Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Articles: Italy, September 11 - 14, 1943 - Pt 5.

Operation Avalanche, at Salerno, Was a Close Call!

Salerno, September 1943: US naval landing craft near the beaches, just south
of Naples. In the foreground can be seen LSI 235 whilst several other landing
craft infantry (large) and one landing ship tank can be seen in the background
(photographed from the British minesweeper CIRCE). Photo A19151 -
RN photographer Roper, F G (Lt), Imperial War Museum


While the landings in Italy - beginning on September 3, 1943 (Operation Baytown) at Reggio Di Calabria - of initial Allied troops and their supplies took place without much incident, a later landing at Salerno was extremely difficult.

Details are provided below concerning Operation Avalanche as found in articles presented in The Winnipeg Tribune and other sources, e.g., Combined Operations by Londoner Clayton Marks.

Several other details are displayed here from The Tribune that provide context and details about other events happening at the same time in 1943:

The following article reveals that "the Allies have seized the port of Salerno...". It was a very hot spot for several days or more.

Lloyd Evans, RCNVR and Combined Ops, mentioned pilot G. Beurling in his navy memoirs (covered in an earlier post). Those interested in adventures in the air might like to find this rare, old book:

Photos of the Royal Family regularly appeared in Canadian newspapers during the War years. The reigning Queen of England appears as a young girl below:

The present arrangement of the caption below and photos to which it refers is different than in The Tribune. Above is "the family tour of inspection", and below this next caption is "the royal party... halted on the tour to give the pony a rest":

And this next entry is different as well!

In memoirs there are a few accounts concerning the hospital ship Alatambra - it being bombed by German planes, and the aftermath - during the invasion of Sicily in July. Canadian nurses, mentioned below, fared better just prior to the invasion of Italy:

Lord Louis Mountbatten changes commands, from Commander of Combined Operations to Supreme Commander in Southeast Asia:

Eaton's ads - including prices found at their Foodateria - are found regularly in The Winnipeg Tribune:

Though a 'stiff fight' is detailed in the following news clippings about the invasion at Salerno (Operation Avalanche), the first landings on the Italian mainland at Reggio Calabria (on the toe of the boot) were relatively easy and work -  transporting of supplies, the materials of war - continued unabated for about 30 days.

Details about the month-long labours of the 80th Canadian Flotilla of Landing Craft are recorded in Combined Operations by C. Marks:

For a month after the lightly-opposed Italian landing the 80th Flotilla carried out its familiar routine of ferry work. The end came with the Italian armistice and a great celebration in which the population of the countryside joined, and after that the word "England" was on every man's lip. The men of the 55th and 61st assault Flotillas had long been in the United Kingdom. The 81st was also there. Last of the Combined Operations units to return to Britain, the men of the 80th Flotilla arrived on October 27th. (Page 86)

More details about the very dicey landings at Salerno can be found in Combined Operations by C. Marks:

On September 11th the British landed unopposed in the harbour at Taranto but Salerno was a far tougher nut. Apart from Dieppe, which was a special case, it was the first seriously opposed landing that we had ventured on, and there was a period when it was near to failing altogether.

The date selected for Avalanche was the 9th of September. The Italian request for an armistice was made public on the evening of the 8th, which led some of the more ill-advised among the troops, despite warnings, to expect something like a walkover. Top level arguments, and the consequent lower level adjustments, were still continuing when the first and slowest elements of the invasion force crept out from their bases and set their course for Salerno. Sixteen separate convoys sailed from five separate ports on six different dates, according to their speed and port of origin.

There were several air attacks on passage, but the total damage was negligible; it amounted to only one LCT sunk, one Hunt Class destroyer damaged by a near miss, and one LST damaged by a bomb which passed clean through her without exploding. The last two reached their objectives, and the destroyer played a notable part in the bombardment of the beaches before being ordered back to Malta for repairs on the second day of the landings. It was a poor score for the Luftwaffe against 700 ships and landing craft.

Rendezvous and landfalls were made faultlessly, and the assault began more or less on time. The northern or British half of the front comprised of sectors, each of two beaches. On the northernmost beach the leading battalion got ashore successfully, and Brigade Headquarters followed it soon afterwards but the right battalion on the next beach was less fortunate. By bad luck the LCT(R)s discharged their rockets too far south, and the Commanding Officer of the leading wave had to make up his mind quickly whether to land on his allotted beach, where the defenders had escaped attack, or to switch to where the rockets had struck, so as to exploit their effect.

He chose the latter course, and it proved to be a wrong decision. Trying to fight his way north to the area in which he should have landed his men came under heavy fire. His supporting weapons, following in the next wave, did not know of the change of direction, and landed on the original beach, where, with no bridgehead to protect them, they were wiped out. This battalion and the reserve battalion following in its wake, each suffered 50 percent casualties.

Once again the use of smoke, as in the crossing of the Messina Straits, proved to be a mistake. The enemy gunners had ranged on the beaches, and their aim was not affected by their inability to see their targets; whereas the attackers could not see what was going on, and coxswains found difficulty in recognizing the silhouettes which they had so carefully memorized. During an air raid on the first evening, two cruisers, Delhi and Uganda, were actually in collision in a smoke screen.

Destroyers were steaming close inshore to engage shore targets, cutting across the bows of landing craft as they steered their painstaking way. The exits from the beaches were bad, and there was not room in the beachhead to deploy all the artillery that careful planning had got ashore in the early stages.

The deficiency in fire support was made by units of the Royal and United States Navies. Every round fired from the sea during those fourteen hectic days in September of 1943 was a horrid warning to professors of tactics not to be dogmatic. A strong case could be made out in support of a claim that Naval bombardment saved Salerno. The lessons deriving from this experience were to be applied with devastating effect in Normandy nine months later. (Page 102-103)

The Butcher's Bill from Sicily:

Another note re Lord Louis Mountbatten's new command in Southeast Asia:

More news in The Tribune concerning the battle for Salerno:

The rest of the article is in two columns. Though there are breaks between the final three sections below, please read the left-hand column all the way to the bottom, then return to the top of the right-hand column:

More articles, news and content about those days in Italy will follow.

Please link to Articles: Italy, September 7 - 10, 1943 - Pt 4.

Unattributed Photos GH.

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