Veteran recalls sounds of D-Day

By Sonya Bateson

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Mount Maunganui's Peter Wyatt remembers the sky turning black with planes 70 years ago. Photo / Andrew Warner
Mount Maunganui's Peter Wyatt remembers the sky turning black with planes 70 years ago. Photo / Andrew Warner

Seventy years after the D-Day landings, Peter Wyatt still remembers the droning of hundreds of planes flying towards France.

Mr Wyatt was serving on the HMS Tartar on June 6, 1944, the day 156,000 Allied troops landed in Normandy and began the invasion of Western Europe.

The destroyer was patrolling off the French coast when the invasion happened and Mr Wyatt recalls hearing the droning of planes and gliders for almost 24 hours as aircraft left England for France.

"I didn't have a clue what was coming. We were patrolling in the English Channel with hundreds of aircraft flying over us. The sky was black with the aircraft."

A glider with 24 American soldiers on board crashed into the sea and Mr Wyatt said crew from the Tartar put a whaler (auxiliary boat) overboard to pick up the men.

"We took all their outer clothing to dry out and gave them a jersey or something to help them keep warm.

They stayed in the ship overnight then we took them back to England the next day."

Mr Wyatt said he was the only New Zealander aboard the Tartar, a ship with a crew about 250 strong. Before that, he had been serving aboard the HMNZS Leander in the Pacific Ocean with about 600 crew.

The Leander was torpedoed in the Solomon Islands and was badly damaged. Mr Wyatt said most of the men on the ship went to England after it was hit and he volunteered to go on land with the Royal Navy.

"Then somehow I ended up on the Tartar. I served on her for about six months. Before D-Day, we were steaming up and down from Plymouth through the Bay of Biscay to Gibraltar and back. All that coast was held by the Germans, we were trying to map out where they held their guns.

"We used to steam along fairly slowly, if one of the guns opened fire we would put up a smoke screen and disappear behind it, or that's how the theory went."

On June 9, three days after D-Day, the Tartar was hit by shellfire.

Mr Wyatt served in the Navy for 15 years altogether after joining in 1940. When asked why he joined, Mr Wyatt said he did not know.

"There was a war on for a start. I couldn't get into the Army because I was a farmer and they were a reserved occupation."

He served three years in the Pacific then three years in England before returning to New Zealand. After leaving the Navy, Mr Wyatt moved with his wife Pat to Oropi, where they lived for 40 years before moving to Mount Maunganui, where they have been for the past 15 years.

D-Day

*The Allies landed about 156,000 troops in Normandy.
*The American forces landed numbered 73,000: 23,250 on Utah Beach, 34,250 on Omaha Beach, and 15,500 airborne troops.
*In the British and Canadian sector, 83,115 troops were landed (61,715 of them British): 24,970 on Gold Beach, 21,400 on Juno Beach, 28,845 on Sword Beach, and 7900 airborne troops.
*On D-Day, 11,590 Allied aircraft flew 14,674 sorties, and 127 were lost.
*By the end of June 11, 326,547 troops, 54,186 vehicles and 104,428 tons of supplies had been landed.

- D-Day Museum

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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