War Diary of Captain Alan W. Willis (Lieut.Cmdr. R.D. R.N.R. Ret’d )

sunk in the area. Hector was at anchor and defenceless when the attack came - Alan was in the bath at the time - and she suffered four direct hits. They fought the fires as long as they could but the position was hopeless and the vessel slowly settled on the bottom in shallow water. Sadly 29 of her crew were killed during the action and Alan was very lucky to escape injury. He was able to return to his cabin before leaving but found it completely gutted and all his possessions, gathered over the five years since his last visit home, were lost. So ended the first, and to some extent less hazardous part of Alan’s war service. He was to sail home in May, 1942 via the Cape as a passenger aboard a Greek passenger ship unescorted -such ships were rarely seen in convoys using their speed to keep out of trouble. So after a spell of long overdue leave, Alan once again put to sea, this time aboard the “Queen Mary” bound for New York, where he enjoyed wonderful hospitality (he would not go into that!) before proceeding to a Boston shipyard to board a brand new Landing Ship -Tanks (L.S.T. ) No.361, as First Lieutenant (i.e.2n d . in command). No.361 was leader of the first flotilla of L.S.T.s ever to be commissioned by the Royal Navy and captained by an R.N. Commander. As Alan was to spend the rest of his war service aboard them it is important to know what LST’s were all about. In essence they were substantial vessels of about 3,500 tons designed to carry men and materials for off-loading in assaults on enemy held beaches, and as essential transport ships for collecting and delivery where docks or harbours were not available. For this reason they were flat-bottomed, with twin screws and twin rudders for manoeuvrability, and with hinged bows and ramps similar to those used in car ferries. They were manned by a crew of about 100 men and were lightly armed with anti-aircraft guns. Their carrying capacity was prodigious, and would include typically 80 vehicles (possibly including 30 tanks) and 400 men. Designed as “one-hit” ships they were lightly armoured at the bow only but could carry 1600 tons on the lower (tank) deck and 300 tons on the main deck in addition to 1000 tons of diesel fuel in ballast tanks. They could also carry a tank-landing craft - smaller vessels used for beach assault - secured to their upper deck . They were of a brilliant design, and though not built to take much punishment, did in fact absorb more damage than expected. Over 1000 were built in 15 different shipyards in U.S.A. After fitting out, exercises, and trials No.361 set sail with her flotilla in convoy for North Africa in February 1943 when thankfully the crossing was not to prove as uncomfortable as it might have been had weather conditions been less Page 6
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