~ COMBINED OPERATIONS ~

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Hundreds of thousands of visits each year to 200  web pages & 4000 photos. The Website has been published & hosted by Geoff Slee since 2000.

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

~ D-DAY LANDING CRAFT OPERATIONS ~

On Gold, Juno, Sword, Utah & Omaha

A selection of personal testimonies that convey a sense of the hazards, challenges, death and destruction witnessed by the crews of landing craft on D-Day, June 6, 1944.

[Map courtesy of Google Map Data 2017.]

Background

Landing directly onto unimproved beaches defended by the enemy was the only viable option open to the Allies, because all useable ports and harbours were in enemy hands. That was true in North Africa, Sicily and Italy but Normandy was unique in human history because of its vast scale.

 Many valuable lessons were learned from the ill-fated amphibious assault on Dieppe of August 1942, which were incorporated into the planning for the Normandy landings. These included;

1) the need for reliable intelligence on the strength and disposition of the defending forces and the topography on and around the landing beaches. Lt Commander Nigel Clogstoun-Willmott, RN, who had undertaken beach reconnaissance trials in the Mediterranean, was recalled to the UK in the summer of 1942 to set up training programmes for the Combined Operations Pilotage Parties (COPPs). Beach reconnaissance became an integral part of the planning process for the invasion of North Africa in early November 1942 and in all future major landings.

2) consideration of the supporting role of vessels at sea produced numerous landing craft adaptations such as: Landing Craft Gun LCG, described by the BBC on D-Day as 'mini battleships' with their 4.7 inch guns and other armaments, operating inshore; Landing Craft Flack, LCF, to provide anti-aircraft cover over the landing area; Landing Craft Tank (Rocket), LCT (R) for the initial bombardment of the beaches in advance of troops landing and Landing Craft Assault (Hedgerow), LCA (HR) that could lob volleys of spigot bombs onto the beach area to detonate hidden enemy mines.

3) the need for troop commanders afloat to be aware of the on-going progress of the invading force was essential for well considered and justifiable decisions on, for example, the commitment of reserves or a timely and well organised strategic withdrawal.

4) the need for landing craft to be armoured against small arms fire was now considered an imperative to reduce casualties on the approaches to the landing beaches.

The Approaches

At dawn, on the morning of D-Day, the 6th of June 1944, the greatest armada ever assembled stood ready for action a few miles off the landing beaches of Normandy. Their presence, at this pivotal point in history, was the culmination of four years of training in the use of a myriad of landing craft, involving hundreds of thousands of personnel from the three services.

For many of the craft that summer morning, the journey across the English Channel had been long and arduous. Many of the first wave LCT (Landing Craft, Tank) had set out during the early morning of June 5th, laden with troops and tanks. Their journey had taken around eighteen hours and for the landing craft officers and crew these were sleepless hours, as they focussed on maintaining their position in the convoy and scanned the sky and sea for German activity.

For many of the Royal Navy landing craft crews serving under the Combined Operations Command, D-Day would be their first action, while seasoned veterans of the many landings in the Mediterranean during 1943 were better able to prepare themselves for what lay ahead.

The rough sea conditions caused violent seasickness amongst the troops and gaining the shore to face the enemy was mitigated by the thought of ridding themselves of the nausea. The American built, British manned Mk5 LCT 2226 making for Utah beach broke down and was forced to return to the UK for repairs. The men of the US 4th Infantry Division aboard 2226 were in a state of severe distress, which crew member, George Cooper described, "the craft was awash with vomit."

All landing craft were, by design, flat bottomed with a square front end for close inshore work and beach landings. They were more difficult to handle and more susceptible to the motion of the sea and wind than conventional craft, even in calm water. In the run-up to D-Day, 48 American built Mk5 LCTs, serving with the Royal Navy under lend-lease, had been converted to LCT(A) and LCT(HE) - 'Armoured' and 'High Explosive' respectively. The LCT(A)s in particular were very vulnerable in rough seas, because their centre of gravity had been raised when ramps and elevated platforms were installed to allow the tanks to fire over the bows, forcing the defenders to keep their heads down. However, in this configuration they were more prone to turning over in heavy seas.

Gold Beach (25,000 Troops)

Making her way to Gold beach that morning as part of the 109th LCT(A)(HE) Flotilla was LCT (A) 2039. The craft were carrying Centaur and Sherman tanks of the 1st Royal Marine Armoured Support Group. They were part of the 'first assault' on King sector of Gold beach, to the west of La Riviere, in support of the 69th Infantry Brigade of the British 50th Division. Sadly 2039 was swamped and turned turtle in the early morning hours when some 20 miles off the beaches. Two crew members, Able Seamen Illingworth and Donnelly were lost.

[Photo; Troops from 50th Division coming ashore from LSI(L)s, Gold area, 6 June 1944. © IWM.]

Initially the survivors were picked up by a control craft and later transferred to the Canadian troopship Prince Henry en route to England, having disembarked her cargo on Juno beach. 2039 remained afloat and was sunk by the Royal Navy, as the upturned hull was a hazard to shipping.

As the British 50th Division closed on Gold beach, the 231st Infantry Brigade and their support units were lowered from the troopships Empire Arquebus, Empire Crossbow, Empire Spearhead and Glenroy, their destination the Jig Red/Jig Green sectors at Le Hamel. On their left (to the eastward), on to the King Red/King Green sectors at Ver sur Mer, the men of the 69th infantry Brigade were lowered from the troopships Empire Halberd, Empire Mace, Empire Lance and Empire Rapier.

In support on Gold beach were the men and craft of 'D' LCT Squadron. Numerous craft from its five flotillas were hit and in difficulty, including the loss of Mk4 LCT's 809 and 886 of the 28th Flotilla. LCT 810 lost Able Seaman John Tilley.

Sub Lieutenant Victor Bellars was in command of LCT 896. He recalls; "With a spigot LCA(HR) in tow, a landing craft equipped with up to 24 mortars, we approached our designated landing area – Gold Beach, King, Red Sector. It was a wet and windy night and the LCA crew had a most uncomfortable time. About a thousand yards off the beach, the LCA slipped the tow and proceeded independently, at some stage firing her spigots on to the beach near the German beach defences. This allowed me to more safely beach in that area.

[Photo; Sub Lt Victor Bellars, Commander of LCT 896.]

H-Hour was 0723 but we arrived 2 minutes early and received some spasmodic friendly fire. After hitting the beach, we commenced the disembarkation of our petard tanks. Our landing point was nearly opposite a pillbox, which we thought contained an 88mm anti-tank gun. Our suspicions were confirmed when the first tank off our LCT received a direct hit to its turret, totally disabling it. The 2nd tank didn’t fare any better but either the 3rd or 4th tank* used its petard to deal with the pillbox. At the same time a Hunt Class Destroyer, believed to be the Pychley, fired 4 inch shells over my head at the pillbox. *(The Churchill AVRE with a 290mm spigot mortar known as the Petard. This fired an 18 kg round over a range of about 75m).

Untested innovations usually went disastrously wrong. On D-Day-1, we hitched a 20 foot canvas boat loaded with army stores to what would be the last tank to disembark but it pulled the bow off the boat as it landed! With no boat to gain the shore, the boat’s army personnel requested permission to go ashore on foot. This was refused, because the incoming tide was gradually pushing 896 up the beach and they could easily have been crushed.

During our time on the beach, my gunners engaged any suitable targets. Once our cargo was successfully disembarked I started to un-beach, when a signal requesting assistance was received from Peter Conolly’s LCT 899, which was firmly stuck on the beach nearby. We manoeuvred 896 short round (180 degrees) and drifted down so that the two craft were positioned stern to stern. A heaving line was thrown and the tow passed over to 896, which was my 2½ inch kedge anchor wire. For many months, I only used engines astern on full power to un-beach rather than use the slow process of winching the craft off the beach as it pulled against the anchor dropped on the approach.

I used about half a cable of my wire secured to my after-winch and eased the power on until the wire was taut, then cleared the quarter deck and put on full ahead. The second wave of landing craft was fast approaching and I didn’t want them caught up in the tow. Fortunately LCT 899 came off the beach like a cork out of a bottle. I kept going but eased the speed down to half ahead, shortened the tow to about 10 fathoms and proceeded out to sea.

Two or three miles off Courseulles, I anchored and brought 899 alongside. Some of their crew were transferred and some of both crews tried to effect temporary repairs, since 899 was taking in water. I hoped that someone would find us but I think we had drifted on the tide towards Le Havre, where the main German coastal defences still posed a threat. We decided to wait until dark before attempting to tow 899 home. After many hours steaming and encountering a German warship, we reached the relative safety of Southampton's waters."

Juno Beach (21,000 Troops)

At Courseulles sur Mer, on the Mike Red/Nan Green sectors of Juno beach, the men and craft of 'K' LCT Squadron were present in support of the 7th Infantry Brigade of the 3rd Canadian Division. Also present was LCT 2047 of the 102nd Flotilla. As she made her dash for the beach, her port gunner, Able Seaman George Pardoe, manning the 20mm Oerlikon gun, noticed numerous LCAs (Landing Craft, Assault) running in alongside. He then turned his attention to the beach ahead. On beaching, Pardoe turned round expecting to see the approaching craft and, to his horror, he could see only debris and floating bodies.

[Photo; Bodies and beached landing craft in front of the sea wall on Nan Red beach, Juno area, near St Aubin-sur-Mer, 6 June 1944. LCT 518 is on the right. LCA 522 on the left. © IWM.]

LCT 2243 was also present with the 102nd Flotilla. At one point, she struck a mine and was lifted out of the water by the bows but continued her run. During the approach, Wireman (Electrician) David Johnson heard shouting and looked over the side to see a soldier struggling in the sea. Attempts to reach the stricken man as 2243 passed by failed and so did Johnson’s pleas to his commanding officer, Sub Lieutenant Eric Wilkinson, to slow down in order to effect a rescue. However, the order of the day for all commanding officers was stark and simple... make for the beach, whatever the cost, do not stop, do not pick up survivors.

A total of nine troopships were assigned to the first assault on Courseulles with the Canadian 7th Infantry Brigade. One of them was HMS Invicta under the command of Acting Lieutenant Commander J R Law. LCAs of 510 Flotilla were lowered and amongst the men of 510 was Seaman Ken Porter. He records that, as his LCA approached the beach, he saw sailors and soldiers struggling in the water. He wanted to stop and help but their orders that day were clear. "We had to leave them, couldn’t stop, not allowed to stop, those poor lads, shortly after, our craft hit the beach and the Canadians went off, I can still see them now, those poor Canadians, dear God those poor Canadians."

East of Courseulles lay Bernieres sur Mer and St Aubin sur Mer, where their beaches bearing the code names Nan White and Nan Red, were located. These sectors were assaulted by the men of the 8th Infantry Brigade of the 3rd Canadian Division. In support were the men and craft of ‘N’ LCT Squadron, comprising three flotillas of LCT with the 11th Flotilla carrying the Sherman Duplex Drive ‘swimming tanks’ of the Canadian Fort Garry Horse. Mk3 LCT 317 lost Ordinary Seaman Sidney Bartley and Stoker 1st Class Dennis Purnell.

Also in support was the Mk5 LCT(A)(HE)s of the 103rd Flotilla of J2 Support Squadron transporting the Royal Marine Armoured Support Group. Of the 103rd Flotilla, LCT(A) 2283 was totally disabled as she made her dash for the beach after striking a mine or being hit. She was left dead in the water and the crew were ordered to abandon ship. They spent the better part of D-Day in a ditch on the beach at St Aubin but later became part of a beach clearing party. Amongst them was Seaman Howard England, who spent two days checking over wrecked and abandoned landing craft in the vicinity of Bernieres sur Mer and St Aubin. The LCT(HE) 2285 of the 103rd was also hit on D-Day and lost crew member Ordinary Seaman Percy ‘Ginger’ Rogers. On D+1 he was buried at sea by his shipmates.

Sword Beach (29,000 Troops)

Further east again was the beach bearing the code name Sword. Its landing zones, named Queen Red and Queen White, were at La Breche and Lion sur Mer respectively, the former being the most easterly. The first assault wave comprised the men of the 8th Infantry Brigade of the 3rd British Division. With them went ‘E’ LCT Squadron, comprising four flotillas of LCT with 261 LCI(L) (Landing Craft Infantry (Large) Flotilla. The 8th Brigade suffered heavy losses during the initial assault.

Several craft of the 45th Flotilla, delivering Royal Engineers, were hit and in difficulty. Close behind them, some ten minutes late on H-Hour, was the Mk5 LCT of the 100th LCT(A)(HE) Flotilla, delivering the 5th Independent Battery of the Royal Marine Armoured Support Group.

For two craft of the 100th Flotilla, the landing was a disaster. The LCT(A)s 2052 and 2191 beached on the easternmost flank of Queen Red sector, 2191 being at the extreme with 2052 to her starboard (right). Having discharged their respective Centaur and Sherman tanks, a mobile German 88mm approached from the immediate portside (left) of 2191. A crew member shouted a warning and commanding officer, Sub Lieutenant Julian Roney, gave the order for the gun crews to open fire. However, against an 88mm, the men aboard 2191 stood little chance. 

[Photo; The American built, British manned, MK5 LCT 2012 in the Far East. On the morning of June 6th, 1944, the then LCT(A) 2012, was a unit of the 100th Flotilla. LCT(A) 2191 was of the same design and specification.]

The first shell to hit 2191 exploded to the immediate portside of the bow door. The blast killed Sub Lieutenant Sidney Green (Photo) and Wireman (electrician) Edward Joseph Trendell, both of whom had been manning the portside winch (the mechanism for lowering and raising the door or ramp). On the starboard winch were Leading Stoker Victor Orme and Acting Able Seaman Robert "Geordie" Bryson. Both survived the initial blast without serious injury. However, the impact from the shell caused 2191 to turn to starboard, placing her broadside on to the beach and, as tidal currents continued to turn the craft, her stern became exposed to the beach and her tank deck, with ramp still in the down position, became exposed to the open sea.

Gunner Roy Brown was manning the 20mm starboard Oerlikon on 2191's quarter deck. He recalls that the craft soon became engulfed by smoke obscuring his view of the beach and German targets sited there, while the mobile German 88mm to portside (left), that was wreaking such havoc aboard 2191, was taken out of his line of fire as the craft rotated. Brown recalls a seaman named Heath, known by his shipmates as 'Darkie' owing to his dark, weathered complexion, was manning the port gun.

LCT(A) 2191's Coxswain, the man steering the craft onto the beach, was a seaman named Lemon, affectionately known by his shipmates as 'Squash'. Brown recalls that he came from the London area. He was in fact Francis Henry (known as Mark) Lemon, service number P/JX 330464. Shrapnel from the first blast cut across the right side of his throat and right shoulder. Although badly wounded, he managed to reach the beach, where he was shot in the right thigh and the left ankle. Despite all this trauma he survived the war, returned to accountancy, married twice and had three children, one of whom, Stephen Lemon, provided this information and advised that his father died in May 2014 in his 91st year. Not surprisingly, his father didn't talk much about his war service.

With 2191's bows and tank deck engulfed by smoke, Brown soon found his position untenable. He left his gun station and made for the wheelhouse but, soon after reaching it, a shell burst through and ricocheted around the interior, finally exploding on the deck of the wheelhouse at Browns feet. The upwards blast wounded Brown in the legs and back. He was stretchered off the craft, transferred to a field hospital and, on Friday, June 9th, 1944, he arrived back in England.

[Photo left; Roy Brown clutching a German helmet as a souvenir of his time in Normandy and right, Observation Officer Richard Thornber.]

Stationed on the bridge were 2191's Commanding Officer, Sub Lieutenant Julian Roney, Observation Officer, Richard Thornber(1) and 19 year old Signalman Peter Hutchins. The second shell was as devastating as the first. Roney and Thornber, as far as can be certain, died where they stood, leaving Signalman Hutchins alone. He tried to report to the wheelhouse but the explosion had destroyed the voice-pipe.

Undaunted, Hutchins climbed over the starboard side of the bridge, lowered himself to the gun deck by way of the gun supports and gained entry to the wheelhouse. Through the forward slits he saw Orme and Bryson running towards him along the tank deck. Just as they entered the wheelhouse, 2191 was hit for the third time. Hutchins staggered but remained upright. He saw that his right ankle had been smashed and his foot was attached to his leg by a tendon. Part of his uniform and overalls had been ripped away and his right boot and sock were missing. Amazingly Hutchins remained standing but both Orme and Bryson lay wounded on the deck. 

[Photo left; Signalman Hutchins and right, Robert ’Geordie’ Bryson.]

Hutchins' immediate thought was to leave 2191 to seek help for his stricken shipmates but he heard voices from below and struggled over to a small open trap door in the floor of the wheelhouse. He lowered himself down a steel ladder and lay face down on the mess deck. Another shell struck and for a period he lapsed into unconsciousness. On coming round, he heard cries of help and saw the mess deck was full of smoke, the craft well alight and munitions exploding. He retraced his steps to the wheelhouse where Orme and Bryson were in great distress. Because of his injuries, Hutchins was unable to offer assistance to the men but, after a short rest, he set off to summon help.

With great difficulty he crawled, hopped and shuffled his way to the still lowered bow door, where he inflated his lifebelt and lowered himself into the sea. The vessel was ablaze, munitions were exploding and 2191was still drifting eastwards some distance off the beach. Once in the water and aided by the buoyancy of his lifebelt, he swan to the beach and lay face down, exhausted and severely weakened through exertion, shock and loss of blood. He had no sense of how the landings had gone but instinctively crawled to a nearby sand-dune, always moving to the west. He rested many times and lapsed into periods of unconsciousness.

The beach appeared to be deserted and he grew increasingly concerned about his own condition and that of his shipmates. Two soldiers came into view and, without knowing their nationality, he called for help. Thankfully, they were survivors from a lost British amphibious tank. He quickly briefed them on the plight of his two comrades still aboard 2191. While one of the soldiers left to find a stretcher, the other stayed with Hutchins. At moments of crisis the passage of time becomes distorted but he recalled being 'stretchered' off to a first aid post on an adjacent beach to the west. Morphine was administered to relieve his pain and the following day at a nearby field hospital, his right leg was amputated below the knee.

Hutchins had made valiant efforts to effect a rescue for his shipmates. In some desperation to ensure his shipmates would be rescued, he enlisted the help of an officer of senior rank, who undertook to send in a stretcher party as soon as possible. Shortly after, at 20.30 hours, a full 13 hours after 2191 had first beached, Hutchins saw vast numbers of parachutists dropping some distance inland. Unbeknown to him at the time, the trials and tribulations of Bryson and Orme aboard the vessel were long since over, but with very different outcomes.

[Photo; Peter Hutchins on a Channel ferry in June 2004. This was his first trip to Normandy in 60 years... a long way from his New Zealand home. Photo courtesy of Andy Bystram.]

With the departure of Hutchins, Orme and Bryson were the last of the crew still alive and aboard 2191. Victor Orme was seriously injured and Robert Bryson most likely mortally wounded. Orme lapsed into periods of unconsciousness and remained on board despite appeals from Bryson for him to save himself but, when they felt heat coming through the wheelhouse deck from the fire below, both men realised that Orme would have to leave to save himself... in fact Bryson insisted that he should go. What final words passed between the men as Orme prepared to leave can scarcely be imagined. Orme was recovered from the sea by soldiers, who were amazed at his escape from the then blazing wreck of 2191.

[Photo right; Stoker Victor Orme.]

Stoker Victor Orme, a one time member of the crew of HMS AJAX, never forgot the tragic events of D-Day that left both physical and mental scars. Down the years, as he watched the Remembrance Day Services at the Cenotaph, his thoughts often turned to Robert Bryson, when he could be heard to say, "Poor old Geordie, poor old Geordie." Peter Hutchins too carried the physical scars of D-Day for the rest of his life. A native of Leicester, England, he emigrated to New Zealand after the war.

Little is known about the movements of Motor Mechanic, William "Ross" Moore during the action. He was seen to jump into the sea off 2191's stern but, while swimming clear, he was killed by a shell that exploded close by. Moore had a sense of foreboding about his fate on D-Day, which had its foundation in the pennant number of his LCT adding up to 13. He even cautioned Electrical Artificer, Harry Ashurst against travelling on 2191 if given a choice. During his schooldays in Brighton on England’s south coast, Moore proved himself to be a good sportsman and later took up amateur boxing, making quite a name for himself.

[Photos above; Mechanic William 'Ross' Moore in uniform, courtesy of veteran Douglas Winter. See 'Acknowledgements' below for more information. Right, ready to box.]
 

Ashurst was witness to the destruction of 2052 and 2191 on D-Day. The craft he was on was crewed by Royal Marines and, as they carried him towards Sword beach, he could see the two Mk5 LCTs on the beach. He knew they were part of his flotilla and expected to go ashore close to them but, given the activity and congestion in the area, his craft was ordered away and beached further to the west. Later he made his way back to 2052 and 2191 but by then it was over. 

[Photos left above; Harry Ashurst on a Channel ferry in June 2004 (courtesy of Andy Bystram) and with a limited edition print that depicts the demise of the two LCTs. Photo right of LCT (A) 2052 courtesy of Tony Chapman.]

Having destroyed 2191, the German 88mm turned on 2052 to her starboard. As she attained the beach, she too was hit and Sub Lieutenant Lawrence Francis, who earlier felt 2052 was in a vulnerable position on the exposed flank, fell, seriously wounded. His wounds ended his service in the Royal Navy. As he lay wounded, a shell passed through the wheelhouse, killing Coxswain Norman Hannah and seriously wounding Able Seaman, Albert Smith and Telegraphist, John Royce. All three spent a considerable time in hospital recovering.

[Photos above; left Coxswain Norman Hannah and right, Telegraphist John Royce.]

Julian Roney, Richard Thornber, Sidney Green, Edward Trendell, Robert ‘Geordie’ Bryson, William ‘Ross’ Moore and Norman Hannah, all lost from LCT(A)s 2052 and 2191, are at rest in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery at Hermanville, France. ( https://www.cwgc.org/find-a-cemetery/cemetery/2033000/hermanville-war-cemetery/ ).

LCT(A) 2433 was also present with the 100th Flotilla and had a narrow escape from friendly fire. On her approach to the beach, a rocket firing LCT(R ), stationed at the rear, released her salvo. One of its explosive rockets fell short and hit 2433’s bow door, rendering it useless. After a struggle, the tanks successfully disembarked 2433 and unbeached with its downed ramp dragging in the sea.

[Photo; to the right 2433, centre background, possibly LCT(A) 2334 and left is LCT(A) 2432.]

Denis Garrod of the Mk 4 LCT 980 of the 41st Flotilla recalls; "I was the Wireman, 'Wires,' on D-Day. Our skipper was Lt. Peter Gurnsey from Christchurch, New Zealand. Lt Gurnsey married a local Scottish girl, Margaret Fowler from Catrine, who was a WREN serving in Combined Ops at Troon. In December 1945, Peter returned to New Zealand with his family. He was a very fine man, who died several years ago and was buried at sea.

At the wheel of LCT 980 was 20 year old Coxswain Bill Brentnall. On the way in to Sword beach it was impossible to get into our sector without striking a beach obstacle, of which there were two rows (see photo opposite). The tide carried us over the first row but this was not possible with the second row. Our skipper selected an obstacle and intentionally hit it dead centre on our heavy steel landing ramp door. As expected, the obstacle was mined and it blew a sizable hole in the middle of the door. However, the hole was in such a position that the disembarking vehicles were able to straddle it on their way onto the beaches. It was my job to drop the kedge anchor and then to tear forward to the port side winch locker, where a two man winch was provided for raising the door. There was a similar winch on the starboard side.

The troops were disembarked under the supervision of Sub Lieutenant Tait and we proceeded to raise the door past the horizontal position. Tait took the left handle from me and I quickly returned to the stern capstan to haul in the kedge anchor. As Tait and AB Cyril 'Chesh' Cheshire were manning the winch on the port side, an explosion occurred off the starboard bow and a large piece of shrapnel flew in, striking Tait in the front of the head, killing him instantly. Chesh told me afterwards that I missed that one by a few seconds. We struck a beach mine as we came off in reverse and that killed our rudders. Despite this setback, the skipper got us out to sea a couple of miles, where Coxswain Brentnall stitched Sub Lt Tait's body into a hammock, along with a heavy tank chock and he was committed to the deep."

[Photo courtesy of Denis Garrod; Crew members back row l-r "Sparks" & Denis Garrod, front row Chess, Harry, Mac and Jake.]

[As a result of Denis Garrod's contact with this website, forwarded to Tony Chapman of the LST and Landing Craft Association, he and Bill Brentnall were reunited by telephone after 60 years.]

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.

[Photo; New Zealander, Lt A P Gurnsey.]

"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 am 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 hole four foot wide 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."

Two No 1’s in other LCTs, who lowered the ramp doors on beaching, were Sub-Lieutenant M R M Glengarry of Wairoa and A M W Bain of Gisborne. Sub-Lieutenant Bain’s craft took in some water after hitting a mine but they carried on and successfully disembarked all their tanks. Sub-Lieutenant Glengarry’s craft suffered four direct hits from mortar bombs, which disabled all but one of the tanks she carried but, nonetheless, she made it ashore. Sub-Lieutenant Glengarry was temporarily knocked out by concussion. "We felt awful mugs bringing our tanks back when everyone else got theirs ashore," he said.

Other New Zealanders in landing-craft included Lieutenants I Lipanovic of North Auckland; D Lewis and K Todd of Auckland; T Bourke, Lower Hutt; O B Reeve, Wellington; A Good, Taranaki; H Buchanan and F Barnes, Invercargill. Sub-lieutenants were W Day, Nelson; D Hammond, Hawkes Bay; W Coutts, Napier; K Bowe, Wellington; F Bishop, Christchurch; also E Chote, E Krull, N Sutton, I Monaghan, E Richards and D Dodson.

The troopships assigned to Sword were HMS Glenearn, Empire Battleaxe, Empire Broadsword and Empire Cutlass. With them was the SS Maid of Orleans, carrying the LCA’s of 514 Assault Flotilla, delivering Commandos. Seaman Ray Maddison of 514 recalled that immediately the Commandos had gone ashore his LCA returned to seaward carrying a mortally wounded soldier of the 2nd Battalion The East Yorkshire Regiment, when an explosion shook the beach and amongst the debris that passed over Maddison’s head was a crucifix on a chain, perfectly intact. The owner of the crucifix will never be known but Ray Maddison treasured it for the rest of his life.

[Photo; Peter Hutchins and Harry Ashurst together on a Channel ferry in June 2004. Photo courtesy of Andy Bystram.]

George Downing, on board HMS Glenearn, recalls; "After disembarking our troops on the morning of D-Day, we picked up some of the first wounded and returned to Blighty, where we 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. Glenearn had the capacity to carry over1500 soldiers, making her ideally suited for her ferrying duties. We witnessed many consequences of war too graphic to describe here but one of the most poignant was the suicide of an American GI, who could not face the trials ahead and took his own life on the quayside, while waiting to embark.

I also recall Glenearn making a fast overnight crossing accompanied by her sister ship, HMS Glengyle, with the frigate HMS Starling in support. On an unrelated homeward trip, we met HMS Warspite returning to the beaches after having her gun barrels replaced. Her gun turrets were later mounted at the entrance to the Imperial War Museum in London as a fitting and lasting tribute.

Our ferrying duties over, we were recalled to Greenock, where a surprise awaited us. We were destined to go to the Far East."

Utah Beach (23,000 Troops)

A full hour before the British and Canadian landings on GOLD, SWORD and JUNO beaches, the men of the US 4th Infantry Division began landing on the Uncle Red/Tare Green sectors of Utah beach. Transporting them were the men of the US Navy and the Royal Navy’s ‘O’ and ‘G’ LCT Squadrons spread across the two landing zones. Also present that D-Day morning, delivering the initial wave of the 1st Battalion 8th Infantry of the US 4th Division, was the Royal Navy’s Empire Gauntlet lowering her LCA’s of 552 Flotilla.

East of Utah beach was the formidable cliff face of Pointe du Hoc, atop which, intelligence sources believed, were heavy enemy guns. In the D-Day plan, Pointe du hoc was within the Omaha area but its heavy guns could range over incoming craft and troops making for both Omaha and Utah beaches. It was essential to silence these guns. The task was assigned to the men of the US 2nd Ranger Battalion under the command of Colonel James Rudder. Royal Marine, John Lambourne was present serving with the LCS(M) (Landing Craft Support (Medium) 102 of 901 Flotilla. He and his crew were assigned to the troopship Prince Leopold, which carried the LCAs of the Royal Navy’s 504 Flotilla. LCS(M) 102 was also present in support as LCAs carrying the Rangers made their way to the beach. Lambourne watched in awe as the Rangers attained the beach and began scaling the cliff by way of grappling hooks fired from their LCAs. The memory of the bravery he witnessed remained forever with him.

Omaha Beach (34,000 Troops)

Many tragedies were played out on Omaha beach, which was assigned to the men of the US 1st and 29th Infantry Divisions. The initial wave of Company A of the 116th Infantry Regiment, landing on Dog Green sector, was decimated. The greater part of 200 men perished on the beach or in the water. Company A were carried in by LCAs of the Royal Navy’s 551 Flotilla off the troopship Empire Javelin. Seaman William ‘Bill’ Wain on one of the LCA's carrying them in, to the best of his knowledge and belief remembers all the men he landed were lost.

[Photo; Landing craft carrying the first US assault waves head towards the beach in Dog sector, Omaha area, 6 June, 1944.© IWM (EA 25648).]

What befell the assault troops on Omaha beach has been well documented, not for nothing is it remembered as ‘Bloody Omaha’. Later in the morning, the Royal Navy’s LCT 1000 of ‘Q’ LCT Squadron approached the beach but congestion delayed her beaching. On her bridge were her commanding officer, Skipper Albert Wiseman and Signalman Arthur Tarr. Wiseman scanned Omaha beach with binoculars. Countless bodies were strewn across the beach and in the water, while wrecked craft littered the water's edge. Wiseman passed his binoculars to Tarr, who soon turned away...sickened.

The Fallen

For many months, if not years, before D-Day, the men of the land and sea forces trained together as they honed their skills in the use of landing craft with support from their air force colleagues. On the morning of June 6th, 1944, they bravely fought and thousands died together in Normandy, where they remain, together…for eternity.

Photographs shown here are some collected from wrecked and abandoned landing craft by Howard England on D-Day, serving with the LCT(A) 2283 of the 103rd Flotilla. Nothing is known of the men depicted here. I have no way of knowing if they were even present on the day but I sense they were. I also hope they survived.

Visit Operation Overlord - the D-Day Landings for background information to the landings and a general perspective of events on the day.

One Mystery Solved thanks to Robert Dodds, a motor mechanic on LCT 2286 contacted us in August 2009. He wrote; "The photograph of two people immediately above "Further Reading" shows Edward Jevet (left) and Ted Ballard (right). They both survived the war. They were stokers on LCT 2286, which went into Juno beach. Thanks for the web site. I found it very interesting. Regards, Robert Dodds."


Further Reading

There are around 300 books listed on our 'Combined Operations Books' page. They, or any other books you know about, can be purchased on-line from the Advanced Book Exchange (ABE). Their search banner link, on our 'Books' page, checks the shelves of thousands of book shops world-wide. Just 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.

Being in All Respects Ready for Sea. Written by the skipper of a Mark 4 LCT, Hubert G Male. James Publishing, London, 1992, 184 pages, 1 85756 030 2

Acknowledgments

This account of life on WW2 Landing Craft presents some brief glimpses of specific events seen from the perspective of those manning the various landing craft on D-Day. It was transcribed from notes received from veterans and their families by Tony Chapman, Archivist/Historian for the LST and Landing Craft Association and further edited by Geoff Slee for presentation on the website.

As acknowledged above, the photo of Bill Moore in uniform was supplied by veteran Douglas Winter, who grew up and attended school with Bill in Newhaven, Sussex, England. Douglas knew his great pal Bill had been killed on D-Day but not the manner of his loss until reading this web page. On D-Day, Douglas arrived off Juno beach serving in HMLST(2) 413 of Temporary Acting Lieutenant Commander R J W Crowdy RNVR. LST 413 was part of the 2nd LST Flotilla of Assault Group J3.


Footnote(s). 1. Sub Lt Richard Thornber RNVR HMLCT(A) 2191. Richard Thornber, 26, came from Darwen in Lancashire. A well-built, popular man he swam competitively and played full back for Darwen Football Club. In 1939, he joined the Liverpool Police force and in 1940 was awarded a Humane Society silver medal for stopping a runaway horse and cart. In October 1941, he joined the RAF and became a pilot until damage to his eyesight led him to join the RNVR being assigned to Combined Operations.

Richard died in the knowledge that his wife was expecting their first child, who grew up ignorant of her father’s precise fate until 2005 when, as a result of finding this website, she spoke to Signalman, Peter Hutchins of HMLCT(A) 2191 and to flotilla Electrical Artificer Harry Ashurst.
 

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.

Events and Places to Visit

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

To everyone else: Visit our webpage for information on events and places to visit. If you know of an event or place of interest, that is not listed, please let us know.

To notify an event or place of interest, click here.

To visit the webpage click here.

Facebook

Why not join the thousands who visit our Facebook page (click on icon above) 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.

Submit your D-Day Story

2019 marks the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings and, to mark the occasion, The D-Day Story is asking the British public to share their experiences from the largest invasion ever assembled. Whether it’s an account of the day from a veteran or a tale passed down by a relative, we’re keen to showcase never-before-heard stories for an exciting campaign to be launched later in the year.

https://theddaystory.com/discover/about-us/tell-us-your-d-day-story/

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.

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.

 

Legasee Film Archive

As part of an exciting social history project, the film company Legasee has recorded interviews with veterans from any conflicts. These  films are now available on line. www.legasee.org.uk

 

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