Halcyon Class Minesweepers Halcyon Class Ships
D Day - Memories
1st MSF Orders
D Day - Memories
D Day Minesweeping



Source: Extract from Jack Williams, They Led The Way. 

Lieutenant Hugh Knollys RN was the Flotilla Navigating Officer of the 1st MSF in Harrier: 

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% successful.


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 craft.


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 Flotilla.) 


16/0 Completed refit in Portsmouth, trials from 21st onwards.

15/2/44 Trials 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 Carried out minesweeping exercises including several night sweeps.
28/02/44 Set course for Scapa Flow with Hussar, Harrier and Speedwell of 1st MSF
03/03/44 Sweeping exercise with Speedwell, Halcyon and Hussar, along with Alexander Scott and Craftsman as dan layers 
04/03/44 Sweeping exercise with 1st MSF in Pentland Firth.
05/03/44 Scapa - radar calibration then firing exercise with Speedwell and Hussar (Halcyon in floating dry dock having fouled a wire around propellers). Then night sweeping.
06/03/44 Hussar, Speedwell and Jason start A/S work-up with submarine in exercise area. Britomart arrived in Scapa in afternoon. Night sweeping exercise (Halcyon having rejoined flotilla).
07/03/44 Slipped at 1900 and proceeded in Order 1 (i.e. ships ranked in order of seniority of their Commanding Officers) - Britomart, Hussar, Halcyon, Speedwell, Jason, Alexander Scott, Craftsman. 
09/03/44 Harrier (S/O) arrived at anchorage.
11 - 14/03/44 Sweeping exercises
15/03/44 Night sweeping 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 Night and daytime sweeping exercises, also man overboard drill.
24/03/44 Arrived Invergordon. Rest of 1st MSF there, including Seagull and Gleaner, making eight ships in the flotilla there.
28/03/44 Left harbour, carried out sweep.
29/03/44 Returned 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.

03/04/44 Arrived at Firth of Forth in thick fog - Harrier and Britomart to Leith, Jason and remainder to Rosyth.
04 -10/04/44 Refit
12/04/44 Slipped and proceeded east down Forth in line ahead.
13/04/44 Entered Tyne and embarked ammunition at North Shields. Reception on board Jason for Mayor and other dignitaries.
14 - 22/04/44 Flotilla (Britomart, Gleaner, Halcyon, Harrier, Hussar,  Jason, Seagull and Speedwell) with Alexander Scott, Craftsman and Colsay (dan layers) sweeping off Tynemouth. Area cleared.
23/04/44 Proceeded to Harwich. Particularly alert as E-boats were anticipated. 
24/04/44 Arrived 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).
27/04/44 Loaded Oerlikon ammunition.
01/05/44 1st MSF sailed for Portsmouth
18/05/44 Sailed from Spithead eastwards down the Solent to off-shore Shoreham on Sea - swept inshore. 0530 (19/5) E-boat seen, smoke screen laid until 0615.
03/06/44 All Commanding 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 day.

1st MSF slipped - to Spithead then towards France . 

1952 Commenced 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.

06/06/44 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.
08/06/44 1st MSF in Solent
09/06/44 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

11/06/44 Proceeded to Flagship HMS Scylla.



Source: Philip Marriot, son of Clifford Marriott. Sept 2008

An account of D Day on HMS Britomart by Clifford Marriott

Sunday 4th June 'D' Day

1.15 pm Commence. Cancelled owing to rough weather, postponed 24 hours.

Monday 5th June

1.15 Sails from Portsmouth
11 pm approx Arrived Le Havre / Cherbourg. Silent, no trouble.

Tuesday 6th June

1 am approx - our bombers commenced.
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 strength.

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

More ships 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

Sweeping 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

Anchored off 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.

Sweeping in morning. Anchored near Le Havre again, more bombs dropped during night.

Monday 19th June

Weather very rough, lost anchor and cable during night. Oil bomb dropped near ship.

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

First letter received dated 5th June

Thursday 22nd to Saturday 24th

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 4 am.

Thursday 29th June

Tied along 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 with blast.

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This site was last updated 17 Januar 2012