A team of divers from Southsea Sub-Aqua Club spent their summer exploring local dive sites to identify a number of wrecks which are believed to be linked to the WW2 invasion of Normandy - code-named Operation Neptune.
They hope to locate and identify the wreck of a landing craft tank (LCT) which capsized on the morning of 6th June 1944, spilling its cargo of tanks and bulldozers into the sea. The divers also surveyed a number of Thames barges or 'dumb lighters' which were requisitioned by the Royal Navy to be used to transport tons of supplies to the invading allied forces. The wrecks lie ten miles offshore in Bracklesham Bay, West Sussex.
Last year the dive team solved the mystery of how the tanks and bulldozers had come to rest on the sea bed more than 20m (65 feet) below the surface. As a result of their work the divers have the documentary evidence to prove that they were lost from a landing craft tank (LCT) and not from a Mulberry harbour bridge section as previously believed. The tanks were found to be rare Centaur tanks belonging to the Royal Marines and the bulldozers were to be used by Canadian troops to clear the beaches.
The landing craft tank was due to be in the first phase of the D Day assault at ‘H Hour’. The Centaur tanks were to use their powerful Howitzer 95mm guns to take out enemy gun positions. Their LCT(A) was specially adapted with ramps so that the guns fired from the craft as it approached the beach. Research into the War Diaries for Second RM Armoured Support Group, who took part in the D-Day landings at Juno Beach supporting Canadian forces, confirmed that LCT(A) 2428 was forced to turn back half way across the channel after engine trouble and reported two Centaurs as being lost at sea. The weather was very bad during the crossing and a further War Diary entry confirms that the LCT(A) capsized whilst under tow. All crew, RM and Canadian personnel were rescued.