Thursday, February 8, 2018

Articles: Italy, September 18 - 21, 1943 - Pt 7.

Allies Advance in Italy, But Chickens Go Missing

[Photo: NA6209. Reggio, 3 September 1943 (Operation Baytown):
A Sherman tank moves inland at Reggio at 9.30am.
Sgt. Loughlin, No. 2 Army F & P Unit, IWM. 


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.

The work of transporting materials of war to Reggio - involving Canadians in Combined Operations (members of the 80th Flotilla of Landing Craft) - continued into October. A schedule was instituted that allowed time off and sailors said good-bye to loading and unloading LCMs for a few hours per day and visited parts of Italy, near the toe of the boot. Some of their relaxed stories will appear in later entries.

A second landing at Salerno beginning on September 9th, farther north along the coast, was fiercely opposed by German forces. Success was eventually achieved in establishing a solid beachhead but only after great cost to Allied forces.

Some details concerning the second landings (Operation Avalanche) have already been provided, and more information is listed below as found in articles presented in The Winnipeg Tribune and other sources, e.g., My Naval Chronicles by Lloyd Evans.

As well, several other news clippings and ads are displayed from The Tribune that provide "a sense of the times" in 1943:

A sign that the Allies were making gains in other areas is revealed in the following Tribune article:

Lloyd Evans (originally from Ottawa) tells about his trip from Malta to Italy, ready to work aboard landing craft with other Canadians during D-Day Italy (Sept. 3), and later at Salerno (Sept 9):

The Invasion of Italy - 9th September 1943

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.

Allied forces advanced quite rapidly so another unplanned landing* further up the coast was set in motion. The object this time was to land supplies for the advancing Allied forces and our flotilla was one of several selected for the job.

*Editor - I am not sure if Lloyd calls the other landing "unplanned" because, as usual, the sailors were the last to know about their missions, or, someone in command got a bright idea.

Lloyd continues:

While we waited on a safe beach for the signal to leave, a few large warships, including a battleship, went past at high speed. Their mission was to shell the new landing beach before we moved in during the night.

The waves they created started to wash the landing craft off the beach so I winched the door up a little prior to ramming the craft back onto the beach. Unfortunately I left the safety catch off the winch handle and the next wave lifted the boat and I took the full force of the spinning winch handle on my left leg before I could remove it.

One of the other boys made a similar mistake but this time with the kedge anchor winch. It hit him on the head to his severe injury. An Italian surgeon inserted a steel plate in his skull to repair the damage. Since this landing was not part of the original plan there was little reliable intelligence as to enemy defences. An LCI was sent in to investigate but luck was against them as the beach was defended by some top German artillery units and the craft was destroyed. The landing was called off. (Page 33, My Naval Chronicle

Canadian writers are pretty tough! See below:

Prime Minister Winston Churchill, though likely buoyed by Allied successes on different fronts, wants to make it clear that D-Day France is somewhere in the future - but it's not next week:

If a soldier says "my dogs are tired" he isn't talking about a pair of beagles:

While soldiers on tired feet and armies were pushing Germany farther north on the Italian mainland, Canadians in Combined Ops kept the necessary supplies (fuel, machinery, ammunition, food, etc.) moving as well. Some bunked out under orange trees in Messina and scrambled for their own food supplies. 

Doug Harrison, a member of the 80th Canadian Flotilla of Landing Craft writes:

When Italy caved in there was a big celebration on the beach, but I had changed my abode and was sleeping with my hammock, covered with mosquito netting, slung between two orange trees. I didn’t join in the celebration because I’d had enough vino, and you not only fought Germans and Italians under its influence, you fought your best friend.

We weren’t too busy and the officers (who ate separately but had the same food as us) were growing tired of the diet, the same as we were, even though they had a Sicilian cook and we didn’t. An officer by the name of (Andy) Wedd asked me if I knew where there were some chickens or something. I said, “Chickens, yes.” 

When he said, “How be we put on some sneakers and gaffle them,” I said right then, “Okay by me. Tonight at dark we’ll go, but I get a portion for my part of the deal.” 

He agreed and later we got every chicken in the coop, rung their necks, and then took them to the house and had the Sicilian cook prepare them. I got a couple of drum sticks out the window. Next morning, the Sicilian cook came in as mad as hell. Someone had stolen his chickens. Little did he know at the time he cooked them that they were his own because his wife looked after them. (Page 36 "DAD, WELL DONE")

Cheerful news from the Atlantic:

PM W. Churchill made a lengthy report during mid-September, pages long, and some of it relates to Sicily and Italy. A small portion from the Sept. 21 issue of The Winnipeg Tribune follows:

More to follow concerning Combined Operations in Italy.

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