January 1, 1944 found A & B squadrons, and Regimental Headquarters, off for another 14 days of “advanced” training, this time, at B Wing, in Stokes Bay on the South coast of England.
Unlike Fritton Decoy, this training was carried out in conjunction with the Royal Navy in the open waters of the Solent. Here, the squadrons practised loading and unloading from actual landing craft. Working with the landing craft was not new to the soldiers, but all of their previous experience had involved wading ashore from a very short distance. Here, they were dropped off in the open sea from one to three thousand yards off shore in anything up to 6-foot waves, and expected to maneuver their fragile craft to a pinpoint landing at a precise time. Once the crew commander felt the tracks touch down, he was required to place his vehicle into a “Hull Down” position. That is, he was expected to accurately judge the depth of the water, and lower the screens when the top deck of the tank was only just above the waterline. This allowed the tank to fire its guns while offering the smallest possible target to the enemy. As might be expected, this was a very precise maneuver, requiring a deft touch. It does not require a vivid imagination to realize the consequences of deflating prematurely. 18-ton tanks do not float. To their great credit, the 1st Hussars never lost a vehicle in this manner. Of particular note, was the fact that throughout this training the Regiment’s Commanding Officer R.J. Colwell, and his Second in Command F.E. White, made a serious study of all aspects of the training. They could be seen dashing about in a motor boat observing the action from all angles, and as a result, made several suggestions for improvement, which in the end, resulted in cutting the time required for a squadron to clear the landing craft by half.
The training at Gosport ended with a rehearsal of the formations that would eventually be used in the actual assault on D-Day. The Squadrons plus Regimental Head Quarters were loaded into 8 LCTs at Gosport during daylight, and travelled through the night to their designated beaches along Studland Bay. At dawn the next day each squadron launched 4 columns of tanks towards the beach. At a prearranged signal, all 8 columns, executed a very precise and quite spectacular maneuver, changing from line ahead to line abreast, and converged on the beach on a front of about 2000 yards. All of the tanks touched down at almost the same moment, and in seconds, the screens were dropped and all guns were engaging beach targets at the same time. The diagrams below illustrate the sequence of events and formations to be used by the DD squadrons on D-Day. They are taken from the War diary of the 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade, the parent unit for the 1st Hussars
While this exercise as a whole was a great success, it was also the occasion of our only training accident. A slight miscalculation by the Navy resulted in a longer than expected run in to the beach, which in turn, required a slight course correction. While executing the turn, one of the crews from A Squadron had the misfortune to hit a submerged seawall damaging the tank. To their great credit, the crew made a valiant effort to save the vehicle and a nearby landing craft was able to take them in tow. Unfortunately the damage was too extensive, and the distance was just too great, by the time the order to “Abandon ship” was given, the water in the tank was up around the driver’s neck. The crew were taken aboard the landing craft none the worse for wear as a result of their unplanned swim.