The Triumph & Tragedy of Landing Craft LCT(A)2454
Part 2 - The Tragedy
Following on from part one's account of LCT(A)2454's D-Day exploits we now tell how it all ended in tragedy some four months later.
The following extract by the late Doug Hollings, appeared in an early edition of the Wyke Register. Harry Baker passed away a few years ago, but we feel it is appropriate to republish his first-hand account of the tragedy.
Harry Baker MBE and LCT(A)2454
When he was eighteen years old Harry Baker happened to be "down on beach" when he witnessed the tragic wrecking of the American Landing Craft Tank LCT(A)2454 on the great shingle Chesil Beach, near Ferrybridge, Wyke Regis. As Harry now admits, the events of that night and the heroism shown by a few local men convinced him that the sea and boats had to be a large part of his life. He obviously made the right choice for he now holds a string of medals, including the MBE and the ISM.
Harry Baker wasborn at Underhill, Portland in 1926, and he is almost a true Portlander for his father and grandfather were Portlanders. Harry's school days started when he attended the Methodist School at Brackenbury, then St Johns down the High Street, before finally transferring to the "college on the cliff' looking out over Chesil Cove. He left there in 1940 aged fourteen and joined the Post Office as a delivery boy, spending the next four years cycling all over Tophill - twice a day - delivering letters and parcels. His route started from Fortuneswell, taking him up Old Hill, around Easton, Weston and Southwell, and even out to Portland Bill. It was a tough and tiring job for a fourteen-year-old.
From a very early age one of Harry's pastimes was boat fishing out of Chesil Cove in all winds and weathers, and he naturally became associated with the Fortuneswell Coastguard Unit, where his father was a long serving member.
That is why he happened to be down on the Beach at Chesil Cove on the afternoon of 13th October 1944. The weather had started out calm and foggy, but by 3 o'clock the fog had lifted and three American LTCs could be seen out in Lyme Bay. One of them LTC(A)2454 (manned by a British crew) had engine trouble; but with no real sign of bad weather, the other two craft decided to continue their passage, leaving LCT A)2454 on her own to affect repairs. The crew worked on the engines but with no success.
By 6pm the wind had picked up considerably and although an anchor was put down the wire parted and the LCT was blown rapidly towards the beach. Her plight was seen by the Portland and Wyke Coastguards and Harry Baker and his friend "Ginger" Pearce cycled out along Beach Road to Ferry
bridge, where they made their way up over the beach to where the LTC was starting to come ashore. By now it was getting dark and the wind had increased to almost full gale force, and the white rollers were crashing and roaring onto the shingle, and- draining back with a thunderous sucking roar.
Harry Baker can still clearly recall that dreadful scene fifty years ago as he and "Ginger" Pearce crouched on the waterline watching the brave Coastguards attempt to save the crew of the LCT. Harry believes that the craft almost came ashore immediately off of Ferrybridge before it drifted along the Beach some 300 yards towards Portland, where it did come ashore, port bow first, to wallow and roll in the fearsome and towering waves.
The Weymouth Lifeboat had been called and did manage to get around Portland Bill, but it was forced to stand off the boiling surf that lined the beach, whilst a tug from Portland dockyard failed to round the Bill, and had to turn back.
Harry Baker's father, a member of the Fortuneswell Coastguard Unit, was responsible for the attempts to fire a rocket line across the deck of the LTC. All efforts failed because the wind was so strong that the rocket and line just veered up and away over the top of the beach and Harry's father ended up with singed eyebrows.
At this stage Harry was only some 30 feet from the bows of the craft. Rescue attempts were taking place at the stern end of the LTC, but these were hidden from him. Official accounts say that ten of the crew were washed overboard and Coastguard Treadwell did succeed in rescuing two of the crew from under the stern of the craft and Harry believes that he saw at least two of the crew swept of the lurching deck by the fierce seas, whilst eventually only two of the crew could be seen clinging to the wheel house, unable to move.
A beach party consisting of Coastguard Robert Treadwell, a retired Naval Commander J A Pennington Legh and Wyke District Officer William Rowsell and V F Stephens then attempted to board the LTC during a lull in the waves from the bow end of the craft. Harry recalls that suddenly a sea came from under the bow and Treadwell and Pennington Legh were swept away to their deaths, whilst Rowsell and Stephens were hauled ashore.
At the stern of the boat the Portland Auxiliary Crew and the Wyke Regulars continued their efforts to get a line across; but anything fired across the main deck was washed away. Eventually a Portland fireman, George Brown, ran down the beach and climbed up the stern. For many minutes he desperately clung on, being buffeted by the fierce wind and rain and raging sea, and Harry believes that it was some fifteen minutes before Brown managed to climb aboard, with a line tied around his waist. Other written accounts say that overall George Brown's rescue attempt lasted some three hours. By this time the bridge from the main deck was creaking and starting to break up.
George Brown finally managed to make the line fast to the two remaining crewmen, and then, almost totally exhausted, he leapt into the boiling water, to be hauled ashore by the watching crowd. The two crewmen then jumped into the water and one was hauled ashore before the line snapped and the second man was left helplessly stranded amongst the crashing waves. It was then that Coastguard Bert Oldfield showed his bravery by dashing into the sea and hauling the man clear.
There are several written accounts of the heroic attempts to rescue the crew of LTC(A)2454 but Harry Baker is one of only a few men that can still remember that awful night when ten men drowned and only four were rescued. He was one of the stretcher bearers to carry the bodies off the Beach to the Victoria Hotel, which was being used as a makeshift US Forces Hospital. Mr Stephens sadly did not live to receive his medal in recognition of his part in the rescue because he was killed in a car crash. George Brown was awarded the RNLI Bronze Medal: and he also received the Stanhope Gold Medal for the bravest deed of the year. The widows of Officer Treadwell and Pennington Legh also received posthumous bravery awards on behalf of their late husbands.
Part of the rusty remains of the keel of LTC(A)2454 are still visible at Chesil Beach near Ferrybridge, whilst divers report that off the beach the remnants of the wheel house can still be seen near the wreck of the Adelaide.
In 1944 Harry Baker left the Post Office for service in the Army, initially in the Royal Engineers Postal Service at Nottingham. This was followed by an extended period in the Middle East; accompanying commandeered liners up and down the Suez Canal from Port Said to Cairo. It was a great adventure to a young lad from Portland, and when he returned to England in 1947 he had risen to the rank of Sergeant. Back in Portland he rejoined the post Office but soon realised that he wanted a job related to the sea. He quickly took a job as an Able Seaman on a RAF boat based in Weymouth Harbour laying and maintaining moorings from Portsmouth to Lands End. In 1949 he joined the lifting boat, the Moordale, based in Portland Dockyard, where he continued to served for 42 years, the last fifteen in command of his own boat, eventually retiring in 1991.
In 1948 he had joined the Coastguards as an Auxiliary, and by 1954, when his father died, he became Auxiliary in charge of the Fortuneswell Station. Harry's life has been an eventful and exciting one connected with the sea and his efforts have been recognised by the many awards he has received.
The late Doug Hollings.
More rescue details reprinted from the Wyke Register issue 129 January 2002
We have received a more detailed account, from Mr Neil and Mr Ray Morris the stepsons of Mr Treadwell, of the rescue of the crew of the United States vessel LCT(A)2454 which was washed up on Chesil Beach.
Extracts from the Dorset Daily Echo dated Thursday October 19th 1944
"Chesil Beach Hero died in the best way of all' - Gallantry on Earlier Occasion revealed - Inquest verdict on Coastguard
At the time when Coastguard Officer Robert Henry Treadwell gave his life in a vain attempt to rescue British sailors from a tank landing craft washed ashore on Chesil Beach, his name was already being considered for an award of the Royal Humane Society in connection with the rescue of 15 men shipwrecked at Whitenose.
This was made known at the inquest upon Treadwell, a married man with three children, by District Officer W C Rowsell, who himself played an heroic part in the rescue operations.
The deputy-Coroner, Mr P M Wickham returning a misadventure verdict, said "This sea of ours at the Chesil Beach has claimed many victims. Coastguard Treadwell has lost his life in the best way of all - in an endeavour to save the life of some one else."
When the tank landing craft was swept on to Chesil Beach by tremendous seas, nine members of the crew lost their lives and Coastguard Treadwell and Commander J A Pennington Legh gave their own in an attempt to rescue two ratings left on the craft. Commander Legh's body has not yet been recovered.
The two ratings were eventually rescued through the gallantry of a member of the rocket apparatus crew, George Brown, of Killicks Hill, Portland, a member of the NFS.
We also received the following background information:
Coastguard R H Treadwell (9/7/1909 -13/10/1944)
Contrary to some belief, his body was washed up the following day and interned with full naval honours at the Royal Naval cemetery at Portland on 18 October 1944.
His widow, accompanied by her mother-in-law, received his Silver Medal for Gallantry in Saving Life at Sea from His Majesty the late King George VI and Investiture Ceremony held at Buckingham Palace on 17 July 1945. Lloyds of London also awarded him, posthumously their Silver Medal for Saving Life at Sea as an acknowledgement of his bravery on 13 October 1944.
The Royal Humane Society awarded him their "In Memori- am"Testimonial for the gallantry he displayed on 13 October 1944. (Commander Pennington Legh was similarly honoured. Fireman Brown and Mr Oldfield were awarded Silver and Bronze medals respectively.)
Earlier, the Royal Human Society awarded him their Honorary Testimonial on Vellum for gallantly saving the lives of United States Naval personnel (15 in all) at Whitenose on 28 June 1944.
December 2006 - Rusty remains - not much is visible in these recent views of the landing craft wreck, as the majority of this part is buried under the pebbles and is often completely hidden from view. Amazingly the edges of the metal are bright and polished by the constant movement of the pebbles.
Half the vessel is still where she finally sank 100 yards off the beach. The main part of the craft, containing her twin engines and other machinery, lies 40 feet underwater and is covered in weed and mussels. She stands up-right, rising six feet off the sea bed, and is a popular dive site. The other half is now broken into relatively small pieces and lies 75 yards tothe north-west and although above high water mark are buried under tons of pebbles. (In the early sixties, whenever it was not covered by pebbles, it was occasionally possible to walk - dodging the waves - on the upturned bow section.)
To locate the exact position on Chesil, walk to the end of the car park at the Chesil Beach Centre, line up the bollards on the southern boundary and walk directly over the beach, if visible the remains of the wreck are 12 yards to the north at the water's edge.
LCT(A) 2454 stranded on Chesil Beach, before breaking up.
Harry Baker in 1983 with Portland Coastguards Reg Atkins and Bill Saunders receiving medals from Wyke District Officer W Walker for having served more than twenty years in the Service.
Photo taken May 2020 by Steven Ross