[36-365] 10th September 2020- On the afternoon of April 27, 1944, thousands of men began boarding Eight LSTs (Landing Ship Tanks) at Plymouth (LSTs 58, 496, 511, 515, 531) and Brixham (LSTs 289, 499, 507). They were about to embark on a full dress rehearsal for D-Day on the beach at Slapton Sands, England. Slapton Sands was chosen because of its similarity to Utah Beach, the D-Day assignment for this convoy. The exercise also included military serviceman and live ammunition on the beach. The local British residents made the sacrifice and were evacuated in 1943 from their farms and homes for the duration of the rehearsals taking place.
American soldiers were in full combat gear below in the Tank Deck, along with their vehicles. The LSTs were loaded with smaller amphibious vehicles, tanks, jeeps, weapons, and trucks that were full of fuel and ammunition. The sailors and officers were at their posts as they set sail. The ships were on their way to meet and form one convoy in Lyme Bay. The distance from Lyme Bay to Slapton Sands was the approximate time it would take to make the crossing to Utah Beach on D-Day.
All of the ships arrived at approximately 2:00 a.m. on April 28th in Lyme Bay and formed one long convoy as they began the journey back to Slapton Sands. Suddenly, four German E-Boats, on a routine patrol, armed with torpedoes approached the convoy and began firing on the ships.
639 soldiers and sailors lost their lives in this tragedy. The waters were frigid and hypothermia quickly set in. Soldiers carrying their heavy gear in backpacks did not receive instructions on the proper use of their life preservers and drowned. There were not enough life boats and the surface of the water was in flames from the burning fuel. Those that survived were taken to various established and temporary hospitals. They were told never to speak of what happened under threat of court martial because of the secrecy required for D-Day.