31 December 2019 17:31
Hundreds of US servicemen who died in a World War Two disaster while rehearsing the D-Day landings are being remembered in an art installation. Bootprints of 749 troops have been laid out on Slapton Sands, Devon, to mark the 75th anniversary of Exercise Tiger. The men died when convoys training for the Normandy Landings were attacked by German E-Boats off the Devon coast. Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Slapton Sands was used by US forces rehearsing for the D-Day landing at Utah Beach because of its similar geography On 28 April 1944, eight tank landing ships, full of US servicemen and military equipment, converged in Lyme Bay heading for Slapton Sands for the rehearsal. The Exercise Tiger incident was only nominally reported afterwards because of the strict secrecy of the D-Day landings.
"We didn't know Exercise Tiger had taken place, but my father, who was in the Royal Observer Corps watching for enemy aircraft, saw ambulances going to and from Slapton Sands, so we knew something was wrong." Commemorative bootprints and special plaques made by veterans to represent each of the 22,763 British and Commonwealth servicemen and women who were killed on D-Day and during the Battle of Normandy in the summer of 1944 will go on sale. Mr Barraud said: "Our enduring hope is that every one of the US, British and Commonwealth soldiers, sailors and airmen who gave their lives will have a bootprint purchased in their memory." 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 history. The full story of what happened is still unknown 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.
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. 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. 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. 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. "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 survivors of Exercise Tiger were sworn to secrecy as the tragedy had to remain out of the public domain so not compromise the impending D-Day landings. Residents in Slapton Sands were forced to abandon their homes without being told why ahead of the training mission Historian Stephen Wynn has now shed new light on both tragedies in his new book, Disaster Before D-Day, Unravelling the Tragedy at Slapton Sands. The British government set up a training ground around Slapton Sands on the coast of south east Devon, in late 1943 for the US forces. The location was chosen because of its similarities to Utah beach, where the Americans would be landing in Normandy. General Eisenhower wanted live ammunition used during the training operation so troops would know the sound when they stormed the Normandy beaches a few months later The following spring, 30,000 American troops arrived for Exercise Tiger. The servicemen were killed in Operation Tiger which was a training operation ahead of the D-Day invasion of Normandy The victims of the tragedy, who were not acknowledged at the time of the incidents, were later commemorated at this memorial at Slapton Sands in Devon Describing the ordeal, Mr Wynn said: 'There was the friendly fire incident that occurred on April 27, 1944 when an undisclosed number of American soldiers were killed by friendly fire after a confusion over the start time of that day's training exercise. 'Unfortunately, this change in the start time of the exercise was incredibly not passed on, which meant that rather than the subsequent artillery fire landing ahead of the disembarking American troops, it landed when they were already on the beach. American authorities acknowledged the E-boat incident in 1954 but they still refuse to accept what happened the day before when troops were killed by friendly fire during the botched training exercise 'This aspect of Exercise Tiger has never officially been recognised, confirmed or admitted by the American government or military authorities. The following day, nine German E-Boats slammed without warning into Allied landing craft at the unprotected rear of the slow-moving convoy. And while a Royal Navy corvette HMS Azalea had spotted the German E-Boats, an error with radio frequencies meant the British naval headquarters ashore could not warn the Americans of the approaching danger. 'It is remarkable that after Slapton Sands the Germans did not figure out what the Allies had planned with the invasion.' Disaster Before D-Day, Unravelling the Tragedy at Slapton Sands, by Stephen Wynn, is published by Pen & Sword and costs £15. More than 600 US sailors and soldiers died in the April 1944 rehearsal for D-day Families of American sailors and soldiers who lost their lives in a disastrous second world war exercise off the British coast will this weekend join veterans, dignitaries and local people to mark the 75th anniversary of the tragedy. More than 600 personnel lost their lives in Exercise Tiger, a rehearsal for D-day, on 28 April 1944, but the botched operation was covered up for decades and only came to light 40 years later when a hotelier located a Sherman tank lost in the exercise on the seabed and hauled it to shore. On Sunday, 29 relatives of the Americans who died will gather around the tank at Slapton Sands in Devon alongside military officials, politicians, diplomats and residents, including some who remember having to leave their homes so that the exercise could be conducted in secrecy. Dean Small, whose late father Ken recovered the tank, said it was vital the tragedy was remembered. Slapton Sands was chosen for the exercise because of its similarity to the stretch of Normandy coast codenamed Utah beach for the D-day landings. In the early hours of 28 April 1944, eight LSTs (landing ship, tanks) – hefty vessels designed to carry troops, cargo and vehicles including tanks – converged in Lyme Bay, off Slapton Sands, for Exercise Tiger. Figures for the Exercise Tiger death toll differ, but the order of service for Sunday puts it at 639 American sailors and soldiers. Facebook Twitter Pinterest American troops wade to shore at Slapton Sands during Exercise Tiger. 1944 - A rehearsal for D-Day ends with 750 US soldiers dead after their convoy ships are attacked by German torpedo boats off Slapton Sands, southwest England.