Harbour Defence Motor Launch 1301 - Operation Brassard
17 June 1944
The role of Harbour Defence Motor Launch 1301
(HDML 1301) in Operation Brassard, as one of two HDML craft that spearheaded
the landing of Commandoes prior to the main assault, provides a valuable insight into the complex and
detailed planning which preceded all raids and landings. This account was prepared by
David Carter, whose father, Lt FL Carter, RNVR, was killed in the action. David Carter
and some Dutch Commandos, recovered 1301 from the Mediterranean and returned
her to Holland with plans to restore her to 1943 condition.
[Photo; ML1301 in Mousehole, Cornwall.]
The Harbour Defence Motor Launch (HDML) was designed by W J Holt
at the Admiralty in early 1939. During World War II, 486 HDMLs were built,
mainly by yacht builders in the United Kingdom and a number of other allied
HDMLs were originally intended for the defence of estuarial and local
waters. They proved to be such a sea-kindly and versatile design that they
were used in every theatre of operation as the war progressed. They were to be
found escorting convoys off the West Coast of Africa, carrying out covert
activities in the Mediterranean and undertaking anti-submarine patrols off
Iceland. [Source "Medusa" by Mike Boyce.]
HDML 1301 was laid down in the yard of W Blackmore in Bideford, Devon in
September 1942. She was launched in January 1943, completed in Appledore and
commissioned in April 1943. She was under the command of Lt F L Carter RNVR,
who oversaw construction and instigated minor changes to the
basic design such as the addition of armour cladding to the bridge.
[Photo; HDML 1301 in Malta for fitting
of Orlikon guns.]
Her armament, initially, comprised a 2 pounder gun on the foredeck, a 20
mm Orlikon on the stern cabin, a .303 Vickers machine gun on each side of the
bridge and eight depth charges, on racks, at the stern. After working-up in the
Bristol Channel, HDML 1301 was grouped into a convoy in Milford Haven and
sailed for Malta via Gibraltar.
In Malta, the 2 pounder gun was removed and
replaced by second 20 mm Orlikon before she took part in Operation
Husky, the invasion of Sicily in July 1943 and later the invasion of Italy at Salerno,
after which she was based in Naples.
[Much of the information that follows was taken from
National Archive ADM/199/2424.]
In late 1943, the Navy reorganised the Coastal Forces in Italy as follows;
Commander in Chief, Mediterranean Central Mediterranean.
Western Italy Sub Area under Flag Officer West Italy (FOWIT).
HQ at Naples, including Sardinia and Corsica, with minor sub-areas.
Senior Officer Inshore Squadron (SOIS), Area Combined HQ in Bastia.
[Map courtesy of Google Map Data 2017.]
SOIS was to operate all surface light forces in this area against enemy supply
lines (under the direction of FOWIT) and to act as C in C’s representative in Corsica
for the purpose of co-operation with French Naval Command in Corsica. The
Naval Officer in Charge Maddalena was to command all Allied Naval Forces in
Sardinia (under FOWIT). This duty was to be carried out by the Captain in charge
of the 10th Submarine Flotilla (Captain Dickinson, appointed to this
post 2/11/1943 and responsible to C in C for the operation of submarines in
the western basin of the Mediterranean, notwithstanding his responsibility to FOWIT for the Naval Base at Maddalena.
The officer in command of all the sub-areas in the Central Mediterranean,
was to organise local convoy movements and operate local forces under their
command in accordance with general instructions from the C in C. By early 1944, HDML 1301 operated from Maddalena. Boats re-fueled there
since the facilities at Bastia were unusable, due to sunken ships left by the retreating enemy.
The main components of the plan to invade
Elba provided for 490 men from the Battalion de Choc and 70 from Groupe de
Commando, to be landed 3 hours before H-hour. They were to be carried in
Landing Craft Infantry (Large) (LCI (L)s), Motor Launches (MLs) of Groups 2
and 9 and Landing Craft Assault (LCAs) of 577 Flotilla to 'Louise Green'
[Map courtesy of Google Map Data 2017.]
HDML 1301 was to take up station 200 yards
and 335o from Landing Craft Headquarters (LCH) 315, ready for the
LCAs to form up. 1301 was to show a steady red light towards the group as a
navigational aid. Craft were to be manned and formed up as quickly as possible
in accordance with the diagram below. Lt P W Spencer was to embark LCI (L) 303
with the Commander of Battalion de Choc and to transfer to HDML 1301 as LCAs
At H - 2.45hrs, HDML1301 was to lead off to
position 211, Marina di Capo light 25.5 cables (2.5 nautical miles), marked by
PT 211 flashing Z’s. HDML 1301 was to pass PT 211 at H - 2.10hrs to arrive at
the inner release position, 236, Marina di Capo light 21.5 cables (2.1
nautical miles) at H - 1.95hrs. This course was in line with Mt Caponne, the
highest point on the island. If the PT was off station, it would flash the
true course to the inner release position when the formation came into view.
Folboat, in position 248, Marina di Capo light 17.2 cables (1.7 nautical
miles), would flash Ls to seaward from H - 2.25hrs until passed by the LCAs.
If it had not achieved the desired position, there would be no light, in which
case they were to proceed as planned.
[Map courtesy of Google Map Data 2017.]
As soon as HDML 1301 stopped, the
Flotilla Officer was to reduce speed, turn his flotilla to starboard and make
straight for the beach. This course would take him past the Folboat towards
the lowest part of the skyline. He would then approach to within 300 yards of
the beach before taking his column in to touch down at H - 1.80hrs, followed
in turn by the two remaining columns as soon as the beach was clear.
The beach was about 100 yards long, to its
rear was a terraced slope between two hills. If the beach could not be found
they were to proceed to Louise Red beach. On clearing the beach, the craft
were to return to HDML 1301 at slow speed, on no account should they power up
their engines unless fired on by enemy.
were to form up in original order, except both LCS (Ms) on the starboard side,
were to be ready to return to the waiting area. When Lt Spencer, in HDML 1301,
had collected his group, he was to steer at slow speed to waiting area C for
10 minutes. After this, he was to check compasses with the Flotilla Officer.
Jack van Sligter shows 1301 sailing on
the Haringvliet, Holland in 2008.]
During the Main Assault, Lt Spencer in
HDML1301, was to wait at (R). When the group arrived, he was to take up a
position 100 yards east of LST 4. LCV (P)s were to form up as follows: as the
5 LSTs completed loading, they were to form up and close on HDML 1301 which
would be stationed 100 yards east of LST4. At H - 85, HDML 1301 would lead off
to join up astern of main assault flight, which would be marked by HDML 1246
showing a red light towards the convoy.
Assault on Kodak Green Beach. On reaching
position 093o, Marina di Capo light 10 cables, HDML 1301 was to
lead the 14 LCV(P)s to starboard until heading for the beach, when he was to
stop. LCV(P) Flotilla Officer was then to proceed to he lan and to touch down
in two waves, first at H - 10. Both waves must beach on either side of the
rock in the centre, the fist wave clearing outwards to allow the second to
On clearing the beach, the LCV (P)s were to
rejoin HDML1301, which was to lead them out in line ahead on a reciprocal
course keeping as close to the coast as possible. Major Landing Craft would be
entering the area at some time but it was the responsibility of the minor LCs
to keep out of their way. HDML1301 would lead them back to (R) proceeding on a
track ½ a mile east of approach course. Lt Spencer, in HDML 1301, was to
proceed at full speed to (T) as soon as the LCV(P)s had found the parent LSTs.
On arrival, he was to take up position as "Return Convoy Controller" where he
would be joined by LCI(L)316 and transfer to it.
The Action (National
Archive ADM/199/2425. Captain Errol Turner, Landing Craft Headquarters (LCH) 315
9 July 1944.)
The assault on Elba differed from any
previous one carried out by the force. Owing to the danger of mines it was
considered inadvisable to use LSI, LST and major landing craft, and MLs,
therefore, had the dual task of transporting the assaulting forces and towing
the minor landing craft from the advanced base to the release position. In
fact we were presented with the problems of a Short Range Assault.
[Photo; an HDML on patrol in the Mediterranean.]
As we expected, the French military staff
were completely ignorant of the theory and practice of combined operations. Unfortunately,
in many cases they seemed loath to accept facts given by us resulting in
There was no vehicular training through a
water splash, due to the lack of waterproofing material, but the French were
not unduly worried by this. As a result, several vehicles stalled when
disembarking. Reputedly, the best performance of driving was by French lady
Finally, I wish to state my personal
admiration for the way in which all naval personnel under my orders, carried
out their duties. There was a noticeable spirit of determination throughout
the force, which was commented on from outside sources.
Reports of Proceedings on the role of ML1301
Spencer - Operation Brassard LCH 315 - Landing of the Battalion de Choc.
On the South Coast, one or two F-Lighters,
thought to have been evacuating Pianosa Garrison, possibly accompanied by an
E-boat, were sighted at 0030 by the PT boats. … Short engagement, both PT boats
damaged, one man killed. One of the F-Lighters then encountered ML1301, which
had just released the 9 MCAs making the most westerly landing. ML1301 came
under heavy cannon and machine-gun fire, to which she replied. The Captain was
killed, First Lt and 5 ratings injured. F-Lighter then passed into Golfo di
Campo, without sighting the landing craft. The F-Lighter appears to have
rounded Elba to the west after encounter with PT Boats.
During all this time, ML 1301 and her 9 LCAs
and 2 LCS (M) for Louise Green, were not having such an easy time. They led off
from position (R) at 2350 hours and the approach to this dispersal point was
not entirely to plan. The only exception was PT 211, who was well over to
eastward but, as the details of the land were clearly visible, this caused no
difficulty. The Folboat was in the correct position.
At 0055, ML 1301 was lying pointing roughly
north-west, having released the LCAs at 0040 in position 9 cables (just under
1 nautical mile) 198o centre of Louise Green, when a vessel was
sighted off the Port Bow, steaming south-east about 2 cables distant. It looked
like an F-Lighter and this was confirmed a second or two later when German
voices were heard. Guns were trained on the enemy but it was hoped they would
not see us.
The enemy opened fire about 10 seconds after
we first sighted him with intense 20mm and machine gun fire. At the same time,
fire was returned and many of the ship’s company reported hearing screams as
Orlikon bursts found their marks. The enemy disengaged and when last seen was
steaming for Golfo di Campo. At 0105 hours, course was set for position (R) as
I considered it paramount import to report presence of the enemy and secure
Trowbridges' Report to Admiral Cunningham
It has now been established that the enemy
never sighted the LCAs and did not realise the Island was being invaded until
0347 hours, when the alarm was given.
Just after the Squadron Officer had left, ML
1301 arrived alongside. Lt Spencer gave us the full story and reported that
the CO was dead, the First Lt and 4 seamen wounded. Miraculously, no major
damage sustained by hull or engines. All casualties were transformed to LCH
315 and Sub Lt Rossiter, one of SNO (L)’s staff and one signalman lent to him.
ML 1301 then proceeded to the LST to gather up the 14 LCV (P)s he was to lead
to Kodak Green Beach.
0001 hours: Sighted PT 211 flashing Zs, but too far to
Starboard. In view of visibility and correct departure, it was not
considered necessary to break RT silence to inform ML 1301 who must have
realised PT 211was out of position.
0027 hours: Spasmodic machine gun fire bearing 280o,estimated
distance 7 miles. Nothing on Radar. From later reports, this appears to
have been 2 PTs who were fired on by F-Lighter on way to Campo Bay.
0035 hours: Exchange of Orlikon fire bearing 355o
off Louise Green. Continued intermittently for about a minute (this proved
to be ML 1301 and F-Lighter).
0103 hours Received signal that Shock Troops had landed
successfully on Louise Green. No time. Received signal from ML 1301 that
there was an F-Lighter off Campo Head.
0210 hours: ML 1301 came alongside and reported they had
been fired on by F-Lighter, which disengaged and moved into Campo Bay. Six
casualties removed from ML, including CO killed, First Lt wounded. Lt
Spencer took command and Sub-Lt Rossiter lent to him as First Lt.
0227 hours: LCAs and LCS (M) returned from Louise Green
Beach. Reported no casualties or damage, although fire from F-Lighter fell
near Folboat and beach, no one touched.
0235 hours: Signal sent to Senior Officer N that in view
of known presence of F-Lighter in Campo Bay, that LCGs be sent to deal
with them; it being considered that all form of surprise was lost.
0250 hours: Main assault group formed up and moved off.
24 June 1944: The first landings 3 hours before H Hour,
went to plan. The westernmost landing, consisting of 200 shock troops
destined for Poro battery overlooking Campo Bay, had just been released to
go inshore when the F-Lighter, returning to Campo with the Pianosa Garrison,
blundered into the ML, which had led the attack and was waiting offshore to
collect the returning boats. In the brief exchange of shots, the Captain of
the ML was killed, others wounded but the boat unhurt. The F-Lighter then
went into Campo, discharged his cargo and three wounded, then turned in
for the night. They had no suspicion that an assault was impending.
26 June 0855 hours: Sub Lt Rossiter rejoined staff.
Lt Peter William Spencer, awarded DSO, 6
During the landing on the South Coast of Elba,
Lt Peter William Spencer, in HDML 1301, was responsible for finding Louise Green
Beach and for landing 9 LCAs carrying the French Battalion de Choc at 0100 on
17 June 1944.
After releasing the craft for the last
position of their run in, HDML 1301 was attacked by a German F-Lighter. In the
action which followed, the Commanding Officer of HDML1301 was killed and the
First Lt wounded. Lt Spencer took charge and brought the HDML back to SNO(L)
in LCH 315, 4miles from the beach in time to lead in the US landing craft in
the main assault on Kodak Green Beach at 0400. This officer displayed
outstanding gallantry, initiative and determination of purpose. (Errol C L
Turner, Captain RN, CO.)
This recommendation is strongly concurred in.
The successful manner in which the US landing craft were maneuvred and
brought in for the assault under heavy fire after the damage and casualties
sustained by HDML 1301 in her encounter with the enemy 3 hours previously, was
a splendid example of resolution and fighting spirit. (Rear Admiral
I concur. C F Stanton-Colville, President,
I concur. Admiral Cunningham, Admiral C-in-C
Alan John Godfrey, Temporary Sub-Lt RNVR,
awarded Mention in Dispatches.
At about 0100 on 17 June 1944, HDML 1301 in
which he was First Lt., had a close engagement with a German F-Lighter off the
coast of Elba. He was wounded many times by shrapnel in the chest and back,
and in spite of this he went aft to superintend the making of smoke. By doing
so, he set a fine example to those around him, many of whom were wounded.
(Errol C L Turner, Captain RN, CO.)
I concur Rear Admiral Trowbridge
I concur. C F Stanton-Colville, President,
I concur. Admiral Cunningham, Admiral C-in-C
Harry Donald Davies, Commanding Officer ML
1246 and Squadron Officer awarded Mention in Dispatches
Under heavy fire, found alternative landing
place, provided smoke, reconnoitred inner beaches despite heavy fire.
Displayed courage of highest order, efficiency, complete disregard for enemy.
are used for actual conveyance of stores in convoy and for protection. Some
have been armed with 1, 2 or even 3 88 mm guns with 2 or possibly 3 quadruple
20 mm mountings. They may also have concrete or armour protection to their
sides. It is reported that some of these specially armed craft have been given
the task of protecting harbours of Elba. 3 F-lighters have been seen in Kodak
section at one time.
These craft have been seen in the lettered position shown opposite. (Around
Marina di Campo). It is possible that they may be in Kodak Sector during the
assault. Reconnaissance at last light on D – 1 will be made to confirm their
positions, if present, and the results signalled using these lettered
Details of F-lighters: Length: 154 feet, Beam: 21 feet, Height of upper deck
amidships: 10 feet. Armament mounted on centre line with base plates of guns
slightly below upper deck level. Each 88 mm gun is probably in a circular gun
shield. The humped continuous upper deck, characteristic bow and narrow beam
should serve to distinguish these craft from our own LCTs and LCGs. [Planning
File ADM/199/2425 Copied from Orders issued by Senior Naval Officer (Landing)
P1 Naval Party 893 on 11 June 1944.]
The first enemy throughout the
Mediterranean campaign was the German F-lighter, an ingenious multi-purpose
vessel with very shallow draft which could be used in the role of freighter,
troop-carrier or flak ship according to need, or the three roles
simultaneously. In its most offensive role it boasted a firepower which no MTB
or MGB could hope to match: an 88mm dual-purpose gun, a 40 mm and multiple 37
mm and 30 mm and bristling machine guns. Because of their shallow draft they
were very difficult to torpedo, and for a while the only method of attack was
to get in so close under cover of darkness that their guns could not be
sufficiently depressed to make a hit. Copied from
[The Longest Battle – The War of the Boats.]
On this website there are around 50
accounts of landing craft
training and operations,
landing craft training establishments, Royal Naval
Operation Brassard and
HMDL 1301 Post War & Recovery in 2007.
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by David Lee. The Story of the Royal Naval Commandos in WW2. Foreword by
Tony Parsons. Published By Greenhill Books in October 2004.
The Beachhead Commandos by a Cecil
Hampshire. Published by William Kimber & Co Ltd in 1983.
Unless otherwise stated, sources of information include Admiralty
records in the National Archive augmented with notes taken from
home by Lt Carter. In reading this account please bear in
mind that the two HDMLs led this attack several hours ahead of the
group with their cargo of commandos.