~ HM LCF 7 ~
MEMOIRS OF A MARINE
Landing Craft Flak (LCF) provided cover against
enemy air attack during landings. They were armed with many rapid fire
anti-aircraft guns of different types. These are the recollections of a marine
as his craft saw service in North Africa, Pantellaria, Sicily and Italy.
The Early Days
It was early January 1943 when trucks dropped us off at Victoria Dock in
the East End of London. We were forty odd Royal Marines fresh out of finishing
school; the Marshal Sault (seamanship) and the Dome, Eastney (anti-aircraft
gunnery). Our first ship awaited us, a grey steel shoe box known as His
Majesty's flak ship, LCF 7. It was bristling with guns comprising 8 Oerlikons and 4
pom-poms, weapons with which we were already familiar.
Royal Navy personnel were aboard two or three days before us including the
Captain, Jimmy the One (2nd in Command), Petty Officer, Coxswain, ERA (Engine
Room Artificer), bunting tosser (Signalman), Ordnance
Artificer, sick bay tiffy and several able seamen. Two RM officers had also
joined, one the OC (Officer Commanding). The coxswain, our sergeant major, a time server and another
sergeant had a separate mess adjoining the quarters of the other ranks and
ratings. We enjoyed neither natural light nor heating. (Photo;
sister ship LCF 2.)
We were organised into port and starboard watches, four hours on duty
and four off. The constant drip of condensation from a badly corked deck in our
sleeping area was
akin to Chinese torture! On the credit side the traditional tot of rum at 11.00 hrs every morning
boosted our spirits. The greatest novelty
came when the SBA (sick bay attendant) announced the issue of free 'French letters' to all libertymen
(those granted shore leave). The first recipients went ashore like a band of gigolos into the
killing fields of East Ham. They all dribbled back up the gangplank sadly
frustrated and still virgins.
Alas, it was not long before real trouble visited us in the shape of the
Senior RM officer, who was proving to be a martinet in the Captain Bligh
mould. From the start he was hell-bent on running a harsh regime and really
upset the applecart by imposing the silliest of orders including banning
whistling on the upper deck. Several charges were served and life on board, even
before we sailed, became unbearable to all ranks, including the senior NCOs.
The sergeant major was aware of the simmering situation and openly empathized.
He suggested that each man submit a request for a transfer and the resultant wad of chitties
did the trick. A replacement CO, a gentleman this time, joined us a day
or two later.
We now settled down as a chummy ship, fully familiar with naval routine and
allotted our action stations. We cast off and went down river, ready for war; well not quite
since there was no ammunition in the magazine! How long would
it be I wondered before we chanted the ditty
'Roll on the Nelson, Rodney, Renown, This
flat bottomed bastard is getting me down.'
Our first port of call was Gravesend where we took on
supplies. Then on to Queenboro' Dock, Sheerness to pick up the
'fireworks.' All day was spent humping cases of 20mm and 40mm shells inboard where each
individual round had to be greased by hand. It was back breaking - the hardest
day's work of my life. Now fully 'battle worthy' we formed up in convoy in the
estuary and braced ourselves for a choppy waters in the open sea. As the weather
worsened most of us were seasick and became incapable of
manning the guns. It was a dire situation which drove our veteran sergeant major
berserk and almost tongue-tied with invective.
Full of shame we entered Portsmouth harbour to recover but the only harm was
to our injured pride! For a day or two we acted
as duty guard ship in the Solent. We then sailed along the coast at Saltash
where we took on board an extra naval officer and a navigator. We knew then that
a long trip was ahead. We soon slipped the buoy and proceeded down the River
Tamar. It was the 2nd of April 1943.
Put to Sea
We tested all the guns with a burst of fire as we proceeded west into the
Atlantic. We anticipated house-high waves but this 'guinea pig' voyage of ten
days was relatively benign. Gone was the earlier unease we felt about the slap
and shudder of head on waves impacting on the flat bow. However, the
seaworthiness of the vessel still gave rise to some concern as the deck visibly flexed in the high seas.
We were in the company of about ten landing craft shepherded by a sloop
boasting something like a 3-inch gun as its main armament. Still in ignorance of
our final destination the group made seemingly casual progress due west
for the first three days. With the watery sun on our port beam for so long some
speculated that we were making for Norfolk, Virginia!
It was difficult for the officer on the bridge to keep station during the
dark nights without the benefit of guiding lights and at dawn the group was
invariably scattered far and wide. We turned onto a southerly course and shortly afterwards had our first alert... 'aircraft on the starboard beam'
followed by the
'action stations' alarm bell. Far away, out of range, was a giant Fokker-Wulf
Condor reconnaissance plane. It stalked us for two days but to our amazement and
relief there was no follow
The Captain decided that there would be two wardroom attendants (WRAs) so
accordingly one from each watch was pressed into volunteering. The job was not
too menial and considered by some to be a 'square number' in the warmth of the pantry
while the others were totally exposed up top to all weathers for four hours at a
time. The cooks in their pokey galley aft, did a good job with the
resources provided - no fridge/freezers then! The menus were restricted to what
was readily available in wartime. Bread supplies ran out soon after leaving
Cornwall and were replaced by hard tack (like big dog biscuits). For the rest it was
dried potato, powdered egg, soya links (sausages), tinned tomato (red lead),
seedless jam, prunes, ground rice, margarine and tea with carnation milk. All
meals, hot and otherwise, had to be carried along the upper deck and down the
hatchway to the mess deck.
Once we had reached warmer waters we shed our heavy clothing
in favour of khaki drill gear. The Strait of Gibraltar was a welcome
sight. Tarifa, where the word
tariff originated, was on the left bank and in the far distant right was Tangiers.
The Rock of Gibraltar loomed large, overlooking an anchorage sheltering
myriad ships, many no doubt having participated in the recent Operation Torch
landings. Shore leave was restricted while supplies, fuel and drinking water
were taken on board. We were due back pay of about twelve bob (60p) a week which
was enough to purchase fags (cigarettes) going by the exotic names of Passing
Cloud, Three Castles or Lucky Strike. A bag of letters to parents, sweethearts
and wives was consigned to the Fleet Post Office and we
cast off. Gibralter was
ablaze with bright lights all night and it was a poignant reminder of happier times
back home before the blackout was imposed 4 years earlier.
Our craft proceeded independently through the Strait and along the Moroccan
coastline until we sighted Mers el Kabir,
a naval anchorage near Oran. This was where the Vichy French fleet was neutralised by the
Royal Navy on July 3 1940. Our mission at this time was not clear to us, but the arrival
of a white ensign did not, on this occasion, signal hostility. The event that
did cause considerable chagrin, however, was the order to 'get fell in' on the
mole (jetty) for squad drill. Our performance fell far short of King's Squad
standard and would have brought tears to the eyes of our Eastney training
Shore leave was granted to off duty men who were trucked off to Oran along a
road shared with hooded figures astride little donkeys. The question was where
to go for entertainment? The main (and only) local attraction was the brothel.
Caution prevailed over curiosity with most of us remembering the film on things
prophylactic at the Lympstone Depot cinema in our days as recruits. I opted for
a relaxed haircut, albeit in a fly infested 'salon.' Flies were a constant
source of great irritation wherever we served in North Africa.
Onward to Algiers, a grisly town off limits since the
discovery in a Casbah alley of two American soldiers separated from their
testicles. During the dark, silent hours two armed quartermasters were posted on
the upper deck as a precaution against marauding locals. A quartermaster's lot
in the Mediterranean was otherwise a doddle because the tides of just a few
inches required no adjustment to the craft's mooring ropes.
Bougie, further eastward, was a picturesque French colonial town. Our
approach though a forest of mastheads in the harbour had to be negotiated
carefully before we tied up. My dominant recollection of the place was the
bemused expression of a young dolly peering from her balustrade at the
suggestive gestures of the marines.
Apart from firing a few rounds at a bobbing mine en route from Algiers,
nothing had so far been fired in anger. But tension was in the air as U boats
were known to be active in the area. Lookouts were told to be particularly
vigilant on the next stage to Djidjelli, a quaint harbour town fronted by mastheads
of all shapes and sizes. We were joined by other flak ships and sundry naval
vessels providing the Luftwaffe with a prime target.
Reconnaissance planes and other intelligence gatherers had provided the enemy
accurate information on our location and that night they attacked with a
vengeance! They were no doubt aware that we were the advance nucleus of a seaborne invasion
force and their intent was to remove the threat. Combined Operations vessels from the UK had now been joined by their
American built counterparts such as LCIs (infantry) and LSTs (tanks and heavy
vehicles). They had crossed the Atlantic for the Torch landings on Moroccan and
Algerian shores and were now to be manned by British crews (no marines) under
the White Ensign.
Alerted by a warning siren on shore we ran to our action stations - the Oerliken
the No 2s attending the ammunition lockers and the pom-pom crews. Tension was
high while we waited for the bombers to arrive under cover of darkness. They
dropped flares which hung like bright inverted pyramids above the prey - us. On
a signal from the bridge all guns opened up with bursts of a few seconds
duration, the rest of the ships did
likewise. A colourful umbrella of contact-fused shells illuminated the sky; a
frightening sight to confront the Axis pilots. Meanwhile they released their
bombs from a height most likely above the limit of our trajectories. Sickening
crumps could be heard all over the place as the bombs hit the earth.
Strangely a feeling of exhilaration and excitement gripped us. The ear
shattering din generated a growing feeling of immunity and confidence. After
firing several hundred rounds the smell of cordite and a haze pervaded the upper
deck, which had been vibrating alarmingly under the detonations of our own guns
and the bombs.
The raid lasted about twenty minutes but we of the lower deck never learned
of the extent of the destruction and number of lives lost. We stood-by palpably
thankful for our survival but without sleep. The officers later expressed
satisfaction with the cool conduct displayed while under fire. LCF 7 had
prevailed although many such hostile encounters were to be endured in the weeks to
On our way to our, as yet unknown, operational base, we reached
the town of Bone. We eagerly anticipated some relaxation and a spot of swimming in the warm sea.
dropped the kedge anchor a kilometre or so off shore whereupon we were taken on
a 5 mile march up a dusty road and back again, much to the amusement of our naval
On to Cape Bon where the remnants of German forces had, just days before,
fled Africa in haste. Then down the Tunisian coast to Sousse, a holiday
resort. It was the antithesis of a holiday romp. Shortly after arrival our
'bunting tosser' sighted the 'carrying mail' flag on a halyard of the assault ship 'Queen Emma'
which was about to enter harbour. We were overjoyed to receive letters and parcels from home
even though the news items were stale. Later in the war the much faster 'air-graph'
service was introduced for overseas forces. One marine, from Bristol, received a
parcel from his local WVS branch containing a woollen balaclava helmet, matching
scarf and gloves. The mercury at the time was topping 90f.
Sousse accommodated us for a week or two, during which time we suffered air
raids nightly varying in severity from nuisance attacks to intense. One bomb blast flung
those of us not secured to an Oerliken on to our backs. Lack of sleep was
causing frayed nerves and many resorted to chain-smoking. The morning ritual of 'up spirits' was observed with greater gusto
than normal. Unspoken
odds of our chances of survival were shortening - but around this time the
expression 'Lucky 7' was beginning to circulate. However, as though to counter
this growing feeling of optimism, a mined LCT came alongside containing bodies in the murky water of
their flooded well-deck and a marine on a neighbouring LCF was decapitated by
his own loaded Oerliken gun.
On the lighter side we were attracted to an impromptu Sods' Opera featuring a
cast from the victorious Desert Rats. Every squaddy wanted to participate on the cinema stage. There
were jugglers, tin horn blowers, corny, filthy gag tellers and a chorus of Lili
Marlene. The show was a glorious mixture of spontaneity and exuberance performed by happy veterans
whom had fought all the way from El Alamein. It was a never to be forgotten
experience and a privilege to be there among them. Many were part of the 51st Highland Division
who were soon to be transported to a hostile shore in southern Europe by ships
of Combined Operations.
On another liberty trip an oppo and myself wandered into the deserted town,
making our way to an abandoned fort. Notwithstanding
the possible presence of booby traps we grubbed about in the detritus for
souvenirs but found only shoddy insignia. Returning to the ship along the once
impressive waterfront we looked into the vacant, windowless villas, still
determined to find a memento of the place. Defying my conscience and a roving
Red Cap patrol (military police), I plucked a natty blue crystal chandelier from a ceiling
imagining how it would beautify a certain ceiling in Blighty. The spoil of war
was secreted aboard and stowed deep in my locker and that was that... for the
While ashore that day I drank unboiled water to slake a thirst ignoring a
rumour that the Boche had contaminated the local wells. Within hours I
contracted a virulent fever which led to isolation in a hot, fetid, rope-cum-paint store. There I writhed, sweating
profusely for two days until a Service doctor diagnosed enteritis and ordered my
dispatch to the military hospital at Monastir. Once under the tender
ministrations of Queen Alexandra's nursing sisters and a captive
Italian bigwig orderly, I quickly recovered. Delighted to be back on board
for light duties I reflected on my earlier misdeed and, sensing a bad omen,
offloaded the chandelier on to a grateful matelot, earnestly hoping that no harm
would befall him.
The first indication we had that an offensive action was in the offing was when the
sick berth attendant, himself a denizen of the mess deck, was told to set out
his stall in readiness for possible casualties arising from an imminent battle.
When later that same day all hands were piped to assemble below to be addressed
by the Captain, we knew then that the balloon had gone up.
'Stand at ease, lads,' he commanded, then disclosed that we
would be sailing in a few hours to the island of
Pantellaria, a fortified island naval base of Mussolini's. It was about 100
miles distant and H hour was to be in broad daylight at 12 noon! The Captain
explained our role in a combined operation involving landing craft, heavy naval
units and supporting aircraft. Being of shallow draught it was planned that we
would sail close inshore and shoot
up unspecified land targets as well as keeping a watchful eye on the sky. He
admitted it was a potentially hazardous mission then added, 'Let's have no
heroes, keep your heads - I want to see you all returning safely home. Good
Luck!' A short prayer followed then 'Carry on' from the coxswain.
Apart from his duties on the bridge and appearance on evening rounds
we did not see a lot of the Captain. An occasional aside perhaps but no real
rapport with his ship's company up to that stage. However, as time went by we recognised the qualities of a kindly, modest and good humoured man - albeit no
swashbuckling Hornblower! He was an RNVR lieutenant, 40 something, a one time
Brooklands racing driver who was afflicted with bouts of recurrent malaria.
Considering our vessel was a 'small ship' the Royal Marine officers were a
bit remote from their detachment, but, nevertheless, an aura of agreeableness
prevailed overall. It was a happy ship without a doubt.
We steamed through a sleepless and apprehensive night. After breakfast there
was much smoking and feverish nail biting as the high ground
of Pantellaria came into view. We saw Bostons and the new twin fuselage
Lightnings undertaking low-level bombing through puffs of desultory ack-ack
fire. Our senses were on high alert as we approached the shore at a distance of
about half a mile. To the south a
gleaming mass of aircraft approached, dead on time. They were Flying Fortresses
of the US Air Force in formation and about to demonstrate the destructive power
of saturation bombing. Directly above our heads at two or three thousand feet it
was like a giant matchbox tippling its contents. It was a fearsome and
terrifying sight that caused the sprawling island target to be completely
smoke and dust.
The haze slowly cleared to reveal a flattened landscape, devoid of cranes,
barracks, warehouses and dwellings. The odd fire burned and there was an eerie
stillness. We were geared up to do our stuff on LCF 7 but there was nothing left
standing to hit except a couple of sturdy pill-boxes whose occupants had
disappeared. To compound the plight of Italian soldiers emerging
from mountainside foxholes waving white flags, the cruiser Orion started
slamming the area with salvos of 6 inch shells - quite unnecessarily in my
reckoning. The British troops disembarked unopposed.
order went out that LCF13 should act as a guard ship in the island's harbour
overnight. She took up position while we set sail for Sousse, speculating on the
next step of the campaign. During the ensuing hours enemy bombers plastered LCF
13 mercilessly and many casualties resulted. The craft ended up on the rocks, a
total wreck. We were all profoundly shaken and disturbed by the intensity of
this vengeful attack.
Rest & Recuperation
Midsummer in Tunisia was hot and sleep did not come easily. In our
dormitory there where 40 odd hammocks slung closely fore and aft resembling a
tin of bent sardines. During middle watch a cacophony of grunts, farts and snorts
could be heard! Fortunately, since the threat of air raids had subsided we had
the option of rigging our hammocks on the upper deck, or just laying a blanket
down. In my case a spot close to the port forward
pom-pom gun. The down side was that it became
quite chilly during the night and dewy towards dawn. Even to this day I regard a hammock as an
abomination - not to be recommended.
In early July the planners decided that LCF 7 and company should move to
Malta. Two hundred miles of dangerous waters lay before us and as
always vigilance was vital as we had no Radar, RDF or Asdics. In the event the
journey was uneventful and we reached the George Cross island and berthed at Sliema Creek. The prospect of an evening in the main street of
Valetta, the capital, was something to relish. What an eye opener it turned out
to be for us callow youths from the UK provinces. The many bars along this
loosely blacked-out thoroughfare churned out popular songs for the delectation
of boozing sailors from half a dozen navies. There was a rich mixture of spivs,
gays and transvestites which could best be described as extra curricula in
the university of Life.
While we were in Malta a good story did the rounds. The US fleet on
entering the Grand harbour of Valetta signalled to the RN flagship "Greetings to the
world's second biggest navy." In no time the RN Flagship replied, “Thank you... and
welcome to the world's second best.”
A feeling that further offensive action was imminent turned to reality when
all hands were piped for another homily from the Captain, followed by a short
service. This time the destination was Sicily, a hundred miles away to the
north. All warlike preparations completed and mail taken ashore, we departed and
took up station along with many others on a sea that was the roughest we had yet
encountered. We spent a wet, wind tossed night exposed and soaked on the gun
platforms, quietly praying that the minesweepers had cleared the
The soldiers on the smaller LCIs and LCTs, must have been greatly relieved when
the storm blew itself out and the Sicilian shore
loomed up in the early morning. It seemed to us that all ships had reached the target
area unscathed, thanks in large measure to an earlier bombardment by
battleships, cruisers and a monitor. It was some time before the enemy returned
fire from a battery about 2 miles away. We could see advancing plumes in the sea
as the gunners found our range. Thankfully a destroyer in our sector swiftly
pin-pointed the on-shore muzzle flashes and snuffed out the "offender" with some
The assault troops and their vehicles were well established ashore before the
first flight of high level enemy bombers appeared. They were outside the effective range
of our guns and they hit a liberty ship carrying ammunition blowing it to smithereens. Later in the day
the camouflaged, grey Mauretania
arrived on the scene. She discharged boatloads of troops, then quickly vanished over the horizon
out of harm's way. Fighter-bombers came swooping in out of the sun to
be met by a curtain of varied flak. Their persistence kept us lively throughout
the day and near-misses caused us some palpitations. The same pattern of
activity continued for a few days until the now empty ships dispersed.
One beneficial by-product of the under-sea explosions was the appearance of
hundreds of concussed fish on the surface. Volunteer swimmers were summoned to
gather enough to provide suppers of fried hake for all, a real delicacy in the
circumstances. However, there was more gruesome flotsam in the form of bloated uniformed
corpses drifting by, victims of an abortive air-drop off Licata, on the eve of D
An incredible, almost comical incident occurred while we were swanning
around Avola. A FW fighter plane hopped over a nearby hill and cruised in a
tight circle at masthead height. The pilot was clearly visible and we were
neither strafed nor bombed the targets below. He must have been a pacifist or had run out of ammo. Before we collected our wits and
depressed the Oerlikens ready for action, he was gone.
As our army advanced up the eastern flank of the island, with the Americans were
in the west, the enemy were driven north. First Syracuse port was opened up
and then farther
on Augusta which was capable of accommodating an entire fleet. We entered its
harbour through a defended boom and anchored in the midst of a
host of ships from MLs to a battleship. Security and defensive measure were
tight since the battleships Queen Elizabeth
and Valiant had been sunk in Alexandria harbour by Italian
charioteers. All capital ships in the Mediterranean were now strictly protected at anchor
from enemy surface and under-sea predators.
The Luftwaffe were of course unaffected by these measures. From the first night at Augusta flares were dropped at dusk
and bombers assailed us relentlessly. The
menacing drone followed by whistling bombs were countered by a hail of
projectiles ranging from calibres of .5 to 4.7 inches. Our LCF 7 crew were by now
reasonably case-hardened... or so we thought, but these sustained aerial
assaults spread over several hours were a new experience. The simultaneous
clatter of our guns in actions over consecutive days had a deleterious effect on
and eardrums alike. Sleep was a luxury and by now we were all chain smoking. The
ordnance artificer earned his corn during this period as he serviced guns which
up to 900 rounds a night.
On the balance sheet of nocturnal destruction, I cannot comment, except that
every morning brought a deceptive serenity and no perceived damage. Whatever, it
was all a monstrous waste of lives and material on both sides. Our own rounds
shot into the sky no doubt also contributed to the carnage as they fell to
earth. One of our own men suffered a wound to his chest from a piece of shrapnel
from one of our guns.
Neighbouring ships at anchor were many and varied, the most incongruous of which was a
Chinese river gun boat sitting sedately on the surface like a flat iron. Another was the Lascar
(a sailor from the East Indies) crewed Alletta,
a tanker carrying precious drinking water from Bournemouth! The tanker Brown Ranger, a
blue ensign job, with a big basket-like spark catcher atop
the funnel, gave rise to some concern. It was loaded with low flash fuel and seemed to court our protection from a
mere cable length distance.
The monotony of the daily diet continued and then worsened when the
Purser's store ashore provided us with captured Italian hard tack and tinned
meat. The former resembled mini slabs of Cotswold stone and the 'horse' was 50%
bright yellow chunks of fat. Then out of the blue the battleship's bakery came
to the rescue with a sack full of freshly baked
At tea, on the dogwatch, jam butties never tasted so good!
Our depleted stocks of ammunition were replenished when a lighter came
alongside. Once transshipped the lot had to be greased in situ. A detail of grease
monkeys, myself included, was sent below. In the course of this messy duty an
enormous explosion rocked the ship. We scampered up the
hatch ladder on to a drenched upper deck to see an expanding circle
of disturbed sedimentary water close by. A fighter-bomber had sneaked in from the sun and
caught us unawares. It was the closest shave to date and we
returned below to the magazine with some misgivings.
However, in the following days the threat of daylight attacks subsided and
'shore leave' was in prospect. We cleaned
up our best kit in readiness for a trip to Catania to see the girls of the town at the foot of Mount Etna.
Enjoying the feel of freedom and a return to a mixed society we wandered the
streets of the town centre and then down to the narrow harbour where, it was
alleged, the retreating Germans had ditched their whores on departure. This day
all we saw was a wrinkled old man pulling a squid out of the water and then
killing it with a savage bite of its 'neck.'
I used my meagre BMA pay on a posh haircut, a bottle of muscatel (wine) and a box of lemons for my mother. We were granted a concession by the
postal authorities to send a parcel of lemons, a long since vanished commodity
back in the UK. The
fruit was delivered intact to a delighted parent a week or so later. I repeated
the gesture with a box of pressed figs but this time the whole consignment was
full of ants and went into the dustbin
on arrival. It was a memorable day out albeit without fraternisation, the local
talent having had their fill of occupying troops.
When it came to entertainment we did our own thing. In our case there was no wireless, newspapers, books, dartboard or diary to
record tittle-tattle. At one stage a moral boosting outdoor
concert staged by Nat Gonella and his American band was muted but didn't come
off. We were left with tombola
sessions and bless him, Stripey, a two badge leading hand who could be
persuaded with the promise of sippers (donated rum) to perform his mess deck
strip tease spectacular, accompanied by the strains of mouth organ and paper
comb! For the finale, like a jubilant bride casting her bouquet, he would remove
his briefs, throw back his greasy head and toss away the grotty garment to
reveal all, amid a roar of applause. It was innocent fun with no implied sexual
tones as may be construed these days.
When we did play tombola, the caller was something of a banking
wizard, calculating as he did equitable stakes from 5 different currencies
circulating - Sterling, BMA, Gibraltarian, Maltese and Italian lire. Come to
think of it, the jackpot was an almost worthless pot-pourri. We never did get
around to uckers, the naval version of Ludo.
Towards the end of August the army reached the Straits of Messina bringing
the action in Sicily to an end. The Germans, however,
had achieved an orderly withdrawal across the water to the toe of Italy which
was to be our
next destination in the bid to liberate Europe. Accordingly naval forces,
LCF 7 included, were ordered to move up the coast from Augusta. The boom was
opened up and gradually the vast armada filtered through, until it was our turn
to hoist the hook and leave the shallow backwater. The Ricardo engines revved up
as the ship's company took up positions to leave harbour - but we were firmly stuck on the bottom! The Captain tried
every manouevre in the manual, thrashing the surrounding water into a frenzied
froth but to no effect. The harbour was about the size of Portland and emptied leaving
only the boom defence vessel, a few civilian motor boats and one floundering flak-ship.
Well, that was it, we thought, particularly when the engines stopped and we all
We liberated a bottle of 'emergency' grog intended as a fortifier on the eve of
battle, a truly British quirk. An hour or so later when we were all in the grip
of euphoria, a big tug headed at speed in our direction creating a bow wave
that spelt urgency. In no time we were afloat and skulked away to catch up with
the others. We reached our destination and anchored in the deep and extremely cold water off Riposta,
below a smoking volcano.
We passed by Taormina which pre-war was the mecca of more affluent
Italian honeymooners. Our mission however, was much more serious. We
entered the Strait of Messina and took up a position in darkness opposite the
town of Reggio. They said it was El Alamein all over again as hundreds of Allied field guns in the
commanding heights above Messina opened fire across the Strait. Thousands of
shells whizzed overhead and thumped the Calabrian mainland for an hour or so.
Much to our relief there was no counter fire from Axis batteries.
bombardment ceased abruptly allowing the assaulting troops and their vehicles to
land unchallenged. As daylight broke we had our first view of the undamaged
terra cotta roofs of Reggio, a place that had escaped the attention of Allied
artillery. It was not until mid-morning that a deceptive peace was shattered by
a succession of heavy calibre shells plopping ever closer to us. We were
powerless to reply but fortunately the offending gun was spotted and silenced by
one of the bigger navy ships.
LCF 7 settled in mid Strait for two or three days during which time enemy
fighter bombers attacked supply ships in our vicinity, respectful of our intense
barrage as they did so. The Luftwaffe must have been troubled by our prickly
presence and picked the flak-ship out as a target on one sortie. They swooped down
through flak to release a large bomb. Every one of us thought it was 'curtains'
as it tumbled towards the ship, but mercifully it overshot and exploded some
thirty yards astern. Our hair and adrenalin shot sky-high and silent prayers
were offered all around. I recall we had more fish to fry that
During a subsequent daytime duel an LCM hurriedly approached. Its white faced
coxswain requested permission to secure alongside and to come aboard. Clearly
shaken with fright, we ushered him to the mess deck for a drop of precious 'neaters.' Jack's composure was
soon restored. As he and I chatted I sensed a familiar tongue and soon discovered
that he hailed from my Wirral village. His name was Cadwallader. On the final
handshake we arranged a tryst at the Travellers' Rest when the war over. Well, I
never did see him again. He was last observed scudding along the waters of Scylia and Charybodis
a little worse for wear!
A humorous distraction from the deadly encounters occurred when some of our
men were bathing in close proximity to the ship. An alert lookout noticed shiny
black triangles gliding through the surface waters. At the cry 'sharks' an undignified scramble aboard ensued. We were later informed that the sharks were harmless 'baskers'
but no one was convinced and swimming was dropped as a leisurely pursuit.
A lull in the conflict locally allowed our ship to enter the Messina harbour
for stores and an opportunity for the detachment to enjoy a spot of shore leave.
The shops and cafes were, as expected, run down establishments and offered only
an austere selection of goods. However, the not so shabby signorinas behind the
beautiful to our wholly unpractised eves.
We were close to the heartland of the
infamous Mafia and we too had a crooked practitioner of that ilk aboard. The reprobate possessed, for reasons known only to himself, a
wad of outdated Irish Sweepstake tickets which, to unwary foreigners (Sicilians
for instance!), passed as negotiable currency, bearing as they did a motif of
some obscure luminary and the inscription, 10 shillings (50p). He would
purchase say, a cheap bag of nuts with his 'English money' and receive a handful
of lira in change to be spent elsewhere. No wonder
they call us perfidious Albion.
One day an urgent signal arrived which was to condemn
everybody to indefinite shipboard confinement. An unexpected set back had
arisen during an attempted landing by Commandos at Vibo Valencia, some seventy
miles up the Calabrian coast. LCF 7 was to go with all haste to give support
at the troubled bridgehead, explained the Captain vaguely. The pre-operational
routine was put into full swing by the marines, while the sick-bay tiff checked
his box emblazoned with a red cross. It contained bandages, tourniquets, morphia
etc. The coxswain took the wheel and we cast off.
We pressed northwards for several hours passing the volcano Stromboli in the Lipari Islands.
in the afternoon we saw the monitor Erebus firing its
great guns at the shore, causing booming echoes in the hills. We
rounded the southern headland of a crescent bay and saw an LCF lying motionless
on the calm water. It was LCF 4, a participant in the earlier landing, which had
fatal consequences for her. As we drew nearer we saw her ensign being
dipped at intervals - a morbid indication that bodies were being committed to
the deep. All of us watching thought 'but for the grace of God....' and we all
An ML presently approached carrying a senior naval officer hailed our Captain. We were to turn
about and sail parallel to a heavily wooded and seemingly benign shore line
about half a mile distant. The Erebus had, by now, ceased bombarding and the
sound of small arms fire from the battle area could be heard beyond the northern
headland, where we imagined Vibo Valentia lay.
A muzzle flash was seen from an enemy tank
or mobile gun concealed in the woods. Two ranging shells exploded in our wake, then a third shot hit us a shuddering blow and erupted in a
shower of sparks below a midship Oerliken. Our pom-poms were clearly no match
with their shorter range and questionable penetration power. Even our armour
piercing shells made little impact on the cleverly hidden assailant, a situation
the ML officer who promptly ordered us out. The gunner of the
stricken Oerliken, 'Duke' sustained a bad injury to his arm and he was taken by
a fast launch to the hospital ship Vita. Miraculously
there were no other casualties and only superficial damage to the ship.
Fortunately for us the advancing Allied Army broke through to the beleaguered
bridge-head during the night. As an eyewitness from my lowly cockpit, the whole
business appeared to be a bit
of a fiasco. We were designed to fight aircraft but there were none. Instead we
were shot up by enemy land based guns against whom we had no defence or serious
ability to attack. Maybe the surviving
lads of LCF 4, some of whom received deserved gallantry awards, harboured the
same thought... that an LCG or LCR would have been a more appropriate craft for the
Feeling somewhat dispirited we began the return journey home on the 8th of
September the day that Mussolini capitulated and the
'Eyeties' gave up the ghost. For my part the good news was dampened by the
accidental loss over the side of a silver cigarette case... a treasured gift from
my parents. The Germans fought on resulting in the horrendous
landings at Solerno and Anzio.
At Malta our vessel took on supplies for the long haul
to the UK and we completed a general clean up and perfunctory painting. We took
the opportunity to send final air letters to sweethearts and families back
home and bought cheap
bric-a-brac and small items of exquisite lace as presents. On one of the Captain's rounds I
was rather embarrassed when he publicly thanked me for writing a letter to the
'Duke’s' mother in Devon expressing the sincere wishes of us all that her son
would soon recover and rejoin her.
The next leg of our journey was 1000 miles to Gibraltar - just four or
five sunsets away. Apart from the occasional scare we reached
the outpost of Empire safely. It was a brief fuelling and supplies call and we
soon entered the cooler waters of the Atlantic. On the outward journey I had
enjoyed the warmth and comforts of the ship's pantry but this time I was keeping
8 or 9 days. Our landfall was the Fastnet Rock Light, a beacon on the Irish
coast. It was a welcome sight indeed.
As we approached the coast of Pembrokeshire a whopping mine impeded our
progress for a while. A few shots were aimed at the horned monster but in the
end it was left to HM Coastguard to deal with it. On arriving at
our destination of Barry in south Wales we soon regained our land legs and revelled in bragging about our exploits to Blodwen and Myvanwy. It was a great
treat to walk out of the local chippy with a newspaper bundle of steaming fish
and chips. It would have been nice to have telephoned home but we couldn't
afford to and, in any event, none of our families had a phone in the house.
The very last thrash of LCF 7's commission was up the Irish Sea and the River
Clyde to Glasgow. The saga of Lucky 7 - some would say
happy-go-lucky - could now be told. Despite seven month's privation, Elizabethan style
accommodation, frugal food stuff and a knock or two at the door of eternity, we
had happily survived. Of the original ship's company that left England in April,
only two were now absent, 'Duke' and an NCO taken off at Augusta, suffering
Before picking up our sea bags to disembark the Captain and fellow officers
thanked us all for a job well done and wished us good luck Then, with a
deferential wink at the man from HM Customs, it was up the gangplank for the
last time with, it must be said, a heavy heart.
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
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'Books' for more information.
Peter Bull -
To Sea in a Sieve.
of the great books about Combined Operations in WW2. Actor Peter Bull's
To Sea in a Sieve, covers his complete wartime service but
concentrates on his command of an LCT (Landing Craft Tank) and HM LCF 16
(Landing Craft Flak).
Many humorous anecdotes.
ISBN: 0552103802 / 0-552-10380-2
This article by K White about HM LCF 7 (Landing Craft Flak) was originally
published in the newsletter of the Landing Craft, Gun and Flak Association.