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