~ UK NAVY LANDING CRAFT TANK (ROCKET) ~
One of the Allies secret weapons
for D Day
The Allies had a few
secret weapons to surprise the defending German forces on the beaches of
Normandy in June 1944. One such was the Landing Craft Tank (Rocket) or (LCT(R) which,
in just a few seconds, fired dozens of rockets carrying high explosives on to
the landing beaches in advance of the first wave of assault troops. The aim was
to destroy, disable, disrupt and disorientate the enemy forces. 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 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 the work he did was on the Ministry of
Labour's 'Schedule of Reserved Occupations
and Protected Work.'
With approval from the appropriate
authorities, he left Iddons
in September 1942 with the intention of travelling to Gourock on the River Clyde in Scotland, to
work on the manufacture of Torpedoes. However, this was cancelled and he soon
found himself at the General Motors factory at Bamber Bridge, near Preston in
the north west of England. Their factory had been bombed in Southampton, which
was a prime target for the Luftwaffe, so they relocated the business to this
relatively quiet area of rural England. After two months he was put in charge of
the engine shop. He volunteered once more for the Royal Navy in November 1942
and joined up
at Gosport, Hampshire, in April 1943.
[Photo; Frank in the centre with two other crew
members of LCT (R)363].
Landing Craft Training
He was transferred to Chatham, Kent in May
'square bashing' and rifle drill. Initially he was billoted in HMS Collingwood
and later on a very old iron, ex-grain
carrier, HMS Peking, which was notable only because it was full of
cockroaches! He then took instruction on the repair and maintenance of diesel engines.
transferred to HMS Quebec on Loch Fyne in Scotland in July 1943 where he received the
rank of Acting Chief Motor Mechanic, 4th Class. In August 1943 he was attached to
an Assault Flotilla on a Landing Craft Vehicle Personnel (LCVP) ferrying undercover
agents to the French Coast from Burnham on Crouch in Essex. By this time he was
attached to the Combined Operations Command where he trained with
Commandos and REME in the operation of landing craft through countless practice
beach landings. He completed a further
spell of training on Hayling Island near Portsmouth, and then returned to
Westcliffe near Southend, in September 1943 to continue his training programme. He also gave
class instruction on Diesel engines.
In December 1943,
he was drafted to Portsmouth to serve on Landing Craft Tank Rocket 125 - LCT(R)
125. However, late one evening when he arrived at the Regulating Office in
Portsmouth, they had
no knowledge of such a craft, let alone LCT
(R) 125! LCT(R)s were due to be deployed for the first time on D-Day to soften
up enemy defensive positions on the landing beaches, so their very existence was
known only to those who needed to know. The need to maintain the element of surprise
was paramount. Frank 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, after
a lot of enquiries, he finally got on board LCT (R) 125. He found himself in full charge of the
engine room and all the craft's ancillary engineering equipment. The engine room
staff consisted of 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 as best he could and next day, at 11.00 hours, a Naval Officer
and two POs came on board to test the engines and equipment. At 12.30 hours, with the
they just asked Frank to 'sign here' and departed with the remark "They're all yours."
This was the start of a very challenging but interesting few weeks. He was 23
years old and already Chief Engineer of the ship.
After three days,
they took on water and fuel and sailed out of Portsmouth, 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 a
magnetic mine. They then returned to a berth at Southampton. After month long
sea trials off the Isle of Wight, they ran into very rough weather, which caused
the ship to crack in its centre. The CO decided to return to Southampton, stern
first to reduce stresses in the hull and, hopefully, to reduce the risk of the
craft breaking in two. The craft reached
All the ships
company were transferred to LCT (R) 363 within a
very few days. Then began the
serious training for D Day. The rocket launchers were always
covered with tarpaulins when not being used for training purposes out at
sea. These rocket craft, in our case three British and three American,
were one of the D Day's secret weapons. They did several practice firings
into Studland Bay, south of Poole, Dorset, and in April 1944 at Slapton Sands
south of Torquay, Devon as part of the ill fated, Operation Tiger. His craft sailed from Southampton on the 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. Shortly after, 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. See
Tiger for more information about this. Editor].
Day - June 6th 1944
The planning for Operation Neptune,
the amphibious phase of Operation Overlord, had been meticulously planned down
to the last detail including the precise order and route of thousands of vessels
of all shapes and sizes. On the 5th
of June, LCT(R) 363 left her mooring to form up in convoy in preparation for the
Channel crossing. The LCT(R)s were last to leave the confined 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
6 LCT(R)s, in common with countless other LCT(R)s along the length of the five
Normandy beaches, sailed through the night and the vast armada of ships. In the
early morning light, Frank's craft arrived at its designated firing point off
the coast near Aromanches, and at the precise planned time, they fired their
rockets just ahead of the landing troops. They devastated all the property in an
area of approximately 400 yards x 100 yards deep.
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.
[Photo of sister craft LCT(R) 334;
© IWM (FL 7047)].
The rocket craft then came under
small arms and mortar fire but without causing much damage. 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. At one point the Germans released small radio controlled
boats with war heads fitted to their bows. 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 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 much larger
LST. They instructed the Rocket ship to get out of their way but became much
more conciliatory when they realised that 1,500 high explosive rockets were on board.
They stopped immediately which allowed the crew to cut the
1.25" diameter anchor cable which by then was well and truly wrapped around the propeller of the LST.
The cable was coiled up like a spring and the energy released, when the ship's
cut through the cable, caused it slew around wildly, doing much damage to the
guard rails and dinghy of 363. The LST was in much more serious trouble. It took divers
two or three days to free the
cable from their propellers.
seven days, it became clear that there would no further need for rocket salvos
so 363 the 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 briefly returned
to Normandy ten days later 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
On the 26th October
they 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 on
October 28th. Their 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 big guns and strong
defensive positions, was proving to be a slow and costly process. The planners
decided that a new approach was required - an invasion from the sea. Because
they had remained in a state of readiness after Normandy, the crew of LCT(R) 363
and their sister craft, were ready to depart on this operation. So, just a
few days later, on the 31st
October they set off 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.
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.
[Photo of a German heavy gun emplacement on the island. © IWM (BU 1273)].
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 w as taken by King George VI.
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. [Photo
taken outside Buckingham Palace. Frank (centre) and
Stanley William Winrow (2nd Right); both received DSMs].
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.