Why was Castle Toward Commandeered by the War Office in 1942?
After the enforced evacuation of 330,000 troops from Dunkirk in northern France to England in June 1940, the Germans controlled all ports and harbours from northern Norway to the south west of France. Furthermore, these ports and harbours would be heavily defended so the next invasion force would land on less heavily defended beaches to reduce casualties amongst the assault troops and local residents while achieving the element of surprise.
Immediately following Dunkirk, the Combined Operations Command was set up by Churchill. Its primary task was to train the Army, Navy and Air Force in amphibious warfare – landing an invasion force of overwhelming scale, directly onto enemy held landing beaches. In addition, the Command was to train the three services to work together as a unified force. It was no coincidence that the Combined Operations’ motto was “UNITED WE CONQUER!
The search was on for relatively remote locations with access to the sea and sloping beaches on which to practice landings. The No 1 Combined Training Centre, HMS Quebec, was established at Inveraray on Loch Fyne and the No 2 Combined Training Centre, HMS Brontosaurus, was established at Castle Toward. Quebec specialised in minor landing craft, which carried around 35 troops with their arms and immediate supplies, while Brontosaurus specialised in major landing craft that carried large numbers of troops, tanks, lorries, field guns, fuel etc.
HMS Brontosaurus 1942 - 1946
The RAF Regiment are ready to strike when the time is ripe for the invasion of Europe. Here, in the summer of 1943, RAF "soldiers" are practising a landing from the sea during a Combined Operations Command Training Centre exercise at Castle Toward. The RAF Regiment is tough, its training severe and its personnel carefully selected, both mentally and physically. (Photo courtesy of Ian Young).
All photos, unless otherwise stated, are courtesy of Lt Col D.B. Peyman. Based on research material supplied by Phillip C Jones.
HMS Brontosaurus - Castle Toward
On Monday, 17th August 1942, the training establishment at Castle Toward was commissioned as HMS Brontosaurus, but it was no dinosaur! It played a vital and dynamic role in the preparations for amphibious warfare with the three services working closely together. The Navy provided the crews for the landing craft, the Army provided the troops and their heavy equipment and supplies and the RAF, on operations, provided reconnaissance, air cover, smoke screens and air support.
Initially, Brontosaurus provided basic Royal Navy training for officers and crews of major landing craft. However, in November 1942, the ground force element from HMS Dundonald, in Ayrshire, was transferred to Castle Toward and Inveraray. This was around the time the Commandos and Infantry Battalions were being trained in amphibious operations.
As a consequence, the Centre's remit expanded to include amphibious warfare training of officers and men of the Royal Navy, Army, RAF Regiment and ground crews. A variety of assault landing craft were used including Landing Ship Infantry (LSI), Landing Craft Tank (LCT) and Landing Craft Personnel (LCP). Countless mock embarkations and disembarkations of men, tanks, trucks and other vehicles, utilising nearby landing beaches, were practiced.
Many thousands of Allied troops (primarily logistical forces such as the Royal Engineers, Royal Armoured Corps, Royal Artillery) were involved in all aspects of amphibious training. Typically, troops spent an intensive week of training which, in addition to work on landing craft, included swimming in full kit and day and night exercises in the surrounding area and hills.
All the training and rehearsals were in preparation for future raids and landings at Dieppe, North Africa (when a large contingent of U.S. forces was trained at both Castle Toward and Inveraray), Sicily, Italy (Salerno), D-Day and the Netherlands (Walcheren).
Prime Minister Churchill and Chief of the Combined Operations Command, Lord Mountbatten visited the Castle to see the training in progress at first hand. A room in the Castle is known as the “Churchill Room.”
The Castle itself housed senior officers and administrators with the trainees housed in around 130 Nissen huts (tubular metal-structured buildings sitting atop concrete and brick foundations (designed in 1916 by Captain Peter Norman Nissen, Royal Engineers) strategically placed in the Castle grounds. Many of their foundations are still visible today. Each hut provided basic accommodation for around 12 people while other huts were used for administration, catering, storerooms, medical facilities and a multitude of other services necessary for the efficient running the training establishment.
Castle Toward, as the centre was affectionately known, was decommissioned on the 10th of July 46, almost 4 years since it opened its doors as a training establishment. Did Castle Toward make a significant contribution to the war effort? On D-Day there were 6000 craft in the English Channel. All were assigned specific tasks, in specific places, at specific times along 50 miles of the Normandy coast. It was the largest, most complicated, amphibious invasion force in human history. Its success was due, in good measure, to the meticulous planning and intensive combined training provided by training establishments like Castle Toward. All who served and trained at Castle Toward are remembered by a memorial to the Combined Operations Command in the grounds of the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire. It was dedicated on July 4th 2013.
For those interested in further information about the memorial or the Combined Operations Command, please visit www.combinedops.com
Castle Toward 1942-1946
Coming ashore after swimming practice.
Against a background of the Island of Bute there is a Sherman tank on the right and a Churchill tank on the left.
CTC permanent staff on terrace outside the bar. Major John Shaw standing on the right.
Swimming training off the jetty at Castle Toward. Each soldier was provided with an inflatable Mae West.
Assault landing exercise on the beach adjacent to the entrance to Castle Toward.