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THE TRANSATLANTIC MAGAZINE

The American masthead
1040 Abroad

D-Day Memories:
Exercise Tiger, a Dark Day for the US Army

An eyewitness account of the Slapton Sands tragedy
By Bill Hiscock
Published on June 3, 2021

Exercise Tiger, Slapton Sands Exercise Tiger. COURTESY LIBRARY OF CONGRESS

Bill Hiscock, Royal Marine.jpg Bill Hiscock, Royal Marine, who was invloved in the Exercise Tiger catastrophe

In 2019, The American attended the 75th anniversary of Exercise Tiger. The exercise, at Slapton Sands in Devon, was a rehearsal for D-Day, the Allied invasion of Europe that led to the end of World War II. It turned into one of the worst disasters to hit the US armed forces, claiming between 800 and 1,100 lives depending on which report you believe. It was such a tragedy that decades later it was still kept secret and some of the details are still shrouded in obfuscation and mystery. At the commemoration we met Glyn Hiscock, whose father Bill was a British Royal Marine who was there. Here, from Bill's memoirs, is his eye-witness account of that terrible day.

“After leave we sailed for Plymouth and while we were there took part in 'Operation Tiger', a full scale rehearsal for the invasion of France. HMS Hawkins, HMS Enterprise and 3 'O' class Destroyers had to bombard the beach at Slapton Sands. After about ten minutes or so of high explosive shooting we were stopped and told that the Americans on the beach had about 200 casualties. We steamed back to Devonport Dockyard and heard that an 'E' Boat Flotilla from Cherbourg had attacked the convoy of Landing Ships sinking two and badly damaging a third with a combined loss of life (including those on the beach) of over 1,100 troops.

"Some of the Americans had drowned because they wore their lifebelts around their waists and when they dived into the water they floated upside down. Their belts were instantly inflated by a little compressed air cylinder in the belt itself. Royal Navy life belts were worn under the arms with a loop around the neck and tied with tapes and were inflated by mouth through a rubber teat. We were taught to go over the side feet first.

“This disaster, at the time, had to be kept under wraps because we were so near the 'Second Front' and knowledge in America of the 'incident' would have caused outcry among the American public".

“It was also mentioned at the time that the identity tags (dog-tags) from the American casualties on the beach were collected and sent back after Normandy with the story that the troops had been killed in action. In correspondence with Richard Bass (who produced a program on Channel 5 about 'Operation Tiger') he confirmed that he had heard this from multiple sources.”

Glyn told us that Bill also appeared with Ken Small on a TV program recorded at the Central TV studios in Birmingham in the mid ‘80s. Ken Small lived at Torcross, near Slapton Sands. He discovered that an American Sherman tank sat at the bottom of the sea in 60 feet of water, which led to him finding out about Exercise Tiger. Years later he was able to rescue the tank from its watery grave and place it facing the beach as a memorial to those who died. You can see the programme here.

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