June 25, 1944
It has been quite awhile since I have written anything in this letter darling, because things have been quite dull since D-day. We have been sweeping most of the time with an English flotilla and have had nothing exciting happen until this morning. On Friday we were out in the Channel sweeping as usual off the French coast when we got orders to proceed immediately to Weymouth and join up with an American minesweeping flotilla. In the D-day battle they had lost two ships and we were to take the place of one of them for the coming operations. We didn’t know or find out what was coming off until about 6:30 on Saturday evening when we got orders to proceed immediately with the American flotilla to the coast of France. We were to sweep a channel for a striking force of American battleships, cruisers and destroyers that were going in to give Cherbourg a bombarding.
The Army was having a hell of a job to break the Germans out of the fortified area of Cherbourg. Our job was to sweep and mark a channel right into the bay within a mile of the beaches so that the larger ships could come in safely to carry out their shelling operations. We arrived off the coast about 4:30 Sunday morning and the flotilla began sweeping. We swept until noon and at that time we were in quite close. We could see the beaches quite clearly and we were well within range of the German coastal batteries, but they didn’t open fire until later on in the afternoon.
I came off watch at about noon and had my dinner. At about one o’clock the big ships began to shell the defenses of Cherbourg. We were within about a mile or so of the coast when the German shore batteries opened up at us. The first salvo they fired landed just about 100 yards off our stern between us and an American destroyer. That was too close for comfort but we had to keep on sweeping just the same and the shells were bursting all around us thick and fast. We were really getting one baptism of fire and I don’t mean maybe. If one of those 11-inch shells ever hit us, I am afraid that you would never receive this letter darling or another from yours truly.
It didn’t take the shore batteries long to get our range and the shelling hadn’t been going on more than ¾ of an hour when the destroyer just astern of us was hit just behind the bridge. I was looking aft at the time and saw the shell that hit her. There was quite an explosion and I thought I saw a couple of men blown up into the air, but I couldn’t be sure. Some of the other boys saw it too and they said the same thing. Anyway she was hit but not hard enough to put her out of action. She was no sooner hit than all of her guns let go at once at the shore batteries. She reminded me of an old mule striking right back at you after you had struck her with something. It seemed as if the gunners all had had their fingers right on the firing buttons and that when she was hit it was the signal for them to fire all their guns. As I said before, she wasn’t put out of commission so she kept on firing a few more salvos and then she laid a smoke screen and went off behind it at full speed.
Not long after the destroyer got hit one of the battleships got hit right amidships and a fountain of water went a hundred feet in the air. She was hit again a few minutes later so we decided they were getting our range too accurate and that it was time we were shoving off elsewhere. We were in pretty close to shore and I was up on top of the wheelhouse with a pair of glasses watching the show.
Every time the German guns let fly at us I could see the flash from their gun muzzles and I knew when to duck my head down because the air was full of shrapnel for awhile after the shells hit the water around us. At about 2:30 the Admiral decided that a strategic retreat would be in order and between you and I my sweet, I agreed with him.
So around we went and headed out to sea again at full tilt, laying a smoke screen in front of the battleships as we went. We steamed out of range of the shore batteries and then we just steamed around for about 4 more hours while the battleships shelled the shore again. Those battleships really lay down a barrage when they start. Every time they fired a broadside everything in the ship shook and we were ½ mile away from them. I’d hate like hell to be on the receiving end of any of that stuff. God help the poor Jerries that were around when it landed.
They told about our task force being in there over the radio a little while ago. We are back in the harbour again at Weymouth now, and it is just about time I got my head down because I have been up since 2:30 this morning and it is 11:30 now. So I will say goodnight now my darling and I love you with all my heart and miss you more than I can tell.
All my love darling
P.S. Incidentally darling, we were the only Canadian minesweeper on those operations. The rest of them were Americans. So much for Cherbourg. I wonder where we will be going next.
[Editor’s note: Transcription provided by collection donor.]