Friday, April 29, 2016

Story: HMC Landing Craft Infantry, Large

The Character of an HMC Landing Craft Infantry, Large (LCI(L)

By David J. Lewis, Kit Lewis and Len Birkenes

Troops coming ashore from Landing ships, during Operation Fabius, an invasion
exercise in Britain, 5 May 1944. Photo Credit - The Observation Post

Introduction: The following short story is found in St. Nazaire to Singapore: The Canadian Amphibious War 1941 - 1945, Volume 2, written and edited by David and Catherine Lewis, and Len Birkenes. Only the first two paragraphs are written as they appear in the book.

The Character of an HMC Landing Craft Infantry, Large (LCI(L)

It was LCI(L) 311, nicknamed by her crew The Gook.* If it had not been for Churchill's political manoeuvring she might never have been seen in European waters. As it was, her kind was turned out by the dozen in American shipyards.** Had it not been for Pearl Harbour, we might just turn up our noses at the likes of her being classified as a "ship". As my only appointment as a Captain, how can I classify my feelings about having been Captain of LCI(L) 311?

She had metal plates welded together to make up 159 feet, nine inches length by 23 feet of war vessel breadth. She was really a hull-wise assembly of steel boxes welded together. Some of these boxes could be used for diesel fuel or water storage. A pair of four Grey Diesel engine assemblies drove her two variable pitch propellers. The engines always turned outwards but they would push forwards, pull back or just spin the prop, depending on the bias of the pitch applied in the engine room to the propellor blades. The long waiting period for the pitch to change from ahead to astern was another of the hazards in ship handling which accounted for many bumps coming alongside.

Illustration and details as found in St. Nazaire to Singapore, page 220

Captain Lewis goes on to describe the craft's profile, "gangways that allowed the hundreds of military men she would carry to invasion beaches to descend to the shore", armaments, and the winch and kedge anchor system "which would pull the craft off the beach when it came time to leave". The camouflage paint scheme gave the LCI(L) "a menacing profile reminiscent of a Sea Serpent, in particular the Loch Ness Monster." Lewis adds that US ships were painted battleship grey, "much less stimulating".

He remarks on her seaworthiness. It was "splendid once she was at speed" in coastal waters but because of her flat bottom and shallow draft, she was a pain to steer out at sea on a windy day. "Her bow tended to wander off downwind," he says. More weight would have been helpful, like "200 pongos sitting around on board".

The Gook's crew is mentioned (RCNVR, 2 - 3 officers, 21 other ranks). "We were gathered from the length and breadth of Canada. The Chief Engineer.... was a Newfie". Names are listed, i.e., Lt. Jack Anderson, Lt. Ian Barclay, Coxswain James Cameron*, Chief Engineer Philemon Haggett, Chief Motor Mechanic David Williams, "Fuzzy" Houston, Gilbert, Murray Baker, Everett Smith, Hadesbeck, Kindersley, Prouk, Sig (Ken) Shepherd, T.O. Glen Parks, ABs (Able Bodied Seamen) Bears, Lallemand and Nick Sparks Lawson.

*Coxswain (helmsman, torpedo coxswain) James Cameron
Photo credit: James' son, Dan Cameron

Lewis writes that the practice of naming the Canadian landing craft went back to the first craft (Little Joe, Wave of Destruction) that were used during "the first big exercises we participated in on the beach of Troon, Ayrshire in the spring of 1942". We learn that a name became known informally in the beginning and "was a surprise to the officers, nearly but not always welcome". And an insignia was often "developed and painted by the crew's natural artist", with a notable exception recalled.   

Illustrations and details as found in St. Nazaire to Singapore, page 222

How did The Gook come by its name? LCI(L) 311 was described as a "benign, amiable and reliable gnome on the ocean waves.... except when approaching immovable objects at speed". Were crew members thinking of The Schmoos from the Lil Abner cartoon strip?

 Photo Credit - Al Capp's Shmoo Comics

The full account of LCI(L) 311 (and others receive mention) can be found St. Nazaire to Singapore, Pages 220 - 222.

*In the first "Combined Operations" book edited by Clayton Marks, the D-Day and Normandy log and statistics of LCI(L) 311 appear, pp 141 - 150. The log which Jewell Marks (Clayton's wife) was to transcribe was found in one of LCI(L) 311's storage spaces. The Gook had been tied up for some time in New Zealand. The log was brought to Canada by a friend of Clayton's. It was written by the late LT. Jack Anderson, RCNVR, The Gook's Number 1.

**As well, the following information about LCI(L)s was found at Landing Craft Infantry, Large:

Under a contract let during FY 1940, New York Shipbuilding designed and built 48 examples of the LCI(L), an odd-looking 216-ton displacement, 158'-6" landing craft capable of carrying 188 troops right to the beach. All 48 were built in the cavernous covered shipway "O", with several building simultaneously along its 800' length. They were delivered to the Navy between October 1942 and February 1943 and commissioned as numbers 1 through 48. A second contract which would have covered numbers 49 through 60 was cancelled, but plans provided by New York Ship were used by several smaller shipyards (Consolidated Steel, Lawley & Sons, and New Jersey Shipbuilding among them) to build nearly 900 more. Some 14 of the Yorkship LCI(L)s were later conveyed to Britain under Lend-Lease. Most of the remainder survived the war to be struck from the Navy list in 1946, though LCI(L)-01, -20, and -32 were lost in action.

Please link to Story: The Craft of Landing

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