~ UK LANDING CRAFT TANK (ROCKET)
LCT (R) 363 - Juno Beach,
approaching enemy held landing beaches from the sea the initial assault troops
were likely to come under fire from machine guns, mortars, shells and snipers.
If these enemy defensive positions and
their communications could be disabled or destroyed and the enemy troops manning
them could be disrupted and disorientated, the
Allied troops would suffer fewer casualties in establishing their beachheads.
[Photo of sister craft LCT (R) 334;
© IWM (FL 7047).]
To assist in
was the Landing Craft Tank (Rocket)
- LCT (R).
In just a few seconds
each LCT (R) could fire many hundreds
in rapid succession,
onto the landing beaches
just ahead of
the first wave of assault troops. This is one
story told by stoker Frank Woods, DSM.
Frank was born
on the 29th November, 1919 at Houghton House Farm, Euxton, Chorley. He was educated at Euxton
Church of England School up to the age of 14. From the age of 14 to
18 years, he attended night school at St Marys, Chorley and Chorley Grammar School.
He started a 7
year engineering apprenticeship at Iddon Brothers, Leyland on the 12th February, 1934, earning 3s 9p
(19p) per week during the first year. In October 1939, he volunteered for the
Royal Navy but was turned down because his civilian job was included in the Ministry of Labour's 'Schedule of Reserved Occupations
and Protected Work.'
HM Government thought he was more valuable to the war effort in his civilian
September, 1942, by which time he had
completed his apprenticeship, he left Iddons to work on the manufacture of
torpedoes at Gourock on the River Clyde in Scotland. However, before he started
he was redirected to the General Motors factory at Bamber Bridge, near Preston. Their
Southampton factory had been bombed and
was still a prime target for the Luftwaffe, so the factory was relocated to the
relative safety of rural northern England. After just two months he was put in charge of
the engine shop.
In November, 1942,
he volunteered once more for the Royal Navy and joined up
at Gosport, Hampshire, in April 1943.
Landing Craft Training
He was transferred to Chatham, Kent in May,
'square bashing' and rifle drill. Initially he was billeted in HMS Collingwood,
a shore based training establishment then on a dilapidated ex-grain
carrier, HMS Peking, which was notable for its infestation of cockroaches!
Following his induction training he learned how to repair and maintain marine diesel engines.
On completion of this training in
July, 1943, he took up the
position of Acting Chief Motor Mechanic, 4th Class at HMS Quebec on Loch Fyne
in Scotland. This was the naval part of the
No 1 Combined Training Centre, which
provided joint training exercises in amphibious landings using minor landing
craft. In August 1943, he was attached to the Combined Operations Command and
an Assault Flotilla on a Landing Craft Vehicle Personnel
which ferried undercover agents to the French Coast from Burnham on Crouch in
Essex. He trained with
Commandos and REME in countless joint RN/Army amphibious practice beach landings.
spell of training on Hayling Island near Portsmouth was followed by a return to
Westcliffe near Southend, in September 1943 to continue his landing craft training programme
and to provide instruction on the maintenance, repair and servicing of diesel engines.
[Photo; Frank in the centre with two other crew
In December 1943,
he was drafted to Portsmouth to serve on Landing Craft Tank Rocket 125 - LCT (R)
125. However, the Regulating Office in
Portsmouth to which he reported had
never heard of a Landing Craft Tank Rocket let alone LCT (R) 125! LCT (R)s were due to be deployed for the first time on D-Day so their very existence was
known only to those who needed to know. The element of surprise
was paramount to prevent the enemy from taking counter-measures. He was given
overnight accommodation on half a destroyer, which had been torpedoed in the
Atlantic but was still being used as a billet in the dockyard.
Next day, he finally located LCT (R)
125 and was placed in full charge of the
engine room and all the craft's ancillary engineering equipment. The engine room
personnel comprised himself (Act Ch MM 4th 1 Log MM), two Electricians,
one PO Stoker and two Stokers. He familiarised himself with the instruments
and the engines prior to inspection visit by a Naval Officer
and two POs came on board. With the
inspection completed in under 2 hours, Frank 'sign here' and the inspector remarked "They're all yours.",
and left. A very challenging but interesting few weeks lay ahead for the 23
years old Chief Engineer of the ship.
Three days later with fuel and water
aboard they sailed out of Portsmouth and down the Solent to
test the degaussing equipment. It was designed to reduce the magnetic forces
generated by the craft's metal hull, thereby reducing the risk of detonating an
magnetic mine which were an ever present danger. A month of sea trials followed
off the Isle of Wight, which included some very rough weather. A serious
structural crack appeared amidships and we returned to Southampton stern
first to reduce stresses in the hull. We reached Southampton with the craft
still in one piece.
All the ships
company transferred to LCT (R) 363 a
few days later when serious training for D Day began. For security reasons the rocket launchers
were covered with tarpaulins when not in use at sea for training purposes. There
were three British and three American LCT (R)s in our support group and we
practiced several firings
into Studland Bay, south of Poole, Dorset and again in April, 1944, at Slapton Sands
south of Torquay, Devon as part of the ill fated, Operation Tiger.
His craft sailed from Southampton on
27th April and arrived at the firing position. Frank was below deck in the
engine room and cannot remember if the rockets were fired or not but recalls an urgent order to
‘Make Port All Haste’ was received, which translated into everyday language
meant ‘get the hell out of there!’
They safely returned to Southampton but months later heard rumours that the timings
had gone wrong, killing mainly American soldiers "defending" the beaches. Nothing more was heard until
the war. [Undoubtedly this was true, but the order to return to port was
triggered by German E Boats sinking fully loaded personnel carrying, landing craft. Editor.]
Day - June 6th 1944
Operation Neptune, the amphibious phase of Operation Overlord, had been
meticulously planned down to the last detail including the precise order, route
and destination of thousands of vessels
of all shapes and sizes. On the 5th
of June, LCT (R) 363 left her mooring and formed up in convoy in preparation for the
Channel crossing. The LCT (R)s were the last to leave the confined inshore
waters because the high explosives they carried posed a serious threat to other
vessels in the event of enemy action or accidental discharge.
Once in open waters, the
8 LCT (R)s, in common with similar numbers of LCT (R)s at the other four
landing beaches, sailed through the night. In the
early morning light, Frank's craft arrived at its designated firing point off
the Normandy coast near Aromanches. At the precise planned time they fired their
rockets just ahead of the landing troops. The rockets were fired in ten salvos of 120 - 1200 in
all. Within each salvo they were fired in rapid sequence to reduce the risk of
the downward force damaging the structure of the craft. Each rocket had the blast power of a 6
inch shell but without the penetrative
power. All the rockets were fired in less than 1 min 30 seconds. They
obliterated an area of approximately 400 yards x 100 yards deep.
[Extract from the Admiralty's' Green List'
showing the disposition of some landing craft bound for Juno Beach including LCT
The rocket craft came under
small arms and mortar fire but with little effect. Their job was
done and the CO pulled out to a safer distance where the rocket racks were
refilled with the help of the Royal Marines.
It took about 22 hours. During this time the Germans released small radio controlled
boats fitted with explosive war heads. These damaged several ships until
gunners destroyed or disabled them before they could do any damage. It was a
great relief to the crews of the Rocket craft, which were particularly vulnerable. Any
explosion had the potential to detonate the rockets they carried with disastrous
D Day + 2, an American Landing Ship Tank (LST) of around 25,000 tons, picked up
LCT (R) 363's anchor cable with its propeller. It was an unequal struggle
as the 1000 tons of the LCT were pulled downwards under the stern of the much larger LST.
They ordered 363 to get out of their way but became more conciliatory when they
learned we carried 1,500 high explosive rockets! They stopped immediately to
allow the crew to cut the
1.25" diameter anchor cable, which by then was wrapped around the propeller of the LST
like a coiled up spring. When the ship's
cut through the cable, it wildly slewed around causing damage to the
guard rails and dinghy of 363. However, the LST was in much more serious trouble. It took divers
two or three days to free the
cable from their propellers.
seven days, the beaches were entirely secure so 363 was stood down and returned to the U.K. It berthed on the River
across from the Isle of Wight. Lord
estate was close by. The craft
remained in a state of readiness for further action and ten days later was
briefly returned to Normandy but did not take any further part in the landings. In
early July, it returned once more to the
where it remained in a state of readiness.
Frank was promoted to Chief Motor Mechanic.
Infatuate, Walcheren - November 1944
the 26th October, 363 received orders to rendezvous with a destroyer in the
English Channel together with other landing craft. From there they proceeded in
convoy to Ostend,
very shortly after the Germans had retreated from the town on October 28th. The task ahead was a daunting one. They were to become part
of Operation Infatuate, the codename for the invasion of the Dutch Island of Walcheren. The island stood at the mouth of the River Scheldt and blocked Allied
access to the captured port of Antwerp, some 60 kilometres inland, which was
urgently needed to supply the advancing Allied armies.
Dislodging the entrenched German
garrison of 10,000 soldiers on the island with their heavy guns and strong
defensive positions, was proving to be a slow and costly process for the foot
soldiers. The planners
decided that an amphibious assault landing might dislodge the enemy and because
363 and her sister craft had remained in a state of readiness after Normandy,
they were the obvious choice for this operation. On the 31st
October they departed Ostend arriving off Walcheren early on the 1st November. The
rockets were targetted on predetermined targets and, according to later reports,
with great accuracy & devastation. However, as they turned to make their way out, they received around 40 hits
from the German shore batteries. Luckily, all passing over the magazine space,
which contained around 1200 explosive rockets and 12 smoke rockets. Had the
magazine received a direct hit that ignited the explosive rockets, the craft,
and everything on it, would have been totally destroyed.
When they were a mile or so from the shore they received a direct hit from a
105mm German Naval gun fixed ashore. Frank was on duty in the engine room as the shell came through the stern quarter, penetrating the
hull and the 2 1/4" steel plate that protected the engine room, missing his
head by inches. It took away an exhaust pipe from the main
engine and generator and did considerable damage to the generator itself.
Sadly, it killed one of the seamen.
[Photo of a German heavy gun emplacement on the island. © IWM (BU 1273).]
It then carried on through the
main fuel tanks,
cutting its way through an 8" x 6" RSJ beam and
finally coming to rest amongst the smoke rockets which immediately ignited. It
was all over in a split second and seawater was pouring in through the hole in
the stern quarter. The crew dropped the rope of a hammock over the side of the
ship and pulled it back through the hole from the inside. As they pulled on the
rope the hammock appeared, became stuck in the hole effectively stemming the
flow of water entering the craft.
smoke belched out of the magazine storage space and the crew were far from
certain about the condition of the high explosive rockets. Frank was badly
wounded in his back and buttocks by steel fragments and his left ring finger
was hanging off. Amongst this chaos and mayhem, toxic exhaust fumes were
escaping from the shattered exhaust pipes and all the while the possibility of a
mighty explosion was uppermost in their minds. Frank made repairs to the
electrical wiring from the generator which powered up the fire pumps and
activated the sprinkler system. The immediate crisis was over but the crew still
had no idea what was on fire in the magazine hold.
Frank reasoned that their chances of
survival in the North Sea in November, for any length of time, were extremely
poor, so abandoning ship was not a sensible option. Their best chance of
survival was to stay on board and to make the craft as safe as possible by attempting
to undertake further repairs. He worked with the assistance of a wireman and
rerouted the electrical cable to the other generator, which provided more electricity to power the pumps. This also allowed
the hoses and sprinkler system to operate.
A Motor Torpedo Boat (MTB) came
alongside to rescue the crew, but unfortunately the sea was far too rough. As
the two vessels rode the waves one was on the crest and the other in the trough
and vice versa. At one stage the gunnels of the MTB rode up and over the gunnels
of 363 causing a split in the MTB's deck. With no rescue in prospect, and
mindful of the risk of explosion, the MTB retired to a safer distance. Our HQ
ship put out a signal advising all vessels to stay well clear of 363. After about four hours, the smoke abated
sufficiently to allow and inspection of the damage. As anticipated, most of the
damage had been caused
by the large naval shell. Remarkably, the explosive part of the shell broke away
on impact otherwise 363 and all her crew would have been lost.
eight hours, Frank collapsed from the effects of his wounds and from sheer
exhaustion. HMS Erebos, an Erebos class Monitor from WW1, sent across
a large rowing boat called a whaler. 363's cook, who had chest wounds, and Frank,
were carefully lowered over the side in Robinson Stretchers and transferred to the
sick bay on the 'Erebos'. Frank was operated on in the sick bay to remove the
shrapnel and to tidy up his wounds. Erebus was a very old ship in need of
decommissioning as exampled by the water swishing about in the sick bay. It was
so deep that the surgeon had to wear Wellingtons!
On the 2nd
November, the Captain came down to see Frank and informed him that the 'Erebos'
had just fired its final salvo. He said it would be something to tell his
grandchildren in years to come. Frank returned to Portsmouth and transferred to the Haslar RN Hospital on the 4th
November for further treatment on his back & hand. After 3 weeks he moved to
a commandeered ancestral home at Horndean, for convalescence. Whilst in there, he received
notification of his 'Mention in Dispatches' for services on D Day. He also received
a very complimentary letter from the CO of LCT (R) 363 with news that a further decoration was
6th December 1944
I should have
written to you long ago, but I knew you were all right and besides, I have been too
busy having leave. As you know we have all had one long leave, but I hope to be
able to send some of the boys home for Christmas, which is not very far away
now. Some of the boys have had 14 days at home and some only 11 and they all seemed
to be satisfied. I only wish you were with us, you did a hell of a good job that
awful morning and I can now safely say that you saved the ship and all on board
and I do not know how to thank you.
Still I hope we
meet again some day Chief and I shall buy you a pint of beer then; that is if
you are not too snooty to talk to me.
I was very
pleased to hear about your 'mention' and you will most probably have something
else coming along after this show. You may be interested to know that we were
the only ship to hit the target and that we have a very good name amongst the
rest of our squadron.
sorry I am not able to write any more, so I'll wish you all the very best of
luck and I hope that you will get home for Christmas.
Christmas sick leave, Frank was in The Bay Horse at Euxton when the Chorley
Guardian reporter, George Birtills came in and informed him that he had been
awarded the DSM for outstanding service in the attack on Walcheren. Everybody had
a good celebration on the spot and then returned back to the farm for more. Frank
for further convalescence to Horndean and shortly after received an invitation
to attend an investiture at Buckingham Palace on the 13th of March 1945. He
attended accompanied by his sister, Hilda and a friend. The investiture was
taken by King George VI
taken outside Buckingham Palace. Frank (centre) and
Stanley William Winrow (2nd Right); both received DSMs.]
After a little more convalescence,
Frank was discharged and returned to Southampton to take up his duties once
again aboard LCT (R) 363, which was undergoing repairs in dry dock. He caught up
with all the news and was informed that the105mm German
shell had been found in the magazine storage space and
that it had been sent to the Ballistics Department in Southampton for examination. He
made a request to the department and finally retrieved it. He polished and
varnished it and secured it to the quarter deck as a souvenir.
The Victory in Europe (VE) celebrations were held in Southampton,
which, for us, were followed by
further operations in the Far East. However, with the surrender of the Japanese
in September 1945, all training
ceased and the planned trip to the Far East was abandoned. Frank spent a
further 3 months in Poole and then sailed round Cornwall to Appledore in North
Devon, where the ship was paid off. A sad thing - someone stole his souvenir
shell! He was de-mobbed at Chatham on the 24th of May, 1946.
work back at Iddon Brothers in June, 1946, and married Elizabeth Joan
Nightingale at Leyland St
Andrews Parish Church on the 28th December 1946. The Reception was
held at The Masonic Hall, Leyland. He was
promoted to charge-hand in 1952. He did a lot of installation work of the
products manufactured by IBL for the Rubber & Plastics industry and worked in
France, Spain, South Africa and Yugoslavia. He worked alongside Dr. Vole from
ICI on the first extrusion of plastic belt on one of IBL rubber extruders, which
was the start of the development of plastic covered cable, clothes line,
terylene rope, coaxial cable, plastic bags, plastic sheet, bottles, dustbins -
a very interesting time. Frank was promoted to Foreman in 1958, Works Manager in 1965
and Works Coordinator in 1982.
He retired 29th
http://www.combinedops.com/Walcheren.htm for an account of the
wider Walcheren operation of which LCT (R) 363 was part.
This account is based upon
notes prepared by Frank Wood, which were updated by his daughter,
in May 2013. The final draft, with factual additions
and photos, was undertaken by
Geoff Slee for website presentation. The final draft was approved by Frank and Doreen before publication.
Raymond Woods, Frank's
nephew, wrote on 11/03/17; It is
with sadness that I inform you that Frank Woods, DSM, passed away on
March 27th 2017 from phenomena after a short illness. RIP.