Exercise Tiger didn’t get much attention in April 1944. It couldn’t. It was a rehearsal for the Utah Beach part of the D-Day invasion of Normandy that would take place that June, with 30,000 troops being landed on a remote beach in England under live-fire conditions. The exercise was so sensitive that 3,000 local residents were evacuated to maintain secrecy.
The exercise went badly, with friendly fire killing GI’s on the beach. Then eight Landing Ship Tanks carrying vehicles and combat engineers was attacked by a wolf pack of nine E-boats (fast attack torpedo boats, the German version of American PT boats). By the end of the exercise and battle at sea, two LSTs had been sunk, two more damaged and 749 American servicemen – 551 U.S. Army and 198 U.S. Navy – killed. And that’s only the official death toll released as part of an August 1944 report that also included D-Day casualties; a 1988 book claimed the figure was really 946.
Either figure is amazing when you consider only 197 Americans were killed on the actual Utah Beach landing on June 6.
The dead couldn’t receive their proper respect at the time because of the upcoming D-Day invasion. (Some critics also say the U.S. military was trying to cover up its embarrassing fiasco.) Survivors were sworn to secrecy, backed by the threat of court martial.
But they are getting their respect now on both sides of the Atlantic. Groups called Exercise Tiger Remembered and Exercise Tiger Memorial commemorate the tragedy each April 28 on the beaches of Slapton Sands, England, the site of Exercise Tiger. Meanwhile, commemorations took place this past Saturday all over this country, including at Coast Guard Station Barnegat Light, where a ceremony honoring the victims and survivors of Exercise Tiger has taken place for 30 years.
Speeches were made. A proclamation from the Ocean County Board of Chosen Freeholders was prepared by Freeholder Director Gerry P. Little. Ninth District Assemblywoman DiAnne C. Gove pushed a resolution through the New Jersey General Assembly.
Representatives from the United States Exercise Tiger Foundation attended. Most importantly, a wreath was committed to the sea in a tribute to the victims of Exercise Tiger.
Other wreaths at the Barnegat Light ceremony honored the New Jersey Submarine Association and Vietnam War veterans, with Thy Caragnaro, who created the recently dedicated Barnegat Vietnam War Memorial, laying the wreath that honored those veterans.
In Missouri, a commemoration took place at the same time as the one in Barnegat Light, with the victims of the recent car attack in Toronto being remembered as well. A West Coast ceremony took place at Coast Guard Station Humboldt Bay in California, where attendees also remembered U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Nathan Bruckenthal, who was killed in Iraq on April 24, 2004, when he and two U.S. Navy sailors intercepted a waterborne suicide attack on an oil terminal. Yet another ceremony was held on the USCG cutter Shearwater, on coastal patrol out of Cape May. Meanwhile, a wreath-laying ceremony took place in New Bedford, Mass., where they honored the oldest survivor of Exercise Tiger, 95-year-old Vincent Ricciardi.
Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer sent a letter to some of those commemorating the 74th anniversary of Exercise Tiger: “On behalf of the Department of the Navy, it is my please to extend greetings and thanks to those gathered at the Exercise Tiger Memorial in Audrain County, Missouri; and at the U.S. Coast Guard Station, Barnegat Light, New Jersey.
“Over 70 years ago, with the world at war, Americans fought around the globe to suppress tyranny and pave the way for democracy throughout the world. On April 28, 1944, during a practice exercise preparing for the invasion of Normandy, a German force unexpectedly attacked the U.S. Navy amphibious group. While sustaining heavy casualties, the amphibious group showed fortitude in resisting the enemy. Exercise Tiger now represents the courage and dedication of American Service Members and is a reminder of the full measure of valor exhibited by the Greatest Generation. I commend your efforts to ensure their sacrifice will never be forgotten.
“I applaud the U.S. Exercise Tiger Foundation for their continued efforts to remember the veterans and the honored deceased from that action.
“I would also like to offer my congratulations on 30 years of honoring our Nation’s military and this historic battle. Best Wishes for a memorable event.”
— Rick Mellerup
Reposted from The Sandpaper