Monday, November 16, 2015

Memoirs re Combined Ops - Lt. Cdr. J. E. Koyl - Part 2

From the Files of Lt. Cdr. J. E. Koyl

"Landing Craft as seen on video at Imperial War Museum (IWM), London UK"

"Model of Landing Craft as seen at IWM, London UK, October 2014"

Sectors and Beaches - Sicily -

The beaches worked by the Canadian Flotillas were in what was known as the "ACID" area controlled by Rear Admiral Troubridge and comprising all the beaches on the eastern side of Sicily north of Avola. These beaches were divided into three sectors, from south to north "JIG", "HOW" and "GEORGE". The majority of the 81st Flotilla worked "HOW" beaches, while the 80th worked "GEORGE" beaches. In each of these sectors there were three L.C.M. Flotillas and three LCTs, while OCI(L)s and LSTs worked whatever beaches were available at the time of their arrival from Malta to North Africa. This theoretical arrangement was not adhered to during the stresses of the operation and LCM Flotillas soon found that it was not practicable to operate as a Flotilla. Such constant adjustments were necessary to meet changing requirements and breakdowns in craft that LCMs were in fact used as individual craft almost regardless of their Flotilla.

Arrival off Sicily -

This, then, was the organizational outline for the work of the Canadian Flotillas. Work was begun before the assault phase was over. The assault troops landed by LCAs before dawn and had, with Commandos and Airborne troops, cleaned out most of the coast defenses, but the LCAs were still operating, ferrying reserve companies of the assault force. Soon after dawn, the merchant ships carrying stores and motor transport arrived off the beaches and anchored. The first craft of the 80th Flotilla was lowered about 0530, and a few miles to the north the 81st started on their first trips to the beaches about two hours later.

The first LCMs away from "EMPIRE CHARMIAN" proceeded to Senior Naval Officer (Landing), "HOW" sector in "S.S. REINA DEL PACIFICO" to receive their orders and were directed to the first ship to be unloaded. The merchant ships in the anchorage hung large number plaques over the side and all references to ships were made by plaque number rather than name. While the first craft were taking on cargo, the "EMPIRE CHARMIAN" was unloading craft as fast as possible for further trips, but it was no easy matter. Half of the craft of each Flotilla (the 81st and 104th) were stowed on deck and were easily handled by derricks but the other half were below so that hatches had to be opened and scaffolding holding the craft taken down before the craft could be put in the water. It was not until 1330 that the last craft was lowered from the "EMPIRE CHARMIAN".

After seeing the last craft away, Lieut. Mullins reported to the SNO(L)s new ship, H.M.S. "BRITTANIC", where he was given instructions to get his maintenance party, spare crew and Flotilla stores from the "EMPIRE CHARMIAN" to the beach by the time the "EMPIRE CHARMIAN" was unloaded because it was not intended to keep ships exposed to air attack any longer than necessary. When Lieut. Mullins was given these instructions, the air attacks had just commenced.

"Spitfire on display at IWM, London, UK"

Enemy Opposition -

When the transport ships arrived off the beaches at dawn small arms opposition had been wiped out by the assault forces but coastal artillery batteries inland were still firing, while a cruiser, destroyer and a monitor were bombarding from port and starboard wings of the anchorage. By 0730 all was quiet - terribly quiet. Everyone expected enemy aircraft from moment to moment and the anticipation intensified the stillness in spite of the intense activity, but it was not until 1130 that the first Italian fighter was seen flying low, hotly pursued by two Spitfires; and not until 1330 did a bombing attack develop. Then one bomber dropped a stick on the sector of "GEORGE" beaches worked by the 80th Flotilla, narrowly missing Lieut. Koyl who was on the beach at the time between an LOT and an LST which both suffered heavy casualties.

"WW2 poster on display at Saltcoats Heritage Museum, Scotland"

"Silent gun turrets on HMS Belfast, Thames River, London UK"

This is indeed one of the most extraordinary 'narrow escape' stories on record. Lieut. Koyl had beached forty feet from an LCT on the one side and an LST on the other. The larger craft, because of their greater draft, were further off the beach itself when a stick of three bombs fell immediately ahead of Lieut. Koyl’s LCM. The LCT was destroyed and her entire personnel killed or fatally wounded. All the bridge personnel of the LST were wiped out. But in the little unarmoured LCM, no one was scratched. The hands on the beach with beach lines to steady the craft were knocked down and Lieut. Koyl was blown back into the well deck, but the shrapnel passed over them. After such a severe shock, the LCM personnel deserve much credit for the rapid and efficient help they gave the LST's wounded, whom Lieut. Koyl removed to the hospital ship "TALAMBA".

It was with great relief that the troopers who had landed the assault forces were sailed away. There was still a tempting assemblage of shipping off the beaches, perhaps fifty vessels, and the stores they carried were vital to the operation of the 8th Army now advancing towards Syracuse. At 1530 the first serious air raid took place but a number of dive bombers and medium bombers achieved no success with attacks which were directed mainly against transports.

From then on the blitz continued throughout the night and at frequent intervals during the next 48 hours. Although the bombing attacks were so numerous, there were never many aircraft in any one attack - about thirty aircraft, mostly German, in the heaviest raids on "HOW" sector - and the raids were surprisingly unsuccessful. Not until the evening of the 11th was any ship sunk or severely damaged. Then, in a dusk attack, dive bombers selected a hospital ship lying lit up some distance to seaward of its transport anchorage and sunk her in twenty minutes. According to a record kept by a stoker of the 81st Flotilla, there were twenty-three raids on "HOW" and "GEORGE" sectors in the first three days.

The hospital ship sunk at dusk on the 11th was the "TALAMBA", to which Lieut. Koyl had taken casualties from the LST. It was a grim business for him and his Flotilla to search the wreckage for survivors during the night. Sub Lt. Barclay of the 80th took a prominent part in this work and describes the great difficulties of transferring wounded men from an LCM to the cruiser, "H.M.S. UGANDA", in the heavy swell that was running. Stretchers were improvised and the "UGANDA’s" aircraft derrick used for hoisting them inboard. Although a large number of the wounded were saved, most of the medical and nursing staff went down with their ship - a tribute to their heroism and devotion to duty.

TALAMBA as a hospital ship. Photo Credit - Tyne Built Ships

Caption (in part): This photograph, dated 27 April 1943, comes
from the collection of QA Lieutenant Marion Dann, always
known as Jane, who was on the Talamba when it was sunk.

After the first four days, attacks were mainly by night, usually about midnight and 0400. Our fighters operating from Malta, and, by the end of the first week, from Pachino in Sicily, limited the scale and effectiveness of day bombing attacks, and after the second week nearly all attacks were by night and these were usually intercepted.

For defense against both day and night attacks smoke spread by ships and craft was used to cover the anchorage. On the second or third night, Coxswain Walker, R.C.N.V.R., of LCM 610 of the 80th Flotilla, helped to save a Liberty ship which was being attacked by bombers and had run out of smoke. Coxswain Walker took his craft twice around the ship under attack and successfully screened her with smoke; for this he was commended in the Beach Master's report. Another Canadian seaman showed cool courage when an Ammunitions Ship exploded not far off and sprayed the area with unexploded shells. One of these fell into the stokehold of an LCM. The seaman immediately picked it up and threw it over the side, not knowing, as he did so, that the shell was unfused and therefore perfectly safe.

The Day's Work -

These dramatic incidents were typical interruptions of the first week's work, but they were only interruptions. The main job to be done was to land stores and equipment of all kinds to supply the 8th Army's advance on Augusta and Catania. The routine in the early stages of the operation was constantly changing to meet Army requirements. Thus all LCMs might be diverted to unloading a ship carrying mortar ammunition if there was an immediate requirement for that supply above all others. After the Army stores became better organized with adequate resources for whatever operations were required, the unloading routine became standardized and ships were cleared on a regular schedule as they came to the anchorage.

The LCM's handled every type of cargo from a 16-ton tank or 215 cwt. (hundred weight) truck to a double tier of 4 gallon high octane gas cans. Ammunition, Army "composite" ration boxes, small arms, mortars - all was grist to their mill. And, considering the fact that the merchant men carried roughly their own tonnage in cargo, there was an enormous tonnage to be handled.

"A Canadian in Comb. Ops signals to landing crafts, Sicily 1943" Photo Credit - IWM

"Part of Combined Ops Memorial in Inveraray Scotland"

Discharging from LCM -

Although not so delicate an operation as loading, the unloading of an LCM required good seamanship in the beaching of the craft and good beach organization to clear the load as quickly as possible. Navy personnel did not handle cargoes once the LCM had beached but this work was done by Army personnel and by prisoners. It was, in fact, a remarkable feature of the unloading operations that Italian prisoners were found comparatively willing to do this work although the Indian regiment, who were put in charge of the Italian prisoners, were no doubt persuasive in their supervision. After the second day, a considerable number of Italians were available; before that the work had been mainly done by the Indian regiment.

Unattributed Photos by GH

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