August 1984 | Slapton & Torcross, Devon
Retrieving a WW2 tank from the sea in south Devon
In August 1984 I made one of my many trips home to Devon from London and I had heard that a Sherman tank had been raised off the sea bed at Torcross just a few months earlier. The pictures show the tank long before it was cleaned up and became a fixed monument on the beach.
I made my way there with an old friend, who is in some of the photographs, himself taking pictures. Since a young child Slapton Sands (and Blackpool Beach next door) were favourite spots to visit, especially during the summer as not too many tourists found these remote beaches.
We also knew of the story surrounding the tragedy that occurred here in April 1944 and the events leading up to it. We knew that a number of villages in the area were evacuated, with all the villagers moved to towns nearby. Their villages were then used to house hundreds – and indeed thousands – of mainly US servicemen. They were here to ‘rehearse’ for the D-Day landings in what was known as Operation Tiger, but it all went horribly wrong. Around 800 US servicemen lost their lives, although estimates of the number of deaths ranged from about 750 to about 950.
As youngsters we were told that many of these servicemen were buried in mass graves in the fields around Slapton. Given our knowledge of the broad events it came as some surprise when I learned many years later that the episode was hushed up and kept secret for a very long time.
As a result of official embarrassment and concerns over potential leaks just prior to the real invasion, all survivors were sworn to secrecy about the events by their superiors…. There is little information about exactly how individual soldiers and sailors died… Various eyewitness accounts detail hasty treatment of casualties and rumours circulated of unmarked mass graves in Devon fields.Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exercise_Tiger
Because of our local knowledge of these events, scant though they were, I was very surprised when I learned much later (I think in the late 90’s) of an ‘exclusive’ story in what I think was either the Sunday Times or The Times, that had ‘uncovered’ this story. It just goes to show that secrets that are pretty well hidden from most of the world are unlikely to be hidden from people living in the immediate area affected – eyewitnesses if you will. And, given our love of stories and storytelling in Devon, these ‘secrets’ will always be known to someone.
There is now quite a lot of information available on the internet, including the story of how local hotelier Ken Small came to raise the tank off the sea bead and restore it, creating a monument on the beach.