~ COMBINED OPERATIONS ~

WW2 land, sea and air forces of the Allied Nations planning, training and operating together as a unified force on amphibious raids and landings against the enemy.

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Hundreds of thousands of visits each year to 200  web pages & 4000 photos. The Website has been published & hosted by Geoff Slee since 2000.

Around 40 D-Day Stories by veterans of the Navy, Army, Air Force and Marines who served in or alongside Combined Operations

~ US LCI (L) 502; D-DAY 6th JUNE, 1944 ~

United States Landing Craft Infantry (Large) 502

US LCI (L) 502, carried 196 Officers and men of the Durham Light Infantry to Gold Beach on the morning of June 6th,1944. This account is based on the writings and recollections of John P Cummer and information from the craft's Deck Log.

D-Day Draws Near

On Saturday the 3rd of June, 1944, our ship, the United States Landing Craft Infantry (Large) 502 or US LCI (L) 502 for short, docked at the Royal Pier, Southampton, England where we embarked 196 officers and men of the Durham Light Infantry, 151st Brigade, 50th Northumbrian Division, British 8th Army. They were carrying freshly printed French currency, a strong indication that this trip was for real.

[Photo; the author, John P Cummer.]

As they clambered aboard carrying folded bicycles with various bits of kit and equipment about them, they looked more like peddlers than soldiers. They were, however, first class troops and were to prove themselves so in the fighting that lay ahead.

Fully loaded to the limit, we returned to our usual berth at New Docks along with the other LCIs of Group 31. On Sunday, June 4th, the crew's final preparations for the coming operation began. A church party went ashore and returned and the troops were permitted ashore for some much needed exercise and relief from the crowded conditions. The routine general quarters were sounded for an air raid alert at 2030. We stood to our guns for twenty minutes or so, before securing.

Our group was, thankfully, not involved in the abortive foray on June 5th, which was recalled because of bad weather. However, when a message to the Allied Expeditionary Force from General Eisehower was read out to the ships company at 1400, we knew we would soon be sailing for the "far shore".

Throughout that day, more and more ships slipped out of the once crowded harbor until it seemed that we were the only ones left. It was an eerie sensation. Finally, at 2000 on June 5th, our group began slipping lines to manoeuvre out into the channel. We cast off at 2012 taking our place in column, behind US LCI (L) 512. Our escort ship, HMS Albrighton, joined us us as we passed the Needles Light on the eastern tip of the Isle of Wight. We formed into divisions for the assault and were on our way.

The Crossing

Jolly Miller and I shared the bow watch from 2000 to midnight that night. As usual, he was ebullient and talkative, excited about what was coming. "Just think, JP," he said to me, "by this time tomorrow, weíll be veterans!" I shared some of his anticipatory excitement, but,  when we were relieved at midnight, I felt the need to be alone. Imminent danger has a way of awakening spiritual concerns. Godly parents had raised me to take the Christian faith seriously. On this night before battle, I felt the need for reminding myself of the certainties and comforts of that faith.

Finding a place to be alone on a 153 foot landing craft, crowded with 196 troops, could have been a problem but I had my own private place, cramped though it was. Under the fantail deck was a small magazine where ammunition was stored. As the Gunnerís Mate, I had the key to my own 'quiet time' place.

I sat on the cold, steel deck, surrounded by the cases of ammunition and read from the New Testament that had been given to me by the Gideons. The guide to references inside the front cover had suggestions for special times. One was "for times of peril or danger", and it directed me to Psalm 91:

"He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the LORD, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God, in Him will I trust. Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler and from the noisome pestilence. He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust. Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day; nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday. A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee . . . "

". . . but it shall not come nigh thee . . ."

A deep sense, not of fearless bravado, but of assurance in the protection of a sovereign God, came to me as I read those verses. To this day, every time I re-read them, that tiny steel cubicle surrounded by cases of ammunition, pitching with the motion of the sea, comes immediately to mind. In Godís providence, that protection was afforded to me and my shipmates on D-Day, June 6, 1944.

[Disposition of 502 and her sister craft as they appeared in the Admiralty's 'Green List' just prior to D-Day.]

In the early hours of June 6th, as we entered the swept channels through the minefields north of Seine Bay, hoping that the minesweepers had done their job, the nine LCIs of Group 31 formed up for the assault, as directed in Group Commander Patrickís order. We were in three columns, the first led by 501 with 507 and 509 in her trail. In the center column, Commander Patrick rode in 512, his flagship, with the 500 and the 499 astern. In the right hand column, 506 led with our 502 and the 508 following.

As the sun rose that morning, we could see the vast armada around us and the canopy of allied aircraft overhead with their distinctive D-Day markings of black and white stripes painted on wings and fuselage. Someone, later describing this scene, said that it looked like you could walk across the English Channel on the wings of the aircraft. In the distance, we could see the smoke rising from the beach. The noise of the naval bombardment was continuous.

The Landing

At 0755, our escort vessel, HMS Albrighton, used her blinker signal light to advise that the landings were going according to plan. We sighted the coast of France at 0855 and began circling in the ingoing area, waiting for the signal for our group to proceed to the beach. Shortly after 0900, Commander Patrick signalled the group to prepare to beach. The last movement was underway.

My battle station was at the number one gun atop the focsíl, thus placing me in the farthest point forward aboard our ship, a genuine ring-side seat with the drawback of being an excellent and highly visible target. With our gun cocked and loaded. we talked, watched and waited, speculating as to what was going on ashore, when we would head in and how much opposition we would face.

In the log book, Engineering Officer, Mr Krenicky, made the entries for that memorable day. He noted that they observed a German tank hit on a hillside and, as we shifted to beaching stations at 1030, a German 75mm gun was still in operation as well as mortar fire. At 1040 he wrote: "Standing in to Jig Green sector of Gold Beach, Asnelles-Sur-Mer, Arromanches sector."

The noise, smoke and confusion grew as we threaded our way through a mass of wrecked landing craft, tanks and beach obstacles. The ordered, tight directions of our Group Commander gave way as the utter confusion of the beach made it totally impossible. It was every ship for itself. I was told, years later, by a crew member of the 508, that their Captain had his eye on the same landing spot we were heading for and cursed our Skipper roundly as we beat him to it!

Our landing resembled none of the multitude of practice landings we had made. We scraped over some submerged object for the length of the ship but suffered no damage. At one point, close to the shore, our bow was aimed directly at a sunken truck (photo opposite) with two wet, forlorn-looking soldiers clinging to it. At the last moment, we changed course to avoid them. With a look of great relief on their faces, they waved to us as we lurched past them on our way to the rather improbable landing spot our Skipper had chosen out of necessity - a broached British LCT.

HM LCT 857 was stranded parallel to the beach. She had taken a good pounding and was in no shape or position to disengage herself from the beach. Our Skipper considered 857 was the best place for disembarking our troops, so he ran our bow right up on to the broached LCT.

The ramps were extended, lowered onto the LCT at somewhat perilous angles and our bicycle-toting Tommies struggled down our ramps, clambered over the LCT and finally dropped off onto the beach itself.

While our troops were disembarking, we became involved in two rescue missions. With no threat from German aircraft and being much too small to consider challenging German 88s, we secured our gun and became involved in those rescue missions

[Photo opposite; Gold Beach on D-Day: LCI (L) 502 with her bow up against HM LCT 857 a Mk4 LCT of the 33rd LCT Flotilla of D LCT Squadron. The flotilla delivered Royal Artillery on the morning of D-Day on to Gold beach.]

First, the skipper of the British LCT, on whom we had descended uninvited, asked if we could give him a tow as we retracted. Bosín Walt Sellers and some of the deck gang rigged a cable and passed it to the LCT, the plan being to try to "unbroach" the craft as we retracted.

Then some British sailors, stranded on the beach after losing their small boats in the first wave, asked if we could take them off the beach. We passed another line down to them, which they secured on the broached LCT and began climbing hand over hand up to our focsíl. We hung, somewhat precariously over the bow, leaning down to grab and haul them aboard. We had rescued 27 of them when the Skipper decided it was time to retract.

Return to England

At 1141, Bosín Sellers was ordered to cast off the line to the LCT and the Skipper began backing our LCI off the beach. The line that the small boat survivors were using snapped taut; one sailor fought for dear life to hang on. We were able to reach down and grab him before the line parted.

With the perspective of a sailor on the bow, instead of an officer in the Conning Tower, I was livid. I was sure we could have rescued more of the British sailors and spared them continued exposure to gunfire on the beach. I was equally sure that we could have done more to help the broached LCT get off the beach. The issue, I was told later, was that time was running out before the tide began to turn.

 [Photo opposite; On Gold Beach. Taken from conning tower of 508, which was next to 502.]

Was the Skipper right in pulling out when he did? Probably. Other crew members grumbled angrily about it, as I did but, in retrospect, there is no reason to question his decision. The "what if . . ." game is one of the most futile of all enterprises. After successfully retracting, we threaded our way back through the wreckage that littered Gold Beach. Our part in the D-Day assault was over. We had successfully landed our troops and rescued some stranded sailors. The work of supporting the troops already landed, by ferrying 'build up' troops across the channel, was about to begin.

We stayed at action stations for the rest of D-Day. Around us the gun support ships were firing almost continuously. HMS Belfast, now on permanent display in London on the Thames, just opposite the Tower of London, was one of the ships closest to us. We could not see clearly what was happening ashore. There were ceaseless explosions on the beach and a pall of gun smoke hung over everything. Overhead, wave after wave of aircraft, fortunately bearing the black and white D-Day striping of the invasion forces, came on steadily.

Around 1600, we were formed up with other LCIs for our return trip to England. The ever present danger of German E-Boats dashing out for raids, ensured we strained our eyes to see in the darkness. Nothing happened but the long tension-packed day and anxious watch left me, and I am sure other crew members, completely exhausted.

At 2315, the lights of the Isle of Wight came into view. We were safely back from the "far shore".

Troops in Southampton prior to D-Day awaiting departure.

LCI 502, first left, awaits the order to sail for France. Southampton Docks

Conn of 502 from adjacent LCI Southampton docks.

US LCIs underway across the channel on the evening of June 5 1944

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.

Acknowledgments

Thanks are due to John Cummer for this account of US LCI (L) 502 on D-Day including  photographs and to Tony Chapman, archivist and historian for the LST and Landing Craft Association for his assistance.
 

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