The “Cap Tourane” acted as Depot ship to several Flotillas as well as supply ship to the Support Craft. Before being requisitioned by the Admiralty, she had been on the Far East run, Marseilles to Hong Kong, Burma and Singapore.

Extract of the “Cap Tourane’s” history as supplied by Lloyds:

The “Cap Tourane” was built in 1923 as the “Jouffrey D’Abbans” by Ateliers & Chantiers de la Loire, Nantes, France.

Tonnage, 8169 tons
Length-415ft, Beam-55ft, Depth-34.5ft
Registered in Le Havre, under the French Flag.
Steam Turbines driving a single screw, giving a top speed of 12knots.
Two masts and a single funnel.
Accommodation for 850 passengers & 120 crew.
Requisitioned by Admiralty 1941.
Re-Registered and Renamed in 1943 to sail under the Red Ensign.
Officers drawn from RNVR & Merchant Navy, original crew mostly Lascars.
The “Cap Tourane” had two Sisters Ships, the “Cap Varella” was sunk in 1952 and the ???? in 1942 in Convoy. In 1953 the “Cap Tourane” was sold to ship-breakers in Belgium. There are no records of any further war service after she returned to Southampton in 1944.

The “Cap Tourane” had been waiting at Tilbury, when our spare crews had arrived from Hayling Island on the 4th June. After embarking the ship moved to an anchorage off Southend Pier with many other merchantmen, they sailed for Normandy on the morning of D-Day, in convoy with a destroyer escort. The convoy was shelled as it passed through the Dover Straits.

Geoffrey Ensor:

“I was a Naval Lieutenant taking passage aboard the “Cap Tourane”. I was attached to 602 LCM Flotilla, we were being shelled by the German guns on Cap Gris Nez, at the time we were somewhere to the rear of the convoy, doing our best to keep up, the “Cap” was not the fastest of ships. One of the escorting destroyers came dashing back to us and, calling over the Tannoy, asked the Captain to go to full speed. The Captain in a very broad Scottish accent replied “If I could go any ********** faster I would be leading your ******** convoy by a mile.” We eventually met up with other convoys somewhere off the Isle of Wight, Piccadilly Circus, we all proceeded cross Channel arriving off Sword Beach on the morning of the 7th June”.
Life aboard the ship was pretty crowded, we were supposed to do 24hrs on a duty craft and 24hrs off on board the ship. We had to sleep wherever we could find space to put down a bed. In theory we should have been 16 to a mess, it was usually as many as could find space to sit. Each mess elected a duty cook, it was his duty to collect the meals from the ship’s galley – after walking through the galley a couple of times, it was better not to think too much about what you were eating, the galley staff were all Lascars who lived on Curry, the smell pervaded the entire ship. Several times a day the entire crew stopped whatever they were doing, faced east, unrolled their prayer mats and knelt down.

From the middle of May, elderly, damaged and obsolete ships, of all descriptions, Naval and Mercantile, Allied and foreign, had been assembling in the Clyde and amongst the Western Isles. On the 28th May they formed up into three convoys and sailed for the South Coast and anchored in Poole Bay, Dorset. These three convoys were designated with the code names “Corncob I, II and III”. They sailed on the 7th June for their respective Beaches in Normandy. Some were under their own steam and some under tow. On nearing the French Coast they were divided into five convoys, one each for Sword, Juno, Gold, Utah and Omaha.

On arrival at their destinations they were manoeuvred into position with the aid of survey vessels and tugs, to form Breakwaters called “Gooseberries”. Each ship had been fitted with explosive charges in the bottoms of the hull. The theory was that these ships would be scuttled in an arc, about a mile off shore, one ship to be “planted” every 40 minutes, allowing each vessel 20-25 minutes to settle on the sea-bed.

Owing to some intense shelling, the enemy took these ships to be easy targets as they were so slow, and the fact that there were several Warships among them and a very strong tide things did not go to plan. The Juno Gooseberry was laid with its arm at an angle, instead of a curve, thus giving a smaller area of “lee” than was intended. Our own Breakwater at Sword, although laid in a curve, did not wrap round the Eastern end, this left the anchorage with little protection from the prevailing NE winds. 803 Flotilla vessels were kept busy taking off the crews before they were sunk in position. I have included a full list of the vessels used to make up the Sword Gooseberry No.5, quite sad really, no one likes to see ships scuttled.

GOOSEBERRY BLOCKSHIPS Gooseberry No.1. Laid off Utah Beach, between 12.00 hrs and 18.00 hrs on the 7th June, under intensive gunfire, had a wider gap than intended between ships and shore.
Gooseberry No.2. Laid off Omaha (Mulberry A).
Gooseberry No.3. Laid off Gold (Mulberry B).
Gooseberry No.4. Laid off Juno, was set with too acute angle instead of arc.
Gooseberry No.5. Laid off Sword, not completely to plan, see above.
All Breakwaters finished by the 10th.
Sword Gooseberry had a total of nine ships:
SS Becheville. British Merchantman.
Courbet. Ex French Naval Battleship.
SS Dover Hill. British.
HMS Durban, Cruiser. There were injuries to the scuttling crew.
Empire Defiance. Ex Italian “Erica”.
Empire Tamar. Ex Italian “Verbenia”.
Empire Tamar. Ex Italian “Carso”
Forbin. Ex French.
Sumatra. Ex Dutch Cruiser.
As the Assault Forces moved further inland, so the build up of troops, vehicles and stores intensified on the beaches. It was a non stop 24hour job, LST’s, LCT’s, LSI’s and scores of Coasters were arriving. The Coasters were of all sizes, as each vessel arrived it would let go its Kedge Anchor, then settle on the ebbing tide, as soon as possible it would unload on to waiting transport then kedge off on the rising tide. Although it meant that they were sitting pigeons there were very few losses, and as we pushed further into France, the odd air raids became fewer.

The Support Force which we were now part of settled into a very assorted role, our watches changed from 24hr on and 24 hr off to periods of 48 hours at a time, which suited most of us. There were fewer crews staying aboard the “Cap Tourane”, most of us spent the time within the Gooseberry when we were not required. The crews and craft that used the ship had to tie up in trots, and use one of the two Sally Ports to go aboard. The enemy were still shelling the anchorage and at least once a day they would make the “Cap” their target. It being stationary, there were some hits and casualties; if the shelling got too hot, the Captain would up anchor and move out, this meant the landing craft crews had to be mustered to move the craft, otherwise they would be dragged under.

We never knew what our next job would be, some days we collected POW’s from the beach and took them out to ships UK bound, their attitudes varied from a surly arrogance to those who were glad to be out of it. Horace Elliot was on this run one day, with Alan Blake and Tich Dutton, they had taken thirty odd prisoners out to an LCT, it was their fourth trip of the day, on the way back into the beach they hit a floating mine which blew off the ramp and bows, the craft sank and they had an hundred yard swim into the shore. One of the other lads who saw the incident followed them in, and gave them a lift back to the “Cap”.

Dick Harper and his crew were allocated to the Beachmaster, for whatever he required, they made several journeys along the coast to other Beaches, and out to the Headquarter Ship or other vessels.

Most of our time seemed to be taken up with ferrying officers and their staff, various stores and small vehicles. I remember picking up a load of motor cycles from a coaster, unfortunately they had no petrol in their tanks, we had to manhandle them over the ramp, and up the beach. We were often called in to help the RASC who were operating “Rhinos”, great steel pontoons which could be fixed together to form enormous rafts. They were propelled by two large outboard motors, the crew would take them alongside a Coaster, which would then load it, by means of its own derricks, with vehicles of all description and nets of ration boxes. As you can imagine these “Rhinos” were very unwieldy, especially if there was any wind, we would help them by either pushing or pulling like tugs, against the run of the tide or wind, this was quite a profitable job for us, there was usually a broken box of “Compo” rations to be had. The other workhorses that seemed to be everywhere, were the DUKW’s, these amphibious vehicles could load straight from the ships, and then run into the beach and onto the roads, unfortunately they did not have much freeboard, and were in danger of being swamped; we were constantly rescuing the crews in rough seas. They had originally been designed for crossing rivers etc.

During the day if the shelling from Le Havre got too bad, we would take the boats into the Gooseberry and tie up in the lee of the “Courbet”. This ex-French Battleship, built in 1919 and fitted with 15″ guns, had been captured early in the war and used as an AA ship in many of our Dockyards. We reckoned that the safest place was by its armour plated hull. The Maintenance parties had already taken over the ship as a Depot Ship, making use of the workshops etc, topsides and the first two decks were above high-water mark. Maurice Dixey, one of our Motor Mechanics, found bunk space and a galley on the Quarter deck, which was quite safe. There were quite a few shell holes in her. When they first scuttled the ship it was a prime target until the enemy realised it posed no threat to them, they must have thought we were using it as a Fortress.

It was rumoured that the Le Havre guns were mounted on railway wagons, and shifted into bomb proof tunnels when they finished firing. Although the RAF frequently bombed the area, it never seemed to deter them. They were 88mm high velocity guns, which meant the shell arrived with a very loud crack, before you heard the gun fire, very putting off, it was also very accurate, woe betide any target once it had been bracketed. Many of us were aboard the “Cap” when they brought LCG 18 alongside us, it had received three direct hits on the gun deck, one shell had exploded in the mess deck, the whole craft looked as if it had been opened with a giant tin-opener, it was amazing that it was still afloat. There was a call for volunteers to help remove the bodies of the crew, all of the volunteers were given a fair old ration of neat rum before they started their gruesome task. The hulk was taken out to sea and sunk.
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