagement, both PT boats damaged, one man killed. One of the F-Lighters then encountered ML1301, which had just released the 9 MCAs making the most westerly landing. ML1301 came under heavy cannon and machine-gun fire, to which she replied. The Captain was killed, First Lt and 5 ratings injured. F-Lighter then passed into Golfo di Campo, without sighting the landing craft. The F-Lighter appears to have rounded Elba to the west after encounter with PT Boats. 

During all this time, ML 1301 and her 9 LCAs and 2 LCS (M) for Louise Green, were not having such an easy time. They led off from position (R) at 2350 hours and the approach to this dispersal point was not entirely to plan. The only exception was PT 211, who was well over to eastward but, as the details of the land were clearly visible, this caused no difficulty. The Folboat was in the correct position.

At 0055, ML 1301 was lying pointing roughly north-west, having released the LCAs at 0040 in position 9 cables (just under 1 nautical mile) 198o centre of Louise Green, when a vessel was sighted off the Port Bow, steaming south-east about 2 cables distant. It looked like an F-Lighter and this was confirmed a second or two later when German voices were heard. Guns were trained on the enemy but it was hoped they would not see us.

The enemy opened fire about 10 seconds after we first sighted him with intense 20mm and machine gun fire. At the same time, fire was returned and many of the ship’s company reported hearing screams as Orlikon bursts found their marks. The enemy disengaged and when last seen was steaming for Golfo di Campo. At 0105 hours, course was set for position (R) as I considered it paramount import to report presence of the enemy and secure medical assistance.

2. Rear-Admiral Trowbridges' Report to Admiral Cunningham

It has now been established that the enemy never sighted the LCAs and did not realise the Island was being invaded until 0347 hours, when the alarm was given.

Just after the Squadron Officer had left, ML 1301 arrived alongside. Lt Spencer gave us the full story and reported that the CO was dead, the First Lt and 4 seamen wounded. Miraculously, no major damage sustained by hull or engines. All casualties were transformed to LCH 315 and Sub Lt Rossiter, one of SNO (L)’s staff and one signalman lent to him. ML 1301 then proceeded to the LST to gather up the 14 LCV (P)s he was to lead to Kodak Green Beach.

17 June 0001 hours: Sighted PT 211 flashing Zs, but too far to Starboard. In view of visibility and correct departure, it was not considered necessary to break RT silence to inform ML 1301 who must have realised PT 211was out of position.

0027 hours: Spasmodic machine gun fire bearing 280o,estimated distance 7 miles. Nothing on Radar. From later reports, this appears to have been 2 PTs who were fired on by F-Lighter on way to Campo Bay.

0035 hours: Exchange of Orlikon fire bearing 355o off Louise Green. Continued intermittently for about a minute (this proved to be ML 1301 and F-Lighter).

0103 hours Received signal that Shock Troops had landed successfully on Louise Green. No time. Received signal from ML 1301 that there was an F-Lighter off Campo Head.

0210 hours: ML 1301 came alongside and reported they had been fired on by F-Lighter, which disengaged and moved into Campo Bay. Six casualties removed from ML, including CO killed, First Lt wounded. Lt Spencer took command and Sub-Lt Rossiter lent to him as First Lt.

0227 hours: LCAs and LCS (M) returned from Louise Green Beach. Reported no casualties or damage, although fire from F-Lighter fell near Folboat and beach, no one touched.

0235 hours: Signal sent to Senior Officer N that in view of known presence of F-Lighter in Campo Bay, that LCGs be sent to deal with them; it being considered that all form of surprise was lost.

0250 hours: Main assault group formed up and moved off.

24 June 1944: The first landings 3 hours before H Hour, went to plan. The westernmost landing, consisting of 200 shock troops destined for Poro battery overlooking Campo Bay, had just been released to go inshore when the F-Lighter, returning to Campo with the Pianosa Garrison, blundered into the ML, which had led the attack and was waiting offshore to collect the returning boats. In the brief exchange of shots, the Captain of the ML was killed, others wounded but the boat unhurt. The F-Lighter then went into Campo, discharged his cargo and three wounded, then turned in for the night. They had no suspicion that an assault was impending.

26 June 0855 hours: Sub Lt Rossiter rejoined staff.

Awards and Citations

Lt Peter William Spencer, awarded DSO, 6 September 1944. During the landing on the South Coast of Elba, Lt Peter William Spencer, in HDML 1301, was responsible for finding Louise Green Beach and for landing 9 LCAs carrying the French Battalion de Choc at 0100 on 17 June 1944.

After releasing the craft for the last position of their run in, HDML 1301 was attacked by a German F-Lighter. In the action which followed, the Commanding Officer of HDML1301 was killed and the First Lt wounded. Lt Spencer took charge and brought the HDML back to SNO(L) in LCH 315, 4miles from the beach in time to lead in the US landing craft in the main assault on Kodak Green Beach at 0400. This officer displayed outstanding gallantry, initiative and determination of purpose. (Errol C L Turner, Captain RN, CO.)

This recommendation is strongly concurred in. The successful manner in which the US landing craft were maneuvred and brought in for the assault under heavy fire after the damage and casualties sustained by HDML 1301 in her encounter with the enemy 3 hours previously, was a splendid example of resolution and fighting spirit. (Rear Admiral Trowbridge.)

I concur. C F Stanton-Colville, President, Award Committee

I concur. Admiral Cunningham, Admiral C-in-C Mediterranean.

Alan John Godfrey, Temporary Sub-Lt RNVR, awarded Mention in Dispatches. At about 0100 on 17 June 1944, HDML 1301 in which he was First Lt., had a close engagement with a German F-Lighter off the coast of Elba. He was wounded many times by shrapnel in the chest and back, and in spite of this he went aft to superintend the making of smoke. By doing so, he set a fine example to those around him, many of whom were wounded. (Errol C L Turner, Captain RN, CO.)

I concur Rear Admiral Trowbridge

I concur. C F Stanton-Colville, President, Award Committee

I concur. Admiral Cunningham, Admiral C-in-C Mediterranean.

Harry Donald Davies, Commanding Officer ML 1246 and Squadron Officer awarded Mention in Dispatches

Under heavy fire, found alternative landing place, provided smoke, reconnoitred inner beaches despite heavy fire. Displayed courage of highest order, efficiency, complete disregard for enemy.

Explanatory Notes

Harbour Defence Motor Launch (HDML) 1301 - Operation BrassardF-lighters are used for actual conveyance of stores in convoy and for protection. Some have been armed with 1, 2 or even 3 88 mm guns with 2 or possibly 3 quadruple 20 mm mountings. They may also have concrete or armour protection to their sides. It is reported that some of these specially armed craft have been given the task of protecting harbours of Elba. 3 F-lighters have been seen in Kodak section at one time.

These craft have been seen in the lettered position shown opposite. (Around Marina di Campo). It is possible that they may be in Kodak Sector during the assault. Reconnaissance at last light on D – 1 will be made to confirm their positions, if present, and the results signalled using these lettered positions.

Details of F-lighters: Length: 154 feet, Beam: 21 feet, Height of upper deck amidships: 10 feet. Armament mounted on centre line with base plates of guns slightly below upper deck level. Each 88 mm gun is probably in a circular gun shield. The humped continuous upper deck, characteristic bow and narrow beam should serve to distinguish these craft from our own LCTs and LCGs. [Planning File ADM/199/2425 Copied from Orders issued by Senior Naval Officer (Landing) P1 Naval Party 893 on 11 June 1944.]

The first enemy throughout the Mediterranean campaign was the German F-lighter, an ingenious multi-purpose vessel with very shallow draft which could be used in the role of freighter, troop-carrier or flak ship according to need, or the three roles simultaneously. In its most offensive role it boasted a firepower which no MTB or MGB could hope to match: an 88mm dual-purpose gun, a 40 mm and multiple 37 mm and 30 mm and bristling machine guns. Because of their shallow draft they were very difficult to torpedo, and for a while the only method of attack was to get in so close under cover of darkness that their guns could not be sufficiently depressed to make a hit. Copied from [The Longest Battle – The War of the Boats.]

Further Reading

On this website there are around 50 accounts of landing craft training and operations, landing craft training establishments, Royal Naval Commandos, Operation Brassard and HMDL 1301 Post War & Recovery in 2007.

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.

Beachhead  Assault by David Lee. The Story of the Royal Naval Commandos in WW2.  Foreword by Tony Parsons. Published By Greenhill Books in October 2004.

The Beachhead Commandos by a Cecil Hampshire. Published by William Kimber & Co Ltd in 1983.


Dear Geoff

HDML 1301 is now onshore in an industrial museum in Dronten, Netherlands, being restored. I am in touch with the people working on it and can give you an update if it is relevant for this site.  I am also Secretary of the Coastal Forces Veterans Association (London Branch).  We have a website - www.cfv.org.uk.

Kind regards

David Carter


Unless otherwise stated, sources of information include Admiralty records in the National Archive augmented with notes taken from letters sent home by Lt Carter. In reading this account please bear in mind that the two HDMLs led this attack several hours ahead of the main group with their cargo of commandos.

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