Built By the New York Steel & Bridge Corp.
Camden NJ in September 1942
And was Lend-Leased to the British
Let there be built great ships which can cast upon a beach, in any weather, large numbers of the heaviest tanks.
A Brief Personal Account Of Happenings From 'D' Day Preparations To 'VE' Day
By Mr. J. S. Smith
I was a coxswain in Combined Operations awaiting a draft from H. M. S. Westcliffe-On-Sea. Going on draft wasn't what you would call exciting, because going to a different ship meant leaving your mess-mates behind and having to make new ones. Eventually I was called in to see the Drafting Officer, who informed me that I was being drafted to Poole in Dorset. I was to join Landing Craft Tank 2441, and to make worse of it I was on my own, no one from Westcliffe was being drafted with me. I was on my own with Kit-bag, Hammock and suitcase, my worldly possessions.
It all happened in October 1943 and at the time I didn't realise how much of a nightmare it was going to be. I left Westcliffe station at ten o'clock in the morning and arrived at Fenchurch Street station later in the day. I took transport to Paddington station, then caught the next train out for Poole, arriving there at six o'clock.
At the station I reported to the Railway Transport Officer who got me transport which took me to Naval Headquarters. Here I reported to the Regulating Petty Officer showing him my orders and pass. He left me and returned a little while later to inform me that L. C. T. 2441 was not at Poole. He told me to stay there overnight, and report back to him in the morning. I duly reported to his office early next morning to be told that L. C. T. 2441 was now lying at Southampton. This cheered me up somewhat, now knowing the where-abouts of my ship.
Now I set off for a new destination, Southampton, feeling in better spirits. On arrival there I reported to Naval Headquarters and reached the R. P. O.'s office. After another period of waiting, the R. P. O. returned to again inform me that L. C. T. 2441 was not at Southampton. This was unbelievable. I was back at square one.
Well here I was in the Navy with a total complement of about 800,000 officers and ratings and yet I was all alone, lost and not knowing what was coming next. Again I was told to stay overnight and report to the R. P. O. in the morning. The next morning when I reported to him in his office, he informed me that L. C. T. 2441 was berthed at Camper Nicholsons Dock at Gosport. It so happened that I was fortunate in knowing where this dock was, and that it was opposite Portsmouth.
Once again I set off on my travels and took the train from Southampton to Fareham, where I reported, yes, once again to the R. T. O. who got me transport to get me down to Camper Nichols Dock. When I got down to the dock, guess what? Of course there was no L. C. T. 2441 there. After standing for some time near the end of the sea wall looking across the water, I at last got my eyes on the ship. The L. C. T. 2441 was lying in mid stream.
It was then I caught sight of a dingy, with two men in it rowing towards me. When they got nearer to me they shouted out, "are you the new coxswain", to which I replied "Yes I am". They then rowed the dingy in, near to the sea wall and I lowered myself down into it.
At last I thought, journey's end. They rowed me over towards the L. C. T. and as we got nearer, there was the rest of the crew looking over the ships side no doubt wondering who and what I was like. But what a dirty looking lot they seemed to be. It was when I got aboard the ship that I found out why they looked the way they did and the state they where in. I found that the generator was out of action, which meant that no hot water was obtainable, and no food could be cooked, because of the electric fan not working, being powered of course by the generator.
Up to this point it had taken me three days to get to my destination, yet if they had known in the first place, where my ship was, the journey would have taken me approximately six hours.
Eventually our L. C. T. was taken into Portsmouth dockyard, and all repairs carried out on her, making her totally seaworthy again. It was during this time that to my astonishment I learned that I was the only 'Active Serviceman' on board ship. The two officers and the ten other crew were all 'Hostilities Only' men. So you can imagine that they were wondering what type of 'Serviceman' they would be serving with.
After completion of repairs, we were given total clearance from the Naval Dockyard and given orders to sail for the Beaulieu River, which lies west of Southampton. The Beaulieu River was actually part of the estate owned by Lord Rothschild, but this was all taken over by Combined Operations for the duration of the war.
It was from here that we did numerous training exercise routines with the army, making beach landings with tanks on various parts of the coastline. One exercise landing in particular was a beach-head called Bracklensome Bay and it was here that Churchill made a visit to view the mock landing taking place. We were informed later that he had been much impressed by what he had seen of the exercise and paid compliments to all who had taken part.
This training took us well into April1944. From then on it was a guessing game as to when the invasion would take place and as to where the landings would be. We were all so sure that the landings would be on French soil but where on French soil and how? We couldn't visualise it of course.
Before I go on any further with the story, I feel I should explain the type of craft the L. C. T.'s were. They were American built Mk. 5's and the one that I was serving on had been built in New York 'yards. She was 140 feet in length and 32 feet wide. She was driven by three Grey Marine diesel engines each driving a propeller. Our armament consisted of 2 Oerlikon guns only. The crew was made up of 2 officers, 1 motor mechanic, 2 stokers, 1 electrician, 1 signalman, 5 able seamen and myself, coxswain. A flotilla of these landing craft consisted of 12 ships, our flotilla being the 106th. There was also an additional boat which carried a breakdown crew for emergencies.
It was approximately the 2nd week in May when our craft was loaded up with five thirty ton tanks which was meant for use by the assault engineers. No engineers came aboard at this time with the tanks and all other landing craft loaded up that same week. It was during the following week, on one evening I paid a visit to the cinema in Southampton. When the show started, the British News Reel flashed on the screen showing landing craft being loaded up for the invasion. After a short while I happened to spot our flotilla even though it was under camouflage net covering. On arriving back at our L. C. T. I immediately mentioned this to the skipper. He immediately wrote to Gaumont News in London asking for thirteen photo's of the shot on the news reel. These were received very soon after the skipper's request.
On the 4th of June the assault engineers embarked on to their respective L.C.T.'s, but as you all know the invasion which was scheduled for the 5th was postponed because of very poor weather, with storms in the channel and high seas running. And so it was on the evening of the 5th of June that we set sail from Southampton even though conditions were far from ideal. But this time the invasion was on and there was no turning back.
At this time none of the crew knew where we were exactly heading for and at what time we were expected to land on the beaches. Only the skippers knew and they were keeping it all to themselves. It was after midnight and we were all well on our way by now. One can imagine the magnitude of this colossal task. In all there were about 3,300 landing craft alone, in all shapes and sizes taking part plus all other supporting warships and merchant ships etc. The sea was still running rough and high and one could see that the soldiers were feeling under the weather. How they would be feeling on landing in that state of health, and then having to go into fighting the enemy I couldn't imagine at all.
The wheel house where I was steering from was covered round with a concrete casing to make it bullet proof. My view was restricted as there was only small slots of about 8 inches long and 3 inches high, just enough to enable me to see where I was heading, or should I say steering, as I knew not where.
There were 18 other L. C. T. 's which had been converted into Rocket Firing Craft of which at that present time I was unaware of. I learned much later that the plan to be, was, when they were within half-a-mile from the beaches, they were to fire their rockets, which were 5 inch shells. This meant that the total of 30, 000 shells would be fired in the space of about 90 seconds. That is when I first found out what they were, when I heard and felt the massive blast from them.
I looked out of the starboard and saw these landing craft engulfed in smoke and at the time I thought it was the Germans bombarding us. The rockets were nicknamed 'Flaming Onions', because of the smoke, fumes and noise. After that brief minute or so I got my mind back to the steering of the craft. In this I was helped by a church spire which I could see in the distance, so I kept a straight course by it.
The area which we were to beach I found out later to be named Juno. It covered the places of St. Aubin-sur-mer, Bernares, Courseilles and Port St. Bresign. On hitting the beach, down went the massive door and the tanks were already revving up were ready to drive off. Here we were lucky, as the place we had beached upon was right in front of the railway station, and with a sort of road leading off the beach went into the village.
Opposition up to this time wasn't very strong, only machine gun fire raked the port side of the craft with maybe only a dozen bullets penetrating the thin plating. We learned much later that out of our flotilla of 12 L. C. T. 's we received only one casualty. This was one of the coxswains who unfortunately, was shot in the head and killed.
After unloading, we had to pull ourselves off the beach and head for the troop ships. The troops to be landed by us, on the beach-head, were all Canadian. We embarked 200 French Canadians from a big ship, headed straight for the beach and unloaded quickly. But then we had to wait for orders from the beach masters who had taken over the supervision of the landings. It was from them that our further orders to proceed to various ships, were given.
The time taken before we could pull back off the beach would be about an hour. It was during this time that I decided to slip ashore to have a quick look around. On our port side there was a Landing Craft Assault (L. C. A. ) which was a sad sight to see. It had struck a mine and all the soldiers aboard, still in their crouched positions were dead. I went astern and lifted the hatch up where the stoker was sat between the two petrol engines. To look at was a terrible sight. His left leg had been blown off and he was just lying there in a nasty mess and nothing could be done for him upon seeing his sightless staring eyes.
I next decided, unwisely really, to venture into the village which was only a few minutes walk away. This was to see if there were any French people about.
To my amazement I could see nobody. I walked into three of the houses whose doors were wide open but found no one about. In the bedrooms I could see that the beds were unmade, so it looked as if everyone had made a hasty retreat when they heard or realised what was happening. In the church tower snipers were causing a lot of trouble so the army brought up a Bofors gun. One shell was fired into the tower and out came a German soldier and two women collaborators.
I had seen enough by now, so I made my way back to the landing craft. From then on we were employed going to the various big ships to transfer loads on to the beach head. We had many varied cargoes and one in particular was peculiar. It was a full load of bales containing army boots (we'd barely moved off the beaches by this time).
In the follow in of the invasion forces, massive concrete caissons were strung out in a straight line to form a breakwater. Old merchant ships and a couple of old cruisers were sunk. From that the engineers built a long row of pontoons inside the breakwaters. This meant that our L. S. T.'s were able to off-load straight onto the pontoon road.
After three days the sea really broke away again. It was terribly rough and this causes a lot of landing craft to be smashed up and put out of action. We were alongside a merchant ship, beginning to transfer loads and had received one large tractor, which was to be used on the railway for shunting. Unfortunately, the boats were going up and down so badly with the rough seas, made us have to cast off and drop anchor a distance away from her, to enable us to ride the storm out. The following day the storm had abated somewhat so we went to the merchantman to continue the transfer of the loads.
The following night we received orders to sail to H. M. S. Rodney and secure alongside her. The 'Rodney' was at anchor and landing craft similar to ours were secured alongside her for the duration of the night. This was a prevention against her being torpedoed. What we didn't know then, but were soon to find out, when after we had got bedded down for the night, she was to commence firing broadsides with her nine 16 inch guns into the German lines at approximately 4 a.m. With lying so close to her we received the full blast from her guns. The blast was so great that it cost us a lot of broken, smashed crockery. Fortunately for us we were alongside the 'Rodney' for that one night only.
As I have previously mentioned, our job was the transferring of cargoes from the big ships to the beachhead. This work going on from dawn to dusk. One of these such loads was 150 tons of ammunition. On heading for the beachhead, we would, from about 100 yards from it, drop the kedge anchor which was secured with a 2 inch flexible steel wire rope. This operation was twofold. It was to keep the craft on the beach in a straight line and on being unloaded, one would put the three engines in reverse and start the winch, thus no trouble would be had moving off the beach. In the case of a 150 ton cargo a tide or two would be missed whilst the craft was being unloaded. On these occasions, German prisoners were employed with the unloading of the crafts.
It was at the end of the first week that we had the experience of seeing the first so called 'Buzz Bomb', being fired off by the Germans. It came over the Juno beachhead but then fortunately it changed course and was later reported that it had turned about and dropped behind the German lines. No more of these flying bombs were seen by us over the beach head, but we heard that London was being made the chief target with them.
Early in the second week disaster struck. As we dropped anchor going into the beach with another load of ammunition, the operator of the winch applied the brake too early. This snapped the wire rope at the anchor end. This meant that we could not stop the craft swinging around. By the time we had unloaded the craft was lying parallel to the beach.
The tide was high at the time and we were well up onto the beach. I was given the task of splicing the rope onto the anchor. Splicing a soft wire rope is quite an easy task for a navy man, but this being of flexible steel wire, it was almost impossible to bend it round to the original pear shape. What made it worse, not one of the crew had spliced any sort of wire rope before. Eventually I managed to repair it. But even though, being far from perfect, it stood the test for the rest of our time on the craft. Amazingly the two officers on board never did come to inspect this wire rope job.
The way we were lying on the beach, it was impossible to reverse off with our engines, even at full power. An army bulldozer was brought in which dug a channel in front of the craft. This was to enable the water to give further depth under the craft to float her off, but to no avail. It was then arranged for six 30 ton Sherman tanks to be with us at the next high tide which was late in the evening.
There was quite an audience in attendance to see the attempt, that night, at moving us of the beach when the tide was at it's peak. When the order was given the tanks began revving their engines, and after a short while started ramming the port side of the craft. This proved to be a great success. I was glad that we did at last move out and away from the beach into deep water. I didn't want the craft to be lost as that would have meant another draft. Oh no !, memories of the last draft from H. M. S. Westcliffe-On-Sea was still a nightmare with me.
It was well into October when we were ordered to return to Portsmouth to be placed into dry dock for repairs. The craft's port side was badly dented, because of the ramming from the Shermans. There was also a dozen or so bullet holes high up in the plating. We were hurriedly repaired, or should I say patched up, so for us there was no time to be given any sort of leave, and in no time at all our flotilla was given new orders. We were now bound for Belgium and Holland.
And so we sailed out of Portsmouth harbour heading east through the channel. As we pushed on through heavy seas, I was surprised by the number of ships which were still showing their bows standing well out of the water. We arrived at Antwerp and after a few days grace we were engaged in transporting food supplies for our advancing armies. We left Antwerp after two or three weeks of delivering these food supplies and sailed up the Scheld, and entered the canal at Fernvesen. On our way up the canal we passed Sluiskil, which was later to become our base for operations. Next we sailed on to Sas-Van-Gelt, and then further on still to Ghent, this being our final destination.
Ships up to 10,000 tons could get up to this point, which was about 25 miles from the mouth entrance. After a few trips up and down the canal we were held at our base in Sluiskil which was a large village. The people here were very friendly and we were beginning to get to know them quite well after a few more weeks, but we received new orders to sail and return to Antwerp.
It was now February '45 and at this time Antwerp was the target for German V2 rockets, (Antwerp being second only to London for the number of rockets fired at them). While being based here, I vividly remember three incidents connected with these rockets. One incident was on a mine-sweeper which was in dry dock at the time. It was lifted clean out of the dock from the full blast of the rocket. Another rocket hit a cinema in which 400 troops were killed. And yet another, hit a 17 storey tower block, the rocket going through all of the 17 floors, top to bottom which then exploded in the basement. Amazingly the building stayed proud supported by it's outer walls. It was an amazing occurrence, something I would probably never ever witness again, in the whole of my lifetime. Even now it seems unbelievable.
Early May came around, May the 2nd to be precise when S. H. A. E. F. announced Allied and German representatives had made agreements for food supplies to be allowed in by air, sea and road, for the starving Dutch people. Ten air dropping zones were agreed upon. Also food ships would be able to enter the port of Rotterdam and the Germans were to make one main road safe for our heavy transport to move along with vital supplies.
On the 3rd of May, our flotilla entered the port of Rotterdam, each with 150 tons of food on board. On our way up to the berth, I witnessed a V2 rocket being fired. It looked to be only about 15 miles distant. In Rotterdam we were introduced to the Mayor, (we were sort of V. I. P.'s I suppose). At that time the German soldiers were still walking around with shouldered rifles etc. We of course carried no arms. The docks where our craft were tied up, was packed with hungry Dutch people, begging for food, and this happened all the time we unloaded.
When we had completed this operation we were handed orders to return to Sluiskil. From this base the war came to an end for us all on the L. C. T.'s. This happened on May the 8th 1945. We were ordered to leave Sluiskil and sail for the Dutch naval base at Den Helder further north. Here we were employed in taking 200 German P. O. W.'s on each run across the Zuider Sea, to Harlingen. From where they had to make their own way home. When we had completed the last of these runs with all of the P. O. W.'s on their homeward journeys, we received new orders that was to take us to Ostend.
At Ostend our last operation was the taking back of a R. A. F. smoke screen unit to Tilbury docks. After unloading at Tilbury we sailed down to Poole in Dorsetshire where we left our L. C. T. 2441. She'd been a good reliable craft and we had been proud to sail in her. However it was farewell to her as all the crew were now moved to Brighton and billeted in a large hotel there. After two months in the hotel I was drafted back to Chatham barracks, where I resumed my peacetime naval service.
lct-2441_1.jpg is the photograph referred to as seen on the Pathe news in May 1944. lct-2441_2.jpg shows the RAF Smoke Screen Unit and lct-2441_3.jpg is a little more light hearted. It depicts Mr. Smith with his rabbit, complete with a hutch made from a redundant German Officers wardrobe.
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