Page 4: Clearing the Lanes

Originally published in the "Crowsnest Magazine" Vol. 16 No. 5 May 1964
By Lt. Peter Ward, RCNR

Page 1

Page 2
Establishing Sea Superiority

Page 3
The MTBs

Page 4
Clearing the Lanes

Page 5
D-Day The Sixth of June

Page 6
Protecting the Beachhead

Page 7

TO COUNTER a possible German submarine threat 11 Canadian frigates, nine destroyers, and five corvettes joined a force of British escorts to throw a huge asdic screen across the western approaches to the Channel. They moved to their stations a week before the landings were scheduled and carried out sweep after sweep In some of the world’s toughest sub-hunting waters. More about them later.

To make the invasion possible, tremendous numbers of ships had to be concentrated in the Channel ports. Corvettes of the RCN began to play their part in the great Overlord plan as these concentrations built up. Transports, blockships for artificial harbours, and sections of floating pier, all had to be convoyed to their marshalling points, then safely shepherded across the Channel to the beaches. There were 19 Canadian corvettes in the armada of small ships assigned to convoy duty. Some of them had to bring their charges safely from northern Scotland. Stolid merchantmen had sorely tried the patience of skippers in Atlantic convoys but frustrations increased a hundredfold when concrete barges—floating piers and hulks making their last voyage had to be escorted through those dangerous waters.

The job was not spectacular, compared with the glories of the fighting Tribals, shell-battered landing craft, and speedy MTBs but without the lumbering assortment of floating hybrids, herded to the beaches by Canadian corvettes, Overlord could have failed through lack of a harbour to land supplies.

PERHAPS the most ticklish job Canadian sailors were called upon to perform was the task assigned to our minesweepers. The 31st Flotilla was composed of 14 ‘sweepers, all Canadian. Attached to British ‘sweeper flotillas were six other Canadian ships. British and Canadian ‘sweepers were charged with ploughing a clear path through the Channel, speckled with random-sown German mines. Then they had to clear 10 shipping lanes through a dense German minefield that stretched right across Baie de Seine. That minefield was eight miles deep, the inner edge about 30 miles from the invasion beaches.

Water between that minefield and the beaches was sown again with random mines. Any ship that attempted to cross the minefield took her life in her hands.

The ‘sweepers headed towards their deadly job June 4. Shortly after they went to sea, Overlord was postponed from June 5 to June 6, and they were recalled.

June 5 dawned through clearing skies with seas abating. The 31st Flotilla arrived again at their assembly area off the Isle of Wight at 5.35 p.m. They took up sweeping formation immediately and steamed the 40 miles to the edge of the German minefield sweeping random mines as they went.

The 31st entered the German minefield at 7 p.m. They were assigned to sweep one of 10 lanes through which the invasion shipping would pass. In late afternoon the Bangors, which had spent so many tedious years on coastal convoy work, began the operation on which the dreams and hopes of the free world were centred. British shallowdraught launches went ahead of the lead ‘sweepers in each formation, clearing a narrow belt of mines for the first wedge of the sweep. The over-lapping sweeps cut loose mine after mine, and British danlayers followed the sweeping formations to mark the swept channel with dan buoys.

Shore defences would hear the explosions if swept mines were detonated with rifle fire in the conven”onal manner, so it had been decided to let the mines drift free, counting on wind and current to carry them away.

Once through the minefield, the ‘sweepers were ordered to clear lanes through coastal water to the anchorage the huge invasion fleet would use. Next they were charged with making the anchorage itself free of mines. The final tasks was to sweep lanes for assault boats right to the limit of deep water. This would take them to within a mile and a half of shore.

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