~ HMS GLENEARN ~
[Photos courtesy of Myles Sutherland.]
was a class of vessel known as Landing Ship
Infantry (Large) LSI (L). She, and vessels like her, formed the majority of the
infantry carrying ships in the three British invasion forces formed for the
Normandy landing beaches - G (Gold), J (Juno) and S (Sword), the last of which
included the Empire Battleaxe
and HMS Glenearn. Glenearn was a converted 16 knot cargo liner of about
10,000 tons that carried two Landing Craft Assault (LCA) Flotillas of twelve craft each.
The purpose of the LSI (L)s was to transport troops to areas a few miles off
the landing beaches. From there the troops were lowered into the sea in smaller LCAs on davits not unlike the operation of lifeboats on modern ships. These
landing craft delivered the troops onto the beaches and returned to their mother
ship (in this account HMS Glenearn), where they were hoisted back on board
in readiness for their next
operation. Other types of landing craft loaded with men, their arms and
equipment made the journey across the English Channel under their own power to
land their "cargos" directly onto the beaches.
Telegraphist George Downing's job on board the Glenearn
was to send and receive Morse code radio signals. He recalls;
a muster of all the troops and the ship's crew was called on June 4th when we
were told about our mission and the landings. Thereafter the ship was sealed
which meant no one except a post man, escorted by a senior officer, could
leave the ship. We were told that the airborne troops were to parachute behind
enemy lines an hour before the beach landings primarily to disable enemy shore
On the 5th June, the day before the D-Day
landings, the area of sea between England and the Isle Of Wight (The
Solent) was full with hundreds of ships. HMS Glenearn was the last to
leave dock at 9pm sailing through a sea of ships to take up her allotted position for
the passage to the Normandy beaches and the landings which were due to commence at 5am the next day. The map opposite (click to
enlarge) shows the position of the beaches visited by the Glenearn
during the following 6 weeks.
As we approached the Normandy beaches we saw Tank Carriers
Craft Tank (Rocket)] or LCT(R)s loaded with missiles which were ablaze when
firing their salvos to soften up the German beach defences before the landings
commenced. After we disembarked our troops that fateful
morning we picked up some of the first wounded and returned to Southampton
where we urgently embarked more troops to reinforce those already landed.
Without a constant supply of men, ammunition, vehicles and supplies the
advancing invasion force would stall giving the enemy time to regroup for a
counter attack. We could carry 1500 plus soldiers and were ideally suited for
the task of ferrying them from the UK to the Normandy beaches. We witnessed
many consequences of war too graphic to describe here but one of the most
poignant was the suicide of an American GI who could not face the trials ahead
and took his own life on the quayside while waiting to embark.
I recall making a fast overnight crossing
of the English Channel in the
company of our sister ship HMS Glengyle with the frigate HMS
Starling as escort and on another homeward trip we met up with
HMS Warspite returning to the beaches to give more support to the troops
after having her gun barrels replaced. Her gun turrets were later placed at
the entrance to the Imperial War Museum in London as a fitting and lasting
Our ferrying duties continued for around 6 weeks
during which time HMS Glenearn serviced all the main beaches in France.
With increasing use of the Mulberry Harbours and captured French ports the
need for supplies and reinforcements to be landed on the beaches diminished
and the Glenearn was recalled to Greenock on the River Clyde near Glasgow where a
surprise awaited us. The crew were given only 4 days leave. It
was clearly not a major refit so we deduced that the ship was being prepared for
more landings on the French coasts but this time in the
in the Mediterranean. However, when the ship's company returned they found the
Glenearn freshly painted spick and span in Pacific camouflage. We were
destined for the war in the Far East!
The next day Admiral Talbot, our senior officer
on the D-Day landings, came aboard to thank us for our efforts and to tell us
about our immediate future. For the journey to the Far East a new flotilla had
been formed comprising landing ships Empire Battleaxe, Broadsword, Cutlass
and others to be known as Force X and we would be sailing for New York at 6pm
that night. [Photo
of George Downing aged 19.]
The journey across the Atlantic was uneventful and on arrival in
New York additional supplies and communication equipment were loaded and before
departure we embarked around nine hundred American troops. While this was going
on we had time for sightseeing although most of the fleshpots were out of the
reach of the British servicemen’s pay! However, we did take in such sights as
the Stage Door Canteen, Radio City and the Empire State building which were
The task force set off for the Pacific waters together with an
escort of US vessels. However, an approaching hurricane forced us to take
shelter in the US navy base at Charleston for twenty four hours after which we
set off for Colon and the Panama Canal. From the outset fresh water was strictly
rationed and was essentially for drinking purposes only. Frequent stops were
made to replenish supplies including Bora Bora in the middle of the Pacific
From Bora Bora we made our way to islands which had been recaptured from the Japanese. By island hopping we unloaded
some of the troops at Langemak on the New Guinea coast and then to the forward base at Hollandia where we joined the US 7th Fleet. After inspection of our ships and landing craft our American
cousins deemed them unfit for the task of landings on the Pacific beaches. We
were not very pleased at being relegated to the task of moving troops and supplies
(see correspondence below from
Frank Mordecai on this subject) although
Glenearn was made Commodore of convoys on a number of occasions including the battle which was still taking
place in the North Phillipines at the Lingayen Gulf.
On returning to our base at Lae in
New Guinea we were ordered to Milne Bay and
Cairns on Australia's eastern coastline for the purpose of training the seventh Australian infantry division for
possible landings on Borneo. From mid October to late December 1945 several
practice landings were made on beaches between
Cairns and Townsville including Trinity Bay, Fitzroy Island, Palm Island and Treger. The docks at Cairns were too shallow for the
Glenearn so we acted independently from Townsville. It was very pleasant,
stress free sailing between the coast of Australia and the Great Barrier Reef as
enemy submarines could not safely navigate their way through. We sailed with all
lights blazing and the crew were able to sit on the upper deck and enjoy the
next stop was Sydney where we enjoyed a well earned rest before returning to
Manus Island in New Guinea. We then sailed in the company of HMAS Nizam and
HMAS Norman with supplies for the British Pacific fleet. En
route the forward petrol tank exploded and as most of the crew were dressed in
shorts and sandals 28 men, including the second in command Chief engineer,
sustained horrific burns. Two seamen were trapped in the lower decks and the
hatches had to be locked in order to save the ship. It took a good forty eight
hours for the fires to be cooled down before the bodies could be recovered and
buried at sea.
The stench of burnt human flesh lingered in the ship for many
days after. All the casualties required urgent medical attention so we diverted
to Hollandia in the hope that hospital ships were in
port. When this turned out not to be the case the men were transported by
ambulance over very rough, makeshift roads to a field
hospital some distance in land. Sadly they never recovered and were buried in the Australian forces cemetery in the jungle
At Manus we were ordered to Melbourne via Sydney for
repairs which took place at Williamstown, a suburb of Melbourne. The repairs
were designed to make the ship ready for the transportation of men and materials to the fleet
at sea. During this period VE (Victory in Europe) day had been celebrated
and some older members of the crew, due to be demobbed, were transported to Brisbane for their passage home.
The war in the Pacific was also close to
ending and we received orders to proceed with haste to Hong Kong in order to
validate the British influence in the colony. After arriving there we took a
group of smaller craft and a hospital ship to the Chinese island of Hainan to pick up
Australian prisoners of war (POWs) who were in a very sad
state. Most of them were from Melbourne and we had high hopes transporting them
back home. However, by this time HMS Victorious was collecting large
numbers of prisoners and we transferred our consignment to them.
Our next task was to steam to
Shanghi to pick
up British civilian POWs who were
fortunately in a better condition than the Australian troops. We were hoping to
transport them back to the UK but we dropped them off in Colombo into the charge
of another vessel. By this time there was unrest in Indonesia and we then carried Indian
military personnel to the country to quell the trouble between the
republicans and the authorities. On the return trip to Columbo we repatriated
Dutch refugee POWs.
From there we steamed to the Royal
Navy base at Trincomalee in preparation for HMS Glenearn to be used as the senior
naval officer's establishment in Kure, Japan, together with a naval party
designated to rebuild a communication centre. Kure was a
former Japanese naval base which suffered the after effects of radiation following
the dropping of an atomic bomb at Hiroshima some twelve miles away. At this point my demob
papers were up and I sailed back to Hong Kong and demob on HMS Houge and
(affectionate name for England).
Mordecai takes up the story of what he regarded as a wasted mission.
"I was the wireman attached to the
Royal Marine LCA flotilla, aboard the starboard side of HMS Glenearn. My
90 year old memory cannot recall the flotilla number.
After extensive training and the D-Day landings, HMS Glenearn
and other LSIs were sent to help in the South
Pacific campaign. Despite our background and experience, the 7th
considered us unsatisfactory for assault landings and relegated us to troop
carrying. This, we dutifully carried out for a few months. Becoming surplus to
their requirements, the personnel of the LCA flotilla were then shipped back to
Blighty on HMS Empire Battleaxe, see Photo 2. We felt it was such a waste
of time and effort for trained and battle-hardened LCA crews to have no purpose
in the Pacific theatre although we were pleased to be returning home.
We concluded, in later discussions
at the local branch of the LST & LCA Association, that General MacArthur and his
hierarchy considered the South Pacific to be their own private war and resented
the involvement of other Nations, even the Aussies. However, I have a personal
reason to be thankful for the decision to send us home. My mess deck was
adjacent to the petrol tank on the Glenearn which exploded after our
departure!" [Photos. Click to enlarge: top, HMS Glenearn; bottom,
returning to the UK in 1945 on board HMS Empire
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I read with interest your article on HMS Glenearn. My 97 year old Dad, Robbie
Clark, remembers the ship as the one that evacuated him from Souda Bay Crete
just before the German invasion. He says it was the last ship to leave. I
wonder if anyone knows when this evacuation happened. My Dad was taken
prisoner at Tobruk on 21st June 1942 and together we're trying to work out the
timeline of these momentous events in his life.
I was surprised and delighted to find that the page about HMS
Glenearn includes a photograph with my father in it. Most of his war
service is still just an outline of events such as his time on HMS
Glenearn. Your website was able to answer some questions about what he
did and why he was transferred off Glenearn in Townsville to HMS
Empire Battleaxe. The photograph of the group of men from HMS
Glenearn onboard the Empire Battleaxe shows my father, Frank
White, in the centre front. He was a shipwright involved in building landing
boats for D-Day and once that job was completed, he entered the navy as a
Thank you for creating such an informative website.
Dr Hilary J Davies
My wife and I have only just found your
excellent website, when “ surfing “ for anything relating to HMS Glenearn
during WW2. Previous attempts resulted in us missing the site, inexplicably.
The reason for our search is that my wife’s
late father served on this vessel and others ( possibly HMS Empire Battleaxe
), particularly on D-Day and
thereafter. He was Cpl. Bert Townsend, R.M. and he is the one on the right
of the photo taken in New York, as referred to by Mr. Derek Bingham in his
article (immediately below). We knew it was Bert as soon as we saw the
photo, and his wife, who happily is still going strong at nearly 85 years of
age, has now found a print of the same photo amongst a host of family
Bert was born in Plymouth in 1924. He sadly
passed away back in 1999. On about the only occasion that I ever got him to
talk about WW2, he told me that he did his training in several places, most
notably Barmouth, and he reeled off several places he visited with the
Glenearn after D-Day, including New York, the Panama Canal and Bora Bora, as
well as Sydney I believe. However, he would not talk about D-Day itself,
other than to say that he was a Landing Craft Coxswain. Our generation can
barely imagine what it must have been like. After demob, Bert soon became a
Police Officer and retired after the full stint in the Force. He then worked
in Local Government before enjoying retirement.
[Photo; Bert, 5th from the left in back row, in training prior to D-Day.]
We are looking at some diaries that Bert left,
and if anything of interest comes from those we will offer it for addition
to the website. Quite frankly, it has been remiss of us not to have done
this years ago, but better late than never !
Congratulations on a fascinating site.
First of all I would like to congratulate you on your wonderful
website. I am writing to you concerning my father Alexander Bingham CHX
112104. He served on HMS Glenearn and possibly Empire Battleaxe too. We
have a number of items from his time on Glenearn and on leaving the forces
including a concert programme from the ship entitled the guinea pigs, a
Crossing the Line (equator) certificate, his kit bag (he wrote on his bag all
the places he sailed to), his belt, a credit slip for wages etc. My mother
certainly remembers well going to Greenock to wave him goodbye but she recalls
that on that occasion he joined the HMS Battleaxe. My father took part
in the nautical phase of the D Day landings and always spoke of the shear
scale of the event. Sadly my father is no longer with us but I feel, through
your great site, I have found out so much more about his war exploits. All the
best to you.
[Below is a selection of photos of some of the items
mentioned in Derek Bingham's letter. Please contact us if you recognise anyone
in the last photo taken in a New York photograph studio in August 1944.
Alexander Bingham is on the left].
After going through my deceased mother's war memories, I found
this card and in following it up on the Internet I found your fascinating
website. My mother lived in Townsville on the north east coast of Australia and
helped as much as she could in the war effort. The card was probably an
admittance ticket for a dance while the ship was in port. I felt it belonged
with all the memorabilia on HMS Glenearn (no matter how small it may
seem). My mother was Lindsay Macfarlane (nee Mackenzie). She married in 1945.
Well done for keeping the memory alive. Sue G.
||The ticket gives us an
interesting insight into the normal social activities that continued
throughout the war and the support of local communities for our service men
and women - in this case a dance on board HMS Glenearn while in port.
This account was written George Downing who served on HMS
Glenearn. It was subsequently redrafted for website presentation by Geoff Slee and approved by the author before publication.