D-Day: US troops 'were going down like tenpins': Stephen Ward talks to a seaman who ferried petrol to a beachhead
Thursday 02 June 1994
'We thought it was just another manoeuvre. We didn't even know it was D-Day,' he recalled. The boat was a Thames barge with the end cut off, the cargo 2,000 gallons of petrol in jerry cans, a floating bomb if hit. 'We started off early on the 5th . . . we were only doing about four knots.'
They had no radio, just Aldis lamps to keep in touch with the other six, 25-metre barges in the flotilla. They arrived on the morning of D-Day at the compass reading they had been given, to find the invasion fleet off Utah beach, one of the American targets. 'They were all cheering us . . . we was like rowing boats to them.'
They had to wait about two hours before going in with the tide at 9.15am, through a barrage of mortar shells. 'Anybody who says they weren't scared are bloody liars. The only thing that stops you from running is that you have your mates either side and you know if you run you let them down.'
On shore they were beached until the tide came back that afternoon. Lorries came to unload the petrol, and they were left to watch the invasion, and the resistance.
He was left with deep admiration for the Americans' bravery. 'Have you ever played tenpin bowling? Imagine you were one of those pins, and you saw that ball coming at you, well that's how the Americans went in . . .
'If you're a German, if you've got a machine gun, as soon as you see a landing craft you set your sights on a fixed line. As soon as that craft comes in and drops the ramp, you just spray it as they come out. It was just like tenpin bowling, it was exactly the same as going over the top in the First World War. We'd see them come out of their landing craft, and some would go down, some would go down and get up again, some would go down and not get up.'
Later, the Germans in the sand dunes were pushed back and the stoker ventured on to the beach. 'We were walking along the beach, up the sand dunes, and several Germans were lying there. I went to step over them and I trod on one and he groaned. It put the fear of Christ up me. My feet never touched the floor.'
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