In the early hours of 1 November, T Force left Ostend docks on the beginning of a seven-hour journey. While the battle raged in Flushing, the assortment of ships and landing craft ploughed on through a moderate sea, making a huge loop around the mouth of the River Scheide. At first poor weather had led to concerns over the sea-worthiness of some of the landing craft but a reconnaissance by Tom Masterman, Captain Pugsley’s chief of staff, brought good news, the sea conditions ahead appeared to be favourable.
As the hours passed, the commandos tried to sleep while the naval crews watched for E-Boats and mines and eventually when dawn broke, Captain Pugsley was relieved to see the coastline ahead. There was no mistake about the location of the landing beaches; Westkapelle lighthouse was directly ahead, standing proud above the dike ‘like a match sticking out of an apple’.
An LCT crammed with Buffaloes and Weasels heads towards Westkapelle as commandos look on anxiously. IWM A26266
The coastal batteries covering the landing beaches at Westkapelle.
Although the sea conditions were favourable for the landing, there were concerns over the promised air support. Although the skies above the Dutch coast were clear, fog had enveloped the English airfields. As the task force sailed towards its target, Pugsley faced an agonising decision. If the fighters and bombers did not arrive on time, the shore batteries would be able to target the landing craft unhindered. It also meant that the Bombardment Squadron would be deprived of its spotter aircraft, essential for accurate targeting. As Captain Pugsley and Brigadier Leicester watched the coastline from the bridge of HMS Kingsmill they both knew that there was little chance of remounting the operation before the end of the year; postponement would mean cancellation of the operation. Agonising minutes passed as the two officers waited for further information about air cover. None came but both men concluded that they had to continue, having come this far. Just before 7:30am Captain Pugsley issued the code word ‘Nelson’ to his subordinates, Operation INFATUATE II was underway.
Two motor launches sped ahead of T Force to mark the offshore sandbanks, coming within range of the Westkapelle Battery, W15. The guns opened fire on the small launches at precisely 8:09am and the salvo heralded the start of a tremendous gun battle. Five minutes later, the Bombardment Squadron returned fire, but while HMS Warspite targeted Domburg Battery, HMS Erebus failed to fire. The turret-training engine had jammed, making it impossible to aim the monitor’s guns, the ship would be out of action until the landing was well under way. In the meantime, Captain Marcel Kelsey, the Bombardment Squadron’s commanding officer, ordered HMS Roberts to fire on Erebus’ target, the Westkapelle Battery.
The German gun crews had ample time to target the Support Squadron.
W13 Battery, south of the Westkapelle beaches, soon joined the gun battle, targeting the slow moving landing craft as they headed for the shore. While the landing craft carrying 4 Special Service Brigade headed straight for the gap in the dike, Captain Sellar split the Support Squadron into two equal groups to engage targets north and south of Westkapelle. As hoped, the shore batteries turned their attentions on the Support Craft to begin with, rather than the unarmed infantry carrying craft. Despite being seriously outgunned, Sellar’s men headed straight for the shore, sailing into a devastating barrage of shells.
Although the two groups engaged the shore batteries simultaneously, it is necessary to take each action in turn.
The Support Squadron – Southern Group
Sailing line abreast, the LCGs led the southern group towards the shore, opening fire on W15 battery with their 4.7″ and 17-pounder guns at 10,000m and at intervals. Although huge bursts of smoke and flame indicated hits on the dike, the guns stood little chance of damaging one of the 150mm guns. As the German naval crews returned fire, their shells threw up huge plumes of water among the craft. It would only be a matter of time before they found their range in a long-range duel lasting over an hour.
4,000m from the shore the two rocket firing craft assigned to the southern group began to turn broadside ready to open fire. LCT (R) 363, commanded by Lieutenant Keir Rasmussen RNR, successfully fired its salvo of rockets, straddled the radar station on the dike. Moments later W13 returned the compliment as two six-inch shells tore through the engine room starting a fire. Despite his injuries, Leading Seaman Stanley Winrow led the fire-fighting party as they fought the blaze. Below decks, Chief Motor Mechanic Frank Woods had also been seriously wounded during the blast but he stayed at his post operating the remaining engine by hand. Both men received the DSM for helping to save their stricken craft.
Meanwhile, as LCT (R) 334 turned ready to fire, disaster struck when two of W13’s shells hit the ship’s magazine. The explosion ignited forty rockets and observers watched anxiously as they fell harmlessly into the sea close to the northern group. Lieutenant Ernest Howard RNVR fought to regain control of the damaged craft and eventually fired the remaining rockets onto their target. However, the crew had little time to congratulate themselves as W13 again found its target. Burning fiercely, LCT (R) 334 turned out to sea as the crew fought the fire.
Before long, LCT (R) 363’s surviving engine failed and as the rest of the Support Craft went into action LCT (R) 334 gave a tow to its stricken sister ship. The two craft eventually limped back to Ostend.
Meanwhile, the rest of the Southern Group sailed towards the shoreline. The three LCG (L)s of Lieutenant David Crealock’s Flotilla opened fire first, targeting the southern shoulder of the gap with their 6-pounder guns. Although seriously out-gunned, the three craft fired steadily at their targets while salvo after salvo straddled the slow moving craft. It was only a matter of time before the German guns found their mark. LCG (L) 10 was hit first, set on fire by a 6-inch shell. Struggling to regain control, Lieutenant Clifford Holbrook manoeuvred his craft so that the flames did not fan the bridge. Once the crew had brought the fire under control, Holbrook turned his craft back on course. As LCG (L) 10 headed once more towards the shore the surviving crew members formed two scratch gun teams. As the craft came into range, Lieutenant James Harvie RM discovered that the communication cables connecting the bridge and the gun turrets had been cut by exploding ammunition. Harvie supervised the crews, running from turret to turret to sight each gun in turn. Over the next four hours LCG (L) 10 fired more than 525 rounds of high explosive.
LCG (L) 11 was hit twice in quick succession. The first salvo of shells struck the bridge, and while Lieutenant Thomas Foggitt RANVR struggled to steer the stricken craft away from the shore, a second salvo hit the engine room. Foggitt collapsed soon after, and the senior able officer, Sub-Lieutenant John Smith, took control of the damaged craft. Once the crew had brought the fires under control, Smith steered LCG (L) 11 back towards the coastline. Before long both turrets commenced firing over open sights, supervised by Corporal James Jackson.
Landing craft carrying 4 Special Brigade sail towards the gap in the dike.
Having seen the damage wrought by W13, Lieutenant George Ring RNR took evasive action, piloting LCG (L) 9 through a barrage of shells. Laying smoke as it sailed along the coast, the weaving craft led a charmed life as it targeted bunkers south of the gap. Despite the full attentions of W13’s guns, LCG (L) 9 survived the battle. Lieutenant Crealock’s men continued to fight on from their damaged craft throughout the landing but the battle cost LCG (L) group dearly; fifty-five crewmen were killed drawing fire from the commandos’ landing craft.
Three LCS (L) craft escorted the largest craft in the group, LCG (M) 102, as it sailed towards W266, a pillbox position covering ‘White’ Beach. A salvo of shells from W13 soon hit the first in line, LCS (L) 252, and the explosions ignited the petrol tanks, blowing the fragile craft sky high. Minutes later shells struck LCS (L) 256, setting it on fire. Lieutenant Sidney Orum acted immediately, drawing alongside the stricken ship in LCS (L) 258 to rescue the survivors. Shells soon targeted the two stationary craft turning them into burning hulks. As fires burned out of control, calls to abandon ship came too late to save many. As men jumped into the sea, the stricken ships exploded in sheets of flame; there were only a handful of survivors.
Once it had dealt with the three LCS (L) craft, W13 turned its attentions on LCG (M) 102. Close to the shore, the craft received a direct hit forward of the control position but the blast failed to deter Lieutenant Donald Flory RNVR. Refusing to take evasive action Flory sailed on, beaching opposite his target at 09:43am. The 17-pounders fired repeatedly at W266, and although the shells hit time after time, they failed to penetrate the thick concrete. Flory’s crewmen could see that they were unable to destroy the bunker but they remained at their posts in the hope of distracting the Germans inside. Dozens of shells slammed into the stationary craft and while the gun crews engaged their target, the rest of the crew fought fires. LCG (M) 102 continued to draw fire as 48 Commandos’ landing craft sailed by towards White Beach. The marines looked on horrified as the burning craft eventually exploded in sheets of flame. All thirty-two of Flory’s crewmen perished.
As 48 Commando’s landing craft made the final run in to the gap, the three LCF landing craft opened fire with their 2-pounder guns and Oerlikons. The puny weapons stood little chance of destroying anything but the crews stuck to their task, firing on any target in sight. The ruse worked and while the LCFs drew fire from every gun in range, 48 Commando’s craft remained unharmed. Their was, however, a terrible price to pay. Shell after shell struck LCF 37 and the debriefing report describes the craft’s final moments:
She was first hit on the port quarter on the water line at 9:20, but the hole was successfully blocked with hammocks. At 9:45, W15 having switched to fresh targets, she was engaged by W13 and began to make smoke. However, she was hit astern, a near miss on the port beam filled the bridge and upper deck with water, and two hits were sustained forward blowing away the bows and forward magazine. At 09:48 a shell hit the main magazine, blowing up about 100,000 rounds of 2pdr and Oerlikon ammunition, turning the ship forward of the bridge into a shambles and causing a large number of casualties. Most of the crew were blown into the sea.
After LCF 37 disintegrated, W13 turned its attentions on LCF 32 and LCF 35. Despite numerous hits and near misses the craft led charmed lives. As the landing proceeded Captain Sellar ordered the two close in to support the landing. LCF 32 was finally hit below the waterline and although the stricken craft fought on the flooding caused irreparable damage to the engines. LCF 32 eventually came to its aid, towing its sister ship to safety.
The Support Squadron – Northern Group
While the southern group fought a losing battle with W13, the northern group engaged targets north of the gap in the dike. Again the three LCG (L)s led the group into action, but soon after they opened fire on W15 Battery and Westkapelle lighthouse, disaster struck. The three rocket craft attached to the group had swung into position unharmed but as LCT (R) 457 opened fire, its rockets fell short landing harmlessly in the sea. LCT (R) 378 fired next and the officers on HMS Kingsmill watched in horror as the salvo also fell short, showering the northern group with missiles. The LCG (L) took evasive action, emerging unscathed but some of the rockets hit LCF 42, wounding thirty-three men and setting the craft on fire. As Lieutenant Francis Keep struggled to keep his craft on course, the depleted crew fought to bring the blaze under control. Despite the catastrophe, LCF 42 eventually went into action with scratch gun teams. LCG (L) 2 was also hit by rockets, losing power for a short time. Although his crew suffered casualties, Lieutenant Martin Ward’s craft was soon back in action. The third rocket ship, LCT (R) 331 fired its salvo a few minutes later and to everyone’s relief, the rockets fell on their intended target; Westkapelle.
A range finder bunker, responsible for co-ordinating accurate fire. H Houterman
After their fright, the three LCG (L) craft swung back into line heading for the northern shoulder of the gap. W15 Battery posed the main threat to the Northern Group and its 6-inch guns soon found their range. Lieutenant Alfred Ballard’s craft, LCG (L) 1, was the first to suffer damage when two shells set the craft on fire. The explosions wounded many of the crew including every officer on board. In the chaos that followed, the injured Ballard steered the craft towards the shore while Captain G Penney shouted instructions through a gaping hole in the deck to the gun crews below. Ballard eventually collapsed leaving Penney to take command of the damaged craft. The craft eventually lost power near the beach, leaving the crew to the mercy of the German guns.
Lieutenant Arthur Cheney chose a different tactic to engage targets on the dike. By piloting LCG (L) 2 right up to the shoreline, he brought his craft under the elevation of W15’s guns. However, while his own crew engaged targets on the dike, two 88mm guns fired at point blank range into the craft, damaging the engine room. While crewmembers worked below decks, frantically plugging holes with blankets and hammocks, LCG (L) 2 fought a losing battle with the German guns. Eventually, Cheney decided he could do no more and turned away from the shore. A shell slammed into the bridge as it made the manoeuvre, injuring many of the crew. The coxswain, Petty Officer Arthur Harris survived the explosion and managed to guide the stricken craft out to sea.
Meanwhile, LCG (L) 17 fought a running battle with W15, weaving along the coast to draw fire from the rest of the squadron. Despite a number of hits the craft survived and it was eventually recalled having expended most of its ammunition.
The fragile LCS (L) came next and the flotilla commander, Lieutenant Edward Howell, ordered his ships to zig-zag along the coastline at full speed. Although the three craft managed to sail in to the beach several times, their guns were powerless against the pillboxes on the dike. Eventually, a shell found its target, hitting Howell’s own craft, LCS (L) 260. The blast destroyed the engine, leaving the damaged ship helpless on the beach. As Leading Motor Mechanic William Cheeney set about tackling a fire, Lieutenant Eric Tiplady guided LCS (L) 259 alongside to assist. The crews managed to rig up a tow and under heavy fire the two craft pulled away from the shore, while LCS (L) 260 continued to burn fiercely. Once out of danger, Tiplady cast off and manoeuvred into position to help his sister ship with his own fire hoses. As LCS (L) 259 circled around the burning craft, the crew was surprised to see Cheeney sitting in a shell-hole above petrol tanks. Fully aware that 2,600 gallons of fuel beneath his feet could explode at any moment Cheeney had continued to fight the blaze. After rigging a hose between the two craft, he returned to his perch, eventually bringing the fire under control. Cheeney’s bravery saved LCS (L) 260 from destruction and he was later awarded the CGM for his actions.
LCG (M) 101 sails towards Westkapelle as rockets land short of their target. IWM A26240
LCS (L) 254 sailed at high speed along the shore, engaging pillboxes overlooking the landing area and despite dozens of near misses, the craft emerged unscathed. Sub-Lieutenant George Kirk eventually pulled alongside the powerless LCG (L) 1, stranded on the beach. Under heavy fire, the two crews managed to attach a tow but LCS (L) 254 found the load too heavy. Captain Penney, realising his craft was beyond help, ordered his men to abandon ship and scramble onto the smaller craft. The order was given just in time. As LCS (L) 254 pulled away from the shore LCG (L) 1 erupted in flames.
Lieutenant George Flamank piloted LCG (M) 101 straight towards the shore through a barrage of shells from W15, eventually beaching within thirty metres of his target, W267. Once ashore, the landing craft drew fire from every quarter:
… the forward arc of the ship appears to have been out of the arc of the guns of W15, but further aft many hits in the port side were sustained although nothing penetrated the armoured portion. B turret was eventually put out of action by small arms fire entering the sighting slots and A turret by a splinter, which bounced of the deck and damaged the recuperator. It was estimated that some fifty rounds of ammunition were expended.
With his guns out of action, Flamank gave orders to withdraw from the beach. While the ballast tanks emptied, crewmen emerged from below decks to operate the kedge, a winch used to retract the craft from shore. The first on deck were killed as they tried to operate the winch but others took their place allowing the ship to sail full astern. However, as it pulled away it was clear to Flamank that LCG (M) 101 was in desperate trouble. Shells had peppered the stern with holes. Sinking fast, the ship’s steering and gyro failed in quick succession. As the stricken craft keeled over, the crew abandoned ship, jumping into the sea. Many clambered onto the overturned hull, helping wounded comrades out of the icy water; they were eventually rescued by a passing LCS (I). Lieutenant George Flamank was awarded the DSC for commanding LCG (M) 101 during its suicidal attack.
An LCG (M), in this case LCG (M) 101, begins to sink. IWM A26240
LCG (M) 101 begins to capsize. IWM A26233
LCG (M) 101 capsized. TAYLOR LIBRARY
As 41 Commando’s landing craft made their final approach towards Red and White Beaches, the three LCF sailed close in to the shore to draw fire. Lieutenant-Commander Frank Lammert’s men fired thousands of rounds against the bunkers, on the northern shoulder of the gap, in the hope of distracting the occupants inside. Lieutenant Keep’s scratch crew had manned LCF 42’s guns following the earlier rocket strike and in spite of several hits his craft engaged targets throughout the morning. Meanwhile, LCF 38 commanded by Lieutenant Alfred Wilks, drew the most attention. The magazine was hit at the outset and further shells destroyed the wheelhouse, killing the officers and coxswain. Able Seaman Crothers eventually reached the shattered bridge and after pulling the bodies of his officers from the wheel, took control of the crippled ship. The craft continued to engage targets under the command of Corporal William Miller, but further hits soon reduced LCF 38 to a shambles. Although the other’s called for assistance, by the time LCF 36 drew alongside LCF 38’s magazine was ablaze. After transferring ship, the survivors were evacuated to HMS Kingsmill. Lieutenant Norman Ellams eventually towed the burning LCF 38 out to sea.
LCIs beached on Red Beach. TAYLOR LIBRARY
Buffaloes ‘swim’ the last leg, heading for White Beach. IWM A26272
Lieutenant-Commander Frank Lammert’s flotilla was virtually destroyed, and the Support Squadron was also all but destroyed engaging the German guns at Westkapelle. The ferocity of the coastal batteries had shocked everyone. Lieutenant James Harvie commented how his craft had fired more than one and a half times as much ammunition than it had during six days at Normandy. Of twenty-five craft, ten had been sunk and six were beyond repair. While a few craft continued to engage targets on the dunes, the rest limped to safety, joining the ‘Crock’ fleet heading for Ostend.
Sellar’s men had paid a heavy price by sailing in close to the shore to engage the shore batteries and pillboxes on the dike: 172 were killed or missing at sea and 125 had been wounded. In recognition of their bravery, one hundred and thirty officers and men received recommendations for awards. The awards panel considered which medals would be appropriate. The First Sea Lord suggested that there should be nominees for the Victoria Cross. Also he offered the opinion that there ought to be more nominated for the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal than shortlisted. Despite further investigations, the awards panel did not act on either suggestion.
Buffaloes and Weasels drive ashore onto White Beach. IWM A26271
The first wave landed on Red Beach, subsequent waves sailed through the gap to land on the inner flanks of the dike.
4 Special Service Brigade’s Landings
While the German guns targeted the support craft, the first wave of landing craft sailed towards Red Beach and for a time it seemed that the landing was in grave danger of failing. However, as often happens in warfare, fate took a turn in favour of 4 Special Service Brigade:
… about the time when the first landing craft were going inshore nearly half an hour late, there occurred what was probably the most important single event of the operation. The undamaged battery W13, which could engage craft sometimes at only 2,000 to 3,000 yards range, ran out of ammunition for its four 150mm guns.
Later investigations discovered that the battery was isolated by the floodwater and had been unable to restock its depleted supply of ammunition. Poor fire discipline had saved the Commandos landing craft from destruction.
As if on cue, Typhoons and Spitfires flew low over the task force, strafing targets along the dike as 41 Commando’s first wave touched down on Red Beach. In spite of the poor weather conditions over England, 84th Group RAF had managed to fulfil its promise. Arthur Oakeshott, Reuter’s Special Correspondent, watched the landing from HMS Kingsmill:
By this time several landing craft were burning fiercely, it was not pretty. Then I saw an unforgettable sight – dozens of landing craft bearing hundreds of men wearing green berets – the men of the famous Royal Marines. They were all singing, yes singing, going through that hell of fire and shell and flying metal… This was not a kid glove war and this is what I saw – horror upon horror, burning craft, craft battered and smashed, and dying men, and fighting men and men of courage beyond all belief.
Once ashore, B Troop occupied the crest of the dike unopposed, while the machine-gun and mortar sections took up supporting positions. Meanwhile, P Troop turned north to engage W15 Battery. The commandos began targeting the control tower with small arms fire, hoping to distract the gunnery officers inside.
A few minutes later, the first two LCTs carrying the armoured support approached Red Beach. A salvo of shells from W15 straddled the leading craft, Damson, 400 metres from the shore. Lieutenant P Martin’s RNVR report details the damage:
Hits were made as follows on the craft, one on the port ramp winch, one about half way down the port side, one on the wheel house. On AVRE T/172071; one on the base of the Petard at the mounting and one on the Fascine setting it alight. On AVRE T/68399; one on a bridge girder, probably another on the hoisting cable which caused the bridge to drop on a Flail tank ahead of it in the craft. There may have been additional hits because the jibs on all the flails were damaged.
Although there were only half a dozen casualties, the shells had ripped the waterproofing on many of the tanks and started a menacing fire. Lieutenant Martin was forced to turn his craft away from the beach to assess the damage. A fascine on one of the AVRE tanks had been set on fire, endangering the ammunition lockers. Lance-Sergeant Black set about tackling the fire, but his attempt was hampered without a fire hose; the shells had also cut the landing craft’s water line. While some ferried water to the fire, others cleared the lockers of ammunition. A second landing craft, Apple, pulled alongside to help, but its fire hoses were useless, having been shot to pieces. Lieutenant Martin was ordered to return to Ostend with his crippled cargo soon afterwards.
41 Commando head towards Westkapelle’s lighthouse. IWM B11638
W15’s next target was Cherry, and the first shell struck the landing craft’s stern, damaging the engine room. Another shell collapsed an AVRE’s bridging equipment on top of a flail tank. Despite the heavy fire, Lieutenant Chamberlain sailed close in to Red Beach. When the ramp dropped, the tank crews found to their dismay that the beach consisted of loose cobbles and shingle, far from ideal for tracked vehicles. After several failed attempts to land his cargo, Lieutenant Norman Chamberlain RNVR was ordered to withdraw and join the remaining two LCTs. Lieutenant-Commander Bernard Arbuthnot had decided to re-route his remaining craft onto White Beach, away from W15’s deadly guns.
As the landing progressed on Red Beach, the second wave of landing craft, carrying the rest of 41 Commando, sailed through the gap in the dike. The two leading LCTs safely landed their cargo on the south side of the gap. Once ashore, A Troop and X Troop crossed the fast flowing channel in their Buffaloes to attack Westkapelle. A Troop dismounted from their vehicles on the southern edge of village, and began working their way quickly through the ruins. Meanwhile, X Troop followed in echelon, advancing down the main street.
With the western edge of the village secure, Lieutenant-Colonel Eric Palmer ordered P Troop forward from the dike so they could clear the northern outskirts of the village; B Troop proceeded to mop up behind. Resistance was virtually non-existent and the flooding had turned Westkapelle into a ghost town:
‘Bombing had reduced the seaward half of the town to complete ruin and the force of the sea had swamped the wrecks of the houses, so all that remained were gigantic bomb craters, half filled with water upon which the pitiful sodden remains of furniture were floating. The destruction was the most terrible we had seen anywhere, and one felt that human beings ought not be able to cause such havoc.
Lieutenant-Colonel Laycock and Major Franks eventually reach the beach.
Two troops of 10 (Inter-Allied) Commando followed 41 Commando onto White Beach. Two sub-sections of the Belgian troop had accompanied the 1st Lothian’s, to act as protection for the tanks. The sight of Bramble landing craft heading for home with Captain Joy’s sub-section, having been damaged by W15 guns ‘was not an aid for morale’. The LCT carrying Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Laycock’s Headquarters struck an obstacle close to the shoreline and for ten agonising minutes the naval crew struggled in vain to free the craft. Diving overboard into the icy water, the commandos waded ashore, leaving their Buffaloes and Weasels behind. The next LCT also hit under water obstacles. Although the coxswain wanted to try and land closer, Lieutenant Dauppe asked to land immediately before the Germans targeting the craft began to cause casualties. Driving ashore, the Belgians quickly dealt with the opposition with their Bren guns. The unit war diary sums up 10 Commando’s landing.
Landing very wet, strong current and deep water, with mortar and shell fire to add to the confusion. Casualties, however, were light.
As 41 Commando and 10 Commando made their way through Westkapelle, 48 Commando’s men braced themselves for the landing on White Beach.
As the first wave of landing craft carrying 48 Commando sailed through the gap, the marines targeted the Radar Station W154 with every gun they had. Three landing craft touched down on White Beach a couple of minutes after 41 Commando and made their way up the beach. Although shells plastered the beach, casualties had been light and it appeared that the Germans had already withdrawn from the bunkers overlooking the beach.
B Troop went forward first, finding the pillboxes on the southern shoulder of the gap empty, X Troop took over the advance, finding the radar station deserted. For the first time the commandos came under small arms fire and without delay, X Troop made a search of the area, taking a few prisoners. Moving along the dunes overlooking Green Beach, X Troop quickly overran the group of bunkers known as W285. The garrison of the next strongpoint, W286, surrendered without a fight.
Escorting prisoners along Westkapelle’s main street. IWM B11637
While the lead troops worked their way along the dike, the second wave of landing craft approached White Beach under heavy fire. Major Wilfred Sendall’s few words give an insight into how fierce the German reaction was:
Most of the marines landed early in the assault on Normandy and all of them thought that this little D-Day was far more terrifying than the big one.
Two LCTs received direct hits and turned away while their crews battled with fires onboard. A third struck a line of hidden stakes short of the shore and the Buffaloes were quickly swamped as they drove off the ramp into deep water. Although the men could swim ashore, they lost a large amount of equipment in the calamity. Another LCT received direct hits close to the shore. One shell damaged the machine-gun section’s Buffalo beyond repair and although casualties were light, the crews had to manhandle their equipment ashore.
As the commandos struggled ashore, artillery fire plastered the crowded beach. Two Buffaloes loaded with ammunition received direct hits and the following explosions caused by the blazing ammunition caused havoc on the beach. Mines also took their toll on the Buffaloes and Weasels as their drivers struggled to manoeuvre their vehicles around huge bomb craters. The combination of shells, mines and mud accounted for all but a handful of vehicles. Captain Noel Godkin, 48 Commando’s adjutant, worked tirelessly to keep order, guiding men to their assembly points. During the morning he was mortally wounded by a mortar shell, and died a few days later in an Ostend hospital.
An LCT comes under fire as its load of Buffaloes and Weasels drive onto White Beach. IWM A26268
An AVRE Bulldozer makes its way off the beach, as a line of Buffaloes comes ashore. IWM B11647
As the landing progressed, Beachmaster Commander Redvers Prior and his team battled to keep White Beach clear. The shore line was far from ideal and the coxswains of the landing craft faced thick mud, huge bomb craters and burning vehicles before they could land their cargo. One craft became stranded, blocking the easiest exit from the beach as its crew struggled to free it from the mud.
As the marines struggled ashore, the three remaining landing craft carrying the armoured assault teams added to the chaos. LCT Bramble landed first and the leading Sherman flail tank, bogged down as soon as it hit the beach. The bridge-laying AVRE managed to position its equipment but it too became stuck as it drove off the far end of the bridge. Apple, the second of the LCT’s carrying tanks, met similar difficulties:
Craft touched down at 1100 hrs and leading flails went ashore and immediately bogged down on soft clay. Crew drew off and came back in ten yards to the north of bogged flails. The two other flails went off and also bogged. Realised that ground on which ramp was touching was no use for landing. Brought forward bridge AVRE and dropped bridge from ramp of LCT on to what I thought looked hard ground twenty-five feet from ship. This ground was misleading as AVRE after running over bridge immediately bogged in it. Fascine AVRE thinking we had got onto solid ground came on to bridge and LCT backed away.
Cherry, eventually reached the crowded beach and all the tanks except one flail, trapped under the fallen AVRE bridge, managed to get ashore. As the tanks made their way up the beach a bulldozer unearthed a mine, losing a track in the explosion.
Attempts to tow the bogged tanks to safety were eventually beaten by the rising tide. As mortar shells crashed down men struggled to attach tow ropes to the stricken vehicles. The rescue was eventually abandoned when waves started to wash over the turrets forcing the crews to swim to shore.
As the tanks crawled up the beach, AQMS Evans REME and Sergeant Hickson (Lothians) organised a party of men, working hard to clear a way through the maze of obstacles. Sergeant Ferguson’s flail led the column of tanks to the top of the dike as 41 Commando was nearing the far end of Westkapelle. Although the village had been deserted, A Troop came under fire as it approached the lighthouse. In response to a call for fire support, Sergeant Ferguson’s crew fired eleven rounds into the lighthouse tower. CSM Stockell targeted the door with his PIAT and small arms fire followed in the hope of subduing the men inside. During a cease fire Sergeant Freddy Gray and Corporal Maurice Latimer (interpreters attached from 10 (Inter-Allied) Commando) managed to coax the Germans out.
Having cleared Westkapelle, Lieutenant-Colonel Eric Palmer ordered X Troop across the flooded fields to investigate W14 and W22, two battery positions east of the village. Before long he was pleased to hear from Major Paddy Brind-Sheridan that the bunkers had been abandoned, made inhabitable by the seawater.
At 11:15 am, just over an hour after landing, Lieutenant-Colonel Eric Palmer reported that Westkapelle was secure and as 41 Commando took stock of its position, the tanks set about making a road into the village. While the two command Shermans and three flails waited at the top of the dike the ‘funnies’ set to work with their fascines and bridging equipment. A huge bomb crater blocked the road at the foot of the dike but after AVREs demolished a house, the bulldozers filled the crater with rubble. It had been a difficult journey and although 4 Special Service Brigade had lost over half its supporting armour, the commandos were relieved to see tanks rumbling through Westkapelle.
German guns had begun to find their range by the time the four LCT’s carrying 47 Royal Marine Commando came into land. Two craft suffered hits on the run-in, but the main calamity affected the leading craft carrying Lieutenant-Colonel Farndale Phillips and B Troop. A chance shell struck the leading Buffalo as the ramp lowered. The explosion damaged a Weasel carrying flame-throwing equipment and the port side of the craft erupted in flames. Many leapt overboard and as B Troop attempted to save their wounded from the water, Lance-Sergeant W G Malcolm RE drove the burning vehicle into the water. It was an inauspicious start to 47 Commando’s Landing.
German guns had the range by the time 47 Royal Marine Commando approached the beaches. This is a German 50mm anti-tank gun.
Although the second and third landing craft landed safely, the two troops found themselves on the wrong side of the gap. The final LCT managed to reach the correct beach unscathed, but in the confusion the troop commander re-routed his vehicles across the gap. 47 Commando’s landing had been a disaster. Three troops were north of the gap, while their commander was to the south with the survivors of B Troop. 47 Commando had suffered thirty casualties, and it would take Lieutenant-Colonel Phillips hours to unravel the chaos. The commandos also found to their cost that the smaller Weasels had failed to cope with the fast rip tide. Seventeen out of twenty Weasels had floundered as they tried to cross the gap, a serious loss of equipment and transport.
At 12:05 am Brigadier Bernard Leicester came ashore, setting up his command post in the abandoned radar station overlooking the gap. Although the most dangerous phase of Operation INFATUATE II was over, there were still serious obstacles to overcome before the beachhead was secure. Abandoned and damaged vehicles littered White Beach and although the immediate area had been cleared of German troops, coastal batteries still targeted the crowded area. As Brigadier Leicester considered his next move, the final waves of landing craft began to land on Green Beach, bringing stores and equipment.
Lieutenant-Colonel Hope (GSO 1 4 Special Service Brigade), Lieutenant-Colonel Palmer (GOC 41 Commando), Brigadier Leicester with helmet (GOC 4 Special Service Brigade) and Major Wood (41 Commando’s second in command) IWM B11634
As 4 Special Service Brigade began the next stage of its operation, many commandos would count themselves lucky to have survived. As one wounded man told the Reuter’s correspondent, Arthur Oakeshott,
Don’t tell them at home it was easy – it was damn difficult, but we did it – please tell them that.
41 Royal Marine Commando attack W15, the Westkapelle Battery
Having cleared Westkapelle, Lieutenant-Colonel Palmer was able to concentrate on his next objective, W15. The battery lined the Domburg road, north-east of the village and although P Troop had been engaging the casements for some time, the Germans refused to withdraw. The approach along the dunes was too exposed and Palmer took Captain Peter Haydon, Y Troop’s commanding officer, along the foot of the dike to find a safer approach.
41 Commando’s attack on W15.
The Norwegian Troop of 10 (Inter-Allied) Commando joined P Troop on the dunes, adding to the weight of fire directed on the battery. Meanwhile, Y Troop crept closer to the rear of the position. At 12:00 noon Haydon’s commandos charged up the dunes under cover of smoke, spreading out among the casemates. The gun crews had no stomach for close quarter fighting and they surrendered as soon as the marines entered the bunkers. Within thirty minutes one hundred prisoners had been taken, making the beachhead a far safer place. As the commandos searched the casemates they grimly noted that the guns were of British origin, captured in 1940 during the British retreat to Dunkirk.
The ruins of W15’s casemates, destroyed after the battle. H Houterman
With the battery secure, Brigadier Leicester ordered Palmer to halt. Although Domburg Battery was still shelling Westkapelle, Leicester wanted to secure Green Beach before sending troops north. The pause allowed 41 Commando to take up a defensive perimeter north of the village. The Belgian and Norwegian Troops of 10 (Inter-Allied) Commando joined them later and the Norwegians took over responsibility for the area surrounding W15. Before long their national flag was to be seen flying above one of the casemates.
48 Royal Marine Commando attack W13 Battery
While 41 Commando dealt with W15, 48 Commando pushed south along the dunes towards their next objective, W13. The battery still posed a serious danger to the T Force, targeting landing craft carrying supplies with its four 150mm guns and two 75mm guns. After fighting running battles along the dunes, Y Troop approached the perimeter of the battery just before 1:00 pm. Although it had been impossible to arrange any fire support, Major Derek de Stacpoole decided to rush the perimeter fence. Running as fast as they could through the drifting sand, Y Troop charged through the minefield but without heavy fire support the charge was nothing short of suicidal. A hail of bullets met the commandos, killing their commander and wounding many of the section leaders.
While Y Troop regrouped, 48 Commando’s commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel James Moulton, was desperately trying to contact the ships offshore to arrange fire support. He had lost his own radios during the landing, either damaged by shrapnel or sea water. Captain Blunt, the Support Squadron’s observer, managed to rescue his radio after shrapnel struck down his operators. Once at the radio station, he was able to contact Captain Sellar onboard HMS Kingsmill. Although the Support Squadron had little to offer, the few surviving craft were re-arming, Moulton was able to provide a useful progress report to the headquarters ship.
Captain Arthur Davis, the Bombardment Squadron’s observer, reported to the radar station soon afterwards and he was ordered to find Y Troop in the hope of arranging supporting fire. Davis found the commandos near W13’s casemates and quickly established contact with HMS Roberts. However, the commandos’ support was soon cut short; a mortar bomb killed Davis and his wireless operator after only two salvoes. Lieutenant David Winser MC, 48 Commando’s medical officer, was also killed.
Radio contact was finally established when Brigadier Leicester’s headquarters came ashore and with the help of Captain Skelton, the Canadian Artillery observer, contact was established with the guns across the estuary. Although precious time had been lost in the fight for W13, Skelton eventually managed to organise a fire-plan via the brigade radio set.
48 Commando’s advance along the dunes to W13 Battery.
During the delay, 48 Commando had established a firing position close to W13 but as they waited snipers and mortar fire began to take their toll. X Troop’s commanding officer, Captain Roderick Mackenzie, was severely wounded in the head as he made his way back to headquarters. He died a few days later in an Ostend hospital.
When news came through that support fire had been arranged Z Troop prepared to assault, but thirty minutes before zero hour disaster struck. A mortar shell landed amongst the command group, killing nineteen-year-old Lieutenant Cyril Lindrea and injuring Captain Tom Nuttall and Lieutenant John Square. A single shell had left Z Troop leaderless and with no one above corporal capable of walking unaided, Nuttall hobbled across to find B Troop. As he briefed Captain Edwin Teddy Dunn, B Troop took up position on the dunes. Meanwhile, Captain Daniel Flunder had formed a firing line inland of the battery, silencing the troublesome mortars. Despite the disastrous start to its preparations, 48 Commando was ready to attack.
At 3:45pm, the whole weight of the First Canadian Army’s artillery began pounding W13. Although the text book called for a wide safety margin during long range artillery shoots, B Troop crawled as close as they dared, fearing the German machine-guns more than their own shells. Fifteen minutes later, Typhoons streaked in across the estuary guided by smoke shells and the commandos hugged the ground as the rockets smashed into the battery Before the dust had settled, B Troop charged across the minefield, while A Troop provided supporting fire. Fortunately, for Dunn’s men many mines had been rendered useless by drifting sand. Even so the marines cursed the sand, Major Sendall summed up the difficult conditions afterwards:
I must ask you to imagine what it was like, struggling through soft sand that clogged rifles and machine-guns and filled your mouth, eyes and hair.
The German machine-guns came alive as the commandos broke through the perimeter fence and as Lieutenant Peter Allbut struggled with the barbed wire, a German emerged to take aim. Both tried to fire, but the wet sand had jammed their weapons and Allbut threw the useless Sten gun at his enemy in frustration. As Allbut scrambled over the wire, Sergeant John Stringer came to his aid, shooting the German.
A German position silenced.
In spite of heavy casualties, B Troop entered the battery position and quickly cleared two casemates, while X Troop followed in support. Moving forward, the commandos reached the control tower, firing through the observation slits to subdue the Germans inside. As Captain Stephanus Fouché led Y Troop along the beach, W13’s garrison began to surrender to Captain Dunn’s men. Seventy men, including the battery commander and his second-in-command, were quickly taken prisoner but as Captain Fouché’s men patrolled the casemates, a flak cannon opened fire at the far end of the battery. The crew of the anti-aircraft gun soon discovered that the weapon could not depress low enough to trouble the commandos and in frustration they vented their anger on the battery’s radar tower.
By sheer determination, 48 Commando had managed to silence W13 and Lieutenant-Colonel Moulton had reason to be proud of his men. For the loss of seven killed and eighty wounded, his men had survived a dangerous landing and secured the southern side of the beachhead. Although it may have been prudent to continue the advance, Moulton recognised that his marines were tired and ammunition supplies were running low. 48 Commando would head towards Zoutelande at first light.
41 Royal Marine Commando advance from Westkapelle to Domburg
Once he had secured artillery support for the attack on W13, Brigadier Leicester turned his attentions to W17, the Domburg Battery. He hoped that 41 Commando could silence the battery before dark and at 3:00 pm, Lieutenant-Colonel Eric Palmer received instructions to advance north east.
As Y Troop made its way along the dunes, P Troop trudged along the flooded road at the foot of the dike with B Troop in support. The rest of 41 Commando remained at Westkapelle, manhandling stores off the beach. As they marched the commandos were met by dozens of Germans wishing to surrender, but Lieutenant-Colonel Palmer was anxious to ‘keep moving, sending the prisoners back with the minimum of guards. As the marines moved closer to W17 they watched as twenty-four Spitfires targeted the casemates with 500lb bombs, returning to strafe the battery with their cannons and machine-guns. W283, a smaller strong point covering the road, received similar attention. As 41 Commando approached the casemates with trepidation they were delighted to be met by groups of Germans anxious to surrender.
While B Troop searched the captured battery, Palmer ordered his second-in-command, Major Peter Wood, to reconnoitre Domburg with P Troop. Edging slowly forward the marines again encountered dozens of Germans willing to surrender. Even so progress was slow and by the time P Troop entered the village darkness had fallen. Although there were isolated shots among the burning buildings, it appeared that the main body of Germans had withdrawn into the woods to the east.
While P Troop searched the village, Major Paddy Brind-Sheridan led his men along the sea front. As the light failed, X Troop stumbled on a German strong point and in the ensuing fire-fight Major Brind-Sheridan fell wounded. Once they had pulled back to regroup the commandos noticed that their leader was missing. As patrols tried to locate the injured Major, Lieutenant-Colonel Palmer took steps to seal off the strong point. As B Troop moved forward to the sea front a few Germans broke for cover, hoping to enter the village; they were cut down by a fusillade of shots.
By nightfall 41 Commando had the situation under control. Although they had not completely cleared Domburg, it appeared that the Germans had withdrawn from the ruins. During the early hours of 2 November, Lieutenant-Colonel Palmer joined B Troop on the dunes to assess the troublesome strong point. As he led a patrol along the sea front, Palmer was met with a distressing scene. Major-Brind-Sheridan and one of his men were found, close to the German wire and although they were still alive, Palmer was unable to go to their assistance. The Germans had lit fires to illuminate their perimeter fence, making it too dangerous to attempt a rescue. As he returned to X Troop Palmer considered his next step, an attack at first light.
Domburg village and the adjacent battery, W17.
As 41 Commando prepared to attack the strong point, the Germans decided to evacuate their position, retiring along the dunes under fire from B Troop. Moving forward cautiously the marines occupied the position to make a tragic discovery. Although the injured marine had survived the night, Major Brind-Sheridan had succumbed to his wounds. However, X Troop had little time to grieve for their leader. Brigadier Leicester was anxious to reach Flushing as soon as possible and he wanted 41 Commando to support the advance south. In the meantime, 10 (Inter-Allied) Commando would take over responsibility for Domburg.
The prisoner of war cage on Green Beach. H Houterman