Although the Normandy beaches were mostly flat and so generally suitable for a seaborne landing, it was believed that in some areas there were deposits of peat and clay. These could cause enormous problems for vehicles' moving up the beach should the exit coincide with them.
Accordingly it was necessary to examine the ground. This work was carried out by Combined Operations Pilotage Parties (COPPs). A Royal Navy midget submarine with its normal crew of four carried a Royal Engineer reconnaissance team of two. The submarine was towed to mid-channel by a Royal Navy trawler. It then carried the Sappers to within a few hundred yards of the enemy shore and they completed the journey in inflatable dinghies. The submarine meanwhile retired to a safe distance and waited.
The tasks of the Sappers included locating the high and low water marks and the distance to the back of the beach; checking surf conditions, beach surface, and the presence of rocks, peat or clay which could impede the landings; establishing the geology of the beach, taking auger samples down to 18 inches looking for runnels which might hold water at low tide thus impeding men and vehicles; identifying exits from the beaches noting sand dunes, sea walls, shingle and seaweed; and investigating man-made obstacles and defences.
These missions were extremely hazardous and on several occasions the Engineers found themselves close enough to German sentries to hear them talking and to see the light from their torches. After completing the mission a signal was sent to seaward and the submarine picked up the Engineers. It withdrew offshore and, remained submerged during daylight. Batteries were charged and-the whole exercise was repeated the following night in a different location often for a week at a time. In addition the submarine gathered much useful information by periscope search in daylight.
On returning across the Channel the submarine was met by the trawler off the Isle of Wight and towed back into Portsmouth. Conditions aboard for the crew and the Sappers were cramped and uncomfortable and the air became increasingly foul during the long periods submerged. These missions were carried out throughout 1943 and into early 1944. The resulting intelligence was regarded as of immense value and helped to pinpoint the landing beaches.
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