On 18th December 1943 a tragic incident occurred on Woolacombe beach involving three landing craft carrying tanks of Company "A" 743rd Tank Battalion.
The U.S. Navy report coldly states :- " On 18 December the only serious accident of the training program occurred during a landing exercise scheduled by the base and by the Army's Assault Training Center. Three LCM's foundered, turned over, and were damaged beyond economical repair. As a result of the loss of these craft, Ens. Clarence D. Briggs, USNR and 11 Army personnel lost their lives, and Ens. M J White, USNR, and Marvin Samuel Simms, USNR, were reported missing".
Major Allan G. Pixton :- " On one particular occasion I was unable to be on the beach as the initial waves were coming ashore, but was in my office on the third floor of the headquarters hotel, the office window facing the beach. I looked out the window to see the waves of landing craft approaching the beach. Off to my right were three landing craft by themselves which were much too far to the north of the beach area and were heading directly for the rocks, north of Mrs. May's home. The landing craft were LCM's, which were designed for carrying a tank, a truck, a couple of jeeps, or personnel. Each of these three LCM's was carrying a tank. They waited until they were close to the rocks before they took any action. Then as if by command all three of them turned to their right toward the sandy part of the beach area. By then they were inside the line of breaking waves. The minute I saw them turn I yelled at an assistant who was in the office to bring me my chest waders immediately. As I was putting them on I was watching the three landing craft and the inevitable happened. Because the surf waves were big that day, and the landing craft were ravelling parrallel to the waves, all three of them capsized. I ran to the beach to help in any way possible, but there was nothing which could be done at that time. The tide was in and the surf was heavy. We had to wait until the tide receded before we could do anything. there were fourteen men killed that day in that incident, nine soldier tank crewmen and five Navy landing craft crewmen. I personally pulled nine drowned tank crewmen out through the turrets of the three tanks. Lifting that wet, dead weight was extremely difficult. We also had to turn over the upside down landing craft so they could be recovered and removed. That was the most physically exhausting day of my life, as well as the emotional strain which accompanies such incidents.. To my knowledge that was the single most costly training accident we ever had at the training center."
One local witness recalls :- " against local advice from the coast guards (US Navy) were attempting practise landings in amphibious DUKWs in appalling conditions, known to the locals as the black east wind which brings high seas and lethal under currents. Three of the DUKWs started too drift towards the rocks and when they turned parallel to the beach in an attempt to rectify the situation, they were almost instantly rolled over and capsized killing most of the troops on board. It is recorded in “Spirit of the Sands” book, an incident when 14 men were killed and another incident when several were killed . The local memory all put the figure to be between 50 to 60 men drowned as when the bodies were laid out in the Forty Eight Club they covered most of the floor.  In the rush to prepare for the D-day landings some casualties were inevitable".
Another witness to an incident involving the Red Barn Cafe was a Mrs H who worked with her mother at the cafe and recalled the floor being covered with soldiers requiring first aid, and many fatalities.

Mr and Mrs C recall seeing a bronze plaque situated on the promenade in 1947 – part demolished and now a car park – commemorating 98 servicemen killed at Woolacombe.
There are no records in the Assault Training Centre diaries or any of their other documents of any incident involving casualties of drowning at Woolacombe although there is confirmation of the 743rd Tank Battalion being present in December 1943. Many verbal accounts have been presented to me, all of which stated there were “many” fatalities at the “Red Barn”. These differing versions suggests there may have been more than one incident. Having researched Exercise “Tiger” I have found and proved the U.S. Army adept at manipulating casualty figures and I would suggest the larger incident mentioned above sits in that same category. Local rumour has long suggested American servicemen have been buried on Morte Point. Expert analysis of aerial photographs taken in 1946 confirms that there is indeed an area of disturbance to the ground adjacent to what was an access track used by the American military. Size, shape and configuration is identical to that found in south Devon casualty burial trenches. 
Investigation cannot confirm a large number of casualties on 18th December 1943 but does tend to corroborate Major Pixton's version. 
Casualties confirmed are :-

Ensign Clarence Donald Briggs USNR was buried in American cemetery at Brookwood and repatriated to Iowa in 1948

Ensign M J White USNR - 0-225819 - Commemorated as "Missing in Action" at the ABMC cemetery in Cambridge.

Coxswain Marvin Samuel SIMMS USNR - Commemorated as "Missing in Action" at the ABMC cemetery in Cambridge.

T 5 Stanley J Chesney - 33014011 - 743rd Tank Battalion - Buried in the ABMC cemetery in Cambridge.

Pfc Henry Norman Jelle - 7272250 - 743rd Tank Battalion - Buried in the ABMC cemetery in Cambridge.

T 4 Matias Quintanilla - 38159706 - 743rd Tank Battalion - Buried in the ABMC cemetery in Cambridge.

Pfc Henry O Cox Jr - 37282990 - 743rd Tank Battalion - Buried in the ABMC cemetery in Cambridge.

T 4 Wallace Begley - 35451178 - 743rd Tank Battalion - repatriated to Kentucky.

SSgt Howard J Malone - 33067123 - 743rd Tank Battalion - repatriated to Maryland.

Pvt Jerome M Metro - 37509923 - 743rd Tank Battalion - repatriated to Kansas.

Pvt Homer L Ramsey - 6936008 - 743rd Tank Battalion - repatriated to Arkansas.

Pvt Victor Szymczak - 36645395 - 743rd Tank Battalion - repatriated to Illinois.

As all exercises used live ammunition and explosives it is a credit to the safety arrangements that there weren't more casualties. One incident involving Pfc Melvin Eugene Vest on 12th May 1944 is described in detail ......... … “During one exercise Melvin Vest from Boat Team #8 ( 146th Engineer Combat Battalion ) was killed when a quarter pound block of TNT exploded in his hand. We bundled him up and got him to the hospital but he died of shock about four hours later. This was my first fatality and would have been sad in any case, but the fact that Vest was such a neat soldier and so well liked by everyone made it even more of a tragedy”.  Lieutenant Wesley Ross and Sergeant Roy Arnn had made a stretcher out of rifles to carry him to the truck as Vests’ injuries were so bad. He had one arm and one leg blown off, he was badly burned and suffered internal injuries. 

There was another fatal accident involving the 146th Engineer Combat Battalion when … “an unknown infantryman was killed by a flying steel fragment while he was taking a nap in the sand dunes about 100 yards above our demolition area. We were unaware that he was in the restricted area and blew the practice steel obstacles per plan”.
 On 25th October 1943 a fatal incident occurred on the firing range on Exmoor when five men were killed and fourteen wounded. This was recorded in the ATC Diary Notes.

Fatalities were all from the 156th Infantry Regiment who acted as assistant instructors during training. All were originally buried at Brookwood, Surrey, England.

Jandora Steve JPvt36634658Reburied at the ABMC Cambridge cemetery.

Olson Harold MSgt36029522Repatriated to Illinois in 1948.

Klemm Robert W     Pvt36559832Repariated to Michigan.

Stone Hugh Sheridan Jr   Pfc32677709Repatriated to New York.

Daniel E SmithCpl37162048Repatriated to Minnesota. 

CASUALTIES