- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Richard "Dick" Blyth
- Location of story:
- Background to story:
- Royal Navy
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 02 July 2005
I joined the Royal Navy in Aug 1943 at the age of 17½. Three of my brothers were in the army, one called up in 1940, another in 1941, and another in 1942. The energy minister at that time was Ernie Bevin and he wanted the boys to go down the mines, I said to my mother 'If he wants me he'll have to catch me! I'm not going down any mines!'
So I went down to the drill hall at Romford and volunteered. Within 3 weeks I was doing my training, 10 weeks in North Wales (Butlins!). When that was over, 5 others and myself were sent to Scotland for further training, how to handle landing craft, rock climbing, mountain climbing, and abseiling down cliffs. The reason for this was if your craft couldn't get off the beach again you didn't wait for help, you grabbed a rifle or whatever and went ashore with the troops and gave what help you could.
In Feb 1944 I was drafted to HM LCG(L)1 (landing craft gunner) at six weeks dock in Glasgow. It was a converted tank landing craft, which had its tank hold covered and strengthened to take 2 4'7'' guns (bigger that the destroyers they only has 4''!) The area below was living accommodation for the marines and sailors (approx 40), also storage of shells and cordite.
D-Day should have been June 5th 1944 but a swing to bad weather put it back 24hrs. There were lots of craft swinging on buoys for all that time and a lot of the forces were sick a lot being hauled up like that. When we eventually go the order to go, it seemed correct, I had been bombed out of my home, but not been shot at or shot anyone. The lads in the crew said 'Don't worry, you'll be too busy to think about anything except your job'. They were certainly right! Once you get involved your training takes over completely.
To see such an Armada of ships of all shapes and sizes, thousands of them, all making there way to a point, roughly 15 miles south of Hailing Island 'Piccadilly circus', there were 5 lanes, roughly a mile wide each, all swept free of mines, leading to the 5 beaches at Normandy.
When we got to Sword Beach it seemed as though every gun ever made was firing at the same time, you could hear the 15 inch warship shells going overhead, it sounded like a steam train. I could hear the Belfasts 6'' guns fired in anger (she is now moored up in London as is really worth a visit!) LCG(L)1 was firing at the gun emplacements that were attacking our forces going ashore. Having a flat bottom and shallow draught we were able to get quite close ashore, so we could see more where the firing was coming from. Our Skipper was quite a huntsman, as every time we went into action he blew his hunting horn and said 'Tally ho!'
We were firing for nearly four days continuously, until the beachhead was well established. We would re-arm our craft then go along the beach where we were needed then start firing ashore again, sometimes 5 or 6 miles inland (helping the army!) We had a field officer ashore who was watching the shortfall and sent back corrections to the gun crews.
As we progressed we came to Le Havre, where the Germans were hauled up of a night time, and we had what was called the 'Trout line' which was a line of LCG's and LCF's in a line from Le Havre to Arramanches harbour. At night 'Jerry' came out to cause havoc on one-man torpedoes (a man riding a torpedo and aligning it to a target then slipping off to try and swim to shore) they also had high explosive remote controlled motorboats, which they tried to get us with. They moved at about 35 knots.
One day we had been out doing an indirect shoot for the army, as we arrived back at the harbour of Arramanches our look out saw a spent German torpedo floating in the harbour (towards the end of the war the Germans adapted the torpedoes to float instead of sink, so that it acted as a mine) A marine officer and 2 sailors got in a small boat and went out to it. One of the sailors went over the side with a rope, dived down and secured it, he swam back to the small boat and back to our craft and towed it out of the harbour for about a mile then blew it up with gunfire. The sailors were recommended for the DCM (Distinguished Conduct Medal). When we got back in the harbour all the ships and craft saluted us with siren blaring and klaxon sounds.
We went out on D-Day and came back in Sept, having done 4hrs on, 4hrs off 24/7. At that time we had a refit and more exercises, then the SSEF (Support Squadron Eastern Flank) was formed and we went out to Walcheren, Holland. The SSEF went to Ostend at the end of Oct 1944.
SSEF sailed out of Ostend Harbour in the early hours of Nov 1st 1944 under the command of Captain Pagsley RN. The passage was uneventful from Ostend to Westkapelle, but there was the fear of E boats and mines. The weather was bad, no air cover, and no spotter planes for the warships shot.
The Captain knew all he could put up against the batteries was the lightly SSEF, however it was soon realised that it was a formidable opposition to take on and losses were expected. We all went in firing, the enemy could fire further than we could as he had bigger guns, so we had to go as close as we could.
The commandoes were being shelled on the beaches, so our orders were to engage the main batteries, which we did, time and time again. Eventually we got hit and hit hard, but we drew the enemy fire from the commandoes to ourselves. Out of a total force of 25 vessells, 9 were sunk and the rest badly damaged and in total it is said men and materials = 80%.
By Able Seaman Richard (Dick) Blyth — LCG(L)1
Typed with Love and Thanks by his eldest Granddaughter, Louise
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