US troops killed on Devon beach are finally remembered

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The Independent Online

A remembrance ceremony was held yesterday at Slapton Sands for 749 American soldiers and sailors killed in 1944 during rehearsals for D-Day - deaths which the authorities covered up for years.

A remembrance ceremony was held yesterday at Slapton Sands for 749 American soldiers and sailors killed in 1944 during rehearsals for D-Day - deaths which the authorities covered up for years.

Survivors and residents of the south Devon village laid wreaths beside a Sherman tank recovered from the sea and preserved as a memorial to the largest loss of American lives in a training exercise during the Second World War.

Early on 28 April, a flotilla of eight landing ships, part of Operation Tiger, were to land troops and armour on a stretch of the beach which most resembled their target area in Normandy.

A pack of nine German E-boats - fast motor torpedo boats - surprised the Americans, appearing out of the darkness to launch their torpedoes, sinking three of the landing ships. The E-boats had been on a routine patrol from the French port of Cherbourg, and chanced across the Americans.

The US flotilla was meant to be protected by Royal Navy escorts, but, because of an administrative error, they were on a different radio frequency and did not receive the alert to intervene in time.

The Allied high command ordered those who knew what happened, including doctors and nurses who treated the injured, to keep it strictly secret. The order was never lifted.

Although the deaths were subsequently mentioned in two military history books, they only received wider publicity after inquiries by a former policeman, Kenneth Small, who moved to the Slapton Sands area in 1968. Mr Small heard about the Sherman tank just below the waters and had it salvaged and placed on a plinth. His inquiries led him to Beverly Byron, a Congresswoman from Maryland, who helped him to pressure the Pentagon into providing a plaque for the tank.

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