On a previous posting in 2007,titled, "Limited Service", I ended the article
with, "What in the world am I doing here on the beach on D Day?"
Through the Freedom of Information Act, two years ago, Ken Small, the author
of " A Memorial For A Sherman Tank ", obtained the answer to that question for me.
He related that in April of 1944, the culmination of a project
called Exercise Tiger and how this rigorous training with live ammunition,
was held as a preamble to Operation Neptune, the invasion of France
across the English Channel.
Exercise Tiger had a previous dry run in December of '43 but the
April 44th rehearsal led ultimately, to be one of the most horrendous
misfortunes of WWll.
Exercise Tiger was staged off South Devon England, at a beach
called Slapton Sands, just 6 weeks before the D Day landings
South Devon then, was a quiet little hamlet on the southeastern English
coast with beaches, whose configurations were similar to the Normandy
terrain of Utah Beach.
An ideal place for Exercise Tiger were it not for Murphy's Law.
"If anything could possibly go wrong ,it will".
On April 29th 1944, in the English Channel less than 40 miles from
the German occupied French soil, Exercise Tiger was devastated by
E Boats from their base in Cherbourg, France.
The Cherbourg Peninsula was a huge E Boat base that harrassed and
sunk Allied shipping.
E Boats are the equivalent to the U.S. PT 109,the torpedo boat
commanded by John Kennedy in the South Pacific long before he
became the President of the U.S.
These E Boats were fast and deadly and surely held in the highest
regard for the safety of Allied troops and ships by the leadership
of the exercise.
Unfortunately, the 2 Destroyers assigned to defend the men and
equipment had difficulty with their communication gear.
Exercise Tiger was a disaster.
The Army's 1st Engineer Special Brigade and the US Navy suffered
losses in the Channel and on the English beach due to heavy shelling.
The Brigade losses were more than two Companys
At first I thought my Battalion was a replacement for the casualties
of the Brigade.
Later I wes told that our three Port Battalions with the the 1st Engineer
Special Brigade were assigned there originally.... and not as replacements.
In addition.....The Port Battalions were to cover the retreat of
the Landings should it have been necessary...
We would have been the last troops to leave the Beach.
This last line reminds me of the movie.."On The Waterfront"
where the Hero, Marlon Brando, who portrays a professional boxer,
laments to his brother about the last fight he just lost...
" I could've been a contender." he pleads..,
then adds with a moan,
"I could've been "a somebody ! "
That last line means to me, I was a contender.
Contrary, to Marlon's second Classic expression,
I, Am, A Somebody!