Monday, December 12, 2016

Story: Normandy - Operation NEPTUNE Part 2

Operation NEPTUNE, the Naval Phase of OVERLORD

By Lloyd Williams

Troops board LCI(L) 276 in Southampton prior to D-Day Normandy, June 1944
Photo Credit - Combined Operations by Londoner Clayton Marks, Page 139

(Mr. L. Williams told the following story at the Maritime Museum of Vancouver in 1995. Some details were supplied by Jim Gibb.)

Mr. Williams says, "H-Hour, the touch-down time for the Eastern Task Force, was set for 7:25 in Sword and Gold Sectors, and was delayed from 20 to 30 minutes in Juno Sector so that the tide could rise higher and cover the off-shore rocks. The LCAs would be a little over an hour in making the trip from the assault anchorages to the beaches."

Navy guns rumbled behind the LCAs, screaming shells passed overhead and much action lay ahead. Troops hit the beaches and with them came "tanks, jeeps, lorries" and many other vehicles, e.g., bulldozers, on larger landing crafts. German beach obstacles provided no easy path to the landing parties, and one would see "swimming and drowning men, overturned tanks" and other crafts impaled upon obstructions.

The 260th Canadian Flotilla positioned itself about one-half mile off shore in front of Nan Red, Nan White and Mike Green and - when an opening seemingly appeared between obstacles - "went in for the beach at full speed."

"Craft 298 ground up on the rocky shore undamaged and her 167 soldiers scrambled ashore under mortar and machine gun fire," says Mr. Williams.

Nearby, due to rough going, another landing craft lost its starboard ramp and Lt. D. Botly (RCNVR) to the waves but, somehow, Botly managed to dive under his craft to emerge astern safe and sound. We are told the same craft next smashed into an obstacle and nine soldiers were killed or wounded before reaching shore. Williams goes on to mention many other craft by number that managed to arrive undamaged or faced stiff challenges from exploding mines and enemy machine guns and mortars.

"MEN WANTED": Poster re RCNVR at Maritime Museum of BC in Victoria

He says, "Craft 270, running in alongside 306, might have had the most serious casualties of all if her Commanding Officer, LT. A.C. Clark, RCNVR, had not ordered the soldiers out of her forward troop space." 

Clark felt his troops were not safe "down in the bows" and ordered them up on deck. Very shortly thereafter their landing craft (270) hit a mine and lost a good portion of their hull, but none of the soldiers. The same mines did extensive damage as well to many other crafts as hulls, propellors and engine rooms were blown away.

"Along the miles of beach.... the desolation of wrecked craft, the vehicles burning at the water's edge, and the milling masses of men, tanks and guns ashore, had now an appearance of chaos and yet the landings had gone amazingly well," says Lloyd Williams.

Troop casualties were below expectations and light among landing craft crews, especially among the Canadians ("not one... had been killed"). Most of the Flotillas, though expendable, were recoverable, and some soon returned to England as new shipping arrived in Normandy. Williams provides a damage report of specific landing craft, and says some remained in Normandy until temporary repairs could be made.

About the return to England on June 7th, Williams mentions there was almost no sense of "tremendous achievement." Without fanfare ships returned to ports "many of their men had never expected to see again." Long lines of ambulances greeted the sailors, "fortunately, more than needed."

There was time for men to rest and relax, but not too much time, for "the battle for the beaches was in full swing" and returning ships soon had to prepare for the next phase, i.e., reinforcing the troops already there, building up the beach-head.

Canadian maintenance parties worked strenuously to repair their landing craft flotillas and as June progressed Canada's LCIs carried 13,000 more troops to France, "plus another 7,000 in July and August." All manner of men and women and cargo were transported "through heavily mined waters." The threat of enemy attack was always present but "for the most part we got off lightly,' says Mr. Williams.

We are told the ferry work and many accompanying dangers persisted, so the hard working landing craft were continually in a state of repair and disrepair. Maintenance parties never stopped working. "By the end of the second week it was seen that no amount of patching could keep the craft in operation much longer."

And then, when ordered to return to England, a great storm not only made the passage very dangerous but threatened the very success of Operation NEPTUNE. The U.S and U.K. artificial harbours (mulberries) sustained great damage, and as Williams closes he says,"Of all the tossing ships in the crowded anchorages, the ones that suffered the most were the landing craft."

* * * * *

The six-page-long story by Mr. Williams can be found in full at St. Nazaire to Singapore, Volume 2, Pages 232 - 237.

It ends with 3 brief paragraphs, perhaps added by David. J. Lewis, and includes notes of praise for those that served, strenuously, aboard the landing craft.  

This from General Montgomery:

     I feel I must write and say how grateful I am for the great efforts
     made by the Royal Navy in maintaining such a high volume of
     traffic over the ferry. This was one of the major factors which
     enabled us to advance so rapidly and resulted in the linking up
     of the Fifth and Eighth Armies. I shall be most grateful if you
     will pass on my thanks to your staff, the crews
     of the landing craft and others concerned.

Please link to Story: Normandy - Operation NEPTUNE Part 1

Unattributed Photos GH

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