Written by: G.W. Searle, C.B.E., D.S.C.
In the Newsletters of June, September and December 1995, questions were asked and answers given about boats of the 11th ML Flotilla during 1944/45. I was Senior Ofﬁcer of the 11th ML Flotilla from April 1944 until August 1945 and an account of the activities of that Flotilla take up the last four chapters of my book "At Sea Level" which the Newsletter of March 1995 kindly advertised. During my time as Senior Ofﬁcer I kept, and still have with me, records of the boats then in the Flotilla and I am writing because some of the detail given in the Newsletters was not entirely accurate. It maybe helpful to put the records straight for those CFVA members who are confused.
The Flotilla which I (having been ﬂown back from the Eastern Mediterranean) took over in April 1944 was hastily mustered in Falmouth in late April and early May and was under U.S. Navy operational command.
I took over ML 490 and the other ML's in my Flotilla were 448, 118, 153, 163, 304, 347, 297, 190. ML 490 and the ﬁrst ﬁve on this list were the "navigational leaders" ﬁtted with type 970 radar and ML 340 also had a type 253 IFF interrogation Beacon. We were too late to take part in any U.S. Navy invasion exercises and had time only for some coastal convoy work before D-Day arrived.
For the Normandy invasion ML 490, with three others from the Flotilla. sailed from Salcombe as Navigational Leaders and escorts for some 60 ships and landing craft of the U.S. Navy bound for Utah beach. ML 448 (Lt Wallace who had also just come back from the Eastern Mediterranean) sailed from Poole with three more of the 11th Flotilla guiding and escorting a similar force to Omaha beach. ML 304 took a detachment of US. Rangers to scale the cliffs and silence the shore batteries at Point Du Hoc between Omaha and Utah beaches. Lt. Beever of ML 304 was awarded the DSC for this operation.
In the autumn of 1944 the 11th ML Flotilla went to Grimsby and Great Yarmouth. We were copper-bottomed and trained to be part of an occupation and peace keeping force in Germany - with Bren guns for combat and swords for ceremonial duties. Commander Gould Bradford was appointed Commanding Ofﬁcer of the Flotilla with myself as his Senior Ofﬁcer.
However, Germany did not surrender in the autumn of 1944 and we were sent instead to Ostend for normal sea-going duties (and the Walcheren invasion on 1st November) and a very cold and uncomfortable winter. I still keep a copy of a "State of Readiness" report dated 24th March 1945 which shows that in addition to the nine ML's listed above, ML's 119, 909. 595 and HDML's 1397, 1402 and 1469 had been added to our strength in Ostend and that five of the original nine were at that time in the UK for repair and refit.
In June 1945, the 11th ML Flotilla , but not, I think, the HDML's nor ML's 909 and 595, was sent via Scotland, Norway and Swedish waters to Copenhagen where we set up a base. In August 1945 ML's 490, 118, 448 and 119 returned to the UK via the Kiel Canal and paid off in Poole. In "At Sea Level" there is a photograph of these ML's homeward bound in the North Sea. I believe that the rest of the Flotilla followed and paid off soon after but I have no further records of the Flotilla after August 1945.
Some confusion about ML's in the 11th Flotilla probably arose because some Flotillas were re-formed in the preparations for D-Day. I took over a "new" 11th ML Flotilla and I was not aware of which ML's were part of a previous 11th ML Flotilla. Nor are official records necessarily correct. Although I was appointed S.O. of the 11th and for a year and a half sent and received signals as such (I have copies of some of these signals) the Navy Lists of June and October 1944 designate me as S.O. of the 14th ML Flotilla. I am surprised that this did not create confusion at the time.
Finally, with reference to the query in the September 1995 Newsletter: - I do not know of any ML's which laid buoys for the Normandy invasion. Off Utah beach the ML's were themselves the "buoys" for we anchored in a line from the beach to the 'gathering zone' offshore to mark the channel which the landing craft should follow. The innermost "buoy", a US. Navy PT boat was sunk by a shell from the shore batteries. Similarly, in the Walcheren invasion an ML from another Flotilla was ordered to anchor and act as a living "buoy" to mark a sandbank. That ML too was hit by a shell from the shore. Being a buoy could be dangerous.
G.W. Searle, C.B.E., D.S.C.
S.O. 11th ML Flotilla
CFVA News: Edition: March 1996 Volume: 85 Page: 30