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Landing Craft Tank (5) 2304 - LCT (5) 2304 on D Day

UK  Combined Operations (Navy) Personnel & USA Army Forces Bound for Utah Beach


Two accounts of HM LCT (5) 2304's passage to Normandy on D-Day are presented here... one from UK crew member, Midshipman, John Mewha and the other from passenger, US Army Lieutenant, Ernest C James of Company A, 238 Engineer Combat Battalion.

[Photo; US LCT(A) 2008 was the same type of landing craft as HM LCT (5) 2304. Photo taken on D-Day + 1 by which time her bow ramp had been lost. US Army Signal Corps photo provided courtesy of Navsource. For more information on 2008 click here.]

John Mewha often wondered what became of the men of the US 238 Engineering Combat Battalion (ECB) he delivered to Utah beach on the morning of D-Day, June 6, 1944. Sixty one years later, through the good offices of Tony Chapman, archivist and historian of the LST & Landing Craft Association, John Mewha was reunited with former Lieutenant, Ernest C James of Company A of 238 Engineer Combat Battalion. Under their commanding officer, Captain Richard Reichmann, the men were shipped to Utah beach by LCT (5) 2304.

[Photo; left Midshipman, John Mewha RIP 17.2.08 - port after stormy seas.]

The planned order of beaching on Utah assigned seven British Mk5 LCTs to the US Army’s 238 ECB. The craft involved were 2056 and 2057 with the men of Company A, 2477 and 2304 with the men of Company B and 2011, 2074 and 2302 with the men of Company C. We now know that  LCT 2331 was a late addition.

LCT 2304 was part of the Royal Navy’s 107th Flotilla of ‘O’ LCT Squadron under the command of Lieutenant Commander Skrine. Midshipman, First Lieutenant, John Mewha was just over 19 years old on D-Day - the same age as his counterpart on LCT 2331, Midshipman George Boulton. This is John Mewha's story.

Loading for D-Day

After our arrival in Brixham, our fairly restful time was interrupted only by a trip to Dartmouth, where we checked out 2304. According to my records, she was built in the USA by the Omaha Steel Works (Sic), shipped across the Atlantic in three sections on a Landing Ship Tank (LST) and assembled in the UK. Her class was the smallest tank landing craft in use at the time with a capacity to carry a maximum of five tanks. The craft had additional armoured plates and was re-designated as the Mark 5 LCT (A)... 'A' denoting armoured.

On or about the 31st May, we left Brixham and sailed across Torbay to the harbour at Torquay. Our orders were to transport 70 American Combat Engineers with their vehicles and a medical team with their Jeep to Utah beach. I have a copy of the boarding orders showing that the detachment departed from Stover at 0135hours and expected to arrive in Torquay at 0245hours. Loading commenced at 0300hours and I was responsible for the safe stowing of vehicles and men on the craft. This was the occasion I first met Ernest James.

The boarding documents show that Lieutenant James was C/L CO for this operation. The secret embarkation personnel rosta, which lists everyone we carried from Company A, also shows the medical detachment – H/S Company – Engineer DUMP TRUCK company – 991st Engineer Treadway Bridge Company and two members of 237th Headquarters Battalion. The loading was successful and we returned to the harbour at Brixham, where we anchored.

A False Start

On June 3rd, we left Brixham with other vessels and sailed to the south of Start Point, where we waited for the convoy from Plymouth, Salcombe and Dartmouth. This convoy was given the name 'Force U' and was to land on the eastern side of the Cherbourg Peninsula in an area code named UTAH.

The convoy made its way to the south of the Isle of Wight, which we reached late on 04 June. We started the journey across the English Channel to Normandy but, during the night, we turned round because of the appalling weather and were escorted by cruisers into Weymouth Bay. This part of the voyage was completed without either lights or radio and no anchorage was available, so we circled for several hours in very rough sea conditions. This period was probably the most dangerous – there were many collisions and explosions.

The Real Thing

Later on 05 June, we regained our position in the convoy and once more headed for Normandy. During the night I came off the bridge and saw an Officer sitting in our crew’s mess deck writing a diary of events. Was that Lieutenant James I wonder? I can recall having a drink with him and Captain Reichmann in our little wardroom.

We greatly admired the fortitude of our passengers. They had been on board several days and nights with little protection from the elements and totally inadequate sanitary facilities. It was no easier for my crew, who worked hard under similar conditions and were very supportive. When dawn broke we could not believe our eyes; the whole sea was covered in ships of all shapes and sizes... a sight never forgotten.

On reaching the holding area off Utah beach we proceeded directly to the beach with three other British manned landing craft. We sailed under the guns of several battleships, which opened fire on targets ashore as we passed by. The noise was deafening. The noise intensified as salvos of explosive rockets, sequentially launched from LCT (R) craft, joined in the melee.

We followed a marked channel and on reaching the beach area discovered the initial landing was a thousand yards away from the planned site. Despite searching for a clear way into the beach avoiding wooden stake beach obstacles embedded in the sands, we had little success. Under increasing pressure and in less than favourable circumstances, Lieutenant Rankin decided to drop our kedge anchor and go in regardless. We sustained some damage to the craft and hit a concealed sandbank some yards from the shore line. The landing ramp was unable to reach the beach, resulting in a drop of several feet from the ramp into the water for the disembarking men and machines.


My duty at this time was to lower the ramp and oversee the disembarkation of our cargo. As the ramp door was lowered, it became clear the craft’s bow was not square to the beach, due to the rough sea conditions, unpredictable currents and wind. To rectify this I, and one of my crew, secured ropes to the forward bollards, took them on to the sandbank and tried to hold the craft’s head steady. I have no idea if our efforts did any good but all the while the noise of enemy shelling around us was deafening. The landing craft next to us was badly damaged.

[Right, an extract from the Admiralty's 'Green List' showing the disposition of LCT (5) 2304 just prior to D-Day.]

I have no clear memory of the order of disembarkation... vehicles or men. Lieutenant James reminded me that to assist the vehicles from the lowered ramp onto the beach a bulldozer winched all the vehicles over the offending gap. The men were, understandably, reluctant to jump into several feet of water and Captain Reichmann used all his influence to 'persuade' them to go ashore. We were keen to return to the holding area and to embark more vehicles and men from the larger Landing Ship Tanks (LSTs) and merchant ships positioned some miles off the landing beach. We had sustained some damage but fortunately none to our engine room, so we were still operational.

The Resurrection!

We sailed to a marked channel, where a US Navy Landing Craft Infantry (Large) [LCI (L)], immediately in front of us, disintegrated as a result of a shell or mine. We reached the holding area safely and reported our damage. We were holed in several places by the underwater obstacles and were advised that our 'craft was expendable.' We were to await further orders concerning our evacuation before our craft was sunk. We had become rather attached to our landing craft, since it had been our home for at least nine months and, against orders, we moved to an anchorage some distance from the holding area.

We were exhausted through lack of sleep and nervous anticipation of the day's events. Despite this, at dusk we slipped away from the anchorage and made our way to Southampton on our own. This was an adventurous night for us, since we were aware that German E-boats were patrolling the area looking for the likes of us. However, our luck held and we arrived safely in Southampton, where the damage was assessed. We were made to feel very welcome especially by the dock workers. After repairs were completed, we returned to Utah beach with another load of equipment and men and then we proceeded to the British Gold beach, where we unloaded larger merchant ships in and around the Mulberry Harbour at Arromanche.

When attending the 40th anniversary at Arromanche with my older son, we approached a man standing on his own a few yards away on the promenade. He had been a Free French pilot and leader of a group that laid the smoke on the beach as we were approaching. It was the first time he had attended one of these ceremonies and he had brought with him copies of his flight plans etc. He told us that we were the only people who had spoken to him during the day.

[Photo; John Mewha talking to Her Majesty the Queen on 1st Aug 2004. Photo courtesy of the Daily Echo, Bournemouth.)]

I am delighted to have been reunited with Ernest James after all this time and this is largely due to the efforts of Tony Chapman of the LST and Landing Craft Association of which I am a member.

In more recent times I have had the opportunity to confirm that I loaded the 238th Company from a ramp in the inner harbour of Torquay. Local people were most surprised, believing that the loading had been confined to American built 'hards.' No one in the town had known that we used the inner harbour and no doubt a plaque commemorating this is now in place. If not, it should be!

D DAY ON HM LCT (5) 2304

UK & USA Forces Working Together

These are the recollections of US Army Lieutenant, Ernest C James of Company A, 238 Engineer Combat Battalion.

 On June 5th-6th, 1944, he was aboard the Mk5 HM LCT 2304 of the 107th Flotilla of O LCT Squadron making her way to Utah beach in support of the US 4th Infantry Division. His writings here are reproduced with his permission

[Photo; US LCT(A) 2008 was the same type of landing craft as HM LCT (5) 2304. Photo taken on D-Day + 1 by which time her bow ramp had been lost. US Army Signal Corps photo provided courtesy of Navsource. For more information on 2008 click here.]

Crossing the Channel

We loaded our vehicles in late May and early June. All trucks carried twice their normal load, about seven and a half tons, including several tons of explosives on each truck. All available space was filled with extra equipment, which we were instructed to dump on the beach on landing, thus getting replacement materials to the beachhead. On arriving at Torquay, our trucks and invasion equipment were loaded on LCTs and then we waited. Sleeping space was found in the open boats, usually under the canvas tarp covering of our trucks. The LCT was moored for four days in the harbour, waiting, while troops ate K rations (cold food) and wondered when we would leave.

Our portion of the invasion fleet departed Torquay and was scheduled to hit the beaches on the morning of June 5. As it left, two boats collided and burned in the water, making a perfect beacon for German planes. By this time the Allies had air superiority so there were no attacks. The weather on June 4 was foul, so our boats pulled into Weymouth harbour that evening... D-Day was delayed a day. By this time most men were deathly seasick and many ships and troops were left behind due to mechanical trouble.

At dawn, our invasion fleet left the harbour, and soon after our LCT sprang a leak. The British Captain told us that he couldn't get the bilge pumps started. Lt Knapp, our motor officer, pulled out our water supply units to pump the bilge but we calculated we would probably sink on the morning of the sixth. We succeeded in keeping the LCT afloat until dawn on June 6th, when it appeared that we may not remain afloat. Thoroughly soaked, our 'gas proof' clothes made us even more uncomfortable. The LCT Captain, sensing our dilemma, invited Reichmann, Knapp and I into his cabin to share a small draught of his precious rum.

We couldn't help feeling a thrill as a destroyer pulled alongside and the Captain yelled to us that June 6th was D-Day and 0630 was H-Hour. From that time, we had a single sense of purpose as the landing craft headed for France and the beaches of Normandy. Knowing it was a matter of hours before we would enter combat for the first time, this last night was spent anxiously awaiting our uncertain future. Only the more hardened souls and those worn out by prolonged bouts of sea-sickness managed to sleep.

Just after midnight on the 6th, the drone of hundreds of planes was heard above the noise of the LCT's engines. Crawling from under our protective tarps into the biting wind, we saw the signs of war on the horizon. The sky to the east was lit up and the shadows of planes carrying paratroopers floated ominously overhead. Battleships, cruisers and destroyers were pounding the coast and bombers were giving inland installations a pre-landing drubbing. Long lines of flares dropped though the overhanging clouds and the sky appeared like a gigantic illuminated Niagara Falls. Needless to say there was no more sleep that night. No matter, it was a spectacular, but deadly show!

D Day

When dawn broke, an unbelievable scene of thousands of boats circling and heading in to the beach created a panorama never before seen. Infantry climbed down nets from troop carriers into small boats and groups of these boats were circling, while waiting orders to peel off and hit the beach. A nearby destroyer hit a mine and sank and we saw other boats rescuing sailors tossed into the sea. Orders to move in towards the beach came from loud speakers on private British yachts, which had been converted for this purpose.

Because we were in danger of sinking, we were given permission to proceed to the beach without delay. Our LCT headed for a line of buoys leading to shore and landed at about 0700 - an hour and a half before our scheduled time. Thus we were the first of the 238th to land in Normandy.

While making our run into Utah Beach, the battleship Texas fired salvo after salvo over our heads. 16 inch projectiles could be seen flying through the air and hitting their targets in a resounding blast. Our LCT had only a few inches of freeboard and while approaching  the beach at high speed, our bow high and stern low, we hit bottom many yards out. German 88mm shells hit the landing area around us creating geysers in the rough seas. It was a baptism of fire. We should have been able to drive our equipment and trucks directly off the boat onto the beach but we were floundering in several feet of water.

Reichmann and I jumped in, inflated our Mae Wests, and swam to the shore with several others. Seeing many couldn't swim, we both removed our outer clothes, swam back to the LCT and helped those who were stranded to reach the shore. I received a Bronze Star for this action, but due to an unfortunate circumstance, described later, Reichmann did not receive any recognition.

[Photo; an extract from the Admiralty's 'Green List' showing the disposition of LCT (5) 2304 just prior to D-Day.]

A young bulldozer operator volunteered to drive his dozer off the LCT ramp into several feet of water and on to the beach. There he was, a head, an exhaust pipe and an air intake moving through water as 88mm shells blasted around him. When the dozer reached the beach, he winched the truck, already loaded with troops, off the LCI and on to the shore. This way we got all seven vehicles on to the beach without losing one. To our knowledge the LCT never made it back to England.

The shoreline consisted of a long, shallow beach with sand dunes above the water line. Behind this was a road and then a few miles of swamp lands criss-crossed with canals. There were several causeways leading from the beach to the hedgerow fields and farms beyond. The swamp was flooded as tide gates had been opened by the Germans to obstruct the Allied advance into the hinterland.

While in the process of landing and breaking through the sea wall, we were under fire from nearby artillery and pill boxes on the beach. Engineers, with satchel charges and flame throwers, quickly decommissioned the emplacement. (In 1979, I took photos of those pillboxes, while on a trip following my wartime routes.)

Shortly after landing, I had the first of many lucky escapes. I was standing beside a truck loaded with tons of explosives when an 88mm shell exploded a few yards away. Plover, the truck driver, was knocked out and later evacuated. The next shell hit the truck but it was a dud... it had hit a primed satchel charge but the nitro-starch had not exploded. The truck tyres were blown and the body peppered with shrapnel. There was not enough brown paper in our K-rations to clean us!

By about 1030, most of the battalion had landed on Utah Beach and were on their way to our immediate objective, an assembly area. While walking along the road parallel to the beach, we soon came under a barrage of 88's. Reichmann and I ordered our men into the ditches and we crawled through an intersection. We saw a group of infantry men standing up, wondering what to do. I yelled for them to take cover but too late - an 88 hit in their midst. Seven men died, because they didn't know how to protect themselves. We learned from our training! Shortly after arriving at the assembly area, we saw 4th Division Infantry men advance across the swamps chasing after retreating Germans. We had received our baptism of fire on land!

Other than amphibious tanks, our trucks were among the first vehicles to land in France. We were attached to the 4th Division and our first mission was to open several roads from the beach to the high ground about a mile away. Most of this area was covered by swamps and creeks with many causeways under water and all bridges were blown up by the enemy.

Fortunately for us, the German garrisons in the area were less experienced, because their Command did not expect a landing adjacent to flooded marshy ground. On the other hand, our intelligence, good as it often was, failed to recognize the ease with which the Germans could flood the area. Tide gates were normally closed at high tide and opened at low tide to drain the swamps. Reversing this process, the Germans easily flooded the area. Hundreds of casualties resulted from this snafu (error) in intelligence.

Mongol soldiers captured on the Russian front were placed in these positions by the Germans. Enemy artillery, and to a lesser extent their air force, gave the beaches a terrific pounding, especially a day or two after the landing. By this time we were miles inland. Our air and navy bombardments pounded their positions so hard that many German troops withdrew, leaving the beachhead to us. One Nazi strong point on the coast towards Cherbourg held out and kept shelling us for several days.

By 1435 hours on D-Day, Company B had opened road U-5 to the high ground. Tanks and artillery poured through this road and long before Utah Beach was secured. This road required a 30' steel tread-way bridge, which was under artillery and small arms fire. It was the first bridge built in France on D-Day. When Company B men completed the bridge, the first tank was hit by an 88mm shell as it reached the middle but the momentum carried it over to the other side. Our tanks blasted the German tank which fired the shell and the bridge stayed intact.

T/5 Alton Aldman Ray of Company C, received the Croix de Guerre for his heroic action in evacuating wounded infantrymen. The entire Battalion had no casualties that day, due in part to the excellence of our training in the past year. During the entire day of June 6, the Battalion was engaged in clearing assembly areas of mines, repairing roads, clearing the beach access, building bridges and draining the swamps in order to use the causeways.

Late that afternoon, as we worked on  access roads, we heard the distant drone of aircraft. Looking seaward, we saw a huge armada of fighter planes leading C-47s, which passed above us as they dropped gliders and paratroopers over our heads. We could see enemy tracers passing through both and the gliders crashing as they landed. These were the much needed reinforcements for the first air drops. Many of the planes and gliders blew up in the air... it was a carnage but the reinforcements saved the day.

That night we moved into a bivouac area at Hebert but most of us worked on. By daylight, and by using any materials which were at hand, Company A had opened a return causeway, which had been entirely under water. Company B had secured the outgoing causeway and these were the only beach accesses for days and were vital to the Allies. The going was rough in these early hours for engineers, paratroops, infantry and the light tanks which had landed. There was, as yet, little in the way of artillery or support troops.

My brother-in law, Ralph Fell, had been a Sergeant in WWI in France. He wrote several letters, which hit at the heart of what we were experiencing. One such was written to my sister Edith on D-Day. He suspected that I was on the landing.

JUNE 6, 1944. Lincoln Nebraska. EDITH: Today is the day. I think everybody should say a prayer for the success of our army. I think they have the same feeling I had in 1918 when we landed in France. Chateau Thierry had just been fought and the Germans had made their last bid for Paris. We knew the tide had turned, and what we were in for.----RALPH

Army records of the day's events showed that;

• Sunrise on June 6, 1944 was at 0558 and H-Hour was at 0630

• The 238th Combat Engineers landed from 0700 to 1100 on D-Day. Most landed in the first hour.

• The total force of the landing was about 24000 men, of which 16000 were American and 8000 were British.

• 1000 aircraft took part, landing the 81st and 101st Airborne behind Omaha and Utah beaches and the British 6th Airborne around Caen near the Orme River. The Americans were scattered, but each small group organized when they met, and created confusion and fear in the German troops.

• By nightfall, the 4th Division and Airborne were 6 miles inland from Utah Beach.

• The Airborne had about 2500 casualties (15%) and the 4th Division had 197 casualties.

Two LCTs with 238th personnel had engine trouble and returned to port on June 5. On one was the Battalion CO, Col. McMillian, so Major Martin Massoglia assumed command of the Battalion on D-Day. Other than these two LCT's, one sunk in Southampton harbour before it could be unloaded.

There were no casualties on D-Day. However, weeks later, Lt Chalfaunt claimed a Purple Heart for a piece of shrapnel, which hit him while he was watching a dog fight on the beach! We had been in the midst of the full action all day and night. Our training paid off! For a few days we bivouacked at Hebert. Records are incomplete of other bivouacs until 06-12-1944. Mostly we slept where we were working.

Secret Embarkation Roster

Note: LCT 197 (see below) was the army serial, or loading number, for HMLCT 2304. It was this number, rather than the craft number, that those going aboard looked for at the point of embarkation.


U.S. ARMY EMBARKATION PERSONNEL ROSTER LCT 197. Co.A 238 Engr.Combat Bn. 45106 Station. Torquay


01101177         Reichmann, Richard S. Capt.
01103235         James, Ernest C. 1st Lt
20318192         Freck, Frank R. S SG
35492027         Hedrick, Paul F. S SG
38339724         Hewton, Thomas G. S SG
20107649         deleted Smolkowicz, Joseph J. S SG
34357945         Creel, Joseph E. SGT
34586226         Davis. Marion P. SGT
34525304         Shavers, Lee A. SGT
34587501         Swanner, Frank A. SGT
34596771         Rollins, Jackson W. TEC4
38139355         Late addition Harrison, Jack (NMI)
11048179         Fiore, Amollo A. CPL
33567309         Gelnett, Lawrence E. CPL
38393065         Atkins, Everett C. TEC5
33628466         Blevins, Herman L. TEC5
38393029         Long, Dwight L. TEC5
33112901         Potter, Jack TEC5 ((Photo)
34524393         Wales, Bennie H. TEC5
34998346         Ward, Edgar T. TEC5
34579466         Brooks, Samuel E. PFC
34502420         Bryant, Johnnie O. PFC
33417839         Kelly, Jesse L. PFC
38393016         Mills, Harold W. PFC
33408231         Mistretta, Joseph J. PFC
34524420         Morgan, Charles C. PFC
34407155         deleted Michels, Laurius PFC
34581588         Reid, Amburst H. PFC
33143321         Venture, Joseph M. PFC
38217016         Vielma, Trinidad F. PFC
34595552         Simpson, Haywood L. PFC
33628233         Late addition Shephard, Raymond C. PVT
31037196         Bewes, Frank R. PVT
34579603         Brown, James H. PVT
33534787         Calvert, Charlie M. PVT
34578444         Castleberry, Buddie PVT
38417662         Donaldson, William. PVT
33476306         Elliott, Freddie PVT
13068287         Fink, Telford N. PVT
33413811         Griffin, Richard L. PVT
33458584         Jelinski, Edward F. PVT
37530377         Jones, Earnest E. PVT
35803278         Jones, George B. PVT
34597967         Late addition Wilson, Nesbit C. PVT
38393727         Maxey, Clark D. PVT
36758189         Piekara, Walter S. PVT
33476335         Plover, Joseph J. PVT
34578663         Self, James J. PVT
35872446         Spencer, Homer V. PVT
34536960         William, Charlie M. PVT

Med. Det. 238th Engr. Combat Bn 45127 LCT 197

0507298           Allinson, Sydney M. CAPT
34525343         Emerson, Rufus B. CPL
34502128         McClure, Romio R. Jr TEC5
34502128         Rawls, William K. TEC5

H/S Co. 238th Engr. Combat Bn. 45122 LCT 197

0468491          Knapp, Henry D. 1LTW21311282     Jackson, Thomas T. WOJG
33408261         Buynak, John TEC5
34595179         Crouse, Carl R. TEC5
34539892         Hicks, Ernest R. TEC5
34540255         Late addition Marden, Lewis C. PVT

582nd Engr. Dump Truck Co. 46055 LCT 197 Station:- Newton Abbot.

35801584         Adams, Edward SGT
34675683         Ballard, Guilford TEC5
34654537         Bamberg, Albert N. PFC
34673678         Lewis, Willie H. PFC
34673647         Lewis, Clifton Jr. PFC
34246252         Strickland, Ralph W. CPL

991st Engr. Treadway Bridge Co. 44454 Station:- Shiphay, Devonshire

32245559         Pesci, Dino V. TEC5
38337555         Howard, Malcolm J. PVT
34192304         Braden, Julian E. TEC5
36054081         Luachtefeld, Leo J. SGT

HQ. 237th Engr. Combat Bn. LCT 197 Station:- Newton Abbot

Prepared by 1106th Engr. Combat Group.

32600466         Maggitti, Edward V. T/SGT
32485217         Carrow, James W. TEC5

US LCT (A) 2008 is the same class and type as LCT 2304. On arrival in England, 2008 was assigned to the Royal Navy under Lease-Lend. On November 21st, 1943, she was at Kings Lynn, Norfolk, England, where 19 year old leading motor mechanic Thomas Harding C/KX 143840 fell overboard and was tragically drowned. He rests in Kings Lynn cemetery close by. Prior to the invasion of Normandy, 2008 was transferred back to the US Navy under Lease-Lend in reverse. On June 6th, 1944, she was under the command of Ensign Ray Cluster USN as part of the Commander Gunfire Support Group. She was assigned to the western flank of Fox Green sector of Omaha beach with tanks of Company C of the US Army's 741st Tank Battalion and was due to land at H hour. The photo was taken on June 7th, 1944, minus her bow ramp, lost on the Normandy beaches the day before. A new ramp was fitted after delivering the troops seen in the photo. She remained in service until the 'Great Storm' of June 19th-22nd, 1944, when she sustained severe damage and was stranded on the beaches.

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These two accounts of HMLCT 2304's passage to Normandy on D-Day were compiled by Tony Chapman, Archivist/Historian for the LST and Landing Craft Association from the combined recollections of Midshipman John Mewha of the MK5 HMLCT 2304 and First Lieutenant Ernest C James of Company A 238 Engineer Combat Battalion. In both cases the texts were edited for presentation on the Combined Operations website by Geoff Slee

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