Records from Files of Lt. Cdr. J. E. Koyl, D.S.C., R.C.N.V.R. (deceased)
"Dieppe veterans on Combined Operations maneuvers in the
Mediterranean, 1943" Back row, left, is Lt. Cdr. Jacob Koyl*
The idea of Combined Operations is not by any means a new one but merely the bringing back to life of an old war idea. After the evacuation of Dunkerque, Combined Operations began to take on a definite plan under the leadership of Sir Roger Keyes who was appointed Chief of Combined Operations (C.C.O.) on July 17, 1940. This Junior branch of the Navy had facing it all the problems and difficulties which a new idea or branch encounters in a service built up on centuries of tradition. This was most unfortunate as it could not enjoy the necessary co-operation to build itself up to the degree of efficiency which would be required for the tasks that lay ahead.
Up until and as late as January 1943, Flotilla Officers who were then building up new organizations, could not procure even sufficient craft to train their men for actual operations. It has been known for a Flotilla Officer to approach an enemy coast not ever having seen the majority of his men in training and with the full realization that they were not capable of doing their task in a competent manner. Conditions improved shortly after this, and it was sincerely hoped that the new year would do away with the utter confusion and chaos of 1942. This is not a criticism of the Combined Operations policy during that period but it is merely being mentioned to bring home the fact that several groups of Canadian volunteers were face to face with conditions which were discouraging.
In the early days of Combined Operations, a sprinkling of Canadian Officers who were on loan to the R.N. were present on some of the more important raids, or should one say raids that were released to the press; Lofoten, Boulogne, St. Nazaire. In the latter part of 1941, the Canadian Navy committed itself to send on loan to the Royal Navy, 50 Officers and 500 Ratings, to form Canadian Flotillas. The Officer material for these first two units were chosen from the Naval Colleges H.M.C.S. "ROYAL ROADS" and H.M.C.S. "KINGS". All men joining this band were to be volunteers and unmarried. Little information could be gathered on the subject as a cloak of mystery and "hush hush" covered the whole picture.
In January, 1942 fourteen Officers and ninety-six Ratings sailed from Canada for the U.K. in the Volendam knowing nothing of what lay ahead but looking forward to a rather exciting life. On arrival in the U.K. they began a course of training which lasted two months, most of this training being LCAs, Landing Craft Assault, and LCMs, Landing Craft Mechanized. By the end of April they were split up into two operational Flotillas.
The first operational call received was in early June when they sailed away from their base to take part in some operation, but this was cancelled and all were ordered to return to base. These periods of suspense were most trying on the morale of all men as during these periods of waiting, sometimes lasting over two months, they were posted to routine camp duties.
The first opportunity for action came with the Dieppe raid. Though not operating as Canadian units, Officers and men were intermingled with R.N. Flotillas and much valuable experience was gained.
One all Canadian Flotilla was H.M.S. "Duke of Wellington" except for the C.O., who was British. The Commanding Officer was killed around 0630 in the initial assault on Blue Beach. The rest of the operation was completed with the all Canadian Flotilla under the command of Lt. J. E. Koyl. They left the beaches on orders from H.M.S. Calpe (H.Q. ship) and returned to Newhaven. A more difficult task could not have been chosen for their baptismal of fire. Details of the enemy opposition and the intensity of fire need not be elaborated here but the Canadians carried out their very hazardous duties in a manner which brought great credit to them. Casualties were few and in view of the intensity of enemy fire the percentage was very low.
Shortly after Dieppe, the Canadian Flotillas, now six in number, were making their preparations for a new operation which subsequently turned out to be "Operation Torch", i.e., the North African invasion. For several weeks the British and American troops were trained in amphibious warfare and on completion of this training, the invasion was completed successfully. This operation, as compared to Dieppe, was a complete holiday as the opposition in most quarters was negligible. By the middle of December, 1942, the Canadian Flotillas were returning to England. The H.M.S. Ettrick was sunk off Cadiz with the loss of 18 Canadians. Survivors were picked up by a Norwegian destroyer and returned to Gibraltar. The S.S. Clan McTaggart was also sunk in approximately the same area with the loss of 1 Canadian. Picked up survivors were returned to England aboard a British corvette.
"The H.M.S. Ettrick was used as a troop training ship at Inveraray (backgr.)"
Photo found at Combined Operations Command
On their return to England and by early January they were re-organized into 4 Flotillas, the 55th and 61st manning LCAs and the 80th and 81st manning LCMs. Once again preparations were being made for another operation and by the end of May, 1943, the four Flotillas arrived in Egypt. Further exercises were carried out and finally came the invasion of Sicily and the operation in Italy. The Canadian Flotillas at all times performed their duties in a manner which brought the highest of praise from our Commanding Officer, Admiral Troubridge, Admiral of the Force.
Passage to Suez -
Most of the personnel of the 80th Flotilla, including Lt. Koyl and about half the 81st sailed from the Clyde late in March of 1943 and proceeded in a fast Landing Ship Infantry convoy via the Cape of Good Hope to Suez, arriving there on May 2nd. The Flotillas were disembarked at a Combined Training Centre on the Bitter Lakes. The other half of the 81st, including Lt. W. J. Mullins, R.C.N.V.R, Flotilla Officer, sailed from the Clyde in S.S. "EMPIRE CHARMIAN" on March 26, 1943. With the "EMPIRE CHARMIAN" sailed R.F.A. "ENNERDALE" of the 108th L.C.M. Flotilla (Lt. J. Whittal, R.C.N.V.R. Flotilla Officer).
From Freetown, "EMPIRE CHARMIAN" proceeded independently to Walvis Bay where she spent two and a half days and was sailed in a small convoy to Capetown. After two days she caught a convoy to Durban and sailed from there in convoy as far as the south end of the Mozambique channel whence she proceeded independently, calling at Aden and arriving at Suez. There the Flotilla Officer decided to take his part of the Flotilla to join the others at (camp) "SAUNDERS", where they spent just over three weeks getting the craft into first class condition and enjoying rest and sunshine. For the benefit of the new hands, three days' exercise was carried out and the Flotilla Officer found himself satisfied that everyone knew his job. Further exercises were not held since it was undesirable to use the craft more than necessary before the operation.
Meanwhile the remainder of the 80th Flotilla was arriving with their craft in small groups from S.S. "GLENARTNEY" and S.S. "PARDO" which had proceeded via Freetown and Capetown. At the last minute before the operation was mounted at Port Said, the final batch of the 80th Flotilla arrived in S.S. "SILVER WALNUT". She had been held up with engine trouble at Durban for ten days and when she was sailed independently broke down completely about 300 miles east of Madagascar. The vessel drifted for some time in an area frequented by Jap U-boats but she eventually was repaired and proceeded to Aden arriving about June 24th. The delay in "SILVER WALNUT" arriving at Suez necessitated the transfer of her personnel immediately to Alexandria. There was no time to transfer the craft she carried and therefore five craft of the 80th Flotilla were left behind.
"S.S. Silver Walnut was referred to as a dud and shark bait"
More to follow.
*The top photo is found in St. Nazaire to Singapore: The Canadian Amphibious War - Volume 1, page 194, and appears above the following informative caption:
On 'Combined Operations' manoeuvres in the Mediterranean recently were a group of Dieppe veterans who served in one of the Landing Craft Flotillas of the Royal Canadian Navy. Several of these flotillas were reported to have taken part in the initial landings in Sicily very shortly after this picture was taken. From left to right, rear rank: Lt. J. Koyl, Saskatoon, L/Sea V.V. Ward, L/Sea J.W. Cole, Stoker W. Alston, AB J. Hinscliffe, AB T. Enwright. L - R, Front: L/Sea F. Herring, L/Sea N. Mitchinson, AB H.M. Kirk, AB A. Kirby. Provenance - N. Mitchinson, Bill Sinclair
Please link to more Memoirs re Combined Operations: Dieppe by A. G. Kirby
Unattributed Photos by GH