Loss of 601st LCM Flotilla
Updated: Jul 30
21st July 1944
Normandy HM LCM, 601st Flotilla.
Attempting to cross the Channel from the Normandy Beaches the flotilla of small Mark 1 LCMs encountered bad weather 32 men were lost.
For the homeward journey from Normandy, selected unmanned LCMs were assigned to the much larger LCTs (Landing Craft Tank) for towing back to England, while others would proceed under their own power. By the evening of July 20th, the craft of 601 were lying in Gooseberry 4, stored and provisioned for the journey. The LCMs were paired up for the short trip to the LCTs anchored nearby - a manned LCM with an unmanned LCM alongside.
The LCMs were not in good condition after 6 weeks of intensive ship to shore ferrying, often in rough seas and high winds... and there had been little time for servicing and repairs. 601 veteran, Royal Marine, Jim ‘Nobby’ Clark, confirmed that his LCM had seen better days and was not in very good condition. It was one of those lost on the homeward journey.
At 0430 hours on the morning of July 21st 1944, the Flotilla weighed anchor and proceeded independently to rendezvous with the LCT Flotilla, just off the beach-head. The task of transferring the unmanned craft to the LCTs, was completed by 0540 hours and the manned LCMs formed up astern of one of the LCTs. A course was set through the swept channel but a thick blanket of mist descended which made it extremely difficult to keep on station. This raised concerns about craft becoming lost, so, for safety reasons, at 0700 hours, the decision was taken to anchor. By 0930 hours, the mist had cleared sufficiently to allow the flotilla to resume its journey.
A total of 15 manned LCMs formed part of the homeward bound convoy, including ‘Leader’ LCM 1059 carrying Flotilla Officer, Captain Green. The 1059 was a Mk3 LCM, an American built, diesel driven craft of 651 LCM Flotilla. It was larger and more powerful than the British LCMs and had been seconded for the journey home, because it had superior navigation capabilities.
As the day wore on the weather deteriorated. At first the sea was calm with a rather heavy atmosphere and then the conditions deteriorated with heavy, turbulent seas and thunderstorms. By 1720 hours, the sea was so rough that there was little or no headway being made, despite engines on full throttle. It was decided to return to Juno beach, not the least of the considerations being that petrol supplies for the British Mk1 LCMs were running low.
Prior to giving the order to turn about, Captain Derek Green, still aboard LCM 1059, fell out of line several times to round up stragglers and when the craft had re-grouped, a course was set for the beach-head. By this time they had been at sea for thirteen hours and some LCMs were having difficulty keeping up. One LCM developed engine trouble soon after they had turned about and Sub Lieutenant Colin Backhouse, in LCM 226, turned back to render assistance.
The decision was made to take the crew off the crippled craft and the manoeuvre was started. Unfortunately, 226 collided with an unknown craft causing damage to its stern, which put her steering out of action. The rescue craft had become unmanageable and was now, itself, in need of assistance.
LCM 1059 went alongside to render assistance and both crews were lifted aboard to safety, increasing her human cargo to three officers and twenty nine other ranks comprising her crew, the rescued men, the reserve crew and part of the flotilla administration staff. While LCM 1059 was engaged in this operation, Captain Green ordered the rest of the flotilla to return to the beach-head with all speed. Most of the craft and crews were suffering badly from the rough sea, strong winds, heavy rain and sea water pouring over the sides. The craft soon became dispersed in the darkness but 5 craft eventually reported back to the squadron, while others reached the beach-head at various points.
On completion of her rescue operation, LCM 1059 was isolated in the darkness of the English Channel with her, then, complement of thirty two men. Her remaining fuel was sufficient for the journey home to England and for around three hours reasonable progress was made. However, the craft was becoming increasingly sluggish due to water entering the aft ballast tank through a leak in the propeller gland. Attempts to stem the leak proved fruitless, so lifebelts were issued to the men, many of whom required assistance because they were too overcome by sea-sickness. At 21.30 hours on the evening of July 21st, LCM 1059 became overwhelmed and sank.
Every man aboard had some buoyancy aid, such as a Mae West or a cork lifebelt, but despite this, the sole survivor was Sergeant Latham. He later recalled that spirits were high when the decision was made to continue on to England. The men felt that their stronger, more powerful craft, could safely complete the journey, while the remainder of the flotilla, in the less sturdy Mk1 LCMs, sought the relative safety of the Normandy beaches.
It was a tragic twist of fate for the men of 601 LCM Flotilla who, 3 hours earlier, had suffered the loss of LCM 226, experienced the joy of rescue by LCM 1059, only to find themselves once more at the mercy of the turbulent seas.
The LCMs lost from 601 FLOTILLA were 168. 180, 216, 226, 229, 330, 346, 383
and from 650 FLOTILLA were LCM 1197, 1212, 1240, 1278 with the loss of 32 men.
The Itchenor Memorial
In 1951, a memorial seat was donated by the ‘D-Day Survivors Society’. They wished to remember their fallen comrades and to acknowledge the kindness shown to them by the residents of Itchenor during preparations for the invasion of Normandy. The memorial seat overlooks Chichester Harbour and on July 21st 1951, seven years to the day after the tragedy, it was dedicated. Since that event, an annual service has taken place within the first week of June. [Photo below; Captain Angus Forrest, RM, taking the salute at the 1951 ceremony.]
Related Royal Marines History 'Dits'
References/ further reading
Combined Operations - 601 Landing Craft Mechanised (LCM) 'Build Up' Flotilla