Friday, December 9, 2016

Context: The Link to Commandos

Canada's Sailors Read About Commandos in 1941?

Headline as found in Halifax Herald, December 1941 (microfiche)

The first draft of Canadians volunteered for Combined Operations in late fall 1941 but had a tough time leaving Halifax to begin training on landing barges in the UK - because the ship they departed upon (Queen of Bermuda) ran aground at Chebucto Head as it nosed out into the stormy and snow-swept Atlantic Ocean. 

(For more details about 'running aground' please link to Three Accounts: Getting Started, Then Grounded as found on this site.)

Had the young Canadian sailors in Halifax picked up a local newspaper while waiting for another ride overseas, they would have had no idea that their future training in the UK would, in several ways, be linked to the Commandos mentioned on Page Four, re "Seasickness Toughest Foe". They would train in the same or similar Combined Ops Centres, follow some of the same training regimen, even cross paths with Commando units.

The odds that the first Canadians to join Combined Operations read about Commandos - before they worked with them - are pretty good.

Excerpt from Combined Operations 1940 - 1942,
Ch. 7 - The Significant Adventure of Vaagso

The Halifax Herald article covers many details of the raid that took place in Norway (while the Canadian boys waited for the Dutch liner Volendam to arrive for them in Halifax) and more written details and good maps can be found in a book entitled Combined Operations 1940 - 1942, first published in the UK in 1943 and sold for one shilling, 0 d. 

One reads, "The object of the raid was, while harassing the German defences on the coast of South-West Norway, to attack and destroy a number of military and economic targets in the town of South Vaagso and on the nearby island of Maaloy, and to capture or sink any shipping found in Ulvesund." Page 52.

The Halifax Herald, December 1941 reports the following:

London, Dec. 29 (CP) - The Commandos, who often are called Britain's toughest troops, encountered their toughest foe in the raid on Norway, Saturday - seasickness.

Ralph Walling, Reuters correspondent who accompanied the expedition, described how the rough North Sea crossing sent many of the hardened fighters to their bunks. But they all managed to get back on their feet to participate in the raid. It probably was a good thing that they did, Walling wrote in his account of the raid, because "although outnumbered, the Germans put up a stiff and skilful fight."

As the ships came to anchor and the Commando barges were lowered, the warships opened a furious broadside against the four-gun coastal battery on the island of Maaloy.

"With firepower of nearly 30 shells a minute the naval guns pulverized this lump of rock," Walling wrote. "Beneath this cannonade a thin, snakelike line of Commando barges drove straight to the islet and within half an hour the men in them had climbed the rocky slopes, stormed the guns and, as in the days of the cutlass and the pistol, shot many Germans."

From Combined Operations 1940 - 1942, Page 35.

Main Landing 

"Simultaneously with this assault, led by a major who serenaded his men across the smooth waters to the strain of his bagpipes, the main landing, which I made in the leading barge, took place. I waded ashore with the rest, knee deep through rocky pools and acrid fumes, onto ledges covered with snow. It was then that the fun - Commando fun, 1942 style - really started. Officers of the troops concerned gathered their troops for the most desperate of all the tasks allotted the army on that short, swift day. They had to advance down the main street."

"Resistance was particularly stubborn in the centre of the town which, as the morning grew older, began to blaze as more and more houses holding snipers and small parties of the enemy came under heavy fire. While we were dodging behind boulders and slinking over the first half mile, and while the first Norwegian men and women and children anxious to go to England were running back to our barges, some in tears, some laughing, all rather scared, two warships rode majestically past the town, sending a wash ashore for four miles or more of the Nazi inland waterway space."

From Combined Operations 1940 - 1942, Page 53.

Cunning Enemy

"The enemy fought to the last and they were good physical types. By skilful use of cover and by using flashless and smokeless cordite, he showed us he is a cunning enemy who has mastered one of the ugliest features of modern war - street fighting. On the whole the Norwegian population took their frightening experience well. I saw no civilian casualties myself."

Walling said the Germans got little help from their air force although the airdromes at Trondheim, Stavanger, Lista, Aalorg and Herdis were all within striking distance.

"For the most time the R.A.F. fighters circled over us with nothing to do," Walling wrote.

The final scene of the expedition was enacted on the return trip to Britain. The battered bodies of three men were committed to the deep. Walling did not say how they were killed.

Photos GH

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