Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Context: Operation TORCH, N. Africa, Nov. 1942 (Pt 2).

Canadians and Landing Crafts Shipped to Gibraltar.
News Clippings from Nov. 4 - 7, 1942.

[Photo: A12795. HMS ARGONAUT approaching Gibraltar; "The Rock", during
the transport of men to the North African coast. Credit - Lt. C.H. Parnall, IWM ] 


My father Doug Harrison (RCNVR, Combined Operations 1941 - 45) admits that it was difficult to recall all of his many travels during WW2 precisely. When he sat down to write his Navy memoirs in 1975 he did not have much more than his own memory and assorted photographs to assist him. That being said, he recalled that after the Dieppe raid (August 19, 1942) he participated in more training aboard landing crafts in preparation for he-did-not-know-what. He mentions he spent time at HMS Westcliffe near Southend-on-Sea (east of London) as well as a return trip to HMS Quebec near Inveraray.

In memoirs he writes:

After Dieppe we regrouped and went back to H.M.S. Quebec for further training, this time on LCMs or Landing Craft Mobile or Mechanized. H.M.S. Quebec was in Scotland on Loch Fyne.

Art Warrick (RCNVR, Combined Operations), Hamilton, Canada.
Near his cabin at HMS Quebec, 1942. Photo Credit - Joe Spencer
(Colourized by Rick Smallman, Australia)

HMS Quebec badge, with proud connections to Canada.
(Wolfe's amphibious landings; the wolf's Maple Leaves)
Photo courtesy of Rick Smallman, Australia.

My group went through much more training at H.M.S. Quebec and then we entrained for Liverpool. Prominent pub was The Crown in Wallasey.

We left Greenock in October, 1942 with our LCMs aboard a ship called Derwentdale, sister ship to Ennerdale. She was an oil tanker and the food was short and the mess decks where we ate were full of eighteen inch oil pipes. The 80th and 81st flotillas, as we are now called, were split between the Derwentdale and Ennerdale in convoy, and little did we know we were bound for North Africa.

I became an A/B Seaman (Able-bodied) on this trip and passed my exams classed very good. The food aboard was porridge and kippers for breakfast, portioned out with a scale. We would plead for just one more kipper from the English Chief Petty Officer, and when he gave it to us we chucked it all over the side because the kippers were unfit to eat.
Page 23, "Dad, Well Done"

News clippings from The Winnipeg Tribune, and other items related to Operation Torch ( e.g., timely memoirs from Canadian volunteers, supporting and informative photographs from the Imperial War Museum (IWM), etc.) follow.

It should be noted that the clippings cover items in the news from November 4 - 7, 1942 and the invasion of N. Africa began on November 8, a Sunday. Therefore the day of disembarkation (or D - Day North Africa) is drawing nigh!

Ships in the convoy, "the greatest armada of all time" up to that point, would head to, then beyond, Gibraltar on their way toward designated positions in the Mediterranean Sea. And the next printed news coverage in The Winnipeg Tribune would appear on Monday, November 9, 1942. So, stay tuned : )

I am not certain when members of RCNVR and Combined Ops were informed they were taking part in Operation Torch and bound for the northern shores on Africa. Radio broadcasts from Berlin, however, indicate that the Allied convoy was being watched with interest by 'the powers that be' in Germany. Knowing that, the Allied 'powers that be' would share very little information with members of the lower deck (e.g., ordinary seamen and troops) until a few hours before the invasion.

Poster on display at Saltcoats Heritage Centre, Scotland.

Poster on display at Saltcoats Heritage Centre, Scotland.
Photo - G. Harrison, 2014

More news about the Allied convoy (sneaking up on North Africa) that no one knows anything about. Shhh.

At some point in the career of Canadian air ace George Beurling (seen below), he crossed paths with Canadian members of Combined Ops, or at least made an impact on one member.

The following is an excerpt from the memoirs of Lloyd Evans, formerly of Markham, Ontario. Lloyd is reflecting about his time on Malta after the invasion of Sicily in August, 1943:

This was the Island where the Canadian pilot Buzz (screwball) Beurling, at that time with the RAF and later with the R.C.A.F., became known as the "Knight of Malta." The story goes that he was shot down near the water's edge and, although injured, made his way back to the airfield. He immediately took off in another plane and shot down the plane responsible for shooting him down earlier! After the war he was killed taking off from Rome on his way to fight for Israel; the plane had been sabotaged.

The Axis makes a guess about the purpose of the large convoy at Gibraltar, and it's a bad guess. But not bad for the Allies.

While the Allied convoy moves slowly toward its goal with fresh-faced troops and sailors (and airmen overhead; a combined operation for certain), some other veterans of war were returning to Canada on leave, including representatives of those who survived the Dieppe Raid:

News in the Saturday paper, one day before lift-off (i.e., landing crafts will be lifted off decks of transport and cargo ships, filled with soldiers and supplies, and made ready for their deposit in the waters off the shores of North Africa) reveal some much-needed positive reports about the progress on the British 8th Army in Africa. Soon the 8th will be much better supported in its lengthy duel with Rommel and his forces:

"A mighty British fleet has put out from Gibraltar on a mysterious expedition into the Mediterranean..."

"Setting the stage for a second front in Europe?"

Only time will tell. One day's time.

About the sea voyage to Gibraltar my father recalls the following:

We had American soldiers aboard and an Italian in our mess who had been a cook before the war. He drew our daily rations and prepared the meal (dinner) and had it cooked in the ship’s galley. He had the ability to make a little food go a long way and saved us from starvation. Supper I can’t remember, but I know the bread was moldy and if the ship’s crew hadn’t handed us out bread we would have been worse off.

We used to semaphore with flags to the Ennerdale to see how they were eating; they were eating steak. One of the crew cheered us up and said, “Never mind, boys. There will be more food going back. There won’t be as many of us left after the invasion.” Cheerful fellow.

However, we returned aboard another ship to England, the Reina Del Pacifico, a passenger liner, and we nicknamed the Derwentdale the H.M.S. Starvation.

In the convoy close to us was a converted merchant ship which was now an air craft carrier. They had a relatively short deck for taking off, and one day when they were practicing taking off and landing a Swordfish aircraft failed to get up enough speed and rolled off the stern and, along with the pilot, disappeared immediately. No effort was made to search, we just kept on. 

A12882. HMS ARGUS* operating off the North African coast during combined
operations for the 'Torch' landings. RN Photographer Lt. R.G.G. Coote; IWM.

[*HMS Argus above was not the aircraft carrier my father spotted. Argus, though also a 'conversion', so somewhat similar, was a British aircraft carrier that served in the Royal Navy from 1918 to 1944. She was converted from an ocean liner that was under construction when the First World War began... Wikipedia.]

One November morning the huge convoy, perhaps 500 ships, entered the Mediterranean Sea through the Strait of Gibraltar. It was a nice sun-shiny day... what a sight to behold. (Page 23 - 24, "Dad, Well Done")

Lloyd Evans (RCNVR, Combined Operations), formerly of Markham, Ontario, and also on board the Derwentdale with my father, recalls the following in memoirs:

After inspection by several high-ranking officers we set sail with a large convoy. The accommodation on board was totally inadequate as the ship was not designed to handle all the landing craft crews and the American soldiers.

All services were hard pressed to handle the extra people and, near the end of the trip, only half of the bread was useable after the blue mould was cut off! We always ate better during an invasion as we took all the food ashore and made up for earlier deprivations.

The two American truck drivers and I slept in their truck. At night the cold north Atlantic wind nearly froze us to death even with all our clothes on and blankets on top. To confuse the enemy we often sailed south at night and north during the day to waste time.

A few times we helped the merchant crew refuel some of our destroyer escorts at sea. The procedure was both dangerous and complex especially in heavy seas. The crew of the destroyer shot a fine rope line over to our ship by means of a special rifle. We secured it to a much heaver line and this was pulled on board the destroyer by their crew. Finally the fuelling line itself was attached to the heavy duty rope which, once again, the destroyer's crew pulled to their ship. The whole operation was much more impressive in the doing than in the telling.

One evening the merchant crew held a little party for us in their mess. There was plenty of black humour around. One Scottish wit said, optimistically, that it wouldn’t be so crowded on the return trip and an old hand almost had us convinced that his duties included the watering of wreaths that were to be thrown over the side in memory of the dead!

One bright sunny day, around noon, we left the Atlantic Ocean and passed through the Straits of Gibraltar. Another large fast convey of troopships, battleships, cruisers, destroyers and motor launches split up around us and passed by at full speed. What a glorious sight it was.

Our convoy then picked up to full speed and that night we anchored off the beach of the little town of Arzew in Algeria. (As found at combinedops.com by Geoff Slee, Scotland)

Below are the final clippings from The Winnipeg Tribune, Nov. 7, 1942, one day away from D-Day:

And another stumbling block has recently entered the Mediterranean Sea. 

I include the following photo of Lt. J.M (Mac) Ruttan because he will return to the fray once his leave is finished. He will be involved with Combined Operations during D-Day Normandy, perhaps even sooner. A story by Mac Ruttan appears in a Combined Ops book printed by RCNVR and CO veterans after the war, and he is mentioned in stories by other vets as well.

Cpl. W.J. Newland is mentioned in an earlier clipping above (Men On Leave Reach Canada From Britain: Dieppe Veterans Arrive...) and has vivid eye-witness accounts of actions and tragedies associated with the raid at Dieppe:

Please link to Context: Operation TORCH, N. Africa, Nov. 1942 (Pt 1)

Unattributed Photos GH

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