The people of Portsmouth and Southsea are made of too stern stuff to let Covid put them off: so out in the fresh air where infection was – and is – vanishingly unlikely, they turned out in force as the Artelia team expertly manoeuvred the last LCT survivor of D-Day onto the Southsea promenade, inch by inch, checking and re-checking. Already safely on her SPMT, (Self-Propelled Modular Transporter) she made it onto the roadway, monitored all the while by those caring for her – notably ML (UK) of Portsmouth, who had done such outstanding restoration work on 7074 for The National Museum of the Royal Navy. As she moved off, a round of applause broke out – fitting recognition for this gallant survivor and all who triumphantly brought her back to life, to be seen and admired into the future.
So, in the early hours of the next morning, it was make or break to land LCT 7074. The parallels with Normandy 1944 itself, where the Landing Craft Tank first went into action, were too obvious to miss. (It was even D-Day + 1 – just as in 1944, 7074 was ready aye ready on that first night, but the wind and weather held her off into the next day.) Unseasonal winds – check. A break in the weather – check. The ship locked and loaded – check. The best and boldest advice to act on – check. And then there she was, her 59-metre length gently nudging in sideways, the tide just right over the beach so she would be level with the roadway to take her home to ‘D-Day Story’. Re-re-check – including with a humble tape measure!
… GFI became NWJ (“No Way José”) after hours of valiant struggle, moving the barge carrying the landing craft wave by wave along Southsea front, with the wind whipping at halliards and a nasty short sea crashing again and again against the slab sides of her barge. She was right there, all ready to be crabbed sideways to her carefully judged landing position on the beach, to roll her onto her road transporter. It was just too tantalizing, but in consultation with his expert engineers, 7074 Project Leader Nick Hewitt of the National Museum of the Royal Navy called it: go back and hope for better weather after daybreak. Now the risk factor had multiplied – because if the second attempt failed, the next tidal conditions were a month away, with Autumn winds anticipated. And that redeployment’s cost? £250,000. Ouch.
It didn’t look good the night the National Museum of the Royal Navy decided to GFI (“Go For It”) and move LCT 7074 to her new home outside Southsea’s ‘D-Day Story’ museum. It was windy and choppy – all depended on the ability of the tugs to tow the dead weight of the barge carrying the last D-Day Landing Craft Tank out of Portsmouth Dockyard, and through the narrow harbour entrance – which once caught HMS ‘Vanguard’, on her sad way to the breakers. For a while, Britain’s last battleship got wedged across the harbour entrance (picture) giving drinkers at the two pubs right on the water an unparalleled view of her majestic port side. So… could the LCT 7074 team make it, and avoid ‘Vanguard’s fate? It was just about the last chance with tide and weather, so GFI… but…
As we captioned these shots in our film ‘D-Day Delivered – The Story of LCT 7074: 3 – Revelation’, you should look away if – like me – your parking skills leave, ahem, something to be desired. Neither I, nor colleagues Andy Jones and David Botwinik, could see how on earth this 59-metre ship was going to be manoeuvred out of Portsmouth Naval Dockyard’s huge ship shed and onto the barge waiting to take her to her new home – Southsea’s ‘D-Day Story’ Museum. Apart from anything else, there’s a four-storey gantry running the length of the shed around which she would have to turn. But the maestro in charge got her out without a hitch, using what looked like a second-hand PlayStation slung around his neck to do the job. Smooth as silk. See it all happen at https://www.maritimefilmsuk.tv/films/d-day-delivered-the-story-of-landing-craft-tank-7074-3-revelation/
Landing Craft Tank 7074 hid her newly painted charms under white plastic for many a long month, to help prevent any contamination of the RN’s giant ship shed in Portsmouth naval dockyard. And to look after the painstaking paint work carried out by ML (UK) of Portsmouth, inch by inch. But at last the day came and our stills photography specialist David Botwinik was fully rigged to catch its progress. Unpeeling was pretty rapid, given the length of the ship and the massive size of the stretched carrier bag (definitely not a Bag for Life) which covered ‘D-Day Story’s latest blushing bride. Removal was unsophisticated – a lot of clambering about with Stanley knives by two uncoverers, only paused briefly when they realised they were disturbing a lot of dirt on top, and needed breathing apparatus. Then, there she was!
My thanks to LCT 7074 historian and archaeologist Stephen Fisher for this explanation of the strange pipe-like structure you can see in the picture – the ‘FAM’:
FAM stands for ‘Fast Aerial Mine’, an ‘Unrotated Projectile’: a simple weapon of questionable effectiveness. In essence, a rocket was launched up a launching rail ahead of an aircraft. At a certain altitude, the rocket would deploy a parachute and cable, with the explosive dangling from it, which would slowly float back down to sea level. The unfortunate aircraft was intended to snag the cable on its wing, so detonating the aerial mine. It’s doubtful if 7074 ever fired hers, in training or anger.
HMS Hood certainly had such ‘Unrotated Projectiles’- never used, but one went up by accident while she was alongside in Gibraltar, causing injuries but no inconvenience to the enemy!
I don’t suppose the National Museum of the Royal Navy had the late comic Larry Grayson at all in mind when they decided that LCT 7074 should get her tank ramp back… highly unlikely… but very necessary to show the ship in full D-Day fig (an exact replica of the original – no-one should try to drive a tank up it.) But it certainly was a finishing touch much required. As are the Oerlikons on the bridge wings, the only armament on board that 7074 carried. An interesting “fun fact” about these guns, was that though the team looked at acquiring replicas, it was less expensive to buy the real thing. Deactivated of course (a relief to passers-by.) So they were 7074’s only means of defence – apart that is, from two ‘FAM’s. And what were they? See next blog!
Rob is a TV producer, reporter and camera operator with 30 years’ experience at the BBC, Channel 4 and ITN, in news, factual and documentary production. He is a four times award winner, whose awards include a coveted Royal Television Society award for his work on Channel 4 News. His association with The Maritime Foundation goes back to 1995, when he won the first Desmond Wettern Maritime Media Award for a series of reports that led to a major documentary on the loss of the bulk carrier Derbyshire.