D-Day: Sweeping Ahead of the Destroyers, Early Morning, 6 June 1944

Minesweepers clearing approaches to the invasion beaches ahead of D-Day, 6th June 1944. Oil on canvas by Norman Wilkinson in collection of National Maritime Museum.

Wilkinson, Norman, 1878-1971; D-Day: Sweeping Ahead of the Destroyers, Early Morning, 6 June 1944

“We shall fight on the beaches…”

Winston Churchill, speech to the House of Commons, 4th June, 1940:

The British Empire and the French Republic, linked together in their cause and in their need, will defend to the death their native soil, aiding each other like good comrades to the utmost of their strength. Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.

My grandfather’s story: Minesweeping during Operation Husky, 1943

This my grandfather’s account, published in The Worthing Herald on August 27, 1943.

Les Bober was serving on the Bangor-class minesweeper HMS Rye (J76) with 14th Minesweeper Flotilla, clearing the approaches to ACID North and ACID South beaches on the night of 9th-10th July, then remaining in the area through 18th July carrying out anti-submarine patrols, mine clearance, and escort duties. Rye’s captain during Operation Husky was Lt. J. A. Pearson, RNR.


Worthing Man Helped Sweep Seas For Armada

The first Englishmen to approach Sicily as the tip of the spearhead of the Allied invasion of the East Coast near Noto were the crews of four minesweepers which cleared a channel for the huge Armada which followed them.

On one of those minesweepers was a Worthing man, Sick Berth Attendant Leslie Bober, eldest son of Mrs. Wooster, of “Trevone,” Trevor-close.

A graphic account of his experience was given by Bober to the “Tripoli Times,” writes a military correspondent.

I am reliably informed that the “military correspondent” was my grandfather and that he forwarded the Tripoli Times article to his hometown newspaper.

Bober, who is 29 years old, was employed as a printer before the war, and worked for the “South London Press,” and for a time for B. H. Gadd, Wenban-road, Worthing. He runs a paper on board his ship, and has a gift for writing. He joined the Navy at the outbreak of war, and has two other brothers at sea, one in the Navy like himself, and the other in the Merchant Service.

“It’s Come at Last.”

Bober told the correspondent: “I was on board one of the first four minesweepers which approached Sicily on the Friday night of the invasion to sweep a channel for the invasion craft.

“We didn’t know where we were going until we had put to sea. We sailed to the east and then turned into Sicily. Our skipper came down and drew a map on the fo’casle and told us we were going to invade Sicily. He didn’t show a trace of excitement – just as if he were explaining some plan in peace-time. We all felt a bit mixed, but the chief feeling was “It’s come at last.”

“We swept a path into Noto harbour, on the east side of Sicily below Syracuse. We were expecting hell and we were feeling a bit tense. But strangely enough there was absolutely no opposition worth talking about. As we approached we could see our Fortresses giving them a terrific thumping, but their searchlights and ack-ack weren’t at all what I was expecting to see.

Noto is a town ~5km inland. He means Golfo di Noto, the wide inlet south of Syracuse. The harbour is Lido di Noto, a fishing village and beach town.

Landing beaches here during Operation Husky were GEORGE, HOW, and JIG. British troops landing on these beaches included 5th Infantry Division (Maj Gen Berney-Ficklin) and 50th Infantry Division (Maj Gen Kirkman).

A Few Shots

“We swept quite close inshore. We had heard that the paratroops had gone in and we all felt that the good job they had done was the reason why we were not getting all the attention we had expected.

“We stayed in Noto Bay until dawn and then we went in again to sweep in front of the troop carrying lighters. There were a few shots but nothing at all really. It was just like bringing them into Tripoli harbour.

“We could see the troops landing on the beaches and the civilians packing all their goods and scrambling away. Along the shore there were one or two fires.

“Our troops walked in; then they landed artillery and they started a barrage. Meanwhile the landing barges were going to and fro among the immense armada of ships. It is impossible to give any idea of the sight of those thousands of ships. Everywhere you looked there were ships, all the ships that you see in the London and Liverpool docks. There were battleships and cruisers, destroyers, troopships and the landing craft going backwards and forwards. We all said it was ‘Britain’s Day Off’!

No Opposition

“In the morning after the first troops had landed at Noto we swept up to Syracuse where they were landing Commandos. We would see columns of smoke going up as we swept into the harbour.

This would be No. 3 Commando (Lt Col Durnford-Slater), veterans of Vaagso and Dieppe.

“Again there was no opposition. We could see the people on the shore running away and we saw, too, the Italian flag fluttering down from the flagpole over the signal station and the White Ensign went up.

“The Italians had evidently not expected us. Our airplanes were sweeping overhead all the time – droves of them. We could see too on the shore the broken gliders that had crash-landed in Sicily. The whole show seemed brilliantly organized.

The “broken gliders” were some of the 147 gliders carrying 1st Airlanding Brigade (Brig Philip Hicks), 65 of which crash landed in the sea, others were blown off course, and only 12 landed in the target area.

“The coast of Sicily between Noto and Syracuse reminded me of Peacehaven. In places along the coast we could see the soldiers getting the railway working; and all the time inland there was gunfire.

Peacehaven is a small coastal town in East Sussex, close enough to Worthing that readers of The Worthing Herald would be able to imagine the terrain.

“We got a few air attacks at night and they were pretty heavy but our ships put up a terrific barrage.”

The Worthing Herald

Friday August 27, 1943


The original poorly-preserved article from 1943.

“Pluto” ship’s dog of Tribal-class destroyer HMS Cossack

Onboard Royal Navy Tribal-class destroyer HMS Cossack, 1940. Petty Officer Scott with “Pluto”, the destroyer’s mascot. Pluto has been in all the ship’s battles including Narvik and Altmark episode.© IWM (A 1597)

Dunkirk evacuation 3 June 1940

Evacuated from beaches: 1,870

Evacuated Dunkirk harbour: 24,876

Daily total: 26,746

Accumulated total: 312,051

Source: Thompson, Julian. Dunkirk: Retreat to Victory. New York: Arcade, 2011.

Dunkirk evacuation 1st June 1940

Evacuated from beaches: 17,348

Evacuated Dunkirk harbour: 47,081

Daily total: 64,429

Accumulated total: 259,049

Source: Thompson, Julian. Dunkirk: Retreat to Victory. New York: Arcade, 2011.

British naval losses at Dunkirk on 30 may 1940

There were fewer losses of major vessels on 30 May compared to the previous day, due in part to the decision of Capt Wm. Tennant, SNO Dunkirk, to only allow one destroyer at a time to enter the harbour. This ensured that there was less congestion and fewer targets were presented to German aircraft.

HMS King Orry (Cdr J. Elliot, RNR), a passenger steamer from the Isle of Man Steam Packet company requisitioned by the Royal Navy for use as an Armed Boarding Vessel (ABV) in both the First and Second World War, attacked and badly damaged by German dive bombers. Scuttled clear of the harbour.

Isle of Man Steam Packet Tynwald passes wreck of sister ship King Orry at Dunkirk.

French destroyer Bourrasque struck a mine off Nieuwpoort, Beligium (ironically, a French-laid minefield). Survivors taken off by French torpedo boat Branlebas, Admiralty drifter Yorkshire Lass, and armed trawler HMT Ut Prosim.

HMS Hebe embarked RAdm Wake-Walker, SNO Afloat, off Dunkirk on 30 May 1940

Halcyon-class minesweeper HMS Hebe embarked Rear Admiral Frederic Wake-Walker on 30 May 1940. Wake-Walker assumed role as Senior Naval Officer (SNO) Afloat, supervising shipping offshore during the evacuation. Later that day, Hebe lifted 633 troops from the beaches.