(Lyme Bay, off the coast of Devon, England, April 28th, 1944)
Convoy T-4 (consisting of three LST-1-Class Tank Landing Ships, four LST-491-Class Tank Landing Ships, and all eight of them were protected by HMS Azalea, a Flower-Class Corvette) was heading in single-file through the calm sea at a speed of 6-8 knots towards the landing beaches at Slapton Sands. The convoy was taking part in Exercise Tiger, the final rehearsal before the proposed landings on Utah Beach on D-Day. The LSTs (Tank, Landing Ship) were carrying the support vehicles and combat engineers of the 1st Engineer Special Brigade. It was just after midnight as the entire convoy stood to 'General Quarters' as they were faint against a low-quarter moon that was about to set and were currently waiting for the minutes to fall away until H-Hour kicked off the landings, and were completely unaware that the enemy had spotted them.
Earlier the previous evening, nine E-Boats* (six of them were part of the 5th Fast Attack Boat Flotilla and the remaining three from the 9th respectively) under the command of Korvettenkapitan (Lieutenant-Commander) Bernd Klug* had left the French port of Cherbourg on a routine patrol, seeking to interfere with any Allied naval traffic in the English Channel. Having managed to elude a good number of British patrols and the single Royal Navy corvette that was guarding the convoy before approaching the American ships undetected. At first, Klug (who was on board the E-Boat, S-150) thought he had come across a line of destroyers, so he decided to launch 'hit-and-run' attack which would allow his very maneuverable motor torpedo boat to veer away after they had launched their 21-inch torpedoes and withdraw at speed to evade the devastating fire that would be sure to follow from the warships.
At 0204 hours, all hell broke loose when the two torpedoes from E-Boats S-130 and S-150 respectively hit the hull of LST-507, causing said landing craft to burst into flames as she lurched to a stop and began to sink. As the horrified men aboard LST-531 watched, their own ship was struck by two torpedoes launched from E-Boat S-145 that was under the command of Leutnant zur See (Ensign) Karl von Marwitz, causing said LST to capsize and sink in just six minutes. LST-289 was the next to be hit by S-150, but swift damage-control enabled the LST to stay afloat and make it to shore. These explosions alerted the crews on the other ships to the danger amongst them and the air was soon crisscrossed with fire from their guns. In the ensuing chaos, LST-511 was badly damaged by friendly fire. As soon as the E-Boats had made their attack, they turned for home and slipped away into the night completely unscathed.
As Klug, von Marwitz (he and his crew of S-145 were later awarded the Iron Cross 2nd Class for their first successful kill on an enemy ship) and the other E-Boat crews were celebrating their successful patrol at their favorite bar in Cherbourg, they left behind two LSTs sunk and another two badly damaged, along with 198 American naval servicemen and 441 combat engineers of the 1st Engineer Special Brigade dead. HMS Azalea and the remaining LSTs were in flight back to Plymouth. Only small landing craft remained in the area to pull the survivors from out of the water.
The Allies immediately clamped a lid of secrecy over the disaster so effectively that the Germans didn't learned of the extent of their own victory until after the war. Among the small ranks of Allied officers with a 'need-to-know' basis, even the most rational man couldn't but feel the chilling dread of premonition. But most soldiers aren't rationalists at heart. They are believers, even if down deep in fate. And this night's omen was evil.