Thursday, March 19, 2015

Memoirs re Combined Operations

"DAD, WELL DONE" Navy Memoirs (8)
by L/S Coxswain Doug Harrison

D. Harrison (left) and Joe Watson survived the invasion of
Sicily, July 1943, and returned to Canada, December 1943


July 10, 1943. We arrived off Sicily in the middle of the night and stopped about four miles out. Other ships were landing troops and new LCIs (landing craft infantry), fairly large barges. Soldiers went off each side of the foc’sle, down steps into the water and then ashore, during which time we saw much tracer fire. This was to be our worst yet invasion. Those left aboard had to wait until daylight so we went fishing for an hour or more, but there were no fish.

A British Universal Carrier Mk I comes ashore with troops and guns during
the invasion of Sicily on 10 July 1943. Photo credit  - World War II Today

A signal came through, i.e., ‘do not fire on low flying aircraft, they are ours and towing gliders.’ What, in the dark? Next morning. as we slowly moved in, we saw gliders everywhere. I saw them sticking out of the water, crashed on land and in the vineyards. In my twenty-seven days there I did not see a glider intact. We started unloading supplies with our LCMs about a half mile off the beach and then the worst began - German bombers. We were bombed 36 times in the first 72 hours - at dusk, at night, at dawn and all day long, and they said we had complete command of the air.

We fired at everything. I saw P38s, German and Italian fighters and my first dogfights. Stukas blew up working parties on the beach once when I was only about one hundred feet out. Utter death and carnage. Our American gun crews had nothing but coffee for three or four days and stayed close to their guns all the time. I give them credit.

“I was only about one hundred feet out. Utter death and carnage.”

Epus P. Murphy’s pet monkey went mad and we put it in a bag of sand meant to douse incendiary bombs and threw him over the side. The Russian Stoker on our ship, named Katanna, said Dieppe was never like this and hid under a winch. Shrapnel and bombs just rained down.

My oppo (pal, chum), Leading Seaman Herring, was bothered constantly with constipation, but when began to drop close in Sicily, his problem suddenly disappeared, he was so scared. It scared the beep beep right out of him. Hitler’s laxative, so he wasn’t all bad, was he?

Once, with our LCM loaded with high octane gas and a Lorrie (truck), we were heading for the beach when we saw machine gun bullets stitching the water right towards us. Fortunately, an LST (landing ship tank) loaded with bofors (guns) opened up and scared off the planes, or we were gone if the bullets had hit the gas cans. I was hiding behind a truck tire, so was Joe Watson (Simcoe). What good would that have done?

"We saw machine gun bullets stitching the water right towards us"

Joe Watson (left) and Doug Harrison survived to tell the tale

Our beach had machine gun nests carved out of the ever-present limestone, with slots cut in them to cover our beaches. A few hand grenades tossed in during the night silenced them forever.

Slowly we took control and enemy raids were only sporadic, but usually at dawn or dusk when we couldn’t see them and they could see us. At such times we had to get out of our LCMs and lay smoke screens, and travelled the ocean side or beach side depending upon which way the wind was blowing. Even then they could see the masts sticking up. During one raid I was caught on the open deck of the Pio Pico, so I laid down - right on a boiling hot water pipe. I got up quickly.

We were never hit but six ships were hit in a sneak attack out of the sun by German fighters carrying a bomb apiece. At night they would drop chandelier flares with their engine motors cut off. Everything would be dark and then suddenly it was like daylight. The flares were on parachutes and took forever to come down. After the flares lighted us up in came the bombers. Fortunately our gunners got so expert they could shoot out the flares.

A Landing Craft Mechanized (an LCM, Mark 3) going ashore
during the invasion of Sicily. Photo Credit - IWM* (A17955)

Our LCM was fortunate enough to pick up rum destined for the officers’ mess; but it never arrived there - we stowed it in the engine room. From then on we went six or seven miles up the beach at night, had a swim, slung our hammocks and drank ourselves to sleep, to awake in the morning covered with shrapnel, but never heard a sound.

One morning as we returned to the beach after a heavy bombing we noticed an LST with its bows completely gone and smoldering a bit. We went aboard to examine it and found under the rear canopy a sailor sound asleep in his hammock. After we awakened him he said he hadn’t heard a thing. The rest of the crew was missing.

We used a pail of sand saturated with gasoline to heat our meals on if any food was available. Later we moved into a limestone cave, dank and wet, but safe from bombs. We hung a barrage balloon over it, about 1,000 feet up, and one sailor got drunk and shot it down but we had 50 - 60 feet of limestone over our heads.

I had 27 days at Sicily living on tomatoes and Bully Beef. I swore I would kick the first bull I saw in Canada right in the posterior if I got back. Everywhere I looked there were anti-personal hand-sized grenades that needed only to be touched to go off. They were built to maim and not kill because it takes men to look after the wounded, but if you’re dead, you’re dead. We threw tomatoes at a lot and exploded them in that manner.

After Sicily the Canadian 80th Flotilla participated in the invasion of Italy

More to follow from Chapter SEVEN

Please link to Memoirs re Combined Operations "DAD, WELL DONE" Navy Memoirs (7)

*Imperial War Museum, UK, as found at

Unattributed Photos by GH

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