F. R. Vine

A few days before D-Day we were drafted to the St Adrian, a requisitioned merchant ship, berthed at Portsmouth. On Sunday, 4 June, the 1330 hours start for the D-Day invasion was called off because the weather was too bad. We went ashore to a theatre in Commercial Road and saw the film ‘The Return of the Scarlet Pimpernel.’

On Monday, 5 June we sailed from the railway jetty at Portsmouth at 1330. The sea was still very rough. We went right out to the west and eventually arrived nine miles off SWORD beach at 0300 on Tuesday, 6 June. At this point the Norwegian destroyer, Svenner, on our starboard side and with a crew of 200, was struck amidships by a torpedo from a German E-boat, and sank in about twenty minutes, in the shape of a ‘V’. There were a large number of casualties, but we managed to save quite a few.

The battleships, Warspite and Ramillies, lay astern of us, and were firing shells over us, up to twenty miles inland, from their 15-inch guns. This went on for several weeks. We would see the flash of fire from the guns, followed by a bang, which, like the rest of the noise, we got used to.

The St Adrian was the Operations Ship, controlling all the ships coming into the beach. I assisted in recording the movements of the various ships in the area. Each morning there was a meeting on board between the army and navy officers, to plan the priority of items to go ashore. Communications with the other ships was very good and procedures on the ship worked well. After a few days a ‘Gooseberry’ breakwater was formed from a number of ships, including the old French battleship, the Courbet, which had the tricolor flying at its masthead. Following shell damage to the St Adrian, we were transferred to the battleship. It had better facilities for the meetings, which were held in the saloon. During the very rough weather in mid-June, when nothing went ashore, the battleship used to shudder, in spite of its 22,000 tons.

We were often being bombarded by shells from the mobile guns concealed in the woods across the mouth of the River Orne. After several weeks this got so bad, and ships were being sunk, that the Gooseberry harbour had to be abandoned. We were transferred back to the St Adrian and moved along the coast to Arromanches, with its Mulberry harbour. The intention was to move back to Ouistreham when the situation improved, but as the army was being held up ashore, it was decided to abandon the beach. We returned to the UK with reduced engine power, the engine having been damaged by shelling, and arrived back in Portsmouth in mid-July, at 0230 am on a bright moonlit night.