Army Quartermaster Museum -
Fort Lee, Virginia
TIGERThe E-Boat Attack|
Six Quartermaster units sustain losses due to enemy action during training for the D-Day Invasion
Webmaster's Note: Operation TIGER was held 22-30 April
1944, at Slapton Sands, England. It was the major training dress rehearsal for the
4th Infantry Division's assault at Utah Beach, Normandy, France on D-Day, 6 June
1944. In the early morning hours of 28 April 1944, eight Landing Ship Tanks (LSTs)
were in Lyme Bay, heading towards Slapton Sands, with the assault's follow on force of
combat service support soldiers. The losses sustained during this exercise were a
closely held secret until the end of D-Day invasion to keep the Germans from learning
about allied invasion plans. The 3206th Quartermaster Service Company sustained
the heaviest losses of any unit the night of 27-28 April 1944. According to the
historian Charles MacDonald, in an article written for the June 1988 Army magazine,
"When the waters of the English Channel at last ceased to wash bloated bodies ashore,
the toll of the dead and missing stood at 198 sailors and 551 soldiers, a total of 749,
the most costly training incident involving U.S. forces during World War II."
During the buildup phase of TIGER, eight LSTs (Landing Ship, Tank) in a convoy were caught by German E-boats which torpedoed and sank two, causing a loss of life greater than that later suffered by the assault troops during initial attack on Utah Beach. The final account of this incident must take into account naval records not available in the European Theater, but Army records indicate that the following took place.
During the night of 27-28 April (1944), eight LSTs in convoy T-4 were proceeding at about five knots per hour off Portland. The craft were scheduled to participate in the buildup phase of the exercise. They had travelled [sic] almost due east of their points of departure, Plymouth and Dartmouth, had turned around, and were proceeding westerly toward Bruxham [sic]. They were loaded with troops of the 1st Engr Sp Brig, the 4th Div, and VII Corps. Presumably the LSTs were escorted by one corvette, but this vessel does not seem to have been in the vicinity during the action. The night was dark but clear, with no moon. At least one LST was equipped with radar and reported that two unknown vessels were approaching, but it was assumed that these were craft belonging to the convoy.
Times given for the attack vary between 0130 hours and 0204 hours 28 April. The attackers, believed to have been E-boats, were never positively identified, and it is not known whether the two picked up by the radar constituted the whole enemy force. LST 507, the first attacked, was hit by several torpedoes which failed to explode, then was set afire by a direct torpedo hit. Another struck five minutes later. The enemy craft straffed [sic] the decks with machine guns, and fired on men who had jumped into the water. LST 507 began to settle.
About the same time, LST 531 was hit and set afire. Flares were seen to drop, but LST officers did not know whether the planes were enemy or Allied. Some survivors stated that they heard anti-aircraft fire, but there is no evidence of bombs being dropped. LST 511 was struck twice by torpedos [sic] which failed to explode.
About 0210, LST 289 was hit by a torpedo which destroyed the crew's quarters, the rudder and the rear guns. The commanding officer of the 478th Amphibian Truck Company (TC), a 1st Brigade unit, suggested to LST officers that the vessel's ramp be put down and personnel be taken off in the company's dukws (amphibious trucks). This plan was considered but abandoned when flooding was brought under control. LCVPs (Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel) were put over the side to steer the LST, and it made Dartmouth under its own power at 1430 hours.
Other LSTs put on full speed and escaped, although LST 515, according to Army records, turned and picked up some survivors several hours later. LSTs 507 and 531 continued to burn and settle. Deck guns were not manned, although some shots were fired by Navy personnel. The craft burned for about two hours, LST 531 sank, but the exact time is uncertain. At 0400 a British destroyer arrived and picked up survivors. Its captain ordered that LST 507, which had settled until only its bow was above water, be sunk. The enemy did not suffer any known casualties or damage.
Most of the casualties were from LST 531. There were only 290 survivors of 744 soldiers and 282 sailors. Aboard LST 507 there were 13 dead and 22 wounded. The 1st (Engineer Special) Brigade suffered most heavily in the action with 413 dead and 16 wounded. The 3206th Quartermaster Service Company was virtually wiped out. Of 251 officers and men, 201 were killed or wounded. The 557th Quartermaster Railhead Company also had heavy losses, 69 casualties in all. A complete list of casualties is not available, but Army records, possibly not complete, state that 749 were killed and more than 300 either injured or suffering from severe exposures.
* Status of all men MIA changed to KIA 8 July 1944.
The E-boat attack disclosed a number of deficiencies which were rectified for the invasion. Among them were the following:
(1) Lifebelts issued were of the self-inflating type. In many cases they were improperly used. Some belts contained defective inflating capsules or none at all. Contents of others had been discharged, either intentionally or by accident. In marshalling areas before the invasion, troops were impressed with the necessity of retaining the capsules, and were well briefed in the use of the life belts.
(2) The general alarm system aboard the LSTs was not generally understood, although instructions were posted and non-commissioned officers were instructed to brief the men. This, however, did not result in any loss of life, since the men had up to a half hour to reach the deck and there was no difficulty in getting there.
(3) Only two of six lifeboats on LST 507 were lowered. On some of the boats, release pins were bent by the concussion and had to be forced. Of the boats that got into the water, one, with a capacity of 40 to 60 men, was occupied by 80 to 100, and capsized. Drills aboard invasion craft helped to minimize this danger.
Individuals on the LSTs reacted in different ways. According to survivors, some even managed to keep their sense of humor and lept over the rail shouting, "Dry run!" Other men though at first that it was all a part of the problem (exercise).
In general, discipline on deck was poor, due in part to the fact that the loudspeaker systems were put out of order by the explosions and no commands could be given over them. Some men lost valuable time searching for their duffle bags. In some cases there was panic, and men went over the side before the order to abandon ship was given, and were strafed by the E-boats' machine guns fire. Col Eugene M Caffey, 1st (Engineer Special) Brigade commanding officer, later commented, "Officers and NCOs cannot expect their men to remain cool when they themselves seem to go completely crazy."
The unfortunate sinking of the LSTs greatly marred the buildup and supply phases of the exercise, reducing the beach party practically to its assault phase elements. Survivors were warned to keep all details a secret, and no account was released until after the invasion. Critiques of the mounting and assault indicate that results otherwise were fairly satisfactory, although there was a tendency on the part of officers and men to treat TIGER as another problem in a long series. By this time exercises had become routine, practicularly [sic] for the 1st (Engineer Special) Brigade, which had taken part in 15 exercises from January through April. Observers reported that many officers were inclined to dismiss shortcomings as unimportant, and to feel that when the invasion took place, deficiencies shown in TIGER and other exercises would no longer exist.
Mounting, in particular, showed great improvement, particularly in regard to the operation of the camps. There were a few flaws; such as lack of sufficient briefing tents, and the fact that a large shipment of jerricans had just arrived with each can painted yellow so that it was easily seen from the air. Security in the camps was improved, although a lack of uniformity in the pass system was criticized. Camouflage was better than in previous exercises, and signal installations were found to be adequate.
During the period 1-18 May, units which had lost heavily in personnel and equipment during TIGER and the E-boat attack were re-equipped and replacements were secured. The 3206th Quartermaster Service Company, which had been practically wiped out, was replaced by the 363d Quartermaster Service Company, and the 557th Quartermaster Railhead Company, which had lost very heavily, was replaced by the 562d Quartermaster Railhead Company.
Related Web Articles:
Operation Tiger Overview Naval Historical Center
'Slapton Sands: The Cover-up That Never Was' Naval Historical Center