About Exercise Tiger

Exercise Tiger, April 28, 1944

The Exercise proved to be the most costly training incident in terms of lives lost in the whole of World War Two.  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 6th June, 1944.

In the early morning hours of the 28th of April, 1944, eight Landing Ship Tanks (LST’s), full of American servicemen and military equipment were converging in Lyme Bay, off the coast of Devon, England, making their way towards Slapton Sands for the D-Day rehearsal, “Exercise Tiger”.  A group of four German E-Boats, alerted by heavy radio traffic in Lyme Bay, intercepted the three-mile long convoy of vessels.  The heavily laden, slow moving LST’s were easy targets for the torpedo boats which first attacked the unprotected rear of the convoy.

A series of tragedies, including the absence of a British Navy destroyer assigned as an escort having been ordered into port for repairs, and an error in radio frequencies, led to three of the LST’s being hit by German torpedoes.  More loss of life was caused by life jackets being incorrectly worn by Army personnel and the extreme cold of the sea resulting in hypothermia.  As a result, approximately 639 American soldiers and sailors died in the early morning hours in Lyme Bay. The loss of life was greater than that later suffered by the assault troops during the initial attack on Utah Beach.

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 speak about the incident and many did not talk about it until 50 years later.