Easter Sunday 1943 - Loss of 2 LCG's and 70 Marines off Wales
Updated: Apr 28, 2022
On Easter Sunday 1943 (25 April), gale force winds and wild seas were lashing at the coast. Close to land, among the giant breakers and rolling waves of the storm, at the west Wales beach of Freshwater West a tragedy of monumental proportions was beginning to unfold.
Two landing craft - Landing Craft Guns (Large), or LCG(L)s - were battered by the elements and were sunk within sight of the shore, over 70 men died, there were just three survivors.
Manned by Royal Navy personnel but carrying nearly 70 Royal Marines, the LCGs were unwieldy craft, ill designed to cope with such wild conditions. They had been built as LCTs (Landing Craft Tanks) but had been converted to LCGs ready for the planned invasion of Sicily in the Mediterranean.
Each of the two landing craft had been hurriedly fitted with 4.7 inch guns, weapons intended to attack Italian and German shore defences. More significantly, in order to quicken the conversion process, only part of the open deck of each craft - essential when carrying tanks, of no use whatsoever to a floating gun platform - had been covered in. It left almost half of the LCGs decks open to the elements.
"A number of sailors and marines had jokingly suggested that if filled with water, this space would make an ideal swimming pool; others had expressed deep anxiety about the problems such a gap would cause in heavy seas."
LCG 15 and 16 had left Belfast, en route to Falmouth, a few days before. They had had no sea trials and it was intended to use the cruise to discover just how seaworthy the ships really were. The two craft docked briefly at Holyhead, and as they headed south across Cardigan Bay the weather began to deteriorate alarmingly.
[Vernon Scott - An Experience Shared]
Faced by mountainous seas and already shipping water into their open decks, the LCGs sought permission to enter Fishguard Harbour and then Milford Haven. For some inexplicable reason permission was refused and the landing craft had no option but to proceed on their way. By the time they arrived off Freshwater West they were in serious difficulty.
Angle lifeboat was undergoing repair and could not be launched but the crew, along with Angle Lifesaving Company and men from nearby Angle Aerodrome, rushed to the beach and cliff top at Freshwater West. They were helpless as the wind and waves were too strong for them to do anything but watch the tragedy unfold.
Within sight of the beach LCG 15 was overwhelmed and disappeared under the waves. Her companion vessel sank later in the night.
Marines and sailors were pitched into the cold, dark sea. Many of them were drowned; others were battered to death against the rocks on this part of the coast. Seventy-two young servicemen from the landing craft were killed in what was the worst maritime disaster, not involving enemy ships, of the whole war. Over 50 bodies were pulled from the sea but many were never recovered.
As if that wasn't enough, further tragedy was waiting in the wings that night. The old sloop HMS Rosemary was returning to Milford Haven after escorting a convoy to Scotland when she was ordered to the scene of the disaster. LCG 16 was spotted just off St Ann's Head at the entrance to the Haven and the men on board, clearly thinking that rescue was at hand, began to wave and leap about.
The weather was now so bad that it was impossible to get a line across to the stricken landing craft and, in desperation, the captain of HMS Rosemary asked for volunteers to launch and then man the ship's tiny whaler. That, it was felt, was the best chance of getting a line across and taking the LCG in tow.
Without thought of their own safety, six men immediately volunteered. The boat was launched and was soon lost to view in the crashing seas. Soon afterwards it was engulfed and swamped by a huge wave. All six crewmen drowned. Soon afterwards LCG 16 also sank.
It was later said that attempting to launch a small boat such as a whaler in seas like that was simply inviting disaster but, at the time, the primary aim of the Rosemary's captain and crew was to save the men on LCG 16. Emotions were running high and the sloop's crew could hear and see the panic of the men on the landing craft.
Quite why the LCGs had been refused permission to enter Fishguard and Milford Haven has never been fully explained. There was an inquiry but, with the war still raging, it was something of a cover up and no-one has ever been called to account for a decision that cost over 70 young lives.
Perhaps more inexplicable is the reasoning behind allowing the two landing craft to take to sea with their decks partially open to the elements. As all sailors who saw the conversions quickly realised, in anything like a heavy sea the LCGs would be little more than death traps. And yet they were allowed to sail across what has always been recognised as one of the most dangerous stretches of water around the British Isles.
In the wake of the disaster a memorial was erected high up on the dunes above Freshwater West beach. When compared to the value of human life it isn't much but it stands as a testimony to the tragedy that took place a few hundred yards off shore on Easter Sunday 1943.
BBC Article - Disaster off Freshwater West
CWWG - Memorial
The episode resulted in all remaining LCG’s to be recalled for modification by having the remainder of the open decks closed in. Eventually they rendezvoused at Falmouth and left for the Mediterranean in June 1943 for the invasion of Sicily-Salerno-Anzio. They were to return to home waters for D Day.
25 April 1943 LCG(L).15
ALBIN, Frederick E, Marine, PO/X 113000, MPK - Portsmouth Naval Memorial
BICKLE, John H, Leading Motor Mechanic, C/MX 161002, killed - buried in St. David's Churchyard, Davidstowe, Cornwall.
BRACKLEY, Leslie V, Marine, CH/X 2851, MPK - buried in Milford Haven Cemetery. BURGASS, Douglas A, Ty/Lieutenant, RNVR, killed - buried in Milford Haven Cemetery (CWGC shows date of death as 26th April) CAMPBELL, Peter, Marine, CH/X 2848, killed - buried in Milford Haven Cemetery. CHRISTIAN, Norman A, Marine, PO/X 110832, MPK - Portsmouth Naval Memorial CLAY, William C, Marine, PO/X 110768, killed - buried in Whitchurch Cemetery, Shropshire COWIE, Victor W, Marine, PLY/X 110108, MPK - Plymouth Naval Memorial DAVIES, Delwyn, Marine, PLY/X 108897, killed - buried in Seion Calvinistic Methodist Church, Llansaint, Carmarthenshire DAVIES, Peter A, Marine, PO/X 110769, killed - buried in Shrewsbury General Cemetery, Shropshire DERRICK, Edward J, Leading Stoker, P/KX 91780, MPK - Portsmouth Naval Memorial DERRICK, Frederick W C, Marine, PO/X 114089, killed - buried in Milford Haven Cemetery. GLEDHILL, John, Ordinary Seaman, C/JX 373341, killed - buried in Elland cemetery, Yorkshire GOLDSMITH, Donald H, Ty/Lieutenant, RNVR, MPK - Chatham Naval Memorial HINDMARSH, Edward, Ordinary Seaman, C/JX 352687, MPK - Chatham Naval Memorial HUGHES, Edward J, Ordinary Seaman, D/JX 416212, MPK - buried in Milford Haven Cemetery. KERFOOT, John H, Ty/Sergeant, RM, CH/X 1234, MPK - Chatham Naval Memorial KNIGHT, Keith E C, Marine, CH/X 106938, killed - buried in Milford Haven Cemetery. LIGHT, Frederick W, Marine, PO/X 110831, MPK - Portsmouth Naval Memorial MARSDEN, Edmund G, Ordinary Seaman, C/JX 351783, killed - buried in Middletown Cemetery, Sitlington, Yorkshire MARSH, Arthur T, Ty/Act/Corporal, RM, PO/X 3599, MPK - buried in Milford Haven Cemetery. MCARDLE, James, Ordinary Telegraphist, C/JX 358916, killed - buried in Milford Haven Cemetery. MCDONALD, Thomas, Ordinary Seaman, D/JX 363964, MPK - Plymouth Naval Memorial MITCHELL, Edward W, Marine, PLY/109151, MPK - buried in Milford Haven Cemetery. MUIR, James C, Wireman, D/MX 103366, MPK - Plymouth Naval Memorial O'CONNELL, Arthur D, Wireman, D/MX 103936, killed - buried in Milford Haven Cemetery. PARDEN, Raymond, Marine, PO/X 114182, killed - buried in Nab Wood Cemetery, Shipley, Yorkshire PECKHAM, Henry J, Stoker 2c, D/KX 159446, killed - buried in Lambeth Cemetery, London. RUSSELL, James S, Marine, CH/X 109274, MPK - buried in Milford Haven Cemetery. STEPHENSON, Edgar A, Marine, PO/X 110640, killed - buried in Evesham Cemetery, Worcestershire TAYLOR, Tom A, Able Seaman, P/J 112151, killed - buried in Botley Cemetery, Hampshire : grave ref - Plot S. Grave 19/17. TICKLE, Cyril S, Leading Seaman, C/JX 188073, MPK - Chatham Naval Memorial UNDERWOOD, Arthur S, Ordinary Telegraphist, D/JX 359229, killed - buried in Bristol (Greenbank) Cemetery, Gloucestershire WARRINGTON, Harold, Ordinary Seaman, P/JX 385984, killed - buried in Bebbington cemetery, Cheshire WATTS, Wilfred H, Marine, PO/X 109054, killed - buried in St. Mary Magdalene churchyard, Rusper, Sussex WILKINSON, Joseph W, Marine, PO/X 109733, killed - buried in Sutton Road Cemetery, Southend-on-Sea, Essex. WISHART, James N, Ty/Sub Lieutenant, RNVR, killed - buried in Hayfield Cemetery, Kirkcaldy, Fifeshire, Scotland Rosemary, boat capsized HOLMES, Herbert B, Able Seaman, P/JX 261483, MPK - buried in Dewsbury Cemetery, Yorkshire HULATT, Dennis, Able Seaman, P/JX 261240, MPK - buried in Rushden Cemetery, Northampton KING, George T, Able Seaman, P/J 104350, MPK - buried in Hartford Road Cemetery, Enfield, North London LAMBERT, Geoffrey, Able Seaman, P/JX 143261, MPK - buried in Milford Haven Cemetery. POYNTING, James A, Able Seaman, P/JX 130095, MPK - buried in Milford Haven Cemetery. SMITH, Robert W, Able Seaman, P/JX 296180, MPK - buried in Bishopswear Cemetery, Sunderland, Co. Durham 26 April 1943 LCG(L).16
ARMSTRONG, Donald B, Marine, PO/X 113138, killed - buried in Castle Carrock Churchyard, Cumberland BEET, Thomas, Ordinary Seaman, D/JX 364499, MPK - Plymouth Naval Memorial BELL, Charles W, Ordinary Seaman, C/JX 352316, MPK - Chatham Naval Memorial BLAKELEY, Edward, Ordinary Seaman, C/JX 339362, MPK - Chatham Naval Memorial BURNETT, Roy, Marine, PO/X 110235, MPK - Portsmouth Naval Memorial CARR, Eric, Ordinary Telegraphist, C/JX 359877, MPK - Chatham Naval Memorial CARTWRIGHT, George W, Marine, CH/X 3213, killed - buried in Milford Haven Cemetery. CLEGG, James H, Marine, PLY/X 4091, MPK - Plymouth Naval Memorial CLOWES, John H T, Marine, CH/X 2375, killed - buried in Milford Haven Cemetery. COLE, Richard H W, Marine, CH/X 109391, MPK - Chatham Naval Memorial COYNE, James, Ty/Act/Corporal, RM, PLY/X 788, MPK - Plymouth Naval Memorial CRANMORE, Frank S B, Wireman, D/MX 105424, MPK - Plymouth Naval Memorial DAVIS, William H, Marine, PO/X 113006, killed - buried in Milford Haven Cemetery. DICK, John, Act/Leading Stoker, P/KX 92859, MPK - Portsmouth Naval Memorial DRYDEN, Ronald, Ordinary Seaman, D/JX 366741, MPK - Plymouth Naval Memorial ELLIOTT, David, Marine, PO/X 110870, MPK - buried in Milford Haven Cemetery. GIBB, Duncan M G, Leading Motor Mechanic, C/MX 116886, MPK - Chatham Naval Memorial GORDON, Patrick B, Marine, CH/X 109418, killed - buried in Milford Haven Cemetery. HALL, James J A, Marine, CH/X 106075, MPK - Chatham Naval Memorial HARRISON, John E, Ordinary Telegraphist, D/JX 340482, killed - buried in St. Lawrence Churchyard, Surfleet, Lincolnshire HAWTHORNE, Charles E, Ordinary Seaman, D/JX 366573, MPK - Plymouth Naval Memorial HOWARD, Percy W J, Marine, CH/X 111751, killed - buried in Milford Haven Cemetery.
HUNT, Douglas E G, Marine, CH/X 2697, MPK - Chatham Naval Memorial
LANCASTER, Kenneth G, Marine, CH/X 109373, MPK - buried in Milford Haven Cemetery. MILNS, Boyd C W, Ty/Sub Lieutenant, RNVR, MPK - Chatham Naval Memorial MITCHELL, David J B, Ty/Sub Lieutenant, RNVR, MPK - Chatham Naval Memorial PATCHING, Frederick T B, Stoker 2c, C/KX 153789, MPK - Chatham Naval Memorial ROXBURGH, Allan, 2nd Lieutenant, RM, MPK - Chatham Naval Memorial (CWGC gives date of death as 26th April) SIGLEY, John, Marine, PLY/X 109057, killed - buried in Milford Haven Cemetery. SMITH, Clifford, Able Seaman, P/JX 290174, MPK - cPortsmouth Naval Memorial STONE, Joseph, Marine, PO/X 110866, killed - buried in Wednesbury Cemetery, Staffordshire SWIFT, William H, Marine, PLY/X 108011, MPK - Plymouth Naval Memorial WHEAL, Albert D, Marine, CH/X 101513, killed - buried in Milford Haven Cemetery. WHITE, Thomas, Marine, CH/X 108814, MPK - Chatham Naval Memorial WILLIAMS, John T, Able Seaman, P/SSX 15515, MPK - Portsmouth Naval Memorial WRIGHT, Douglas F, Ty/Act/Leading Seaman, C/JX 248211, killed - buried in Milford Haven Cemetery.