Reporting Deaths in the Aftermath of Waterloo

 One of my favorite Regency series comes from Mary Balogh. In the Bedwyns Saga’s book 5, entitled Slightly Sinful, Lord Alleyne Bedwyn is wounded at Waterloo. A woman who is stripping the bodies of their clothing in order to sell them finds him. His injury causes him what we who write romances call “romance amnesia.” Therefore, his death is reported to his family, when he is still alive. So, over the years since reading Ms. Balogh’s book, I have been more than curious regarding the procedure to inform the families. What happened to the dead after the Battle of Waterloo? (01202 558833)
Pic: Bonhams/BNPS
*Please use full byline*
117 Lady Butler Scotland Forever.
A soldier’s first hand account of the most decisive moment at the Battle of Waterloo which left the British swords ‘reeking with French blood’ has been unearthed after 200 years.
Corporal Richard Coulter described the ‘glorious’ charge of the household ‘heavy’ brigade that involved 2,000 British cavalryman attacking Napoleon’s troops who had been gaining the upper-hand in the battle.
The letter has now emerged for sale at Bonhams in London.

If the deceased was a member of Wellington’s staff, or a senior officer, the family may have gotten a personal letter from Wellington within days. Wellington wrote many on June 19, four days after the battle. Likewise, the most reliable news often came to the family from officers and soldiers serving with a soldier who was killed or wounded and there are many examples of such letters being written to families and loved ones of the fallen on the 19th and 20th of June. 

Otherwise, lists of dead and wounded were published in the London Gazette. However, not all lists were made out and sent at the same time, i.e., different regiments. News dribbled in. In some cases, it took a week before missing officers/soldiers were found, either wounded or dead. It was chaos. The senior officers of the regiments themselves were not certain who had been killed and who survived for many hours, if not a few days, after the battle. 

Add to that the fact that many mistakes were made in those initial lists. There are numerous examples of various soldiers named Jackson, Smith, Brown, etc., being confused with each other at first. 

There were no dog tags. Many of the dead, on both sides, were plundered of their belongings and clothes on the battlefield. By the time the burying parties came around, there was no way to identify many of the bodies, which were placed in communal graves. Therefore, it could take anywhere from a week to a month before all returns were in and published. 

As the first official journal of record and the newspaper of the Crown, The Gazette became an authoritative and reliable source of news, and this served the purposes of both the Crown and the Executive well.

The state already held incomparable sources of information from overseas: during peacetime, the various British embassies could be relied on to relay strategic and political news back home and, in times of war, the dispatches of the British generals served a similar purpose – both sources acting effectively as the foreign correspondents of their day.

These varying dispatches continued to be used to good effect as The Gazette developed its profile. Indeed, when the newly launched Times newspaper halted its presses to carry the report of Wellington’s 1815 victory over Napoleon at Waterloo, it was merely to reproduce in full the dispatch which had already been previously published as a ‘Gazette Extraordinary’ (Gazette issue 17028).

The Gazette was also the bearer of official War Office and Ministry of Defence events, including listing those ‘Mentioned in dispatches’ (MIDs), where notable individuals are recognised for their activities in the theatre of war. 

The Gazette even ultimately produced its own terminology for those appearing in its reports: whether when they were appointed to a new military post, or for committing acts of particular gallantry, an individual was said to have been “gazetted” when their name reached the pages of The Gazette.

An easing of publishing restrictions, and the general success of The Gazette in providing reliable official information, led to the creation of two further journals, enabling a more detailed focus on material of particular relevance to Scotland and Ireland.

More on The Gazette below. And you’ll see by following this link that Wellington’s Waterloo Dispatch wasn’t published until June 22nd.

All senior officers had their own staff, usually paid out of their own pockets. Wellington had a butler, a cook, a valet,  two grooms, a guy in charge of his pack of hunting dogs and a washerwoman, in addition to his Aide-De-Camps.

It would not have taken long for a senior officer’s effects to be returned to England. There was a dedicated supply route from England to Ostend and Ghent, then on to Paris and Brussels. The Royal Navy had ships standing by at Ostend and Ghent to facilitate movements of the army, also to transport the walking wounded, as well as French prisoners. 

After Alexander Gordon died, Wellington wrote to his brother, Lord Aberdeen, to tell him of the death. The PS of that letter is heartbreaking – “I have your brother’s horse here with me and will keep it until you let me know what is to be done with it.” So, personal effects, trunks, horses could all be sent to England with no problem or loss of time. Such is one of the plot points of my upcoming story “Courting Lord Whitmire.” 

If you care to read more of these tragic events, try these two books: 

The Duke of Wellington’s victory over Napoleon in 1815 at Waterloo ensured British dominance for the rest of the nineteenth century. It took three days and two hours for word to travel from Belgium in a form that people could rely upon. 

This is a tragi-comic midsummer’s tale that begins amidst terrible carnage and weaves through a world of politics and military convention, enterprise and roguery, frustration, doubt and jealousy, to end spectacularly in the heart of Regency society at a grand soiree in St James’s Square after feverish journeys by coach and horseback, a Channel crossing delayed by falling tides and a flat calm, and a final dash by coach and four from Dover to London.

At least five men were involved in bringing the news or parts of it to London, and their stories are fascinating. Brian Cathcart, a brilliant storyteller and historian, has visited the battlefield, travelled the messengers’ routes, and traced untapped British, French and Belgian records. This is a strikingly original perspective on a key moment in British history.

Waterloo is probably the most famous battle in military history. Thousands of books have been written on the subject but mysteries remain and controversy abounds.

By presenting more than 200 previously unpublished accounts by Allied officers who fought at the battle, this collection goes right back to the primary source material. In the letters the Allied officers recount where they were and what they saw. Gareth Glover has provided historical background information but lets the officers speak for themselves as they reveal exactly what happened in June 1815.

Originally sent to, and at the request of, Captain W Siborne, then in the process of building his famous model of the battle, these letters have remained unread in the Siborne papers in the British Library. A small selection was published in Waterloo Letters in 1891 but much of vast historical significance did not see the light then and has remained inaccessible until now. Glover now presents this remarkable collection which includes letters here by Major Baring, George Bowles, Edward Whinyates, John Gurwood and Edward Cotton as well as letters by Hanoverian and King’s German Legion officers.

This is a veritable treasure trove of material on the battle and one which will mean that every historian’s view of the battle will need correcting.


In case you are interested in the book I mentioned above, here is the book blurb. Trust me. Read the series from beginning to end. You will not be disappointed. Slightly Married, Book 1; Slightly Wicked, Book 2; Slightly Scandalous, Book 3; Slightly Tempted, Book 4; Slightly Sinful, Book 5; and Slightly Dangerous, Book 6. [Note! Part of Slightly Tempted deals with Alleyne’s sister Morgan’s desperate search for him in Belgium after Waterloo. You might also find those insights interesting.] Not all deal directly with the war, but all are worth the read. 

Meet the Bedwyns—six brothers and sisters—men and women of passion and privilege, daring and sensuality….Enter their dazzling world of high society and breathtaking seduction…where each will seek love, fight temptation, and court scandal…and where Alleyne Bedwyn, the passionate middle son, is cut off from his past—only to find his future with a sinfully beautiful woman he will risk everything to love.

As the fires of war raged around him, Lord Alleyne Bedwyn was thrown from his horse and left for dead—only to awaken in the bedchamber of a ladies’ brothel. Suddenly the dark, handsome diplomat has no memory of who he is or how he got there—yet of one thing he is certain: The angel who nurses him back to health is the woman he vows to make his own. But like him, Rachel York is not who she seems. A lovely young woman caught up in a desperate circumstance, she must devise a scheme to regain her stolen fortune. The dashing soldier she rescued from near-death could be her savior in disguise. There is just one condition: she must pose as his wife—a masquerade that will embroil them in a sinful scandal, where a man and a woman court impropriety with each daring step…with every taboo kiss that can turn passionate strangers into the truest of lovers.

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Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, “the Last Great Englishman”

Lord_Arthur_Wellesley_the_Duke_of_Wellington.jpg Sunday, June 18, will be the 202nd Anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, marking the final defeat of the French military leader and emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. On the English side stood Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, an Anglo-Irish soldier and statesmen, who was one of the leading military figures of 19th Century Britain, and a man Alfred Lloyd Tennyson dubbed “the last great Englishman.” 


Wellesley spent much of his early childhood at his family’s ancestral home, Dangan Castle, engraving 1842. via Wikipedia ~ Public Domain



remnants of Dangan Castle, Meath, Ireland, the duke’s childhood home

Wellesley was the third surviving son (b. 1769) of an Irish aristocratic family. His father was the first earl of Mornington. In truth, as a child Arthur was uninspiring. A mediocre student. Lazy. Socially awkward. Uninvolved. Only excelling in his playing the violin. At age 12, Arthur entered Eton, where is remained withdrawn and occasionally aggressive. It was the same year that marked his father’s death. Eventually, he was removed from school (1784). Arthur traveled to Brussels with his mother in 1785.

With few options, it was decided that a military career would be a good fit for him. His eldest brother’s connections brought Arthur a number of commissions. The first was as a junior officer in the 73rd Foot. Later, he was the aide-de-camp to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. As the French Revolution set England on alert, by February 1793, England and France were at war. In April of the same year, Arthur became the commander of the 33rd Foot. His brother’s connections could take him no further. For once, Wellesley was on his own. If he were to advance, it would be because he truly deserved it.

p02tgcys.jpg In 1794, the 33rd Foot was part of the English forces that knew defeat in the Netherlands. Although Wellesley knew praise for his part in the Flanders Campaign, the defeat was a mighty lesson for the young officer: He must learn how to lead his men and the “art” of war. Avoiding being shipped to the West Indies because of foul weather, Arthur found himself instead sent to India.

Wellington, then Colonel Arthur Wesley (the last name was later changed to Wellesley) of the 33rd regiment, arrived in Calcutta at the age of 28 in February 1797, after a journey of more than three months. He spent eight years in India, where his brother was Governor-General. These years were spent in honing the skills for which he later claimed greatness. He learned something of being a tactician in battle. It was in India that the future victor of Waterloo and future prime minister of Great Britain first dealt with questions of war and peace and civil government.

download.jpg On 26 March 1799, the Muslim ruler Tipu Sultan, the Tiger of Mysore attacked Wellington’s army. The enemy forces had been trained by the French and were well armed, but Wellington’s men held their fire until their enemy was but 60 yards removed. Then,  British infantry decimated the columns of their attackers, while cavalry forces scattered the remnants of the attacking force. Later, in April and May of 1799, Wellington participated in the siege of Seringapatam in Mysore and led an attack on the entrenchments of the fortress there. After Seringapatam was taken, Wellington was made civil governor and remained there until 1802.


Wellington defeats Indian leader Dhoondiah Waughat the Battle of Conaghull in India. Getty Images

During his time in Seringapatam, Wellington was ordered to suppress a rebellion in north Mysore led by Dhoondiah Waugh. For the first time, Wellington exercised independent command in battle. During this operation, Rory Muir explains, Wellington “displayed all the characteristics of his subsequent campaigns, . . .” which included attention to logistics and “unremitting aggression.” He fought a battle at Conaghul and won a complete victory. Muir writes that Wellington exhibited a remarkable flexibility on the field of battle. A British officer commented on Wellington’s “alacrity and determination” during battle.


Battle of Assaye ~ J.C. Stadler After W. Heath – National Army Museum, London ~ Public Domain ~ via Wikipedia

On 23 September 1803, Wellington, now a Major General, won his first major victory at the Battle of Assaye. His forces were outnumbered 20:1 by troops of the Maratha Confederacy. A cavalry patrol warned Wellington of the advancing enemy. Despite being outnumbered, Wellington attacked before the enemy forces could set up camp, catching them by surprise. With only 7000 men under his command, he earned a decisive victory at Assaye, but with a heavy cost of men. Wellington later remarked that Battle of Assaye was “the bloodiest for the numbers that I ever saw.” One officer noted that Wellington “was in the thick of the action the whole time . . . I never saw a man so cool and collected as he was.” Another officer commented that Wellington “behaved with perfect indifference in the hottest fire.”

2831CF7800000578-3063831-image-a-69_1430467772842.jpg He returned to London and became MP for Rye. In April 1806, he married Kitty Pakenham, a girl he had long loved and to whom he once proposed (but had been found wanting by her father), but meeting her again 1805, he was less enthralled with her, but, perhaps out of duty (for once a gentleman made a promise of marriage, he was honor bound to follow through), he married her, nevertheless. They had two sons, but their marriage was never an easy one. 

In 1807, he was appointed Chief Secretary of London, but he did not forsake his army career for a political one. He was often called upon as a military advisor by then Prime Minister, William Cavendish-Bentinck, 3rd Duke of Portland. When the Spanish revolted against Napoleon’s occupation, it was to Wellington that British ministers turned to deliver an advantageous outcome for the Crown.

According to BBC iWonder, “Wellington had been in overall command of British forces in the Iberian Peninsula since 1809. In January 1812 he led troops from Portugal into Spain. Early victories saw Wellington reach Salamanca in June but by July he was locked in stalemate with an evenly matched French force. On 22 July, his opportunity finally came. Over lunch an aide delivered the message Wellington had been waiting for: the French had over-extended. A quick glance through his telescope was enough. ‘Marmont,’ the French general, he said excitedly, ‘is lost.’ In under an hour, his forces won a decisive victory and all Europe acknowledged Wellington’s military genius.

“Wellington’s victory in Spain and even more devastating French losses in Russia forced Napoleon to abdicate. The duke’s old rival was bested. Victory won him a new title – the Duke of Wellington. Invited to become Britain’s ambassador to France, Wellington moved to Paris, even forging relationships with several of Napoleon’s former mistresses as the deposed emperor endured exile on Elba. He was now a big name on the world stage. After a hero’s welcome on his first return to Britain since 1808, Wellington was dispatched to represent the country at the Congress of Vienna which had been convened to re-draw the map of Europe.”

waterloo.jpg In February 1815, Napoleon escaped from Elba and returned to France, where he mobilized his army once again. At the Duchess of Richmond’s ball in Brussels, Wellesley learned that Napoleon was less than 20 miles removed from the city. Early the next morning, he departed for the front. On 18 June 1815, the bloody Battle of Waterloo took place. The French army was defeated by two of the armies of the Seventh Coalition: an Allied army under Wellington’s command, along side a Prussian arm under the command of Gehard Leberecht von Blucher, Prince of Wahlstatt. At the height of his military career, Wellesley returned to England as the country’s hero. 

Unfortunately, the political battleground was not so easy for him to maneuver. He joined Lord Liverpool’s cabinet at time when the masses were beginning to demand political reform. The refusal of Wellington and the political classes to countenance social and political reform put them out of step with the public.

54bafd47e3c94_harriette_wilson.jpg In his personal life, with his marriage far from a happy one, Wellington sought relationships with several courtesans/mistresses. One of those with with the infamous Harriette Wilson, who wrote a detailed kiss-and-tell book describing their encounters. The publisher, pornographer and scandal-monger Joseph Stockdale, even (unsuccessfully) attempted to blackmail the duke prior to its release. Cartoonists and satirists delighted in Wellington’s reputation. wilson-bloomsbury-11-7-13.jpg

“Affairs at Westminster were no less fraught. Demand for reform refused to quieten. In 1828, George IV asked Wellington to become prime minister. The government was beset with problems. Divisions ran deep between warring factions of the parties. His new role was something of a poisoned chalice. Cannier political operators may have refused the position but the duke, dutiful to the last, accepted. He quickly discovered that leading the country had little in common with leading an army. The autocratic style which had served him so well in the military did not go down so well in Westminster.

“If Wellington thought MPs could be ordered into unity he quickly discovered he was mistaken. One of the most divisive issues of the day centred on Catholic emancipation. Catholics had been barred from holding public office since the 17th Century but by 1829 these restrictions threatened civil strife. Some Tories, who had championed Wellington’s appointment, were aghast at his support for the Roman Catholic Relief Act. One, the Earl of Winchilsea, was particularly vitriolic in his criticism and on 23 March the duke and the earl fought a duel on Battersea Fields. Both survived.

“Wellington had been willing to countenance Catholic Emancipation for the greater good, but parliamentary reform he could not stomach. As a soldier, Wellington had been famed for anticipating what lay “on the other side of the hill” but he lacked the same degree of political imagination. Whig party leader Earl Grey led the calls for reform but Wellington would not budge. Out of step with the times, Wellington’s popularity plummeted. He lost control of the House of Commons, his government unable to tread a path between the attacks from Ultra Tories and reformists. By November he had little option but to resign.

“Despite the collapse of his government, Wellington had continued to lead the charge against Grey’s proposals for parliamentary reform. As his popularity continued to fall, the iron shutters he had installed on his house to protect his windows from the ire of the mob reinforced the image of the ‘Iron Duke’ refusing to move with the times. But in 1832, with the country in deadlock, Wellington backed down for the sake of the country. After persuading his supporters to stay away from Parliament, the Reform Bill finally passed. Even so, he was mobbed by an angry crowd on Waterloo Day. Wellington had remained active in government, as foreign secretary and, latterly, a minister without portfolio. Approaching his ninth decade, Wellington finally retired from public life in 1846. Even then he retained his post as commander-in-chief of the armed forces, unable to step away completely from the public service to which he had devoted his life – servant of crown and country to the last.

“On 14 September (1852) Wellington succumbed to a stroke at his favourite home, Walmer Castle, in Kent. In death the duke’s divisive political legacy was forgotten. Wellington was the hero of Waterloo once more. On 18 November, Britain said goodbye to a hero of a bygone age. The nation united in a display of grief more extravagant than anything seen before. More than 1.5 million lined the streets to pay their respects as Wellington’s coffin was borne to St Paul’s, where a further 10,000 dignitaries packed into the cathedral. Wellington may have been gone, but his reputation lived on.”



Biography Online

BBC iWonder 

The Diplomat 

“The Duke of Wellington: 11 Things You Didn’t Know,” The Telegraph

Encyclopedia Britannica

The Victorian Web 

Posted in British history, buildings and structures, George IV, Georgian England, Georgian Era, history, Living in the Regency, Napoleonic Wars, political stance, real life tales, Regency era, Regency personalities, religion, titles of aristocracy, war, world history | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

The Battle of Waterloo: Did the Weather Change History?

French cuirassiers charging a British infantry square at the Battle of Waterloo, 1815 (1906). From Cassell’s Illustrated History of England, Vol. V. (Cassell and Company, Limited, London, Paris, New York & Melbourne, 1906). Artist P Jazet.(Photo by The Print Collector/Getty Images)

The Battle of Waterloo

Did the Weather Change History?

Background: The Battle of Waterloo was fought thirteen kilometers south of Brussels between the French, under the command of Napoleon Bonaparte, and the Allied armies commanded by the Duke of Wellington from Britain and the 72-year-old General Blücher from Prussia. The French defeat at Waterloo drew to a close 23 years of war beginning with the French Revolutionary wars in 1792 and continuing through the Napoleonic Wars. There was a brief eleven-month respite when Napoleon was forced to abdicate, exiled to the island of Elba. However, the unpopularity of Louis XVIII and the economic and social instability of France motivated Napoleon’s return to Paris in March 1815. The Allies soon declared war once again. Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo marked the end of the Emperor’s final bid for power, the so-called ‘100 Days,’ and the final chapter in his remarkable career.

Why did Napoleon lose?

Wellington described his victory as a ‘damned near-run thing.’ The battle was closely fought, and either side could have won, but mistakes in communication, leadership, and judgment led, ultimately, to the French defeat.

Communication was key. The fastest way to communicate was by sending messages with horseback riders, but this created a delay in instructions being carried out, and there was a high chance of the messages being intercepted and never arriving. Given the numbers of troops involved and the distances involved, potentially fatal results could easily occur if communications failed, and Napoleon did not have any system in place to ensure that the orders had been received.

In his choice of leaders, Napoleon’s judgment was poor. Marshal Grouchy was said to be a great General, but he was out of his depth in this battle. He showed little initiative and was tardy in his pursuit of the Prussians, giving them time to regroup. Ney also proved unreliable as a leader, failing to take advantage of his situation in the precursory battle at Quatre-Bras and then in leading the cavalry, unsupported by infantry and artillery, at Waterloo.

The Battle of Waterloo took the lives of 47,000 soldiers and occurred in an area as small as 6.5 km by 3.5 km.

For an hour by hour breakdown of the battle’s events, visit BBC History ( And, of course, the Waterloo 1815 website has magnificent details (

Napoleon Bonaparte flees the field of Waterloo, June 18, 1815.

One of the elements outside Napoleon’s direct control, but one that brought about many of his woes was the weather from June 16-18, 1815. Both the French and the Allies experienced the same conditions, and the blame for the loss most likely can be attributed to the fact that Napoleon’s arrogance and inflated self-confidence stood in the way of reason.

The area around Waterloo experienced heavy rains on June 17 and the morning of the 18th. Some military strategists suggest that the soaked ground might have delayed the battle and would have given the Prussian army the time to join forces with Wellington. One must remember that even Victor Hugo spoke of the influence of weather on the battle’s outcome. In chapter 3 of Les Misérables, the commentator says, “If it had not rained in the night between the 17th and the 18th of June, 1815, the fate of Europe would have been different. A few drops of water, more or less, decided the downfall of Napoleon. All that Providence required in order to make Waterloo the end of Austerlitz was a little more rain, and a cloud traversing the sky out of season sufficed to make a world crumble.”

Dennis Wheeler and Gaston Demarée’s article, “The weather of the Waterloo campaign 16 to 18 1815,” cites several passages from those who experienced the battle firsthand.

From the letters of Private William Wheeler of the 51st Kings Infantry comes this excerpt, “…[a]nd as it began to rain the road soon became very heavy…the rain increased, the thunder and lightning approached nearer, and with it came the enemy…the rain beating with violence, the guns roaring, repeated bright flashes of lightning attended with tremendous volleys of Thunder that shook the very earth…”

And Private John Lewis of the 95th Rifles wrote home to say, “…[t]he rain fell so hard that the oldest soldiers there never saw the like…”

Napoleon planned to attack at 8 A.M., but some experts estimate that it was closer to eleven before he struck. Besides the soft ground slowing the progress of Napoleon’s heavy artillery, one must take into consideration the concept that cannon shot was designed to fall short of the target and then skip along the ground for the most damage. In muddy conditions, the weapon’s effectiveness was compromised. The cavalry could not move forward easily. Captain Cotter of the South Lincolnshire regiment wrote of, “…[m]ud through which we sank more than ankle deep….” The cavalry charge was reduced from a gallop to a canter. A damp mist rose and mixed with the guns’ smoke. However, the winds did not carry away the “veritable fog of war.”

Finally, the French infantry advancing towards the Anglo-Dutch lines reportedly crossed through fields of wet rye. Muskets and rifles loaded prior to the march would likely misfire because of damp powder. Napoleon’s assault would have suffered more than would have Wellington’s defensive lines under such conditions.

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The Duchess of Richmond’s Ball and Waterloo, a Guest Post from Jann Rowland

On June 15, 1815, perhaps the most famous (or infamous) ball in history was held. The Duchess of Richmond’s ball is generally regarded as the event in which Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington, was informed of the advance of French forces into the kingdom of the Netherlands. This is somewhat accurate.

In March of 1815, Napoleon Bonaparte escaped Elba and landed in France, quickly assuming control of the Empire of France from Louis XVIII, setting off the Hundred Days campaign. The nations of Europe, quickly mobilized against him, with the British and the Prussians fielding armies in the Netherlands, while the Russians, Austrians, and several Germanic Princedoms marched to support them. Thus, outnumbered and facing enemies on potentially three sides, Napoleon knew his only chance was to defeat the coalition armies separately before they could assemble against him.

The allies had set the date of their invasion of France for July 1, but it was considered possible (perhaps even likely, given the reputation of the French Emperor) the French would attack first. The Duchess of Richmond, whose husband was the commander of British forces defending Brussels, had planned some weeks earlier to host a ball. When rumors of French advances began to run through the city, she asked Wellington if the ball should be canceled his response was: “Duchess, you may give your ball with the greatest safety, without fear of interruption.” Thus, the ball was held as scheduled, the most likely location being a coach house attached to the house the Lennox family was leasing in Brussels.

When the first circles of Brussels society gathered that night, the main topic of discussion was, of course, the rumored impending invasion. Even with so desperate a subject on the tongues of those who attended, however, by all accounts the ball proceeded smoothly. Wellington and his commanders arrived at about 11 PM that evening, and it was said that “with the exception of three generals, every officer high in [Wellington’s] army was there to be seen.”

before-waterloo-henry-nelson-oneil Before Waterloo Painting by Henry Nelson O’Neil

But Wellington had allowed the ball to go on that evening in an attempt to confirm that all was well and proceeding as planned. In reality, he had received word earlier that day that the French army had crossed the Belgian frontier and was engaging the British allies, the Prussian army, to the east. Wellington put the entire British army on alert. But he was still unaware of the speed of the French advance and the location of the attack and did not order his army to mass just yet.

Just before dinner, a dispatch arrived for William, Prince of Orange, commander of the Dutch-Belgian army. The prince handed Wellington the missive, who put it in his pocket and continued on as if nothing had happened. When he read the note twenty minutes later, he ordered William back to his command post and went into supper. To his surprise, William returned only a short time later with word that the French had pushed much further than expected.

By now rumors were flying through the ballroom. Wellington orders both William and the Duke or Brunswick back to their command posts, though he, himself stayed for another twenty minutes. Then he announced his intention to retire. Before he left the room, however, he whispered in Duke of Richmond’s ear, asking if he had a good map. The two men left the room, going to Richmond’s study, where Wellington surveyed the potential battlefields. The French had pushed far enough into the Belgian countryside that they now threatened Quatre Bras, and Wellington, knowing he would not be able to mobilize his army in time to stop them there, exclaimed: “Napoleon has humbugged me, by God; he has gained twenty-four hours’ march on me.” As he surveyed the map, he fixed his gaze on Waterloo and allowed his finger to fall in the name as the place where the British would stop the French.

By now the ball was all but over. Officers were pulled from the ballroom and given orders to return to their units, and many did so without even changing back into their uniforms, fighting in their suits and dancing shoes. Those who bade them farewell weeping with fear for those who were going into danger, knowing not all of them would return. The city soon became a bustle of movement as the regiments departed for the front and the battle against the invading French.

The next day, both the Battle of Quatre Bras and the Battle of Liege were fought. Quatre Bras was a victory for the British as they denied Napoleon the crossroads and his strategic objective of driving a wedge between the two allied armies. Liege was a victory for Napoleon, but he was not able to destroy the Prussians. The British, by Wellington’s design, fell back to Waterloo and linked up with the Prussian army. Two days later, the final battle of the Napoleonic wars was fought at Waterloo, and the French were defeated, ending Napoleon’s power forever.

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Capability Brown, England’s Greatest Landscape Artist: “This site has great capabilities.”

capability_brown_cosway_about_us.jpgLancelot ‘Capability’ Brown changed the face of eighteenth century England, designing country estates and mansions, moving hills and making flowing lakes and serpentine rivers, a magical world of green. (About Capability Brown)

The fifth child of William Brown, the land agent for Sir William Loraine, who held the Kirkharle Hall estate in Northumberland, Lancelot Brown was educated at a school in nearby Cambo until age 16. His first position was as an apprentice to the head gardener on Sir William’s estate, mainly in charge of the kitchen garden. There he remained until age 23. In 1739, he traveled to Boston, a port in Lincolnshire, where he remained for awhile. Later, he took his landscape commission for a new lake in the park at Kiddington Hall, Oxfordshire. Next, he moved to Wotton Underwood House, Buckinghamshire, the seat of Sir Richard Greenville. 

1741 saw him in the position of undergardener for Lord Cobham at Stowe, Buckinghamshire. William Kent, one of the founders of the “new” English style of landscaped garden of the 18th Century, was the head gardener. At Stowe, Brown executed both the architectural and landscaping works in the famous garden. He also met his future wife there, marrying Bridget Wayet, with whom he had nine children, in 1744. “At the age of 26 he was officially appointed as the Head Gardener in 1742, earning £25 year and residing at the western Boycott Pavilion. Brown was the head gardener at Stowe from 1742 to 1750. He made the Grecian Valley at Stowe, which, despite its name, is an abstract composition of landform and woodland. Lord Cobham allowed Brown to take freelance commission work from his aristocratic friends, thus making Brown well known as a landscape gardener. As a proponent of the new English style, Brown became immensely sought after by the owners of landed estates. 

While at Stowe, Brown also began working as an independent designer and contractor and in autumn 1751, he was able to move with his family to the Mall, Hammersmith, the market garden area of London.

“By the 1760s, he was earning on average £6,000 a year, usually £500 for one commission. As an accomplished rider he was able to work fast, taking only an hour or so on horseback to survey an estate and rough out an entire design. In 1764, Brown was appointed King George III’s Master Gardener at Hampton Court Palace, succeeding John Greening and residing at the Wilderness House. In 1767 he bought an estate for himself at Fenstanton in Huntingdonshire from the Earl of Northampton and was appointed High Sheriff of Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire for 1770, although his son Lance carried out most of the duties.” (Capability Brown) 

The site tells us, “Brown’s style derived from the two practical principles of comfort and elegance. On the one hand, there was a determination that everything should work, and that a landscape should provide for every need of the great house. On the other, his landscapes had to cohere and look elegant.


Prior Park: There are three lakes in the gardens along with a serpentine lake, a stunning Palladian bridge and a Gothic temple feature.

“While his designs have great variety, they also appear seamless owing to his use of the sunk fence or ‘ha-ha’ to confuse the eye into believing that different pieces of parkland, though managed and stocked quite differently, were one. His expansive lakes, at different levels and apparently unconnected, formed a single body of water as if a river through the landscape, that like the parkland itself, ran on indefinitely.

“This effortless coherence is taken for granted today in a way that was predicted in his obituary: ‘where he is the happiest man he will be least remembered, so closely did he copy nature his works will be mistaken’. His nickname of ‘Capability’ is though to have come from his describing landscapes as having ‘great capabilities’.”

Brown’s nickname came from his habit of saying: “This site has great capabilities.” Brown preferred to “perfect nature.” His lawns were smooth and undulating, intentionally leading the eye away from the manor house and toward stands of trees, hills, and lakes. He had abandoned the formal French style founded at Versailles, and Brown was sometimes criticized for his efforts, but he was a proponent of “English designs,” not French. In his lifetime, he is said to have laid out some 170 gardens. Some of England’s finest—those at Bowood, Burghley, Longleat, Stowe, Petworth, Althorp, and Blenheim are considered his masterpieces.


The landscaped parkland and gardens include water terraces, a magnificent lake and architectural eye-catchers such as the Grand Bridge designed by Vanbrugh and the Column of Victory.

When I think of Brown, I think of Jane Austen’s description of Pemberley in Pride and Prejudice. “They gradually ascended for half a mile, and then found themselves at the top of a considerable eminence, where the wood ceased, and the eye was instantly caught by Pemberley House, situated on the opposite side of a valley, into which the road with some abruptness wound. It was a large, handsome, stone building, standing well on rising ground, and backed by a ridge of high woody hills;—and in front, a stream of some natural importance was swelled into greater, but without any artificial appearance. Its banks were neither formal, nor falsely adorned. Elizabeth was delighted. She had never seen a place where nature had done more, or where natural beauty had been so little counteracted by an awkward taste. They were all of them warm in their admiration; and at that moment she felt that to be mistress of Pemberley might be something!

Brown died at Fenstanton in 1783. 


At Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire, Brown dammed the paltry stream flowing under Vanbrugh’s Grand Bridge, drowning half the structure with improved results. ~ Public Domain

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Nigel Lewis’s “The Cover Plan Conspiracy,” a Deception Created by the Allied Forces in WWII

On June 5 of this week, I posted an article on Exercise Tiger, which was a tragic rehearsal for D-Day. That article brought me to the notice of Nigel Lewis, who has written extensively on the subject. Therefore, I asked him to guest post with us. 

unnamed.pngThe Cover Plan Conspiracy takes a new look at a subject that I first wrote about in a book published thirty years ago. Its American title was Exercise Tiger, after the US landing-operation of that name held in the English Channel in late April, 1944.

Tiger is remembered for an incident in the early morning of April 28th, when the last of its eight convoys – Convoy T-4 – was set upon by German E-boats. Two of its landing-ships were sunk, and 639 Americans lost their lives. The incident is routinely mentioned in the histories of D-Day and the Normandy invasion, and readers might imagine that there is nothing new to be said about it. 

But there is. The T-4 incident is usually seen as a temporary setback in the Allied preparations for the invasion. Set in the final few weeks before D-Day,  The Cover Plan Conspiracy goes behind the scenes of the preparations and makes major discoveries about Tiger and T-4. I do not peddle some conspiracy theory. The book is based on hard evidence and years of research in the British National Archives. [Please note: The active part of Exercise Tiger, after the ships set sail, was divided into three phases, 1) the seaborne phase, 2) the landings, 3) the movement inland of the troops who had been landed. The piece below concerns only the seaborne phase (1). The landings were on Slapton Sands. The attack on T-4 was during the seaborne phase, and it occurred almost forty miles from Slapton Sands, off the county of Dorset.]

To the men on T-4 and the other convoys, Tiger was just another training exercise. Their commanding officers knew that it was also a dress rehearsal for the Utah Beach landing in Normandy. But there was something else that even their commanders didn’t know. One of my discoveries is that Tiger was tightly locked into the schedule of the invasion’s top-secret deception plan, Operation Fortitude, also known as the Cover Plan. In fact, the exercise was at the cutting-edge of the Plan, its so-called tactical threat delivered on April 24th, the day that Tiger began.

There was, then, a deceptive side to Tiger, which has been hidden by subtle distortions of its history. In 1944, for example, the Allied Naval Commander, Admiral Bertram Ramsay, claimed that the E-boats were on a routine reconnaissance sortie when they chanced to run into Convoy T-4. The Supreme Commander, General Eisenhower, made the same claim in 1946. The claim is false and was known to be so. The E-boats did not simply happen upon their targets. Almost two days before the attack, the enemy had learned that there were about to be large-scale Allied amphibious operations in the west of the English Channel.

On the morning of April 26th, just hours before the first convoy put to sea, German photo-reconnaissance aircraft overflew Torbay, a natural harbour in the western Channel where ten of Tiger’s landing-ships lay at anchor. It would have been clear from the photos that the ships were combat-loaded, ready for action. The Germans did not know it was an exercise. To them, it looked like the long-expected invasion. Hitler himself anticipated that the invasion would be on April 26th.

Certain British officers in charge of the shore defences knew that the recce (Reconnaissance) had tipped off the enemy. But by disguising it in the intelligence bulletins as a harmless flight over the sea “off Dartmouth”, they concealed this vital piece of information. An even more disturbing discovery is that the Allied air forces paved the way for the reconnaissance. During exercises, it was considered “essential” that air-patrols should watch over the loaded ships while they were still in harbour. A few days later the even bigger D-Day rehearsal, Exercise Fabius, was patrolled by the RAF. The patrols for Tiger, however, were cancelled, leaving a wide-open window of opportunity for enemy aircraft to fly through.

Early that morning, the E-boats had arrived in Cherbourg, having moved there from Boulogne. Royal Navy intelligence knew that the move meant that E-boat operations in the west of the Channel were imminent. It also knew that the E-boats only put to sea after their targets had been identified by German air reconnaissance. A German message decrypted by the British code-cracking operation, Ultra, revealed that an E-boat sortie “northwestward” from Cherbourg was planned for the night of the 26th/ 27th, but postponed. Also decrypted by Ultra was a report on the air reconnaissance over Torbay. A copy of it was sent to the Commander-in-Chief, Plymouth, Admiral Sir Ralph Leatham.

By lunchtime on the 27th, it was clear that E-boats were about to prowl the western Channel, and that great danger awaited Convoy T-4 – the only convoy still in harbour. Leatham had the power to stop it from sailing, but did nothing. Other evidence of underhand action and inaction by him is in Chapters 20 and 21 of my book. He could and should have allocated more warships to Tiger, and because he didn’t its convoys – all apart from the first one – were very weakly defended. 

What explains this devious behaviour by one ally towards another? The Cover Plan does. Fortitude was nothing if not devious. Its aim was to divert attention from the real area of the invasion, Normandy, by convincing the enemy that the Allies would land 150 miles away at the narrow, eastern end of the Channel, in the area known as the Pas de Calais. Historians have not appreciated how difficult it was to fit the far western end of the Channel – where the Americans were – into this plan. As I explain in Part 1 of my book, the fact that there were more invasion ports to the west than to the east, and the refusal of the Americans to take the Cover Plan seriously, only added to the difficulty.

The success of Fortitude was considered indispensable to the invasion, and the failure of the invasion was unthinkable. For all its make believe, Fortitude was a major operation of war, in which it was legitimate to take risks. It aimed to save Allied lives, but above all it aimed to expedite the invasion, even at the cost of incurring loss of life.

This all has a bearing on Tiger, in several ways. The key point is that because the Americans were too far away from the Pas de Calais to include them in the master-narrative of the Cover Plan, another story had to be found for them. We cannot be sure what the story was. But a “pretended diversion” to the west was probably part of it, and a provocative “mock-invasion” certainly was.

There is also the distressing possibility that Tiger was a sacrifice operation carried out to create an impression of Allied unpreparedness and weakness in the west. Tiger was not the first exercise to double as a deception, and unwitting Allied servicemen – and British civilians – were sometimes killed in deception operations. The sacrifice was usually on a comparatively small scale, but in late April the tactical threat allowed for great risks to be taken to safeguard the secret that Normandy was the Allied landing-area. The large presence of US forces in the west jeopardised the secret, and the high death-toll of Tiger may be an indication of how much it mattered to establish a fake “cover story” for the Americans.

The western alliance was supposed to be bilateral in its thinking, planning, and decision-making. But where the Cover Plan is concerned, the bilateralism broke down. Fortitude was almost entirely a British operation, and it was certainly the British who took the lead in hatching and implementing the scheme within Fortitude – a secret scheme that deserves to be called a conspiracy – that collaterally contributed to the deaths of 639 Americans in the E-boat attack. An unresolved question is the extent to which Supreme Allied Headquarters and some of its US generals, including Eisenhower, were aware of the scheme.

The English Channel in early 1944 was a highly dangerous place, and Tiger’s seaborne phase was made even more perilous by the lowering of the air and sea defences and the dissembling of the enemy air recce over Torbay. These were all intentional measures, and in my book I suggest that whether or not Tiger was used as the vehicle for a sacrifice operation, it “certainly became one”. I also say that the 639 who died were “sacrificial victims of the Cover Plan”.

I stop short of saying that a sacrifice on that scale was specifically intended. Before coming to that conclusion, I would want further evidence. Meanwhile, there is the evidence that we already have, of premeditation on the Allied side of the Channel. The deceptionists – as the deceivers called themselves – must have realised that their actions increased the odds that one of Tiger’s convoys would be attacked, ships sunk, and lives lost. They may, however, have gambled on the chance that there would be no attack, or, if there were one, that its death-toll would be low – an acceptable price to pay for the security of the invasion.

If so, the gamble did not come off.

Copyright © 2017, Nigel Lewis

Excerpts from The Cover Plan

        From Chapter 1 – Hesketh’s History

In Arlington Cemetery, Virginia, is a plaque to the memory of the men who died that night. Commending their sacrifice, it states that they died in “the Allied cause”. So they did, but the same may be said of any Allied soldier who died in World War II. In their case, the specific cause was deeply hidden. Caught without knowing it in a story designed to delude the enemy, they were sacrificial victims of the Cover Plan, whose ruthless demands were intrinsic to the catastrophe of T-4. The one operation – the training exercise – was mangled in the machinery of the other one: the deception structured around it.

British historian John Keegan’s description of the T-4 incident, “sad but subordinate”, no longer applies. It would be more accurate to say that it was made to seem subordinate. The emotive story of the doomed convoy turns out not to be random, after all. It can no longer be regarded as an optional add-on to the pre-D-Day history of the Normandy landings – it is right at the heart of that history. Nor can it be construed simply as a “sad” story, sad though it is. General Bradley, the commander of First US Army, rightly called it “one of the major tragedies of the European War”.

What happened to T-4 was monstrously unfair, but there is also a certain wartime inevitability to it, and it is a tragic inevitability. It seems incredible that hundreds of men could die merely for a story. But there were powerful forces at work in the background to Tiger, and the British too were prey to those forces, as we will see …

The deceptionists worked under a disadvantage. They were not responding to events so much as setting the scene for events yet to come, trying to mould an outcome that still lay in the future. Knowing that it was a successful outcome, we are less likely to be amenable to the idea that it might have been less successful if there had been no deception around Tiger, or that T-4 may have forestalled a greater tragedy. Those arguments now look frail and hypothetical. But the deceptionists lived with hypothesis on a daily basis. In trying to second-guess the enemy, they could only act on the basis of conjecture. The ramifications of this point will become clear as the story progresses.

The Cover Plan posed ethical dilemmas that most of us would find intolerable. But the deceptionists could not let the dilemmas detain them for long. They had to choose. They acted out of military necessity, as they saw it, and it is often hard to see how, in the circumstances, they might have acted differently.

But decisions that may have seemed inevitable to them at the time do not necessarily seem so to us in the present-day. There was, as we will see, an objective basis for the Tiger deception, but was it objectively necessary to go ahead with it? There can be no definitive answer to that question. It lies in the realm of “might-have-been” history. Objective necessity does not eliminate the human factor, however. That too had a part to play, as it usually does. Character-defects in some of the commanders make one suspect that the Tiger deception may have got out of hand and run away with itself. I am thinking of the stubborn pride and arrogance that the Greeks knew as hubris, and the misplaced “gung-ho” enthusiasm that is the fatal flaw of many a military disaster. Wartime deception is a dangerous game – the deceptionists may have played it too assiduously.

I will present the evidence known to me, and set the T-4 disaster in the context of the extreme and exacting circumstances in which the decision to weave a deception around Tiger seemed inevitable and right. Before the reader rushes to judgement, I ask that those circumstances be taken into account. It is not my intention either to blame the British en bloc, or to absolve them from blame. But it would be an over-simplification to take the story out of context and see it in black-and-white terms, with the British as the villains of the piece. Their judgements may be in doubt, but not their motives. They were not driven by narrow British self-interest. It was their duty to ensure the security of the invasion, and they took the decisions they did because they saw Allied advantage in taking them. They did not die in the Allied cause, but they did act in that cause. If this is immoral, it is the immorality of war itself.

The concept of the Tiger deception seems to have been British, and the operation was British-led, but readers should be aware from the outset that Americans too took part. The full extent of US participation is unclear, but there were certainly Americans active in carrying out the operation, and others who covered it up. It was eventually an Allied operation, as the Cover Plan was supposed to be. The story unfolds within a warring family – what Eisenhower called “the family relationship of SHAEF”. Americans and British were of course on the same side, not like the house of Atreus in Greek tragedy, warring with one another. It is well known, however, that they were not always as united in thought and deed as they liked to present themselves as being. T-4 – a secret grief of the western alliance – takes that knowledge to a new level.

From Chapter 6 – Sacrifice

Because of Allied protocol, the British could not directly intervene in the crisis in the west. But protocol could not be allowed to get in the way of the overriding operational need for a fully effective Cover Plan. Given US unwillingness to co-operate in the Plan, only the British could save the day by creating the “necessary false picture” in this area. They therefore had to intervene, but could only do so indirectly. Soon enough, Harold Kehm’s prediction of 1943 would come true, as the British took over the American share of the Cover Plan.

To repeat my earlier caveat, all the people in this story – British and American alike – were under the compulsion of the impersonal forces unleashed by war. It would be a mistake to interpret the story in wholly personal terms, to imagine, for example, that the British set out to settle a grudge and punish the Americans for their negligence and non-co-operation in the Cover Plan. That is not how it was. It was the misfortune of the Americans that they had the geographical bad luck of occupying the area that it was most problematic for the deceptionists to accommodate within the Cover Plan. At the same time, it was an Allied responsibility – which became a British responsibility – to ensure that the Overlord cover was watertight and comprehensive. Despite the high-level US reluctance to get involved in the Cover Plan, and despite the extreme difficulty posed by the West Country and the US forces concentrated there, leaving them out of the Plan was not an option.

 515IEe-zmDL.jpg  51SlketIPAL.jpg 41i44u+hSTL.jpg 41isUv1LzYL.jpg

About the Books…

Set in England in the momentous final few weeks before the Normandy invasion of June 6th, 1944, this is the astonishing true story of the deadliest, best kept secret of the Anglo-American alliance of World War II.

The Cover Plan Conspiracy is a complete reappraisal of one of the most publicised but also most misunderstood episodes of the whole D-Day period. In the early morning of April 28, 1944, enemy torpedo-boats attacked an American troopship convoy in the west of the English Channel. Convoy T-4 was the final follow-up convoy of Exercise Tiger, a huge US dress rehearsal for the Normandy landings. The story ever since has been that the 639 Americans killed in the attack were the accidental victims of an unforeseen disaster in training.

The real story, told here for the first time, is devastatingly different. Nigel Lewis draws on extensive research and a wealth of fresh evidence to show that Exercise Tiger was secretly enmeshed in the Allied deception plan for Normandy, the invasion’s so-called “Cover Plan”. Without their knowledge, the men taking part in Tiger were entangled in Allied deception strategy, acting out a narrative designed to mislead the enemy before D-Day. The hundreds killed in the convoy disaster were secret sacrificial victims of the D-Day Cover Plan.

Shedding unprecedented light on Allied disarray and the secret war waged by the Allies before Normandy, this book breaks new ground. The Cover Plan was intended to fool the enemy for a few months. The cover-up of Tiger and T-4 has deceived the historians and peoples of two nations for more than seventy years.

The Cover Plan Conspiracy falls naturally into four parts – The Plan, ‘A Larger Plan’, The Operation, and The Cover-Up. All four parts are available here.

Please note, there are no maps in the book.

Part 1: The Plan sets the scene for the whole book and describes Anglo-American disagreements and other problems that led to the larger plan …

Part 2: ‘A Larger Plan’ shows the net closing around Tiger, and explains the circumstances in which the exercise got caught in the Cover Plan …

Part 3:  The Operation exposes the covert steps taken to weaken Tiger’s defences and tip off the enemy, culminating in the attack on its final convoy …

Part 4: The Cover-Up reveals what was done in 1944 and afterwards to conceal the Tiger deception and the real causes of the convoy disaster …

51ZWjGYSWRL._SX336_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg   519ycaTho7L._SY373_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg You might also check out…

Exercise Tiger: The Dramatic True Story of a Hidden Tragedy of World War II Hardcover – July, 1990 

(This book is only available from 3rd Party book sellers (starting at $3.95)

In the autumn of 1943, the United States armed forces, with the cooperation of the British government, evacuated seven villages and took over 30 acres of Devon to set up a high security camp where thousands of young American recruits could be trained for the forthcoming invasion of Europe. Known as Exercise Tiger, the operation included manoeuvres and rehearsals on landing craft in the English Channel. On the night of April 28th 1944, the landing craft had an inadequate escort of warships and seven German E-boats in the area moved in. At first, the Americans thought they were part of the exercise, but then they saw that their friends were being wounded and killed on several of the vessels, the order was given to abandon ship. Many of the soldiers who jumped, drowned soon after hitting the water.

unnamed-1.jpg Meet Nigel Lewis…

Nigel Lewis was born in Central America in 1948 and is a graduate of Cambridge University. He was a journalist for twenty-five years, for the BBC and other outlets. The Cover Plan Conspiracy is his second excursion into the investigative history of World War II. His first book, Paperchase (1981), exposed a state secret of the Soviet bloc, the secret purloining, by Poland, of thousands of priceless musical and other manuscripts evacuated during the war from the Prussian State Library in Berlin. He is also the librettist of The First Commandment, the English version of an early Mozart opera.

In the late 1980’s he wrote a blow-by-blow documentary account of the E-boat attack on Exercise Tiger in 1944, published in the UK as Channel Firing and in the USA as Exercise Tiger. He is currently working on another book about the US presence in wartime Britain – Bugbear: the Americans and the Beaches of the West Country, 1943-1944. He lives in London, and spends part of the year in Italy. 

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Exercise Tiger, a Tragic Rehearsal for D-Day

Most of us know something of D-Day. On June 6, 1944, more than 160,000 Allied troops landed along a 50-mile stretch of heavily-fortified French coastline, to fight Nazi Germany on the beaches of Normandy, France. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower called the operation a crusade in which, “we will accept nothing less than full victory.” More than 5,000 Ships and 13,000 aircraft supported the D-Day invasion, and by day’s end, the Allies gained a foot-hold in Continental Europe. The cost in lives on D-Day was high. More than 9,000 Allied Soldiers were killed or wounded, but their sacrifice allowed more than 100,000 Soldiers to begin the slow, hard slog across Europe, to defeat Adolf Hitler’s crack troops.(

But what do you know of EXERCISE TIGER? Off Slapton Sands on the coast of Devon, 946 American servicemen perished during what was known a Exercise Tiger, a rehearsal for what would be the D-Day landing on Utah Beach in Normandy, France. This occurred but nine days before the event mentioned above – on April 27, 1944. describes Exercise Tiger thusly, “The dry run was designed to simulate the confusion and carnage of combat, but it became all too real after German torpedo boats stumbled upon the landing fleet and sank several of its ships. Despite the loss of some 750 American servicemen, the fiasco was initially covered up to ensure the D-Day mission remained secret. In the early morning hours of April 28, 1944, an Allied fleet slinked toward the coast of southern England. Along with a lone British corvette, the flotilla included eight American tank landing ships, or LSTs, each one of them filled to the brim with soldiers from the U.S. Army’s VII Corps. In just five weeks, these same troops were scheduled to land in France as part of Operation Overlord, the Allies’ secret plan to invade Nazi-held Western Europe. Overlord was integral to the Allied strategy for victory in World World II, and to ensure it went smoothly, military brass had organized a sweeping dress rehearsal codenamed ‘Exercise Tiger.””

Some 3000 residents from Slapton, Strete, Torcross, Blackawton and East Allington in South Devon departed their homes as part of the exercised designed by the American military. Slapton Sands reportedly resembled the Normandy coast line, and, therefore, it was chosen for the military simulation. 


Troops involved in the action of Exercise Tiger ~ Credit: NARA

Historic UK tells us, “The beautiful and usually tranquil River Dart filled up with landing craft and ships for the operation. Nissen huts sprang up in Coronation Park in Dartmouth and new slipways and ramps were built on the river’s edge, all the way from Dartmouth up to Dittisham. Exercise Tiger was designed to be as realistic as possible and on 22nd April 1944 it began. Landing craft loaded with soldiers, tanks and equipment were deployed along the coast. However, unbeknown to the military, under cover of darkness nine German E-boats (fast attack craft) had managed to slip in amongst them in Lyme Bay. Two landing ships were sunk and a third badly damaged. Lack of training on the use of life vests, heavy packs and the cold water contributed to the disaster: many men drowned or died of hypothermia before they could be rescued. Over 700 Americans lost their lives.”

The exercise conducted upon Slapton beach also proved disastrous. It included a live-firing exercise creating what we now call “friendly fire” deaths from the naval bombardment. The losses occurring during this event were kept secret until long after the war had ended. 


Lyme Bay, England ~ Wikimedia Commons


“Later that year on Sunday 4th June, the people of Dartmouth were ordered to stay indoors: tanks rolled through the town and troops converged on the harbour with its landing craft and ships. The following day 485 ships left the harbour, taking a full day to clear the mouth of the river and at dawn on the 6th June, the invasion of France began. Thanks to the training at Slapton, fewer soldiers died during the actual landing on Utah Beach than during Exercise Tiger, and so the training in Devon was not in vain.” (Historic UK)

Slapton was not the only site in Devon to be used by the American military during World War Two. The north coast around Woolacombe Bay was also used for practising amphibious landing assaults in preparation for the D-Day landings.

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