By Joseph Rabbetts, D-Day Apprentice - October 2015
Over the past year as an apprentice with the D-Day Museum, I have been working with a collection of documents, publications, objects and photographs kindly donated to the D-Day Museum by the former LST and Landing Craft Association (which disbanded several years ago). I am going to pull out a few interesting and quite emotional stories which stuck in my mind while I was going through the memoirs written by some of the Landing Craft Veterans.
A photograph taken from a Landing Craft, Tank (LCT) off the Isle of Wight while waiting for orders to head for Normandy.
During the D-Day Landings there were many different variations of Landing Craft that took part to start off what was to become the Normandy Invasion. Some Landing Craft made the voyage over to Normandy hoisted on davits of larger ships and craft, while other craft made the journey under their own steam. They varied in size, with some carrying troops, tanks, guns and even kitchens to bake food for the troops.
Experiences of soldiers and sailors
One of the first memoirs that sprung to mind was written by a man who was a Leading Signaller on board a Landing Craft, Assault (LCA). His name was Reg Hodgson, serving in the 524th Flotilla; he was taken over to Normandy on the Empire Arquebus before being lowered into the water in his LCA. The key point of his memoir was his memory of the troops they were transporting to Gold Beach. Referring to men of the Hampshire Regiment, Hodgson recalls: "You can imagine the feeling of those poor troops, not used to sea and in the weather conditions we were experiencing, many of them were very sick". The weather on D-Day was very poor, causing rough seas. This not only created problems for the Navy men, but for the soldiers on-board who had never experienced such conditions it was a living hell. They couldn't wait to get off the Landing Craft, but you can imagine they must have been desperate if they knew the enemy would be on the other side of their ramps.
Landing Ship, Infantry (Large) Empire Cutlass. She carried 16 LCAs over to Normandy on the 6th June 1944.
One Craft, Two Nations
On the 6th June, some Craft had other duties to carry out. An example of this is Landing Craft, Infantry (Large) 179 (LCI(L) 179) which had orders to tow or rescue any abandoned Craft to create space for incoming Landing Craft. Joshua Skinner was on LCI(L) 179 on D-Day and witnessed the sinking of the Norwegian Destroyer, HNoMS Svenner, torpedoed by German E-Boats. LCI(L) 179 raced to the scene to rescue any survivors, several of whom they managed to save.
Landing Craft, Infantry (Large) 380.
However the Norwegian sailors were not safe… yet. Skinner's Craft was showered with shrapnel as they approached the beach. This left one of the Norwegian sailors in a lot of pain after he was struck on the arm - luckily he survived. This is one of a few rare examples for Landing Craft crews on D-Day, where even with the hardest of experiences and in the heat of battle, men of different languages and cultures knew their roles and worked tirelessly together. Even once they had reached the beach, the Norwegians were pulling out as many wounded out of the sea as they could, thus saving many lives.
The tragedy of LCT(A) 2191
The next memoir is a rather striking one, and is one that will stay with me forever as it includes such a tragic turn of events. Peter Hutchins and Vic Orme both served on board Landing Craft, Tank (Armoured) 2191 - LCT(A) 2191 - of the 100th Flotilla. Their Landing Craft landed on Sword Beach, unloading their tanks without any issues… this wasn’t to last. They were making their way off the beach when the Port Gunner called out an "enemy gun on the Port-side." They never stood much chance coming up against an 88mm gun, and it opened fire on the craft.
Vic Orme, Stoker onboard LCT(A) 2191.
The Captain and two Officers were killed within the first couple of hits. Hutchins was very lucky to escape injury up to this point. "Except for the terrible ringing in my ears I did not get a scratch, I rolled over the side of the bridge, down to the quarterdeck… the third shell hit the wheelhouse." Hutchins had just made it into the wheelhouse at the time of the third hit, prior to this he was greeted by the sight of a dead crewmate with two others staring in shock. After the explosion, Hutchins knew he was in trouble. His ankle and part of his right leg had gone, and his foot was barely hanging on. Two more of his crewmates were wounded and sadly lost their battles. Drifting in and out of consciousness, Hutchins came across two more dead crewmates and knew he had to escape.
At this time he came across Vic Orme and another crewmate (Geordie), who were both wounded. Geordie was unable to move and it was becoming even more difficult to cope with the smoke that was around them. They gave it one final chance to rescue Geordie, but it came to no avail. The Craft had begun to drift along the French coast away from the assault zones. Hutchins and Orme struggled to reach the tank deck of the Craft, with Hutchins hopping, crawling and rolling towards the bow ramp. They managed to inflate their lifebelts and drifted in the sea until they reached the Beach. Hutchings passed out once again on the beach and was taken to a field hospital where he had his leg amputated, a further 36 hours down the line. Orme woke up delirious on the beach, and was dragged to the nearest field hospital on a self-inflating dinghy by some soldiers already on the beach.
Robert 'Geordie' Bryson, who was sadly killed onboard LCT(A) 2191.
This is a small selection of the several hundred memoirs I have read over the last year, an experience I will never forget. Learning from other peoples' experiences has definitely given me another insight into what men and women went through during the Second World War, especially for those on Landing Craft. In all cases it has proven to me that war is such a horrific thing and that we should be forever grateful to the men and women who lay down their lives for us, past and present.
Photographs and extracts from veterans' memoirs are from the archives of the LST and Landing Craft Association, held by the D-Day Museum.
Joseph was employed as part of our Transforming the D-Day Museum project in 2014-2015, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.