~ 'MINOR' LANDING CRAFT TRAINING ~
At the No 1 Combined Training Centre,
Canadian volunteer's story of training in minor landing craft operations during
WW2. Thousands of landing craft of many different types, broadly categorised as
minor and major according to size, were deployed on D Day.
operate these flat bottomed craft, with their challenging sailing
characteristics, required a well trained force of Navy personnel. Their primary
task was to safely deliver hundreds of thousands of troops and their equipment
onto unimproved landing beaches against entrenched enemy positions - a crucial
prerequisite to the opening of the long awaited second front in the west.
Kidder's war medals and the now
inscribed stone he gathered from a Normandy beach nearly 40 years
after his first visit. The medals are (bottom left to right):
The France and Germany Star; The Africa Star; The Italy Star; The
1939 - 1945 Star; The Victory Medal;
Canadian Volunteer Service Medal
with clasp for Overseas Service and The Defence Medal.]
Kidder's light hearted and often humerous account belies the reality of his
experiences in North Africa, Sicily, Italy and Normandy. The stone he recovered
from a Normandy beach is inscribed Arromanches, NORMANDY, 6 June 1944, K
Kidder, 8 10 1983
son, John Kidder
picked up the pebble from the beach at Arromanches
when we travelled en famille to France in 1983 for my sister's wedding. It was
one of the very few times, perhaps the only time, that
I ever saw him cry."
Over 4,000 landing craft of many types and sizes were
required for the invasion of Europe, which became known as D-Day. Every one had a unique role to play. Their design and operating techniques were constantly under
review, as feedback from training exercises and operational experience was
A large training base
for minor landing craft training was set up at Inveraray in the west of Scotland.
named 'The No 1 Combined Training Centre', of which HMS Quebec was
the naval component.
The task was to train the expanding army invasion force with training in the latest amphibious landing techniques,
including embarkation and disembarkation onto the landing beaches. The
Navy and Royal Marine crews for
the landing craft also needed training in seamanship
and the operation of the various minor landing craft. There was
an acute shortage of Royal
Navy manpower for the latter, so Canada
provided 60 officers and 300 men
for training under the Combined
Operations Command, a significant part of which was at Inveraray.
The Canadian Navy insisted that
the men be kept together as a Canadian unit
Royal Navy' and not posted
individually among Royal Navy Combined Ops personnel. These men worked together
throughout the war, forming strong bonds of friendship and loyalty, which
continued in the post war years. This is
the story of Kendall 'Happy' Kidder's training for war, taken from the
testimony of his friends and shipmates, his letters to family members and the
recollections of his wife Jill.
It was April 21, 1941, when Kendall became Probationary Sub
Lieutenant Kidder in the Royal Canadian Navy Volunteer Reserve. His application
had, however, not been plain sailing. A rather fussy Navy Recruitment Officer, on
learning that Kendall was born in Mogollen, New Mexico, a small mining town
where his father had been working at the time, gave him the address of the Air
Force recruiting station with the encouraging information that "they will take
anybody." However, with a bit of perseverance, he was later assured that his name
would be added to the Navy list of those with officer potential on completion of
the appropriate form.
A team of Canadian sailors (stokers) taking part in a Tug-of-War
game during the sports day of HMCS NIOBE, Greenock, Scotland. In the background
are spectators and a PT instructor as the official. © IWM (A 17260).]
Kendall was somewhat taken aback when the form he was given was
for an able seaman. The authorities apparently regarded him as a mere landsman, without any
seafaring background or experience. So, with a little bit of imagination, some
vacation experience in surveying and prospecting up north was transformed into
'extensive experience with small craft in inland waters.' It worked!
the fall, Kendall attended the officer training
establishment at Royal Roads on Vancouver Island. Recruitment had been stepped
up a few gears to meet the demands of both the Canadian and British Navies.
There were 125 officers in each intake with an average age of 22. The training
period of about 4 months included navigation, small boat handling,
gunnery, seamanship etc. War seemed a long way off until the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour on December 7th,
1941. For a while, rumours abounded that the Japanese were invading the west
coast of Canada, resulting in the issue of some
.45 rifles 'to repel boarders.'
this time, Commander Grant called twenty of us into his
office. We were all single; the oldest was thirty. He
told us that officers and men were needed for service overseas in what he
described as a 'hazardous mission.'
Fourteen volunteers were required from among the officer cadets at Royal Roads.
Anyone not interested, for whatever reason,
would be excused without any blemish on his record.
Two dropped out for family reasons. Slips containing
the names of the remainder were
placed in a hat and fourteen volunteers were
chosen at random. As I understand it, a similar
process was carried out at King's College in Halifax, where another group of
sub-lieutenants were taking their training. A total of twenty-eight officers
were thus selected, including Kendall.
February 1942, Kendall was in Halifax, Nova Scotia, awaiting passage to Scotland and an uncertain future....
We arrived here last Saturday night and
reported on Sunday morning. I did quite a bit of shopping, bought a new pair of
boots and had my old ones fixed, got a new strap for my
watch, besides a hundred and one other things. Your Christmas parcel was here when I arrived and it was grand to have a
The train ride from Montreal to here is anything but a pleasure and this
miserable town is anything but an enticing goal. I have never seen filth to
equal it. We haven't as yet been able to find a room or even get a chance to
live in barracks, so we are living in a much too expensive hotel. We haven't any
idea when we will be leaving
but it can't come any too quickly to suit me. For the last three days we have
been doing PT (physical training) for three hours every afternoon, at this point every muscle in my
body is very sore and very stiff. My address here is: Nelson Barracks, Fleet
Kidder in letter to parents.]
Halifax, the officers and men from Royal Roads met their
counterparts from 'Kings'
and were briefed on what lay ahead.
The 'hazardous duty',
for which the men had volunteered, was Combined
whose primary mission was to plan and train for the
invasion of Europe by amphibious landings. This
scenario proved accurate
the nature of Kendall's training became known. Churchill was the prime mover in
setting up the
Combined Operations Command to ensure the three services worked
closely together as a unified force, where
inter-service communication and cooperation would be strengthened and inter-service rivalry
avoided, thus producing a much more effective
The name could not be better, for although
clad in blue and paid by the Senior Service, nearly all the work is with the
Army. It is very difficult to tell where the Navy leaves off and the Army takes
on. On approaching an opposed beach, the Navy and Army officers together have to
decide whether it is advisable to land or not and each thinks of the other's
problems before coming to a decision. Our work entails not only landing Commando
and Assault troops but also tanks, guns, heavy lorries, jeeps, ammunition, gas,
water, and many supplies. So we deal with every branch of the Army.
Training bases for 'minor' landing craft were set up at
Hayling Island on the south coast of England and at Inveraray in Scotland.
The first Canadian flotillas joined the RN in January of 1942. Kendall was
posted to HMCS Niobe
in Scotland on March 1, 1942.
It was the main manning and pay depot for the Canadian
Navy in the UK.... a gloomy brick building, which had been a mental hospital
'Smithston Poorhouse and Asylum', known
locally as the 'loony bin!'
[Map; The remote location of the No1
Combined Training Centre on Loch Fyne with the many landing beaches identified.]
Landing Craft Training
There were many types of
landing craft in use but Kendall would be involved with three.
Landing Craft Assault (LCA).
This craft was
without a doubt the outstanding one of all assault craft. Extreme length about
41 feet, beam 10
feet 2 inches,
draft of 1
foot aft and 9 inches
forward. Its maximum carrying capacity was 35 fully
equipped men, discharging them by means of a lowered ramp. The LCA at slow speeds was
a most silent craft and capable of beaching without giving
its position away due to noise.
Landing Craft Mechanised (LCM).
craft were designed to be carried
on larger ships and
lowered into the sea near the destination. They were used to rush ashore
equipment required by the initial assault troops. The
carrying capacity 35
Landing Craft Infantry Large (LCI L).
Thirty of these boats were
entrusted to 850 officers and crew of the RCN. They were
feet long with a 24 foot
beam. They carried two officers, with a third during the Normandy
a crew of 20 to 25 men. These ships could carry 250
fully armed soldiers, who, if necessary, could be
bunked down in two shifts. [Luke Williams.]
[Photo; troops going ashore in an early
morning landing exercise on the shores of Loch Fyne. These landing craft was
crewed by RN personnel.]
initial drafts from Canada arrived in Scotland and soon were shipped to Hayling
Island east of Portsmouth for initial training in the smaller
'landing craft assault' LCA's, for about three
weeks. Hayling Island had somewhat the same shape as Portsmouth, so, on occasions,
lights in the fields were dimly lit to appear much like Portsmouth to the German
bomber pilots. This ruse gave Portsmouth some relief from the daily bombing the
civilians suffered. Didn't please the farmers of Hayling Island much to become
the target. [Bob Crothers.]
this initial training, the Canadians were drafted to HMS Quebec
near Inveraray on Loch Fyne in Scotland, the main
Combined training establishment, where literally hundreds of thousands of Allied
troops were trained. The Canadian sailors familiarised themselves with the
various landing craft, while training the Army in safely embarking and
disembarking onto 'hostile' shores.
This was undertaken mainly on the shores of
Loch Fyne under realistic conditions, including simulated air attack by
[Photo opposite; Hurricanes 'attacking' a
landing beach off
Furnace on Loch Fyne.]
on Hayling Island, we entrained for
Scotland and took the MacBrayne's paddle steamer for
the tourist trip to HMS Quebec at Inveraray.
There were time intervals between basic training and the more serious
exercises leading up to major raids and invasions. Before these exercises, there was a pleasantly relaxed time at Quebec
with light duties due to recurrent breakdowns and shortage of
boats. The elastic discipline of Combined Ops kept the men together at
Inveraray. We waited to learn rope tricks and cliff
climbing, the threatened characteristics of Commando activity, but found they
were not in our job description after all. So Quebec turned out to be a lot less
demanding than we had expected. In fact quite the contrary.
Time was on our hands. Some of us had tea with the
Duke of Argyle, while others used 'Mill's'
bombs to fish his salmon streams, climb his mountains and explore his deer
park land. The light 'casualties' among his sheep were suspect. Some of us had
leave with all the pleasant, exciting, educating experiences of days in the
But then we were called together. For a while we had our own ships to
carry our landing craft about. They were strange creations indeed. HMS Iris and
HMS Daffodil were called Landing ships
They could carry
thirteen LCA' s mounted on trolleys. The
LCAs were picked up in
the stern chute and hauled up onto the main deck and then, by a complicated
switching system, made snug on three tracks on the covered deck.
The main excitement was launching the craft by pushing them to the chute
one by one and watching them race down the track and plunge into the sea,
splashing up a great wall of water. Very spectacular but we couldn't quite crowd
out of our minds the possibility that the LCA's would just keep on going down to
Davy Jone's locker, though it never happened to us. I dread to think what would
have happened if we had to launch in rough weather.. . I believe this method of
launching was later abandoned.
Our LCA's were then moored on the Ayrshire coast. We were housed in Nissen
huts and tents at HMS Dundonald. The pubs of the harbour were well used.
Our camp was surrounded by a barbed wire fence; some enterprising matelots found
them penetrable... Len Birkenes and others went back and forth through the fence
to enjoy Scottish hospitality.
The largest exercises were Schuyt 1 and Schuyt 2
manned by Combined Operations. The name picked was that of a class of
agreeable small Dutch vessels carrying cargo about the peacetime European coast
and waterways. A number had escaped the Nazis and now worked on the British
coastline. In conception and organization, these exercises were planting the seed that
matured on D-Day. The exercise troops were loaded from the mainland and great
excitement was present, since the beaches would be attended by dignitaries
including King George VI, Winston Churchill and our new chief, Lord Louis
Mountbatten. They had assembled to witness the
'shape of things to come.'
[A fellow officer.]
training was perhaps less physically demanding than some officers were led to
believe but there were still challenging moments
when unfamiliar situations arose.
The strange new world of landing craft, tides, currents, cold wind, rain and
darkness beckoned those of us who were raw recruits, still getting used to the
grub, currency and customs of a new land.
In Scotland the
heather looked lovely through the early morning mist and sun. We acquainted
ourselves with further landing craft and their side effects -
wetness, oil, hunger and tiredness. A strong bond was forged among this Combined
Operations group of officers and ratings,
which still exists today.
Officers cried orders in the pitch dark as we trained. 'Keep closed up!' or
'Out kedge!' and just before hitting the beach,
'Down door!' and
'Up door!'. Seamen strained at the cranks on the windlass as the coxswains worked the helm and
motors against unfamiliar tides and currents. We were green but learning fast. The seamen, good naturedly,
accused the stokers of being seamen with their brains bashed in but those same
stokers never let us down and it was sure good to have someone you could count
on. No one wanted to be left stranded on
the beach, nor were they. This was an unwritten law.
[Seaman Doug Harrison.]
The Canadian stokers are mentioned many times in the annals of Canadian
Combined Ops, always with praise. Our craft were the various types of assault
boats driven by Diesel and gasoline engines. The Canadian stokers
were very adapted to this sort of work and received
much praise from all those who came in contact with them. Our greatest
difficulty was trying to keep them with us as, several
senior officers of the Royal Navy thought they should
have some of them.
There were lighter moments too, as
exampled by Kidder's natural talent
for being in the centre of any slightly 'dubious' activity that was going on.
One story, which spawned a number of variants, concerned a docking operation in
front of Admiralty House in Inveraray. Kidder's craft went aground and, without
giving it a moment's thought, he stripped off his clothes (except cap) and went
overboard to lay a kedge anchor to winch the craft off the obstruction... as
Commodore Coltart and guests, newly returned from a church service, watched in
amazement! Ken was on the carpet next morning but
beat the rap when a kindly Aussie pointed out that the buoy marking the shoal
was of the wrong type. It was a middle ground buoy, indicating safe passage on
Later the story was embellished in the telling. This time
the docking manoeuvre took place in front of the WRNS (women's navy service)
training establishment. Kidder ordered his men to strip off, jump into the
waters below and free the craft... all in full view of any WRNS 'lucky' enough
to have been watching. However a WRNS officer was not amused and she lodged a
complaint about the exposure of her charges to what we would call today the
End of Training
I was so glad to get your letter dated April 9 saying that you had received
my first letter. It is a relief to know that
they actually do get across. I was beginning to think they were on a one way
street, because I had received all of
yours. I hadn't numbered them but, starting with this one as one, I'll
keep track of all I write.
We are through with our training now and are working with the army. Our job
doesn't require much brain work and I feel I could be learning a lot more if
was back in general service at sea but, if we
are wanted here, I guess we must make the most of it.
In all the time we have been here, over a month and a
half, I haven't even had a chance to go to town and I am afraid we are all
getting slightly bushed.
For the last week or so, we have had a lot of fun
exploring an old silver mine that is about a mile from camp.
The mine is owned by the Duke of Argyll, who
seems to own everything in these parts, the roads are even privately owned.
Several went down to see him last Sunday. He is very interested in Canada,
because his uncle, Lord Tweedsmuir was
Governor-General. When he came back to the estate, Lord
Tweedsmuir built a log cabin and
planted a large number of silver maples. They are big trees now and the only
ones I have seen since I have been over.
I am so glad you are sending a parcel. The one thing we miss more than
anything else is good Canadian chocolate but there is no need to try to send
too much. English cigarettes are horrible and it is virtually impossible to get
woollen clothing. We would all enjoy the occasional magazine, just to look at the
During wartime, the information servicemen could
give in their letters home was very restricted. Kendall's letters do not, for
example, describe the nature of the training, precise locations or times. It was
only in the post war period that his wartime experiences and his letters could
be put into context.
They are just about as good a bunch of lads
as you could ever hope for. Here are their names and jobs.
"I'll kill de
guy" Kirkpatrick my stoker. He is an excellent cook and has made some
wonderful stews (from sheep rustled back in the
hills). Besides being a good cook he is the best
barber in the camp.
Tombstone Leavy. He is second cox'n
and one of the best workers in the crew. He catches sheep for the mess. His
pet hobby is raising birds, crows, seagulls and pheasant.
Parrot Mitchell my first cox'n. He
is from Calais Maine and knows the Rideouts (Kidder family friends).
Lads from the west coast,
Francis and Coverdale. They move and think at an amazing pace, like
molasses in January.
"H'ok" Gallant a French Canadian
from Prince Edward Island. One of the best workers and he has the ability to think for himself
in a pinch, which is a big help.
The officer in charge.
Landing Craft Types
By the time of the Normandy
landings, the range of specialised landing craft had increased enormously, in
keeping with technological advances and the changing conduct of warfare. The
craft were; LCA - Landing Craft Assault, LCF- Landing Craft Flak (anti-aircraft
use), LCG - Landing Craft Gun, LCGm Landing Craft Gun (medium), LCI - Landing
Craft Infantry, LCM - Landing Craft Mechanised, LCOCU - Landing Craft Obstacle
Clearance Unit, LCP - Landing Craft Personnel, LCRU - Landing Craft Recovery
Unit, LCV(P) - Landing Craft Vehicle & Personnel (American equivalent of LCA),
LCS - Landing Craft Support, LCT - Landing Craft Tank, LCT(R) - Landing Craft
Tank (Rocket), LSD - Landing Ship Dock, LSG - Landing Ship Gantry, LSI - Landing
Ship Infantry, LSP - Landing Ship Personnel, LST - Landing Ship Tank and LVT -
Landing Vehicle Tracked (also known as amphibian).
Trenholme and Kendall
Kidder inspecting their
troop on the deck of the MV Otranto
Kendall went on to be involved in
North Africa landings in Nov 1942, Sicily
in July 1943,
Italy in September 1943 and Normandy
in June 1944. In common with many service personnel, Kendall "Happy" Kidder's war
was a surreal mixture of periods of inactivity leading to boredom on occasions
and with periods of intense activity and danger, where death and destruction were but
a heartbeat away. By the end of June 1944, the Canadian Combined Operations unit
was disbanded although the ferrying service across the channel continued into
July and August. On Sept 9, 1944, Kendall was granted leave and passage to Canada
but returned to the UK in December on an
fixed to the door of a WW2 building at HMS Quebec (opposite), which now serves as the caravan
site reception office.
There are around 300 books listed on our 'Combined Operations Books' page which can be
purchased on-line from the Advanced Book Exchange (ABE) whose search banner
checks the shelves of thousands of book shops world-wide. Type in or copy and
paste the title of your choice or use the 'keyword' box for book suggestions.
There's no obligation to buy, no registration and no passwords. Click
'Books' for more information.
This account of one man's
experience of training in the operation of minor landing craft in WW2 was written by Jill Kidder and adapted
for website presentation by Geoff Slee, including the addition of maps and