A Long shot - ML 916 and ...?

Motor Launches (ML), Harbour Defence Motor Launches (HDML) & Rescue Motor Launches (RML)
Mark_E
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A Long shot - ML 916 and ...?

Postby Mark_E » Fri Aug 26, 2016 3:09 pm

Hello there

I am trying to find some information about my late father, Charles Elkins. He joined the Royal Navy in (we think) 1943 aged 17, served on HMS Venus on an Arctic convoy, before moving to Coastal Forces. I recall him telling a tale of zipping over to France overnight, pre D-Day with scientists aboard to collect samples of sand (I believe to help us understand how tanks would fare on landing on the beaches).

He was significantly injured whilst serving on an ML, which he believed was spotting for the monitor HMS Roberts in November 1944. He always believed he was the only survivor from this. His transcribed story about this is archived here on the BBC's People's War website http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ww2peoples ... 3014.shtml There is a picture of my dad in this article along with an unidentified man). From what I can tell, the only ML sunk around that time was ML916, on 8th November 1944 at Walsoorden, Holland. Does my dad's story of spotting for the Roberts add up with the mining? Might he have conflated two different actions (of spotting for the Roberts at Walcheren and then later being mined off Walsoorden?)? Or might he have transferred from an ML to a different type of craft which was in fact sunk at Walcheren?

It also seems if he was travelling covertly to Occupied France before D-Day, he must have been aboard a different Coastal Forces vessel as 916 wasn't commissioned until September 1944. How mmight I find out more or which Launch he served on? I'm supposing I'll never find out more about this particular part of his service.

Can anyone with more understanding of the events of November 1944 and of Coastal Command help me understand a little more about what happened?

Thanks, these forums have made for interesting reading
Mark

Stephen
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Re: A Long shot - ML 916 and ...?

Postby Stephen » Fri Aug 26, 2016 7:57 pm

Hi Mark,

Allied Coastal Forces of World War II confirms that ML 916 was mined off the Dutch coast on the 8th November. As you also know it was only completed on 16th September.

In Battle for Antwerp, J Moulton (who commanded 48 Commando at Walchern), has some details. He states that ML 916 was part of the 19th Flotilla, a minesweeping flotilla equipped with Oropesa sweeps. Apparently 916 was one of two that detached from the flotilla early and swept to Antwerp on the 4th, becoming the first Allied ships to arrive since the city's capture in 1940. They were later joined by the rest of the flotilla. He goes on to explain that "On the 8th as the MLs were sweeping down to Terneuzen, ML 916 blew up on an acoustic mine. The captain of another ML remebers seeing the whole ship being blown into the air and then immediately disintegrating. Two survivors were picked up."

There's another account in Untold Stories of Small Boats at War, edited by Harold Pickles. Apparently the second ML was 906 and on board, Ron Metcalfe recalls that the survivors were "the bunting tosser and Skipper. The Skipper's legs were a terrible mess and I understand that he lost one completely... the Signalman... suffered broken ankles. Apparently they were in aft in the ward room when the explosion occurred, and they both dived through a hole in the ship's side."

This doesn't quite fit with your late father's description on the People's War site. However, reading that reminded me a little of an account given by Geoffery Searle in At Sea Level. He briefly relates the fate of an ML that was anchored on a shoal on 1 November, marking it so that the assaulting landing craft would avoid it. He describes how it was hit by a heavy salvo and forced to retire with significant casualties. The story is explained in more detail in Inshore Heroes by Wilfred Granville and Robin Kelly. The ML was ML 146, which "displayed great tenacity and disregard for enemy fire as she lay anchored, marking the dangerous shoals off Westkappelle; but here luck did not hold. A shell landed on her bridge, killing Lieut.-commander Chris Cookson, her commanding officer, and three of his crew, also setting the Launch on fire. With commendable gallantry and skill, the young first lieutenant, Sub-lieut. EB Walker, organised the fire fighting and withdrew his ship, eventually bringing her safely back to Ostend."

ML 146 was part of the 20th Flotilla at Normandy according to Invasion Europe (HMSO). A pre-D-Day operation such as the one your father describes can be found briefly in Home Waters MTBs and MGBs by Leonard Reynolds, carried out by MTBs. I have no doubt that MLs would also have undertaken these tasks as well, but I can't find immediately find any descriptions. However, it might be worth looking in Secret Flotillas Volume 1 by Brooks Richards. Ostensibly it's about missions to Brittany, but there's a good chance that clandestine operations in advance of D-Day may also be mentioned (I don't have a copy to check I'm afraid).

Hope this helps, or can at least guide further research.
Steve

Admin
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Re: A Long shot - ML 916 and ...?

Postby Admin » Fri Aug 26, 2016 8:00 pm

Hello Mark

Thank you for your enquiry. I can provide some clarification with respect to ML 916 but possibly not to your father overall.

ML 916 was part of the 19th ML Flotilla, along with 'chummy' boat ML 906, and I believe MLs 212, 300, 345, 473, 914 & 915. ML 906 along with ML 916 are understood to have been present at the invasion of Walcheren, where they attempted to lay a smoke screen for landing craft, which seems to have been without incident for these two boats at least. ML 916 is understood to have struck an acoustic mine while taking part in sweeping operations in the Scheldt on 8th November 1944. This operation I understand did not specifically involve events on Walcheren. There were two survivors from the ship's crew, the CO Lieutenant G G MacPherson, and the Telegraphist.

The best course of action might be to apply for a copy of your fathers service record from the Royal Navy Disclosure Cell. Service records primarily record the base ship handling pay and administration for individual personnel, but sometimes specific boat numbers can be listed as well, and it should also contain your father's rating and promotions, and any training courses passed, along with details of any war wounds.

Regards
Admin

Addendum: ML 466 was mined off Walcheren on 25 March 1945 with the loss of twenty of its crew.

Stephen
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Re: A Long shot - ML 916 and ...?

Postby Stephen » Tue Aug 30, 2016 8:18 pm

Hello again Mark,

Now I'm back in the office, I have access to Big Gun Monitors by Ian Buxton. There is a fair amount of information about the bombardment of Walcheren; Roberts was involved on the 1st November (bombarding Westkapelle) and the 2nd (bombarding W11, west of Flushing), but departed at the end of the second day.

From the account in Moulton, I don't believe that ML916 was involved on the 1st November. The flotilla was part of the minesweeping force that Ramsay held in reserve and didn't order into action until the Belgian battery at Knocke (outside Zeebrugge) had been silenced (which happened on the 1st, Zeebrugge itself falling on the 2nd). From his book it appears that they first tried to enter the Scheldt on the 2nd but the remaining batteries (presumably W11 and possibly batteries east of Flushing) prevented this. On the 3rd they slipped through to Breskens under cover of darkness and on the 4th they headed straight down the Scheldt to Antwerp. Ron Metcalfe does say that they laid smoke for landing craft: this could have been on the 2nd in order to screen follow-up landing craft crossing from Breskens to Flushing and under fire from W11 or adjacent intact batteries (Roberts was busy bombarding W11 that day, although she will have been much further out to sea). Alternatively it could have been on the 3rd as they approached Breskens, or the 4th as they departed.

Although there is a fair amount of detail regarding bombardment techniques Buxton's book, there is no reference to using MLs for observation. Instead Royal Marine Forward Observer Bombardment teams were landed on the coast or aircraft were used. Although bombardment reports from aircraft or the FOBs were relayed via a control ship, this will have needed to be much larger than an ML owing to all of the radio traffic. Usually converted merchant ships were used. Apparently low cloud in the early hours of the Walcheren operation necessitated that all fire control from Roberts was directed from her spotting top until FOBs had landed and spotting aircraft could fly. I have to say that a low lying ML seems an unlikely spotter for a larger warship with a much more elevated spotting position. Still, stranger things have happened and I hope you understand that I don't wish to question your father's account, I'm only presenting the information I have available.

Hope this helps,
Steve

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Re: A Long shot - ML 916 and ...?

Postby Admin » Wed Aug 31, 2016 3:26 am

Commander Kenneth Edwards RN who wrote Operation Neptune states of the Walcheren operation:
The passage of the force from Ostend was assisted by motor launches, which marked the channels, and was uneventful...Motor Launch 902* was the first ship to come under fire at Walcheren. She was acting as navigational mark when a German battery opened fire on her and she was ordered to withdraw. Ten minutes later the battleship Warspite and the monitor Roberts opened fire with their 15" guns. Operation Neptune: Part Three, Chapter III The Epic of Walcheren
* Commander Edwards summarises this event later in the same chapter as: 08.15 — Four batteries opened fire on marking M.L. (This was M.L.902)

ML 902 has no recorded casualties.

Stephen
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Re: A Long shot - ML 916 and ...?

Postby Stephen » Wed Aug 31, 2016 7:09 am

Please understand I'm not disputing that MLs were involved on 1st November. That's well documented and Geoffrey Searle's account makes graphic reading. I just don't think that 916 was there on that day or was likely to have been spotting for Roberts. On balance I think that 146 sounds like it may well have been Mark's father's vessel.

Mark_E
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Re: A Long shot - ML 916 and ...?

Postby Mark_E » Wed Aug 31, 2016 10:07 am

Hello
Apologies it's taken me a few days to respond, I was on some downtime over the bank holiday weekend. I wanted to say thanks so much for taking the time to respond with your research and knowledge.

It does look like some of the assumptions I had previously made are incorrect and/or my recollections of my father's anecdotes, combined with the years in between (our conversations would have been in the very late 1980s or early 90s) and of cause the trauma he suffered, have confused matters.

It does now seem unlikely that he was spotting for the Roberts, but it is possible that he was involved more as you both suggest, marking channels etc.

To muddy the waters further (it's completely acceptable for you all to give up on me right now!) my other swears that dad told her that he served on an MTB. However, I am certain I recall that when he was recounting the tale of the sand samples pre-D-Day that he said his boat either did not have torpedoes or they had been stripped.

I suppose the details I know are too few, and too vague and that I will never really know. That said, reading your replies above and of the accounts of the kind of experiences my father may have had (and of course the thousands of others like him) has been very moving. I thank you also for that.

Oh, I did try to get a copy of dad's service record several years ago but my cheque was returned to me with a brief note to say that his record could not be found.

I would like to try and find out some more details of ML146 to see if that jogs any more memories.

Thanks once again,
Mark

Admin
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Re: A Long shot - ML 916 and ...?

Postby Admin » Wed Aug 31, 2016 11:05 am

Please understand I'm not disputing that MLs were involved on 1st November. That's well documented and Geoffrey Searle's account makes graphic reading. I just don't think that 916 was there on that day or was likely to have been spotting for Roberts. On balance I think that 146 sounds like it may well have been Mark's father's vessel.
No problem Stephen, my intention here is merely to provide another source of information for the benefit of Mark. History requires as many sources as are available to be considered, no one account containing all the facts, as evidenced by the fact that Commander Edwards appears to omit any mention of ML 146 and the casualties she suffered. And of course the primary sources, the commanding officers' action reports for their individual commands, are not always available to us. The one for ML 146 would have provided precise details of what it was doing and what happened, who was killed and who injured amongst the crew, right down to how many rounds and of what particular type of ammunition were expended.

Admin
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Re: A Long shot - ML 916 and ...?

Postby Admin » Wed Aug 31, 2016 11:14 am

To muddy the waters further (it's completely acceptable for you all to give up on me right now!) my other swears that dad told her that he served on an MTB. However, I am certain I recall that when he was recounting the tale of the sand samples pre-D-Day that he said his boat either did not have torpedoes or they had been stripped
That's not a problem Mark, every post on every topic is an opportunity to expand on the available knowledge which, even if it doesn't fully answer the poster's questions, can prove of assistance to another in future.

As it happens there were flotillas who had their torpedoes removed, one comprising British Power Boats which was certainly current around D-Day. They had depth charges fitted to counter possible submarines amongst the invasion fleet and anchorages, while some of the D-boats had depth charges fitted and acted as minesweepers against acoustic mines to help clear the entrance to the port of Le Harvre amongst other operations, though I am not sure of the date of their conversion without looking it up.

Mark_E
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Re: A Long shot - ML 916 and ...?

Postby Mark_E » Wed Aug 31, 2016 11:34 am

Thanks Admin
It's interesting to know that some boats were converted by removing the tubes. I can't say with confidence anymore (and less than before!) what sort of Coastal Forces vessel he served on. The things I recall, apart from the story regarding the overnight clandestine beach landing, are that he was trained to operate on Oerlikon (although I'm not sure if this was aboard his destroyer or in Coastal Forces), and the story transcribed on People's War. I also think he once told me that his boat was painted black for night ops, but that is a very vague memory.

I think I should go back to the MOD and re-try to find his service record, as well as rifle through his old papers once more. It's s thread I can't stop pulling at!

Thanks again, Mark

Stephen
Chief Petty Officer
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Re: A Long shot - ML 916 and ...?

Postby Stephen » Thu Sep 29, 2016 8:29 am

Hi Mark,

Just a random thought I had a few weeks ago when I was on holiday. It's perfectly possible that the ML your father was serving on did do some impromptu spotting for HMS Roberts (or another vessel carrying out a bombardment), perhaps if his own ML came under fire for the shore. In Motor Gunboat 658, Leonard Reynolds relates an incident of this sort during the invasion of Sicily. His flotilla of Dog Boats came under fire from shore based batteries, so the flotilla leader contacted a nearby warship with the positions of the guns, who quickly silenced them. Such an event was probably not uncommon in amphibious operations and whilst not acting as an official spotter vessel, might explain some of your father's account.

Regards,
Steve

Mark_E
Able Seaman
Posts: 24
Joined: Fri Aug 26, 2016 3:05 pm

Re: A Long shot - ML 916 and ...?

Postby Mark_E » Thu Sep 29, 2016 4:32 pm

Hi Stephen

Thanks for coming back to this subject! That is a good thought. It's possible isn't it? I suppose it's also possible they could have asked for fire to come down on German batteries that were targeted on the Marines.

Coincidentally yesterday I sent off my application for dad's service record. I have tried this before without joy - but you never know...

Stephen
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Re: A Long shot - ML 916 and ...?

Postby Stephen » Thu Sep 29, 2016 6:17 pm

Well, after I posted I also found this in The National Archives catalogue. I'll have a look at it next time I'm there.
http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.u ... r/C6422885
Steve

Mark_E
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Re: A Long shot - ML 916 and ...?

Postby Mark_E » Fri Sep 30, 2016 8:22 am

Of course the National Archives!

Stephen
Chief Petty Officer
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Re: A Long shot - ML 916 and ...?

Postby Stephen » Fri Sep 30, 2016 10:02 am

Hehe, indeed. Only occurred to me yesterday, which is stupid given how often I go there to research ships!
I probably won't make it in October, but I'll certainly be going in November so I can have a look and make copies for you if you like. Quite often these sorts of reports contain casualty and survivor lists.
Steve


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