Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Memoirs re Combined Ops - Lt. Cdr. J. E. Koyl - Part 4

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

"Sicily: All in a day's work. Able Seaman Langmead catches a 15 hundred
weight truck (cwt) being lowered by a cargo vessel in good weather or bad,
and early at night with frequent bombing" Photo by D. J. Lewis,
in St. Nazaire to Singapore, Volume 1, Page 183

Sicily Achievement -

Emphasis has throughout this report been laid on the difficulties encountered, but it should not be forgotten that in spite of everything the projected totals of stores taken over the beaches from Landing Craft was considerably exceeded; in other words, the operation as a whole was most successful in its achievement, however hard it was on the personnel who did the job. The totals discharged over the beaches of "ACID" area were as follows:

40,959 Personnel
8,937 Vehicles
40,181 tons of stores

Since "JIG" sector was closed down about the third day of the operation, these totals were almost wholly achieved in "GEORGE" and "HOW" sectors where the Canadians were working. The following two signals from the Senior Naval Officer (Landing) of "GEORGE" to his sector show the pace at which cargoes were handled.

"From starting work this morning till 1800 this evening, 2300 tons of stores have been discharged. Well done everybody!

"GEORGE" sector will close 1200 tomorrow 5th of August. In 25 days, during two of which we had no ships here, we have discharged 24,959 personnel, 4,871 vehicles and 19,814 tons of stores. In addition 1,900 prisoners of war have been embarked. That is a grand job well done and it has been done due to three things, common sense, guts and real co-operation between services. The shore combination of Brick Beach Commandos and Signals has made PORTO GERBO a port for the first time in many years, while the landing craft, magnificently aided by the DUKWs, have seen to it that that port was fully employed. "Brittany" has done yeoman service. Every Officer and man has reason to be proud of his share in the work.

I can only hope that if there is another job to do we may have the same team. I have no doubts of the result. Good luck and thank you all!"

At the end of the 28 days, eighty LCM's in the two squadrons of three Flotillas each which had been working "GEORGE" and "HOW" sectors, remained in operation. The record of the Canadians was particularly good since only two of their craft out of twenty-two were non-operational. In another Flotilla working the same sector, the 83rd LCM Flotilla, only three craft out of fourteen remained operational. The eighty operational LCM's proceeded under their own power down the east coast of Sicily, anchored under the shelter of Cape Passero, and made Malta the next afternoon, the 7th of August.

Refits -

At Malta the crews expected to have a fourteen day rest and to get enough water for drinking and washing and rations not quite so uninteresting as the "Compo" rations which the Army had given them in Sicily. When they arrived, however, they were told by the Senior Landing Craft Officer that due to the political situation it would be necessary to make a landing on Italian soil in the near future for which all available landing craft would be required. It was therefore essential to put the craft in full working order once again and repair the wear and tear of hundreds of beachings. All the spares of all Flotillas were pooled and the refit of about seventy craft was completed in fourteen or fifteen days, to the amazement of dockyard authorities at Valetta.

Photo by David J. Lewis in St. Nazaire to Singapore, Vol. 1, Page 171

The Maltese dockyard maties took advantage of the critical situation to strike for two weeks just when the work of repair was about to begin. However, all Flotilla stoker and maintenance personnel turned to and helped in every variety of work from welding to carpentry. Number four dry dock was allocated for LCM's and first priority was given for all materials which could be supplied. Twenty craft were docked at once for hull repairs and bottom fittings such as propellers, shafts and A-brackets while the remainder of the craft were drawn up on the hards for engine repairs and above water repairs. The Flotillas worked fourteen hours a day and got the job done. After the first twenty dry docked craft had been repaired, another forty-two craft were put in dock while engine and above water repairs on the original twenty were carried out on the hards. Quarters were extremely crowded in Valetta and most of the Flotilla personnel slept in an LST and in tents above the town.

LCM(iii)s vs. LCM(i)s -

The 80th but not the 81st Flotilla was used for the invasion of Italy across the Straits of Messina which began on the morning of September 3rd. It was only at the last minute that it was decided not to use the 81st. The decision to use the 80th and not the 81st was made because of the great superiority of the LCM(iii)s of the 80th over the LCM(i)s of the 81st. The LCM(iii) is a diesel-engined craft with an endurance of about 800 miles while the LCM(i) has internal combustion engines of less than half the LCM(iii)’s horsepower. Therefore the 80th were able to proceed to Messina directly from Malta under their own power.

From 'Diary: Landing in Sicily and on to Italy - 80th LCM Mark 3 Flotilla'
By Ed Corbett as found in St. Nazaire to Singapore, Volume 1, Page 189

The 81st would have had to make the passage by stages or else carried by ship, and ships were at a premium. The LCM(iii)s had the further advantage of being a little faster (nine knots) although noisier, of having more power in reverse for coming off the beach, of being somewhat larger and therefore capable of carrying up to thirty tons of stores, almost twice the capacity of an LCM(i). Even more important was the inroads that sickness had made into the 81st Flotilla. At one time in Malta, only four stokers remained off the sick-list. Seamen could have been used for stokers but the Flotilla was considered too weak. Most of the other Flotillas were shorter of craft than of personnel.

81st to U.K. -

Therefore on the 19th of August the first party of about four Officers and forty-nine Ratings left Malta in H.M.S. "FORMIDABLE", leaving their seven operational craft behind as reserves in Malta. At Gibraltar, they transferred to an old trooper, S.S. "LANCASHIRE" and arrived back in the United Kingdom about the middle of September. The remainder of the Flotilla came from Malta in the Dutch Transport, M.V. "RUYS", sailing on the 26th of September and arriving in the United Kingdom on the 8th of October. The sick evacuated from Sicily to North Africa returned in small groups about the same time.

The 80th had kept all eleven of their original craft in operation through the Sicilian landings but two craft with "Buda" diesel engines which required spares that were not available in Malta, had to be left there and in their place they were given one LCM of another Flotilla. In Buda engines, fresh water, kept cool by a heat exchange system of salt water, is used for cooling. At Sicily the salt water system became blocked due to accumulations of sand from the beaches and oil from sunken ships so that salt water had to be used in place of fresh to keep the engines cool. The consequent crystallization made it impossible to keep the pumps working for very long and damaged parts of the engines so that replacements were necessary. The 80th therefore left for Italy with ten craft while the remaining personnel for one craft stayed in Malta.

"Ed Corbett's Diary continues." St. Nazaire to Singapore, Vol. 1, Page 191

The ferrying job across the Messina Straits went on for thirty-two days with much the same sort of discomfort as had been experienced south of Syracuse, but the organization was rather better and Flotillas were usually able to operate as a team instead of as individual craft with better results.

At their camp near Messina the Flotillas were better off than in their cave on "GEORGE" beaches, but supplies of all kinds were still hard to get, and medical services in particular were badly strained. The Flotilla personnel were in worse shape than at any time since the operations commenced and sores developed from the slightest scrape. The Flotilla ran their own Sick Bay under the charge of a Duty Officer and sores were dressed as well as amateurs could do it. Not only the Flotilla had to be attended to but the local Sicilian population. At first only the children presented themselves for treatment but soon the whole family came along. The very poor condition of the population was typical of that of the Italian prisoners who were often ferried by the LCMs on their return trip from the Toe.

Photos by Ed Corbett and from St. Nazaire to Singapore, Vol. 1, Page 192

The news of Italy's surrender was received with as much joy by the Sicilians as among the Allied Forces. The Canadians heard it from a Sicilian family who had it from the B.B.C. Italian Service Broadcast shortly before the news was broadcast in English. All the landing craft were along the beaches on the Sicilian side for the night and each craft let off a couple of 47-round pans of Lewis Gun ammunition, including tracer - at least fifty guns going strong.

To end this report, the following signal from Flag Officer Sicily to all landing craft concerned in the Messina operation gave everyone well-earned praise: General Montgomery's praise for the Canadian contribution:

"I feel I must write and say how very grateful I am for the great efforts made by the Royal Navy in maintaining such a high volume of traffic over the ferry. This was one of the major factors which enabled us to advance so rapidly and resulted in the linking up of the Fifth and Eighth Armies. 1 shall be most grateful if you will pass on my thanks to your staff, the crews of the landing craft and others concerned. Ends."

Unattributed Photos by GH

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