Ramped cargo lighter
Four ramped cargo lighters, built in Canada, touch down and discharge their cargoes
|Name:||Ramped cargo lighter|
|Builders:||Dominion Construction Co. Ltd., Vancouver, British Columbia
Howard Furnace & Foundries Ltd., Toronto, Ontario
|Operators:||Royal Canadian Navy
|Preceded by:||various landing craft and lighters|
|Succeeded by:||Ramped powered lighter|
|Type:||Landing craft; lighter|
|Displacement:||26 long tons (26,417 kg)|
|Tons burthen:||35 long tons (35,562 kg)|
|Length:||52 ft (16 m)|
|Beam:||18 ft (5.5 m)|
|Draught:||2.75 ft (0.84 m) loaded|
|Propulsion:||2 × 100 bhp Gray Marine 6 cylinder, 330 cubic inch petrol engines|
|Crew:||Four: coxswain, stoker, stoker’s mate, and seaman|
|Armament:||Not intended to be armed|
|Notes:||These data are found in various sources identified in the body of the article. The RCL does not appear in the US Navy ONI 226 Allied Landing Craft and Ships.|
The ramped cargo lighter or RCL was a landing craft used in many parts of the world during the Second World War. Designed in Canada and manufactured in Vancouver and Toronto, its primary purpose was lighterage work following assault landings. The RCL also provided water transport in coastal operations. These lighters were built in sections to simplify shipping and assembled in the theatre of operations.
Manufactured of plywood over a wood frame, this shallow-draft, barge-like boat with a crew of four, could ferry 80 troops, ordnance, vehicles, or a tank, to shore at 9-10 knots. With such a range of work and use in such varied circumstances, standard procedures for loading varied too; loads could be lowered into RCLs from ships’ davits or derricks, or, if from land, simply driven or carried over the bow ramp. Cargoes or troops generally left the lighter over the bow ramp.
In early 1942, the Royal Navy found itself in need of much greater landing capacity in order to provide lift for the Allied 1942 and 1943 invasion plans Round Up and Sledgehammer. Requirements in south-east Asia called for a suitable craft for supply duties on inland waterways such as the Chindwin. The landing craft construction programme in Britain was incapable of providing sufficient craft so quickly, and US production had not yet come into full swing. Among the possibilities, Canadian resources were investigated, and a design was developed under the supervision of Royal Canadian Navy construction engineers and representatives of the British Ministry of War Transport. The RCL was built of plywood to save time and critical metals, and frame, skin, and powerplant were all readily available in Canada.
These lighters were not intended for the initial assault, but for the following build-up: ferrying vehicles and stores from ship to shore, around harbours, or in littoral or riverine environments.
The overall dimensions of the RCL were 52 feet bow to stern, and 18 feet beam. The cargo well (or tank deck) was 35 feet long. The bow ramp was lowered and raised by two hand winches. The ramp was built of plywood faced with steel and hinged to steel receiving plates on the bow. The framework of the RCL was constructed of appropriate Canadian timbers and covered with a seven-ply marine plywood, Sylvaply weather-board. The craft weighed 25 tons, and had a carrying capacity of 35 tons It was designed to carry ordnance and troops, as well as do general lighterage work where dock facilities were not available. They were capable of carrying tanks, troops, and loaded trucks ashore in very shallow water. Watertight compartments in the hull construction enabled these boats to take a great deal of punishment without losing buoyancy.
The two Gray Marine 6-cylinder, 330 cubic inch, petrol engines each generated 100 bhp. Each engine served a 24" propeller. The engines were arranged port and starboard, aft of the cargo well. This power plant propelled the RCL at 9-10 knots maximum speed. Steering was by means of a port and a starboard rudder. Some sources refer to RCLs having Chrysler engines and others that the RCL had diesel engines.
The RCL was manufactured in major subsections which could more easily be shipped and completed at the scene of operations. In Great Britain, many of the RCL prefabricated components were assembled by Wates Ltd. The beam of these lighters made them unsuitable for lowering from Royal Navy or Merchant Navy landing ships infantry davits, but they could be carried on the decks of these ships and others with sufficient deck space. The maintenance and repair ships of the Royal Navy's Beachy Head class (commissioned from late 1944–1946) could carry two RCLs.
The two Canadian firms building RCL were Dominion Construction Co. Ltd., Vancouver, British Columbia, a general contractor and consulting engineering firm, and Howard Furnace & Foundries Ltd., Toronto, a firm which in peacetime manufactured air-conditioning equipment, warm-air furnaces, duct and fittings, coal stokers, and oil burners. Dominion Construction built a special 300’x180’ fabrication and assembly plant where 453 RCLs were built (averaging 2 per day) by late 1944. Howard Furnace (Plywoods Fabricator Division) built 345 by late 1944.
By the end of February 1944, Canadian shipyards had produced 925 landing craft; the ramped cargo lighter, 72’ assault barge, and a 51’ landing vessel.
During the last two years of the war, RCLs were operated by the Royal Navy and Royal Canadian Navy, by some Royal Engineer inland water transport companies, and by Yugoslavian partisans.
Italy and the Adriatic
Ramped cargo lighters were used by the commando unit, Popski’s Private Army (PPA). The crews, Royal Engineers, sailed the PPK into Venice and transported them around the marshes, canals, and flooded areas in Northern Italy. Several operations were mounted to sail up the Adriatic and get behind German lines.
RCLs were also part of the British army and Royal Navy craft, based in Vis harbour and Komiza harbour, used to support Yugoslav partisans in 1944–1945. Eventually, the partisans received 12 from the British (between May and December 1944). Designated as motorna splav (MS) or motor rafts, they were based in Vis harbour and Komiza harbour, beginning in December 1944. Experience with MSs was, according to Yugoslav sources, very good, mostly because the ramp allowed quick loading/unloading of troops and material. Motor sailing boats that were used for the same purpose needed much more time for loading/unloading.
HMS Beachy Head, and the other 9 maintenance escort vessels built in Canada for the Royal Navy each carried two RCLs. All these depot and repair ships were intended for service in Southeast Asia and the Far East providing machine repairs and equipment in remote areas not supported by Allied naval bases. RCLs from these ships, and others in the SEAC area, also performed lighterage duties in Rangoon and Singapore. Logistical support for the British operations in Burma in the winter of 1944-1945 relied greatly on inland waterways because road construction and improvement were prohibitively expensive in materials and personnel above Kalewa. The difficulties of road communications in Burma included dusty or muddy unimproved roads, jungle, obstacles, and unserviceable abandoned vehicles. At Kalewa, on the Chindwin river, impromptu boat yards were set up. Ramped cargo lighters were among the craft assembled and launched there by Indian Engineers. A tractor crane was used to position the stern, centre, and bow sections of RCLs for joining. RCLs were among the simplest craft to assemble, requiring no riveting and being composed of relatively light subsections. As soon as a vessel was launched more prefabricated sections were placed onto the slipway for assembly. Following the assembly of the major subsections, deck work and finishing were accomplished. The engineers then put the RCLs through speed trials on the river. Once deployed in ferry work the RCLs could encounter river depths shallower than 3 feet. RCL crewmen would need to pilot the helmsman through shallows. The crew needed to check depth often with a pole.
Ramped cargo lighters were employed, in January 1945, in the landings on Akyab Island, off the Arakan coast of Burma, by Commandos and other troops of XV Indian Corps. RCLs landed troops, vehicles, and stores following the initial assault landings.
Not being assault craft, most of the RCLs will have survived the war in serviceable condition. Many RCLs used in the Far East were not sent back to the United Kingdom. Damaged RCLs, along with other damaged landing craft, were sunk rather than repaired. In Cochin, India, at the shore establishment HMS Chinkara (home of the Landing Craft Storage, Section 21), many such craft were towed out to the 10 fathom mark and sunk by various means from axe to Bofors gun fire. This left an RCL surfeit that was sold off for civilian uses. The RCL was used post-war by island ferry services in Australia and Canada.
- Daily Bulletin, 5 April 1945
- ’’Roberts, p.93.
- Roberts, p.93.
- Colonial Film, Moving Images of the British Empire, Inland water transport on the River Chindwin (4/1945), retrieved 16 September 2012
- Roberts, p.122
- Roberts, p.52.
- Roberts, p.28.
- Image: HMS Dodman Point, retrieved 16 September 2012, published by "Navy Photos"
- Roberts, p.122,
- The Montreal Gazette, Wednesday, 22 March 1944
- - Popski's Private Army - (preservation society), Popski's Private Navy, retrieved 16 September 2012
- Blore, p. 174.
- McCord Museum, Launch of H.M.S. "Beachy Head", retrieved 16 September 2012
- The War Illustrated, 16 August 1946,p. 262.
- Appendix A
- Scenes from the landings on Akyab Island, off the Arakan coast of Burma, by Commandos and other troops of XV Indian Corps. Commandos land on Akyab, retrieved 16 September 2012
- Richards, p.54
- Lund, p. 250
- Examiner (Launceston, Tasmania) Tuesday 9 September 1947, p.2.
- Thousands Islands Life, The Army Landing Barges ‘Wolfe Islander 1’ and ‘Wolfe Islander 2’., retrieved 16 September 2012
- Bruce, Colin J Invaders, Chatham Publishing, London, 1999. ISBN 1-84067-533-0
- Chappell, Mike Army Commandos 1940-45, Osprey, Oxford, 1996. ISBN 978-1-85532-579-1
- The Chief of Combined Operations Combined Operations Staff Notebook, HMSO, 1945.
- Fergusson, Bernard The Watery Maze; the story of Combined Operations,Holt, New York, 1961.
- Ladd, JD Assault From the Sea: 1939-1945, Hippocrene Books, Inc., New York, 1976. ISBN 0-88254-392-X
- Lund, Paul, and Ludlam, Harry War of the Landing Craft, New English Library, London 1976. ISBN 0-450-03039-3
- Milne, Gilbert A. HMCS. London: Thomas Allen, 1960.
- Roberts, Leslie Canada and The War at Sea Alvah M. Beatty, Montreal, 1944.
- Richards, Steve AEC Matador: Taking The Rough With The Smooth 2009. ISBN 0956370802
- Saunders, Hilary A. St. George Combined Operations: The Official Story of the Commandos. New York: Macmillan, 1943.
- US Navy ONI 226 Allied Landing Craft and Ships, US Government Printing Office, 1944.