There were many naval ships and many sacrifices that contributed to the Invasion of France, leading up to and following D-Day. So many valiant stories and some tragic. Although this blog is primarily about the role of one minesweeper and one crew, that story cannot adequately be told without mentioning the tragic fate of other ships along that same journey.
In his book, We Have Been, my brother Tom writes about some of those tragic encounters with mines and recalls some of the conversations he had with my Dad over the years.
The first ship lost in the Normandy Invasion was an Auk Class minesweeper, the Osprey AM-56, which hit a mine and sunk on June 5, 1944, the day before D-Day. The photo above is from the National Archives.
Regarding the sinking of the Osprey AM-56, Tom writes:
It was a very rough crossing for Dad. The seas had gotten worse after the AMs went out and it would be about 100 miles before reaching the Normandy coast. At about 5:57 that morning the first casualty occurred when the minesweeper, Osprey hit a mine. Chickadee tried to help the sailors of Osprey put out the fire and a PT boat picked up men who had gotten blown over, but by 1815 hours the Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Charles H. Swimm gave the order to abandon ship. She sank with a loss of six crew members. Osprey AM-56 was the first ship lost in the the entire Normandy Invasion.
For the YMSs the crossing was uneventful and they were able to keep on schedule. As the YMSs approached the transport area at Omaha, they turned toward Utah Beach and continued sweeping towards Cherbourg. As they were nearing St. Vaast, they passed within a mile of the German battery on the St. Marcouf Islet. This was a 210-mm gun encased in a 13 inch thick wall of concrete and a very big concern for the minesweepers.
The photograph below is of the St. Marcouf German Battery, also known as Crisbecq Battery and is now the site of a museum.
They passed with bated breath and heaved a sigh of relief when nothing occurred. At dawn their luck took a turn for the worse. As they neared St. Vaast, the Germans opened fire on them. The YMS-381 took a near miss and had her sweep wire cut in two. By this time it was H hour and Operation Overlord was officially on, but little did the Germans know that, behind those brave little minesweepers, was an overwhelming armada of American, British and Canadian ships by the thousands. I once asked Dad "Since you were there on June 5th and D-Day was actually June 6th, didn't the Germans see you?" And Dad answered "Of course they saw us. They were shooting at me!"
Finally the HMS Black Prince came to the minesweepers aid. She was a British Light Cruiser and the Germans then turned their attention on her. The poor little YMSs ended up in the middle of the duel.
It was the Army troupes who came in on the transports and tried to storm the beaches that had it the worst that day. One yeoman from Y1 squadron said they felt sorry for them, they watched them from their ships but there was nothing they could do for them. In June of 1994, the 50th anniversary of D-Day, I had called Dad to ask him about the invasion. He told me it was the troops on the beaches that had it bad that day. This is depicted accurately and graphically in the movie "Saving Private Ryan".
Even on board ship, I know Dad was right up there where the action was. One day I was showing him a video clip that was taken from inside one of those troop transports. When the front of the boat fell open and troops began to advance, you could see a couple of French houses in the background. Dad immediately spotted them and said to me, "I remember seeing those very houses".
The YMS-346 kept sweeping right up Utah Beach and the fine navigating of Captain Wilke and the bravery of the crew got them through D-Day.
Next: Sinking of the USS Corry DD-463 June 6 and the AM-125 Tide June 7