Source: Extract from Jack Williams, They Led The Way.
Lieutenant Hugh Knollys
RN was the Flotilla Navigating Officer of the 1st MSF in
On the evening prior
to sailing for the invasion, I attended, with officers of all
three services, a final send off in the gymnasium in Portsmouth
Barracks – the HMS Victory. This was conducted by Admiral Arthur
George (“Noisy”) Talbot…
.. our confidence was
somewhat shaken when the C.O. of a destroyer asked to be excluded
as he had to sail within the hour. The Admiral enquired which ship
he commanded, and, on being told that it was the ‘Hunt-class’
destroyer Middleton, detailed for operations in advance of the
fleet, he said: “Goodbye, Cox, and good luck, I don’t suppose we
shall see you again”. Hardly calculated to raise morale.
We sailed that night,
out through the eastern Solent and there we enjoyed a magnificent
sight which really lifted our spirits. After five years of groping
around the seas in pitch darkness we were suddenly confronted by
an immense ‘V’ (for victory) illuminated sign on the top of Nab
Tower. As this operation depended for its success on complete
surprise, such a defiant gesture showed more clearly than anything
that these waters and the skies above were now totally denied to
enemy ships and aircraft.
The task of the 1st
MSF was to steam in formation, with wire sweeps out, ahead of the
troop carrying convoy, to ensure its safe passage through the
several mined areas in the Channel. As with al the other flotillas
we had to do a ‘time waiting’ turn so as not to get too far ahead,
and to do this in complete darkness and a rough sea running was
quite taxing. Before sailing my Captain had said to me: “If my
some mischance we should be sunk and I am killed, you, Pilot, will
assume command. With any luck the ship may remain upright and
hopefully our mast will remain showing above the surface. In such
a situation our only remaining function will be traffic control.
So I suggest you put on a large pair of white gloves, climb up
onto the crows nest, and wave the traffic on.”
Later I pondered on
this as I studied my charts, on which I had marked the arcs of
fire of the German shore batteries. We came into range of these
quite early on that night and I waited, without great enthusiasm,
for the opening salvoes. Unlike independent units we were quite
unable to take any avoiding action. But as I waited and waited and
the hours passed, all remained uncannily silent. It was weird. The
only incident occurred around dawn when a Norwegian destroyer,
Svenner, away on our port side, was hit by a torpedo fired by
enemy torpedo boats and sank.
We reached our goal,
recovered our sweeps and watched the loaded landing craft,
pitching and tossing as they made their way past us towards the
beach. The troops were probably seasick and then, on top of that,
they would have to wade ashore and fight. Thank God I’m in the
Navy, I thought (not for the first time). A while later, out of
the mist and gloom appeared a landing craft. It signalled “We are
broken down and drifting away from France”. “Lucky you” we
replied, “we feel much too close”. If they were hoping we would
tow them in nearer, this was not possible as the water was too
shallow for our draught. I don’t know how they fared.
A miracle had been
achieved. Our initial task had been accomplished and was 100%
Having completed their
initial task of clearing a way through the German minefield, D-day
itself was spent in Phase 2 of the minesweeping task – that of
clearing the areas for yet more bombardment ships due to arrive in
the next few days. The anchorage areas allocated to the supply ships
and the large troop transports were also to be cleared and enlarged.
For the minesweepers the end of 6th June bought no
respite. That night saw them installed taking up their secondary
duty of acting as the guard ships around the anchorages.
The Fleet Sweepers were
to be the Jacks of all Trades off the beachheads… Their first duty
was that for which they were primarily built and equipped, namely
minesweeping, but in addition to that role which occupied them from
daybreak until dusk, they were also given the task of providing a
screen around the anchorages to protect the other vessels within.
Because of their anti-submarine and escort capability, they were
ideally suited to this task. This was known variously as the Defence
Line, Trout Line, Iron Ring or Night Line and normally entailed the
sweepers being closed up to action stations each night. Thus the men
of the sweepers were denied the rest they so desperately needed.
They had to keep Asdic and radar watch and lookouts in order to
detect any attacks on the anchored fleet by German E-boats or other
Source: A Passage to Sword
Beach, Brendan A Maher
(These extracts are taken from Brendan Maher's account
of his time aboard HMS Jason in the lead up
to D-Day and show the meticulous detail of the preparations for the crews
of Jason and the rest of the 1st Minesweeping
16/0 Completed refit in Portsmouth, trials from 21st onwards.
complete, left Portsmouth heading for Scapa,
joined convoy PW heading west. By 17th Feb, off Anglesey, arrived Cromarty Firth
on 19th Feb. Joined by ships of 15th MSF led by HMS
Fraserburgh - now in Force S.
20 - 27/02/44
minesweeping exercises including several night
||Set course for
Scapa Flow with Hussar,
of 1st MSF
exercise with Speedwell,
along with Alexander Scott
and Craftsman as
exercise with 1st MSF in Pentland Firth.
||Scapa - radar
calibration then firing exercise with
Speedwell and Hussar
in floating dry dock having fouled a wire around propellers). Then night
start A/S work-up with submarine in exercise area. Britomart
arrived in Scapa in afternoon. Night sweeping exercise (Halcyon
having rejoined flotilla).
||Slipped at 1900
and proceeded in Order 1 (i.e. ships ranked in
order of seniority of their Commanding Officers) - Britomart,
(S/O) arrived at anchorage.
11 - 14/03/44
exercises - this was an exact rehearsal of the
night of the 5th/6th June, giving the D-Day
planners chance to work out exact timings).
16 - 23/03/44
daytime sweeping exercises, also man overboard
Invergordon. Rest of 1st MSF there, including Seagull
making eight ships in the flotilla there.
carried out sweep.
harbour, exercise cancelled.
0230 Left harbour
to continue exercise - sweeping ahead of
bombarding force, laying smokescreen at dusk,
preparing for E-boat attack, responding to
repeated calls to action stations, and forming a
perimeter defence line - precisely what happened
on D-Day. Returned to Cromarty.
Firth of Forth in thick fog - Harrier
and Britomart to
and remainder to Rosyth.
proceeded east down Forth in line ahead.
and embarked ammunition at North Shields.
Reception on board Jason
for Mayor and other dignitaries.
14 - 22/04/44
Speedwell) with Alexander
Colsay (dan layers) sweeping off
Tynemouth. Area cleared.
Harwich. Particularly alert as E-boats were
Harwich. Trouble with a drunken stoker who
appeared on deck of Jason
(he was later sentenced to 6 months in Maidstone Prison but this was later
commuted to 6 months loss of all leave because the prison was full).
||1st MSF sailed
Spithead eastwards down the Solent to off-shore
Shoreham on Sea - swept inshore. 0530 (19/5)
E-boat seen, smoke screen laid until 0615.
Officers and Navigators of 1st MSF went for a
briefing in the theatre at HMS Vernon. On return
to ships they were in good spirits and were
'sealed' i.e. banned from shore leave. Orders were
at 1300 on 4th to proceed down the eastern Solent
and set course for France. About 25 miles south of Selsey Bill, sweeps would be streamed and
a 40 mile approach channel to the Baie de la Seine would be swept, to be
finished to the north of Ouistreham. Sweeps would be veered at 2030 on the
4th and taken in at 0600 on D-Day. Orders later received delaying by 0ne
1st MSF slipped -
to Spithead then towards France .
sweep of channel 9, reaching lowering position at
0325. Channel 9 was one of the approach channels
for Canadian troops who were in landing ships
behind the minesweepers.
||0430 In sweeps
- shells from coastal guns dropping near. The
Flotilla turned into unswept water between
channels 9 and 8 to allow the landing craft
through, it was expendable by then. 1st MSF
sweeping between channels 5 and 6.
||1st MSF in
||1st MSF slipped
at 0230, proceeded to sea and swept for 15 hours,
anchoring off Port-en-Bessin. 2055 - beach bombed, action stations. 2132
- Secured from action stations. 2140 - Heavy flak over anchorage -
action stations. Seven Focke Wolfe aircraft flew overhead at 100 feet.
2215 - Secured from action stations.
HMS Hussar carries out depth
charge attack on U-boat.
0200 E-boats seen.
0415 bombs dropped. 0600 - weighed and commenced
sweep until 2020
Flagship HMS Scylla.
Source: Philip Marriot, son of Clifford Marriott. Sept 2008
account of D Day on HMS Britomart by Clifford Marriott
Sunday 4th June 'D'
1.15 pm Commence.
Cancelled owing to rough weather, postponed 24 hours.
Monday 5th June
1.15 Sails from
11 pm approx Arrived Le Havre / Cherbourg. Silent, no trouble.
Tuesday 6th June
1 am approx - our
3 am approx - gliders
7 am - Landings
One of our
destroyers broke in half and sunk in a few seconds. Sweeping
throughout the day. Same weds/Thurs. Boarded landing craft adrift
(removed all moveable objects) crew evidently jumped overboard.
Friday 9th June
9.30 pm - arrived
Le Havre/Cherbourg Bay. Three Gerry planes give little excitement.
10.30 pm - anchored just off Cherbourg. Plenty of wreckage
floating about, miles of surface oil from sunken craft, dead fish,
Lucky Strike packets and ration cartons.
12 pm - plenty of Gerry planes over at midnight, one dived on ship
but no bombs dropped.
Saturday 10th June
8.30 am -
sweeping again. Grand sight in bay, close in shore hundred of
ships. Anchored near beach all night, our bombers over in great
Sunday 11th June
5 am - steamed
along coastline until 8 am then anchored near centre beach. Houses
and church clearly visible and do not appear to be much damaged.
Eight concrete blocks and 70 ships which are to be blown up to
form breakwater near this beach. Our bombers still roaring over
and loud explosions heard from Cherbourg area. Fields and trees
above cliffs seem so peaceful. Remainder of day sweeping. Back to
beach head 9pm.
Monday 12th June
Plenty of gunfire
during night. Largest convoy yet entered bay, more than 100.
Fortresses just passed over to visit Gerry. Weather improved.
Sweeping again. E Boats attempted to enter bay, two were sunk
others damaged. Anchored in bay 9pm.
Tuesday 13th June
arrived. Dozens of wrecked landing craft can be seen on beach.
Scores of planes attacked land targets. Battleships, cruisers etc
shelling continuously. Saw three of our planes brought down.
Airmen baled out and were fired on by Gerry. Looks as though an
attempt is to be made tonight on Le Havre. We have just swept the
approaches to the Seine. Anchoring again near the Cherbourg
peninsula. Just passed a sunken frigate stern up in the air.
Wednesday 14th June
approaches again. Massive air attacks near Le Havre. Saw five
planes drop paratroops.
Thursday 15th June
3 am - German
planes dropped mines near to our ship anchored off Le Havre coast,
almost a direct hit. Sweeping area this morning.
Friday 16th June
Saturday 17th June
shore all day. At nigh anchored near entrance to Le Havre. Saw
about 300 of our bombers crossing over, one brought down in flames
over beach head. We appear to be too close to enemy coast.
Sunday 18th June
1 am - five bombs
dropped very close to the ship. First time I had completely
undressed, thought my time had come, ship shuddered and rattled
like a can. Turned in again about 2.30 am. At 3 am a single bomb
dropped near to ship.
morning. Anchored near Le Havre again, more bombs dropped during
Monday 19th June
rough, lost anchor and cable during night. Oil bomb dropped near
Tuesday 20th June
Left beach head
for Isle of Wight for oil etc. Arrived 9.30 pm. Best nights sleep
for two weeks. No mail yet. Soon be pushing off for Le Havre.
Wednesday 21st June
received dated 5th June
Thursday 22nd to
Anchored off Isle
of Wight. Second letter received dated 16th.
Sunday 25th June
Sailed at 5 am,
arrived Le Havre 9 pm, swept all the way. Stern of liberty ship
showing above water.
Monday 26th June
1 am - bombs,
mines, shells falling all around us, rotten night. Last explosion
3.40 am, will try to sleep.
7 am sweeping coastal area. Secret mines dropped by Gerry -
cruiser, two destroyers and two corvettes already damaged.
Tuesday 27th June
Quiet night for a
change. Sweeping from 7 am to 5 pm, anchored near original beach.
At 8 pm anchored just off Cherbourg peninsula. Tens of bodies
floated past ship during the day.
Wednesday 28th June
Good job we
changed our anchorage last night as minesweeper and merchant ship
was sunk at our usual spot. Sweeping again at 6 am. Sweeping cable
caught in screws. Anchored near original beach head 1pm mines and
bombs dropped near ship. German plane brought down. No sleep until
Thursday 29th June
cruiser Frobisher at 8 am for services of diver.
Friday 30th June
Sweeping all day,
anchored near Cherbourg. Few bombs and mines during the night.
Saturday 1st August
Sailed for Isle
of Wight, arrived 5 pm.
Sunday 2nd August
Still waiting for
instructions. Joined up with east bound convoy at 2 pm for
Harwich. Subs in vicinity, depth charges dropped. During the night
about 14 flying bombs shot down by our fighters, ship shuddering
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