HMS Glenearn

535 Flotila 6th June 1944

and with

'Force X' August 1944 to March 1945

In the Pacific with 'Force X' HMS Glenearn carried a small helecopter

OPERATION NEPTUNE

   A MINISCULE PART OF

The Cross Channel Assault of Operation Overlord 

   HMS GLENEARN   LSA (L) 5th June 1944

By Jack Eaves

All of the ships and landing craft were blacked out, so it was in total darkness that  HMS Glenearn  carrying two Royal Marine flotillas of landing craft, 535 & 543 flotillas, 27 craft in all, 24 LCAs and 3 LCMs…..535 had 12 LCAs;  543 had 12 LCAs & 3 LCMs, leads Convoy S7 from the Spithead, ‘Glenearn‘ followed by the Empire Ships, Emp. Cutlass, Emp. Battleaxe, & Emp. Broadsword, Princess Astrid, Maid of Orleans, and Headquarters’ ship HMS Largs, the ships had a small dark blue  light on the stern for the smaller craft to follow and keep station on for the next 90 miles or so, there was a host of various but equally important smaller  craft that preformed a great job keeping station in the adverse weather conditions and the darkness, some were towing the LCPL‘s  that would later be used to land the troops from HMS Largs at Ouistreham, all were escorted by 4 of HM Destroyers and  passed the boom at 21.45, as the convoy passed out of the Solent, this message was boomed through the Tanoy System throughout the ship, everybody stopped to listen….

    Now, Lords, for France; the enterprise whereof
    Shall be to you, as us, like glorious
    We doubt not of a fair and lucky war
     …we doubt not now
   but every rub is smoothed on our way.
   Then, forth, dear countrymen; let us deliver
   Our puissance in to the Hand of God.
   Putting it straight in expedition.
   Cheerily to sea; the signs of war advance.
   
              Shakespeare….Henry V Act 2

There was much debate on what ‘puissance’ meant, but it was all guesswork as no one really knew.

There were also messages broadcast from Rear Admiral Talbot, and General Eisenhower.

Later, on deck in the darkness, overhead we could hear the continuous drone as wave after wave of planes carrying the airborne troops, others towing Gliders to make the first strike after midnight, then I went below and slung my hammock to snatch a few hours sleep, others were playing cards on the mess tables to while away the time.

‘Glenearn ‘reached the lowing position at 05.33 Double British Summer Time 06.06.1944.
That would be 03.33 normal time, double summer time added 2hrs, all times mention will be double British summer time

‘’Wakey Wakey’’ had been at 04.25, when the troops and the ships company were awakened and breakfast  was served, about  05.I5 a prayer services were held on deck, one for RC and a separate one for the C of E, the murmur of prayers could be heard across the deck, it was just beginning to get light, but overcast.

At 05.25 Boat Lowerers and crews were closed up, from the top of the starb’d forw’d Luffing Davit it was light enough to see the two halves of the Norwegian Destroyer ‘Svenner ‘about 300yds astern, which had taken a torpedo amidships, with both Bow and Stern high in the air forming a large stark black ‘’V’’ was folding up and sinking.

535 Flotilla had been briefed to make a landing on Sword Beach at a place called         Bas Lion?? Between Ouistreham and Lion sur Mer, on the Queen White section of the beach, with units of the 3rd British Div. South Lancs. And East York’s Regiments, with Colonel Hutchinson I | C .( when Captain Hutchison introduced him to us he said that he was a ‘chin’ one of the far east branch of the (his) family).                                               

At O545 the Tannoy ordered ‘AWAY BOATS’ and the first flight of eight loaded LCAs were lowered down, in the half light it could be seen by the way that the bow reared up then plunged into the following trough that a reasonable swell was running, this motion was negated somewhat as the craft got under way and surged ahead, this left 4 LCAs on the Luffing Davits (a Luffing Davit held 3craft, lowered one at a time).                       

LCA No 994 was the second craft on the forw’d starb’d Luffing Davit, as 994 hit the water, the wave lifted the bow slackening off the falls so enabling the Bowman (me) to unhook the fw’d hook, as the wave passed under the craft and lifted the stern Joe Cooper aft unhooked the stern hook, we then  held on to the hooks as they were being hoisted out of harms way, if left uncontrolled they would swing around and cause damage to the occupants within the craft, we had always synchronized unhooking in sequence since we started training in late Oct. 1943, to miss unhooking in sequence could cause problems in rough weather, next was to unshackle the chains of the forw’d hoisting eye, and lay it into a recess in the deck, a cover was then put on it and it became part of the central seat, approx.( 8’’x 8’’ ) for the troops to sit on, there was a similar seat each side under cover of a steel overhead deck covered with coconut matting that we used as a walkway to go fore and aft.    

HMS LARGS

The first flight of 8 craft had been standing off while the others were being lowered, the spare 535 Flot. Crews went over to HMS Largs, on another assignment, (they patrolled off the beach to assist any casualties or damaged craft that were returning) and the two other 535 Flot. Craft were to join up with 543 Flot. to take in a Landing Craft Obstruction Clearance Unit, LCA 994 and another then joined up with the main body of eight that had been lying off, then in two lines ahead headed for the beach about 6 miles away, the troops were allowed to stand up, someone then produced a mouth organ, many of the troops sang along, on 994 morale was very good, the Officer in charge of 994 was Lt. Webber RM. The Cox’n was L\cprl Jack Danks, the stoker was always referred to and called Stokes, so I can’t remember his name, Joe Cooper was a signalman, every craft that had an officer on board carried a signalman.

As the Flotilla headed in, to port running in with us was another Flotilla, but these craft were painted in ‘’Pacific‘’ colours, light and mid blue, they  seemed quite bright and conspicuous, as it was a dull grey morning, they may have come from the ‘’Princess Astrid‘’ or  the  ’’Maid of Orleans‘’ whilst our craft were white and grey Atlantic  colours, Lt Webber thought that they were a Canadian Flotilla, the sea was moderate, ‘’rough’’ was what we had experienced during training off the NE coast of Scotland during winter of 1943-1944, this was quite comfortable, with a short choppy following sea we were partially surfing along,  comfortable for a small LCA, probably a very lumpy ride for the larger landing craft, 40yds to starb’d there was an LCT (R ), about a 1000yds or so from the shore the  LCT (R)  fired off salvo after salvo of rockets, the noise was deafening, the flames from  the rockets were awesome, we could follow the flight of them to the beach, all along the front we could see more rockets as the salvos were fired off from other LCT(R)s with devastating effect on the beach defences  we hoped !!
Things were now getting serious, so the mouth organist stopped playing.

LCT(R) firing off their rockets

About 500yds from shore, there was a lone Naval Officer  ‘’standing on the top of the water, holding on to a pole ’’ or so it seemed to us, actually he was standing on the deck of a submerged Midget Submarine holding on to the periscope and pointing out which way we had to go!!  which was slightly to port, it was an incredible sight to see him standing there surrounded by the sea, just rolling with the waves with the beach bombardment  flying over his head ( I later read in a newspaper that on the evening of  2nd June  the midget submarines X 20 commanded by Lt Ken Hudspeth RANVR, & X23 commanded by Lt George Honor RN, had left Portsmouth  so the subs had been on station for a few of days, watching the beach to monitor for any unusual activity, which would have meant that word had got out that the landings were coming,) the troops were sat down,  Lt Webber and the O\C troops looked at their watches, said that we were early, but go for it, no sense in hanging about now, the Flotilla deployed to inline abreast, veered slightly to port, in the direction  that the Submarine Officer had indicated, we gave the Submarine Officer a wave and a cheer, and at full speed headed for the beach.

100 yards or so from the beach, the troops were changed from sitting to a  get ready crouch position, the starb’d rope holding the ramp was released, and the port rope was slackened ready, just being  held in my hand, I was standing in a ‘’niche’’ on the port side, so as not to impede the troops on their way out, we ( the crew ) had the ‘’luxury’’ of standing up and looking around and evaluate what was going on, while the troops crouched in the bottom of the of the landing craft could see nothing, only hear the gunfire, one can only imagine what thoughts would be going through their heads, the next thing they would see would be a very hostile beach,… right ahead, slightly to the right, beyond the beach obstructions at the back of the beach was the tall house that had been shown to us at our briefing, so 994 was right on target.

When 994 hit the beach at full speed, the ramp slammed down, we were running in with an LCT about 25ft to starb’d, above us a matelot with his oerlikon depressed was firing at the house up the beach, the gun platform was outboard, so he seemed to be just above our heads, on the starb’d side another crew member was probably firing the other oerlikon as tracers seemed to be flying everywhere, some just floating about aimlessly, 994 made the classical copy book  LCA ‘’dry‘’ landing, when the ramp slammed down the Officer I\C troops burst open the armored doors and dashed out, closely followed by his troops, they were faced with about 60 - 80 yds of beach with obstructions.

As 994 was going astern, coming thru’ the water between 994 and the LCT, was a man, his body visible only from the waist up, and surrounded by a brown canvas dodger, as he closed with the beach he seemed to rise out of the water, and under him was a Tank!! It was a swimming Tank, how he came thru’ without being swamped or run down by a Landing craft I’ll never know, after all there wasn’t much of him showing above the waves, he stopped at the beach edge, lowered the dodger, and then he just trundled away off up the beach.

Danksie then put the starb’d engine full ahead and the port one full astern to make a tight turn to port in the restricted space between the LCT and the beach obstructions which consisted of large steel girders sticking out of the water,  Mortar Bombs were raining down, a huge column of water erupted about 2ft off of the starb’d bow, lifting it and slewing it to port knocking both Joe and I off our feet, we scrambled to up unhurt,  even so  994 came round and up against one of these huge beach obstructions, Joe and I managed to bear off  from it very gingerly before actual contact was made, the mine on top was angled seawards, but there was a cable running from under the mine across to the ‘leg’ that we were coming up against and running down the side, then 994 was clear and heading  away from the beach, a little way out there was an LCA with both engines stopped just drifting, I\C was Serg. Dixon (Croix De Guerre), the Cox’n was L\cprl ‘’Taffy’’ Hughs, the crew were Ted Neale and ‘’Pincher’’ Martin, Stan Martin was the Stoker, their LCA had landed on a sand bar, so the troops had to wade ashore up to their waists, holding their rifles above their heads, very unlucky, and very vulnerable, but both engines had failed trying to get off the sand bank, 994 took this craft in tow and headed out. Later Ted Neale told me that he thought that a mortar bomb had dislodged them from the sandbar.                      

The Flotilla formed up into 2 lines ahead, and was being straddled by shell fire but no craft were hit, we could see the splashes of the of the falling shells, the sun was now shining, and looking back it seemed that all the ‘’Canadian‘’ craft had come to grief and were broached to on the beach, broadside on, being pounded by the surf, they looked so bright in the sunshine, a sad sight indeed, all our craft were present, no craft was flying the prearranged signal that there were wounded on board, that would have given them priority on the davit outside of the Sick Bay, also ‘Glenearn‘ would have made a lee side for them, soon Stan Martin cleared the sand from the engine filters, so they were able to proceed under their own power, none of the ‘Canadian’ craft came off the beach to return to the Landing Ships with 535 flotilla, about an hour into the return journey we passed 543 Flotilla going in, signals were exchanged by the flotilla commanders.

Lt. Webber said that the beach bombardment was to lift at 0720, we were supposed to land at 0725, but we actually landed at O722, was it that 3mins.that were so crucial as to make it easier for 535 flotilla??  I feel that we were indeed very fortunate; also did we stir up a hornets nest for those that followed us??  as 994 approached ‘’Glenearn ‘’the forw’d hoisting eye was raised into position, and secured with the chains and shackles, the Battleships and Cruisers were still firing at targets  beyond the beach, the battleship ‘ Warspite‘ fired a broadside as 535  Flot. came by, and being between her and the shore it was an unforgettable sight, later Lt Webber wrote a poem entitled ‘Little Ships’ the last line I remember was ‘On that day June the sixth forty four.’ I do not have a copy.

 ‘’Glenearn’’ had the hooks partially down ready for us, just low enough for us to take the Bow line off the forw’d hook (which was attached by a 3\8in grommet ) and slip the eye over the outboard bow cleat, this held the LCA in position under the hooks, and the two engines were stopped, the hooks were then put thru’ the hoisting eyes to be hoisted, as the wave lifted the craft with the left hand we pushed the heavy block with the steel cables running through it away from us, so as to stay clear  of the steel cables that were hanging around loosely, but with the right hand kept the hook inside the eye, as the craft dropped into the trough of the wave the steel cables would suddenly tighten and sound like Vibrating guitar strings, this would happen 2 or 3times as we were hoisted until we were high enough to be clear of the waves.

LCA 994 took No 12 davit aft so we were lifted up on to the Poop Deck, the pan was removed from the Stripped Lewis Gun ( 1916 vintage ) and the round up the spout fired off, leaving it safe, it was by then late morning, we  made our way down to the Mess Deck, there is no doubt that 535 Flotilla had been so very very lucky, no casualties in either men or landing craft, the Sick Bay was very busy, over 70 survivors from the Norwegian Destroyer had been  picked up and were on board ‘Glenearn’ many required surgery,  other casualties were also transferred to “Glenearn’ from other vessels.

We sat around on the forms and tables discussing events and winding down, when the Sergeant came down to the messdeck to say that Lt. XXXX wanted us to  parade on deck for a rifle inspection in 20 minutes, this was greeted with all the old expletives and quite a few new ones never heard before, fortunately Captain Colin Hutchison DSO and bar, OBE, RN  (  known on board as  ‘’Father’’ ), sent down permission for 535 Flotilla to sling their Hammocks for a couple of hours or so as 543 Flotilla were not due back for a while, so we turned in and forgot about the rifle inspection.

LCF

543 Flotilla had left ‘Glenearn’ at  0650 to head for Queen Red Beach, they carried C & D Companies of the East Yorks Regiment, also one unit R.N. Beach Commandos and the Landing Craft Obstruction Clearance unit, a packet of bacon sandwiches was handed out to each one of the troops as they boarded their craft, to keep for later, they slipped them into their battle dress blouse, some craft of 538 Flotilla from the ‘Empire  Broadsword‘ were to accompany them and to land other army units, as the  LCAs pulled away the craft carrying Lieutenant Colonel Hutchinson, his Battalions Bugler blew the General Salute, to be answered by the ‘Glenearn’ Bugler, the LCAs proceeded in two columns following an LCF which was in the lead, on return  543 Flotilla appeared to have lost 7 craft, some craft were recovered in the following days as ’Glenearn’ returned to the beaches. 

By early afternoon  it appeared that all the craft that could return that day would have, and having many wounded, injured, and Norwegian survivors on board,  ‘Glenearn’ got under way, and  then came under  fire from a shore battery, there were some shell splinters flying around,  just some  superficial damage, no casualties ‘Glenearn’ made smoke, then out of the smoke came HMS Warspite steaming between ‘Glenearn’ and the shore firing her big guns at the shore battery which immediately stopped firing, on the return journey  ‘Glenearn’ was threading her way thru’ all sorts of vessels that were all heading towards France, the large concrete portions of the Mulberry Harbour were being towed across, at that stage we did not know what they were, the huge concrete blocks dwarfed the tugs that were towing them, it was akin to an ant pulling an elongated sugar cube, also there was PLUTO  Pipe Line Under The Ocean whereby fuel was pumped over 90 miles (150Kms) from England to France thus eliminating vulnerable and valuable tankers, ‘Glenearn‘ arrived off of the Isle of Wight that night but with the urgent need of both men and materials for France ‘Glenearn’ did not get alongside until early the next morning to land the wounded and survivors, some had died.
                                                                      
When we returned to the beaches 9 6 44 on Juno beach there had been a big storm in the channel, so there was a huge swell running,  it was extremely rough, about 200 yds off shore were about 5 or 6 ships that had been sunk parallel to the shore  it was relatively calm behind these ‘Block Ships’ but  the seas were crashing right over them, and from the Mulberry Harbour (now we knew what the huge concrete blocks were ) to the beach there was a floating ‘roadway’, along this were being driven some  trucks, the sections of the ‘ roadway ‘ seemed to be canting in all directions with the wave action, looked a pretty hair raising job, coming out from the relative calm behind the block ships, the flotilla made its way back to ‘Glenearn‘ that for the only time that I can recall made a lee side to hoist the craft inboard, we were quite used to the waves running fore and aft while being hoisted, but with the lee side one moment the ship appeared to be looming right over us then leaning away I found  this was ‘different’, this then became the pattern , embark troops and return to the beaches every few days and land them on the beach.  

The calm seas can be seen the shore side of the ‘Block Ships’

On the 16.06.44 ‘Glenearn’ and the ‘City of Canterbury’ put the British Army Commandos ashore on ‘Omaha’ beach, and about two dozen US Nurses, I asked the commandos why we were putting them ashore on Omaha they told me that the yanks were bogged down and that their job was to go thru’ their lines and break out for them, they wore khaki ‘Glengarries’ and by their cap badges just about every British Regiment was represented.

The nurses were chattering and laughing as they landed that they could now tell their grandchildren that they had landed in France, -- on Omaha beach -- from a landing craft, (they would’ve done that by now) in a day or so they would be very welcome and much appreciated when they joined their unit, they walked along the beach in small groups, mingling with the commandos towards the beach exit.

 On one return  trip sitting on the mess deck, there was this enormous roar, we shot up on deck, a Buzz Bomb (‘V’1) had just ‘passed‘ ’Glenearn’ the lookouts on the bridge swore that they were looking down on it as it passed!!, On another return trip we passed ‘Glenearns’ sister ship ‘Glenroy’ lying low in the water, she had struck a mine and was awaiting a tug to tow her back to the UK, when POWs were sent back to England they were bought alongside and bought inboard thru’ the sally port, they must have had there own guards that traveled with them as we had no contact with them whatsoever. 

Early in July, ‘Glenearn’ went into a dry dock at Greenock, everybody had a spot of leave then, as part of Force X sailed for the SW Pacific to join the 7th US SW Pacific Fleet, on the marine messdeck a geriatric 8 or 10 in.metal electric fan that rumbled and grumbled and sparked, continuously was installed that oscillated between every two mess tables, we were now rigged for the tropics! The petrol for the landing craft was stored below the marine’s messdeck, and the explosion that occurred in April 1945 was said to have been caused by a spark from one of these fans. 535 Flotilla had left ‘Glenearn’ but a few days earlier.

535 Flotilla ( also 536, 537, 538 & 539 )  were formed about July-August 1943, ( mainly from the old 22nd Training Battalion that had been sent to Arthog in Nth Wales to train for the M N B D O, building docks, piers, etc.with steel tubing )  at the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth, where they all underwent seamanship classes on LCMs, along the river  Dart there were many LCT’s moored, but getting close to them as we did in the LCM’s they were all decoys made out of painted canvas stretched over a tubular steel frame, and for authenticity they hung out the dhobying on lines, (off Rosyth, when we were put ashore, HMS Royal Sovereign was lying in the stream waiting to go to the Russians, in May 1944 we saw the Royal Sovereign off Southsea, but as we drew close to the ship we could see that it was only about half the size and made of wood, a decoy, from a distance it looked like the real thing) at Dartmouth we were issued with one beret ( told that we were the first marines to receive them ) and retained one forage cap, the Flotillas then went to West Cliff, on marching in we were greeted with wolf whistles and cat calls by the resident marines as in those days berets were considered effeminate, or for French onion sellers, with the influx of the flotillas the dining room had to have two sittings, one with berets and one with forage caps, we had both, a great opportunity for the gannets especially when it was egg and chips for supper, 535 was sent to Fort William, where the Stokers who had been on their course in Nth. Wales rejoined the flotilla, (Arnold Rose was  one of the stokers with 535 )  the LCAs were delivered, then a two day trip thu’ the Caledonian Canal to Inverness.                                                                                         

535 were then billeted in the Cameron Barracks for 2-3 weeks, doing day and night exercises on the Moray Firth with the LCAs, 535 and 536 flotillas then joined HMS Glenearn late in October 1943 in the Moray Firth, after one or two exercises HMS Glenearn went down to Rosyth dockyard to have the hooks modified, from an ‘open’ hook, to ones that could be ‘locked ‘on, no doubt saving many fingers.

The marines were put ashore at HMS Brontosaurus for some square bashing, I had injured my foot so being excused boots I was sent down to a shed on the docks, and under the supervision of a leading seaman made all the mooring and heaving lines for the flotilla,  536 flotilla went across and joined the Empire Cutlass, later 543 flotilla joined HMS Glenearn, early in 1944 Arnold Rose was transferred to 544 flotilla on the ‘Monawia’ from which they landed troops on JUNO beach on  D-Day, on the run in Arnold poked his head up thru the stokers hatch to see what was going on and saw three RAF planes making a low sweep along the beach, they ran into the rocket fire from the landing craft and one was bought down.          

535 Flotilla sent in 10 LCAs on D Day all returned, 543 sent 14 LCAs, 7 returned, 9 LCPLs left ‘Largs’, Frank Taylor was a cox’n on one of them, just one returned.

535 Flotilla was awarded 5 Croix de Guerre by the French Gov.

543 Flotilla had 3 LCM’s that were carried on deck of HMS GLENEARN

HMS GLENEARN carried 24 LCA’s on davits.

LCA’S we found were very seaworthy, they really stood up to some very heavy weather, in big seas we would almost ‘tack’ taking the seas on one point of the bow and the on to the next point, otherwise the seas would come over the square bow ‘green’.

Marching song at that period at Arthog was  

M N B D O * * *
M N B D O * * *
We want blues
We wanna go to sea
We got the blues, cos” we’re in khaki
M N B D O * * *
Now that we’re left on shore
With the A T S and the R A F
We might as well be a second B E F
Instead of M * N* B* D* O
Instead of M *N* B* D* O   
                                     

Bowman of LCA 994 Jack Eaves                                                             
                                                        

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