Account of LCT action on D-Day - Excellent!

Discussion in 'Veteran Accounts' started by paulcheall, May 8, 2019.

  1. paulcheall

    paulcheall Son of a Green Howard

    I've recently come across the following doing my podcast and thought it ought to be placed in the forum. I've got a stack more material which I plan to post up when time allows, but here's a start.
    Oh! Does anyone know what the numeric is in Combined operations D/MX542393 please?

    Eric Clark – Landing Craft Tank, D-Day landings


    Vicky Zarajewski Hewitt from Wisbech in Cambs kindly sent me a story from her Dad. He wrote the memoir based upon his experiences on board a Landing Craft transporting troops and tanks to the Normandy beaches. It must be a very rare account and it is jaw dropping.

    From Eric Ernest Clark
    Ex leading wireman Royal Navy,
    Combined operations D/MX542393


    To whom it may concern

    I volunteered for the Royal Navy near my 18th birthday. I had previously tried to get into the RAF, since I was an air cadet and was fed up with working 5 1/2 days every week and all day Sunday studying at the Northampton Polytechnic in London to obtain a national certificate in electrical engineering.

    However, the RAF found out I was underage and also that I was in a reserved occupation so I was turned down. When my call up papers arrived from the Royal Navy I waited until the very last day and approached my engineering manager who gave me a good dressing down but wished me luck and allowed me to go, provided I promised to return on demobilisation (which I did).

    I was met at Ipswich railway station along with many more and taken to an annex which was an extension to an ashore establishment known as HMS Ganges. For nearly 2 weeks we all underwent medical and aptitude tests. Those of us who passed were kitted out and transferred to the main barracks. We were allocated a large hut known as Drake where we spent six weeks learning to be sailors.

    We were drilled each day on a large parade square which had a quarterdeck and a high mast which we climbed over most mornings and evenings.

    We had to negotiate an assault course built on the foreshore and because there were insufficient rifles to go round … we carried lengths of steel barrel [piping] with a bayonet welded on the end.

    We attended special classes and learned various knots and splicing of ropes, signals, flags, boat crews, gunnery stations et cetera Square which had a quarterdeck and a high must which we climbed out of her most mornings and evenings.

    We had to negotiate an assault course built on the foreshore and because there were insufficient rivals to go around we carried lengths of steam barrel with the bayonet welded on the end.

    We attended special classes and learnt various nots and splicing of ropes, signals, flags, boat crews, gunnery stations etc. There was also lots of physical training which came hard after all the inoculations.

    However, after six weeks some of us went to a former Butlins holiday camp at Skegness which had been taken over by the Royal Navy and known as HMS Royal Arthur.

    Here, we were segregated into various branches and my depot was changed from Chatham to Devonport and I was classed as a Wireman for Combined Operations and with several more was drafted to Hitchin town where we were lodged in civilian homes and travelled back and forth each day to the Ascot factory in Letchworth to attend a special instructional eight weeks course which dealt with electrical wiring and equipment aboard a landing craft.

    On completion of the course, we were drafted to HMS Hopetown which was a depot near Troon on the west coast of Scotland. I was assigned to the 42nd flotilla of landing craft tanks (LCT’s)

    Since the craft were still being constructed, I attended more courses to learn the electrical circuitry of plant and equipment aboard LCT’s. This information had to be confined to memory.

    Our [Landing Craft Tanks] LCT’s (Mark 4’s) were being built at Joe Brovyn’s dockyard on the River Clyde and as each craft came off the stocks we were allowed to join the crew and sail them down the Clyde and around to Troon harbour. When 12 craft were docked they were allocated numbers and formed into a flotilla. We needed three flotillas to make up a squadron, then for months we trained together around the coast of Scotland or in the Irish sea on sea trials on such things as formation, beaching etc.

    We made numerous practice beach landings and in the main with the 35th and 36th divisions of the Royal artillery (RA’s).

    After many months of training we sailed as a squadron around the north of Scotland and down south to Poole Harbour.

    We had a couple of problems en route. One was when we were compelled to anchor off the coast of Cromer because of thick fog. We stayed until it cleared then orders came from ashore to be careful when weighing our anchors because we were all on top of a minefield.

    We weighed anchors with much care and all of us got away with no problems and again formed up - three flotillas in line abreast - and hadn’t gone far when we were attacked by two E boats.

    This was my first action and since I was a wireman (electrician) I had no particular action station job and I just didn’t know what to do or who to assist.

    However, the three flotillas separated and each craft opened fire with their Oerlikon guns. One E boat was hit and belched smoke, then both rapidly disappeared. We all formed up again and sailed on to dock in or close to Poole Harbour.

    Within a short period and after more training on 4 June we all sailed to New Haven, Sussex where concrete ramps (hards) had been constructed, leading down to the sea. Each of our flotilla loaded up in turn and took aboard tanks and Tommy trucks and met up again with the lads of [the] RSA [Royal School of Artillery?] whom we had spent many months training with up in Scotland.

    After loading we formed up and joined the rest of the squadron, now to be known as part of S force. This was a difficult task since the weather was bad and the sea was very rough. Most of our soldiers were bored and were suffering with seasickness. Orders were received for us all to proceed on to Portsmouth and to lay over from Buoys.

    The next day, early sixth of June, we received orders to sail to Normandy. The weather was still bad with heavy sea swells making headway and steering difficult to stay in formation. Most landing craft needed special handling during bad weather because of their flat bottoms and shallow draft, especially LCTS’s because of the length and flat bow (loading ramp).

    They would buck and judder with a screw action and in certain sea swells would leave the sea and pancake down hard, often with the stem in the air with the propellers exposed, causing the main engines to race away.

    By the time we neared the Normandy coast, most of our soldiers aboard were showing signs of fatigue due to lack of sleep and seasickness, but they put on a brave front.


    All around the sea was littered with ships of all types, coming and going in all directions. Big warships were shelling over the coastline, smaller warships buzzing around them with loudhailers blasting away and numerous assault craft everywhere. The noise from the big Navy guns and machine guns and the stench from smoke and cordite was overpowering.

    As we neared the beach, we had to break formation and each craft was left to its own salvation. I believe we should have beached on Sword beach, but because of obstructions on the shore, we actually beached on Juno near Courseulles.

    It was difficult getting in because we had to allow enough distance to drop our kedge anchor before beaching in order to pull ourselves off and apart from the obstructions and damaged craft, there were also rows of constructed obstacles on the beach line, some of which exploded on impact.


    However, we managed to drop our seven ton loading ramp or door and the soldiers started to disembark with their armour.

    The first Tommy truck sank up to its front axles in shingle and sand - because in the confusion they had forgotten to lay out the rolls of wire mesh, so it was all hands to drag it back aboard.

    Meanwhile, all sorts of missiles were flying about. The beach masters were shouting, our barrage balloon deflated and the cable dropped and tangled on the vehicles in the well deck.

    It was a shambles and our captain was shouting at me to cut the cable free and stand by the capstan which was our aid for winding in the kedge anchor in order to pull us off the beach.

    When the six tanks and Tommy trucks were finally unloaded, we waved our RA soldiers and tank crews lots of good luck, then fortunately managed to pull our craft off the beach (our kedge anchor had gripped well).

    We turned about and headed back to Newhaven to reload with more army units.

    We did this journey three times to near enough the same area of the Normandy beach and each time there was more and more obstruction on the beach shoreline - damaged landing craft, tanks, lorries, piled up enemy metal [fences] structures, which we learnt later were called Belgian gates. Also, quite a lot of the damaged and abandoned vehicles were Canadian.

    During the third beaching, we were hailed back to the beach and took aboard around 150– 200 German prisoners which we unloaded at Portsmouth. They gave us quite a problem because there was no way they could sleep except in the well deck. They had no buckets for their necessaries [toilets] and we had no food to offer them since we ourselves were eating stale bread with mouldy green, baked beans.

    We managed another five trips back and forth but on these occasions we unloaded on Gold beach, Arromanches. The last couple of journeys inside or on the Mulberry harbour.

    On the eighth trip we were ordered to leave the Mulberry and seek shelter elsewhere because of the bad weather and the danger of the harbour breaking up.

    Our skipper decided to return to England. We were close to our shores when we pancaked down so hard in the sea that we broke our craft’s back. The forward half (Well deck) wanted to float away.

    We made many attempts to carry out temporary repairs using rope and steel springs from bow to stern, but to no avail, so the engine crew stayed with the stern [the rear] and the rest of us stayed on the focsle (the forward upper deck) but still moored to the stern.

    I have to add that LCT’s were constructed by welding each section to form an enclosed sealed tank, making it almost impossible to let water in and sink the craft, but of course in bad weather they could turn turtle.

    We were finally rescued and taken into Portsmouth harbour then onto our respective depots for leave and to be re-kitted out.

    Some of us were drafted to HMS Royal which was originally the Royal hotel in Brighton! From there I was further drafted up to Hull to pick up a landing craft gun boat (LCG194) And further kitted out for the Far East.

    This particular craft was fitted out with two 22 pounder guns, which were an army gun so we had two Royal Marine gun crews aboard. The sergeant of these marines was Jack Parnell the drummer! He had with him his drumsticks, brushes and practice pad and since this was to my interest I spent many hours taking tuition from him.

    The main purpose of these gunships was to beach, flood the bilge tanks then open fire with the guns. We spent many weeks on sea trials and gun firing until we passed all tests and were waiting for orders to sail, when all hostility ceased - and in consequence we received orders to sail with a skeleton crew to Saltash in Devon. Here, our craft and many others were paid off.

    I subsequently returned home on leave via my depot and reported for demobilisation (civvy street).

    The older I get, my memory tends to want to remember only the good things that occurred during my service period but of course in reality there are some experiences I can never forget - like during our first landing when we were all working on the Tommy truck which had become stuck leaving our loading ramp and seeing a bloody mess being three Canadian soldiers crushed under the raised loading ramp of an LCT adjacent to us and leaving the beach.

    Also, many more hurt and wounded soldiers wandering about not knowing what day it was and we were so busy with our own problems that we couldn’t help.

    I can recall so many more experiences but will end here.

    Eric Ernest Clark

    Ex leading wireman Royal Navy,

    Combined operations D/MX542393

    Ernest Clarke D-Day veteran, Merchant Navy hero WWII.JPG

    Ernest Clarke D-Day veteran, Merchant Navy hero WW2.JPG
     
    Last edited: May 10, 2019
    Deacs, Roy Martin, kopite and 8 others like this.
  2. Thanks for posting this memoir. Very interesting indeed. As often with such accounts written a long time after the action there are a few factual discrepancies, some of them a consequence of the limited knowledge of army matters by naval personnel (the reverse was also true!), but in the main it faithfully reflects the atmosphere of these times.

    Here is a another account by a crew member of LCT 821 which was part of the same 42 LCT Flotilla:
    HIS MAJESTY'S LANDING CRAFT TANK HMLCT 821

    D/MX542393 is the individual Service Number of Eric Clark (or Clarke?).

    Do you happen to know the hull number of Eric's LCT?

    Keep them coming please! :)

    Michel
     
    Roy Martin likes this.
  3. paulcheall

    paulcheall Son of a Green Howard

    Ha, thanks Michael - yes I will do my best to get some more stuff over because it deserves the widest possible audience. No idea about the hull number of the LCT. I was looking out for it already because I know it's of great interest to people but it's not known. It's Clark without an E in the record I've been sent. I transcribed it wrong so well spotted! I'm normally careful with names because with a surname like mine people are always mis-spelling it. That link you sent looks interesting by the way. Funny but you never see these things then two pop up together!
     
    Last edited: May 10, 2019
  4. There's an excellent explanation of the history of the format and meaning of the RN service number, or rather, the "Official Number", here:

    RN OFFICIAL NUMBERS [RATINGS]

    and in a simplified form (for WW2):

    serviceNo

    Michel
     
    paulcheall likes this.

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