Independent Statement written 1991.
My Experiences by Ken McCaw.
It was lovely Spring weather when the order came to proceed to Dartmouth. One must understand that we were never given details of the whys or wherefores – what we were going to do or what was going to happen when we got to our destination. We were given, admittedly, precise instructions, and then had to follow them to the letter.
So off we went, the whole Flotilla, down the coast of Cornwall until we arrived at the River Dart. For some reason, we found it difficult to contact the signal station at the mouth of the River, and it was some time before the answering flashes came to our insistant signals. We replied in morse “What do you **** think you are playing at? Don’t you know there is a **** war on?” The reply came “I beg your pardon. This station is manned by Wrens.”
Finally, we entered the beautiful River Dart and found that we had to tie up to a buoy located well up-river around two beds. The River was running quite fast and there was a large rock protruding from the middle of the first bend and shoals of mud at the second bend. When we came to our buoy we tied up alongside LCTs Mark V and VI manned by the US Navy. These were very much smaller than ourselves, having been shipped from the USA piggy-back style on LSTs and not really sea worthy or livable aboard in our own manner. I don’t believe that the US Navy which seemed to be directing operations in the River quite appreciated how much bigger we were than that Mark Vs and VIs or they would never have dreamt of sending our large ungainly craft so high up river. As it was several of our flotilla stuck in the mud and had to wait for high tide before refloating, and one unfortunate LCT stuck fast on the rock in the middle of the first bend and was still there when we set sail.
After a couple of days (during which we had to endure the tantalising smells of roast chicken issuing from the galleys of the US LCTs) we were ordered to a loading hard, where we took aboard a contingent of US Army being a Tank Support Group and, believe it or not, two US Generals and one of their Colonels. With our limited facilities, we made them as comfortable as we could and very soon found ourselves in a Pontoon School with those American Brass Hats – they called the game ‘Black Jack’. Anxious as I was about losing any of my hard earned money, I need not have worried as I ended up £10 to the good – which was worth at least £400 in today’s money.
We got our sailing orders in due course and these were to proceed to the beach at Slapton Sands in Torbay, and land the US Army contingent we had on board. Clearly a practice run for the D Day Landings. We set off in bright sunlight, column ahead, and as darkness began to fall, we saw passing us on the Starboard side, a Flotilla of the large American LSTs, with their superior speed of 12/14 knots.
During the dreaded and dreary watch from midnight to 4am – the watch that seems to go on forever – I was on duty by myself on the bridge of our LCT. Suddenly, without warning, we heard muffled bangs and a short while later, flames, like Guy Fawkes bonfires, over on our starboard side. We had no signals to the contrary and carried on along our course to Slapton Sands. When daylight broke, we did a beautiful equal speed manoeuvre and, along with all the remainder of our flotilla, beached immaculately, lowered our doors, and gave the Army contingents a dry landing.
Later we heard the story – in bits and drabs. Enemy E boats had broken through, and torpedoed three Landing Ships, two of which had sunk quickly and the other so badly damaged that, only with great difficulty, did it make port.