Sonar images capture shipwreck which reveal D-Day tragedy

Posted on April 22nd 2014

DETAILED sonar images have for the first time been captured of two two long-forgotten shipwrecks which reveal the horrors of a D-Day tragedy codenamed Exercise Tiger.

Almost 1,000 US soldiers and sailors died when the troop carriers were ambushed and sunk by German torpedo boats during a clandestine training exercise,  off the coast of Devon on April 28, 1944, as they prepared for the invasion of Europe.
 
The full horror of the incident – the worst training exercise of the war - was hidden from the public by a secrecy order issued by Allied commanders fearing it could tip-off the German high command to the impending invasion. Almost 70 years on, there are those who dispute the official account of the tragedy.
 
With the 70th anniversary of tragedy just days away, Hydroid, Inc, a subsidiary of Kongsberg Maritime, used state-of-the-art autonomous underwater vehicles to capture the fate of the vessels, known as LST 507 and LST 531, which lie in 50-metre deep waters of the English Channel off the picturesque coast of Lyme Bay.
 
"We hope that the data collected on this mission will shed additional light on this tragic event and help bring some closure to the families who lost their loved ones during Exercise Tiger," said Richard 'Bungy' Williams, Regional Manager, Hydroid Europe.
 
"We are proud to use our technology to honour the memories of the servicemen who lost their lives in this tragic operation."

Last April, theDivingJourno reported in a two-part feature how a team of underwater explorers were documenting the remains of the vessels to create a permanent online record of the two wreck sites.

Project leader Rich Walker, director of technical training at Global Underwater Explorers research and dive training organisation, said: “Our surveys have generated a huge amount of information about these two shipwrecks. The 3D maps will bring them to people in a way they could never have imagined – it will be as if the viewer is diving there themselves.”
 
The two LSTs - Landing Ship, Tanks - were among a convoy of nine troop carriers taking part in a full-scale D-Day dress rehearsal, codenamed Exercise Tiger, involving all 23,000 US soldiers assigned to land on the Utah Beach, in Normandy.
 
The slow-moving vessels were bound for Slapton Sands, chosen because of its similarity to the French beach, when they were taken by surprise by a patrol of agile German E-Boats on a roving search-and-destroy mission from the French port of Cherbourg.
 
The first torpedo struck LST 507, causing a catastrophic fire which tore through the ship killing many on board. Fifteen minutes later LST 531 was hit, sinking within eight minutes. A third ship, LST 289, was struck in the stern by a torpedo but the crew managed to keep her afloat.
 
Of those who managed to escape the sinking ships, many either died of exposure in the icy waters or sank under the weight of their waterlogged clothes. Others drowned when their incorrectly-worn lifejackets tipped them upside down, trapping their heads beneath the water.
 
Overshadowed by the real invasion of Europe which began less than six weeks later, the tragedy and it became a forgotten chapter of the war.
 
That’s how it remained until the 1980s when hotelier Ken Small published an account of his personal investigations into the incident which began after he found wartime debris washed onto Slapton Sands while beachcombing and set about discovering where they had come from.
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