HMS Glenearn 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 batteries.
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 [Landing 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 tribute.
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 XX 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 servicemenís pay! However, we did take in such sights as the Stage Door Canteen, Radio City and the Empire State building which were freebees.
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 Ocean.
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 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.
Our 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 Finschhafen.
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 onwards Blighty (affectionate name for England).
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.
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