By the middle of May the whole of the South Coast had become a high risk area, from Plymouth in the West right round to Felixstowe in the East, no one could move in or out of the area without good reason, some parts of the area where security was at its highest, a pass was required. Hayling by its very nature became even more shut off, all leave was cancelled whether you had any to come or not, even compassionate leave, shore leave was cancelled except on the Island, but even this had been curtailed by the 28th May, the only movement taking place was the constant arrival of stores, ammunition and fuel.
We spent many hours in this last few weeks of May, taking turns to swing the compass, out in Langstone Harbour. Just off Thorney Island a Dolphin had been built into mid stream, we had to put one mooring line from the craft to the Dolphin, about 30 yards long. We had a Base Naval Officer aboard, we would then swing round the Dolphin whilst he took bearings with our compass on local known high spots, church steeples etc. He would then correct our compass, this procedure would be repeated for all of the craft. When we were not engaged on this or any of the other duties we were repairing or taking on stores aboard our boats, usually the Trot Boats would bring our meals out to us - the usual "Doorsteps" of corned beef and piccalilli, cold tea and slabs of fruit cake. Occasionally the sandwiches were changed for what most of us knew as Cornish Pasties, but the Scousers amongst us insisted on calling them "Teddy-Oggies", what ever you called them it was most probably best not to enquire too closely as to the filling.
One or two ENSA Parties were allowed on the camps, and a few concerts were arranged using our own talents. Dick tells of the morning after one such concert, a pair of non-service issue knickers were seen flying from the mast-head. Most nights there was a film in the camp cinema, unfortunately they had been in circulation for some time, however the films action and dialogue was always livened up with asides from the audience, as only Marines and Matelots were able, lots of "Behind you" and "Watch it mate he's got a gun" or "I wouldn't touch her mate, Chiefie got there first".
Despite the security clampdown one or two ATS girls wearing "Signals" badges were spotted near the wire perimeter fence, did they chance their bums crawling under??? Who saw the girl with the tear in her skirt??? Not that these girls were a security risk, they knew more about the coming invasion long before we did.
On the First of June the spare crews and the admin. staff were paraded with all of their kit after an early breakfast, they were quickly ushered on to a Naval coach and away they went, we were told that they were collecting spare craft from Pompey, this did not make sense to us remaining crews, Pompey was only just across the water from Hayling, why should they take all of their kit with them? All was to be revealed in the coming weeks.
The following day we who were left, that is the regular crews, had a kit inspection so that everyone had a full complement of clean underwear, shell dressings etc, the Coxswains were issued with Morphine kits, we had strict instructions to have baths and haircuts, all spare gear to be packed in kitbags, including personal possessions, a change of clothes to be packed in large packs and water bottles to be filled.
On the craft we were issued with spare cans of fuel etc, each craft had a stripped Lewis gun and ammunition, Compo rations for 36 hours. Flotilla Leaders and Division Leaders were issued with ex Fleet Air Arm Bigsworth boards, and of course the appropriate charts, which we were not allowed to see. On seeing the charts being brought aboard one wag was heard to say "All is lost, Digby is doing the Chart reading".
On the 4th June four craft left the Trot, to join up with a Liberty Ship lying off Nettlestone, there they were hoisted up on davits. The rest of us followed later that night, playing follow my Leader, as we made our way out to Piccadilly Circus, off the Isle Of Wight, this was the area designated for all of the Forces, bound for Sword, Juno and Gold to assemble. Here our small craft were soon swallowed up in a grand melee of Major Landing Craft, Liberty Ships, Coasters and Escort Vessels.
Some time later that day we were informed to take shelter in the lee of the Island, by then a real hooligan of a storm was blowing up, life was very miserable aboard the boats and ships, it was no place to be cooped up for any number of hours. The next morning saw a quietening of the weather, and we tried to form up in some semblance of order. It soon became clear that the big ships were on the move and we soon followed suit, we took position between two long lines of ships and Landing Craft, even so, when we came out from the lee of the island we felt the full force of a westerly wind. We felt very vulnerable in our small craft.
Some time the previous night, Phil and his crew in 1117, and Dick Harper with his crew in 1118, had been detached to be lifted by the US LST carrying the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, bound for Juno Beach.
Meanwhile the remainder of the Flotilla, now forming part of C Squadron, 53rd Assault Group had joined up with the South-bound Convoy, making its way to Sword Beach. We soon realised that we had lost 1112; I later found out that it had had engine trouble and had turned back, this must have been a trifle embarrassing, the Flotilla Engineering Officer was aboard.
It is almost impossible to describe the vast extent of that Invasion Force. As far as the eye could see there were vessels of all descriptions, we had formed into two columns astern, on either side of us was a column of ships, LST's, LCT's, LSI's and Liberty ships. Outside of these lines were the Convoy Escorts, Destroyers and Frigates, and beyond these were the Minesweepers making sure the Convoy stayed within the swept channel. During the previous night the Minesweeper had been busy, sweeping and marking the channels with Dan-Buoys.
At intervals, rescue launches and MTB's would dash up and down between the columns like fussy old hens, making sure we stayed in our allotted lanes. The major landing craft and the ships were weathering the remnants of the previous days gales, but the small craft were not happy. Somewhere in mid-channel the wind and the tide turned round to come from the East, our small LCV(p)'s, even in the lee of the ships at our side, were yawing in the troughs and the peaks. Not the most seaworthy of boats at the best of times, the sea was now playing havoc with the crews, sea-sickness was rife amongst the lads. For the Army it must have been even worse, at least we did have some experience.
The Coxswains were getting the worst of it, they were in a more exposed position, there was continuous changing, the Deckhands and Stokers giving the Coxswains a breather, apart from dry biscuits and water no one felt like much else. The worst moment of the voyage was when we had to refuel on the move, this necessitated the Stoker emptying petrol into the tank aft. I took a couple of turns of rope round my waist and belayed to the towing post, then taking the full can from whoever was opening it, then trying to pour the petrol into a hole that never kept still. We had been told to keep the empty cans on board, but knowing that empty petrol cans are more dangerous than full ones, mine joined the others that were floating by. Charlie Flint, the Signaller aboard Captain Kerbey's craft (1100), whilst helping with the refuelling fell overboard. He was very lucky to be picked up by a following craft. He was transferred back to 1100, a very hazardous operation in mid-channel considering the sea that was running.
Unfortunately given the combination of the weather, the sea-sickness and the fact that the convoy was making better progress than ourselves, we were getting left further and further behind, the minor craft Flotillas were becoming mixed up and the nearer we got to Normandy the worse it became.
Several miles off the Beachhead the various convoys split to proceed to their own Beaches, in accordance with their sailing orders. It was at this point that my craft, owing to intermittent engine troubles, lost the Flotilla. Stan decided that the best thing to do would be to follow an LCT into the beach. About 50 yards out we hit an obstacle immediately followed by an explosion, the ramp went down - presumably we had hit a mined obstacle. Our Coxswain, Stan, put the engine into reverse and took us back out to sea, much to the annoyance of those coming in. It would have been far worse had we continued in and blocked the beach with our load of stores and petrol.
Meanwhile the main body of the Flotilla arrived off Sword Beach. The beach and the anchorage were under intensive fire from Le Havre and enemy gun emplacements on the Promenade and inland. Having unloaded their cargoes, human and otherwise, they were given various tasks around the anchorage. Captain Kerbey went alongside "HMS Largs", the Sword Beach Headquarter Ship, for orders, a mine exploded nearby so he made a hurried exit and waited for his orders to be sent to him via his Signaller. He was told to proceed into the beach and set up a temporary HQ and liaise with the Beachmaster.
There was very little interference from the Luftwaffe, the occasional ME109 would strafe the anchorage, at intervals the 88mm guns from the Le Havre Peninsula would open up, despite numerous sorties by the Allied Fighter-bombers, but the Mortar fire and small arms fire did get less as the day wore on.
The continual build-up of troops, vehicles and stores were being landed from a multitude of landing craft and ships, under an umbrella of Allied Fighters. There was a continual bombardment from the Royal Navy ships, they stood off from the Anchorage and shelled targets many miles inland. Len Ewington:
"As we went about our business, ferrying people to all parts of the anchorage, now and again we had cause to go out to the big ships, one in particular, HMS Roberts, a Monitor with two 16" guns, she fired 1 ton shells, sometimes over our heads, you could actually see the red hot projectile flying through the air, a sight and sound that has never left me".
As well as the Monitor there was HMS Ramillies, HMS Warspite, HMS Frobisher and a Polish Cruiser HMS Dragon. Between the beach and the bombarding ships there were countless destroyers, engaging targets just in front of our troops, as they met resistance. Forward Observation Officers (FOO's) had landed with the first assault troops, they were now relaying instructions via radio to the AA Cruiser, HMS Scylla, the HQ ship responsible for the bombardment, the target co-ordinates were then passed on to the ships.
As the first troops moved inland so the Support Craft were brought in to deal with the odd pocket of resistance, these were the LCG's and the LCT(r)'s which came under the local command of the FOO's on the beach and the spotter aircraft above. The small forest to the East of the river Orne which grew almost down to the shore, was still occupied by a considerable number of the enemy. A Flotilla of Rocket Firing Support Craft made spectacular sorties into about a half of a mile from the shore, most amazing sight to watch these converted LCT's approach the target and fire thousands of rockets, then turn away to allow the next in line to fire, after firing they went to the rear to re-load, a very tricky business I am told, if the firing tube was too hot, it was not unknown for the projectile to self-ignite. The LCG's followed the rocket attack, their 4.7 guns soon discouraged any ideas of a flanking attack from that direction.
The LST carrying 1117 and 1118 LCA's arrived off Juno Beach, Courseilles, and landed the Canadians. Dick Harper recounts his experiences:
"The landing we made were a bit grim, to say the least, having to land our troops in four to five feet of water, we did not have any option, the Beachmasters Party was trying to get as many in as possible, unload and then off again, to make room for the following craft. From then on it was a continuous job of ferrying from ship to shore, what ever the load that they put aboard. We were under constant fire from shore based guns and aircraft braving the barrage balloons, carried by the bigger ships. The LCF's put up a most amazing barrage, we were more in danger from falling shrapnel than enemy gun-fire. As the tide ebbed the LST came right in and beached on the exposed sand, it could then open its bow doors and unload the support vehicles, we were ordered to make our way along to Sword Beach and rejoin our own Flotilla, there were several of us, craft of various types, we had an escort of an ML to keep us in the swept lanes".
Meanwhile on Juno, where we were in difficulties, our engine had failed, despite all that I could do, probably salt water had got into the fuel when we re-fuelled earlier. We managed to get alongside HMS Ulster, a destroyer which had stopped for repairs. After imprudently closing the shore when firing on enemy pill-boxes, she had grounded on a sand bank and damaged a screw, she was anchored about a half mile off-shore when we found her. Lt Charlie Redman was Deck Officer, he and some Matelots helped us to tie up abaft the Iron Deck. We unloaded some of our gear, rifles and Lewis guns onto the deck, at that moment a ship passed us at a rate of knots, its bow wave swamped our craft, the deck party cut the lines and we drifted away. She filled with water and that was the last we saw of 1120, we were still wearing our Mae Wests, but the tide took us out towards an LCT which was returning from the beach, it slowed down for us and we were hauled aboard, taken down to the mess deck to dry out and have some hot soup.
The crew found us some dry clothing and best of all dry cigarettes. Our adventures were still not over though, the engines packed up, and the tide running east, took us out of the anchorage and into the unswept area between Juno and Sword. The Middy, who had taken command after his Skipper had been injured, suggested we all stand in the centre of the well deck, as he thought that would be the safest part, should we hit a mine. At that moment the MM's got one of the engines going and we chugged back out of danger. Our young Skipper decided to beach the craft, and give the MM's a chance to repair the other engine before setting off for the UK.
We reported to the Beachmaster who sent us off to the nearest dump of stores, we were fitted out with new battledresses and blankets, the blankets fitted better than the uniforms!!! The Beachmaster told us we would have to spend the night on the beach, and not to start roaming, as they had not finished clearing all of the mines, in fact there was a flail Tank still working, clearing another exit from the beach.
By now it was getting dark, we had just finished digging in next to a mobile Bofors AA gun, when the alarm went up, a lone Me 109, it came sweeping along the beach from the west, machine guns and cannons blazing. Stan and I dashed for cover behind a stack of stores, soon after the plane had passed we realised our mistake, we had taken cover behind a dump of Mortar Bombs.
At daybreak next morning we found the Beach Parties galley "A hole in the sand", they fixed us up with breakfast, afterward we made ourselves as useful as we could. The LST's were disgorging their loads of vehicles, and beached Coasters were unloading by means of their Derricks, straight into waiting lorries etc. One thing we noticed, on inspecting the stack of "Compo Ration Boxes" that we were loading on to Jeeps, a neat hole had been cut in the outside boxes, just where the cigarettes and sweets were packed, it must have been done in the night, we reported it to the Beach Party in case we got the blame. About mid-morning the Beachmaster sent for us, he had found out where our Flotilla was, an LCT was coming in to beach, it was collecting up all the odd bods who were on the wrong beach, and returning them to their Units. Incidentally I met Charlie Redmond after the war, he was living in Hove. He sent my wallet, which had been in my kitbag that we had left on the deck of the destroyer. He was a Commissioned Gunner at the time he picked us up.
By the time we arrived at "Sword" the "Cap Tourane" was already anchored off the Beachhead. As we approached the ship we hailed one of our own boats which took us on board and, after we had swapped experiences, they took us alongside the "Cap Tourane". We reported to the Flotilla Office somewhere amidships, they did not seem overjoyed to see us, evidently they had reported us missing to COPRA and now they would have to amend the signal, and we were B***** nuisances, and where was our kit, did we realise the amount of work that it would involve kitting us out, all of this with an invasion going on outside!!!! We eventually got away and found the rest of the lads on the mess deck, it was good to meet up with John Lord again, he had just come off duty.
The "Cap Tourane" acted as Depot ship to several Flotillas as well as supply ship to the Support Craft. Before being requisitioned by the Admiralty, she had been on the Far East run, Marseilles to Hong Kong, Burma and Singapore.
Extract of the "Cap Tourane's" history as supplied by Lloyds:
The "Cap Tourane" was built in 1923 as the "Jouffrey D'Abbans" by Ateliers & Chantiers de la Loire, Nantes, France.
Tonnage, 8169 tons
Length-415ft, Beam-55ft, Depth-34.5ft
Registered in Le Havre, under the French Flag.
Steam Turbines driving a single screw, giving a top speed of 12knots.
Two masts and a single funnel.
Accommodation for 850 passengers & 120 crew.
Requisitioned by Admiralty 1941.
Re-Registered and Renamed in 1943 to sail under the Red Ensign.
Officers drawn from RNVR & Merchant Navy, original crew mostly Lascars.
The "Cap Tourane" had two Sisters Ships, the "Cap Varella" was sunk in 1952 and the ???? in 1942 in Convoy. In 1953 the "Cap Tourane" was sold to ship-breakers in Belgium. There are no records of any further war service after she returned to Southampton in 1944.
The "Cap Tourane" had been waiting at Tilbury, when our spare crews had arrived from Hayling Island on the 4th June. After embarking the ship moved to an anchorage off Southend Pier with many other merchantmen, they sailed for Normandy on the morning of D-Day, in convoy with a destroyer escort. The convoy was shelled as it passed through the Dover Straits.
"I was a Naval Lieutenant taking passage aboard the "Cap Tourane". I was attached to 602 LCM Flotilla, we were being shelled by the German guns on Cap Gris Nez, at the time we were somewhere to the rear of the convoy, doing our best to keep up, the "Cap" was not the fastest of ships. One of the escorting destroyers came dashing back to us and, calling over the Tannoy, asked the Captain to go to full speed. The Captain in a very broad Scottish accent replied "If I could go any ********** faster I would be leading your ******** convoy by a mile." We eventually met up with other convoys somewhere off the Isle of Wight, Piccadilly Circus, we all proceeded cross Channel arriving off Sword Beach on the morning of the 7th June".
Life aboard the ship was pretty crowded, we were supposed to do 24hrs on a duty craft and 24hrs off on board the ship. We had to sleep wherever we could find space to put down a bed. In theory we should have been 16 to a mess, it was usually as many as could find space to sit. Each mess elected a duty cook, it was his duty to collect the meals from the ship's galley - after walking through the galley a couple of times, it was better not to think too much about what you were eating, the galley staff were all Lascars who lived on Curry, the smell pervaded the entire ship. Several times a day the entire crew stopped whatever they were doing, faced east, unrolled their prayer mats and knelt down.
From the middle of May, elderly, damaged and obsolete ships, of all descriptions, Naval and Mercantile, Allied and foreign, had been assembling in the Clyde and amongst the Western Isles. On the 28th May they formed up into three convoys and sailed for the South Coast and anchored in Poole Bay, Dorset. These three convoys were designated with the code names "Corncob I, II and III". They sailed on the 7th June for their respective Beaches in Normandy. Some were under their own steam and some under tow. On nearing the French Coast they were divided into five convoys, one each for Sword, Juno, Gold, Utah and Omaha.
On arrival at their destinations they were manoeuvred into position with the aid of survey vessels and tugs, to form Breakwaters called "Gooseberries". Each ship had been fitted with explosive charges in the bottoms of the hull. The theory was that these ships would be scuttled in an arc, about a mile off shore, one ship to be "planted" every 40 minutes, allowing each vessel 20-25 minutes to settle on the sea-bed.
Owing to some intense shelling, the enemy took these ships to be easy targets as they were so slow, and the fact that there were several Warships among them and a very strong tide things did not go to plan. The Juno Gooseberry was laid with its arm at an angle, instead of a curve, thus giving a smaller area of "lee" than was intended. Our own Breakwater at Sword, although laid in a curve, did not wrap round the Eastern end, this left the anchorage with little protection from the prevailing NE winds. 803 Flotilla vessels were kept busy taking off the crews before they were sunk in position. I have included a full list of the vessels used to make up the Sword Gooseberry No.5, quite sad really, no one likes to see ships scuttled.
Gooseberry No.1. Laid off Utah Beach, between 12.00 hrs and 18.00 hrs on the 7th June, under intensive gunfire, had a wider gap than intended between ships and shore.
Gooseberry No.2. Laid off Omaha (Mulberry A).
Gooseberry No.3. Laid off Gold (Mulberry B).
Gooseberry No.4. Laid off Juno, was set with too acute angle instead of arc.
Gooseberry No.5. Laid off Sword, not completely to plan, see above.
All Breakwaters finished by the 10th.
Sword Gooseberry had a total of nine ships:
SS Becheville. British Merchantman.
Courbet. Ex French Naval Battleship.
SS Dover Hill. British.
HMS Durban, Cruiser. There were injuries to the scuttling crew.
Empire Defiance. Ex Italian "Erica".
Empire Tamar. Ex Italian "Verbenia".
Empire Tamar. Ex Italian "Carso"
Forbin. Ex French.
Sumatra. Ex Dutch Cruiser.
As the Assault Forces moved further inland, so the build up of troops, vehicles and stores intensified on the beaches. It was a non stop 24hour job, LST's, LCT's, LSI's and scores of Coasters were arriving. The Coasters were of all sizes, as each vessel arrived it would let go its Kedge Anchor, then settle on the ebbing tide, as soon as possible it would unload on to waiting transport then kedge off on the rising tide. Although it meant that they were sitting pigeons there were very few losses, and as we pushed further into France, the odd air raids became fewer.
The Support Force which we were now part of settled into a very assorted role, our watches changed from 24hr on and 24 hr off to periods of 48 hours at a time, which suited most of us. There were fewer crews staying aboard the "Cap Tourane", most of us spent the time within the Gooseberry when we were not required. The crews and craft that used the ship had to tie up in trots, and use one of the two Sally Ports to go aboard. The enemy were still shelling the anchorage and at least once a day they would make the "Cap" their target. It being stationary, there were some hits and casualties; if the shelling got too hot, the Captain would up anchor and move out, this meant the landing craft crews had to be mustered to move the craft, otherwise they would be dragged under.
We never knew what our next job would be, some days we collected POW's from the beach and took them out to ships UK bound, their attitudes varied from a surly arrogance to those who were glad to be out of it. Horace Elliot was on this run one day, with Alan Blake and Tich Dutton, they had taken thirty odd prisoners out to an LCT, it was their fourth trip of the day, on the way back into the beach they hit a floating mine which blew off the ramp and bows, the craft sank and they had an hundred yard swim into the shore. One of the other lads who saw the incident followed them in, and gave them a lift back to the "Cap".
Dick Harper and his crew were allocated to the Beachmaster, for whatever he required, they made several journeys along the coast to other Beaches, and out to the Headquarter Ship or other vessels.
Most of our time seemed to be taken up with ferrying officers and their staff, various stores and small vehicles. I remember picking up a load of motor cycles from a coaster, unfortunately they had no petrol in their tanks, we had to manhandle them over the ramp, and up the beach. We were often called in to help the RASC who were operating "Rhinos", great steel pontoons which could be fixed together to form enormous rafts. They were propelled by two large outboard motors, the crew would take them alongside a Coaster, which would then load it, by means of its own derricks, with vehicles of all description and nets of ration boxes. As you can imagine these "Rhinos" were very unwieldy, especially if there was any wind, we would help them by either pushing or pulling like tugs, against the run of the tide or wind, this was quite a profitable job for us, there was usually a broken box of "Compo" rations to be had. The other workhorses that seemed to be everywhere, were the DUKW's, these amphibious vehicles could load straight from the ships, and then run into the beach and onto the roads, unfortunately they did not have much freeboard, and were in danger of being swamped; we were constantly rescuing the crews in rough seas. They had originally been designed for crossing rivers etc.
During the day if the shelling from Le Havre got too bad, we would take the boats into the Gooseberry and tie up in the lee of the "Courbet". This ex-French Battleship, built in 1919 and fitted with 15" guns, had been captured early in the war and used as an AA ship in many of our Dockyards. We reckoned that the safest place was by its armour plated hull. The Maintenance parties had already taken over the ship as a Depot Ship, making use of the workshops etc, topsides and the first two decks were above high-water mark. Maurice Dixey, one of our Motor Mechanics, found bunk space and a galley on the Quarter deck, which was quite safe. There were quite a few shell holes in her. When they first scuttled the ship it was a prime target until the enemy realised it posed no threat to them, they must have thought we were using it as a Fortress.
It was rumoured that the Le Havre guns were mounted on railway wagons, and shifted into bomb proof tunnels when they finished firing. Although the RAF frequently bombed the area, it never seemed to deter them. They were 88mm high velocity guns, which meant the shell arrived with a very loud crack, before you heard the gun fire, very putting off, it was also very accurate, woe betide any target once it had been bracketed. Many of us were aboard the "Cap" when they brought LCG 18 alongside us, it had received three direct hits on the gun deck, one shell had exploded in the mess deck, the whole craft looked as if it had been opened with a giant tin-opener, it was amazing that it was still afloat. There was a call for volunteers to help remove the bodies of the crew, all of the volunteers were given a fair old ration of neat rum before they started their gruesome task. The hulk was taken out to sea and sunk.
The duty crews who did not want to live aboard the "Cap" spent the nights in the Gooseberry, one duty boat would ply between us and the "Cap" to pick up our orders. One very welcome appearance to the anchorage, in the first week I believe, were the various "Barges", the London Barges that had been taken over and converted, Dick often wondered if they were the ones that he had worked on, before joining up. Some came over under their own power, and some were towed, these were the utility workhorses. The LBK's, LBO's, LBW's and LBV's all did sterling work with very little recognition. Being flat bottomed and only designed for river work, they were not seaworthy, it took hardly any sea running at all for them to pitch and roll, very uncomfortable, added to which they being unable to move very fast, were very vulnerable.
Every day we visited one or other of the barges, to the LBO to top up our fuel tanks. Fresh water from the LBW was a rare treat, on board the "Cap" we had to wash in salt water, to conserve the fresh. Even using the special salt water soap, it was impossible to get a decent lather, and you always felt sticky after a shower. The fresh water was treated so the tea tasted of Chlorine. The LBK was the main barge we made for, first thing in the morning the minor craft were queuing up to go alongside, plenty of hot tea, rashers and fried eggs, at all times of the day there was always a meal available, the cooks aboard these barges each deserved a medal. There was no room aboard the LBK to have the meal. You let the Cook PO know how many meals you wanted, a few minutes later the Hay boxes and Thermos flasks would be waiting for you, much better than trying to cope in the craft with Compo rations. It was one such transfer that nearly led to tragedy for myself, we were loading up our evening meal, when the shelling started, unfortunately I was reaching for a hay box with one foot on the barge, the other was still on the gunwales of my boat, a shell landed near us, the backwash moved the two vessels, and I fell into the "Oggin" between them, and the haybox caught me on the head. One of the cooks jumped in by the side of me and held me above water, luckily the two vessels went apart, otherwise we would both have been crushed, the lads soon organised our rescue, we were taken down to the cooking ranges to dry out, plus a good tot.
On another occasion we had orders to go out to the HMS Nelson, a 16" gun Battleship which had just come in to join the other bombarding ships. We had been detailed to collect a party of Gunnery Observation Officers and their communication team, to take into the beach. We tied up by the side of her accommodation steps and I went aboard to report to the Quartermaster. One of the ratings who had my name asked me if I knew any Framptons from Godalming, I said "yes, I came from Godalming", he dashed off and was soon back with Ken Smith who I had gone to school with, he was a Baker aboard the "Nelson" and asked me what the rations were like aboard the landing craft. I told him that they were OK but we missed bread, as we had to have hard biscuits, he disappeared and two of them came back with sacks, which we took aboard just as the Officers party appeared, on the way in to the beach. We investigated the sacks, to our delight, fresh bread rolls, tins of butter and jam. As soon as we got back into the Gooseberry we had the tea on, we shared with the rest of the lads a meal we had not tasted for some weeks, even the smell was worth a king's ransom. The next morning we picked up a FOO and his party from the beach and took them out to the "Nelson", just as we pulled away they fired the big guns, over our heads, I have never heard such an explosion at such a close distance, it was hours before our hearing returned to normal, the shell was going away from us, and quite amazing, not only could you see the projectile but also the shock waves generated as it passed through the air. When the big ships fired after darkness, it really was quite spectacular.
Len Ewington's memories of June show what the typical days were like:
"As I recall two craft were assigned daily to be duty boats to HMS Warspite and HMS Ajax, one particular day when we were with "Ajax" I had occasion to go aboard, we tied up at the gangway and climbed up to the Quarter deck, "Permission to come aboard Sir" I requested of the Duty Officer "Duty Landing craft assigned to Ajax" to which he replied "Carry on Royal". We then made a beeline for the Galley, a kindly CPO Cook took pity on us, we were soon tucking in to freshly baked bread, butter and jam. Pure Luxury!!! We managed to smuggle some back on board just as we were warned to cast off, as they were about to open fire. I took the craft to our stand by position, just in time, as the guns were traversing for a broadside, in fact I had started to bite into my fourth or was it fifth jam sandwich, when she fired, the blast blew the bread from my hand, luckily I was holding on to the wheel otherwise I might have followed it, I hurriedly put a great distance between us before she fired again".
We all had this obsession with fresh bread, I wonder what a modern day Psychiatrist would make of it. I expect he would put it down to childhood repression or something!!!
On June the 19th we had our first real storm, it scattered all of the landing craft, we had hardly any control over them, most of us managed to get into the lee of the Gooseberry, but some of them were thrown up on the beach, the lads were lucky to get away from them before they were smashed, our LCV(p)'s were made of inch thick marine multi-ply wood and stood no chance. The lads on the beach moved off inland and were bedded down in the local school. That storm lasted four days, afterwards we were all busy salvaging what we could.
Later in the month on the 24th the "Derrycunihy", a Liberty ship carrying the 43rd Reconnaissance Regiment, the Gloucesters and their vehicles, unfortunately hit a mine that had drifted into the anchorage - it must have come adrift in the storm - to add to the tragedy, the Destroyer HMS Swift going to her rescue hit another mine, all of the craft in the area rushed in to give assistance, and rescue as many as possible. The mine had broken the back of the "Swift", she sank immediately, 300 of the Gloucesters were killed and another 150 were wounded out of a total of Six Hundred and Thirty. For some hours following the incident, the minesweepers were busy in the approach channels.
The messes and the sick bay aboard the "Cap" were full of survivors. As they were made fit to travel they were transferred to LCT's that were returning to the UK. During one of these transfers, they started shelling the anchorage, one of the casualties had just been hoisted in a sling prior to lowering on to the deck of the LCT, a shell fell close by and the Lascar operating the winch took fright and went below for shelter, leaving the poor man swinging in mid-air. The Bosun and a Petty Officer managed to get him lowered. That same afternoon there was another period of shelling, this time the "Cap" had two direct hits, starting a fire on the after deck, killing a Captain Thomas and a Marine of 602 Flotilla. Another Officer Sub/Lt Findlay who was wounded, died later aboard a Hospital ship.
On the 26th June, Phil Crampton, Ron Dunham and Jimmy Galt in Craft 1117 were making their way in to the Gooseberry when they were hit by a shell exploding on the bows, blowing off the ramp. All three lads were injured by shrapnel, they managed to beach the craft and get first aid from the Beachmasters Party, who then arranged their move out to the "Cap" and into the sick-bay where they were operated on by a Naval Surgeon who removed several lumps of steel from them. They were all later transferred to a Hospital ship for further treatment, and return to UK. In the following weeks we suffered several more such cases, some minor and quite a few serious.
"One day we had engine trouble, Sammy Sutton my Stoker said he would have to scrounge some spares from somewhere, we went into the beach and received permission from the Beachmaster to tie up and come ashore, I left one of the crew with the craft, Sammy and I went for a walk, he to find a stores and I went to have a look round. I passed an 88mm gun emplacement by the road, the aperture had been blasted wide open, someone told me it had received a direct hit from a salvo from the "Warspite". Sammy caught me up and said that there was a REME Dump about a mile inland. We stopped an Army lorry to get a lift, the driver agreed, "get in the back, you'll have company" we went round to the rear and looked in, it was full of bodies, some sick joke!! We told the driver what he could do with his lorry and himself, he went off chuckling, I guess that was his way of dealing with his gruesome task. I walked back to the beach, on the way I inspected a cottage that must have been the centre of some fierce fighting, bullet holes, doors off their hinges and the smell of cordite. I noticed a piece of floorboard that had been disturbed, looking closely I noticed some paper wads, it turned out to be French Francs, about 1500F. I later shared them out amongst the crews".
The RAF established airstrips inland, they maintained a constant umbrella of air cover over us as well as the progressing Army, we had a grandstand view of the bombing of Caen. General Montgomery had made this city one of his key objectives, to be taken in the first days of the invasion, however his plans were upset by a stubborn German resistance. Eventually he decided to bomb the city, no one could understand his reasoning, it would have saved hundreds of French lives if he had encircled the city and left it to be taken at a later date, so on July 18th, some six weeks later than planned, he called in the Bombers soon after noon, a succession of Lancasters and Halifaxes queued over the Channel, awaiting to bomb the city. The sky above the target area was covered in a black cloud, tragically also for some of the bomber crews, the city had been ringed with Ack Ack guns, we lost several aircraft, two crashing on Juno Beach.
In the middle of June the first of the "Mulberry" Harbours arrived, "Phoenix" units were sunk off Gold Beach (Arromanches), another arrived off Omaha Beach. The various components were soon in position, and larger ships were making use of the deep water facilities, and could now be off loaded straight on to the jetties, instead of over the beaches. According to Historians writing of the campaign later, a row had broken out between Admiral Ramsey (Commander of the Invasion Naval Force) and General Montgomery, about the losses incurred from the Le Havre guns. On being told by Montgomery that dealing with Le Havre was not in his immediate Battle Plan, Admiral Ramsey replied "in that case, I will shut down Sword Beach". On the 29th July all unloading ceased and all the minor craft with the "Cap Tourane" moved to Gold Beach at Arromanches. A Guard fleet of Frigates and LCT's remained at Sword to protect the Eastern Flank.
The Mulberry had been completed by the time we arrived, we were organised into Trots tied up to an Ack Ack Phoenix. Apart from providing the occasional duty craft, we more or less fended for ourselves in between working for the Naval Beach Party and the RASC who were responsible for all stores movements. Horace Elliot was billeted ashore with his crew, helping out in the RM Quartermasters Stores, he was also roped in to attend a Burial Parade for some soldiers, who had blown themselves up with a "Bangalore" Torpedo.
Many of us took this opportunity to have a run ashore, it was now possible to walk to the beach via the roadway from the "Spud" jetties. These had had to be repaired after the storm of the 19th, evidence of this could be seen on the beach, twisted roadway sections and girders were littered everywhere. There were a few MP's about, but it was no problem to talk our way past them. We cadged a lift into the small town of Arromanches, I had managed to scrounge some Francs, we bought some odds and ends, we were always on the look-out for "Rabbits" to add to our collection of German helmets etc. We got our first taste of Calvados, the Normandy Speciality, a Brandy made from apples, very potent. A couple of the lads boasted of conquests among the local maidens, knowing some of our lusty Lotharios, I would not have put it past them.
Quite a few American LCV(p)'s had come in to the Mulberry, from Omaha Beach, further west. The crews were mostly US Coastguards. We developed quite a nice little trade with them. They had not had a chance to pick up many souvenirs. We swapped for their vastly superior Compo Rations, for some reason our issue Knives were in great demand, I think it was because they had marlin spikes.
It was here in the Mulberry that we had our first taste of the Buzz Bombs. I can remember the first one, several of us were smoking our last cigarette before turning in. We were standing on the stern of the outboard craft, this light appeared in the sky, coming from the East. We could hear the pop-popping engine, suddenly there was silence and the next minute there was an enormous explosion, just the other side of the Phoenix, which shook us so much one lad fell over-board, we kept a very wary eye open after that.
In early August we were given orders to beach all of the craft, they were to be handed over to the Beach Party. We were then ferried out to the "Cap Tourane", the following day we sailed for Southampton. As we came up the Solent a Buzz went round the ship that the Customs Officers were waiting for us when we landed, there was a steady splash as "Rabbits" went over-board, a hand would appear out of a scuttle, and an object would drop into the water below.
After we disembarked we made our way through the warehouse on the dockside, and formed up in Flotillas, then on to waiting trains. Incidentally there was not a single Customs Officer in sight, I often wonder what lies at the bottom of the Solent.
So our first involvement with Europe came to an end, the train took us back round to Hayling Island, there we had our first decent bath and a pint of beer, we were soon on the move again, this time down to Stonehouse Barracks, Plymouth.
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