3. AMPHIBIOUS OPERATIONS (Part 1 of 2) - 1940-44
Evacuations, Invasions, Landings, Raids, Special Operations

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Landing Ship Tank LST-3009 (Courtesy Cyberheritage). One of hundreds of amphibious warfare ships of many types which stemmed in part from the fertile imagination of Winston Churchill.

Initially designed in Britain and mainly built in the US, the Allied invasions from late 1942 to 1945 would not have happened without them.

September 1939 - The Royal Navy has little amphibious and combined operations capability. Yet through to 1942 it has to evacuate often large numbers of British, Dominion and Allied forces from western & southern Europe, East Africa and South East Asia. Lacking air cover in most cases, the losses in ships and men are often high.

Wartime Developments - As the war progresses, the Royal and Dominion Navies expand rapidly with large construction programmes, particularly landing ships and craft. Huge combined operations landings take place with air superiority usually assured. The largest landings, in order, are French North Africa, Sicily, Salerno, Anzio and the greatest of all, Normandy. Other major combined operations landings include Madagascar - the first, Walcheren, Arakan (Akyab and Ramree Island) and Rangoon.



APRIL 1940

Germany invades Norway

linked to Norwegian Campaign 1940

Norwegian Landings - The first Allied landings take place between the 14th and 16th. In the north, British troops occupy Harstad in preparation for an attack on Narvik. They are reinforced by French and Polish units through into May. Royal Marines lead British and French troops into Namsos ready for an attack south towards Trondheim. The British go ashore in the Andalsnes area to try to hold central Norway with the Norwegian Army. By the 27th, Allied plans to attack towards Trondheim and hold central Norway prove impossible. The decision is taken to pull out of central Norway and the evacuation of Andalsnes and Namsos gets under way.

MAY 1940

Norwegian Evacuations start - In three days and nights ending on the 2nd/3rd, the last 10,000 British and French troops have been evacuated from Namsos and around Andalsnes following the failure to attack towards Trondheim and hold central Norway. Other troops are later landed further north, including Bodo in an attempt to block the German advance from Trondheim towards Narvik. The Allies continue to build up forces for the attack on Narvik.

Germany Invades Holland, Belgium and France

linked to Western Europe 1939-44, September 1939-June 1940, July 1940-June 1944 - in 2 parts

Landings in Iceland & Dutch West Indies - On the 10th as Germany attacks France and the Low Countries, British Royal Marines land from two cruisers at Reykjavik, Iceland then part of the Danish Crown. More troops follow to set up air and sea bases that become vital to Britain's defence of the Atlantic supply routes. Soon after Germany invades Holland, Allied troops land on the Dutch West lndies islands of Aruba and Curacoa to protect oil installations.

Holland and Belgium Evacuations - British Admiralty plans have already been made to withdraw shipping from the Low Countries, block main ports, demolish installations and remove gold and diamonds. Most of these duties are carried out with the aid of Royal Navy destroyers which suffer heavy losses over the next few weeks.

Northern France Landings - Destroyers carry Allied troops to Boulogne and Calais on the 20th and remain in support. Over the next four days, five Allied destroyers are lost and others damaged in the area.

Dunkirk, Northern France Evacuation (Operation 'Dynamo') - Initial plans are to lift off 45,000 men of the British Expeditionary Force over a two-day period under the direction of Vice-Adm B. H. Ramsey. In the next five days, 8,000 men on the 27th May, 18,000 on the 28th, 47,000 on the 29th, 54,000 on the 30th and 68,000 on the 31st are carried to Britain - a total of 195,000, both British and French. Every phase of the operation is subject to heavy air, sea and land attack. Forty British, six French and a Polish destroyer take part, together with 800 other vessels, large and small. Losses are considerable. The Dunkirk evacuation continues into June.

JUNE 1940

Norwegian Evacuation concluded - Following the capture of Narvik, Allied forces totalling 25,000 men are evacuated over the period 4th-8th from northern Norway, by which time King Haakon VII and his Government are on their way to Britain aboard heavy cruiser “Devonshire”.

Dunkirk Evacuation concluded - As the evacuation continues under heavy ground and air attack, destroyers “KEITH”, “BASILISK”, “HAVANT” and the French “LE FOUDROYANT” are bombed by the Luftwaffe and lost off the beaches, all on the 1st. The evacuation of the BEF and some of the French troops trapped within the Dunkirk perimeter comes to an end on the 4th. In the first four days and nights of June, 64,000, 26,000, 27,000 and 26,000 men are saved to bring the overall total to 340,000, including the bulk of Britain's army in northern France. Naval and civilian shipping losses are heavy. In destroyers alone the Royal Navy has lost six sunk and 19 badly damaged, the French Navy seven sunk.

Italy Declares War

Western France Evacuations - The Battle for France begins on the 5th with a German advance south from the line River Somme to Sedan.

10th - The evacuation of British and Allied forces from the rest of France gets underway. Starting with Operation 'Cycle', 11,000 are lifted off from the Channel port of Le Havre

15th - Operation 'Aerial' begins with the evacuation of Cherbourg and continues for the next 10 days, moving south right down to the Franco-Spanish border.

17th - The only major loss during the evacuation from western France is off St Nazaire. Liner “Lancastria” is bombed and sunk with the death of nearly 3,000 men.

25th - The Allied evacuation of France ends with a further 215,000 servicemen and civilians saved, but Operations 'Aerial' and 'Cycle' never capture the public's imagination like the 'miracle' of Dunkirk. On the final day of the evacuation, Canadian destroyer “FRASER” is rammed and sunk by AA cruiser “Calcutta” off the Gironde Estuary leading into Bordeaux.

JULY 1940

French Navy in the Atlantic and Britain - Carrier “Hermes” and cruisers “Dorsetshire” and Australian sister-ship “Australia” lay off Dakar, French West Africa on the 8th after negotiations are refused on the future of French battleship “Richelieu”. Attacks made include one with depth-charges from a fast motorboat. This fails and a torpedo strike by Swordfish inflicts only minor damage. In Britain, two World War 1 French battleships "Courbet" and "Paris" and several destroyers and submarines, including the giant "Surcouf" are in British ports. On the 3rd they are boarded and seized, but not before there are casualties on both sides including three British and one French dead.


British Somaliland, East Africa Evacuation - Italian forces from Ethiopia invade British Somaliland. The capital of Berbera is evacuated on the 14th and the garrison carried across to Aden. Italians enter the town five days later, just as a British mission goes into Ethiopia to help organise uprisings against the Italians there.


Dakar, West Africa Expedition (Operation 'Menace') - Because of Dakar's strategic importance to the North and South Atlantic shipping routes, an expedition is mounted to acquire the port for Allied use. Free French troops led by Gen de Gaulle are carried in ships escorted and supported by units of the Home Fleet and Force H under the command of Vice-Adm John Cunningham. They include battleships "Barham" and "Resolution", carrier "Ark Royal", three heavy cruisers and other smaller ships including Free French. Naval forces at Dakar include the unfinished battleship "Richelieu" and two cruisers recently arrived from Toulon (see below). Attempts to negotiate on the 23rd soon fail and as Vichy French ships try to leave harbour, shore batteries open fire, damaging heavy cruiser "Cumberland" and two destroyers. Shortly afterwards, the Vichy submarine "PERSEE" is sunk by gunfire and large destroyer "L'AUDACIEUX" disabled by cruiser "Australia" and beached. A Free French landing is beaten off.

Next day, on the 24th, Dakar is bombarded by the warships and "Richelieu" attacked by "Ark Royal's" aircraft. Vichy submarine "AJAX" is sunk by destroyer "Fortune". The bombardment continues on the 25th, but battleship "Resolution" is now torpedoed and badly damaged by submarine "Beveziers" and "Barham" hit by "Richelieu's" 15in gunfire. At this point the operation is abandoned and the Anglo-Free French forces withdraw.


Greece & Crete, Landings in - As the Greek Army pushes back the Italians into Albania, RAF squadrons are sent from Egypt to Greece and the Royal Navy carries over the first Australian, British and New Zealand troops by cruiser. Mediterranean Fleet establishes an advance base at Suda Bay on the north coast of Crete.

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North African Naval Operations - As the British advance continues into Libya, Bardia is taken on the 5th. Australian troops capture Tobruk on the 22nd and Derna, further west by the end of the month. The Royal Navy's Inshore Squadron plays an important part in the campaign - bombarding shore targets, carrying fuel, water and supplies, and evacuating wounded and prisoners of war.

MARCH 1941

Norway, Combined Operations Raid - A successful commando raid is carried out on the Lofoten Islands, off northwest Norway with installations destroyed and shipping sunk. Escort is provided by destroyers and cover by units of the Home Fleet.

British Somaliland Landings - British forces are transported from Aden to Berbera in British Somaliland on the 16th. From there, they advance southwest into southern Ethiopia. To the north, Keren falls to the attacking Indian troops and the road is opened to the Eritrean capital of Asmara and Red Sea port of Massawa.

APRIL 1941