In 1943 some 3000 people were evacuated from the Slapton Sands area of South Devon in order to provide a training ground for the American army in preparation for the D-Day landings in Normandy, France in June 1944. Slapton Sands was chosen for its resemblance to the Normandy coast.
The training exercises included the ill-fated Exercise Tiger, one of several large-scale rehearsals, which took place in April 1944. Firstly, communication and co-ordination problems during the operation led to injuries and deaths from friendly fire as troops were transferred from landing craft to the beach on 27th April. Then, during the night, a number of fast attack E-boats of the German Kriegsmarine slipped in among the landing craft that had been deployed in Lyme Bay, full of soldiers, tanks and equipment. Two of the landing craft were sunk and a third badly damaged. More than 700 American servicemen died as a result of these two tragic incidents. But although the casualty figures were released in August 1944 Exercise Tiger itself was somehow, whether through circumstances or design, forgotten until comparatively recently.
In 1984, thanks to the efforts of local man, Ken Small, an American Sherman amphibious tank salvaged from the seabed, was set up at Tor Cross, at the southern end of Slapton Sands, as a memorial to the men who lost their lives during Exercise Tiger. In the event, fewer soldiers died during the actual D-Day landings than during Exercise Tiger. Their sacrifice though, as the inscription plaque on the Sherman tank, records was not in vain.
The fact that the local people had been evacuated though was not forgotten. About midway along the beach is another memorial presented by the United States Army in 1945 to all the people who ‘generously left their homes and their lands to provide a battle practice area for the successful assault in Normandy in June 1944’. The inscription continues, ‘their action resulted in the saving of many hundreds of lives and contributed in no small measure to the success of the operation’.