An eye-opening expose of the Pre-D-Day disaster and incident of friendly fire tragedy and cover up that was the Slapton Sands. This training disaster resulted in the loss of 746 American lives! These tragedies happened on back to back days on 27 and 28 April 1944. I am sure most people are not aware of this tragedy and cover-up and I am sure this is not the last we will hear of it. The allied cover-up was thorough to ensure there was no bad press about the train-up before the D-Day invasion.
During the D-Day train-up period in April 1944 allied forces were arrayed in the south of the UK to run through invasion drills near Slapton Sands. The first part of the assault on 27 April, called for a US and British naval artillery 50 minutes before the troops hitting the beach. The exercise was delayed by one hour and not everyone got the word. Shells landed on the beach the same time the soldiers started their assault. Good men died.
The second assault on 28 April involved the movement of LSTs for landing the soldiers on the beach. While enroute to Slapton Sands a German reconnaissance plane spotted a convoy of ships making its way along the south-west coast of Great Britain. Calling in for assistance, the plane directed the U-boat to the location. As a result, the LSTs were hit by a coordinated U-Boat attack and resulted in 202 US Army and Navy deaths as the LSTs were fired upon and sunk. There were also British Artillery soldier on the LSTs. Witnesses to the tragedy reported, “arriving at Lyme Bay we saw hundreds of bodies floating dead in the water, including bodies of soldiers in British Khaki battledress and wearing the distinctive square red shoulder badge of the Royal Artillery. According to the War Graves commission website, there were 23 members of the Royal Artillery that lost their lives on 28 April.
When we start crunching numbers, we know that the actual D-Day assault total number of deaths were 2700 British, 946 Canadian, and 6603 US. In comparison the tragedy at Slapton Sands is nearly 9% of what the actual D-Day deaths were. The total number of deaths at Slapton Sands was 746 men. That is an amazing loss of life!
As a result of official embarrassment and concerns over potential leaks just prior to the real invasion, all survivors were sworn to secrecy by their superiors. Ten missing officers involved in the exercise had BIGOT level clearance for D-Day, meaning that they knew the invasion plans and could have compromised the invasion should they have been captured alive. As a result, the invasion was nearly called off until the bodies of all ten victims were found.
Of course, this was a tragedy that the allies were not in a hurry to release at the time it happened or even years afterwards. The book provides detail that suggests the deaths, notification of Next of Kin, burials, were buried in the paperwork of the D-Day assault months later. The burials of the servicemen were mismanaged as well. There are reports from locals of mass unmarked graves. Per the author, “Not all of the bodies were recovered. Ten of the officers reported as missing were designated at the highest level of classified intelligence!”
A tragic loss of life and cover up during the train-up for D-Day! A disaster due to poor planning, communications and execution by the US and British Navy.
Published in 2019, this book will continue to resonate over the years for historians of D-Day and WWII.
Book review by Christopher (Moon) Mullins