The invasion of Walcheren in November 1944 © Trustees of the Royal Marines Museum

The Loss of ML 916

Published 8th November 2018

After the success of the D-day landings in June 1944 and the breakout from Normandy in August of that year, the Allies had steadily advanced through France and Belgium, and by 4th September the British 11th Armoured Division had captured the city and port of Antwerp intact. At this time the Allied frontline was still being supplied from the Normandy beachheads — the principal ports of Cherbourg and Ostend either damaged by allied bombing, or by the retreating German army. With the Allied supply lines badly stretched, it became vital to open the port of Antwerp to shipping, but the approaches to Antwerp—the Schelde—were mined, and guarded to the north by the heavily fortified island of Walcheren. Today, Walcheren and South Beveland form an unbroken whole as land has been reclaimed from the sea, but in 1944 they were only joined by a narrow strip of land, and large parts of Walcheren had been flooded by Allied bombing which had destroyed the sea dykes.

By October 1944 plans for the assault of Walcheren— Operation Infatuate—were well advanced, with planned landings at Vlissingen and Westkapelle, using the support of naval forces, which were to include Coastal Forces flotillas.

The assault took place on 1st November, 1944, and even before the batteries on Walcheren had been silenced, a major minesweeping operation, known as Operation Calendar was already underway. The whole of the Scheldt had been heavily mined, with the German Navy or Kriegsmarine having laid over 1,700 mines of varying types in the mouth of the Schelde, and a further 650 in the estuary, some of which were laid by E-boats.

Walcheren and the Scheldt – The Approach to Antwerp

ML 916

ML 916 was a Fairmile 'B' Motor Launch which was equipped as a minesweeper. The boat formed part of the 19th ML Minesweeping Flotilla, along with 212, 300, 473, 345, 906, 914 and 915. The 19th ML Flotilla had been ordered to proceed from their base at Queensborough to Ostend in late October 1944, to carry out minesweeping in the Scheldt Estuary at the beginning of November, as part of Operation Calendar.

On the 8th November the whole flotilla had sailed from Antwerp to Terneuzen, and had just commenced their sweeping operation when ML 916 was struck by an acoustic mine, likely triggered by another of the motor launches. The whole boat was blown in the air and disintegrated immediately, leaving its C.O., Lieutenant G G Macpherson, and Able Seaman W C Morrison as the only survivors.

Lieutenant G G MacPherson RNVR, Commanding Officer of ML 916, and one of only two survivors from a crew of twenty-one (© Stuart MacPherson)
Sub-Lieutenant Peter Maurice Sidebotham RNVR (©: Peggy Sidebotham)
Sub-Lieutenant Dan Basil Curtis RNVR (© Sarah Cole)
Able Seaman Royce Thomas Homewood (© Geoff Homewood)
Royce Thomas Homewood (top right by guard rail) with unidentified crew (© Geoff Homewood)
Coffins for the six recovered casualties at Terneuzen (© Ron Metcalfe)
Pall bearers party at Terneuzen for the intermnment of the six casualties from ML 916 who recovered from the water (© Ron Metcalfe)

The Casualties for ML 916

Only two members of crew survived the devastating effect of the acoustic mine which disintegrated ML 916:

John Edward Buttery 21 Stoker 1st Class D/KX 139507 Plymouth Naval Memorial Son of William and Sarah Buttery, of Longton, Staffordshire.
George Dobson 22 Stoker 1st Class C/KX 152552 Chatham Naval Memorial Son of Rose Dobson, of Gateshead, Co. Durham.
Sydney Haller 23 Able Seaman D/JX 151027 Plymouth Naval Memorial Son of Herbert and Alice Haller, of Wombwell, Yorkshire.
Jack Hatliff 23 Petty officer Motor Mechanic P/MX 77888 Portsmouth Naval Memorial Son of Clarence and Edith Hatliff, of Balby, Yorkshire.
Royce Thomas Homewood Able Seaman P/JX 298631 Portsmouth Naval Memorial
Ernest Lay 19 Ordinary Seaman C/JX 557641 Chatham Naval Memorial Son of Arthur Ernest and Isabella Ann Lay, of Highworth, Wiltshire.
Walter Mackintosh 25 Able Seaman D/JX 186952 Plymouth Naval Memorial Son of John Malcolm Mackintosh and Edith Mackintosh, of Newcastle-On-Tyne.
Frederick George Newson 17 Ordinary Telegraphist P/JX 624883 Portsmouth Naval Memorial Son of Alfred Henry and Annie Newson, of Reading, Berkshire.
Thomas Maurice Oakton Leading Seaman P/SSX 25460 Portsmouth Naval Memorial
William Frederick Scales 22 Able Seaman P/JX 321222 Portsmouth Naval Memorial Son of Robert Scales, and of Elizabeth Scales, of Stratford, Essex.
Edmund Scott Ordinary Seaman C/JX 545582 Chatham Naval Memorial
Peter Maurice Sidebotham 21 Sub-Lieutenant Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve Portsmouth Naval Memorial Son of The Revd. Edward Maurice Sidebotham and Evelyn Rose Sidebotham, of Kirdford, Billingshurst, Sussex; Husband of Pauline Muriel Sidebotham, of Dormans Land, Surrey.
Adrian Lloyd Thomas 22 Able Seaman C/JX 220363 Chatham Naval Memorial Son of Robert Leslie and Phylis Agnes Thomas, of Hereford.
Alfred Graham Ward 21 Able Seaman C/JX 375220 Chatham Naval Memorial Son of Alfred Christopher and Rose Clementina Ward, of New Malden, Surrey.
Edward Wood 22 Able Seaman C/JX 354280 Chatham Naval Memorial Son of James and Ann Wood; Husband of Alice M. R. Wood, of Boddam, Aberdeenshire.
Dan Basil Curtis 20 Sub-Lieutenant Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve Bergen-Op-Zoom War Cemetery Son of Francis Daniel and Lily Mary Curtis, of Brighton, Sussex.
Donald James Fraser 19 Able Seaman P/JX 426061 Bergen-Op-Zoom War Cemetery Son of Walter and Florence Gertrude Fraser, of Redcar, Yorkshire.
George Leonard Holtom Ordinary Seaman P/JX 522657 Bergen-Op-Zoom War Cemetery
Brian Alfred Kingham Telegraphist C/JX 614937 Bergen-Op-Zoom War Cemetery

ML 906

Don Claydon was Commanding Officer of ML 906, the ‘chummy’ boat to ML 916. In 1974 he replied to correspondence sent him by Captain Hopper, the former Senior Officer of minesweeping operations at HMS Wildfire III at Sheerness, where the minesweeping MLs of the 19th ML Flotilla had been based. In 1974 Captain Hopper had been approached by a writer researching the Walcheren campaign who was seeking information on the naval operations. He in turn had approached Don Claydon for any information he could recall about the minesweeping operations. Don who is now deceased, kept several items relating to his time serving in MLs, including the original signals sent to him for minesweeping the Scheldt, known as Operation Calendar.

Lieutenant Don Claydon of ML 906 on the bridge (© Ron Metcalfe)
Don Claydon pictured in 1997 (© Ron Metcalfe)

The crew of ML 916 preparing for minesweeping the Scheldt in 1944

Calibrating minesweeping gear of Southend (© Ron Metcalfe)
Onboard ML 906 with Orepesa Float (Minesweeping) (© Ron Metcalfe)
The crew of ML 906 standing to attention (© Ron Metcalfe)
ML 906 Depth Charges and Orepesa Float (© Ron Metcalfe)
Onboard ML 906 (© Ron Metcalfe)
Mid-Ship Oerlikon (Ron Metcalfe’s gun manned here by the coxswain) (© Ron Metcalfe)
Entering Amsterdam 1945 (2pdr Gun) (© Ron Metcalfe)
Motor Launches assisiting HMS Prompt1 after she hit a mine off Ostende (© Ron Metcalfe)

Signals relating to Operation Calendar — Minesweeping the Scheldt

(© Ron Metcalfe)
(© Ron Metcalfe)
(© Ron Metcalfe)
(© Ron Metcalfe)
(© Ron Metcalfe)
(© Ron Metcalfe)
(© Ron Metcalfe)
(© Ron Metcalfe)