Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Presentation: Dad's Navy Days Part 4 (3)

Dad's Navy Days, 1941 - 1945

By G. A. Harrison

Unidentified Canadian infantrymen taking part in a Combined Operations
training exercise, Inveraray, Scotland, 27 August 1943. Credit: Sgt. George
A. Game / Canada. DND/Library and Archives Canada / PA-132778

Introduction: The following post will be part of a Nov. 2016 presentation regarding my father's WW2 service with the RCNVR and Combined Operations organization.


Part 4 - Combined Operations Training in the UK

II - Initial Combined Ops Training in Scotland

A) H.M.S. Quebec, on Loch Fyne (south of Inveraray)

About his first training experiences in Scotland my father writes:

We were all in good shape and this was to be one of the more memorable camps, with our first actual work and introduction to landing barges.... there were lots of adventures, therefore many memories.

We trained on ALCs (assault landing crafts) which carried approximately 37 soldiers and a crew of four, i.e., Coxswain, two seamen and stoker. Some carried an officer.... ALCs were made of 3/16 inch plating, thick enough to stop a .303. (They) sat three rows of soldiers including two outside rows under 3/16th inch cowling, but the centre row was completely exposed. ("DAD, WELL DONE" page 12)

"The centre row (straddling a bench) was completely exposed"
Photo credit - Imperial War Museum

The young Canadians also trained on LCMs, or landing craft, mechanized. About them my father says the following:

LCMs carried soldiers or a truck, a Bren gun carrier, supplies, land mines, gasoline, etc. LCMs wouldn't stop a bullet.

More information about ALCs and LCMs can be found in the first few pages of a significant book produced in London, Ontario by Clayton Marks and his wife Jewel, entitled Combined Operations. (A descriptive section is also included about the use of Infantry Landing Ships in several major operations of World War II).

About the ALCs and LCMs Mr. Marks writes the following:


This craft is without a doubt the outstanding one of all Assault Craft. Extreme length 41 ft. 1 and 1/2 in. Beam extreme 10 ft. 2 in. The displacement light is 8 tons with a draft of 1 ft. 1 in. forward and 1 ft. 9 in. aft. Loaded 13 tons with draft forward 1 ft. 9 in., aft 2 ft. 3 in. Fully loaded maximum speed is 7 knots. Light maximum speed 10 knots. This craft is powered by two Ford V8 petrol engines. Its maximum carrying capacity is 35 fully equipped men, discharging them by means of a ramp. The L.C.A. at slow speeds is a most silent craft and capable of beaching without giving away their position due to noise. It is well covered with protective plating and can resist machine gun and small arms fire. This is the type of craft which was carried by the "Prince Henry" and "Prince David". These crafts were used in the landings at Dieppe, North Africa, Sicily, Italy, Southern France, Greece and D-Day.

Troops taking part in a Combined Ops exercise in Inveraray, circa 1942
Photo Credit - IWM


These craft, designed to be carried and lowered from ships, used to rush ashore equipment required by the initial assault troops. Their length is 44 ft. 8 in. with a beam of 14 ft., their displacement light is 19 tons, loaded 35 tons. The L.C.M.s are equipped with twin Chrysler engines with a loaded speed of 7 and 1/2 knots. These are all steel built but do not afford much protection against enemy fire. These craft have done excellent work in invasions and are especially useful where larger craft cannot approach the beach. Great endurance is required by the crews as their task is one which often lasts several weeks with the minimum facilities for food or sleep.


A newer type of L.C.M. designed and built in the U.S.A. and used in great numbers by the R.N. They are designed to carry a load of 30 tons. Their length is 50 ft. and beam 14 ft. Their displacement light is 22 tons, loaded 52 tons. They are powered with twin Gray, Buda or superior Diesels, the first named having proved itself the most sturdy. The advantage of this Landing Craft is the fact that it is quite seaworthy and capable of cruising about 1,000 miles at a speed of 6 knots. The maximum speed of the Gray Diesels is 8 knots with a full load.

The LCM was a D-Day Workhorse
Photo Credit - Combined Operations, page 14

Construction and training related to landing craft took place on Canadian soil as well but these programs developed later in the war than they did in the UK. Some Canadians with experience in Combined Operations activities in Dieppe, North Africa, Sicily and Italy, including my father and several of his closest mates (from the afore-mentioned first Canadian draft of volunteers to go to southern England and Scotland for training in January 1942), were later involved in the Canadian programs established on Vancouver Island.

In Volume 2 of The Naval Service of Canada  (by G. N. Tucker, 1952) we learn the following:

(Early in 1942) the Joint Services Committee on the west coast was considering a more elaborate scheme involving combined army-navy Operations and the use of assault landing craft.

The scheme as finally worked out involved the use of a hundred wooden landing craft provided by the army, manned by the navy, and maintained by both services....

Early in 1943 the training in Canada of combined-Operations personnel for service in the European theatre of war had been given careful consideration.... combined-Operations activities were concentrated at Courtenay (and) Naval training later moved to the nearby naval camp at Comox Spit, formerly operated.... for musketry and seamanship training. This establishment became known as "Givenchy III." In February 1944 there were 51 landing craft on the west coast of which all but 8 were based on Comox. Page 232

LCM(W)s (i.e., wooden) were constructed in Vancouver in the early 1940s
Photo as found in Canada's War At Sea, Part III, Pg. 93

LCM(W) going through its paces near The Spit, Comox B.C. circa 1944
From St. Nazaire to Singapore Pg. 104: Photo - R. Berger 

Because the training on assault landing craft in Canada took place at a later date than Scotland, I will share more information about it later in the presentation, using my father's WW2 timeline as a guide.

At HMS Quebec, near Inveraray, Scotland, all former training experienced by young Canadians was put to the test in short order and much more was learned during the early months of 1942. In his memoirs my father writes:

We did much running up on beaches so soldiers could disembark and re-embark, always watching the tide if it was flowing in or going out. You could be easily left high and dry, or broach* too, if you weren’t constantly alert. We took long trips at night in close single formation, like ducks closed up close, because all you could see was the florescent waters churned up by propellors of an ALC or LCM ahead....

....We clambered up scrambling nets and Jacob’s ladders and became very proficient because we learned to just use our hands. We did this training  on a liner called the Ettrick, which we will hear more about later on. Her free board was high, i.e., the distance between the water line and hand rails, and we got so it took about three seconds to drop 25 - 30 feet on scrambling nets. ("DAD, WELL DONE" pages 12-13)

The Ettrick at Inveraray, Scotland. Photo credit - combinedops.com

*"You could be easily left high and dry, or broach too", said D. Harrison.
Canadian sailors handle anti-broaching lines months later in N. Africa as U.S.
troops disembark. Photo Credit - RN photographer F. A. Hudson

I think my father took to the training, and took it very seriously when need be, and could see and recall in his mind's eye various sights, sounds, smells and important skills related to his training many years after WW2 had ended.

At age 73, when providing responses to a Combined Operations questionnaire (later published in St. Nazaire to Singapore), he wrote the following about his training:

Tides, winds, currents, ropes, motors, oil, cold dark cramped quarters. We learnt in a hurry in CO and it stood us all in good stead for after the war. A strange foreign world and we made it work. The officers, like ourselves, must have seen the ratings growing as they gained experience. As Montgomery said about the Canadian soldiers, “It wasn’t a matter of how, just when.” ("DAD, WELL DONE" page 79) 

As well, while writing a chapter about his experiences related to the invasion of North Africa and his subsequent safe return to England, his mind went back to his training in Scotland. Though - quite naturally - many memories sprang to mind about going on an extended leave in the UK, he says, "I am going to leave my memories about hilarious occasions I enjoyed during leaves until last." He preferred instead to recall 'lessons learned' on beaches near Inveraray and Irvine. 

He writes the following:
The job of the seaman on an ALC or LCM is to let the bow door down and wind it up by means of a winch situated in the stern of the barge. This winch is divided so you can drop a kedge (anchor) possibly about 100 or so feet from shore depending on the tide. If it is going out you can unload and then put motors full astern, wind in the kedge and pull yourself off of breach.

The tide is very important and constantly watched. If it is going out (on the ebb) and you are slow, you can be left high and dry, and if so, you stay with the barge. If the tide is on the make (flowing in) you use the kedge to keep you from swinging sideways on breach. In this case your kedge would be out only a short ways. After much practice, however, the kedge can be forgotten and everything done by engines and helm. Each barge has two engines. ("DAD, WELL DONE" page 26)

His description of necessary boat-handling skills seems quite thorough and is very similar to that found in an authoritative book by Hilary St. George Saunders about a very well-known fighting force entitled THE GREEN BERET: The Story of the Commandos. On page 46 we read (in part) the following:

In the early stages of development through which the Commandos passed, each troop trained as far as possible with the naval officers and ratings who manned the craft which were to take both into action. They belonged for the most part to that great company of H.O.'s, as those who enlisted for the duration of 'hostilities only' were known throughout the Navy....

....The training was designed to deal with the problems of approaching a hostile shore, landing upon it, remaining off it at close call, and then re-embarking troops from it. Much of it, therefore, appeared highly unorthodox, and men who for years had regarded running a ship aground as the most perfect example of professional incapacity, spent days doing little else. How to beach, when to beach, how long to remain aground, how best to use a kedge for getting off, how to avoid stripping a propellor: these were among the problems they learned to master.

They needed no one to tell them that the tide never stood still. If it were running out, then the landing craft had to be continually eased down the beach towards deeper water, or she would become stranded. If the tide were coming in, she must drive with it up the beach, or a cross wind might catch her and put her bows about. 

'The business of keeping a ship beached but not stranded, or shuffling it on its belly up and down the shore, while it is being loaded or unloaded, possibly under fire, is no game for any but the trained,' was a comment of one of the instructors, and he spoke no more than the truth.

'The good thing about this job,' one of (the new sailors) was heard to say, 'is that we all know we are doing something that has never been done before.' Pages 46 - 47

Though my father does not say he trained with Commandos, it is very likely he trained with the American Rangers at camps near Inveraray and Irvine familiar to commando units, in preparation for the Dieppe Raid (aka Operation Rutter, July 7, 1942; Operation Jubilee, August 19, 1942) and the invasion of North Africa, November 8, 1942.

Commandos warm up with OXO.
Were Canadians manning the landing craft offshore? Maybe so!
Photo - Fullarton Times, Scotland, Sept. 1942 

More to follow about Combined Operations training near Irvine (and elsewhere).

Please link to Presentation: Dad's Navy Days Part 4 (2)

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