A CANDLELIGHT vigil was held at Slapton Sands at 2am this morning to remember the 749 US servicemen lost in Exercise Tiger, the most costly training incident in the Second World War, exactly 70 years ago.
The silent vigil, around the tank memorial in Torcross car park, was organised by Dean Small, whose father established the memorial site in 1984, and Laurie Bolton, whose uncle perished on April 28, 1944, when German E-boats attacked the US convoy of Landing Ship Tanks during the dress rehearsal for the D-Day landings. They were joined by a small gathering of local people.
Laurie said: “It was extremely moving to be there at the very time the tragedy took place 70 years ago and to remember those who perished. I couldn’t help but think about what they must have suffered in their last moments of life.”
Dean added: “If my dad had been with us at the vigil, there would have been a tear in his eye. It was a very moving experience.”
On Sunday afternoon, a memorial service was held at the tank memorial site. It was led by John F. Richards, of the Royal Tank Regiment Association’s Plymouth branch. Also present were members of the LST and Landing Craft Association, local residents and government representatives.
Laurie read a message from the families and veteran survivors. She said: “I am privileged to be here in memory of my uncle, Sergeant Louis Bolton, who perished on board LST 531. I have also been asked, by the families who lost loved ones, as well as the veteran survivors, to represent them here today, as they are unable to attend.
“On behalf of all of us, I wish to thank the late Ken Small for establishing this memorial site which gives us a tangible place to come and pay tribute to our loved ones who died, and a place of remembrance for their sacrifice.
“We also acknowledge the sacrifice of the local residents who left their homes and farms for the cause of freedom. We appreciate the support and attendance of the area’s local citizens and local government representatives.
“It is also my privilege today, along with Dean Small, to be unveiling a plaque honouring the late Ken Small for his tireless efforts over 30 years to establish this memorial site in honour of those who perished.”
The plaque reads: “With heartfelt thanks to Ken Small (1930 – 2004) for his tireless determination over 30 years. He recovered this tank from the sea bed, then created the memorial site in honour of those who lost their lives during Exercise Tiger, bringing international awareness to the tragedy. Dedicated by the American families, survivors and his son Dean, 2014.”
Another memorial service was held later in the morning, when Sergeant Edward Sobczyk, who saved over 100 lives during Exercise Tiger, was the guest of honour.
The similarity between the Start Bay area and the Normandy coast prompted the use of the area for several full-scale and live ammunition battle exercises.
Slapton Sands was thought to be a perfect place for the Exercise Tiger operation to simulate practice landings for Utah Beach, France, as part of Operation Overlord on June 6, 1944. All the villages surrounding Slapton Sands had been evacuated.
When the news reached the Allied commanders it greatly worried them that so many lives were lost and that the news might make its way into German hands revealing the intentions for the D-Day landings.
The soldiers and sailors who survived were ordered not to talk about the incident and many did not speak about it until 50 years later.