Portland air raid threatens invasion fleet

Landing Craft Infantry (Large) massed at Bizerte, Tunisia, 6 July 1943 while loading troops for the invasion of Sicily. Similar scenes were now common on the south coast of England.

Landing Craft Infantry (Large) massed at Bizerte, Tunisia, 6 July 1943 while loading troops for the invasion of Sicily. Similar scenes were now common on the south coast of England.(LCI(L)-94 is apparently at the rear at the right.)

In the early hours of the 28th the Luftwaffe made one of its rare appearances over the D-Day invasion fleet. The mass of shipping had yet to reach the peak that it would in a few days time, but the Portland area had been subject to intermittent raids for most of the war.

Motor Machinist’s Mate 1st Class Clifford W. Lewis was a crewman aboard the Coast Guard-manned LCI(L)-94.

At 0115 hrs. we were awakened by a bomb exploding close by. More explosions followed immediately which shook the ship. I was dressed and half-way up the ladder when the alarm sounded. Jerry had sneaked in close behind our own planes returning from raids on France, thus fooling the radar. When I emerged on deck and began getting my gun ready, the sky was filled with tracers and searchlights. Ships out-board of us got underway, but we remained at the dock.

We weren’t allowed to fire for fear of revealing our position. The ack-ack batteries in Portland were firing right over our heads and many shells exploded about us on the ship and dock. The noise was deafening and shrapnel careening about furiously. Buncik, MoMM3/C, who was stationed in the steering room had his head protruding from the hatch, when a 20mm slug or large piece of shrapnel pierced his helmet and cut a crease in his head. Our Pharmacist Mate gave him prompt attention and he was soon taken to a hospital for treatment.

The night fighters soon were in action and the raiders chased off. A JU-88 was caught in the lights and came in, in a wide arc losing altitude rapidly. He was soon lost to sight, but no doubt he went down. A 20mm slug dropped thru the top deck and Into the officers shower. No one was hurt however.

The “All Clear” sounded at 0245, but warning was given to be on the look out for delayed action & butterfly bombs. Took an hour for my nerves to calm down so I could get to sleep. About 8 men in the flotilla were wounded. Had an alert at 1830. No action however.

Read the rest of his diary at Coast Guard Compass

In the early hours of the 28th No. 6 Commando were moved out of their quarters near Brighton and entrained for Southampton, one of the principal embarkation ports. There was still a sizeable crowd at the station to see them off, although a number of men who had been out celebrating only hours before, needed assistance getting on board.

Lance Bombardier C. Morris remembers their arrival in Southampton, where there was strict security around their new,temporary, quarters:

At Southampton we were taken by troop transports to what turned out to be our final grouping center. This was a mass of tents on either side of the main road around which was a heavy barbed-wire fence.

On entering we were shown to our troop areas and explained the whereabouts of the NAAFI and cinema, etc. The whole affair was organized and run by Yanks and seemed very good, the food being excellent. All the lads were amazed at the amount of white bread and other luxury foods that were available.

On the day of our arrival everyone was allowed out of camp, much to the dismay of the local inhabitants, for all the lads were walking around armed to the teeth with guns, knives,hatchets, and everything imaginable.

The general direction appeared to be the beer houses, which soon ran dry, for they had not been prepared for anything like this. After all interest in the town was finished, everyone made tracks for camp again, where we found quite a change. During our absence it had been sealed and surrounded by security police, who now informed us of the camp orders which had been put into force, the most important of which was that we were not allowed to converse with any passing civilians and if any of the latter were caught they would be thrown into jail.

Also we were not allowed to talk to any of the camp staff re any of our training, and the camp was filled with security personnel in many guises whose job was to catch you out if possible. All this could only mean one thing — this was It.

The weather was sweltering, and in a nearby park equipped with a swimming pool the local beauties were tripping around in swimsuits in full view and looked very tempting indeed. Three of the camp staff soon tired of this confinement and jumped it. They were missed on the evening roll call. A net was immediately thrown over the locality and a search made. The missing men were found in a beer house, which was immediately closed, and customers, proprietors, and deserters were thrown into jail, likewise a woman talking through the wire to her husband.

No chances whatever were being taken. On several occasions the Yankee guards, who were armed with .22 rifles, opened fire on civvies loitering near the wire.

This account appears in Russell Miller (ed): Nothing Less Than Victory: Oral History of D-Day

The whole of the south coast was now a restricted area with limited movement for all civilians. Even though many people would be able to guess that something was imminent, they were not able to tell anyone else about it.

The UUS McCook was damaged in the raid of the 28th May but was repaired and went on to play a notable role on D-Day, coming in close to support troops on Omaha beach. USS McCook (DMS-36, ex-DD-495) off Philadelphia Navy Yard, 12 July 1945.

The UUS McCook was damaged in the raid of the 28th May but was repaired and went on to play a notable role on D-Day, coming in close to support troops on Omaha beach. USS McCook (DMS-36, ex-DD-495) off Philadelphia Navy Yard, 12 July 1945.

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