it was an odd feeling when you’re running, when you’re up on the air and your legs are going and all of a sudden, you’re flat, you can’t, it’s worse than an earthquake.
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They were in the planning stages for the [Normandy] invasion and they were looking for people who could handle small craft in rough seas. And that’s where I think it all emanates from there, it all started there. I guess that’s late in the time or early in the time, they were still trying to put forces together in Combined Operations to do the invasions.
So they were a group, they were a naval, air force and army assault force and they just harassed the enemy any way they could. Of course, it was all leading up to the invasion. It was put together by the Royal Marines. This was who we were under, pretty well supervised, and controlled by the Royal Marines.
We didn’t have a shoulder patch; we were just navy working on landing craft. Our training there was just beaching and troops at night and in the day, and on taking them off, practicing the whole invasion process, and gunnery and all the rest. We had side arm drills; we had machine gun drills. We worked with the army actually more than we did the navy. Of course, the Royal Marines were the ones that were teaching us, but we had a lot of the army boys there. There was some Americans, some of the paratroop. It was all an organization, the precursor to the invasion. It’s all assault, no hand-to-hand fighting, but beaching at night, navigation at night, working without lights, without any assistance by anybody else, except the air force and that was it.
We carried 150 fully armed troops and we could land them in half an hour. Beach them and if we could, give them a dry landing, fine, we’d run the ship right up on the beach. But if the tide was turning, sometimes they got off in water up to their armpits, some of the drowned before they got to shore ̶ they had so much clothing and gear with them.
We landed on Juno Beach, yeah. Well, we were out, off maybe a couple of miles offshore, just going back and forth, waiting for a signal to go in. Then we were a line ahead, that is one ship, one behind each other, and then we got the signals to line abreast, so then we turned sideways, so we’d all go in as a big wave, hit the beach. But they had smokescreens and it was pandemonium, you really couldn’t say what we were doing because you had to cope with the situations as they arose. We had some of them that were blown up and we had to avoid them. There was others that were floating half sunk and all this. So it was just a case of seamanship really, basically to try and give them a dry landing, so when they got off, they weren’t soaking wet. There again, on the French coast, the tides were, it would drop about foot about every hour, so the first trip in, we were stranded. We were high and dry. We were sitting ducks.
The skipper was a pretty good guy. Next to us was a big LST, landing ship tank, carrying about 400 tonnes, I guess, maybe less than that, of ammunition, explosives, and we were not 10 feet away from it. He says, well, you can stay on ship, boys, and take your chances because if we hit that, they won’t even find us. So I took off. I got off on the beach. But still, you can hear the bullets hitting the ship. I don’t know whether they were wild or whether they were snipers, or what they were. But it was just like rain hitting the ship, bouncing and ricocheting.
So I got off and ran for cover because I thought… They were still getting through. There was a Messerschmitt [Bf] 109 [German aircraft with fighter and bomber capabilities] came through with two big wing bombs; and, I guess, they’re 300 pound each, I don’t know. At any rate, you can see them coming, so we ran and he dropped both of them, but he straddled us, he didn’t get the ammunition. But it was an odd feeling when you’re running, when you’re up on the air and your legs are going and all of a sudden, you’re flat, you can’t, it’s worse than an earthquake.
We got to know a lot of these young fellows. I mean, they’re all about our age, 18, 19. We got to know a lot of them, while taking them over, embarking them, you know, and stacking their gear and making sure everything was ready for the fast exit. We got to know quite a few of them; and then I went back in 1999 and we toured all the cemeteries and I see the names of people that… Excuse me, see the names of boys that we put ashore.