Thursday, April 26, 2018

Editor's Column: As Published in Norwich Gazette (8).


Canadians (RCNVR, Combined Ops) with landing crafts at Portsmouth
Doug Harrison (centre) peeks out from behind his mates. circa 1942

Baptism of Fire on the Ennerdale.

In May, 1942 my father received a baptism of water. He was stranded offshore Irvine, Scotland - in cold, black waters - while his landing craft (British troops, Dad’s mates and Lieutenant Koyl aboard) participated in assault exercises under King George’s watchful eye. 

A few weeks later, the Canadians received a baptism of fire. En route to their first official action - Operation Rutter, a raid on Dieppe set for July 7 - they were attacked by German bombers hiding in the sky.

Rutter may be a relatively unknown entity today. The name was not even known to Canadian officers or sailors at the time. Lt. Koyl writes, “The first operational call received was in early June when we sailed away from our base to take part in some operation.” (As found in Combined Operations)

Though cancelled, and over-shadowed five weeks later by Operation Jubilee (the ‘battle of Dieppe’), events related to Operation Rutter - especially the bombings, sudden and frightening - were well-remembered.

The Canadians and well-worn landing barges left Scotland aboard the oil tanker Ennerdale in early June and sailed past Wales and Land’s End on their way to the Isle of Wight. Though one of the ship’s crew warned my father of what might come - “We got a bloody basinful last time!” - Dad recalls that early on “all was serene.”

The Ennerdale headed toward The Solent, the strait near Isle of Wight

Then on June 22, 1942 (“my mother’s birthday,” says Dad), after a bit of “reminiscing on deck... feeling a little homesick,” and after two Spitfires “waggled their wings and headed home,” my father and mates hit their hammocks.

They were barely settled in when chaos erupted - in a mad rush. 

“Eight German Junker JU 88s came from the east, took position in the sun and attacked us from the stern,” says my father.

The Ennerdale’s klaxon horn quickly blared out ‘action stations.’

“Everybody tried to dress and hit the deck,” Doug adds. “Being the largest ship, we knew we were in for it. I got my socks on, put my sweater on backwards and got suspenders on my pants caught on the oil valves. I was hurrying like hell and nearly strangled myself - scared to death. The bombs came, and close. They really bounced us around.”

Extra gunners were needed and Lloyd Campbell of London, Ontario was heard to say, “Let me at ‘em.” The gun crew on the Ennerdale’s forecastle was knocked clear off the gun by the concussion. The men fell hard but were only bruised. 

“The attack was short and sweet but it seemed an eternity,” says Doug. “A near miss had buckled our plates and we lost all our drinking water. I ventured out on deck (when skies were clear) and picked up bomb shrapnel as big as your fist for a souvenir.” 

The sturdy Ennerdale, its plates buckled and decks covered with mud from the sea bottom, arrived at Isle of Wight the next day “with everyone happy to be alive and still shaking.”

Though Lt. Koyl later reported that Operation Rutter “was cancelled and all were ordered to return to base,” sailors saw some details related to the operation before leaving England’s southern coast.

Lloyd Evans recalls a confusing scene. “A large flotilla of Landing Craft, loaded with soldiers and Commandos, set sail one evening - and we remained in port. The mystery deepened,” he says, “they returned a few hours later... they found out the Germans were waiting for them.” (My Naval Chronicles)

Perhaps that same evening my father saw “terrific activity. Motor launches by the dozen went to see what was going on, and it turned out to be the aborted attempt on Dieppe.” 

In his opinion, “The next one should have been aborted too.”

More columns to follow.

Please link to Editor's Column: As Published in Norwich Gazette (7).

Unattributed Photos GH

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