~ LANDING CRAFT
TANK (5) 2304
- LCT (5) 2304 ~
UK Navy & USA
Army Forces Bound for Utah Beach
Two accounts of HM
LCT (5) 2304's passage to Normandy on D-Day
are presented here... one from UK crew member, Midshipman,
John Mewha and the other from passenger, US
Army Lieutenant, Ernest C James of Company A,
238 Engineer Combat
[Photo; US LCT(A)
2008 was the same type of landing craft as HM LCT (5)
2304. Photo taken on D-Day + 1 by which time her bow
ramp had been lost.
US Army Signal Corps photo provided courtesy of
Navsource. For more information on 2008 click here.]
Mewha often wondered what became of the men of the US
Engineering Combat Battalion (ECB)
he delivered to Utah beach on the morning of D-Day, June 6, 1944. Sixty one years
later, through the good offices of Tony Chapman,
archivist and historian of the LST & Landing Craft Association, John Mewha was
reunited with former Lieutenant, Ernest C James of Company A of 238 Engineer
Combat Battalion. Under their commanding officer, Captain Richard Reichmann, the
men were shipped to
Utah beach by LCT
[Photo; left Midshipman,
John Mewha RIP 17.2.08 -
port after stormy
Right, an extract from the Admiralty's 'Green List' showing the
disposition of LCT (5) 2304 just prior to D-Day.]
The planned order of beaching on Utah assigned seven British Mk5 LCTs to the US Army’s 238 ECB.
The craft involved were 2056 and 2057 with the men of Company A, 2477 and 2304
with the men of Company B and 2011, 2074 and 2302 with the men of Company C. We now know
that LCT 2331 was a late addition.
LCT 2304 was part of the Royal
Navy’s 107th Flotilla of ‘O’ LCT Squadron under the command of Lieutenant Commander Skrine. Midshipman, First Lieutenant, John Mewha
was just over 19 years old on D-Day - the same age as his counterpart
on LCT 2331, Midshipman George Boulton.
This is John Mewha's story.
Loading for D-Day
After our arrival in Brixham,
our fairly restful time was interrupted only by a
trip to Dartmouth, where we checked out 2304. According to my records, she was
built in the USA by the Omaha Steel Works (Sic), shipped across the
Atlantic in three sections on a Landing Ship Tank (LST) and assembled in the UK. Her class was the smallest tank landing craft in use at the time with
a capacity to carry a maximum of five tanks. The craft had
additional armoured plates and was re-designated as the Mark 5 LCT (A)...
'A' denoting armoured.
On or about the 31st May, we left Brixham and sailed across Torbay to the harbour at
Torquay. Our orders were to transport 70 American
Combat Engineers with their
vehicles and a medical team with their Jeep
to Utah beach. I have a copy of the boarding orders showing that the
detachment departed from Stover at 0135hours and expected to arrive in Torquay
at 0245hours. Loading commenced at 0300hours and I was responsible for the
safe stowing of vehicles and men on the craft. This was the occasion I first met
The boarding documents show that Lieutenant James was C/L CO for
this operation. The secret embarkation personnel rosta,
which lists everyone we carried from Company A, also shows the medical detachment
– H/S Company – Engineer DUMP TRUCK company – 991st Engineer Treadway
Bridge Company and two members of 237th Headquarters Battalion. The
loading was successful and we returned to the harbour at Brixham, where we
A False Start
On June 3rd, we left Brixham with other vessels and sailed to the
south of Start Point, where we waited for the convoy from
Plymouth, Salcombe and Dartmouth. This convoy was given the name 'Force U' and
was to land on the eastern side of the Cherbourg Peninsula in an area
code named UTAH.
The convoy made its way to the south of the Isle of Wight,
which we reached late on 04 June. We started the journey across the English
Channel to Normandy but, during the night, we turned round because of the appalling
weather and were escorted by cruisers into Weymouth
Bay. This part of the
voyage was completed without either lights or radio and no anchorage was
available, so we circled for several hours in very rough sea conditions. This
period was probably the most dangerous – there were many collisions and
Later on 05 June,
we regained our position in the convoy and once more headed for Normandy.
During the night I came off the bridge and saw an Officer sitting in our
crew’s mess deck writing a diary of events. Was that Lieutenant James
I wonder? I can
recall having a drink with him and Captain Reichmann in our little wardroom.
We greatly admired
the fortitude of our passengers. They had been on board several days and nights
with little protection from the elements and totally
inadequate sanitary facilities. It was no easier for my crew, who worked hard
under similar conditions and were very supportive. When dawn broke we could not
believe our eyes; the whole sea was covered in ships of all shapes and sizes...
a sight never forgotten.
On reaching the holding area off Utah
beach we proceeded
directly to the beach with three other British manned landing craft.
We sailed under the guns of several
battleships, which opened fire on targets ashore as we passed by. The noise was deafening. The
noise intensified as salvos of explosive
rockets, sequentially launched from LCT (R) craft, joined in the melee.
We followed a marked
channel and on reaching
the beach area discovered the initial landing was a
thousand yards away from the planned site. Despite searching for a
clear way into the beach avoiding
wooden stake beach obstacles embedded in the
sands, we had little success. Under increasing
pressure and in less than favourable circumstances, Lieutenant Rankin
decided to drop our kedge anchor and
in regardless. We sustained some damage to the craft and hit a
concealed sandbank some yards from
the shore line. The landing ramp was unable to reach the beach, resulting in a drop of
several feet from the ramp into the water for the disembarking men and machines.
at this time was to lower the ramp and
oversee the disembarkation of our cargo. As the ramp
door was lowered, it became
clear the craft’s
bow was not square to the beach, due to the rough sea conditions, unpredictable currents and wind.
To rectify this I, and one of my crew, secured ropes to the forward
bollards, took them on to the sandbank and tried to hold the
craft’s head steady. I have no idea if our efforts did any good but all the
while the noise of enemy shelling around us was deafening. The landing craft next to us was badly damaged.
I have no clear memory of the order of
disembarkation... vehicles or men. Lieutenant James reminded me that to assist
the vehicles from the lowered ramp onto the beach a bulldozer winched all the vehicles
over the offending gap. The men were, understandably,
reluctant to jump into several feet of water and Captain Reichmann used all his
influence to 'persuade' them to go ashore. We were keen to return to the holding
area and to embark more vehicles and men from the larger Landing Ship Tanks
(LSTs) and merchant ships positioned some miles off the landing beach. We
had sustained some damage but fortunately none to our engine room,
so we were still operational.
We sailed to a marked channel, where a US Navy Landing Craft Infantry (Large) [LCI
immediately in front of us, disintegrated as a result of a shell or mine. We reached the holding area safely and reported our damage.
We were holed in several places by the underwater obstacles and were advised
that our 'craft was expendable.' We were to await further orders concerning our
evacuation before our craft was sunk. We had become rather attached to our landing
craft, since it had
been our home for at least nine months and, against orders, we moved to an anchorage
some distance from the holding area.
exhausted through lack of sleep and nervous anticipation of
the day's events.
Despite this, at dusk we slipped away from the anchorage and made our way to
Southampton on our own. This was an adventurous night for us, since we
were aware that German E-boats were patrolling the
area looking for the likes of us. However, our luck held and we arrived safely
in Southampton, where the damage was assessed. We were made to feel very welcome
especially by the dock workers. After repairs were completed, we returned to Utah
beach with another load of equipment and men and then we proceeded to the
British Gold beach, where we unloaded larger merchant ships in and
around the Mulberry Harbour at Arromanche.
When attending the 40th anniversary
at Arromanche with my older son, we approached a man standing on his own
a few yards away on the promenade. He had been a Free French pilot
and leader of a group that laid the smoke on the beach as we were approaching.
It was the first time he had attended one of these ceremonies and he had
brought with him copies of his flight plans etc. He told us that we were the
only people who had spoken to him during the day.
John Mewha talking to Her Majesty the Queen
on 1st Aug 2004. Photo courtesy of the Daily Echo, Bournemouth.)]
I am delighted to have been reunited with Ernest James after all this time
and this is largely due to the efforts of Tony Chapman of the LST and Landing
Craft Association of which I am a member.
In more recent times I have had the opportunity to confirm that I loaded the 238th Company from a ramp in the
inner harbour of Torquay. Local people were most surprised, believing that the
loading had been confined to American built 'hards.' No
one in the town had known that we used the inner harbour and no doubt a plaque commemorating this is now in place.
not, it should be!
DAY ON HM LCT (5) 2304
UK & USA Forces Working
These are the recollections of US Army Lieutenant,
Ernest C James of Company A, 238 Engineer Combat Battalion.
On June 5th-6th, 1944, he was aboard
the Mk5 HM LCT 2304 of the 107th Flotilla of O LCT
Squadron making her way to Utah beach in support of the US 4th Infantry
Division. His writings here are reproduced with his permission
[Photo; US LCT(A)
2008 was the same type of landing craft as HM LCT (5)
2304. Photo taken on D-Day + 1 by which time her bow
ramp had been lost.
US Army Signal Corps photo provided courtesy of
Navsource. For more information on 2008 click here.]
Crossing the Channel
We loaded our vehicles in late May and early June. All trucks
carried twice their normal load, about seven and a half tons, including several
tons of explosives on each truck. All available space was filled with extra
equipment, which we were instructed to dump on the beach on landing, thus getting
replacement materials to the beachhead. On arriving at Torquay, our trucks and invasion equipment were loaded on LCTs and then we waited. Sleeping space was
found in the open boats, usually under the canvas tarp covering of our trucks. The LCT was moored for four days in the harbour, waiting, while troops ate K rations
(cold food) and wondered when we would leave.
Our portion of the invasion fleet departed Torquay and was scheduled to hit
the beaches on the morning of June 5. As it left, two boats collided and burned
in the water, making a perfect beacon for German planes. By this time the Allies
had air superiority so there were no attacks. The weather on June 4 was foul, so
our boats pulled into Weymouth harbour that evening... D-Day was delayed a day.
By this time most men were deathly seasick and many ships and troops were left
behind due to mechanical trouble.
At dawn, our invasion fleet left the harbour, and soon after our LCT sprang a
leak. The British Captain told us that he couldn't get the bilge pumps started.
Lt Knapp, our motor officer, pulled out our water supply units to pump the
bilge but we calculated we would probably sink on the morning of the sixth.
We succeeded in keeping the LCT afloat until dawn on June 6th, when it appeared
that we may not remain afloat. Thoroughly soaked, our 'gas proof' clothes made us
even more uncomfortable. The LCT Captain, sensing our dilemma, invited
Reichmann, Knapp and I into his cabin to share a small draught of his precious
We couldn't help feeling a thrill as a destroyer pulled alongside and the
Captain yelled to us that June 6th was D-Day and 0630 was H-Hour. From that time,
we had a single sense of purpose as the landing craft headed for France and the
beaches of Normandy. Knowing it was a matter of hours before we would enter
combat for the first time, this last night was spent anxiously awaiting our
uncertain future. Only the more hardened souls and those worn out by prolonged
bouts of sea-sickness managed to sleep.
Just after midnight on the 6th, the drone of hundreds of planes was heard
above the noise of the LCT's engines. Crawling from under our protective tarps
into the biting wind, we saw the signs of war on the horizon. The sky to the east
was lit up and the shadows of planes carrying paratroopers floated ominously
overhead. Battleships, cruisers and destroyers were pounding the coast and
bombers were giving inland installations a pre-landing drubbing. Long lines of
flares dropped though the overhanging clouds and the sky appeared like a
gigantic illuminated Niagara Falls. Needless to say there was no more sleep that
night. No matter, it was a spectacular, but deadly show!
When dawn broke, an unbelievable scene of thousands of boats circling and
heading in to the beach created a panorama never before seen. Infantry climbed
down nets from troop carriers into small boats and groups of these boats were
circling, while waiting orders to peel off and hit the beach. A nearby destroyer
hit a mine and sank and we saw other boats rescuing sailors tossed into the sea.
Orders to move in towards the beach came from loud speakers on private British
yachts, which had been converted for this purpose.
Because we were in danger of
sinking, we were given permission to proceed to the beach without delay. Our LCT
headed for a line of buoys leading to shore and landed at about 0700 - an hour
and a half before our scheduled time. Thus we were the first of the 238th to
land in Normandy.
While making our run into Utah Beach, the battleship Texas fired salvo
after salvo over our heads. 16 inch projectiles could be seen flying through the
air and hitting their targets in a resounding blast. Our LCT had only a few
inches of freeboard and while approaching the beach at high speed, our bow
high and stern low, we hit bottom many yards out. German 88mm shells hit the
landing area around us creating geysers in the rough seas. It was a baptism of
fire. We should have been able to drive our equipment and trucks directly off
the boat onto the beach but we were floundering in several feet of water.
[Photo; an extract from the Admiralty's
'Green List' showing the disposition of LCT (5) 2304 just prior to D-Day.]
Reichmann and I jumped in, inflated our Mae Wests, and swam to the shore with
several others. Seeing many couldn't swim, we both removed our outer clothes,
swam back to the LCT and helped those who were stranded to reach the shore. I
received a Bronze Star for this action, but due to an unfortunate circumstance,
described later, Reichmann did not receive any recognition.
A young bulldozer operator volunteered to drive his dozer off the LCT ramp
into several feet of water and on to the beach. There he was, a head, an exhaust
pipe and an air intake moving through water as 88mm shells
blasted around him. When the dozer reached the beach,
he winched the truck, already loaded with troops, off the LCI and on to the
shore. This way we got all seven vehicles on
to the beach without losing one. To our knowledge the LCT never made it back to
The shoreline consisted of a long, shallow beach with sand dunes above the
water line. Behind this was a road and then a few miles of swamp lands criss-crossed
with canals. There were several causeways leading from the beach to the hedgerow
fields and farms beyond. The swamp was flooded as tide gates had been opened by
the Germans to obstruct the Allied advance into the hinterland.
While in the process of landing and breaking
through the sea wall, we were under fire from nearby artillery and pill boxes on
the beach. Engineers, with satchel charges and flame throwers, quickly
decommissioned the emplacement. (In 1979, I took photos of those pillboxes, while
on a trip following my wartime routes.)
Shortly after landing, I had the first of many lucky escapes. I was
standing beside a truck loaded with tons of explosives when an 88mm shell
exploded a few
yards away. Plover, the truck driver, was knocked out and later
evacuated. The next shell hit the truck but it was a dud... it had hit a primed satchel charge but the
nitro-starch had not exploded. The truck tyres were blown and the body peppered
with shrapnel. There was not enough brown paper in our K-rations to clean us!
By about 1030, most of the battalion had landed on Utah Beach and were on their
way to our immediate objective, an assembly area. While walking along the road
parallel to the beach, we soon came under a barrage of 88's. Reichmann and I
ordered our men into the ditches and we crawled through an intersection. We saw
a group of infantry men standing up, wondering what to do. I yelled for them to
take cover but too late - an 88 hit in their midst. Seven
men died, because they didn't know how to protect themselves. We learned from our
training! Shortly after arriving at the assembly area, we saw 4th Division
Infantry men advance across the swamps chasing after retreating Germans. We had
received our baptism of fire on land!
Other than amphibious tanks, our trucks were among the first vehicles to land in
France. We were attached to the 4th Division and our first mission was to open
several roads from the beach to the high ground about a mile away. Most of this
area was covered by swamps and creeks with many causeways under water
and all bridges were blown up by the enemy.
Fortunately for us, the German garrisons in the area were less experienced,
because their Command did not expect a landing adjacent to flooded marshy
ground. On the other hand, our intelligence, good as it often was, failed to
recognize the ease with which the Germans could flood the area. Tide gates were
normally closed at high tide and opened at low tide to drain the swamps.
Reversing this process, the Germans easily flooded the area. Hundreds of casualties resulted from this snafu
(error) in intelligence.
Mongol soldiers captured on the Russian front were placed in these positions
by the Germans. Enemy artillery, and to a lesser extent their air force, gave the
beaches a terrific pounding, especially a day or two after the landing. By this
time we were miles inland. Our air and navy bombardments pounded their positions
so hard that many German troops withdrew, leaving the beachhead to us. One Nazi
strong point on the coast towards Cherbourg held out and kept shelling us for
By 1435 hours on D-Day, Company B had opened road U-5 to the high ground.
Tanks and artillery poured through this road and long before Utah Beach
was secured. This road required a 30' steel tread-way bridge, which was under
artillery and small arms fire. It was the first bridge built in France on D-Day. When
Company B men completed the bridge, the first tank was hit by an 88mm shell as it
reached the middle but the momentum carried it over to the other side. Our tanks blasted the German tank which fired the shell and
the bridge stayed intact.
T/5 Alton Aldman Ray of Company C, received the Croix de Guerre for his heroic
action in evacuating wounded infantrymen. The entire Battalion had no casualties
that day, due in part to the excellence of our training in the past year. During the entire day
of June 6, the Battalion was engaged in clearing assembly areas of mines,
repairing roads, clearing the beach access, building bridges and draining the
swamps in order to use the causeways.
Late that afternoon, as we worked on access roads, we heard the distant
drone of aircraft. Looking seaward, we saw a huge armada of fighter planes leading C-47s,
which passed above us as they dropped gliders and paratroopers over our heads.
We could see enemy tracers passing through both and the gliders crashing as they
landed. These were the much needed
reinforcements for the first air drops. Many of the planes and gliders blew up in the
air... it was a carnage but the reinforcements saved the day.
That night we moved into a bivouac area at Hebert but most of us worked
on. By daylight, and by using any materials which were at hand, Company A had opened a return causeway, which had been entirely under water. Company B had
the outgoing causeway and these were the only beach accesses for days and were
vital to the Allies. The
going was rough in these early hours for engineers, paratroops, infantry and the light tanks
landed. There was, as yet, little in the way of artillery or support troops.
My brother-in law, Ralph Fell, had
been a Sergeant in WWI in France. He wrote several letters, which hit at the
heart of what we were experiencing. One such was written to my sister Edith on
D-Day. He suspected that I was on
JUNE 6, 1944. Lincoln Nebraska. EDITH: Today is the day. I think everybody
should say a prayer for the success of our army. I think they have the same
feeling I had in 1918 when we landed in France. Chateau Thierry had just been
fought and the Germans had made their last bid for Paris. We knew the tide had
turned, and what we were in for.----RALPH
Army records of the day's events showed that;
• Sunrise on June 6, 1944 was at 0558 and H-Hour was at 0630
• The 238th Combat Engineers landed from 0700 to 1100 on D-Day. Most landed
in the first hour.
• The total force of the landing was about 24000 men, of which 16000 were
American and 8000 were British.
• 1000 aircraft took part, landing the 81st and 101st Airborne behind Omaha
and Utah beaches and the British 6th Airborne around Caen near the Orme River.
The Americans were scattered, but each small group organized when they met, and
created confusion and fear in the German troops.
• By nightfall, the 4th Division and Airborne were 6 miles inland from Utah
• The Airborne had about 2500 casualties (15%) and the 4th Division had 197
Two LCTs with 238th personnel had engine trouble and returned to port on
June 5. On one was the Battalion CO, Col. McMillian, so Major Martin Massoglia
assumed command of the Battalion on D-Day. Other than these two LCT's, one
sunk in Southampton harbour before it could be unloaded.
There were no casualties on D-Day. However,
weeks later, Lt Chalfaunt claimed a Purple Heart for a piece
of shrapnel, which hit him while he was watching a dog fight on the beach! We had
been in the midst of the full action all day and night. Our training paid off! For a few days we bivouacked at Hebert. Records are incomplete of other
bivouacs until 06-12-1944. Mostly we slept where we were working.
Note: LCT 197 (see below) was the army serial, or loading number, for
HMLCT 2304. It was this number, rather than the craft number, that those going
aboard looked for at the point of embarkation.
U.S. ARMY EMBARKATION PERSONNEL ROSTER
Co.A 238 Engr.Combat Bn. 45106 Station. Torquay
SERIAL NO. NAME AND GRADE
01101177 Reichmann, Richard
01103235 James, Ernest C. 1st
20318192 Freck, Frank R. S SG
35492027 Hedrick, Paul F. S SG
38339724 Hewton, Thomas G. S SG
deleted Smolkowicz, Joseph J. S SG
34357945 Creel, Joseph E.
34586226 Davis. Marion P. SGT
34525304 Shavers, Lee A. SGT
34587501 Swanner, Frank A. SGT
34596771 Rollins, Jackson W.
Late addition Harrison, Jack (NMI)
11048179 Fiore, Amollo A.
33567309 Gelnett, Lawrence E.
38393065 Atkins, Everett C. TEC5
33628466 Blevins, Herman L. TEC5
38393029 Long, Dwight L. TEC5
33112901 Potter, Jack TEC5 ((Photo)
34524393 Wales, Bennie H. TEC5
34998346 Ward, Edgar T. TEC5
34579466 Brooks, Samuel E. PFC
34502420 Bryant, Johnnie O. PFC
33417839 Kelly, Jesse L. PFC
38393016 Mills, Harold W. PFC
33408231 Mistretta, Joseph J.
34524420 Morgan, Charles C. PFC
deleted Michels, Laurius PFC
34581588 Reid, Amburst H.
33143321 Venture, Joseph M. PFC
38217016 Vielma, Trinidad F. PFC
34595552 Simpson, Haywood L. PFC
Late addition Shephard, Raymond C. PVT
31037196 Bewes, Frank R.
34579603 Brown, James H. PVT
33534787 Calvert, Charlie M. PVT
34578444 Castleberry, Buddie PVT
38417662 Donaldson, William. PVT
33476306 Elliott, Freddie PVT
13068287 Fink, Telford N. PVT
33413811 Griffin, Richard L. PVT
33458584 Jelinski, Edward F. PVT
37530377 Jones, Earnest E. PVT
35803278 Jones, George B. PVT
Late addition Wilson, Nesbit C. PVT
38393727 Maxey, Clark D.
36758189 Piekara, Walter S. PVT
33476335 Plover, Joseph J. PVT
34578663 Self, James J. PVT
35872446 Spencer, Homer V. PVT
34536960 William, Charlie M. PVT
Med. Det. 238th Engr. Combat Bn 45127 LCT 197
Sydney M. CAPT
34525343 Emerson, Rufus B. CPL
34502128 McClure, Romio R. Jr
34502128 Rawls, William K. TEC5
H/S Co. 238th Engr. Combat Bn. 45122
0468491 Knapp, Henry
D. 1LTW21311282 Jackson, Thomas T. WOJG
33408261 Buynak, John TEC5
34595179 Crouse, Carl R. TEC5
34539892 Hicks, Ernest R. TEC5
Late addition Marden, Lewis C. PVT
582nd Engr. Dump Truck Co.
46055 LCT 197 Station:- Newton Abbot.
35801584 Adams, Edward SGT
34675683 Ballard, Guilford TEC5
34654537 Bamberg, Albert N. PFC
34673678 Lewis, Willie H. PFC
34673647 Lewis, Clifton Jr. PFC
34246252 Strickland, Ralph W.
991st Engr. Treadway Bridge Co.
44454 Station:- Shiphay, Devonshire
32245559 Pesci, Dino V. TEC5
38337555 Howard, Malcolm J. PVT
34192304 Braden, Julian E. TEC5
36054081 Luachtefeld, Leo J. SGT
HQ. 237th Engr. Combat Bn.
LCT 197 Station:- Newton Abbot
Prepared by 1106th Engr. Combat Group.
32600466 Maggitti, Edward V.
32485217 Carrow, James W. TEC5
US LCT (A) 2008
is the same class and type as LCT 2304. On arrival in England, 2008 was assigned
to the Royal Navy under Lease-Lend. On November 21st, 1943, she was at Kings Lynn,
Norfolk, England, where 19 year old leading motor mechanic Thomas Harding C/KX
143840 fell overboard and was tragically drowned. He rests in Kings
Lynn cemetery close by. Prior to the invasion of Normandy, 2008 was transferred
back to the US Navy under Lease-Lend in reverse. On June 6th, 1944, she was under
the command of Ensign Ray Cluster USN as part of the Commander Gunfire Support
Group. She was assigned to the western flank of Fox Green sector of Omaha beach
with tanks of Company C of the US Army's 741st Tank Battalion and was due to
land at H hour. The photo was taken on June 7th, 1944, minus her bow ramp, lost on
the Normandy beaches the day before. A new ramp was fitted after delivering the
troops seen in the photo. She remained in service until the 'Great Storm' of
June 19th-22nd, 1944, when she sustained severe damage and was stranded on the
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two accounts of HMLCT 2304's passage to Normandy on D-Day were compiled by Tony Chapman, Archivist/Historian for the LST and Landing Craft
Association from the combined recollections of Midshipman John Mewha of the MK5
HMLCT 2304 and First Lieutenant Ernest C James of Company A 238 Engineer Combat
Battalion. In both cases the texts were edited for presentation on the Combined
Operations website by Geoff Slee