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Syanda

Warships of D-Day

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 The time was 5.50am. The British warships had been firing off their beaches for more than twenty minutes. Now the bombardment in the American zone began. The entire invasion area erupted with a roaring storm of fire. The maelstrom of sound thundered back and forth along the Normandy coast as the big ships slammed steadily away at their preselected targets. The gray sky brightened with the hot flash of their guns and along the beaches great clouds of black smoke began to bunch up into the air.

 

Off Sword, Juno and Gold the battleships Warspite and Ramillies lobbed tons of steel from their 15-inch guns toward powerful German gun batteries at Le Havre and around the mouth of the Orne. Maneuvering cruisers and destroyers poured streams of shells into pillboxes, concrete bunkers and redoubts. With incredible accuracy, the sharpshooting H.M.S. Ajax of River Plate fame knocked out a battery of four 6-inch guns from 6 miles offshore. Off Omaha, the big battleships Texas and Arkansas, mounting between them a total of ten 14-inch, twelve 12-inch and twelve 5-inch guns, pumped six hundred shells onto the coastal battery position atop Pointe du Hoc in an all-out attempt to ease the way for the Ranger battalions even now heading for the one-hundred-foot high sheer cliffs. Off Utah, the battleship Nevada and the cruisers TuscaloosaQuincy and Black Prince seemed to lean back as they hurled salvo after salvo at the shore batteries. While the big ships blasted away from five to six miles offshore, the small destroyers pressed in to a mile or two off the beaches and, line astern, sent a saturating fire into the targets all over the network of coastal fortifications.

 

The fearsome salvos of the naval bombardment made deep impressions on the men who saw and heard them. Sub-lieutenant Richard Ryland of the Royal Navy felt immense pride in "the majestic appearance of the battleships", and wondered "whether this would be the last occasion such a sight would be seen." On the U.S.S. Nevada, Yeoman Third Class Charles Langley was almost frightened by the massive firepower of the fleet. He did not see "how any army could possibly withstand the bombardment" and believed that "the fleet would be able to pull out in two or three hours." And in the speeding assault boats, as this roaring canopy of steel flashed over their heads, the sodden, miserable, seasick men, bailing with their helmets, looked up and cheered.

 

Whenever we learn about the D-Day landings of June 6th, 1944, there is a tendency to focus on the exploits of the men who stormed ashore that day. Who fought and died on the beaches of Normandy in the largest seaborne invasion in history. But these men did not fight alone. Seven battleships, five heavy cruisers, seventeen light cruisers, one hundred and thirty five destroyers and escorts, as well as over 500 other ships enabled the landings to occur, and fought to make sure they'd succeed. The battleships, in particular, were old. Slow. Pretty much obsolete by 1944, superceded by newer designs and newer ships. But they were well suited for dueling German gun positions situated in Normandy to provide cover for the men storming ashore. Of the seven battleships at Normandy that morning, only U.S.S. Texas remains today.

 

Battleships

1. U.S.S. Arkansas, a Wyoming-class battleship. Commissioned in 1912. At 5.52am on June 6th,1944, she fired her guns in anger for the first time in her career, bombarding targets off "Bloody Omaha".

 

2. U.S.S. Nevada, lead ship of her class. Commissioned in 1916. She was the only battleship of the Pacific Fleet to get underway at Pearl Harbor, but was struck by at least 6 bomb hits and 1 torpedo hit, forcing her to beach herself to avoid being sunk. On D-Day, Nevada was stationed off Utah beach.

 

3. U.S.S. Texas, a New York-class battleship. Commissioned in 1914. Texas was stationed at Omaha together with Arkansas, commencing firing at Pointe du Hoc 5.50am. When she ceased firing at 6.24am, she had fired 255 14" projectiles, at an average rate of 7.5 shells per minute. Following the bombardment of Pointe du Hoc, Texas moved in closer to shell additional targets for the rest of the day, moving to barely 3km off the water's edge. Texas survives to this day as a museum ship.

 

4. H.M.S. Warspite, a Queen Elizabeth-class battleship. Commissioned in 1913. Nicknamed the Grand Old Lady. At 5am on June 6th, 1944, Warspite was the first of the battleships to open fire, bombarding German positions on Sword beach.

 

5. H.M.S. Ramillies, a Revenge-class battleship. Commissioned in 1915. Together with Warspite, she supported landings off Sword. Throughout the entire Normandy campaign, she fired a total of 1002 main battery rounds. 

 

6. H.M.S. Rodney, a Nelson-class battleship. Commissioned in 1927, she was the youngest of the battleships at D-Day. Rodney fired occasional shells up to 35km inland to prevent panzer divisions from advancing to crush the Normandy landings.

 

7. H.M.S. Nelson, lead ship of her class. Commissioned in 1927. Nelson was held in reserve and did not participate in the Normandy campaign until June 10th.

 

I might do a write-up of other significant ships later today.

Edited by Syanda

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Beta Tester
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kind of sad that only the Texas remains as a museum ship i would have travelled over to britian just to see warspite but the grand old lady was scraped   :( 

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Moderator
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Yeah, it's sad how many warships were scrapped or destroyed following the end of the war. It's a loss of a little bit of history every time it happens.

 

If you're ever in London, though, I highly recommending visiting one of D-Day's other veterans: H.M.S. Belfast, a Town-class light cruiser that now serves as a museum ship.

Edited by Syanda

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