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~ FIGHTER DIRECTION TENDER 216 ~

D-DAY DIARY

Fighter Direction Tenders were, in effect, floating command and control centres which bristled with antenna and aerials for radar, communications and intelligence gathering purposes. They were the eyes and ears for the large scale invasion forces off the beaches of Normandy in June of 1944. There were 3 Fighter Direction Tenders designated FDT 13, 216 & 217 and this is the story of FDT 216 as told in the diary of a Leading Aircraftsman.

Background Glossary of Terms Normandy Diary Loss of FDT 216 Further Reading Acknowledgments

Background

These are extracts from the diary of 1435309 Leading Aircraftsman (LAC) Leslie Armitage (Photo opposite). They presently cover his service on board Fighter Direction Tender (FDT) 216 off the American beaches of Utah and Omaha over a 10 day period from June 5 1944. Les enlisted on the 29th October 1941 at the age of 20, and was immediately posted to Blackpool. He later trained at the Compton Bassett Wireless School, Leeming Aerodrome and other establishments. In January 1944 he was posted to Combined Operations at Gailes Camp in Ayrshire and in May to Fighter Direction Tender 216.

If you're unfamiliar with the role of Fighter Direction Tenders in WW2 we recommend that you click here for background information.

Glossary of Terms

AA - Ack-Ack or Anti Aircraft fire, ASR - Air Sea Rescue, E-Boat - very fast German motor boat usually equipped with torpedo tubes. JU88 - German Dive Bomber, LAC - Leading Aircraftsman, Lancaster - British Bomber, LCT - Landing Craft Tank, Oerlikon - Anti-Aircraft gun. R/T - Radio Telegraphy (speech broadcast over open radio waves), W/T - secret coded messages transmitted using morse code,  W/Ops - Wireless Operators.

Normandy Diary

Day Time

Diary Entry

5th Noon

Took position in convoy at 12am in Weymouth Harbour. Everyone in high spirits. Very heavy seas running.

  20.00 Commenced sailing for marshalling point  two miles off Isle of Wight. Sea getting worse – feeling quite seasick
6th 04.00 Went on watch in signals cabin,  maintaining radio silence. Ship’s company at action stations,  sea even worse. Zero Hour - large number of paratroops dropped a few miles inland. Very heavy A/A fire. Lancasters bombing fortifications and further inland just beyond beaches. Tremendous amount of noise, quite a few aircraft shot down. W/T and R/T communications commenced with bombers and fighters.
  05.00 First Light. Tank landing craft now going in, bags of air cover. Trouble being experienced with tripods in sea just off beaches. Mines being triggered by craft, poor devils landing!
  06.00 Terrific amount of noise, no German fighters yet. Beaches now under bombardment from German guns inland. It must be terrible on the beaches.
  08.00 Beaches now being taken over by our troops, our battleships plastering inland at point blank range.
  09.00 Yank report of very large force of Fortresses bombing about 2 miles inland, along whole 40 miles of beaches. Our fighter cover terrific. Understand very heavy casualties suffered by paratroopers. American casualties on beaches very severe, officer reports troops experiencing trouble with landmines and machine gun nests. Came off watch. Had corned beef sandwich for breakfast – now at action stations ready to pass ammunition to Oerlikon guns.
  11.00 Bombing by our medium bombers taking place. Battleships still sailing up and down beaches, firing all the time. Rocket firing craft now sailing backwards and forwards firing salvo after salvo at fortifications and inland. Noise beyond belief! We have now taken up position 3 miles from Utah beach and have three destroyers and three spitfires for our protection. We are now controlling all Spitfires over beaches. Six R.A.F. Air Sea Rescue Launches now fastened to 216.
  11.15 Rum ration just been issued and 'wakey-wakey' tablets to keep us going.
  12.00 Our cooks are now carrying ammunition to guns, so no warm food. Corned beef sandwiches and hard American biscuits for lunch. Back on W/T watch once again until1600 hours. Still very heavy seas running. German Air Force now waking up and bags of hostiles approaching. Still loads of trouble on the beaches.
  16.00 Off watch and now at action stations carrying ammunition. Sea calming down a little. Transports going into the beaches in very great numbers
  18.00 Corned beef once again for supper – oh for a change! Aircraft controlled by our ship have confirmed shooting down two raiding JU 88s. Everybody happy. ASR launches gone out to look for German pilots. Reported no sign of them.
  20.00 On W/T watch once again until midnight. Biscuits and coffee for supper. Another large force of paratroopers dropped 3 miles inland. ASR launches just gone out to pick up 22 paratroops in glider 5 miles west of us.
  21.00 Launches returned, no sign of men. Air raid warning, German aircraft being brought down by AA fire. Our Navy gunners say they got one of them. (?)
  22.00 Terrific noise, German aircraft reported to be dropping mines in our vicinity. AA fire still strong. Battleships again shelling inland. Lancasters passing over.
7th 00.01 On action station once again, feeling very tired. Asked for wakey-wakey tablet. Noise terrible.
  04.00 Just been relieved, so am going to lie down on deck to try and get some sleep. Really ready for it!
  08.00 On watch again in Signal’s cabin. Plenty of work, bags of panic too. German aircraft attacking our shipping.
  12.00 Managed to get hot meal of egg and chips (cooked by the R.A.F. personnel). Bombers still over-flying beaches. AA fire intense. Feeling terribly tired and wonder how I will feel after a week of this.
  13.00 Just had rum ration, energy tablets, wakey-wakey tablets and three aspirin for a headache. Will be rattling before long!
  16.00 Off watch, feeling too tired to worry about the noise, guns, bombs... or anything!
  18.00 Had two hours sleep – wonderful.
  20.00 Back on radio watch. Very busy, hardly keep my eyes open. Noise and banging pretty terrific down here in Signal’s cabin. Going off watch at midnight. Air raid warning and report of E- boats in our area.
8th 00.01 At action stations. Bombers flying over. Terrific number of fires can be seen on shore. Battleships still giving broadsides
  04.00 Hardly keep awake. LCT torpedoed by E-boat, ASR launch going out to pick up survivors, second launch out for German pilot seen to bail out just astern of us.
  06.00 Launches alongside, 18 survivors from LCT 2 badly injured. Helped to lift them over the side of 216, both fastened to stretchers. Sea quite rough now. German pilot lifted on board, two bullets in his lower back. Two men lifted from LST, one badly burned with broken leg and arm. The other has caved in chest and side of face seriously injured. Number of R.A.F. amongst survivors. Strange, one of the ASR crew badly injured, his foot was crushed between launch and our ship. Helped to pull him aboard. All injured carried into dining mess and placed on tables for treatment. Blood transfusion given to burned fellow. German pilot (about 23 I would think) opened his cigarette case. All his cigarettes were sodden, Within five minutes he must have been given 6 packs of cigarettes by R.A.F. personnel. It’s a strange war!!
  08.00 Corned beef sandwich for breakfast. On radio watch until 12. Activity ashore still great.
  12.00 Rum served at 11.15. Managed to get 4 hours sleep, feel so much better (probably slightly sozzled due to rum!).
  16.00 On wireless set until midnight. Feet feel sore. Haven’t had clothes off for four days. Injured and survivors sent to England at 0500 by ASR Launches.
  22.00 Hostile aircraft approaching. Air raid warning sounded, very heavy barrage from our escort vessels and our gunners. Ship hit about 400 yards away.
  23.59 All clear sounded – now off watch.
9th 00.01 Got head down on deck feeling cold, hungry and tired. Went to sleep for one hour.
  01.00 Hostile aircraft overhead, ships guns and escorts firing. Carrying ammunition. Two planes shot down in flames about one mile away. Our spitfires missing due to low cloud and bad weather conditions. German aircraft attacking shipping, Lancasters bombing mainland... what a noise.
  04.00 More German planes, two shot down in flames. Terrific barrage from escorts. Had an hour’s sleep on deck 0600-0700. Breakfast beans and bacon, certainly ready for it.
  08.00 Had quick wash, no time to shave, 4 days growth on chin. Went on watch, nothing much happening outside, just the odd plane over now and again. Sea quite calm, visibility about 2000 yards, battleships have now cleared off. ASR Launches just sailed to pick up survivors of mined ship. Listening out on R/T watch.
  12.00 Off watch. Hot dinner provided today – wonderful! Issue of rum and “wakey” tablets. On action stations at 1300.
  16.00 On R/T watch again, received RED warning, 100 + hostiles. Very heavy AA fire – understand 10 down. All clear 1858 hrs. ASR launches picked up 6 survivors out of crew of 90 on mined ship astern of us. Decided to send them straight to England, ASR launch took our mail too!
  21.00 Air raid warning, terrific barrage, 2 hostiles reported down. All clear sounded 2130. Tried to have a shave, having one when air raid warning sounded. Action stations until 2330. Germans bombing beaches and shipping. On WT watch at midnight.
10th 00.30 Air raid alarm. Two of our fighters shot down by U.S. destroyers. Both pilots on board at 0200. Not very pleased about it. All clear 0100.
  02.00 Feeling very tired, taken two “wakey” tablets, feel better. Cheese and biscuits for early morning meal. Bombing inland, suppose they are Lancasters.
  04.00 Germans attacking shipping with radio controlled bombs according to bridge and R/T reports. Landing in sea 100 yards ahead of us. 216 on the move, report of submarine in our area (?) Heavy fire, everything quiet again at 0600.
  08.00 Bacon and beans in a tin for breakfast, rather nice. Weather superb, brilliant sunshine, calm sea. Everything on shore seems to have calmed down. Reports of 2 more British aircraft shot down by Yanks. Had one hour’s sleep – corned beef for dinner.
  12.00 On watch again, just about on my knees, my legs feel terribly weak and can hardly keep my eyes open.
  14.00 Action stations for Port Watch.
  14.15 A couple of W/Ops passed out onto wireless sets, sent them to rest for an hour. I feel bad too. I keep falling asleep with head phones on “listening out”. Corporal says to go on deck and get some fresh air in my lungs. I do and feel a lot better. Rinsed face in cold water. What a game!
  15.00 Terrific mix up regarding aircraft. Germans reported to be using captured Spitfires, one shot down by British pilot.
  16.00 Off watch. Slice of bread and a cup of tea for tea, had an hour’s sleep. 216 moved closer in, now about one mile from beach. Can see German fortifications and beach defences. Lovely little village in view, hardly seems to be damaged. Liberty ships sunk on beach to form landing stage.
  17.00 RT reports of Spitfires attacking German aerodromes.
  20.00 On watch until midnight
  23.00 Our controlled aircraft claim 4 German kills. Large convoy moving in, another convoy moving out. Everything rather quiet tonight, off watch midnight. RT reports of large number of our fighters being used over beaches tonight. Reports that RAF Group Headquarters has now been set up ashore.
11th 00.01 Off watch trying to get some sleep.
  01.30 Air raid alarm. Report of E boats about one mile away, outgoing convoy being attacked.
  02.00 Reports of 4 German aircraft shot down. JU88s reported to be laying mines in water, mines reported to be seen in water. What a night!
  05.00 All Clear. Went to sleep for 2 hours.
  07.30 Egg and bacon for breakfast – wonderful! Heard on “grapevine” that Montgomery has just gone ashore.
  08.00 On watch until 1200. “Jimmy the one” went ashore this morning and had his photograph taken by photographer on the beach. Off watch 1200.
  13.00 Had rum ration. Managed to get 2 hours sleep.
  16.00 On watch again. Germans have bombed landing point on beach. 6 Yank pilots on board at 2000. Off watch.
12th 00.01 On watch. German boats spotted at 0130. Air raid alarm. Aircraft controlled by 216 have now shot down 16 German aircraft, destroyed 11 German trucks and one gas lorry. Off watch 0800.
  08.30 Weather really nice, brilliant sunshine, quiet for a change.
  12.00 On watch. R/T watch for a change. Off watch 1600.
  16.00 Had tea. Lay on deck in warm sunshine. Had 2 hours sleep.
  20.00 On watch. Very busy indeed, our aircraft downed 4 more JU 88s.
  23.00 Air raid warning and E Boat alarm. Everyone at action stations.
13th 00.01 Still on watch, heavy AA fire and depth charges being dropped. Just been relieved from R./T. watch. Now on ammunition carrying party, my position is just inside door at rear of vessel, leading out onto deck. German long range guns firing at beaches and local shipping.
  03.30 All clear.
  08.00 On R/T watch, most interesting. Our bombers seeking out the long range guns, destroyed at 0900.Germans trying to jam our frequency. Mine layers still active. Reports that our fighters will be out in force this evening.
  12.00 Off watch. Just heard that 216 will move in much closer at 1430. Everyone at action stations
  15.30 Now anchored about half a mile from beach. Our controlled aircraft have just destroyed two German aircraft.
  16.00 On watch again. Two more aircraft destroyed.
  20.00 Action stations. German aircraft over again, two more destroyed by controlled aircraft. Report that two of our aircraft have crashed head on.
14th 00.01 On watch: Just hard a look at Radar equipment, don’t understand workings but it’s amazing. Three more aircraft shot down. Very busy shipping movements. Large convoy just arrived.
  08.00 Off watch. Just been told I can go to bed until 1600 hours. Eight hours sleep. Oh boy!
  16.00 Never heard a sound for eight hours, never turned over, feel 100%. On watch. Just been told that the 527th German division has been completely wiped out by the Americans. Learned that we are returning to Portsmouth for a rest, repairs and stores – FDT 13 will take over our duties. (In fact FDT 217 took over.)
  17.00 We have been hit. Terrific hole in bows, which is taking in quite a lot of water. Caused by a shell or a piece of shrapnel. All watertight doors have been closed.
  18.00 No water available for showers, emergency water rations, two pints per man per day, emergency rations. What a to-do!
  20.00 Off watch. Feeling quite excited about returning to the U.K. Action stations just sounded. Our guns are having a go. Carrying ammunition. 250+ reported?
  23.00 All clear. Lying on dining room floor trying to sleep. It’s better than the upper deck.
15th 01.00 Air Raid Warning.
  02.00 All Clear.
  02.45 Warning.
  03.30 All clear.
  05.00 Warning.
  05.45 Clear. Just a typical night!
  08.00 On watch again: Maintaining radio silence.
  10.30 Set sail for England.

The Demise of FDT 216

FDT 216 was hit by a torpedo on July 7, turned turtle and was deliberately sunk because she was a hazard to shipping. Les' diary from June 15 to July 7 went down with the boat. However, of the events of that day, he recalls, "I was standing at my action station on the starboard side towards the stern and just inside the hatchway leading below decks. I heard no order to abandon ship but moved to the rail when 216 took on list of 45 degrees. I seemed to be the only one on the starboard side. All the carley floats were still in position which amazed me at the time. There was a strong smell of cordite and I could hear the 300 tons of pig iron ballast on the upper deck beginning to move. It was time to go overboard.

I found a rope fastened to the rail and lowered myself down the side of the ship without slipping. When I reached the water I jumped in and swam away to avoid being dragged down when she went down. It was difficult to make headway because the inflatable life belt kept me high in the water. I managed to get over onto my side and made better progress.

The torpedo must have hit just astern of the bow doors on the port side and exploded in close proximity to the paint store and fuel tanks. The water was covered in a thick film of heavy diesel oil and grey paint. Eventually I found myself about 60 feet from 216 in the company of a few others. The little red lights attached to our lapels were shining merrily as we bobbed up and down in the swell. I don't recall seeing our escort vessel HMS Burdock at this time so suppose she was on the port side picking up survivors. By this time 216 was upside down and very low in the water.

After a considerable time HMS Burdock came into view. Over the loud hailer she informed us that she could not stop for fear of being torpedoed herself but she lowered scrambling nets down her port side and encouraged us to grab them as she passed by. When all survivors were safely on board we laid down on the deck as black as coal. Towels were issued and we did our best to dry ourselves but the most welcome treat was a tot of 'survivors rum.'

On the way back to Blighty a member of HMS Burdock's crew told me that they had run a sweepstake on how many days FDT 216 would survive after D-Day! If only we had known!!"

Postscript. I know that my diary says, 'returning to Portsmouth,' but, on reflection, I'm almost certain that we docked at East Cowes on the Isle of Wight for the repairs to be carried out. Perhaps some other crew member will be able to confirm this? Use the 'contact us' link at the top of the page. [Photo; Les in Germany, 2004.]


Further Reading

There are over 200 books listed on our 'Combined Operations Books' page which can be purchased on-line from the Advanced Book Exchange (ABE) whose search banner checks the shelves of thousands of book shops world-wide. Type in or copy and paste the title of your choice or use the 'keyword' box for book suggestions. There's no obligation to buy, no registration and no passwords. Click 'Books' for more information.

Radar Reflections: The Secret Life of Air Force Radar Mechanics in World War Two by Michael Cumming. ISBN 1-894255-10-0

Acknowledgments

We are grateful to LAC Leslie Armitage for permission to publish part of his diary covering the short life of FDT 216 off Normandy.

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