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LYME BAY, ENGLAND, 27/28th APR 1944

Operation Tiger was a pre D-Day training exercise in Lyme Bay which was to culminate in landings on Slapton Sands. It was a disaster for the American forces involved. For many years little information about the debacle was publicly known since those involved in the exercise and its aftermath were sworn to secrecy and records were filed away and largely, but perhaps conveniently, forgotten.

Background Plans & Preparations Operation Tiger Outcome Further Reading Correspondence


The decision to mount Operation Tiger had its genesis over a year earlier when President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill met at Casablanca in January 1943. They agreed to the setting up of COSSAC (Chief of Staff Supreme Allied Commander) to take over the planning of the re-invasion of Europe. In charge were Lieutenant General Sir Frederick Morgan and Brigadier General Ray Barker of the USA Army as his deputy.

Planning for the re-invasion had been in progress since Dieppe the previous September and by June of 1943 a high powered meeting at the Hollywood Hotel, Largs on the south west coast of Scotland, considered the options. Major influences were the limited range of fighter aircraft, the perceived need to capture a port with significant capacity to handle supplies and equipment and the level of known German defences. Arguably the most important decision of WW2 was made ... Normandy, France. So secret was this decision that the unique classification of BIGOT was accorded to any documents on the subject. Inevitably those privy to the information became known as bigots!

Suitable practice and training beaches were identified to simulate landings on the Normandy coast. Slapton Sands, just south of Torquay in Devon, had characteristics similar to the "Omaha" and "Utah" beaches and, about 10 miles inland, was Dartmoor already in use by the army for training purposes. Other beaches were selected to the east of Portsmouth to simulate landings on Gold, Juno and Sword.

Plans & Preparations

Allied planners realised that the Germans would be well aware of the greatly increased navel activity in the channel during the training period. It was, however, hoped that deception and the frequent assembling of large numbers of landing and support craft, followed by their dispersal, would confuse the enemy. The threat to the craft taking part in training exercises in the English Channel did not come from the German Capital ships which, by this stage of the war, had been sunk or confined to port. Instead the threat came from German S-boats - designated "E-boats" by the Allies ... "E" for enemy. These motor torpedo boats were under the command of Kapitan zur See Rudolf Petersen in his role of Fuhrer des Schnellboote. From his base at Wimereaux near Boulogne, he controlled all motor torpedo boat (MTB) activity in the Channel and the North Sea.

On the night of 26/27th February the 5th Schnellboote Flotilla, operating out of Guernsey, had successfully attacked convoys PW300 and WP300 with the loss of 4 vessels. There were other German successes over the following months including the loss of the Norwegian destroyer H.M.S. Eskdale on the night of April 13/14th. When the Slapton Assault Training Area was opened, the amount of slow moving traffic in the Channel increased dramatically and so did the target opportunities for the very fast German E-boats as the night of April 27/28 would so tragically confirm.

The E-boats were 35 metres in length with a crew of 21. They were powered by triple shaft Daimler-Benz diesel engines with a top speed of 35 knots but on the night of April 27/28 the 9 E-boats involved were supercharged which increased their horsepower from 4500 to 6000 and their top speed to 40 knots. They were equipped with twin 21 inch fixed forward facing torpedo tubes with two reloads and two or three 20mm canons and occasionally a 37mm canon or other similar armament.

Operation Tiger

At 0945 hours on April 27 convoy T45 left Plymouth for Lyme Bay. Its primary purpose was to carry USA tanks and men for "red" beach. At its head was the escort corvette H.M.S. Azalea followed at 2000 yards by LST 515 and, at 700-yard intervals, LSTs 496, 511, 531 and 58 (towing two pontoon causeways). The WW1 Destroyer H.M.S. Scimitar should have been on duty as the main escort but was holed above the waterline in a minor collision the day before. The decision to keep Scimitar in Plymouth for repairs was not communicated to higher command, notably Com Force "U" (Commander Force U) and as a consequence no replacement vessel was provided. The communication breakdown did not become clear until 1930 hours. The Captain of the Scimitar was interviewed and only then did the extent of the gap in the defences of the convoy become clear. H.M.S. Saladin was immediately detailed as relief escort and departed Start Bay at 0137 hours on the 28th.

There were other defences in position between Start Point and Portland Bill designed to protect the whole operation in Lyme Bay. In addition three MTBs were positioned off Cherbourg to intercept any E-boats departing from their base. However at 2200 hours on the 27th the 5th and 9th Schnellboote Flotillas, comprising six and three boats respectively, managed to evade the British MTBs. Travelling at 36 knots, and observing radio silence, they made rapid progress westward to break through the outer defensive screen across Lyme Bay. Meantime the slow moving convoy had been joined by the Brixham Section comprising LSTs 499, 289 and 507 (508 failed to make the rendezvous). The convoy by this time was west of Tor Bay heading in a NNW direction before commencing a large turn first in an easterly direction then southerly for the final westerly approach to Slapton Sands. (Click on map to enlarge).

From the French mainland Kapitan zur see Petersen radioed the bearing of a possible target at 2317 hours and the E-boats of the 5th Flotilla split up into pairs for the attack. Positive identification of targets was difficult if not impossible and Rotte (formation) 3 comprising S-136 & S-138 soon spotted two "destroyers" at a range of 2000 metres. S-138 fired a double salvo at the stern of the right hand ship and S-136 fired single torpedoes at the other. After 100 seconds S-138 observed an explosion and a minute later S-136 noted simultaneous explosions on the second.

Formation 2 comprising S-140 & S-142 both opened fire with double shots at 1400 metres but when no explosions were heard Oberlieutenant zur See Goetschke correctly concluded that the ships were shallow draft landing craft.

Formation 1 comprising S-100 & S-143 alerted to the action by red tracers to their north proceeded to the area and noted that a "tanker" was already well ablaze. Both boats fired two torpedoes at a target of around 1500 tons. After 76 seconds an explosion was observed.


The 9th Flotilla comprising S-130, S-145 and S-150 attracted by red tracers from the 5th Flotilla (although at the time they thought they were from allied ships since they understood that yellow tracers were to be used by their own forces), made for the area of action. S-150 & S-130 engaged in a concentrated torpedo attack against a single ship while S-145 broke off to attack "small armed escorts" most likely lowered landing craft.

From the vantage point of LST 58, positioned in the middle of the convoy, the following events were noted;


Events Observed from LST 58

0133 hours

gunfire directed at convoy.  Probably AA to draw return fire.


general quarters sounded. No target visible. Order to open fire withheld to protect position of convoy.


convoy changed direction to 203 degrees. Explosion heard astern and LST 507, the last landing craft in the convoy, seen to be on fire.


LST 531 opened fire but no target visible from LST 58.


LST 531 hit and exploded.


decision to break formation and to proceed independently.


order given on LST 531 to abandon ship.


E-boat sighted at 1500 metres. Four 40mm guns and six 20mm guns on LST 58 fired off 68 and 323 rounds respectively. The E-boat turned away and at "cease fire" was about 2000 metres distant when it disappeared from view.


LST 289 was hit.


LST 289 opened fire but target not seen from LST 58.


surface torpedo reported off bow of LST 58.

0238 to 0400

bright magnesium flares sighted in all directions with the intention of discouraging the scattered convoy making for shore. E-boat engine noises heard on many occasions.


order given on LST 507 to abandon ship.


LST 515 lowered boats and picked up survivors from LST 507.

In the confusion of the action and darkness it was impossible to be certain what was happening. The British ship FDT217 (Fighter Direction Tender) had sailed out of Portland to provide radar and communications cover under operational conditions. It was one of three FDTs that would provide stalwart service off Normandy two months later. However in the early hours of the 28th FDT217 received a signal to "Make port all haste" which they did successfully ... but elsewhere the scale of the debacle only became apparent in the hours following the action. LSTs 507 and 531 had been sunk with the loss of 202 and 424 respectively - a total of 626 out of a total US Army and US Navy complement of 943. LST 289 was damaged with the loss of 13 and LST 511 was hit by fire from LST 496 resulting in 18 wounded. (Photo; Sherman tank lost in the action and recovered from the sea at Slapton Sands - A 379 about 10 miles south of Brixham.)


The subsequent report from Rear Admiral John Hall, dated May 5, offered profound regrets to the Americans. The main cause of the tragic incident was attributed to inordinate pressures on staff. Factors included the concurrency of Operation Tiger and Operation Fabius and actions against enemy destroyers on the 25th and 26th and a further planned action on the 28th. Under these extraordinary circumstances, communications and signals were delayed and some reporting was incomplete.

Lessons were learned but the appalling loss of life had little or no compensating benefit to the allied landings at Normandy. However recommendations included;

  •  using larger escort forces if available

  •  the need for rescue craft during any large scale landing

  •  ensuring that vital information on enemy contacts was disseminated quickly

  •  introducing standard procedures and special communication circuits for each Operation including the use of the same radio wavelengths

  •  reinforcing the message for all hands not to look at flares or fires ... to do so reduced ability to see objects in the dark

  •  limiting the amount of fuel carried to that needed for the operation itself to reduce combustible material and thereby fire risk

  •  making rifles and pistols more generally available to fire on E-boats when they paced close aboard especially when guns could not depress sufficiently

  •  making life boats and life rafts as near ready for lowering as possible

  •  issuing illumination rockets to help slow moving large ships locate E-boats in darkness

  •  improving fire fighting equipment including the installation of manually operated pumps for LSTs and other ships carrying large amounts of inflammable material

  •  providing training in the use of the kapok life preserver jacket in preference to the CO2 single type. The former was more effective in keeping heads above water

  •  loosening boot laces where an order to abandon ship seemed likely to make it easier to remove heavy waterlogged boots in the water.

When 10 "bigots" were reported missing there was a strong possibility that the plans for the reinvasion of Europe had been seriously and possibly fatally compromised. At the time of Operation Tiger the date for D-Day was not known even to Eisenhower but the 10 officers did know the location of the invasion beaches ... information of vital interest to the enemy. A vast search of Lyme Bay was undertaken and by a miracle the bodies of all ten officers were recovered whilst 100s of others were, at least for the moment, lost at sea. Although the loss of the "bigot" officers was regrettable the relief amongst the allied planners, to know that the their invasion plans had not been compromised, can only be imagined.

To the outside world the disaster of Tiger was kept a closely guarded secret. No official communiqué was issued and the staff of the 228th Sherbourne Hospital in Dorset, who received hundreds of immersion and burns cases, were simply told to ask no questions and warned that they would be subject to court martial if they discussed the tragedy.

The total of 749 American killed and missing was 10 times the actual losses on Utah beach on June 6 1944. A memorial stands about 10 miles south of Brixham on the A379 road.

Further Reading

There are around 300 books listed on our 'Combined Operations Books' page which can be purchased on-line from the Advanced Book Exchange (ABE) whose search banner checks the shelves of thousands of book shops world-wide. Type in or copy and paste the title of your choice or use the 'keyword' box for book suggestions. There's no obligation to buy, no registration and no passwords. Click 'Books' for more information.

"The Forgotten Dead" by Ken Small, published by Bloomsbury, ISBN Q-7475-Q433-4. Price £5.99. Also available in hardback.

The author arranged the recovery of a sunken Sherman Tank lost during the action. It is mounted on a plinth in the car park at Slapton Sands. There is also a plaque commemorating those lost in the action.


Diving expedition. I am a Royal Marine trying to put together a diving expedition to dive the wrecks of operation Tiger in April 2014. If you know of any one who has accounts of that tragic day or would like us to raise a flag on the wrecks in memory of the men who made the ultimate sacrifice, please ask them to contact me. [Please click on the e-mail icon opposite to contact Gareth.]

Kind Regards

Gareth Thomas

(6/05) Operation TIGER, Slapton, Devon. Every year the Devon Military Vehicle Club drive our wartime jeeps, GMC truck, Dodge Weapons Carrier and open Humber Staff car from Totnes to Torcross on the first Wednesday in June (nearest Wednesday to the anniversary of D. Day). The purpose is to visit the Sherman D.D Tank, a journey of about 15 miles each way. The tank, 21 years since being recovered from the sea, is looking a bit sad, although the anti rust coating has done a wonderful job where it was sprayed. However there are areas it didn't reach and these are suffering from rust and decay. The tracks are breaking up, it is possible to see the engine compartment and view what's left of the air cooled radial engine. At the moment it is still possible to 'explore' the tank, however, in the opinion of many, if the rot continues it may need be fenced in for safety reasons. Ideally it needs to be under cover and cosmetically restored. Sadly Ken Small, who was instrumental in raising the tank in 1985 died of cancer last year. It would be a shame to see the tank crumble in the years ahead as it is one of few tangible links between the war years and now. (Photos courtesy of Duncan Millman showing the external appearance of the tank and the rusting interior).

If anyone would like any photos of any part of Devon or any local information (maybe you or your father, grandfather was stationed in Devon before D. Day) and would like to know what it now looks like, Email me and I will see what I can do. Regards. Duncan Millman.

(11/04) Tank Memorial at Slapton Sands

A special trust involving U.S. war veterans could be set up to finally safeguard the future of the Sherman Tank memorial at Torcross. For the last 20 years, the Second World War tank has acted as a war memorial to the soldiers and sailors who died in a D-Day training tragedy off the South Devon coast, and a place of pilgrimage for U.S veterans and their families. Dean Small, who inherited the tank from his father Ken who died earlier this year, feared he would have to fence the site off amid concerns over expensive insurance liabilities.

But now South Hams Council has agreed to take on the insurance costs for next 12 months so that the seaside memorial site, which councillors were told had become an international monument, can remain open to visitors. It will give Dean a chance to set up a permanent trust to look after the machine and the memorial plaques around it involving British and U.S veterans associations as well as the U.S Army and Navy.

"I am delighted by the council decision. It's a big weight off my shoulders," said Dean whose father Ken raised the tank from the sea off Torcross and dedicated his life to the recognition of the 700 Exercise Tiger victims of what had become a secret and forgotten war time disaster. "The goal is to be able to pay for what is required to ensure that the tank stays there and the site is kept in a good condition," he added.

Dean, who lives with his wife Sarah, a short distance from the memorial site, has already made initial contacts with various organisations with the aim of forming a trust. He had asked the district council to include the memorial in its public liability insurance and warned that if the answer was no, he would have to fence off the tank to ensure there was no chance of any accidents. The council executive had been urged by officers to reject the request on the basis that any claims would hit taxpayers with a £1,000 a time insurance excess. But following e-mails from Dean explaining his trust proposals the councillors agreed to ignore the recommendation and cover the tank insurance for the next year.

Both the U.S Army and Navy have held prominent memorial services at the site and set up official plaques of remembrance. The council have agreed to provide cover for another year, but we must help to save the tank, if you have any contacts with relevant Americans please forward this info. Many thanks ian@woolgers.eclipse.co.uk

News & Information


Memorial Maintenance

We have a small band of volunteers who take turns to visit the memorial each month, particularly during the growing season, to undertake routine maintenance such as weeding keeping the stones and slabs clear of bird dropping, lichen etc. and reporting on any issues. If you live near the National Memorial Arboretum and would like to find out more, please contact us.

Remember a Veteran

You can pay a personal tribute to veterans who served in, or alongside, the Combined Operations Command in WW2 by adding their details and optional photo to our Roll of Honour and They Also Served pages on this website.

Read the Combined Operations prayer.

Forthcoming Events

To organisers: Reach the people who will be interested to know about your Combined Operations or war related event by adding it to our forthcoming events page free of charge.

To everyone else; Visit our forthcoming events page for things to see and places to visit. If you know of an event of possible interest, that is not listed, please let us know.

To notify an event click here.

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Why not join the thousands who visit our Facebook page about the Combined Operations Command in appreciation of our WW2 veterans.

See the 'slide shows' of the dedication ceremony and the construction of the memorial plus the 'On this day in 194?' feature where major Combined Ops events are highlighted on their anniversary dates with links to additional information.

You are welcome to add information, photos and comment or reply to messages posted by others.

Find Books of Interest 

Search for Books direct from our Books page. Don't have the name of a book in mind? Just type in a keyword to get a list of possibilities... and if you want to purchase you can do so on line through the Advanced Book Exchange (ABE). 5% commission goes into the memorial fund.

WW2 Combined Operations Handbook

This handbook was prepared for Combined Operations in the Far East. It illustrates the depth and complexity of the planning process necessary to ensure that the 3 services worked together as a unified force.

Restoration of Geoffrey Appleyard's  Memorial 

Click on the image if you'd like to contribute to the improvement of the memorial to Geoffrey Appleyard, DSO, MC and Bar, through the purchase of a limited edition print of a book about him. Geoffrey achieved so much in service with No 7 Commando, No 62 Commando, the Small Scale Raiding Force and the Second SAS Regiment. He was posted Missing in Action in July 1943, aged 26.


The Gazelle Helicopter Squadron Display Team

The Gazelle Squadron is a unique team of ex-British Military Gazelle helicopters in their original military colours and with their original military registrations. The core team includes four Gazelles, one from each service; The Royal Navy, The Royal Marines, The Army Air Corps and The Royal Air Force. A fifth Gazelle in Royal Marines colours will provide intimate support for the team. Their crest includes the Combined Operations badge. The last, and possibly, only time the badge was seen on an aircraft was in the early mid 40s. A photo of the Hurricane concerned is included in the 516 Squadron webpage.

Legasee Film Archive

As part of an exciting social history project, the film company Legasee is looking for veterans from any conflict who would like to have their stories filmed for posterity. Films are now available on line. www.legasee.org.uk

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