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45 ROYAL MARINE COMMANDO  ~

NORTH AFRICA & SICILY

Background   

On 6 November 1939, Enos ‘Eddie’ Fellows (photo opposite) was conscripted to HMS Royal Arthur then HMS Drake training centres. He served on HMS  Carinthia, a converted Cunard luxury liner, between February and June 1940 mainly on 'Contraband Control' in the North Atlantic and the Mediterranean. This ship was torpedoed and sunk by a German submarine in June 1940.

After further service onshore, he joined HMS Tartar, a tribal class destroyer, between September 1940 and April 1942, on Russian convoy duties to Murmansk and Archangel. Service in Iceland and on the Lofoten Islands raid followed and he was involved in operations to sink the pocket battleships 'Bismark' and 'Scharnhorst'. During the action, HMS Tartar sustained damage and was decommissioned on the Clyde.

Enos then returned to barracks in Devonport. He had no thoughts about giving up the excitement and danger when he declared that he "would have volunteered for anything, to get out of that lot". So, at the age of 23, he signed up for 'hazardous service' and commenced commando training in Scotland and England. His story continues..

Hazardous Training

We were kitted out at Devonport and boarded a train from a railway siding that came into the base. For security reasons all the train doors were locked. Ahead of us lay a 500 mile journey to Gourock, on the River Clyde, in Scotland and then on to HMS Copra at Largs on the Ayrshire coast.

On or about the 21st August 1942, we crossed the River Clyde by ferry to H.M.S. Armadillo, a formation and training base for RN Beach Commandos, located close by Ardentinny. This was where our strenuous commando training began and which was to become 3 Commando’s base.

Day in and day out for several weeks, we were deposited on the other side of a nearby mountain and told to get back to camp the best way we could. The mountain itself was not too high, most in the area being below 1000 metres, but at a latitude of around 55 degrees north,  the hillsides were rough, featureless and hazardous, especially in the winter months when the snow often drifted to a depth of 2 metres. We thought it was great in the summer months but in winter the going was tough, as we struggled through the snow drifts up to our chests.

In the training area the landscape was reminiscent of Norwegian fjiords. We were often up to our waists when crossing icy streams and I more than most, because I was the smallest on the course. We all got soaked through on the assault courses as we practiced landing on beaches from landing craft. They were often anchored some distance from the shore. It was no more than we could expect when we landed on beaches defended by a determined enemy, so the more realistic the training, the better.

At some point we were split into 3 Troops (A, B & C ) and I was allocated to C Troop. In a typical practice landing, one division would go ashore in advance to play the role of the Beach Commando, while the other two were in LCAs as the landing force. Bearing in mind that our purpose was to ensure the most efficient transit of men, armaments, supplies and vehicles across the beaches, we erected signs, with lights, on the beaches to help achieve this - yellow for wheeled vehicles and red for tracked vehicles.

This was followed by training in the control of vehicle movements across the beaches onto their designated roads. When LCTs or LCAs came ashore with their cargoes, we directed bren-carriers and similar trucks across the beach to their pre-determined routes.

The procedures for handling food and ammunition lorries were different. Their carrying craft were unloaded and their cargoes stacked up at the back of the beach to keep the roads clear for more urgent traffic. During training for this work, we had to achieve the various tasks in a given time. With practice, we did achieve the challenging  targets.

We also practiced procedures to reinforce the surface of the beaches with wire mesh and railway sleepers for heavy tracked vehicles. This was work normally undertaken by the Engineers but we were trained in case they were not available. It was heavy back breaking work but we took it in our stride. I was also trained to swim underwater to ‘recce’ for rocks and other submerged vehicle traps and to mark their position with warning signs.

Training in demolition work was next on the schedule. It was based at an army camp attached to HMS Dundonald and involved the  felling of trees using explosive charges, including hand grenades. The most common technique was to wrap the explosive, which was in the form of a thick tape or bandage, around the tree trunk, twice in the case of  large trees. We then set the fuses, retired from the scene and fired - which felled the tree.

Training in unarmed combat followed, except for the use of the famous Commando knife. I learned how to creep up on a sentry in woods by walking backwards and making some noise. This deceived our sentry during training exercises, who swore he could hear us walking away from him! We learned how to kill the enemy quietly with an arm round the throat to throttle them and to stab them in the back or lungs under the rib-cage. This may sound gruesome today but, back in the war, it was a question of survival.

It was no surprise that the training also included driving anything that was likely to cross over the beaches from motorbikes to Churchill Tanks. There was a high probability that some drivers would be injured or killed, and it was vital to the whole operation that their vehicles were cleared from the beaches without holding up following traffic.

It seemed our training would never be completed as we made our way from Ardentinny to Dartmoor for assault training. This training would equip us to land on beaches and overcome natural and manmade obstacles such as cliffs, deep gullies and high walls. The training took place at an old army camp with a rough assault course and included climbing ropes up a cliff-wall, slinging them over the far side and, hand over fist, down again. [Map courtesy of Google Map Data 2017].

Another challenge was to crawl under a heavy net, strung up about half a metre above the ground, with full equipment and rucksack weighing about 50 kilos. Such assault training would not have been complete without a pulley and steel cable strung out over water at some considerable height. If you lost your grip during the rapid decent you ended up in the water below. 

Small arms training using a variety of guns such as Tommy guns, revolvers and Lewis guns, were a staple throughout our training. We were also introduced to signals using flags and Morse Code using lamps. The acid test was to signal from a tower or church to someone  half a mile away. Speed was essential and some, including me, did not make the grade.

About Xmas 1942, number 3 RN Commando moved to H.M.S. Dundonald, near Troon, for more amphibious training in the handling of landing craft. We also visited firing ranges to improve our skills with revolvers, rifles, Tommy guns and Lewis guns. I was issued with a Tommy gun and a revolver. During this period, the Army transported us to an assault course twice a day, which many of us enjoyed to the point where we joined these excursions whenever possible.

As we acquired more skills, we returned to HMS Armadillo for further training, but now, with full back packs, weapons, hand grenades and a commando knife, but no ammunition. For a couple of months, we made amphibious landings on beaches all around the Western Isles. I was appointed ‘Beachmaster’s Bodyguard’ for Lt. Cmdr. Richardson. A sub lieutenant and two others went ashore to find an opening or road through the beachhead and to mark it with a lamp facing the sea. Then, the remainder of the Commandos were brought in to ‘recce’ the beaches for obstacles, etc. The beach master finally signalled the assault troops, the tank landing craft and other vehicles to make for their appointed lights which had been rigged up earlier. These ‘mock landings’ went on night and day for weeks.

Our training came to a sudden end when 3 Commando were given just one hour to pack up their gear and board a ‘lighter’. There was no hint as to our destination, although most of us thought it could be ‘the real thing’. The next day we found ourselves at Castle Howard in Yorkshire, which was a US marine base, where we were to stay for a few weeks. We did more mock landings, this time on the lake in the grounds, with the Americans as ‘assault troops’. To replicate the landing conditions we were likely to experience, live ammunition was used to strafe the landing beaches. Some bullets ricocheted around, and although no injuries were reported, it was a bit ‘dodgy' since machine guns, as well as rifles, were used. We were fit and we were told we could be making a landing in Norway in similar conditions. However, in the event, our actual destination was somewhat warmer!

The invasion of North Africa

Our uniform comprised army battle dress with a navy blue hat, ammunition pouches and webbing. The ‘Beachmaster’ was Lt. Commander RC Richardson of the Navy. I was his bodyguard and accompanied him everywhere. He was much respected by all. I carried a Tommy gun, revolver and commando knife. Each ‘Special Service Commando Brigade’ was divided into three troops of about 40 men.

We arrived off North Africa on the ‘Monarch of Bermuda’ at a place called Moda Zar Bir. They piped C Commando to muster on the boat deck while it was ‘black dark’. With our full kit, we lined up on deck and transferred to landing craft and headed for the shore. It was the 18th October 1942 and the British Commandos, including Commando troops C1, 2 and 3 landed first, closely followed by the American Assault Troops.

The Germans (Rommel’s troops), were caught unawares by our arrival and only one shot was fired by our group in error. There was little or no opposition from the Axis forces at that time. We erected signs on the beach to separate and direct traffic with the objective of avoiding bottle necks and congestion. When this was done, we brought the US Assault troops ashore, while signalling their supporting vehicles to their designated routes across the beaches and on to the road network beyond. We then signalled for the heavy armaments but the first American vehicle ashore was their ‘Ice Cream & Coffee Pot’ vehicle! It came in very handy and I soon acquired a taste for hot dogs and coffee!

When the other armoured vehicles were ashore, we received a signal from an officer stating that a craft called a ‘Maracaibo’ was next. It was a shallow draught ship that had its bows cut and replaced by ramps. These craft were capable of carrying two LCMs (Mark 1) or 22 X 25 ton tanks or 18 X 30 ton tanks or 33 X 3 ton vehicles. There was also accommodation for 210 troops.

Such was the amount of traffic emerging from the interior, that it was easy to imagine half the American Army was aboard! There were tanks, bren gun carriers, heavy vehicles with big chains for clearing mines, etc. It was a marvellous craft! Having successfully disembarked all the troops and gear ashore, more battalions arrived on LCAs.

We were the only British forces to land there and we were instructed to stay on the beaches to keep them clear. The rest of the Allied troops proceeded inland, eventually pushing back Rommel’s troops towards the beaches, where they were sandwiched between Montgomery's forces in the east and Eisenhower's forces in the west. We remained on the beaches for about three weeks, after which we travelled to Alexandria by army trucks and then by train to Port Said. Around mid December 1942, we returned to Greenock on a Dutch ship and later transferred to Ardentinny Commando Camp for routine training. Meantime landing craft involved in the initial landings, were sent back to England to bring more troops.

The Sicily Landings

Around late June 1943, we travelled by train from Ardentinny to Liverpool and embarked on an LCA/troop carrier. The vessel carried 6 landing craft and 1000 troops. Each LCA could carry around 30 men, so each would make around 6 trips to disembark all the men onto the landing beach. The landing craft were on davits (like lifeboats on modern ships), ready to be lowered into the water at our final destination.

We headed south on a now familiar route across the Bay of Biscay. We called at Casablanca for a couple of days, but were not allowed ashore. After steaming west out of Casablanca for a couple of days, we turned about and entered the Mediterranean at Gibraltar. We linked up with around 20 big troop carriers and headed for Sicily.

It was early July 1943 when C3 commando were piped on deck at dawn. There was heavy gunfire from our big ships, all firing at targets on Sicily. Hundreds of gliders were coming in to land on the Sicily beaches, but sadly, some misjudged their landing zones and ended up in the sea.

We lined up into 3 sectors as before and climbed into our landing craft, approximately 30 men carrying small arms equipment. The next morning, at about 4 am, three LCAs were lowered with a Beach master and 6 ratings in each. The beach was about an hour away at about 3knots. We felt exposed and vulnerable and the time dragged. It seemed more like three days!. We beached, the ramp was lowered and we disembarked into the unknown. It was a nightmare but, in the event, not a single shot was fired at us in anger.

However, we could hear gunfire from German defensive positions inshore. It was not directed at us but we were in the line of fire as the Germans strafed the area with what was known as ‘rough gunfire'. With the last of the shells fired from our ships onto the landing beaches, we reconnoitred the beaches, rigged up lamps, and signalled the troops in, as we had been trained to do. A converted merchant ship beached and its bows opened up. We were amazed to see that a mobile coffee bar was first out so we put to one side for our break. Next out came the tanks, Bren gun carriers and other vehicles of war. This was our first taste of real action!

We did not have time to put up any signs, due to ‘rough gunfire, but we could see gliders coming in to land over our heads towards the back of the beaches. Some immediately came under enemy fire. We then did a further ‘recce’ at the back of the beaches to ensure the pathways off the beaches were clear and then signalled the next assault craft to disembark their human cargoes.

What happened next remains one of the most memorable and emotional events I witnessed during the war. Amidst all the hazardous activity, a Scottish regiment marched ashore in time to the bagpipes! It was a marvellous sight. The Germans were well aware of our presence as the piper led assault troops up the beaches toward the enemy. I was singing in my mind to the tunes they were playing. It really bucked everyone up.

We set them off on the correct roads and could hear the sound of incessant gunfire in their direction. When dawn broke, we could clearly see all the LCA carriers and troop ships, at anchor in the bay off our British sector. As our troops moved inland, things quietened down a bit but our ships were still shelling the shoreline while LCAs were coming in with fresh troops and going out with the injured. German planes came across and strafed the beaches with machine guns at regular intervals.

We took some Italian prisoners and put them to work digging a hole in the sand over which they placed armour plating to form our own air-raid shelter. Our troops built a compound to keep the prisoners in and we rounded them up (2/300 approx. on our beach alone) and were given responsibility to guard them. They were very docile and didn’t take much guarding. They were later transported by an LCA to a troop ship for an unknown destination.

We went swimming during daylight. The water was so clear that we could spin sixpenny coins out and then dive 6 metres to the sea bed to recover them. However, a week or so later, we saw floating dead bodies, some probably from crashed gliders, in the sea. That finished me with swimming there! At least half-a-dozen gliders crashed into the sea in our area alone. However, we couldn’t help them as the German planes were strafing the beaches and we had to take cover in our shelter.

Some of our troops returned to the landing beach after commandeering a train from a nearby railway line. They loaded it up with men, trucks and even tanks and steamed all the way to northern Sicily. It saved the invasion force a lot of time and effort.

Around this time, a Sikh troop came ashore to provide rearguard gun cover in case the enemy attacked us from the sea. They set up their Bofors (guns) in entrenched positions on the beaches, but in doing so, they became targets for over-flying German planes. One gun emplacement suffered a direct hit. What a gory mess was left behind. It made me physically sick at the time. Other Sikhs unceremoniously carried away the many body parts for burial near the beaches. This was the reality of war in the raw and the actions of these brave men should not be judged lightly by today's standards. It was a hell of a mess. There would have been about 8 men in the gun crew and two or three men carrying ammunition in from the nearby ammunition dump. They were all killed instantly and would not have suffered.

As the Allied forces drove the Germans inland and deprived them of landing strips, enemy planes disappeared from the skies in our area. The beach commander took the opportunity to order a tidy up of the beach which he described as a 'disgrace'. The troops had brought hard tack biscuits, billy cans etc. and some, not surprisingly, had been left behind as they moved across the beaches. He was just giving us something to do! He also ordered me to carry a shell from the beach and to place it on the seabed some distance away. Whether or not it was live was unclear to me but, since I'd received a direct order, I did his bidding.

As the days passed by, we spent our leisure time swimming, sunbathing and eating black grapes, which we had collected from nearby vineyards. We found out later that the vineyards had been booby trapped when tanks, with flailing heavy chains, were sent in to explode the devices. Apart from the danger of unexploded ordnance, we were at this time living an untroubled life of luxury, eating grapes and food from army trucks, full of rations, left on the beaches. In all, we were there about three weeks, by which time all the ships had gone except for hospital ships. We assisted in the transportation of injured troops from the beach to the hospital ships and prisoners kept coming in. Later, some of our troops returned and they were transported to troop ships by  LCAs for destinations unknown.

So, our beach commander signalled for a landing craft and eventually we went aboard a Landing Craft Tank, capable of carrying 3 or 4 tanks. We loaded our gear and all our sector climbed aboard to go to Grand Harbour, Valletta, Malta, into a hospital for recuperation! It was good grub, nice beds and lots of nurses looking after us. While in Malta, we travelled in old Leyland buses but, of the experience we said ‘the driver was mad and the roads were bad!'

There were about 40 of us commandos at the hospital in Malta, where we stayed for nearly a fortnight. We swam on lovely beaches every day, living like lords on holiday, sunbathing and eating regular American meals. Then we packed our bags and boarded an LCA for transport to a ship in Valetta's Grand Harbour for the journey to Port Said. From there, we travelled by train to Alexandria, a transit camp, where our kitbags and hammocks had been dumped. This camp was next door to King Farouk’s Palace, where we spent another relaxing week.

At last, we were on our way home on board HMS Monarch of Bermuda, a luxury liner in peacetime. After arriving back in the UK, we were given 14 days leave, after which we returned to HMS Armadillo for more training. From there, we went back to our base in Scotland. While I was based at HMS Copra, at Largs, Ayrshire, Scotland, my order for release from the Royal Navy was dated 5 December 1945,

Further Reading

Read about 45 RM Commando on the Normandy beaches at http://www.combinedops.com/45%20Royal%20Marine%20Commando.htm

See BBC Antiques Roadshow clip about 45 Royal Marine Commando Peter Thomas - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wZbWnnJuk14

There are around 300 books listed on our 'Combined Operations Books' page. They, or any other books you know about, can be purchased on-line from the Advanced Book Exchange (ABE). Their search banner link, on our 'Books' page, checks the shelves of thousands of book shops world-wide. Just 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.

Acknowledgements

45 Royal Marine Commando was based on the "Recollections of an Able Seaman - A record of the WWII experiences in the Royal Navy of Enos ‘Eddie’ Fellows" written by his son in law, Gerry D Brewis. The text that appears here was written by Geoff Slee for website presentation and approved by the author before publication.

News & Information

 

Memorial Maintenance

We have a small band of volunteers who take turns to visit the memorial each month, particularly during the growing season, to undertake routine maintenance such as weeding keeping the stones and slabs clear of bird dropping, lichen etc. and reporting on any issues. If you live near the National Memorial Arboretum and would like to find out more, please contact us.

Remember a Veteran

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Read the Combined Operations prayer.

Forthcoming Events

To organisers: Reach the people who will be interested to know about your Combined Operations or war related event by adding it to our forthcoming events page free of charge.

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See the 'slide shows' of the dedication ceremony and the construction of the memorial plus the 'On this day in 194?' feature where major Combined Ops events are highlighted on their anniversary dates with links to additional information.

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Find Books of Interest 

Search for Books direct from our Books page. Don't have the name of a book in mind? Just type in a keyword to get a list of possibilities... and if you want to purchase you can do so on line through the Advanced Book Exchange (ABE). 5% commission goes into the memorial fund.

WW2 Combined Operations Handbook

This handbook was prepared for Combined Operations in the Far East. It illustrates the depth and complexity of the planning process necessary to ensure that the 3 services worked together as a unified force.

Restoration of Geoffrey Appleyard's  Memorial 

Click on the image if you'd like to contribute to the improvement of the memorial to Geoffrey Appleyard, DSO, MC and Bar, through the purchase of a limited edition print of a book about him. Geoffrey achieved so much in service with No 7 Commando, No 62 Commando, the Small Scale Raiding Force and the Second SAS Regiment. He was posted Missing in Action in July 1943, aged 26.

www.bramleywarmemorial.com/major-geoffrey-appleyard-book-now-available-for-purchase/

The Gazelle Helicopter Squadron Display Team

The Gazelle Squadron is a unique team of ex-British Military Gazelle helicopters in their original military colours and with their original military registrations. The core team includes four Gazelles, one from each service; The Royal Navy, The Royal Marines, The Army Air Corps and The Royal Air Force. A fifth Gazelle in Royal Marines colours will provide intimate support for the team. Their crest includes the Combined Operations badge. The last, and possibly, only time the badge was seen on an aircraft was in the early mid 40s. A photo of the Hurricane concerned is included in the 516 Squadron webpage.

Legasee Film Archive

As part of an exciting social history project, the film company Legasee is looking for veterans from any conflict who would like to have their stories filmed for posterity. Films are now available on line. www.legasee.org.uk

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