(“Cheeky American!”)

“These often are quite impressive,” the young archivist said, handing me the closed-up flat file for this painting by C.E. Turner in Britain’s National Archives. When I returned the file later, I couldn’t resist telling her, “You were right, very impressive…, but historically inaccurate.”

These tiny (31-foot) Royal Navy X-craft miniature submarines never put to sea so openly en masse. Instead, they sortied for missions singly, under tow, showing no lights in the dead of night. Surfaced, the commander would be standing on the little steel deck, barely above the water and holding on to the broomstick-thin periscope (retracted here). The x-craft are known and justly celebrated today for their daring September 1943 venture up a Norwegian fjord, through mines and anti-submarine nets, to cripple the German battleship Tirpitz. They deserve such a painting, accurate or not.

In support of D-Day also, the X-craft had missions. In the winter of 1944, they crept up to the Normandy beaches to collect critically important intelligence, including from Royal Engineers who swam ashore. Shortly before D-Day itself, X-craft were in the vanguard to show colored light beacons from off the British and Canadian beaches seaward to the oncoming invasion armada.

The surviving documentation for D-Day-related reconnaissance missions such as these is strong. For the follow-on to Advocating Overlord, this will provide a concurrent, operations-driven counterbalance to the staff anguish and argument in London as the Allies grew the forces for D-Day. Once the advocates had won confirmed approval for their Overlord plan in August 1943, they had to ask each other, “Okay, now how are we really going to do this?” That nine-month scramble to meet the challenge, an under told story today, will be the essence of Assembling Overlord.

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