The 'Phoenix' Flotilla
(Landing Craft Assault), were small, flat-bottomed craft that carried around 35 fully armed troops
and a RN (Combined Operations) crew of 4, from mother ships onto nearby landing beaches, often under heavy enemy fire during the
initial assaults. Their crews comprised a coxswain, two seamen and a
stoker (engine mechanic), plus one officer per group of three craft.
[Photo; Troops leaving an LCA on landing beach.
Imperial War Museum
The craft were powered by two
engines producing a
speed of 9 knots. On reaching their pre-determined landing beaches, they lowered
their ramps and quickly disembarked their troops to minimise the risk from enemy
shells, mortars and gunfire.
Then, as quickly as possible,
themselves off the beaches using their stern mounted kedge anchors, which were
lowered on the way in, before returning to their mother ships or other troop
carrying ships waiting in line to disembark their human cargoes.
The 10th LCA
Flotilla was one of the first established in 1940. Before the war was over, the
saw several reincarnations, not unlike the mythological Phoenix bird of Greek
legend, hence the sub-title of this page.
Almost all the crews of the
Flotilla were young civilians with little or no previous experience of the sea
or the Royal Navy. To reflect this “civvie” background, the Flotilla badge was
designed as a civilian version of the official badge of “Combined Operations”.
It was much admired and attracted good-natured comment.
10th LCA Flotilla - 1940
Following the evacuation of
the Allied Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk in June of 1940, it was clear that a
future invasion of enemy occupied Europe would require an overwhelming
amphibious assault force to overcome entrenched enemy defences. The army would
need several years to re-equip and re-train as
part of a unified amphibious force under the auspices of the Combined Operations
Command. The Royal Navy's task was no less daunting. They needed to recruit
personnel for the thousands of landing craft that, on D Day alone, would transport over 150,000 troops, their equipment and supplies
to the landing beaches. Some basic training in seamanship was provided in
Milford Haven from November 1940, using Yorkshire Cobles (small fishing boats)
with a limited speed of about 4 knots. However, they served their purpose during
training in basic seamanship while the many types of landing craft were designed
and manufactured in sufficient numbers to meet demand.
1941, the crews of the 10th LCA
Flotilla reported to the Princess Astrid, a Belgium cross-Channel passenger
ferry which had been converted to an LSI (Landing Ship
Infantry) in Falmouth Dockyard. It had davits for eight LCAs, four each side, an arrangement
not dissimilar to that used for lifeboats on ferries. The Princess Astrid
was destined for Inveraray on Loch Fyne in Scotland, which was the site of the
No 1 Combined Training
Centre, of which HMS Quebec was the naval component.
[Map courtesy of Google Map
In the absence of finished LCAs, single
engine, timber hulled “Eureka” boats from the USA were made available providing
a more appropriate speed of about 10 knots. However, while they were good sea
boats, they were unpopular because of their loud engine noise, difficulty in disembarking
troops onto landing beaches and their vulnerability to
enemy fire in conflict situations.
The design specifications of
the various landing craft were modified as training exercises and operations provided
useful feedback on their performance. Over the years, new versions emerged in
the series Mark 1, Mark 2 etc.. Early in 1942, the “Eurekas” were replaced by LCAs constructed of steel
and for the following six months, the Flotilla carried out training exercises in Scotland
and the south of England. These included seamanship, embarkation and
disembarkation of troops and realistic landings with smoke screens, beach
strafing and the dropping of small bombs courtesy of 516 Squadron RAF.
The true value of all this training became apparent when the Flotilla was
engaged in real operations against the enemy, which tested the crews to the limit and
On the 3rd July 1942, Chief
of Combined Operations, Lord Louis Mountbatten, briefed the crews on an imminent raid.
It was on
the small French port of Dieppe in north-west France. Codenamed
Operation Jubilee, the plan required the flotilla to
carry troops of the Royal Regiment of Canada from our mother ship to a small
beach adjacent to the village of Puys,
to the north-east of Dieppe and to collect them from a beach, adjacent to
Dieppe, on completion of the operation.
The operation was to begin
the following morning but unfavourable weather forced a
postponement. A further setback occurred when, at 06.00 hrs on July 7th, four German aircraft attacked
Princess Josephine, Princess Charlotte and Princess Astrid, scoring direct hits on all
three. Remarkably, all the bombs passed straight through the ships before
exploding, causing only minor casualties and limited damage. The troops were
disembarked and the ships returned to Portsmouth for repairs. Against the advice
of General Montgomery that the operation “be off for all time” because
the pre-raid tight security had been compromised, the Chiefs of Staff approved a revised plan to mount the attack in August.
landing was on
the 270 yard long 'Blue Beach', which was liberally spiked with obstacles and
overlooked by high cliffs, on which a number of concrete pillboxes
were strategically placed. Confronted by these conditions, it was vital to
achieve complete surprise lest the assault troops became sitting ducks to the
enemy's fire. Critically,
touch-down at 05.05 hours was 15 minutes late and in the early dawn
light the enemy opened fire long before the troops reached the beach.
The LCAs scraped to a halt
several yards from the beach and the bow ramp was lowered to allow the soldiers
to storm ashore. Intense machine gun fire rained down from the cliff as dead and
wounded piled up in the bow of the landing craft. Those who managed to
disembark, struggled in the shallow water and were not immune to the fusillade.
The sea wall was only 40 yards away but not more than fifteen men from the first
wave, reached it. Within a few tragic minutes, Puys beach was a bloody shambles.
The Flotilla withdrew to a
relatively safe distance to await orders. At about 0900 hrs, a motor launch
approached and by loud hailer ordered us to “go immediately to Blue beach
to take off troops.” Under cover of a smoke screen, four craft set off but as
they emerged from it, two of them were immediately hit, one of which sank. When there was no sign of life on Blue beach, the remaining craft
were ordered to “come back.”
Unbeknown to our commanders, Canadian troops had started to surrender at 0830
hrs, when the odds against them were overwhelming and by 0840 hrs, Puys beach was
firmly in German hands. Of the 490 men who landed, 225 were killed and the survivors
became prisoners of war. At about 1030 hrs, all available craft were ordered to
rescue troops from the Dieppe beach. Together with craft from
other flotillas, about 500 men were rescued under intense enemy
fire from mortars and machine guns.
Describing the events of that
day, the official record of the Canadian Army observed “the disaster at Puys beach
was the blackest event of a black day. The Royal Regiment of Canada suffered
such heavy casualties that it had virtually ceased to exist as a unit.” The
Canadian public were outraged by the loss of life and demanded that the
Admiralty should court-martial those responsible, but none was held.
Shockingly, of the Canadians troops carried by the Flotilla to Puys beach
that day, not
one returned. They were either killed or captured and many
of the survivors, unsurprisingly, suffered from shock. The crews of the 10th LCA Flotilla
will always remember, with deep sadness, the loss of so many young Canadian
soldiers, whom they had come to know and respect.
The above account was based
on one written by Alasdair Ferguson, who took part in the raid for
which he was awarded the DSC for his courage. Lessons were learned for future
landings including D-Day, but a very heavy price was paid.
Watch Michael J Moore's
moving musical tribute to the 6000 men who took part in the raid (highly
The 60th LCA Flotilla - 1942/43
Shortly after the Dieppe raid,
the Admiralty created the 60th LCA Flotilla with Lt Alasdair Ferguson as the Flotilla Officer.
Some members of the 10th LCA Flotilla were transferred to it and just two
weeks after Dieppe, the Flotilla joined its mother ship, the SS Duchess of Bedford.
Before being requisitioned for war duties, she was a Canadian Pacific ship of 23,000 tons designed for
the North Atlantic run. In her converted state she had a capacity of 14 LCAs with their crews and troops,
a total of 560 men.
Africa - 8th November 1942.
As part of
Operation Torch, not known to us at the time, we
embarked the United States 1st Infantry Division for joint amphibious training
exercises in the River Clyde estuary in
Scotland. Observing the rain falling on Greenock with the barrage balloons
overhead, one wit is said to have remarked: “Why do they not cut the strings and
let the god-dammed place sink!” Clearly the young soldiers were unimpressed with
Training over, we sailed from
Liverpool through the Bay of Biscay as part of a huge convoy of ships stretching
from horizon to horizon. With heavy Naval protection, we passed through the
Straits of Gibraltar with the North African coast to our right. Our destination
was a dropping off point about 9 miles off the beach at Arzeu, Algeria. The troops embarked
the LCAs and were lowered into a calm sea. The run into the beach was uneventful
and the landing was unopposed. Several return trips were made with
additional troops and equipment landed. Surprise was complete and the Vichy
French were unable to react.
The Duchess of Bedford
then returned to Liverpool through the Bay of Biscay, where the Flotilla left the
ship for Westcliffe-on-Sea to await further orders.
10th July 1943
Early in March 1943, the
Flotilla rejoined the Duchess of Bedford on the River Clyde. As part of a
convoy, she travelled to Freetown in north-west Africa, across the Equator to
Cape Town, South Africa, arriving there by mid-April. After refuelling and
re-provisioning, she sailed
up the east coast of Africa, through the Red Sea to arrive in Tewfik at the southern end of the Suez Canal.
[Photo; Scene in the
underground Operations Room at Malta from where Operation Husky was coordinated. Three British staff officers
plot positions on large wall charts. The Operations Room was located in one of
the caves on Malta as an air raid precaution. © IWM (NA 4094).]
For a month the Flotilla
carried out training exercises in amphibious landings with the crack British
50th Division that had fought in the desert campaign. On completion of this, the
flotilla continued its journey north through the Suez Canal to Mers el Kebir in Algeria in readiness for our
next operation which proved to be Operation Husky, the
invasion of Sicily. We were briefed on our
landing beach at Porto Gerbo, including beach conditions and soon after departed for
Sicily, fully provisioned and loaded, arriving at our disembarkation point about
7 miles offshore on the 10th of July. We transported the 50th Division to the
beach where they encountered some light shelling.
Gliders were deployed to transport British paratroops behind enemy lines, but all
did not go well. With our troops safely delivered to the assault beaches, we
began a search for 47 gliders that had ditched in the sea having been released
early from their towing aircraft. We found some gliders floating serenely on a
calm sea but nothing prepared us for the gruesome sight that confronted us when
we looked inside. There was row upon row of
young British paratroopers, all dead; their necks broken on impact with the water.
No words can describe the
emotions of those who witnessed these horrific scenes. It was no doubt a simple
error that had tragic consequences, made all the more impalpable because the landings
themselves had been comparatively easy.
Reggio, Italy - Operation
Baytown, 3rd September 1943
When the Allies reached the
north of Sicily, there was an immediate need to transport the advancing troops
across the Strait of Messina to Reggio on the "toe" of Italy, a few kilometres
away. To assist with this, the Naval authorities in Cairo ordered part of the
Flotilla, including three LCAs, to Messina in the north-east of the island, the
closest port to the Italian mainland. During the hours of darkness, searchlights were used to guide the craft safely to their
destination and the task was completed without casualties.
Salerno, Italy - Operation
Avalanche, 9th September 1943
Meantime, the Duchess of
Bedford, with the remainder of the LCAs, was lying in Mers el Kebir in Algeria
about 1,500k to the west. As a plan developed to by-pass the German
defensive line by landing troops further north on the west coast of Italy, the Naval authorities in Cairo
reluctantly allowed the Reggio detachment of LCAs to rejoin the main Flotilla.
On the 8th of September, the
35th Division of the United States Army was embarked and the next day the
flotilla departed for the beaches at Salerno. Whilst at sea, we learned that
Italy had surrendered, which caused great jubilation. We expected the Italian forces would not oppose the
landings, but, as we were soon to find out, the Germans had other ideas. Under cover of darkness, the LCAs were lowered into the water nine miles from the beach. To maintain the
element of surprise, there was no bombardment but, as we neared the beach, we
could see German tanks firing at the approaching craft. The Allied ships,
including Warspite, returned with heavy gun-fire.
The Flotilla made several
more trips and although some LCAs were hit, no serious damage resulted. However,
Germans deployed glider bombs for the first time with devastating effect. Allied casualties
were so great and unexpected that orders were given to prepare to evacuate the
troops, but in the event this proved unnecessary. During the night, the Duchess of Bedford was targeted for a heavy bombing raid. All hands manned the
twin Oerlikon guns repelling the enemy planes and no damage was inflicted upon
With our job done at Salerno,
The Duchess of Bedford sailed to Malta in time to witness the surrender
of the Italian Fleet. On the way back to the UK, we picked up German prisoners of
war from Mers el Kebir and
Algiers, including Panzer
troops, whose arrogant bearing and discipline was, nonetheless, quite
magnificent to witness. When the Duchess of Bedford arrived in Liverpool, the Flotilla left the ship for
the last time. We had become very fond of her and were sorry to bid her
Recollections of L/Coc
Howard Milner 1942/43
I first met the Duchess of
Bedford and the 60th LCA Flotilla in September 1942 in preparations for the
landings on North Africa (Arzeu), a small town close to Oran.
Upon completion, we returned
to the UK where we made preparations for the next landing in the Mediterranean. We
rejoined the Duchess and sailed out into the Atlantic and south
refuelling and re-provisioning at Freetown, Capetown and Aden before proceeding through the Red Sea to Taufiq in the Gulf of Suez. There,
routine maintenance such as painting, together with joint
amphibious training exercises, were undertaken as we prepared for
on Sicily which, for us, took place on the 10th of July 1943 at Porto Gerbo.
We returned to the UK,
re-provisioned and embarked more troops for Sicily, where the action was drawing
to a close. We disembarked the troops at Augusta and the
Flotilla was then split in two; the smaller part joined up with other splinter
groups to land on mainland Italy at Reggio, on the 3rd of September and the larger part
landed on Salerno, on the 9th. After a couple of
other jobs in the Mediterranean, we returned to the UK once again. On arrival in
Liverpool, our LCAs were taken off the ship and tied up to harbour bollards. This was
to be the last time I saw the Flotilla since, after a short shore leave, I
reported to Hayling Island for training on LCM/LCT craft (myself and Fred Harris).
We were also trained to
coxswain and crew Thames barges, which turned out to be the real purpose of the training. This
training was given by civilian Thames Lightermen who taught a crew of three, one
stoker and two seamen, how to handle these monsters. Someone must have thought
this was a job for the Navy! After training, Fred Harris, who was not a fit
person, was returned to Chatham barracks and invalided out of the service.
I and two other crew members
took the barge to Portsmouth, where we were loaded to the gunnels with ammo and
given two other “engineless” fully loaded ammunition barges to take in tow. For
security reasons, these vessels were given no identification. We were given an
escort of three Motor Launches to help us navigate our way across the English
We sailed on the late tide on
5th June, my birthday, consuming double shots of rum to numb the pain. I anchored my barge
off the beach and reported to the beach master. The barges were tied to a
central mooring point formed by a breaker of sunken ships off Juno beach. I
worked for the beach party for two days – then returned to the UK in an American LCI. At Portsmouth, I joined the crew of an LCT, loading
it with tanks and supplies
and returned to Juno beach.
On return to the UK, I was
drafted back to RN Portsmouth and took leave for a couple of weeks. I then
joined HMS Formidable as part of the ship’s company regulating staff. The
ship carried RN personnel, aircraft and supplies as
well as injured Aussie service personnel back to Australia for care and demob.
We returned to the UK for a
further load and, on arrival in Australia, I worked as shore
patrol in Sydney as assistant to the RPO. In this job, I learnt to ride a
motorbike and did a stint as a despatch rider. I was given an old Harley
Davidson to ride and have you ever seen a matelot on a motorbike!
I returned to the UK in
Formidable in 1946 and back to Portsmouth for demob.
524 LCA Flotilla - 1943-44
In December 1943, the name of
the Flotilla was changed once more from the 60th LCA Flotilla to the 524 LCA
Flotilla. Its new shore-based establishment was HMS Cricket in Burseldon, Hampshire.
HMS Empire Arquebus, Landing Ship Infantry (Large), 29 July, 1944 at Greenock.
© IWM (A 25026).]
The Flotilla undertook
training exercises in the Solent and local waters but, in view of our past
operational experience, it added little to what we knew already.
However, it was better than doing nothing, since inactivity and boredom had an
adverse effect on discipline and morale. The poorly insulated Nissan huts we lived in were very cold
especially when the log burning stove ran
low on fuel during the nights. There was, however, no shortage of logs in this
One day, as a change from the
normal routine, the Flotilla invited the workers who built our craft, to join us
on a short trip out to sea. They thoroughly enjoyed seeing the product of their
labours in action. We repeated the exercise with the Wrens who ferried us back
and forth to our craft, which were moored a short distance from the bank of the
River Hambel. After such outings and training exercises, we often visited The Swan for a
few “bevvies” therein. Very welcome indeed! When a night out in Winchester was
called for, we would hitch rides from passing lorries.
SS Empire Arquebus
In early April 1944, much to
our relief, the Flotilla transferred to the Empire Arquebus. She was
built in Wilmington, California and pre-war had been a Red Ensign ship managed
by Donaldson Brothers. She was 4,800 tons (net) and was fitted out to carry 20 landing craft -
17 LCAs and 3 LCMs, the
latter being stowed on the upper deck and the former hung on davits.
The Flotilla increased to 10 craft with the arrival of a contingent of
Royal Marines, For the next two months, numerous training exercises were carried out
in different locations along the South coast.
Operations Neptune & Overlord - 6th
Although everyone knew an
invasion was likely in the weeks ahead, only a select few senior military
personnel and politicians knew the full details. They were on the 'BIGOT' list,
an acronym derived from British Invasion of German Occupied
Territory, a designation that
remained unchanged even after the USA entered the war. However, no one was in
any doubt that our flotilla would be involved when the time came. We could see
troops and vehicles assembling along roads for countless miles in the surrounding
Hampshire countryside as they prepared for embarkation.
At the end of May, a
top-secret meeting was held in the Civic Centre, Southampton. Security
precautions were very tight to avoid the enemy gaining any prior knowledge of
the planned invasion. I was instructed to carry my identity card and
furthermore, I was to be accompanied by another officer who could vouch for my
identity. At the entrance to the Civic Centre, I was searched and had my
identity card examined twice. I was shown into the hall, which was filling up
with officers from the Royal Navy, the Army, the Air Force and other allied
fighting forces. Admirals, Generals, Captains, Colonels and other lesser beings,
were seated facing a large stage.
On the stroke of ten, Wynford
Vaughan-Thomas of the BBC stood up and advanced to the lectern. He spoke briefly
and with great gravitas. He said “Ladies and gentlemen, you are about to be told
the greatest secret of the war. You will be told where and when the invasion
will take place. I cannot emphasise strongly enough the need for total
security.” With a dramatic gesture, he pointed to a doorway from which General
Montgomery strode purposely on to the stage and advanced to the lectern. In his
clipped military voice he began to speak. We were all ears and we leant forward
to catch every word but, to the astonishment of all, he was competing against an
earnest discussion between two cleaning ladies, who emerged with pails and mops,
quite oblivious to the proceedings going on around them. They strolled through
the hall talking to one another, “Well, you know what Bert is like, he always
wants his own way just like my Bill. Men are all the same!” Everybody burst into
laughter. Monty looked furious! After a while, he started again but titters
still continued. Sometimes reality is indeed stranger than fiction!
In essence, General Bernard
Montgomery announced the date and destinations of the amphibious stage of the invasion, codenamed Neptune. Specific maps, charts
and photographs were issued for each flotilla together with detailed assembly
and convoy instructions according to a strict timetable.
The 524 Flotilla was given
the task of landing the 1st Battalion Hampshire Regiment of the 231 Brigade,
50th Division. They were a very experienced Division with whom we had worked
before. Our destination was Le Hamel near Arromanches. The original date of the
landing was the 4th of June but there was a delay of 24 hours due to force
5/6 winds from the west/south-west. Once the details of the landings had been
disseminated to those taking part in the invasion, no one was allowed ashore.
On June 5, a gap in the bad
weather was identified and after careful consideration, Eisenhower issued
orders for the invasion to go ahead. By this time a massive fleet of ships had
gathered in the Solent, the largest ever seen before or since. The anchorage
stretched as far as the eye could see. From our assembly point, the ships
weighed anchor at about 1830 on 5th June, soon passing by the Needles before
turning south through the marked channel, which had been cleared of mines. The
Fleet was an awe-inspiring sight, quite impossible to comprehend in its vastness
At 0530 on June the 6th, the
Empire Arquebus dropped anchor in its marked spot some seven miles off Gold
beach. The Flotilla was lowered into the choppy water, formed up in two lines
and made for the beach. Battleships, cruisers and destroyers fired their guns,
aircraft dropped bombs and smaller craft fired their rocket salvos, all designed
to destroy or disable enemy defensive positions on and behind the landing
beaches. The landing craft, carrying troops and equipment ashore, stretched as far
as the eye could see. Such was the spectacle that fear and apprehension about
what would unfold in the hours ahead, gave way to sheer amazement.
As we neared the beach, the
Flotilla craft took up their landing formation of “line abeam.” Each craft
weaved its way past the fixed beach defences with shells attached pointing
towards the approaching craft. Machine gun bullets could be heard striking the
sides of the LCAs. The German defenders were still very active despite the
intensive bombardment they had been subjected to. On the order “down ramp”, the
troops we carried ducked and dived their way off the craft and onto the beach.
We then headed out again to a predetermined point where we would
receive fresh orders.
On the way, Alasdair spotted a diver in the water. He had been engaged in
removing mines from the beach obstacles. He was lifted on board and to
everyone's amazement he turned out to be a classmate of Alasdair's!
For the rest of the day, we
were kept busy ferrying troops from the off-lying troop-carrying ships to the
beach. Many LCAs had been sunk or disabled so our services were in high demand.
As night fell, we secured the landing craft to the stern of a motor launch.
During the night the wind increased enough to make us wonder if the next day's
landings would be in jeopardy. Fortunately, by dawn the wind had dropped
but, despite this, many craft had been driven ashore. We managed to tow off some
of our LCAs so that they could resume the ferrying of troops but, sadly, by then
my LCA lay on the seabed.
When Ian and I visited the
Arromanches area, we witnessed the arrival of the first block-ships to create the
outer breakwater of the Mulberry Harbour and the placement of the enormous
concrete caissons as they were maneuvred into position and then sunk. By then,
the work of the minor landing craft, including the LCAs, was over; our task was
done. The Flotilla returned to Southampton on our mother ship and was then sent to Brighton
under its own power, where it was disbanded. Those who took part in the largest
amphibious invasion force in history can look back with pride to the part they played in the
eventual defeat and downfall of Hitler and his hated Nazi regime. I hope that this brief record will bring back
memories to those who were there and preserve the memory for younger generations
For a more detailed account
of the LCAs and LCMs in the 524 Flotilla on D Day visit
Roll of Honour Decorations
A/B Stanley Bayliss
Killed in action
Sea. T. Brown
Killed in action
A/B David Hynd
Killed in action
DSC and Bar.
Lt. Hugh Mace
Killed in action
O/S William Martin
Killed in action
A/B Philip Peake
Died in POW camp
Sto. W. Walker
Died in POW camp
Sto. QA. A. Warren
Killed in action
The content of this webpage,
unless otherwise stated, is based upon material supplied by Alasdair Ferguson
and Royal Marine HR ‘Lofty’ Whitting. It was transcribed by Tony Chapman of the
LST and Landing Craft Association and edited by Geoff Slee for website
presentation including the addition of photographs and maps. This was the last of many web pages about landing craft provided
by Tony over 10 years until his untimely death on June 6th, 2013. His
contribution to the recording of the history of landing craft was enormous. His
friendship and great knowledge of the subject, are sorely missed.