On the night of the 5/6 June 1944, Landing Craft LCT(A) 2428 broke down in the south-eastern approaches to the Solent while on route to the D-Day landings in Normandy. The vessel was taken under tow but subsequently capsized; spilling its cargo of tanks and armoured bulldozers intended to support the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division landing at Juno Beach. Sometime afterwards the upturned vessel was deliberately sunk by gunfire from its tug, several miles to the east, off Selsey Bill.
Reasons for Designation
The Second World War armoured vehicle assemblage off Selsey Bill, West Sussex, is scheduled for the following principal reasons:
* Period: as a material record and an eloquent witness to the engineering achievements and logistical preparations around England’s coast for the largest amphibious invasion ever undertaken on the 6 June 1944;
* Potential: forming a primary source of evidence relating to the ingenuity of the wartime Allies in devising, creating, and building specialist equipment to overcome the challenges of attacking a heavily defended beach in a frontal assault;
* Rarity: the armoured vehicle assemblage, ammunition and other items represent the only surviving group of their type in north-west Europe;
* Group value: directly associated with the wreck of Landing Craft LCT(A) 2428, which lies some 6km east of the assemblage.
The Centaur was a cruiser tank that assumed the role of mechanised cavalry during the Second World War. Similar in appearance to the Cromwell tank, four variants of the Centaur were developed but only the Mk IV saw combat. These vehicles were fitted with a 95mm howitzer (designed to fire at concrete targets, like pillboxes, in the close support of infantry) and wading gear (to get them ashore on D-Day). Trunking waterproofed the engine inlets and covers were fitted to the main gun and secondary armament. After D-Day, the deployed Mk IV Centaur tanks continued to fight in the Battle of Normandy but were tactically replaced by other heavier models like the British Mk IV Churchill and American M4 Sherman tanks during the ‘breakout’ phase of the battle.
The first armoured bulldozer was developed by the British and comprised a modified US Caterpillar D7 which appeared in 1938. Armour was fitted to protect the driver and engine and they were produced in preparation for D-Day with such tasks as clearing the invasion beaches of obstacles and quickly making roads accessible by moving rubble and filling in bomb and shell craters. The D7 had to be transported by trailer due to its poor mobility and so as the Allied armies advanced through Europe a need emerged for a well-armoured, obstacle clearing vehicle that was fast enough to keep up with tank formations. This need was met by the Centaur Bulldozer and the D7’s were removed out of theatre.
In June 1944 the Allies opened a Second Front in Europe with Operation Neptune, comprising a largely amphibious invasion. In preparation for the assault, the 286 ton Landing Craft LCT(A) 2428 was loaded with two Centaur CS (close support) Mk IV tanks, two D7 Armoured Bulldozers, one 4x4 car and one ‘Truck Airborne’ (a typical British designation for a Willys Jeep). Space for extra ammunition was noted and embarked troops comprised units of the 2nd Royal Marines Armoured Support Regiment, HQ Royal Canadian Engineers of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division, 18th Canadian Field Company and the 8th King’s A Company.
LCT(A) 2428 was assigned as Leader of the 105th Flotilla of Assault Group J1 Support Squadron, planned to arrive at Mike Green sector of Juno Beach at H-Hour (i.e. in the first wave) on D-Day with the 7th Canadian Infantry Brigade. At 1905hrs on the 5 June 1944, LCT(A) 2428 began its passage to Normandy from Lee-on-Solent. Several craft in the flotilla were noted to be overloaded and LCT(A) 2428 soon developed a leak on its starboard side after its engine broke down. An attempt to tow was made by the tug HMRT Jaunty but this failed and the Landing Craft capsized spilling its cargo of armoured vehicles off Selsey Bill. After floating for some time LCT(A) 2428 was sunk by Jaunty’s gunfire so as to prevent it becoming a hazard to other invasion traffic. There were no casualties as all personnel were picked-up and returned to Portsmouth.
Seabed investigations by the Southsea Sub-Aqua Club in 2009 identified and recorded, in addition to two Centaur tanks and two D7 bulldozers, rounds of 95mm high explosive ammunition, small arms ammunition, the remains of a soft-skinned vehicle (comprising engine, axles and wheels) – all in accordance with the Loading Table. In addition, a large kedge anchor, two propellers and a possible 20mm anti-aircraft gun barrel was discovered which are likely to be spare fittings of LCT(A) 2428.
In 2011 we commissioned an assessment of the armoured vehicle assemblage which provides a comprehensive baseline survey. The survey identified a coherent and well-preserved site across an area measuring 30m x 25m and established a useful benchmark upon which to monitor change. Damage to one of the tanks was observed indicating the vulnerability from socio-economic activity. Further study of the assemblage is likely to reveal additional details of their construction and capabilities and thus an understanding of their intended role on D-Day.
A follow-up investigation by Southsea Sub-Aqua Club in August 2018 observed that a number of large cracks have appeared on one of the bulldozer ramming arms. The blade is therefore at risk of accelerated collapse should a vessel snag an anchor across the vehicle.
The rarity of the vehicles is considerable as material representing the mobile offensive in Normandy is now becoming increasingly scarce. The Centaur Mk IV tanks were built in relatively limited numbers and only 80 were allocated for close support of British and Canadian infantry on D-Day. Assorted Centaur hull components of various Marks, heavily modified in the 1970s, survive at the Cobbaton Combat Collection, Devon, while the only known complete Mk IV tank is on static display at the Pegasus Bridge museum, Ranville. It is not known how many D7 bulldozers were modified for D-Day but it is believed that there is only one Second World War D7 armoured bulldozer surviving. This is in a private collection overseas. However, the vehicle model remains the primary machine for construction and engineering tasks in the US military.