Major James Stewart "Stu" Duncan the Office Commanding B Squadron and his crew L/Cpl Challenger, gunner, L/Sgt Jubb, Loader/ Operator, Tpr. "Mac" Dixon, Driver, and Tpr. Roswell Tofflemire, were in the lead position of the lead LCT for B Squadron. All were seasick but Tpr. Dixon was the worst. He spent the crossing handing out anti-seasick pills to the rest of the troops. Major Duncan spent much of the night on the bridge with the captain. The targeted landing zone for B Squadron was sector "NAN GREEN". Curious as to how the captain would find the correct location for launching in such foul weather, he asked several times and each time was told quite enigmatically "You'll know it when you see it" Arriving off the beach in the early morning fog The Captain directed Maj. Duncan to look straight to his front saying "There's the spot". Focusing his binoculars in the direction indicated he was very surprised to see what appeared to be "Two men standing in the rough water holding on to a post and having a cigarette". On the post he could see a flashing green light. In fact, these hardy fellows were the crew of a British 2-man miniature submarine that had actually been on location since June 4th waiting for the armada to arrive.
Major "Stu" Duncan Officer Commanding B Squadron
Courseulles-sur-Mer June 6 1944, NAN GREEN to the left MIKE RED to the right
As planned Major Duncan gave the order to raise screens and prepare to launch. However, at that time conditions were judged too rough to do so. The decision was made in conjunction with the Naval flotilla commander to move into the planned launch point about 7000 yards from shore and re-assess at that time. Here again the conditions were considered too rough and the decision was made to run the DD tanks ashore for a dry landing. Sergeant Leo Gariepy a member of B Squadron described the factors involved in this decision in a post war interview. “The LCTs were very unpredictable, due to their construction they would swing wildly in a beam sea and due to the speed of the DD tanks they had to be at almost a dead stop while launching the tanks. This further complicated steering. The tanks would plunge deeply when entering the water often bringing the water to within 6 inches of the top of the screen before righting themselves”. Many of the crews began removing some of the equipment that would aid in swimming ashore as they now expected to be landed directly on the beach. As the LCTs were moving considerably faster than the DD Tanks could swim the Naval Commander ordered the ships to reduce speed and zig-zag so as to not land too soon.
As you might understand it came as a considerable surprise when a short time later the First Officer of the Naval flotilla pulled alongside Major Duncan's LCT. and inquired if he was "afraid to launch" A spirited exchange ensued in which Major Duncan replied "The 1st Hussars are never afraid and we will launch when I decide it is possible". The Naval officer then explained that it was "Simply a matter of Major Duncan losing 3-4 tanks or him losing 8 ships". He then asked if Major Duncan was prepared to launch closer if the sea conditions were suitable? Receiving a positive response, he charged off towards the beach returning several minutes later saying the conditions at 5000 yards were quite calm. Being the senior Hussar in the assault force Major Duncan then gave the order for the D.D.s to Launch. As we shall see this did not end well for Major Duncan. When he met this officer later in England, he called him a "Damn liar" for the conditions at the launch point were marginal at best.
B squadron was the first to launch and despite the terrible conditions managed to get all 19 vehicles off safely. The conditions in which the tanks launched significantly exceeded anything the Regiment had encountered in training. Waves were between 1 and 2 meters with winds up to 28 kph blowing out of the North West. In addition, there was a heavy current moving from West to East and as the D.D.s moved into shallow water near the beach the waves increased considerably. In order to safely launch the D.D. tanks, the LCTs had to turn their stern into the wind and current so that when the D.D. launched into the water, it was a smooth as possible. It is important to note that the D.D. tanks only had a freeboard of about 1 meter. Very quickly the crew commanders found that the pounding of the huge waves made it very difficult to steer. The steel frames and struts supporting the screens were being stressed to the point of near collapse and many commanders called their crews on deck to brace them. Unfortunately, in some cases this was not enough. Immediately after launching the vehicle of #5 Troop Leader Lieutenant Bruce Deans suffered a complete engine failure and had to be abandoned as it sank. As it turned out #5 Troop had truly bad luck that day, a second tank commanded by Corporal Charles E. Laroche sank when its screen collapsed and the third vehicle commanded by Sergeant Bailey was swamped shortly after reaching the beach.
Lieutenant B.M. Deans # 5 Troop Leader
Major Duncan’s vehicle was also destined to not make it to the beach. About 200 yards from shore a near miss from a mortar collapsed the right side of the screen. As his crew bailed out Major Duncan attempted to deploy the life raft but was sucked under by the sinking tank. He managed to surface once, but was taken down a second time when the tank rolled over. Surfacing again he was eventually able to make it to the life raft which had been deployed by L/Cpl Challenger. Unfortunately, his other crew members were floating nearby but were unable to reach the raft. From his position Major Duncan was able to see that the majority of his Squadron had made it ashore ahead of the infantry and were busily engaging their appointed targets. The 5th loss for B Squadron that morning was that of Captain Richard ‘Dick’ Wildgoose the story of this tank as recounted by his loader/operator will be told later. Eventually Major Duncan and two of his crew were picked up by a passing landing craft and returned to England. The fourth crew member, the driver, Cpl “Mac” Dixon eventually made it to shore on his own. Unfortunately, Trooper Roswell Tofflemire did not survive and became one of the first of many brave Hussars to make the ultimate sacrifice in the course of the next 11 months.
Trooper Roswell Tofflemire