Saturday, February 17, 2018

Articles: Invasion of Italy. Sept. 2 - 7, 1943 - Pt. 1

News Clippings From The Charlottetown Guardian

Troops from 51st Highland Division board landing craft at Catania, 2 Sept. 1943.
Photo - NA6169. Sgt. Loughlin, No. 2 Army Film & Photographic Unit, IWM.


Many news articles from The Winnipeg Tribune (a prominent Canadian newspaper) related to the invasion of Italy, beginning on September 3, 1943 have already been shared on this site.

They clearly provide some details about the role Canadians played in Combined Operations (re manning various landing crafts to transport Allied troops and the materials of war to Italian shores beginning at Reggio Calabria, on the toe of the boot).

The articles, clippings photographs and product ads, along with other details of battle also provide a good deal of context for the work being done on landing crafts.

A few entries will now be made using information gleaned from The Charlottetown Guardian (digitized) as found at - Island Newspapers.

Some information will be similar to that featured in The Tribune, and some will be new. Also featured will be a few sentences and paragraphs from the memoirs of those who worked aboard landing craft and had, as a result, a first-hand few of invasion day action and subsequent events, some during times of standing easy.

Questions, concerns and comments are welcome and can be directed to the Editor of 1,000 MEN, 1,000 Stories in the comment section below each post.

* * * * *

The top photo, from the Imperial War Museum (IWM), shows troops boarding landing craft (some manned by Canadians) at Catania on the day before D-Day Italy. The first article below was written in North Africa on the same day, September 2, 1943.

(Many other IWM photographs, films, audio files, etc., (high quality, authentic, informative) can be found by visiting Search Our Collections.)

Canadians in the 80th Flotilla of landing craft travelled from Malta to Catania - situated on the east coast of Sicily, south of Messina - aboard Landing Craft, Mechanised (LCMs) and Landing Craft, Tanks (LCTs) prior to the day of invasion. And from Catania they moved farther north to Messina where some lodgings were found for their month-long stay (early Sept. - early Oct.).

They were present for the naval bombardment of the toe of the Italian boot and saw much destruction when they landed in Italy for the first time at Reggio di Calabria.

Lloyd Evans of Markham, Ontario recalls the following about those days:

Most days in Malta were bright and sunny and one particular day in early September of 1943 was no exception. I, and a crew of 4, found ourselves back in our landing craft on a northerly tack. We had several escort vessels and after a few hours under way all hell broke loose when about 60 enemy bombers dropped their loads all over the place. They were flying low enough for us to clearly see their bomb doors opening and their bombs being released.

Fortunately they didn’t hit anything and soon departed the scene when heavy A.A. fire threatened their safety... or perhaps they didn’t think a bunch of empty landing craft was worth the risk of being shot down. It soon became clear that we were heading back to Sicily for the invasion of Italy. By this time Sicily was firmly in Allied hands.

We spent a couple of days in the harbours of Augusta and Catania and then to Messina for the attack on Italy itself. We went in at Reggio with our load of Canadian troops under a very heavy allied artillery barrage from the hills of Messina.

There appeared to be little or no opposition. We later found out that Italy had already agreed to surrender but hadn’t announced it to wrong foot the Germans. The deception worked since the Germans did not reinforce the positions vacated by the Italians. I can still see the Sicilians running around cheering 'Benito et finito' [Benito (Mussolini) is finished]. 

To celebrate one of the locals dug up a bottle of great wine he had buried to keep it safe from the Germans. (Page 33, My Naval Chronicle)

Map of Italy, Sicily (incl. Catania, Reggio Calabra) from
The Winnipeg Tribune, Sept. 3, 1943.

For almost two years Lord Louis Mountbatten served as the illustrious leader of the Combined Operations organization.

News about his new appointment appeared in The Charlottetown Guardian on September 3rd:

Correction: Where it says "August, 1942: Directed raid by nearly 10,000 commandos on Dieppe, France" with last illustration above, it should say the raid involved approx. "5,000 Canadians, 1,000 British troops, and 50 United States Army Rangers." (Wikipedia)

A rare John Steinbeck story? You tell me.

My father, Doug Harrison (RCNVR, Combined Operations) has one story about one Canadian who said he would get home early... and he did. How did he do it?

Dad writes:

We were stationed at Auchengate camp outside Irvine at the time in bell tents and all washing facilities were outside. We never went ashore the regular way under inspection of an officer. O/D Art Bradfield, who was confined to barracks, inspected us, lifted the fence and said, “Be back on time you guys.” And we always were.

Jake Jacobs was a lead swinger of the first water and said he would make it back to Canada before any of us, and you know, he did. He wangled it somehow and after Auchengate I never saw him again.
(Page 17, "Dad, Well Done")

How did Jake wangle his way out of the Combined Ops assignment? I think I know how. 

My father describes an earlier episode involving Mr. Jacobs, also while at Irvine:

We practiced running our ALC up the stern of the Iris and Daffodil, i.e., train ferries in peace time that carried whole trains across the channel between England and France. They were later to be used as ALC transports.

Their sterns were nearly completely open, but with waves and a stiff wind blowing it was difficult to hit the opening. We practiced and practiced, and once in, winches were used and helped get barges onto tracks.

One day I just could not make it. I had a Seaman named Jake Jacobs and he said, “Let me see her. I’ll put her in there.” He pulled the ALC back, poured the coal to her and crashed right into the stern of the Iris. There was Hell to pay. (Page 16, Ibid)

Doug Harrison, fourth from left, and Jake Jacobs, first on right, and other
Canadians in Comb. Ops. at their first training camp (Northney), 1942

How did Jake get out of Dodge City? He likely asked to be put in charge of bigger landing craft. Why, with his driving record he was sure to be sent as far away from landing craft as possible. : )

The Allied naval bombardments of the Reggio di Calabria region are not only well-documented, as in the news articles above, but also well-remembered by the members of Combined Operations who later landed on the devastated toe of the Italian boot.

Doug Harrison writes:

We took a Landing Ship Tank (LST) back to Mili Marina, Sicily, and if memory serves me correctly, attacked Italy at Reggio di Calabria across Messina Straits on my birthday, September 6, 1943. (Editor: Doug's memory was off by 3 days).

There was no resistance. The air force had done a complete job and there wasn’t a whole building standing and the railroad yards were ripped to shreds. (Page 35, "Dad, Well Done")

More to follow from The Charlottetown Guardian.

Unattributed Photos GH.

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