Landing Craft Support Squadron - Operation Infatuate
1st - 8th November 1944 Operation Infatuate - The Battle of Walcheren.
Support Squadron Eastern Flank left from Poole on 28th October 1944 for Walcheren via Oosend.
LCH 269 now had a new Skipper. Commander Kenneth Sellars RN, a very high ranking officer for a landing craft! He was mostly known as "Monkey" Sellars and had been in pre-war days an international rugby star.
He was now taking over the command of the SSEF which comprised twenty seven various types of landing craft and approximately four hundred naval personnel.
For this operation he had an additional five hundred Royal Naval Marines.
Landing Craft Flack (LCF) were converted Landing Craft Tank (LCTs) with the front ramp welded in position and the hold decked over as a platform for the guns. There were a number of variants (Marks) but most were around 150/200 ft long with a beam of around 30/40 ft.
LCTs were designed to carry tanks and heavy transport, while the LCFs were equipped with anti-aircraft guns to provide air cover for the invasion fleet, particularly the troop carrying Landing Craft Assault (LCA) flotillas, which were poorly equipped to defend themselves against air attack.
The Landing Craft Flak 37 was leading LCF of the Southern Group.
Image; LCF 37, tied up alongside © IWM (A 19420)
After driving off the ML working the shoal at the deploying position German Battery W15 switched to LCF 37 while she was still 3500 - 4000 yards from the shore and so well out of range for her own guns. She was first hit on the port quarter on the water line at 09.20 hrs, but the hole was successfully blocked with hammocks.
At 09.45 hrs, W15 having switched to fresh targets, she was engaged by W13 and began to make smoke. However she was hit astern, a near miss on the port beam filled the bridge and upper deck with water, and two hits were sustained forward blowing away the bows and forward magazine.
At 09.48 hrs a shell hit the main magazine blowing up about 100.000 rounds of 2-pr Oerlikon ammunition, turning the ship forward of the bridge into a shambles and causing a large number of casualties.
Most of the crew were blown into the sea.
The total casualties were: 2 offrs, 39 ORs missing believed killed; 4 ORs seriously wounded; 2 Offrs and 3 ORs slightly wounded.
Image: A landing craft gun (medium) (almost certainly LCG (M) 101) crew fighting to save their shell ridden and sinking craft during the landing by Royal Marine commandos on the island of Walcheren at Westkapelle the most western point of the island, during the final phase of the battle to free the Belgian port of Antwerp. © IWM (A 26236)
From "The Campaign in North-West Europe June 1944-1945", page 51 "The Support Squadron had also suffered heavily for by 1230 only seven of its twenty-seven craft, including three equipped for firing smoke only, remained completely fit for action. The Squadron's state was:
Sunk or sinking - L.C.G (L)?s 1 and 2, L.C.F. 37, L.C.G.(M)?s 101 and 102, L.C.S.(L)?s 252, 256 and 258
On fire in the magazine and abandoned - L.C.F. 38
Damaged and out of action - L.C.G.(L)?s 11 and 17, L.C.T.(R)?s 334 and 363, L.C.M. 42 and 36, L.C.S.(L) 260
Damaged but capable of further action - L.C.G.(L) 10, L.C.F.?s 35 and 32, L.C.H. 98
Fit for action - L.C.G.(L) 9, L.C.S.(L)?s 254 and 259, L.C.T.(R)?s 457, 331 and 378 (firing smoke only), L.C.H. 269
(Abbreviations: LC ? Landing craft, G(L) ? gun (large), F ? flak, G(M) ? gun (medium), S(L) - Support (large), T(R) ? tank (rockets), H ? headquarters)
As was only to be expected, casualties among the officers and men of the Squadron were also extremely heavy, 172 killed and 200 wounded, but their sacrifice had not been in vain for it was under cover of the Squadron that the incoming waves of landing craft had continued to beach so successfully all the morning. There can be no doubt that the Squadron's outstanding gallantry had done much to make the seaborne landing possible and by 1230 the three Commandos were well established ashore. Captain Pugsley now decided that all craft no longer fit for action should return to Ostend.
Royal Marines manned various Landing and Assault Craft during Operation Infatuate, several were killed or wounded supporting their colleagues in 41, 47 and 48 Commando and lay beside them in Bergen-op-Zoom War Cemetery.
RM LC Crews buried at Bergen-op-Zoom War Cemetery
Marine BUTTS, RONALD JAMES R J PO/X 115686 Died 01/11/1944 H.M. L.C.F. 37
Marine McEWAN, PETER LESLIE P L CH/X 109338 Age 19 Died 01/11/1944 H.M. L.C.G. 2
Son of Ronald and Doris Leslie McEwan, of Shripney, Sussex.
OVERTON, STANLEY ERIC S E PLY/X 3655 Died 01/11/1944 H.M. L.C.G. 2 (ex-LCT.323)
Marine POWELL, REGINALD FRANK R F PLY/X 105027 Age 23 Died 01/11/1944 H.M. L.C.S. (L) 258
Son of Walter and Sarah Powell, of Crewe, Cheshire; husband of Marie Powell, of Crewe.
Marine DUNKLEY, RUPERT ALFRED R A PLY/X 105032 Age 23 Died 01/11/1944 H.M. L.C.S. (L.) 258
Son of Alfred and Mary Ann Dunkley, of Kingsley, Northampton.