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HEROES OF D-DAY: 'Sunken tanks halted our voyage'
10:08am Friday 6th June 2014 in D-Day Articles
“When we arrived at Omaha on D-Day we were about two hours late.
“The scene was amazing as the Americans had run into tremendous resistance and were pinned down on the beach area although they had forced their way some distance up the slopes behind the beach.
“It was like watching a film as we, of course, were at a distance and the sound of the wind and the sea shut out a lot of the noise.
“We were ordered to act independently and beach as and where we could. We spent an hour or two sailing backwards and forwards along the beach but the beach obstacles and wrecked craft etc made it impossible.
“My captain decided to lay off and anchor so we went out some distance and anchored astern of a battleship. This turned out to be the USS Texas.
“When I reported completion of anchoring the captain told me to have our acting wardroom steward prepare tea and to invite the American officers to join us.
“They did and were astonished to find our little wardroom table covered by a white linen cloth on which were set out china cups and saucers with cake and biscuits.
“The wardroom had fixed settees on three sides (these converted to bunks for sleeping).
“After a few minutes we were virtually lifted out of the water by the force of explosions as the Texas opened up with her main armament (I think 16in guns).
“The Americans rushed off to their tanks and my captain ordered me to have our main engines started, weigh anchor and move a bit further out.
“That night the Germans came over bombing. We were fully dressed and attempting to sleep on our settees.
“I jumped up and opened our flimsy wooden door and saw what appeared to me to be a stream of tracer coming at us.
“I slammed the door and picked up the mess deck phone. My skipper sat up and said: ‘What are you doing, number one?’ “I told him I was going to get our two anti-aircraft gunners out to man our two Oerlikons.
He told me to tell the crew to get in their hammocks as they would be in more danger up on deck and, as they would not hit any Germans, they would only add to the mayhem.
“So we spent the night with our heads down.
“The next morning we went to the beach and offloaded our tanks. By then it was reasonably quiet save for some explosions.
“We were sobered to see the bodies of American soldiers floating by and, of course, realised that they had suffered the real horrors.
“I do not want anyone to think that we treated it all lightly but it has to be remembered that most of us were under 20 and, like all youths, were never serious for long.
“We dried out on the beach and played impromptu cricket as well as exploring. Our chummy craft’s crew found some bottles of hooch in a German dug-out.
“My crew wanted to find some too but we pointed out that it might be poison or boobytrapped. It wasn’t – and they were disgruntled.
“As soon as the tide was right we kedged off and sailed for Portland.
“I knew nothing of Dorset until that Thursday, June 8 when the Landing Craft Tank (LCT 690) in which I was Midshipman RNVR returned from Omaha.
“When we arrived at Portland our crew immediately called it Devil’s Island.
“The harbour was so filled with all sorts of ships, but mainly American LSTs (Landing Ships Tank) and British LCTs that it was easy to have the impression that it might be possible to walk across the harbour on the decks.
“While at Portland we did several trips carrying a variety of vehicles to Omaha and Utah beaches. Among those we took were Sherman Tanks, halftracks, an American Field Bakery, a mobile field gun which the Americans referred to as a Howitzer and an RAF Port Embarkation Unit with its Queen Mary recovery vehicle.
“These trips were interrupted when our rudders were torn off by an underwater obstruction off one of the beaches. We got back to Portland steering by our engines.
“There we had a few days in a floating dock for repairs.
“Later on, the craft suffered a broken back when we dried out on a sand runnel on Utah beach. We got back by running a flexible steel wire around our Capstan and around the craft and then lashing up with tank strops.
“On our return we were instructed to join a convoy off Portland Bill and go with it to Land’s End then up the Bristol Channel to Newport into a GWR dry dock for repairs.
“When I read the obituaries of so many of our true war heroes I realise how little I did, but feel it is important to tell the story for the sake of my grandchildren.”