The night D-Day failed

This week marks the 70th anniversary of D-Day, but for a Frederic, Wisconsin, man — Frederic is between Pine City, Minnesota, and Spooner, Wisconsin — one of the more memorable moments in the invasion had its 70th anniversary in April.

Doug Harlander, now 94, was an ensign in the Navy, aboard a landing ship during a full dress rehearsal for D-Day when all hell broke loose, CBS News reported. It was a disaster in the making when the landing ships’ armed escort had to turn back to port.

German patrol boats spotted the LSTs and just after 2 a.m., the unprotected convoy came under fire. LST 507 was struck by the first torpedo.

“All I saw was the big flash,” said Harlander. “All of a sudden it’s on fire.”

Minutes later, Harlander’s ship was ripped apart by two torpedoes that struck in quick succession. It sank in about six minutes.

“I got in the water. The thing was cold, 44 degrees and that is cold, cold water,” Harlander said. “I could move my elbow, my knees, but I couldn’t move my fingers. They were just straight out.”

Harlander hung onto a life raft for hours until a British ship fished him out of the water.

“They have me a cup of hot tea, but I couldn’t hold the cup with my cold hands. I spilled more of it than I drank. It was still the best drink I ever had,” he said.

He was among the lucky.

More than 700 men died that night. And for years the rehearsal was a secret. For the most part, this year’s reunion to mark the occasion was too.

Related: 93-year-old WWII vet to parachute into Normandy — again (CBS News).

  • kevinfromminneapolis

    Amazing story.

  • MrE85

    This sad chapter of the war was the subject of an episode of “Foyle’s War,” the British mystery series set in wartime England. Here’s what the show’s creator, Anthony Horowitz, had to say about it:

    “Worse still was the blunder that led to the disaster at Slapton Sands in Devon on April 28 1944, where 946 American servicemen lost their lives when a German E-boat interrupted a D-Day landings rehearsal. To this day, nobody knows what happened, but one suggestion was that there was a typing error in a radio signal which therefore never arrived.

    Of course, the secrecy necessary to maintain morale casts these terrible accidents in an even worse light. It was fascinating, and slightly creepy, to learn that ‘coffin factories’ all around London had to be kept under wraps by the Government so as not to alarm the local populace.

    The story of Slapton Sands only began to emerge 40 years after the end of the war and other stories (dozens of dead, burnt-out bodies washed up on the coast of Suffolk) have faded to the extent that they are now no more than local myths.”