Story and photo by Charles Dunlap
A commemoration of the 75th anniversary of Exercise Tiger, a D-Day training exercise ambushed by German torpedo boats, was held Sunday at the Missouri Exercise Tiger Army and Navy Anchor Memorial at the Audrain County Courthouse in Mexico, Missouri.
The attack on the practice run for the June 6, 1944, invasion of Normandy cost 749 lives, including more than 200 men from Missouri.
Mexico Mayor Ayanna Shivers welcomed World War II and Vietnam War veterans and other guests to the day’s proceedings.
“Today, we remember those brave Missouri boys who became men. … Their names are forever etched in the wall that stands behind me,” Shivers said. “Six of them, we believe, are from Audrain County and one or two may have been from Mexico.”
The top secret operation held April 28, 1944, used tank-landing and support ships at Slapton Sands, Devon, England, and at Lyme Bay. Slapton Sands was used due to its similarity to the Normandy beaches, according to the commemoration program.
The German Navy E-boats mounted the attack in Lyme Bay. Of the 4,000-strong Allied forces, nearly one-quarter were missing or killed.
Despite the German attack, landing operations continued. Details of Exercise Tiger were declassified two months after the Normandy invasion, but remained largely forgotten for decades. The lessons learned from Exercise Tiger influenced how D-Day operations were conducted, said United States Tiger Foundation Executive Director Susan Haines.
“Troops of (Exercise Tiger) were told not to disclose any information about what happened that night. Tiger still remains in the shadows except for one day each year,” Haines said.
Col. Kevin Golinghorst, of Fort Leonard Wood, and Cmdr. Benjamin Fisher of the St. Louis U.S. Navy Recruiting Command, represented the Army and the Navy during Sunday’s ceremonies.
Secretary of the Army Mark Esper “refers to Exercise Tiger as the forgotten battle,” Golinghorst said. “I offer a challenge to each of you — continue to reflect after the ceremony here today, continue to read and research and, most importantly, to share what you learned today… with others and then challenge them to do the same.”
Fisher is a former submariner who served on the USS Pennsylvania and said he can understand the conflicting emotions about wanting to share the work you have done, but being restricted from doing so, like with Exercise Tiger.
“Exercise Tiger was nothing less than a down payment of that Allied liberation of Europe,” he said. “The heroic actions by both Soldiers and Sailors 75 years ago exemplifies the dedication to mission and honor that the Navy and Marine Corps embodies today.”
Walter Domanski, Tiger Foundation adjutant and the son of Walt Domanski Sr., who was a gunner’s mate third class that participated in the battle, received a Navy Combat Action Ribbon from Fisher.
Staff members of U.S. Rep. Sam Graves, R-MO, U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-MO, and U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-MO, also offered remarks.
A bell was rung to recognize those who served in Exercise Tiger, those from Missouri who died from the battle, other World War II battles and more recent battles in Afghanistan. A 21-gun rifle honor, by Soldiers with Fort Leonard Wood’s 515th Engineer Company, and “Taps” were performed to conclude the ceremony.
(Editor’s note: This story first appeared in the Columbia Daily Tribune, for whom Dunlap writes.)