4 October 2011

Thimble 71 - the Tiger Tragedy

Do you recognise this war memorial? It commemorates the deaths of over 700 servicemen, during WWII - including 441 United States Army and 197 United States Navy personnel.

I'll give you a few hints:

This monument was only made possible by the passionate dedication of a former British policeman who literally stumbled onto the story on a sea shore.
The submerged tank was finally raised from the sea in 1984 and made into a monument, with a plaque, provided by local residents and local authorities.

Here's that plaque...

Both photos courtesy of Wikipedia

Slapton Beach was part of an area of Devon completely evacuated (farms and villages) so that Allied troups could use the area to prepare for D-Day. The code names for this extremely secret battle rehearsal were Exercise Tiger or Operation Tiger.

On April 28 April a flotilla of eight LSTs (landing ship, tank) was busy transporting troops and equipment to Slapton Sands when disaster happened. Being a covert operation led to a breakdown in communications - no-one warned them of the German Torpedo boats in the area. The BBC history archive says:

In the early hours of 28 April 1944, a convoy of eight American landing ship tanks (LSTs) were carrying out a D-Day dress rehearsal off the South Devon coast when they were ambushed by German E-boats.

Two of the LSTs were sunk in the attack off Slapton Sands, killing 749 US servicemen - a higher death toll than at the initial D-Day landings which were to take place on Utah Beach, Normandy, two months later.

Orders of strictest secrecy were imposed. They covered everyone, even the doctors and nurses who treated the survivors. D-Day became a real event, the war ended and the tragedy of Slapton Sands became just one of many.

Then, one day in 1968, a former policeman who had moved to the area was walking on the beach when he started to find fragments of war; buttons and bullets. He started asking questions and was horrified at the story. And even more horrified that while the Americans had raised a monument to honour the people of Slapton, who had given up their homes for the war effort, there was no memorial to the soldiers who had died here.

His name was Kenneth Small and you can read the whole story of his struggles to get a memorial for the Operation Tiger Tragedy, plus photos on the secondworldwar.org.uk website.


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Can one everyday person really make a difference and change the world? Isn't that a bit like trying to empty the ocean with a thimble?

Maybe... but what if you got everyone to help you?
What if we bailed with a billion thimbles?

These are my Thimblefuls for Peace... I hope they make you think.