~ H.M. LANDING CRAFT TANK 749 - HMLCT 749 ~
H.M. Landing Craft Tank 749 - HMLCT(4) 749 was involved in the first assault wave onto Gold Beach on the morning of D-Day. It was part of the 28th LCT Flotilla ‘D’ LCT Squadron. Its cargo included specially adapted tanks (known as Hobart's Funnies) for the clearance of beach obstacles in advance of troop landings.
The 28th Flotilla departed the Solent at 0730 hours on June 5th with an LCA(HR) (Landing Craft Assault-Hedgerow) in tow, the craft had been converted to allow them to give supporting mortar fire as the LCT made their approach. [The LCA(HR) mentioned here was part of the 591 Assault Flotilla under the overall command of Lieutenant Commander Wallace. The craft of 591 were divided into two groups, those with Wallace assigned to JIG sector, the western beaches of Gold beach. The remainder of the flotilla were assigned to KING sector, the eastern beaches, and under the command of Lieutenant Michael Irwin. Those under Irwin supported the LCT of the 34th Flotilla of ‘L’ LCT Squadron. See Assault Convoy G6 (Tony Chapman)]
The passage across the channel was rough with the wind south west Force 5, but the seas were bigger than might have been expected from a wind of that force, although it had been blowing a strong gale for several days beforehand. During the early hours the LCA we had in tow broke adrift, its towing belts torn away, fortunately the craft was unmanned.
At first light we found ourselves at the head of a formidable armada which stretched back beyond the horizon astern. Only minesweepers and motor launches were ahead of us, but they, eventually, turned away while our craft remained, deployed line abreast, heading for the low French coastline ahead.
Meanwhile warships astern began plastering the beaches with heavy and continuous shell-fire. The noise was horrendous, but the most shattering of all was the continuous scream of successive flights of rockets being fired over our heads by rocket firing LCT(R)s astern of us. Some of the rockets fell short into the sea not far ahead. This was a little worrying since each rocket had the explosive power of a 6" shell.
Each of the craft carried six Churchill AVREs (Assault Vehicles Royal Engineers) plus two collapsible boats loaded with explosives. The task of the Royal Engineers was to clear all the beach obstacles so that follow-up troops and vehicles had a clear path to fight their way up and off the beach. The AVREs were manned by men of the 82nd Assault Squadron Royal Engineers.
The six Churchill tanks on my craft had been specially adapted for the purpose. Two had rotating chain flails rotating in front to deal with mines on the beach, the third tank had a huge roll of strengthened matting on a bobbin to the fore of the tank, the matting was paid out as the tank moved up the beach, thus giving a firm road over soft sand for follow-up vehicles. The gun turret of another tank had been removed and replaced by a large folding girder bridge which could be thrown forward over tank traps. The fifth tank was armed with a powerful Petard gun for knocking out beach emplacements. The shells discharged from a Petard were referred to as ‘Flying Dustbins’ such was their power. The last tank we carried was a Fascine, this was fitted with a huge round bundle of brushwood lashed tightly in a cylindrical bundle which could be extended in front of the tank to fill a tank ditch.
At 0725 hours on the morning of June 6th 1944, my craft touched down at Le Hamel on the extreme western limits of Gold beach. Six LCTs were present, being one half of the craft that formed the 28th Flotilla under the overall command of Flotilla Officer Lieutenant Commander Arnold Nyberg RNVR. Our squadron was commanded by Lieutenant Commander E N Langley.
We beached exactly at H-Hour alongside our ‘Leader’ the HMLCT 886 carrying Lieutenant Commander Nyberg. The remainder of our craft came in under shell and mortar fire. The LCT 886 took a direct hit on the bridge and was knocked out of action, finishing broadside on to the beach and incapable of discharging her tanks. [HMLCT 886 is a recorded ‘War Loss’ (T Chapman).]
The 749 was hit several times by shell-fire, two of which shot away our starboard winch and wire. Fortunately, we got our cargo ashore without serious problems, due, to a great extent, to our anchor winch controller. Stoker Mountain stood by his winch totally unprotected from bullets and shrapnel, slowly easing 749 up to the beach during the half an hour or so it took to off-load our tanks. I am pleased to report that Stoker Mountain was later awarded the DSM (Distinguished Service Medal) for his cool conduct whilst under fire. There were no casualties amongst my crew but sadly, a corporal of the Royal Engineers was killed in the tank hold.
As we were unable to raise our door owing to the broken winch we proceeded stern first to a position about one mile off the beach, dropped our kedge anchor and hoisted two Black balls signifying that we were not under control. We finally raised our door by rigging a spare kedge wire from the anchor winch aft to the door forward using pulleys and shackles. It took several hours but we eventually managed to secure the door safely. Then we ‘spliced the mainbrace’ thanks to our departed Royal Engineers who had overlooked a full jar of rum getting their equipment ashore.
While at anchor we had grandstand view of the landings, waves of follow-up craft landing in the area cleared by the Royal Engineers. One of the sadder sights was that of seeing several of our AVRE tanks being hit and bursting into flames and their crews jumping out to save themselves. I have since read that the damage was inflicted by a well concealed German 88mm gun which was eventually destroyed by one of the Petard AVRE tanks.
About 1400 hours we joined a homeward bound convoy of empty LCTs. Later that afternoon we pulled out of formation, and, with our Ensign at half-mast, we buried our dear soldier comrade at sea in accordance with naval orders for Operation Overlord.
We then spent some ten days at Thorneycrofts yard in Portsmouth having our shell damage repaired. One piece of good fortune for me was that one shell had exploded in the bosun’s store destroying most of the contents. When taking command of the 749 from her previous commanding officer some three months earlier, I had to sign for…in a hurry….the whole craft and her contents largely unchecked. I was able to write off the many shortages of equipment that inevitably occurred from time to time as destroyed by shell-fire.
The work completed we sailed to Portland, at that time the major port supplying the American beaches on Omaha and Utah. Over the course of the following six months we made some 35 trips to those beaches carrying American troops and equipment. On one trip I remember we carried large field kitchens, on another, large 'washeries' which could wash the ‘smalls’ of the US troops near the front line.
We finally paid off HMLCT 749 at Chatham Dockyard in January 1945. She had carried us safely through an eventful and, in retrospect, a fascinating period of our islands history. [August 14th 1996.]
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This account of HMLCT(4) was 749 written by her Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Jack E. Booker RNVR. It was transcribed by Tony Chapman Official Archivist Historian for the LST and Landing Craft Association (Royal Navy) and further edited by Geoff Slee for website presentation. If you have any information about HM Landing Craft Tank 749 - HMLCT(4) 749 - please contact us.