Countdown to 70th Anniversary of D-Day landings

Discussion in 'History' started by Naval_Gazer, Mar 28, 2014.

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  1. As we approach the 70th anniversary of Operation OVERLORD (the invasion of Normandy) and Operation NEPTUNE (the seaborne landings) with most attention being paid to the land and airborne operations, I wonder how much coverage will be given to some of the more poorly publicised aspects involving the Royal Navy:

    Frogmen - The First Men Ashore on D-Day

    The following excerpt is taken from pages 114-120 of The Frogmen - The Story of the Wartime Underwater Operators by T J Waldron and James Gleeson (Evans Brothers Ltd, London, November 1950):

    I was proud to be a friend of the Petty Officer who, thanks to his Kapok Jacket, survived the explosion in the water "quite close to him". He eventually became Lt Cdr Robbie Robinson MBE RN who suffered severe pain from his injuries (he described himself as having been "filleted") right up to his death in March 2004.

    Pathé News produced this post-war film about the LCOCUs: Naval Frogmen - LCOCU
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  2. The Minesweeping Operation 5-6 June 1944
    (Courtesy of David Verghese)


    The seaborne assault and landing phases of the Allied invasion of Normandy in 1944 was perhaps the largest, most intricate and meticulously planned naval endeavour in WWII. Paramount to its success was the absolute necessity for a vast amount of requisite detailed work in its conception, planning and execution to maximise success and minimise intent to the enemy. Nothing could be overlooked in the planning of this ambitious operation if the landing forces were to gain a successful bridgehead and lodgement, with the necessary elements of surprise and speed, upon the five designated beach areas and beyond. It seems incredible today to realise that approximately seven thousand individual vessels were to be involved in the subsequent period to the end of July 1944, including warships, troop landing craft, transport, supply and support ships.

    To the minesweepers and their attendant consorts was to fall the responsibility of leading the assault forces to the Normandy beaches. Contingent upon their effectiveness and timely efficiency in clearing the German mine barrier protecting the area, there lay the potential to cross that finely dividing line between success, or otherwise, for the opening day of this amphibious opposed invasion to establish the second front. The interested researcher can find much of relevance regarding Operation Neptune in official Admiralty archives, naval and war museums and indeed one’s local public library. Conspicuous by their absence are accounts of minesweeping operations and movement logs of individual minesweepers or their flotillas. Yet the minesweeping workloads during the months of June and July 1944 were absolutely vital to the success of the beach landings in terms of men and materiel. That relatively few warships, transport or landing craft were seriously damaged or lost due to conventional mines is fitting testament to the organisation and work of the plucky crews of these valiant, but unheralded little ships, who assured that approach routes, bombarding ship and landing craft anchorages were as free as possible of mines.

    Fig (i) courtesy of Algerine Association

    By well into 1944 minefields were known to have been laid in depth south of latitude 50 degrees N to within ten miles of the French coastline; these fields stretched from offshore Boulogne to the Seine Bay (see map (i)). South of the mined area existed a clear channel used by the Kriegsmarine. The Allied naval planners intended to utilise this channel as the lowering positions for the landing ships to bring in the infantry troops. Ground mines were assumed to be laid between this channel and the beach areas – and these would need to be swiftly cleared just prior to the landings, and opportunity denied to the enemy to lay further mines.

    The sea mining of the waters chosen for Operation NEPTUNE was potentially both a lethal and most disruptive weapon available for the German forces. The Neptune routing plan devised involved directing amphibious forces from a large number of ports in southern Britain into Area ‘Z’ (see map (ii)) before turning southwards through the ‘Spout’ and into what would be initially ten channels leading to the lowering positions in the beach assault areas.

    Neptune Minesweeping b.jpg
    Map (ii)) courtesy of Gordon Smith, and adapted from Stephen Roskill’s War at Sea


    The Minesweeping Operational Plan, drawn directly up by Admiral Bertram Ramsey and the Task Force Commanders (Eastern: Rear Adm. Sir Philip Vian RN; Western: Rear Adm. Alan G. Kirk USN), was essentially in the following four overall parts:

    (i) In respect of each of the five beach Assault Forces (designated U, O, G, J and S), two channels would be cleared S.S.E. through the mine barrier for the first wave of amphibious infantry on what would be termed D-Day. One assault channel would be for 12 knot convoys and one for slower 5 knot convoys. These channels were to be numbered 1-10 from west to east. A Fleet Minesweeping Flotilla (MSF) of nine ships would be allocated to each channel to sweep well ahead of the invasion vessels. It was of paramount importance to conceal from the enemy the time and place, and indeed intent, of the landings by the forces following up behind.

    (ii) Inshore of the coastal channel a Minesweeping Flotilla would precede the movement of the Bombarding Forces of warships to clear the presence of any mines right up to the anchorages of these ships. (the final D-Day positions of the bombarding ships in relation to the five paired channels and the beach areas is shown in map (iii) courtesy of combined ops website). These Bombarding Forces (designated A, C, K, E and D) would target enemy fortifications, gun battery emplacements and reinforcing armour that might be brought up from their reserve points to pose an immediate threat to the LSI(L) craft disgorging infantry onto the five beach areas. There were ground mines, acoustic and magnetic, thought to populate the inshore areas, and the pathway of the bombarding ships had to be commenced as soon as the channels were initially cleared.

    Neptune Minesweeping c.jpg
    Map (iii) The Operation Neptune Bombarding Forces on June 6 1944

    (iii) When the above two tasks were accomplished, planned to be by 0500, the next phase would be to widen the mine-freed approach channels to form a broad area ( known as the ‘SPOUT’) to allow passage of supply and equipment vessels carrying armoured fighting vehicles.

    (iv) Constant re-clearing activities were to be maintained in order to nullify mines dropped by parachute from enemy planes or laid from E-boats. To counteract Allied success the enemy did, to some limited extent only, engage on this re-laying with all types of mine including the relatively new oyster mine – these latter were designed to actuate by changes in water pressure as a ship passed in its immediate vicinity. Allied vessels were obliged to slow their speed to a point where pressure generated would be too low to trigger actuation.

    Thus one can begin to appreciate the inherent potential danger facing the minesweepers and their crews if the enemy, realising the intent and efficacy of the mine clearing operation, responded with air and fast E-boat attack in the early dawn light. Kriegsmarine Group West actually failed (much to the frustration of Vice Admiral F. Ruge, Rommel’s Naval Advisor) to reinforce the mine barrier with new mines and to lay ground mines with delay action fuses off the beaches. This would have made the task of the minesweeping flotillas much more difficult given the time constraints of the overall operational requirements. They were required to keep station and make difficult turns in changing tides as an operational flotilla in the dark and with rough sea. There is no doubt that the minesweeping flotillas would have to take great risks as an acceptable hazard – if engaged they were required to keep to their sweeping courses as allocated. Incredibly, several of MSFs encountered no enemy reaction as they reached the southern end of their respective channels, allowing them to turn parallel to the beaches sweeping for some distance, before heading northwards to sweep ahead of the Bombarding Forces or to widen the channels.

    Order of Battle of the MS Flotillas

    In total, about 350 vessels of many types took part in the mine clearing operation of June 5-6. Within each Channel-tasked MSF the typically eight Fleet Minesweepers used (a further was held as reserve for each channel) carried not only gear in abundance to deal with the various types of mines they might encounter but also equipment to deal with the anti-sweeping devices built into the mines. The Fleet Minesweepers were augmented by usually four Danlayers and a small number of Harbour Defence Motor Launches. The latter vessels shallow swept ahead of the Fleet Minesweepers in a protective role. There were other classes of minesweepers as outlined in the table below, and the final type of vessels were the Oropesa “twin Longitudinal line” (or LL) Trawlers of the RN Groups 131, 139, 159 and 181. Two were allocated for each channel flotilla, their equipment being specialised for the sweeping of magnetic mines.

    It is worth noting the very precise work of the Danlayers in each Flotilla. Of the four vessels, and occasionally a minesweeper in reserve was tasked for this role, one pair was to follow the Flotilla Leader’s sweep to mark one side of the allocated channel with lighted dan buoys, the other pair would follow the rear minesweeper to mark the opposite side of the channel, each channel varying from 400-1200 yards width. The minesweepers swept in what is termed ‘G’ formation of roughly quarter line, each ship being covered by the outside portion of her next ahead’s sweep wire. The first dan buoy displayed particular flags and a characteristic light to distinguish it clearly from the dan buoys of the neighbouring channels. The next three buoys were laid near the centre line of the channel and then the channel was marked at one-mile intervals, each side of the channel having the same lights and flag, but different to the light and flags of the other side. The reserve pair of danlayers filled in the gaps where buoy lights were broken. By late June 7 Trinity House would replace the dan buoys with ocean light buoys. In the opening phase of Operation Neptune covering June 5-6, the 350 (approx) total minesweeping force carried out tasks as follows:

    Flotilla / Class or Type / Role covered

    1st / Halcyon / Swept Channel 9 ahead of Force S
    4th / Aberdare (Hunts) / Swept Channel 4 ahead of Force O
    6th / Algerine / Swept Channel 5
    7th / Algerine / Swept Channel 8
    7th USM Squadron / AM(US) / Swept ahead of USS Nevada, Tuscaloosa and Quincy
    9th / Bangor / Swept Channel 7 ahead of Force J
    14th / Bangor / Swept Channel 2 ahead of Force U
    15th / Bangor / Swept Channel 10
    16th / Bangor / Swept Channel 1 ahead of Force U
    18th / Algerine / Swept Channel 6 ahead of Force G
    31st RCN / Bangor / Swept Channel 3
    32nd RCN / Bangor / Used as required
    40th / Catherine (BAMS) / Followed the 15th MSF down Channel 10, then proceeded to within 2 miles of beach area, then met and swept ahead of Bombarding Force D which was protecting the Force S assault craft.

    The British YMS, YMS (US) and British Motor Minesweepers below were given the role to sweep the inshore areas, especially the boat lanes between the transport areas and the beaches, and subsequently the artificial Mulberry harbours after the assault phase. They were equipped with light sweeping gear especially designed for sweeping magnetic and acoustic influence mines in shallow waters. A small number of LCTs were also similarly equipped.

    British Yard Mine Sweeping (BYMS) Flotillas: 150th, 159th, 165th, 167th

    YMS Flotillas (US): Y1 and Y2

    Motor Mine Sweeping (MMS) Flotillas: 101st, 102nd, 104th, 115th, 132nd, 143rd, 205th

    By 0330 the ten channels had been swept by the Fleet Minesweeping Flotillas and shortly after the inshore areas parallel to the landing beaches had been swept by the BYMS, YMS and MMS ships. The Assault Flotillas were well into their passage to the Gold, Juno, Sword, Utah and Omaha Beaches to arrive by H-hour, and the bombarding squadrons of battleships, cruisers, monitors and destroyers were now ready to let loose the most concentrated firepower of naval ordnance ever experienced in the history of sea warfare against a land-based foe.

    The minesweeping flotillas, having been given the honour of leading the way for the Allied Assault Forces, now moved northwards, either widening the channels or withdrawing to holding areas in what was to become, over the next few days, the ‘Trout Line’. This was a defence barrier set up around the Normandy anchorage to protect the ships from the multiple threats of E-boats, R-boats, human 'Neger' torpedoes and Linsen explosive motor boats. The ‘Trout Line’ itself was composed of LC(Guns), LC(Flak) and LC(Supply) set up in a continuous double line one cable apart. The minesweepers slotted in at 5-cables (half mile) intervals six miles seaward on each side and parallel to the beaches. Sword Beach, on the eastern flank, was particular vulnerable to attack from the Le Havre area and enemy submarines were always a potential risk apart from the offensive threats above".

    Coastal Forces Control Frigates patrolled just outside the line sometimes augmented by destroyers thereby adding to defence in depth. Ships' speeds had to be tempered, knowing the potential to actuate the newish oyster mines.

    Those 350 or so ships, from the Flotilla leaders to the Fairmile B MLs, had engaged in the most meticulously planned and well executed minesweeping operation ever undertaken and all had survived by the end of D-Day on June 6.

    D-Day-SeineBay1 med.jpg
    Mines swept in Seine Bay 6 June to 31 July 1944

    (Courtesy of Michael Friend)

    This narrative will close with a fitting tribute paid to all those involved, by the Naval Commander of the Western Task Force, Rear Admiral Alan Kirk USN. (ADM 234/366 p. 49):

    "It can be said without fear of contradiction that minesweeping was the keystone in the arch of this operation. All of the waters were suitable for mining, and plans of unprecedented complexity were required. The performance of the minesweepers can only be described as magnificent."
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  3. D-Day Minesweeping - A Few More Facts

    306 Allied minesweepers participated in the initial D-Day assault on 6 June 1944. These included 274 from the Royal Navy, 84 of which had been built in America under Lend-Lease. 32 minesweepers flew the US Navy ensign and 15 of the Bangor Class fleet minesweepers were built in Canada and manned by Canadians. The Canadian 31st MS Flotilla (Bangors) swept 78 mines in the first 7 days of the operation. 36 converted RN Fairmile ‘B’ MLs (Motor Launches) were also used to conduct skim sweeps ahead of fleet Minesweeper Flotillas and many converted landing craft undertook snag-line sweeps in the shallows.

    British minesweeping forces assigned to Operation NEPTUNE for the Normandy invasion included:

    25 x Algerine Class fleet minesweepers
    29 x Bangor Class fleet minesweepers
    12 x Catherine Class BAMS (British American Minesweepers) fleet minesweepers
    9 x Halcyon Class fleet minesweepers
    9 x Aberdare Class ('Smokey Joes' - improved Hunt Class dating from WW I) fleet minesweepers
    40 x BYMS (British Yard Minesweepers) coastal minesweepers
    61 x MMS (Motor Minesweepers or ‘Mickey Mouse’) coastal minesweepers
    38 x danlaying trawlers
    36 x Fairmile ‘B’ MLs for inshore work.

    It is worth noting that this comprised only 25% of the RN’s minesweeping forces at the time; the rest were still involved in keeping UK coastal routes and port approaches clear or were operating in other theatres of the war.

    Two ships in each fleet Minesweeper Flotilla were fitted with radio countermeasures to confuse the German fire control radar as were a number of BYMS and MMS. Escorting coastal craft and aircraft produced smoke screens to mask sweeping operations.

    The danlaying force in the British sector included 8 converted fleet minesweepers built during the war and 25 pre-war trawlers each carrying 70 danbuoys. The coastal minesweepers (BYMS, American YMS and MMS) performed their own danlaying. Taut Wire Measuring Gear assisted the accurate measurement of distances along channels and ten underwater sonic beacons were laid, using radio navigation, to provide accurate reference points for the start of each main channel. HMS Vernon produced 1,500 lights for danbuoys to mark the edges of channels plus 200 flashing lights for the ends of channels. On the night, they all worked well and gave a ‘fairyland look’ to the whole area of sea between the Isle of Wight and the beaches.

    Southwick House D-day Map.jpg
    Southwick House D-Day Map

    Some days before D-Day, a large circle of water (Picadilly Circus) was swept a few miles south-east of the Isle of Wight connected to the existing swept channels off Southern England. On the night before the invasion, ten channels were cut south towards the Normandy coast. On the morning of the assault, channels and boat lanes were then swept into the beaches. These operations were broken down into 100 different serials, complicated by bad weather and severe cross-tides. The original intention had been for the fleet sweepers to wire-sweep and the coastal sweepers to influence-sweep but soon the fleet sweepers were also influence-sweeping and the BYMS, US YMS and some of the MMS were wire-sweeping on a wide scale too.

    Despite coming under coastal battery fire and attack by E-boats, minesweeping casualties were relatively light to begin with. On 4 June, the sweeper USS Osprey was sunk in a moored minefield south of the Isle of Wight and the fleet sweeper USS Tide was mined on 7 June.

    Mining of USS Tide.jpg
    Mining of USS Tide 7 June 1944

    Among other ships, however, mines claimed the destroyer USS Corry off Utah Beach three minutes before the assault hit the beaches and the American PC 1261 and 16 landing craft were lost later that day. On 7 June, the fleet destroyer HMS Swift was mined together with three more landing craft. On 8 June, the destroyers USS Glennon and USS Meredith, the destroyer escort USS Rich, the British netlayer Minster, the US LST 499 and several landing craft were all sunk in the same minefield while the destroyer USS Harding was heavily damaged.

    Perhaps the greatest blow to British minesweeping forces occurred when three Catherine Class BAMS were lost off Normandy over a three day period a month after D-Day. On 6 July, HMS Cato and HMS Magic were sunk by Neger human torpedoes and on 8 July, HMS Pylades was sunk by a Neger. Some sources state Biber midget submarines were among the perpetrators but according to Biber operator Enrico Doering, these did not start operations off Normandy until August 1944.
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  4. AAF

    AAF Badgeman

    Thanks for those 3 articles N_G, every day is a school day.
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  5. The UK Government has published this information with an interactive map showing areas subject to restrictions:
  6. This may annoy some of the more senior of the Crab bashing fraternity but the Royal Air Force and the Royal Canadian Air Force were ashore on OMAHA Beach at 061700ZJUN44 with 27 specialised vehicles fitted with Radar and Radio Communications equipment. They were No 15082 GCI Unit with the function of providing RADAR early warning and forward Fighter Control for the American assault forces. For their efforts, 4 Military Crosses, 2 Military Medals and a Croix de Guerre each to their Chaplain, Medical Officer, Commanding Officer and the Chief Technical Officer were awarded. I didn't know that until today. A fairly good account is given in
    Last edited: Apr 9, 2014
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  7. Things are happening:

    Five days of events and international flotilla to mark D-Day 70th anniversary
    Last edited: Apr 22, 2014

  10. Seaweed

    Seaweed War Hero Book Reviewer

    Last edited: Apr 13, 2014
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  11. Seaweed

    Seaweed War Hero Book Reviewer

    Taking 'engineering' in its broadest sense of identifying and organising components, D-Day must surely be the greatest feat of engineering in the history of the world
  12. Planned TV and radio coverage of the day's events:
    An outline of anniversary events in Normandy:
    Not much mention of the contribution by the Royal Navy and Merchant Navy to date. Can we assume they will be strongly represented at these events as they were in June 1944 (6,939 vessels and 195,700 personnel) or will HMS Richmond be the sum total?
    Last edited: Apr 22, 2014
  13. Agree Seaweed.

    And just to keep the war machine running when they finally got ashore we have P.L.U.T.O. (Pipe Line Under The Ocean). PLUTO,PLUTO PIPELINE,PIPELINE UNDER THE OCEAN,. There is part of the original pumping station and pipeline at Shanklin Chine on the Island of which 65yds is still visible (although the pumping Station I believe has been turned into something else). What was even more impressive was that they laid 500 miles of pipes over the 30 mile stretch Dungeness - Boulogne in 5 hours and the 70 mile stretch Shanlklin to Cherbourg in 10 hours! They pumped something like 56,000 gallons of petrol a day across the channel until the advance got so far then changed to the Dungeness pipeline which pumped a million gallons a day right up to the Rhine with a total volume of 172,000,000 gallons of petrol at the end of hositilities! And all this through 3 inch pipes!
  14. AUV Captures Images of 'Largely Unknown' WWII Wreck on 70th Anniversary

    Sidescan sonar image captured last month was possibly taken by a Hydroid REMUS AUV as used by Royal Navy MCM forces:
  16. sgtpepperband

    sgtpepperband War Hero Moderator Book Reviewer

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  18. Seadog

    Seadog War Hero Moderator

    Speaking of the Mulberry Harbours, on the battlefield tour of Normandy for students on ICSC(M), one student in each syndicate delivers a talk on the Harbours; technical, strategic and operational aspects. DS told a dit that a previous course student drawing supporting maps & diagrams in the sand with a brolly tip had his sandy campaign map defaced by a stray dog who disrespectfully curled one down bang in the middle.

    The dit was funny enough. Being a witness must have involved mass swamping.

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