Coastal Forces Veterans logo

Navigational MLs on D-Day

Written by: Claude "Buddy" Crowe

It has been most interesting reading the various comments in the Spring and Summer Newsletters regarding the role of the Fairmile B MLs in the D-day operations. The 11th ML flotilla moved from its Newhaven base to Penryn, Falmouth, in early 1944, and were surrounded by US Forces and their LSTs etc. The Greenbank Hotel on the harbour front was the "common room" for officers and seniors of both RN and USA Forces. Late May 1944 the Flotilla, MLs 194, 187, 189, 214 etc. left to escort this US Force to Portland harbour, where they were marshalled in sequence in trots. 4th June we ventured forth under instructions, but due to rough sea conditions, as everyone knows, we escorted them back in! Finally, 5 June, ML 194 as SO’s boat under Lt. Cdr. Eric Povell RNVR, together with some of the 11th Flotilla, guided the USA V Corps (115RCT) out of Portland towards the southern point of the Isle of Wight, where in the darkness, we passed the end of the force going towards the Cherbourg peninsular more westwards.

194 was not possessed of a radar cone, but we were issued with the new Decca navigation charts. We finally arrived at Omaha Beach at about 6.00am, ready for the lines of USA Forces to disembark on to the beach. Regrettably, everyone knows the disasters that happened at Omaha, and though a humble AB at that time on the aft Oerlikon, one felt so helpless. Infantry bodies drifting to be picked up and transferred. We couldn’t be much further inshore than we were, and our then 3-pounder was not much use. As another shipmate has noted, the big ships were much further out, and it wasn’t much fun being under the line of the screaming shells!

If we are not mistaken, later in the day, the Monitor HMS Erebus arrived and was lobbing 16" shells in the direction of Caen! Shipmates who have visited Normandy and Omaha and the USA Cemetery above the cliffs, will appreciate the moment we on ML 194 and others of the Flotilla witnessed.

Immediately upon return from D-day, the Flotilla ran almost daily runs to Arromanches floating harbour from Whale Island, taking wooden rope-handled crates of blood plasma (new medicals then) and returning with VIPs, and cans of newsreels.

As we recently agreed, the storms following D-day did not interfere with the routine ..... it was only when we passed another ML going the other way, with their Asdic dome in the air, that we realised 194 must be doing the same.

The Flotilla paid off in August, and 194 went to Morgan Giles at Teignmouth in Devon to receive heavier armament, copper sheathing and deck tanks, and proceeded as SO’s of the 34th Flotilla in late October from Milford Haven for the Far East.

We both agree, the role of the ML’s in the Normandy invasion and thereafter, should be recorded officially.

Although there’s a model of an ML in the Arromanches Museum of the Mulberry harbour, the only other reference is the small scale panorama model in the Omaha Museum, where one can see ML’s close to the beach!

CFVA News: Edition: March 2005 Volume: 121 Page: 18