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Operations of the Headquarters Frigates during the Normandy invasion

A lot of ships were earmarked for the task of acting as Headquarters ships during the initial stages of the invasion of Europe, one notable one was HMS Bulolo which carried out this duty at Operation TORCH during the landings in the Mediterranean sea in 1942.

But for the invasion of Europe quite a few more would be needed, Bulolo herself was of course included after updating of her electronics, others seconded to the job were some Hunt Class destroyers and River Class frigates and Western Approaches command were called upon to submit some of her Captain Class Frigates.

Two that were selected early during their building were HMS Kingsmill and Lawford, both of these were commissioned during November 1943, and after a very short spell of familiarity were sent over to the UK where they had to undergo extensive refits to be able to carry out the job they were destined for.

These two ships were sent to Cammell Laird's shipyard at Liverpool for their refits, most of their crews were paid off.

The refits were quite extensive, the aft 3" gun was removed and the superstructure extended to provide accommodation for the extra staff officers who would be carried, two deck houses were also constructed to house the large amount of radio equipment to be shipped aboard, and a small main mast was erected to carry all the extra aerials, also quite a few more Oerlikon guns were added to make a total of 16, and last but not least four extra British radar sets were included Types 242, 253, 271 and 391.

Meanwhile HMS Dacres having commissioned in August of 1943, and after going through all her working up routines had come over to Belfast where she was seconded to the B4 Escort Group, a mixed group containing three destroyers and two Captain Class Frigates HMS Foley and Bayntun, and carried out several escort duties in the Atlantic.

Then a hastily made decision was made that she should become a Headquarters ship, so while two watches of her crew were home on leave, she received a signal to be ready to sail in 48 hours, to accomplish this she had to borrow some crew from the base ship Caroline to make up a steaming crew to take her to Dundee, but before she left all the possessions of the crew who were on leave were dumped on the jetty at Belfast.

Dacres then set sail for Dundee where she entered a small shipyard where they were able to carry out all the modifications as the other two ships.

All three ships after their refits, and working up exercises proceeded to the south coast where they went through exhaustive exercises, especially with one where live ammunition was used, they all moved to anchor off Cowes to wait for the big day.

One problem was the overcrowding with all the extra crew aboard which numbered about 240, where the normal crew was about 170/180, whilst they were at sea three watches were kept, which meant some sharing of bunks was necessary as the ships only held about 190 odd bunks.

Lawford sailed at 2100 hrs on 5th June 1944 for her position at J1 sector of GOLD beach and led a column of ten cross channel ferries carrying Canadian assault troops, she got to Corseulles-sur-mer at first light on 6th June D Day, where her crew saw the RAF bombing the shore defences, followed by the huge bombardment by the battleships, and the horrific sight of the specially adapted landing ships firing their batteries of rockets.

Lawford was senior ship as Captain Pugsley decided to use her as his command ship, because he had been designated to take command of all patrol activity off Normandy once the ground troops had established themselves ashore, and the control ships would have fulfilled their tasks.

All went according to plan for Lawford on the first two days, and troops were well established ashore, which relinquished her from her duties, and at 0400on D + 2 there were reports of E-Boats being engaged by our MGB's so Captain Pugsley decided to take a look for himself, Lawford had not got very far towards the action when a signal arrived informing the Captain that our MGB's had driven the E-Boats off , so Lawford turned around to resume her place at her anchorage, at 0500 Hrs as her cable party were preparing to anchor with the ship swinging slowly to port , a sudden roar of aircraft engines was heard close from the starboard quarter and almost at once there was a terrific explosion, where a 500 lb bomb had struck the ship's hull about midships, penetrated down through to the main motor room and blew the bottom of the ship out as well as blowing all the Oerlikon ready use ammunition lockers and fully loaded 20mm magazines high into the air, which rained down in a deadly shower.

Lawford lost all way and started listing to starboard, and as the list was getting more pronounced Lt Cdr Morris ordered abandon ship, the motor boat was launched when it was almost in the sea, wounded loaded on to it and taken to HMS Gorgon, minesweepers picked up the CO and about 65 men, the Gorgan had 7 officers and 145 ratings aboard, 24 of HMS Lawford's crew lost their lives.

It would appear that the twin engine bomber came in under the radar beam with its engines switched off, and out of the sun, which is why he was unseen and unheard until he switched his engines on as he released the bomb.

It was exactly 10 minutes from the time the bombs struck until the ship sank broken in two, with both her bows and stern sticking out of the surface of the sea - an abrupt end to a short career of HMS Lawford.

Kingsmill had a similar task to perform as Lawford, she also sailed on 5th June and took up her station with G2 group off Gold Beach at daybreak on 6th June, her Co was most displeased at not being allowed to take part with his 3" guns,which would not have made any difference what so ever.

Kingsmill continued with her duties until thr end of June when FOBAA set up his headquarters on shore.

Kingsmill then became headquarters ship for the CFCF force, with Captain Pugsley installing his staff on board, from where he directed the CFCF operations. Kingsmill due to her slower speed than the turbo electrics was unable to take part in the many high speed furious actions with the E-Boats, but she had her hands full being responsible for the protection of the shipping in the anchorage, and there was plenty of action around the protective Trout Line when the German Neger ( two manned torpedoes ) and the Lentil (explosive motor boats) were attacking.

A short time later a German JU88 aircraft made a pass over the anchorage and flew well in range of Kingsmill's oerlikon guns, the gunners did not need to be asked twice to have a go, they really did plaster it and saw it burst into flames and crash into the sea, as it was going down a nearby Canadian ship Alberni opened fire on the plane just as it was about to hit the sea, and got equal credit for its destruction much to the disgust of Kingsmill's gunners.

As the land battle moved eastwards, the E-Boats retreated to their new bases in Holland, The CFCF ships moved round to the Nore Command areas, there is no record of Kingsmill being associated with them after August 1944.

She was recalled to carry out Headquarter ship duties when the further landings were made at Walcheren in the autumn.

While this was going on the hospital ship which was standing by was sunk by the Germans, and Kingsmill found herself with about 300 wounded on board, her own MO with a surgeon from the battleship Warspite who joined him dealt with the large number of wounded men as best as they could in the cramped space on board Kingsmill.

The Walcheren operations came to an end on 8th November 1944, and there is hardly any records of Kingsmill activities after this.

Kingsmill was one of the earliest of the Captains to be returned to the US Navy on 22nd August 1945.

HMS Dacres was the last of the frigates to be converted for the role of a headquarters ship, and took herself down to Portsmouth, where while she was waiting for D Day for some unknown reason her forward motor room became flooded which prompted a full scale inquiry to be held, but before this could be completed Dacres had to sail for the invasion beach with only one engine to propel her at the reduced speed of about 16 knots, which was enough for her to lead in her convoy of assault ships to her group position of S3 off Sword Beach on schedule at daybreak on D Day.

Her duties during the early part of the landings was the same as her two sister ships, and the engineering staff took advantage of this time at anchor to work on the flooded motor room, although not to their complete satisfaction.

As the land forces moved further inland and consolidated their positions, the staff officers transferred themselves to the shore, and Dacres joined up with Kingsmill in patrolling around the Normandy anchorage until the task ended in August when she sailed for Portsmouth, and on the way she salvaged an abandoned Liberty ship, having reached Portsmouth her crew were paid off' and she was put into the dockyard hands who stripped her of all the extra superstructure and guns, they also sorted out her motor room which was restored to full working order, and when all was completed she sailed for Belfast to become what she was really intended for U-Boat hunting.

In the New Year of 1945 Dacres joined the 10th Escort Group for a short period,

Even though the group sank three U-Boats during February Dacres was not credited with helping in any of these kills.

In April she was transferred to the 15th Escort Group for the short time left until VE Day after which she was put into the reserve fleet until her return to the US Navy on 26th January 1946.

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Author: Roy Tynan © 2003
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