Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Articles: Operation TORCH, N. Africa, Nov. 1942 (Pt 5).

Canadians in Combined Ops in the Central Task Force
News Clippings From November 11 and 12, 1942

[Photo: A12685. An anti tank gun unloaded into a landing craft, destined for
the shore. A half track has already been lowered into the landing craft.
Credit - RN Photographer Lt. J.E. Russell, Imperial War Museum (IMW)

Photo: A12686. Stores being unloaded into landing craft, for the shore.
Lt. J.E. Russell, IWM.


Members of the Royal Canadian Navy Volunteer Reserve who also volunteered for Combined Operations in December, 1941 (while at HMCS Stadacona back home in Halifax) found themselves on British transport ships heading toward Gibraltar and points on the north shore of Africa within 12 months.

About 200 Canadian sailors had been sorted into flotillas of various landing crafts (ALCs and LCMs), and assisted in the transport of American and British troop units in the Central Task Force at a few points at and near Oran, Algeria.

From the Navy memoirs of Lloyd Evans (RCNVR, Combined Operations):

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. This was on the eastern flank for the attack on Oran. We lowered the landing craft over the side, lined up in formation and headed for the beach. Unfortunately we couldn’t find the two American truck drivers when it was our turn to leave the ship. I had never driven a car, let alone a big army truck, but it looked as though I'd have to learn real quick since there was nobody else!

I sure as hell hoped there wasn’t going to be too much enemy fire. Fortunately we landed with no trouble and one of the beach party was able to drive the truck ashore after I managed to get it started. I wasn’t keen on hanging around a moment longer than was absolutely necessary so made a quick turnaround!

It was reasonably quiet during the couple of weeks we were there - we were only strafed once by a Spitfire the French had captured. To the west of us, in Oran, there was more activity where a large French battleship sunk a small American ship that had approached to invite its surrender. The battleship could have sunk almost the whole landing fleet but a RN battle cruiser was standing by for just such a possibility - a few broadsides could have put the French battleship guns out of action in seconds. No one had wanted this to happen but there was no alternative.

Canadians in Combined Ops, location unknown, sporting machine
guns while transporting tank mesh. (Training exercise, S. England?)
Photo as found in My Naval Chronicle, Lloyd Evans

We spent the next week or so unloading troop ships, cargo ships and ammunition ships that had just come from the USA. Other than the RN and RCN naval personnel this was strictly an American operation. It was strange for us to see the jeeps and trucks we took ashore loaded with cigarettes, gum and chocolate bars. One night we had to make an emergency trip ashore with a load of Tommy gun ammo for an American group who were almost surrounded by the French Foreign Legion and fast running out of ammo.
(Pages 15 - 16, My Naval Chronicle)

News Clippings from The Winnipeg Tribune and More

Oran and Arzew are port cities west of Algiers, above.

Canadians sailors are already very busy in North Africa and more troops and supplies are on their way from Gibraltar:

From the Navy memoirs of Doug Harrison:

On November 11(?), 1942 the Derwentdale dropped anchor off Arzew in North Africa and different ships were distributed at different intervals along the vast coast. My LCM had the leading officer aboard, another seaman besides me, along with a stoker and Coxswain. At around midnight over the sides went the LCMs, ours with a bulldozer and heavy mesh wire, and about 500 feet from shore we ran aground. When morning came we were still there, as big as life and all alone, while everyone else was working like bees.

There was little or no resistance, only snipers, and I kept behind the bulldozer blade when they opened up at us. We were towed off eventually and landed in another spot, and once the bulldozer was unloaded the shuttle service began. For ‘ship to shore’ service we were loaded with five gallon jerry cans of gasoline. I worked 92 hours straight and I ate nothing except for some grapefruit juice I stole. 
Page 25, "Dad, Well Done"


Canadians were asked to dig deep on a regular basis and thus funded the war effort in a big way. Canadians in Combined Ops, once back in Canada after two years overseas manning landing crafts at Dieppe, North Africa, Sicily and Italy, helped raise money for Victory Loans while serving at Givenchy III (Comb. Ops training camp) on Vancouver Island from 1944 - 45. Mock landings were organized at the Comox Navy base with live ammunition providing a big draw and a big bang for the crowds.

The following clippings are as found in The Comox Argus, 1944 issues:

Two photographs from the Imperial War Museum reveal work done by various landing crafts as part of amphibious warfare:

A12670. American troops landing light guns on Arzeu beach.
Photo Credit - RN Photographer Lt. F.A. Hudson, IWM.

A12673. A light tractor on the beach at Arzeu. Lt. F.A. Hudson, IWM.

More adventures from North Africa, as written by another Canadian in Combined Operations:

by Lloyd (Luke) Williams

With regard to the 55th LCM Flotilla at North Africa my memory is quite hazy, so what follows is my recollection only, after fifty years. Others may differ or may be able to add more.

I recall that at the time we passed Gibraltar, the sea was crowded with ships as far as the eye could see. We landed just west of Mers-el-Kebir, at Oran's "Y" beach, Les Andalouses, on the "S.S. Clan McTaggart" which was our Mother Ship. The troops that we landed were members of the United States 1st Infantry Division complete with their mechanized vehicles and other necessary supplies.

We were shelled from the hills above the beach for a couple of days until a Royal Navy destroyer put a stop to it by several well-placed shells. On the third or fourth day after the landings and when all the ships had been emptied, the Officers and crews had an opportunity to travel into Mers-el-Kebir to see the results of the Royal Navy bombardment of the French Fleet in 1940.

Some days later the "Clan McTaggart" sailed in a small convoy to Gibraltar with orders to join other convoys all northbound under escort to the United Kingdom. Unfortunately we developed engine problems that necessitated repairs to be made in Gibraltar. These repairs did not take too long - maybe four hours or so - and we were then given permission to sail alone and catch up to the convoy.

At about 1600-1800 we sailed and I remember standing on a bridge watch from midnight to 0400 when I was relieved. I went below and had just jumped into my bunk (top) when there was a terrible explosion. I ran up on deck and was advised we had been torpedoed. I then went back to my cabin to check on my cabin mate, S/L Harold Walkely, who was still sound asleep. To wake him I had to literally pull him out of bed.

As we got up on deck, we went to our boat station only to find that the Lascar crew had cut the rope falls and the lifeboat was hanging by one set of falls. These were ordered to be cut in hope that the lifeboat would land right side up - it did. Apparently others did not. I remember vaguely moving around the ship in search of people needing help. The ship had settled by this time but was considerably lower in the water. The Captain ordered 'abandon ship and a number of people jumped in the water or shinnied down the boat falls into the water.

I remember being picked up by a Carley float and then transferring onto a half empty lifeboat. We pulled around the "Clan" looking for people and it was there we could see three follows standing on the stern. I believe one of them was Leading Seaman Grimmon. All three went down with the ship. Sometime the next morning, we were sighted by an R.A.F. Catalina flying boat out of Gibraltar, who radioed our position to the "H.M.S. Landguard", as ex U.S.N, sloop. Around 0900 we were picked up by this ship and then proceeded to join the original convoy.

That convoy had been attacked by U-boats on the previous evening and had lost some ships including the "S.S. Ettrick" that had on board another landing craft Flotilla. We carried on to the U.K. and eventually to "H.M.C.S. Niobe" in Greenock, Scotland. Our Flotilla Officer, at that time, was Lt. Judd Whittall, R.C.N.V.R. from Vancouver.

An interesting coincidence was that the American Officer in command of the troops aboard the "Clan McTaggart", fought his way through North Africa, Sicily and parts of Italy and was being returned to the U.K. to prepare for the Normandy invasion. We landed him in Normandy from LCI(L)-310 on either our third or fourth trip.
 Pages 71 - 72, Combined Operations by Clayton Marks

More news from North Africa to follow.

Please link to Articles: Operation TORCH, N. Africa, Nov. 1942 (Pt 4).

Unattributed Photos GH

No comments:

Post a Comment