WHEN two troop carriers were sunk off the coast of Devon with the loss of more than 700 American soldiers during a hush-hush D-Day training exercise details of the tragedy were buried in the archives in a file marked Top Secret.
But an ongoing diving project aimed at documenting the wreck sites is now helping to provide further clues to the World War II tragedy and the preparations for the biggest – and most pivotal – land invasion of the war.
Rich Walker, Director of Technical Training at GUE and the man behind Project Tiger, will be at Aquasport on Monday December 10th at 7pm to chat about the wreck diving research they are doing, its planning, logistics and findings, and reveal the history of disaster that the military tried to hide.
The talk is a real eye-opener and was one of the most popular at the Eurotek diving conference in Brum last month. I expect this to be equally popular among Aquasport club members as it gives a real insight into the hidden history of the wrecks that we can dive off the English coast.
For anyone who has wondered along the Devon coast, Slapton’s unspoiled beach and the grasslands behind are a real picture of natural beauty that we come to associate with England. Amazingly it also resembled the French coastline.
As a result, Slapton Sands was chosen by the Americans as an ideal location to practice landings in readiness for Operation Overlord, the D-Day landings in Utah Beach, on June 6 1944, so graphically portrayed in Saving Private Ryan.
“Exercise Tiger” was one of those rehearsals. However, the April practice mission turned out to be one of the greatest tragedies of the war.
The plan was for a convoy of eight flat bottomed landing ships to steam onto the shore drop their doors and send hundreds of soldiers, trucks and tanks racing up the beach. Now, these ships, or LSTs, were huge and were each capable of carrying hundreds of men and vehicles.
But as the convoy moved along the English coast near Lyme Bay it was targeted by nine fast-moving German E-Boats that were armed with torpedoes.
Two of the LSTs were sunk. Hundreds of soldiers were trapped and went down with the ships. Those that jumped overboard were weighed down by heavy gear or put their life jackets on the wrong way and drowned. Many more perished in the cold water. In all 749 American soldiers and sailors died that night.
With the planned Normandy invasions just months away, details of the tragedy were kept a top secret and the survivors ordered never to say a word about it. As a result, it remained one of the military’s best kept secrets until details emerged almost 40 years later.
The LSTs have been popular dive sites for technical divers for a number of years but it was in 2010 that Rich pulled a team together with the idea of surveying the wrecks and building up a complete picture of what happened to them as part of project to research and conserve them. And they have been turning up some interesting findings along the way.
To find out what Project Tiger has achieved so far, come along and hear Rich talk. It promises to be an interesting one.
The talk is free to paid up members of the Aquasport Club and there will be a small charge for non-members.