Thursday, December 10, 2015

Books re Combined Operations

Operation Husky: The Canadian Invasion of Sicily, July 10 - August 7, 1943

by Mark Zuehlke

The first paperback edition was available in 2010, making this well-researched book by Mr. Zuehlke one of the newest in my growing collection. And I highly recommend it. It is one of those rare books, not about the Combined Operations organization specifically, that actually mentions the particular landing craft flotillas, manned by Canadians, that took part in the invasion of Sicily.

The book is written in four parts: Part One details early plans regarding the invasion of Sicily and does occasionally touch on the concern about some of the landing areas. E.g., 'Vian told Simonds "he did not like the beaches, and considered them unsuitable for assault craft; but we decided and agreed that in spite of the difficulties the assault was feasible, and we would carry it out."' (Page 51)

"Part One and Two will interest students of the Combined Operations Org."

A little later, still in Part One, we read details about where the troops initially trained upon assault landing craft, places perhaps quite familiar to the student of Combined Operations. E.g., 'In early May, the three rifle brigades started training at Inveraray for an "opposed landing" and "subsequent land operations including mountainous countryside."' (Page 53) As well, Mark Zuehlke writes, 'Designed as a dress rehearsal for Husky, Operation Stymie was a large-scale combined operation, with the infantry brigades landing on a section of Ayrshire coast that bore close resemblance to the Sicilian beaches for which they were bound... and Operation Stymie, true to its namesake, was cancelled.'

I would not be at all surprised if Stymie was scheduled to be held at Irvine, situated on the Ayrshire coast north of Troon, and home to Camp Dundonald (Army, Airforce) and Camp Auchengate (Navy), a Combined Operations training ground.

"We trained on ALCs" said a Canadian in Combined Ops" in another book.
Photo of Inveraray, Loch Fyne: Credit - Imperial War Museum

In Part Two some details spotlight the activities of Canadians in Combined Operations who were members of four landing craft flotillas (55th, 61st, 80th, 81st) in July of 1943.

We read 'At Avola, twenty miles to the south (of Siracusa), 50th Division had been thrown into confusion by the storm, many of its troops being landed in scattered groups... the Canadian 8oth and 81st Landing Craft, Mechanized flotillas were in the thick of this jumble, but Norm Bowen*, a coxswain on one of the LCMs, considered it far more organized than any other amphibious operation he had been on. Dieppe had been bad; North Africa "a disaster." Compared to those, "Sicily was a little more controlled." But it was still a madhouse with landing craft jostling for position and narrowly avoiding collisions, the coxswains yelling and hollering at each other to make way.' (Page 125) And on the next page a few details are given regarding the position and progress of the Canadian 55th and 61st flotillas.

Farther along more of N. Bowen's recollections are presented, all very, very interesting and poignant, as any records of an eye-witness to the chaos and carnage associated with a world war might be. For example, he 'was aboard one of the Landing Craft, Mechanized vessels of the Canadian 80th and 81st flotillas working off the British beaches near Siracusa (and) had just pulled up alongside the hospital ship Talamba with a full load of wounded Tommies when several German Stukas screamed out of the sun to attack a monitor and cruiser standing close by.' The Talamba was later sunk 'with some loss of life'. (Page 170 and 171)

On page 171 we also read 'at night, or when the LCMs were not needed for immediate runs, the Canadian sailors crowded into a cave just off the sand. There were about eighty naval personnel living in this dark, filthy warren'. Stories associated with life in the caves are rare, but other members of Combined Operations have left behind memories of the experience** as well.

Because all four parts of the book deal chiefly with the progress of Canadian troops in the heat of the battle in Sicily, this book will interest students of Canadian WW2 history, as well as the aforementioned readers well-interested in the actions of the small band of Canadians who volunteered for Combined Operations and then trained to handle various landing craft in many WW2 operations.

"Excerpt from the preface of Operation HUSKY"

It is a book very well done.

*Link to Short Story re Sicily, The Long Way 'Round 2 and mention of Navy hammock from 1943, with Norm Bowen's name listed thereon.

**Link to the memoirs of Leading Seaman Doug Harrison for more details re the invasion of Sicily from Combined Ops point-of-view, 'life in the caves' and more.

Link to more Books re Combined Operations: The Campaign for North Africa

Unattributed Photos by GH

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