~ 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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Hundreds of thousands of visits each year to 200  web pages & 4000 photos. The Website has been published & hosted by Geoff Slee since 2000.

Support the restoration of LCT 7074 to her former wartime glory and read of the role of landing craft in  40 D-Day Stories.   

  ~ Harbour Defence Motor Launch (HDML) 1301 ~

Post War Recovery & Restoration

David Carter's father, Lt F L Carter, RNVR, supervised the construction of HDML 1301 and subsequently skippered her during WW2. This is David's account of the recovery of the craft 60 years after the war, interlaced with childhood memories. He followed in his father's footsteps when he was appointed navigator for the craft's return from the Mediterranean to the Netherlands in the noughties.

Background

I have been connected with HDML 1301 literally since before I was born. In autumn 1942, my father, Lt F L Carter RNVR, was appointed Captain while she was under construction in the yard of Wm Blackmore & Son, Bideford, north Devon. He stayed in Bideford to oversee its construction and arrange minor alterations and extra fittings. My mother visited the boat shortly before I arrived and we were both 'commissioned' within days of each other in March 1943!

In May 1943, my father sailed 1301 in a convoy to Malta, in preparation for Operation Husky, the landings in Sicily. Radar was fitted and the original forward gun, a 2 pounder, was replaced with an Oerlikon. I recently learned, that about this time, HMS Belfast had her Oerlikons replaced with Bofors AA guns. Was this a coincidence I wonder?

Far from her original purpose of defending harbours, ML 1301 was one of the first boats to go to the Sicilian beaches. Its purpose was to lead landing craft to their designated beaches using her radar as a beacon. At Salerno, 1301 operated to the north of the main beaches and made a smoke screen as a prelude to the landings.

However, in Operation Brassard, the invasion of Elba, her role was to land commandos (Free French Moroccan forces – “Goums”) prior to the main invasion. Unfortunately, having dropped off the commandos, she met a Flack lighter and, in the ensuing skirmish, my father was killed and several of the crew seriously injured.

Post Brassard Service

After this action in June 1944, 1301 was adapted for survey work and re-numbered MSU 2, (Mediterranean Survey Unit). She surveyed harbours around Italy, the Adriatic, Aegean and as far east as Cyprus, from where she was shipped back to the UK. There, she was re-numbered A352 and attached to the Hydrographic Office, surveying the South Coast and later named HMS Meda. She was one of two HDMLs to be named, the other being ML 1387 named HMS Medusa, now preserved in Southampton.

HMS Meda was decommissioned in 1966 and sold, ending up with Hector Sheppard-Capurro, the owner of Sheppard’s Marina in Gibraltar. Hector modified the boat for family use and re-named her “Gibel Tarik”. The modifications included extra berths, an awning and a roof over the bridge.

I had no idea 1301 had survived the war. It was during a visit to see Medusa in 2000 that, Alan Watson of the Medusa Trust (http://www.hmsmedusa.org.uk/), realised that Hector's yacht was the boat my father had skippered over 55 years earlier! This was amazing news. Introductions were arranged and in the ensuing years, Hector's hospitality in Gibraltar allowed me to stay on the boat, often with my family, even to the extent of giving them sailing lessons!

When Hector decided to sell Gibel Tarik, I reluctantly accepted that I did not have the means, skills or facilities to buy and maintain it. Fortunately, around this time, Klaas Spaans stepped forward with the necessary credentials. He had served in the Dutch Navy and subsequently in the reserves. Furthermore, his company in the Netherlands, had connections with the sea through the production of Military GPS and special navigation systems for small boats.

Plans & Preparations for the Journey North

I was invited to be a crew member on the craft's northward journey to its temporary homeport of Ijmuiden in the Netherlands, a distance of 1,400 nautical miles or 1,600 miles approximately. It would later be berthed at the Naval base in Amsterdam as part of a collection of vessels maintained by KTL (Keep Them Landing), who have some access to Naval Base facilities for repairs and maintenance.

KTL comprises former Navy and Marine personnel committed to keeping alive the history of old vessels, landing craft and boats. Their interest in the HDML was occasioned by the Dutch Navy's use of the craft during WW2 and beyond, some craft finding their way to the Dutch East Indies, now Indonesia and New Guinea, where they were used as river patrol boats during various actions.

Towards the end of September 2007, I joined Klaas and his friends Dirk, an electronics expert and Ernst, who worked for the Rijks Water Staat in the Port of Rotterdam. We initially planned to sail 24/7 with a crew of seven, only stopping to refuel, but three withdrew before the departure date.

Klaas appointed me as navigator, perhaps knowing I'd learned navigation at the London Nautical School some 40 years earlier. I was rather rusty, of course, and had to familiarise myself with GPS; a steep learning curve. There were other navigational skills available in the guise of Ernst, who had current sea-navigation 2003 and marcom-b. 2005 certificates and Dirk, who set up the Raymarine GPS and tutored me on making waypoints including checking and amending the route and setting up the screen display.

We also had more traditional navigational aids at our disposal, such as route-planning charts, the Cruising Almanac 2007/2008, to identify good harbours and cruising tide tables 2007, to ascertain the height speed and direction of tidal currents. We planned to receive 5 day weather forecasts from local harbour offices as we progressed on our journey, supplemented by up to the minute weather forecasts from a Captain of a RNN survey ship who was a friend of Klass's.

[Photo; Gibraltar. Work in progress.]

The first task for the long journey north was to modify the boat. Anticipating the possibility of heavy seas, we boarded up the large windows of the chartroom, made new boxes to stow the batteries and cleared out surplus equipment. It was hot and thirsty work, but Klaas and I soon cooled off when we plunged into the water to disentangle a mooring line which had fouled the port propeller and its A-frame support!

 The Journey North

On Monday 1 October, we sailed across the Bay to Algeciras to pick up new life rafts. They were larger than expected requiring Klaas and Dirk to spend a few hours securing them in place, while Ernst and I sailed the boat to Cadiz, Puerto Sherry. This part of Spain has invested heavily in wind farms much to the delight of my Dutch colleagues.

The following day, we sailed to the Marina in Vilamoura, in Portugal. We found this very welcoming with excellent facilities. The security was much more noticeable than in Spain, with checks on passports etc. The engines ran well although the diesel filters needed to be cleaned from time to time. Dirk and Klaas laboured in the engine room, mostly between the very noisy engines where the temperature was 55c or more. They also had to brace themselves against the rolling motion of the boat. On 3 October, we rounded Cape St Vincent and made for Sines arriving after dark.

By this time we were getting more confident and thought we could save some time if we were to sail overnight using a 2 man watch, 4 hours on / off, rather than the mere 100 miles or so by day only sailing. We therefore sailed for Galicia. Sleeping was not easy. My berth was in a room that had originally been the starboard fuel tank. The bunk was about 4 feet from the starboard engine. Surprisingly, I quickly adjusted to the noise but found the intermittent scream from a partly blocked bilge pump much more disturbing. On Friday morning we stopped at the pretty fishing port of Baiona, overlooked by the Castillo de Monte Real, to refuel and finished the day at another attractive port of Camarinas [Photo.] As befits a fishing port, we were recommended to a restaurant where we were treated to a mountainous fish platter. It seemed to contain almost everything that had ever swum, wriggled or crawled in the sea.

On the Saturday, we faced a major decision on the approaches to the Bay of Biscay; we could either sail along the Spanish and French coasts in one-day hops or, with the occasional overnight run, we could head straight for Brest involving a trip into the Atlantic. The former would be 700 miles and the latter about half that. We were encouraged by a forecast of high pressure over Biscay with light winds but storms over Bilbao on Monday. Unanimously, we decided in favour of the Atlantic route and I'm so glad we did. We soon left behind fishing boats and their nets and floats that litter the coast and found ourselves alone... except for dozens of dolphins, flying fish, whose red eyes could be seen in the night scope, and even whales. It was an awe inspiring sight, our enthusiasm moderated only when we realised they were bigger than us.

Until this point we had made good use of “George” the automatic pilot. Just off Cape Finisterre, there is a dumping ground for ammunition, old warships etc. The large amount of metal on the seabed played havoc with the automatic pilot which failed, never to operate again. We had to steer the boat manually for the rest of the voyage.

HDMLs are very maneuverable craft befitting of a submarine chasers. They have a minimal skeg and no bilge keels which caused the craft to roll excessively. To steer the boat “straight” across Biscay was, therefore, quite a challenge, but with the GPS system monitoring our progress and by plotting our course on the route-planning chart, we succeeded in making the Marina at Camaret sur Mer on Sunday night.

Monday morning brought fog with visibility about 200 yards. We hoped to use the inshore route round the Brest peninsular but with all the buoys and rocks hidden in the gloom, this would be challenging. Again the GPS came to our aid. By plotting the course in great detail, with waypoints every 3-400 yards I was able to give very precise instructions to Ernst who was steering, while Klaas was staring at the radar and Dirk was peering through the binoculars. Together, we achieved a safe and very precise course avoiding all the obstacles hidden in the gloom.

[Map courtesy of Google Map Data 2019. 9 ports of call and a few nights at sea (unmarked).]

After about 12 miles, we welcomed clearer weather for the passage through the English Channel. Again we decided to sail through the night, knowing that the weather was likely to worsen. We reached Dieppe in pouring rain on Tuesday afternoon. Although the decks had been sheathed in marine-ply, the rain and rough seas found their way through in two places, one over my bunk and the other over the day berth in the fore cabin. It was good to go ashore and enjoy a shower and a hearty meal.

We were advised by our RNN Captain friend to leave Dieppe at 8 on Wednesday morning to take advantage of strong tidal currents. So, despite the storm, the lack of route planning and the boat rolling violently, we set out. The flood tide pushed us through the Dover Straights at 15 knots! Since the boat is only capable of about 10 knots, this was a tide worth having! Around 3 pm, when we were near Dunkirk, the engines shut down. The Douane (French Customs) had stopped us in their large launch, complete with machine guns. They sent across an armed boarding party in a RIB. It took about two hours to assure them that we were not carrying drugs, illegal immigrants, arms etc and they searched the whole boat to make sure of it. I was able to recount, that in a former life, the boat had carried French Commandos and this seemed to break the ice.

We got underway once more and headed for Holland and home for the others. We crossed the entries to Vlissingen and Rotterdam in the night, having got permission to cross the channels. We arrived at Ijmuiden in the early morning of 11 October, to much relief and celebration. I was so pleased to have been involved in the return of the boat that my father had taken to the Mediterranean 64 years earlier. A surreal experience I could never have imagined which brought me much closer to understanding my father's wartime experiences.

Correspondence

New Zealand HDML Restoration Project.

We bought an HDML here in New Zealand and cruised her from Picton (top of the South Island) to Auckland; a great journey over 5 days and 770 nautical miles and she didn't miss a beat - even in the 50 knot winds most of the time! She's pretty much restored to wartime configuration and has become a bit of an icon here in Auckland.

Heather & Keith Reeves.


HDML Kuparu, New Zealand.

Hi Geoff, I have attached a report that the NZ Navy did on me and Kuparu. In the NZ Navy news monthly magazine. I lost my wife to cancer at 42 and  being devastated, and not ready for work, I looked for a project to keep me busy and help heal......a 20 foot project. But then along came Kuparu; I could not let her serve the same fate as Manga (another ML in the same yard) that was crushed and burnt. So the 20 foot turned out to be 72 foot....but we are healing each other. Fully funded by myself and a donation page, called Givealittle. Most interest is through Facebook, with regular updates and photos, under HDML Kuparu. Scott Perry.

Acknowledgments

We are grateful to David Carter for this account of HDML 1301's post war service and restoration.

 

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