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#DDAY70: The boats from Wakefield that helped in the Normandy landings

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editorial image

In 1943, the Wakefield waterfront played its own important role in preparing for the D-Day landings.

Charles Drake, of shopfitting firm Drake and Warters, was contracted to build 72 Landing Craft Assault Vessels, which were used to transport soldiers from large troop ships to the beaches of Normandy.

The simple flat-bottomed crafts with armour were 43 feet long and weighed 12.5 tonnes. Each had two half decks and plate armour capable of repelling a machine gun bullet.

The company, based in Thornhill Street, was christened ‘the boat builders of Back Street’ by the navy and also built chairs, bedside cabinets and camp beds for the RAF.

Workers also built thousands of air raid shelters for homes in the Pontefract and Castleford area.

A mile away from the nearest waterway, the factory was in an unusual land-locked location for developing the crafts but a special frame was created to load them onto a truck.

They were taken to Earnshaw’s Timber Yard, Doncaster Road where they were launched into the canal for trial runs by Naval Officers and the Ministry of Defence.

The first trip was several miles along the Aire and Calder Navigation to the River Aire at Knottingley. Here, each craft was tested on a measured mile.

The first Landing Craft Assault (LCA) Vessel in Wakefield’s war effort took 72 days to build and was launched on October 13, 1943. The craft were loaded on to a transporter and travelled through the streets of Wakefield.

The first LCA, number 1144, was lost during the Normany Landings transporting her cargo of troops. Seven other crafts were lost between June and July 1944 during Operation Neptune.

l Thanks to Paul Dawson for his help with this article taken from Wakefield Historical Society’s Wakefield Waterfront website www.wakefieldwaterfront.weebly.com

 

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