[Photos courtesy of Myles Sutherland.]
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 then 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. The landings 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.
George continues; "As we approached the Normandy beaches, we saw Tank Carriers and [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 them to Southampton for treatment. We then 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 1,500 plus soldiers and were ideally suited for ferrying duties between the UK and 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 also 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 in the process of 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. The crew were given only 4 days leave which was insufficient time for a major refit. Since we never knew in advance what our next operation would be, we speculated that the ship was being prepared for more landings on the French coasts, possibly 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. Closer to our time of 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 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 for 24 hours in the US navy base at Charleston 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
(see correspondence below from
Frank Mordecai on this subject) although
Glenearn was made 'Commodore of Convoys' on a number of operations, including
the occasion of 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 inland. 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 at Williamstown, a suburb of the city. 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.
[Photo; HMS Glenearn pennant with photo of Petty Officer, Jack Holland, who served on the ship.]
The war in the Pacific was also close to ending when 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 of transporting them back home. However, by this time, HMS Victorious was collecting large numbers of prisoners and we transferred our consignment to them.
For our next task we steamed to Shanghi to pick up British civilian POWs. They were, fortunately, in much 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 so 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. HMS Glenearn was to be used as the senior naval officer's establishment in Kure, Japan, as well as a base for a naval party designated to rebuild a communication centre. Kure was a former Japanese naval base which suffered the after effects from the 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).
Wireman Frank Mordecai takes up the story of what he regarded as a wasted mission.
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 US Fleet 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 ans Landing Craft 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 Battleaxe.]
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I served on HMS GLENEARN from the 30 October 1943 until the beginning of April 1945. She carried 2 Royal Marine flotilla’s numbered 535 consisting of 12 LCA’S (on davits) and 543 consisting of 12 LCAs (on davits) and 3 LCM’s carried on deck, 2 on the fore well deck and one on the after well deck.
I was a member of the 535 flotilla. In the early days Glenearn carried 535 and 536 Flotillas, not too sure of dates but 535 and 536 flotillas, along with 537, 538 and 539, left Dartmouth Naval College where we had been doing seamanship courses. The ’Stokers’ then went to Nth Wales for their course and later we were all bought together at Fort George? NE of Inverness in Scotland as two flotillas. We then sailed our LCAs through a small section of the Caledonian Canal to Inverness where we were billeted in the Cameron Barracks until the 30 October 1943. HMS Glenearn then sailed into the Moray Firth and picked up the two flotillas - 536 took the port side and 535 took the starboard side davits. After a few days, 536 flotilla was transferred to the Empire Cutlass.
Early in November 1943, 535 Flotilla was put ashore at HMS BRONTOSAURUS in the Clyde estuary. HMS Glenearn then entered Rosyth Naval Dockyard on the River Forth to have her hoisting hooks modified as they were found to be unsafe during earlier ‘exercises’ near Cromarty, while getting ready for D Day. Weather wise, the D Day landings were comparatively easy as compared to the bad winter of 1943 off the coast of NE Scotland. After Normandy, HMS Glenearn, carried a ‘Beach Party’ of RN Commandos and a small helicopter for forward scouting in the Pacific. HMS Glenearn was quite a happy ship as I recall.
Click on PDFs/'X' FORCE.pdf for a fuller version of Jack's story.
My father, Norman James Kingscott who, unfortunately, passed away last new years eve, served on HMS Glenearn during the war. He never really told us much about his service but we knew he served on the Glenearn on D-day and also went to the Pacific. Since his passing, I have been trying to find out more and came across a photo of him on your site. He is the 3rd from the left in the back row. It was a real treat for us to find the photo. [The group photo below.]
After going through some of his things I also found this Christmas Day menu from 1944 that I thought may be of some interest to you.
I found your site while looking for information about HMS Glenearn, the ship that carried my uncle to freedom in Hong Kong while being repatriated to Australia as a POW in September 1945. I was young at the time of his passing and the family rarely spoke of his time in service, so my knowledge is limited. I believe he was captured on Ambon and later transferred to Hainan from where he was liberated and then repatriated. On reaching Hong Kong, he transferred to HMS Vindex to complete his journey home to Australia. Opposite, is a letter home he wrote onboard the Glenearn, together with a couple of photos. In the group photo of the 2nd 12th Field Ambulance, he is third from the left in the 2nd front row, in the dark pullover.
This is coming to you from Auckland, New Zealand.
In your section dealing with HMS Glenearn, George relates that in 1945 the Glenearn steamed to Shanghai to pick up British civilian POWs, dropping them off in Columbo “into the charge of another vessel.” I can verify that.
Between the ages of six and eight and a half I was, with my parents, interned in G Block, Longhua camp, a few miles south of Shanghai. Just along the corridor was a teenager, Jim Ballard, who, in later life, became a well-known novelist and author of Empire of the Sun, loosely based on his experiences there.
In ( I believe) September 1945 we boarded HMS Glenearn, a ship that was to take us part way back to the UK. We were accommodated in the rear hold, ventilation being provided by a canvas tube slung from the rear mast. Accompanying us in case one or other ship hit a mine was a frigate (possibly the Plym, later blown up in the Monte Bello Islands A-bomb test). First stop was Hong Kong which only a month or two earlier had passed from Japanese to British control. I remember going ashore in one of the ship’s landing barges, finding the business district still strewn with rubble. From there to Singapore where we were visited by and photographed with Lady Mountbatten. Finally on to Columbo. The Indian Ocean however was rough and the largely empty ship was tossed around like a cork. In fact I recall being told one of the landing barges had been washed away. As for me, I was seasick from the time we left the shelter of Sumatra to the time we arrived in Columbo.
From Columbo we were scheduled to go straight to Southampton. But because I had been so sick, my parents secured permission to remain in Columbo for a fortnight, giving me time to recover. The ship on which we left Columbo was the much larger Athlone Castle, packed with servicemen returning from the East.
From 1947 to 1951 I was again in Hong Kong. The Glenearn, now in civilian garb, used to come into the harbour from time to time, clearly visible from the Star Ferry which I used daily to get to school. Your photos of the ship in its two quite different roles brought back many memories. But it all seems so long ago.
With kind regards,
I have just alighted on your HMS Glenearn web page. My father, Edward ("Ted") Telling, also came off Crete on the Glenearn. I remember him saying that he got off on the last ship to leave. He was in the RA (Service No. 919569). He recorded some comments for the IWM. I believe the evacuation took place late May 1941.
Coincidentally, one of our neighbours from many years ago, Derek Walker, was an officer on the Glenearn at the time of the evacuation.
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 Petty Officer.
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 photos.
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.