On the 6 June 1944 the Allies landed on the north west coast of France, in what was the largest amphibious operation ever mounted.  The planning behind this operation was truly monumental and began two years before the first soldier set foot on French soil.  The allies plan was audacious, in that it exploited their maritime power to allow them to place men and equipment in large numbers on the defended shores of France in Operation Overlord.

On the 6 June 1944 the Allies landed on the north west coast of France, in what was the largest amphibious operation ever mounted.  The planning behind this operation was truly monumental and began two years before the first soldier set foot on French soil.  The allies plan was audacious, in that it exploited their maritime power to allow them to place men and equipment in large numbers on the defended shores of France in Operation Overlord.

 

 

In May 1943 an Anglo-American conference was held in Washington, the conference was attended by the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and American President Franklin D. Roosevelt who decided to launch an offensive against Hitler’s Atlantic Wall.  Following the conference there began an intense period of planning as to where the actual landing would take place, a number of options were open to the allies but eventually they chose a fifty mile stretch of coast in Western Normandy as this area was not as heavily defended as the obviously shorter route to the Pas de Calais.

 

When the landing site had been identified the planners then had to turn their attention to assembling a very large number of troops around the country, billeting them and arranging training for the actual landing.  As well as this, massive amounts of stores and equipment had to be amassed and stored prior to D Day, and when you consider that Great Britain at the time was facing severe shortages, then the task of getting the supplies and equipment together presented a massive headache for the planners.  The convoys that plied the high seas to bring much needed food, fuel and raw materials into the country would have to be stepped up, as they were now needed to bring in troops, tanks and trucks, aircraft, ammunition, food and fuel.  RFA Officers, who were acting as Assistant Fuelling Officers to the Admiralty were drafted in to help with planning the movement and storage of fuel, both prior to and after the start of D-Day.

 

RFA ships would no doubt have been part of these convoys, as it is known that some of the larger RFA tankers were sailing in these convoys to bring oil in to the country, and other RFA ships would have been used to move much needed supplies to the naval bases and depots around the country.  However at the end of 1943 the Ministry of War Transport in conjunction with the Merchant Navy Board reached an agreement that all merchant ships that were allocated, or likely to be allocated to support Operation Neptune, the maritime phase of Operation Overlord, needed to have a special clause inserted into their articles of agreement.  These men became known as ‘V’ men who were drawn from a special ‘Operation Pool’ of seamen.

 

On the 4 May 1944 a memo was issued to Commanders in Chief, Admiral Superintendents and Naval Stores Officers in all of the Naval bases and stores depots around the United Kingdom appraising them of the details for manning RFA ships that may be earmarked for use in Operation Neptune and any follow up operations. At the same time these orders were sent to the Masters of the following RFA’s: RFA Distol, Scotol, Kimmerol, Elderol, Hickorol, Limol, Elmol, Larchol, Berta, Fortol, Serbol, Brown Ranger, Robert Middleton and Robert Dundas.

 

Robert_Dundas_xx

RFA Robert Dundas

 

Masters of these RFA’s were instructed that the vast majority of RFA crews had already signed the special articles of agreement, but if any members of the crew would not accept the special clause, then they were to be replaced immediately and replacements taken from the “Operational Pool” and not from the normal pool.  All of the ‘V’ men had a note placed in their discharge books and had their British Seamen’s Identity cards annotated.  They were also entitled to a number of allowances, above their normal allocation and these are listed later in this article along with a list of the RFA’s that supported Operation Neptune both immediately following D Day and for the months following it.

 

 

Mass Invasion of the Continent Clause:


 

Mass Invasion of the Continent: - It is further agreed that, in the event of [the said ship]

[any of the said ships]  being required by the Minister of War Transport to be used

In connection with any actual or intended mass invasion of the continent, the

following provisions numbered (1) to (7) shall have effect, notwithstanding anything

to the contrary herein contained.  Save in so far as is otherwise expressly provided

in the paragraph numbered (7), these provisions do not apply, except:

 

(a)     WHEN A SHIP IS REQUIRED BY THE MINISTER TO BE USED

IN CONNECTION WITH ANY ACTUAL OR INTENDD MASS

INVASION OF THE CONTINENT; and

(b)     DURING A PERIOD THE BEGINNING AND END OF WHICH IS

DETERMINED BY THE MINISTER AND NOTIFIED TO THE

MASTER ON BEHALF OF HIMSELF AND THE CREW, BY A

SUPERINTENDENT OR ANY PERSON AUTHORISED BY THE

MINISTER SO TO NOTIFY THE MASTER.

 

(1)     The said ship may be employed in any service or on any voyage approved

by or under the authority of the Minister;

(2)     The Master or any member of the crew may be required to perform (whether

ashore or afloat) any duties in connection with the loading, unloading or bunkering

of the said ship.

(3)     The period of employment or engagement of the Master or any member

of the crew shall, if it would otherwise expire whilst the said ship is required

by the Minister to be used as aforesaid, be extended for the period during which

the said ship is so required to be used;

(4)     Neither the Master nor any member of the crew shall be entitled to claim

to be discharged from his employment or engagement unless he is certified, by a

Naval Surgeon or by a Medical Officer appointed by the Minister, to be physically

unfit to perform the duties for which he was engaged;

(5)     All provisions relating to the hours of duty of ratings, or to special leave

for officers, as regulated by Agreements or determination of the National Maritime

Board, shall be suspended and in lieu thereof shall have paid a consolidated rate

(inclusive of remuneration for any work done in connection with loading, unloading

or bunkering) in addition to their ordinary wages of £1. 10. 0d per week for officers

and £1 per week for ratings (half rate for O.S. and Boys).

 

The payment to Master will be £1. 15. 0d per week.

 

(6)     Neither the Master nor any member of the crew shall be required to provide

his own food and no deduction shall be made from his wages for food which is

provided;

(7)     Any leave to which the Master or any member of the crew has become

entitled before the said ship is required by the Minister to be used as aforesaid or

to which he may thereafter become entitled, shall be recorded and, if not granted

before, it shall be granted as soon as practicable after the Minister shall cease to

require any ship to be used as aforesaid;

 

AND each of the parties hereto (including the Master) individually undertakes

to transfer to or join, if so required, any ship which may be required by the

Minister to be used as aforesaid and to serve therein on the terms and conditions

applicable to a person employed or engaged on board that ship or on board a ship

of that class, in the capacity in which the said party is required to transfer to or join

the ship; provided that in no case shall the terms of service be financially less

favourable than those provided herein.

 

(For insertion in Articles opened on or after 25 October 1943)

 

 

All officers and men who have signed these Articles have accepted the Clause.

 

Crews on RFA’s that were either earmarked for, or allocated to Operation Neptune suddenly became entitled to a food allowance that during rationing, must have seemed luxurious, especially to the few RFA ships who were on weekly pay and who had to find their own food whilst onboard, as the new instructions meant that they no longer had to find their food and no deduction could be made in lieu.  The following list is the allocation per man per week and a metric conversion is given alongside:

 

Soft Bread or Biscuits

7lbs

3.18kg

Sweet Biscuits

2oz

56grams

Fresh meat

7½ lbs

3.4kg

Smoked ham or bacon

10ozs

283grams

Dried eggs

6ozs

170grams

Fresh or tinned fish

1½lb

680grams

Potatoes

14lbs

6.35kg

Fresh or tinned vegetables

4lbs

1.81kg

Vegetables, green peas or beans

1¼lbs

567grams

Split peas

4ozs

113grams

Flour

2lbs

907grams

Gee

6ozs

170grams

Tea

4ozs

113grams

Coffee or Cocoa

4ozs

113grams

Sugar

30ozs

850grams

Milk (condensed)

24ozs

680grams

Butter (fresh or tinned)

13.25ozs

375grams

Margarine or cooking fat

4ozs

113grams

Marmalade, jam or syrup

10ozs

283 grams

Cheese

8ozs

226grams

Suet

4ozs

113grams

Pickles

½ pint

0.28 litres

Dried Fruit

5ozs

141 grams

Fresh or tinned fruit

1lb

453grams

Fine Salt

2ozs

56grams

Mustard, pepper or curry powder

0.25oz

7grams

Chocolate or sugar confectionary

6.75ozs

191grams

 

 

In addition to the above list the crews were also entitled to a few non-ration items, such as 100 cigarettes a week or 3 ounces of tobacco and 4 ounces of soap, and if this was not enough they were also entitled to a bit more pay, which was made up of the following allowances:

 

Officers were to be paid at the weekly rate according to the NMB yearbook, with the addition of an ‘Oil’ bonus where applicable.  Ratings were also to be paid at the NMB weekly rate or their current rate of pay which ever was the higher and in addition, all crew members got War Risk Money as well as a consolidated payment which had been specified in the Mass Invasion Clause of the Articles, this was made up as follows:

 

Masters  £1. 15. 0d per week or £ 1.75 pence in today’s money

 

Officers  £1. 10. 0d per week or £1.50 pence in today’s money

 

Ratings   £1. 0. 0d   per week, which is still £1 in today’s money

 

Ordinary Seamen and boys got just 10 shillings extra a week or 50 pence in today’s money.

 

On the 24 May 1944 another memo was sent to Commanders in Chief, Admirals in command of Bases and Dockyards as well as Superintendents of Victualling Yards and the Masters of the named RFA’s, that arrangements had been made for a supply of rum to be issued to these ships at Government expense, which was for emergency issue to the crews on operational voyages at the Master’s discretion.  The amount of rum issued to each of the RFA’s was 1 gallon to ships up to 2,000 tons and 2 gallons for ships over 2,000 tons which makes you think how many of the smaller RFA’s suddenly increased their tonnage overnight.

 

As the date for the landings moved closer, RFA ships that were to be part of the support fleet were identified, whilst others, which would support the Neptune fleet in the naval bases and harbours around the United Kingdom, were allocated.  It appears from official records that no RFA’s took part in the actual invasion fleet that arrived off the coast of Normandy on the 6 June 1944, though it does appear that around six RFA’s supported the invasion up to the 12 September, after which the special Mass Invasion Clause ceased.

 

The ships involved and the convoys they sailed in are listed below:

 

RFA Rapidol sailed in convoy ETM 6, which sailed from Southend on the 11 June and arrived in Seine Bay on the 12 June, she was followed by RFA War Diwan, which sailed from Barry, South Wales on the 12 June in convoy EBC 10, arriving in Seine Bay on the 18 June, at the same time that War Diwan was sailing from Barry, RFA Robert Dundas was sailing from Falmouth in convoy ECM 5 to arrive in Seine Bay on the 18 June.

 

Op_Neptune_Convoy_Routes_xx

Operation Neptune Convoy Routes

 

RFA ships supporting Operation Neptune continued to sail from the United Kingdom and a list of the ships and the convoys they sailed in follows:

 

RFA War Diwan sailed from Barry in convoy EBC 27 on the 30 June

 

RFA Rapidol sailed from Falmouth in convoy ECM 22 on the 4 July

 

RFA War Bharata sailed from Barry in convoy EBC 37 on the 10 July

 

RFA Robert Dundas sailed from Barry in convoy EBC 38 on the 11 July

 

RFA War Diwan sailed from Barry in convoy EBC 41 on the 14 July

 

War20Bharata-01

RFA War Bharata

 

RFA War Bharata sailed from Barry in convoy EBC 48 on the 21 July

 

RFA War Diwan sailed from Barry in convoy EBC 53 on the 26th July

 

RFA Spabeck sailed from Barry in convoy EBC 63 on the 4 August with RFA Robert Dundas

 

RFA Spabeck sailed from Barry in convoy EBC 66 on the 8 August

 

Elmol-01

RFA Elmol

 

RFA Elmol sailed from Southend in convoy ETC 69 on the 15 August

 

RFA War Diwan sailed from Barry in convoy EBC 73 on the 15 August

 

War20Diwan-xx

RFA War Diwan

 

When you look at the figures for those involved in the actual invasion, the numbers are staggering, there were 1,213 Naval fighting ships of which 79% were British and Canadian, 16% were American and the rest came from other allied navies.  4,126 landing craft of all sizes were used along with 736 ancillary vessels, including tugs, salvage vessels, hospital carriers, etc.  There were 864 Merchant ships in Seine Bay during the Operation.  On D-Day itself 156,000 men landed on French soil, either by landing craft or by parachute and glider behind the lines.  By the end of the 11 June 1944 there were 326,547 allied troops in France and on the 5 July the millionth soldier walked ashore in Normandy.

 

Throughout this amazing operation the RFA played its part, albeit a very small one in the scheme of things, but the RFA was there, as they had been in nearly every theatre of operations since the start of the war.

 

Copyright © 2008 – 2017 Christopher J White

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