~ COMBINED OPERATIONS ~

WW2 land, sea and air forces of the Allied Nations planning, training and operating together as a unified force on amphibious raids and landings against the enemy.

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~ USS LCI(L) 502 ON D-DAY ~

USS LCI(L) 502 carried 196 Officers an men of the Durham Light Infantry to Gold Beach on the wild and windy morning of June 6th 1944. This account is based on the writings and recollections of John P Cummer and information from the craft's Deck Log.

D-Day Draws Near The Crossing The Landing Return to England Further Reading Acknowldgements

D-Day Draws Near

On Saturday the 3rd of June 1944 our ship, the United States Ship Landing Craft Infantry (Large) 502 or USS LCI(L) 502 for short, moved to Royal Pier, Southampton, England, and embarked 196 officers and men of the Durham Light Infantry, 151st Brigade, 50th Northumbrian Division, British 8th Army. They were carrying freshly printed French currency, a positive sign that this trip was for real.

As they clambered aboard, carrying folded bicycles and with various bits of equipment hanging about them, they looked more like peddlers than soldiers. They were, however, first class troops and were to prove themselves so in the fighting that lay ahead.

Crowded to the limit, we moved back to our normal berthing place at New Docks along with the other LCIs of Group 31. On Sunday, June 4th, the crew turned to for final preparations for the coming operation. A church party went ashore and returned, and the crowded troops were permitted ashore for some much needed exercise. The usual general quarters were sounded for an air raid alert at 2030 and we stood to our guns for some twenty minutes before securing. [Photo; the author John P Cummer]

Our group did not participate in the abortive foray on June 5th which had to be recalled because of bad weather, but the certainty of our sailing for the "far shore" was underlined when, at 1400, shipís company was assembled to hear the message of General Eisenhower to the Allied Expeditionary Force. Open thumbnail opposite.

Throughout that day more and more ships slipped out of the once crowded harbor until it seemed that we were the only ones left. It was an eerie sensation. Finally, at 2000, our group began slipping lines and standing out into the channel. The 502 cast off at 2012 taking its place in column behind the 512. Our escort ship, HMS Albrighton, met us as we passed Needles Light on the eastern tip of the Isle of Wight and, forming into divisions for the assault, we were on our way.

The Crossing

Jolly Miller and I shared the bow watch from 2000 to midnight that night. As usual he was ebullient and talkative, excited about what was coming. "Just think, JP," he said to me, "by this time tomorrow weíll be veterans!" I think I shared some of his anticipatory excitement, but when we were relieved at midnight, I felt the need to be alone. Imminent danger has a way of awakening spiritual concerns. Godly parents had raised me to take the Christian faith seriously. On this night before battle, I felt the need for reminding myself of the certainties and comforts of that faith.

Finding a place to be alone on a 153 foot landing craft crowded with 196 troops can be a problem, but I had my own private place, cramped though it was. Under the fantail deck was the small magazine where ammunition was stored. As the Gunnerís Mate, I had the key to that small cubbyhole and so it was to that place that I retreated for my quiet time.

I sat on the cold, steel deck, surrounded by the cases of ammunition and read from the New Testament that had been given to me by the Gideons. The guide to references inside the front cover had suggestions for special times. One was "for times of peril or danger", and it directed me to Psalm 91:

"He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the LORD, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God, in Him will I trust. Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler and from the noisome pestilence. He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust. Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day; nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday. A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee . . . "

". . . but it shall not come nigh thee . . ."

A deep sense, not of fearless bravado, but of assurance in the protection of a sovereign God came to me as I read those verses. To this day, every time I re-read them, that tiny steel cubicle, surrounded by cases of ammunition, pitching with the motion of the sea, comes immediately to mind. In Godís providence, that protection was afforded to me and my shipmates on D-Day, June 6, 1944.

In the early hours of June 6th, as we entered the swept channels through the minefields north of Seine Bay, hoping that the minesweepers had done their job, the nine LCIs of Group 31 formed up for the assault as directed in Group Commander Patrickís order. We were in three columns, the first led by 501 with 507 and 509 in her trail. In the center column, Commander Patrick rode in 512, his flagship, with the 500 and the 499 astern. In the right hand column 506 led with our 502 and the 508 following.

As the sun rose that morning, we could make out the vast armada around us, and the almost-total canopy of allied aircraft overhead with the distinctive D-Day markings of black and white stripes painted on wings and fuselage. Someone, later describing this scene, said that it looked like you could walk across the English Channel on the wings of the aircraft. In the distance we could see the smoke of the beach. The noise of the naval bombardment was continuous.

The Landing

At 0755, our escort vessel, HMS Albrighton, used their blinker signal light to advise us that assaults were going according to plan. We sighted the coast of France at 0855 and began circling in the ingoing area waiting for the signal for our group to proceed to the beach. Shortly after 0900 Commander Patrick signaled the group to prepare to beach. The last movement was underway.

My battle station was at the number one gun atop the focsíl, thus placing me in the farthest point forward aboard our ship, a genuine ring-side seat, but one which had the drawback of being an excellent and highly visible target.. With our gun cocked and loaded we talked, watched and waited, speculating as to what was going on ashore, when we would head in, and how much opposition we would face.

In the log book, Mr. Krenicky, our Engineering Officer, who made the entries for that memorable day, noted that they observed a German tank hit on a hillside and, as we shifted to beaching stations at 1030, that a German 75mm gun was still in operation as well as mortar fire. At 1040 he wrote: "Standing in to Jig Green sector of Gold Beach, Asnelles-Sur-Mer, Arromanches sector."

The noise, smoke and confusion grew as we threaded our way through a mass of wrecked landing craft, tanks, and beach obstacles. The nice, tight directions of our Group Commander as to our order of landing disappeared as the confusion of the beach made it totally impossible. It was every ship for itself. I was told years later by a crew member of the 508 that their Captain had his eye on the same landing spot for which we were headed, and cursed our Skipper roundly as we beat him to it.

Our landing resembled none of the multitude of practice landings we had made. We scraped over some submerged object for the length of the ship but suffered no damage. At one point, close to the shore, our bow was aimed directly at a sunken truck with two wet, forlorn-looking soldiers clinging to it. At the last moment, we changed course to avoid them. [Photo opposite left]. With a look of great relief on their faces, they waved to us as we lurched past them on our way to the rather improbable landing spot our Skipper had chosen out of necessity - a broached British LCT.

HM LCT 857 was stranded, parallel to the beach. She had taken a good pounding and was in no shape or position to disengage herself from the beach. but she did make what our Skipper considered the best possible place for disembarking our troops, so he ran our bow right up on to the broached LCT. [Photo opposite right; Gold Beach on D-Day: LCI 502 with her bow up against HM LCT 857 a Mk4 LCT of the 33rd LCT Flotilla of D LCT Squadron. The flotilla delivered Royal Artillery on the morning of D-Day on to Gold beach.]

The ramps were extended, dropped onto the LCT at somewhat perilous angles, and our bicycle-toting Tommies struggled down our ramps, clambered over the LCT and finally dropped off onto the beach itself. While our troops were disembarking we became involved in two rescue missions. With no threat from German aircraft (and much too small to consider challenging German 88s!), we on the Focsíl secured our gun and became busily involved in those rescue missions

First, the skipper of the British LCT on whom we had descended uninvited, asked if we could give him a tow as we retracted. Bosín Walt Sellers and some of the deck gang rigged a cable and passed it to the LCT, the plan being to try to "unbroach" them as we retracted. Then some British sailors, stranded on the beach after losing their small boats in the first wave, asked if we could take them off the beach. We passed another line down to them; they secured it to some place on the broached LCT and began climbing, hand over hand, up to our focsíl. We hung, somewhat precariously, out over the bow, leaning down to grab them and haul them aboard. We were able to rescue 27 of them when the Skipper decided it was time to retract.

Return to England

At 1141 Bosín Sellers was ordered to cast off the line to the LCT and the Skipper began backing our LCI off the beach. The line that the small boat survivors were using snapped taut; one sailor fought for dear life to hang on. We were able to reach down and grab him before the line parted. With the perspective of a sailor on the bow, instead of an officer in the Conning Tower, I was livid. I was sure we could have rescued more of the British sailors and spared them the continued danger of exposure to gunfire on the beach. I was equally sure that we could have done more to help the broached LCT get off the beach. The issue, I was told later, was that time was running out before the tide began to turn. [Photo opposite; On Gold Beach. Taken from conn of 508, which was next to 502.]

Was the Skipper right in pulling out when he did? Probably. Other crew members grumbled angrily about it, as I did, but, in retrospect, there is no reason to question his decision. The "what if . . ." game is one of the most futile of all enterprises. After successfully retracting, we threaded our way back through the wreckage that littered Gold Beach. Our part in the D-Day assault was over. We had successfully landed our troops. The work of support - ferrying fresh troops across the channel - was about to begin.

We stayed at action stations for the rest of D-Day. Around us the gun support ships were firing almost continuously. HMS Belfast, now on permanent display in London on the Thames just opposite the Tower of London, was one of the ships closest to us. We could tell little of what was happening ashore. There were ceaseless explosions on the beach and a pall of gun smoke hung over everything. Overhead, wave after wave of aircraft, fortunately bearing the black and white D-Day striping of the invasion forces, came on steadily.

Around 1600 we were formed up with other LCIs and set out on our return trip to England. We had been warned about the possibility of German E-Boats dashing out for raids, so we were more than usually tense that night as we strained our eyes to see in the darkness. Nothing happened, but the long tension-packed day and anxious watch left me, and I am sure other crew members, exhausted.

At 2315 the lights of the Isle of Wight came into view. We were safely back from the "far shore".

Troops in Southampton prior to D-Day awaiting departure.

LCI 502, first left, awaits the order to sail for France. Southampton Docks

Conn of 502 from adjacent LCI Southampton docks.

US LCIs underway across the channel on the evening of June 5 1944

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

Thanks are due to John Cummer for this interesting account of USS LCI (L) 502 on D-Day including  photographs and to Tony Chapman, archivist and historian for the LST and Landing Craft Association for his assistance. More contributions from the USA will be warmly welcomed.

News & Information

 

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WW2 Combined Operations Handbook

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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

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