Memories of D-Day: Naval Memories

HMS Warspite bombarding German coastal defences

HMS Warspite bombarding German coastal defences

The task of the Allied navies was not simply limited to transporting the troops across the English Channel. Warships fired on enemy positions; other craft brought supplies, rescued personnel from sunk ships, or played other roles in the D-Day master plan.

John Abbott was serving on H.M.S. Largs:
“ I was a young Sick Berth Petty Officer in H.M.S. Largs, the senior sick berth rating aboard. She was an HQ ship, flagship of S Force, Rear Admiral Talbot flew his flag in her, and the beach that we were to take the 3rd British Infantry Division into was to become Sword Beach. Most of us had done it before, but this was the biggest yet and we felt our luck might run out after all the Mediterranean invasions.”
On D-Day itself: “That Tuesday morning we were chugging along steadily keeping station and the sea was full of ships. It was very early and I was up top with the Jaunty, somebody or something was making smoke, I think it was to starboard of us. We both looked, and looked again, and there were two tin fish [torpedoes] heading straight for us. What a panic, the lookouts were going mad, somehow the old Largs went astern, and those two fish whizzed across our bows slap into the Norwegian destroyer Svenner, stationed on our port side. She broke in two halves and went under, making a ‘V’. It was awful, and under orders no-one stopped for survivors.”
“ Most of us had done it before” = Some of those involved in D-Day had also taken part in landings in earlier campaigns in the war, particularly at the invasions of Sicily or mainland Italy in 1943.
[Warren Tute Collection, D-Day Museum]

Carter Barber was an American war correspondent on U.S.S. Bayfield. He witnessed the landings on Omaha Beach from a US Coast Guard cutter (a small boat) just offshore. He describes picking up casualties from a Landing Craft, Flak (LCF – a craft armed with many anti-aircraft guns) which had been sunk.
“ The noise was terrific as we approached the beach. When we saw the LCF get hit, and rushed to her aid, I noticed plenty of men floating face down in the water. They might have just been stunned, sure. But I had to agree with the skipper that we couldn’t stop for them just then but we must keep on to get the other men foundering about. The first bunch I took pictures of with my borrowed camera. Three minutes was enough, and I put the camera down and went forward to throw heaving lines to other men in the water. Twos and threes of them were screaming ‘Oh save me… I’m hurt bad… please please please.’ And I yelled back ‘Hang on Mac, we’re coming’ and looked astern at the guys on our boat hauling other wounded men aboard, and wondered at the inadequacy of everything. We needed ten pairs of hands. One big fellow who afterwards admitted he weighed 230 pounds, stripped, had two legs broken, and was in intense pain. We had a hell of a time getting him aboard because his clothing was waterlogged and he was weighed down with helmet, rifle, pack, ammunition, et al. The man screamed as we helped him aboard, but we had to be a little callous so that we could get the man on deck and move to another group of survivors.”
[Warren Tute Collection, D-Day Museum]

Mr G. L. Haskins was serving in the Royal Navy:
“ I was a Midshipman RNR in H.M.S. Emerald – communications number with the spotter aircraft during the initial bombardment. I had been busy passing on target references, shot times and spotter reports when, about 0730, there was a brief lull in proceedings. I emerged from my cramped position in the bridge chart table well and looked ashore at the coastline through binoculars. We had no idea where we were – only Captain F.J. Wylie and Graham-Brown the navigator seemed to be in the know. What I saw through the binoculars looked rather familiar and I said ‘It’s Arromanches’. It was Arromanches of course, and the only place in France I had ever, until then, visited. It was when we had our family summer holiday before the war. What an unforgettable day 6.6.44 was – my first ship, I was aged 17, and a front seat view of the lot.”
[Warren Tute Collection, D-Day Museum]

US troops on Utah Beach, 10 June 1944 (US Navy)

US LSTs (Landing Ship, Tanks) beached in Normandy, 20 June 1944 (US Navy)

Mr P. H. Humphries was a Signal Officer on H.M.S. Glenroy:
“H.M.S. Glenroy was a 10,000 ton Landing Ship Infantry. She carried 20 LCAs and was the HQ ship for Force G1. We sailed just before dusk on the 5th [June], going round the Needles and heading up Channel towards the Straits of Dover, this being to deceive the enemy into believing that the invasion would take place in the Pas de Calais area. When darkness fell, we turned south towards the Normandy beaches and just before dawn we could see the battleships close inshore, bombarding the defences. About five minutes after anchoring we saw banks of fire behind us and a sound like a dozen express trains going overhead. This scared the living daylights out of us as this was something that we hadn’t experienced before. It turned out to be the rockets from the LCT(R)s coming up behind us and firing over our heads. When all the LCAs had returned [from delivering troops to the beaches], we proceeded back to Southampton, where we took on more troops. We carried this on day and night for four days, and during this time the bridge party did not leave the bridge except for emergencies.”
LCA = Landing Craft, Assault, a type of small landing craft
LCT(R) = a “Landing Craft, Tank (Rocket)”, a large landing craft designed to fire hundreds of rockets against the enemy defences.
[Warren Tute Collection, D-Day Museum]

Mr A.C. Lamey was one of many merchant seamen who were involved in D-Day:
“ All through the last war I was serving as first mate on the steamship Greta Force. I volunteered for the liberation of Europe and my ship was allotted to the Americans. We were running ammunition and stores to their beaches, Omaha and Utah. We were running from Southampton mostly. We had our sealed orders at 3p.m. on 6 June and sailed 1a.m. on the 7th. When we were nearing the French coast the ship that was just ahead of us blew up. She was loaded with ammunition and needless to say there were no survivors.”
[Warren Tute Collection, D-Day Museum]

Walter Palmer was one of three crew on a Thames barge that carried petrol cans on D-Day. After this crossing, he was transferred to crew a “Landing Craft, Flak” (LCF) and was mainly involved with protecting merchant ships against enemy attack:
“ During the day we patrolled the coast along with LCGs [Landing Craft, Gun]. A new menace appeared in the shape of a one-man sub [submarine] with a tinfish [torpedo] slung under it. The man on the sub could only see through a perspex dome which could be seen coming through the water. Our first encounter with one of these was when our skipper opened fire on one with a Lewis Gun, at which the German threw back the hatch and raised his arms in surrender. We went alongside, took the German aboard and the sub in tow. It was handed over to the naval experts as it was the first to be captured.
The next nightmare was the acoustic mine, which exploded under a ship when it picked up the sound of the ship’s engine. We really feared this one as all our craft were driven by large diesel engines, so their echo through the water was noisy. We lost a lot of craft this way and a lot of lives. Being a stoker, my job was to look after the diesel engines on my craft, and when I went below in the engine room for four hours I was scared stiff in case we caught a packet from these mines. In fact I was so scared that I used to take my meals on the upper deck and sleep near the bows, so if we did sink I was ready to jump in the water.
One night we were going to join the rest of the craft and I was sat near the bows when there was a hellish explosion and I found myself in the air and then in the water, swimming for dear life. Our luck had run out, in the form of an acoustic mine. Those of us that survived were picked up.”
LCG = a “Landing Craft, Gun”, a landing craft equipped with large naval guns for supporting other landing craft during the landings.
[Warren Tute Collection, D-Day Museum]

Photographs courtesy of the D-Day Museum, the Imperial War Museum, US Navy/US Coast Guard, and The News, Portsmouth. Images may not be copied without permission.