Three months after D-day, activity involving
landing craft had subsided after a period of frenetic activity. My Mark IV
Landing Craft Tank, LCT (4) 979, along
with another, coincidentally commissioned with us some eighteen months earlier at Alloa on the River Forth in Scotland, received orders to proceed from
Fort Gilkicker near Gosport to Southampton. A new flotilla was forming to
undertake further assaults as and when required.
The mess deck was abuzz with speculation on likely destinations, although the
prospect of home leave was of more compelling interest to us at the time! Our
forward base was to be Ostend in Belgium, by then in Allied control.
The object of our attentions was the small but heavily fortified
island of Walcheren at the mouth of the River Scheldt. The port of Antwerp, about 35 miles inland from the island,
was in Allied hands and was desperately needed to supply the advancing Allied armies on their way to Germany and Berlin.
However, the island garrison of 10,000 men occupying strong, fortified,
heavy-gun positions was proving difficult to overcome using land forces alone.
[Photo; Making ready in
The German heavy guns could easily obliterate
any supply ships attempting to break the blockade and a seaborne assault must have
seemed suicidal to the Germans in the safety of their concrete bunkers. Allied planners thought it was a risk worth taking for the
immense benefits to be
We would sail under the protection of a Support Squadron
commanded by our D-day Squadron Commander, Commander (Monkey) Sellars DSO
DSC RN. At the briefing, we were given all the usual guff, but when Admiral
Ramsey asked all those who had been in action before to hold up their hands, we
began to wonder, as this was a rather unusual procedure. We were told about:
five immensely strong concrete gun emplacements with 8.7 in (220mm), 5.9 in (150
mm) and 4.1 in (105 mm) guns and numerous other weapons, including the ubiquitous
88mm cannon; 2) a gap in the dyke, which had been made by RAF bombers some
months previously and on which spot we were going to make the actual landing;
3) a radar
station to the starboard of this and 4) hazardous German defences, such as
beach obstacles with mines attached. With the RAF in support to bomb the enemy positions to blazes
just before we landed, it would be a piece of cake! We weren’t to worry, since the
main armaments would be out of action before we moved in and we began
to feel better; but how often in war did operations of this kind go adrift.
We embarked our buffaloes (swimming infantry carriers) and
their Marine Commandos under the charge of Commander Prior, RN, a headmaster of
renown who, although well over age for this sort of thing, had a reputation for
going after Germans.
We slipped out of Ostend harbour at 0100 on
the 1st November, 1944, in inky blackness. I felt almost glad to leave, as
I had always felt it to be strangely hostile to us. The place must have
been awash with spies, who, in spite of our security measures, were pretty sure of our objective.
After clearing the harbour
entrance, we settled down to cruising stations and shortly after 0400 a signal informed us that the RAF would
not be able to fly in support of our operation because of low cloud. The fire
power of HMS Roberts and HMS Warspite
did not compensate for this loss but, we pressed on regardless, since dawn and tide wait for
[Map courtesy of Google Map
As we approached the coast, dawn was breaking. We were still
ten miles or so from the dyke in full light, which made us a very visible target
for the enemy's big guns. Our situation was not very good for our health! Roberts
opened the first round at 0800, which I entered in the log. Commander Prior
appeared on the bridge and strapped on rubber waders. He thought it was a rather dicey operation without air support and I agreed with him.
We hoisted a brand new battle ensign, which, although now
rather shot up, is a treasured family war relic. Returning fire from the enemy's
big guns was beginning to fall around us. Five twinkling flashes in the far
distance would create great plumes of water some seconds later as the shells exploded
in the sea. More water spouts straddled our flotilla as the enemy guns homed in
on our range and position. I remembered the adage “alter (course) to the fall of
shot” but then realised, that at six miles distant, such evasive action was
ineffective except, perhaps, to give comfort to those on board from taking
avoiding action. Despite our perilous position, Commander Prior asked me what he
owed the mess fund for the few hours he had been with us. I was rather amused and of
course replied that we would be pleased to write it off in the circumstances!
However, after the battle I found an offering on the Ward Room table. Such was
At this point, we thought we'd be lucky even to reach the beach
let alone make a landing but then, as if to urge us on, a squadron of six
Landing Craft Rocket, LCT (R)s appeared. They were not the heavy stuff
hoped for from the RAF bombers but very welcome nonetheless. They immediately went in and effectively dealt with
the radar station, which we hoped would upset the accuracy of the enemy's
gunfire. The Support Squadron were now really doing their stuff “closing the
enemy”, sometimes using only pompoms. Although they did little damage, they drew
the enemy fire from our landing craft as we carried the assault troops to the
Sadly, a salvo from one of our own LCT (R)s
fell short among our own craft, causing death and destruction. Some of them fell
along our port side, fortunately without causing us any damage. Everything
became more intense as we approached the landing beach at about one mile
distance. Over to starboard, another of our of our rocket firing craft sustained
a direct hit, came to a dead stop and blew up in an instant, obliterated in a pall of
black smoke. Little details held my attention as the mast top, cross trees and
jack stay soared skyward, spinning above the smoke.
I was fascinated by the
spectacle of it and had some difficulty concentrating on commanding my craft. Then to port,
an LCG (M) (Landing Craft Gun
Medium) on the way out from the beach was being chased by shells, which just
kept stopping short of her stern. Unfortunately she had been sorely damaged previously and sank a little further out. The other LCG(M)
assigned to this operation just vanished without trace.
We were now near enough to see the small beach made by the
action of the sea washing in and out of the gap in the dyke. There appeared to
be the remains of some breakwaters, which reduced the landing area somewhat.
However, by going in very close to the flotilla officer’s craft, our sterns
actually touching, we made a successful beaching and disembarked our buffalos
troops without a casualty.
[Photo; Swimming troop carriers, known as Buffalos, can be seen on the beach.
Shelling was still heavy. In the background smoke from Westkapelle can be seen
rising as assault troops attacked German defensive positions.]
Enemy fire intensified, the most troublesome being large
mortars, which induced fear and were likely to cause serious damage to craft and
men. An 88 mm shell went clean through the centre of the mast, without bringing
it down fortunately. We collected five German prisoners who, for some reason,
did not much care for our hospitality!
now prepared to un-beach but nothing I could do had any effect. I tried ahead
on one engine, astern on the other and emergency full astern but we were stuck
fast. We were in a very vulnerable position and if we didn’t move off pretty
smartly, we could be blown out of the water. The enemy gunners would eventually
hit something vital, as we were being repeatedly straddled. In those moments of
high tension, minutes seemed like hours, when
salvation came in the form of a bright and courageous Able Seaman, Stanley
George Whereatt, D/JX.369940.
L-R; AB Whereatt, Citation, King's letter and medal.]
As both door lifting wires had been shot off,
the door could not be raised, causing the ramps
fitted on the front of the craft to become hopelessly snagged on a beach obstacle.
Amazingly, AB Whereatt re-reeved
one wire, shackled it to a spare eye bolt and raised the door sufficiently to
get clear. For this effort, carried out under intense fire, he subsequently
received the Distinguished Service Medal (DSM).
While all this was going on, No 1 was endeavouring to put out
a fire on the quarter deck. It turned out to be a pile of smoke canisters left
by our Marines. The canisters had ignited, making us a very obvious target
without providing us with any useful cover behind the smoke. As soon as we
un-beached, the enemy's 88 mm gunners targeted us again. It seemed impossible
that our luck could continue and, on cue, we sustained a
direct hit in our engine room. A pungent
smell pervaded the craft and we expected the engines to
die away but our luck held and we continued on our way out of range of the guns. The entry hole the
shell created was easily
repaired with the use of a hammock. Despite what we'd been through, the only
casualty sustained was one seaman suffering from shell shock.
After making our report to the Head Quarters
ship, we saw our sister craft, commanded by Lt Phillipson, towing a crippled LCG (Landing Craft Gun), which had received a
frightful pounding. She had taken it in tow, while under heavy fire. As we were about
to hail each other, both LCT and LCG rose up on a monstrous mound of white
foaming water, which left our sister ship with its back broken and sinking. We
made ready to go alongside when another mine exploded under her, causing more
damage, but fortunately no casualties. We held off when we saw an LCG was
already alongside taking off the crews. Having seen them safely away, we
proceeded to Ostend without further incident. We berthed at the end of an action
packed twenty-four hours. I wondered if the ghostly heroes of
was so close at hand, approved of our efforts. I'd like to think that they did.
Lt Winkley's daughter writes, "Lt Phillipson was a fellow
officer and friend of my father. In the confusion of war, his wife informed my
mother that my father's ship had probably been lost, causing, I imagine, some
alarm and anxiety. All became clear when my mother received a letter from my
Tuesday 7th November, that included the following extracts;
Just a note to say I am safe. As you probably heard on the Radio, things were
pretty bloody, much worse than "D" day. I really did not expect to see you and
Joy again, however, I will, and soon I hope. We are just waiting for the weather
to be more favourable.
Phillips is aboard me, as he unfortunately lost his ship but he is safe and
sound, which is all that really matters.
I think I got some good photos this time, although at the time I did not think
they would ever be seen - however alls well that ends well.
The "brand new" white ensign after the battle,