TRAINING CENTRE MIDDLE EAST ~
The Combined Training
Centre (CTC) Middle East at Kabret, on the Egypt's Little Bitter Lake, was the first Combined Operations
Training Establishment located outside the United Kingdom. Its purpose was
to train RN personnel in the operation of landing craft and together with
the troops of many Allied nations, to practice amphibious landings prior
to operations against the enemy in the Mediterranean. Its associated naval
base, HMS Saunders, was commissioned in March 1941 (under the
name of HMS Stag (Division K) with Commander RKC Pope DSO, RN in command.
Opposite; A sketch of HMS Saunders by Herbert
Hastings McWilliams from the vantage point of the base's water-tower. It
was presented to Capt. G I S (George Irwin Sanctuary) More, OBE, RN who
commanded HMS Saunders from June 1942 to December 1944. McWilliams
annotated the sketch "Capt. G.I.S. More with admiration” and under this
“H.M.S. Saunders, Kabrit” [Courtesy of Capt. More's grandson Henry More. Google Earth coordinates 22.214.171.124 N, 126.96.36.199 E.
The Formative Years
Accommodation in the early part of 1941 was completely tented but, within a few months, odd
pieces of wood and packing cases scrounged from the RAF had been used to
construct buildings which rejoiced in the name of offices. Furniture of any kind
was almost impossible to obtain so officers and ratings alike furnished their
tents by constructing beds, chairs and tables in their spare time. The comfort
in which the men lived depended entirely upon their skill as a carpenter and
their efforts to 'acquire' wood. [Photo; the author Commander
Philip Noel, VRD RNR]
By May 1941 the nucleus of the Combined Training Centre had arrived at Kabret
and established itself in a camp between the Navy and the Point. Its
offices were in a Canal Company houseboat moored alongside the sea wall at a point
where Hornblower Hard(1) once stood. Also by this time a houseboat and slipway, the
capable to taking an LCM, had been built. Since there were no other repair facilities
on shore all engine repairs and replacements were undertaken aboard the ex-Danube tug
‘Princess Elizabeth’ which, fortunately, had a well-equipped engineering repair shop. Click on maps & photos to enlarge.
By June 1941 the complement of landing craft comprised 1 LCT, 9 LCAs, 5 LCMs and 3 LCP(L)s(2)
few were in running order. The numbers originally sent out from the UK
had been severely depleted by actions in Greece, Crete and the Western Desert - 7 LCTs, 19 LCAs and 10 LCMs
were sunk, abandoned or otherwise lost. The
Army was much too busy elsewhere to spare many troops for combined training and
exercises carried out at this time were necessarily on a very small scale. In
any event combined training was run on a ‘care and maintenance’ basis
and it was not until early 1943 that intensive training commenced.
By mid-1942 Rommel had reached El-Alamein, and the craft from the desert had
trickled back to HMS Saunders. Up to this time LCTs, LCMs and LCPs had been doing all the work
but the smaller LCAs now came
into their own. Two flotillas were sent to Cairo to patrol the Nile against
the ever-present threat of parachutists. A Naval Battalion was also formed and
was used to guard the water-works and other vital points in Alexandria.
In June 1942 Captain GIS More OBE, RN relieved Cdr Pope in command and by the
end of the year courses had been started at the CTC.
To accompany this secret activity a security screen was established around the area. In October a flotilla of LCAs was sent to Colombo but
with the procurement of various other craft HMS Saunders got into top gear for a
programme of intensive
training. In November courses on the subject of Combined Operations
were held for senior and junior staff from the Staff College at Haifa and around
this time, work was started on the dredging for the hards.
The period from June 1942 to July 1943 was one of intense activity at HMS
Saunders. Combined training was under way almost continuously with the Greek SAS
Brigade, the 9th Armoured Brigade, the 9th Australian Division, the Greek Infantry Brigades, 15th, 108th, 151st and 234th Infantry Brigades, the 25th and 31st Indian Infantry
Brigades, Folbotists(3) and various other units including
During May 1943 an additional strain
was put on the organisation by the arrival of part of Force G for training. At
this time there were 170 officers and 2,800 ratings accommodated in the base.
Relatively little construction was carried out to cope with this influx so
existing buildings outside HMS Saunders were taken over as offices with the personnel
accommodated, as usual, in tents.
After the departure of Force G to take part in Operation
Husky the tempo of training slowed down and during September and October 1943
advantage was taken of the lull to carry out much-needed repairs and maintenance
on the landing craft. However, in December 1943 and January 1944 training
the 10th and 12th Infantry Brigades passed through the CTC followed by a pause
and then another Armoured Brigade. From then on the training commitments
At about this time the need for a small craft capable of laying a thick smoke
screen had been identified as well as a shallow draft craft capable of sweeping
mines in shallow water. Personnel from HMS Saunders met both these needs, firstly by developing the
prototype LCM fitted with a CSA smoke generator and an aero engine to disperse
the smoke. A flotilla so equipped was used very successfully in support of the
landings in the south of France. The second need was met by the formation of a
flotilla of LCVs fitted with small
These were later sent to the northern Adriatic
where it is understood they were very successful.
In May 1944 political unrest began to make itself felt in the nearby Greek
Naval Base HHMS Helle. Staff from HMS Saunders tried to sort out the various categories of political beliefs
over several days but evacuated the camp when open mutiny broke out. For this work a signal of
congratulation was received from the Senior Naval Officer Red Sea and Canal
Passage - The Personal Recollection of Lt Cdr Clarke RN
During the various advances and withdrawals of the British forces in the
Western Desert craft attached to HMS Saunders were always in the front
line. The Western Desert Lighter Force did excellent work supplying our troops
by sea, and inshore patrols were carried out by smaller craft such as LCPs, LCMs
and LCSs, which were sailed from Alexandria westwards under their own power and
in all weather conditions. In those days the loss of even a small craft was a serious
matter, and hidden in Saunders' records are many reports of epic struggles to save
minor craft which would, by normal standards, have been just written off.
Lieut.Cdr.Clarke RN recalls the passage of DD(6)
flotilla of 11 LCMs on passage from
Benghazi to Tobruk from 25th to 27th January 1942 shortly
after the start of the German offensive. To appreciate the nature of this
passage the reader should be aware that these craft were the old LCM Mk1s which
were completely open to
the elements. Such journeys were by no means exceptional.
At 1400hrs on 25th January NOIC (Naval Officer in Charge) Benghazi gave orders for the
LCMs to be ready to sail by 2000hrs. All afternoon we took on stores and took off personnel and gear to the various ships in the harbour. I
had been unable to obtain sufficient petrol for the voyage to Tobruk so arranged
to re-fuel at Derna. In the course of the afternoon, however, we had the good
fortune to find a lighter with about 2,000 gallons of petrol in it. This was at
once distributed amongst the 11 craft. By 1800hrs all were ready and everyone
had a meal. I then gave the boats final instructions. At 1950hrs the boats were
manned and engines started. Just as we were starting off Lt Cdr Gibbs arrived on
the mole with a party of seamen to be carried to HMS Bagshot. I put them aboard
Sub-Lieut Robinson’s lighter and told him to come after us as soon as possible.
The remainder of the flotilla then proceeded out of the harbour and along the
coast at slow speed waiting for Sub-Lieut Robinson to catch up.
I showed a combined lantern astern for the other lighters to follow and as
a guide for Sub-Lieut Robinson who rejoined the flotilla at about 2330hrs. We
then proceeded at 1500 revs until the moon set. As it was impossible to see the
low-lying coast, and the weather was suitable, we dropped anchor until daylight.
By 0700hrs the flotilla was under way again but DD13 developed a defect in the
port engine. The services of a motor mechanic from a neighbouring craft were
By mid-morning the wind began to freshen from the SE and continued to do
so until we rounded the point about 10 miles ENE from Telemaide when it shifted
to the west blowing force 5-6 with a heavy swell. It then looked as though we
would be caught on a lee shore with a beam wind if we followed the coast, so I
decided to stand off from the land with the sea on the port quarter to get
sufficient offing to round Cape Mamer. We made the offing with nothing to spare
and continued more easily with the sea astern. I again burned a combined lantern
showing astern to keep the flotilla together. We passed Derna just after
moonset, very thankful for having enough petrol, as it would have been
impossible to round up into the wind to make Derna with the fresh breeze and
At daybreak I found Ras-el-Tin abeam and the craft completely disappearing
in the trough of the swell. I felt confident that the others could make Tobruk
before dark and let them go on, following the coast while I stood out in DD13
which still had a defective engine, to try to cut down the distance, picking up
the coast east of the island of Geziret-el-Maracheb at noon. During the forenoon
a southerly wind got up against the swell making conditions very unpleasant. By
this time the other craft were 8 or 10 miles ahead and DD10 began to drop back.
I kept him in sight until 1600hrs but was unable to catch up with him.
At 1800hrs I reckoned I was about 10 miles west of Tobruk. As the
sandstorm which had been blowing all afternoon began to get worse I decided to
anchor in one of the small bays on that part of the coast, having been sitting
on the cab since 0700hrs the previous day and not feeling up to competing with a
I got under way at 0700hrs the following morning and made Tobruk at about
0900hrs, to find that the rest of the flotilla had arrived the night before,
except DD10 which had continued on in the sandstorm and run aground 3 or 4 miles
west of Tobruk.
By June 1944, under the codename Operation Appian, plans were made to move large numbers of Major Landing
Craft from the UK to the Eastern theatre. After the landings on the beaches of
Normandy the greater need for some of these craft lay in the Far East and preparations were put in hand for
HMS Saunders to provide whatever support services were required to assist
their passage to India and beyond -
accommodation, supplies, maintenance and repairs.
was, by this time, a large base but all the space it had would be needed to receive the
Major Landing Craft in transit to the east. To accommodate this
all landing craft held in the base were transferred to locations around the Mediterranean by the end of July.
Senior signals staff HMS SAUNERS 1943-44. Left to right – Yeoman of signals,
Warrant Tel (Dixon), PO Radio Mech., Signals Officer (Noel), PO Tel, Asst.
Signals Officer (Storey)].
In this photo the author is 3rd from the right.
Trials had been carried out which demonstrated that merchant ships could
successfully tow LCTs from Suez to India(7)
and the first flotilla of craft arrived in Port Said on December 31st 1944. It was
unfortunate that Capt. More was not present to see his well-laid plans go into
action. After two and a half years in command of the base he was quite ready to
move on when relieved by Capt LH Bayley RN on 19th December.
The large theatre, main office block and other buildings
recently constructed provided much needed accommodation for the new arrivals. The craft
were secured and their crews settled in until towing ships with
accommodation for the crews could be arranged. Each merchantman was able to tow one or two
unmanned LCTs at a time and all craft were expected to reach their destination before
the onset of the SW monsoon. A small number were lost but most reached their
destination. Small assault craft were carried out either by their parent assault
ship or as deck cargo. More seaworthy craft, such as Infantry Landing Craft went
under their own steam. Time t complete Appian I was very tight and it was a
great credit to everyone concerned that only all
five craft of remained at Suez by the deadline of April 26th.
With the completion of Appian I preparations began for Appian II. This operation was
more problematical from Saunders' point of view because the departure of
these craft was delayed by the onset of the monsoon period resulting in large
numbers of landing craft and their crews stuck at Kabret
for a considerable time. To cope with the numbers involved the
recently vacated Greek Base HHMS Helle was taken over as Saunders II and
additional LCT mooring buoys were laid in the bay.
As if to test resources to the limit the training
of a Royal Indian
Navy LCT Squadron coincided with Appian II. The site adjoining Saunders was taken over to accommodate the RIN
personnel and commissioned as Saunders III. Their training was completed by
mid-October and the men and their craft left immediately for India under their
own power. It speaks highly of the 6 weeks of training they were given that the crews,
who had no previous experience of major landing craft,
were able to sail them to India.
In all about 80 craft arrived at Saunders in the course of Appian II
plus 18 older LCTs which were sent from Messina for training the Indian
flotillas. The collapse of Japan rendered their presence in the Eastern theatre
unnecessary and, with the exception of a few LCTs transferred to the Army or used
for other purposes, they were all placed in a state of preservation under
Austrian POW caretakers and put up for sale locally.
With the close of Operation ‘Appian’ HMS Saunders had no further raison
d’etre but was kept open for some time as it was thought a new CTC might be
established in the Middle East. However, nothing came of this and early in 1946
orders were given to close the establishment. Reductions were quickly carried
out, Captain Bayley left on June 8th and on July 1st the White Ensign was hauled
down for the last time, leaving a party of three officers and 14 ratings to look
after the remaining landing craft until they were sold. Thus ended a base which
had been involved in every Combined Operation in the Eastern Mediterranean,
which had met
every demand made upon it and which at one time had personnel scattered from
Benghazi to Colombo. The officers and men who served there had earned a name for themselves in almost
every theatre of the war. [Card; Sketch of Kabret Point in 1946.
The imposing building to the left was the squash court.]
Recollections of Combined Operations
Until the end of June 1941 I
never thought for a moment that Combined Operations would occupy such an
important part of my life for the next five years. After a year
at sea as a Telegraphist in an Armed Merchant Cruiser I was
selected as a CW candidate(8) and emerged from
HMS King Alfred as a Temporary Sub-Lieutenant
RNVR on the 15th November 1940. My first appointment was as No.1 of HMS Pingouin,
a French ocean tug which was one of several handed over by its Breton crew
after the fall of their Country. Pingouin was fitted with a barrage
balloon and formed part of the forces escorting convoys between Southampton and
Sheerness. In June 1941 her career ended when salt water was fed into the boiler.
made Sheerness by the skin of our teeth.
I was then selected to join a small group of commissioned members of the
pre-war RNV (Wireless) Reserve set up by the Admiralty to train personnel in the
operation of the special radio directional equipment being fitted in Landing
Craft and to assess the capabilities of other navigational aids being developed
at this time designed to lead landing craft to their precise beach destinations.
Thus it was in early July 1941 I found myself in Combined Operations at HMS
Northney on Hayling Island for a short introductory course.
A Landing Craft Assault (LCA) had been fitted out with the special
directional radio equipment but sea trials
were limited by the tidal nature of the creek. I was not involved in
the training of the ratings (designated later as Signal Trained Northney (STN))
but caught up with some of them much later on as mentioned above. I was
then ordered to report to
HMS Quebec, which I discovered was the RN base of the
No 1 Combined
Training Centre at Inveraray, Loch Fyne, Scotland. I travelled north on the
night train to Glasgow followed by a longish passage in one of McBraynes Clyde
steamers... a boring journey made interesting by the company of a couple of WRNS
My time at Inveraray was a doddle compared with the onerous duties many other
RNVR officers were going through at the time. There was no wardroom as such and
I was given a room in the Temperance Hotel which was run by a formidable Scottish lady. As its name
implies there was no alcohol available on the premises but happily there was a
door in the hotel's back yard which led to the back yard of pub next door (the
George?). In this way it was possible to have a pint or a dram without appearing to enter
or leave either establishment ! However, on the Sabbath the town was completely
dry but there was a small pub on the opposite side of the Loch prepared to meet
the alcoholic beverage needs of ‘bona fide travellers’, a status we could achieve after a short
trip in an LCA !
At Inveraray I joined the other members of the Special Signals group. We
spent the next few weeks learning more about the navigational aids and
direction-finding equipment being developed for Combined Operations, including a
ground-breaking infra-red beacon system. We also did some operational trials in
the LSI (Landing Ship Infantry) Queen Emma. On my return to Inveraray my room at the Temperance Hotel was no longer
available but I had been allocated a cabin aboard the accommodation ship SS
Ettrick which was anchored off the town. However, after a few days the whole group was sent on leave to await their next
appointment. [Photo; SS Ettrick off Inveraray].
Before leaving Inveraray we were told where we were going and I thought I'd
drawn the short straw as I was the only one being sent overseas.
At that time I had no idea where this posting would take me but, as things turned out, mine was
probably the most varied and interesting experience of them all. After a short leave I visited a little-known
establishment in Haslemere, Surrey and the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge for
final updates on the equipment.
I was appointed to HMS Nile as 'additional for special duties’, and
received my allowance for tropical uniform. This went straight to Messrs Gieves
in exchange for a No.10 uniform and a magnificent white pith helmet, which in
the event I never wore. I also acquired a pair of white
shirts with thick padding down the back as protection against sunstroke, two
pairs of white shorts, white stockings and white shoes. I boarded SS Strathaird
for the long voyage out to Suez via Capetown and Durban. Although the convoy was
fast and well-protected this was an anxious time even though the accommodation and service was near
After disembarkation at Suez and a comfortable train ride to Alexandria, I
reported to HMS Nile where they had no record of my appointment. I checked
in to the Cecil Hotel, a top-notch hostelry, and reported
back to Nile a couple of days later by which time things would be sorted out
- or so I thought. When this did
not happen I spent the next few weeks enjoying the flesh-pots of Alexandria,
with regular visits to HMS Nile to seek information while living on my
lodging allowance and casual payments. It transpired that Nile were expecting a
Sub-Lieut N Philips rather than Sub-Lieut Philip Noel who, as far as they were
concerned, had not yet reported for duty.
Matters then became a little clearer and I was ordered to report to HMS Stag
(Division K) to take up my appointment. No one was sure where it was but vaguely
thought it was on or near the Suez Canal. Anyway I was assured that there was a
Naval HQ in Ismailia and no doubt they would be able to help. I left Alexandria
with the distinct impression that they were glad to be rid of me! On arrival at Ismailia
after a hot and dusty journey I reported to Navy House where, thankfully, things
began to slot into place. Yes they certainly knew of Stag (K), it was at Kabret
on the Bitter Lakes but the daily provision lorry, apparently the only means of
transport, had already left, so I would have to spend the night there.
[Photo; the author's British Forces ID.]
The Wardroom at Navy House was small but very friendly. As the only
officer travelling next morning I joined the driver in the front of his sand-encrusted lorry bound for
The date was the 3rd December 1941 and I already had some idea of the world I was entering, which,
in the event, I was to inhabit close on five
years eventually wearing three hats, Signals Officer, Staff Officer (Operations)
and Naval Liaison Officer with the Suez Canal Company. What happened in that
time is described in the earlier chapters above.
[Editor's note; It's no coincidence that the names Quebec and Saunders are inextricably linked together in the compelling story of the training
in amphibious landings provided by Combined Operations. HMS Quebec
was the RN base within the No 1
Combined Training Centre at Inveraray on Loch Fyne in Scotland, HMS
Saunders was the RN base within the Combined Training Centre on the
Great Bitter Lake at Kabret on the Suez canal and HMS James Cook
was the Beach Pilotage School in the Kyles of Bute. One link between them
was the close friendship between Captain Wolfe of
Quebec fame and Admiral Saunders his Navy counterpart in what many have
described as the First Combined
Operation and Cook's skills as he helped Saunders navigate the
uncharted waters of the St Lawrence.]
The photos below were taken by the late Trevor G Williams who served at
HMS Saunders during the war. They have reposed in the family album for 65
years (2010) and were seldom, if ever, talked about. On
the death of his mother, the family album came into the possession of their son
Guy who has generously made the photos available for publication. The brief
notes on each photo were taken from the
individual photos. Guy would be delighted to hear from anyone who can add to his
understanding of what his father did in the Middle East. Contact Guy via the
e-mail icon opposite.
Wardroom HMS Saunders - An Oasis.
HMS Saunders Quarter Deck
HMS Saunders - The Snugery
Sub/Lt Brooks at the Point
The Point, Kabret - Me and My True Love
There are around 300 books listed on our 'Combined Operations Books' page which can be
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On this website by the same author
Combined Operations Signals
Training at HMS Saunders part of the CTC Middle East.
left received from David Erwell - Christmas Day Menu 1944 and a theatre ticket.
Donald MacKay Maclean (far right front row in
photo opposite). I remember him
telling me there were a good few cockneys in this team, but sadly I have no
I know he worked on landing craft earlier in his naval
career because he transported drinking water in landing craft along the
Egyptian coast to Tubruk which was under a 6 month siege at the time.
My father was from Ness on the Isle of Lewis. He spoke Gaelic. He was one of
37 young men who left from Ness to join the services and I know a few of them
were sent to HMS Saunders. During his naval service he visited Norway, North
Africa, Egypt and
in Iceland where
he cleared the snow at the airport driving a snow plough. A great job for a
young man! He also served on HMS Kelly.
I'm sorry he didn't write down the names of the others in the photo but
maybe someone will recognise a face and get in touch. Best Wishes, Cathy
Maclean. (Contact Us)
Special thanks to Commander Philip Noel,VRD RNR, for allowing us to publish
this page which is based on reports he made to the Admiralty and Senior Naval
Officer Port Said after leaving HMS Saunders in 1946. The content of the page was
approved by the author before publication.
[Foot notes; (1) A concreted landing area on an otherwise
unimproved beach. (2) Landing craft of various sizes and purposes but all of
shallow draft for close inshore work and beach landings such as Landing Craft
Tank, Landing Craft Assault, Landing Craft Mechanised and Landing Craft
Personnel (Large). (3) Canoeist normally engaged in clandestine work on or near
enemy shores (4) Units normally working in the Beach Maintenance Area.
(5) A streamlined container towed behind a vessel. The device
was designed to keep the towed underwater radar sweep at a pre-determined
depth and position from the sweeping ship.
The innovation allowed a
single ship to do the work previously done by two. (6)
In the early days of landing craft development LCMs were known as D Lighters. As
a single D denoted a destroyer at that time the LCMs were given DD numbers.
(7) The LCT's in Operation Appian were towed to India to speed
up the process of getting them to the Far East as quickly as possible and the
fact that their destination was Colombo. The Indian LCT Squadron mentioned in
the text sailed under their own steam because there was less urgency and their
destination was Bombay, now Mumbai. (8) Commissioned & Warrant.
A CW candidate was a rating selected for the course for potential officers at
HMS King Alfred in Hove.]
If you have any information or photos about CTC Middle East or any Combined
Operations in the Mediterranean/Middle East area please