The LCTR 439 and D Day

While waiting for the delivery of 12 new LCT(R)s George remembers "With Elmer's (my captain’s ) permission and the cooperation of the rest of the captains, I organized a training program for the deck crews of all 12 ships. Subjects included ship and line handling procedures for leaving and entering port, docking, the Command structure, daily watches, helmsman duties, signals and general seamanship. The specialized nature of the work of the Engine room personnel excluded them from the training. All available officers helped with the training which was undertaken in a positive atmosphere and good spirits. Everyone learned a lot and we all had a good time."

~ Preparations for D-Day ~
The waiting was over when in March of 1944 the skipper, Elmer Mahlin, George and the crew picked up British rocket ship LCT(R) 439 at Troon in the River Clyde estuary on the west coast of southern Scotland. Although not known at the time there was only to be around 10 weeks to prepare the craft and crew for the D Day landings on June 6th 1944. The 500 mile journey to the south coast of England provided an excellent opportunity to break in the new 18 man crew. No problems were experienced with the craft.

“We lived on board while berthed at Roseneath Castle, we regarded our ship as a work place (duty) and our home, which we were very proud of.

Aboard the LCTR the officers slept in bunks above the engine room and mess room and the crew slept in hammocks foreward of the mess room. A cook served substantial, healthy food aboard the ship, much the same as on land.

George also attended the Radar School at Hayling Island in Southern England for a week to learn the British Blind bombing techniques and stayed overnight in London and twice experienced the German bombing of the city.

Elmer Mahlin was a competent man, very well liked by the crew. At Roseneath the oldest men in time and service each took their ships to the River Dart, Southern England. Elmer took command of the remaining 6 ships left at until it was our turn to leave.”

We broke in the new 18 man crew and had not trouble at all on the trip south. We stayed at the Isle of Mann one night".

The Commanding officer of the LCTR 439 was Lieutenant (jg) Elmer H.Mahlin with ensign George F. Fortune second in command.

Elmer Mahlin the skipper is pictured at left.

"By spring of 1944 we were berthed about a mile in on the River Dart, with the commanding officers quarters and offices in the Agatha Christie home above us. We were only a mile from Dartmouth and the home of the British Naval Base. One day after maneuvers and practicing, at low tide we went aground on a inlet connected to the sand bar that Tennyson wrote about in his poem “Crossing the bar” (from Southhampton to the Isle of Wight) and damaged the screws. We notified our base and they sent replacement screws and our men put them back on. We sure had some wild times."

Not all the preparations for the invasion passed without incident as George explains, "The PC (Personnel Carrier) I hit in the fog on our way back to the river Dart back from loading 2896 x 5 inch by 4 feet rockets in Portsmouth, had a new officer whose ship was to have been stationed at the off the Utah beach at Normandy on D Day. He had the watch leading our convoy of about 10 or 12 small craft like us, where we were last in line, and he got in our line. All of a sudden he showed up right out of the fog. The fog was very thick and one of our crew was manning the sound powered telephone on the bow to give us some extra warning of approaching craft. On sight of the PC he instinctively jumped down an open hatch (and broke his leg) . I was on the con and I hollered at him to 'get the hell out of there!' just before we hit. I still remember the crew trying to get the life rafts into the water because they thought we were sinking. The skipper and I hollered at them to get back to their stations. Our bow being horizontal cut through the PC's bow like knife through soft butter. Our bow came to a halt at their 3" 50 gun having cut through their chain locker on the way.

Our bow door broke loose and hung down. Two or three of our crew dived down to run a line through the eye bolt at the end of the door to crank it up! However, it proved to be too cold to work effectively so we proceeded slowly back to Dartmouth alone for repairs. My radar training at Hayling Island in Southern England using the English Blind Bombing technique, certainly helped to bring us safely back to the river Dart in near zero visibility. The fog was a blessing because it protected us from U boat patrols!

When we arrived in the Dart River a Free French tug met us. Despite the comedy of them yelling to us in French, and us yelling back in English we made it through. Good old Elmer Mahlin, our skipper, had brought us safely to anchor.......he got us everywhere we were supposed to go and we did our job!"

"The new PC that replaced the one I hit at the Normandy invasion at Utah Beach, hit a mine and turned turtle. Some of their crew were sitting on the bottom side floating and waving at us. When we got back to our base on the river Dart, we got a message from the PC that I hit thanking us for making a mess out of their bow and chain locker and saving their lives....that they were not supposed to have hit us!"

Crew of LCT(R) 439.
Officers 2nd row right George Fortune with left arm on hip and Elmer Mahlin].

The day before D Day

“Boy what a nightmare that was trying to follow the ship ahead. The helmsman was not able to see the ship ahead to steer on because of the tall blast shield - it was up to the officer on the con to tell the helmsman what course to follow”.

"There were high seas and storm the day before the invasion, so we had to come back. We were finally able to tie up to a buoy somewhere off southern England."

June 6, 1944 D Day
as written to his family...
"On D-Day, I watched planes fall from the sky like exploding fireworks, ships around me turned turtle, blown up by torpedoes, and wave after wave of Allied planes flying over and bombing at the Utah beach landing."

photo on way to Normany

As executive officer George pulled the firing levers on the 439s first salvo of 1448 rockets which took about 3 minutes. They roared over the heads of the troops in the small landing craft en route to the beaches. The rockets landed on the beaches to ensure the German troops were eliminated when the Allied troops arrived shortly afterwards, on time and on target. The crew wore their anti-gas outfits and life jackets for a week without taking them off! They found out later that they hit their target and on time!!

“There was some drama on board our 439 as Elmer couldn't get into the little cabin they built for the skippers to protect them from the rocket flames. He got his head and front of his body in but his life jacket and gas protecting clothing that we all had to wear was too bulky for him to close the door. Unfortunately his backside clothing was burnt and scorched. As soon as I fired Elmer said 'Left Full Rudder' and we ran into an LCT, midship, which we just dented, so we backed off and went and anchored. Then a British LCT came drifting by with the incoming tide, sheared off our anchor cables and set us adrift without anchors. Fortunately we had the damaged screws which has been replaced and which were still on board (after running aground at the "Crossing the Bar") and we used these as anchors. Within hours we were hit again and the damaged screws which were acting as anchors were cut off again. We hooked up bow to bow (about 10-20 feet apart) with another LCTR and stayed there until it was time to leave."

After the initial salvo , the 439 reloaded and remained in the area of the beaches ready for further action for 7 days. During this time enemy planes came over at dusk to bomb our ships but the anti-aircraft gunners were too much for them... the first time gunnerseven fired at the Allied planes because they were so nervous!

“We went back to the River Dart and waited for new orders."