Naval History Homepage and Site Search
 
  World War 2 at Sea

THAMES LIGHTERS at WAR IN TIME for D-DAY, 6th JUNE 1944
Part 1 of 2

With thanks to "Jim" Jarman for introducing me to these invaluable "Wallowing Beauties" - Gordon Smith

Landing Barge Kitchen - see photograph below

 on to Part 2, Barges by type & number

 

 

It has taken me 10 years to get the title right. The subjects of this page are not Thames barges, but Thames lighters or dumb (non-self-propelled) barges, converted into naval landing barges - with thanks to John Wylson.

The original Thames barges are the lovely sailing vessels still to be seen around the British East coast, right - Harwich in 2003. One of them was left stranded on the Dunkirk beaches in 1940.

 
 

 

Little appears to be written about the White Ensign-flying Thames lighters in most of the World War 2 literature, but one article, found in the wartime-published "The War Illustrated" will - literally - give a flavour of their value:

from Vol 8, No.188, September 1 1944, price Sixpence


 

CONTENTS

Part 1

1. Thames lighters taken up for war
2.
The barges and the conversions
3.
Types of conversions
4.
Normandy flotillas and landing barge dispositions

Part 2

5. Barges by type & number; the wartime fate of those lost
6.
Main sources and abbreviations


 

     

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ I Was There ! ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

They Bake 1,000 Loaves a Day for Invasion Craft

Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay, Allied Naval C.-in-C.,. has sent a message of congratulation to the men in the landing ships engaged in the vitally important work of building up supplies in Normandy. Here is the story of one of these little ships - a Landing Barge Kitchen - by a Naval reporter.

golden loaves, still warm from the ovens. The Chief Cook, Petty Officer R. I. White, of Shepperton, Surrey, has had immense experience in field bakeries and kitchens. He took part in the Africa landing and was later in the Sicily operations. He appreciates the splendid work of his present shipmates.
We found her, amid a huddle of ships on a Normandy beach when the tide was out - a queer, top-heavy looking craft surmounted by a battery of galley chimneys. At some time in her career she had been a Thames lighter. But now, equipped with twin rudders, twin screws and engines which will drive her through the water at twelve knots, she is the Sailors' Joy. Officially this strange craft is one of ten L.B.K.s - Landing Barge Kitchens - which are providing hot meals for the men in hundreds of small craft which are helping to ferry supplies from the ships to the Normandy beaches.

The, mud exposed hereabouts at low tide does not always smell pleasantly, but this afternoon the L.B.K. is baking bread for six hundred men. Mud or no mud, this spot smells good to one who knows hard compo biscuits. The C.O., wearing a white pullover and flannel trousers, was walking around his craft. He was critically examining the work of the crew, who were giving the hull a new coat of white paint. The C.O. is Midshipman J. S. Mcintyre, R.N.V.R., of Berwick-on-Tweed. He is nineteen and very proud of his first command.

"This is definitely an occasion for painting ship," he said. "We have a reputation to maintain: already we have been recommended for our accounts, for the cleanliness of the ship and the high standard of the food we serve. Our complement is 25 men, including thirteen cooks, nine seamen and three stokers. Until recently we supplied, every

day and in all weathers, hot meals for 500 to 700 men. Now we are baking 1,000 lb. of bread a day. Our last dinner was served to 600 men. On the menu were roast pork, cabbage and baked potatoes, followed by fruit and custard. Among the craft we supply are L.C.M.s, L.C.V.(P.)s and supply and repair barges." That is a considerable achievement for thirteen cooks, among them men who until recently were a miner, a bricklayer, and a factory hand. The Commanding Officer invited us on board. We found a ship spotlessly clean, a floating kitchen in which was installed the most up-to-date equipment, including oil-fired ranges, automatic potato peelers and refrigerators. Pots and pans were polished until they shone. In a rack on the starboard side were scores of

HUNGRY LINE UP for a hot meal at the serving batch of a L.B.K. - landing barge kitchen - whose achievements in feeding the crews of small craft busy about the Normandy beaches are recounted here. Photo, British Official

"Except for two leading cooks I do not believe any of them had been afloat before D-Day " he said. "The weather then was so bad that we lost both rudders and had to turn back. All but five of the crew were seasick, for we were rolling until the decks were awash." The Landing Barge Kitchen is one of the most popular ships in the armada off the Normandy coast.

On a calm night when ships come alongside, more than one hundred and twenty craft have called for the insulated canister of steaming meat and vegetables, and safari jars of soup, coffee or tea. In rough weather the squadron leaders organize the distribution. of the food to their own craft. The Kitchen is always busy, for it must be prepared to supply hot meals at any time.

"During the gale, when we were dragging our anchor nearly to the beach, and we were constantly being shelled by enemy batteries. the cooking still went on," said Petty Officer White. "We had many near misses. One shell dropped five yards away and peppered the meat safe with shrapnel. We are a lucky ship. There were no casualties. During all that time we victualled the Army or anyone who came onboard. These ships are fitted out to carry about a week's supply of food for 800 men." Petty Officer White is particularly proud of one fact. During the whole of one month -June - corned beef was issued for only one supper, and then it was disguised as cottage pie.

but first, their starting-point ......

 

The crowded Pool of London docks in the mid-1930's with just some of the hundreds of Thames lighters that served the arriving and departing merchantmen (click photo to enlarge)

Source - "Shipping Wonders of the World", edited by Clarence Winchester, mid-1930s

 

.... they were unpowered (but) could be, and were moved with the tide using long sweeps or oars. The ex-Zulu, now LBV.37 even made it across to Normandy in this way after engine failure ... and with a canvas tarpaulin as a sail

Only one barge heading for Utah was lost in the rough seas ...... what were "London river barges (doing) crossing the English Channel in that weather?"

 

1. THAMES BARGES TAKEN UP FOR WAR

Requisitioning - In April 1942, with America in the war and the Russians in desperate straits, Winston Churchill was pressed to agree to a small landing and holding operation in France around Brest or Cherbourg in late 1942 (operation "Sledgehammer"), followed by a main landing (operation "Round-up" in 1943, later "Overlord" in 1944). That same month, Lord Louis Mountbatten was appointed Chief of Combined Operations, and apart from continuing with the raids on Bruneval (radar station), St Nazaire (potential "Tirpitz" dry-dock), and Dieppe (reconnaissance in force), started planning for the European invasions. With so few purpose-built landing craft available for what would be a largely-British operation, one of his first tasks was to requisition 1000 ‘dumb’ (unpowered) Thames lighters. They were to be fitted with stern ramps, towed to the French coast by minesweepers and beached using tugs and launches. Many were later engined and armed. "Slegehammer" and "Round-up" were soon cancelled, but by the time of the Normandy landings in June 1944, 400 barges were to take part manned by 3,500 men. Making up only ten percent of total amphibious vessels, their role was nevertheless of major importance. Apart from providing fuel, water, prepared food, repairs and maintenance to the many hundreds of landing craft serving both the American and British beaches, their specialised cargo-carrying and beach-landing characteristics meant they moved immense quantities of supplies from ship-to-shore.

Trials and Early Exercises - The first trials of a Thames lighter fitted with a ramp had been held earlier in October 1941, and included landing exercises with three trucks. Following Lord Mountbatten’s appointment and starting in April 1942, 1000 barges were towed by trawlers and tugs in around 50 convoys to south coast of England ports for conversion in Operation "Consular". This movement was completed by September 1942 without loss. The first exercises were held at Salcombe, Devon in September 1942 with five converted barges. The first major supply exercise involving barges (36 in 3 flotillas), 36 coasters and other forces, took place at Tenby, South Wales in July/August 1943 in Exercise "Jantzen". As part of the preparation for sailing across the English Channel for the Normandy landings, "Jantzen" meant "dumb" Thames River barges sailing from the south coast of England around Land’s End and across the Bristol Channel under their own power. They subsequently made even longer coastal voyages.

 

Development of Landing Barges - The very first requisitioned but unconverted dumb barges (LB - landing barges) were simply towed. The next stage was the addition of a ramp for loading and unloading vehicles - LBR or Landing Barge, Ramped. Adding engines (and later a rudder) to the ramped barges led to the LBV or Landing Barge Vehicle.

The Main Types - LBV’s were mainly used to carry vehicles and supplies from ship-to-shore, especially equipment that was too big or bulky or heavy for DUKWs. The second major use of the converted Thames lighters was to provide the specialist vessels needed to form Supply & Repair (S&R) flotillas, and included Landing Barges Oiler (LBO), Water (LBW), Kitchen (LBK) and Emergency Repair (LBE). The third, but more restricted use was as Landing Barges Flak (LBF) and Gun (LBG). There was also one Landing Barge Cable (LBC).

right - Landing barges and how they slotted in between the major and minor landing craft in size and often function

Drawing - Copyright Gordon Smith 2001

 


2. THE BARGES AND THE CONVERSIONS

Barges or lighters were used in large numbers to load and unload ships in harbour. With so much of Britain’s shipping diverted to west coast ports, by 1942 many of the River Thames’ barges were laying idle. Some 1000 were therefore commandeered from the total of approximately 3000 owned by the lighterage companies that served London’s docks. They were all individually named, and the first two requisitioned were "Starter" (later LBV.63) and "Nucocus" (LBV.2). Others included "Heritage" (LBE.47), "Hermit II" (LBE.49) and "Zulu" (LBV.37). Made of steel, and carrying loads between 150 and 200 tons, they were designed to take considerable wear and tear, and also to sit on the bottom in tidal water while heavily laden and without being damaged. They were known as "swim dumb" barges: "swim" because of the overhanging hull at bow or stern; "dumb", as they were unpowered, either by sail or engine. Instead they had to be towed, although they could be, and were moved with the tide using long sweeps or oars. The ex-Zulu, now LBV.37 even made it across to Normandy in this way after engine failure.

More Thames lighters in the London docks in the 1930's. Perhaps some of the men shown here later served on them in the Royal Navy. The broad beam gives an idea of just how much space they provided for the various roles they played (click photo to enlarge)

Source - "Shipping Wonders of the World", edited by Clarence Winchester, mid-1930s. These lovely two old volumes contain a wealth of photographs, maps and drawings now mainly lost to sight

Early Royal Navy-requisitioned barges were fitted with ramps and some internal concrete reinforcement, but still towed to their destination. The first conversions used letters AA, BB, CC, CCR, MBB, MCC followed by numbers. Twin engines were then fitted but without rudders. Later, wheelhouse boxes and rudders were installed.

Some of the barges were converted by London shipyards, but over a thousand by yards along the south coast of England. In addition to the Navy’s barges, others were taken up by the Inland Water Transport Division of the British Army’s Royal Engineers. Initially fitted with Ford and Thornycroft car engines, most if not all were re-engined with US lease-lend Chrysler marine engines. The barges designed to carry vehicles - both LBV’s and LBE’s - had the stern "swims" removed and replaced with a large ramp operated by a hand winch, and removable watertight bulkheads. To beach, the barges had to approach the shore stern-first, a difficult and dangerous operation in anything other than calm weather.

A squadron of barges supporting a beachhead comprised a number of LBV and LB (S&R) flotillas - the first type for transport, and the second for repair and the supply of fuel, water and food.


3. TYPES OF CONVERSIONS

All Types - originally 100t, 150t, or 200t carrying capacity, up to 85ft long, 23ft beam, around 4.5ft draught. Fitted with two Chrysler 130hp marine petrol engines, speed 5.5kts, single rudder, usually on starboard side below wheelhouse. Also around 900 gallons water, coal for cooking and heating.

Numbering:

LB’s, LBR’s, LBV’s, both Mark 1 & 2, were collectively numbered from 1-500

LBE's, LBF's, LBG's, LBK's, LBO's and LBW's, each numbered from 1-up

DEFENCE & TRANSPORTATION BARGES:

Landing Barge Flak, LBF - two flotillas (25th, 26th LBF) of 8 and 7 barges respectively, each barge had an officer in command. Conversions designed to provide beach defence, particularly the Mulberry Harbour at Gold Beach, 2-40mm Bofors/2-20mm Oerlikons, 1+up to 10 crew, 1+ up to 20 army gunners, totalling up to 32 men.

Landing Barge Gun, LBG - armed with two Army 25-pounders, they are referred to in LC, but do not appear to have entered service, or at least reached Normandy.

Landing Barge Vehicle, LBV - 19 flotillas (1st-16th, 18th-20th LBV) each of 12 barges. To transport a wide range of vehicles, weapons, stores and ammunition from ships and coasters to the beachhead. Examples include 2-6pdr guns/3 lorries or 2-3t/2-30cwt/1-15cwt lorries; fitted with ramp. Armed with twin Lewis guns. Crew of 5 including PO or L/S coxswain. LBV’s were medium or large, 150t or 200t carrying capacity. According to the glossary in BS.39, Mark 1’s were dumb i.e. no engines and towed, or Mark 2 with two, usually, Chrysler engines. However, WB suggests that most of the so-called "dumb" Mark 1’s were actually powered by the time of Normandy.

LANDING BARGE (SUPPLY AND REPAIR) FLOTILLAS, LB (S&R) - 10 flotillas (30th-39th) each of around 6 LBE’s, 10 LBO’s, 2 LBW’s, 1 LBK:

Landing Barge Emergency, or Emergency Repair, of Engineering, LBE - to provide maintenance and repair facilities for landing craft, including salvage. Equipped with stern ramp and carried workshop lorry (generator, lathe, drills, forge, anvil etc) which could be landed when needed or crawler crane for landing when possible. The LBE also carried its own generator, benches, welding & cutting equipment, forge & anvil, pumps, spare batteries etc and displayed a REPAIRS sign. Carrying capacity - 150t or 200t ; main armament, 20mm Oerlikon; 1+9 deck/engine-room/maintenance crew, plus flotilla specialists up to total of 25. Each barge had officer in command.

Landing Barge Oil, LBO - to supply diesel or petrol to coastal forces, landing craft, landing barges; refuelled from fuel tankers lying offshore. Equipped with cylindrical 40t/9,000 gallon capacity tank, two 5inch hand pumps, and displayed a DIESEL, PETROL, 73 OCT (‘Pool’ petrol), 87 OCT or 100 OCT sign; not ramped. Carrying capacity - 150t or 200t; armed with twin Lewis guns; crew of 5 including PO or L/S coxswain. Unpopular posting as considered a floating bomb and no smoking had to be observed at all times (officially).

Landing Barge Water, LBW - to supply water to coastal forces, landing craft, landing barges; refuelled from water tankers lying offshore. Equipped with cylindrical 40t/9,000 gallon capacity tank, two 5inch hand pumps, and displayed a WATER sign; not ramped. Carrying capacity - 150t or 200t ; armed with twin Lewis guns; crew of 5 including PO or L/S coxswain

Landing Barge Kitchen, LBK - to provide prepared food, mainly for small landing craft. Large superstructure, equipped as galley to supply fresh bread and food equal to 1,600 hot and 800 cold meals daily; carried provisions to feed 900 men for one week. Not ramped, displayed a FOOD sign, 1+22 crew. Sometimes armed with a stripped Lewis gun. Each barge had an officer in command - like most of the others, a sub lieutenant or midshipman RNVR. They have also been referred to as "Bakeries", probably because of the smell of baking bread wafting across the water.

plus Landing Barge Cable, LBC - to work with cable-laying ships providing cable communications between UK and France; only 1 commissioned, no ramp, 1+5 crew plus additional cable-laying crew. Equipped with diesel generator, carried telephone cable in hold, no armament.


4. NORMANDY FLOTILLAS AND LANDING BARGE DISPOSITIONS
(all information from WB; variations with BS.39 are noted)

 

The actual course taken by the vast invasion fleet to the Normandy beaches was (1) into "The Spout" just SE of the Isle of Wight, then (2) south down one of ten swept channels to the US, British and Canadian beaches

 

 

Abbreviations used for sources of information
- see full list at end :
"British Vessels Lost at Sea, 1939-1945", (HMSO or H)
"Battle Summary No.39: Operation Neptune, (BS.39 or 39)
"Those Wallowing Beauties" (WB or wb)
"Warships of World War II, Part Eight: Landing Craft" (LC)
Additional material from Landing Barges Reunion (BR or br)

 

BRITISH BEACHES
(LCE, Landing Craft Emergency Repair were attached to S&R flotillas)

Gold Beach

25th LBF Flotilla from Chichester - LBF.1, 3, 6, 7, 12, 13, 14, 15 (bs.39 - 7 not 8 barges)

26th LBF Flotilla from Chichester - LBF.2, 4, 5, 8, 9, 10 (flotilla barge), 11

4th LBV Flotilla from Langstone, half for Gold, half for Juno beaches - taken from LBV.17, 36, 41, 58, 60, 91, 125, 139, 169, 183, 215, 224

13th LBV Flotilla from Yarmouth, Isle of Wight - LBV.110, 133, 143, 152, 159, 165, 166, 189, 196, 197, 198, 236 (bs.39 - 8 not 12 barges)

14th LBV Flotilla from Chichester or Yarmouth - LBV.144, 162, 163, 164, 179, 185, 188, 194, 213, 217, 222, 227 (bs.39 - 9 not 12 barges). In September 1944, 14th and 15th flotillas were taken over by the Army’s RASC

15th LBV Flotilla from Chichester/Yarmouth - LBV. 138, 142, 148, 167, 177, 178, 190, 204, 205, 208, 216, 240. In September 1944, 14th and 15th flotillas were taken over by the Army’s RASC

36th LB (S&R) Flotilla from Chichester - LBE.18, 23, 38 (11?), 49 (flotilla barge), 50, 51; LBO.9, 14, 17, 23, 39, 53, 55, 73, 75, 80; LBW.10, 17; LBK.4; LCE.23; four attached fuelling trawlers (bs.39 - 1 not 2 LBW).

38th LB (S&R) Flotilla from Yarmouth, Isle of Wight- LBE.3, 5, 13, 14, 24, 48 (flotilla barge); LBO.3, 19, 22, 60, 70, 71, 72, 76, 81, 86; LBW.11, 19; LBK.1; LCE.24; three attached fuelling trawlers.

Juno Beach
All flotillas sailed from Langstone Harbour

1st LBV Flotilla - LBV.19, 20, 28, 34, 45, 90, 97, 116, 123, 126, 128, 130 (bs.39 - 11 not 12 barges)

2nd LBV Flotilla - LBV.4, 18, 22, 38, 40, 46, 57, 71, 86, 115, 127, 235 (bs.39 - 11 not 12 barges)

3rd LBV Flotilla - LBV.6, 25, 47, 48, 52, 54, 74, 107, 120, 122, 223, 231

4th LBV Flotilla, half for Gold, half for Juno beaches - taken from LBV.17, 36, 41, 58, 60, 91, 125, 139, 169, 183, 215, 224

30th LB (S&R) Flotilla, part to Juno beach (3 LBE, 4 LBO, 2 LBW), rest to Sword (3 LBE, 6 LBO, 2 LBW, 1 LBK) taken from LBE.2, 4, 16, 36, 43, 47; LBO.32, 33, 34, 38, 40, 41, 45, 48, 64, 90; LBW.5, 14 plus two?*; LBK.10; LCE.15; four fuelling trawlers (*bs.39 totals 4 not 2 LBW).

31st LB (S&R) Flotilla - LBE.6, 9, 21, 22, 39, 54; LBO.4, 7, 8, 20, 28, 43, 47, 49, 66, 83; LBW.2, 9; LBK.9; LCE.16; 4 fuelling trawlers

37th LB (S&R) Flotilla - LBE.15 (flotilla barge), 19, 20, 44, 45, 56; LBO.1, 2, 29, 35, 36, 58, 59, 61, 67, 78; LBW.3, 16; LBK.2; LCE.19; three fuelling trawlers

Sword Beach
All flotillas sailed from Langstone Harbour

5th LBV Flotilla - LBV.10, 13, 24, 32, 59, 75, 77, 85, 96, 108, 114, 238

6th LBV Flotilla - LBV.1, 43, 44, 88, 99, 111, 117, 119, 135, 199, 200, 201

16th LBV Flotilla - LBV.145, 146, 147, 155, 171, 173, 180, 193, 195, 202, 221, 237

35th LB (S&R) Flotilla - LBE.1, 7, 35, 40, 42, 53; LBO.5, 12, 15, 25, 31, 42, 50, 51, 52, 85; LBW.12, 13; LBK.6; LCE.13; 3 refuelling trawlers

30th LB (S&R) Flotilla, part to Sword (3 LBE, 6 LBO, 2 LBW, 1 LBK), rest to Juno beach (3 LBE, 4 LBO, 2 LBW) taken from LBE.2, 4, 16, 36, 43, 47; LBO.32, 33, 34, 38, 40, 41, 45, 48, 64, 90; LBW.5, 14 plus two*; LBK.10; LCE.15; four fuelling trawlers (*bs.39 totals 4 not 2 LBW).

 

AMERICAN BEACHES

Utah Beach
All flotillas were British-manned, and sailed from Poole

8th LBV Flotilla - LBV.5, 9, 14, 15, 16, 21, 30, 51, 65, 73, 82, 83

19th LBV Flotilla - LBV 29, 31, 35, 50, 63, 72, 87, 113, 118, 121, 137, 174 (bs.39 - 11 not 12 barges)

20th LBV Flotilla - LBV 151, 154, 157, 170, 175, 181, 184, 186, 187, 210, 212, 230 (bs.39 - 8 not 12 barges)

33rd LB (S&R) Flotilla - LBE.12, 30, 32; LBO 13, 21, 24, 26, 77, 79, 82, 92, 95, 96; LBW 6; 1 fuelling trawler (bs.39 - 2 not 3 LBE)

34th LB (S&R) Flotilla - LBE.28, 33, 34, 37, 52, 55; LBO 6, 11, 30, 44, 54, 63, 69, 87, 88, 89; LBW 1, 4; LBK 3, 8; four fuelling trawlers

Omaha Beach
All flotillas were British-manned, and sailed from Poole

7th LBV Flotilla - LBV 3, 11, 23, 53, 67, 70, 76, 101, 153, 206, 214, 225

9th LBV Flotilla - LBV 98, 100, 132, 140, 141, 156, 161, 172, 176, 211, 228, 239

10th LBV Flotilla - LBV 2, 26, 49, 68, 78, 79, 81, 103, 105, 131, 150, 192

11th LBV Flotilla - LBV 8, 27, 61, 69, 84, 89, 95, 104, 106, 124, 191, 232

12th LBV Flotilla - LBV 12, 33, 42, 64, 66, 92, 94, 109, 160, 203, 209, 229

18th LBV Flotilla - LBV 7, 37, 39, 55, 62, 80, 93, 102, 129, 136, 149, 168

32nd LB (S&R) Flotilla - LBE 26, 31, 57, 58, 59, 60; LBO 10, 16, 18, 37, 46, 56, 57, 84, 97; LBW 7, 8; LBK 5; 4 fuelling trawlers

39th LB (S&R) Flotilla - LBE 8, 10, 17, 25, 27, 29, 41, 46; LBO 27, 68, 93, 98; LBW 15, 18, 20; LBK 7; nine fuelling trawlers

 

 on to Part 2, Barges by type & number
return to Naval-History.Net

revised 1/1210


 

if any ads offend, please contact Naval-History.Net