British commandos in X-Craft Submarines Showed D-Day Troops the Way

A secret World War Two mission has been revealed in which ten British commandos manning tiny X-craft submarines guided the massive D-Day offensive.

Ten commandos were given a secret mission to pave the way for the D-Day landings just off the coast of Normandy. Their assignment was to wait in the English Channel to spy on the German troops and to also provide a beacon of light to guide the Allied troops that were coming into the French coast.  Their tiny submarines had enough room for only five crew men and relied completely on battery power.

While they were waiting the crew men worried they might run out of oxygen because the submarines were so tiny. But they were able to raise the subs to the surface each evening to get some air and tune into the BBC’s 10 pm news bulletin. This was not only to get the latest news, but also to listen for a secret code word that was to be broadcast in order to give them the go-ahead for their mission.

Before their mission got the green light a secret code word was communicated via the bulletin to let them know that the mission was to be delayed for 24 hours. They survived on rations of tea, baked beans and soup, and slept one at a time in four hour shifts. They were a close team and got to know one another even better during this delay.  They discussed all sorts of topics, but the veterans say it was mainly about beer and women!

They crew ended up spending five days under the surface of the water just feet from Nazi troops in their vessels and on the beaches. The subs were able to submerge to a depth of 30 feet and the crew would turn their radar off so that the Germans wouldn’t detect them. The men would identify their location through charts and pictures, and by looking through the periscope to see what part of the coast they were near.

At 4 am on 6th June 1944 the submarines rose to the surface.  Above them was a pack of Allied aircraft heading for the beaches to drop the first bombs. By dawn the bombing was completed and the first of the landing craft were nearing the shore. The submarine crew men lit their beacons to show the troops the right way to the beaches, the Mail Online reports.

In total, 24,000 crew from Allied air forces took part in the airborne offensive, followed by 160,000 troops in the land invasion.  The ten submarine commandos were from the Combined Operations Pilotage and Reconnaissance Party and are now to be commemorated with a memorial at their base in Hampshire, UK.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE