Saturday, February 18, 2017

Context: D-Day Sicily But 3 Days Away.

Newspaper Articles Reveal Many Allied Gains.

Headlines from The Montreal Star, July 7, 1943. Photo from Microfilm.

Tick, tock. Tick, tock. The biggest armada of all time will soon be seen approaching the Sicilian coastline and about 250 Canadians in Combined Operations, divided between four flotillas of landing craft, are scattered among the troop ships. Landing crafts, some sporting a Maple Leaf (painted by our Navy boys), are hanging from davits and will be lowered into the water off Sicily's coast in a matter of days.

Newspaper columns and ads from The Montreal Star (one of many Canadian papers with writers on the scene) reveal odds and ends about the growing tension and what is to come.

The above headline doesn't say it all. An accompanying article reports the following:

ALLIED HEADQUARTERS, NORTH AFRICA, July 7 - (B.U.P.) - Powerful fleets of all types of Allied airplanes pounded eight targets in Sicily Tuesday, slashing hard at diminishing Axis air defences and leaving a trail of fires and ruin along the invasion route to Southern Europe.

Additional details of the day and night attacks by Americans and R.A.F. bombers from Northwest Africa and the Middle East disclosed the successful bombing and strafing attacks were made on railroad stations and road transport at Marsala, Licata, and Empedocle, following hard punches at five important Sicilian defence bases.

The day and night onslaught by British, South African and United States bombers hit five targets "right on the nose," leaving a string of fires and smoking debris that stretched across Sicily. Bascari, Trapani, Gerbini, Catania and Milo were the main objectives, with about 50 Liberator bombers from the Middle East dropping 285,000 pounds of bombs on Gerbini and Catania.

Photo of early Liberator in RAF markings. Photo credit - Wikipedia

Italian newspapers, quoted by the London radio, told the Italian people again that an expected Allied invasion would be defeated, but Popolo di Roma said: "Sicily is next on the list of the enemy's invasion schedule."

Heavy, medium and light bombers streaked across the Mediterranean from both Northwest Africa and Middle Eastern bases to blast parked planes, hangars and other ground installations.

Opposition Dwindles

The decreased opposition encountered, presumably the result of the terrific around-the-clock bombardment of the Axis air bases, was reflected in the announcement that only three intercepting enemy aircraft were destroyed in the 24 hours ended last night compared with 45 each during the two previous 24-hour periods. Five Allied planes were lost, but this was less than half the losses sustained during each of the two previous days. (An Italian communique broadcast by the Rome radio said 15 Allied planes were shot down yesterday.)

Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower's headquarters indicated that every type of plane in the Northwest African Air Forces - from Flying Fortress to Warhawk fighter-bomber - participated in yesterday's attacks on airfields at Bascari at the southeast corner of Sicily, Trapani, Western Sicily and nearby Milo.

Allied Eastern Task Force will attack the southeast corner of Sicily

"Many bombs were seen to burst in the target areas and numerous fires were started," the communique said.

Damage Heavy

In the big attack on Gerbini airdrome, runway and dispersal areas at the north, east and south ends of the field were well covered with bomb bursts and damaged badly. Large fires were observed at the northwest end of the airdrome.

Enemy fighters unsuccessfully attempted to intercept the Liberators and one German Messerschmitt was destroyed and two damaged. The Northwest African Air Forces also accounted for one enemy plane yesterday and another the previous night.

The daylight raids followed a two-way night assault on the Catania area.

R.A.F. Wellington bombers and American and South African medium bombers from the Northwest African Forces bombed the main Gerbini airfield and its four satellite landing grounds, as well as the port of Catania. Almost simultaneously R.A.F. heavy bombers from the Middle Eastern Command raided railway installations and yards at Catania. Bomb bursts were seen in the railway station area and on sulphur refineries. Anti-aircraft defences also were attacked.

All bombers from the Middle Eastern Command returned safely from both day and night raids.

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Editorial Cartoon from The Montreal Star, July 7, 1943

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Infantry and Guns Break German Attacks by M. S. Handler

MOSCOW, July 7 - (B.U.P.) - Fresh masses of German tanks, infantry and planes flung themselves vainly at Russian lines on the Southern Front today as the Red Army regained some lost ground and cut up Nazi armor that spent itself seizing two villages in the Belgorod area.

Panzer units that made initial slight advances in the Orel and Kursk areas were torn apart methodically by Soviet artillery and infantrymen who let  them pass unmolested and then smashed Nazi attempts to follow up their gains. The Nazi armored legions that gained slightly near Belgorod were stopped cold and the Army organ Red Star said a fierce Russian counter-attack had set them back.

German losses for the three-day attempt to breach the line between Orel and Belgorod mounted to 1,271 tanks, 314 planes and 13,000 men. Russian military observers said the Germans used the same tactics that cost them bloody losses - and defeat - last year.

Front dispatches indicated Russian resistance demonstrated an enormous increase in Soviet ground firepower and expansion of the Red Army Air Force, which was said to be holding the skies against everything the Luftwaffe could offer....

Rallying in their new defence positions, the Russians halted the advance and then swung over to the counter-attack. In another sector near Belgorod, large German panzer forces pushed as far as the Soviet forward positions, where they finally were dispersed with heavy losses by Russian mortar and artillery fire.

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Ads in The Montreal Star, July 7, 1943
"Get your Monkey Jacket today!"

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The following appeared on July 7 about contributions made by the Canadian Air Force:

LONDON, July 7 - (C.P.) - Canadian-manned Mosquito bombers pounded away at their favourite targets - railways - in France last night while the R.A.F. concentrated on sowing mines in enemy waters, the Air Ministry announced today. One bomber was lost.

The Canadian Bomber Group took part in the mine-laying operations, said an R.C.A.F. communique. It added that all planes returned from bomber and fighter operations.

Those were the only new developments as the long-range bomber fleets stayed quietly at their bases for the second successive night, letting R.A.F and R.C.A.F. fighter planes break into the news, with one Spitfire piloted by a Canadian, demanding most of the attention.

Prowling along the French coast yesterday, light bombers and fighters attacked and damaged two minesweepers and an armed trawler, with the loss of one bomber to round out a day that saw R.A.F. and R.C.A.F. fighters knock eight German aircraft out of the skies over France.

Five of the Focke-Wulf 190s and Messerschmitt 109s fell before the blazing guns of revenge-minded Poles piloting R.A.F. aircraft, and three were victims of R.C.A.F. planes.

No Planes Lost

Canadian Headquarters said in another communique no losses were suffered, and hidden in that brief announcement was an aerial feat performed by Sqdn. Ldr. R.W. McNair of North Battleford, Sask., that experts say creates a record for operational flying.

As leader of a Spitfire squadron ranging along the French coast, McNair had his plane engine go dead on him while 30 miles away from home and over enemy territory. By rights he should have ended in a casualty list, but instead he glided to safety, part of the way through heavy anti-aircraft fire.

As McNair, a holder of the Distinguished Flying Cross explained it, he had just shot down a Messerschmitt when his engine went dead. He was some distance inside France at the time - but was well over 20,000 feet. He decided to glide. 

He took the shortest route, despite the fact that meant flying over the strongly-defended town of Boulogne, because he did not want to risk wasting height by going around. Ack-ack fire bounced his gliding plane as he swept over the town, making him lose valuable height, but he managed to keep going, finally making the Channel and an airfield in England.

Wonderful Flying

His one comment was, "It was wonderful flying alone, so peacefully and without any noise."

Britain continued to enjoy a two-week break in the aerial offensive except for the diversion caused when two German fighters flew over East Anglia last night and machine-gunned one area. No persons were seriously injured. 

Observers gave three reasons for the lull - one of the longest since the air war got under way the night of May 9, 1940. One was the diversion of aircraft and crews from the central pool in Germany to the Eastern front. Another was the lack of spare aircraft and fuel, much of which was destroyed during recent aerial poundings handed the Ruhr by the R.A.F. and R.C.A.F. A third explanation given was that the Germans are at the last minute conserving their aerial strength to combat an Allied invasion. 

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As found in The Montreal Star, July 7 1943

The following two paragraphs, from the same page of The Montreal Star as the previous article, tell about more work done by British aircraft:


LONDON, July 7 - (By Telephone to The Star and N.Y. Herald Tribune. Copyright) - Smashing June attacks against rail transport in Western Europe by the Royal Air Force has wiped out Germany's favourable balance in locomotive production and new construction is barely able to keep up with war losses and normal wastage, according to a report released by the British Air Ministry yesterday.

During June the R.A.F. successfully attacked 150 trains on the continent and at least 120 locomotives were put out of action, the Ministry said. June raids, together with similar punishing assaults of previous months, leaves Germany facing a transport crisis, where the number of serviceable locomotives in operation may even now show a net decrease, it was said.

A Train in the Street (October 22, 1895). Photograph by Kuhn.

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Ads from The Montreal Star, July 7, 1943.

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The above photograph was accompanied by the following caption (in part):

Eight hundred dollars' worth of extra comforts will go to Canadians in enemy prison camps, that sum being the proceeds of three recent troop show performances for the public given at the Montreal High School auditorium by The Blue Bell Bullets' Revue of the Auxiliary Aid Association, Telephone Employes of Montreal Fund. Pictured is Chairman Paul A. McFarlane handing the cheque to Mrs. H.E. Plan, chairwoman of the Canadian Prisoners of War Relatives' Association, Quebec branch.

 Ad from The Montreal Star, July 7, 1943.

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Earlier recruits, e.g., the first Canadians to volunteer for Combined
Operations in 1941, trained at HMCS Stadacona in Halifax, N.S.

H.M.C.S. CORNWALLIS, Deep Brook, N.S., July 7 - (Star Special) - The Royal Canadian Navy has met the challenge of training as many sailors this year as in the past three with this new-born naval city on the lush shores of a Maritime summer resort.

On some 800 acres of land which rolls gently back from the salt water of the sheltered Annapolis Basin has been erected, more rapidly than any similar project in Canada, a $12,000,000 naval training establishment that is one of the most modern, complete and efficient of its kind in the world.

It has solved what threatened to be a training bottle neck when Canada assumed nearly one-half of the vital job of convoy protection on the North Atlantic.

Centralization Effected

Its purposes are simple. It will take semi-trained ratings from basic training establishments and turn them into practical seamen. And it will teach ratings with sea experience to operate and maintain more complicated equipment and to keep up to date with constant innovations to such equipment.

Similarly with officers: New entry officers will be given training in technical equipment, and those with sea experience will be trained for specialist duties. It has helped to solve an instructor bottleneck. One centralized, coordinated training staff trains more men more efficiently.

In terms of insurance the cost is trivial. A 50-ship convoy is worth several times $50,000,000 to say nothing of the fact both ships and cargo are priceless in terms of war supply. One efficient anti-submarine rating may detect U-boats, and a crew skilled in seamanship, gunnery, torpedo and engine room practice may drive them off or destroy them.

On single convoy runs Canada's sailors have saved from the enemy's torpedoes cargoes worth several times the cost of Deep Brook - and exacted a toll of enemy U-boats and trained men.

Built On Big Scale

That is why Deep Brook has been built on a mammoth scale. Its water supply system would care for a small city. Its coal dump will store 20,000 tons. Its gun battery is the longest in the world. 6,000 men can stand on its five-acre parade ground. It has its own hospital, post office, bank and spur railway siding. 

One year ago the first sod was being turned. Today, bulldozers, "cats" and stonecrushers still snort past thousands of marching men who have moved in to occupy every available inch as fast as it has been built. 

For the contractors, it has been an ideal site. The land is sandy loam, easily worked, easily drained. There is no rock, no swamp or other natural impediments. It is served by a main highway and a rail line....

An Ideal Site

In the healthful summer-resort atmosphere of Deep Brook, away from the distracting influences of seaport cities, sickness among the men has dropped more than 25 per cent. In its sheltered valley and basin the weather does not seriously hamper training ashore or afloat summer or winter. The harbor is open all year. In addition to the rail line and road, ships can anchor nearby, and training ships of the establishment can proceed with classes throughout the year. It is handy to the large operational bases of the R.C.N. for manning purposes.

It has plenty of room for expansion, and for the phase of training that is receiving high emphasis today - physical culture and recreation. Men in the peak of physical condition study better, work better, fight better....

Into the huge schools and shops are going the most modern equipment and training methods, the result of almost four years of war experience, and the best ideas of schools in the United Kingdom and the United States. Everywhere the emphasis is on the practical, with full-size and smaller models of the different parts of a ship and its armament - from the highly secret, most advanced submarine detection apparatus to the dry-land boat on which the prairie sailor first learns to feather his oars.

After instruction in school, classes get underway in ships to put their theory into practice, so that they graduate ready to take over their fighting jobs at sea as soon as they get their first ship.

Of the schools themselves, seamanship ranks high in importance.... every opportunity is given to train on the ships attached to the base, and in whalers cutters and other naval craft....

In the gunnery school an arched dome carries a false German plane, and below anti-aircraft ratings try their skill at bringing it down. In the huge gun battery others learn the details of the big guns, some of them so new they are the only ones of their kind in use in Canada. 

In the Mechanical Training Establishments, the engine room men learn everything from the use of a lathe to how to clean a boiler.

In their leisure moments the ratings, the hundreds of Wrens who are relieving men for sea duties, and their officers explore peaceful Maritime centres nearby....

Service canteens in the establishment do a booming business, but cannot begin to cope with the demand for pop, chocolate bars, chewing gum, peanuts.... the bank and post office have opened astounding numbers of new accounts that swell with every pay.

Doug Harrison (RCNVR, Combined Ops) and a member of CWAC
(Canadian Women's Army Corps). Location unknown. Circa 1944 - 45

And in the evening the senior officers look with satisfaction at their young Canadian charges not seeking the bright lights or dance halls of an international seaport, but training with zest for victory in cutter races, cross country runs, softball, baseball, football games - or, perhaps, relaxing in one of the camp's movies or service shows.

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A British soldier reads up on Sicily, the target for the next Allied
invasion, July 1943. Photo Credit - World War 2 Today

More to follow about the lead up to Operation HUSKY, the invasion of Sicily.

Unattributed Photos GH

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