~ Landing Craft Tank 318 - LCT (3) 318 ~
An Amazing WW2 Survivor that Served
the UK into the 1970s!
His Majesty's Mk3 LCT 318 was built by Teesside Bridge and Engineering Company and
launched on February 14th, 1942. She was 192 feet in length and 33
feet across her beam and could carry 5 tanks or 350 tons of mixed cargo. Her
armament comprised two 20mm Oerlikon guns and her crew complement, including her
commanding officer and his second in command, was a total
of 12 men. This is the story of one Landing Craft Tank seen through the eyes of the
[Photo; A Mark 3 LCT beached with ramp down.
© IWM (A 10064).]
class of vessel was designed for frequent but short duration
journeys across the English Channel or similar
stretches of water, so living
accommodation was not a major consideration in its design.
However, in practice, we lived under quite dreadful
conditions for years, especially when operating in hot
climates, which we sometimes did in the Mediterranean
when there were few modifications to alleviate our misery.
Later Mk3 'Star' LCTs sent out to the Far East
were more suited for purpose and far better equipped. These LCTs bore pennant
numbers in the 7000 series and had a crew
complement of nineteen men.
The crew accommodation was
at the after end with the officer's
accommodation at deck level. The officers' very small cabin
contained two bunks. They used the wheelhouse as a day cabin by stripping out
the wheel and they shared one very small toilet. The crew’s quarters, some 19ft
by 18ft, were below deck right aft, which contained
the capstan motor and control gear, 10 crew lockers, 2 small tables, 1 small
paraffin heater, 10 kit bags and 10 hammocks. The crew’s toilet facilities were
at the forward end of the craft
the author Jim Routledge.]
The grossly overcrowded
living space caused excessive
condensation which, at night,
required hammocks to be covered with waterproofs
to prevent the blankets becoming soaked. Not surprisingly
these unhealthy conditions caused or exacerbated chest
ailments and tuberculosis, which
were rife amongst LCT crews.
The galley was adjacent to the officers'
quarters with its coal-fired cast iron
stove, that an imaginative person might liken to a
very crude Aga. Hot water came
from a 4 gallon tank attached to the stove,
which was intended to cater for the crew's needs. The
nearby coal bunker served as a top on
all the meals were prepared. There was no official cook amongst landing craft
crews, so the author assumed the role without any training.
He continues with the story of LCT 318.
318 was commissioned during March/April 1942 and was
assigned to the 4th LCT Flotilla under her commanding officer, Lt
Green. She was thought to have been involved in the infamous
Dieppe Raid in August 1942 but
details were sketchy and not worth recording here.
Our crew joined LCT 318 in
March, 1943, while she was docked at
Southampton. She was part of the 11th
LCT Flotilla. We were transferred from Scapa Flow, where we had been providing
protection for capital ships. The protection involved rigging steel anti-torpedo
nets on to Mk3 LCTs, which were then moored alongside the larger vessels. The
nets were then lowered into the water to give protection to our ‘Big Sisters.’
In providing the ring of steel for the larger ships, it seemed landing craft and their crews
were regarded as expendable by the top brass!
In April, 1943, LCT 318 and her sister ships of the 11th Flotilla
sailed with another flotilla to Gibraltar. The journey took ten days and was not
without incident. The flotilla navigator executed a 90 degree turn at midnight
on a moonless night, no doubt as
part of an anti submarine strategy, but one LCT did not see the signal.
[Map courtesy of Google Map Data 2017.]
In a three column
formation, a collision during such a manoeuvre was almost
inevitable but, fortunately, the sloping bows
of the two craft involved, allowed one to ride up the side of the other and, after some delay,
the two craft disengaged and we continued in convoy. We
arrived safely in Gibraltar, our arrival being duly reported by the Germans and
by the Daily Mirror, much to the relief of my parents.
In the following weeks, we collected a variety of cargoes from
numerous ports on the North African coast, as we made ready for
Operation Husky -
the landings in Sicily. We also made trips to Malta, often courting the attention
of German and Italian fighter planes. Many landing craft suffered fatalities
from air and submarine attacks.
In July 1943,
LCT 318 and her sister ships loaded at Benghazi. We
embarked men of the 99th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment and set sail for Malta,
where the invasion fleet had assembled. The onward journey to Sicily was
memorable for a dreadfully sad spectacle,
which we witnessed as we
approached Sicilian waters.
[Map courtesy of Google Map Data 2017.]
We were not involved
in the initial assault, so we had a
grandstand view of the unfolding events from a relatively
safe distance. We witnessed Allied gliders
crashing into the sea, after inexperienced American pilots released them too early
when they came under enemy
gunfire, which probably included some from our own guns! I also
recall a hospital ship being attacked, even though she was well away from the
invasion fleet and fully illuminated.
When 318 eventually beached, she discharged her troops at Avola
(Green Beach). The men landed dry-footed and met little opposition. We then
ferried POWs to captivity, including some Italian troops
wearing their pajamas. They all had the presence of mind to pack their bags!
We then engaged in ferrying munitions and supplies from
cargo vessels to the shore as we followed the Allied
advance northwards along the coast of
On the 3rd of September, 1943,
we embarked lorries and miscellaneous war materials at
Messina and ferried them to the beach at Reggio de Calabria. The army
had shelled the area around the landing beaches from across the Straits of Mesina
with the Air Force in support.
Enemy resistance on landing was, consequently, fairly light
as the Allies harassed the retreating Germans. One such example was at Vibo
Valentia where the landing started quietly but, when a German Armoured division arrived
on the scene, it caused quite a bit of trouble.
In October of 1943,
when in Taranto, we were recalled to our base in
North Africa. On arrival there, the backlog of repairs requested over several
months were finally completed, after which we took passage to
Algiers with our base staff, where we stayed for several days. Such was the secrecy
about our next assignment that speculation was rife, the most likely outcomes
being home or the Far
East. Fortunately for us we were homeward bound.
In November 1943, we arrived in Gibraltar where
we replenished our stores and
spent our accumulated pay on luxuries that were not available back home. We set sail for England on the 3rd or 4th
of November and proceeded westwards into the Atlantic to avoid submarines in the
Bay of Biscay. The first five days were calm but, for reasons unknown, we
proceeded at a very slow pace. On the sixth day, we encountered Force 9 gales and
our convoy of twenty four craft were scattered.
right to left: 320, 318, 413 and 399 on Porth Mellon beach, St
Marys, Isles of Scilly after the gruelling
trip from Gibraltar.]
318 found herself alone and without radio
contact, owing to storm damage. The seas were mountainous with waves of 30 feet
or more and substantial damage was caused. The fuel pumps on both main engines
ceased to function and we had to resort to hand pumping fuel to the engines
using the semi-rotary pump, which was normally used to prime the engines. This
arrangement continued for the remainder of the five days and nights it took us
to arrive back in England.
We had no radio, no modern day navigation aids and no opportunity to
take sun or star readings because of the cloudy weather. Throughout that
period the 318 was totally lost! We headed in the general direction of
where we thought England should be. The gale continued to blow and our
concerns grew as the stove began to disintegrate, making it increasingly
difficult to make hot meals
On or about the ninth day out
from Gibraltar, a Sunderland flying boat on anti-submarine duty discovered us
and set us on a course for England. At dusk, on the
tenth day, still struggling through the storm, land was sighted. A suitable beach
was identified and, in near dark, we ran
up the beach at full speed. The crew of 318 collapsed from
exhaustion and the next morning we discovered we had landed on St Marys, one of the Isles of Scilly. We were later joined by another four craft,
which had been escorted in by the naval unit based on the Islands.
354 on Newford Rocks.]
We remained there for about two weeks, being
pumped out and undertaking emergency repairs. When the high spring tides came,
we re-floated and made our way to Swansea for repairs. The ship manager later
reported that rivets ‘by the bucket full’ had been recovered from the
double bottom and that if we had been a welded craft we would not have survived.
Let me here give thanks to the builders at Teesside who did such a marvelous job
in the construction of 318 which likely saved our lives. Sadly, two of the craft that
sailed into that storm did not survive the journey.
Training for D-Day
We departed Swansea in February 1944, via Cardiff, to have the
compass swung and the degaussing tested, arriving in our home port
of Southampton, where we were joined by our sister ships of the 11th
LCT Flotilla. They had all been undergoing repairs at different yards, mainly in
the Liverpool area.
[Photo; a commendation from The Lords
Commissioners of the Admiralty.]
A period of flotilla training or ‘working-up’ followed, after which we
returned to Portsmouth, where we were to have Mulock extensions fitted to our
ramp. We later discovered this was to accommodate a new ‘secret
weapon’…the Duplex Drive Sherman tank or ‘swimming tank’ as they would become
tanks had been fitted with a waterproof canvas skirt, which allowed them to
disembark at sea and then ‘swim’ for the beach.
Manning the Sherman DD tanks were the men of
the Canadian Fort Garry Horse. On D-Day, the DD tanks were intended to be launched two miles off the
beach, thereafter, they would make their own way to the beach, lower their
canvas skirts and then engage the defenders. Such a sight would likely have a demoralising effect
on the enemy, whilst providing significant back-up for the
incoming assault infantry.
Much has already been written about the
uncomfortable journey across to Normandy on June 5th/6th.
Suffice to say here that the seas were rough at Bernieres
sur Mer on Juno beach but the men of the Fort Garry Horse were landed dry
footed. LCT 318 ran directly onto the beach to discharge her tanks
but there were problems. Enemy gun and mortar fire was quite heavy as we made our final dash
and just short of the beach, the stern of the craft forward of us swung round
and collided with our bow, causing damage. With a solidly jammed bow door, none
of our 30 ton tanks could disembark but when the front-most tank pushed against
it, it gave
way under the extreme pressure.
[Extract from the Admiralty's 'Green List' showing disposition
of LCT 318 just prior to D-Day.Click to enlarge.]
Despite the heavy
enemy response to our arrival, we avoided major damage but two craft from our flotilla were lost and
they took casualties, notably two men killed aboard our
sister ship LCT 317. We withdrew from Juno beach to a safe distance, while on
call for other tasks if required. We spent the remainder of the day cruising
offshore, while the beach-head was secured. For several days following,
we ferried a variety of cargoes back and forth
between England and France.
DD tanks during exercises
in the UK prior to D Day. With the canvas screen raised and engines
running, they were ready for the ramp to be lowered.
© IWM (H 35179).]
On one such trip back to Normandy, 318 embarked
American troops for Omaha beach.
On the journey, the weather worsened and we were soon in the grip of a full
blown gale. We anchored off the beach, hoping
to ride the
storm out but we lost both Kedge anchors and both engine sand traps became
clogged, resulting in the loss of both engines due to the lack of coolant. We drifted against the
floating roadway connecting the Mulberry Harbour
to the shore and regretfully sank many of their supporting barges. The 318 was
at the mercy of the sea and was finally washed up on to the beach…..we were helpless to prevent
There were hundreds of landing craft lost or
damaged during the great storm that raged for three days beginning the third
week of June. We lay helpless on the beach for a week or 10 days until essential
repairs were carried out by a beach party to make her seaworthy. In that
period, we had repaired the engines and were able to limp back home to Southampton. The planners
had anticipated far greater losses amongst the landing craft during the Normandy
landings, so crippled or damaged craft
like LCT 318 were dispensable. She was laid up and we, her crew, were
My association with His Majesty’s Landing Craft Tank 318
had come to an end. I spent the remainder of the war in the UK,
which included a very cushy
number in Poole Harbour looking after American Lend-Lease craft awaiting
repatriation after the war.
318 was subsequently converted to an Engineering Repair Craft
designated LCT(E) 318 and beyond that to Maintenance and Repair Craft 1097. I suspect she was intended
for duties in the Far East but have failed to discover if she arrived there. One of her sister craft LCT 320, also built at Teesside and
assigned to the 11th Flotilla on D-Day, became Naval Servicing Craft
1110 attached to the submarine depot ship Medway supporting the 10th
Submarine Flotilla out of Singapore.
On the subject of what happened to LCT 318, John Rowsell provides the
following information. My understanding is that LCT 318 was refitted to serve
as a Maintenance and Repair Craft (MRC1097) - as James explains in his story. I
know that in the early 1950s she was based in Malta, was in the Suez operation
in 1956, and turned up in Bahrain in 1962 as base ship for the 9thMSS/MCMS from
1963 (I think) to 1971. I served on board her for 2 years in 1966/67 as a Tiffy.
Little did I know then what her story was. I believe she was sold out of the RN
[Photo; This 1970 stern shot of MRC
1097 taken in Bahrain was provided by Mr. Richard Gleed-Owen.]
LCT 318 was an extremely lucky craft. We only ever sustained three
casualties, none was fatal and
only one was due to enemy fire. If the stoker in question had remained at his
station in the engine room,
he would not have been hit by a piece of flying shrapnel, which severely injured
his nose. However, it should be remembered that many similar craft, and the men
who served aboard them, did not survive the war. Thank you for reading my
personal recollections. By doing so, you have helped preserve the memory of those
who served their country at a time of great peril.
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account of the Mk3 LCT 318 is by Wireman (Electrician) James B Routledge D/MX 95943.
Unless otherwise credited, the photos were also provided by him.
Transcribed by Archivist/Historian Tony Chapman of the LST and Landing Craft
Association (Royal Navy) from information provided by James and further edited by Geoff Slee for website
presentation, which included the addition of maps and