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Posted on Oct 15, 2008 in Stuff We Like

Author POV – A Coverup in Exercise Tiger?

By Richard T. Bass

For decades debate, argument and allegations of an official military cover-up have revolved around the most infamous and disastrous D-Day rehearsal for American troops in World War II – Exercise Tiger, held at the end of April 1944. Richard T. Bass explores the controversy in a new book from Tommies Guides. In this Author POV for ArmchairGeneral.com, he summarizes some of his data and asks readers to give their opinions.

 

The focal point of dispute is the number of casualties sustained. Officially, 749 were killed and missing in action. This figure is based upon a hasty assessment made only hours after a seaborne convoy was attacked in the English Channel by German E-Boats, and it is a number that even today U.S. military sources rigidly maintain is correct.

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But there is evidence to the contrary that not only is the death toll much higher, but documents have been altered or rewritten to maintain that official figure. This includes the records of burials for casualties that simply doesn’t equate with testimony from witnesses who carried bodies from an English seaport to the cemetery. It isn’t just slipshod or careless record keeping: examination of service numbers and names reveal that some service numbers weren’t even issued. Names don’t match numbers. Some listed as not being buried in England are later shown to have been buried in the United States, some with dates of death on D-Day, June 6, 1944. British witnesses recall seeing bodies of American servicemen on railroad freight cars in August 1944 close to the exercise area, some two years before any deceased soldiers were repatriated to the United States.

Another contentious issue is the number of Allied ships sunk that night. Official reports state that two Tank Landing Ships were torpedoed and sunk, but this is contested by the German E-Boat operational logs which claim three large ships, one smaller craft and a destroyer, claims corroborated by individual craft of the attacking formations.

The mystery of why the Americans’ convoy’s lone escort ship failed initially to react positively to the attack may be answered in the U.S. Navy’s own Operation Order. Here the threat of just such an attack is over-emphasized, leading to the conclusion that it was expected. Planners of Exercise Tiger were aware of an identical situation scheduled for a later D-Day rehearsal when an Allied shipping convoy would be attacked by “enemy” small craft to test their reaction and defence efficiency, utilizing high speed gunboats of the Free French Navy based close to the exercise area.

The head of British national security had secret meetings with high level Navy planners of Exercise Tiger, and at that time he was tasked with ensuring that German agents under British control in England were believed by their masters in Nazi Germany. This was essential as they would feed false reports prior to D-Day as part of the great deception plan, and their intelligence had to appear trustworthy and truthful. It was a short step to pass true information about Exercise Tiger to convince Germany their future transmissions would also be truthful.

My questions: Was the cover-up that followed to distort the true loss of life? Was the man in charge of Exercise Tiger, Rear Admiral Don P. Moon, aware of the cover-up and about to tell the truth? He died August 5, 1944, in what was termed a suicide due to battle fatigue.

Post a comment below to offer your answers to these questions. After two weeks, we’ll post the author’s own POV on the answers.

27 Comments

  1. This is always a very sad,disappointing incident to go over,akin to
    the Indianappolis in 1945..I have known the accepted basic facts
    for many years & hope that the possible much larger loss of life is
    not true…I think that the Germans might be mistaken on the
    number of ships sunk(i.e the inflated scores claimed by
    fighter/bomber crews in both theaters)because of the heat of
    battle. The other points are open to speculation.

  2. Why would such great lengths be taken to cover up the actual
    number of casualties? I suppose that officials were afraid of
    exposing the vulnerability of the landing troops, but the incident,
    as reported, certainly did that…even with understated casualties.

  3. My father in law was a Sgt and tank commander on Exercise Tiger and
    it was common knowledge among his battalion that the debacle at
    Slapton
    Sands was indeed so painful that all to this day have always thought
    that the supreme command chose to keep the issue close hold to avoid
    damage to the war effort. Only unlike today these men did not dwell on
    whether there was a so called cover up but felt it made tragic but good
    sense not to make it public for the sake of not damaging the war effort.
    Today there is a wave of revisionist muckraking to rewrite history when
    NOT one of the writers ever served a day in combat. Small wonder we
    cannot win wars anymore. Bill McDonald Colonel USAF ret

  4. As the author of “Exercise Tiger” I would respond to my own
    question concerning Admiral Moon. I believe it is highly likely
    that he did commit suicide, as do his surviving family members,
    not as a result of stress of command but for the simple reason he
    could bear the guilt of the failed rehearsal no longer. I am
    probably more aware of cover-ups than most having worked in
    that shadowy world connected with armed combat and feel well
    qualified to state there is still a continuing cloak of secrecy drawn
    over this tragic event.
    Richard T. Bass

    • Do you know that there were 600 or so bodies from the sunken LST’s in Lyme Bay were brought into Portland and hidden in tunnels under the Verne. The bodies are still there and the tunnel entrances were blown up in 1994. It’s disgusting that these men remain on foreign soil and not repatriated.

  5. This sad incident received quite a lot or press coverage here in
    the UK some few years ago. This might have been either as a
    result of the anniversary of the event, or the fact that a Sherman
    tank thought to have been off one of the vessels sunk was
    recovered from the sea( I believe it has been restored as a fixed
    monument to the event). I seem to recall that a Royal Navy
    warship was also ordered to provide an escort but had
    mechanical problems and could not set leave harbour.
    More than that I cannot add, I am afraid.

  6. I am currently researching and writing a novel about the
    debacle at Slapton Sands, on 27/28 April 1944. Any information
    about that event, or the six months leading up to it, and the sub-
    sequent landings at Normandy on 6 June, that anyone would
    care to share would be appreciated. Everything will be held in
    the strictest of confidence.

    R/Glenn M. Isaacs

  7. Would like to make contact with one of your commenters – Glenn M. Isaacs who responded on November 13th 2008 to the article on Exercise Tiger.
    Would be happy for you to pass him my email address please.
    Thankyou,
    Richard

  8. Mr. Bass,

    Extremely pleased to see your response, and I would like to
    pursue this event even further. I just ordered you book and I
    am looking forward to receiving it.

    You may contact me at by e:mail ike1937@bellsouth.net.

    Best Regards,

    Glenn M. Isaacs

  9. This incident and the supposed conspiracy of silence surrounding it, has apparently resurfaced in a soon to be aired BBC production, on which Mr. Bass has apparently consulted. Unfortuneatly, like many consiracy theories, it appears to rely on selective uses of history or extrapolation based on conjecture.

    Other than the normal information security precautions taken at the time of the incident in 1944, in which news of the attack was withheld from the public in order to prevent the Germans from discovering their success as well as divulging possible details about the pending invasion of Normandy, there is no evidence of an attempt to either “cover up” the events or somehow hide the facts. Indeed, in late July 1944, the US Army newspaper Stars and Stripes reported the events based on a press release from SHAEF headquarters. If subsequent operations in Normandy, France, Belgium, and Germany, during which tens of thousands were killed, overshadowed this tragic incident, perhaps that can be understood. In 1946, the official US Army historian for the European Theater of Operations published a detailed account of the training at Slapton Sands in general, and the events in April. They were later discussed in some detail in both Army and Navy official histories published following the war.

    In the US Army official history of the Normandy invasion, published in 1951, which most historians agree has withstood the test of time for accuracy and forthrightness, the Exercise Tiger casualties are listed as 749 killed as well as approximately 300 wounded. It should be noted that these are solely Army casualty figures based on reporting from the units involved at the time and in the days following. Likely casualties to LST crews and embarked beachmaster units, Navy demolition teams, and others involved in the exercise but not listed by Army sources could well raise that number. While these numbers may be subject to some later adjustments based on subsequent reporting and the natural “fog” that surrounds such tragic events in wartime, they make no attempt to hide the extent of the casualties.

    We cannot account for any casualties that may have been incurred ashore in the days that followed, which some “witnesses” attribute to friendly fire. Large-scale casualties ashore during the exercise due to “friendly fire” are pure specualtion based on memeories of civilains who had no way of knowing what they saw, and whose memories have been subjected to decades of interpretation.

    Isolated cases of training accidents may well have happened. They were not uncommon in the days leading to the Normandy invasion, as live fire was increasingly used in close proximnity to maneuvering troops. However, in this case, the beach bombardment occurred on the 27th of April, the day before any landings were made (the E-Boat attack happened that night).

    As trained historians well know, personal memories can be diffucult sources, and those dating back several decades particularly so. One can only speculate as to what they recount; but perhaps, with the large numbers of killed whose bodies ended up in the water off the shores of Slapton Sands, they may have seen the tragic results of the night’s attacks as they were collected for identificastion (a common practice).

    As for German sources, an E-Boat crew, in the dead of night, engaged with the enemy in the confusion of battle, that inflates its impact on the enemy can hardly be seen as surprising. Those who have been in combat can attest to the fact that rarely are immediate reports either accurate or not exaggerated. To read such reports and proclaim they prove a coverup on the part of the Americans is, at best, poor historiography.

    What can be discerned about Exercise Tiger is that hundreds of US soliders and sailors died that night (and we may never know the exact casualties- such is the nature of the fog of war); that the US Army and Navy have been open about that incident since as early as the summer of 1944; and that no conspiracy of silence surrounds the exercise and the attacks. At worst, given subsequent events in Europe during the final year of the war, they faded in the institutional memories of the units who landed in Normandy just six weeks later. To imply otherwise is as insulting to the casualties as it is to the units and commanders who went on to fight one of the great campaigns of recent military history.

  10. My grandparents and my parents holidayed in that area of Devon from the 1920s onwards (I have cine film confirming this) and both couples retired there. I was therefore familiar with Slapton and the story of this disaster from the age of around ten (1956), although I didn’t properly register what I was told about what had happened until I began working on books about the war, in the early 1970s.

    It was common knowledge, or perhaps I should say commonly accepted, in the local community that there had been a debacle due to friendly fire and that this story had been hushed up, so much so that even locals would hardly speak of it until the 1970s or 80s when they were in old age.

    I had lunch with my mother one day in c1986 at the pub on Slapton sands: the retrieved tank is sited beside it, and (since I’d not seen it on previous visits) it prompted me to ask for a refresher; so she told me the story again and was quite matter of fact about the local silence in accordance with official cover-up: all kinds of secrets were kept during the war and for long after that, eg members of the SOE typically only identified themselves quite late in life, my best school friend’s parents included.

    It was generally accepted by the ‘war generation’ that such things happened in war time and were best left unexamined. The oral history of this event was however quite clear and consistent: ‘locals’ and that included longtime visitors who became resident like my family, were ‘in the know’ – whilst the story wasn’t imparted to ‘strangers’ or grockles.

    It’s not the only such incident of cover-up I know of personally – there was a fracas during the war at one of the pubs in Kingsclere, Berkshire, due to racial tensions, and shots were fired resulting in death – I forget whether the victim was a black US soldier shot by a local, but there was at least one US death and a general racial brawl. The bullet holes could still be seen in the pub walls a generation later, and as with the Slapton incident, this one at Kingsclere became part of local folklore, whilst I’m sure you will find no record of it in US (or local army) records.

    The cause of death of the servicemen involved was of course surpressed (and no doubt a suitably uplifting one supplied to the family).

  11. Read Ken Small account, he is the guy who raised the sherman tank
    from the sea bed at slapton sands many years ago.
    He passed away in 2004.

  12. I am the son of one of the crew of the motor torpedo boats. My father who is no longer living told about this disaster and I would suggest that I have information that may be of interest to the author of the book. I have just watched ther documentory on TV which didn’t report on certain facts told by my father. If the author wished to conact me he can use the email address given.

    • Mr Whyte, it would be a public service if you could post your information here for the record!

      • I have posted information as you suggested.

  13. After watching the programe Exercise Tiger, on Channel Five last night.
    We are suprised that no mention was made of Ken Small, the author of “THE FORGOTTEN DEAD” All the information contained in this programe,almost word for word is contained in this book This book was published in 1988.

    We personally met Ken in April 1993 By the tank that he fetched a shore from the sea off Slapton Sands and had a long chat with him, told us about his visits to the USA and his interveiws with some of the surviviors.

    Have you read the book? did you use this information for your book and the input to last nights programme.
    Am very suprised that no mention of Ken Small or his book was not menioned. We are sure that if Ken was still alive he would have a lot to say.

    Just a final word we were invited by Ken to attend the fifty anniversary of this incident held at Slapton in Aprill 1994 in which visitors from the USA were invited to attended.

  14. I agree that the programme didn’t give sufficient credit to all the research done in the past on this matter, notably by Ken Small – it seemed to think Richard Bass started looking into this as a previously unexplored incident – which is of course not the case. I posted as I did above since I wanted to record that the true story was known locally to many people, and it’s hard to believe they are all dead already, or didn’t hear it from their parents – so many must have been able to enlighten the makers of the programme, inc to the existence of Ken Small’s book, had they hunted around for information locally.

  15. April 25, 2012,
    I befriended a gentleman who survived x-ray, was alone on omaha beach until admiral moon interceded. On August 4 , 1944 , two days after my friend spoke with Admiral Moon, my friend was on the USS Wakefield headed to Boston. But his papers were lost. He shared the story with me , telling me also about Slapton

    • Ann, does your friend have a description of how Moon acted, talked, looked like , on that August 2nd day?

  16. In regard to my earlier posting above – my mother (who will be 90 years old next year and still as sharp as a button) has a clearer picture of what my father went through as he had many nightmares for a few years after the war. I recall him saying that he had the job of picking up the bodies the morning after and he said that the men must have dived head first into the water as many were floating legs up due to their lifejackets (may west’s as he said) inflating when they hit the water and they couldn’t upright themselves. I also get the impression that he was “amongst them” as he said regarding the enemy and I got the impression the MTB was moving in between the boats warning them of the presence of the enemy which doesn’t fit with the story of them not being there when it happened. This episode troubled him throughout the years and he only spoke about it in his later years when it became public knowledge. He told me that he began to wonder if it actually happened as he heard nothing of it in the press at the time. I encouraged him to tell his story at the time it was made public but he said that it was best forgotten about.

  17. I am just now learning of Operation Tiger and am most intrigued by both the incident and apparent controversy regarding its coverage. My interest is piqued as my uncle, Pvt. John W. “Billy” Brumfield, died during this operation. He had just turned 20 years of age. I would like to learn if any survivors remember him and could share any details about him. He was my mother’s brother and only one of his siblings remain, another brother who is now 84 years old. Any information would perhaps give a sense of closure and is greatly appreciated.

  18. THIS QUESTION MAY ALREADY HAVE ARISEN, BUT IF YOU KNOW THE ARMY UNIT INVOLVED IN THIS EXERCISE, AND HOW MANY MEN WERE GOING TO BE USED, ALBEIT SPREAD OVER THE LST’S,
    THEN IF THERE WAS A ROLE CALL AFTER THE EVENT, WOULDN’T THIS GIVE YOU THE NUMBER OF CASUALTIES?
    EG…
    (LIST OF 600 MEN TO BE USED FROM ARMY REGIMENT / NAVY / OTHER/ – ROLE CALL – GIVES YOU 400 SURVIVING MEN – MEANS THERE ARE 200 CASUALTIES – DEAD / INJURED / MISSING.)

  19. My family and I attended a ceremony at a military cemetery 50 years after D-Day. One of my inlaws was there to received a long overdue Bronze Star. He was a medic and went ashore with the 29th Division on Omaha Beach. The next day he was wounded while tending an infantryman under machine gun fire that killed the man he was trying to shield with his own body. His right hand was badly damaged by a round through the base of his thumb. He spent the remainder of the war in a hospital in England doing what he could to help left handed – getting physical therapy for his hand and eventually assisting other soldiers and airmen through their own painful therapy sessions.

    That day after that ceremony we talked about Slapton Sands. He knew I had served in Nam with 2/8th, 4th Division. Most of the casualties that night were soldiers of the 8th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division. He remembered seeing the Ivy patches on the uniforms of the dead. It was intended as a dress rehearsal for Utah Beach. Done at night and supposedly far enough from the English Channel to be secure from German observation.

    Medical personnel from several units in southern central England were called out that night and rushed to the beach site. His group got there about dawn. Very few survivors were encountered. Most of the activity was recovery and processing of the dead. He mentioned the problems with the life preserver.

    He told me that all of the medical and other personnel who had responded to the incident were transported to an nearby airfield and gathered in a large hanger, under armed guard.

    An officer informed one and all the incident was classified a 50-year Top Secret and anyone who shot his mouth off would be imprisoned without trial. They believed him.

    My friend told me that he had recently read a newspaper account of Slapton Sands so he “guessed it was alright to talk about it now.”

    That night in April, 1944, the 4th Division’s death toll was at least five times the number they took on D-Day at Utah Beach, possibly more.

  20. My father Harold McKune was a National Fire Service firefighter from the North of England who had served through the Manchester, Liverpool and Sheffield bombing blitzes (where numerous firefighters were killed) who volunteered for service in the vast pre D-day ammo dumps along the south coast. His unit was assigned to an American army unit and they got to know a lot of the GI’s well as the British could get alcohol (rum and cider,) and the Yanks had cigarettes so there was plenty of trade. Just before he died he got very upset and told me about the Slapton Sands fiasco where they been shelled in their tents by their own side and then had to recover all the bodies. He’d never mentioned it before, and when I asked him why, he said that they’d all been told that under the terms of the Official Secrets Act there was a lifetime ban on saying anything about it. It did explain though his refusal to attend veterans meetings etc when he used to make the comment ” that if they really knew what went on no bugger would go to them “

  21. i watched the program on t v the other night.this jogged my memory on a chance meeting i had with some locals back in around 1969 in a pub called i think The sportsmans arms. this pub was on a bend in the main road where a small lane came up from a village called Dittisham which is on the river dart not far from i think was the navel college which was on the opposite side of the river.how we got talking about the war i cannot remember but what has always stuck in my mind was how it slipped out in the conversation that there had been this exercise and it had gone wrong and that a great many bodies had been huridly buried in the field directly behind the pub and that they were still there and no one but themselves knew of this because it had all been hushed up at the time it happened.I cannot remember how many of the chaps commented on this or if it was just one but i seem to recall that some of drinking pals were trying to hush the one or ones who were talking up.These chaps i seem to recall were getting on a bit and i presume they would all be dead now. I was about 18/19 at the time and me and my mate were camping on his uncles farm along this little lane near dittisham .me and my mate both come from stoke on trent and still live there now. I have never forgotten this chance meeting with these old chaps in that pub all those years ago.has anyone else heard this story and could it possibly be true.

  22. My (20) yr. old unmarried Uncle, was a PFC, Quarter Master, serving in Exersize Tiger and he died during that operation, I believe it was so sad that there was never any closure for his Mother, of whom had a “Silent Breakdown”, after receiving the news of his being missing in action, and then receiving the news he was dead, His Mother, for many years could not accept that he was actually dead, and she kept believing he was alive living somewhere in England suffering from “Amnesia”….It is outrageous that the loved ones of those service men whom died during that operation, went to their graves never knowing the truth about what happened to their sons, fathers, husbands, brothers “ETC, …As far as a “Cover Up” of that unfortunate tragedy, is concerned, I recalled recently, during the 1960′s,while the brothers Kennedy (JFK, and RFK) were still alive and serving this Country, there was a news flash, where “RFK” appeared briefly on the TV, at which time he seemed to be he was angry , and he blurted out, “Quote”, ” My brother, I believe it is time, the American People”, know the truth about what happened to their loved ones who died during Excersize Tiger”, “Unquote”,…unfortunately nothing more was ever spoken about it, until decades later, and we all know what demises fell upon the Kennedy Brothers…Just Food For Thought.

    • to sue, sorry to here your relative was one of these unfortunate chaps who died needlessly and probably due to incompetence of others,it is not the first time unfortunately and probably not the last that something like this has happened,but why it had to remain secret for so long i cannot understand.After the war ended the relatives of the brave men should have been told the truth and if possible given their sons back to bury as they wish and not to have there bodies just left in mass unmarked burial pits, which is what seems to have happened.I still do not know if the story i was told all those years ago is true but it is definite that this exercise happened and went terribly wrong,so it seems perfectly possible that there could be a lot of truth in what i was told, and according to some of the other stories about soldiers being hurriedly buried in other locations in the area this adds more weight to the story. If there is anyone out there who might read these comments and knows of any facts or tales about this unfortunate disaster please comment, it might help to piece together the truth.

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