Norton Lee, commander of a landing craft tank at D-Day who was also present for the last surrender of the Germans in the Netherlands – obituaryFor his role in landing a troop of marines on the enemy-held island of Schouwen he was awarded the DSC for his courage and initiative
Norton Lee, commander of a landing craft tank at D-Day who was also present for the last surrender of the Germans in the Netherlands – obituaryFor his role in landing a troop of marines on the enemy-held island of Schouwen he was awarded the DSC for his courage and initiativewww.telegraph.co.uk
Norton Lee, who has died aged 98, commanded a landing craft tank (LCT) on D-Day in a flotilla which had been allocated to the Americans for the assault on Omaha Beach, and later showed great courage during the liberation of Holland.
In the early hours of June 6 1944, surf broke on the beaches and offshore a Force 5 wind blew from the south west. In heavy seas in the predawn darkness, Lee’s LCT begun to fill with water, and despite operating pumps at full capacity and frantic bailing by US marines with their helmets, the engines flooded, leaving the craft without power.
Lee’s passengers were transferred to another LCT; Lee and his crew were rescued just before their craft foundered.
Allocated to command another LCT, for the next few weeks Lee ferried troops to the beaches before being withdrawn to begin rehearsals for landings during the Battle of the Scheldt, which was intended to open up the shipping route to Antwerp.
Lee: he threw himself into Kent life
In November, Lee commanded a landing craft during the fiercely opposed landings on islands in the Scheldt estuary leading to the port, but the Germans continued to hold the island of Schouwen.
There, on the night of March 10/11 1945, Lee took part in a raid which its historian, the future Major-General James Moulton – then commanding 48 Commando, Royal Marines – described as “gallant, skilful, successful and unlucky”.
It took place during the third phase of the flying-bomb attack on London; as Lee’s landing craft crossed the 3,000-yard-wide Zijpe channel, a bomb flew over, anti-aircraft fire lit the night sky with tracer, and the reflected light off the surface of the water disclosed his presence.
Undeterred, Lee pressed on to land a troop of marines on the Schouwen dyke. They captured two prisoners, but were counter-attacked and ran into a minefield, sustaining several casualties, who were slowly taken on stretchers back to the dyke, where the tide was dropping.
Lee had strict orders to depart well before dawn, but was reluctant to leave anyone behind and waited two hours until he was certain that everyone had re-embarked. There was some difficulty shoving the craft clear of the sand, and another craft broke down and had to be towed, but by 5am he had reached the southern, friendly shore of the Zijpe.
Moulton wrote that “young Lee did well and resolutely, too” and he was awarded the DSC for his courage and initiative in keeping his craft on the enemy shore for a considerably longer time than laid down in his orders, enabling the commandos to evacuate their wounded.
On May 6 1945, 11 months to the day after he had nearly drowned off Normandy, Lee attended the German surrender of Overflakkee, the last island off the coast of Holland to be held by the enemy.
Norton Lee: praised for his resolute approach
Norton Ralph Lee was born at Ashford, Kent, on August 22 1922, and educated at Sutton Valence School, near Maidstone. Inspired by his brother (the future Commodore Herbert Jack Lee CBE, DSC and two Bars), Lee volunteered for the Navy in 1941, and joined the light cruiser Cairo in Plymouth in February 1942.
That winter she sailed to Murmansk, and Lee recalled the daily routine of chipping ice from the superstructure to prevent the ship becoming top-heavy, and manhandling a cargo of gold bars for the return to Scapa Flow.
In April 1942 Cairo escorted five convoys to the besieged Malta: Operation Calendar, when USS Wasp delivered Spitfires; Harpoon; Pinpoint; and Insect, when the carrier Eagle flew off Spitfires; and Pedestal.
On August 12, Cairo’s luck ran out – she was torpedoed by the Italian submarine Axum and had her stern blown off, killing 24 crew. Lee was rescued by the destroyer Wilton which came alongside, happily recalling that although his ship went down he never got his feet wet.
Once commissioned, Lee joined No 1 Combined Training Centre at Inveraray, where he learned to handle landing craft and practised beach assaults. Subsequently he took part in the Allied landings at Sicily and Salerno, including the crossing of the Strait of Messina.
Postwar, Lee declined a permanent commission and in 1946 joined the family business, Lee & Sons, founded in 1878 by his great grandfather, which employed its own curtain-makers, upholsterers, carpet-fitters, shop assistants, removal men, storemen and auctioneers.
Aged 29 Lee was one of the youngest councillors elected to Ashford UDC, where he served as an independent. Wanting to improve sanitation for deprived families in Ashford, he became chairman of the local water board, and in 1956 he was appointed to the Kent magistracy.
He served on the Ashford bench until he was 70, fulfilling the roles of vice-chairman, chairman of the juvenile court and member of the licensing and betting committee.
Norton Lee: a devotee of the chase
In 1959 he and his wife Angela moved into a near-derelict farm which they improved and filled with guests, black labradors, horses, large gin and tonics, infectious laughter and immense fun.
For 20 years he commanded the Ashford Sea Cadets, while as churchwarden of St Mary the Virgin, Hastingleigh, he organised musical events to raise funds for its restoration, which in 1966 uncovered 12th-century murals.
The Lees hunted in all weathers with the East Kent, and on moving to East Garston, Berkshire, they rode with the Vine and Craven until a fall ended Lee’s mounted career; they then became badgeholders at Newbury racecourse.
Lee once more threw himself into local affairs, whether as a member of All Saints’ parochial church council, inviting visiting choirs to “songs of praise”, or mowing the churchyard.
In 1953 Lee married Angela Nash; she died in 2009, and he is survived by their son and daughter.
Norton Lee, born August 22 1922, died February 22 2021
A fine obituary, spoiled by one, minor error: USMC did not take part in OVERLORD.