The 55th, 61st, 80th, 81st Canadian Flotillas in Sicily and Italy - Part 1
By Lt. Cdr L. Williams, RCNVR, RTD (Data from Lt. Cdr J. Gibb, RCNVR)
"The landing zones of four Canadian Flotillas in Sicily, July 1943"
As found in Combined Operations by Clayton Marks
Sicily and Italy:
From an address delivered to the Maritime Museum of Vancouver, 1995
About the middle of March 1943, several large convoys left British ports for Suez. The end of the North African campaign was coming in sight, and the next step would be the forcing of a passage to the Italian mainland....
The convoys which were to round Africa and come up through the Red Sea to Suez and Port Said of the eastern entrance to the Mediterranean, carried the Combined Operations Flotillas and a portion of the troops for the landings on Sicily. Among them were the 55th and 61st Canadian Flotillas of LCAs (Assault landing Craft). Later convoys were to carry the 80th and 81st Canadian Flotillas of larger landing craft (LCMs) for ferrying of vehicles and heavier stores.
Together, the Canadian personnel manning these Flotillas totalled about 400 men, while another 250 Canadians served in British Landing Craft Flotillas or in the support ships. They were a microscopic proportion of a force which consisted in all of 2755 transports, escorts and landing craft of many kinds; yet they were to be an important part of the ferrying forces at the beaches where they were used, and their performance was to be of a high order.
On July 4 all Combined Operations Officers were called together for final instructions.... On the 9th the rendezvous (south of Malta) was reached, and to the men of the 55th and 61st Assault Landing Craft Flotillas, watching from the decks of the Landing Ships Strathnaver and Otranto, it seemed that the ocean was crowded with arriving convoys....
....Canadian soldiers and sailors, for this operation, were not to have the satisfaction of working together. The Canadian Division was to drive in on the western side of the Pachino Peninsula, carried in British Landing Craft. The Canadian Landing Craft Flotillas were a part of the subdivision of the Eastern Task Force which was to land British Troops on the eastern side of the Peninsula. a little to the north of Pachino itself.
....(Due to bad weather on July 9) it was thought that the whole operation would have to be postponed, but after darkness it was decided to continue....
....(July 10) the assault convoy which included Strathnaver and Otranto arrived at its position seven miles off the coast of Pachino.... Troops loaded down with battle equipment came up from the holds and began to climb into the landing craft hanging at the davits, a full platoon to each craft.
Photo: Example of lowering an ALC from davits
As found in Combined Operations
One by one, as the platoons settled into their places, the swaying assault craft were lowered forty feet to the water below. Motors began sputtering; the craft moved away from the ships and formed up for the run to shore.... It was necessary for the 55th Flotilla to take station on the 61st which followed behind the (one Fairmile Motor) launch.
The night was black and the sea was very rough. It was windy, wet and cold. The soldiers huddling against the gunwales became seasick; buckets came freely into use. Seas washing over the side called for constant bailing.... Navigation of the craft, always difficult, became terribly so in the rough weather.... A searchlight knifed out from the land, swung toward the craft, and illuminated every man's face in a white glare. Then it swept on, apparently having revealed nothing to the watchers ashore.
Our Flotilla, the 61st Canadian LCA operating from RMS Strathnaver (22,000 tons) landed units of the British 8th Army that included the Dorsets, Devons, Hampshires, south of Syracuse. Our objective was the small fishing harbour of Marzememi.
A British Universal Carrier Mk I comes ashore with troops
and guns during the invasion of Sicily on 10 July 1943.
Photo Credit - World War 2 Today
Sunrise came at approximately 0600. A JU88 put in an appearance. A little later two Messerschmitts swept down to strafe the ship with cannon. They were ineffectual, however, and too late. Reinforcements were streaming shoreward in uninterrupted processions of landing craft, and by two pm the assault Flotillas had done their work. They were hoisted back aboard the landing ships, and the convoy, much relieved to be out of the area, sailed for Malta. In less that twelve hours the two Canadian Flotillas had landed two-thirds of a brigade of British troops with their essential supplies and gear. They had suffered no casualties.
The 80th and 81st LCM Flotillas began their work four hours after the LCAs but instead of finishing in twelve hours, they were occupied for some ten weeks, first on Sicily and then on the Italian mainland. During the four weeks that followed, the work of landing stores and reinforcements settled down into a routine for the craft of the 80th and 81st Flotillas. It was a grinding routine, and it was never free from danger.
"Jeep, tank mesh, and more equipment, all from 'ship
to shore' on LCMs": From Combined Operations
"Different types of landing craft used in Sicily": From Combined Operations
Above photo and caption from St. Nazaire to Singapore by David. J. Lewis
Every type of cargo had to come ashore in their craft; sixteen-ton tanks, heavy trucks, tiers of cans of high-octane gasoline, ammunition, army rations, small arms and mortars. Heavy seas often made both the run-ins and the work of loading and unloading very difficult. The huge requirements of the arms put heavy pressure on the ferry system, and for the first 48 hours of the operation every man remained on the job without rest. Even after that, the best arrangements that could be worked out was a routine of 48 hours on and 24 hours off.
Part 2 to follow.
The full address related to Part 1 can be found at St. Nazaire to Singapore, Vol. 1, pages 195 - 197.
Please link to Short Story re "Early Days in Combined Ops" Part 3