Saturday, March 4, 2017

Articles: D-Day Sicily, July 10 1943 - Part 1

Wartime Coverage by The Montreal Daily Star

Half a Headline. Better Than None? Photo from Microfilm.


The July 10 issue of The Montreal Daily Star contains a lot of news related to Operation HUSKY, the invasion of Sicily. Selected items will appear below.

Some Canadians in Combined Operations, part of the Eastern Force, and members of the four Canadian flotillas of landing craft aboard various troop ships, lowered their assault landing crafts (LCAs) - filled with Allied troops - into the waters very early on the morning of the 10th. Other Canadian sailors, assigned to landing craft mechanized (LCMs), prepared themselves - later in the morning - for the many long days ahead of delivering all essential materials of war to shore.

British troops in a landing craft assault (LCA), 9 July 1943.
Photo Credit - World War 2 Today

Doug Harrison (RCNVR, Combined Ops), part of the 80th Canadian Flotilla of LCMs, said the following about the early hours of the assault:

July 10, 1943. We arrived off Sicily in the middle of the night and stopped about four miles out. Other ships and new LCIs (landing craft infantry), fairly large barges, were landing troops. Soldiers went off each side of the foc’sle, down steps into the water and then ashore, during which time we saw much tracer fire. This was to be our worst invasion yet. Those left aboard had to wait until daylight so we went fishing for an hour or more, but there were no fish.

A signal came through, i.e., “Do not fire on low flying aircraft, they are ours and towing gliders.” What, in the dark? In the 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. We started unloading supplies with our LCMs about a half mile off the beach and then the worst began - German bombers. We were bombed 36 times in the first 72 hours - at dusk, at night, at dawn and all day long, and they said we had complete command of the air. (Page 31, "DAD, WELL DONE")

The three main forces (U.K., U.S., Canadian) landed on both sides of
the lower, or SE, corner of Sicily. Photo - The Montreal Daily Star

From The Star, Saturday, July 10:


Operations Proceeding To Plan, Say Leaders

Reports reaching here today said large numbers of Allied troops already were ashore at Sicily and were establishing bridge-heads and pushing inland, a Madrid report says.

The United Nations opened the Battle of Europe today by sending powerful invasion forces swarming onto the beaches of Sicily, and the first eye-witness report said a bombardment by Allied warships had "started a chain of smoke and flames" stretching 10 miles into the island.

"Somebody is definitely catching hell, and I give you one guess who it is," said Lieut. Robert S. Bleile of Seaford, Del., as he brought his Lockheed Lightning back to an advanced air base from a flight over Sicily.

A mighty aerial umbrella aided the Allied invasion forces which were made up of American, British and Canadian troops. Meagre and unofficial reports said the invasion aided by heavy naval support was "proceeding according to plan." Indications were that the Axis defenders were putting up a stiff fight.

Just after dawn men of the Highland Division are up to their waists in water
unloading stores from landing craft tanks. Meanwhile beach roads are being prepared
for heavy and light traffic during dawn of the opening day of the invasion of Sicily.
Photo Credit - World War 2 Today

Axis Reports Heavy Fighting

(Axis communiques reported that the fighting was heavy on the southeastern coast of Sicily, and said decisive counter-blows had been struck against the invaders. British sources suggested that other and more important blows might be struck against the fortress of Europe soon.)

Bleile said that from his reconnaissance plane he could see Allied warships "shelling the enemy without interruption." Allied landing barges "seemed to be everywhere," he added.

[Editor: More of Bleile's eyewitness account appears later in this post.]

Canadian, British and American shock troops stormed onto the mountainous island at the toe of Italy's boot in good weather just before dawn and - with only meagre unofficial reports received - were said to be progressing "according to plan" under cover of an unprecedented aerial umbrella.

(The Axis communiques said heavy fighting was in progress on Sicily, especially on the southeastern coast, and that Allied para-troops participated in the invasion, presumably to seize air bases.... 

Gen. Eisenhower's broadcast said: "Anglo-American-Canadian armed forces have today launched an offensive against Sicily. It is the first stage in the liberation of the European continent. There will be others."

Prime Minister King announced in Ottawa: "Armed forces of Britain, the United States and Canada now are in the forefront of an attack which has, as its ultimate objective, the unconditional surrender of Italy and Germany.

Air Attacks Soften Foe

British sources suggested that other and more important blows might be struck at the European fortress shortly.

The Allied amphibious operations under command of Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower began after two weeks of mounting aerial onslaught that was continued by hundreds of aircraft up to Friday, when U.S. Liberators from the Middle East smashed Comiso and Taormina, 30 miles south of Messina, causing heavy damage.

Fifteen Axis planes were shot down Friday when Allied aircraft from the Northwest Africa Command encountered increased opposition, losing 10 airplanes.

A furious naval barrage that illuminated sections of the Sicilian coast opened the invasion operations in darkness as the Allied fleet - including battleships - threaded through the enemy minefield and put assault troops ashore in tank-carrying barges. There was no immediate indication that Mussolini's scattered and battered Italian fleet accepted the challenge to fight the invasion.

The first phase of the attack on Sicily, regarded popularly as the opening move in establishment of a second front, was designed to establish bridgeheads, and strong Axis opposition was anticipated in the air and on the ground.

Allies Strike at Airports

(The reported landing at the western tip of Sicily indicated that the first Allied objectives included the important Axis air bases of Trapani, Marsala, Amzzaro, Milo and Castelvetrano, all on the western end of the island and linked by a network of good roads with the big port of Palermo.)

The Allied invasion forces, specially trained in landing barges for many weeks, were reported meeting "strong resistance" in the first phase of fighting on European soil just two months after the last Axis forces were driven from Africa....

(A) special communique at 5:10 a.m. from Allied Headquarters said: Allied forces under the command of General Eisenhower began landing operations on Sicily early this morning. The landings were preceded by Allied air attack. Allied naval forces escorted the assault forces and bombarded the coast defences during the assault.

The crossing of the 90-mile "moat" from Tunisia to the rugged island of Sicily, which once had 4,000,000 population, was made in all types of naval craft, including special landing barges brought from the United States to strike at Italy just three years and one month after Mussolini stabbed france in the back. (There was no mention of French troops taking part in the invasion of Sicily.)

For two weeks huge Allied air fleets based in Northwest Africa and the Middle east had hammered at Sicily with thousands of tons of bombs, seeking to knock out Axis air power, demolish air bases, destroy railroad facilities and ports, and isolate the island from the Italian mainland. For the last seven days the air attack has been almost continuous, day and night.

Then the converted freighters, the big battleships, the fast destroyers, the heavily-armed cruisers and the new type landing barges - heavily armed and heavily protected - were assembled by the hundreds and put out in darkness from the African coast. Crouching in the barges and jammed aboard the transports were American troops that had been practising invasion assaults for weeks and were toughened and ready for the hardest battle of their lives.

There were Canadian troops, the rough-and-ready soldiers who had been waiting presumably until recently in England for the chance to avenge their comrades who fell at Dieppe and had long been promised the honor of spearheading the invasion of Hitler's European fortress.

A British Universal Carrier Mk I comes ashore with troops and guns during
the invasion of Sicily on 10 July 1943. Photo Credit - World War 2 Today

British Veterans Included

The British Forces, which chased Nazi Marshal Erwin Rommel across Africa and into the sea, were the third part of the Allied team which struck at Sicily in an operation that found land, sea and air forces co-operating magnificently under Eisenhower's command.

Crouched in landing barges, with their heads tucked down against their shoulders turtle-fashion, the Allied troops led by engineers and sappers were off the Sicilian coast in the dark hour before dawn came over the Mediterranean. The engineers, given the toughest jobs in such hazardous operations, carried Bangalore torpedoes - a gadget about 15 to 18 feet long and encased in a two or three-inch pipe used to shove under barbed wire entanglements in order to blast open a path for the assault troops.

Allied forces from Malta, only 60 miles away from Sicily, were presumed to have joined the invasion units somewhere off the island coast. 

And then, in the last period of darkness, the big guns of the naval armada opened up. The guns flashing out in the darkness may have been the first sign that the nervous Axis forces received that the battle to knock Italy out of the war had begun. But the enemy had been predicting the assault for days, reporting the massing of Allied troops and barges and trying desperately to guess where the first blow would fall.

Axis Air Reserves Used

Although the steady pounding of Allied airplanes had knocked out the main Sicilian harbors closest to Italy, there were late reports that Nazi and Fascist reserves had been rushed to the island and there was little question that the struggle for the mountainous stronghold would be costly and probably a long one. Preliminary reports indicated that the Axis resistance was fierce and that the enemy airplanes were attacking desperately, often diving through their own anti-aircraft fire in their efforts to get at Allied bombers.

Field Marshal Albert Kesselring, the Nazi air expert who had commanded an air fleet on the Russian front, was reported directing the Axis aerial defences with the aid of Baron Wolfram von Richthofen, who also had been on the Eastern Front. Reports from the battle front in the early stages were meagre, but Allied Headquarters said that information would be issued as regularly as possible.

Enemy Reaction Is Slow

The Axis reaction by radio was slow. The Rome radio had been warning the Italian people that a desperate defence must be made of the island, repeatedly emphasizing Mussolini's warning that peace at this time meant dishonor and disaster. 

(The first Axis word of the invasion came from Transocean agency in a dispatch date-lined London. It said that according to an official announcement, Allied forces had started landing operations in Sicily. The same agency next flashed a Washington announcement of the landing. Berlin radio later repeated the news.)

Radio Vichy told the people of France that the Americans had made "important" troop movements for an imminent invasion of Sicily. The transmissions of the Italian news agency Stefani began as usual this morning with the words: "Vincere, Vincere - Victory, Victory." But the agency's first two transmissions failed to mention Sicily.

(Ad from The Star)

* * * * *

Eye-Witness Flier Tells Of Terrific Naval Barrage

The following story, concerning the afore-mentioned Lieut. Robert S. Bleile of Seaford, Del., has been described as "the first bird's-eye-view story of the greatest sea invasion of history."

Page 1 Headline from The Montreal Daily Star

U.S. AIRDROME, Tunisia, July 10 - (B.U.P.) - A young American reconnaissance pilot told today how Allied warships dashed close to the shore of Sicily, fired tremendous salvos into the Axis defences and started "a chain of smoke and flames" stretching 10 miles inland.

"Someone is definitely catching Hell," he remarked as he brought back first pictures of fighting on the Sicilian beaches stormed by Allied forces.

The pilot - Lieut. Robert S. Bleile of Seaford, Del. - flew his Lightning reconnaissance plane over the Sicilian battlefield for a bird's eye view of the first blow at the European fortress.

"I could see our warships shelling the enemy without interruption," he said. "Some of the warships dashed in close to the shore and fired salvos and then swooped out again. Boy! What a battle picture. I never expect to see anything like it again.

"I could see destroyers like cigars weaving about in the cobalt water. I saw bigger ships that looked like battle wagons, with wreaths of smokes rising from their turrets, as if they were letting loose everything they had.

"The landing barges looked like squirming blackfish with wakes for tails. They seemed to be everywhere. There were waves of them dashing toward Sicily and piling men on to the beaches."

Bliele, wearing a fur coat and goggles, showed me with maps how he flew along the seacoast. He removed his cameras crammed with what he believed were the best pictures of the war as he talked.

The 15 inch guns of HMS WARSPITE hurling shells at enemy troops still holding
out at Catania, Sicily as seen from the bridge of the battleship. At the same time
destroyers engaged shore batteries from a still closer range and although our ships
were attacked later from the air we suffered no casualties or damage.
Photo Credit - World War 2 Today

"Somebody is definitely catching Hell and I give you one guess who it is," he remarked.

Bleile said he encountered no Axis opposition over the Sicilian coast.

"I took pictures undisturbed," he said. "Once I saw what looked like two planes far below me - but they were busy with the invading forces.

"The antics of our warships fascinated me. They tore into the shore and then swung away. They fired everything they had. It was a damn good show. The invasion barges kept coming in a never-ending stream.

"About 6:30 a.m. (several hours after the invasion began) it was easy to appreciate that a tremendous battle was in progress on the island. For 30 minutes, I watched our curtain of fire searing the coast."

Bleile's comrades listened excitedly as he told the first bird's-eye-view story of the greatest sea invasion of history.

* * * * *


Latest flashes by special correspondents of The Star and from C.P., A.P.... B.U.P.

ISTANBUL. - Reports from Sofia said today that the Bulgarian capital was in a state of panic as a result of unconfirmed reports of Allied landings in Greece. Telephone communications between Turkey and Bulgaria were suddenly interrupted yesterday morning.

MADRID - Sicily's direct link with Italy across the narrow Straits of Messina has been cut and at least a dozen airfields on the island have been knocked out by air bombardment, reports from Rome said today. The last 10 days only light craft have been able to get across the Straits of Messina separating the toe of the Italian boot and Sicily's eastern coast.

A communique today from Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower's head-quarters said the Allied air forces "continued their heavy attack" with good results on Sicilian air fields and "vital points" in the enemy defence system. "Enemy resistance was on a slightly reduced scale and during air battles we shot down 15 Axis aircraft," the communique said. "Ten of our aircraft failed to return."

LONDON - The Allied forces that attacked Sicily met "fierce defence on land and in the air," a German communique said today. It also said that the Allied forces had strong sea and aerial support for their invasion thrust. "Fighting is progressing," the communique, broadcast by Berlin radio, said.

MOSCOW - The Russian people hailed news of the Allied landings on Sicily with unrestrained enthusiasm today. Though the invasion was not announced officially, word of it spread rapidly through the streets of Moscow.

LONDON - Canadian forces participating in the invasion of Sicily include hardened veterans of the Dieppe raid and the cream of Canadian veterans trained for nearly three years on British soil, it was revealed today. The Canadian contingent shoved off for Africa after extensive manoeuvres, including landing exercises under simulated battle conditions approximating as nearly as possible the situation they would meet in Sicily. The Canadian forces were understood to include all branches of arms, the infantry, armored and air units.

LONDON - British military observers said with apparently intentional vagueness today that the Allied invasion of Sicily should not be regarded as "the only landing or even THE landing." This was interpreted as a hint that the invasion may be a forerunner of other amphibious operations in the Mediterranean in the near future.

Informants described the invasion as an "operation in force" which, according to latest reports reaching London, "is going according to plan." On the basis of the scanty reports available, military observers said, heavy and difficult fighting is expected before the invasion forces succeed in establishing firm bridgeheads.

* * * * *

Churchill Sees "Watch on Rhine"

LONDON, July 10 - (B.U.P.) - Premier Churchill went to the Aldwych theatre last night with his wife and daughter Mary, well knowing that the Allied troops were about to invade Sicily.

The show they saw was "Watch on the Rhine."

Sicily, from Microfilm, as in The Montreal Daily Star, July 10

Instructions being signalled to waiting landing craft by semaphore at dawn of
the opening day of the invasion of Sicily. One is LCI (L) 124 the other is an
unidentified LCT. Photo Credit - World War 2 Today

* * * * * 

News that had a significant connection to the invasion of Sicily can also be found in the July 10 issue of The Montreal Daily Star:

WASHINGTON, July 10 - (B.U.P.) - Failure of Germany's well-advertised spring submarine offensive aided in the preparations for the invasion of Sicily.

The Allies moved ahead during June with preparations for the Battle of Europe virtually unmolested in the Atlantic. That picture of the Battle of the Atlantic was presented yesterday, six hours before the announcement of the Sicilian offensive, in a joint British announcement which revealed that Allied and neutral shipping losses in June were the lowest since the United States entered the war 19 months ago.

U-Boat Losses Heavy

And what was even worse for the Axis, the heavy toll of submarines taken in May continued "substantial and satisfactory" in June, the official announcement said. "The heavy toll taken of the U-boats in May showed its effect in June in that the main trans-Atlantic convoys were practically unmolested and the U-boat attacks on our shipping were in widely separated areas," the statement said.

The statements added that every opportunity was taken for attacking U-boats leaving and returning to their bases on the west coast of france. Attacks of this sort undoubtedly increased to considerable proportions the operational difficulties of the U-boat fleet, especially since the submarine pens at Lorient and St. Nazaire (France) have been under heavy Allied bombardment.

The bulletin on the sea battle also said that there appeared to be fewer submarines at sea in June than previously. This situation, too, experts emphasized, may be due to operational problems as well as losses.

* * * * *

Articles that draws attention primarily to Canada's role related to the invasion of Sicily - which, apparently, was almost next to unknown - are found in the July 10th issue of The Star:

Canadians Ready For Test

Long Training Given For Such Task


LONDON, July 10 - (C.P. Cable) - A Canadian force, believed here to be the greatest assault force Canada has ever assembled as such, went into action today beside Britons and Americans on the shores of Sicily.

It was the culmination of months of planning and preparation and the case-hardened Canadians, longing for three long years and more for such a chance, were in great fettle as they started out from Britain for the adventure which was known to them only as "Operation X."

An announcement this morning, terse and to the point, said only that Canadians were participating in the assault with British and American forces. Further details were awaited. But it can be said these Canadians, who must be experts at coastal assaults if ever troops could be classed, have had the benefit of all the lessons of the past year since their reconnaissance in force at Dieppe - a year in which Combined Operations Headquarters has gone a long way in developing new tactics.

There is no doubt that this great test of Canada's soldier - first full-scale action for them since Dieppe last August - was a hazardous operation.

No Early News

Further news was not expected for some hours, especially some indications where the Canadians may have landed. There was every indication that the presence of Canadians in the offensive had caught the Axis by surprise for they had not been mentioned in any of the long stream of Axis broadcasts which made assorted forecasts about the invasion zero hour. There was no hint here as to the size of the Canadian contingent sent into the fight.

Announcement that Canadian troops  participated in the leap into Sicily followed by less than a day disclosure that Canadian Wellington bomber squadrons of the R.C.A.F. bomber group in Britain had been shifted to the Mediterranean area. The island of Sicily, while only one spot on the "under belly" of Hitler's Europe, was undoubtedly well fortified by the Axis. It has taken an aerial pounding but there can be no doubt the task of the invading forces will not be easy.

A layman's look at a detailed map suggests that in all probability the landings were made on the south side of the island, but there was no official information on this point. There are no big harbors on the south side, but there are a number of beaches where landing barges could be grounded....

At this early stage, London sources warned against indulging in any unduly optimistic speculations. They stressed that any large-scale operations of such a nature on such a large island must be fraught with grave dangers in the early development. While there was no statement of the size of the Canadian force sent into battle, there were indications in Britain that their number may be considerable.

McNaughton Role

It was not immediately known what part Lt.-Gen. A. G. L. McNaughton, commander of the Canadian Army, was taking in the invasion. In the Dieppe raid, Maj.-Gen. McNaughton remained with the main body of his army. But the assault on Sicily is a much bigger show, likely to demand close contact from the Canadian commander.

Preparations for movement of the Canadians from Britain had been known to be going forward for weeks. Every effort was made to protect the security of the troops and details were not known, but war correspondents "disappeared" from London a good while ago.... 

* * * * *

In excellent detail, Ross Munro, well-known Canadian writer, and one who "disappeared" (at an earlier, appropriate hour), describes preparing for all eventualities leading up to D-Day Sicily:


Munro Describes Embarkation Of Forces Sicily-Bound

Ross Munro, Canadian Press war correspondent who sailed with the Canadian force
from Britain, left this story with Canadian military authorities telling of the departure
of the Dominion force which today invaded Sicily.

SOMEWHERE IN ENGLAND - (C.P. Cable) - Secretly, quietly and in orderly fashion, this gigantic, combined operations force - they told us it was called "X" - was mustered aboard a multitude of ships in great invasion armadas at anchor in a number of British ports.

Thousands and thousands of Canadian and British troops rolled to the docksides in troop trains that came from all over the United Kingdom. There were Canadians from Southern England and others from a dozen camps in other parts of the island where they had been doing special training. There were Scots from the Highlands and Lowlands, English and Welsh units.

We saw assault infantry come aboard their ships, loaded down with small arms and other weapons and looking husky and fit. There was an immense amount of special equipment and there were many diverse units on the beach at the base: special artillery units, airfield construction units, mine-clearing sappers, road construction units. There were also signals and supply and ordinance services and all the panoply of an expeditionary force of major importance.

Grand Spectacle

I was at the port where there was the largest concentration of shipping and it was a grand spectacle  to stand on the top-deck of our infantry-landing ship and look over the harbor thick with vessels.

The invasion force was gathered amid the most confusing and wildest rumors about future operations ever heard in Britain since the start of war. Talk which went the rounds about a possible German invasion of britain in 1940 was nothing compared to what could be heard this time in London and in towns and ports of England and Scotland.

Only a handful of high authorities in Whitehall knew the full importance of the expedition - its target and its composition. Only a few people outside the actual force knew it was being collected.

Yet there was a feeling abroad in Britain - people sensed this was a vital summer for Allied military operations - that something was on the cards and that the British Army was soon going to appear on some foreign soil to exploit the power built up in the past three years.

Fleet Street, centre of London's newspapers, also buzzed with rumor. It was jut that - rumor. Rumor seemed, as this was being written, to have confused everyone, and among the Canadians themselves there was inevitable speculation.

The Canadians I am with here were in the south of England on regular duties. Then they disappeared, and meanwhile staff officers were "missing or engaged n special duties." People seemed to be making strange trips around the country to strange places.

Canadian officers and men did not let speculation get out of hand, as far as i could see. I heard most of it in quiet corners in messes or in the privacy of head quarters officers and probably knew as much as anybody else who was not "in the picture." I sensed there was an operation in the making - that was all.

The public relations unit with which war correspondents work was a soul of discretion. It had to make full arrangements for press facilities, communications, transportation and attachment to units, but we could see the P.R. chief every day and not get a glimmer of an idea of who, what, when or where.

Then it started. I was dining one night at Army Headquarters when the P.R. officer said privately: "Get your kit ready for there are some interesting manoeuvres to cover."

Kit Rounded Up

I followed instructions, rounded up kit in a hurry, and left a comfortable billet without even a good-bye to the English family who had been so hospitable for three years. I learned long ago that disappearance is better than to risk the attempt of some explanation of a departure.

The way rumours were floating about I did not think anyone would believe my story about manoeuvres anyway, so I just left with my bedroll, kit, typewriter and french and Italian dictionaries - and planned to try to get a book on Scandinavia if possible in London so I would be covered on at least three eventualities.

When I left London everything was still on a "manoeuvre basis" and I played along. I did the ordinary things I had been doing for months on weekly visits to London - went to the office to read some Canadian papers, talked with our writers and Associated press men in their offices over filing cabinets from us, and played dumb when it came to speculation about the future of the Canadian troops.

It was inevitable that leading questions would be asked in London at that time when I came up from camps.

Then I went to dinner with the boss and a P.R. chief. We talked of everything but the army.

London Goodbye

Microfilm - The Montreal Daily Star

Tropical Kit

A tropical uniform first! It shook me a little as I went into the quartermaster stores to be fitted for khaki shorts and longs with bush shirts and the rest of tropical paraphernalia. This certainly cannot be manoeuvres, I thought.

There was some mention of anti-malaria precautions to be taken but even then I was not entirely convinced. One never is until "briefed" - told of the plan of attack and the target and details, and the briefing was still evidently some time off for me.

I was attached to one of the assault infantry regiments which was scheduled on "manoeuvres" to storm a beach at a vital point and help establish a bridgehead for the invading forces to follow up. The next day I joined my unit.

Capt. Dave Maclellan of Halifax, out P.R.O. and I determined to turn out a ship's newspaper on a small printing press as soon as we left Britain.

There were several conferences on board before departure, all officers attending, at which the commanding officer of the unit, who came from Guelph, Ont., and who is operational commander aboard the ship, outlined plans for practice landings.

For several days we lay off the British coast and at one stage went ashore for a brisk route march in a rain storm. One practice landing was carried out in miserable weather. Troops were soaked going ashore when they waded the last 50 yards or more, and it rained most of the day. But they were in high spirits and singing as they returned to the ships to dry out.

Line of Ships

Infantry landing ships like the one we were aboard were anchored all around. In a slight mist obscuring the harbor most of the time you could not determine how many there were, for the line of ships extended far off into the distance.

Between practice landings and route marches there was plenty of time to lounge around and talk of what the future held. One's convictions swayed from belief that perhaps the whole thing would be cancelled - an awful thought - to speculation on the target. There was not a soul aboard our ship who knew the target, or even the area, with the possible exception of the Colonel.

I heard it mentioned in all seriousness that an attack on Singapore was a probability, and also that this force would strike at Japan with other co-ordinated task forces.

The Balkans were a favourite target for our cabin strategists and we considered a landing on the mainland of italy, her Mediterranean islands, somewhere on the south coast of France, in Greece, or even a long voyage to attack the Japanese in Burma, or an operation out of India.

There is "no" best unit in the army, but the infantry assault force Which I accompanied certainly is considered in the top bracket of infantry battalions.

The combined operations nature of this operation was emphasized aboard our infantry landing ship which had been in the original North Africa landings, with the skipper winning the Distinguished Service cross for handling the ship with gallantry and skill east of Algiers during an intense bombing. On the decks were Canadian and British soldiers in battle dress (their tropical uniforms were hidden in their packs), as well as naval ratings and officers and some R.A.F. officers.

Canadian Use of the landing craft: Final exercise prior to assault landing
at Dieppe. Photo credit -

Landing Craft Ready

Along the sides of the ship were assault landing craft slung on special davits. It is these small craft, 40 feet long with a 10-foot beam, carrying 35 men in addition to a crew of four, which carry assault infantry to the shore.

The troops were stowing their packs, webbing and weapons in their own mess decks, and experimenting with hammocks. The Canadians with whom I was travelling had been to sea a number of times on combined operations training and hammocks were no novelty to them. They handled them like sailors. The British and Canadian troops were side by side in the mess decks and most officers were lucky enough to get cabins, four in each.

The first night aboard ship in port a meeting of all officers was called. The majority were Canadians but there were some British officers too, Royal Navy officers in blue battle dress with "R.N. Commando" flashes and Air Force officers, as well as commanders of special service units, experts in combined operations.

A Dutch officer aboard the ship made a moving speech directed to the Canadians in which he spoke with emotion of the gratitude of the people of the netherlands for the hospitality Canada had offered "our Princess and her children." Then he said: "I hope this operation will bring great glory to Canada, Holland and the Allied nations."

Before the Canadians embarked they had taken down their patches and "Canada" shoulder flashes. From appearance they might have been British troops. But when they shouted to girls on the streets of the towns through which they marched or made passing comments to civilians they sounded pure Canadian.

We returned to port again for final preparations and to restock the ship with food, fuel and water. I had been in this port a number of times in the past few years and never had seen such a collection of shipping there.

Get Final Letters Written

The long wait before sailing eventually became tedious. Finally we were told we had just one day to get final letters written. These letters were taken ashore, censored and mailed when the expedition reached its destination. Everyone aboard was permitted to write these letters concerned with private and personal matters.

The commander of the naval force came aboard to speak with the naval crews. He told them they would like going on the operation - he described it as a "raid" - and wished them luck. A few days before leaving Lord Louis Mountbatten, Chief of Combined Operations, said good-bye to the naval crews.

Lt.-Gen. A. G. L. McNaughton, commander of the Canadian Overseas Army, and Lt.-Gen. H. D. G. Crerar, commander of a Canadian Corps, visited a number of Canadian Units. Among the Canadian units are field artillery regiments, an anti-aircraft regiment, an anti-tank regiment, and services formations - Royal Canadian Army Service Corps, Royal Canadian Corps of Signals and Royal Canadian Ordnance Corps.

During the long wait before sailing we settled down to routine ship-board life. The men ate regular army food in the mess decks and there was beefing, as there usually is about army food. But the men seemed as happy as most troops. They played cards or shot dice.

Each morning the officers had them on the outer decks for physical training or lectures on a variety of military subjects, including weapons, platoon and company tactics, treatment of prisoners of war, field hygiene and medical practices. Several evenings there were concerts put on by some of the men for the other troops. There was little chance for real boredom to set in.

The two war correspondents aboard were put to work. Peter Stursberg of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation did a nightly radio broadcast over the ship's public address system of news heard from the BBC in London. In addition Stursberg and this writer gave talks to the troops. I talked to them half a dozen times on the campaign in Tunisia.

* * * * *

Canadians Use of the Landing Craft: Final training exercise
prior to D-Day. Photo credit - MilArt,

Another article (author, title unknown) supplies a few facts and details concerning members of the Canadian Armed Forces (Army and Navy, including members of Combined Operations), and mentions modifications to tanks used in the assault:

This Was The "Real Thing"

....Their tanks were prepared for water-borne operations, engine parts coated with waterproof substances and air intakes fitted with extensions ending above the waterline. Other mobile equipment was treated similarly.

All Canadian units moved out of their usual barracks areas well in advance of embarkation, being told that they were beginning a long series of exercises.

There was speculation from the start  that this was the "real thing" at last for the Canadians, and when tropical kit was issued, giving the men the first hint of where they might be going, their spirits soared.

Tank units, during their final weeks in England, had gone through some of their most difficult exercises yet - and afterwards their tanks were waterproofed and moved to ports from which they sailed.

Leader Has Praise For Men 

Then the Brigadier commanding the task force came to a camp where one Canadian regiment had been quartered with a famous British unit. In a brief speech he praised the men for their efficiency and asserted they equalled anybody in the world in training and equipment.

The Canadians used infantry assault ships capable of carrying a large number of infantry. The naval flotilla crews* included a few Canadian officers with the Royal Navy and there also were some Canadian air officers to give the expedition a real combined-operations, three-service complexion.

There were new craft for this last dress rehearsal - well-named because there were plenty of dress rehearsals for the Canadians and they did not know at this time that they were really away to the wars.

Special Craft Used By Canadians

This time the Canadians had the benefit of a number of special craft developed by Combined Operations during the past year.

This manoeuvre gave a picture of what may have happened in Sicily during today's early hours. The Canadians went ashore under cover of darkness in waves followed by thousands of supporting troops, beach parties, artillery and supply, signals and ordnance troops, which will maintain the fighting units in the field. Assault engineers went ahead to clear the minefields; then the infantry pushed inland. With dawn larger landing craft poured more troops onto the beach and as it became light air support appeared.

(Radio Algiers, broadcasting to Italy, said that "the battle of Africa is ended and the battle of Europe has begun. The warnings of president Roosevelt and Premier Churchill have come true. Italy, dragged by Mussolini into Hitler's war, has become a battlefield. The German rearguard action is being fought on Italy's soil.")

The Climax

Photo - Microfilm, The Montreal Daily Star, July 10, 1943

*Editor - About 250 Canadians in the RCNVR and Combined Ops, in the UK since January 1942, travelled around Africa in troop carriers (e.g., HMS Keren, SS Silver Walnut, HMS Pardo, HMS Otranto) on their way to Alexandria before the invasion of Sicily. These men, members of the 55th, 61st, 80th and 81st Flotillas of landing craft, manned and operated LCAs and LCMs during, and for the 4 weeks after, D-Day Sicily.

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Beginning of End for Hitler

WASHINGTON, July 10 - (A.P.) - President Roosevelt considers the Allied invasion of Sicily as virtually "The beginning of the end" of Hitler's Europe, the White House said today.

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Subject To Change Without Notice?

To combat the "boredom" of German troops in the Mediterranean area, the German short-wave station Zeesen has scheduled a new series of Sunday night broadcasts called "Short Waves Against Boredom," the British radio reported today.

The program is scheduled to begin tomorrow night, and will "replace the former special broadcasts for German troops in Africa, which were entitled 'We Are Rommeling On'," the broadcast, recorded by CBS, said.

D-Day Sicily was no "day at the beach"
(Beachwear ad from The Montreal Star, July 1943)

Please link to Article: "The Navy Commando Dotes On Fighting"

Unattributed Photos GH

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