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Disaster Before D-Day (Hardback)

Unravelling the Tragedy at Slapton Sands

Military WWII > Battles & Campaigns > D-Day & Normandy

By Stephen Wynn
Imprint: Pen & Sword Military
Pages: 135
Illustrations: 32
ISBN: 9781526735119
Published: 6th March 2019


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This is a book of two stories. The first is the sad tale of how at least 749 American servicemen lost their lives on a pre-D-Day landing exercise, code-named 'Operation Tiger', on the evening of 23/24 April 1943. The second was the unanswerable question of whether the attacking E-Boats of the German Kriegsmarine had fully grasped the importance of what they had stumbled across.

Because of the time scale between the operation and the actual D-Day landings, secrecy surrounding the tragedy had to be stringently adhered to, and even after the invasion of Normandy, only scant information about the incident and those who were killed was ever released. The other factor which was of major concern, was if the Germans had understood the significance of the vessels they had attacked, then the intended Allied invasion of Europe was in grave danger of having to be postponed for an indefinite period of time.

In late 1943, as part of the build-up to the D-day landings at Normandy, the British government had set up a training ground at Slapton Sands in Devon, to be used by the American forces tasked with landing on Utah Beach, in Normandy. Coordination and communication problems between British and American forces resulted in friendly fire deaths during the exercise, making a bad situation even worse.

The story was then lost to history until it was picked up again by Devon resident, Mr Ken Small after he discovered evidence of the aftermath washed up on the shore at Slapton Sands in the early 1970s. In 1974, Mr Small bought the rights to a submerged American tank, which he had discovered in the waters close to the beach at Slapton Sands. In 1984, he raised the tank, which is now a memorial close to the sea front.

Annette Shaw reviews some of the latest books with a Devon connection

A comprehensive and expertly researched guide to a story that was once lost to history, yet was so crucial to WWII.

Devon Life, September 2019

As featured by

Fliegerblatt, 3/2019

Stephen Wynn, author of several Pen & Sword books, sets out the facts in his usual no-nonsense manner with plenty of names and statistics.

Historical Novels Review

This book is an informative piece about a tragic incident that was lost to history and how it was rediscovered. What is most poignant is the section which names those who were lost in these incidents, and how little their loved ones were told about their passing. I am hoping to go to Slapton Sands in the future, as I feel that if you have visited the landing sites in Normandy you need to see how it was prepared for.

Read the full review here


An eye-opening expose of the Pre-D-Day disaster and cover up of the friendly fire tragedy and cover up that was the Slapton Sands. This training disaster resulted in the loss of 749 American lives! These tragedies happened on back to back days on 27 and 28 April 1944. I am sure most people are not aware of this tragedy and coverup and I am sure this is not the last we will here of it.

Read the full review here


Stephen’s excellent books fills in all the gaps and answers all of the reaining questions for me – brilliant!

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Books Monthly

This book stands as a record for those who died and I thank Stephen for taking the time to research and publish it.

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Army Rumour Service (ARRSE)

This is a thorough and well-written account of the E-boat attack on a convoy of Tank Landing Craft (LCTs) in Lyme Bay on the 28th April 1944. It beggars belief that in two days over 750 men (includes those killed in the earlier friendly fire incident) were killed during what should have been ‘just’ a dress rehearsal. After the passage of 75 years those with direct knowledge of the affair are no longer with us and Stephen Wynn has therefore done their legacy a great service by writing such an accessible and entertaining book.

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Walking the Battlefields, Phil Curme

This book takes a balanced view of the incident, including the German side of the story and the positive lessons it gave ahead of D-Day. – Highly Recommended

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The shocking double tragedy of a D-Day rehearsal exercise 75 years ago this weekend has been remembered in a new book.

Mail Online

As featured on WW2 Today

WW2 Today

In summary, if the events during World War 2 at Slapton Sands is of interest then this book is
certainly well worth considering. I read it from a position of family interest, and I am very
pleased to have done this. Given the price tag it is an affordable addition to the available

Military Archive Research, Dr Stuart C Blank

It does make for interesting reading and provides something of a memorial for those who lost their lives in this sad story.

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Military Model Scene, Robin Buckland

A very interesting book.

Read the full Italian review here

Old Barbed Wire Blog

As featured in

The Bookseller Buyers Guide

This book is a mystery and a frustration; not due to any failing of the author but because there is no authoritative answer to what may have happened during alleged friendly fire incidents within a general overview of events at Slapton Sands in April 1944. Of the losses due to a surprise attack by German E-boats on LST’s on 28th April there is a well researched and documented discussion that offers answers, however the claimed losses in a separate ‘friendly fire’ incident the previous day remains uncertain. The author gives several options ranging from ‘cover up’ to ‘it never happened’. His excellent dissection of the casualty lists for the period (and burials) take the mystery as far as possible for now but the book is well worth a read – if only to prove that history is never quite what it seems.
Michael McCarthy. Battlefield Guide.

Michael McCarthy

About Stephen Wynn

Stephen is a retired police officer having served with Essex Police as a constable for thirty years between 1983 and 2013. He is married to Tanya and has two sons, Luke and Ross, and a daughter, Aimee. Both Stephen’s grandfathers served in and survived the First World War, one with the Royal Irish Rifles, the other in the Mercantile Marine, whilst his father was a member of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps during the Second World War.
When not writing Stephen can be found walking his dogs with his wife, Tanya, at some unearthly time of the morning when most normal people are still fast asleep.

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