The beach at Slapton had been used as a training area for amphibious landings before the war, and was once more to be used – this time by US troops.
This was partly because of its close proximity to the ports of embarkation at Torbay, and partly because the areas closely resembled Normandy. Farmers and villagers had to sell most of their possessions, and some families never returned to the area.
As part of a full-scale rehearsal for the Normandy landings, on the night of April 28th, 1944, eight Landing Craft Tanks (LCTs) and their lone escort, the British corvette HMS AZALEA, were en route to Slapton Sands.
Out of the darkness came a flotilla of nine German E-Boats, which attacked the convoy sinking two LCTs and crippling a third. Of the 4000 men involved in the exercise, nearly a quarter were dead or missing.
The German attack did not stop the exercise, and there were further casualties caused by ‘friendly fire’ on the beach. Allied planners were worried about the effect on moral that this would have on the troops just immediately before the D-Day landings, so the tragedy was covered up, with the survivors being split up and sworn to secrecy.
The casualty figures were then ‘conveniently’ hidden amongst those from the actual D-Day landings, only weeks later. This tragedy became one of WW2’s best kept secrets until it was revealed to the world almost over 40 years later.
US Army Memorial to the people of Slapton & the South Hams
In 1954 the US Army donated a memorial to the people of the South Hams area who gave up their homes and livelihoods during the evacuation of the region. These Devonshire people made a immeasurable contribution to the war effort, and this historian doubts that the same sacrifice would be made so willingly today, but this memorial was to the living….and not to those brave US troops who gave their lives to ensure the success of the D-Day landings. One should ask oneself if the same self-sacrifice would be made today by the people living in this area.
A tribute to Ken Small
The story of Operation Tiger cannot be told without mentioning Mr Ken Small, who sadly passed away in 2004.
Retiring to the area, Mr Small heard from local fishermen about how the area was used for training, and how they kept snagging their nets on ‘something big’ under-water in the bay. Once the nets were cut away by local divers, it was discovered that it was a Sherman DD amphibious tank.
The tank was brought ashore again in 1984 and now lies as a memorial to Operation Tiger. To many people like myself who had the privilage of meeting him, the Sherman is also a memorial to Mr Ken Small’s tireless work in bringing this tragedy to light.
I can highly recommend reading his very moving book – THE FORGOTTEN DEAD.