"as we were moving out, the invasion fleet started to arrive, the big battleships, cruisers, were the first coming in and then we became spectators as the invasion forces passed us by going into the beaches."
I guess it was Portsmouth for a few weeks, waiting for the invasion to come off. And then a couple of days before that, before the invasion did take place, which was June 6th, 1944, we were sent down to someplace on the south coast of England where we started out with our sweep. And we went out one day earlier, the invasion was held back by one day, we were already at sea and halfway to France when we were recalled. And our job was to sweep a swath across the English Channel, about 1,200 yards wide.
As it happens, we were on the American end of the invasion. Anyway, we were called back [June 5th 1944] and then the next day, we were away again and there was a band of German mines out in the middle of the English Channel, a very wide band, which was the main obstacle. And through that, then we proceeded onto the coast of Normandy and it happened to be the area at the base of the Cherbourg Peninsula, which is where the Americans landed on Omaha Beach.
Anyway, we were there, well, this took place all night long and in complete darkness and to this day of course, I don’t understand how our ship and the rest of the ships in our flotilla were able to maintain course and get to where we were supposed to go. In any event, we arrived at our destination on the French coast and cleared an area which was called the transport areas. And I cleaned any mines out there and we were actually, faintly, we could see the coast of France, Normandy and the big guns. Of course, we couldn’t see the guns but we knew they were there. And the Germans never woke up, they never knew we were there.
And anyway, we finished our sweep and got out and moved out and as we were moving out, the invasion fleet started to arrive, the big battleships, cruisers, were the first coming in and then we became spectators as the invasion forces passed us by going into the beaches. So we spent the next couple of months, every day we would go out and clear the areas that had not previously cleaned up for mines.
The [mine] flotilla consisted of, as I said, ten ships. Eight ships normally in a sweeping configuration. And at the back of each minesweeper, you let out a cable and at the end of the cable was a float and a thing we called the paravein. It was like a kite that ran in the water and it would pull the cable out at about 45 degrees. And along this cable was a cutter capable of cutting a wire. And if you can visualize say eight snowplows in an airport, one behind the other, clearing the snow, this is something like the eight ships going across that channel.
My buddy and I went ashore one time and this was when I was on the harbour craft, early in 1943, and he’d go to a liquor store and buy a bottle of rye and go to a restaurant and order a meal and surreptitiously drink your rye along with your meal. And this guy, his name was Maurice Lepine, he came from Quebec City, good buddy. And anyway, we drank this whole damn bottle, he and I and then of course, being kids, that was enough to get us pretty tight. And we got out in the street and got unruly with some of the natives and shore patrol came along and we woke up the next morning and in the brig.
And we got shot at, you know. After the invasion of Normandy and after we had completed most of the work that we needed to do there, we got sent back to Canada for a refit and I remember the day, we got word, pick up a convoy that was sailing back to Canada, to America. And we headed from the English Channel out, we were working in the English Channel at the time and we headed into the Atlantic to pick this convoy and we went by the Channel Islands. At this time, the Channel Islands had not yet surrendered and they’re still occupied by Germans. And of course, to us, I guess we didn’t know it at the time and we could see the beach over there on our left and we could see the water actually slopping up on the beach and we were sailing past it, happy as hell, heading back to Canada when all of a sudden, the big guns on the island start firing on us. We were a little minesweeper all by ourself.
The old man [Lt. James Barrett Lamb], quick thinking guy, he just ordered the ship to turn toward the island and the next salvo, you know, these are 12 inch guns I think, and the next salvo went over the top and some of them exploded in the air and some of them, when they hit the water. And then he ordered black smoke.