School children in the United States know about the events of June 6, 1944. They know of the combined efforts of the Allies to launch the largest amphibious attack in history. They have heard their teachers tell how the soldiers crossed the English Channel and stormed the beaches of Normandy on D-Day. They have learned about the sacrifice of those who lost their lives on the beaches, but what they do not know is the sacrifice of a convoy of ships whose mission was to prepare for the Normandy invasion through rehearsal runs. The sacrifice that proceeded D-Day is not given the attention that it deserves; for years people did not talk about what occurred before the attack because some believed it was a secret. People today need to remember those who took part in the rehearsals for D-Day because many lost their lives to help insure victory at Normandy.
In preparation for D-Day, the United States military held rehearsals involving 300 ships and approximately 30,000 soldiers. To insure as accurate as possible preparation for the invasion the exercises where held on beaches that resembled the beaches of Normandy, which were code named Utah and Omaha. The military leaders held the exercises on Slapton Sands in England, which the Allies evacuated in the early part of 1944, for its resemblance to Omaha Beach. The training exercises began in December 1943 and slowly escalated until they climaxed five months later with two full-scale rehearsals in late April and early May of 1944. The government held Exercise Tiger, the military code name for the rehearsal of the 4th Infantry Division's assault at Utah Beach, from April 22-30. In order to insure that the exercises were as accurate as possible, the troops and equipment departed on the same ships and, for the most part, from the same ports that they would later leave from on June 6.
On April 26, the main force traveled through Lyme Bay with mine crafts ahead of them, to simulate the real condition of the Normandy invasion. Because the German E-boats (high-speed torpedo boats) sometimes patrolled those waters, the British Commander in Chief sent two destroyers, three motor torpedo boats, and two motor gunboats to protect the convoy. He also sent another patrol to monitor Cherbourg, the German E-boats' main port. After the rehearsal's attack on Slapton Sands, the soldiers unloaded the ship and waited for another convoy. This T-4 convoy consisted of two sections, the Plymouth section and the Brixham section, which embarked from two different ports. The Plymouth section included four ships: the USS LST-515, the USS LST-496, the USS LST-531 and the USS LST-58, while the Brixham was composed of only three ships: the USS LST-499, the USS LST-289 and the USS LST-507.
The exercises went well for all the earlier convoys, but not for the T-4. In the early morning of April 28, the convoy, carrying engineers, chemical and quartermaster troops, proceeded through Lyme Bay. The morning seemed peaceful and uneventful but that would soon change. One LST (Landing Ship, Tank) reported two unknown approaching vessels, but the LST assumed that they belonged to the convoy.1 Between 1:30 and 2:04 A.M., the enemy attacker, presumably nine German E-boats, hit the USS LST-507 with several torpedoes, but they failed to explode.2 The ship burst into fire when the ship sustained one direct hit and then another struck about five minutes later. The men of the 507 found themselves surrounded by fire and machine gun fire from the enemy ships. Moments later the German E-boats fired on the USS LST-531, which sank in a short six minutes.3 The USS LST-289 tried desperately to escape the enemy's fire, but the fast German E-boats hit the ship in the stern. The LSTs 496, 515 and 511 returned fire, but the German E-boats used smoke and quick speed to escape the Allies efforts to capture them. The USS LST-499 radioed for help, but because the radio stations were unaware of the top-secret mission, the call went unanswered. It was not until an alert radio officer heard the words "T-4" did they realize the call was from Exercise Tiger and sent help.4
The senior officers ordered the unharmed LSTs to continue towards their destination and not to pick up survivors. The remaining LSTs obeyed orders at first, but then Captain Doyle, who commanded USS LST-515, decided that he could not leave the men to die in the cold sea. Disobeying a direct order, Doyle asked his men if they wished to leave or turn around and fight. With his men behind him, USS LST-515 turned around and went back to search for survivors, but they were able to rescue only a few compared to all the many aboard the ship.5 The Office of Defense Official Records reported 749 dead, 551 US Army and 198 US Navy, which makes Exercise Tiger the highest cost of human life suffered during battle up to that point in the war, excluding Pearl Harbor.6
The morning of April 28 will live forever in the memories of those men, who, through incredible odds, survived the horrible ordeal. The men of the 507 found themselves thrown into a situation that they thought would never happen on a rehearsal run. Before the attack, the men sat down below, on their bunks never believing that something would go terribly wrong. Patrick "Patsy" Giacchi was one of those men, who was down below in the ship. In an interview, he told how he and his friends sat in their bunks relaxing after a hard day's work. The men played cards, sang along with the ukulele, wrote to love ones, and talked about what they would do when they got back, never thinking that they might not make it back. While relaxing, Patsy heard scrapping noises, and then he got knocked off his stretcher. He feared that something was wrong, but the others told him not to worry because it was a "dry run." Ignoring the assurances of his comrades, Patsy put on his shoes and helmet and went up top anyway.7 When the torpedo made the direct hit, Patsy's friends down below did not have much of a chance to escape.
The deck was a terrifying experience for those men who made it to the top. They were surrounded by blazing hot fire and machine gun fire from the enemy ships. The men on the deck began to panic. Some of them immediately jumped overboard, before the captain gave the order, because they did not know what else to do. Once the captain did give the order to abandon ship, all around even more men began to jump into the cold water below. Once in the water, the men were still not safe. Because so many men surrounded the ship, another man jumping overboard could crush them. Even if they made it away from the side of the boat, they had to fight their way to the few lifeboats that those aboard managed to release. Only six lifeboats were released and one of those flipped over because it could not support the weight of all the men who tried to get in it. The lifebelts also proved to be dangerous because the men sometimes used them incorrectly, causing the person to flip upside down, or they contained a defect.8 Those who did manage to get into a lifeboat still had a long ordeal ahead. They had to float in the cold water not knowing if anyone would come to their rescue. After floating in the cold, dark waters for hours, the USS LST-515 finally picked up the survivors.
In order to keep the D-Day invasion a secret, General Dwight D. Eisenhower ordered the troops involved with Exercise Tiger, not to talk about the attack. The government did not release casualty reports until after D-Day. Because of the loss of so many men, the military did not give those who did survive a rest but sent as many as possible to fight in the Normandy invasion, like Patsy Giacchi.9 Since the military sent some of the survivors back into action, there was no time for them to talk about their experience. Even years afterwards, those involved still did not discuss it publicly. Angelo Crapanzano, a survivor of the USS LST-507, told in an interview that he never talked about the experience, not even to his psychiatrist, until he saw a "20/20" episode about Tiger. The show premiered because of the work of Dr. Ralph Green, a captain in the Army field hospital where the military sent the men after the attack. After the government passed the Freedom of Information Act in 1974, he began to collect information and went public with it.10 Exercise Tiger also began to become known to the public when those who lived on Slapton Sands began to comb the beach and found remnants of American Uniforms. In addition, Ken Small, a resident of Slapton Sands, raised a tank that had sunk during the attack and created a memorial for Exercise Tiger because he was upset that no memorial existed. The Operational Archives, Naval Historical Center upholds that the information was not a secret and has been available to the public since August 5, 1944 when the statistics about casualties were released. They also stated that the incident appeared in books about World War II, including The Invasion of France and Germany, 1944-1945 (1957) and Logistical Support of the Armies (1953).11 In addition, the military is not responsible for building memorials; instead, the American Battle Monuments Commission is the organization that can construct memorials, and they try to limit them to American Cemeteries to keep from having monuments all over the world.12 Even though the Naval Center states that the information was not a secret, the men involved, like Angelo Crapanzano and Dr. Green, believed it was and that they were not suppose to talk about it.
Whether the information was technically considered open to the public or not, many Americans did not know about the attack until after the "20/20" episode. Many of those involved believed they had to carry the secret alone for over forty years. What happened on the night of April 28, 1944, was never a fact of common knowledge to Americans. Teachers taught school children about D-Day and what surrounded that great invasion, but no one told them about Exercise Tiger and the many soldiers who lost their lives in preparation for Normandy. What the Allies learned through the rehearsals, like Exercise Tiger, helped them to correct problems before D-Day. Whether the information was public information before, it is public information now. Americans today need to remember the great sacrifice of those men who fought and those who died in order to give the Allies the best chance at victory.
If you have information regarding other West Virginians who died in this event, please contact Constance Baston.
1. "VII: Exercises," (June 11, 2002). http://www.army.mil/cmh-pg/documents/wwii/beaches/bchs-7.htm.
2. Exercise Tiger National Commemorative Foundation, "The Battle of Exercise Tiger," 2001, (June 11, 2002). http://www.exercisetiger.org.
5. "Untold Stories of D-Day," National Geographic, June 2002, 8.
6. "The Battle of Exercise Tiger," http://www.exercisetiger.org.
7. "Patsy J. Giacchi, Survivor of Exercise Tiger, LST 507," April 1998, (June 11, 2002), http://www.slapton.org/About5.htm.
8. "VII: Exercises," http://www.army.mil/cmh-pg/documents/wwii/beaches/bchs-7.htm.
9. "Patsy J. Giacchi," http://www.slapton.org/About5.htm.
10. "World War II Oral History," May 1994, (June 11, 2002). http://www.slapton.org/About3.htm.
11. Exercise Archives, Naval Historical Center, "Exercise Tiger, June 5, 1998, (June 11, 2002). http://www.slapton.org/About.htm.
12. Charles B. MacDonald, "Slapton Sands: The Cover-Up That Never Was," May 13, 2002, (June 30, 2003). http://www.history.navy.mil/faqs/faq20-2.htm.
MacDonald, Charles B. "Slapton Sands: The Cover-Up That Never Was," May 13, 2002. http://www.military.navy.mil/faqs/faq20-2.htm. (June 30, 2003).
Exercise Tiger National Commemorative Foundation, "The Battle of Exercise Tiger." 2001. http://www.exercisetiger.org. (June 11, 2002).
"VII: Exercises," http://www.army.mil/cmh-pg/documents/wwii/beaches/bchs-7.htm. (June 11, 2002).
Operational Archives, Naval Historical Center, "Exercise Tiger." June 5, 1998. http://www.slapton.org/About.htm. (June 11, 2002).
"Patsy J. Giacchi, Survivor of Exercise Tiger, LST 507." April 1998. http://www.slapton.org/About5.htm. (June 11, 2002).
Sherman Tank: A Memorial to the Tragedy of Exercise Tiger. (2005)
"Untold Stories of D-Day." National Geographic, June 2002.
"World War II Oral History." May 1994. http://www.slapton.org/About3.htm. (June 11, 2002).
West Virginians in Exercise Tiger
West Virginia Veterans Memorial Archives Database
West Virginia Archives and History