I Was There! - We Carried Canadian Troops to the Beaches
How went the first hours of D-Day? In these personal stories glimpses are give of some of the actions and incidents that made June 6, 1944, memorable as the actual commencement of the greatest combined operation known to mankind – the mighty assault on Hitler's fabled fortress in the West to free the enslaved peoples of Europe.
They look like beer bottles, these mines, and they are coloured black. They hang on tripods stuck in shallow approaches to the beaches, and you see them if you approaches at low tide. They do not hurt fair-sized ships, but if you are in small assault landing craft you have a tough go of it; but if it is at all possible you carry out you assignment – to deliver troops. That was the assignment of Canadian seamen, who were charged with bringing Canadian assault troops on the beaches when Western Europe was invaded this morning.
I was aboard H.M.C.S. Prince David when she weighed anchor off the coast of France and giant davits dropped her landing craft on to the water. Forty-foot craft churned away in a perfect line, and the Canadians in them tightened their grips on their weapons – members of the crew, youngsters from every part of Canada and veterans of Combined Operations landings at Dieppe, North Africa and Sicily.
They ran into no opposition until a hundred yards from the beaches, then choppy waters dashed them against these “beer-bottle” mines. Some craft were blown up, but there were few casualties among the troops and they waded through three feet of water on to sandy shores. By afternoon seamen had hitch-hiked their way back to the Prince David on other landing craft while soldiers were advancing through the town in wake of scores of tanks. Mines had failed to stop them, and except for sporadic mortar and machine-gun fire there was no large-scale resistance in that sector.
Day broke under clouded skies after we had spent days aboard ship waiting. At first, life aboard the Prince David was as free from concern as a jaunt in a St. Lawrence River pleasure liner. That was appropriate enough, because at one time the Prince David had been on the luxury run between Boston and Halifax. Then she was taken over by the Royal Canadian Navy and converted to an armed merchant cruiser. After service in the Pacific she was sent across the Atlantic as a mother ship. Technically she is called a Landing Ship Infantry, but if you want to be informal you call her a mother ship – the same name that was given to hundreds of large craft that made part of the fleet of four thousand ships converging on Western Europe. Let Able Seaman James Morgen tell his story:
Our only trouble came from mines. There was hardly any mortar of machine-gun fire. When we left the David and joined with the rest of the flotilla the sea was a little rough but that was all. We saw only about six German planes and they didn't come near us. As we approached we could see what our bombing had done to the village. Not a house stood undamaged. A machine-gun nest in a church steeple about a hundred yards away rattled away, but one of our bombers swooped down on it. All along the beaches other craft were landing and we would just walk in.
The water was about three feet deep. A bullet skimmed my ear and struck the soldier next to me. I don't think he was badly hurt. All troops got on land all right and they no sooner did than we hit a mine and the craft blew up. The crew were okay, though, and we waded ashore to regroup ourselves and get a lift out with the heavier tank-landing craft that were not affected when the mines exploded under them. Tanks gathered in dozens, and the troops we had carried gathered behind them to advance into the village itself. I saw a couple of civilians run out to greet them. I also saw a couple of French Canadians standing guard over eight German prisoners. By this time there was very little stuff dropping near us...
When the David's assault crew rejoined the ship they were cheered lustily by their mates, who had begun worrying about them. The cheers died down as another large landing craft drew alongside. It contained casualties – the first they had seen. They were Royal Marine Commandos. Wounded men were taken to the sick bay and the hastily converted wardroom, and landings from the Prince David continued.
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