COPP Story (No this isn’t miss-spelt!)

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    “Another Harbud” by F.C.Harbud

    My great Grandfather had a brother with whom, according to my father, he had an enormous argument , upon the death of their father. As a result the two sides of the family lost touch with each other. However I have always been curious about them and from time to time have discovered a distant cousin of mine. I had just after WW2, come across a reference to a midshipman Robin Harbud in a Picture Post magazine. My father had at the time, confirmed that he  was indeed related.

    Now in 1999, I came across a book titled “Stealthily by Night” by Ian Trenowden. This was the history of COPP, [Combined Operations Pilotage Parties] These “parties” were set up in 1942 with both Army and Naval personnel, to make reconnaissances and give assault guidance for invasion fleets. They had to make reconnaissances of heavily protected beaches in the full knowledge that their capture would make them subjected to pressure to reveal detail of major offensives.

    COPP I – Naval party 750, had, Midshipman R F A Harbud RNVR in it. He was, as far as I could
    ascertain the only midshipman to be enrolled. He was eventually promoted to Sub Lt. I found by reading the book, that he had two claims to fame,

    The first, was to successfully woo, and eventually marry, one of the four WRENS attached to the COPP HQ on Hayling Island. Her name was Evelyn Cross, called Kitten as she was only 4 ft t1 ins. tall. The 4 WRENS in HQ, declined all promotion and fought off most amorous advances, in order to remain with this assorted bunch of individuals forming the COPP teams.

    The second was to form a part of the naval team on board midget submarineXA that together with X23 guided the invasion fleet into the correct beaches on D day. Prior to the D day, exploratory landings had taken place, COPP men had been taken off shore by conventional submarines and transferred to canoes to make it to the beach. Unfortunately the Germans had advanced their Radar enough to enable them to detect the conning towers of the subs. To avoid this the X craft were developed. Hopefully these small subs. would be able to pass over the mine fields and even with the snorkel raised, not be detectable by radar. As there would be no room for passengers, the COPP operational personnel had to be fully trained to operate X craft. This meant a two month course at HMS Varbel in Loch Striven.

    X20 crossed the Channel submerged, passing through the channel minefield. She found herself in the middle of a shoal of jelly fish and at one stage had a dan buoy cable fouling her propeller. Even so she reached the coast on Sunday  4th June l944 just as dawn was breaking. They managed to get a good navigational fix. They charged batteries and ventilated the interior, then down to the bottom for 18 hours.

    On the bottom, they resumed a listening watch only to hear that D day had been postponed. Fortunately, before going to sea, they had taken on board extra oxygen in aluminium containers which had been salvaged from shot down German aircraft. They were positioned about I mile offshore and through the periscope, could see Germans swimming from the beach. This meant that at least at that point, there were no mines.

    On Monday night they surfaced briefly to get a signal that the invasion would start at first light on
    Tuesday 6th June. They remained submerged until just before dawn. At 0400 hrs. they set up an l8ft. mast and commenced flashing their navigation beacon seawards. At 0530, the water was so rough as to make entry through the hatch hazardous and difficult . X..20 had planed to put a rubber dinghy overside with an officer and other signalling gear, but it was judged too rough for this.  The Picture Post article referred to this seaway making it necessary for Robin Harbud to stay on top an extraordinary length of time. Robin Harbud's approach to the problem of identification was to acquire a cruisers ensign to fly on X20. They also made use of a Bongle triphammer and a tiny radar beacon.

    Suddenly through the murk, a line of landing craft appeared , surging past in the rising sea. Rockets from the LCRs passed endless salvos overhead. It was said that X20's crew report was so understated it read like that of a peacetime trip. With the X20 trimmed low in the water, with the  hatch secured, one landing craft crew reported that he had seen a naval officer apparently walking on water. They hauled up their anchor after 72 hours on station, 68 of them submerged. The crew was back in time for a bath and a snifter before dinner.

    Lt. Harbud finished up with the DSC. and did not personally contribute his experiences to the author as the book was published in 1995.

    Cdr. Harbud and his wife both died in 1994.

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