524 LCA Flotilla on D DAY
Ferrying soldiers from troop ships to Gold beach
under heavy fire
Flotilla comprised 18 craft, 15 of which were troop carrying Landing Craft
Assault - LCAs and 3 Landing Craft Support (Medium) - LCS (M)s, which provided
heavy machine gun covering fire.
A fleet of
Roads. Several of
© IWM (A
The flotilla took part in the initial assault
landings on Gold Beach (see map below) on D-Day against heavily defended enemy positions.
Each LCA carried around 35 fully laden assault troops amounting to over 500 in
All the craft, their crews and troops were carried to Gold beach on their
'mother ship', the SS
Empire Arquebus. The full flotilla comprised LCAs 602, 654, 656, 663, 733, 920,
921, 926, 1005, 1008, 1009, 1010,1026, 1254, &1384 plus LCM(3)s 78,
109 & 112.
Until the beaches and their
environs were cleared of the enemy, all approaching landing craft were
potentially exposed to enemy mortars, 88mm shells, machine gun and
occasional heavy calibre shell fire. There was less enemy air activity than
first account of 524 LCA Flotilla's D-Day experience is
in Charge of LCA 1026, Sub Lieutenant Murray and the second is by former Royal Marine HR ‘Lofty’ Whitting who was
on board one of the LCS (M)s.
While larger landing craft and ships made their own way
across the English Channel to Normandy, those in the 524 Flotilla were carried
on a large mother ship. Having attained a predetermined position several miles off the
Normandy beaches, at 0615 hours, 1026 and her sister craft were lowered fully
laden into the water by means similar to lifeboats on passenger carrying ships.
The craft then assembled into a strict order and, under their own power, proceeded
towards pre-determined positions on the landing beaches.
On arrival at the beach, the
troops were disembarked as close to their battle objectives as possible in
accordance with the meticulous plans of Operation Neptune,
(the amphibious phase of Operation Overlord),
prepared months in advance.
The initial beaching, at 0710, was carried out successfully, despite heavy
mortar fire from the enemy defences and strategically placed beach obstacles
designed to impede or prevent landings. After disembarking our assault troops, the Flotilla formed up again about a
mile from the beach (Jig Green), where we waited two and a half hours for the larger LCTs (Landing Craft Tanks) to arrive
with their cargoes of troops. Our task was then to ferry the
troops from the LCTs
to their designated landing beaches. Our
Flotilla Officer (FO) controlled the movement of his craft on instructions from
nearby HQ ships, whose personnel were informed of the progress of battle and the
movement of vessels in their area. I loaded up with 25 troops. Their Commanding
Officer ordered me to beach on Jig Green, to the west of Le Hamel.
Lieutenant Commander J C Haans Hamilton, RNVR, and Major Clayton,
Royal Engineers, studying one of the obstacles with attached mines at low tides.
© IWM (A 23991).]
The tide had risen and
the beach obstacles in the form
of steel girders were now just below the waterline as
we approached the beach. This was a much more hazardous situation than on our
first approach to the beach a few hours earlier. With a bowman on lookout, I carefully steered
our LCA towards the beach but our luck ran out when our craft stuck fast on a
steel girder protruding through the bottom of the boat aft by the
starboard bilge pump. We were about 20 yards from the beach. Leading Seaman Williams
used the power of the LCA's two engines to break free, but to no avail. When
stoker Moule reported that the gearbox of the starboard engine had broken down
and the Port engine had seized up, it was time to disembark!
ramp was lowered and the army officer in charge,
accompanied by one of his troops, waded ashore followed by a sergeant who was hit in the
arm by a sniper. Although not seriously wounded, he fell down by the cockpit.
The bulk of the troops were, understandably reluctant to leave the relative
safety of the craft but it was imperative for them to do so before the craft
sank or was hit by mortar fire. I ordered the troops to disembark and
more left and were shot by the sniper(s) from
a pill box at Le Hamel. Using a Lewis gun, fire was concentrated on a pill box
on the extreme end of the wall, while the remaining soldiers disembarked and
waded ashore to take cover behind an overturned Sherman tank, which lay directly
in front of the our craft.
We were at the mercy of the wind and tidal currents and our craft swung round
towards the pill box with about 2 feet of water inside. We were sinking rapidly.
The sniper was still firing at the boat and I hailed the soldiers to return
fire, but they were disinclined to do so.
[Photo; war grave of Able Seaman Bayliss at Bayeaux cemetery, courtesy of Ian Murray.]
I gave the order to abandon the craft, leaving the
wounded sergeant under
cover in the boat. It was impossible to drag him ashore and I considered that,
for the time being, it would be safer for him to remain in the craft.
Able Seaman Bayliss, the bowman in the boat, was shot and died instantaneously.
As I picked him up, I saw that the bullet had penetrated over his top left
rib and into his heart. I laid him down inside the craft and ordered stoker Moule to go over the stern,
which was less exposed to the sniper
and to crawl ashore. He safely reached the shore but lost the Lewis gun in the
process of getting there. I took the same route ashore with the other Lewis gun,
which I left behind with the troops on the beach. Next was Able Seamen McCarroll, Taylor and finally, Williams. We
all managed to gain the shore safely, by which time the boat rested on the bottom in 2 feet of water.
I led the crew eastwards, along the shore towards some beached LCTs,
hoping to obtain a lift back to our mother ship. On the way, we came across the Commanding Officer
of the 1st Hants, who had been wounded in the arm and leg during the assault
landing. We crawled another 600 yards along the
beach, where we met Sub Lt Laverton and his crew. Our relief was palpable.
We rested a while and then
proceeded further along the beach, where we came across the crews
of LCAs 602, 656, 920,1005,1008
and1010 who were all safe. All the
craft were stranded on the beach on the falling tide. After a meal, Leading
Seaman Williams took the crews to LCI 400 (Landing Craft Infantry), where they
remained, with the exception of the crew of LCA1010. I joined them later with Sub Lt
We received orders to report to the PBM (Principal Beach Master), who
controlled all traffic on the beach. We mustered all 524 LCA crews on the beach
with the exception of 663 and 1010. The crews of the stranded craft
still in working condition, were to remain on the beach until the craft could be
re-floated on the next rising tide, while the four remaining crews were to embark LCT 472. Sub Lt Davis
was informed of the arrangements and Able Seaman Giddings took charge of the
departing party comprising the crews of LCAs 920, 1005, 1008 and 1026. They carried stores recovered
from the wrecked boats and
embarked the LCT.
Sub Lt Chapman and I returned to the LCI where Leading Seaman
Williams and Able Seaman Allen were attending Able Seaman N Davey, who was
suffering from shock. The craft's doctor advised that Davey should
the LCI, which was due to sail for Southampton that evening.
That settled, the rest of us returned to the
LCT, which was also to sail for Southampton that night. We
anchored off Calshot the following afternoon at about 1430, to see the Empire
Arquebus sailing past, heading for Cowes Roads.
[Photo; Lt Cmd DC Murray, DSC, RN at Le Hamel pillbox.]
We transported a "survivor" crew to
HMS Glenroy, where we
were looked after very well, returning about 2100, when a SNOT (Senior Naval
Officer Transport) arrived with his boat, to take us to the Arquebus.
men behaved exceptionally well during the whole period, in fact I cannot find
words suitable; they all deserve the greatest praise. Their spirit was grand.
Especially, Leading Seaman Williams and Able Seaman Allen, who carried out their
duties to the utmost of their ability as coxswains. I commend them for their
duty during the whole period.
The 3 LCS(M)s
in support of the 15 LCAs, were crewed by Royal Marines. Their primary
task was to escort the LCAs to the landing beaches under cover of their heavy
machine gun fire. This is 'Lofty' Whitting's story of the same events.
Unbeknown to former Royal Marine, HR ‘Lofty’ Whitting, his
immediate preparations for D-Day began on May 30th 1944. His account
of events continues...
With several other Royal Marines, I arrived at the Royal
Marine Barracks at Deal to begin a routine junior NCO's course. The following
day, before our course had even begun, I and a few others were ordered to return
to our unit at Sandwich in Kent. We had no idea what was going on or what was in
store for us in the next few days.
The following day, we were instructed to proceed to Poole in
Dorset to locate the Royal Navy Landing Craft Assault (LCA) Flotilla 524.
Attached to this particular flotilla were three Royal Marine manned
LCS(M)s (Landing Craft Support, Medium), one of which, I was to join.
[Although not recorded in the author's account, the three craft
carried on the SS Empire Arquebus were the Mk3 LCS(M)s 78, 109 and 112. The
other craft on board were Landing Craft Assault or LCAs 602, 654, 656, 663, 733,
920, 921, 926, 1005, 1008, 1009, 1010,
1026, 1254 and 1384. Those shown in Red are
recorded as war losses sustained during the Normandy campaign. Lofty records
below that all the craft of 524 Flotilla survived the D-Day assault. Certainly
on June 19th 1944, the craft are recorded embarked in Arquebus but it
was on that day the ‘Great Storm’ hit the Normandy coast. It's possible that the
craft were lost during that three day period. Tony Chapman LST &
Landing Craft association.]
The next day, I travelled to London and onward to Poole.
Arriving late in the afternoon I reported to the guard room and was given a
medical, a meal and a billet for the night. By then the 524 Flotilla had moved
to Hythe near Southampton! En route, I called at several camps including
HMS Mastadon (Exbury Hall) on the River Beaulieu. On arriving at Hythe, I
had more medicals and enjoyed the same lack of success in tracing the 524 LCA
Flotilla. Once more I was given a temporary billet for the night.
The following day, I discovered that my LCS(M) was on board a
ship in the Solent. I was taken to Southampton where a ‘liberty’ boat from SS
Empire Arquebus picked me up. As I climbed aboard I was asked, 'You know
where you're going tomorrow? Before I had time to reply the answer was
provided... France!' So I was to be part of the biggest amphibious
invasion force in history.
This was my first sight of an LCS(M), although I had been
trained to man these craft and knew what was expected of me. I was, therefore,
both unfamiliar with the craft and the men I would work alongside. These unusual
circumstances arose because I had replaced someone who had
failed to return to duty after home leave.
The 524 Flotilla had 15 Landing Craft Assault (LCAs) manned by
the Royal Navy and our three LCS(M) manned by Royal Marines. The LCAs were
adorned with painted pictures and names of songs such as Blaydon Races, Suwannee
River and Polly Wolly Doodle.
Our crew comprised our officer, Lt Richard Hill, Corporal
Powell, Coxswain Andrews, Stoker Rowbotham, Marine Martin in charge of the CSA
Smoke-Laying equipment, Gun Loader Jock Smith, Signalman Crispen, Smoke Mortar
men Green and Howe and finally, Lewis gunners Pugh and myself - 11 in total.
Corporal Powell manned the twin 0.5 inch Lewis gun in the Boulton Turret.
Sunday June 4th was cold and miserable with heavy
rain, gale force winds and a very big swell on the sea. On the mess deck, at
breakfast, I met ‘Ginger’ Waters. He had been given a last minute draft at
Sandwich arriving on the Empire Arquebus during the hours of darkness.
Ginger was not familiar with LCS(M)s having trained as a gunner on Landing Craft
Flack (LCF), but thankfully his skills were transferable.
I spent that Sunday, June 4, scrubbing equipment,
familiarising myself with the craft, stowing away stores and attending meetings,
including a final briefing on our part in the great hazardous adventure that lay
ahead the following day. However, we learned that D-Day had been postponed due
to the bad weather so we attended more briefings and further studied our orders
and instructions. I went to bed early that evening but could not sleep.
As I lay there, I felt the shuddering of engines and movement
as the ship set off. The Arquebus pitched and rolled in the rough waters
as we entered the channel. Curiosity got the better of me as I took in the
amazing sight of ships and craft of all shapes and sizes forming up in their
predetermined positions. Excitement gave way to exhaustion and I eventually fell
Reveille next morning, June 6th was about 0330. We
had a hearty breakfast of fried eggs and bacon with fried bread and butter. We
were back on deck and beside our craft by 0430. It was time to go. Fully laden,
we lowered away, slipped our lowering gear on reaching the water and cast off.
Under our own power we moved away from our mother ship, at times riding on the
crest of the waves and then slipping into a trough with nothing to see but sea!
The LCAs we were to escort into the landing beach were off
another ship, so we rendezvoused with them. The troops carried on the Arquebus were from the Hampshire Regiment but we had no idea who we were
escorting that fateful morning. We all felt very queasy and I was sick just
once. Mortar man, Howe, suffered most.
As we approached the beach, all hell let loose. The big ships
of the Royal Navy fired shells over our heads and rocket craft fired several
salvos, each comprising dozens of rockets quickly followed by an almighty
‘woosh’ and the sound of explosions on the beaches.
As our craft moved towards the beach, Lt Hill stood on the
deck by the 0.5" twin machine gun turret. It was firing towards the beach to
force the enemy to take cover. However, one enemy 88mm shell burst to our right.
In the belief that no two shells landed in the same place our officer ordered
the coxswain to make towards the shell burst. Fortunately, the coxswain did not
hear the order because another shell exploded in almost the same position! There
was also enemy machine gun fire to our right, which we could see hitting the
water. The cacophony of thunderous explosions required our officer to scramble
around the craft to deliver his orders to the crew.
We were sailing towards the village of Le Hamel, which stood on
the western flank of Gold beach. Our target was a pill-box on the top edge of
the beach in the sand dunes. I can see it now, with a lone house to the right of
it. This was our landmark and target, which I fired on with my Lewis gun until it
stopped. I immediately hit the ammunition drum on the gun to check if it was
empty or jammed. If it ran freely, the gun drum was empty, in which case I'd grab
another drum, flick it into position and resume firing.
By this time ‘Jock’ Smith, the gun loader beneath the turret,
had loaded the twin Vickers so Pughy, our other Lewis gunner and myself ceased
firing. Corporal Powell continued manning the Vickers. As we neared the beach, we
were ordered to cease fire but to ‘stand by’ in case we were needed. The main
job of escorting the LCAs to the beach was over, the assault troops of the 50th
Division were, by now, on the beach.
During the morning, we had shipped a fair amount of water,
although the cause was difficult to detect. We appeared to be sinking by the
bows and we could not get ashore. We signalled a nearby frigate for assistance.
When we pulled alongside, they pumped us dry. Meanwhile they
passed down a container of hot soup which went down a treat. Otherwise our daily
food comprised little blocks of concentrated meat, dried potato, tea mixed
together with sugar, 5 glucose sweets, a bar of chocolate and 5 cigarettes and
matches. Drinking water was stored in containers aboard our craft.
As the day wore on, the weather steadily improved, the rain
eased off and eventually stopped. By early afternoon the cloud was lifting and
the sun began to shine. We cruised around waiting for orders, while avoiding other
nearby craft. By the evening of D-Day, most of the enemy had been driven
from the beach area. We ventured in closer to the beach to find craft of every
description both on the beach and cruising around like us. An LCS(M) like ours
had sustained shell damage and lay capsized on the beach. Clearly her crew had
been less fortunate than us.
Later in the evening, we hove-to alongside the other two LCS(M)s of our flotilla and received the latest orders and instructions via our
officers. One signaller picked up news from a BBC newsreader who described the
masses of assault landing craft, sailing in formation towards the coast of
France, escorted on the flanks by miniature destroyers. That was us!
We tied up alongside an LCG (Landing Craft
Gun), a much larger craft with 4" guns and enjoyed a good night's sleep. At dawn
we patrolled the beach to lay smoke in the event of an air attack. Operating the
CSA smoke-laying gear was Marine ‘Mary’ Martin. This work was completed by
daybreak, so we continued patrolling the beach area awaiting further orders or
instructions to return to our mother ship Empire
Post D Day
When our work was finally done we were hoisted back on to the
deck of Arquebus with the rest of our flotilla, including the other two
LCS(M)s. All the craft returned safely but, sadly, one sailor named Bayliss was
killed and his boat officer injured. They were the only casualties sustained by
our flotilla. We were all relieved and thankful to have survived the extreme
danger of the initial assault landings. [AB Stanley Bayliss of
524 LCA Flotilla was a native of Minster Lovell in Oxfordshire, he was aged 19
on the day. He rests in the cemetery at Bayeux. Tony Chapman of the LST and Landing Craft Association.]
After several days of roughing it, we highly appreciated a good
wash, a change into clean clothes and a hot meal. We were all formally debriefed
by providing an account of the events of D-Day but we also had opportunities to
share our experiences informally with others. There was no counselling in those
days but these informal sessions were a very good substitute.
In the days following the initial assault landings, the enemy
were driven inland and the beach area became less hazardous but by no means
entirely safe. An increasing number of troops were now disembarking from large
landing craft directly onto the beaches. We returned to Southampton to embark
more troops for the passage to Normandy but, in the absence of the earlier
hazards we had faced, we thought that the job we had trained for was at an end.
Our job had been to escort the LCAs from the mother ship to the beaches and to
target known defensive positions and generally to help secure a
The first time I stood on terra firma after 5 days at sea,
mostly in a small landing craft, the land heaved and tossed as though we were
still riding the waves! We returned to Hythe at some point, where we lived under
canvas. During this period, Hitler’s new secret weapon, the pilot-less V1 flying
bomb, terrorised those who heard its engine cut out before it fell to the
ground. We instinctively dived for cover under anything nearby, including the
small table in our mess tent! After our stay at Hythe, we were drafted back to
the SS Empire Arquebus.
[Photo; an LCA courtesy of Ian Murray.]
When the Arquebus was stood down, we sailed west along
the English Channel, passing Plymouth and Lands End, through the Irish Sea into
the estuary of the River Clyde to a berth in Helensburgh. Our craft were lowered
away for the final time and moored alongside nearby. It was sad to leave behind
the craft that had been our home and protector and, of course, to bid farewell
to the Empire Arquebus. We were soon on our way to HMS Westcliff,
Flotilla Report by
AF Ferguson, Lieutenant RNVR, Flotilla Officer.
Officer, 524th LCA Flotilla.
TO: Commodore Force G
DATE: 11th June 1944
SUBJECT: REPORT AND OBSERVATIONS ON MOVEMENTS OF FLOTILLA.
The LCAs all beached to time after an uneventful run - in under
slight fire of various types. The boats beached among the obstructions but these
did not cause any casualties to craft.
A successful withdrawal was made by all craft. These craft, with
casualties on board, were returned to the ship and were hoisted on board, not
without difficulty. The remaining craft were formed up, in deteriorating weather
conditions, to await the arrival of the LCTs from the LSI. On their arrival,
groups of craft were detailed to each LCT and ordered to carry out a ferry
service until emptied.
By this time - about 1200 D Day - the wind had freshened and was
blowing from onshore from a North Westerly direction. Many vehicles were drowned
well off shore. The beach obstructions were awash with the mines on them. Craft
were stranded and sunk on and off the beaches. Sporadic shelling and sniping
added to the confusion.
Under these circumstances all the LCAs beached and unloaded
troops. Eventually, after several trips, all the LCAs except that of the
Flotilla Officer, were impaled on beach defences or on drowned vehicles, were
broached to or in some other way rendered inoperable.
The Divisional Officer collected the crews of the craft on the
beach and arranged for their accommodation and 'fooding'. Those crews, whose
craft were not severely damaged, were left with their craft. The remainder of the
crews collected the valuable stores from the craft. These crews, with their
stores, were embarked on an LCT, which returned to the United Kingdom and thence
to the Empire Arquebus.
[Photo; 524 LCA Flotilla Jan 1944
(Not including the Marines of the accompanying LCS Ms), courtesy of Ian
Murray whose father is seated 8th from the left 2nd row. William Edward Lacey,
who celebrated his 21st birthday on D Day, was the coxswain on LCA 1010. 2nd
back row, 2nd from the right.Click to enlarge.]
The Flotilla Officer reported the confusion to D.S.O. A.G. Jig Green and Commodore Douglass - The craft
lay off the beaches, effected self repairs until the weather moderated and then
resumed the ferry service p.m. on Wednesday, 7th June.
At high water p.m. 7th June, two beachhead LCAs were towed off by
the Flotilla Officer. By midday 8th June all the LCAs of the Flotilla, not sunk
or damaged beyond repair, were hoisted in the S.S. Empire Arquebus. A signal was
made to the PBM to this effect.
The three LCS (M)s were lowered to time and took station on the
starboard beam of the assaulting troops. On approaching the beach, the assaulting LCAs came under shell and small arms fire. The LCS(M)s engaged the MG (machine
gun) posts in succession until all of them were silenced. This was effected
after about one hour's firing. The LCS(M)s then lay off the beaches and laid
smoke when ordered to do so by Force broadcast wave. All LCS(M)s were hoisted on
the SS Empire Arquebus on the 8th. June, 1944.
It will be appreciated that in so brief a report, only the broad
outlines of movements can be given. All Officers stated that their Naval ratings
and Royal Marines worked hard in uncomfortable and difficult conditions with
unflagging zest and great cheerfulness. It is a pleasure to work with such men.
A list of recommendations for awards will be forwarded separately.
Having recorded these recollections shortly after the 50th
Anniversary of the D-Day landings, I began to wonder if I had imagined it all.
However, during June of 1996 I contacted my D-Day commanding officer, Lieutenant
Richard Hill, RM.
We exchanged many memories of particular events and general
impressions. He himself had given thought to writing a book about his D-Day
experiences, but his memories, too, had become somewhat clouded by the passage of
time. However, the memories flooded back as we reminisced, confirming the truth
of our shared experiences.
We spoke of our LCS(M) taking water and going alongside a
naval vessel to be pumped out. Richard had told the story many times over the
years believing that our craft had hit something in the water or had been holed
by flak or machine gun fire. Having returned to the Empire Arquebus, he
found a bullet hole in one of his trouser legs and on further inspection three
bullet holes through our Battle Ensign flying from the stern!
He also told me that one craft of our group of three had been
forced to return early to the Empire Arquebus because her Vickers gun had
jammed. This craft may have been commanded by Lieutenant Blackler RM, the
remaining craft of our group being under the command of Lieutenant Dan RM.
[Tony Chapman of the LST and Landing Craft Association writes on August 25th
2007: I've been unable to determine which officers were
in command of specific LCS(M)s assigned to 524 Flotilla off Empire Arquebus.]
On this website there are around 50
accounts of landing craft
training and operations and landing craft training establishments.
There are around 300 books
Type in or
to buy, no
Part I. We are grateful to Ian Murray, son of Officer in Charge of LCA
1026, Sub /Lieutenant Murray, on whose recollections this account is based.
Approved by Ian Murray before publication.
Part II is based on material
supplied by former Royal Marine HR ‘Lofty’ Whitting (1994) and transcribed by
Archivist/Historian, Tony Chapman of the LST and Landing Craft Association (Royal
Navy). Further edited by Geoff Slee and approved by Tony Chapman before
publication with the subsequent addition of photographs and