Friday, June 24, 2016

Presentation: Dad's Navy Days Part 5 (1)

Dad's Navy Days, 1941 - 1945

By G. A. Harrison

Canadian infantrymen disembark from landing craft during a training exercise
before the raid on Dieppe. England, August 1942. Photo - Canada at War

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 5 - Concerning the Dieppe Raid - Operation Rutter, July 1942 

Lt. Jake Koyl mentions in his files (as found in Combined Operations by Clayton Marks) that after about four months of training in southern England and Scotland the Canadians in Combined Ops were given an official and significant assignment: He writes:

The first operational call received was in early June when they sailed away from their base to take part in some operation, but this was cancelled and all were ordered to return to base.

Though Koyl does not mention the name of the operation, one can determine, by reading the stories and memoirs of a few Canadian officers and ratings, that their first assignment was Operation Rutter, the destination was Dieppe, and though the date had been set for July 8, 1942, it was cancelled one day earlier for various reasons - the chief of which relates to bombings by the German Luftwaffe - and later rescheduled for August 19.

About the lead-up to the first operation (Rutter), one can find a significant passage from a story written by an RCNVR officer, William Sinclair (found in St. Nazaire to Singapore: Vol. 1), as well as confirmation of certain events by young Canadian members of Combined Operations.

Mr. Sinclair not only describes initial training at HMS Northney (Combined Ops base on Hayling Island, Hampshire) and HMS Quebec on Loch Fyne (including his participation in exercises Schuyt I and II), he goes on to mention a memorable voyage from Scotland to southern England prior to the aborted operation related to Dieppe.

He writes:

Finally, about the end of April 1942, our craft - LCAs and LCMs - were embarked on two landing ships (Stern), the Iris and the Daffodil. We then sailed down Loch Fyne to Irvine, Ayrshire.

He goes on to say he and other Canadians camped at HMS Dundonald, and took part in Schuyt I and II, "the largest combined exercises up to that time," under the watchful eye of the King of England, the Prime Minister and Lord Mountbatten. After further training back at Inveraray the LCMs were again sent south to England, this time to the Solent (the body of waterways between Southampton and the Isle of Wight) and aboard the RFA Ennerdale and Daffodil.

About this trip on Ennerdale, Sinclair writes the following:

In company with the Daffodil we sailed for the Solent, and what looked like a forth-coming operation.* Our coastal convoy left the Clyde about the 10th of June, 1942.

About 10 PM (later in the trip, after passing Milford Haven, Wales, and Land's End), just as it was getting dark.... our convoy was attacked by some eight JU 88s. After a few close ones, two of the Jerries were shot down and we proceeded to Portsmouth where the Ennerdale went into dry dock for two weeks as some of her plates had sprung due to near misses. (St. Nazaire to Singapore, page 50)

*A footnote on the same page, written by David Lewis, the editor of St. Nazaire to Singapore: Vol. 1, adds:

Although we didn't know it, we had been attending functions related to Operation Rutter.... Rutter had been interrupted by Luftwaffe attacks on the naval troop carriers and the weather had been unacceptable, so that the operation was cancelled and run again as Operation Jubilee a few weeks later.

Others recall attacks by German Junkers, ending up in Portsmouth and later hearing about the cancellation of the early attempt to raid Dieppe.

Lloyd Evans (WW2 veteran of RCNVR and Comb. Ops) recalls the following in his memoirs:

We sailed from the Firth of Clyde on one of them (i.e., one of the oil tankers converted to carry landing craft), down through the Irish Sea, and somewhere near Lands End, our convoy was bombed.... my first night bombing at sea. I hastily donned my tin helmet which always gave me a headache but this time it seemed as light as a feather and caused no problem at all. One of the main anti-aircraft guns, on our foredeck, jammed, and a JU 88 came in real low to take advantage. Our gunners cleared the jam and shot him down before he could drop his bombs. We managed to get away in safety and ended up in Portsmouth....

Canadians in Combined Ops, possibly in Portsmouth, 1942
L-R; Don Linder, NA, NA, Doug Harrison (reclining), NA, Don Westbrook
Photo credit - From the collection of Lloyd Evans

....We had no clear idea why we were there. The situation was all the more confusing when a large flotilla of landing craft, loaded with soldiers and Commandos, set sail one evening and we remained in port. We could see the Commandos putting detonators in their hand grenades and blackening their faces as though they were preparing for action. The mystery deepened when they returned a few hours later. 

We found out that they had sailed for a raid on Dieppe, France, but returned when they found out the Germans were waiting for them. We could never figure out if our presence there was anything to do with the abortive Dieppe Raid and, if it was, why we were not part of it. We later set sail for Clyde Bank (i.e, Scotland). (Memoirs, page 10)

My father (D. Harrison; see above photograph) writes the following about the same events:

We went from Irvine to H.M.S. Quebec, then to H.M.S. Niobe and then aboard the oil tanker Ennerdale at Greenock in late spring, 1942. Our barges were loaded on the ship too, by use of booms and winches. I recall that before leaving Greenock one of the ship’s crew said to me, “I wish we weren’t going on this trip, matey.” When I asked why he said, “‘Cause we got a bloody basinful last time!” We got our basinful this time too.

During the trip down the west coast of England it seems we pulled into an Irish seaport one night; however, farther down the coast of England we headed south past Milford Haven, Wales, and all was serene.

We usually had a single or maybe two Spitfires for company. There were eight ships in the convoy; we were the largest, the rest were trawlers. Of course, the Spitfires only stayed until early dusk, then waggled their wings and headed home.

On June 22, 1942, my mother’s birthday, O/D Seaman Jack Rimmer of Montreal and I were reminiscing on deck. We must remember there was daylight saving time and war time, and to go by the sun setting one never knew what time it was. Jack and I were feeling just a little homesick - not like at first - and it was a terribly hard feeling to describe then.

Our Spitfire waggled his wings and kissed us goodnight though it was still quite light, and no sooner had he left when ‘action stations’ was blared out on the Klaxon horn.

Eight German JU 88s came from the east, took position in the sun and attacked us from the stern. It was perhaps between eight and nine o’clock because I had undressed and climbed into my hammock next to Stoker Fred Alston. When the Klaxon went everybody hit the deck and tried to dress, and being the largest ship, we knew we were in for it.

I got my socks on, put my sweater on backwards and got the suspenders on my pants caught on the oil valves. I was hurrying like hell and nearly strangled myself - scared to death. They needed extra gunners so Lloyd Campbell of London, Ontario said, “Let me at him.”

The bombs came - and close. They really bounced us around. The gun crew on the foc’sle of the ship was knocked clear off the gun by the concussion and fell but were only bruised.

The attack was short and sweet but it seemed an eternity. A near miss had buckled our plates and we lost all our drinking water. I ventured out on deck immediately and picked up bomb shrapnel as big as your fist. I noticed the deck was covered with mud from the sea bottom. I kept the shrapnel as a souvenir along with many other items I had but, alas, they were all lost in Egypt.

We arrived at Cowe (Isle of Wight) the next day with everyone happy to be alive and still shaking. It indeed had been a basinful. 

The next evening, June 23, 1942 there was terrific activity. Motor launches by the dozen headed out to see what was going on, and it turned out to be the aborted attempt on Dieppe. The next one on August 19, 1942 should have been aborted too.

More to follow.

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

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