~ COMBINED OPERATIONS ~

WW2 land, sea and air forces of the Allied Nations planning, training and operating together as a unified force on amphibious raids and landings against the enemy.

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Around 40 D-Day Stories by veterans of the Navy, Army, Air Force and Marines who served in or alongside Combined Operations

 ~ HMS GLENEARN ~

Landing Ship Infantry (Large) - LSI(L)

                                                                                                         [Photos courtesy of Myles Sutherland.]
Background

HMS Glenearn was a class of WW2 vessels known as Landing Ship Infantry (Large), LSI (L). The purpose of this class of vessel was to carry large numbers of fully armed troops and Landing Craft Assault (LCAs), that would carry them on the last few miles to the landing beaches. The LSI(L)s are often referred to as 'mother ships' because of their 'brood' of LCAs, 24 in the case of the Glenearn, all securely fixed to davits ready to be lowered, fully laden, into the water like a modern lifeboat. Since an LCA typically carried around 35 men and some craft would return for a second load of troops, the Glenearn could well carry around 1,500 men.

There were 3 invasion forces in the British/Canadian Eastern Task Force, one each for the Sword (S), Juno (J) and Gold (G) landing beaches and two in the American Western Task Force for Omaha (O) and Utah (U). HMS Glenearn and the Empire Battleaxe both attended Sword beach. The Glenearn was a converted, 16 knot, cargo liner of about 10,000 tons.

Having successfully delivered their first assault troops onto their designated beaches, the  LCAs returned to their mother ship, or any other troop carrying vessel they were directed to, where they were either hoisted on board or came alongside to take on their next 30+ troops to their designated landing beaches. There were other types of landing craft, described elsewhere, that journeyed across the English Channel, under their own power, to disembark their "cargos" of men, equipment and supplies, directly onto the beaches.

D-Day

Telegraphist, George Downing served on HMS Glenearn. His job was to send and receive Morse code radio signals.

He recalled that 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 June 5th, the day before the D-Day landings, the sea between the Isle of Wight and the English mainland, the Solent, was brim full with hundreds of ships of all types and sizes. HMS Glenearn was the last to leave dock at 9pm and witnessed the spectacle as she steamed to her allotted position for the passage to Normandy. The landings were due to commence at 5am the next day. The above map shows the numbers of men who were transported to the beaches on D-Day and the position of the beaches visited by the Glenearn during the following 6 weeks. 

George continues; "As we approached the Normandy beaches, we saw many Landing Craft Tank (LCTs) and Landing Craft Tank (Rocket) ( LCT(Rs) firing their salvos of exploding missiles to soften up the German beach defences before the landings commenced.

[Left; the two flotillas of 12 LCAs each which HMS Glenearn carried. Admiralty's 'Green List' for June 5, 1944.]

After we disembarked our troops that fateful morning, we picked up the first of the wounded soldiers and returned them to Southampton for hospital 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.

[Righ;t photo of George Downing aged 19.]

Glenearn could carry 1,500 plus soldiers and was ideally suited for ferrying duties between the UK and Normandy. We witnessed death and destruction on the landing beaches, far too graphic to describe here. But the most poignant incident occurred on the quayside in a line of American GIs waiting to embark; one of them took his own life rather than face his worst nightmares in France.

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. 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."

D-Day Aftermath

HMS Glenearn's ferrying duties continued for around 6 weeks, during which time all the main beaches in France were supplied by her. However, with increasing use of the Mulberry Harbours and captured French ports, the demand for beach landings diminished and the Glenearn was recalled to Greenock on the River Clyde near Glasgow.

[ Rear Admiral Arthur G Talbot, senior officer Force 'S' on D-Day. © IWM (A 21718).]

The crew were given only 4 days leave, which was insufficient time for a major refit. Since the crew never knew in advance what the next operation was, there was speculation that the ship was being prepared for similar duties on the French coasts, possibly in the Mediterranean. However, when the ship's company returned to duty, the Glenearn was freshly painted in Pacific camouflage. They were destined for the war in the Far East!

The next day, Rear Admiral Talbot thanked the crew for their past efforts and outlined what was in prospect for them. A new flotilla had been formed for a journey to the Far East, comprising landing ships, Empire Battleaxe, Broadsword and Cutlass. With other vessels including Glenearn, the flotilla was collectively known as Force X and it was leaving for New York at 6pm that night!

Pacific Assignment

The journey across the Atlantic was uneventful. On arrival in New York, additional supplies and communication equipment were loaded. Prior to departure, around nine hundred American troops were embarked. George recalls, "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 Ocean with an escort of US vessels. However, the flotilla was forced to take shelter for 24 hours in the Charleston US Navy base, to avoid an approaching hurricane, before resuming the passage to Colon and the Panama Canal. From the outset, fresh water was strictly rationed for drinking purposes only. Frequent stops were made to replenish supplies, including Bora Bora in the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean. From there, the flotilla visited islands recaptured from the Japanese.

Troops were disembarked at Langemak on the New Guinea coast and at the forward base in Hollandia, also in New Guinea, where the flotilla 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 on-going battle in the North Phillipines' Lingayen Gulf."

George continues, "Back in our base at Lae in New Guinea, we received orders to proceed to Milne Bay and Cairns on Australia's eastern coastline, where the 7th Australian Infantry Division required training for possible amphibious landings on Borneo. From mid October to late December 1945, mock 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. Enemy submarines could not safely navigate their way through the Great Barrier Reef, so we sailed with all lights blazing, often on the upper deck, to enjoy the balmy evenings.

We enjoyed a well earned rest in Sydney before returning to Manus Island in New Guinea. We then sailed with HMAS Nizam and HMAS Norman to deliver supplies to the British Pacific fleet. En route, the forward petrol tank exploded and 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 for many days. All the casualties required urgent medical attention, so we diverted to Hollandia in the hope of finding a hospital ship. It was not to be, so the men were transported by ambulance over very rough, makeshift roads to an inland field hospital. Sadly, the men, who by then had endured so much, succumbed to their injuries and were buried in the Australian forces cemetery in the jungle at Finschhafen.

Back at Manus, repairs and adaptations to our ship were identified, so we steamed for Melbourne, via Sydney for repairs at Williamstown, a suburb of the city. The work would prepare the ship 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 onward 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 drawing to a close, 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 picked up Australian prisoners of war (POWs) from the Chinese island of Hainan, using a group of smaller craft and a hospital ship. They were all in a very bad way. Since most of them were from Melbourne, 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.

Our next duty took us to Shanghi, this time to embark British civilian POWs. They were in much better condition than the Australian troops and we had expectations of transporting them back to the UK but, in Colombo, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), we transferred them into the charge of another vessel. With unrest in Indonesia, our destiny saw us carry Indian military personnel to the country, to quell brewing trouble between the republicans and the authorities and, on the return trip to Columbo, we repatriated Dutch refugee POWs.

From there, we steamed to the Royal Navy base at Trincomalee in Ceylon. There we learned that HMS Glenearn was to serve as the Senior Naval Officer's establishment in Kure, Japan and a base for a naval party tasked to rebuild a communication centre. Kure was a former Japanese naval base,+ which suffered after effects from the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima some twelve miles away. At this point, my demob papers were up and I sailed back to Hong Kong, demob on HMS Houge and onwards to Blighty (affectionate name for England)."

Wireman Frank 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 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 (Photo below). 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 and 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!"

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[Returning to the UK in 1945 on board HMS Empire Battleaxe.]

Correspondence
 
I have just read, with special interest, your web page on HMS Glenearn written by George Downing. My dad, Alan Street, served with George on the Glenearn. After the war they regularly kept in touch with each other and, as far as I can remember, the families used to visit each other over bank holidays.

The last time I saw George was about 10 years ago at my parent's house. In his story he mentioned an explosion in the Pacific. My dad was one of the crew who suffered burns and spent a lot of time in Australia and then New Zealand in hospitals but, nonetheless, he learned to drive whilst over there.

Sadly my dad died the day before his 90th birthday. So much history gone. I hope if George or his family read this, they will get in touch.

Regards

Paul Street


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.

Jack Eaves,

Australia.

Click on PDFs/'X' FORCE.pdf for a fuller version of Jack's story.



Dear Geoff

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.


Grantley Kingscott.

Hello Geoff,

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.
 
Yours

Bob Malloy

Newcastle, Australia.

Hello Geoff,

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,

John Phillips


Hello Geoff,

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.

Kind regards

Mike


Hello Geoff, 

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.

Best Wishes, 

John Telling


Hello Geoff

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.

Best wishes

Dr Hilary J Davies

www.history-in-focus.com



Hello Geoff,
 
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.
 
Myles Sutherland

Hello Geoff,

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.

Derek Bingham

[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.]
 


Dear Geoff,

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. [Ed.]


Acknowledgements

This account was written George Downing who served on HMS Glenearn. It was edited for website presentation by Geoff Slee and approved by the author before publication with later additions of photographs and maps.
 

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