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

medal, but were mentioned for their outstanding service. (It was denoted by an oak leaf clasp attached to the relevant campaign medal - in this case the victory medal). Predictably Alan would not be drawn on the reasons for this award. Again we learn from war records that this beachhead was desperately defended, and the Allies were held back for four months before the breakout to Rome and central Italy. Even Alan was to admit that it was ‘hard going’. He made several more journeys ferrying supplies to the area - in fact, his diary reveals a life of ceaseless activity, transporting an unbelievable array of vehicles and equipment needed to keep the vast allied forces maintained in their push up the Italian mainland as the Italian resistance crumbled while the German defence intensified. (Italy surrendered on September 7th. 1943) Primarily No.361 carried men, fighting equipment, and vehicles to the battlefields, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. The list includes; trucks, jeeps, rations, bicycles, motor bikes, barrage balloons, guns, bulldozers, cranes, trailers (for water, petrol, rockets etc.), road-rollers and crushers, ambulances, radio and radar trucks, staff cars and even an admirals barge. It all added up to a logistical nightmare! Finally, on 6th.February, 1944 No.361 embarked 130 servicemen and sailed for Leith in Scotland where they docked for much needed repairs and refit. Job done? Well no, not for him at any rate for all eyes were now on the expected ‘Second Front’, landing in France. So once again Alan’s L.S.T. was into the thick of it . Sailing to the South Coast, they embarked 350 troops and a multiplicity of tanks, specialized vehicles, and 18 ‘Dukws’ (amphibious vehicles which were a cross between a lorry and a small barge with propellers). So they arrived at SWORD sector of the Normandy beachhead on 6th . June 1944. Alan’s ship landed on the first day as part of the huge attacking fleet. (4000 craft would you believe!) - and what an unforgettable experience. Alan was to write : “THE Normandy Landings were on a very large scale and demanded enormous preparation and organisation. The brunt of the attack was borne by a variety of small craft i.e. Assault. Rocket Infantry and Tank Landing Craft combined with Parachute and Glider borne troops. Our flotilla of L.S.T.s - 361 was ‘leader’ commanded by an R.N. Commander -was in the fifth wave of the assault, by which time the beach-head was well established. Our 18 ‘Dukws’ were put in the water on arrival at the beach and our troops put ashore by a ferry boat that we had towed from the U.K. Superior air cover having already been established, the danger of attack by enemy aircraft was not as prevalent as had been experienced in previous landings. Sixteen further round trips were completed each returning with up to 200 wounded and prisoners of war. LS.T.s made Page 8
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