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~ OPERATION INFATUATE ~

WALCHEREN FROM LCT 979

Operation Infatuate was an amphibious landing which, in the opinion of many, was more dangerous than anything witnessed on D-Day. For a description of the wider operation, of which this account is part, please click here.

Landing Craft Tank number 979 (LCT 979), played an important role in the action on November 1st 1944 transporting personnel carriers and men to a landing beach on the heavily defended island of Walcheren in Holland. The account below was written by its Commanding Officer, Lt Phillips WD Winkley, RNVR. [Photo opposite].

Background Briefing & Prep En Route Action Aftermath Further Reading Acknowledgements

Background

Three months after D-day things had quietened down after a period of frenetic activity. My Mark IV Landing Craft Tank (MK IV LCT) along with another, coincidentally commissioned with us some eighteen months earlier at Alloa, on the River Forth in Scotland, received orders to proceed from Fort Gilkicker near Gosport to Southampton. A new flotilla was forming to undertake further assaults as and when required. The mess deck was abuzz with speculation on likely destinations although the prospect of home leave was of more compelling interest to us at the time! Our base was to be Ostend in Belgium, by then in Allied control.

Briefing and Preparations

The object of our attentions turned out to be the small but heavily fortified island of Walcheren at the mouth of the River Scheldt. The port of Antwerp was about 35 miles inland from the island and the Allies desperately needed its docks to supply the advancing Allied armies on their way to Germany and  Berlin.

The only obstacles were the German heavy guns on the island that could easily obliterate any supply ships attempting to break the blockade. Attempts to take the island from the surrounding land had failed and bombing alone would not provide a solution without troops on the ground. A seaborne assault against their heavy guns must have seemed suicidal to the Germans in the safety of their concrete bunkers, but Allied planners thought it was a risk worth taking for the benefits to be gained. [Photo; Making ready in Ostend].

We would sail under the protection of a Support Squadron commanded by our D-day Squadron Commander, Commander (Monkey) Sellars DSO DSC RN. At the briefing we were given all the usual guff, but when Admiral Ramsey asked all those who had been in action before to hold up their hands, we began to wonder, as this was a rather unusual procedure. We were told about: 1) five immensely strong concrete gun emplacements with 8.7 in (220mm), 5.9 in (150 mm) and 4.1 in (105 mm) guns and numerous other weapons including the ubiquitous 88mm cannon; 2) a gap in the dyke which had been made by RAF bombers some months previously and on which spot we were going to make the actual landing; 3) a radar station to the starboard of this and 4) hazardous German defences such as beach obstacles with mines attached. With the RAF in support to bomb the enemy positions to blazes just before we landed, it would be a piece of cake! We weren’t to worry since the main armaments would be out of action before we moved in and we began to feel better; but how often in war did operations of this kind go adrift.

We embarked our buffaloes (swimming infantry carriers) and their Marine Commandos under the charge of Commander Prior, RN, a headmaster of renown who, although well over age for this sort of thing, had a reputation for going after Germans.

En Route

We slipped out of Ostend harbour at 0100 in inky blackness. I felt almost glad to leave as I had always felt it to be strangely hostile to us. The place must have been full of spies who, in spite of our security measures, must have been pretty sure of our objective. After clearing the harbour entrance we settled down to cruising stations and shortly after 0400 a signal informed us that the RAF would not be able to fly in support of our operation because of low cloud. The fire power of HMS Roberts and HMS Warspite did not compensate for this loss but we pressed on regardless since dawn and tide wait for no man.

As we approached the coast, dawn was breaking. We were still ten miles or so from the dyke in full light which made us a very visible target for the enemy's big guns. Our situation was not very good for our health! Roberts opened the first round at 0800 which I entered in the log. Commander Prior appeared on the bridge and strapped on rubber waders. He thought it rather a dicey operation without air support and I agreed with him. [Photo; LCT 979 making her way to Walcheren].

We hoisted a brand new battle ensign which, although now rather shot up, is a treasured family relic. Returning fire from the enemy's big guns was beginning to fall around us. Five twinkling flashes in the far distance would cause great plumes of water some seconds later as the shells exploded. More water spouts straddled our flotilla as the enemy guns homed in on our range and position, I remembered the adage “alter (course) to the fall of shot” but then realised, that at six miles distant, such evasive action was ineffective except, perhaps, to give comfort to those on board from taking avoiding action. Despite our perilous position, Commander Prior asked me what he owed the mess fund for the short time he had been with us. I was rather amused and of course replied that we would be pleased to write it off in the circumstances, however, after the battle I found an offering on the Ward Room table. Such was the RN.

The Action

At this point we thought we'd be lucky even to reach the beach let alone make a landing, but then, as if to urge us on, a squadron of six rocket firing converted landing craft appeared. They were not the heavy stuff hoped for from the RAF bombers but very welcome nonetheless. They immediately went in and effectively dealt with the radar station which we hoped would upset the accuracy of the enemy's gunfire. The Support Squadron were now really doing their stuff “closing the enemy” sometimes using only pompoms. Although they did little damage, they drew the enemy fire from our landing craft as we carried the assault troops to the landing beaches.

Sadly, a salvo from one of our own Landing Craft (Rocket), fell short among our own craft causing death and destruction. Some of them fell along our port side, fortunately without causing us any damage. Everything became more intense as we approached the landing beach at about one mile distance. Over to starboard another of our of our rocket firing craft sustained a direct hit, came to a dead stop and blew up, in an instant obliterated in a pall of black smoke. Little details held my attention as the mast top, cross trees and jack stay, soared skyward, spinning above the smoke. I was fascinated by the spectacle of it and had some difficulty concentrating on commanding my craft. Then to port an LCG (M) (Landing Craft Gun Medium), on the way out from the beach was being chased by shells which just kept stopping short of her stern. Unfortunately she had been sorely damaged previously and sank a little further out. The other LCGM assigned to this operation just vanished without trace.

We were now near enough to see the small beach made by the action of the sea washing in and out of the gap in the dyke. There appeared to be the remains of some breakwaters which reduced the landing area somewhat. However, by going in very close to the flotilla officer’s craft, our sterns actually touching, we made a successful beaching and disembarked our buffalos and assault troops without a casualty.

[Photo; Swimming troop carriers, known as Buffalos, can be seen on the beach. Shelling was still heavy. In the background smoke from Westkapelle can be seen rising as assault troops attacked German defensive positions.]

Enemy fire intensified, the most troublesome being large mortars which induced fear and were likely to cause serious damage to craft and men. An 88 mm shell went clean through the centre of the mast, without bringing it down, fortunately. We collected five German prisoners who, for some reason, did not much care for our hospitality!

We now prepared to un-beach, but nothing I could do had any effect. I tried ahead on one engine, astern on the other and emergency full astern, but we were stuck fast. We were in a very vulnerable position and if we didn’t move off pretty smartly, we could be blown out of the water. The enemy gunners would eventually hit something vital as we were being repeatedly straddled. In those moments of high tension, minutes seemed like hours when salvation came in the form of a bright and courageous Able Seaman, Stanley George Whereatt, D/JX.369940. As both door lifting wires had been shot off, the door could not be raised causing the ramps, fitted on the front of the craft, to become hopelessly snagged on a beach obstacle. Amazingly, AB Whereatt re-reeved one wire, shackled it to a spare eye bolt and raised the door sufficiently to get clear. For this effort, carried out under intense fire, he subsequently received the Distinguished Service Medal (DSM). [Photos L-R; AB Whereatt, Citation, King's letter and medal].

While all this was going on, No 1 was endeavouring to put out a fire on the quarter deck. It turned out to be a pile of smoke canisters left by our Marines. The canisters had ignited making us a very obvious target without providing us with any useful cover behind the smoke. As soon as we un-beached the enemy's 88 mm gunners targeted us again. It seemed impossible that our luck could continue and, on cue, we sustained a direct hit in our engine room. A pungent smell pervaded the craft and we expected the engines to die away, but our luck held and we continued on our way out of range of the guns. The entry hole the shell created was easily repaired with the use of a hammock. Despite what we'd been through, the only casualty sustained was one seaman suffering from shell shock.

The Aftermath

After making our report to the Head Quarters ship we saw our sister craft, commanded by Lt (?) Phillipson, towing a crippled LCG (Landing Craft Gun) which had received a frightful pounding. She had taken it in tow while under heavy fire. As we were about to hail each other, both LCT and LCG rose up on a monstrous mound of white foaming water which left our sister ship with its back broken and sinking. We made ready to go alongside when another mine went up under her causing more damage but fortunately no casualties. We held off when we saw an LCGS was already alongside taking off the crews. Having seen them safely away, we proceeded to Ostend where we berthed with no further incident so ending a very eventful twenty-four hours. I wondered if the ghostly heroes of Zeebrugge, which was so close at hand, approved of our efforts. I'd like to think that they did.

Lt Winkley's daughter writes; Lt Phillipson was a fellow officer and friend of my father. In the confusion of war his wife informed my mother that my father's ship had probably been lost causing, I imagine, some alarm and anxiety. All became clear when my mother received a letter from my father dated 'Tuesday 7th November that included the following extracts;

Just a note to say I am safe. As you probably heard on the Radio, things were pretty bloody, much worse than "D" day. I really did not expect to see you and Joy again, however, I will, and soon I hope. We are just waiting for the weather to be more favourable.

Phillipson is aboard me as he unfortunately lost his ship but he is safe and sound which is all that really matters.

I think I got some good photos this time, although at the time I did not think they would ever be seen - however alls well that ends well.

[Photo; The "brand new" white ensign after the battle with many more bullet holes than are visible in this image.]

Further Reading

Websites

1) German coastal defences on this Walcheren website with a printable list of English translations of selected words. Many interesting photographs. 2) Wartime Diary of the Action in English and Dutch.
3) http://www.lawlerbrown.com/ Memories of a soldier who saw service on Walcheren.

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.

Turning the Key; the Capture and Liberation of Walcheren Island October 30 - November 8, 1944 by Paul M Crucq. 320 pages, maps, photos, bibliog. ISBN/EAN 978-90-807854-4-1.

Hoofprints in the Clouds - Jeep Tracks in the Mud by Geoffrey Tudor. An account of how a group of men came together in Scotland in the late summer of 1943 to form a new mountain battery. Geoffrey Tudor relays his World War II experiences as 'Graham Turner', a second lieutenant with the 1st Mountain Regiment, Royal Artillery. With the formation of 474 Mountain Battery and their initial training in the Scottish mountains, the gunners then cross the Channel to the floods of Holland and through bloody conflicts in northern Germany. Pen Press Publishers, 15 Nov 2008. Paperback 272 Pages. ISBN: 1906206325. £8.99.

Mountain and Flood - The History of the 52nd (Lowland) Division by George Blake, published by Jackson, Son and Company, Glasgow 1950.

They did what was asked of them, by Raymond Mitchell. Pub by Firebird Books, 1996. ISBN 1 85314 205 O History of 41 [Royal Marine] Commando - the book covers the period 1942-1946, but has a detailed chapter on 41's role in the invasion of Walcheren.

In the Shadow of Arnhem by Ken Tout. xiv, 242 pages and 42 illustrations. Published by Sutton Publishing Ltd., Phoenix Mill, Thrupp, Stroud, Gloucester GL5 2BU England. ISBN 0-7509-2821-2

Ken's book is published in English. The subtitle is: The battle for the Lower Maas, September-November 1944. Chapters 7 and 8 are about province Zeeland and most about Walcheren and South Beveland. Chapter 7 begins at page 116 to page 133 and chapter 8 starts at page 134 and ends at page 155. Jan H Wigard, Walcheran, Holland.

Battle for Antwerp; the liberation of the city and the opening of the Scheldt by J L Moulton. 1944 (London, Ian Allan, 1978) ISBN 0-7110-0769-1.

Tug of War - by W Denis Whitaker DSO. Pub 1984. ISBN 0-8253-0257-9. This Canadian author saw service at Dieppe and Walcheren. The book contains good detailed information on the Walcheren Causeway fight.

Battalion of Heroes: the Calgary Highlanders in World War II by David Bercusson. Pub by The Calgary Highlanders Regimental Funds Foundation 1994. ISBN 0-9694616-1-5.

Cinderella Operation by General Rawling. Pub by Cassell Ltd

The Eighty Five Days - The Story of the Battle of the Scheldt by R W Thompson. Pub by Hutchinson of London.

From Omaha to the Scheldt - the story of 47 Royal Marine Commando by John Forfar. Pub by Tuchwell Press Dec 2001. ISBN 1 86232 149 3. 300 pages with around 150 B&W illustrations and maps. John Forfar was the Senior Medical Officer attached to 47 RM Commando. For his heroism at Walcheren he was awarded the Military Cross.

Operation Neptune by Commander Kenneth Edwards R.N. Published by Collins in 1946.The book covers the naval side of the North West Europe campaign including Commando actions such as Walcheren.

Le Jour J au Commando N° 4 by René Goujon (French Kieffer Commando), published by Editions Nel 1, rue Palatine, 75006 Paris tel 00 33 1 43 54 77 42. Enquiries in English to the author's daughter at armoria.d.ylfan@hotmail.fr

Drijvende kolossen voor vrede en veiligheid; het gbruik van Phoenix-caissons bij dijkherstel in Zeeland, 1945-1953" by Cor Heijkoop 2002 publisher: Stichting Caissons Ouwerkerk/Museum Watersnood 1953. (Translation - Floating Colossuses for peace and freedom, the use of Phoenix caissons in dyke repairs in Zeeland 1945-1953) 104p. A book on the use of the Phoenix-caissons (first used for the Mulberry Harbour) in the province of Zeeland.

The Fighting Fourth - No 4 Commando at War 1940-1945 by James Dunning. Sutton Publishing Ltd, 2003. ISBN 0750930950 (Chapter 10).

48 Royal Marine Commando, The story 1944-46. Published privately in 1946.

D-Day Commando, From Normandy to the Maas with 48 Royal Marine Commando. Written by Ken Ford and published(2003) by: Sutton Publishing Limited. ISBN )-7509-3023-3.

Commandos and Rangers of World War 2 by James D. Ladd. Pub in 1978 by MacDonald & Jane's. ISBN 0 356 08432 9.

Commandos 1940 - 1946 by Charles Messenger. Pub by William Kimber, London 1985. ISBN 0 7183 0553 1.

The Watery Maze by Bernard Fergusson pub 1961 by Collins.

Codename 'NELLY'; British Radar Units on Walcheren and in Flanders. Defence of the Scheldt estuary, December 1944 - May 1945 by Paul M. Crucq  Illustrations and photographs, detailed interviews; limited edition, 80 pages and over 100 illustrations. Subjects are: RAF mobile Radar defence at De Haan, Blankenberge [both in Belgium], "Nelly" at Westkapelle and "Paddy" at Oostkapelle {both in Walcheren}. Publication date Oct 2004 Price: 28 Euro.

The author writes; On the 1st of November 1944 at Westkapelle a technical officer of the RAF landed. His mission was to find out if the (Westkapelle) lighthouse was suitable for the installation of "NELLY" the codename of a portable, experimental plane radar especially developed for this aim. At the beginning of December "Nelly" came to Westkapelle and was raised at the lighthouse till June 1945. The project was shrouded in the greatest secrecy and that is the reason why "Nelly" has never been mentioned before in Walcheren history.

Battle Ground Europe Guide to Walcheren by Andrew Rawson. Published by Pen and Sword, 47 Church Street, Barnsley. Fully illustrated with maps and photographs the book charts the planning and execution of Operations Infatuate I and II. The final section deals with visiting the island. 144 pages, 120 illustrations (75 wartime photos, 25 modern and twenty maps). ISBN number is 0850529611. Available through Amazon, the Pen and Sword website or direct from the publishers. The author is happy to answer questions about the book and can be contacted at rawsonandrew@hotmail.com

The three books immediately below are written in the English and can be ordered from the author Mr. Paul Crucq, President Rooseveltlaan 186, 4382 KX Vlissingen, Netherlands. Phone +31 118-414402

Aiming Point Walcheren; the bombardment of gun emplacements and strong points Walcheren island, October 1944 by Paul M. Crucq, published Vlissingen, 2003. 207 pages; illustrations; abbreviations, bibliography; bomb expenditure. ISBN 90-807854-1-5

We never blamed the crews; the flooding of Walcheren island, October 1944, published Vlissingen,  2000. 209 pages, illustrations; battle orders, bomb expenditure, bibliography. * Illustration: situations, maps, aerial picture, persons.

Acknowledgements

This account is closely based upon a hand written account of the Walcheren action by the Commanding Officer of LCT 979,  Lt Phillips WD Winkley, RNVR. Virtually all the photos were taken by Lt Winkley on his Leica camera. Thanks are due to his daughter, Joy Timbrell, who made all the material available for the benefit of all and to her cousin, Peter Henderson, who made the initial contact with the website.

News & Information

 

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WW2 Combined Operations Handbook

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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.

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