Oliver Perks' Wartime Blog - D-Day 6 June 1944
I. Attempted Invasion
My party, which consisted of an RF Carrier, one driver operator, one signaller and myself, were marshalled for the operation at Camp C16 Romsey. Embarkation took place on the morning of June 3rd. The Craft serial, which consisted of two Centaurs of the RM, one Crusader with triple 20mm and trailer, and an RF Carrier, moved off at about 0400 hrs. There was considerable delay and the yard was not reached until about midday. Loading took some time and was made harder by the weight and lack of manoeuvrability of the Crusader trailer and also by the rather temperamental behaviour of the Centaurs on the steel ramp of the LCT (Landing Craft Tank). Loading was eventually complete and the craft moved to its mooring with the remainder of its flotilla.
On June 4th the LCT 2005 proceeded down the Solent when she moored alongside an American LST (Landing Ship Tank) which gave some protection and made life on board pleasanter. Eventually at about 1000 hrs on June 5th the flotilla formed up and proceeded down the Solent in bright windy weather. The sea became noticeably rougher and there was a distinct falling off in demand for tins of self-heating cocoa.
The flotilla continued on its course past the Needles and out to sea, leading the remainder of the fleet at a pace which could hardly be described as excessive.
Towards evening several of the leading LCTs began to fall behind and show signs of distress and LCT 2005, which had been shipping water in the port side for some time, had about one foot of water in the engine room. Efforts to pump this out, or even to keep the water to a reasonable level were unavailing and the level rose steadily. Eventually the Motor Mechanic reported "Port engine stopped" followed at a decent interval by "Starboard engine stopped" and eventually by "All engines stopped" This caused some little despondency as the craft ceased moving, or rather ceased to move in a forward direction and the remainder of the fleet sailed past, making one presumed, rude jests at our expense.
The position was not encouraging. The engines were under water, which continued to rise and the only available pump defied all efforts to make it work. The generator was also under water, so that there was no light and even if it were possible to pump the engine room dry, the effect of salt water immersion on the starting batteries had rendered them useless. It was obvious that only a major overhaul would make the vessel seaworthy and so at about 2000 hrs on D-1 (June 5th) all on board knew that the invasion would have to be carried out without their assistance. This was especially galling for the Marines, who were only to be used during the initial assault and for a matter of days after, and meant that their intensive assault training of the past few months was wasted.
The night was not a restful one. The fact that the craft was drifting in or near waters which were known to be mined, the motion, and the presence of several inches of water on the mess deck and wardroom floors all combined to make sleep difficult. It was appreciated that the majority of those on board slept better than their more (or less) fortunate brothers on craft whose means of propulsion were more reliable.
During the evening all efforts to procure a tow in a Southerly direction had been met with derision, if not abuse, and at first light wireless communication was opened with Portsdown Radio Station. Very little sympathy was met with from this source and we were told to "Anchor and await instructions". The Commanding Officer carried these orders out, but after the anchor had been dropped water began to be shipped in considerable quantities over the stern; much of this penetrated the deck plate joints and came into the wardroom, where it caused considerable discomfort and some alarm to certain gunner officers who were sleeping there at the time. In consequence the CO ordered the anchor to be raised, realizing shortly after he had done so that, owing to lack of electric power, the order was not likely to be complied with. The only course open was to cut the anchor cable. This was done and we continued drifting again up Channel.
The position of the craft when it broke down was some 25 miles off St Catherine's in the Isle of White and calculation showed that we were drifting at about 4 knots in an easterly direction. Further radio communication with Portsmouth resulted in a promise that the Tug Salvage Chieftan was proceeding to take us in tow. This was the answer given to all requests during the next two days and it began to be regarded, with increasing suspicion, that all of the many broken down craft were receiving the same answer, and towards evening many refused to believe the existence of such a vessel.
During the morning of D-Day we were able to watch large numbers of allied aircraft crossing the channel almost without a break. We also communicated with a Walrus aircraft of RAF Air Sea rescue which flew round us several times; requests for a tow were, as usual, of no avail but help was promised. Similar conversations were held with RAF rescue launches, two of which came alongside during the day. Both craft complained of having no customers, contrary to their expectations. By the late afternoon of D-Day most of the passengers had got over their seasickness, but the Naval Signaller continued to make frequent trips between the bridge and the stern rail.
The most memorable event of D-Day occurred at about 2000 or 2100 hrs, when large numbers of aircraft were seen in the extreme distance, heading in our direction. As they approached they were seen to be Dakota and Albemarle glider tugs with a smaller number of four engined types all towing gliders, mostly Horsas. These continued to pass over for a considerable time until it became difficult to count them, and eventually they disappeared in the direction of France. They appear to have been the Air Landing Brigade of the 6th Airborne Division, the Parachute Brigades of which had been landed the previous night. The sight was encouraging and one not easily forgotten.
The following morning was uneventful and the lack of towing craft, together with our steady progress eastwards, caused some speculation as to whether we should eventually make a private invasion of our own somewhere in the Calais area. The Marines appeared to welcome the idea except for the fact that it seemed probable that the touch down would be made stern first, which would have made disembarkation difficult. However, soon after midday we were approached by an ML (Motor Launch) of the Royal Navy which was on patrol, and after some discussion persuaded them to take us in tow, until a tug, which had been wirelessed for from Newhaven, arrived to take over. We were eventually taken in tow at about 1500 hrs and moored off Newhaven at last light, much to the relief of all concerned.
Next morning we were again taken in tow, to Shoreham, where we were somewhat ignominiously pushed on to a hard, on to which the vehicles disembarked.
II. If At First You Don't Succeed
The disembarkation at Shoreham took place without any opposition and the inhabitants were found to be friendly. The Officers concerned reported to Movement Control who seemed flattered to have clients who returned for more. Shortly before leaving for J Transit Camp a worried RASG officer approached and asked the Officer in charge of the 90th Field Regiment Party where the 50 odd ship's blankets and Mae Wests were, as they had to be handed in. He was informed that they had without exception been washed overboard during a storm, at which he looked more worried and disappeared.
On arrival at J Camp, which was run by a Field Regiment of 61 Division, we were most hospitably received and a hot meal followed by hot baths or showers was very quickly produced.
A delay of some two days now occurred, as Movement Control were doubtful how to deal with our case. However on 10th June a Tank Transporter arrived with instructions to carry RF and personnel to an RCRP at Winchester. The driver of RF had not returned and the party left without him. On arrival at Winchester the transporter left and contact was again established with Movement Control. Here to our surprise nothing was known of our future movements and in fact we had arrived quite unexpected. Telephone calls to Shoreham, HQ J Area and SE Command produced no information and as it was then late, it was decided to camp by the road side.
Next morning MC informed us that a message had come at 0300 hrs instructing us to proceed to Camp C18 at Southampton at once, but they had disregarded it as they thought we must be tired. A problem now arose, as the distance to Southampton was about 20 miles on a busy road and the Officer's only experience of Carrier driving consisted of ten minutes on a wide open space near Cairo. The signaller had never driven a Carrier and did not seem keen to learn. However the trip was made successfully and RF was allotted a Vehicle standing at C18 Camp. Needless to say the Camp authorities did not expect us and had no idea who we were, but told us that the Regiment's B Echelon was due to arrive that morning and said that we might be fitted in the same ship, but that they promised nothing. During the morning the QM arrived and the parties joined up. At last, after several days waiting, the party moved off at about 0400 hrs on the 16th June towards the docks. The party arrived safely, possibly rather greyer haired as the pace was considerable, and especially so for inexperienced drivers of tracked vehicles at night with only convoy lights.
At the hard a slight delay of about four hours took place, but an American LST appeared before very long and loading commenced. The orthodox method appeared to be to back down onto the craft. However, in the opinion of the driver, a ship's ramp at the bottom of a long hard presents rather a small target, so ignoring all friendly advice and a lot of hand waving, he drove down on to the ramp and turned round inside the ship. Apart from the fact that RF was turned through 270 degrees instead of 180 degrees, the manoeuvre was well executed. Loading was completed with considerable speed and the ship steamed down to her anchorage for some hours before sailing. Our second departure from the shores of England took place on the night 17/18 June (D+11).
The trip was uneventful, the weather fine and the accommodation and food luxurious. The convoy anchored off Juno Beach on the afternoon of D+12, amongst a mass of shipping of various sizes. The ship beached at last light and disembarkation took place at about 0100 hrs D+13, by which time the tide had fallen, permitting a dry landing. This was much appreciated by all concerned.
The intention was for RF to follow the Regiment B Echelon column to an unspecified harbour area, but shortly after leaving the craft it was diverted to a route for tracked vehicles. For the next two hours we were directed along innumerable tracks through villages and had no idea of our whereabouts. Our only guide was that we had to go to Goldsmith area. There appeared to be a good deal of muddled thinking as to the whereabouts of the area and MPs all had different ideas on the subject. At last an empty field was located, which appeared to be Goldsmith, and the vehicle was parked for the remainder of the night. Beds were rapidly rolled down and the party slept until a heavy rainstorm at about 0800 hrs made it advisable to move. There were no signs of the CM's party in the area, so after a breakfast consisting mainly of 24 hour ration tea and biscuits, the party moved off in pouring rain for Bayeux, which seemed a likely place to meet up with the Division. This was found to be correct and just outside the town Q2 of 465 Battery was met and the remainder of the journey to Juaye Mondaye was completed with Captain Adamson leading the way.
RF finally arrived with the Battery at about 1300 hrs on June 19 (D+13).