Saturday, December 26, 2015

Short Story re Sicily, "Keith Beecher's Diary Entries"

Diary: 55th Flotilla Landing Craft Assault

By Keith Beecher, LT (E), RCNVR

"Queen Elizabeth": Provenance - David Lewis 

Introduction: "Beecher's diary is daily over 11 months. Selection is only justified by space demands. The diary begins with almost daily entries in Halifax as Sub-LTs (E) Meade Wright and Keith Beecher, graduates of Engineering of McGill University in Montreal, join up. They are posted to Halifax where they are at the base for a year..." As found in St. Nazaire to Singapore by D. J. Lewis, page 147.

Trans. Atlantic Passage: 

The Queen Elizabeth (QE) and her sister ship the Queen Mary (QM) served many years as troop transports. Because of their speed, both ships sailed alone, rather than in convoy. The following is my diary covering the subsequent 15 months. (KB)

Halifax. November 2, 1942 (at sea - RMS Queen Elizabeth):

Fourth day out (On watch on the QE's bridge). We had some excitement today. Lt. Deck and I spotted a submarine periscope off our starboard quarter. We had promised ourselves to be most professional if we saw anything and to act the way they do in movies. However, when I saw the periscope I screamed to the captain who came running out of the wheel house. We had 36 knots to his 18, and ran away from the submarine quite easily...

November 4 (River Clyde - QE):

Everyone up on deck as we sailed up the Clyde. It was a lovely morning and land looked very fine. Unfortunately a fog blew up and we had to lay in the stream all day. Towards evening the fog lifted and we were brought ashore to Greenock in tenders. We were met by a station wagon from the Canadian naval Base, HMCS Niobe, which proved to be a dismal castle-like building about 20 miles from Greenock. We were driven up to the dismal castle for supper and bed...

Introduction to subsequent diary entries: "Beecher is attached to the 55th Flotilla of LCAs which becomes the LSI Otranto's Flotilla (LT. CDR Bob Smith) for the 1943 Mediterranean invasions of Sicily and Italy up to and including Salerno. They must make their journey rounding the Cape of Good Hope as the Mediterranean is still too dangerous in the early spring of 1943 for successful invasion forces to penetrate directly. So commences a circumnavigation of Africa..." As found in St. Nazaire to Singapore by D. J. Lewis, page 148.

1943: Invasion of Sicily. July 5:

Sailed out of Port Said early this morning and spent all day in the Mediterranean steering  a course along the north coast of Africa - sailing through the beautiful blue waters of the mediterranean Sea. Worked like hell all day getting the landing craft squared away for the landing... All of us are scared as hell and walking on tip toes clutching our life belts...

July 6:

Still sailing along the north coast... Worked my heart out all morning - checking the stores in the landing craft again and inspecting the engines and engine rooms - everything seems fine... At sunset Levesque and I went back aft and dumped all our acid overboard since the Staff Commander was worried about it in the event that we were attacked by the Luftwaffe.

July 7:

First excitement this morning when one of the destroyers got an Asdic contact and dropped a pattern of depth charges just off our port quarter and the old ship shuddered all over the place. A couple of enemy reconnaissance planes came over later so I guess we have been sighted... About 30 troop ships are in our convoy and around a dozen Hunt class destroyers and one cruiser - HMS Carlisle.

July 8:

...The coast of North Africa could be seen off our port side all day yesterday, but we left it today as we headed across the Mediterranean towards Sicily...

July 9:

Did last minute check on the landing craft and all seems well... we are now escorted by Corvettes, Sweepers, Cruisers, etc. - the biggest show ever. God turned against us as it blew like hell with a great sea running. Sighted the coast of Sicily around dusk...

July 10:

We dropped anchor off Sicily and lowered our landing craft at 12:30 a.m. for the assault. We lay off about seven miles. It was a beautiful night, stars and the moon setting. Hundreds of our planes flew over and hammered the beaches and later the war ships opened fire - it was an impressive sight. As dawn came, our ship moved closer in and we lay off Pachino about a quarter of a mile. Our LCAs and LCPs ran the troops in for the invasion. There was very little resistance on our beach. We lost two LCAs and the LCP from two shells hitting the gas tanks. However, everyone was on the beach at the time. All the troops were put ashore by noon. We then left and sailed to Malta and all turned in.

July 11 (Sunday):

Arrived in Malta around 5:00 yesterday afternoon. Last night we completed our reports on the operation, turned in and slept like logs...

Some details from the above entries have been omitted. Those and later details (to July 17) from Keith Beecher's diary can be found on pages 147 - 150 at St. Nazaire to Singapore: The Canadian Amphibious War (Vol. 1).

 Please link to Short Story re Sicily, "Four Canadian Flotillas, 1943"

Unattributed Photos by GH

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