WW2 land, sea and air forces of the Allied Nations planning, training and operating together as a unified force on amphibious raids and landings against the enemy.

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~  WW2 HQ SHIPS  ~

In WW2, HQ Ships and HQ Assault ships shared the task of implementing detailed plans for large scale amphibious landings on enemy held beaches. They also monitored the progress of these plans and adjusted them in the light of experience and unforeseen circumstances. In modern parlance they were floating Command and Control Centres with enormous capacity to communicate with aircraft, ships, shore establishments and units operating in the battlegrounds.

Philip Zieglar wrote in Mountbatten's official biography "One of the more valuable gifts which Mountbatten endowed on Combined Operations was the HQ Ship. It may seem obvious today that a massive and complex amphibious operation needs to be controlled from a vessel which remains offshore after the landing, which is not liable to be removed to take part in some naval operation and into which all the communications from land, sea and air are channelled."

We'd welcome any comment, information or photos to add to our account of the role of HQ ships.

Introduction HMS Bulolo Dieppe D-Day + HQ Ships Communications
Assault HQ Ships Non Assault HQ Ships Lessons Learned Further Reading Acknowledgments  


As with many good ideas it's not always clear where its origin lay. Mountbatten certainly claimed to have discussed the idea with his then Assistant Fleet Wireless Operator, Michael Hodges, in the 1930s but it was not until the ill fated attack on Dakar in 1940 that the requirement for a floating command, control and communications centre was fully appreciated and understood. General Irwin wrote "Seldom have I felt so impotent as during this expedition when I was separated  from my forces and tied to any naval operations which might become necessary. The Commander of any such enterprise must retain his independence from the fleet."

The concept was taken up by Combined Operations HQ (COHQ) and worked on by Hughes. Mountbatten cajoled the Ministry of War Transport into providing him with a vessel to put the embryonic ideas into practice. HMS Bulolo, a former Australian Passenger ship of 6,400 tons, was stripped of non essential equipment and refitted with communications equipment and control room facilities. The work was completed in the summer of 1942 by which time the conversion of a second HQ ship, HMS Largs, was underway. 

HMS Bulolo - an account by Edward (Ted) Pierce who served on her.

Having joined up in November 1941, drafted first to HMS Glendower (Butlins Camp, Pwllheli) and within a few weeks to HMS Valkyrie (Isle of Man), I was destined to become one of the early trainees in naval Radio Direction Finding (RDF), the term Radar hadn’t come into use yet. Six weeks later, by now an Able Seaman RDF, I was drafted with instructions to join HMS Bulolo, at that time lying in Royal Albert Dock, London, undergoing a fundamental refit, transforming her from her former role as an armed merchant cruiser into what was to be the first ever Combined Ops HQ ship.

Admiral Mountbatten had recently been appointed C-in-C Combined Operations and had insisted that success in sea-borne assault operations would essentially depend on effective communications between all three services. Thus communications equipment would be at the heart of the HQ ship.

By June 1941 Bulolo was ready for sea trials off the coast of Scotland during which Mountbatten came to visit and inspect. Before long, signals personnel from Army and RAF units joined the ship’s company and additional Naval officers and ratings also arrived. The RDF ratings were responsible to a Canadian green-stripe sub-lieutenant and a leading seaman RDF (Tom O’Carroll), drafted from a Flower Class corvette where he had earned himself a DSM in recognition for detecting a U-Boat, leading to its sinking.

The coming months were spent in preparation for Operation Torch, the North African landings, involving a convoy of some 300 ships sailing under the flag of Admiral Sir Harold Burrough in Bulolo, destined for Oran and Algiers. Among his passengers were high ranking officers of all three services, British and American, including Generals Ryder and Mark Clark.

The voyage was uneventful until, soon after passing undetected through the strait of Gibraltar, enemy air attacks began interfering with our progress. Nevertheless, landings were successfully achieved and in due time Bulolo was able to proceed, as planned, with imperial dignity, into Algiers harbour. Unfortunately, as Commander Anthony Kimmins reported in his BBC broadcast that night, "while approaching the harbour that morning, Bulolo had been heavily dive-bombed by Hun aircraft. A near miss had thrown the telegraph indicators from the bridge to the engine room out of action. As there had been no occasion to use the telegraph between then and coming into harbour there was no reason to suspect they had been damaged. Now, as the captain rang down ‘Stop - Half astern - Full astern’ the engineers below were blissfully unaware that they had been given any orders. Luckily a sandbank and some rafts broke the impact but Bulolo hit the concrete jetty a tremendous crack before finally coming to rest." Having visited Algiers a couple of times since then I can testify that the dent in the jetty wall is still there!

The following days Bulolo was the centre of activity for the initial political and military negotiations with the Vichy French authorities (Darlan, Giraud, etc) and of course the vital communications link with the American forces in Casablanca.

After four weeks alongside in Algiers she returned to the UK in time for Christmas leave. But her North African duty was not quite over yet. The Casablanca conference, when Churchill and Roosevelt were to discuss plans for the next stage in the war, was scheduled for early January. Churchill knew that he would have problems persuading Roosevelt and his staff to adopt his favoured approach for continuing the Mediterranean campaign, which he knew the Americans viewed as simply delaying the main invasion of Europe. I quote from an account of these events by Rick Atkinson in his book An Army at Dawn. ‘ To help build his case, Churchill had ordered Bulolo to attend at Casablanca. With its war room full of planning studies bound in red leather dispatch folders, Bulolo symbolised the British empire’s formidable bureaucratic firepower’. Here the British chiefs would lobby their American counterparts, all issues would be discussed fully, and the relentless British logic would win through. Those red leather folders would reveal ‘wondrously precise studies and statistics’ in support of Churchill’s strategic arguments

Thus Bulolo’s intellectual contribution to history was in the making!


By the time of the ill-fated Dieppe Raid on 19 August 1942 the idea of HQ ships had taken hold. For the operation three Hunt Class Destroyers were designated HQ Ships. [For information on the raid itself and the fate of the land forces click here.

  •  HMS Calpe was the main HQ ship from which Canadian Major General H F Roberts, MC, commanded the assault force and Captain J Hughes-Hallott, RN, commanded the naval element. Also on board was WW1 Australian veteran airman, Air Commodore Adrian Trevor Cole, CBE, MC, DFC of the RAAF who controlled the air operations above the raid from a forward vantage point. Suitably qualified service personnel, drawn from the three services, manned the various communications and control room functions.
  •  HMS Berkeley was crewed to operate in support of  HMS Calpe. It controlled low fighter cover squadrons under Acting Squadron Leader James Humphrey Scott RAFVR. Berkeley was also designated "First Rescue Ship".
  •  HMS Fernie was assigned to be the reserve HQ ship able to take over in the event of either of the other two becoming disabled. Prior to her departure for Dieppe her battle cry was played over her loud hailer and, on leaving the harbour, the sound of the fanfare echoed across the water to the embarking troops on the jetties.

Operation Jubilee commenced in the late evening hours of 18 August 1942. There was a veritable armada of over 230 ships assembled from southern English ports. It was a warm moonless night as the ships headed across the channel to Dieppe. The force commanders had no inkling that they were on a collision course with a German convoy proceeding from Boulogne to Dieppe. Radar stations on the English coast picked up these "unidentified vessels" and twice, at 01.30 and again at 02.30 on 19 August, they radioed warnings to the naval commander Captain Hughes-Hallet. These warnings were not acknowledged and the raiding force took no evasive action. The main assault troops were being convoyed in large ships with their LCPs (Landing Craft Personnel) hanging from davits. Most of the commandos made the crossing in their own LCPs which held about 20 men each while the tanks crossed in their own LCTs (Landing Craft Tanks - 3 tanks to each LCT). Just after 03.00 the first shots in Operation Jubilee were fired as troops in the larger ships were loaded into their LCPs and lowered for the long run in to the beaches, The "point of no return" had been reached. 

As the action proceeded Flt/Lt Kidd noted that the Berkeley was hit at 12.45 and began to sink immediately. HMS Calpe, and some smaller craft, took off most of the crew and personnel and picked up others from the sea. The Berkeley's Captain, Lt. J J S Yorke, RN, and most of his men, survived. Shortly after 13.00 HMS Albrighton torpedoed the Berkeley and she sank at 13.08.

HMS Calpe was attacked and bombed by 3 Dorniers which approached from the west at 8,000 ft. They released their bombs at 6,000 ft when Calpe was undertaking a slow manoeuvre while searching for a downed pilot. Although there were no direct hits the blasts damaged the ship's stern, killing some men, and six more were blown overboard. They were rescued by SGB 9, a gunboat under the command of Lt Peter Scott DSC, who was later to become a famed naturalist.

Immediately afterwards a Folke Wulf 190 approached from the east and strafed the starboard side of the destroyer hitting the bridge with cannon fire, killing an Oerlikon gunner and wounding Air Commodore Cole. He was not the only Air Force casualty that day aboard the Calpe and the Berkeley. On the latter, Wing Commander Stanley Skinner, DFC, Observer for the raid, was killed. He was a former night-fighter pilot with 604 Squadron. His American counterpart, Col LB Hillslinger, had his foot blown off.

The Dieppe Raid was a disaster for the assault forces but there were also problems at sea. From an altitude of 25,000 feet (about 4.5 miles) pilots of the RAF, patrolling the area at around 13.00, could see the ships at the end of the withdrawing convoy, coming under enemy air attack. They reported that HMS Berkeley was in trouble and requested, via the Hornchurch controller, that the 'Cover Squadrons' be concentrated in that area. They also contacted HMS Calpe recommending that the lower cover squadrons be directed over the Berkeley. [For reasons not entirely clear it seems that the RAF were unable to respond to these requests.]

A few days after the raid Flt Lt Gerald Le Blount Kidd, RAFVR, Close Support Controller aboard HMS Calpe, reported "Communications worked excellently throughout and great credit is due to Flight Lieutenant Hall for his work in this connection. He also rendered invaluable assistance throughout the day as liaison officer between Air Commodore Cole and me and in other capacities.

No signals were received by me from Uxbridge so that it was not known what targets had been accepted and what squadrons were on their way.

The view enjoyed by the Controller from the bridge was excellent and was invaluable in exercising control over aircraft. HQ ships I and 2 were often a good distance apart. As there were no fighters under the direct control of HQ 1, interceptions could not be made in several instances. Difficulty was experienced in locating the fighters actually under ship control. It was noted that aircraft in loose pairs and fours had a much better chance of making interceptions than aircraft in Squadron formation. (This was seen only once). Fighters rarely, if ever, saw enemy aircraft before they were warned by the Controller. Too often they were down sun of the convoy and too low and the attacks would be made from up sun and above. Fighters were often too low and got fired at by the convoy gunners who were naturally very light on the trigger. There was a lot of RT chatter between aircraft. As things turned out this did not matter but, if closer control of close support squadrons, or control of fighters, had been required, intercom would have to be cut to a minimum. Close support at Dieppe had little apparent effect on the houses which were evidently reinforced.                                 

My aircraft recognition was very weak indeed. It is essential that controllers doing this type of work should be adept at this. It was observed that enemy aircraft were often chased home by large numbers of our fighters, many of whom could have had very little hope of catching up. Cover over the convoy was left very thin on these occasions. Excellent co-operation and assistance was, at all time, received from Squadron Leader Sprott on HQ 2. Apart from the fact that, owing to the unforeseen strength and preparedness of enemy resistance, the objectives were not gained and casualties were high. Nevertheless, viewed as a Combined Operation the raid was a success of timing and close co-operation between the services.

The next combined attack will have a much better chance of success as a result of the great deal of experience gained by all who took part. Much gratitude is felt for the pilots who looked after the convoy with such tireless resolve from the moment of first light until after the weather had closed down, and for the organisation and pre-planning that made that possible. The Navy's efficiency and courtesy was much appreciated and the calm and cheerful courage of the Canadian Officers and men was an inspiration."

(Public Record File Air 16/765)


Air Commodore Adrian Cole, Controller on HMS Calpe until wounded was awarded the DSO.
Acting Sqd Ldr Gerald le Blount Kidd on HMS Calpe was awarded the MBE.

Sqd Ldr James Humphrey Sprott on HMS Berkeley was awarded the OBE.


This account concentrates on the landings in the Eastern Task Force Area on the UK/Canadian beaches of Gold, Juno and Sword. However, there are references to the American led Western Task Force to provide a sense of the enormous scale of the endeavour. [If anyone reading this can provide information on the role of the US HQ ships please contact us.]

 Naval Organisation

The Naval part of the Normandy Landings was code named Operation Neptune. The organisational chart below puts into context the references to the many different forces involved.

 Allied Naval Commander in Chief Expeditionary Force (ANCXF)
Admiral Sir Bertram H Ramsey
 Chief of Staff
Rear Admiral George Creasy
 Chief Naval Admin & Flag Officer British Assault Area (Designate)
Rear Admiral James Rivett (CARNAC)
 Rear Admiral Mulberry & PLUTO
Rear Admiral William Tennant

[We believe that the line of Command to the Bombarding & Follow Up Forces and Administration (see below) was direct from the above and not through the Task Force Commanders. We'd like independent verification of this before being more assured on this point]

 Eastern Naval Task Force

 Western Naval Task Force

Rear Admiral Sir Philip Vian on Cruiser HMS Scylla

Rear Admiral Alan G Kirk USN on Cruiser USS Augusta

 Assault Forces



Force G (Gold) Force J ( Juno) Force S (Sword) Force U (Utah) Force O (Omaha)
G - Commodore 1st Class Cyril Douglas-Pennant RN on HQ Ship HMS Bulolo U - Rear Admiral Don P Moon on HQ Ship USS Bayfield
J - Commodore 1st Class George Oliver RN on HQ Ship HMS Hilary O - Rear Admiral John L Hall Jnr on HQ Ship USS Ancon
S - Rear Admiral Arthur Talbot on HQ Ship HMS Largs  

 Bombarding Forces

Force K Force G Rear Admiral Frederick Dalrymple-Hamilton Cruiser HMS Belfast.
Force E Force J
Force D Force S Rear Admiral Wilfred Patterson Cruiser HMS Mauritious
Force A Force U Rear Admiral Morton L Deyo, USN Cruiser USS Tuscaloosa.
Force C

Force O

Rear Admiral Carelton F Bryant USN Battleship USS Texas.

 Follow Up Forces

Force B Commodore  C D Edgar USN
Force L Commodore Rear Admiral William Parry on Destroyer
USS Maloy


Flag Officer West - Rear Admiral J Wilkes USN
Commodore Depot Ships Commodore 2nd Class Hugh England RN on Cruiser HMS Hawkins
Naval Officers in Charge (Ashore)

Cpt Camp USN
Cpt J E Arnold USNR
Cpt WRC Leggat RN
Cpt Colin Maud RN
Cpt George Dolphin RN

The HQ Ships

The positions of the 5 main HQ Ships (one for each landing beach) are marked on the map below amongst the bombarding ships and the two flag ships.

For the Normandy landings there were 3 main categories of HQ ships each with a range of tasks appropriate to their function and status. The HQ Ships were concerned with monitoring progress of the invasion against the overall plan and directing changes in the light of experience and unforeseen circumstances; the Assault HQ Ships were  concerned with providing support over a local area and were in radio contact with the troops ashore, and the Non Assault HQ Ships were allocated "stationery" tasks such as accommodation, repairs, engineering and depot [Depot ships acted as mobile or fixed bases for other ships, landing craft, submarines or small craft or in support of a naval base. they may have been specifically designed for their purpose or be converted from another purpose. They were especially used as bases for submarines, fast attack craft or small minesweepers, which had little space for the crew to relax.]

One HQ Ship was assigned to each of the three Assault Divisions. The ships were positioned seaward of the beaches as follows: off Gold beach was HMS Bulolo with Naval Assault Force G carrying the Divisional Commander of the 50th Northumbrian Division; off Juno beach was HMS Hilary with Naval Assault Force J carrying the Divisional Commander of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division and off Sword beach was HMS Largs with Naval Assault Force S carrying the Divisional Commander of the 3rd British Infantry Division. [Photos courtesy of; Jim Rolt & The Largs Association, (1 ,2 & 5) and the late Sid Windebank  (3 & 4).

There were 3 Standby HQ ships; HMS Albrighton, HMS Royal Ulsterman and HMS Dacres.

Duties and Responsibilities

The functions of the ships are summarised below;

  •  to act as Flag Ship to the Naval Commander of the assault force concerned,
  •  to accommodate the (Army) Military Commander of the assault force concerned and his staff,
  •  to accommodate the (RAF) Air Staff Officer representing the Commander of the Advanced Allied Expeditionary Air Force (Advanced AEAF) based at Hillingdon House, Uxbridge.

The Advanced AEAF was a relatively small operational organisation through which air activity over the assault area was controlled and coordinated. On board the HQ Ship the Air Staff Officer had a Group Captain, a Wing Commander and a Squadron Leader Signals Liaison Officer to assist in their duties which were;

  •  to keep the Commander of the Advanced AEAF informed of the intentions and requirements of the Navy and Army Commanders,
  •  to give the Military Commander on board advice on requests for immediate air support or tactical reconnaissance received over the Army support channel,
  •  to give advice to the Naval Commander of the Force on air matters generally but specifically on the use and control of AA fire 24/7 and smoke over the anchorage at night,
  •  re-briefing and redirecting aircraft over the assault area to accommodate changed circumstances since they were scrambled in response to a request for immediate support,
  •  maintaining a listening radio watch for support aircraft arriving over the assault area as part of pre-planned operations,
  •  on behalf of the Military Commander receiving reports over the radio from aircraft,
  •  providing feedback to the co-ordinating Fighter Direction Tender (FDT 217) on the effectiveness of the fighter cover provided by the three FDTs,
  •  as appropriate, making representations to the Naval Commander of the Force concerned about the anchorage position of any FDT in his area insofar as its position affected its operational effectiveness,
  •  as required, directing fighters by visual control on instructions from the co-ordinating FDT,
  •  maintaining a listening watch for 'naval bombardment spotting aircraft' and issuing instructions to them in the event communications were lost with the bombarding ship concerned,
  •  representing to the Naval Commander any special requirements of the Air/Sea Rescue Services from naval vessels.

[Photo above courtesy of Liz Whickam. It was taken on board HMS Hilary as she entered Portsmouth harbour on July 1st 1944. The men are l - r: PO 'Tug' Wilson, RN; Sgt 'Dago' Allsop, Royal Corp of Signals; Flt Sgt 'Timmy' Newman, RAF, Sgt 'Sandy' Powell, RAF and Sgt Reginald 'Wick' Wickham, RAF.]

The pilots also reported back to the HQ ship on the result of their mission for the benefit of the Military Commander on board. The HQ ships continued to act as forward control for support aircraft until a fully operational Group Control Centre had been established in the territory previously held by the enemy. The three HQ ships continued to operate off the beachhead for a number of days after D+7 by which time the Air Staff contingent had left as the front line moved inland. Thereafter the ships' functions were mainly Naval in nature.


The delivery of this formidable list of tasks was challenging and required many different organisations, a large range of sophisticated high tech equipment, well trained personnel and a communications network second to none. Here we provide a brief explanation of some of the more significant aspects that influenced events at the time. The two diagrams (opposite) of the internal work space on board the HQ Ships provide an indication of the complexity of the operation.

The Combined Control Centre was located at Uxbridge and came under the overall direction of the Commander, Advanced AEAF (see below) under the the Air Officer Commanding No. 11 Group in full collaboration with the Commanding General US IX Fighter Command and with representation of the US VIII Fighter Command. It was manned by both British and US personnel and was situated in the Operations Room of No. 11 Group, Air Defence of Great Britain, with the complete static facilities of this organisation, augmented during the assault phase by additional communications to U.S. Fighter Units and Fighter Direction Tenders at sea. The Control Centre: planned, coordinated, and controlled all fighter operations and was, in addition, responsible for issuing executive instructions for Fighter/Bomber operations.

Advanced AEAF (Allied Expeditionary Air Force).  In order to achieve the most economical and effective employment of the Allied Air Forces during the Operation it was essential for air operations directly connected with the battle area to be centrally co-ordinated and directed, and to this end, a small operational organisation known as Advanced Allied Expeditionary Air Force was established. It was under the general direction of the Commander-in-Chief, with the Commander, Advanced AEAF directing and co-ordinating the planning and operations of such forces of the Ninth US Army Air Force and the Second Tactical Air Force as were allotted to him from time to time. In practice all requests for air action were passed to the Commander, Advanced AEAF at Hillingdon house, Uxbridge.

Type 15 GCI Radar. The normal mobile GCI Station operating on the 200 megahertz band was very vulnerable to enemy radio jamming by "Window" (see below) but it was still the best instrument for the control of night fighters when jamming was not present.

Type 11 Station. This radar operated between 500 & 600 Megahertz and could be changed within the frequency range in 5 to 10 minutes. This made it less vulnerable to enemy jamming and its narrower beam width gave it better discrimination in Window conditions. Because its performance was inferior to Type 15 it was used as a standby radar.

Window. The effectiveness of radar can be seriously compromised by saturating the sky with metallised paper strips cut to half the length of the target radar frequency. They produce spurious echoes on radar screens making it extremely difficult to interpret the data and identify the approach of aircraft.

Army Signals Support Unit (ASSU). This was the radio channel provided for HQ Ships to pass calls from troop commanders on the far (enemy) shore to the UK when they required air support. It was an Army responsibility.

Talk Between Ships (TBS). Operating between 65 and 85 Megahertz this naval VHF/RT point to point equipment was used for communications between the HQ ships, FDTs and the Combined Control Centre at Uxbridge.

Group Control Unit. A mobile unit of 4 vehicles which, when operating, formed a square around an operations table to control fighter aircraft in support of ground forces. The unit received plot information from  mobile radar equipment which was relayed to plotters at the table by W/T. There were also facilities within the unit for planning, intelligence gathering, Army Liaison and Movement Liaison.

Plan Position Indicator (PPI). The PPI is a cathode ray tube which gives indications in azimuth* through 360 degrees and varying range scales. * Azimuth (navigation) is the angular distance usually measured clockwise from the north point to the intersection with the horizon of the vertical circle passing through a celestial body.

Radio Counter Measures were designed to decrease the effectiveness of the enemy's radio communications by jamming their frequencies.

Movement Liaison provided information on the movement of friendly aircraft to allow operation and filter rooms to correctly identify the tracks of friendly aircraft, to prevent unnecessary air raid warnings and to prevent friendly fire incidents.

Air Signal Intelligence ("Y" Service) intercepted enemy R/T and W/T signals to make operational use of the information. In the case of seaborne landings the small units in the FDTs intercepted R/T used by fighters, fighter/bombers and occasionally bombers. The information was immediately made available to Fighter Controllers in plain language where immediate action was required.

By combining the intercepted messages and Direction Finding (D/F) bearings on the transmissions made by the "Y" service with radar information a fairly complete picture emerged of the size of the formation, area of operation and bases used by the enemy aircraft.

W/T intercept was not necessary on FDTs since the information was usually only of longer term strategic value. However, if required the information could be made available to seaborne forces by broadcasting it from a static "Y" station.

Assault HQ Ships

 Duties & Responsibilities

Unlike the main HQ ships, the Assault HQ ships were in touch with troops ashore. The troops provided information on targets and reported back on the effectiveness of shelling for the benefit of the warships' gunners. The Assault HQ ships could also direct minor craft and amphibian vehicles working between the carrier ships, transports and the shore. The HQ ships also had links, through their air force personnel, to the crews of fighter bombers and rocket firing aircraft. In turn they could be put in direct radio contact with forward platoons and other junior commanders when specific strikes were needed in support of advancing infantry and tanks.

As the invasion developed the Assault HQ ships produced a stream of directives for changes to the overall plan. For example, 'Bombarding' warships were given new targets, reserve brigades in some cases were brought ashore more quickly than planned and a host of minor changes including the provision of hot food to landing craft crews and the replacement of lost equipment.

HMS Bulolo handled around 2,300 messages per day as they fine-tuned the grand plan in the light of experience - rough weather, bottlenecks on beaches caused by obstacles or enemy action, landings in the wrong places due to navigational errors, breakdowns etc. Where the landings were delayed or repositioned it was vital that gunners, acting in support of the advancing troops, were well aware of the changes to adjust the timing and targeting of their bombardments. Whatever eventuality arose, the Assault HQ ships were expected to have an alternative course ready to follow, and to advise all interested parties, including the Admiralty.

The Vessels

A variety of vessels were used including Cruisers, Gunboats, Frigates, Destroyers, Converted Passenger Vessels, Yachts and Landing Craft. They were assigned to the Initial Assault Fleet to serve as Flagships, Landing Ship HQ (LSH) and Control Vessels. Try Google for more information on specific vessels.


Name Type Function Movements
HMS Albrighton Hunt Class Destroyer

HQ Ship - Force G3 (Ferry Control)

As part of LSH Force G3 she departed from the Solent on 5 June arriving off Gold beach on D-Day in Assault Convoy G16B. From 8 June, her convoy duties completed, she became an HQ Ship for the monitoring and control of 'ferry craft' which plied the water between southern England and the Normandy coast.
USS Ancon
 Cargo/Passenger ship of Panama Line US Flagship - Force O Left Plymouth via the Rutland harbour anchorage on 5 June arriving off Omaha at 02.51 on D-Day in Assault Convoy 01.
USS Augusta US Cruiser

US Flag Ship - Force O, Naval Commander, Western Task Force and Bombardment Force Reserve Ship

Left Plymouth Sound Anchorage on 5 June arriving off Omaha  on D-Day in Assault Convoy O1A. Returned 25 June.
USS Bayfield
US Attack Transport (Troop Carrier) HQ Ship - Force U Left Plymouth Sound anchorage at 09.43 on 5 June and arrived off Utah at 02.29 as part of assault convoy U1A. Returned 25 June.
HMS Bulolo
Liner of the Australian Burns Philp line HQ Ship - Force G As HMLSH Force G she left Southampton at 17.10 and the Solent at 18.37 on 5 June arriving off Gold beach at 05.56 on D-Day as part of Assault convoy G9A. She sustained bomb damage near the Operations Room at 06.05 on 7 June and superficial damage to her upper structure when rammed by the Empire Pitt on 15 June. Also hit by an LCT at 10.10 on 27 June. Returned to Southampton at 12.12 on 28 June.
HMS Dacres US Frigate HQ Ship - Force S2 Left Portsmouth harbour 5 June. After embarkation off Newhaven, left 12.15 arriving Sword 6 June in Assault Convoy S10. Assisted in the salvage of James A Farrell on 29 June.
HMS Goathland
Destroyer (Hunt Class) Temp HQ Ship - Force S3
After embarkation from dockside left Portsmouth harbour at 13.20 on 5 June arriving Sword on 6 June in Assault Convoy S5. Damaged by mine 24 July.
HMS Hilary
Liner HQ Ship - Force J.  Flagship Eastern Task Force from 24 June. After embarkation at Southampton by tender left Spithead Gate 19.25 on 5 June, arrived Juno 05.58 on 6 June in Assault Convoy J11. Suffered slight damage from a "near miss" bomb at 04.10 on 13 June.
HMS Kingsmill US Frigate HQ Ship - Force G2. Ferry Control 19 June to 30th. Embarkation at Southampton . Left Solent arriving Gold 6 June as part of Assault Convoy G10A.
HMS Largs
French Merchant Vessel CHARLES PLUMIER later French/Vichy French Armed Merchant Cruiser (Captured by RN off Gibraltar). HQ Ship - Force S From Portsmouth Harbour jetty left Solent 21.45 on 5 June arriving Sword 6 June in Assault Convoy S7. Slightly damaged by mine at 00.45 on 25 June and by gunfire at 18.30 on 28th. Returned to Solent on 30 June when Sword beachhead was closed.
HMS Lawford
US Frigate Temp LS HQ Ship - Force J1 Embarkation at Southampton. Left Solent 5 June arriving Juno 6 June in Assault Convoy J9. On 8 June broke in two following air attack with the loss of 21 crew members and unknown Army personnel.
HMS Locust
Gunboat Temp LS HQ Ship - Force S1 Left Portsmouth Harbour Jetty and Spithead Gate at 19.35 on 5 June arriving Sword 6 June in Assault Convoy S12. Damaged by gunfire 16 June (Approx).
HMS Lothian
Ellerman Liner City of Edinburgh Reserve LS HQ Left River Forth 6 June Arrived Harwich on 8th.
HMS Nith
Frigate Temp HQ Ship - Force G1 Embarked Southampton, left Solent 5 June arriving Gold 6 June in Assault Convoy G9C. Damaged by bomb at 23.21 on 24 June.
HMS Royal Ulsterman
Burns & Laird Cross Channel Ferry

LS HQ Ship - Force J3.

Embarked at Southampton. Left Solent 16.00 5 June arriving Juno 08.08 on 6 June in Assault Convoy J14. Carried 6 Landing Craft on outward trip. On 26 June became HQ Ship for Captain (north & southbound convoys).
St Adrian
[387T/ 1927]
Yacht HQ Ship - Force S. Special Service (Ferry Control) Left Portsmouth Harbour 5 Jun arrived Sword 6 June in Assault Convoy S5. On June 6 rescued survivors from Svenner.
HMS Scylla Cruiser Flagship Naval Commander Eastern Task Force Left Portsmouth harbour 13.40 and Solent at 16.27 on 5 Jun. Arrived Sword 04.15 on 6 Jun. Damaged by mine 22.56 on 23 June while moving from Juno to Sword. Towed by tugs Envoy & Thames to Solent. Not repaired.
HMS Waveney
Frigate HQ Ship - Force J2. (Ferry Control) Embarked Southampton. Left Solent 5 June arrived Juno 6 June in Assault Convoy J10.
-  9 Landing Craft Landing Craft Control (LCC) During the course of D-Day the following craft were assigned; 10,20,30,40,50,60,70,80. & 90.
- 11 Landing Craft Landing Craft HQ (LCH) During the course of D-Day the following craft were assigned; 98, 100, 167, 168, 185, 187, 239, 245, 269, 275 & 317.

Non Assault HQ Ships

 Duties & Responsibilities

Depot Accommodation Control (Over Assault) Headquarters + Repair Ships, Craft & Barges, Dredgers, Fireboats, Lightships and Kitchen Barges. These were the Naval and Merchant ships allocated to stationary tasks off the Normandy coast and UK waters (Neptune duties). Try Google for more information on specific vessels.

The Vessels

Name Type Function Movements
USS Adonis US LST Repair ship for landing craft. Departed Plymouth, via Weymouth Bay anchorage arrived Omaha at 12.24 on 8 June for service at Mulberry A. Achelous Class Landing Craft Repair Ship: Laid down as LST-83. Reclassified and renamed USS Adonis.
HMS Adventure HM Minelayer Repair ship. Left Solent anchorage on 7 June arrived Gold at 08.30 on the 8th in Convoy EWP 1 for service on Mulberry B. On 30th anchored inside Mulberry B.
HMS Albatross
HM Seaplane Carrier [Ex Australian Navy] Repair ship. Left Thames at 06.00 on 7 June arrived Sword on 8th in Convoy ETM 2 for service at Gooseberry 5. Damaged by gunfire on the 23rd and 26th. Moved to Gold on the 29th.
HMS Ambitions
[1,849T/ 1913]
Belgian Cross Channel Car Ferry HM Minesweeper Left Solent anchorage 13.30 on 9 June arrived in assigned anchorage in Eastern Task Force Area on the 12th.
HMS Aorangi
[17,491T/ 1924]
New Zealand Liner Depot ship for tugs. Left Liverpool 29 April arrived Solent anchorage 5 May. Replaced by Empress of Russia in July.
HMS Aristocrat
[544 Tonne 1935]
Clyde Passenger Vessel (Paddle Steamer) HM HQ Ship (Mulberry B) Left Solent anchorage arrived Gold 08.30 on the 7th in Convoy EWC 1B.
[10,048T/ 1910]
Passenger/Cargo Vessel Depot Ship Left Thames 06.00 on 7 June arrived Juno 10.22 on 8 June in Convoy ETM 2 for service at Gooseberry 4.
USS Atlas US LST Repair Ship for Landing Craft Ex Falmouth. Left Plymouth 7 June. Arrived Utah for service on Gooseberry 1.
HMS Bachaquero
 HMLST (1) Tank & Truck Ferry then Rhino Depot Ship. Loaded Tilbury, London and left for Eastern Task Force Area. Carrying capacity 18 tanks or 33 trucks and 207 troops. After unloading cargo became Rhino Depot Ship on 8 June. Damaged by gunfire on the 14th and by mine on the 23rd. Returned UK on 28th. Sometimes referred to as Bachachero. Had the distinction of being the first ever Tank Landing Ship.
Ben Tarbert Minesweeper
Ex Trawler
HM Depot Trawler Left Solent arrived Omaha 11 June in Convoy EBC5W.
Bernard Carver
US Liberty Ship Depot Ship Left Barry and Bristol Channel 5 June at 11.30. Arrived Western Task Force Area 08.00 on the 11th in Convoy EBM 2.
Southampton/IOW Ferry Landing Craft Engineering and Maintenance In Solent in support of Force J (Juno).
Cap Tourane
French Passenger Vessel Depot Ship. Left Thames 06.00 on 7 June arrived Sword 8th in Convoy ETM 2 for service on Gooseberry 5. Damaged by gunfire on 22nd & 25th. Moved to Gold on 29th.
HMS Capetown HM Cruiser Depot Ship Ex Falmouth via Weymouth Bay to Omaha at 08.30 on 7 June in Convoy EBP 1 for service on Mulberry A.
HMS Ceres HM Cruiser Depot Ship Ex Falmouth via Weymouth Bay arrived Utah 08.30 on 7 June in Convoy EBP 1 for service on Gooseberry 1.
USS Chimo US Auxiliary Minelayer Minesweeper Depot Ship Left Plymouth 09.00 on 6 June. Arrived Utah 08.00 on 7th in Convoy EBM 2.
HMS Danae
HM Cruiser Depot Ship Normandy 12 June to 15 Aug. To Polish Navy 4 Oct 44.
HMS Despatch HM Cruiser HQ Base & AA Defence Ship Left Solent 23.10 on 7 June. Arrived Gold 09.30 on 8 June in Convoy EWP 1.
Dredgers Dredgers Dredgers The following dredgers were deployed: Dm Dredge No 16; From Foulney H+B Ry Dredger No 4 and James Nos 4, 32, 36, 46 & 67; From Ramsgate, Red No 6, Rossall, TB, Taylor, TCC Hopper No 1, TIC Nos 18 & 19 and Tolverne.
SS Eleazer Wheelock
US Liberty Type Accommodation Ship Left Barry 5 June & Bristol Channel at 11.30 arrived Omaha 08.00 on 7 June in Convoy EBM 2 for service at Mulberry A.
Fireboats Fireboats Fireboats DEW (?) for Gold Beach, MH Stephen left Solent 19.00 on 5 June for Juno in Assault Convoy J15.
HMS Fratton
Southern Rail Vessel Bombardon Control Ship later Accommodation Ship Left Weymouth Bay 4 June for Selsey arriving Gold 7 June in Follow Up Convoy LS/ETM 1.. Returned to Portland 21 June later to serve as Normandy Accommodation ship. Sunk 18 Aug with loss of 31 crew members.
HMS Frobisher
Cruiser Training & Depot Ship After Bombardment task was Depot Ship at Mulberry B. Torpedoed off Courseilles 9 Aug. Returned to UK 15 Aug.
George D Irvine Trawler (?) HM Depot Trawler Initially at Solent arrived Sword 23 Jun.
George W Woodward
US Liberty Type Depot Ship Left Cardiff 5 June via Solent arriving Gold 8 June in Convoy EBM 3 for service to Personnel Manning US Landing Craft.
HMS Haslemere
Southern Railway Vessel HM Mulberry Control & Receiving Ship Arrived Gold 7 June in Follow Up Convoy L5/ETM1.. Receiving ship at Mulberry B for Bombardons, Phoenix and Whales. Also Plankers and Sappers HQ.
HMS Hawkins
Ex Cruiser Training Ship Spare Depot Ship June 1944 Western Task Force Gunfire Support Bombardment Force A, for Utah Beach.
Isle of Thanet
Passenger Vessel Control Ship Ferry Control  HQ Ship for Force J. In late summer of 1944 reverted to cross channel trooping.
Ferry in Singapore Straits Depot & Repair Ship  For Minesweepers and Anti Submarine Trawlers anchored in Solent.
Laguna Belle
Excursion Vessel Accommodation Ship (?) Mulberry Whale Sections.
Lightships Lightships Lightships Juno and Kansas ex Thames positioned 18 Jun
LSE 1 US LST Landing Ship Emergency Repair (LSE) In reserve at Plymouth. On 23 June sailed from Solent for service in Eastern Task Force Area.
LSE 2 US LST Landing Ship Emergency Repair Ex Solent for Juno.
USS Melville US Destroyer Tender Landing Craft Emergency Repair Ex Weymouth arrived Juno 12 June. Beginning in May 1944 she helped minesweepers and landing craft as they got ready for the June invasion of Normandy. For the next year she was busy maintaining and repairing landing craft for the Allied push toward Germany.
USS Miantonomah US Minelayer Task Force HQ Ship Western Task Force area 25 June in Convoy ECP15. Embarked Rear Admiral John Wilkes and became flagship for CTF 125. She steamed to Cherbourg 9 July and on the 18th Admiral Wilkes hauled down his flag prior to Miantonomah's departure to England to carry supplies for port clearance operations. Sunk 25/9 with the loss of 58 crew.
HMS Misoa
Landing Craft Rhino Depot Ship British Assault Area, Mulberry B Rhino.
US Lend/Lease Vessel Accommodation Ship Western Task Force Area 8th June in Convoy EBC2Y.
President Warfield
US Vessel US Accommodation Ship Ordered to leave Bristol Channel 23 Jun for service at Omaha in July.
Queen of Kent
New Medway Excursion Vessel Accommodation & Despatch Control Ship Mulberry Accommodation & Despatch Control Ship at Peel Bank, Isle of Wight from 3 to 15 June then Dungeness.
Queen of Thanet
New Medway Excursion Vessel (Paddle Steamer) Despatch & Control Ship Mulberry Despatch Control at Selsey then Peel Bank, Isle of Wight from 24 June. Built as the minesweeper HMS Melton for the Royal Navy in the Great War and later converted for passenger use.
HM Depot Trawler Mine Sweeper/Stores  
Paddle Steamer Accommodation Ship Mulberry Control Ship.
HMS Scawfell
Clyde Paddle Steamer Minesweeper Mulberry Control Ship & Accommodation Ship
HMS Skiddaw
Excursion Vessel HQ Ship Left Dungeness on 14 June for Peel Bank, Isle of Wight for service until 24 June.
HMS Southern Prince
Auxiliary Minelayer Accommodation/Temp HQ Ship Left Solent 23.05 on 7 June arrived Juno 8th in Convoy EWP1. After October 1944, she was used as accommodation ship and ended the war as a fleet training ship in the Pacific. 1945 returned to owner.
American Lend/Lease Accommodation Ship Western Task Force
Star of Freedom
? HM Trawler Depot Ship Left Solent arrived Utah 24 June in Convoy ECB17W
Minesweeper Maintenance Ship HQ Ship ?
HMS Tasajera
Landing Ship Tank Depot Ship Rhino Depot Ship from 8 June. Grounded in gale 19 June.
Thomas B Robertson
US Liberty Type Accommodation Ship Left Barry 5 June via Solent arrived Utah 8th in Convoy EBM3 for service at Gooseberry 1.
Thomas Johnson
US Liberty Type Depot Ship Left Clyde 13 June via Milford Haven arrived Utah 1 July in Convoy ECN19P.
Belgian Vessel Depot Ship Left Thames 06.00 on 7 June arrived Gold at 12.00 on 8 June in Convoy ETM2 for service at Mulberry B .
Tyne ? Depot Ship For fleet Destroyers and Escorts. Left Scapa Flow 07.42 on 1 June arrived Solent 09.00 June 5.
War Wing
Trawler? HM Depot Trawler ?
Landing Craft Landing Craft Landing Barge Emergency Repair 1-10 & 12-60.
Landing Craft Landing Craft Landing Barge Kitchen 1-10.
Landing Craft Landing Craft Landing Craft Emergency Repair 13, 15, 16, 19, 23, 24.

Lessons Learned

No Topic Lesson
1  FDTs influence on the role of HQ Ships With the introduction of the Fighter Direction Tenders (FDTs) the usefulness of HQ ships from the RAF point of view was diminished. A reduction in personnel and equipment was recommended. However, they did provide useful visual information of low flying enemy aircraft to the FDTs and thereby to the low cover fighter aircraft of the Allies. This resulted in the interception and destruction of three enemy aircraft.

The air situation plot required by the Commodore of each Assault Force could be adequately provided by information from the FDTs whose radar was superior and who had access to the same information sources as the HQ ships. It was suggested that the filter room on the HQ ships and their personnel could be "eliminated".

Since the HQ ships would most likely never take over control of the Fighter cover from the FDTs it was suggested that "controlling personnel" be removed from the HQ ships or substantially reduced to two Controllers and two Deputy Controllers.

In view of the superior radar and comprehensive communications equipment it was recommended that the FDTs should initiate Air Raid Warnings with the HQ ships giving warnings in their own assault areas.

Two separate channels of communications between the HQ ships and FDTs were essential 24/7 one for plotting and the other for liaison.

2 Diverting Fighters from pre determined missions. Fighters engaged on direct support were given specific targets before take off. En route they were instructed to radio the HQ ship in the area they were over flying to enable the Air Staff Officer, or Controller, on board to divert them to targets of opportunity. However, in the event there were few occasions when aircraft were available and, even when they were, the Army staff had no clear picture of battleground conditions to allow them to identify suitable targets.
3 Ensuring appropriate high level Army Representation on HQ Ships An Army officer of sufficient rank should remain on board each HQ ship to represent the views of the Divisional Commander until the ship ceases to act as forward control of the Fighter/Bomber forces. The absence of the Military Commander, and all his senior staff who had gone ashore after H+6, contributed to the ineffectiveness of this part of the operation. The remaining Army personnel had insufficient rank and experience to represent the Army point of view. In future operations involving heavy Air Support for the Army it was recommended that the Army should have adequate representation on board the HQ ship until they had handed over control to shore based establishments.
4 Intelligence Gathering It was strongly recommended that a full "Y" team be onboard the HQ ships.
5 Training and Familiarisation The HQ ships should arrive in the assault area three months prior to an action to allow time to train many hundreds of people, from different disciplines and geographical locations, to be trained in their own jobs and to have an understanding of the roles of others they are likely to deal with.
6 Preparation Time Officers in charge of the Air Section of HQ ships should be briefed a month in advance of the action to allow time for them to select maps they require and to make preparations that cannot satisfactorily be left to the last minute.
7 Knowledge Update  RAF personnel with 18 months continuous service on ships should be given the option of transfer to land stations to update their knowledge.
8 Naval Assault Radar  The Naval Assault radar reporting had little value without a Movement Section to identify the tracks.
9 Ceiling on Personnel Numbers A pre-determined limit on the number of Army and RAF personnel should be set and adhered to. Many last minute additions were embarked causing overcrowding, discomfort and the risk of heavy casualties in the event of damage or sinking.
10 HQ Standby Ships During the Normandy landings there were three vessels on standby as HQ ships; HMS Allbrighton, HMS Royal Ulsterman and HMS Dacres. They were never called upon to undertake the duties and, in hindsight, the Allbrighton and the Dacres were judged to be too small for the task. If they were considered necessary they should be large enough to accommodate 25 RAF personnel with equipment to receive the FDT plotting wave, the FDT liaison wave, the Air Command wave, the Air Base wave and the three Aircraft waves.
11 Approaching Allied Aircraft Alerts To reduce the risk of Allied aircraft being shot down by friendly fire an enlarged Movement Liaison Section had been established in No 11 Group Filter Room at Stanmore. They transmitted by wireless telegraphy coded messages to HQ ships, FDTs and Operations Rooms on the far shore (as opposed to the home shore). When the aircraft were 10 minutes flying time from the beaches one HQ ship broadcast warnings of the approach of friendly aircraft on the Joint Forces frequency. This was particularly effective in the case of low flying aircraft but only when the messages were received and acted upon by all ships.
12 Spotter Plane In an area thought to have little significance, the HQ ships performed an important role. Spotter planes working with bombardment ships (reporting on targets and the accuracy of shell-fire) were, in many cases, unable to speak directly to the ships concerned. In these circumstance the pilots were advised to radio the nearest HQ ship for instructions. The HQ ships provided a communication link to the bombarding ships or otherwise returned them to base with their missions unfulfilled. At times there were too many spotter craft over the anchorage area and it was difficult to co-ordinate their deployment to the bombarding ships available.

Further Reading

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.


Written by Geoff Slee from research material provided by Phill Jones from the following sources;

1) Mountbatten. The Official Biography by P Ziegler.
2) The Watery Maze by Bernard Fergusson.
3) Combined Operations 1940 - 1942. HMSO booklet.
4) The Greatest Air Battle by Norman Franks.
5) Shore Establishments of the Royal Navy by Lt Cdr B Wardlow RN.
6) PRO-WO244/12; The Role and Operation of HQ Ships During the Assault on the Continent of Europe.
7)The Largs Association (Mike MacKenzie).
8) The late Sid Windebank, LAC RAF on HMS Largs.
9) Mr Fred Earney, LAC RAF on HMS Largs.
10) Mr Jim Rolt, brother of Tommie Rolt Ex HMS Largs, KIA when FDT 216 sank.
11) Various Internet websites.

If you have any information about or photos of WW2 HQ Ships please contact us. Any material, no matter how small could be of interest.

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

You can pay a personal tribute to veterans who served in, or alongside, the Combined Operations Command in WW2 by adding their details and optional photo to our Roll of Honour and They Also Served pages on this website.

Read the Combined Operations prayer.

Events and Places to Visit

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

To everyone else: Visit our webpage for information on events and places to visit. If you know of an event or place of interest, that is not listed, please let us know.

To notify an event or place of interest, click here.

To visit the webpage click here.


Why not join the thousands who visit our Facebook page (click on icon above) about the Combined Operations Command in appreciation of our WW2 veterans.

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.

You are welcome to add information, photos and comment or reply to messages posted by others.

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.


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.

New to Combined Ops?

Visit Combined Operations Explained for an easy introduction to the subject.


About Us?

Background to the website and memorial project, and a look to the future; plus other small print stuff and website accounts etc. Click here for information.


Legasee Film Archive

As part of an exciting social history project, the film company Legasee has recorded interviews with veterans from any conflicts. These  films are now available on line. www.legasee.org.uk


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