Slapton Sands is a beach of coarse sand near Dartmouth in south Devon. The beach is perhaps best known as the scene of a tragic exercise in preparation for the D-Day invasion of June 1944. Slapton Sands was selected for a huge practice run for the invasion of Utah Beach in Normandy, due to similarities between Utah Beach and Slapton Sands. Both beaches are made up of gravel, and both have a large lake sitting behind them. On 28th April 1944 failures in organisation of escort ships allowed German torpedo boats to attack troop and tank carrying vessels preparing to land at Slapton Sands. Over six hundred servicemen were killed. Once the surviving ships landed their troops on the beach, many were killed by live shells fired by a British cruiser. These shells were fired in an attempt to reproduce conditions which troops would have to face in Normandy. But confusion over planning led to American soldiers crossing into restricted areas where shells were falling.
Official casualty numbers were released after D-Day, and revealed that over nine hundred men were killed. This compares with two hundred men killed on Utah Beach on D-Day itself. Although documentation is scanty, it seems that the casualties were hastily buried in an attempt to maintain security for the approaching invasion.
Today a Sherman tank, raised from the seabed near Slapton Sands, stands near Torcross as a memorial to those who died. This memorial was the work of a local resident, Ken Small. Showing great initiative he managed to get the submerged tank brought ashore, and placed on a plinth provided by the local council, who also provided a memorial plaque.
Directions: Slapton Sands is off the A379 five miles south of Dartmouth. The memorial is at the southern end of the beach at Torcross. Click here for an interactive map centred on Slapton Sands Memorial.