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In Memory of

PETTY OFFICER BASIL WOOLF, 1923-

his account of THE SUPPORT SQUADRON EASTERN FLANK (S.S.E.F) and
THE BATTLE FOR WALCHEREN ISLAND, 1
st November 1944

 (click photographs to enlarge)  
 
 

click here to contact Basil Woolf

 
 

Contents

   
1. Joining Up and Earlier Service
2. Commander Kenneth Sellars RN - Our Skipper
  

BATTLE FOR WALCHEREN - OPERATION "INFATUATE"

3. 

Poole Harbour to Belgium in LCH.269

4. Stopover at Ostend
5. Heading for Walcheren, First and Only Briefing
6. In to Action
7. "From the Epic of Walcheren"
8. Captain A F Pugsley's Report - Naval Force Commander
9. B.B.C. War Report Number 135
10. Report of Procedure, Operation "Infatuate"
11. "Little Ships Tackled The Shore Guns", London Daily Mirror
12. From the London Daily Mail
13. After the Landings
14. Departure from Walcheren
15. Return to Poole Harbour
  

POST-WAR

16.  In Search of a Lychgate by Email
17.  Final Words
  Postscript
  The Continuing Story of LCH.269 into the 21st century
   
  (gs – notes by Gordon Smith, Naval-History.Net)
   

Yours truly!

   

Latest News about Basil

Appointed a Knight of the French Legion of Honor - 4 March 2012


1. JOINING UP and EARLIER SERVICE

My name is Basil Woolf, I am 83 years of age (in 2005) and was born in Hackney, London, in January 1923. I volunteered for the Royal Navy in September 1940.

My first overseas draft was to America, in November 1940 (gs – probably 1942) where we commissioned an LCI (landing craft infantry) and after some training we were to sail this frail craft, we found later, to North Africa, with eleven other LCI’s, without any protection. We left Norfolk Virginia, January 1941 (gs – probably 1943).

This trip was to take thirty days. We were now given sleeve badges with the anchor, tommy gun, and eagle, and told we were Naval Commandos. Some time after, we took supplies to Malta, smuggled Greek women guerrillas into Crete, took part in the Sicily and Italy landings, and finally received orders to return to England, where we were stationed in Poole, Dorset, and became a part of the Support Squadron Eastern Flank (SSEF).

The SSEF was established to land and protect infantry on the eastern flank of "Sword Area," the British section of the Normandy Invasion. It was in this position, off a small village called Ouistreham, that we came under intense shelling from the coastal guns and tunnels. The tunnels were spotted by slow-flying reconnaissance planes, Westland Lysanders, and only after heavy shelling by monitor Roberts and battleship Warspite, which totally collapsed the tunnels, did we get a reprieve. However we were to become targets for several weeks from Le Havre and nearby coastal guns

The SSEF was an assortment of flat bottomed beach landing craft consisting of gunboats, rocket-firing ships, infantry landing craft, and smaller personnel craft, headed up by a converted infantry landing craft (LCI) with additional communication equipment as Headquarter ship (LCH), on which I served as an engineer. Its classification was LCH.269.

We had seen service in North Africa, Sicily, Malta, Crete, and Italy for eighteen months, prior to Normandy and our very able skipper was Lieutenant Commander Holdsworth RN, a high ranking officer, for this type of vessel. As LCH 269 was an important landing craft, it headed up the SSEF. We were on the Normandy front, from the initial day, June 6 1944, until September 1944, at which time the French coast was firmly held and the SSEF was recalled to Poole, Dorset, where we were to undergo repairs and refitting for what we thought would be our next objective, maybe, the Pacific?

     

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This Parade was held in Poole, Oct 1944, just prior to leaving for Walcheren. This is the Support Squadron Eastern Flank in entirety. Unfortunately only a handful of men survived the landing - 17 on LCH 269 and a few others. The second officer (carrying out the inspection) is Commander Kenneth "Monkey" Sellars.

It was October 1944, the ship's company had been given a well-earned seven days leave. I was relaxing at my fiancee's home in Leyton, London, the fireplace giving out a comfortable warmth. We were playing cards. It was around eight p.m., a knock came on the front door, Anne's Mother answered the door and returning, a little pale, told me that a constable wished to talk with me. I went out in the hall, the Policeman asked me if I was Petty Officer Basil Woolf, and when I acknowledged, he told me that I was to return to my ship immediately. The reason for his personal visit, was the lack of a telephone at Anne's house!

I packed at once, caught a bus to Waterloo station and boarded the next train to Poole, wondering, why the recall? I arrived back on the ship in the early morning, and the ships crew were all asking questions about the call back.

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.

Lieutenant Commander Holdsworth personally spoke to each crew member, wishing us all luck. As he left the ship, he stood on the quayside and smartly saluted us all. We were all sorry to see him go as he was a fine officer and a real gentleman.

 

2. COMMANDER KENNETH SELLARS RN - OUR SKIPPER

Commander Sellars was born on August 11th 1906 in England, and when he was still a small boy his family moved to South Africa. He did not return until he joined the Navy in 1920, going first to the Osborne Royal Naval College, and then to Dartmouth. His term Master at Osborne, Captain Bob Cunliffe took one look at him and immediately christened him "Monkey", a name which he relished and adopted and which stayed with him throughout his life. As a midshipman and sub lieutenant he served in HMS Thunderer, Revenge, Repulse, Marlborough and Walpole before going on to the Royal Naval College at Greenwich for Sub Lieutenant courses.

After this he was appointed to the Royal Yacht Victoria and Albert. It was during these appointments that he played rugby, as full back for England. In 1929 Sellars joined HMS Calcutta on the South Africa Station and it was here that he met and married his wife, Molly. In 1931 he returned to England, serving first in "Wallflower" and then "Nelson" In 1935 he resigned and retired from the Navy. He did this against the advice of all his friends, and the personal opposition of his Commander in Chief, Sir John Kelly. He joined a stock-broking firm, but came back again at the outbreak of the Second World War and went to Dartmouth as a term officer.

In 1941 at Lord Mountbatten's instigation, he was taken out of Dartmouth and sent to Lamlash in Scotland for amphibious training in Combined Operations. He commanded a squadron of landing craft during the Invasion of Sicily, returning to England in time for the Invasion of Europe in 1944.

On the sixth of June he commanded the first flight of major landing craft at Ouistreham on Sword Beach, the Support Squadron Eastern Flank, and then became Senior Naval Officer "Sword Area". He was awarded a DSC and promoted to Commander. Later that year he led the assault on the island of Walcheren in the Scheldt and for this he was awarded a DSO.

Sellars returned to stock-broking after the war, becoming a member of the Stock Exchange in 1946. He became senior partner of W. l. Carr in 1957, retiring in 1969. He will also be remembered as a rugby player and cricketer. In 1927 he won three caps playing for England and three caps again a year later. He also played for the Navy, for the Barbarians, and for Blackheath. In 1982 after successive hip operations he and his wife emigrated to South Africa, his wife died in 1984 and he died at the age of 82 in Cape Town. He was survived by one son.

 

BATTLE FOR WALCHEREN - OPERATION "INFATUATE"
 (included in Western Europe June 1944-1945 - Campaign Summary)

3. POOLE HARBOUR to BELGIUM in LCH.269

It was October the 28th 1944, and I had orders to have main engines running at 0500 hours. Low clouds were moving across a grey dark sky. It was not yet daylight, the damp cold air foreboded the presence of the oncoming English winter. A stiff wind was blowing. Whatever our destination, it was to be a rough uncomfortable journey. Our landing craft, with their flat bottomed hulls, were made for landing on beaches in shallow water, and certainly not for long sea journeys!

We left Poole harbour and were soon rolling and pitching in the heavy seas. We would soon know where we were heading. At this point it was due east, soon to pass the Isle of Wight off our starboard side. I couldn't believe it! We were we returning to France! But after a short time we changed direction and headed north in the English Channel, our ship heaving and creaking in the heavy swell, our decks awash, and huge seas breaking over our bow.

During weather like this, all crew members wore their regular oilskins and a safety belt with an attached buckle to be hooked to a cable that circled the ship. This saved them from being washed overboard by large swells that swept over the decks. To go from my cabin to the engine room or any other destination on the ship usually involved getting drenched. Very uncomfortable for the seamen, whose duties confined them to the upper decks, but the engine room crew were able to take off their wet clothes, dry out by the heat of the engines, and usually kept a spare pair of overalls in a locker, down below.

I stopped at the wheelhouse, The coxswain was steering. The steering gear was unlike the wheel usually associated with most ships. On this landing craft the rudder was controlled electrically. A small handle, not unlike a trolley or tram handle, would turn the rudder from side to side. The coxswain sat on a high fixed stool, with a seat belt, a necessity in high seas. In front of him a dimly illuminated compass swung with the movement of the craft requiring full attention to keep the ship on course. In front and above was an illuminated dial showing the amount of turn in degrees to port or starboard. There were four portholes, covered at night. It was definitely not a place to be in if you were inclined to be claustrophobic. In this small space, the movement of the craft, the eerie glow from the compass, the odour of diesel fuel from the engines, could turn the strongest stomachs. Above the wheelhouse was the bridge, completely open to the elements, where they would convey orders to the coxswain through a speaking tube, and with double telegraphs for orders to the engine room.

The Coxswain told me that he had received an order changing directions from the northerly direction, and that we were now heading northeast by east. He said "it looks like we are heading for Belgium".

I returned to the engine room, where in a small space we had eight 285hp Gray Marine diesel engines, four to each propeller. Lubricating oil had to be fed to the engines constantly, a tricky job in this weather, using a funnel and gallon cans of lubricating oil. In addition to the eight main engines, there were two generators which supplied the electricity to everything,. A rheostat on the electrical board was constantly adjusted to keep the current at 110 volts for the lights, heating, navigation, toilets, bathroom, bilge pumps, and steering. The generators were vital to us, a problem with the generators and we would all be "dead ducks". Operating noise from the main engines and the generators was intense

The engine room was below sea level, no portholes. At the engine controls, the engine noise was so deafening, we wore earplugs. The telephone inter-communicating system was useless so I had devised a communication system with the bridge, using a very loud buzzer and a red light - a series of flashes on the red light signified a number of orders from the bridge. For instance, one buzz - raise speed by 25 revolutions, two buzzes - lower speed by 25 revolutions. This worked very efficiently. The engine operator sat at a console with seat belts, with the telegraph system just about at eye level, the throttles on the console, with the red light just above the throttles. A constant sickening smell of diesel oil, made a four hour watch just miserable.

 

4. STOPOVER AT OSTEND

Orders came to slow speed. I climbed above to get a look out and spotted land, we slowly made our way into Ostend Harbour. The retreating Germans had sunk many ships in the harbour to prevent large ships entering with supplies for the Allies. We were able to squeeze around the wrecks and finally tie up at a dock. Everything was now still. We were able to walk about without being thrown from side to side. We tied up and shut down main engines. No one had the faintest idea what we were doing in Ostend!

To the crew’s surprise, the Skipper announced four hours shore leave, which was very unusual as we were on active service. We were warned that the Germans had mined all the roads and pathways leading down to the harbour before they left. The Sappers had cleared a path from the docks into the main street and this was the only safe throughway, "keep to that path or perish" was our final warning!

Top two pictures are LCH 269 tied up at dock in Ostend. LCH 185 is alongside, she was sunk at Walcheren (gs – according to HMSO "British Vessels Lost at Sea" and Lenton's "British and Empire Warships, LCH.185 was mined and sunk off Normandy, 25 June 1944). Interesting to note, the headquarters ships had the radar.

Bottom left, another view of the sterns with Ostend in the background, the other interesting fact, I stood on the dock taking these pictures with a Kodak folding camera, and nobody questioned me! I do remember I had one roll of film, which was impossible to get during the war. I don't remember where I got the film!!

The swept path was about four feet wide, marked on both sides with small signs depicting skull and crossbones. It led into a devastated ghostly city, that had once been a thriving tourist resort.

On both sides of the main street, buildings had been levelled. Small dark shops with empty and broken windows, some boarded up, were desolate. As I walked down the main street I felt sad for the people that had lived and traded here and had now lost all their possessions. The street was deserted, it was a ghost town.

I heard sounds of piano music and singing coming from a bar in a side street. Men in uniform were drinking local wine, no beer was available, the bars had been ransacked by the retreating Germans.

There were one or two cafe's where they were serving chips (french fries), no other food being available, and a couple of my shipmates were enjoying the food in the company of two ladies, who appeared to have seen better times, sitting on their laps.

In the center of town I spotted a large store. I walked I in to investigate and saw a large number of glass showcases completely empty. However by one of the cases a young woman was busy doing something. I could not imagine why she was there with no merchandise to sell. I asked if she spoke English, to which she answered "yes". I then asked if there was anything available such as a gift or souvenir that I could buy to take home to my fiancée. She thought for a moment, then went over to a large walk-in safe. Using the combination she opened the door and I looked into a completely empty vault except for a solitary, very small bottle which she brought over for me to see. It was Chanel 21, I was happy to purchase such a valuable item from the safe. It did indeed cost me a week’s pay!

I placed the bottle in my money belt (government issue to all sailors), thanked the girl and left the store.

The sailors in the bars were really getting raucous, the cheap wine they were drinking was taking effect. I was a little concerned as they had to walk back to the ship along that four foot pathway. I returned to the ship and reported my concerns to the first lieutenant, who immediately stationed a couple of men along the swept pathway to ensure the safety of the men. All made it back safely, there were no casualties!

It was the 31st of October. I sat at the table in our cabin, eating breakfast. The radio was on the Armed Forces programme. Vera Lynn was singing "The White Cliffs of Dover". How nice it would be to be back in Blighty! We still had no idea where we were going, or what we were about to do. Most of the day was spent in routine engine maintenance, cleaning, etc.

 

5. HEADING FOR WALCHEREN, FIRST and ONLY BRIEFING

The Skipper called for main engines at 1900 hours. We started them at 1830 for a warm up period. I entered his order in the log. At 1915 we received the first telegraph order, We were on our way!

Just after midnight, November 1st 1944, we had left Ostend harbour and a few miles out at sea, rendezvoused with the remainder of the Support squadron. At 2100 hours all commissioned and non-commissioned officers, seven in all, were instructed to report for a briefing in the ward room. We were all invited to sit around the table.

Around the wardroom bulkheads were air photographic maps of an island coastline. Commander Sellars entered the room and told us to remain seated. He stood at the end of the room and said "Gentlemen, this is Walcheren island". We all looked very surprised as this was the first time we had ever heard of the place! Commander Sellars continued to explain. "It is located at the mouth of the river Scheldt. Like most Dutch islands that are lower than sea level, it is dyked. It is preventing our ships, by its heavy shelling, from entering the Scheldt with supplies that could be unloaded at Antwerp. The air force has attempted to damage the dykes and flood the island, with the possibility that the flooding has put some of the heavy fortified gun positions out of action. However our sources tell us that these heavy fortified gun positions are still operational. The guns are in six and eight foot reinforced concrete emplacements and are untouched by the bombing, and they are extremely accurate. Our orders are to get onto the beaches, and land our Royal Marine Commandos who will systematically silence each gun position.

"Hitler has declared this island a bastion, which means that his men are forbidden to surrender, and will fight to the last man. The guns on the island are various types. There are 3in anti-aircraft guns, 5.9in (150mm) which have a high rate of fire and are extremely accurate, numerous 88mm and 50mm are fully operational (gs – also 8.7in (220mm) and 4.1in (105mm) guns). The beaches are heavily mined with booby traps on underwater stakes, barbed wire completely surrounds the beaches, which are strewn with thousands of mines. He pointed to a 400 foot broken area of the dykes and said " this is where we will land our Marines, a place called Westkapelle."

"The island also has several pads that are being used to launch the V2 rockets* on the civilians in London. The island must be taken. It is imperative that our supply ships get up the Scheldt to Antwerp. General Patton is currently relying on supplies to get to him by land all the way from Normandy. The German army have retreated to the other side of the Scheldt and are attempting to reinforce. The overthrow of this bastion will give us victory and considerably shorten this war.

* Many thanks to Jakko Westerbeke, 2 August 2013, for the following

While looking for some information on WWII landing craft today, I came across this very interesting article. This has special interest for me, as I live on the island and my grandfather's house, when I was a child, was at the foot of the Westkapelle sea dyke, just a few hundred metres from where the RAF had breached it in 1944.

Walcheren was definitely used for V2  launches (Gordon Smith had added a note that they had not been based in Walcheren - source long forgotten): six were fired from the vicinity of a country house near the village of Serooskerke  from 15th through 18th September 1944. In fact, the first photographs of the missile to make their way to British intelligence were taken (in secret) by a villager there when the convoy took a wrong turn and a vehicle carrying a missile stopped in front of her house. Two of these can be seen at http://www.v2rocket.com/start/deployment/serooskerke-rijs.html.

"At the same time as our landing takes place, a large scale attack will take place at Breskens to our south, by British and Canadian commando units, followed by British and Canadian Infantry units.

The landing by the SSEF is supposed to coincide with a thousand bomber raid prior to our landing on the beach, but I have been notified that the weather is getting worse in England, and due to very foggy conditions, the Royal Air Force will not be able to participate. It is too late to change our plans at this point. We are going in. It won’t be a piece of cake. We will use anything at our disposal, even if it means going in with small arms. Be prepared for a heavy bombardment by our monitors, which will start some time before we hit the beaches.

I wish you all the best of luck, gentlemen. Touchdown for operation "INFATUATE" will be 0900 November 1st.

 

6. IN TO ACTION

Landing craft hit. LCH 269 heading in to help

We headed north, and at 0440 hours course was altered to 056 degrees. The seas were very heavy, under a grey miserable sky. At 0550 hours, speed was increased to 6 1/2 knots and course altered to 041 degrees true. At 0645 hours "action stations" was called and all hands took their positions. At 0700 hours the coastline was clearly visible and at 0713 hrs the tower on Westkapelle, on Walcheren was clearly seen.

At 0808 hrs, course was altered to 079 degrees, the ships company continued closed-up on "action stations". At 0809 the first fire came from the Westkapelle batteries. They had spotted us!

The Naval bombardment started with three large ships of the Royal Navy – battleship WARSPITE and monitors ROBERTS and EREBUS. The latter had one gun turret inoperable from damage sustained at Normandy (gs – believed to be HMS Warspite as the two monitors only had one 15in turret each), and at 0825 hours the Westkapelle battery ceased to fire after receiving direct hits from the large ship’s guns.

In our group of 27 landing craft were three LCRs. These were tank landing craft that had been adapted as rocket ships. The upper deck had chutes for 1200 rockets, all fired by twelve volt batteries. The bridge was protected by a large steel flameshield. All the crew were positioned behind the shield. These rockets when fired were able to clear a beach of any living person for a quarter of a mile, as the rockets would come down straight, like mortars. Slit trenches would be of no use. The deck of the LCR would glow red after ignition.

The three LCRs were coming up behind the main group of landing craft heading for the beach. A shell hit one of the LCRs directly on the starboard side, the craft listed badly and pre-ignition set off 1200 rockets that landed amongst the support squadron. I have never heard explosions like that in all my years of war! They appeared to go on for several minutes, but in reality it was probably 45 seconds. We had no ear protection, my stomach turned over, my ears rang with the clamour. I could do nothing but clap my hands to my ears and put my head down. From up above I could hear screaming. Leaving one of my hands at the controls, I climbed the stairs from the engine room to find out what had happened, a necessary option as no one bothers with the engine room staff. We are down in that hole like troglodytes.

Bombardment and shelling, LCH 269 on far right of the picture.

I saw landing craft burning and sinking all around. The sea was on fire. Men were in the water, some motionless, some attempting to swim. Our ship was picking men out of the water, The welldeck was full of injured sailors. Five of our craft were sunk by this "friendly fire". Thirty sailors were injured.

(gs - From "The Campaign in North-West Europe June 1944-1945", HMSO, 1994, page 49 – "The Support Squadron had also opened fire but though all its craft were being straddled or near-missed by batteries W 11, W 15 and W 17, it was not till 0920 that the first serious hit was registered when L.C.F. 37 was severely damaged forward by an enemy shell and eventually blew up. Shortly after this the southern group also came under heavy and accurate fire south of the 'kidney' shoal, but though severely hit pressed home their attack with unrelenting vigour. At 0934 L.C.T.(R) 334 fired her ranging rocket salvos which fell short. Then she was hit twice on her starboard side forward. By a stroke of ill fortune this caused her to swing towards the north and accidentally let go some of her rockets which fell close to L.C.H.269. Unhappily rockets fired by L.C.T.(R) 457 and L.C.T.(R) 378 also fell near three of the supporting craft and on the port beam of the L.C.I.(S)’s taking the Commando ashore. The L.C.I.’s. at once turned away but resumed their course towards the shore at increased speed ten minutes later. Casualties in two of the three supporting craft were thirty slightly wounded but the other, though completely blotted out by the smoke of the exploding rockets, fortunately suffered none. L.C.T.(R) 334 quickly resumed her firing course and with L.C.T.(R) 363 pressed on her attack with the utmost determination although heavily hit.")

We took the wounded and dead personnel to the hospital ship and returned to assault zone. Landing craft were heading into the beaches with the sea in turmoil from the incessant shelling. Small landing craft were running parallel with the shoreline firing their 20mm guns directly at the slits in the gun emplacements. The ammunition being used was anti-personnel which shattered into myriad's of shrapnel pieces inside the gun positions.

LCH 269 on left.

The enemy fire was fierce, and was systematically hitting the small craft approaching the beach. One LCG, hit and on fire was abandoned on the beach, other craft were burning, sinking and exploding. With this heavy fire from the shore batteries, we were being annihilated rapidly. Some craft had already reached the gap in the dyke and were successfully landing the Marine commandos. LCH 269 received a very close shell off our stern, which really shook us up in the engine room. Shrapnel caused several holes in our bulkheads, and sea water spurted in. We used damage control plugs, conical wood plugs, to stem the water, and got a call from Commander Sellars asking if all engine room hands were OK? He also asked about the engines. I reported that all was fine. He said "for God’s sake keep those engines running".

Then LCH 269 received a direct hit on the starboard bow. It shook us all. The ship heeled to port. We were thrown on to the deck. Luckily no sailors were in the vicinity of the bows. Nobody was hurt, other than shaken up. No water came in, but it certainly could not stay that way. The skipper called for damage control parties. I was in that group. On investigating, we found that the hole in the ship’s side was very jagged and a simple patch would not work. Someone came up with the idea of using our rolled up hammocks as a form of gasket. We gathered all the hammocks from the ships company. Jammed around the hole and with a large sheet of plywood forced up against the hammocks by two by fours hammered in to the other side of the bows, it was a very fine emergency repair!

 

7. "FROM THE EPIC OF WALCHEREN"

Previous experience had shown that German Shore batteries could rarely resist the temptation of concentrating their fire on any craft attacking them. It was therefore a part of the plan that the Support Squadron, which was under the command of Commander K. A. Sellars and consisted of twenty seven landing craft of various types should close the shore and deliberately draw the enemy fire upon itself. This would inevitably result in heavy casualties, but as it was hoped that it would enable the assault forces to land with comparative immunity, it was considered that so long as the enemy made the fatal error of concentrating fire on the Support Squadron, close action was justified and heavy losses acceptable. In other words this was a suicide operation. Commander Sellars, in his report on the action said "It was early recognised that we were up against formidable opposition, and that losses and damage were to be expected in craft engaging shore batteries at close range. It is considered that this was fully justified because the Commandos got ashore well and lightly (sic?). I considered that, so long as the Germans made the mistake of concentrating their fire on the Support Squadron, close action was justified and losses acceptable. In fact, I decided that if there was signs of batteries selecting incoming loaded L.C.T’s with troops as their primary target, even closer action would be ordered so as to force the Germans to fire on the Support Squadron." He also added later, "There can have been few more gallant actions in Naval history than the way in which the Support Squadron drew the fire of the formidable German Batteries on to itself and provided the assault forces with a comparative safe conduct to the shore"

 

8. CAPTAIN A F PUGSLEY'S REPORT - NAVAL FORCE COMMANDER

The following is an excerpt from the report of Captain Pugsley who headed operation "Infatuate". It was not the easiest of decisions. To say execute might mean signing a death warrant for an entire brigade of Commandos, their assault and Landing Craft and the Support Squadron who were to escort them in". His final injunction from (Admiral) Ramsey, (General) Simmonds, and Foulkes (gs - service and rank not known), his immediate Senior Officers, had been that he should not proceed with the operation unless he was facing opposition that was "not more than weak". At 0800 Captain Pugsley said there was certainly no evidence that there was such a state of affairs.

The Germans found, to their dismay that the large 88mm guns could not be lowered enough against the craft closing in on the beach. However the smaller guns were used and sank and damaged many craft, causing heavy casualties.

(gs - 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.)

 

9. B.B.C. WAR REPORT NUMBER 135
2nd November 1944

The battle continued for several hours. On our ship a well known war correspondent by the name of Dennis Johnston was covering the operation for the B.B.C. I have a transcript of his report as follows:

McLEOD: "Here in the studio is a man from Walcheren…. our correspondent Denis Johnston, who took part in the Naval side of the assault on this island, the attack on German gun positions at West Kapelle. Johnston left the coast of the continent early this morning and, after a rough crossing, came direct to London, he reached Broadcasting House only two hours ago."

JOHNSTON: "They came down in the belly of the Landing Craft, where we were all lying curled up in the darkness, and told us if we came up now we could see the beginning of the attack on Flushing. This attack on the island was a three-pronged drive. While the Canadians fought their way in from the causeway, a second party was attacking across the Scheldt from Breskens against the second of the little humps that were all that was left of Walcheren ever since the floods broke in. Our job - which was an all Naval show - was to attack the western most tip - West Kapelle - where the German batteries faced out to sea, and a few thousand of the enemy were holding out on another of these sodden hummocks of sand dunes

"Up on the bridge of the Landing Craft we could see the red flashes of the guns coming from the east over Flushing and directly in front of us the dawn came up behind the light house tower of West Kapelle. As it grew lighter, this armada of little craft drew slowly in towards the coast.

"Our ship, LCH 269, was leading. Behind us came a string of gun and rocket carrying landing craft to cover the assault, which was being made by the Marines. For a while there was no sign of life at all on the shore, and we speculated as to whether the enemy batteries had been knocked out already by air attacks.

"But suddenly from here and there along the beach came little yellow flashes of light and we knew they were alive all right although we couldn't see to begin with where their shells were going.

"I don't think they saw us for some time - the dawn was behind them, and we were backed by a long line of scudding rain clouds, but as it became fully daylight the covering craft moved forward and closed with the batteries and the assault craft moved up from behind and passed through heading for a big gap in the dyke that we could see clearly not more than a mile or so away.

"There was no question that they saw us then. From all along the coast the enemy batteries opened up on our fleet of ships, the shells came whining overhead falling in the water with great plumes of spray. But they were getting from us far more than they were giving, and then from behind us came hurtling the great shells of the battleship Warspite, and from two monitor,s the Erebus and the Roberts joining in the fight at long range.

"It was an incredible sight to see those landing craft heading straight for the gap in the dyke and passing through, while the little gunships hugged the beaches and poured their fire into the enemy caissons. The Marines fanned out behind the gap and leapt ashore.

"On the far side there was more flooding, so they had to land on the causeway itself - on the concrete slopes of the causeway, and fight their way in both directions along the narrow neck of dry land that was all that was left of West Kapelle. The enemy put up a smoke screen. Presently it was aided by smoke from a fire in the lighthouse itself, as the battle on the shore swept past it's base.

"The shelling of the little ships by the batteries continued, and we waited anxiously to see the enemy guns go out one by one as the marines took the gun positions from the rear. It was hard to tell what was going on but the reports from the shore were good, although the men at sea were having a very tough time. They seemed to present sitting targets - most of those craft passing to and fro across the front of the beaches, and here and there we watched them being hit - pouring out smoke from their sterns, and in one or two cases, going down on the shoals with only their upper work showing, while the little personnel craft dashed through and picked up the crews."

MaCLOUD: "From Breskens, on the mainland, Guy Byam watched the Army Commando troop's battle for Flushing across the narrow mouth of the Scheldt. We are reading Byam's dispatch."

BYAM WRU: 8517 READER: "When the Commandos had reached the fringes of the town, all hell started to be let loose. Two batteries on either side of Flushing ricocheted shells off the water amongst the landing craft coming in with the following waves of infantry, on beaches just to the West of the town, and infilading machine gun fire caught the men as they came ashore. From

where we stood we could see these commandos had landed, right on the Harbour front. Towering behind were the gantry's and cranes of Flushing's shipyards and to the west, a little way out of the town, was a large hotel right on the beach.

"This building was smashed and torn apart by shells and, as I watched, the whole front of it collapsed in a cloud of dust. Just below it was the beach where the second unit had waded off the assault craft, to get quickly into the area already held by the commando's.

"Most of the dock area was already in their hands and they were pushing on into the fringes of the town. Our guns were engaging a battery of German guns that were firing onto the beaches we hold.

"The whole of the dock area of Flushing appeared to be on fire and bits of burning paper came drifting back from over the water. Meanwhile to the west another great fire was burning. It was smoke from the town of West Kappelle."

MACLEOD: "West Kapelle in the West.... Flushing on the south coast of the island….. And, from the East came the third assault, that of the Canadians, driving from South Beveland. Over all. reports Alan Melville, pilots of the Second Tactical Air Force flew to attack the German gun positions.

"That part of the TAF which supports the Canadian Army's operations flew 240 sorties yesterday. Today, as you know the beachheads are firmly established and our forces have made good progress. But this has not been an easy operation, nor has it been carried out without loss.

"Here is Denis Johnston again, (on LCH 269) to complete his story of the Naval side of the landings with a description of the return from Walcheren.…."

JOHNSTON LIVE: "We were now on our way back with a hole in our side as big as a window - a hole just above the water-line, patched up with wood in some sort of way. And the Port side of the bridge was peppered like a cannister.

"There were little heaps of splintered wood and sodden mattresses in the forward well, and down below - made as comfortable as they could be in the circumstances - we were carrying the casualties of three or four other craft - men collected just as darkness fell, and the little ships rolled and pitched alongside each other in the heavy ground swell.

"Outside in the wardroom lobby, I noticed a cutting stuck up on the board which read "Stop purring. The war isn't won yet"

"I think we knew that very well. While the news from the beaches had steadily improved all day, this had been, I think, to some extent at the expense of the craft at sea. All day long they had been under heavy and accurate shell-fire from those batteries.

"A young naval lieutenant who was sitting beside me dropped off to sleep on one of the bunks - quite exhausted. He had commanded one of the small motor craft known as L.C.P.(L)’s (gs - landing craft, personnel (large)) and for fifteen hours or more he and his crew had been marking shoals, laying smoke screens and picking up survivors. In the end he had lost his own craft and had come aboard ours. Before closing his eyes, he dropped a casual remark that he had enjoyed Dunkirk a great deal better.

"There were a lot of men in that fleet who must have the same story to tell - the men who took the Commandos in - the men who ran their gunboats flat on to the beaches and engaged the shore batteries at point blank range - the men of the Flak ships who had turned their guns onto the enemy strong point and literally plastered them with shells.

I shall never forget the incredible sight of those salvoes of rockets as they swept over the sea, and plunging down raised a long drawn out inferno of smoke and dust, and spray, the like of which I have never seen before on any battlefront."

Denis Johnston.

 

10. REPORT OF PROCEDURE, OPERATION "INFATUATE"

In my research (Basil Woolf’s) I was able to obtain a Report of Procedure for Operation "Infatuate" the official name of the Walcheren operation, from LCH 269. It is as follows:

(Enclosure No 3 to the Commander, Support Squadron, Eastern Flank, letter No 1 162/94/1dated 14th November, 1944

FROM; THE COMMANDING OFFICER, H.M L.C.H. 269.
DATE: 12th November, 1944.
TO: THE COMMANDER, SUPPORT SQUADRON, EASTERN FLANK, H.M.S "SQUID"

REPORT OF PROCEDURE- OPERATION "INFATUATE 11"'

(1) The ship weighed and proceeded promptly at the time ordered namely, 0330, November 1st, 1944, taking the lead of the convoy composed of the craft of the Support Squadron, course was 320 degrees true, Speed 6 knots.

(2) Course was altered at 0440 to 056 degrees true, and at 0445 the heavy bombardment squadron was sighted to the Northward. At 0550 speed was increased to 6 1/2 knots, and at 0559 course was again altered to 041 degrees true. The ship's company closed up to dawn action stations at 0645 and secured for breakfast at 0718. At 0718 course was again altered to 056 degrees true and at 0728 to 093 degrees.

(3) The Coast line had been clearly visible from about 0700, and at 0713 Westkapelle was clearly seen. At 0710 Domburg Battery was observed to be active but no fall of shot was observed, and only a few shots were fired. At 0750, Domburg Battery again opened fire, and fall of shot was observed some distance away. At 0750 the L.C.G of the Support Squadron began to deploy.

(4) At 0808 course was altered to 079 degrees and the ship's company again closed up to Action Stations. At 0809 Westkapelle Battery opened fire, and at 0815 the heavy bombardment Squadron consisting of H.M.S. "WARSPITE", "ROBERTS" and "EREBUS" opened fire. L.C.G opened fire at 0829. At 0825 Westkapelle Battery was observed to cease fire after some direct hits, and shortly after the Hun attempted to lay a smoke screen to close the gap.

(5) At 0845 L.C.H. 269 was in position B.B. and remained in that vicinity to mark the position for the first wave of Landing Craft, as the M.L. originally in that position had to leave some time before because of accurate shell fire. At 0909 small calibre shells were observed to be dropping around us, but none very close.

(6) At approximately 0915 we proceeded slowly to the southwestward and thereafter patrolled on orders of S.S.E.F who was on board, from two or three miles off the coast, closing and investigating damaged craft. Injured were brought alongside by L.C.P.(L)’s several times, and at approximately 1220 L.C.H. 98 came alongside and casualties that had been placed aboard, were taken aboard.

Shortly afterwards through a break in the smoke screen the Hun turned his attention to us and after a ranging shot that fell three cables ahead and short, put one very close to our stern. No casualties were obtained but splinters hit the ship in many places. Full ahead was immediately passed and after another couple of attempts, no further shells were received.

(7) The ship then proceeded out to the "KINGSMILL" (gs – Captain-class frigate) 5 miles due West passing LCI (S) 532 burning and abandoned at 1242. Shortly afterwards LCT 461, Hospital carrier, was closed, but found to have been mined and was already full. One Officer that had died on board was disembarked, and after closing the "KINGSMILL", LCH 269 proceeded alongside another Hospital carrier and disembarked the remaining wounded, "KINGSMILL" was once again closed while there was a consultation between S.S.E.F and NC Force T.

ENCLOSURE NO THREE TO THE COMMANDER SUPPORT SQUADRON EASTERN FLANK, LETTER NO 162/94/1 DATED 14TH NOVEMBER 1944.

(8) At 1800 "KINGSMILL" anchored 1 mile further to the westward, and at 1830 LCH 269 anchored 10 cables due north from her. At 0320 reports were received of E.Boats and human torpedoes some distance away, so Action Stations were sounded, and as nothing developed they were later secured, at 0630 dawn action stations were exercised.

(9) The ship remained at anchor until 1345 November 2nd, when anchor was weighed and a course for Ostend* was set with what was left of the Support Squadron in company arriving there at 1800.

(*Notes by Basil Woolf: This was not so. We left Walcheren with the hospital ship which hit a mine off the English coast and sank with all hands. LCH 269 returned directly to Poole, the only remnant of the S.S.E.F. Several damaged craft went to Ostend, as they were not seaworthy enough to make the trip to England)

(10) During the course of the action, the ship’s company were at Action Stations and conducted themselves accordingly and seemed to stand the strain very well. The cook* however, let the ship down badly in that he is liable to seasickness and had also worked himself into a state of jitters, so as to be useless when most needed, action is being taken to try and have him relieved. Although not needed, the damage control and first aid parties were on top line and I believe them to be efficient.

(*Note: With regard to the cook, he came to our ship just prior to our Walcheren operation. He had transferred from the Army, and was very excited with his galley, having had to cook on field stoves before. As to his mental condition. I cannot verify that, as we the engine room crew were on duty for almost two days, and were down in the Engine room, keeping the engines running and banging in the wood plugs in the holes in the bulkheads, whenever they came loose and allowed water to seep in!)

(11) During the run in, while not reported, it was subsequently found that Radar, type 970 was being jammed by star jamming, but that the coastline showed through plainly. It was roughly one mile out although calibrated shortly before leaving Southampton*.

(Note: The Lieutenant states he set the compass when we left from Southampton. We left from POOLE, he could have possibly verified the compass setting from Southampton when we passed it during the night.

(12) It is suggested that a proper gyro compass is most necessary in a headquarters ship. Although carefully swung prior to leaving, I considered my compasses almost unreliable on sailing from OSTEND.

(13) It is also suggested that if, in future, headquarters ships are to be a sort of casualty clearing station, carrying a doctor, some definite space be fitted with a more convenient entrance than the Troop Space at present used with an almost vertical ladder leading down.

(Signed) T.F.Owen* Lieutenant, R.C.N.V.R. Commanding Officer.

(*Note: I have been unable to get any information about Lieutenant T. F.Owen R.C.N.V.R. (Royal Canadian Navy Volunteer Reserve) other than he came on board LCH. 269 for this operation and he was (Jimmy the One) naval slang for second in command.)

 

11. "LITTLE SHIPS TACKLED THE SHORE GUNS"
London Daily Mirror

Nov 2 1944

Running unflinchingly and directly into the fire of the mighty German shore batteries on Walcheren island, small thin hulled British amphibious support vessels fought a battle the like of which sailors who were at Dieppe or Normandy had never seen before.

There were heavy losses. The little ships kept their guns hot until they went down or were forced to retire with holes in their sides and bleeding men on their decks.

Men on the ships, gunboats, rocket ships, and other small craft had been told to engage at point blank range, and knock out if possible, the fixed German gun emplacements lining the dykes and high ground near West Kapelle on the Western side of the island.

They went in with all their guns firing, troop laden craft went up behind them to discharge their loads

With our ships some thousand yards from shore the German guns opened up. Suddenly fire belched aboard one, she swung around in the water, another got a direct hit, another raced into the shore with all her guns firing, and turned out again with a single officer left on her bridge and holes in her sides.

One gunboat went into the shore, was hit, floundered, and made a last burst to the shore.

The Headquartership LCH 269 was nearly blown out of the water three times, it was a fight lasting nearly five hours.

During the fight, shells bounced off many of the five and six foot thick German gun emplacements without effect, until the Commandos were landed, and cut open the gun emplacements with flame throwers and grenades.

 

12. FROM THE LONDON DAILY MAIL
November 2nd 1944

At Walcheren, bad weather made air support impossible and the only "softening up" was by Naval bombardment.

After this inadequate preparation the little craft of the Close Support Squadron, outranged and outgunned, forced their way inshore in face of raking fire from enemy coastal guns, many of six and eight inch calibre.

Those craft which survived long enough to get within range, shot it out with the coastal batteries and succeeded in silencing many of them. Of the twenty five gun and support landing craft taking part In the operation, nine were sunk and eight badly damaged*. The Close Support Squadron suffered heavy casualties. 172 killed and 200 wounded**.

(Notes by Basil Woolf: * By the end of the operation, our ship, the only left, limped into Poole harbour. Actual loss to the S.S.E.F. were 28 ships. ** 280 men of the Royal Navy lost their lives. Our ship returned with a crew of 18, and many wounded men in our troop quarters.)

In his official report, Captain Pugsley stated: "This success would not have been achieved without the outstanding gallantry and determination displayed by all the Officers and men of the Support Squadron, under the command of Commander K.A.Sellars, who led the attack and engaged the extremely active enemy batteries, from 9am till 12.30 pm. The Support squadron continuously engaged the enemy batteries, firstly in support of the landings and later supporting the Commandos advance to the southward.

Their losses were heavy, but they stuck to their job of engaging the enemy, thereby drawing the enemies fire and enabling the landings to proceed." (from "Operation Neptune" by Commander Kenneth Edwards R.N.)

 

Basil Woolf's Account - continued

 

13. AFTER THE LANDINGS

Pictures by the "Sphere"

At dusk the shelling had subsided, we were off the island wallowing in real heavy seas. We did not know if the reason for the lack of shelling was due to the marines or the dark or the fact that there were no longer any more targets left. The sudden quiet was eerie until the radar operators notified the Skipper that five targets were spotted on the screen, coming in from the north and heading in our general direction. They were unable to fix the type of craft but judging by their speed, they had to be torpedo boats, or E. Boats. All hands were ordered on deck with rifles. Our gunners manned the three Oerlikon 20 mm, the fourth on the bow was out of action due to the shell that hit the craft under the bow. We would not stand a chance against the fast heavily armed boats but we were going to go down fighting. The Radar operator reported another object that was intercepting the five E. Boats, It was a British destroyer which completely mutilated the fast craft, with its heavier guns. Several were hit. They then turned tail and raced back to where they had come from. The destroyer signalled us "Good Luck LCH 269, signed Lieut Commander Holdsworth" - our old skipper had saved our lives!

Our Skipper received a signal that underwater one man submarines, and scuba units were headed our way. Their purpose to attach magnetic charges to our hulls. The orders were to set up watch teams around the clock to throw charges into the water every three minutes to kill or destroy the underwater menace by compression explosion. We were up all night.

The underwater attack was partially successful for when dawn broke we were all aghast at the fact that only two ships from the SSEF had survived, the hospital ship and us, seven others were badly damaged and limped back to Ostend.

 

14. DEPARTURE FROM WALCHEREN

We left Walcheren island. I hoped never in my lifetime to see that island again. We were two very sorry looking ships, making slow headway in the still heavy seas, due to the large hole in our bow. Damage control was still holding, but the sea could change that in an instant. Weather reports were being received that we were entering a strong weather condition, with gales off the East coast of England. Our slow forward movement could not compensate for the strong winds. We were being forced off course, and consequently into the English minefields. We had no charts for these as they were top secret. We had charts of all the German minefields, but these did not help our situation at all.

The Commander called for slow ahead both engines, then signalled on the buzzer in the engine room to drop the engine revolutions by 50 revolutions per minute. He sent a further message to drop the engine revolutions to the minimum possible. We were unable to record engine temperatures, as our gauges were shattered by one of the near misses.

The Commander then made a very unusual request - "bring your phonograph up to the bridge", and a record I had which was a very popular song at that time, "Tiptoe through the Tulips". He had it set up and one of the seamen was given the job of winding and replaying that record with the aid of a "Loud Hailer" usually used when speaking to another ship nearby. We were all in a state of trepidation. We could hit a mine at any time. All the crew had removed their shoes and were walking the decks with bare feet for fear a sonic mine could be set off by heavy footsteps, and the Skipper was up on the bridge playing music!

Just before dusk the hospital ship hit the mine, I was on the upper deck at the time having a break and a smoke, I was talking to another crew member, the hospital ship was about a half mile off our starboard side.

I saw the ship suddenly stop her forward movement, shudder, then lift completely out of the water amidships. She came down in two parts and sank in a matter of seconds. All perished from that terrible explosion. We moved over to where she had been, to pick up any survivors. All were dead. They had not been in too good a shape to start with. They didn't stand a chance. We were the only ship left in that original flotilla of thirty ships, I just could not believe that, how could this happen? Would we now be next?

 

15. RETURN TO POOLE HARBOUR

Sometime later, the Commander informed us that we were out of the minefield. The weather was horrible, our ship lurching and swaying drunkenly. Everyone was feeling very miserable, I tried to sleep. I woke up suddenly, everything was motionless. Was I in heaven? I went up on deck. Our ship was limping into Poole Harbour. We were in England and safe. I checked the money belt around my waist. Believe it or not the small bottle of Chanel 21 was still intact!

The Skipper decided to make a collection on our ship for a remembrance of some sort dedicated to the men that lost their lives on the Walcheren landings. As there was only sixteen men left in our the ships company, the amount collected was not very great. The Skipper then made a very generous donation, and after a discussion a temporary sign was decided on until at a later date a Lychgate could be erected at a local church. The sign would read as follows. '"WALCHEREN MEMORIAL - a Lychgate will be erected on this site to commemorate the men of the Royal Navy who fell at Walcheren".

The operation was well described by General Eisenhower as one of the most gallant of the war. It was in the true "little ship" tradition.

All officers then went for a de-briefing, and as the ship had gone in for repairs, we were all given a well deserved leave. I immediately removed the Chanel 21 from my money belt, gave it to Anne, who, in all the excitement, accidentally dropped it on the tiled hearth in her home. The house had a wonderful scent of perfume for weeksI

 

16. IN SEARCH OF A LYCHGATE BY EMAIL

 
   

LCH 269 made a collection for a memorial to the men who lost their lives. Commander Sellars made a large donation, and a temporary painted board was placed by the church entrance. Later the Navy and Marine Corps paid for a permanent Lychgate.

Many years later, my son, lan, asked me to write my biography. I realized that I never knew if the Walcheren memorial Lychgate was ever fulfilled and if so, where?

It would not be difficult to find out. With the help of the Internet, I contacted the City of Poole by email, and shortly after received a reply from Mr C. Barham the Churchwarden of St Michaels Church in Hamworthy, a small village near Poole.

He wrote:

"One day in May 2000, the Borough of Poole enquiry email address received a request from a gentleman now residing in Florida, USA. So the enquiry desk emailed Dai Watkins, the local Studies Centre Manager at the Waterfront Museum, who then emailed me.

"The request for information by Basil Woolf (who was intending to visit the UK this summer) was to discover where the Lychgate was that was erected as a memorial to those who had lost their lives on the assault on Walcheren island in November 1944. In that assault, many ships were lost and hundreds of sailors died. Basil's ship LCH 269 was the only survivor and had limped back to Poole to be repaired and refitted.

"Within two days of Basil's enquiry, I was able, with help from one of my daughters, to reply by email and also send an attachment of a photograph of the Lychgate.

"Basil and his shipmates had made a collection on their return to Poole, and had donated the money for a memorial to those men in the form of a Lychgate at a local church,

"In his next emailing to me, Basil included a photo print of a notice stating the intention to erect a Lychgate signed by the then Rector of Hamworthy, the Reverend J.A.Kingham. It would appear that St Michaels Church was chosen because of it's proximity to HMS Turtle, now the Royal Marine Camp.

"This now gave me the opportunity to do some detective work.

"By all accounts, one day early in 1952, our former Rector, Canon Brian Aldis, received a call from the Admiralty, informing him that the survivors of the Walcheren operation wished to erect a Lychgate. Later, Commander "Monkey" Sellars, who had commanded the assault, visited Hamworthy with plans for the design.

"Unfortunately, due to rising costs, the sum raised by the survivors was insufficient to pay for all the work involved. So the Parish agreed to provide the concrete base, the brick pillars and the curved approach wall, whilst the Royal Navy would supply the oak woodwork and the two large stone memorial tablets which local stonemasons would prepare.

"The original intention was to place the Lychgate at the entrance to the old church, but it seemed silly to do that if the new church was to be built next door and so the gate was to become the main entrance to the new church. Despite delays in getting hold of suitable oak, the work proceeded rapidly and by the summer of 1952 the Lychgate was complete.

"Then on a glorious sunny day, on July 5th, the great unveiling and dedication took place in front of a great crowd of local people, naval personnel, with relatives and friends of the fallen.

"First of all, the Bishop of Salisbury dedicated the whole field as an extension of the churchyard, and then with split second timing, the Royal Marine Band marched up Blandford Road.

"The Admiral of the Fleet Sir Phillp Vian, (Vian of HMS Cossack) came across from the Rectory, accompanied by Commander Sellars and a representative of the Dutch Embassy. Afterwards, over two hundred or so relatives and friends crossed to the Rectory Garden, where tea was laid on for them and many old friendships were renewed and sorrows remembered as they saw a fitting memorial to those they had lost. It was a great day in the history of Hamworthy.

"Back to Basil Woolf. As luck would have it, his nephew Michael who lives in Bournemouth with his wife Susan, was able to bring Basil and his wife Anne, to see the Lychgate for the first time when they visited in July 2000. Harold Hudson of the local branch of the Landing Craft Gunnery and Flak Association was able to be present when Basil visited.

"I was pleased to meet Basil in person, although we had emailed each other since his first enquiry."

 

17. FINAL WORDS

Most contemporary books on the History of World War Two, do not even mention Walcheren in their index!

Today my wife and I live in Dunedin, Florida. We have a daughter Louise who is a computer specialist, and lives nearby with her husband and daughter Gabrielle. Our other daughter, Helen also lives in Dunedin. Her daughter Hilary is in her second year of college in Troy, Alabama. Our son lan, lives in Los Angeles, and is a first assistant director, he and his wife have two sons, one who is in his second year of college.

Petty Officer Basil Woolf CMX 116402. May 2006.

 


 

POSTSCRIPT

Basil didn't tell me he was Mentioned in Despatches for his part in the Normandy landings. This only came out later in an email. I am sure he won't mind if I mention it! - Gordon Smith

 

 


The Continuing Story of LCH.269 into the 21st century

(1) An email from Jim Mason (jhm5th@hotmail.com) to Basil Woolf, 12 June 2007

Dear Mr. Woolf

It was with great interest that I read your stirring account of "THE SUPPORT SQUADRON EASTERN FLANK (S.S.E.F) and THE BATTLE FOR WALCHEREN ISLAND, 1st November 1944" at http://www.naval-history.net/WW2Memoir-Walcheren.htm .  I had fortuitously "hit" it online when searching for information on LCI(L)-269/LCH.269. I have two questions for you: were you a member of the commissioning crew of the LCIL-269, and did it also take part in the Malta, Crete, Sicily and Italy activities you mention in your memoir?

The reason for my interest is that I believe your gallant little ship today rests rusting on a mudflat in Atlantic City, NJ.  If you copy and paste the following coordinates into the "fly to" function of Google Earth, the software will take you directly to the location: 39 22’ 34.64" N 74 27’ 32.07" W . Some recent photos are also attached.

I recall climbing aboard this vessel back in the '60's as a teenager. I believe it came to rest here during the Great Northeast Storm of March 1962. It had been moored across Beach Thoroghfare at the end of Ohio Avenue previous to that. There was a name board across the front of the pilot house that read "QUAKER CITY". I later looked this name up in the 1963 edition of "List of Merchant Vessels of the United States", and found it listed as a freight vessel registered in Philadelphia. It was built in Barber, NJ, by the New Jersey Shipbuilding Corp. in 1942 as the U.S.S. LCI(L) [landing craft, infantry (large)]-269, and and leased to the United Kingdom, 22 January 1943. It was apparently repatriated to the US Navy on 20 March 1946, transferred to the Maritime Commission for disposal, and sold on 28 January 1948.

I hope this information is of interest to you.  Thank you for recording your memories for posterity.

Sincerely,

Jim Mason

and the photos, courtesy, respectively, of  Pictometry International Corp (first two), Google Earth, Chris Jahn (posted on the Google Earth Transportation community forum)
(click on first three for larger images)

(2) Basil's reply, the same day

Dear Jim:

Thanks for your e-mail - this is quite a  puzzlement since my records show that LCH 269 was taken to the shipyard and scrapped somewhere around 1947.  It is quite possible that it was purchased as a merchant vessel.  You say it had "Quaker City" on the front of the pilot house.  LCH 269 had the words "Sicily, Italy, Walcheren" on the front of the Pilot house and three aircraft that we shot down.  If a private purchaser bought the craft they could, of course, have painted that out and replaced it with "Quaker City".

I did not commission this craft - I went to the USA early in 1942 and commissioned LCI 175, if I remember correctly - however, it all happened 65 years ago - anyway, we sailed 175 across the Atlantic in January and reached Gibralter 30 days later.  Then we went on to Dhidjelli, a small port in Algeria, to set up a factory for repairing small craft in an old railway workshop.

I later commissioned another craft, LCI 269 and we did go to Malta to take food to the Island when the Italian Navy surrendered.  We took part in the Sicily and Italy invasions, but did not land in those two places.  We finally returned to the U.K. and became the headquarters ship of the Support Squadron Eastern Flank.  The rest of the story you know from my Web site.

Do you recollect if the craft you saw in Atlantic City had a tripod mast behind the pilot house?  269 had this for our radar installation but could have been removed by a private owner.

Thanks for your interest and information.  I will forward this to a gentleman in Colorado who is at present rebuilding an LCI.  He may be interested and possibly be able to get parts he needs, providing they are salvageable.

Sincerely, Basil Woolf

 

(3) Basil Woolf's email to Naval-History.Net, 13 June 2007

Dear Gordon,

What a surprise. 269 was sitting at the end of Ohio Avenue in Atlantic city, until the great storm of march 1962, when it apparently broke free and ended up on the mud flat, the owner obviously walked away from the scene as it wasn't financially valid for him to invest the money to salvage her, or something like that!

I had  traced 269 to the year 1947 when it was supposed to have been towed to the salvage yards and scrapped, but it appears that a private owner or a company may have purchased it at the junkyard, what do you know about "Quaker City" I cannot find anything relevant, as you know from my pictures, the front of the Pilot house had "Sicily, Italy, Walcheren" and two aircraft that we had shot down, however a private buyer could have painted over this and placed "Quaker City" there.

 

Jim Mason asks if I was part of the commissioning crew, I was not, his investigation shows that 269 was built in New Jersey, I actually commissioned a craft in Norfolk Virginia, and sailed it across the Atlantic in January, I believe, 1943, I  was assigned to 269 in Djidjelli North Africa, and took part in delivering food to the starving people of Malta, who were in dire need as the Italian navy had surrendered there, and they barely had enough food for their own people, we also assisted in the invasions of Sicily, then Italy, and shortly after we were summoned to the UK, where work was done to transfer us to a headquarters-ship, and after a short time took part in the Normandy landings, when we became the head quarter ship of the Support Squadron Eastern Flank.

 

You have my permission to use this new information, however I would like to check the following.

 

Was Lch 269 berthed at the end of 1962 at Ohio Avenue,? (someone in Atlantic City would have that information)

 

In the storm of 1962, do the newspapers of Atlantic City have a story of the craft breaking clear and finishing up on the mud-flat?

 

Who owned 269 at that time, and were they held responsible for the salvage operation?

 

I will try to get this info.

 

Basil

 

 

(4)  and Jim's reply to Basil, 13 June 2007

 

Dear Basil,

 

I would guess that the only way for us to positively establish the identity of the derelict vessel in question as LCI(L)-269 / LCH-269 would be to delve into the records of the Maritime Commission and/or the Philadelphia Customs House, stored in the National Archives. I personally am not prepared to take on that daunting task!

 

However, I would point out to you that the case for this vessel being the former LCI(L)-269 would seem fairly strong, circumstantially. Firstly, by its configuration, it most definitely had been built as an LCI(L). Secondly, at the time I recall visiting it and observing the name board "QUAKER CITY" on its pilot house, there was only one vessel registered in the U.S. bearing that name. The official listing of that vessel in the 1963 list of registered vessels published by the Department of the Treasury, Bureau of Customs, shows its former name to have been "LCI(L)-269", with its port of registry being Philadelphia. [Philadelphia would have been the port of registry for any registered vessel owned in Southern New Jersey.]  Given the penalties likely in effect for providing false information to the Bureau of Customs when registering a vessel, let alone the probable requirement for providing a chain of ownership, one would be led to assume that the published information is accurate. 

 

I don’t recall the vessel having any type of mast at the time that I first became aware of it. I don’t believe it had a square inch of paint on any exterior surface, either, other than the mounted name board. Her hard-won emblazoned battle honors would have long ago vanished -- "Sic transit gloria mundi." She was most likely in the process of being stripped of usable parts and materials when she was torn from her moorings by the 1962 storm and deposited in her present location. I don’t believe there is much of anything left salvageable on her at this late date. Her 1/4" steel plates are slowly disintegrating in the salt water environment, and soon she will have completely collapsed in on herself.

 

Switching gears, you mentioned that the LCH-269 was credited with downing 3 enemy aircraft. I assume this was in the Med? What were the circumstances? Did you return to the States to commission the LCI(L)-269?

Someone is rebuilding an LCI in Colorado? How’d he get it there?!

 

Finally, if, after all those hours spent in LCI engine rooms, you didn’t get enough of the sound of eight running GM 6-71 diesels, you can hear them again at the following site, run by an engineer for the Circle Line of Manhattan, which operates 3 former LCI’s, one of which retains its original double-quad power plant! Http://members.aol.com/lci191/LCI-191.htm The links to the engine sound files are near the bottom of the page--enjoy!

 

Sincerely,

 

Jim Mason

 

 

and I'm sure the story isn't finished yet .....

 

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