Naval Force 'L'

Discussion in 'The War at Sea' started by Trux, Apr 22, 2014.

  1. Trux

    Trux 21 AG Patron

    Folkestone does not seem to have played a part in the Normandy landings. Very little detail at all can be found about its operation. When the French and Belgian Channel ports were liberated Folkestone was used for much the same purposes as pre war. Leave ships ran to and fro and these would be the small passenger ferries or packets. Folkestone was also the loading point for forces mail to the Continent. There is a somewhat vague mention of Folkestone being used for unusual loads in LCTs. Queen Mary semi trailers carrying damaged aircraft or tank transporter trailers carrying captured enemy equipment are possibilities. This suggests that the harbour was not used for the regular Shuttle Service.

  2. CommanderChuff

    CommanderChuff Senior Member


    You are a star. This fits in with my understanding that the harbour was too small to do anything useful with volume traffic. The leave ships and mail packets certainly fit in with the normal pre war traffic and the harbour would have been equipped to support that. I like the idea that unusual loads were brought in and for modelling purposes I can get some things together.

    The commentary from Peggy Stokes is copied here just in case there is a clue which I haven't spotted yet, but thanks for looking.

    Location of story: Kingston on Thames, Notting Hill Gate (London), Folkestone, Malta, Tilbury, Chelsea (London), Alexandria, Mercamatrue
    Background to story: Royal Navy
    Article ID: A8828201
    Contributed on: 25 January 2006
    In the WRENS PEGGY STOKER (WRENS: D-Day, VE Day and service abroad)
    This is an edited version of an interview with Peggy Stoker by Georgina White on 17th May 2004. The original recording and a full transcript are held in the Wessex Film and Sound Archive, ref. BAHS 120. © Basingstoke Talking History.
    The Sunday morning war was declared my mother and father, being publicans, were down in the bar prior to the pub opening at twelve o’clock and immediately the air raid siren started up. I was only just over fourteen and I became really hysterical and started to scream and my father promptly cuffed me round the ears and said ‘Shut up’. And that was the start of the Phoney War. I’d just started work in Bentalls at Kingston on Thames and it was a beautiful summer, and we kept saying ‘What War? There’s no War’. There was no fighting anywhere as far as I know.
    Then we had the bombing and we had to go into the Air raid shelters My mother and father made beds for us in the Pub Cellar, and my brother and I used to sleep under the concrete stairs going down into the cellar. One night I woke up and there was this thing lying on top of me and I couldn’t move. And my nose felt as if it had been broken. Eventually I came to completely and it was my brother. He’d heard a bomb coming down and he threw himself on top of me. He was only sixteen himself. The bomb was just around in the next road and it hit the local cinema, The Regal at Kingston.

    I went into a factory that made canisters for gas masks and I stayed there until I was about sixteen and then I went and helped to make incendiary bombs at Leyland’s at Kingston, and I remained there until I joined the WRENS. I was called up in December 1942 and was stationed at a big block of flats at Notting Hill Gate. Now these flats were for the drivers and motorcyclists that did messenger service at the Admiralty and they were the absolute epitome. They became little Gods and we had to wait on them, and clean their cabins, and do all that kind of stuff. Following that I was stationed at Richmond, which was a fourpenny bus ride from where I lived.

    Then I was stationed at Folkestone and loved it there and I really felt that I was part of the War effort. I was there until I was sent to Malta in 1944. I was in hospital for three months and then in Naval stores, which supplies everything that is necessary to run an establishment, apart from victualing and clothes. Just prior to D-Day we had lots of Americans, Canadians and Polish service people and quite honestly we had a whale of a time. We were feted wherever we went because there weren’t very many service women there. But we weren’t allowed to go on leave as it was a restricted area unless we were on official business, either to leave Folkestone or go into Folkestone. The beaches had big barricades and barbed wire and some kind of anti tank devices and they did leave just a tiny patch for the Wrens to sunbathe, but it was a very, very minute patch. Sometimes we did get very, very bored but personally it was a good war. We did get just a little bit blasé at times but we worked hard. We had to work very, very hard as we were doing the same work as the men and we were expected to be on our toes all the time. I can remember being Duty Wren and in the middle of the night and somebody would come up from the Regulating Office and tap me on the shoulder to say ‘You’re wanted downstairs.’ So I’d put my bell bottoms over the top of my pyjamas and go down. There would be a young man with a peaked naval cap at a jaunty angle, with his white polo necked jumper under his naval jacket. I don’t know what they came for but I think they were extremely hush hush. I’d go along the corridor to the Regulating Office, which was an enormous place, and one of the duty men would give me a cup of what they called Chi, Chi, which is a Naval expression for hot chocolate. We enjoyed ourselves and we used to work extremely hard too. We had to be very very careful what we said and who we spoke to. We used to have this daft Security Officer and he used to wander up and down the streets and could suddenly sidle up to you and say, “How many people are you working with?” They were actually shelling us from Calais, actually shelling Folkestone, and these convoys used to go up and down. We spent many nights in big cellars underneath the hotel at HMS Allenby as they didn’t have air raid shelters, and of course we had the Doodlebugs as well.

    Because we were bored they tried to make life as pleasant as they possibly could for us and we used to go out ‘boat pulling’. I think there were about five Wrens and an extremely young Sub-Lieutenant, and we rowed round the harbour two or three times. It was quite tame and we persuaded him to go outside the harbour and we were actually boat pulling against the waves, which was more interesting. Then we decided that was a bit tame as well so we started the outboard motor and went out a bit further, which was extremely naughty of us, and then the outboard motor broke down. Now one of the Wrens had an Aldis lamp and she tried to signal back to the harbour but nobody was picking that up and we sat in this boat for a good half an hour, slowly drifting towards Calais. The convoys used to come up and down and of course they used to have armed ships to escort them. Well, this Canadian corvette broke away from the convoy, which was extremely dangerous, and threw us a line and towed us back to just outside the harbour. They couldn’t take us right into the harbour because the water wasn’t deep enough. All Hell broke loose afterwards and there was a terrible stink about it because it was putting the convoy and the corvette in jeopardy. After that we weren’t able to go out boat pulling at all.

    When I first went to HMS Allenby my Chief got the idea that I should be in charge of the food store which was right in the depths of the hotel, and from there four of us used to issue food to all the various messes and the galleys. We had exactly the same food as the men but we had our own quarters and our own mess deck, so although we didn’t have any separate food, it was dished up nicely. The way the food was thrown at the men in the mess decks was terrible but ours was always nicely laid out. Every now and then we’d take eggs and bacon to a kitchen in the Wrennery part although it was against the law. Occasionally we had some nice meals and there was also a café called the Shangri La in Folkestone and you could get a good meal there and everybody used to go there to have a hot meal. It was a good war up to a point, apart from the shelling and the bombing.

    D DAY
    On D-Day itself I was with a soldier from Stoke on Trent in the South Staffordshire Regiment. We were sitting on the cliffs and we just happened to look down and we saw these landing craft go over and of course everything was so hush, hush, we had no inkling of what was going to happen. Of course, the day after that we realised that it was part of the Invasion force. I would imagine there were about twenty at the most, but of course afterwards, when all the troops went over, there were loads and loads, over one hundred.

    I was down on the hards, down on the harbour, with some other friends, that evening and when we came back around eleven o’clock there were hundreds of troops all lining up to go on these landing craft. None of us had any inkling that this was going to happen, it was all extremely hush, hush and it was just after D-Day. I imagine that once we’d got a foothold on the beaches over the other side these were the follow up troops which were going to carry on the war against the Germans. They were almost blocking the entrance to our to the Hotel and one soldier ran up to me and said ”Oh miss, I’m so frightened I don’t want to go”. I said, “It’s all right soldier, don’t worry about it, we’re coming with you, you’ll be all right, we’re just going to get our gear.” He seemed a bit reassured. Obviously the same thing must have happened all along the coast, but it was only the one night from Folkestone harbour that that happened.

    Then we were decommissioned and as I was the only Wren there they posted me to Dover and I had to come over every day and do my job and then go back to Dover. All the furniture, beds the blankets came under Naval stores so when everybody went all this stuff had to be returned to the dockyards. I used to come over on three ton lorries with a party of men to take it all back. On the very last night our Pay Commander said we were going ashore, but to go ashore was going out to the pub and I was the only WREN there with about eight men of various ranks. I didn’t drink very much at all and you couldn’t get sherry or wine. They just put a pint glass of bitter in front of me and I said “Oh I can’t possibly drink that” and they said “Well, you’re one of the boys and you’ve got to”. I also had half a cupful of Naval Rum and all these drunken sailors escorted this very drunken WREN up to the Railway station through the blackout. They put me on the train for Dover and I got to the Wrennery at about twelve o’clock to find it was locked. A policeman came round the corner on his bike and said, “What are you up too, then?” I said. “I’m trying to get in.“ He said, ”Stay there,” and he propped me against the wall. He went round the corner and he came back and said, ”Follow me.” So I followed him and we went round the other side of this place and down some basement steps and there was an old-fashioned sash cord window and he pushed it up and he threw me in. Well, I didn’t know this place at all, it was right in the basement, and I had to find my cabin and I wandered around that place for about half an hour until I eventually found it. The day after that I was sent home on leave.
  3. Trux

    Trux 21 AG Patron


    I do not see anything which matches the memory of hundreds of troops boarding landing craft at the hards some time soon after D Day. There are however many thousands of pages of naval orders, instructions, reports and diaries. I can only claim to have searched using keywords and reading anything that looked promising.

    One more snippet. Folkestone was used to park Mulberry components. Tugs and escorts collected them before D Day. Some personnel travelled on the larger units.

  4. CommanderChuff

    CommanderChuff Senior Member


    Thank you so very much for this, I am looking at a couple of mulberry whales and beetles to model, with a few tugs, the model and restored equipment at Arromanche are very impressive. The harbour launch Folkestone belle is reported to have used for mulberry tug duties.

    Thanks again,
  5. Bin There

    Bin There Member

    Here's a list I have for the various H-Hours. It may not be entirely correct, so if anyone has better times, please feel free to correct.

    Utah: 0630 hours
    Omaha: 0630 hours
    Gold: 0725 hours
    Juno: Mike and Nan Green Sectors: 0735 hours planned, but delayed by 10 minutes by local naval commanders
    Nan White and Red Sectors: 0745 hours planned, but delayed 10 minutes by local naval commanders
    Sword: 0725 hours

    The airborne drops took place earlier with the following approximate times (excluding pathfinder drops which landed earlier):
    - 6th Airborne Div (UK) - about 0100 hours (Operation Deadstick gliders began landing about 0015 hours)
    - 101st Airborne Div (US) - about 0130 hours
    - 82d Ariborne Div (US) - about 0230 hours

    The time zone used for the operation was "Baker", which was two hours ahead of GMT. This equated to British Double Summer Time in the UK; France had also adopted GMT+2 for its Summer Time as a result of German occupation (GMT+2 was also German Summer Time). This happy coincidence meant that you would cross between Zulu and Alpha time zones without needing to change your clock, as the local time in each would be the same.

    Even if it were not for that happy coincidence, standard military practice would be to designate a single time zone as the base reference for operations, which is what they did by choosing Baker.
  6. CommanderChuff

    CommanderChuff Senior Member


    Looking back at our discussion and reflecting on your musing of modelling mariners during my training cycle ride I am thinking that people who sail on the seas are of a particular type. The qualities needed for taking a boat out of sight of land are much different to a normal landbound citizen. The need to be self sufficient in any emergency, to be able to read charts and to be at one with the weather and tides, to have practical hands on skills to fix anything, these lead me to believe that modelling is a way of using those skills.
  7. Bart150

    Bart150 Member

    Mike, You may well have heard that LCT 7074 will be on display from next year at Portsmouth.
    Last D-Day craft will land at museum.

    In several sources (eg Wikipedia) I find it stated that LCT 7074 sailed in Force L. But I can't find her anywhere in the very detailed information you have given us in this thread.
    How can that be?

    Since my father was in Force L I shall need to know all about LCT 7074, so I'd be grateful for any explanation that occurs to you.

  8. Bart,

    You did not find her because you were looking for the wrong number. You are falling into the usual trap of confusing the hull number with the Serial (or Landing Table Index) number.

    The overwhelming majority of planning documents, including those for Force L, refer to craft by their code number ("LTIN" aka "Serial" for the Commonwealth Forces), and not by their hull number such as LCT 7074.

    Unfortunately, for Force L, as for some other Forces, no table has been unearthed giving the correspondence between LTINs and hull numbers. We have to find them using all sorts of sources, including photographs when we are lucky enough to find one with both numbers visible.
    There is no such photo for LCT 7074, although some of the many web pages on the restoration of 7074 do state that it was "recently identified as" LTIN 3517:
    World’s last D-Day Landing Craft Tank to be restored and displayed in Southsea – Museum Crush
    Sole surviving D-Day landing craft gets restoration go-ahead | National Historic Ships
    LTIN 3517 - 1498×1080.jpg
    LTIN 3517 'DUM SPIRO SPERO' - LCT-7074-on-Gold-beach-D-Day-plus-1-7-June-1945-credit-IWM.jpg

    These pages do not elaborate on how such a conclusion was reached, but I think that it may have been deducted from a comparison between the above two IWM photos (A23941 & B5135 respectively) showing LTIN 3517 loaded with PWs with another photo showing LCT 7074 with a similar load, kindly put online last year by redtop in his post:
    2 - A VLC high and dry on the beach .This one was loaded with german prisoners.JPG

    I would say that the evidence is debatable, as it assumes that only one LCT(3) of H17 Flotilla was loaded with PWs that day, but it is the only one we have so far, short of knowing how the writers came to this conclusion. One possible problem in my view is that the damaged LCT 886 (the one with the warning "ALL LOOTERS WILL BE SHOT") does not appear on the photo with LCT 7074, although it was on the beach from H Hour and did not (could not!) move. Maybe she is just outside the photo on the left. The dinghy on the port side of the craft seems to correspond though, and might be the strongest argument:
    LCT 7074 vs LTIN 3517.jpg
    What is clear from A23941 is that at least some of the 10 LCT in H17 Flotilla were part of Force "L" Sailing Group 3, as listed by Mike in his post above, and comprising, among others, LCT(3) Serials 3508 to 3523.

    So, if indeed LCT 7074 carried LTIN 3517, her load was, as listed by Mike:
    Serial 3517 is an LCTIII carrying
    1 Cromwell tank with 5 crew from Headquarters 22 Armoured Brigade.
    2 Sherman with 12 crew from RHQ 5 RHA.
    7 Stuart tanks with 28 crew from 5 Royal Tank Regiment.

    Last edited: Nov 8, 2018
    Trux likes this.
  9. This is both correct and incorrect. For Naval Force "L" and the other Commonwealth Forces, the time used was the Naval time, thus "Zone minus two", which in effect was GMT+2. "Baker time" or "B time" is the military time, used by ground forces (and the RAF?). Double British Summer Time was the time used in the UK. Fortunately, as you said, all those times were the same, and coincided with the German time then used in occupied France.

    NAN GREEN, NAN WHITE and NAN RED were Beaches, not Sectors. NAN was the Sector.

  10. Bart150

    Bart150 Member

    Thanks, Michel, for that about LCT 7074. You certainly give a very cogent summary of the present state of knowledge. I am much obliged to you.

    My father was on WHITSHED in Sailing Group 4. If I understand you correctly, then I can tell my relatives and friends in Portsmouth that - subject to any new information that may emerge – the following is true:

    LCT 7074 was definitely in Force L.

    Force L consisted of five Sailing Groups.

    Only Sailing Groups 3 and 4 contained LCTs. So LCT 7074 was in one or the other. But it isn’t known with certainty which one.

    There is some evidence that she was in Sailing Group 3 rather than 4. It is quite tenuous evidence, but it is all there is.

    On the other hand, there were 30 LCTs in Sailing Group 4 as opposed to 16 in Sailing Group 3.

    So it is quite possible, though far from certain, that LCT 7074 was in my father’s Sailing Group.

    BTW, Why did the Navy get into the silly situation of having two numbering systems?
  11. Spitfires of the Sea

    Spitfires of the Sea Stephen Fisher

    I can't say much on this yet (but soon), but I can say that a great deal of research has made the match between 7074 and her LTIN, doubly confirmed it, and uncovered a lot more (I'm afraid that I'm the guilty party). Just one piece of evidence to throw in for fun - where do you think photo B51351 was taken from?

    H and V Squadrons were both part of Force L, Group L2. H Squadron, comprising 16 LCT of the 17th and 6th LCT Flotillas were part of sailing group 3. I think V Squadron was in sailing group 4, but I'll need to check my paperwork.

    The numbers are essentially army, not navy. They reflect the order in which units needed to be landed on the shore and the RN used the numbers so that army units knew which vessels to board. This is a very simple overview of the scheme, and it was somewhat less relevant in Force L.

  12. Bart,

    Looking again at B5135, at the bottom left of the photo there is the characteristic davit and square section cowl at the poop of an LCT(3), which confirms that the photo was shot from the after part of the other LCT(3) visible on redtop's photo of LCT 7074, beached slightly sideways and in the opposite direction from LCT 7074. This means that we now have such a number of matching elements between the two photos that identification can be certain:

    1. Presence of PWs on board
    2. Presence, type and location of dinghy on the port side
    3. Flags are identical in shape and location
    4. Presence, location and orientation of second LCT(3)

    LCT 7074 vs LTIN 3517 v2.jpg

    I therefore confirm that LCT 7074 was LTIN 3517, and thus part of Force L Sailing Group 3.

  13. Steve,
    It looks like our posts just collided (or rather, converged)! :cheers:

    Looking forward to any further evidence you might have.

    Spitfires of the Sea likes this.
  14. Bart150

    Bart150 Member

    Steve, Michel
    Thanks very much for that extra evidence.

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