Friday, November 25, 2016

Books re Combined Operations - THE CANADIANS IN SICILY and ITALY 1943-1945 (1)



Deputy Director, Historical Section, General Staff

Men of 2nd Seaforth Highlanders embarking onto landing craft at Sousse
en route for Sicily, 5 July 1943. Photo Credit - WW2 Today

In the 876 page, comprehensive history of the Canadian Army one will find mention of the Canadian landing craft flotillas that were on hand - for a month or more at a time - during the 1943 invasions of Sicily (beginning in early July) and Italy (September).

I have listed some pertinent passages below that relate to Canadians in Combined Operations during Operation HUSKY in Sicily but will not say I have found them all. For those who like reading or scanning lengthy texts, I wish you "good hunting."


Related to Canadians In Combined Operations:

We read, "The naval role in the general plan of "Husky" was threefold: to ensure the safe and timely arrival of the assault forces at their beaches; to cover their disembarkation; and to support and maintain them after landing and throughout the subsequent operations."

As well, Admiral Cunningham divided the naval forces he had at his disposal to the Eastern and Western Task Forces, and used battleships to cover landings in the region of the invasion. Page 63

We read, "Causing considerable concern to the Canadian planners were two false beaches or sandbars which lay submerged along Costa dell' Ambra some distance offshore (of Sicily)."

 LCAs, LCMs, etc., could stall on the sandbars, and any troops that disembarked would find it very difficult to wade ashore or drive vehicles onto dry land. The text says, "A submarine reconnaissance made on the night of 25-26 June confirmed this fear by revealing the presence of a sandbar eighty yards off "Roger" beach 600 yards long and twenty yards wide, covered by only eighteen inches of water."

Between sandbar and beach a soldier could drop as much as nine feet. We read, "A similar underwater obstacle lay off "Sugar" beach, although shoreward the intervening water was not more than five feet deep."

General Simonds planned to steer around such difficulties by using particular amphibious craft. The text says, "On receiving this confirmation - which came to him aboard Hilary on 7 July - he issued orders that three of the assault companies of the 1st Canadian Brigade should land in L.C.Ts. (Landing Craft, Tank) carrying DUKWs, which could swim ashore should the landing craft run aground on the sandbars." Page 65 - 66

* * * * *

Then we touched down - 
but not upon the beach.
Instead, we struck an uncharted sandbar
lying a hundred yards offshore.

And we hit it only seconds before
a salvo of 6-inch shells
from one of the cruisers
whomped into the beach
directly in front of us.

Wumpety-wump-wump-wump, they roared.

Shell fragments whanged against the boat
while Seven Platoon and its intrepid leader
sprawled on their collective belly.

Had that shoal not existed
we would have been obliterated
by the salvo from our own guns -
and probably no one would
ever have been the wiser.

Nevertheless, the bar was not
an unmitigated blessing.

Page 62, And No Birds Sang
by Farley Mowat

* * * * *

re The Canadian Landings and the Capture of the First Objectives

We read, "D Day was forty-eight minutes old when the 1st Canadian Division headquarters ship, H.M.S. Hilary, dropped anchor seven miles off the coast of Sicily."

For 90 minutes before that, bombers had "softened up" any resistance at Pachino airfield. Defenders sent up flares and gunfire, visible to Allied attackers as they prepared for disembarkation. The text says, "By the time the big transports carrying the assault brigades had slowed to a stop, the landing craft aboard were loaded with troops and ready to be lowered."

Considerable skill was demanded for a successful landing. An earlier sharp gale and subsequent rough seas had actually threatened postponement of the landings. We read, "But the risks of attempting to defer the precisely timed and closely co-ordinated operation until more favourable conditions were considered greater than the hazards of proceeding with the invasion as planned, even in the heavy weather."

Conditions improved as the time of landing approached. Gradually, beaching of the assault craft successfully appeared less dangerous than previously feared; but heavy swells still made the initial launch of small craft from the tossing transports a tough job. The text says, "At ten minutes past one the LCAs* carrying the first flight of Commando troops of the Special Service Brigade made the forty-foot descent into the sea. (* Landing Craft, Assault, a 40-foot ramped craft, affording protection against rifle and machine-gun fire, with a carrying capacity of 40 men including a crew of four) Pages 67 - 68 

We read that due to faulty navigation, "the craft carrying the Seaforth (Highlanders) ran some distance off their course and actually landed the battalion to the right of the (Princess) Patricias" rather than the left. However, the heavy swell they encountered ended up aiding the attackers, because the hard-rolling surf carried landing craft over sandbars that had earlier caused planners much grief.

The text says, "Both units met with practically negligible opposition. As the craft approached the shore they came under desultory small-arms fire, which ceased as the assaulting troops reached the beach." Troops easily cut and blew up the few wire obstacles once on shore and disposed of a few bewildered Italian machine-gunners without much difficulty. Page 68

On Page 70 we read, "Each L.C.T. carried seven DUKWs, and as the large craft grounded on the sandbar the amphibians swam off to the beach laden with troops."

Also, though assault troops of two regiments landed about where their plans indicated, one of the Hastings' reserve companies, from H.M.S. Derbyshire, landed 5000 yards off their mark and onto the heels of the Commandos. However, there were no serious consequences and soon thereafter the battalion rejoined as one, having lost two to machine-gun fire. (and 3 wounded). The text says, "But this incident and the earlier confusion which marked the launching of the assault flights serve to emphasize the difficulties attending large-scale amphibious operations carried out in the darkness." Had Allied troops faced larger numbers of serious enemy forces there surely would have been far graver consequences. Page 70

More to follow related to Canadians landing in Sicily during Operation HUSKY.

Please link to more Books re Combined Operations - DIEPPE, DIEPPE by  Greehous

Unattributed Photos by GH

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