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 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., Lt G G Macpherson and one other of his crew as the only survivors.
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|
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.