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A Convoy of Ships Head for France - June 5,1944

Updated: Feb 3

WW2 Destroyer Escort - Normandy Invasion

"Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force! You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hope and prayers of liberty loving people everywhere march with you..." So begins Eisenhower's notice to the troops, known as General Dwight D. Eisenhower's Order of the Day, before the Invasion of Europe.

The following excepts are from the First Anniversary document written by Yeoman Meyer H. Leavitt and letters written by Seaman Jack Whiteman. Many of the other details provided in this post were written by my brother, Thomas Dean Whiteman. Several years ago, Tom wrote a detailed account of our Dad's naval history from his research and personal conversations with him about his time in the Navy. He presented these to our family in a book he wrote after Dad passed away in 2008. The book is entitled WE HAVE BEEN and excerpts will be included here. The photograph above is from Jack's photo album.

Yeoman Leavitt: June 5, 1944 we left Plymouth, England in company with our sister YMSs and a stellar convoy and headed for the Coast of France. "D" Day, June 6, 1944 found us sweeping enemy mines on the Coast of France so that our soldiers and supplies could be landed safely. From "D" Day to the present day we have swept through enemy air attacks and enemy shore battery fire, but by fine navigating by our captain and with the help of God, we are still going strong.

The following account was written by Thomas Dean Whiteman in the book referenced above.

During the war in Europe, General Eisenhower had the title of Allied Supreme Commander and the difficult decision of when to launch the biggest invasion in world history. Codename Operation Overlord, the Normandy Invasion was originally set for June 5th 1944, but bad weather prevented this from happening. It was raining that day with winds blowing up to 20 knots and all the ships, the YMS-346 included were rolling from six foot waves. When Eisenhower would finally make his decision, an armada of over 4000 ships, the largest armada ever, would set sail for the shores of Normandy. There would be 59 convoys that included thousands of landing craft, seven battleships, 23 cruisers and 104 destroyers, and of course minesweepers.

Finally Eisenhower got a report that the weather might improve by the next day, June 6th. When he conferred with his generals they were divided. General Omar Bradleu and British General Bernard Montgomery wanted to go ahead, but the Air Force and Navy Generals wanted to wait. Eisenhower was concerned that the tides would not be favorable again for another two weeks. Finally he said the words that changed the course of history "O.K. Let's Go."

Two days before Eisenhower gave the word, Dad was in Plymouth. The ship left there and rattled around in rough seas off the coast of England. At that time everyone was on their ships as the invasion was anticipated soon. That day sister ship YMS-349 went out to rescue the crew of HMS LCT-2498 whose boat was damaged from the storm. The YMS-351 also went out to sink the disabled hull by using gunfire. They returned forty-nine survivors to Portland. The YMS-349 also rescued two RAF aviators who had bailed out of their plane, which had caught fire above the channel.

When Eisenhower said, "Let's go", D-Day was set for June 6, 1944. But for Dad it would be the day before, as no ship in that huge armada could begin the crossing of the English Channel until the minesweepers cleared the way. "Where the fleet goes, We have been."

The first minesweepers out were Sweep Unit 3, eleven minesweepers of the Auk class, also known as the AMs. These were a much larger minesweeper measuring up to 221' and had a steel hull. They could hold a crew of 105 and, unlike the YMS they had names. The eleven AUK Minesweepers crossing the channel that day were Raven AM-55, Osprey AM-56, Auk AM-57, Broadbill AM-58, Chickadee, AM-59, Nuthatch AM-60, Pheasant AM-61, Staff AM-114, Swift AM-122, Threat AM-124, and Tide AM-125.

Following the eleven AMs , about one hour behind, were the YMSs. They were divided into two Yoke squadrons, Y1 and Y2. Dad was in Y2. Squadron Y1 consisted of the YMS-231, 304, 378, 380, 381, and 382. Dad's squadron, Y2, consisted of the YMS-346, 347, 348, 349, 350, and 351. The first thing the minesweepers had done, even before Eisenhower had given the word was to clear a wide channel from the Isle of Wright, which is an English island located about five miles south of the English mainland, to Point Z, thirteen miles southeast of the island. Point Z was a circle five miles in radius that was nicknamed "Piccadilly Circle". On June 5th, five lanes were to be swept midway to the Bay of Seine, then split up into ten, a slow lane and a fast lane, and then merge again into five at the transport area off Normandy. The Normandy beaches were divided up into five sectors and code-named Sword, Juno, Gold, Omaha and Utah. The British, French and Canadians had Sword, Juno and Gold and the American's had Omaha and Utah.

In the early months of 1944, the Germans planted mines along the coast of Northern France, Belgium and Holland. They originally thought the invasion would be near the end of May and they designed some of their mines to self sterilize themselves. The thought was that they too would eventually want to use these waters themselves.

The most common and the simplest mine the YMS's would encounter was the Contact Mine or Moored Mine. This was the mine that was set off by making contact with a passing ship. The way they dealt with these was to cut the wire that anchored them with the ship sweep wire. Another kind of mine was the Acoustic mine. This was set off by the sound of a passing ship. They dealt with this one by dropping a noisemaker into the water, activating it and thereby setting off the mine. The Magnetic Mine was set off by a magnetic field from a passing ship's hull. That was the main reason why the YMS's were constructed of wood and that they went through "degaussing range", as the YMS 346 did in Mayport, FL August of the previous year. Another mine, which was a new secret weapon of the Germans at that time, was the Oyster Mine or Pressure Mine. This was the most difficult one to detect.

6/13/44 - Dear Bess: I'm sorry I have not written to you sooner but I couldn't This is the first chance I have had. I'm alright and feeling fine. I'm coming along pretty good at my signaling and I should make my rate pretty soon. I really mean it now. I stand signalman's watches and take signalman's responsibilities. The fellow I'm learning from sure knows his business.

...There isn't much I can say now Bess so I'll cut it short and write you a good letter at my first chance. Give my love to all and please don't worry about me because your prayers are being answered.

YMS-346 Signalman Neal Smith and Jack Whiteman

This photograph, from Jack's album, is of Seaman Jack Whiteman learning the ropes from Signalman Neal Smith.

7/13/44 - Dear Bess: ...I'm glad you finally received my letter for I was worried about what must have been going on in your thoughts. I don't want you to worry too much about me.

8/5/44 - Dear Bess: ...Our ship was in there on the invasion on D-Day. Let me tell you the crew was plenty nervous on that trip. It's a sight I'll never forget as long as I live. Those Yanks are plenty O.K. We have been operating off the French Coast since. In fact it's only about a half mile off our port beam now as we ride at anchor. (Salty, eh!). Anything you want to know that I can tell you, just let me know. O.K.?

Next posts: Casualties of War:

Osprey AM-56, USS Corry DD-463, USS Tide AM-125, YMS-350


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