Liberating Europe
LIBERATINGEUROPE
From D-Day to Berlin: The Allied Liberation of Europe

Landing Craft Duties on D-Day

  • Stevenson
  • James Arthur
  • 80; born in 1925
  • Royal Navy
  • HULL
Photo of James Arthur Stevenson's Landing Craft Tank
 

Summary: James Arthur Stevenson (known as Arthur) was a in the Royal Navy during the war working specifically on the landing craft used to drop soldiers onto the beaches of Normandy during Operation Overlord.

Mr Stevenson was interviewed at his home on 15th June, 2005.

How old are you now, James?
I'm 80 next month.
How old were you when you joined the Royal Navy?
17.
What rank were you when you left the Navy.
Stoker - First Class.
So can you tell me how you got involved in the Navy at 17 years old? What made you join up?
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Well, a landmine dropped right alongside of that...just blew our mooring ropes; we were cast adrift in the Railway Dock.
Arthur Stevenson
Well, I was born and bred down Hessle Road, seafaring obviously, and when I was on 15 I was on Johnson Coniston's waterboats, in Hull Docks, and we used to supply water to all the merchant ships coming in. We used to fill up in the docks, take merchant ships fresh water and that. During the Blitz we were in Railway Dock. We were laid in there pumping a drifter out as well, which was leaking, so we used to get these jobs, pumping various ships out, and the pump's keeping it from sinking in the dock.
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During the first night of the Blitz, you know the little bridge what runs over..? Well, a landmine dropped right alongside of that, and we were in the other corner - well it's only the width of the dock, and it's only a small dock. It just blew our mooring ropes; we were cast adrift in the Railway Dock. Anyway, we spent the rest of the night getting the (indistinct). What happened, basically, was that when it dropped we were in the engine room, and it jammed the hatch and we had to crow-bar it open to get out, and then we got on the land and tied the two ships up, and then went into an air raid shelter, which was on the corner. The sea was in your blood if you were from Hessle Road.
I applied for the Navy when I was only 16, and the Chief Petty Officer told me, when he looked at me, "Go home, lad and get a few more Yorkshire puddings below your belt and then come back next year."
Well I did go back when I was 17, and I went to HMS Duke, the training school in Worcestershire. We did our basic training there and then we went to Hayling Island, because then I had been assigned to combined operations. That was landing craft, and such as that. We did an assault course, and from there I went to Chatham, did a high speed diesel course, and then I did training on various landing craft, from landing barges up to LCTs, and then I was sent to Middlesbrough on a commissioned LCT943, and we trained on that, mainly with Canadians, and then on D-Day morning we landed in France, I think it was just before 7.30 on Juno beach with the Canadians, and the British. My action stations, it wasn't down below in the engine room, it was up on the quarterdeck.
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If I could just explain, when you are loaded, and you are going for the beach you cannot deviate. If a ship gets blown up in front of you, or alongside of you, and the crew, the navy lads and the army lads, they're in the water, you just go over them. It's a terrible thing, but you just couldn't swerve or anything, and you run over anything that's in the way. My job was, I was stood on the quarter deck, right on the stern of the ship, and there's an anchor there and a capstan. Well, when you're about a couple of hundred yards out at sea you drop this anchor. They call in the kedge anchor. You drop it and the wire, you let out as you're steaming forward, and when that hits the beach your wire's out here and the anchor's there. As you unload, the Captain, or Skipper, he pushes forward, and you've got to ease that out a little bit, don't let it get taut or obviously it would break.
My job was to ease this out until we got right on the beach and got unloaded, and then as soon as we were unloaded the Skipper went astern and you had to pull with the anchor as well. So, it helped the engines to pull the LCT off the beach, and you used to come right up until your anchor was up and down, now you had to be very careful, if you got too much slack there, it would go round your propellers, your screws, and obviously, then you were a sitting duck, and then pull it up. All through D-Day, and a few days afterwards, we were going out to the different ships in the bay, picking up whatever personnel etc and going back on the beach and unloading. after a short while we started making trips back to England to bring over more equipment. On the return journey we used to take general Prisoners of War back to England. We would take them in the well deck of the landing craft Tank.
As I say, we did a number of trips back and forward to England, taking stuff to France, equipment, troops and bringing back German prisoners of war. On one of the trips I was in the engine room, going back to England and we were going back dry, we had no prisoners on board, and we got caught in a storm in the middle of the Channel. I was on duty in the engine room, there was only one on duty in the engine room at nights, and the landing craft was going all over the place because they're flat-bottomed.
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So they rock a bit do they?
Well they slide, do all sorts, they've no keel on them, you see, and its just like being at sea in a sardine tin. Anyway, I heard a bang and a crack, and I thought, "What's happened, we've hit a mine!"
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I heard a bang and a crack, and I thought, "What's happened, we've hit a mine!"
Arthur Stevenson
Two or three minutes later the phone rang, and I answered it. It was the Old Man on the bridge.
He said, "We've broken in two."
I don't exactly know what's happened yet, but keep your engines running whatever you do. I stayed at the controls and unknown to me then, the Skipper had ordered everyone on deck, and I was the only one below, and, of course, I was in the stern half. She broke in two.
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It actually snapped in two?
Oh yes, I stayed there for nearly an hour. The (indistinct) was filling up a little bit and I reported it to the bridge and they said, "All right, stay there."
I was using the engines to try and keep the weather off us. I found at later that a Royal Navy frigate had tried to get alongside, but it was too bad. They called up a Yankee merchant ship, one of those liberty boats that was going back to England, and she was 'high'. She was unloaded so she came alongside and kept the wind off us, and edged closer, and we got up the scrambling nets. One of the Yankees asked if there were any engine room staff, and I went along with him. The crew went to different parts of the ship. Apparently, it had been converted into a sort of troop carrier, because there were bunks in the hold. The chap took me in his cabin and asked me if I wanted anything to eat, and I just went to sleep. Next morning he asked if I wanted any breakfast. Well, we'd been living on dehydrated stuff, it was terrible, but you ate it because it was wartime and that was it. I went into the mess, and our other lads were there. This white-coated black man came up, obviously a steward. He said, "Good morning, what would you like?"
I said, "Well, anything."
He said, "Well, there's the menu." and he pointed to a bulkhead and it had a blackboard on it, and it had about 20 different things on for breakfast, eggs, ham, sausage, you name it.
"Oh," I said, "I'll just have a bit of bacon and egg."
Well, when he brought this plate back and there must have been half a pig, a dozen eggs, everything. He said, "Just eat what you want and leave the rest." I had coffee; they didn't have any tea.
I went back to his cabin and he said you can have a shower now if you want. Then the shout came that a Red Cross ship was alongside of us. When I was in the engine room all I had on was a pair of dungarees and a pair of clumpers. I always wore clumpers because I had the idea that if I fell in the sea I could just kick them off.
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Oh, they were like big loose boots were they?
Yes. Like clogs. Anyway, when I got on the deck and could see what was happening. It amazed me, because I had been below all the time.
One of the seamen said , "Here you are, Yorkie, put this on." and it was a brand new duffle coat. I put it on because it was October and it was freezing. The American engineer said to me, can I ask you a question. Do you get kitted out fully when you get back to shore? Oh, I said, everything, we get a brand new kit altogether. Mind you, it didn't compensate for all our tiddly uniforms what we used to have specially made to go ashore, instead of the regulation issues from (indistinct).
He said, "Can I buy, steal, beg your duffle coat off you?"
"Oh" I said, "You can have it."
He said, "Great!" because the Yanks during the war, they used to love British duffle coats. He was over the moon. He said, "By the way there's some presents for you to take home. I know things are bad in England with rationing and that, but there you are." and there were a couple of boxes and in them were some cigarettes, which I didn't want because I didn't smoke.
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But you could have traded them?
Well I took them home in the end and gave them to my mother and sisters. Great big pound bars of Cadbury's chocolate and sweets. All sorts. Anyway, I thanked him, and I found out from him that on board this ship there were 23 nationalities and the Captain was a Norwegian.
We got landed at Portsmouth. I got re-kitted out. As soon as we walked in, we came off the Red Cross ship and got on a three-tonner lorry and taken into pusser's, and of course we were all in our rags, what we used to wear aboard ship and landing craft, it wasn't like a big ship, we used to be like pirates and we marched in there and the P.O. was marching us across and this voice came up, "Who the f*****g Hell are you lot?"
Of course we looked round and who was it? It was the crusher - Chief Petty Officer. He stood there immaculate. Anyway he b*******d us.
He said "What the hell do you think your in? Your in the Royal Navy, the finest navy in the world, so b****y act like it."
He gave us a right mouthful.
"Straighten up!" he said, and get into line. And then he b*******d the P.O. for having us rambling around. He said “Who are you anyway. The P.O. said, "Oh they're survivors off the LCT."
He said, "I don't give a f**k whether you're survivors or not, you'll march properly!" and he had us marching like guardsmen, to the mess. We got to the mess and right away there were about two tots of navy rum for each of us. We didn't know but he went and organised this. We marched over for dinner, and had a meal and went to get kitted out, and got another tot of rum, and then he said, "Right, we'll get you over to the pusser's stores, get you re-kitted out."
He said, "There's your leave pass. FiV.E. Days."
We went to draw an allowance. We got back in camp, Southend on Sea. I went and saw the Chief in the drafting office, and asked him if I could get a draft somewhere. He said, "What do you want to go in?"
I said, "Well, subs, New Zealand Navy, Far East draft, anything."
He said, "Well you're engine room staff - we're short of engine room staff." Because normally when a ship goes down the engine room staff are a little bit on a danger zone kind of thing.
He said, "Right." and in a few days I had all my innoculations, got my tropical rig and I was put on 199, that is a landing ship tank not a landing craft, they're the big ones with the big doors. I got put on that. We carted the craft (2487) on top all the way to Burma, to Calcutta Docks and they just tilted the LCT and she just went off into the dock and I spent the rest of the war on the 2487 on the Burmese coast, doing the odd landing and transporting goods, troops - even mules we had on there at one time.
At the end of the war we laid that up and during the time I was out there I did a short stint on HMS Seasway, that was a landing ship dock - the stern used to come out and they used to sink it and the craft used to go in and they'd shut the door at the end and pump the water out and it was a floating dry dock.
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So that was what they used to use to repair smaller boats that were damaged? That's ingenious, I never knew it existed. Where's this, where its landed?
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I got up in the morning and I saw two or three of these rats sat on the ducting. I got out and all my hammock was shredded with paper and where your hammock falls to the side there were all black marks where the rats had run along. I found out that was the reason no one had that berth.
Arthur Stevenson
Around India somewhere. When the war finished all the crew went back on a troop carrier. I was in Bombay at the time and I always remember waving them off. I was on the pier on my own and I was the only one of the crew left and I couldn't understand it. I got a message - report to the drafting office. I went there and I said where am I going and they said HMS Colossus, that was an aircraft carrier. Anyway when I got on board I was told to report to the Regulating Office. I said to the chief, where are we going - to the UK? He said no, were going to Australia. I said, oh no, I'm due for repat now. So he said why and I told him how long I'd been out there. So I think he went and saw the Duty Officer. He said, "Go down below, get yourself some grub, get your rum ration and be at the gangway at such-and-such a time." I queried the Chief and asked why. He said they were short of engine room staff, they just didn't have enough.
"Oh," I said, "All right."
Anyway at a certain time there was this three tonner there - it picked me up and there was another lad getting out with his gear to get on board. So I got talking to him. He said, "Do you know where the drafting office is?" I said, "Yes."
He said, "I've been out here for nearly two years, I'm due to go back." I got all my gear and I said, "By the way, you're taking my place - I've only been on a few hours and come off again, the Chief will be happy to see you!"
I got another draft and I got put on HMS Berwick, County Cross Cruiser.
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That's a fine looking ship.
Anyway, I got put on her and there was some talk of her going to Australia. So I went and saw the Chief again and he said, no we don't know what were doing yet. Anyhow just after that we sailed and I believe our orders were changed to go back to the UK.
I was billet aboard HMS Buloa, headquarters ship in Scotland, and then I got my de-mob and came out.
Biloa was an old Australian yacht. Tell you what, there were rats on there as big as cats. I remember the first night I went aboard, your deck head lights, you always take the covers off so the last one asleep always takes the bulb out and there's a kind of ventilation duct alongside this hammock and I wondered why they were so good for reading etc. In those days they had the London Illustrated and I had been reading one of them and I put it on the top, turned the bulb off. During the night somebody banged the hammock, and I never thought anything of it and your hammocks are snow white, you had an inspection each week. I got up in the morning and I saw two or three of these rats sat on the ducting. I got out and all my hammock was shredded with paper and where your hammock falls to the side there were all black marks where the rats had run along. I found out that was the reason no one had that berth.
Had they eaten your book as well?
Yes. That night I slept on the mess deck table.
Couldn't you get rid of them?
Well we kept killing them, but I was talking to someone and they said there were rats on board when they took the ship over. If you notice a ship when it moors, the line has a big disc on it, that is to stop rats getting on board, because the rats walk along the line.
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