Monday, June 06, 2005

D-Day: The Role of the X-Craft

In my travels through Google today in search of interesting D-Day stories, I stumbled across this one over at the Royal Navy Submarine Museum website.

It tells the story of the British X-craft, midget submarines that were used to reconnoiter the beaches at Normandy well in advance of the D-Day invasion (Operation Postage Able), and later, on D-Day itself, marked the approach lanes for the British invasion of Sword and Juno beaches (Operation Gambit).

The X-craft, HMS X20 and HMS X23, were the first vessels to arrive off the shores of Normandy on D-Day. This, to me, is of great significance in and of itself. Here's the detail of what happened, per the Royal Navy Sub Museum:

On 6 June at 0445 the submarines surfaced in rough seas. They set up the 18 feet high navigation beacons that each were carrying and switched them on. These shone a green light indicating their position away from the coast, visible up to 5 miles away although undetectable to anyone on land.

They used the radio beacon and echo sounder to tap out a message for the minelayers approaching Sword and Juno beaches. The incoming fleet appeared on time and roared past them.

Lt George Honour DSC RNVR (HMS X23) recalled seeing the incoming invasion fleet years later:

"It was unbelievable. Although I knew they were on our side it was still a frightening sight. One can only imagine what the enemy must have felt, waking up to this awesome spectacle and knowing that they were the targets".
Indeed. Any time I see photos of the invasion force massed offshore, I stare in disbelief. I can only imagine what it looked like from Lt Honour's perspective. This painting (from the Royal Navy Submarine Museum) gives an idea:

X-Craft D-Day painting

The role of these submarines prior to and during the D-Day assault is a story that is often lost (as is that of the Coast Guard's role) amid the other tales of extreme heroics that took place on and around the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944.

Postscript: As I was preparing this post, I saw that Chapomatic wrote about the X-craft last Memorial Day in greater detail than I have above. That post is a must-read. Be sure to check it out if you haven't already.


At 7:39 AM, Blogger Solomon2 said...

The Brits used X-craft and the Americans didn't. Could that be why the British landings went well but the Americans hit the wrong beaches?

At 8:04 AM, Blogger Chap said...

Thanks for the link!

Solomon, the Brits inserted swimmers who had lights that shone out to sea as a beacon. The Americans refused this navigational help--which is likely a reason they didn't hit the right landing zone.


Post a Comment

<< Home