Sunday, November 27, 2016

Books re Combined Operations - THE CANADIANS IN SICILY and ITALY 1943-1945 (2)



Deputy Director, Historical Section, General Staff

Highlanders assist with the unloading, while the beach group
engineer prepare roads off the beach. Photo credit - Wikipedia

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."


Canadian troops land south of Pachino. Canadian LCA and LCM Flotillas land
British troops between Pachino and Avola. Map from Combined Operations

Concerning Early Allied Successes, Not Without Cost. Pages 75 - 78

We read, "The success which attended the Canadian landings had been matched along the whole of the invasion front. Assaults made by the other formations of the Eighth Army had met very little opposition."

Pachino and the eastern section of the peninsula was soon occupied by Allied forces - e.g., 51st Highland Division and the 231st Brigade - without great difficulty. Avola and Cassibile came under control of the 13th Corps by 10 AM while the Fifth Division marched toward Syracuse. The text says, "It entered that important port the same evening at nine o'clock to take it undamaged."

Map of SE Sicily (AVOLA is top right).
Credit to History of the Canadian Army

We read, "The United States Seventh Army had landed against little initial opposition - although in rougher surf conditions on the more exposed western beaches - and had speedily taken all its D Day objectives." Axis planes strafed and bombed the beaches and transport areas and in the Canadian drop-off zone six fighters wracked up Canadian casualties. 

That being said, we read, "The airborne attacks in the sectors of both the Eastern and Western Task Forces had not achieved the success that crowned the seaborne assaults."

A good deal of information is recorded concerning Allied troops being dropped from transport aircraft and gliders that departed from Tunisia on July 9 1943. This night operation suffered dire consequences due to poor navigating by young pilots, high winds and strong enemy resistance.

Later Allied air-drops suffered serious losses as well at the hands of Allied guns because a clear safety corridor for troop-carrying aircraft was not well-coordinated between services.

A signal came through,
“Do not fire on low flying aircraft,
they are ours and towing gliders.”
What, in the dark?

Next morning.
as we slowly moved in,
we saw gliders everywhere.

I saw them sticking out of the water,
crashed on land and in the vineyards.
In my twenty-seven days there
I did not see a glider intact.

Page 31, "DAD, WELL DONE"
By D. Harrison, Combined Ops
On Pio Pico, with Canada's LCMs  

In the 'OFFICIAL HISTORY, OF THE CANADIAN ARMY' we read, "Of the 134 gliders carrying the British 1st Airlanding Brigade, fifty came down in the sea, and only twelve landed in the intended dropping zone."

That being said, small groups of airborne troops succeeded at their goals and attacked other enemy strongpoints. A commander of German airborne attacks said - while a POW in 1945 - "the Allied airborne operation in Sicily was decisive." It had stopped the Hermann Göring Armoured Division from controlling the beaches and pushing early Allied forces back into the sea.

The text reports that the opening salvo of Operation HUSKY received good success, in part,  because the Allied Armies, were well supported by naval and air forces. We read, "Skilful planning and effective co-ordination of all the fighting services had brought to a hostile shore the greatest seaborne force ever embarked, and the culminating assault was a model for future combined operations."

Allied naval bombardment proved effective in limiting the effectiveness of Axis coastal batteries, and Allied air strikes - after troops had landed - reduced the number of Axis strafing and bombing sorties sharply. We read, "The navies (and consequently the armies) owed a great debt to the air for the effectiveness of the protection offered them throughout the operation."

The Royal Canadian Navy also played a significant role in the battle for control of Sicily. Canadians in Combined Operations, well-schooled in the skills of piloting various landing craft, worked long hours under very stressful and dangerous conditions.

We read, "In the convoy which brought the 231st Infantry Brigade from the Middle East to assault the beaches on the 30th Corps' right flank, two of the three flotillas of assault landing craft carried aboard the transports were Canadian - the 55th and the 61st Flotillas." They transported assault troops and reinforcements to 'Bark East' beaches for 12 hours, and safely landed two-thirds of the Malta Brigade before their convoy departed early in the PM.

As well, the 80th and 81st Canadian Flotillas of larger landing crafts (LCMs - Landing Craft, Mechanized*) ferried all necessary supplies ashore for a lengthy period.

(*The "Mark III" type (L.C.M. (3)) used by the Canadians in "Baytown" as well, was a 50-foot ramped craft, built to carry 24 tons, and capable of landing a vehicle or stores in shallow water.)

The text says, "Commencing early on D Day, the 80th and 81st Flotillas, whose job was the transfer of vehicle's and stores from ship to shore, served for 26 days along the Sicilian coast between Avola and Syracuse until maintenance of the Eighth Army over the beaches came to an end on 5 August."

The four flotillas were piloted and managed by about 400 Canadian sailors (most were members of RCNVR who had also volunteered for the Combined Operations organization), and it is known that about 250 more worked aboard other RN support craft.

The text reports that the Allied landings were accompanied in many locations by "complete tactical surprise," a good deal of it related to severe weather conditions - coastal garrisons therefore "relaxed their vigil" - and poor communication services. We also read, "But although the Italian defence formations might thus blame the weather for the manner of their surprise, their subsequent lack of resistance, as we have seen, amply bore out the pre-invasion Allied estimates of their low morale and poor fighting qualities."

Some members of the Canadian assault force encountered deadly resistance. 

The other two landing craft
were in the same pass as ourselves
but I noted with a thrill of pride that
I seemed to be the first to have reached shore.

I stumbled on through the shallows
until I saw little spurts of sand racing
down the beach in my direction.

Automatically I dropped on my belly
and a big roller picked me up and carried me, helpless
to resist, toward the stitching machine-gun bullets,
dropping me just short of that deadly pattern....

Two of the landing craft
had already backed off the bar
and were hightailing it away.
Our own was still immobile,
and in a moment I saw why.

She was empty except for her crew...
and one small khaki figure standing stiffly
at attention in the gaping bow opening.

Suddenly he began to move,
marching up the ramp,
rifle at the slope, free arm swinging
level with his shoulders.
Tiny Sully was coming off that sardine can
as if on ceremonial parade at Aldershot...
except that his eyes were screwed tight shut.

A cluster of mortar bombs shrilled
out of the pellucid sky, and the waters
into which Tiny had plunged boiled upward
with visceral thunder. 

Tiny Sully had gone from us...
marching blindly to Valhalla.

Page 64 - 65, And No Birds Sang
by Farley Mowat

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

Unattributed Photos GH

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