~ 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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~ LANDING CRAFT ASSAULT - D-DAY DIARY ~

Leonard Albert King was just 20 years of age when he found himself piloting one of six LCAs from their mother ship to the Normandy beaches early on D-Day morning. He was amongst the first to land on the heavily defended beaches and his account belies the extremely hazardous position of his craft. This is his account taken from the diary he maintained during the following three weeks or so.

Background D-Day Post D-Day Postscript Further Reading Acknowledgements

Background

LCAs were not designed to travel long distances in open seas so they were carried to the landing beaches on mother ships, not unlike modern lifeboats, suspended from davits. Len's mother ship was the SS Princess Maud which, pre war, had been a railway ship that plied the waters between Stranraer in south west Scotland and Larne in Northern Ireland.

She had been requisitioned for war service and converted to a troop carrier with additional capacity to carry 6 LCAs, each of which had the capacity for up to 36 fully armed troops.

 The LCAs were constructed of wood with some armour plating for protection against rifle and machine gun fire. They were powered by two Ford V8 engines driving twin screws with the capacity to maintain a cruising speed of 7 knots. Her crew of four comprised a coxswain, mechanic, gunner and sheets man.

 D-Day

On the night of 5 June 1944, after a delay of 24 hours, we set off for Omaha beach, near the town of Vierville, as part of 519 Flotilla. For protection, we were escorted by destroyers, cruisers and other battle ships. We were part of the American invading force while the British and Canadian forces were heading for beaches to the east. That day, SS Princess Maud carried several hundred Yankee soldiers, mainly demolition men who were to land in advance of the main assault force to clear beach obstacles. These obstacles were designed to hinder the progress of the invading forces across the beaches and came in many forms including ramps, hedgehogs, stakes and element C. These men had their own specialised craft to take them to the landing beaches. We would pick up our human cargoes from other troop carriers.

It was a very rough crossing and we hoped it would settle before we beached in our small, more vulnerable craft. As we neared France, Allied bombers with fighter escorts flew overhead to soften up the landing beaches in advance of our arrival. We could see a lot of enemy ack ack fire in response. Unbeknown to us at the time, a few thousand paratroopers had already been dropped behind enemy lines.

We reached our rendezvous point about 03.00 hours on June 6th when the American troops of the 1st battalion, 116th  US Infantry, loaded into LCMs (Landing Craft Mechanised) secured alongside. At about 0400 hrs we manned our craft and were lowered into the still rough waters. Manoeuvring our flat bottomed craft was not easy in the best of conditions but with 3 foot waves and a heavy swell it was a very tricky operation. Water sprayed over our boat as we headed for the Empire Javalon, a nearby LCA carrier. We were hoisted up to take on men of the US 5th Ranger Battalion.

Once fully loaded with our complement of troops we were lowered into the water and returned to the vicinity of our own ship where the LCMs were still loading the demolition teams. They were having a rough time as their craft were tossed up and down, banging against the ship's side with securing lines parting and being replaced. All the while the men looked precarious climbing down scaling ladders with their heavy gear on their backs. The difference between the British and American loading procedures was dramatic in these rough conditions.

However, the British procedure was not without its problems. One of our craft, by then fully loaded with troops, was floundering and in danger of sinking. Although not apparent until the craft was back in the water, she had been holed during hoisting aboard the Javalon who refused to hoist her back! The coxswain kept his cool and circled Princess Maud until everyone, troops and crew, disembarked. Shortly after the LCA nose-dived beneath the waves.

As daybreak came, we could see for the first time that we were one of thousands of ships and craft transporting the troops and their equipment to the beaches, while the big ships and rocket craft bombarded the coast to soften up the enemy defences. On the way into the beach our remaining 5 craft were making good progress until our Flotilla Officer’s (FO's) boat filled with water and started to go down by the bows. The coxswain tried to put stern to the weather but the unstable LCA capsized. The FO, crew and most of the soldiers were picked up by the remaining 4 boats and we proceeded in. The closer we came to the shore the more danger we were in from shells, mortars and machine gun fire. Many craft succumbed to the deadly fire, some capsizing. There were many casualties but we had to focus on our mission. Our 4 remaining craft successfully disembarked our troops and we got out again but not without damage. One of our boats was riddled with bullet holes and a 4 inch shell was embedded in a battery in the engine room, which put the port engine out of action.

Some craft from our group were picked up by the Prince Charles, an LCA carrier which had come in close to the beach to assist some of their craft that had sustained serious damage. Another of our LCAs was picked up by Princess Maud with the crew baling out as though their lives depended upon their labours. The fourth boat (Nobby’s) was picked up by another ship. We met up with him that evening in Cowes on the Isle of Wight. The bow of his craft had been badly smashed up and in the relative safety of home waters it was hard to believe what we'd been involved in and what we had witnessed. Many craft and individuals performing similar duties to ours had not been so lucky.

One of our lads, 'Shorty' Griffin, was missing. We were relieved to learn that he had been picked up from the sea by an LCT and was recovering in hospital. There was little time for rest and recuperation since next day 4 new LCAs were delivered, replacing those lost or damaged and we sailed round to Portland for more troops.

Post D-Day

For our second trip on June 10th we carried military police (MPs), doctors and medical orderlies to the second American beach, code named Utah. There was less danger this time since the enemy beach defences had been cleared, although we were still vulnerable to mines, shells and over flying aircraft. We arrived about 0400 hrs with landing craft of many types unloading stores and supplies. The tide was falling fast as our 4 craft landed, so we quickly disembarked our human cargos to avoid being stranded high and dry. Despite our best efforts 2 of our craft were stranded until the next tide. On our D-Day landing these craft would have been picked off like sitting ducks by shell fire and mortar bombs. However, on this trip it was more of an inconvenience as vital landing space was unnecessarily taken up on the busy beachhead.

Mine clearing work was still in progress off the beaches and one mine was detonated fairly close to our position. We were hoisted back on board our mother craft and spent the night just offshore. An LCT came alongside loaded with British Troops of the Pioneer Corp who had already been in the water once. At dawn we took them to their landing beach this time giving them a dry landing! Amongst their number there were 2 stretcher cases and one man with a broken arm who came back to England with us.

Back at Portland we took on board another 850 men of US Army and delivered them to France on June the 13th. It was an uneventful round trip although, on the return leg, we zig zagged to avoid a reported U-boat. We stayed 3 days and went on the razzle and to dances. The 2 LCAs that were stranded on the beach returned safely. At 0200 on June the 18th we departed with more American troops landing them safely in France at about 11.00 hrs, this time directly on to a pontoon pier.

En route for Newhaven we saw a doodlebug fly over in the general direction of England. We also heard on the radio that one of our ships had been torpedoed and 3 destroyers were picking up survivors. At Newhaven we picked up about 800 British soldiers, Welsh Guards and Pioneers. We made for Portsmouth and joined a convoy to a  British beach served by a harbour made of concrete blocks - one of two 'Mulberry Harbours.' Next morning we joined a homeward convoy and saw minesweepers in action to clear mines laid by the Germans during the night. Two were detonated in the middle distance. After visiting Netley, on the approaches to Southampton, to store up and refuel, we proceeded to Cowes for a spell of shore leave.

For our next trip to France we transported British troops from the North and South Staffs and Royal Norfolks of Monty’s 2nd Army. We passed by the bows of two sunken Liberty Ships - a reminder that easy passage across the channel could not be taken for granted. We unloaded at noon on June the 28th, men and bicycles. On our convoy home another LCA carrier, the Maid of Orleans, was sunk by a mine. Five men in the engine room were killed but the remaining crew were picked up by destroyers.

We stopped over at Cowes and later loaded a Leicester Regiment and 6 patrol dogs at Southampton. The weather was pretty rough but we successfully landed our troops and returned to Southampton where we loaded American infantry, electricians and 20 nurses, the first women to come aboard. This time the pontoons were high and dry so we landed our cargo directly on to the beach. Some craft became stuck on the sand but we returned to our mother craft, sailed home to Cowes and enjoyed some shore leave.

On 12 July we picked up 450 British troops, our official carrying capacity, compared to the 800 or more on previous trips. We landed them on 14 July in comparative peace, needing only 3 trips in for each craft.

Len's diary ended at this point most likely because the trips to France had become much safer and routine. The use of LCAs continued until larger ships could safely use functioning ports captured from the Germans.

Postscript

In Nov 1944 Acting Temporary Leading Seaman, Leonard King, service no C/JX 379424 won a  DSM (Distinguished Service Medal) for an action during Operation Infatuate, the assault on the heavily defended island of Walcheren in the Scheldt estuary. While the island remained in enemy hands the Allies were unable to use the port of Antwerp that had fallen to them. It was of great strategic importance in the supply chain to the Allied armies, by then advancing towards Germany.

Further Reading

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.

Acknowledgements

We're very grateful to Ray King for sight of his brother's diary on which this webpage is based. The text was approved by Ray before the webpage was published.

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