Corporal Frank Warren, who has died aged 97, was cox’n of a Landing Craft (Assault) , which carried 30 men of the 1st Battalion, the Suffolk Regiment, into battle on D-Day, June 6 1944.
Warren’s LCA belonged to Royal Marines 538 Assault Landing Craft Flotilla, under the command of Lieutenant John Langdon RM, which had been lowered into the water after dawn on the French coast from Empire Broadsword, hove to five miles off Sword Beach.
Empire Broadsword had been acquired lend-lease from the US and was operated by Cunard White Star as an infantry landing ship: both her Marines and soldier passengers had fond memories of the Merchant Navy providing bacon and eggs for breakfast.
The ship had sailed from Scotland and despite the bad weather in the Channel, which caused a 24-hour delay to D-Day, Warren’s and the other LCAs were only five minutes late in landing the Suffolks in shallow water off Sword Beach, opposite Colleville-sur-Orne.
On the falling tide, several of the LCAs struck underwater obstacles, including Warren’s, and the Suffolks scrambled over the side into waist deep water. They were in the second wave of the landings, against a fully alerted enemy, and their task was to establish an exit from the Normandy beaches and to capture two German strongholds, known as Morris and Hillman, just inland. Morris soon fell, but Hillman was well-defended and possessed a clear sweep of the beaches which were kept under heavy fire.
Meanwhile, Warren and his Royal Marines crew, after trying unsuccessfully to salvage their LCA, swam ashore, scrambled up the beach, and dug themselves in. Warren recalled being trapped for eight hours “with shells and bullets whizzing past, when out of the smoke marched an upright sergeant-major, baton under his arm, who exclaimed, ‘What the hell are you boys doing on my beach?’ ” Gesturing to a beached LCA, he ordered: “Get your arses on that craft LCA over there and get off my f---ing beach, now!”
The sergeant-major’s bark was worse than the enemy’s fire, and Warren run down the beach to hitch a ride to his parent ship.
Frank Warren was born in Fulham on July 31 1925; his father was a cavalryman during the First World War and a Billingsgate fishmonger in peacetime.
Empire Broadsword made four successful crossings to the beaches when Warren ferried troops and stores to the shore. Then on July 2, as she was leaving the French coast on her fifth crossing, the ship struck two mines and sank quickly by the stern. All life rafts, lifeboats and LCAs were dislodged or destroyed by the explosions, and Langdon, who was at the stern, was able to step into the sea.
Warren, however, who had been breakfasting in the galley amidships, had to jump from the starboard bow, which was more than 30 feet in the air by the time he had struggled along the sloping deck. Within 20 minutes, Empire Broadsword had disappeared under the surface.
In 1945 Warren, still in 538 Assault Landing Craft Flotilla, patrolled the chongs (or creeks) of Burma’s west coast, to prevent the movement of Japanese troops, and trained for Operation Zipper, the planned British landings in Malaya when, in early September, the Japanese forces in the region surrendered.
Post-war, Warren’s father found him work at Billingsgate, but in 1951 he started at Bass brewery as a clerk.
He recalled: “They had high desks and stalls, like in Dickens’s time, and you weren’t allowed to take your jackets off even in the summer. But they gave everyone who had served in the Forces a chicken at Christmas worth five shillings.” Warren retired in 1990 as a senior accounts manager at the Mile End offices of Bass Charrington.
He was a lifelong member of the Royal Marines Association, and in 2009 he laid a wreath over the wreck of Empire Broadsword; he was also appointed to the Légion d’honneur.
Frank Warren married, in 1958, Beryl Hockett, who survives him with their son.
Frank Warren, born July 31 1925, died March 27 2023