A rehearsal for the D-Day landings which resulted in the deaths of 749 American servicemen could have been far more devastating and might potentially have changed the shape of D-Day, according to new research.
As has been known since the 1980s, Exercise Tiger was taking place in Lyme Bay – off the coast of South Devon and Dorset – in late April 1944 when a convoy of United States Navy ships was attacked by heavily-armed German motor torpedo boats (S-Boats).
In an attack lasting less than 60 minutes, three allied vessels were torpedoed – with two of them subsequently sinking – resulting in an official death toll of 551 United States Army and 198 United States Navy personnel.
However, new research based on eyewitness accounts and official military records has shown the death toll could have been far greater because a second group of allied invasion ships – making its way along the English Channel – narrowly avoided becoming embroiled in the disaster.
If that had happened, it could have resulted in an even greater loss of life and the destruction of several tank landing ships (LSTs) essential to the planned Normandy invasion.
The findings are the result of an investigation by Dr Harry Bennett, Associate Professor of History at the University of Plymouth. They will be revealed in greater detail as part of FUTURES2020, a virtual festival of discovery taking place on November 27 and 28.
He believes such a loss, in terms of both lives and vessels, would have left allied planners with a serious headache – facing a shortage of the highly specialised LSTs vital to D-Day, worried about the damage to the morale of Allied forces and desperately concerned about the potential for German S-Boats to cause havoc on D-Day.
Ultimately, it could have led Allied planners to alter their plans for D-Day.