Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Editor's Column: As Published in Norwich Gazette (5).

[Photo: Editor is on the long and winding road to Inveraray, Scotland]


I recently made an agreement to write 24 columns for the Norwich Gazette, my father's hometown newspaper. In the 1990s he wrote for his favourite weekly upon a variety of subjects, but the most significant columns, in my opinion, were about his time with RCNVR and Combined Operations during World War 2.

In the bi-monthly column I will share many details related to his training in Canada and the U.K. and subsequent involvement in significant raids and invasions - between enlistment in June, 1941 and discharge, September 5, 1945 - under the able direction of the Combined Operations organization.

Column 5 follows, as published in The Norwich Gazette.

Lovely Scenery and Good Training in Scotland

The small, charming town of Inveraray sits on the shore of Loch Fyne, a lovely, narrow, long stretch of water - longer even than Loch Long - about 90 scenic minutes by car northwest of Glasgow, Scotland.

Loch Fyne possesses many isolated, shallow beaches, and beside them many large camps were built during WWII where sailors and soldiers could practice and master many necessary assault skills outside the range of German bombers.

The main goal of the largest establishment, i.e., Combined Operations No. 1 Training Centre (called H.M.S. Quebec, situated near Inveraray), was to train servicemen how to use various “craft for landing assault troops, supplies, ammunition and weaponry onto heavily defended enemy occupied beaches.”

A fitting memorial re Combined Ops stands on the 'repurposed site'

I explored the repurposed site in 2014 (it is now a trailer park) and learned that “250,000 Allied personnel passed through the centre from 1940 - 44... up to 15,000 were billeted in the area at any one time.” (www.combinedops.com)

Canadian seamen arrived at H.M.S. Quebec in jam-packed lorries in late March 1942, and momentarily puzzled over the name - linked to Canadian military history. It was the busiest of camps, however, and with the Dieppe Raid and invasion of North Africa only months away, a cadre of strict instructors wasted no time putting my father and mates through their paces in small, flat-bottomed vessels that could run or slide up onto a shore in 8 inches of water when empty.

“We did much running up onto beaches,” Doug writes in memoirs, “so soldiers could disembark and re-embark, always watching the tide if it was flowing in or going out. You could be easily left high and dry, or broach too (turn sideways), if you weren’t constantly alert. We took long trips at night in close single formation, like ducks lined up close, because all you could see was the florescent waters churned up by propellors of an ALC or LCM ahead (i.e., Assault Landing Craft or Landing Craft Mechanized, respectively).”

The Canadian sailors transported so many different regiments and commando units on the lochs that there were too many to remember. Most of our boys, however, took to the new training and terminology related to different landing craft like the aforementioned ducks to water.

Port, starboard, fore, aft - got it. High, low, flood, ebb, neap tide - check. Kedges, winches, cables, anti-broaching lines - check. Breakfast 0600 - yipes!

One detail my father noticed seemed troublesome. He says, “ALCs carried three rows of soldiers - two outside rows, (with) a center row completely exposed. LCMs carried soldiers or a truck, Bren gun carrier, mines, gasoline, etc. ALCs were made of 3/16th inch plating, thick enough to stop a bullet. But LCMs wouldn’t.”

Servicemen 'kick the tires' on an LCM at H.M.S. Quebec
Photo Credit - Imperial War Museum

Though many of the crafts used at H.M.S. Quebec - later at Dieppe - were made almost solely of plywood, the good training did produce good results.

Canadians could clamber up and down scrambling nets and Jacob’s ladders very proficiently (“because we learned to use only our hands”) aboard the Ettrick, a liner anchored offshore downtown Inveraray.

“We got so it took about three seconds to drop 30 feet from the hand rails to the water line on the scrambling nets,” says Doug.

Canadians trained "aboard the Ettrick, a liner anchored offshore Inveraray"
Photo Credit - As found at www.combinedops.com

Hard work in beautiful surroundings toughened the sailors in memorable ways. The nearby hills caught many eyes and 30 years after the war’s end one veteran said, “I will always remember getting up in the morning to see the sun shining through the mist onto the purple heather. I made an excursion one day and actually rolled in it - to my delight.”

About that first trip to Scotland one could say, so far so good. So far.

2014: A view of Loch Fyne at former site of H.M.S. Quebec

More to follow.

To see more scenes from Inveraray please link to Photographs: Landing Craft at Inveraray

Please link to Editor's Column: As Published in Norwich Gazette (4).

Unattributed Photos GH

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