1. If time and circumstances permit, it is hoped to keep a personal record of events in "Operation Neptune", the naval side of the invasion of Europe to be forwarded when censorship regulations allow. This narrative starts with H.M.C.S. "Algonquin" on the trip south from Scapa in company with the 26th Destroyer Flotilla, under command of Captain M.L.Power, C.B.E., R.N. in H.M.S. "Kempenfelt".
2. As the Flotilla rounded the Lizard early on the morning of Saturday, the 27th of May, 1944 - to our surprise we entered dense fog. Ships were unable to see the ship ahead, 200 yards away. Even with good radar, it was a bit of a nightmare. We got plumb in the middle of a convoy approaching from the south, and Algonquin had two very near collisions. Just as we arrived off the Needles, the fog cleared into a most lovely summer day. The Portsmouth area was a mass of shipping of all types. We eventually got to an oiler and the water boat. The afternoon along side the oiler was spent playing chess on No. 2 gun deck, stripped for sunbathing. It was very pleasant after the dreary months at Scapa. Our anchorage was way out off Scavien, Isle of Wight; we got there eventually about 2230 that evening.
3. Sunday, the 28th of May was a glorious hot summer day. All the ships of the Flotilla were anchored in one area, and boat races were arranged. H.M.C.S "Sioux" won hands down, with "Algonquin" second. Everybody was in swimming over the side. Leave was granted until 2100. The sailors enjoyed the frolic tremendously. I went ashore with Eric Boak at 1700. It was just like walking in paradise. All the things we missed at Scapa were here - trees in full foliage, gardens in bloom, people bathing on the long sandy beaches, everybody enjoying the lovely summer sun. At this point war seemed very far away. Eric and I wandered a few miles, through meandering lanes all in the full natural bloom of spring. Eventually we ended up back in Seaview, which in itself is a delightful seaside resort. After a few "refreshments" at the Yacht Club, and then the Starboard Club, we returned to our ships, and voted this Sunday one of the best.
4. On Monday morning, the 29th of May, "Algonquin" proceeded to sea with three other Destroyers, on a patrol for the protection of the Portsmouth area. It was "action stations" all night. Although we made no contact with the enemy, there was never a dull moment. We were illuminated three times by our own forces.
5. There was a conference of all Forces of "J" Commanding Officers at the Royal Yacht Squadron, Cowes, on Tuesday afternoon. It was an awful struggle trying to keep awake, after our patrol and a very excellent luncheon, provided by Captain (D). During the interval I met a lot of old friends that I hadn't seen for many years, including the staff Officers of the Canadian 3rd Division.
6. During these few days I spent most of my time reading the unbelievable amount of Operational Orders that are necessary for such an operation as this. However the instructions are all very clearly laid out, and it is easy to find any information required.
7. On Wednesday evening, the 31st of May, we had a bit of a night out at the Starboard Club. Most of Force "J" staff officers were there, including Senior Officers of the Canadian 3rd Division. After a very good party at the club, I brought some of the Brigadiers back to the ship. We filled them with food and wine and song, and everybody had a dandy time. It was a great pleasure to entertain Canadian Army Officers aboard our Canadian Ship.
8. For the remainder of the week we were on the "qui vive". The weather was a bit blustery, so I did not go ashore again. There was another Conference aboard H.M.S. "Kempenfelt" on Thursday, June 1st to settle final points. On Thursday evening, "Algonquin" officers invited a few Wren officers and ratings aboard for supper. The Starboard club continued to be a drawing card.
9. We were out again on patrol on Friday evening, June 2nd but this time it was quiet. We went to the oiler at dawn, then returned to the anchorage. As the landing craft were all loading, it was obvious that "D" Day was not far away.
10. Sunday, June 4th was a very cheery day. To start with, we had no less than three Canadian Chaplains aboard; Gordon Ott, Harry Pike, and Father MacIsaac. They held Communion Services at 0800. Aboard "Algonquin", we had the normal Sunday routine - clean ship, armament rounds, Divisions and prayers. The Service was held on the upper deck. Then we discover that it was Doc. Dixon's birthday. This called for a "Martini" session in the Ward Room. Again, the weather was a bit rough for shore going, so I stayed aboard and enjoyed the quiet day, reading and writing.
11. Several "Gentlemen of the press" joined ship over the weekend, to be on hand for the coming invasion. The Canadian Naval officials were Lieutenant-Commander George Lawrence (Publicity), and Lieutenant Dick Arless (Photography), with an assistant rating. Then we had an American Coverage Unit, under Captain Irving Reis, who also had two assistants. All set for stories, stills and movies.
12. There was an air of finality about Monday June 5th. We knew beyond all doubt that the show was "on" for the following day. The only thing that could stop it now would be a further deterioration of the weather, which was still unfavourable. A final conference was held aboard H.M.S. "Kempenfelt" during the forenoon. As I returned to the ship about noon, groups of landing craft of the slower types were already passing the gate outward, heading for the coast of France. We wondered to ourselves what the situation would be in twenty four hours time. As "Algonquin" was already prepared in all respect, there was nothing to do until we sailed at 1600 hours. I got out my typewriter and started this narrative, which I hope to continue when we actually get into action. Once we know that the massive plan for Invasion was being put into execution, I suppose we all experienced the same involuntary reaction in the pit of the tummy. There was no mental fear, but I just felt that things should be happening and there was nothing to do! All that disappeared then moment I got on the bridge to weigh anchor, and start " Algonquin" on this historic operation.
13. Our job, in the preliminary stages of Operation "NEPTUNE" was to escort the headquarters ship of Force "J", H.M.S. "Hillary", to the assault area. To do this, we had to proceed from our anchorage off Seaview in through the gate, to Cowes Roads. It was an inspiring sight, as we steamed slowly through Spithead and the Solent, to see the, thousands of craft of all types getting under way for France. There was no confusion what so ever - it was all perfectly planned, and everybody knew exactly what to do at exactly the right time. As we neared our rendezvous off Cowes, we passed H.M.C. Ships "Prince David" and "Prince Henry". Marks of respect were exchanged, and then informal waves and shouts and laughter. We noticed that both of the "Princes" had followed our example of displaying the unofficial symbol of R.C.N. ships - a maple leaf on each side of the funnel. On arrival off Cowes, "Algonquin" anchored at short stay, waiting for H.M.S. "Hilary" to proceed. On deck in the headquarters ship, I could see General Keller, Brigadier Todd, and other familiar faces. We exchanged waves of greetings. It seemed good to us that a Canadian ship should be chosen to escort the Staff of the 3rd. Canadian Division across the channel to the invasion beaches of Normandy.
14. H.M.S. "Hilary" got under way at 1810 on this Monday evening, June 5th. "Algonquin" weighed anchor immediately and followed astern of her as she threaded her way through the crowded anchorage. Astern of us again was a flotilla of L.C.I.(S), carrying Royal Marine Commandos. We had started! There was no turning back now for any reason. Operation Neptune was under way. There was more of an atmosphere of relief than excitement, because there had been a possibility of postponement due to the weather. It was still blowing hard.
15. As our group steamed slowly through the Solent towards the gate, this was the opportunity to brief the ships company. All the sail knew we had come south to take part in the Invasion, but the important details of where and when had not been divulged. This vital information was withheld until the last possible moment, lest a postponement should be necessary, in which case there would have been no leave allowed if the ship's company had been already briefed. "Clear lower decks" was piped. All hands mustered around the after torpedo tubes, and it was my turn. Even before I commenced, I could sense the high morale of the men - confidence beamed from their smiling faces. Their good humour could not be
subdued by the serious facts with which I presented them, such as being mined, dive-bombed, shelled, and other hazards. I felt more like Bob Hope at a Navy concert, without a script. So the briefing turned out to be more of an amusing chat. When I had finished, the sailors all clapped.
16. Before proceeding with my Personal narratives a general summary of the strategy planned for the invasion will help to follow events more clearly. The object of Operation Neptune is for the Allies to secure a lodgment on the continent of Europe from which operations can be undertaken. The place chosen for the assault is the coast of Normandy, between Le Havre and Cherbourg. It is a combined operation, carried out by the Navies, Armies, and Air Forces of Great Britain and the United States, all under the command of General Eisenhower. The assaulting forces are divided into two groups; the Western Task Force, which is entirely American; and the Eastern Task Force, which is entirely British. There are two assault groups in the American sector, and three in the British. "Algonquin" is in the centre of the British sector, in Force "J". This assault Group is to land the 3rd. Canadian Division, under Major General Keller. All five groups are attacking the Normandy coast, simultaneously, and will be supported by paratroops and follow-up forces. Within Force "J", the assault on the beach is planned as follows. Craft of every description arrive about 7 miles off the beach just after daylight. Cruisers engage the heavy shore batteries first from long range, and then the destroyers move in close and bombard the numerous batteries right on the coastline. While this is going on, the R.A.F. saturate the area with continued heavy bombing. Then come special landing craft, fitted with thousands of rockets which are fired just before the troops reach the beach. On landing, the first task is to clear away beach obstacles. Then the destroyers open up again with indirect bombardment, to wipe out any enemy positions that are menacing the advance of our troops. It is essential to land a superior force immediately, in order to meet German counter attacks which are certain to develop soon after the assault is made. By the time this narrative reaches you his plan and the way it will have been carried out will be history. There is no doubt whatsoever in our minds but that it will succeed. The whole organization is magnificent.
From here my narrative will take the form of a daily diary.
"D" Day. Tuesday June 6th, 1944
18. Everything proceeded according to plan on the voyage across the Channel. The weather was blustery, and very uncomfortable for the soldiers in the small landing craft. I hope that the Canadian seasick pill were a help. "ALGONQUIN" had a very easy ride over - right astern of the headquarters ship H.M.S. "HILARY". We were acting as an escort in case of an enemy attack by destroyers or E-boats. Such an attack was most unlikely, but there was always the possibility. The only real and present menace was from mines. The gallant sweepers had cleared the channel hours before, but the real danger came from making contact with a floating mine that had drifted into the swept channel by the strong tide. We had two such scares. A rapid alteration of course and speed on each occasion put us clear just in time.
19. It was still dark at about 0400 hours on "D" Day, Tuesday June 6th when things began to happen. Our force was about 35 miles from the coast of Normandy. Flares, rockets and gunfire began to light up the sky from inshore. Probably the paratroops had landed, and the R.A.F. were doing some night bombing. Anyway it was apparent to us that the element of surprise had been lost, and that we could expect a very hot reception from the shore batteries when we get closer in. Hands were closed up at Action Stations, and the ship prepared for battle. It was getting close! Up in the sky a big full moon was smiling down between the scudding clouds when it got the chance in the clear patches. About 0500 hours, the eastern sky began to brighten into daylight. First thing we knew, there was the coast of Normandy right in front of us, about ten miles away. To our surprise all was now quiet ashore. Shortly after this, the Cruisers opened up on the big shore batteries, using aircraft to spot the fall of shot. The assault had now begun. At 0600 hours. We arrived at the lowering position, where the big ships stopped to lower their landing craft. At this point, "ALGONQUIN" was detached from escort of the headquarters ship. We proceeded by ourselves, in towards the beaches to our bombardment position. Our orders were, not to open fire until 0700 hours unless the shore batteries were menacing the approach. By this time, there were hundreds of craft of every description within range, but to our surprise and comfort hardly a shot was fired to oppose our assault. I began to wonder if we were in for a nasty surprise in the form of some new German secret weapon. With guns trained, loaded and ready to fire on our pre-arranged target, a battery of two 75mm guns, the destroyers moved in as the spearhead of the assault to a distance of three miles. In terms of modern gunnery, that is pretty close! Resistance was sporadic. Then we let loose. Our own target was in between some houses right on the beach. First we plastered the area with salvo after salvo of accurate broadsides. When there was no further reply from the 75mm guns, we set about demolishing the houses along the waterfront which looked likely places for snipers nests. At that point "Chief" Johnny Lloyd came up from the engine room to see the fun. In his honour, he picked out a target that looked like a summer hotel, right on the beach. We blew it to smithereens. Pleased with the progress of the battle. "Chief" cheered us on, and went back to tell the boys in the Engine Room how things were going.
20. Shortly after we opened fire, the R.A.F. came in and bombed the beaches with a monstrous concentration of high explosives. We couldn't see bombers because of the clouds, and this factor also affected adversely the accuracy of the bombing. At times, the bombing smoke obliterated our target. This called for some choice invective from Corkey Knight, the gunnery Officer. One concentration of bombs landed in a forest in rear of our target. When the smoke cleared away, there was no more forest, just a few shredded tree trunks.
21. The assault now proceeded absolutely according to plan. The Germans seemed incapable of opposing the landing until our forces got ashore. Nor was there any secret weapon to give us a nasty shock. The weather was not in our favour. A strong breeze was making things very difficult for the small landing craft. "H" Hour (the time the landing craft were due to touch down on the beaches) was planned to coincide with low tide so that the troops could get to the beaches before the landing craft got fouled up on underwater obstacles. In this area the range of the tide is about 30 feet, almost as much as the Bay of Fundy. The tidal currents presented great difficulties. However all of these factors were taken into consideration in the original plan.
22. At "H" Hour, 0745, we ceased fire, and the flight of landing craft touched down on schedule. They carried units of Royal Engineers, who had the unpleasant task of clearing away beach obstacles while under concentrated enemy fire. "ALGONQUIN" was close enough inshore to watch it all in detail. Our direct bombardment was over and our next job of indirect bombardment would not take place until our Army observation officers got established ashore. So, during the lull in our own duties, we were interested spectators of the historic events taking place right under our bows. It seemed incredible that we had come this far without a scratch. The scene around us was indeed incredible also. Landing craft were now swarmed ashore on all the beaches. Mighty bulldozers were ploughing up the masses of shore obstacles, racing against the incoming tide. Sappers were disposing of land mines. The German pill boxes and strong points which had withstood the bombardment were subjecting the shoreline to incessant fire. Buildings were ablaze, and also a few landing craft. Overhead the Spitfires and Thunderbolts roared defiance to the Luftwaffe, but the challenge was not accepted, and we enjoyed immunity from air attack. Things were going well. As it was then, just about 0800 hours, I nipped down to my sea cabin and turned on the B.B.C. news. It quoted a German report that the invasion had begun, but as yet there was no official announcement by the Allies. So I returned to the bridge, to my ringside seat and got Hardy to bring me my breakfast.
23. About an hour later, while we were still prowling around waiting for a target to be allocated, a beach craft came alongside and asked us to take some casualties from ashore. There was six, or rather five, as one died as soon as he hit the deck. A mortar had landed right in their landing craft just as it hit the beach. They were Royal Marine Commandos. "Doc" Dixon had the Ward Room fully prepared for such cases. Four of the five survivors were very seriously wounded. Aided by the ship's first aid parties, "Doc" gave transfusions of plasma and tended the awful shrapnel lacerations. I chatted with one lad on arrival - he seemed all right, but the shock and loss of blood had not yet taken their toll. He died a few hours later during our indirect bombardment. A second during the night. We buried the three at sea after dark. The other three were aboard for several days before we had a chance to transfer them to a hospital ship. These casualties made us realize how bitter the fighting was for the men, on the beaches. We were indeed lucky to be afloat, especially after the initial assault.
24. "ALGONQUIN" waited for a call for fire until 1100 hours. It was a battery of three 88mm guns, positioned two miles inland, and this battery was holding up the advance of our troops. In order to make our shooting more accurate, I moved the ship close inshore and anchored. This seemingly dangerous action was necessary because of the strong tide and the tremendous concentration of shipping in the vicinity. As we could not see our target, the firing had to be done from maps. The fall of shot was observed by the Army officer ashore and he told us by wireless where the shells were landing. The first salvo was close, the second closer, and the third was reported as a hit. We then fired for effect, four 4-gun salvoes, every one of which was reported as a hit. This was good shooting! A second and then a third group of four 4-gun salvoes were fired, and again every single one found the target with direct hits. That was 13 salvoes out of 15, After that, the Army officer told us to cease fire, as the battery had been demolished. He added in his brief code, "Very Accurate". I only wish we could have observed the result ourselves. The Germans must have been very shaken, not being able to see where the shells were coming from.
25. For the rest of the day, we just sat and watched and waited for more calls for fire, which never came. We kept in touch with our observation officer ashore, but the advance inland was so rapid that he was unable to get into a position to give us a target. However, this gave us a chance to revert to more or less normal conditions aboard, and prepare full meals instead of just soup and sandwiches. As the bridgeheads ashore became firmly established, weird and wonderful things began to happen on the beaches. Masses of equipment arrived in incessant waves. Such important items as jetties were soon under construction. During the day the weather improved and the wind moderated slightly. By evening the sky was quite clear. The full moon began to rise over the beaches on the eastern flank. It was about this time when the seaward horizon became black with aircraft, as they approached they could be identified as tow and glider planes, hundreds upon hundreds of them. It was a beautiful sight to watch. Most of the planes carried paratroops, spilling out parachutes of all colors. As this huge armada approached the landing point, it was met with determined flak from German A.A. batteries inshore. It took over an hour for
all the gliders to arrive. They must have landed about 15,000 troops.
26. And that is the story of "D" Day as seen from "ALGONQUIN. We anchored for the night near the headquarters ship. It didn't get dark until nearly 2300 hours and then of course, the German bombers arrived to put in their first bid of the day. With all the hundreds of ships at anchor, we put up a terrific barrage - probably the finest display of fireworks I have ever seen. Only one ship was hit, but even at that, it was disturbing to one's sleep, which at that stage one deserved and needed. It had been an amazing day in every respect, and now it was all behind us, and successful at that.
"D" Day plus One. Wednesday June 7th, 1944
27. Air attacks continued throughout the night until well after dawn when our fighters returned to the area to give us cover. The weather was clear and fine, but a fresh breeze still made things very uncomfortable for the landing craft. All forenoon "ALGONQUIN" remained at anchor, awaiting a call for indirect bombardment. It gave us time to look after the internal routine of the ship; such things as, cleaning up the messdecks and preparing food. The Ward Room was completely occupied as the emergency hospital for the Royal Marine casualties. The officers used my day cabin as a temporary Ward Room.
28. During the dinner hour (these things always seem to happen in the middle of meals), we got a call for fire. A row of houses along the coast between two of the assault beaches was still in German hands, offering considerable resistance to our landing operations. "ALGONQUIN" was one of some four destroyers which were allocated the target. We were given 30 minutes to knock out the enemy strong points but 20 was sufficient, for at the end of that period, the whole row of houses was obliterated. There are two types of shell used in bombarding, one with a direct action fuse that detonates on contact, and one with a delay action fuse that penetrates before exploding. The former is used to find the target accurately, and the second to cause the greatest destruction. A four-gun salvo of delay action shells well placed at the front door of a stone house will bring it crumbling down in a burst of flame and smoke. In normal circumstances, one wouldn't gloat over such wanton destruction, but when you know that German snipers are inside the innocent looking houses, then that burst of flame and smoke is a good sight, particularly to the Gunnery officer.
29. One interesting point I forgot to mention on "D" Day. When His Majesty's Ships sail into battle, it is a naval custom for each ship to hoist a second White Ensign at the masthead. This is known as the Battle Ensign. We hoisted our Battle Ensign in "ALGONQUIN" as we proceeded inshore to open fire on "D" Day. It will be kept flying until we leave the area.
30. After our bombardment at mid-day, "ALGONQUIN" proceeded on anti-submarine patrol outside the anchorage. There were no incidents. All we had to do was to keep out of the way of the immense flow of supplies that were pouring into the area in one continuous stream from the United Kingdom. In the evening, I brought the ship back into the anchorage to get my orders for the night patrol. As things seemed quiet, I lowered a boat and went over to the headquarters ship, H.M.S. "HILARY" to see how things were getting on. All the Staff Officers were most enthusiastic about the progress of the assault. After that, I visited H.M.S. "LAWFORD", which carries the Captain in charge of Patrols. He - being my old Commanding Officer in H.M.S. "ANTELOPE" Capt. Pugsley. Soon as I got back to the ship, we weighed anchor and went out on night patrol. It was very active, E-boats closed in on both sides from Le Havre and Cherbourg, and of course the bombers arrived as soon as it was dark. No enemy forces got as far as our patrol area. However, the bombers got in one lucky shot. Poor old "LAWFORD" got piped right amidships, blew up and sank. Fortunately the loss of life was small, and Capt. Pugsley was among the survivors.
"D" Day plus Two. Thursday, June 8th. 1944
31. Daylight at about 0515, brought an end to enemy activity in the vicinity. We went back on A/S Patrol, and enjoyed a quiet forenoon. The weather was better, and landing operations were going ahead full speed. On our way in at about 1300 hours, an M.L. signalled that she had an A/S contact. We closed, picked it up and attacked with two patterns of depth charges, bringing up a distinct oil slick. By the time this had been done, there were no less than eight destroyers all wanting a crack at it, I turned the hunt over to Captain (D) 25, and carried on in to anchor near H.M.S. "HILARY". I think the A/S contact was probably a wreck on the bottom. During our depth charge attacks a carrier pigeon alighted on our yard arm. We tried to retrieve the message it was carrying, but after five minutes rest, the pigeon flew off to another destroyers. I guess it found our numbers were not the same as the ship it was looking for.
32. The scene at our anchorage was becoming more and more interesting. A large landing craft nearby was embarking German prisoners - a pleasure to watch indeed. It must have been an amazing sight to them, to see all the thousands of ships of every sort at anchor off the coast that they had considered absolutely impregnable only a few days before. All around us the unloading of merchant ships was going on apace. Big transports were disembarking thousands of troops every hour. The scene on the beach was even more astounding. Old merchant ships were being sunk in pre-arranged positions to make shelter for small landing craft, and weird and wonderful equipment for the artificial harbours was being placed. We took the opportunity to transfer our wounded to a hospital craft, after which the Ward Room reverted to its normal functions. Our American Film Coverage Unit Officers, Capt. Reis, had returned to the U.K. on "D" Day.
32. The remainder of our Press representatives, who had stayed on, were now transferred to a landing ship that was returning to U.K. at dusk. We also sent our boat to H.M.C.S. "SIOUX" to pick up Leonard Brockington, the well known Canadian orator and take him to the same landing ship. Eric Boak came over for a chat, and we compared notes. Later in the evening "ALGONQUIN" shifted berth to a position more suitable for bombardment, but there was no call for fire. I turned in early! That is, I assumed the reclining position as the joy of "turning in" no longer existed. The usual air attack came on the dot of 2300 hours and continued throughout the night, but on a reduced scale.
"D" Day plus Three. Friday June 9th. 1944.
33. This was a quiet day for us, in that we remained at anchor all day waiting for a bombardment target. In our sector, our troops had advanced to a point beyond our gun range. The day was not so quiet from other aspects. In the air, for the first time, our fighters were nowhere to be found! They were grounded at home by bad weather. It didn't take the Germans long to find this out, and they sent their Messerschmidts over the beaches in swarms. The ME109's wouldn't attack the shipping as they knew what sort of a reception they would get from our guns. They were quite content to confine their attacks to machine-gunning the beaches, and quite ineffectively at that. During the afternoons, the officers set back in the Ward Room, and our movie maestro "Foo" Sturdy, put on "Random Harvest". Outside, demolition charges were going off, the cruisers were bombarding, and the ME 109's were buzzing around. Inside, it was very pleasant to watch enchanting Greer Garson, while dozing in a comfortable chair. All told it was a restful day.
"D" Day plus Four. Saturday June 10th. 1944
34. There were the usual air attack during the night - nothing very close. We got orders the previous evening that "ALGONQUIN" was to return to the U.K. Before sailing we went alongside H.M.C.S. "SIOUX" at 0530, and topped her up with ammunition and provisions.This was a tricky job as the tide and wind were from different directions, and the resultant movement chewed up every fender we could find to put between the ships. The transfer was completed in an hour, but not before some damage had been done to both ships. We remained at anchor all forenoon waiting for H.M.S.- "VENUS". The weather had taken a turn for the worst. Although it was still clear and fine, the wind was blowing about force six. Overhead masses of Allied bombers passed on their way inland. Our fighters were back on the job, unchallenged by any ME's. On the sea and in the air, the Allies had complete mastery, and on land our forces were holding their own against the mounting German counter attacks. The invasion was still going well.
35. We sailed for Portsmouth in company with our flotilla mate H.M.S. "VENUS" at 1300. The distance was about one hundred miles, at a speed of twenty knots, By 1800 hours we were entering harbour back in the United Kingdom. The voyage across was uneventful. We passed hundreds of ships in convoy going both ways with all the materials of war. On passage I took the opportunity of having my first bath since well before "D" Day! Owing to the drought and the limited capacity of our distiller, water is very scarce aboard. But as we were returning to Portsmouth, where our tanks could be refilled. I treated myself to the luxury of a really good bath. It was delightful.
36. When we got over to the English coast, Spithead looked just as crowded with shipping as it did on "D" Day. Soon we were entering Historic Portsmouth harbour, by ourselves. It was like arriving in a sleepy port in peacetime on Sunday afternoon, hardly a thing moving. We had expected a great scene of activity, but even the wind had died down. However, soon as we got secured head and stern to buoys, things began to happen. An ammunition lighter came alongside, complete with work party; also a small oiler, and the provision lighter. We were soon informed that there was no leave thus our hopes for a Saturday evening ashore were dashed. However, lots of mail did arrive. So we settled down to enjoy the night aboard. A signal arrived saying that Vice Admiral Nelles and three of his staff officers were coming aboard at 2130. They arrived promptly on the dot. The Admiral had come down from London, and was coming over with us to France the next day. We had a good old fashioned evening in the Ward Room, with lots of wine and song. At 0200 hours a movie was put on! It was about 0400 hours. When we finally turned in, and we had to sail at 0830 hours in the morning - a typical naval way of catching up on one's sleep after a prolonged period of all-night action stations.
"D" Day plus Five. Sunday June 11th, 1944
37. In order to make way for other incoming ships, we had to slip and proceed to Spithead at 0830 hours. There we anchored until we should be required to sail late that evening. Normal Sunday routine was carried out aboard. Admiral Nelles walked around at Divisions, and read the lesson at prayers. There were several other Canadian ships at anchor in the vicinity and we had a stream of visitors all day. After a very good supper in the Ward Room, we saw another movie. At 2330 hours, "ALGONQUIN" sailed for the coast of Normandy, independently, taking Admiral Nelles with us.
:"D" Day plus Six. Monday June 12th, 1944
38. The passage across to France was very active. There was a continuous display of star shell illumination both sides of the swept channel. We remained closed up at Action Stations all night, but didn't get mixed up in any encounters, much to the disappointment of the Admiral. We arrived in June area at 0600 hours and anchored near H.M.S. "SCYLLA". The Admiral of the Eastern Task Force sent his barge for Admiral Nelles at 0830 hours. "ALGONQUIN" enjoyed the privilege of bringing our own Admiral to Normandy.
39. Today was my own birthday, but we were all too fagged to celebrate beyond a glass of sherry at lunch. At noon, a destroyer passed close by at high speed. On board we could clearly distinguish Winston Churchill and Anthony Eden. During the forenoon, the Canadian Maple Leaf of our funnel attracted one of our Canadian M.T.B.'s alongside. It was commanded by Tony Law, the artist. We brought all his officers and men aboard for dinner, and then ran a movie for them. Later they took Admiral Nelles back to U.K.
40. Later in the day, we returned to the U.K. ourselves, this time escorting a convoy. As usual, the channel was buzzing with activity. It was a calm evening, just right for E-boats. Star shells were bursting all around, but our convoy was unmolested. We spent most of the night dodging convoys in the opposite direction on the wrong side of the channel. There were several collisions amongst the merchant ships.
"D" Day plus Seven. Tuesday June 13, 1944
41. Having deposited our convoy safely inside the gate at Portsmouth, we proceeded to the oiler and then anchored to await instructions. It turned out to be a nasty day, with rain and a high wind. As we had been up all night for several days, we "piped down" as soon as the ship was cleaned up and enjoyed a thoroughly lazy day. Some more mail arrived. Another bright feature these days is the Allied Expeditionary Forces radio programme. It goes all day, giving news headlines every hour on the hour and then all the best of both the British and American programming. It's just the cure for that after-lunch snoozy feeling.
42. At 1800 hours we were off to sea again, this time on a patrol for the defence of the Portsmouth area, in company with three other destroyers. On the way out, we passed an Escort Group of Canadian River Class destroyers, and exchanged all sorts of cheery signals. We hadn't been on our patrol long before one ship got a submarine contact. We alternately dropped charges on it all night, but I think it was a wreck on the bottom. Anyway it was another all night on the bridge for me.
"D" Day plus Eight. Wednesday, June 14th, 1944
43. After attacking with the other destroyers most of the night, "ALGONQUIN" was detached eastwards to join an American Frigate "ROCKAWAY". She had been in contact with what she thought was a submarine for four hours, and had expended all her depth charges. We picked up the contact on arrival, and gave two of the best patterns. The echo sounder showed that the target was ten fathoms off the bottom. It was undoubtedly another wreck. At noon we rejoined our patrol line. For the rest of the day we just steamed up and down, dodging convoys. Another pattern on a possible submarine contact turned out to be a wreck yet again, but it brought up a beautiful crop of haddock, of which we picked up a great many. Buckets appeared from everywhere to scoop up the fish. We remained out on patrol all night.
"D" Day plus Nine. Thursday, June 15th, 1944
44. The night was fairly quiet, so the hands remained closed up at cruising stations. We continued the patrol all day without incident. Aboard, things were busy. For the first time in a fortnight, I signed all the books and saw requestmen. By noon, the ship was thoroughly cleaned up, so we "piped down" again for a well earned rest all afternoon. Our group was supposed to be relieved at 2100 hours, but true to form, our relief didn't turn up until nearly midnight. At that lovely stage of the game, it was raining and blowing hard, and we got a signal to proceed to the westward and take a landing craft in tow.
"D" Day plus Ten. Friday, June 16th, 1944
45. Getting our landing craft in tow proved to be a most exasperating performance. First of all, he could not read morse flashing. Secondly he would not show a light, and was consequently very hard to find in the dismal darkness. It took us two hours to persuade him to come alongside and finally the tow was passed. The reason for the difficulties was soon apparent. There was no officer aboard, just a leading seaman and three A.B.'s who were doing their best. Eventually we got into Portsmouth harbour at 0800 hours and delivered our charge safely. Then, as usual, we proceeded to the oiler, outside H.M.S. "VERSATILE". The commanding officer was Gillie Potter. He came over and had breakfast with me, and we had a chat about the old times of the piping days.
46. It didn't take long for our next job to come through. Before we left the oiler, we had orders to rendezvous off the Needles at 1230 hours with the ex-A.M.C. "CHESHIRE" and to escort her to Plymouth. Actually we welcomed the opportunity, as it meant we might see the Canadian Tribals down there. The trip down was without incident. We delivered the big ship into Plymouth harbour at 2100 hours and were ordered to anchor for the night. We saw H.M.C.S. "HURON" at a buoy not far away. Later we sent over a large visiting party. It was good to see them again, and we had a cheery evening. I returned to "ALGONQUIN" feeling that I wouldn't swap this ship for any Tribal.
D" Day plus Eleven. Saturday June 17th, 1944
47. There wasn't much sleep this night either, as we had to pass the gate out at 0530 hours. Our next port of call was to be Portland, to pick up another ship and escort her to Portsmouth. It was a lovely clear morning.
47. We arrived and anchored in Weymouth Bay at 1015 hours. Since we weren't sailing until 1230 hours, a party of officers joined me for a walk ashore. The town was crowded with Saturday shoppers. It was good to put foot on shore again, even for an hour. At 1230 hours, we were on our way back to Portsmouth again, escorting the dock ship H.M.S. "EASTWAY" by 1530 hours. We were back in the Solent, then the usual procedure of oiling before anchoring. Captain Houghton came aboard as my guest at 1900 hours to take passage across to Normandy tomorrow. As it was Saturday night, the officers were rarin' to go places. It was impossible to get to Portsmouth, so they all bolted for the Starboard club at Seaview. As we had just received another batch of mail, I was quite content to stay aboard and write letters, then turn in early for the first time since "D" Day.
"D" Day plus Twelve. Sunday June 18th, 1944
48. Today "ALGONQUIN" returned to the assault area, as part of the escort for the Battleship H.M.S. "RODNEY". We took with us, as passengers, The Commander of the First Canadian Army, Lieut.General H.D.G. Crerar, C.B., D.S.O., and his staff. They arrived at 0745 hours in the Admiral's barge. The occasion was looked upon as historic - the first time a Canadian Army Commander had proceeded to enemy territory in a Canadian warship. The General was accompanied by 22 Staff Officers and several Army Press representatives. General Stuart, the Canadian Chief of Staff in London, came across with us to. General Montague was aboard to see the party off, but he had to return to London. Admiral Nelles was in Canada, but he was represented by Capt. Houghton. Pete MacRitchie also came along, with two photographers, to look after the naval publicity side of the trip. Fortunately it was a glorious Sunday in June; clear, fine and warm. In company with two other destroyers, we met the Mighty "RODNEY" outside the gate at 0845 hours and set course for Normandy at 20 knots. Our distinguished guests seemed to enjoy it tremendously. We had our usual church service on the upper deck at 1030 hours. General Crearar read the lesson. After the service, he spoke to the ship's company. There was just time for everybody to have lunch before we arrived. I entertained General Crearar, Capt. Houghton, General Stuart, Brigadier Mann and Brigadier Wallford in my day cabin, and the remainder had lunch in the Ward Room. On arrival in Juno area, anchored the ship close inshore. Tommy Best arrived with two landing craft to disembark the military party. General Crerar was most appreciative. We were proud to fly his Canadian Army Standard at the starboard yardarm during the passage across the channel. It was indeed an honour and a pleasure for "ALGONQUIN".
49. After delivering our distinguished passengers on arrival, "ALGONQUIN" was ordered to proceed to Sword area, on the eastern Flank. It is here that the River Orne separates the Allied and German forces. The beaches in Sword area are still under enemy artillery fire, and likewise the ships in the anchorage. We were on the alert for some shooting. The cruisers were banging away all day and night at the more distant targets. However, we had a comparative quiet night, interrupted only by sporadic air raids by single enemy planes - that is, until 0400 hours.
"D" Day plus Thirteen. Monday June 19th, 1944
50. It was about 0400 hours this morning when we got a call for Fire from the army on the Eastern flank. Our Commandos were going to make a dawn attack, and wanted our gun support against enemy concentrations of troops. It was dark, and we of course could not see the target signalled to us by the Observation Officer. We did not know our exact position relative to the shore, so we carried out blind fire. Three targets were given. Each one in turn, received ten four-gun salvoes from our main armament. Then the Commandos attacked. Later in the day, the following signal was received. "The Commanding Officer and all ranks of the 45th Royal Marine commandos wish to record their appreciation of the excellent support received during the operation at 0445 hours. Its success was largely due to your cooperation".
51. The weather deteriorated steadily during the day. By noon the wind was up to force 7 from the northeast, the very worst direction possible for the beaches. All unloading had to be delayed, and was brought to a standstill. "ALGONQUIN" developed capstan trouble - all the bearings were run. A temporary repair job was done. As we got under way to go on night patrol at 1930 hours, a shore battery opened up on us from the eastern sector, a big battery too - 155 mm. high explosive shells. Fortunately for us and the other ships in the anchorage, all the shells fell about 400 yards short! Still, it was a reminder that the enemy are very close on the eastern flank. The weather was too rough for a night patrol under way, so the four ships detailed for this duty, came to anchor in a position well to seawar'd. There were no panics during the night, just the usual raid on the anchorage. I enjoyed a really good night's sleep.
"D" Day plus Fourteen. Tuesday June 20th, 1944
52. The weather failed to improve during the night. At dawn it was still blowing a full gale. This was bad news for the unloading operations, although up to this time, no delays had been encountered. The destroyers on the night patrol line weighed anchor and returned to Sword area at 0700. We spent a dull day at anchor. On our beam, the cruisers were bombarding continuously, but there were no targets for the destroyers. However, our interest perked up considerably later in the day. A signal arrived to say that "ALGONQUIN" was required in Portsmouth the next day for further commitments. This started the finest crop of buzzes so far this commission. We were going to do everything from a quick trip to Canada to rejoining the Fleet at Scapa and we had a quiet night to sleep on it.
"D" day plus Fifteen. Wednesday June 21st, 1944
53. The full gale howled all night without abating. This was the third day in succession. The supply situation with the army ashore must be getting very serious by now. If anything, the wind was blowing even harder. The damage to our landing craft on the beaches must have been appalling. Even the comparatively large destroyers in the anchorage were having a very uncomfortable time of it. Air attacks during the night were on a reduced scale, but that was no fair exchange for the ravages of the violent gale on the beaches.
54. "ALGONQUIN" was all prepared to return to the U.K. during the forenoon in accordance with instructions received the previous day. But just as we were about to weigh anchor, our orders were cancelled - no reason given, just a signal to say that it was no longer essential for us to return. It was a disappointment, but we did have the fun of guessing and wishful thinking. After all this unexplained business, the weather seemed worse than ever. The cruisers were banging away full blast, but there were still no targets for the destroyers. Mines were exploding all over the place, some very close indeed. But as we were not actively required, we settled down in the Ward Room and saw a movie, a grand form of relaxation in such circumstances. Later in the day, we shifted anchorage to the outer patrol line and prepared for a rough night.
"D" plus Sixteen. Thursday June 22, 1944
55. The night saw an absolute shocker, more like the North Atlantic south of Iceland in mid winter then the coast of Normandy in mid summer. And still the winds blew. But today there were signs of improvement. During the forenoon, the slate gray clouds gave way gradually in favour of the long awaited clear blue sky. And with the clouds, the gale subsided to. By 1800 hours it was quite calm, although, a heavy swell was still running. The surface of the sea was littered with flotsam. It was painfully obvious that many of our lighter craft had been badly damaged. Indeed, many of them must have foundered. Occasionally the bloated remains of human bodies drifted by - a grim reminder that in this war, you play for keeps.
56. As the weather improved during the day, there were scenes of tremendous activity in the anchorage and on the beaches. A super human effort was required by everybody to keep the army supplied on the vast scale necessary in modern warfare. The destroyer Commanding Officer had a conference with the Captain in charge of patrols in the evening. Then we set out on patrol, fully expecting lots of activity from E-boats.
"D" Day plus Seventeen. Friday June 23, 1944
57. Midnight saw the beginning of a very interesting day. By that time the sea was flat calm! There was no moon and it was very dark. On the flanks our patrols, we were engaging enemy E-boats that had ventured out from Cherbourg and Le Havre. The sky was full of star shells fired in these engagements. Over the anchorage, the Luftwaffe was doing its feeble best, drawing a wonderful display of fireworks from all the ships' anti-aircraft guns. In our patrol area in the centre, things were more or less quiet. It was a good place to be - or so we thought, until suddenly four very brilliant aircraft flares burst into illumination right above the bridge! The next moment directly above us we could hear the roar of a diving
aircraft, the whine of falling bombs, and then the inevitable "whoomph" less than fifty yards abreast the bridge on the port side. A second bomb failed to explode. "ALGONQUIN" lurched to starboard, shuddered a bit, and then galloped off at full speed, undamaged, but a little wet from the spray of the near-miss. Nothing was seen of the German aircraft due to the brilliance of the flares. With all the concentration of shipping in the anchorage, we thought it a bit ungentlemanly of our adversary to bother us on our quiet patrol. A few moments later the aircraft attacked another destroyer on the same patrol, using the same tactic. It was amazing to watch, particularly in the artificial illumination. The other destroyer was also near-missed, but the bomb put some of her delicate equipment out of action. Then the aircraft came back and had another shot at us. Down came the flares, and we waited for the bombs - not too happily, I might add - but none were dropped. All was quiet again after that, and we reformed and carried on with our normal patrol just as if nothing had happened. The bomb that was meant for us was "ideal" from our point of view - close enough to make the boys sit up and take more notice of aircraft ("it's probably one of ours"), and far enough away not to cause any serious damage.
58. At daylight we returned to the anchorage. Dead slow speed was essential because of all the ground mines the Germans had dropped during the night from aircraft. "ALGONQUIN" was duty destroyer in Juno area. During the forenoon I visited the Headquarters ship to serious but not critical. This was because the unloading was ahead of schedule before the gale blew up. As the operational situation seemed to be quiet, I got permission to go ashore for a couple of hours that afternoon.
59. After lunch, a party of officers set out for the beach in the ship's motor boat. We landed inside the artificial harbour of sunken merchant ships that had been scuttled in a crescent - shaped off Courseulles. This quickly constructed breakwater had proved its invaluable worth during the gale. The scene ashore in the town was just what you would expect - most of the houses shattered by bombing and shelling, great military activity of transporting unloaded stores to the fighting front, and a bewildered civilian population. Our first interest was to see for ourselves the strength of the much vaunted West Wall. It was most impressive, consisting of tank moats and a solid wall of concrete gun emplacements right along the coast. It is hard to believe that the landing was accomplished as easily in the face of such opposition. However, every strong gun emplacements had been shattered by our shell fire- that spoke well for the Allied intelligence and the Naval gunnery. German equipment of all sorts was strewn along the shore line. Each gun emplacement had its own bomb-proof dugout nearby. Well constructed, and with "modern conveniences". Most of these had been taken over by our own troops. As we removed an extended window blind from the entrance of one dugout in order to examine the interior, there was a fearful outburst of cockney abuse: 'ere, what the flamin' 'ell's goin' on? Coo, a bunch of ruddy toffs, hain't got your ruddy cloths dirty yet. Garn, sugar off!" We did.
60. While ashore it was interesting to observe the reaction of the civilian population. The only ones remaining in the town seemed to be the very old and the very young. The children all looked healthy and well fed. This is hardly surprising as Normandy is good agricultural country. Most of fathers were "away", either as German prisoners-of-war or in German war production. The mothers and older folk all seemed genuinely glad that the Allies had arrived, in spite of the awful destruction of their homes. They still referred to the Germans as "les Boches".
61. There wasn't as much evidence of damage due to the four-day gale as we had expected on the beaches. Stranded landing craft had been quickly removed to make way for successive waves of other newly arrived from the U.K. When we got back to the ship I think we all had the same feeling - how good it is to be serving in a comfortable destroyer instead of being in the invasion army. We rang the bell for some fresh tea. While we had been ashore, a big batch of Canadian mail had arrived - a real treat. Later, four "doodle bugs" (V1 rockets) chugged by overhead on the way inland, probable misfires that were meant for southern England. At dusk we proceeded out on patrol again, to complete a most interesting day.
"D" Day plus Eighteen. Saturday June 24th, 1944
62. There was considerable air activity during the dark hours. After our own experience the previous night, we paid more attention to the sound of motors overhead. At one time it appeared that we would be attacked again, but no illuminating flares were dropped. Several large parachute mines fell nearby with a flutter and a splash. That meant extra caution in the morning when returning to the anchorage. Nor was this caution undue. Just as we were approaching Sword area for bombardment, another destroyer which had been out on patrol with us was blown up by a mine less than half a mile ahead of us. It was a sad site indeed - she broke in two amidships and sank within a matter of minutes. Fortunately most of the crew were rescued.
63. The enemy shore batteries were very active all day today concentrating on the bombarding ships. The shells were much too close for comfort. For the first time since "D" Day, the visibility was extreme, and enemy batteries could be observed on the hill crests of the eastern flank. These were engaged by many ships, including ourselves, however our guns had insufficient range for effective bombardment of these batteries. We satisfied our lust for German blood by crashing a few salvoes into the Deanville Casino, just short of the enemy gun positions. "ALGONQUIN" spent the night in Juno anchorage and the enemy air raids were the heaviest for some time. Several bombs landed very close indeed. Not much sleep.
"D" Day plus Nineteen. Sunday June 25th, 1944
64. This date has a special significance in the invasion for the liberation of Europe. It was four years ago today that Hitler imposed the terms of armistice on France. The anniversary seemed to go unnoticed. However, it was vivid in my own memory. On June the 25th 1940, the Canadian destroyers "FRASER" and "RESTIGOUCHE" were the last to leave French harbours from the port of St. Jean de Luz, filled to capacity with refugees and evacuees. As the ships departed, German mobile batteries had just arrived in the town. They opened fire, too late, for we were soon out of range. Today, June 25th 1944, the situation is reversed. Instead of retiring from the fire of German mobile batteries, we are attacking them, and instead of evacuating we are invading. The intervening four years seem to have passed very quickly.
65. The enemy rounded off a night of heavy air attacks by bringing in a few glider bombs at daylight. It was without success although you couldn't be sure until they landed! It was a beautiful placid day, punctuated by the roar of bombarding guns, the fall of enemy shells in the vicinity and the odd unexpected mine exploding without warning. "ALGONQUIN" carried out a lot of bombarding during the afternoon. Concentration of enemy troops were still within range of our guns on the eastern flank. About 200 rounds were expended. Nor did we have it all our own way. Shore batteries continued to return fairly accurate fire, but no hits! "ALGONQUIN" moved out to anchor for the night on the patrol line at dusk. The
night was quiet, and we all welcomed the opportunity for some undisturbed shut-eye.
"D" Day plus Twenty. Monday June 26th, 1944
66. This was to be our last full day in the assault area. Orders had been received for "ALGONQUIN" to proceed to U.K. the following day. When no calls for bombardment came during the forenoon, H.M.S. VENUS" came alongside and we topped her up with ammunition. Ashore, our assaulting forces were putting on the pressure. Cherbourg was captured today by the Americans. On the Eastern flank, General Montgomery had commenced a tremendous artillery barrage in preparation for his first big advance. The constant flashes of his field artillery were clearly visible and audible from our anchorage. Overhead, the Allied air forces had it all their own way.
"D" Day plus Twenty One. Tuesday June 27th, 1944
67. After a night and a forenoon of quiet routine, "ALGONQUIN" proceeded from the assault area at 1400 hours. Escorting H.M.S. "BULOLO" to Portsmouth, we arrived at dusk, steamed up harbour and secured to a buoy. It was too late for shore leave, but mails arrived aboard. Perhaps the greatest pleasure of all was the opportunity of turning. In between clean sheets in pajamas, for the first time since "D" Day.
68. That is briefly my own narrative of what happened aboard H.M.C.S. "ALGONQUIN" during the invasion of Normandy. Much of this account was written as it happened, without the benefit of retrospect. Many important events may have been neglected; others lacking in detail. Now that our part is concluded and we are going to rejoin the Home Fleet, there are a few outstanding impressions. The first is that "ALGONQUIN" was most fortunate to be included in the allocation of forces for the invasion. Then, the ship was perhaps more fortunate to have completed her task unscathed. Losses were extraordinarily small, but there was always the possibility of casualties from any one of the many hazards of war which the enemy endeavoured to use against us. The ease with which the initial landings were accomplished from a naval point of view was a surprise to us all. We were prepared for much greater opposition. Efficiency of naval gunnery against shore defences proved to be the strong factor in this initial success and this is readily admitted by German commentators. On leaving the assault area, our hearts and wishes go out to our brothers-in-arms, the soldiers. Our task was merely to see them safely landed. They must fight the hard battle all the way to Berlin.
"H.M.C.S. ALGONQUIN" 28th. June, 1944
Desmond W. Piers
Lieutenant-Commander RCN, D.S.C
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