Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Articles: Italy, September 15 - 17, 1943 - Pt 6.

Strong Stories about Salerno and One Great Lead.

MH6339. Salerno, 9 September 1943 (Operation Avalanche): German troops
in action during the Allied landings. Photo Credit -Selinger Franz Collection,
as found at Imperial War Museum (IWM) Archives.


The Allied landings during the invasion of Italy began on September 3, 1943 (Operation Baytown) at Reggio Di Calabria and records show troops and their supplies reached the mainland (from Messina, a trip of about seven miles) without much incident.

A second landing at Salerno beginning on September 9th, farther north along the coast, was achieved only after great cost to Allied forces.

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

As well, several other news clippings are displayed here from The Tribune that provide context and details about other events happening at the same time in 1943:

In the September 15 issue of The Tribune an article appears concerning "the world-famous Hurricane fighter, flown by thousands of young Canadian pilots..."

The story may be of interest to some readers, especially those who are related to Bill Donnelly of Norwich, Ontario, a 'young Canadian pilot' who shared a grand evening meal with another resident of Norwich, i.e., my father, a member of RCNVR and Combined Operations.

The details below occurred during the invasion of Sicily, about two months earlier:

One morning in Sicily I woke up in my hammock in our cave (the hammock was slung between two lime-stone piers and above the lizards) and I saw Hurricane planes taking off just a short distance away. We now began working eight hours on and eight hours off. When we were pretty well unloaded I decided, on my eight hours off, to investigate the air strip and, behold, they were Canadians with Hurricane fighters. I arrived about supper time and explained who I was and was invited for a supper of tomatoes and bully beef... Not that again!

“I have no mess fanny or spoon,” I said, and the cook told me there were some fellows washing theirs up and to ask one of them for the loan of their mess fanny and spoon. So I walked over, tapped a man’s shoulder and asked if I could borrow his equipment. The man straightened up and said “sure” and it turned out to be Bill Donnelly from my own hometown of Norwich, Ontario.

I got my oppo, A/B Buryl McIntyre (also from Norwich) from the cave and did the vino ever run that night. Small world. So when we had had enough Bill crawled into his hole in the ground, covered himself with mosquito netting, and we headed back to the cave. Overhead, Beaufort night fighters were giving Jerry fighters and bombers hell. We felt the courage given us by the vino and slept quite soundly in our dank old cave ‘til morning rolled around again. (Page 34, "DAD, WELL DONE" by Doug Harrison)

Editor: Note the fish trophies below, a declaration the Allies are succeeding on three fronts.

Clayton Marks of London, Ontario writes the following about some of the action in and around Salerno during this time:

On the extreme left of the British front, the American Rangers and British Commandos, were having a rough time. The LCA's which were to have landed the Commando stores apparently found the fire too heavy for their liking, and withdrew without unloading. Objectives changed hands more than once, but were finally captured and handed over to the left flank British division. Out of a total strength of 738, more than half ware casualties. As the landing craft came ashore, all supplies were unloaded and stored, and the beach area was kept clear for incoming craft by the Indian Gurkhas and Italian prisoners.

In the American areas, south of the Sele River, the battle remained critical for several days. For some reason fewer close support craft were allotted to this part of the front, and all landings were made under heavy machine gun fire. Here again, the exits from the beaches were defective and the build-up caused many delays. American reports on Salerno are sternly self-critical. The scales of equipment taken ashore were far too generous; no labour was provided to unload the LCT's and the DUKW's. DUKW's were misappropriated and used as trucks instead of returning to the ships for more stores.

Many ships had been improperly loaded, with a lot of irrelevant and unauthorised items on top of the urgently required tactical ones, and at one stage there was a mass of unsorted material - petrol, ammunition, food, equipment - lying so thick on the beaches that landing craft could find nowhere to touch down. Eventually a thousand sailors were landed from the ships to clear the waterfront, and pontoons were rushed in to the sector to make piers. But for some time all landing of stores had to be suspended.

Although some of the troops had penetrated inland a mile or more by first light on the 9th, they were very weak; and when the Germans counter-attacked with tanks they had nothing with which to defend themselves. The first American tanks did not get ashore until 10 a.m. From 0800 onwards, regardless of the risk of mines, two American cruisers, the British monitor Abercrombie, and several destroyers, both British and American, were engaging enemy tanks from seaward. The American destroyer Bristol fired 860 rounds during the day, closing at one time to a range of 7500 yards.

On the 11th, the Germans produced a new and nasty weapon, the remote controlled bomb. These were released by aircraft flying at a great height, and steered on to the targets by electronic means. The first two fell within six minutes of each other: No. 1 missed the U.S. cruiser Philadelphia by only fifteen feet, and shook her from truck to keel and No. 2 scored a direct hit on the Savannah and set her on fire.

H.M.S. Uganda was hit a few hours later and severely damaged, though both she and the Savannah survived. During the next few days several ships were victims of the formidable new weapon, including the battleship Warspite. She had been shelling the shore batteries. She had just blown up an ammunition dump, and was moving contentedly to the north to shoot up another area, when three remote-controlled bombs came whistling down on her. Two were misses, but the third burst in one of her boiler rooms. In less than an hour her engine rooms were flooded and she was helpless. A hazardous tow of 300 miles brought her to Malta. It took five hours to get her through the Straits of Messina, due to the strong currents. (Page 103 - 104, Combined Operations)

The 'Propaganda Mill' may quickly remind today's readers of something
more ominous at work in Germany and beyond its borders. GH

Below, proof positive that Salerno was a close run affair!

In an earlier post the Butcher's Bill for Sicily was listed. Now a bill for materials:

The following article related to Canadian writers who landed at Reggio Calabria during Operation Baytown on September 3rd is of particular interest to this Editor. You will soon understand why.

A Canadian in Combined Operations, who was attached to the 80th Flotilla of landing craft that worked between Messina (Sicily) and Reggio (on the toe of the boot), wrote the following paragraph in a lengthy account about some of his adventures in September:

In this account I have purposely neglected to mention numerous escapades into Italy. On their days off the Ratings - and Officers, I must confess - did go on the scrounge and sight-seeing. The very tip of the toe of Italy is very similar to Sicily in many ways. Vineyards abound and the people were very friendly.

There was one expedition I do remember, when our maintenance staff took a reporter from the Montreal Star* on a trip. We landed at Scilla, looked over the town, including the local headquarters of the Fascista and came away with a tiny salute gun on the bow of our maintenance duty boat. We found the gun lying dejectedly on the slanting bridge deck of a partially sunken Messina-Reggio ferry boat. It was one of the many boats the Germans had used to escape across the Straits when they were pushed out of Sicily.

It will be many a day before that regular ferry service is resumed, the boats are sunk and Messina itself is a shambles of the first order. Not a single building in the city proper is intact. Everywhere one sees the ravages that modern war metes out to any unfortunate city that lies in its path. (By E. P. Murphy, as found on Page 101, Combined Operations)

*Editor: I bet if I can find stories written by the journalist (mentioned below) from The Star, I will find more information about the Canadians attached to Combined Ops during WW2.

Matt Halton of the CBC was mentioned above, as was his 'portable recording equipment' used on the beach. He was one of the first three writers to get stories back to Canada (about the landings). Mr. Halton's son David later wrote a book about his father's life and adventures during WW2, entitled Dispatches From The Front, and some information can be found about it here - Book: A Good Read, A Good Connection.

Cheeky! As found in Dispatches From The Front. M. Halton, far left

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

Unattributed Photos GH

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