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MaliceA4Thought

April 28th Operation Tiger Disaster.

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Today I  attended the memorial service, just down the road from me in Devon England for this tragedy that took place during the second world war.

I have attatched a brief history of the tragedy and the reasons behind it.

 

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This weekend marks the 75th anniversary of the Slapton Sands tragedy during Excersise Tiger on a beach now named Monument beach.

To this day the beaches of the South Hams have a quiet, half-forgotten air as if time has passed them by.

And one of the reasons behind that strangely nostalgic atmosphere is that the long sloping shingle beach at Slapton Sands was the scene of one of the most tragic single episodes in Devon's and WW2's history which was unknown for over 30 years.

The full story of what happened is still not fully known and rumours still abound, but for days after the night of April 28, 1944 the corpses of hundreds of young American servicemen were washed up along the entire Lyme Bay coastline.

It happened during Exercise Tiger - a week-long dummy invasion practice for D-Day. Until that April night everything had gone smoothly.

The first stage began the previous year when 3,000 people in the small villages around Slapton were given six weeks to evacuate their homes, farms, pubs and shops leaving ghost towns.

Then in the spring of 1944 the Yanks arrived in their thousands. These were the GIs who would mount the assault on the beachheads of Normandy during D-Day. But the whole operation was shrouded in the utmost secrecy. And first there would be a dress rehearsal at Slapton - with its steep shingle beaches resembling the conditions the invading forces would experience on one of the Normandy invasion beaches, Utah.

The story has been told many times of the two major invasion practices which took place on Slapton Sands during the spring of 1944. It was the first of them – Exercise Tiger – which turned into a disaster which was kept secret for 30 years after the D-Day landings.

That night German torpedo boats hunting off the Devon coast picked up on Allied radio traffic and spotted eight boats sailing in a line in Lyme Bay.

The nine German E-boats had also been spotted by the flotilla's only escort, the Royal Navy corvette HMS Azalea. But because orders given to each landing craft contained a typographical error the Americans and the British Navy HQ ashore were on different radio frequencies and they never received warning of the terror approaching.

The landing craft had been part of a convoy which had set off from Plymouth for Slapton Sands to rendezvous in the middle of Lyme Bay before “attacking” the beach-head.

But the E-boats had stumbled across the exercise in the dark and within minutes destroyed two of the landing craft, which had been loaded with gasoline and explosives, with hundreds of men aboard.

The exercise had been dogged by misfortune from the start. One of the intended guardships was rammed by a landing craft in Plymouth harbour and a replacement arrived too late.

The Cherbourg-based German E-boats had been spotted on radar by a destroyer on patrol off Portland Bill.

Their position was reported to Plymouth headquarters, but they could not relay it to the convoy because of the radio mix-up.

The death toll from Exercise Tiger in the early hours of April 28, 1944 was more than the number of casualties sustained in the taking of 'Utah' beach itself.

In the confusion US commanders ordered all their the remaining vessels to scatter, contrary to the RN officers ordering the fleet to close up and head for the beach who were overriden by the US command team. But the order left many men floating in the cold sea to die of hypothermia. Once in the water many soldiers soon sank, weighed down by sodden clothes and kit.

Others were killed by life jackets wrongly worn around their waists instead of under the armpits, turning them on to their fronts and forcing the men's face and chest underwater.

Survivors said the scene that night in Lyme Bay was horrific. One said: "You could walk to the beach on the floating bodies." said one survivor.

And the GIs who made it to the shore tell of a further disaster which has not been acknowledged to this day by the Pentagon.

They claimed that as they staggered on to the beach the men come under shell fire from British cruiser HMS Hawkins and "friendly fire" from beach gun emplacements.

Instead of dummy ammunition, many claim that they were "mown down like ninepins". A further 300 were said to have died at the hands of their own side's gunfire when it was ascertained that many of the US troops were issued live ammo instead of the dummy ammo approved for the excercise.

A British observer from the Royal Engineers said: "We later found out it was a mistake. They should have been using dummy ammunition but they just carried on shooting."

The truth of the friendly fire claim has never been proven.

Former radio man Steven Sadlon, from New York, was on one of three ships struck by torpedoes: “There were flames everywhere and the poor guys were screaming to death,” he recalled.

Steven spent over five hours in the water and at one stage passed out through hypothermia: “The last thing I thought of was being held in my mother’s arms,” he said.

“Then I found myself on a mess table in the ship that rescued me. I was covered in 14 Army blankets and this sailor told me I was a lucky guy.” Mr Sadlon was one of more than 130 men plucked to safety by LST-515 whose skipper, Capt John Doyle, had disobeyed orders not to go back for survivors.

“If he hadn’t I would not be here now,” he said.

William Hicks, from Michigan was a ship fitter on LST 507 which keeled over and sank in just six minutes.

“I was blown into the water for ten hours, before a British destroyer picked me,” he said.

Exercise Tiger even at the lower, official death toll figure of 749 men was still far higher than the number killed on the storming of Utah beach on the real D-Day. It was the worst loss of life to befall American troops since Pearl Harbor.

What really happened on Slapton Sands was kept secret at the time. But stories began filtering out of bulk deliveries of coffins arriving in Devon. The men were buried in the American cemetery or shipped back home to their families.

Former radio man Steven Sadlon, from New York, was on one of three ships struck by torpedoes: “There were flames everywhere and the poor guys were screaming to death,” he recalled.

Mr Sadlon returned to Devon in 2004 at the age of 80 and recalled how he spent over five hours in the water and at one stage passed out through hypothermia: “The last thing I thought of was being held in my mother’s arms,” he said.

“Then I found myself on a mess table in the ship that rescued me. I was covered in 14 Army blankets and this sailor told me I was a lucky guy.”

Mr Sadlon was one of more than 130 men plucked to safety by LST-515 whose skipper, Capt John Doyle, had disobeyed orders not to go back for survivors.

“If he hadn’t I would not be here now,” he said.

William Hicks, from Michigan was a ship fitter on LST 507 which keeled over and sank in just six minutes.

“I was blown into the water for ten hours, before a British destroyer picked me,” he said at the age of 79 when he came to Slapton to remember his fallen comrades in 2004.

The rear-admiral in charge of Exercise Tiger, DP Moon (U.S Navy), committed suicide soon after the disaster - one of several bizarre incidents in the story.

Despite the horrific loss of life, Exercise Tiger was apparently considered a success because the troops were trained in the proper use of life-preservers and a procedure was devised to get men out of the water more quickly.

And after Exercise Tiger the Allies ensured all radio frequencies were standardised so communications could not go wrong.

And D-Day was to become a turning point in WWII.

Now all that remains at Slapton Sands is a corroded Sherman tank, dragged from the sea by hotelier Ken Small who was determined to use it as a proper memorial to the bloody events of that night in April 1944.

 

Slapton-Sands.thumb.jpg.11169921f57113e118e6f7aaa45045e6.jpg

Slapton Sands beach today.

Tank.jpg.96dd1658bfdaf8163cd226e3e1663eb9.jpg

Slapton Sands memorial Tank taken today at the service.

Regards to all..

 

M

Edited by MaliceA4Thought
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2,875
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Well written and somber Malice. Thank you. :Smile_honoring:

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thanks for reminding us malice.

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A tragic day to say the least RIP to all lost that night 

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