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HMS Diadem: Preparing the Way for D-Dayicon for Recommended story

by aberthdotcom

Contributed by 
aberthdotcom
People in story: 
John Emrys Williams
Location of story: 
Normandy - off the coast
Background to story: 
Royal Navy
Article ID: 
A2501010
Contributed on: 
07 April 2004

June 5 1944: The call has come at last. We are on our way to the greatest invasion ever, feeling very cool and collected. I pray to be given the strength to go through this like a man and not to loose my nerve, and hope that I may return to my family.

Tomorrow morning at 3 o’clock we fire the first shot. There are hundreds of invasion barges with us.

How hard it is to be away from my family in such a place as this. I went on duty at midnight till 4 o’clock.

June 6 1944: We were going towards the coast of France, 7 cruisers and 4 destroyers, led by Belfast, Diadem, Orion, Emerald, Ajax, Argonaut and Flores. Passed hundreds of craft of all shapes and sizes. There are 4,000 crafts of all kinds.
Arrived 6 miles off shore between Le Havre and Cherbourge without being seen, stopped engines and waited for daylight. At about 4 o’clock our bombers came over and in 30 seconds Sur Mer was one mass of flames, it was a terrible sight, seemed so unreal. One bomber came down in flames. As dawn broke Belfast opened fire followed by us and the other cruisers followed suit. Our third salvo put a German Battery out of commission.
Then the landing craft went in but we were unable to see the shore as it was one cloud of smoke. The Wrestler struck a mine and went up in a cloud of smoke and flames. We have been firing off and on all day and the small craft have been running backwards and forwards all day long, unloading the big transports which are behind us. We have had 2 red warnings so far but no planes were seen, our fighters have been over all day long.
I had no sleep last night and only a couple of hours today, feeling rather drowsy but don’t expect any sleep tonight. Jerry will certainly do something, this has been too quiet to be true.

I went on watch at 8 o’clock, things were very quiet until about 9 then hundreds of out planes and gliders came over in clouds. They cast off the gliders and dropped their parachutists. What a sight it was, hundreds of different coloured parachutes came down in one mass. 4 or 5 of our planes were shot down in flames. I shall never forget the sight. The town was in flames. At about 10.30 Jerry came over and bombed the beaches. What a row there was, then he started dive bombing us. Never will I forget that. There I was high on the bridge with no shelter and planes gliding down in the dark from all angles. We could not see them until they were on top of us. One dropped 3 bombs a few yards from us, he got such a warm welcome that he didn’t come back. At 12 I went below to sleep, too tired to think of bombs, and slept like a log till 7.45

June 7 1944: 3 of our Spitfires shot down by our own ships, they don’t wait to find out whose planes they are. Rather quiet all day except for occasional bombardments. Shifted berth at night but had to return to bombard Jerry who was pushing our troops back in one section. I slept in the CCO through it all.

June 8 1944: On watch at 4 this morning, rather quiet night. A shell whizzed passed us. Scrubbed deck in my bare feet. Our ships shot one Spitfire down again this morning. Made me feel mad.

June 9 1944: This morning the Commander gave us the daftest talk on the loudspeakers. He complained about us wearing overalls and overcoats during the day and gave us an order that all men must be in the rig of the day and look as smart as possible as an example to the soldiers who pass by us in the landing craft. Fancy worrying about dress when there are hundreds of young fellows losing their lives only a few miles from us. What is this, an invasion or a beauty competition? Had the first watch, Jerry came over as usual and plastered the shore. All the ships opened fire, it was a marvellous sight, the sky was a mass of tracers. Turned in at 12.15 slept like a log. Action stations during afternoon, in middle of shaving had to rush out.

June 10 1944: We fired at our own planes as usual this morning. Convoys come in every day and are loaded by small craft. Some big ships have been run on to the beach and are unloaded there by small craft. It will take a long time to get enough material ashore to push Jerry back, it is not going to be an easy job. The soldiers ashore are getting a rough time of it compared to the navy. A large convoy came in this morning, one ship was torpedoed on the way over. We got dozens of red warnings during the daytime and have got used to them now. Have not had my clothes off since last Tuesday, sleep on forms in the mess, shall be glad when it comes. Are going to bombard at 11.15 today, an airfield I think. The rest of the day was uneventful.

June 11 1944: Sunday. Nothing to report today, very quiet, except for a bombardment during afternoon. It mentioned us on the wireless bombarding an airfield but did not give our name. A nice clear day today, got a view of the seaside resort. A lovely little place with a fine stretch of sandy beach, 4 or 5 beautiful church spires and red roofed houses, what a shame that it was all bombed and burnt out.

June 12 1944: Went to Portsmouth for ammo, stayed there until 4 o’clock on the morning of June 14th then returned here to carry on with the firing.

June 15 1944: Winston Churchill visited the beach. Things are very quiet. Few raids during the night.

June 16 1944: The King visited beach. Still nothing out of the ordinary to report.

June 17 1944: Still quiet.

June 18 1944: Still bombarding.

June 19 1944: Quite an exciting day with a few shocks. It blew up a gale, ships in distress all over the place. Unable to unload any material, too rough. A Rhino loaded with lorries and guns collided with us and made 5 holes in port side. I was at dinner when it happened and had a shock to see 3 holes in our mess deck. Water rushed in and flooded the place. They soon blocked the holes with Duffle and overcoats. During the afternoon I was on deck when a Jerry radio controlled glider bomb passed over us at over 300 miles an hour, we fired at it but missed. I rushed for my steel helmet and by the time I had put it on the thing had vanished. During the night another one circled us for a long time then went off again.

June 20 1944: Still a gale, damn nuisance. We want to get rid of our ammo so that we can return to Portsmouth. action stations at 4.30 this morning, too tired to leave the mess.

June 21 1944: Still stormy. Nothing to report during day but during night things get lively and Jerry does his dirty work, sowing mines amongst the ships etc.

June 22 1944: One destroyer struck mine today, damaged but not sunk, ran aground later. Jerry still sends his radio controlled bombs over us but have not seen one drop yet. We picked a soldier’s body from the sea today, i did not want to see him, it would only upset me. Did not feel well today, had a headache and a temperature. Went to sleep early but could not sleep on a hard form. Have not had my clothes off for 3 weeks except for a bath. Will be glad to get into my hammock again.

June 23 1944: Early this morning a tanker struck by a bomb went up in flames. One poor fellow brought to our ship for medical attention. Very serious. One leg amputated above knee. Hope he recovers. Jerry sent a big plane over last night, passed right over us sowing mines, we failed to shoot it down. Bombs dropped near us but I did not hear, too tired to worry. Am working in CCO now, better than bridge.

June 24 1944: Last night Scylla struck a mine and had to be towed to Portsmouth. During the morning a mine sweeper blew up in little pieces, struck a mine. Jerry sows mines all over the place during the night and does a lot of damage with bombs. Very quiet day, no shot fired. No mail again today, fed up to the eyes . Commandos came on board and told us some of their experiences on the loudspeakers. Ammunition dump on the beach blew up today, big fire. The fellow who had his leg amputated is getting along nicely, has to have another operation to get shrapnel out of his back. By the way, the commandos said that they landed at 1.30 on the first morning but their landing was not a success, as they did not come land together as planned, they were 10 miles apart in different districts so they were not as strong as they would have been if they had been together.

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The above is an extract from my late grandfather's diary. You can read it all at aberth dot com slash diadem. On this website, you can read entries about Warspite, HMS Royal Arthur Skegness, HMS Mercury Petersfield, Scapa Flow, Keppel, US cruiser Milwaukee, Belfast, Orion, Emerald, Ajax, Argonaut and Flores, Arctic convoy JW58 and the sinking of U961 (east of Iceland; all 51 crew died), U360 (SW of Bear Island; all 51 dead) and U288 (SW of Bear Island; all 49 dead).

My name's Gare th M or lais You can email me at melyn at bigfoot dot com.

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