Exercise Tiger Commemorative Service at Sea
A new film has been filmed off the South Devon coast which will commemorate one of the Second World War’s greatest tragedies, featuring specifically written music and a moving commemorative service.
The beautiful coast of South Devon has many secrets and has witnessed many tragedies – none more so than the debacle of Exercise Tiger.
The ‘practice’ for the D-Day landings, which took place in April 1944, was a litany of disasters and mistakes which resulted in the deaths of 639 American servicemen. It could have resulted in the cancellation of the biggest invasion the world has ever known - but instead the debacle taught the Allies valuable lessons that allowed the landings to be more successful.
This amazing, sad and dramatic tale was commemorated on October 18 on board the World War II launch Fairmile, run by the Greenway Ferry Company. Filmed for posterity by Paul Potgieter’s Heritage Media Company, the event was timed to allow the film to be ready for this year’s Armistice Day: 11-11-11.
The relatively tranquil conditions and bright sunshine the service enjoyed was in sharp contrast to the harsh and deadly conditions on that night 67 years before.
In April 1944 the ‘practice’ for D-Day was the sixth of seven exercises. A flotilla of Landing Craft – known as LSTs because they landed troops, cargo and tanks – were attacked by German E-Boats when sailing through Lyme Bay on a practice run for D-Day later that year.
The mistakes that took place which resulted in the loss of life are many: a typing error meant the LSTs were using the wrong radio frequency for communication and therefore could not communicate with the land; the fire-fighting equipment on board the boats was badly maintained and designed; the flotilla was supposed to have protection from two vessels, one of which, HMS Scimitar, was kept in port by boiler repairs – and the Americans were not informed.
The E-Boats, which were stationed in Cherbourg, heard a lot of radio chatter and launched. They had been seen, but the captain of the Corvette which had seen them didn’t bother to report it – assuming the other boats in the flotilla had been informed.
Even when two LSTs had been sunk and another badly damaged, more bad luck was to come – a group of boats sent out to rescue survivors was ordered home after reports that the men on the LSTs were ‘firing wildly’ although their brave response had caused the E-Boats to retreat.
Hundreds of men drowned because in the confusion they put on their lifejackets the wrong way round, and were tipped onto their front when they jumped into the sea.
This tragic series of events took the lives of 639 servicemen, many of whom believed they were actually on the real D-Day landings, so ‘real’ was the exercise made for them. But the lessons learned from it allowed the D-Day landings to be much more successful. On Utah beach, which Slapton was doubling for in the practices, only 197 casualties were recorded – compared to 2,000 on Omaha.
These events are worthy of commemoration and Paul Potgieter and Greenway Ferry - which operates the war-era Motor Launch Fairmile on and around the river Dart – together arranged a special and touching event to mark the sacrifice of so many men.
The trip on board the Fairmile was attended by many notable VIPs including the Mayor of Dartmouth, Cllr Paul Allen, the Vice Chairman of Kingswear Parish Council, Cllr Graham Sowerby, Steve Lawrence and Malcolm Crow of the Exercise Tiger Trust, Cllr Melvyn Stone, Ralph Howard-Williams of the British Legion, Cdr David Lingard RN (Rtd), Cdr Andy Hancock RN of Britannia Royal Naval College and Lt Matt Kenfield of the USN.
A service was held onboard when the vessel reached Slapton, by Rev Andrew Hillier RN – Chaplain of the BRNC and Will Hazelwood, Vicar of Dartmouth. The service was simple but very moving, following the reading of an account of the tragedy. The service featured many of the VIPs on board throwing wreaths into the sea.
There was also a reading of The Ode, from For the Fallen by poet Lawrence Binyon. The famous, immortal and poignant line ‘At the going down of the sun and in the morning/ We will remember them’ was read by the youngest of the travellers aboard the Fairmile that day - Mr Potgieter ’s 8 year-old daughter Anna.
Also onboard were three musicians who have created a unique and moving score for the film which Paul and Heritage Media will create.
‘Appassionata Duo’, Alex Knight and Suki Trussler, on guitar and flute, have performed two pieces written by flautist Suki and her husband Nick, who recorded the tracks at DBS Music in Plymouth to be included in the final film.
The film will be sent to Princess Anne, who officially launched the Greenway Ferries Heritage Cruise in October 2010 and took the same trip herself that day. Also receiving the film will be Barack Obama, President of the United States of America, in recognition of the sacrifice that American GIs gave that day.
Paul Potgieter said: ‘We were so pleased that the trip went so well. The filming went perfectly and we feel that we have now created a film which is a fitting tribute to the men who died during Exercise Tiger. We are delighted that a copy of this film, featuring the music of Appassionata Duo and the wonderful service held by Andrew and Will, are to be seen by both Princess Anne and President Obama.‘
Helen Meacock of Greenway Ferries said: ‘We were approached to host this event and felt privileged to do so. As a company we are aware of the sensitivity of such occasions and do our utmost to respond accordingly. We seek no gain from the event and merely wished to provide a service that honoured the lives that were lost during Exercise Tiger.
The Exercise Tiger Remembrance Service at Sea Film is at http://etr.heritage-media.tv and will be live from the 1st Nov 2011.
all photos in this article by Joe Murtagh Photography
First Published November 2011 By The Dart