Friday, April 21, 2017

Articles: Sicily, July 28-31, 1943 - Pt 13.

One More Week for Canadian LCMs

Canadian sailors in Combined Ops served in Dieppe and N. Africa in 1942,
and worked steadily during the Sicilian campaign. R. Munro might know! 


Crews of Canada's 80th and 81st Flotillas of landing craft worked hard on Sicilian beaches, south of Syracuse (near Avola), from July 10 to about mid-August, 1943, before being told their work was done. In mid-August the crews were then ordered to sail for Malta aboard the Landing Crafts, Mechanized (LCMs) for rest, recuperation and repair.

Until then, however, the Canadians pulled long shifts and survived hand to mouth (many found shelter in cattle caves near Avola).

Doug Harrison, RCNVR and Combined Ops, writes in his memoirs:

We used a pail of sand saturated with gasoline to heat our meals on if any food was available. Later we moved into a limestone cave, dank and wet, but safe from bombs. We hung a barrage balloon over it, about 1,000 feet up, and one sailor got drunk and shot it down but we had 50 - 60 feet of limestone over our heads.

I had 27 days at Sicily living on tomatoes and Bully Beef. I swore I would kick the first bull I saw in Canada - right in the posterior - if I got back. Everywhere I looked there were anti-personal hand-sized grenades that needed only to be touched to go off. They were built to maim and not kill because it takes men to look after the wounded, but if you’re dead, you’re dead. We threw tomatoes at a lot and exploded them in that manner. (Page 33, "DAD, WELL DONE")

Mr. Harrison's Lt. Cdr. J.E. Koyl writes the following about the Canadians and their use and maintenance of LCMs while in Sicily: 

Craft Maintenance -

For the first eighteen days of the operation, all craft of the 80th and 81st Flotilla were kept in operation all the time. This was a remarkable achievement and the more remarkable when it is considered that the beach conditions, especially in "GEORGE" sector, were not ideal.

Although there were few rocks and sandbars offshore, the gradient of "GEORGE" beaches was very shallow, and both sectors had soft sandy beaches so that it was impossible to avoid sucking up sand into the pumping system when the craft were coming on and off the beach. There were also a few rocks which could not be removed by the beach parties and about the twentieth day four craft of the 81st were temporarily put out of action by the severe pounding they received on the beach in the surf. 

The achievement of the 81st and 80th Flotillas which earned them the praise of their Senior Naval Officer (Landing), as the backbone Flotillas of their sectors, was due in a large measure to the care in handling and efficient maintenance which kept such a large proportion of the craft in operations. Their maintenance parties under Lts. (E) A.M. Wright, and J.R.W. Young, R.C.N.V.R., not only looked after the Canadian craft but also serviced a great many of the craft of the other Flotillas whose maintenance parties were less familiar with the workings of their engines and less resourceful in methods of repair that had to be devised to meet the existing conditions where neither tools nor workshop facilities were available.

The maintenance parties of both Flotillas had landed early in the operation and worked from the beach. During the first few days, craft were run almost continuously and when at all possible any engine repair or maintenance work was carried out in the craft which was run on the good engine.

Work on underwater repairs became increasingly important as the strains and bumps of repeated beachings bent shafts, A-brackets and propellers, while the bottom plating of the craft wore thin and began to leak. The bottoms were repaired with cement or tar or welding - anything that could be procured - and the occasional opportunity of using the Royal Engineers' workshops on shore proved invaluable for charging batteries, welding, straightening and bushing parts. Underwater repairs were made very difficult by the lack of any means of slipping craft, but before the end of the operation two temporary ways had been constructed and craft were being slipped.

Coxswains - 

The task of the maintenance parties would have been even harder than it was had the coxswains not handled their craft carefully in coming on and off the beach with the least wear and tear. Strandings were a common occurrence in some Flotillas where a constant watch on the craft was not kept, both when unloading and when the craft was on the beach for rest periods. The wise use of beach lines and kedges was also of importance in keeping craft lightly on the beach. (Pages 179-180, Combined Operations, by Londoner Clayton Marks, RCNVR and Combined Ops)

"Wise use of beach lines" by Canadians in Combined Ops while US troops
unload an ALC, November 8, 1942, at Arzeu, North Africa. Photo - IWM

While the Canadians in Combined Ops laboured on the beaches, Canadian troops laboured strenuously as they battled their way toward Messina. Many stories, editorials, cartoons and other unique items are found about those times in The Winnipeg Tribune (digitized, and well worth exploring).

The following items are seen in issues of The Tribune from July 28 to 31st, 1943:

Ross Munro is found again on Page One

Lt.-Gen. McNaughton is centre background

Editor: For many Canadians in Combined Ops, Sicily, Malta and
Italy figure prominently during the next two to three months

Landing craft crews faced several challenges in July and August, from the air and sea:

"Battling submarines" was on Canada's agenda:

Editor: I found the article by Dick Sanburn of The Winnipeg Tribune of interest because it describes the accommodation of British Officers in Tunis (North Africa), which is in such sharp contrast to the accommodation of the Canadians in Combined Operations in Sicily, i.e., the limestone cattle caves near Avola, as mentioned by Doug Harrison earlier in this entry.

Sanburn writes, in part:

TUNIS, July 28 - The British army has gone into the hotel business to add one more strange aspect to this cosmopolitan, polyglot Tunisian capital, where one sees a dozen different uniforms in a block while his ears are assailed with a crazy mixture of languages and dialects of the East and West.

It is the first venture of its kind on such a lavish scale. It bears the unimaginative name "British Officers' Transit Camp." It really is a luxury hotel in the heart of Tunis, with running water and maid service, an excellent cuisine, string orchestra at luncheon and dinner, and weekly dances....

The most amazing feature is the ridiculous cheapness. Attractive big rooms are entirely free to British officers. All meals are served at a flat rate of five francs each or roughly fifteen cents....

The hotel ("formerly called the Majestic"*) is open also to Canadian officers and it is common to meet them in the dining room and bars.

*Canadian sailors in Sicily called the limestone cave near Avola "The Savoy".

* * * * *

Editor: I included the following article because readers can calculate to some degree what soldiers and sailors were paid for their service while overseas.

A couple of details about food production and eating habits prove interesting:

Weekly entertainments were not forgotten during WW2:

Careful planning deserves some credit!

Careful planning may have helped with this Canadian adventure:

As the battle for Sicily reaches toward its end, the Allies will pay more attention to Italy, in many ways: 

Unattributed Photos GH

No comments:

Post a Comment