Sunday, December 13, 2015

Passages: "The Great Invasion Fleet" by Farley Mowat

Operation HUSKY - July, 1943 in Sicily

From AND NO BIRDS SANG by Farley Mowat

Most books about WW2 contain descriptions of scenes the average reader will never behold in their lifetime. But poignant, powerful scenes, the likes of which would be more familiar to our parents and grandparents, should be a part of our collective memories.

"He slumped in his chair like a hung-over walrus, 
but even in the queasy grip of seasickness his presence 
still dominated the heaving room." 

Above and below are excerpts from AND NO BIRDS SANG by well-respected Canadian writer Farley Mowat (formerly of Port Hope, Ontario). He was aboard the heaving Derbyshire in July, 1943 as the largest armada in history, up to that time, approached the island of Sicily, itself slumbering and unaware of an impending invasion. Official start time of Operation Husky was but hours away.

Upon the Sea: Those Metal Boxes Would Have Swamped 

      Beyond the ship
      the scene was something to behold.
      The sky was as harshly bright and clear as ever,
      for the sirocco brought no clouds in its train.

      The sun streamed down
      upon a waste of heaving seas,
      foaming white to the horizon.
      And the great invasion fleet
      - that irresistible weapon -
      was in total and almost helpless disarray.
      The largest warships were being swept
      by breaking seas until they looked like
      half-awash submarines. The big troopers
      were being staggered by the impact of the
      greybeards that broke over their heaving sterns.

      Most of the smaller vessels had turned about
      and were hove-to, head to the sea and wind,
      and some of them - particularly the square-nosed
      tank landing craft - were obviously nearing
      the limits of their endurance. If the gale had
      increased its strength only a little more, many of
      those metal boxes would have swamped and sunk.

      I thanked my stars I wasn't aboard one of them...
      and then remembered that in less than twenty-four 
      hours we were due to be cast into that turmoil
      of white waters in tiny assault boats which were
      little more than sardine cans and
      not much more seaworthy.

A British Universal Carrier Mark I comes ashore during the invasion
of Sicily on 10 July 1943. Photo Credit -
Upon the Ground: He Beckoned Me to Follow 

     Kennedy, as was his habit 
     (one that I dreaded and abhorred),
     decided to go forward and see
     for himself what was happening.
     He beckoned me to follow.
     The storm clouds rolling overhead seemed close
     enough to touch, and the land lay under a leaden
     obscurity drained of all colour and devoid of shape.
     Ankle-deep in sucking mud we plodded across
     a patchwork of little fields and vineyards.
     The explosions of our own and German shells
     pounded hideously inside my skull,
     yet Kennedy seemed unaware.

     Not once did he dive for cover
     or even so much as hunch his shoulders when the
     grating scream of an incoming projectile warned
     of imminent destruction. Senseless anger boiled up
     in the quaking bog within me: You goddamn
     pigheaded idiot! I mouthed in silence.
     What in hell are you trying to prove?
     Rage mounted - and sustained me.

     A salvo of medium shells plunging through the
    overcast into the mud a few yards to our flank
    sent me grovelling. When I raised my head
    Kennedy was a dim shape in a dimmed world,
    plodding steadily onward. I scrambled to my feet,
    shouting aloud now, against the Doomsday roar:
    "You crazy bastard!"
     But still I followed him.
     I could not break the leash.

Unattributed Photos by GH

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