HMS CICALA, Coastal Forces station at Kingswear
The Torpedo Tube Boathouse
Across the estuary from St Petrox and the castle is a wartime defensive building that is never noticed, even long-term sailors on the Dart are surprised when it is pointed out to them. It was intended to mimic a boathouse, yet contain torpedo tubes to be launched on enemy vessels attempting to enter the river. It was never used.
The battery is designed to look like a boathouse to aerial reconnaissance and is a heavily armoured concrete emplacement. The Dartmouth History web site includes this description by local man Eric Pillar:
Eric: My uncle lived at Gunfield at that time, he was the gardener, he had to have a pass to go there, we could visit him. We were escorted by a naval sentry. It was occupied by the Navy before the Army arrived. The Artillery arrived first. The coastal defence people all lived at the Castle. On the top road leading to Sugary Green, on the left hand side, there are still some bricks, the foundations of some Nissen huts – they lived there. Behind the big wall at the Castle round the back there they had a Cookhouse. The pigeons disappeared! There were also officers in the woods at Compass. I used to see that because I used to go out there delivering telegraphs. Apart from the guns, on the Kingswear side they had some torpedo tubes, in that sham ‘thatched’ shed which looked like a boathouse. It was built specifically for that. There was a gun emplacement on Sugary Green, and where the Heritage Shop is now, that was also guns. Some of them lived in the old Battery there.
Access to the area on the Kingswear side is limited. The best view is from the water, or from Dartmouth Castle, from where this picture is taken. [Image © Melanie Trent and used with her permission. Melanie Trent reserves all rights.
Stationed in Kingswear, attached to HMS Cicala
In January 1944 I was a Wren stationed in Kingswear, South Devon, attached to HMS Cicala, a Coastal Forces Station consisting of Motor Torpedo and Motor Gun Boats used for harrying German E Boats in the waters close to the Channel Islands.
Throughout the previous months a contingent of U.S.Army personnel arrived and took up occupation in HMS Britannia, the Naval College, Dartmouth. They were responsible for smoke screening our ships whilst they practised landings in Torbay and were known as “the Smokies”. Some of them came from the Mid West of America and had never before been close to the sea.
The Royal Dart in 2011, not hugely changed since it was HMS Cicala during the Second World War
For many months we had US Navy ships carrying landing craft steaming up the River Dart to anchor, and in the early Spring the River was so crowded that it would have been possible to walk across from Kingswear to Dartmouth without getting your feet wet. Large contingents of U.S.Army followed in trains which ran day and night and boarded the ships.
Our ‘Wrennery’ was on a hill overlooking the River, and each morning we would wake up to the sound of Glen Miller or the Andrews Sisters coming through their loud hailer system. We got to know the words of all the songs and to this day sixty years on I can recall them all.
On frequent occasions the ships would silently leave for exercises in the early hours. Sometimes the weather was rough, and on their return we would see white faces over the ships’ rails. Slapton Sands which was nearby had been chosen for these exercises since it was a good replica of the Normandy beaches where the invasion would take place.
We in the Signal Station had notice of when and where the exercises would take place, and for two or three days the river was empty and quiet until the ships returned. On their arrival the Americans would be allowed ashore and would board the trains to Torquay for rest and relaxation. Often on our leave days we would meet them on the train and they were always curious about us as we were probably the first Englishwomen they had met. We found them to be courteous and well mannered towards us.
I mainly remember the Americans for being extremely kind and generous to the children of Dartmouth, as they would often hire a hall in the town to entertain them. The children would always leave the parties with Hershey chocolate bars and other goodies. They also put on parties for us, and were horrified at the size of our rations, so would try and give us a good meal. They of course had all of their rations brought over from the United States, and it was at their parties that I first encountered Spam and Hot Dogs, and was surprised at the amount of good quality meat which they contained, after four years of rationing.
One of the saddest days was when a number of American soldiers were killed whilst taking part in one of the exercises in Torbay when German E Boat’s infiltrated the shipping and wreaked havoc in the darkness. General Eisenhower visited Dartmouth to see his troops on this occasion.
At the end of May all leave for U.S. personnel on the ships was cancelled and for over a week they were confined to their ships. Only a few personnel were allowed ashore to carry out urgent business.
Then suddenly one day all ships disappeared from the River and there was silence. No more Glen Miller woke us up in the morning, and when after a few days they didn’t return we realised that this time they had gone for good. Going on duty on the 6th June we heard that the invasion had started.
What happened to the Dartmouth contingents we never knew, but I understand that some of the survivors of “D” Day returned to Slapton Sands to see once again the stretch of pebble beach where they had practised so diligently, and where some of their comrades had perished some sixty years ago. I certainly won’t forget the 6th June 1944
This Second World War memory is reproduced in accordance with the terms and conditions for fair use described on the BBC website. The copyright rests with the original contributor, believed to be Wren Winifred Joan Pine, there. It is reproduced in good faith Norman Hine RN (d 10 August 2003)
Norman Hine was no different from many thousands of 18 years olds who volunteered for service in the Forces in World War Two. In 1942, he volunteered for the Royal Navy, intending to join the Fleet Air Arm. His call up came on 29th April 1942. Although he got top marks he could not pass the educational tests and got shipped off HMS Raleigh, Devonport, to learn seamanship and gunnery. He soon realised he felt more adapted to this and he volunteered for MTBs. He joined MGB 335 based at Yarmouth. When he saw the boat he thought it no larger than a rowing boat!
On his first sortie they were attacked by an E Boat who shot them up, blowing up an oil drum of deck, spraying everyone with oil. The next night two MGBs went after a German convoy but it was protected by 6 E Boats which soon had MGB 335 a blazing wreck. 5 were killed and 18 wounded. The hospital told him he had a broken leg and a piece of shrapnel in his behind. Convalescing on the Yarmouth seafront they were frequently machine gunned by German planes. Yes, even the hospital.
One day when walking on the pier he caught his broken leg on the planking and broke it again.
Eventually he went to Southampton to await a boat being kitted out, this was the 503 (he later transferred to the 502). After a spell at HMS Excellent in Portsmouth at Gunnery School he went with 502 to Dartmouth to the 15th Flotilla. This was to be the beginning of his cloak and dagger work. He was issued with false papers and a false passport in case he was stranded on the beach in France.
Running to France he transported agents and brought back downed airmen, many were American and Canadians, brought to the boats by the Resistance. On one trip they returned with 39 men! In the main they used Plouha, Bonaparte and Lezardrieux.
Norman survived the war and the people of Pleumeur-Bodon made him a Freeman of their town. When he visited the town they took him to the cliffs. Looking down on the rocks below, he could not believe that they used to row their boats around those rocks, right under the noses of the German gunners. The boat would have been anchored about a mile and a half out to sea.
On the 12th May 1945, a week after hostilities had ceased, they sailed for Sweden from Aberdeen on a mission to take British seamen to take charge of ships that had been impounded at the outbreak. It was here that Norman and his crew swapped boats, taking out the 502, I think it may have been because their own vessel was not ready and it was needed to sail immediately. The 502 and 503 were both being refitted and the 502 was ready first.
They saw many mines and blew them up with gunfire. At 0145hrs the next morning they themselves got hit by a mine and the boat flew to bits.
Not being able to swim Norman and others clung to pieces of wreckage. 30 men had disappeared and human remains floated in the water. Eventually he clambered onto a float net, it would keep him afloat but not dry. Search planes were seen but did not come near. That night he became unconscious and when he awoke he was in a small cabin. A lady came into the cabin and told him they had found him in the water, they were on board a Norwegian coaster.
Landing at Kristiansand, they were hidden in a cellar of a small hospital as the Germans still occupied the town. They spent 2 weeks huddled underground before a very welcome SAS arrived. They gave them cigarettes and other comforts and wrote letters for Norman to post back home. Some of the sailors contracted gangrene and lost some toes but eventually they were flown home and were landed at Dishforth in Yorkshire.
In hospital in Derbyshire Royal Infirmary they dressed his stumps and removed his friend’s feet. Whilst in hospital he married his childhood sweetheart and they eventually had a son. In 1945 Norman was awarded the DSM for gallantry, skill and devotion to duty, shown in many hazardous operations. Sadly the King could not present it himself but sent him a letter congratulating him.
The story of Norman Hine, the pictures of MGB 502 and the plaque commemorating HMS Cicala are all reproduced by kind permission of Mike Kemble.
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