Landing Craft Tank (4) 980 - LCT (4)
Veteran of Normandy &
(Mark 4) 980 was one of over 700 similar vessels that saw
action on the Normandy beaches in June, 1944 and again at Walcheren in Holland in
Nov, 1944. This account, by Denis W Garrod,
describes the vessel, its specifications, operations and post war duties.
Let there be built great ships which can cast upon a beach, in any
weather, large numbers of the heaviest tanks. (Churchill)
LCT(4), Landing Craft Tank 1319 (Mark 4). Similar to LCT
980. © IWM (A 27907).]
LCT 980 was in service
from 1943 to 1945. This was written
by the craft's electrician almost sixty years later,
with additional information provided by Tony Chapman,
archivist and historian of the LST & Landing Craft Association.
vessels were built in the United Kingdom and in the United States for the
express purpose of landing heavy tanks
directly onto unimproved beaches
in enemy occupied territories. Many landings
had already taken place in the
Mediterranean and Pacific theatres, where
landing craft of many types were used.
LCT 980 Specifications
There were approximately730
Mark 4 LCT constructed in the UK. They
were 187 ft 3 long and 38 ft 9
in beam (width) with a displacement
of 586 tons. The forward draught was
3ft 6 inches 9just over a
metre) with a load
capacity of 350 tons made
up of five large tanks, seven medium tanks or
any other combination of military vehicles.
required a crew of twelve including two officers.
It was powered by two Paxman Ricardo diesels, each
driving a 21-inch propeller producing a speed of eight
knots over a range of 1,100 miles. Twin rudders were provided for steering. The
armament comprised two 20 mm Oerliken guns, two Parachute and Cables (PACs) and two
Fast Aerial Mines (FAMs) for defensive use against
enemy air attacks.
crew’s quarters were in the very stern of the craft with access via a
vertical ladder. Living conditions were
basic. There was no refrigeration, although
there was a stove for cooking, which also served to heat the crew’s quarters.
[Photo; LCT 980 in
the English Channel on D-1.]
Just forward of the crew’s
mess-deck, separated by a watertight door, was the engine room, containing two large diesel engines and two
hand cranked diesel engines for electrical generators rated at 5 kilowatts and 15 kilowatts. Two very large
capacity 24 volts
batteries, kept in a good state of charge by the generators
powered by the main engines, provided the electricity
to start the main engines. However, they could also be charged from the service generators
Ahead of the engine room was the sparse accommodation for the troops,
with access from the rear of the tank
space. The basic toilet facilities were located in the same area. Immediately
above the troop quarters and engine room was the bridge structure containing the
officers’ cabin and the wheelhouse.
The rest of the ship ahead of the bridge was the 'tank
space', otherwise described as a big flotation tank
with many water-tight compartments,
which could be pumped dry to increase buoyancy or flooded when we were underway
and unladen to increase stability. Along each side of
the tank space were water lines with hydrants for fire fighting. The entire
ship’s bottom was flat to facilitate unloading
directly onto unimproved beaches. There was no keel. There
were drainage holes on the tank deck and
heavy duty rings and chocks
to secure the vehicles firmly to the deck.
This was to prevent any movement of the cargo during
rough seas which, at best, would cause damage and at
worst affect the stability of the craft.
At the bow (front) the landing ramp door is clearly visible
in the above photo. It was a heavy steel
door, hinged at the bottom and raised and lowered by
two hand-operated winches, one on either side of the forward superstructure.
Each winch was operated by two men. During landings, the door
until it rested on the beach to allow the vehicles
to drive off, frequently through water at the beach edge. On the stern deck,
capstan was used to lower
and raise a kedge anchor, which
was occasionally used in harbour, but its main function was to
help pull the craft off the beach. There were few amenities
aboard and the men slept in hammocks. The officers had bunks in their
"wardroom". They ate the same food as the crew. Drank4
[Map courtesy of
LCT 980 was
commissioned at Alloa in Scotland in late 1943 and I joined her
crew in January, 1944, as the wireman, (ship’s
electrician), from Southend to
the Cromarty Firth, about
600 miles to the north! Recalling the names of the entire crew is
difficult after nearly sixty years but some names come to mind.
Skipper – Lt. Peter A. Gurnsey, RNZNVR, (below
First Lieutenant – Sub Lt. John Bruce Tait, (below
Coxswain – L.S. William G. Brentnall
Motor Mechanic - P.O. "Mac"
Stokers – Albert Boxall (Stoker) &
AB Cyril "Ches" Cheshire & AB Gerald "Jake"
Wireman "Wires" Denis W. Garrod
Abel Seamen Les &"Scouse".
In those days we were all just kids. I
was nearly eighteen and most of the others were only
slightly older. Our officers were a little older, the oldest being Tait,
who was 29.
After I joined 980, we
proceeded down the east coast of England. En route, we saw
some huge concrete blocks sitting on beaches with no sign
of activity around them. We had no idea what they were but
later discovered they were caissons that formed part of the breakwaters for the
Mulberry Harbours. You can read about
The Mulberry Harbours elsewhere
on this website.
Preparations for Normandy
In the months following our arrival on the south coast
of England, we undertook
countless training exercises for the invasion of Europe,
including a final exercise under live fire at "Bracklesham Bay"
to provide us with a sense of what awaited us on the landing beaches.
The main event started on 5 June, 1944, when we set out in
convoy for the French coast and Sword Beach. We
were briefed on our small part in the largest invasion
force in history and were
given a leaflet signed by the
Supreme Allied Commander, General Dwight D Eisenhower.
The rough crossing took its toll on
the soldiers we were carrying and they had to fight the German defenders as
soon as we lowered our ramp.
We crossed the channel in two lines astern in the
flotilla of "T" squadron. During the night crossing there was little activity, but as dawn broke,
everything changed. We
spread out in line abreast as we approached the beaches. The sea was covered
with hundreds of vessels of all sizes and the noise reached unbelievable levels.
The stench of cordite was everywhere. This was to be our first taste of action
with the enemy. We were certainly within range of huge
guns at Le Havre but they
had other distractions, such as the battleship HMS Warspite and several
others. However, we met plenty of
opposition from smaller shells, mortars and gun fire
along our landing beaches.
The enemy's first lines of defence were beach
obstacles (photo above) installed to protect "Fortress Europe"
These obstacles were mostly timbered structures buried in the sands with an
explosive device, such as a small mine,
facing the incoming landing craft. Smaller landing craft could
often manage to find a way
through but it was almost impossible
There was a double row of these obstacles, the first at
the low water mark and the second at
the high water mark.
D-Day - The Landing
At the time of
our landing, the tide safely carried us over the first row
of beach obstacles but with no
chance of avoiding the second row, our
skipper deliberately rammed an obstacle in the
centre of the ramp door. The resultant explosion blew a hole
in the centre of the ramp but the military vehicles disembarked
by safely straddling the hole as they left.
approached the beach, my job
was to drop the kedge anchor when instructed
to do so by the bridge.
On coming to a halt, my next job was to run forward to the port side winch locker
ready to turn the left handle,
while "Ches" took the right handle.
After the ramp had been lowered and the troops
disembarked under the direction of our first lieutenant,
Tait, he took over the left
winch handle from me when the raising ramp door reached the
horizontal position. I dashed back to the
electric capstan to haul in the
kedge anchor but we were already starting to move astern. Before I had reached
the stern, there was an explosion off our starboard bow.
Tait was struck in the head by a large
piece of shrapnel,
killing him instantly. Ches later confirmed that I
had missed being killed by seconds. My
Maker must have been watching out for me
As we were moving astern, we drifted to port and struck one of the
obstacles in the first row, crippling our steering. By
varying the power to our twin propellers,
our skipper managed to steer us to relative safety a couple of miles out to sea.
Our coxswain, Bill Brentnall, sewed Tait’s body
and a heavy tank chock into a hammock and he
was committed to the deep. With functional engines but no steering,
our aim was to return to England by any means possible.
Other landing craft attempted to tow us, both alongside and astern, but in the
rough seas, the ropes and steel hawsers soon chafed through. Eventually we
made it back near to Nab Tower off the Isle of Wight
under our own power, where we were taken in tow
by an Admiralty Tug and safely delivered to Southampton Harbour.
It took some time before repairs were completed.
A newspaper article of the day reported on the experience of LCT 980.....
LONDON June 12th 1944. TANK FERRY. BEACH
LANDINGS. LIVELY TASK – DOMINION OFFICERS WORKING UNDER FIRE
'With one or two exceptions,
it was the worst weather I have experienced at sea in a tank landing-craft.', said Sub-Lieutenant A
P Gurnsey of
Christchurch, commenting on the Channel crossing to France on D
day. He was one of very many New Zealand officers in landing craft of all types.
'My craft rolled like a barrel all the way.', he said. 'Our job
was to get the tanks ashore at the extreme left flank of the British front and
we ran into absolute hell. Our zero hour was 8.10 a.m. and by the time we
arrived, the Jerries had woken up and were ready to give us a warm reception.
They sniped and used mortars, both very unpleasant. In addition, there were
beach obstacles and mines fixed on tripods.'
were 12 landing-craft in our flotilla. It was a great sight to see them, line
abreast, going full speed for the beach. We avoided those obstacles we could but
it was a case of hit or miss. One of the mines blew a four foot wide hole in my ramp door
but we got all our tanks ashore. There were a lot of mortar bombs bursting
everywhere. One which exploded on the beach covered me with mud and water. It
covered my craft too, which was most annoying, seeing it had recently been
given a nice new coat of paint. In addition to mortar bombs, shells also were
coming at us and my starboard bow was a mass of holes about as big as your fist,
caused by shell splinters. Unfortunately my No 1 was
all the tanks were ashore I rang for emergency full astern for a quick getaway
but no sooner were we afloat than a mortar bomb landed astern. The explosion was
so violent that it stopped both motors, which had to be started up again. Then
the coxswain reported that the wheel was jammed amidships, which meant that we
had no rudders and we were only able to turn round by using the engines. It
meant that we were sitting under fire for about ten minutes longer than we
should have been. Fortunately everything went all right and we reached England
under our own steam."
Some of our crew from a very small photograph which I
treasure. Front, L-R, Ches, Harry, Mac & Jake.
Back: "Sparks" and me, "Wires."
The picture was taken on the Starboard bow superstructure and over my
shoulder you can see the markings on our bridge - N22 980.]
Repairs & Re-organisation
We were eventually
moved into a huge dry dock along with
5 or 6 other
similar landing craft. Set against the massive dock, the landing craft sure looked awfully small. Our rudders and
landing ramp door were repaired along with other minor problems. While there, a replacement first lieutenant joined us. He was a very decent fellow. I am
almost sure his name was Urquhart.
On completion of the repairs, we made another supply run back to France on July
9th. Standing at anchor off the coast, we watched the massive daylight
raid by the Royal Air Force on the city of Caen, about ten miles away. One of
the Lancaster bombers crashed into the sea on its way back north and a small
vessel, probably RAF Air Sea Rescue, rushed to the scene in search of survivors.
On return to England, we were reorganized into the 22nd
flotilla of "N" Squadron.
"N" Squadron, we discovered, was established to deal with any other landings
that might be required along the European coast on the Channel and the North
Sea. It was not until we were ordered to Ostend, in Belgium that we were sent
into action again. This time it was Walcheren Island in the River Scheldt
estuary, where heavy enemy gun emplacements
prevented Allied shipping
from using the port of
Antwerp. It was to the Royal Marines Commandos that the task was assigned and
it could not have been assigned to better fighting men.
[Map courtesy of
Google Map Data 2017.]
We took them in with
much lighter equipment than in Normandy.
Their efforts have been well documented elsewhere. Suffice to
say here that those brave men cleared that island so that ships could carry
supplies for our troops in their rapid advance to the German homeland. By 8th
November the river was open. The big guns at Westkappelle no longer posed a
Unlike on D-Day, we had little support from the Navy’s General Service
but what we had did
well; the battleship HMS Warspite,
Monitors HMS Erebus and HMS Lord Roberts
and "Flagship", HMS Kingsmill, a frigate.
very heavy price was paid by many of our landing craft
but LCT980 made it in and out safely. In fact we made another supply run with
food, fresh water, medical supplies and ammunition on November
[Photo; Royal Marine commandos aboard LCT
980, 20 minutes prior to
Courtesy: Gaumont British News.]
It is worthy of note that many LCTs were converted for
specialised operations. For
example, some became LCGs (Landing Craft Gun), which had one
or two 4.7 inch guns, deck mounted for beach bombardment
etc. The BBC called them "mini battleships". Others for which I had been trained,
became LCT(R)s (Landing Craft Tank
(Rocket) capable of launching hundreds of explosive rockets in rapid succession.
One of these was hit by a
German shell at Walcheren and it simply disappeared in one
were only about three hundred yards away and, although I watched it happening, to this day I cannot
remember the sound of the explosion. Many of our vessels were completely
destroyed or damaged beyond repair.
Back to the UK
We returned to Ostend
and received orders from "on high" to return to the UK.
There was a violent storm with force-8 winds blowing
but we formed a small convoy escorted by a Harbour Defence Motor Launch (HDML).
Being flat-bottomed, we took a severe beating from the
rough and angry sea as we smashed down from the top of one wave into the trough
before the next wave. I was standing at the port rail near our bridge, casually
looking down the side, when I noticed a weld opening
and closing under the stress. I notified our skipper and,
after inspection, he informed the HDML
that he was about to make for Newhaven to wait out the
the storm subsided, we assessed
the damage and slowly
proceeded from port to port along the south coast to
Portsmouth where the big shots evaluated the damage and decided
we were ready to be scrapped. We received instructions to make our way back
through the Channel as the weather allowed. We had
seen more than one LCT (4) broken in half at the main weld between the tank space
and the stern section, with the stern section actually
towing the other part of itself home!
After we turned north from the Channel, we
received orders to proceed up the River Thames
to London. After passing through the Tower Bridge we stopped
to have our mast removed.
Without the mast we presented a
forlorn sight. We continued under
London, Blackfriars, Waterloo and Victoria Bridges before
turning around, almost in
front of the Houses of Parliament, back under Victoria/Hungerford Bridge,
where we tied up on the south side of the river alongside several other
landing craft. Adjacent to our position was a waste paper plant,
on which, I understand, the "Festival of Britain" site now stands.
There was an
abundance of shore leave available but at our own expense for traveling.
"buzz" was that we were 'parked' above an underground
railway tunnel to act as a "cushion" in the event of an incoming V2 missile
coming down in that area. While
there was no confirmation of that, we did receive sailing orders almost as soon as the Peenemunde
rocket-launching site was destroyed and the V2 attacks stopped.
We did have some lighter moments too.
One day some young punks, who had not been drafted
into military service, decided to taunt us from
the walkway of Hungerford Bridge by throwing refuse at us. With the skipper’s
unofficial blessing, we installed two fire nozzles on the fire lines beside the
tank space. While the bridge was clear of people, we set the nozzles at the
correct angle to put two water jets on the bridge.
In addition, we decided to draw the
dirty, smelly, oily water from the bilges, where there was an abundance
of it. We waited patiently,
which was rewarded when the punks eventually returned and
started to taunt us again.
When the bridge was clear of other pedestrians, we
started the big pumps and put one jet to their south and the other to their
north. There was no escape except to go through it and we had another fire hose
waiting to follow them whichever way they went. We
never saw them again!
departed the River Thames we
were a pathetic sight,
sans mast, as we proceeded east under those famous bridges. There was
not even a place from which to fly our White Ensign.
They did not even open the Tower Bridge for our exit! We slowly made our
way to King’s Lynn, where 980 was to be broken up in early 1945.
Our crew dispersed to other assignments
and for us all, an era had
ended. We were still just
kids but we had learned a lot together as we had contributed to the freedom of
Our skipper, Lt Peter Gurnsey, returned to New Zealand with his Scottish bride
from Catrine. He taught at Christ’s College in Christchurch. He died several
years ago from a heart attack and was buried at sea. His widow now lives on the
North Island. He was a fine man and a good captain of our ship.
Very recently, coxswain Bill Brentnall and I were reunited by telephone and
he and I have a lot of old times to rehash when we manage to meet in person.
Bill lives in the Midlands of
England at Redditch. He continued
to serve in the Navy until 1953.
[Photo; LCT 532 landing amphibians at Walcheren ---
Identical to LCT980. Courtesy of Pathe
"Wires" emigrated to Canada in 1947, married a
Canadian girl in 1951, worked for Canadian General Electric for almost twenty
years and then went into teaching electricity and electronics at a local high
school here in Peterborough, Ontario. He retired in 1985.
We believed Gerald "Jake" Fox lived in Edinburgh but a phone call to what
I thought was his number brought silence after the first "hello" from that end.
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.
website there are around 50 accounts of
landing craft training and
operations and landing craft
training establishments including
Operation Overlord - D-Day, Operation Infatuate -
Walcheren - Wartime Memories of a small
an account of their anti-submarine patrols on D-Day.
German coastal defences
on this Walcheren website with a printable list of English translations of
selected words. Many interesting photographs.
Day June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II by Stephen E. Ambrose - 1994. ISBN
Six Armies in Normandy by John Keegan. 1982. ISBN 0 7126 5579 4.
The Second Front - World War II by Douglas Botting and the Editors of World Time Books. 1978.
ISBN 0 8094 2498 3.
Short Sea Long War by John des S Winser. Published by World Ship Society, Gravesend, Kent. ISBN 0
9056 1786 ? - the story of 119 Cross Channel ships commandeered by the R.N. to fly the White Ensign.
'They did what was asked of them,' by Raymond Mitchell. Pub by
Firebird Books, 1996. ISBN 1 85314 205 O History of 41 [Royal Marine]
Commando - the book covers the period 1942-1946, but has a detailed
chapter on 41's role in the invasion of Walcheren.
'In the Shadow of Arnhem'
by Ken Tout. xiv, 242 pages and 42 illustrations. Published by Sutton
Publishing Ltd., Phoenix Mill, Thrupp, Stroud, Gloucester GL5 2BU
England. ISBN 0-7509-2821-2
Ken's book is
published in English. The subtitle is: The battle for the Lower
Maas, September-November 1944. Chapters 7 and 8 are about province
Zeeland and most about Walcheren and South Beveland. Chapter 7
begins at page 116 to page 133 and chapter 8 starts at page 134 and
ends at page 155. Jan H Wigard, Walcheran, Holland.
'Battle for Antwerp; the liberation of the city and the opening of the Scheldt' by J L Moulton.
1944 (London, Ian Allan, 1978) ISBN 0-7110-0769-1.
'Tug of War' - by W
Denis Whitaker DSO. Pub 1984. ISBN 0-8253-0257-9. This Canadian
author saw service at Dieppe and Walcheren. The book contains good detailed information on the Walcheren Causeway fight.
'Battalion of Heroes:
the Calgary Highlanders in World War II'
by David Bercusson.
Pub by The Calgary
Highlanders Regimental Funds Foundation 1994. ISBN 0-9694616-1-5.
'Cinderella Operation' by General Rawling.
Pub by Cassell Ltd
'The Eighty Five Days - The Story of the Battle of the Scheldt'
by R W Thompson. Pub by Hutchinson of London.
'From Omaha to the Scheldt - the story of 47 Royal Marine Commando'
by John Forfar. Pub by Tuchwell Press Dec 2001. ISBN 1 86232 149 3. 300 pages with around 150 B&W illustrations and maps. John Forfar was the
Senior Medical Officer attached to 47 RM Commando. For his heroism at Walcheren he was awarded the Military Cross.
'Operation Neptune' by Commander Kenneth Edwards R.N.
Published by Collins in 1946.The book covers the naval side of the
North West Europe campaign including Commando actions such as
'Commandos and Rangers of World War 2'
by James D. Ladd. Pub in 1978 by MacDonald & Jane's.
ISBN 0 356 08432 9
'Commandos 1940 - 1946' by Charles
Messenger. Pub by William Kimber, London 1985. ISBN 0 7183
'The Watery Maze' by
Bernard Fergusson pub 1961 by Collins. The story of the Combined
His Majesty's Landing Craft Tank
HMLCT 980 was written by Denis W. Garrod, "Wires"
with additional information provided by Tony Chapman of the LST & Landing Craft
Association. It was redrafted for website presentation by Geoff Slee with the
addition of photos and maps.