HMS Misoa -
Landing Ship Tank (LST)
A Shallow Draft Converted Oil Tanker from South America
which served off North Africa, Pantelleria, Sicily, Italy and Normandy.
HMS Misoa was a WW2 Landing Ship Tank (LST), essentially a military ferry
capable of landing troops, tanks, transport, supplies etc directly onto
unimproved landing beaches. Archie Spence was a young Royal Navy
seaman, who served aboard her in the Mediterranean (North Africa, Pantellaria,
Sicily and Italy) and later during the Normandy invasion of June 6, 1944.
[Photo of Misoa taken in the 1930s courtesy of William Russell whose great
uncle, William Marshall Russell, was the Master of the Ship when it was an oil
tanker, prior to its conversion to a tank landing ship.]
did not have the sleek lines and style of a cruiser but she survived the war
relatively unscathed and provided a safe haven for her crew and
the many thousands of troops she carried during WW2. This is the story of HMS
Misoa as recalled by Archie Spence who served on the ship.
My posting to HMS Misoa
was not the result of careful career planning. For reasons I cannot
recall, I initially volunteered for sub-mariner training at HMS Dolphin but fell foul of the Naval
discipline code, resulting in my being confined to barracks (CB) on a couple of occasions. Nothing serious - just youthful exuberance combined
with a little disrespect for authority!
I was returned to 'general service' at Portsmouth barracks and worked as an ambulance
driver, while waiting for a posting. When a posting to HMS Misoa came along
so did a bit of a mystery; nobody I came in contact with knew anything about
her or simply would not admit it! About 100 of us travelled by train to Liverpool, where we boarded the troopship Monarch of Bermuda.
Our destination was a mystery to us until we arrived off Gibraltar. For
about a week, we lived in barracks and unloaded sea
mines from railway wagons into secure storage tunnels inside the Rock. Our next trip was aboard the destroyer HMS Venomous bound for Oran but
were soon diverted on a fruitless search for German submarines in the Atlantic.
We finally arrived in Oran, where we were first introduced to HMS Misoa.
[Photo: the author Archie
Spence c 1942.]
What she lacked in the
sleek lines of a Cruiser or Destroyer, she more than compensated for in looking
like the dirty old oil tanker that she once was! She was one of three shallow draught tankers especially designed and built to operate in the
shallow waters of Venezuela's Lake Maracaibo
in the north of South America. The others were HMS Tasajera
and HMS Bachaquera. As the plans for the opening of a second front
in the west progressed there was a developing requirement for shallow draft
vessels capable of disembarking heavy tanks, trucks, field guns, mobile radar
trucks, equipment and men directly onto unimproved landing beaches. An essential requirement
to keep the Allied armies supplied in the absence of a useable harbour. Any
interruption in the supply chain, especially in the early stages of the Allied
invasion, had the potential to bring the hoped for Allied advance to a grinding
The three vessels required substantial
modifications to make them fit for purpose. Her oil tanks were removed from
forward of the after bulkheads in the area of the engine room. Approximately half the tanks remained for fresh water and ballast. A deck
was added above this area, coated with asphalt, providing 7 lanes for vehicles.
The bow was cut off square and the gap
this created was bridged by a
heavy steel door approximately 1 foot thick. Hinged to the top of the door was a massive
ramp extension which, together with the door, provided the 100 foot ramp needed
to safely unload vehicles and men on or close to landing beaches.
There was a system of powered winches and pulleys, operated by the engine room
crew, to lower the door and to raise the hinged extension until both door and
extensions formed a continuous ramp as both sections reached a near horizontal
position. Across the tank deck, bolts were fitted for securing vehicles in
position with restraining chains. Shallow draught vessels were prone to roll,
even in moderate conditions, when the pounding of the waves on the blunt bow door
sent a booming noise throughout the entire vessel.
Above the tank deck was a
steel 'top deck' covered in 12" by 4" timber planks of various lengths, with two large hatches aft.
Nearby were 2 X 50 ton derrick cranes to lift broken down vehicles from the tank deck below onto the top deck.
In this way such a vehicle was removed from the line allowing the other vehicles
to disembark. The bridge and wheelhouse were reinforced with steel plates as
protection against shrapnel and gun platforms were mounted around the top deck. These comprised a
twin 40mm Pom-Pom gun, six 20mm AA guns and Lewis guns on stanchions, one forward and two aft
and one smoke mortar. The Kedge anchor was located at
the after end.
Sleeping quarters for crew and passengers were very constricted. They consisted of rows of round steel bars
attached to the deck-head, on which hammocks were rigged. On
completion of the conversion work the
designation 'Landing Ship Tank' (LST) was used.
HMS Misoa was 382ft in length with a gross tonnage of 4,900. The draught when fully
loaded was 15' aft and only 4' forward with a double hinged ramp reaching 100ft from bow door to shallow water.
Her carrying capacity was eighteen 30 ton tanks, twenty two 25 ton tanks or 33 heavy trucks.
Berths for 217 troops and a crew of 98 Combined Operations personnel were provided. She had a distinctive flat bow and an equally distinctive ship's crest of a tortoise with the words Veni-Vidi-Vici - I came,
I saw, I conquered around it.
Sea Trials and Training
information from the commissioning crew indicated that
her sea trials and training with Commandos
took place in and around Loch Fyne in Scotland, where the No 1 Combined Training Centre was located at Inveraray.
Operation Torch - North Africa
HMS Bachaquera was the first LST to engage in operational duties in WW2 off the beaches of Madagascar on
the 6th of May 1942. HMS Misoa and HMS Tasajera made their active service debuts in Operation Torch, the invasion of North Africa at Oran on the 8th of November
[Map courtesy of Google Map Data 2017.]
The 16th Infantry Regiment cleared
'Z' beach for the 3 am arrival of the American 1st Armored Divisionís Combat Command B, under Brig
General Lunsford E. Oliver. Misoa and Tasajera, rumbled up to the
beach at 4 am and put out pontoon bridges to assist the M3 Stuart light tanks
they carried to disembark. The process took four hours.
4,772 men landed from all vessels in the flotilla, together with their tanks, seized the La Senia
and Tafaroui airfields and then supported a parachute assault on them. In the wider conflict along the coast, Misoa was variously engaged
in transporting American troops and their equipment from Algiers to Bone, further to the east, until that part of North
Africa was firmly in Allied hands. Passage to Sousse in Tunisia followed to provide support for
future operations involving the Eighth Army.
fortress Malta was always a priority and HMS Misoa made a couple of trips
from Sousse to Malta with munitions, and from the ship's freezer, meat and vegetables. On return, she
was dry docked in Tripoli for a routine inspection following intensive
bombing by the enemy. Remarkably, she was unscathed. That night there was an air raid on the nearby airfield and
reports circulated of German paratroopers in the area. I was on gangway
sentry duty that night and only me and the dry-cleaners know how scared I
[Photo; The author (front centre) with friendly
French North Africans and two shipmates in Algiers c1943.]
In between periods of hard work and danger, we made our own entertainment.
We acquired a piano in Sousse and cleared a small area of the tank deck, which
became our entertainment area for impromptu sing-songs. We were not short of comedians
and entertainers among the crew, often supplemented by the troops when they were on board. One memorable evening, while tied up at Sousse, the strains of
the bagpipes could be heard from the quayside. We looked down to see the piper, who led the troops at the start of the Battle of El Alamein, marching up and down
the quay alongside our ship. He and his mates enjoyed the
traditional hospitality of the Navy, which included several tots of rum! It was a most enjoyable evening for all. There were other distractions
from the realities of war ranging from Roman ruins to local 'fleshpots,' both of which were educational in their own ways!
On completion of this work in early June 1943,
the tanks and crews
of the Guards Regiment for passage to
We arrived about dawn. There were so many
Allied bombers overhead that they were quite impossible to count! The intensity of bombing
caused the Italian garrison of 12,000 to surrender, so disembarkation was
relatively straightforward. We entered a small cove with road access inland and secured
the ship to rocky outcrops. A shipmate and I strolled into a nearby vineyard and
helped ourselves to some grapes. The landings may have been unopposed but the
two heroic invaders beat a hasty retreat when an irate farmer, with pitchfork in
hand, came to the defence of his crop!
[Map courtesy of Google Map Data 2017.]
HMS Misoa returned to Sousse
where more troops and equipment
were embarked, this time for the islands of Lampadusa and Linosa. The Italian garrisons had surrendered,
so we returned to Sousse with Italian prisoners of war guarded by paratroopers.
Sicily and Italy
Allied focus then fell on Sicily.
Husky was scheduled for July 9/10,
1943. In preparation, HMS Misoa embarked Eighth Army troops and tanks at Sousse for transport to a beach
near Syracuse in Sicily. In the following 2 months, we made frequent passages to Sousse with German and Italian prisoners, captured tanks and
military equipment. On return journeys to Syracuse, Augusta and Catania on
Sicily, we carried supplies, materials, troops and, on one occasion, dozens of ammunition boxes
full of 'occupation' Italian Lira. The money was for the Allied occupation troops
to use in Sicily and Italy and, while in transit, it was kept under guard by
Our journeys across the Mediterranean at this time
were akin to a regular ferry service plying the goods of war from North Africa
to Sicily and Italy, and prisoners of war and captured enemy war materials on the
return trips. The routine was broken occasionally by an unusual load such as
mules and their Arab masters. The smell and mess they left behind is better imagined than
described but they performed well in remote, inaccessible mountains carrying supplies to the advancing
Secret negotiations for the surrender of Italian forces were concluded in Lisbon and an armistice was
signed at Syracuse on the 3rd of September, 1943 - the day of the uncontested landing of Allied forces at Reggio in Calabria on the Italian
mainland. Taranto was seized on the 9th, again unopposed. On route to Taranto on
one voyage, I saw part of the Italian fleet,
including 4 battleships and 6 cruisers, heading south for Malta to surrender to Allied forces.
Return to the UK - preparations for Normandy
We loaded up
the latest captured German and Italian guns, tanks, communications vehicles and
half-tracks and left Taranto for a stopover at Algiers, arriving in Plymouth in early January,1944.
Misoa needed repairs and
modification for her next major role, which turned out to be the Normandy
landings. The minor refit included replacing the forward single 40 mm Pom-Pom with a twin version, engine repairs,
general maintenance work, possibly the addition of some form of radar and a complete camouflage repaint.
We were on leave while the
work was in progress and on the 16th January, 1944, I spent my 21st birthday at home in
Glasgow. A few weeks later, Misoa was
undergoing sea trials in the English Channel from Plymouth and westward to Southend on Sea in the Thames estuary. As D-Day approached, the ship
was berthed at the Tilbury Docks in east London where, in early June, we embarked Canadian troops and tanks.
For security reasons, the ship was then sealed. For three days we were confined to the vessel,
when we learned about the coming action. I was privileged to attend the troops'
briefing, including details of their landing zone on Juno beach and their objective of the city of Caen about 7 miles (12 k) inland.
6th June 1944 - D-Day
We left Tilbury on June 4th before the decision was taken to postpone
D-Day because of rough weather. Our convoy killed time sailing around the English Channel. The sea was choppy and sea-sickness
was rife as our shallow draft, flat bottomed vessel pitched and rolled. We arrived off Juno at about daybreak on D-Day, close enough to see
the action on the beach, that could easily have been mistaken for a film set. We
saw two tanks chasing each other, guns blazing and heard two ton
shells passing overhead, as the German large guns attempted to destroy allied battleships out at sea. Our sister ship, HMS Bachequera, which was off the neighbouring Sword beach, was hit by an 88mm anti personnel shell.
Although damage was slight and casualties few, as Coxswain, I took the Captain by launch to the Bachequera to see first hand if assistance was
We disembarked the
troops, their tanks and equipment the
by which time there was little enemy fire on the
returned to Tilbury Docks and embarked a second cargo of tanks, vehicles and
soldiers for Juno. This time they were disembarked almost right away, except there was a mishap.
A tank slipped sideways blocking the ramp and leaving the ship stranded on the beach,
as the tide receded, until the following morning. A couple of
German fighters strafed the beach in a half-hearted attack but no damage was
sustained. From the relative safety of my vantage point under the ship, painting
the bottom, I had a clear view of the action!
[Photo; HMS Misoa and HMS Tasajera on
Juno beach 1944.]
Motor torpedo boats (MTBs), motor gun boats
(MGBs) and other small craft continued to operate around the beachhead area to help protect the beachhead and supply ships from enemy attack. We anchored off the beachhead
and acted as mother ship to these vessels by providing medical services, mess facilities, showers and, in the case of a shipmate and
myself, a profitable and legal haircutting service! When the anchorage became
entirely safe, our engineers also provided a repair and maintenance service.
We became a semi-permanent fixture off the beach as stores and provisions were brought to us from supply ships.
was an uneventful period until the 18th of June, when a severe storm lasting a
few days, hit the English Channel. Ships dragged anchors and one collided with
the starboard side of our bridge, causing structural damage and smashing a
lifeboat. Since the bridge contained an ammunition locker holding 20mm A A
shells, all hands were deployed to remove them to a safer place.
[Photo; HMS Misoa on
Juno beach 1944.]
The routine was interrupted
for a second time towards the end of October, when we embarked a Royal Marine outfit
off Arromanches with their vehicles and fighting gear. Rumour was that they were bound for
the Dutch Island of Walcheren heavily garrisoned
with 10,000 troops and heavy guns. While the Germans were
there, the port of Antwerp, already in Allied hands, could not be used to supply
the advancing armies. A couple of days after embarking, the order was rescinded and the marines disembarked without sailing.
As the Allies pushed the Germans eastwards, organised weekend visits were made to local chateaux, places of interest and movie shows in local barns. My shipmate and I
set off on a trip to Paris over
100 miles (160 k) away, so we stayed overnight at an army barracks near Lisieux. When
we learned there was still fighting in the Paris area, we set a new course for Rouen
instead, where a good time was had.
We remained on station at Arromanches until early 1945, when we were recalled to Harwich to dispose of obsolete
Bangalore torpedoes by dumping them in the North Sea.
Our work done, we returned to Inveraray on Loch Fyne, Scotland, the home of the
No 1 Combined Operations Training Base,
where HMS Misoa was decommissioned. However, as part of the cutter boat
crew, I was given medical checks prior to being
drafted to the River Rhine in Germany to man landing craft across the river. As was often the case in the war, there was a change of
plan and the posting was cancelled, much to my chagrin.
As a Scot, I was proud to be a member of the ship's company. We came from the UK, Eire, Australia and South
Africa and we stood together through all emergencies and enemy action. The ship was hit once by a skip bomb, which
failed to explode. There was slight damage to the mid-ship super structure but no casualties. HMS Misoa was a very lucky ship indeed and when, in April/May of 1945, her crew, my mates
and myself, dispersed from Inveraray to different bases throughout the UK, there was a sense of melancholy at the passing of a unique shared
experience. I celebrated Victory in Europe day in Portsmouth on May 8, 1945.
The ship had been my home for just over two and a half years. Living
conditions were very confined and when the hammocks were slung out, walking upright was impossible. The sounding of action stations caused a form
of organized chaos. When troops were on board, the priority was for the naval
crew to reach their action stations and guards were posted to keep
the troops below until they were fully manned and operational. There was never any panic and we coped well with these
The mess deck was part of the living quarters. Each mess comprised 12 sailors and a leading hand or senior hand,
the latter to keep order and to deal with complaints. Seating arrangements were simple - 6 sailors each side of a long table. In weekly rotation, two
sailors were detailed as cooks with responsibility for ordering provisions from the NAFFI store,
within prescribed limits. The food
was stored in large urns and the portions
required taken to the galley, where 'real cooks' prepared the meals using steam as the heat source. Most of the food
was dried - beans, peas, porridge, eggs, fruit, meat and tons of rice. Occasionally,
tinned vegetables and fruit were available and a tot of rum was
issued with lunch, which helped to brighten the day.
LST Bachaquero, a converted shallow draught tanker shown
approaching the beach. Sister ship of the Misoa. © IWM (A 20034).]
At 1100 hrs each day, an announcement about the issue of the rum was piped throughout the ship. It was collected by senior
members of the Mess. Across the Royal Navy there were three strengths of rum, determined by the quality of living conditions.
The greater the
deprivations the stronger the rum! At the one extremity, barracks and big ships received one part rum and two parts of water and at the other
which included HMS Misoa, neat rum was issued. In between the ratio of water to rum was 1:1.
There was no privacy to speak of and there was another major deprivation as well. On the occasion of a visit to the ship
by Lord Louis Mountbatten, he was left in no doubt about the men's main grievance -
'No mail!' We
never had any prior notice of the ship's destination, so it was difficult for
mail to keep up; but that didn't stop rumours and speculation. The usual form was for the Captain to make an
announcement to the ship's crew over the intercom, once the ship was at sea.
I was finally demobbed in April 1946, with two months leave due. My pay, during my period of service, ranged from two shillings and six pence
(12.5p) to seven shillings and six pence (37.5p) per day. Settling back into 'civvy' life was never going to be easy and although I could return
to my pre-war job with the NAFFI, I preferred to try something different. The Labour Exchange suggested employment as a stone mason, which I
'politely' declined. Next a visit to the Broomielaw down by the River Clyde in Glasgow, where I signed up for the Merchant Navy. The next 15 years
were spent on tramp steamers and oil tankers worldwide, rigger work on a dam in Victoria, Australia, steel erector and shark fisherman
in Tasmania, tuna fisherman in New South Wales, forestry work in Victoria, steel erector in Melbourne, Merchant Navy in New Zealand and, having
married and settled down, 25 years in forestry until retirement in the mid 80s.
Much of the time I spent in the Mediterranean was routine where, with the passage of time, one day has blurred into the
next. However, there were times of great danger, which heightened my awareness of the terrifying nature of modern warfare. The runs from Algiers to
Bone in convoy saw us attacked by German bombers using both conventional bombs and torpedoes. In the case of the latter, the planes flew in so low
that we were in danger of being hit by our own side's gunners as they lowered their sights to a horizontal position. We were also very vulnerable
to air raids, of which there were many, usually while in port.
Pantelleria was quiet but in Sicily and Italy the Italians engaged in high level bombing, while the Germans
strafed the beaches from just a few hundred feet. We also found ourselves in the middle of a minefield in Taranto Bay, with all the associated
risks of being blown out of the water. A minesweeper came to our rescue and swept a safe passage for us.
Off the beaches of Normandy we disembarked our first cargo of men and tanks on D + 1 but we were close enough to
the beaches on D-Day itself to be aware of what was going on during the initial landings. Those brave men in the small landing craft knew that
many of them would be killed or seriously wounded... and yet wave after wave of them made for the beaches. It would not have been human for those
of us watching the action from a safer distance to feel anything but gratitude that, on this occasion, we were spared the ordeal.
[Photo - the author, Archie Spence c 2002.]
As I watched
the armada of small landing craft pass us by, I said to myself, 'Good luck you guys!' .... and that was the nature of total war. For the
average serviceman the difference between life and death or serious injury was all down to luck - being in the right place at the right
time. Although there were times of great danger on board HMS Misoa she,
and her crew, came through unscathed. When I left her for the last time in
1945, I had far more respect and affection for her than when I first saw
her as a 'dirty old oil-tanker!' She was indeed a lucky ship!
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I spotted a photo of HMS Misoa on Facebook and
did a little exploration around the web. After the war she had 4 owners: 1946,
the Panama Tpt Co; 1952 the Creole Petrolium Corp; 1956 as PETRA MAR, the
Maritima Argagua SA and 1957 as STANVA RIAU, the Lennoc Corp. She was scrapped
in Hong Kong in late '62 early '63. Interestingly, she was built at Haverton
Hill, on the Tees, about 12 miles from my hometown of Hartlepool, although I
no longer live there, preferring the country life in Upper Teesdale since I
I hope this is of interest to you and your
(Captain Pat Thompson OBE RFA (Rtd)
Attached are pictures of a ship's bell which may have come off the ship
described on your website.
My father in law purchased the bell for $60.00 sometime between 1970 and
1972 at a pawn shop on Pine Street in Philadelphia, Pennslyvania. How the bell
ever made its way to Philadelphia in America we may never know. He displayed
it outside his house in Broomall, Pennslyvania for 40 years and used it to
call the children home for dinner when they were out playing in the
neighborhood. My wife and I now have the bell on display at our home in
Lancaster, Pennslyvania and are conducting research on the history of the
Misoa to share with friends and family when they visit our home. What we have
found out thus far is very interesting and we now realize that we have a
wonderful piece of Royal Navy History. Thank you so much for your comments and
feel free to use this information on your website as you see fit.
HMS Misoa - a WW2 Landing Craft Tank (LST) by Archie
Spence. Edited for website presentation by Geoff Slee with the addition of
photographs and maps.