World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

                            Jack Heath 

Landing in Normandy on D-Day with Combined Operations

By Actiondesk Sheffield

People in story: Jack Heath
Location of story: Normandy, D-Day
Unit name: 20th Flotilla Landing Craft Infantry (LCT) 522 Combined Operations
Background to story: Royal Navy


I was with the 20th Flotilla Landing Craft Infantry (LCT) 522 Combined Operations for the D-Day Landings on 6 June 1944. We were based in Southampton harbour, where prior to D-Day we loaded up with seven tanks with blow-up canvas sides and a small propeller at the rear for propulsion, and their crews; a jeep and driver; and two motorbikes. They were units of the Canadian Forces Regina Rifles and the Winnipegs – real grand guys.

We sailed across the English Channel towards Normandy following, when we could, a lighted path that had been swept through the minefields. The crossing was very rough, especially as the landing craft was flat bottomed and only drew three feet forward and five feet aft – not ideal for rough crossings. Those poor soldiers were by this time looking very green and sick and were praying to get off the LCT (Landing Craft Tank) as soon as they were able. The tank drivers were at the controls wearing Davis Safety Harness.

We approached the beach at a place called Causelles sur Mer. We dropped our kedge anchor and ran into the shore and, thanks to the skipper, made a fine, dry landing. We dropped the door and ramp extensions and away went our tanks. The only casualty was a motorbike on one of the ramps but the rider yanked it free.

We also had a group of beach signallers of the Royal Navy. Their leading hand jumped ashore and the poor lad found a mine, so the rest of the party wouldn’t go ashore until the skipper had to threaten them with his pistol.

All this time we were edging down the beach. We lifted the doors free so we could winch back on our kedge cable, but by now we were facing a German gun emplacement with an 88 millimetre which depressed its muzzle to fire on us. He must have depressed too far because we could see the shells hitting the sand towards us and I thought, “This is it lads, the next one’s ours”. But someone must have smiled on us because a self-propelled gun from the next craft to us rolled off, swung his gun and fired, hitting the 88 millimetre right on top of his gun shield and taking the gun’s crew with it.

All this time there were shells and mortars and small arms fire all around, a proper hellhole. There were a lot of LCAs (Landing Craft Assault) going on to the beach but lots never made it. We were just coming free of the beach and the winch party had just come from the winch housing, when there was an almighty bang and the bows went up in the air. We had hit a mine and the boat settled on the sand.

I remember the skipper leaning over the side of the bridge and shouting something to me because I was strapped into the port Oerlickon gun. The next minute a shell of some kind hit the port navigation light just under his nose. I never did find out what he wanted, but he was unharmed because the bridge and wheelhouse had the only armour plating on the ship.

Well, we were in a proper pickle, as the tide was going out leaving us high and dry with no hope of getting off. Then the weather took a hand in our fortunes. It worsened during the night until we were being slammed by a barge that was adrift full of petrol. We had to douse all lights and smoking was out, and no hot food was available, so we had to make do with what we could scrounge off the cook. Fortunately, the barge drifted away some time in the late morning, which we were glad about, but our troubles were not over. The mine explosion had punctured our fresh water tank, so we had to take Jerry cans and make our way to the front line for water. We thought we were in luck when we spotted a pump beside a farmhouse, but the farmer came and showed us the well and in it were two dead German troops.

In the afternoon LCIs (Landing Craft Infantry) started to appear, discharging troops. One came astern of us and troops came down the ramps wearing waterproof trousers. But the water was too deep, and the first ones down the ramps had the bad luck when their trousers filled with water and they were swept out to sea and drowned. We were forced to watch in horror for we could not reach them with our hand lines, though we tried. The following troops realised what was happening and slashed at the waterproofs with their bayonets.

Engineers came and welded plates across the bows to try and make us watertight. Then one morning we came on deck to be faced by heavily armed Tommies and a tank well deck occupied with about 200 prisoners of war. We were shocked by the ages of some of them; they looked like children and old age pensioners, though some were tough looking guys. There were about six on stretchers. We dropped them some fags and almost caused a riot among the others trying to get to them – having no fresh water our tank deck was not an ideal place for them to be, so they were quickly moved. There were lines of army ambulances coming down a track to our right where the wounded were being ferried out to a waiting hospital ship.

We had been marooned on the beach for five weeks. During this time we had been strafed by fighter planes, which would hop over the sand dunes and fire on us. Luck was with us for we all survived. At the end of this time the powers-that-be decided it was time we moved. A number of bulldozers appeared and dug a deep channel on three sides of the craft. Then about four of them, armed with what looked like railway sleepers, started ramming us until we slid into the pre-dug channel. When the tide came in, we were afloat and towed to a dry dock ship along with another LCT (Landing Craft Tank). This was manned by the Americans. We were taken to Southampton water and dumped on the mud flats at Hythe opposite Southampton – just a lump of scrap, an ignominious end to a good little ship.