~ COMBINED OPERATIONS ~

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~  LANDING CRAFT TANK (4) 980 - LCT (4) 980  ~

Veteran of Normandy & Walcheren

Background

HMLCT (Mark 4) 980 was one of over 700 similar vessels that saw action on the Normandy beaches in June, 1944 and again at Walcheren in Holland in Nov, 1944. This account, by Denis W Garrod, "Wires", describes the vessel, its specifications, operations and post war duties.

Let there be built great ships which can cast upon a beach, in any weather, large numbers of the heaviest tanks. (Churchill)

[Photo; LCT(4), Landing Craft Tank 1319 (Mark 4). Similar to LCT 980. © IWM (A 27907).]

LCT 980 was in service from 1943 to 1945. This was written by the craft's electrician almost sixty years later, with additional information provided by Tony Chapman, archivist and historian of the LST & Landing Craft Association.

These vessels were built in the United Kingdom and in the United States for the express purpose of landing heavy tanks directly onto unimproved beaches in enemy occupied territories. Many landings had already taken place in the Mediterranean  and Pacific theatres, where landing craft of many types were used. LCT 980’s operations were confined to the European theatre.

LCT 980 Specifications

There were approximately730 Mark 4 LCT constructed in the UK. They were 187 ft 3 long and 38 ft 9 in beam (width) with a displacement of 586 tons. The forward draught was 3ft 6 inches with a load capacity of 350 tons made up of five large tanks, seven medium tanks or any other combination of military vehicles.

The vessel required a crew of twelve including two officers. It was powered by two Paxman Ricardo diesels, each driving a 21-inch propeller producing a speed of eight knots over a range of 1,100 miles. Twin rudders were provided for steering. The armament comprised two 20 mm Oerliken guns, two Parachute and Cables (PACs) and two Fast Aerial Mines (FAMs) for defensive use against enemy air attacks.

The crew’s quarters were in the very stern of the craft with access via a vertical ladder. Living conditions were basic. There was no refrigeration, although there was a stove for cooking, which also served to heat the crew’s quarters.

[Photo; LCT 980 in the English Channel on D-1.]

Just forward of the crew’s mess-deck, separated by a watertight door, was the engine room, containing two large diesel engines and two hand cranked diesel engines for electrical generators rated at 5 kilowatts and 15 kilowatts. Two very large capacity 24 volts batteries, kept in a good state of charge by the generators powered by the main engines, provided the electricity to start the main engines. However, they could also be charged from the service generators if necessary.

Ahead of the engine room was the sparse accommodation for the troops, with access from the rear of the tank space. The basic toilet facilities were located in the same area. Immediately above the troop quarters and engine room was the bridge structure containing the officers’ cabin and the wheelhouse.

The rest of the ship ahead of the bridge was the 'tank space', otherwise described as a big flotation tank with many water-tight compartments, which could be pumped dry to increase buoyancy or flooded when we were underway and unladen to increase stability. Along each side of the tank space were water lines with hydrants for fire fighting. The entire ship’s bottom was flat to facilitate unloading directly onto unimproved beaches. There was no keel. There were drainage holes on the tank deck and heavy duty rings and chocks to secure the vehicles firmly to the deck. This was to prevent any movement of the cargo during rough seas which, at best, would cause damage and at worst affect the stability of the craft.

At the bow (front) the landing ramp door is clearly visible in the above photo. It was a heavy steel door, hinged at the bottom and raised and lowered by two hand-operated winches, one on either side of the forward superstructure. Each winch was operated by two men. During landings, the door was lowered until it rested on the beach to allow the vehicles to drive off, frequently through water at the beach edge. On the stern deck, an electrically operated capstan was used to lower and raise a kedge anchor, which was occasionally used in harbour, but its main function was to help pull the craft off the beach. There were few amenities aboard and the men slept in hammocks. The officers had bunks in their "wardroom". They ate the same food as the crew. Drank different stuff though!

[Map courtesy of Google 2019.]

Early Training

LCT 980 was commissioned at Alloa in Scotland in late 1943 and I joined her crew in January, 1944, as the wireman, (ship’s electrician), from Southend to the Cromarty Firth, about 600 miles to the north! Recalling the names of the entire crew is difficult after nearly sixty years but some names come to mind.

Skipper – Lt. Peter A. Gurnsey, RNZNVR, (below right)),
First Lieutenant – Sub Lt. John Bruce Tait, (below left).
Coxswain – L.S. William G. Brentnall
Motor Mechanic - P.O. "Mac"
StokersAlbert Boxall (Stoker) & Harry Smith
AB Cyril "Ches" Cheshire & AB Gerald "Jake" Fox
Wireman "Wires" Denis W. Garrod
Signalman "Bunts"
Abel Seamen Les &"Scouse".

If anyone reading this has any information about the crew, I would dearly like to hear from you. In those days we were all just kids. I was nearly eighteen and most of the others were only slightly older. Our officers were a little older, the oldest being Tait, who was 29.

After I joined 980, we proceeded down the east coast of England. En route, we saw some huge concrete blocks sitting on beaches with no sign of activity around them. We had no idea what they were but later discovered they were caissons that formed part of the breakwaters for the Mulberry Harbours. You can read about The Mulberry Harbours elsewhere on this website.

Preparations for Normandy

In the months following our arrival on the south coast of England, we undertook countless training exercises for the invasion of Europe, including a final exercise under live fire at "Bracklesham Bay" to provide us with a sense of what awaited us on the landing beaches. The main event started on 5 June, 1944, when we set out in convoy for the French coast and Sword Beach. We were briefed on our small part in the largest invasion force in history and were given a leaflet signed by the Supreme Allied Commander, General Dwight D Eisenhower. The rough crossing took its toll on the soldiers we were carrying and they had to fight the German defenders as soon as we lowered our ramp.

We crossed the channel in two lines astern in the 41st flotilla of "T" squadron. During the night crossing there was little activity, but as dawn broke, everything changed. We spread out in line abreast as we approached the beaches. The sea was covered with hundreds of vessels of all sizes and the noise reached unbelievable levels. The stench of cordite was everywhere. This was to be our first taste of action with the enemy. We were certainly within range of huge guns at Le Havre but they had other distractions, such as the battleship HMS Warspite and several others. However, we met plenty of opposition from smaller shells, mortars and gun fire along our landing beaches.

The enemy's first lines of defence were beach obstacles (photo above) installed to protect "Fortress Europe" from invasion. These obstacles were mostly timbered structures buried in the sands with an explosive device, such as a small mine, facing the incoming landing craft. Smaller landing craft could often manage to find a way through  but it was almost impossible for larger vessels. There was a double row of these obstacles, the first at the low water mark and the second at the high water mark.

D-Day - The Landing

At the time of our landing, the tide safely carried us over the first row of beach obstacles but with no chance of avoiding the second row, our skipper deliberately rammed an obstacle in the centre of the ramp door. The resultant explosion blew a hole in the centre of the ramp but the military vehicles disembarked by safely straddling the hole as they left.

As we approached the beach, my job was to drop the kedge anchor when instructed to do so by the bridge. On coming to a halt, my next job was to run forward to the port side winch locker ready to turn the left handle, while "Ches" took the right handle. After the ramp had been lowered and the troops disembarked under the direction of our first lieutenant, Tait, he took over the left winch handle from me when the raising ramp door reached the horizontal position. I dashed back to the electric capstan to haul in the kedge anchor but we were already starting to move astern. Before I had reached the stern, there was an explosion off our starboard bow. Tait was struck in the head by a large piece of shrapnel, killing him instantly. Ches later confirmed that I had missed being killed by seconds. My Maker must have been watching out for me that day!

As we were moving astern, we drifted to port and struck one of the obstacles in the first row, crippling our steering. By varying the power to our twin propellers, our skipper managed to steer us to relative safety a couple of miles out to sea. Our coxswain, Bill Brentnall, sewed Tait’s body and a heavy tank chock into a hammock and he was committed to the deep. With functional engines but no steering, our aim was to return to England by any means possible. Other landing craft attempted to tow us, both alongside and astern, but in the rough seas, the ropes and steel hawsers soon chafed through. Eventually we made it back near to Nab Tower off the Isle of Wight under our own power, where we were taken in tow by an Admiralty Tug and safely delivered to Southampton Harbour. It took some time before repairs were completed.

A newspaper article of the day reported on the experience of LCT 980.....

LONDON June 12th 1944. TANK FERRY. BEACH LANDINGS. LIVELY TASK – DOMINION OFFICERS WORKING UNDER FIRE

'With one or two exceptions, it was the worst weather I have experienced at sea in a tank landing-craft.', said Sub-Lieutenant A P Gurnsey of Christchurch, commenting on the Channel crossing to France on D day. He was one of very many New Zealand officers in landing craft of all types. 'My craft rolled like a barrel all the way.', he said. 'Our job was to get the tanks ashore at the extreme left flank of the British front and we ran into absolute hell. Our zero hour was 8.10 a.m. and by the time we arrived, the Jerries had woken up and were ready to give us a warm reception. They sniped and used mortars, both very unpleasant. In addition, there were beach obstacles and mines fixed on tripods.'

'There were 12 landing-craft in our flotilla. It was a great sight to see them, line abreast, going full speed for the beach. We avoided those obstacles we could but it was a case of hit or miss. One of the mines blew a four foot wide hole in my ramp door but we got all our tanks ashore. There were a lot of mortar bombs bursting everywhere. One which exploded on the beach covered me with mud and water. It covered my craft too, which was most annoying, seeing it had recently been given a nice new coat of paint. In addition to mortar bombs, shells also were coming at us and my starboard bow was a mass of holes about as big as your fist, caused by shell splinters. Unfortunately my No 1 was killed.

When all the tanks were ashore I rang for emergency full astern for a quick getaway but no sooner were we afloat than a mortar bomb landed astern. The explosion was so violent that it stopped both motors, which had to be started up again. Then the coxswain reported that the wheel was jammed amidships, which meant that we had no rudders and we were only able to turn round by using the engines. It meant that we were sitting under fire for about ten minutes longer than we should have been. Fortunately everything went all right and we reached England under our own steam."

[Photo; Some of our crew from a very small photograph which I treasure. Front, L-R, Ches, Harry, Mac & Jake. Back: "Sparks" and me, "Wires." The picture was taken on the Starboard bow superstructure and over my shoulder you can see the markings on our bridge - N22 980.]

Repairs & Re-organisation

We were eventually moved into a huge dry dock along with 5 or 6 other similar landing craft. Set against the massive dock, the landing craft sure looked awfully small. Our rudders and landing ramp door were repaired along with other minor problems. While there, a replacement first lieutenant joined us. He was a very decent fellow. I am almost sure his name was Urquhart. On completion of the repairs, we made another supply run back to France on July 9th. Standing at anchor off the coast, we watched the massive daylight raid by the Royal Air Force on the city of Caen, about ten miles away. One of the Lancaster bombers crashed into the sea on its way back north and a small vessel, probably RAF Air Sea Rescue, rushed to the scene in search of survivors. On return to England, we were reorganized into the 22nd flotilla of "N" Squadron.

Walcheren

"N" Squadron, we discovered, was established to deal with any other landings that might be required along the European coast on the Channel and the North Sea. It was not until we were ordered to Ostend, in Belgium that we were sent into action again. This time it was Walcheren Island in the River Scheldt estuary, where heavy enemy gun emplacements prevented Allied shipping from using the port of Antwerp. It was to the Royal Marines Commandos that the task was assigned and it could not have been assigned to better fighting men.

[Map courtesy of Google Map Data 2017.]

We took them in with much lighter equipment than in Normandy. Their efforts have been well documented elsewhere. Suffice to say here that those brave men cleared that island so that ships could carry supplies for our troops in their rapid advance to the German homeland. By 8th November the river was open. The big guns at Westkappelle no longer posed a problem.

Unlike on D-Day, we had little support from the Navy’s General Service but what we had did well; the battleship HMS Warspite, the Monitors HMS Erebus and HMS Lord Roberts and "Flagship", HMS Kingsmill, a frigate. A very heavy price was paid by many of our landing craft but LCT980 made it in and out safely. In fact we made another supply run with food, fresh water, medical supplies and ammunition on November 7.

[Photo; Royal Marine commandos aboard LCT 980, 20 minutes prior to landing. Courtesy: Gaumont British News.]

It is worthy of note that many LCTs were converted for specialised operations. For example, some became LCGs (Landing Craft Gun), which had one or two 4.7 inch guns, deck mounted for beach bombardment etc. The BBC called them "mini battleships". Others for which I had been trained, became LCT(R)s (Landing Craft Tank (Rocket) capable of launching hundreds of explosive rockets in rapid succession. One of these was hit by a German shell at Walcheren and it simply disappeared in one mighty explosion. We were only about three hundred yards away and, although I watched it happening, to this day I cannot remember the sound of the explosion. Many of our vessels were completely destroyed or damaged beyond repair.

Back to the UK

We returned to Ostend and received orders from "on high" to return to the UK. There was a violent storm with force-8 winds blowing but we formed a small convoy escorted by a Harbour Defence Motor Launch (HDML). Being flat-bottomed, we took a severe beating from the rough and angry sea as we smashed down from the top of one wave into the trough before the next wave. I was standing at the port rail near our bridge, casually looking down the side, when I noticed a weld opening and closing under the stress. I notified our skipper and, after inspection, he informed the HDML that he was about to make for Newhaven to wait out the storm.

After the storm subsided, we assessed the damage and slowly proceeded from port to port along the south coast to Portsmouth where the big shots evaluated the damage and decided we were ready to be scrapped. We received instructions to make our way back through the Channel as the weather allowed. We had seen more than one LCT (4) broken in half at the main weld between the tank space and the stern section, with the stern section actually towing the other part of itself home!

After we turned north from the Channel, we received orders to proceed up the River Thames to London. After passing through the Tower Bridge we stopped to have our mast removed. Without the mast we presented a forlorn sight. We continued under London, Blackfriars, Waterloo and Victoria Bridges before turning around, almost in front of the Houses of Parliament, back under Victoria/Hungerford Bridge, where we tied up on the south side of the river alongside several other landing craft. Adjacent to our position was a waste paper plant, the property on which, I understand, the "Festival of Britain" site now stands.

There was an abundance of shore leave available but at our own expense for traveling. The "buzz" was that we were 'parked' above an underground railway tunnel to act as a "cushion" in the event of an incoming V2 missile coming down in that area. While there was no confirmation of that, we did receive sailing orders almost as soon as the Peenemunde rocket-launching site was destroyed and the V2 attacks stopped.

We did have some lighter moments too. One day some young punks, who had not been drafted into military service, decided to taunt us from the walkway of Hungerford Bridge by throwing refuse at us. With the skipper’s unofficial blessing, we installed two fire nozzles on the fire lines beside the tank space. While the bridge was clear of people, we set the nozzles at the correct angle to put two water jets on the bridge. In addition, we decided to draw the dirty, smelly, oily water from the bilges, where there was an abundance of it. We waited patiently, which was rewarded when the punks eventually returned and started to taunt us again. When the bridge was clear of other pedestrians, we started the big pumps and put one jet to their south and the other to their north. There was no escape except to go through it and we had another fire hose waiting to follow them whichever way they went. We never saw them again!

As we departed the River Thames we were a pathetic sight, sans mast, as we proceeded east under those famous bridges. There was not even a place from which to fly our White Ensign. They did not even open the Tower Bridge for our exit! We slowly made our way to King’s Lynn, where 980 was to be broken up in early 1945. Our crew dispersed to other assignments and for us all, an era had ended. We were still just kids but we had learned a lot together as we had contributed to the freedom of our people.

Our skipper, Lt Peter Gurnsey, returned to New Zealand with his Scottish bride from Catrine. He taught at Christ’s College in Christchurch. He died several years ago from a heart attack and was buried at sea. His widow now lives on the North Island. He was a fine man and a good captain of our ship.

Very recently, coxswain Bill Brentnall and I were reunited by telephone and he and I have a lot of old times to rehash when we manage to meet in person. Bill lives in the Midlands of England at Redditch. He continued to serve in the Navy until 1953.

[Photo; LCT 532 landing amphibians at Walcheren --- Identical to LCT980. Courtesy of Pathe News.]

"Wires" emigrated to Canada in 1947, married a Canadian girl in 1951, worked for Canadian General Electric for almost twenty years and then went into teaching electricity and electronics at a local high school here in Peterborough, Ontario. He retired in 1985.

We believe Gerald "Jake" Fox lives in Edinburgh but a phone call to what I thought was his number brought silence after the first "hello" from that end.

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.

 ~ On this Website ~

1) Operation Overlord - D-Day 2) Operation Infatuate - Walcheren. 3) Walcheren - Wartime Memories of a small boy  4) Coastal Command an account of their anti-submarine patrols on D-Day.

 ~ On other websites ~   1) Find out  about the German coastal defences on this Walcheren website with a printable list of English translations of selected words. Many interesting photographs.

 ~ Books (Overlord) ~

Day June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II by Stephen E. Ambrose - 1994. ISBN  0-671-67334-3

Six Armies in Normandy by John Keegan. 1982. ISBN 0 7126 5579 4.

The Second Front - World War II by Douglas Botting and the Editors of World Time Books. 1978. ISBN 0 8094 2498 3.

Short Sea Long War by John des S Winser. Published by World Ship Society, Gravesend, Kent. ISBN 0 9056 1786 ? - the story of 119 Cross Channel ships commandeered by the R.N. to fly the White Ensign.

 ~ Books (Walcheren) ~

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.

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.

Acknowledgments

His Majesty's Landing Craft Tank HMLCT 980 was written by Denis W. Garrod, "Wires" with additional information provided by Tony Chapman of the LST & Landing Craft Association. It was redrafted for website presentation by Geoff Slee with the addition of photos and maps.
 

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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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