Slapton Sands is a place name among many others that immediately conjures up images of a military disaster, death and, in this case, a government cover up. But how many of us actually know what happened in Devon?
During the build up to D-Day, all sorts of logistical problems faced the military in the UK. One such problem was how do you house and feed tens of thousands of troops gathered patiently in the South of England? From a tactical viewpoint how do you keep these soldiers fit, healthy and, above all, trained? The answer was to take over towns and villages on the coast of Cornwall all the way up to Kent. Whole areas were evacuated of civilians, harbours and fishing villages turned into naval yards, schools and hospitals with no population to serve where utilised as HQs and store houses. Even the beaches and parks were being commandeered. It was on such a beach, known as Slapton Sands that an exercise was taking place; Exercise Tiger.
It was to be the training area of the US force ‘U’, the codename given to the Americans who were to land at Utah beach . It was similar in both terrain and tides to their final objective in Normandy and was thus considered perfect for training. It had first been used as early as 1943 and was well known to the American soldiers who associated Slapton Sands with ‘hard-work and a soaking’ but preferable to ‘sitting around caged in camp.’
So why does the mere name ‘Slapton’ bring to life disaster? Quite simply the reason being is that hundreds of American soldiers and sailors lost their lives there in disaster after disaster. The first and often most read about disaster is the ‘friendly fire’ incident where live rounds were being used on the beach to ‘toughen up’ the troops and prepare them for the real thing in France. A sour taste and a bleak look into things to come.
The second and surprisingly less well known incident is that covered by Lawrance’s book. It’s the story of events and later the cover up of over six hundred young Americans who were to lose their lives in what was supposed to be a training exercise after German E-Boats on patrol infiltrated American LSTs packed with thousands of GIs and began a torpedo turkey shoot. The survivors watching from the other LSTs must have wondered what would the real thing be like less than two months away? This clearly wasn’t a good omen for the men and a security nightmare for the military bigwigs.
Obviously, the book goes into great detail with the build up and events as they unfolded. It also asks many questions, the most common of these being why?
It also leans heavily on the aftermath of the disaster and that phrase again: Cover up.
It’s packed with great photographs of Slapton Sands and more poignant images of the deceased. It has a wealth of further reading and a Roll of Honour that is quite breathtaking in its accuracy and the information offered.
The book has such a wealth of knowledge and is well researched it even has an exhaustive technical spec for the ships involved in Exercise Tiger. All in this is a fantastic read and one I can highly recommend. Wendy Lawrance, we salute you.
Review by Phil Hodges for War History Online
The Forgotten Sacrifice of the Silent Few
By Wendy Lawrance