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Marshal Mo Hare, SASS #45984

Exercise Tiger

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It was late April of 1944 and on both sides of the English Channel preparations were being made for the impending Allied invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe. As the scheduled D-Day drew nearer, the training and coordination of amphibious tactical units became a vital priority on the Allied side.

Without the precise efforts of hundreds of landing craft crews, the soldiers making up the greatest invasion force the world has ever seen might well be slaughtered before they even hit the beaches. D-Day would become a colossal disaster.

The Allies knew it. So did the Nazis.

Exercise Tiger was one of several secret pre-invasion practice runs scheduled off the southern coast of England, near an evacuated village named Slapton Sands. On the night of April 27 one of the convoys taking part in the exercise was sailing towards shore, loaded down with men and materiel, just like the real thing soon to come.

Everything was orderly and going to plan until the dark of night was shattered by a series of rapid explosions. Large LST (Landing Ship, Tank) boats were suddenly rocked by terrible convulsions.

A small fleet of small German E-boats had stumbled upon the convoy, and upon seeing this incredible target, moved in, fired their torpedoes, and then escaped.

Across the decks of ships shock and confusion quickly turned to panic.

What the hell was happening? This was only supposed to be a training exercise!

Within minutes numerous boats were aflame and listing badly. The air was filled with countless men yelling and screaming. Some of the infantrymen, boys really who had not yet seen action and didn’t know better, assumed they were being attacked and started firing on their own Allied boats. Improper instructions for deploying newly designed inflatable life vests sent many servicemen to watery deaths.

And as if all that wasn’t chaotic enough, a simple typographical error in their written orders had given boat captains the wrong radio frequency for calling in emergency help. No communication was going out.

By first light of dawn the waters off Slapton Sands were covered with still burning oil and hundreds of bodies, some still alive. In all, 749 navy and army personnel were lost that terrible night. Many of the bodies were never recovered.

Within hours of the disaster Supreme Allied Commander Dwight Eisenhower ordered that any and all mention of what happened during Exercise Tiger was strictly forbidden. The survivors were told not to say anything to anybody lest they be immediately court-martialed. What would it do to the confidence and morale of the free world if they heard of this disaster weeks before the actual D-Day landings?

Of course the great Allied invasion did take place at Normandy on June 6, 1944, and with that came the beginning of the end for Hitler’s ‘Thousand Year Reich.’

But by then the bodies of the men who died that night had been buried in secret in England with no public release of how they met their end.

Even years after the war was won the U.S. military at the highest levels kept the lid tight on Exercise Tiger. The first public ceremony commemorating the men who lost their lives didn’t take place until November 15, 1987. a secret no more.

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