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 ~ HMS ROYAL ULSTERMAN ~

HMS Royal Ulsterman was a Landing Ship Infantry and had an illustrious career in virtually all major actions in the Mediterranean and Normandy. These are the recollections of some veterans who were there during the years 1942-45.
 
Background 1st Account North Africa Pantellaria Sicily Salerno Italy
2nd Account Anzio D-Day Further Reading Correspondence Acknowledgments

[This account was received from Steve Robertson whose father, the late S/M Freddie Robertson (photo opposite) served on HMS Royal Ulsterman.]

Background

We sailed from Penarth, South Wales, in  September 1942 for Greenock and started manoeuvres on Loch Fyne with the 1st. Battalion American Rangers and British Army Commandos. The exercises finished in October 1942 and the ship was then provisioned in Gourock on the River Clyde. We sailed with the invasion fleet for North Africa in the 3rd week of October. It was said to be the largest convoy of all time.

1st Account (Ranger Seymour Miller 06/01/01)

"Yes Steve, I was one of your dad's 'tough cookies' and I do remember the Royal Ulsterman which I believe was originally a channel ferry. I was on board her for over twenty days en route to Arzew, North Africa. I have several memories of this trip; first and foremost was being seasick for the first time in my life. The seas were extremely rough and it was my understanding that, to make this ship capable of going into shallow waters, part of the keel was removed. This of course made it bounce around like a cork. One day when I was on deck a giant wave grabbed a landing craft and left it hanging by just one davit A second wave reached up and finished the job!

On another occasion I drew guard duty at the foot of the grand stairway that went up to the officers' mess. A Navy officer on his way up to the dining room offered me a sardine sandwich. After one bite, I decided I wasn't hungry when the ship's cat came down the steps. I offered the lovely sandwich to him but after one sniff and a meow he went on his way. I thought he was just as sick as I was which was confirmed next day when I heard he had died.

Another first for me was sleeping in a hammock. We were set up in, what during the day was, the enlisted men's mess. The hammocks were good for sleeping but difficult to get into. From the nearby kitchen there was the delicious aroma of mutton stew. It was cooked all night in what seemed like Diesel oil.... the whole ship smelled of diesel oil! We did envy your dad and his shipmates when they lined up with their tin cups for the ritual of the doling out the ration of Rum...it was something to see."

North Africa - 7 Nov 1942

We landed 1st Battalion American Rangers assault troops on beaches at Arzew, a port south of Algiers, at 2 a.m. on the 7th of November 1942. There was very little action through the night but in the morning there were some air attacks by Vichy French aircraft. They caused no damage and were soon fought off. Once the Rangers had consolidated their positions on the beaches we sailed on to Algiers companioned by the Royal Scotsman, Ulster Monarch, Queen Emma and Princess Beatrix. Our task was to ship troops from Algiers to Bougie and then, as the Germans retreated eastward, to Phillipville and Bone to meet up with the eighth army in Tunisia.

The five ships were nicknamed 'The Moonlight Squadron' and the route up the North African coast became known as 'dive bomb alley' because it was there that we were greeted by Stuka dive bombers on every voyage. After the fall of Tunisia we moved on and operated from the ports of Souse and Sfax.

Pantellaria - 11 Jun 1943

The next operation we were involved in was Operation Corkscrew, the invasion of the island of Pantelleria when we took on board the lads of the Eighth Army from the North African coast. They were not very happy about it because they had already fought right through the western desert with Monty. The landing at 10 am on the morning of June 11, 1943 was, in the event, very quiet although we did hit trouble in the late afternoon after our escorts of cruisers and destroyers left the area. We were dive bombed by Stukas flying in from Sardinia but we destroyed 3 of them which was our best single bag throughout the war. That invasion was very easy compared to the rest of the landings including those that followed..

Sicily - 9/10 Jul 1943

The next exercise was in preparation for Operation Husky, the invasion of Sicily on 9/10 July 1943. This time it was easier for us since we were already invasion trained in previous actions. Before we left Sfax to join the Sicily Invasion force, Lord Louis Mountbatten, then Chief of Combined Operations, came aboard and gave us a pep talk. He also got all of our mail sent from FMO Gibraltar before we sailed. We had received no mail for over 6 weeks prior to that.

There was fierce opposition when we landed on the southern tip of Sicily at Porto Paolo. On this operation HMS Royal Ulsterman was H.Q. ship directing the movements of landing craft and personnel. The German defences were very strong but with sea and air bombardment the opposition was overcome. After the troops established a beachhead they moved inland. We then sailed for Malta where we stayed for 3 weeks. Then back to Tunisia for a spell, then to Tripoli. Meanwhile Sicily was taken and the Army had advanced into Southern Italy, an operation we were not involved in.

Later we were engaged in more troop movements between Sicily and Italy. On one of these trips we struck a wreck in Taranto Bay and damaged a propeller. We returned to the U.K. via Belfast, to pick up a new screw, and then to Mount Stewart dry dock in Cardiff where repairs were carried out. In the four weeks we were there the local people of Tiger Bay adopted the Ship and they were presented with our Battle Ensign as a gesture for their hospitality to the ship’s company.

Salerno, Italy

We returned to the Mediterranean (Algiers) to prepare for the Salerno landings. We thought that it was going to be fairly easy because the Italians had capitulated the day before the landings. We started off heading north, towards Naples, turning south towards Salerno at midnight in an attempt to fool any German air or sea patrols... but it didn’t work out!

German aircraft picked up our positions as we steered south at midnight and German land forces had taken over the shore defences from the Italians. By the time we landed at Salerno they were ready and waiting or us! It turned out to be a rough ride getting the assault troops ashore and they had quite a battle just to get off the beaches. For some time, while the situation remained uncertain, we stood by ready to evacuate. However back-up forces were bought in earlier than intended and sorted matters out. It was very busy for a few days with bombing and shelling from shore batteries and we were relieved when our contribution towards the invasion of Salerno was over.

Things eased off for a while and we had some shore leave in Algiers. Then we did a couple of commando raids along the Italian coast and one job as a decoy ship when we sailed close to the coast to attract gunfire from German shore positions. Once their guns ‘flashed’ The Nelson, Rodney and 2 cruisers located the gun emplacements and shelled them from about 10 miles out.

2nd Account. (Ranger Jud 'Lucky' Luckhurst.)

"Steve, I was with the US Rangers in the landing at Anzio. The two ships we used were the Royal Ulsterman and the Princess Beatrix. At my age, 82, it is hard for me to remember for sure but I think I landed with the Princess Beatrix, they were both the best. Many Rangers from other landing craft were drowned because they were disembarked too soon. As a result a rumour spread that Col Darby asked for the Royal Ulsterman and the Princess Beatrix to be assigned to him for any further invasions. It was said by many of the Rangers (in admiration not in any disrespect) that if those crazy Limey's had roller skates on the bottoms of their boats they would take us inland! I know that I was only wet up to my knees at Anzio. Some of the crew saved up their R.N. Grog ration for their Ranger friends. The crew were a good bunch of men and were highly respected by the Rangers."
 
Anzio - Feb 2 1944

We then landed troops at the Anzio beachhead. It started off very quiet because the Germans had retreated inland but they counter-attacked and it ended up a bloody battle. Lots of lives were lost including a large percentage of the American Rangers. Despite the heavy losses everything turned out all right in the end. That was the end of the Royal Ulsterman’s and other LSI’s duties in the Med. We returned home to 'Blighty' for a spot of leave and then preparations for D Day.... "the Big One."

D-Day - Jun 6 1944

On return to the UK we docked for 2 days in Greenock, then on to Southampton for some repair work and new assault craft. We embarked the assault troops at berth 37 in Southampton harbour and sailed from our holding position on the Solent (Area 19E North of East Cowes), at 1600 hours on the 5th of June 1944. Our convoy was assault convoy J14 ( J3 Reserve Force under the command of Acting Lt. Commander W.R.K.Clarke D.S.C. RD R.N.R.). We were on station at our lowering point, ready to winch down the LCA’s at 0808 hours on the next  day - D-Day. We carried troops of the 9th Brigade of the 3rd Canadian Division. Comprising of the following regiments;

  •  the Highland Light Infantry of Canada,

  •  the Stormont, Dundas & Glengarry Highlanders,

  •  the North Nova Scotia Highlanders,

  •  a total assault force of approximately 400 men.

The first of our troops were landed at NAN WHITE (Berniers-Sur-Mer) and NAN RED (St. Aubin-Sur-Mer) at 1133 hours. These beaches were within an area of JUNO Beach. All troops were recorded ashore by 1150 hours. We lost some army lads when one of our LCA’s was hit by gunfire. Our Sub-Lieutenant lost his arm. After the landings we were engaged in bringing wounded back to England and shipping more troops to France. This lasted quite a long period after which it was easy going to de-mob.

LSI(H) Royal Ulsterman came through with flying colours, just showing signs of her old age. It was a great honour to have served with S/M Freddie Robertson and the rest of the ship's company aboard LSI (H) Royal Ulsterman.

Reading Material

There are around 300 books listed on our 'Combined Operations Books' page which can be purchased on-line from the Advanced Book Exchange (ABE) whose search banner checks the shelves of thousands of book shops world-wide. Type in or copy and paste the title of your choice or use the 'keyword' box for book suggestions. There's no obligation to buy, no registration and no passwords. Click 'Books' for more information.

Correspondence

I was really thrilled to see your page on The Royal Ulsterman. My grandfather, Captain Henry Paterson DSM, served with the Royal Navy through WWI and was in the Merchant Navy at the start of WW2. He was with Burns and Laird who provided a ferry service from Glasgow to Dublin/Belfast and Londonderry. During WW2 the ships of the line, including the Ulsterman, were commandeered for Navy use. My grampa was seconded to other duties as he was in the RNR. He served in the Narvik convoys amongst other duties and managed to survive both wars unscathed despite numerous close shaves.

He was reunited with the Ulsterman after the War and remained Master of her, her sister ship and the Laird's Loch (on rotation) until his retiral in the mid 60s. Sadly, he died very shortly after retiral. His sons, William (my dad), and Harry served in WW2 also. My dad, an ex Artilleryman, is still going strong, but my uncle was killed in his 21st year while serving in the Fleet Air Arm as a pilot. The Ulsterman went on until 1967 on the Irish routes and was later scrapped after being sunk off Beirut on 3rd March 1973. I believe she struck a mine. It seems such a pity to end in that way after her brave war service. I hope this is of interest to you! 

Ann Donaldson.


I was interested to read about HMS Royal Ulsterman. My father was in the North Nova Scotia Highland Regiment so the odds are good that he was on that ship when it sailed off to D-Day.

Paul Schwartz, British Columbia, Canada.


Acknowledgments

Thanks to Steve Robertson whose father, the late S/M Freddie Robertson served on HMS Royal Ulsterman and to George H Saunders.

News & Information

 

Memorial Maintenance

We have a small band of volunteers who take turns to visit the memorial each month, particularly during the growing season, to undertake routine maintenance such as weeding keeping the stones and slabs clear of bird dropping, lichen etc. and reporting on any issues. If you live near the National Memorial Arboretum and would like to find out more, please contact us.

Remember a Veteran

You can pay a personal tribute to veterans who served in, or alongside, the Combined Operations Command in WW2 by adding their details and optional photo to our Roll of Honour and They Also Served pages on this website.

Read the Combined Operations prayer.

Forthcoming Events

To organisers: Reach the people who will be interested to know about your Combined Operations or war related event by adding it to our forthcoming events page free of charge.

To everyone else; Visit our forthcoming events page for things to see and places to visit. If you know of an event of possible interest, that is not listed, please let us know.

To notify an event click here.

To visit the webpage click here.

Facebook

Why not join the thousands who visit our Facebook page about the Combined Operations Command in appreciation of our WW2 veterans.

See the 'slide shows' of the dedication ceremony and the construction of the memorial plus the 'On this day in 194?' feature where major Combined Ops events are highlighted on their anniversary dates with links to additional information.

You are welcome to add information, photos and comment or reply to messages posted by others.

Find Books of Interest 

Search for Books direct from our Books page. Don't have the name of a book in mind? Just type in a keyword to get a list of possibilities... and if you want to purchase you can do so on line through the Advanced Book Exchange (ABE). 5% commission goes into the memorial fund.

WW2 Combined Operations Handbook

This handbook was prepared for Combined Operations in the Far East. It illustrates the depth and complexity of the planning process necessary to ensure that the 3 services worked together as a unified force.

Restoration of Geoffrey Appleyard's  Memorial 

Click on the image if you'd like to contribute to the improvement of the memorial to Geoffrey Appleyard, DSO, MC and Bar, through the purchase of a limited edition print of a book about him. Geoffrey achieved so much in service with No 7 Commando, No 62 Commando, the Small Scale Raiding Force and the Second SAS Regiment. He was posted Missing in Action in July 1943, aged 26.

www.bramleywarmemorial.com/major-geoffrey-appleyard-book-now-available-for-purchase/

The Gazelle Helicopter Squadron Display Team

The Gazelle Squadron is a unique team of ex-British Military Gazelle helicopters in their original military colours and with their original military registrations. The core team includes four Gazelles, one from each service; The Royal Navy, The Royal Marines, The Army Air Corps and The Royal Air Force. A fifth Gazelle in Royal Marines colours will provide intimate support for the team. Their crest includes the Combined Operations badge. The last, and possibly, only time the badge was seen on an aircraft was in the early mid 40s. A photo of the Hurricane concerned is included in the 516 Squadron webpage.

Legasee Film Archive

As part of an exciting social history project, the film company Legasee is looking for veterans from any conflict who would like to have their stories filmed for posterity. Films are now available on line. www.legasee.org.uk

New to Combined Ops?

Visit Combined Operations Explained for an easy introduction to the subject.

About Us?

Background to the website and memorial project, and a look to the future; plus other small print stuff and website accounts etc. Click here for information.

 

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