~ COMBINED OPERATIONS ~

*   UNITED WE CONQUER   *

free usa flag gif

 

All Pages Index

Membership

Memorial

Roll of Honour

Books

FAQs

Notice Boards

Donate

They Also Served

Search

Contact Us

 400,000+ annual visits & 6 million hits to 180  webpages & 3000 photos.  News and Information at the bottom of this and every web page.

Please 'like' the Combined Operations Command Memorial on Facebook in remembrance of all who served their country.

~ HM LCT 1171 ~

MY WORLD WAR

His Majesty's Landing Craft Tank,  HMLCT 1171. In August 1942, at the tender age of 18, Austin Prosser joined the RN as an ordinary seaman at H.M.S. Raleigh. He was commissioned a midshipman in December 1942. Apart from a short time patrolling on the Torpoint ferry he spent the next four years in Combined Operations.

His pay office was H.M.S. Copra and also H.M.S. Quebec at Inveraray. After drawing cash from pay offices in various parts of the world without any problems, at the final reckoning he owed H.M.S Copra £70... by today's standards that was well over £1,000. He joined the navy broke, lost all he possessed on three separate occasions, and left the navy worse than broke...  but it had been an amazing and rewarding experience. All photos courtesy of Austin Prosser.

Background Joining Up Early Experiences A Commission Officer Training
North Africa Landing Craft Training Normandy Between Postings HMLCH 75
Far East End of WW2 Long Way Home Postscript Further Reading
Acknowledgments        


Background

After five years at grammar school the headmaster announced that, in view of the war economy, it was a waste of time and money my taking the school certificate and it was suggested that I leave. His final report to my parents proclaimed, 'This boy is academically undistinguished, has a lot of latent energy and has three good subjects - rugby, tennis and swimming.' This report obviously helped me in my new career at the Admiralty where I was employed for two years as a  grade 3 temporary clerk.

I joined the Home Guard which was very much as depicted in the 'Dad's Army'  TV series. I achieved the exalted rank of lance corporal. For those not familiar with this comedy series, it depicts a small local Home Guard unit under the command of an inept, bungling and rather pompous bank manager. The unit is ill equipped in terms of arms, equipment, training and leadership, and not surprisingly finds itself in all manner of problems and self inflicted embarrassing situations.

During these two years I tried to join the Navy but was turned down because of my age. However, with the benefit of a grammar school education, I was offered the opportunity to enter as a `V scheme rating.' I never really understood what it was but I managed to fail the entrance exam in maths and probably in all other subjects as well! I also joined the Bath Saracens Rugby Club and I well remember my first game against the Welsh Guards then stationed outside of Bath. Despite my 6 foot, 14 stone physique, I was hammered into the ground!

Joining Up

The great day came on 12/8/42 when, aged 18, I joined the Navy. I reported to H.M.S. Raleigh at Torpoint in Cornwall and joined 10 mess, Forecastle Division. There were about 20 of us in the charge of Chief Petty Officer Bungy Williams. He had been recalled at the beginning of the war after a long retirement and seemed very elderly to us youngsters.

Having settled in I immediately wanted to go home to Mother, but they wouldn't let me! A fair percentage of the mess were 'ex-borstal' but they were a good bunch of lads from whom I learnt about coping with the rigours of life. My first setback came when the Navy had no uniform to fit me so they kitted me out with overalls making me instantly suitable for unskilled manual work. My first job was to flush out the `heads' (loos) by lifting up manhole covers and flushing them out with a high pressure fire hose. Looking back the outcome was predicable but when my assistant turned on the fire hose full blast I was plastered from head to foot in the proverbial! I decided there and then that I didn't like the Navy but thought the authorities should have the opportunity of turning me into a sailor.

Early Experiences

The camp cinema projector broke down and each division was ordered to put on a concert party. Volunteers were invited to come forward and I committed the heinous sin of responding. However, it resulted in an interesting if not lucrative sideline since I joined a concert party travelling around the various camps to entertain the occupants. The shows were reasonably well attended as we were playing to a captive audience! One of my jobs was to play the piano which, although I say it myself, I did quite well. As a result of this experience H.M.S. Raleigh ordered me to run the Forecastle Division's efforts and to act as compare. We were judged the best and won a prize of an extra day’s shore leave. The prize was very welcome but, with an income of half a crown (12.5p) per day, we had no money to spend!

Life went on unrelentingly and I spent some time running around the parade ground carrying a shell above my head. (For the uninformed this was a common form of punishment). This extra exercise kept me fit and when Forecastle Division started rugby training I immediately volunteered... again. On one occasion I refereed a match between Keyham College, a training depot for naval engineers, and the Army. It was my very first attempt at refereeing a game and, when the game was over, I was booed off the field. The outcome of all this was that at the tender age of 18 I was selected to play for H.M.S. Raleigh out of over 4,000 sailors. This was quite an honour but sadly it carried no privileges but, if I was injured, I might be invalided out and go home to mother!

I finished up playing second row forward with the Training Commander who was an awesome high-ranking figure. However, out of uniform and wearing his rugby kit he was just another human!

A Commission!

In October 1942 he informed me that I was being put forward for a commission. Somewhat taken aback, I said 'but I failed all my entrance exams.' He explained that a new type of Commissioned Officer was required oriented towards Combined Operations and the Commandos. I didn't understand why, with my poor educational qualifications and limited sea experience, I was thought suitable for a commission. It transpired that the Navy needed large numbers of officers very quickly for a specific purpose and, after a week’s leave at home and an eighteen-hour train journey from Plymouth to H.M.S. Lochailort, forty miles north of Fort William, I found myself in an entirely different world. I was to spend six weeks of hell up there trying to become, concurrently, both a commando and a gentleman. The latter was the difficult part!

Officer Training

The officer training was one of the most traumatic, but beneficial, of my naval career...  indeed of my whole life. It improved my attitude and outlook for the better. The course was of necessity very tough bordering on the sadistic... of thirty-six candidates who started only sixteen passed. My fitness, physique and sheer stubbornness helped me through the physical challenges. On the 23/12/42 I walked into Moss Bros. in London as a matelot and came out as a Midshipman R.N.V.R. I was proud of my achievement and subconsciously realised that I wasn't a complete moron after all. However, I always knew that appointments like mine where to meet a particular contingency of war and that as such we were expendable... we were a kind of commissioned cannon fodder. (Photo; Austin in tropical kit).

I strutted my newly acquired stuff in Bath during my Xmas leave and was happy to assure my family and friends that they were now safe in my hands! I met a teacher from my old school who, in some disbelief, looked me up and down and said `Prosser, we must be short of manpower.' However, I was admitted to that holiest of inner sanctums, the master's common room, where I listened to an impressive list of felonies I had committed over the five years I was at the school. With some relish I was informed that I had broken the school record for Saturday morning detentions. It was all good natured banter and I was congratulated on my achievements and taken to meet the headmaster who assured me that he always thought I would go a long way...  but he failed to say in which direction!

HMS Helder, a Butlin’s holiday camp at Brightlingsea in Essex, was my next port of call. It had been requisitioned by the Navy and we did our best to turn it back to its original use but without success. We were called 'Officers under Training' and had to wear reefer jackets, a white silk scarf in place of a collar and tie, grey flannels, black boots and long brown army gaiters. We were marched around, in fact, doubled around, by a petty officer who had a disparaging way of saying `Sir'. It was an uncomfortable period since we did not fit into the culture, traditions and habits of the officer class. We stood out like sore thumbs and had to take a lot of stick.

At HMS Helder we underwent further toughening up training and instruction on the handling of various types of assault craft and some military vehicles. Not surprisingly while we honed our skills we found ourselves involved in many collisions at sea, groundings and getting stuck on the mud. It was during this period that a profound interest in boats emerged...  an interest that has stayed with me all my life. The urge to go home to mother dropped off but she was always there when I was broke; a frequent occurrence as my pay as a Midshipman was ten pounds a month.

 The Admiralty were not renowned for their generous leave or recovery periods and on completion of the course I was sent to Bracklesham Bay in Sussex for more training, this time to practise beach landings on Hayling Island. I recall a scare that the Germans had landed a party in the area from a submarine. The duty officer sent me out with a patrol ... fortunately for the Germans and me it was a false alarm.

North Africa

In March 1943 at the age of eighteen and a half I joined an assault flotilla from HMS Roseneath on the Clyde. My assessment was that I was lacking in both training and experience for active service but the authorities wouldn't listen. Contention and conflict with my seniors was by now a normal part of my life and continued to be the case in the months and years ahead.

The base Commander appointed me Officer of the Guard which carried a number of welcome perks with it not the least of which was a Buick car as my personal transport. The Roseneath base had been loaned to the Americans and on its transfer back to the RN they left their transport behind. The job required me to visit the nearby town of Helensburgh to supervise shore patrols which often allowed me to excuse myself from mess dinners with all their pomp and ceremony. In addition I earned the odd pint in local pubs by transporting my fellow junior officers on shore leave. Sadly these good times came to a sudden halt when I turned a Jeep over carrying 18 junior officers after a very late night party in the junior officers’ wardroom. I was brought up before the Commander next morning and threatened with all kinds of nasties including my first threat of a court martial.

Before we left Roseneath Admiral Vian and Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten, who was the Chief of the Combined Operations Command, inspected us. As was normal for the times we had no idea where we were going. The only clue was our purchase of tropical white gear and the issue of khaki shorts, shirts, hose tops, boots and khaki cap tops in lieu of our white ones... plus webbing equipment and a Smith and Wesson revolver. I didn't think much of these developments but, I needn't have bothered, since a few days later I was in Newport, South Wales to join a Dutch liberty ship.

The liberty ship had been refitted to become a 'Landing Ship Infantry' by turning her holds into barracks to carry troops and altering her upper decks to carry assault craft. The set-up was not very comfortable but better than nothing as I was to learn over the next few months. I had no ambitions to be a soldier but I found myself undergoing extensive small arms and demolition training, on completion of which I returned to the Dutch merchant ship Franz Van Meiris, also known as the Empire Eisult (I think). We were still in the dark as to our destination and the reason for our small arms training.

We were integrated with the ship’s company and for the first time I began to feel like a real sailor. The crew gave me every encouragement and help to make good my shortcomings for which I was eternally grateful. After working up we moved to Liverpool, then into the Clyde, where we joined up with a task force. We then embarked Canadian troops and prepared to sail with our destination confirmed as the Mediterranean. Our convoy travelling at 7 knots headed due west into the Atlantic then south and finally east into the Mediterranean - the direct route via the Bay of Biscay was not an option because of enemy submarine activity. Despite the circuitous route we were attacked on a number of occasions, losing some ships.

After what was a hectic passage we arrived off Cape Passero in Sicily in September 1943 where we were due to disembark our cargo of men, materials and vehicles. The troops we carried were amongst the first invasion size force to land in Europe since the evacuation at Dunkirk in the early summer of 1940. Having completed the landing we stayed on the beach for two weeks carrying out recovery work. An interesting interlude arose when I picked up Lord Louis Mountbatten, two Italian Admirals and an Italian General. I took them out to a destroyer but sadly I didn't get any autographs. The press filmed the event and although I never saw the film it will no doubt still be lying around in a forgotten archive somewhere.

Most of us caught dysentery and others dengue fever. We were shipped back to Bizerta in Tunisia by which time some of us were seriously ill. After my recovery I was despatched to a tented camp in Djijeli, a small town on the coast. This was no holiday camp with cemeteries on two sides, an Arab slaughterhouse on a third and the sea on the fourth side. All the waste from these various institutions discharged onto the beach including the odd animal carcass Swimming or bathing were the preserve of the brave and the stupid.

My next appointment was the watch-keeping officer on Landing Craft Flack (L.C.F) 9  moored at Bougie. It was in essence a landing craft tank (LCT) fitted out with numerous anti-aircraft guns, which were manned by a detachment of Royal Marines. After the accommodation I had experienced over the previous months, living aboard this ship was bliss. I was still a midshipman as I couldn't become a sub-lieutenant until I was nineteen and a half in February 1944.

I well remember being duty officer on board, all the others being ashore. I was feeling very nostalgic listening to Vera Lynn singing about Dover and other evocative places. Once more I wanted to go home to mother but my dreams were shattered when a Royal Marine knocked on the wardroom door, the upshot of which was my transfer to major landing craft. We steamed up and down the Mediterranean to keep the Germans on their toes until we were recalled to the U.K. This was a bit of a surprise since the speculation was that we were bound for the Greek theatre of war. At Gibraltar I transferred to an infantry landing craft bound for the U.K. T with a complement of three officers, including myself, plus crew. The ship had seen a lot of active service including the Salerno and Anzio landings and was in dire need of a refit. The officers we replaced were suffering from DTs and were taken off the ship in Gibraltar for medical attention.

We left in convoy heading for Milford Haven but, much as expected, we broke down and lagged behind the convoy. From the relative safety of our position about twenty miles east of the convoy we watched it being attacked by German submarines and surface craft. Later a frigate checked our position and advised us to steam independently for Milford Haven. We arrived there safely after what seemed to be an eternity with a pint or two of English beer high on the our priority list! By various routes we travelled to Grimsby where we 'paid off' and went on two weeks leave.

Landing Craft Training

It was nice to see family and friends although most of my school friends were away in the services. However, I was pleased to receive orders to report to the Marine Hotel in Troon, Scotland, famous for its international golfing centre. We were made honorary members of the golf club and used the bunkers for anything but golf. I was once again an Officer under Training but this time involved in the handling of major landing craft and learning astral and terrestrial navigation. I was already reasonably proficient at the latter having done a fair mileage at sea on major landing craft as a watch-keeping officer. We were very much a mixed bunch of trainees - some like me had just returned from the Mediterranean theatre of war and the rest had just completed an officers’ training course. The difference between the two groups was obvious from a distance because their uniforms were immaculate while ours were showing the signs of wear and tear.

After our first parade the Training Commander in charge insisted that all officers should have a grommet in their cap. A grommet is a circular piece of wire that keeps the crown of the cap in shape and uptight. It was an unofficial status symbol to remove the grommets from our caps and let them flop down. R.A.F pilots and the submariners had a similar symbol by leaving the top buttons of their pockets undone. We did not therefore greet this order with enthusiasm but we had no choice but to comply. There were no naval outfitters nearby so grommets quickly acquired the status of a 'must have' item. As the situation became increasingly desperate, all newly commissioned officers had to guard their caps with their lives but the Commander obviously thought his cap was inviolate. He left it unguarded on the hallstand in the Officers so I whipped the grommet out of his cap and slunk away. Next morning on parade I appeared with the others looking very smug in my regulation cap. The commander was at the head of the parade with a rather collapsed cap. There was an enquiry with a threat to cancel all shore leave if the culprit didn't own up. I was once more hauled up before the Commander and threatened with lots of horrible things but eventually I was congratulated on my initiative!

After completing the course and some leave I proceeded to Glasgow as First Lieutenant to HM Landing Craft Tank 1171. On arrival at Bowling shipyard just outside of Glasgow I asked the dockyard police where H.M.L.C.T.1171 was. He pointed to a large pile of metal on the jetty and said, 'there it is'. After the bits and pieces were assembled we became a ship and eventually a ship's company under the command of Sub Lt Ronnie Parks. We set off from Glasgow to carry out our 'training up' programme on the west coast of Scotland. On the first night we anchored in Lamlash Bay off the Isle of Arran alongside the WWI monitor H.M.S. Erebus with her massive 16 inch guns. She was a colossus alongside our ship which was a mere 230 feet in length. With the differences between the two vessels fresh in our minds we may have thought of our ship in less flattering  terms... such as a flat-bottomed b@!#*$d!

Training, as much as we were able to do in the time, went ahead fairly well. Fortunately most of our crew had been on landing craft before so were all fairly experienced. We finished up at Oban, further north on the west coast of Scotland, but not knowing where we were going or what we would be doing. Here we carried out more training and prepared the ship for whatever the planners had in store for us. We were always on the lookout for clues and rumours were whizzing around by now... from the amount of hardware in the area it was certain something big was about to happen.

Normandy

We received orders to sail for Plymouth and the night before we left Oban we had a pretty hectic party in the Officers’ club with a load of RAF types. The following morning I presented myself before the base commander under threat of a court martial for 'un-officer' conduct but once again he let me off! I suspect he knew what future plans the Navy had for me and he considered that would be punishment enough!

We had an extremely rough trip to Plymouth during which time we discovered what a battering our ship could take. Some ships had faired less well and others had been lost. In Plymouth we learnt that we were to be attached to the American forces. A near mutiny was threatened when American senior officers visited our ship to explain the implications of our attachment to their Navy. There must have been many important operational matters discussed but amongst it all was a ban on alcohol to bring us into line with the US Navy 'dry ships' policy. This immediately captured our attention and there was uproar! After a lot of discussion, and a few diplomatic moves to keep the peace among the Allies, it was decided that nothing should change. In the event it was a popular outcome for everyone since the Americans spent a fair amount onboard helping us deplete our stocks of drinks in case, as was expected, we would be on a one-way mission!

More training and routine maintenance on board followed and we had some large folding extensions fitted to our bow door to make it easier to unload vehicles on the beaches. Then the time came for our flotilla, the 57th (otherwise known as the 57 'Heinz') to take on board our cargo at St Johns on the south (Cornish) side of the Tamar River. We loaded six Sherman tanks, six half-track ammunition lorries, two half-track ambulances and all their crews. Our ship was now rather overcrowded.

At this late stage we finally found out where we were going and what was expected of us - we had to deliver our precious cargo onto a beach codenamed Omaha in  Normandy... a name that meant nothing at the time but has since been etched into the collective memory of subsequent generations. We received visits from the base staff to wish us 'bon voyage' (I expect with tongue in cheek!) and the ship was sealed. For security reasons we were not allowed any further communication with shore.

We eventually sailed in convoy for France. We hit some foul weather and the soldiers didn't look at all interested in the War. Because of the bad weather the landings were postponed, the convoy returned to Cawsands Bay in Plymouth Sound where we anchored to await further instructions. Gunboats surrounded us to stop any communications with the shore and it was here that the first tragedy of the invasion occurred. Because we thought ourselves to be on a 'one-way' ship we had consumed all the alcoholic drinks on board the night before we sailed and there was nothing left!! This bad situation was soon remedied with the retrieval of a jar of neat alcohol from an American ambulance conveniently parked in our hold. The Americans topped it up with pure fruit juice and called it "invasion broth"; it tasted absolutely revolting but it certainly helped them out of their depression.

The next day we set off on our interrupted journey in much improved weather with other ships from Dartmouth and Torbay. Off Portland Bill the convoy hove to to let the American Battle fleet pass. It was an amazing and impressive spectacle to see so many great ships together. We arrived at St Catherine's lighthouse on the south side of the Isle of Wight where there was a marker buoy showing the entrance to the 'swept channel' to the beaches (a channel swept of mines). It was dark and there were no steaming lights so the threat of collision was ever present. All the while many hundreds of aircraft were flying overhead and although my contribution was small I felt a strong sense of responsibility to do my duty. By the time we arrived at Omaha Beach we were acclimatised to all the noise and activity. It must have been a daunting prospect for those who had not seen action before.

We arrived off Omaha beach on time at D+2 0800 hrs. It was absolute chaos!! The events on Omaha Beach on D Day were as bad as widely recorded, although little has been said about the involvement of the British in the initial assault. Our flotilla of Landing Craft Tanks unloaded its cargo and was ordered to lay off the beach and stand by for possible evacuation as the Allied forces were meeting very stiff opposition. The flotilla was carrying anti-aircraft barrage balloons so we formed a cordon of balloon protection around the ships. The following day we sailed back to Portland to uplift our next cargo.... a journey that cost us three ships lost to enemy action.

We loaded more American tanks and their crews and headed back to Omaha Beach. In all we completed 18 trips every one of which was different from the others and worthy of recording. One such saw us heading back to Portland in a westerly gale and in company with other ships. A few miles off the Dorset coast the wind and tide were against us and the sea was increasingly menacing. We were travelling light and the flat bottomed landing craft, which in the best of conditions was difficult to control, bounced about making ship handling even more of a problem. We hit a big wave which caused the bows of the ship to crash down and the shock sheared off the clips holding up our bow doors. The doors, which weighed ten tons, folded down right under the ship but, fortunately the watertight doors inside the tank deck held and kept us afloat. However, the extra drag reduced our speed from ten knots to about two knots with both main engines going flat out. It took us eighteen hours to reach Portland dockyard eighteen miles away. The other ships had gone on ahead as they were desperately needed to get more tanks back to France. When we eventually arrived in harbour we went alongside a dockyard crane. A diver hooked a cable on to the door, the crane raised the door to its normal position and the offending clips were repaired. We loaded with tanks and were off again with hardly any rest.

In October we had delivered a load of supply wagons to the Omaha beach. We were travelling independently by then and we left the beach about 1600hrs and headed north towards the Isle of Wight. Although the weather at the time was fair we had no idea of what was in store and by the time we got off St Catherine’s light we found ourselves in a force ten gale. It was Friday October 13th 1944 and once again the ship was travelling light and we were being thrown all over the place. It was one of the worst seas I had experienced.

We were alone and heading towards Portland at reduced speed. The bows reared up, crashed down on a very steep wave and with a mighty crash the ship broke her back The situation we found ourselves in was pretty desperate since we had no means to call for help and no power from our main engines. The crew was marvellous and stayed very calm as we all strove to keep the ship afloat. Our position was dire. It was pitch black in torrential rain and with the wind getting stronger by the minute. The situation deteriorated further when the two still connected parts of the ship ground against each other. Showers of sparks flew from the hull lightening the sky like a firework display. The flashes were seen by another L.C.T and a frigate. They came back to assist but because of the high seas could not get near.

The ship broke in half at midnight and, as the bow section of 100 feet floated away it was sunk by gunfire because it was a hazard to other shipping. We were left on the stern which was taking a battering from the seas and by then we had no light as the generators had packed up.  Eventually the commander of the other L.C.T. in our flotilla (regretfully I forget its number), managed to manoeuvre his ship alongside and despite the tremendous waves managed to take off all the crew except the Skipper Ronnie Parks and myself. We stayed aboard to carry out the abandon ship routine.

The assisting L.C.T. was commanded by Lieutenant Nash who was a professional fishing skipper from Grimsby. The tremendous seamanship skills of skipper Nash certainly saved all our lives and his skills didn't stop there. After a struggle we secured a tow  and proceeded stern first towards Southampton. Unfortunately the tow parted and, as we were not able to rig up another one, we sank at 0200 hours. Ronnie Parks and I went over the side, in my case clutching a jar of navy rum (more inside me than out). Skipper Nash picked us out of the water and took us home. It was farewell to a good ship that had carried out the job for which she was designed and under very rigorous conditions. She lies at rest on the bottom about 18 miles SW of the Isle of Wight.

Survivor's Leave

I travelled to Portland by sea to make arrangements for survivor’s leave. For the third time in my short adult life I found myself with no kit or possessions. I had lost everything when we were bombed out of our Bath home during the blitz in 1942, again during the Sicily landings and finally when LCT 1171 went down. As I had no home, everything I owned was with me. All I had was my seagoing kit which comprised a blue battledress and not much else.

At Portland I booked into the officers’ mess and enjoyed the luxury of a hot bath, clean underclothes and shirt but no uniform - there were none!. Next day I travelled first class with some W.R.N.S. officers and a Canadian officer who was wearing a kilt. It was impossible not to notice that this Canadian followed the tradition of wearing nothing under his kilt! There were some comments about my scruffy appearance, but after I poured out a rather plaintive story of my recent activities, there was a fair bit of backslapping and the sharing of hip flasks.

When I arrived home I was told that my cousin Dennis, an officer in the Paras, had been hit by a bullet through his neck on the same day that I lost my ship. The poor old chap was in an awful mess, at death’s door in hospital in Birmingham but lucky to be alive. To this day he has a scar on each side of his head.

I was now home on indefinite leave to get myself reorganised in readiness for my next posting whatever that might be. This involved kitting myself out in new uniforms and clothing generally. The 'Officer Uniform Replacement Depot' was a great help. They kitted me out with second hand uniforms mainly donated by the families of dead naval officers. The only ones that would fit me belonged to a rear admiral. The gold rings were removed from the sleeves and the rows of medal ribbons from the chest to be replaced by my one ring and three medals. However, the old marks showed up well and I walked around like a demoted admiral!!

After a few weeks leave I wanted to get back to sea and sent the Admiralty in London a telegram requesting appointment instructions. I had a very quick but terse reply telling me to report to Admiralty London with kit which I did with slight trepidation. On arrival in Admiralty the Combined Operations appointment officer promptly informed me that I was in serious trouble and had to report to the duty officer immediately. He turned out to be a four-ringed captain who remonstrated with me. Apparently it was unprecedented in the history of the Admiralty for a naval reserve sub-lieutenant to send a telegram to Admiralty requesting appointment instructions. After a lengthy berating I was dismissed but, as I was about to leave the room, he called me back and congratulated me for my enthusiasm and initiative.

HM LCH 75

HMS Westcliff, a Combined Operations holding base at Southend, was my next port of call. After several idle but pleasant weeks my orders were to report to Chatham to take over U.S.LCI 75 (Landing Craft Infantry) from the Americans whilst she was converted to an RN headquarters ship, H.M.LCH 75. Thus started the next part of my involvement in the War and all because of my telegram to the Admiralty.

The conversion took a couple of months during which time I was billeted in Chatham Barracks. It  was not exactly the ideal place for an active young naval officer whose regard for naval tradition and etiquette fell somewhat below the expectations of higher authority. Many incidents and misdemeanours of a social nature occurred which caused the eyebrows of many a senior officer to elevate skywards. In this regard I may have been regarded as somewhat of a loose cannon!

A new crew was appointed under a senior Lieutenant as Captain and a senior Sub Lieutenant as First Lieutenant. I had become rather fond of the ship and asked to stay on as ship's company. I was appointed Gunnery Officer and Watch Keeping Officer...  they obviously didn't know what I knew about my gunnery skills!

Familiarisation and sea trials off Sheerness passed very smoothly because most of the crew of 36 had a fair amount of sea time to their credit. We expected to spend the next year or so together so a good start was important. It was during this time that we learnt that we would be going out to the Far East. As this was going to be our home for the next eighteen months, with a many thousands of sea miles ahead, we were fortunate that the ship was reasonably comfortable.

After a spell at sea 'working up' we were ordered to join a convoy at Southend bound for Plymouth. During sea trials we had discovered that H.M.L.C.H.75 was a pretty lively ship in heavy weather. This didn't worry me unduly as heavy weather seemed to be my constant companion. True to form we hit a force ten gale going through the English Channel which really tested the ship. However, she came through with flying colours. We arrived off Plymouth at night in filthy weather and followed an American Landing ship into the harbour. It ran onto the breakwater and started to break up. She was at least 2000 tons and we were simply not big enough to do anything to help. We radioed for help and a tug came out to sort out the situation. The rest of our time in Plymouth was spent in preparations for the long journey to Japan. (Photo; Ship's company).

We moved onto Falmouth to meet up with 28 Landing Craft Tank which we were to lead to Cochin in India. There was a lot of activity 'storing' the ship and generally getting ready including a trip up to Liverpool to meet our escorts and to discuss convoy tactics. We embarked the convoy senior officer in Liverpool, returned to Falmouth and prepared for sea. After a few last minute rushes and a number of very tearful farewells to W.R.N.S. boat crews, we set off on our next adventure courtesy of HM Government.

Journey to the Far East

We formed the convoy in Falmouth Bay and headed south on the direct route to Gibraltar via the Bay of Biscay as it was now considered to be free of enemy submarines. Sadly the Bay was in one of its more contentious moods and at least 14 of the ships received severe damage that rendered them unfit for further progress and the whole convoy was ordered back to Falmouth for repairs. It was a painfully slow trip so the approaches to Falmouth were a very welcome sight.

After about two weeks we once again set sail for Gibraltar at a steady convoy speed of seven knots, the maximum speed of seven motor fishing vessels that had joined the convoy. After a fairly uneventful couple of weeks we arrived in Gibraltar, reasonably unscathed, where the crews were given a much-needed two week break. The landing craft were designed to be lived on for a few days at time not three weeks or more so normal comforts were impossible to provide. As a result we all received an extra hard living allowance in our pay and we certainly deserved it.

The next port of call on the journey eastward was Malta followed by Port Said in Egypt. Along the way there were many incidents and accidents one of which concerned  a seaman who fell down a hatchway and broke a load of ribs. On  medical advice the seaman was taken to Tobruk for treatment which resulted in us leaving the convoy to sail off alone. On our eventual arrival in Port Said we discovered that our convoy had sailed on to H.M.S. Saunders, the landing craft base on the Bitter lakes on the Suez Canal. All things considered the top brass decided to dry dock our vessel to have her 'bottom scraped' before we sailed on to India. This was in the first week in August 1945 and my two fellow officers took advantage of the lull in activity to take a spot of leave. It fell to me to organise everything and on August 3rd, my 21st Birthday, I was kept busy moving the ship around. That night we had a splendid party on board when much liquor was consumed.

End of WW2

The Atomic bomb was dropped on Japan on August 12th 1945 and our war came to an abrupt halt. In an instant we had become superfluous. In the event we spent two months in Port Said awaiting further instructions. The time was filled in with leave and a trip to Ismaillia. After being confined on a small ship for a fair amount of time this interlude was absolute bliss. However there was a need to keep the crew occupied and to maintain the crew's operational effectiveness. This was achieved with short trips to places like Alexandria where the crew easily integrated into the local social life.

Long Way Home

As the picture in the far east became clearer we received orders to proceed to the Pacific Islands to assist with relief work. We were then routed through the Suez canal and the Red Sea arriving in Aden just before Christmas 1945 where we were once more dry docked for another scraping of the hull to remove barnacles. A good number of social events later and we were on our way across the Indian Ocean to Cochin, our original port of destination. However a signal from Admiralty London was received ordering us to return to Norfolk Naval Base in the USA to 'Pay Off'... in plain language to give the ship back to the Americans.

After the receipt of the signal from the Admiralty there was terrific excitement. Many of the crew were due for demobilisation and could see civvy life in the offing. We about-turned and set off for Aden but our engines, which were getting a bit tired by now, started playing up. We stopped off at the island of Socotra on the north east point of Africa to effect repairs.

This we did and in a few days we were heading off again towards Aden to rest the crew and then up the Red Sea and Suez Canal to Kabret. Our skipper was due for demob, so we embarked a new skipper, had a rest and then sailed on to Port Said where we remained for a month. While we waited for replacement crew to arrive from the UK we socialised with many old friends. It was in Aden that I sent the 'ship's' 1945 Christmas card to my parents back home (click to enlarge).

By this time the ship had been my house and home for about 15 months. At Alexandria we were due to pick up civilian personnel to take on to Malta. However, the Arabs were in revolt and the civilians were not ready to leave. We offered our services to help quell the revolt but were told that we were not required. There was a similar response when we tried to get involved in some lucrative post-war rackets which involved carrying stores back to Greece and selling them off cheap.

When we sailed to Malta we were due to spend a few months decommissioning the ship. Sub. Lieutenant Osborne and I were both due for demob. He decided to go and I decided to stay with the ship until we arrived in America. I took on the duties as First Lieutenant and we acquired a young inexperienced officer to take on my old duties. We removed all the English equipment, undertook more training where it was required and generally prepared the ship for handover. There were many sad farewells to the local ladies and I expect many unfulfilled promises to follow. We sailed for Gibraltar where we awaited the arrival of ex-lease-lend landing craft also bound for Norfolk Naval Yard in Virginia.

It was a number of weeks before we were able to form a convoy and this could have been a frustrating and boring time had it not been for Army and Air Force personnel ashore and a few liaisons with the Queen Ann’s Royal Nursing Sisters, a body of young ladies more than worthy of our attentions! In fact our farewell party was held in their mess and I remember well that a goodly supply of ’Vat 69‘ whisky was consumed.

We were routed to Ponta Delgada on the island of St Miguel in the Azores. We arrived there without mishap and in fairly good weather, but our main engines were 'tired' and in need of attention before we could cross the Atlantic en route to our next port of all... Bermuda. The rest of the fleet sailed on and we waited for the delivery of the eight new diesel engines we needed. Whether or not we had the experience amongst the crew to undertake the task was another matter. In temperatures of around 100f the last of our generators failed and without air-conditioning life on board became intolerable. The British Consul fixed us up with hotel accommodation which was sheer bliss!

We were well entertained by the Portuguese inhabitants, visiting all the places of interest ashore and a few other foreign ships which arrived in port. However, it all came to end when H.M.S. Porlock Bay was instructed to tow us as a hulk to Bermuda, a very long and arduous tow. We were very sad about the ignominious way H.M.L.C.H.75 would finish her distinguished career. We managed to rendezvous with the Porlock Bay under our own power and to rig up a tow with the help of experienced professional sailors from her crew. We then battened down the ship so that she was completely watertight and secured all loose equipment on the decks. When the first lieutenant of the Porlock Bay and myself were satisfied that all was ready we transferred by boat to his ship. Our poor old girl looked forlorn and abandoned "hanging" on what looked like a length of  string. For me it was a sad and pathetic sight!

We were integrated into Porlock Bay's watches and every day I came up on deck I looked astern to see the ‘Dear Old Lady’, following relentlessly astern, incapable of doing anything for herself. Little did we know the fate that awaited her, back at her place of birth. On arrival off Bermuda we boarded H.M.L.C.H.75 and set about engine repairs and servicing and giving her a good scrub-over. It was with some relief and pride that we managed to steam into the Naval Dockyard receiving many congratulations from the shore staff. The dockyard staff took over the ship with the purpose of making her seaworthy again, which we were told would take several weeks.

The work done we set off with other landing craft that had arrived from the U.K., a little apprehensive that we were in the hurricane season for this area. We had been through plenty of atrocious weather and sea conditions so we had a 'devil me care' attitude to the risks. All went well until we arrived on the edge of a hurricane, still some way off the American coast. It was no surprise when our engines started playing up again but by this time we were used to sorting out such problems. However, after calm consideration of all the issues, it was decided we would be towed the rest of the way by one of the other ships. This was not an easy task in the inclement weather.

The fact that we arrived in Norfolk, Virginia was a credit to the ingenuity of the amateurs that made up the crews of landing craft. These crews fulfilled some indescribable tasks in all parts of the world, in ships that would make professional seaman cringe. In fact professionals would have refused to sail in them. Eventually we secured alongside the jetty reflecting on all that had happened since we received the radio message in the Indian Ocean. I am proud to say that the ship looked immaculate, freshly painted inside and out with all the stores and valuable items in their correct places. She was an absolute credit to the Royal Navy. However, we were in for a rude awakening!

An American Navy officer came aboard to receive the ship back from us. He was not interested in any inspection or inventory of equipment, stores and armaments. His response to my invitation was 'No thanks... she'll be saucepans in a few weeks. How much booze have you got?'  We later found out that Virginia State and the American Navy were both "dry", so alcoholic drink was at a premium. We foolishly gave ours away, as if our visit was an act of entente cordiale. We should have sold it to them - an officer of equivalent rank to me was being paid three times the salary I received. Hindsight is a wonderful thing!

The Americans entertained us well (although we took our own booze) and this helped me to forget the hurt I had felt at their off-hand attitude at the official handover of the ship. We found America so very expensive on a U.K. salary so we couldn’t enjoy the goodies that were on offer ashore. With the formalities all over, we embarked on a troop train for New York on a long journey in one of the most horrendous trains I had ever travelled on. We arrived in New York very tired and were booked into the Babazan Plaza hotel until joining the ‘Queen Mary’ for our trip home. We were shown the delights of New York, which after the U.K. and other war-torn parts of the world, seemed completely unreal.

The Queen Mary had ceased being a troop ship so we travelled home first class. Having spent the past years bouncing around the oceans on small ships, there was little to do except eat and drink. Fortunately the trip only took four and a half days but I was now well overdue for ‘demob’.

There was no hero’s welcome for me. I passed through the customs at Southampton without ceremony and then on a train home to Bath. It was lovely travelling through the familiar English countryside again. After two weeks leave I reported to HMS Roseneath in Scotland for a medical and an honourable discharge. And that was that!

One sequel to the episode with H.M.S.Porlock Bay occurred many years later. I was having a drink with a friend I had known for years through ‘Scouting’. Ponta Delgada came up in the conversation. You could have knocked me over with a feather when my friend said 'We towed a ship from there to Bermuda'. For all the intervening years we had not known that we shared that journey!

Postscript

I have avoided writing about the many actions I was involved with during the War since these are well documented. A lot of nastiness happened to me but I don’t think that needs telling here. These are my recollections of this turbulent and unpredictable period of my life. The dates may not be completely accurate as I never kept a diary but I believe it is important for memories like mine to be recorded for the benefit of future generations amongst whom I hope there will be members of my own family. These significant events, of so long ago, should not fade from the collective mind of the public and I hope my short account here will assist in this.

It is often said that teenagers of today would not perform as we did given similar circumstances. This is entirely wrong  in my view since it is the circumstances themselves that create the opportunities to serve one's country. Throughout history each generation has risen to the challenges they faced because they were there and it was their duty.

I deeply regret missing out on all the normal activities of the growing up teenage years. I wore a uniform from the age of sixteen until I was over 22. To survive in the adult world I quickly had to learn to think and behave like an adult many years beyond my age group. Failure would have resulted in ridicule, bullying and being socially ostracised. We had no choice but to grow up fast. Another manifestation of the same issue was the difficulty in adjusting to civilian life after so much travel, danger and periods of great activity packed into the earlier years. However I'm sure my experiences through the war did contribute to my success in farming, although catching up the time lost was not easy.

Skipper Ronnie Parks of H.M.L.C.T.1171 was twenty-one and I, the First Lieutenant, was twenty. The rest of the crew were under twenty. It certainly was a young man's war! I would love to meet any crew members of  H.M.L.C.T.1171 or H.M.L.C.H.75 to talk over old times and to thank them for a superhuman effort and devotion to duty especially during the whole of the D-day period.... under the circumstances of our parting the officers and crew of 1171 had no time for proper goodbyes. After we were picked up from the water we were taken to Southampton and that was the last time I saw the men. I'd be delighted to hear from anyone who remembers me from the war years. Please contact Austin at austin@aprosser31.wanadoo.co.uk

So that's it. In August 1942, at the tender age of 18 I  joined the Navy as an ordinary seaman at H.M.S. Raleigh. I was commissioned as a midshipman in December 1942. Apart from a short time on the Torpoint ferry in the patrol I spent the next four years in Combined Operations. My pay office was H.M.S. Copra and also H.M.S. Quebec at Inveraray. After drawing cash from pay offices in various parts of the world without any problems, at the final summing up I owed H.M.S Copra £70... by today's standards that would be well over £1000. I joined the navy broke, lost everything I possessed three times and left the navy broke...  but overall it was an amazing and rewarding experience which I was fortunate to come through unscathed. In many different ways I had the time of my life!

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.

Acknowledgments

His Majesty's Landing Craft Tank,  HMLCT 1171 was written by Austin Prosser and edited for website presentation by Geoff Slee.

News & Information

 

Memorial Maintenance

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

Remember a Veteran

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

Read the Combined Operations prayer.

Forthcoming Events

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

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

To notify an event click here.

To visit the webpage click here.

Facebook

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

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

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

Find Books of Interest 

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

WW2 Combined Operations Handbook

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

Restoration of Geoffrey Appleyard's  Memorial 

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

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

The Gazelle Helicopter Squadron Display Team

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

Legasee Film Archive

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

New to Combined Ops?

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

About Us?

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

 

Print too small or large?

Easy solution when browsing. I) PC. To increase hold down Ctrl and shift and press +. To decrease hold down Ctrl and press -. 2) MAC. To increase Command + and to decrease Command -.

 

Copyright © 2000 to 2017 inclusive [www.combinedops.com]. All rights reserved.