Rhino Craft as escorted to D-Day beaches by HMS Campbell
With the vanguard of the Normandy Invasion Fleet, preceded by the Wildfire III minesweepers, approaching the D-Day beaches, Force “L” the immediate follow up taskforce rendezvoused in the Thames Estuary. Sailing Group 1 and 2 from Harwich with sixty-five landing craft and ships and Sailing Group 3, 4 and 5 from the Southend anchorage with sixty-five Landing Craft, sixty-six Merchant Navy ships loaded with vehicles and three cable ships. With these went a fleet of escort vessels including Sheerness destroyers Meynell and Vivacious, plus twenty Queenborough Motor Minesweepers. Other escort vessels from Sheerness included the Frigates Chelmer and Halstead and the Corvettes Camelia, Charlock, Narcissis, Gardenia and Oxlip.
While aircraft thundered overhead, 280 vessels with the ever present threat of attack from E-boats and U-boats, navigated the narrow passage through the German mine barrage to discharge troops and tanks on the Normandy beachhead.
Thanks to the Sheerness Destroyers and Queenborough Minesweepers a massive amount of vital war supplies had been already delivered and stockpiled in London and the South England. (Under the control of TURCO, Turn Round Combined Operations). A large amount of these war supplies would leave for Normandy from the Thames Estuary. Five-thousand ships were to leave to supply the Allied army in Normandy including 170 LBV’s (Landing Barge Vehicle) and the huge floating segments of the Mulberry Harbour.
Within a few months the Wildfire III Mine Sweepers were to play an even greater roll in a battle which claimed more lives than the D-Day landings and would shorten the war. The vital part the Queenborough Minesweepers played in the Battle of the Scheldt helped to shorten the war.
D-Day Convoys departing Thames Estuary.
Convoy ETC 1, thirty-one mainly British Ships, departed Thames Estuary on the 5th June 1944 (The day before D-Day). Arrived in the Seine Bay off the Normandy landing beaches on 6th June 1944, D-Day.
Convoy ETC.2Y of 18 British ships, included 4 Chants (Channel Tankers) and a Water Tanker. Also departed Thames Estuary on the 5th June 1944 (The day before D-Day). Arrived in the Seine Bay off the Normandy landing beaches on 6th June 1944, D-Day.Chant number 69 capsized off Normandy on the 16th June.
ETC.2Z, 18 ships also departed Thames Estuary on the 5th June 1944 (The day before D-Day). Arrived in the Seine Bay off the Normandy landing beaches on 6th June 1944, D-Day.
In the days and months that followed a continuous flow of convoys left the Thames Estuary to the overcrowed anchorage off the D-Day beaches and the newly created Mulberry Harbour.
Sheerness Destroyers and Queenborough Minesweepers on D-Day
6th June 1944
They came. They crossed the Atlantic, convoy after convey. Liberty ships they called them, speedily built, to give back freedom to the peoples of Europe. They run the gauntlet of U-boats but now instead of carrying food or raw materials they had in their holds guns, tanks, shells and bombs destined for the Invasion beaches. Arriving at the shores of Great Britain their ordeal as yet not over. They steamed down the narrow, wreck strewn, sea lanes of the East Coast where ever present was the danger of attack from German E-boats or of striking a mine.
Rank upon rank of them lined up at anchorage in the Thames estuary.
D-DAY: In the darkness of the night of the 5/6 June 1944, Queenborough minesweepers (MMS’s, Motor Mine Sweepers and BYMS’s British Yard Mine Sweepers) swept ahead of the Allied Invasion Fleet. They swept the individual war ships into their firing positions. They continued to sweep right up to the Normandy landing beaches until the sea became too shallow. They went closer to the shore than any other vessel other than the landing craft. As day broke they continued to sweep under enemy fire. With enemy shells falling between them and their sweeping gear, they used every opportunity to give covering fire to the landing troops.
Force “L” was the “Operation Neptune” (the Naval part of the D-Day Invasion) which departed from the Thames Estuary, Harwich and Lowestoft area.
The Nore Command which included Sheerness and Queenborough had the task of safely transporting the 7th Armoured Division (the Desert Rats), part of the 51st Highlands Division and the Headquarters of the 1st and 30th Corps to the D-day landing beaches immediately following the first assault.
On the 31st May1940 21,000 troops and 3,600 vehicles moved to the Nore loading ports.
Many of the Destroyers from Sheerness and Harwich would take part in the bombardment of the D-day beaches on day one (D-Day) and remain there under the command of ANCXF (Allied Navel Command Expeditionary Forces) for a further three months.
The Minesweeper Trawlers and Drifters at Queenborough, converted high sea and inshore fishing vessels were the Cinderella’s of the fleet and it would be their big brothers, the BYMS (British Yard Minesweepers) the MMS's (Motor Mine Sweepers) and the Fleet minesweepers which would proceed the invasion fleet. All the Wildfire, Sheerness Destroyers were also at the fore on D-day.
Likewise, the Thames Estuary was too far away from the D-Day landing beaches to be in the first wave of invasion vessels on day one. In the previous days they had moved around the coast to anchorages around the Isle of Wight.
On day two, (D-Day +1) with the element of surprise gone, it was the job of the Queenborough minesweeper and the Sheerness Royal Navy ships, such as barrage balloons vessels, to escort the giant armadas of ships to the invasion beaches. It was expected that once alerted, the German response would be that of a swarm of angry bees.
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