Sunday, July 1, 2018

Editor's Column: As Published in Norwich Gazette (13).


[Photo Caption: A12689. US Troops putting off for shore in landing craft.
Credit - RN photographer Lt. J.E. Russell, Imperial War Museum]


The following article is as published in the Norwich Gazette (Norwich Ontario). After it was submitted I received news that the Gazette is being shut down, closed, soon to be out of business (mid-July). My father and mother would have been saddened by such news. Both were lifelong residents of Norwich and frequent contributors to the pages of their hometown weekly.

Perhaps the paper will survive for a period of time online. But whatever the case, these columns about my father's days in the Canadian Navy are coming to an end somewhat prematurely. If another door opens, then the story will continue.

North Africa PT 2: The Landings and 11 Days Hard Labour 

In the book entitled Assault Landing Craft (B. Lavery) is an informative, two-page photograph captioned ‘Unloading ammunition at Arzeu during the North Africa landings.’ Significantly, U.S. troops - as full-fledged allies - are disembarking from a British landing craft during Operation Torch, beginning November 8, 1942. It’s a big deal.

Patriotic U.S. citizens might claim, “We landed first!”

Caption: A12671. Troops and ammunition for light guns being brought ashore
from a landing craft assault (ramped) (LCA 428) on Arzeau beach, Algeria,
North Africa, whilst another LCA (LCA 287) approaches the beach.
Lt. F.A. Hudson, RN photographer, IWM. 

Not so fast, I say. Canadian Doug Harrison, Norwich (sailor centre of photo) dropped the barge’s ramp, jumped into the water and won the day. (Slight exaggeration).

Because the knee-deep water is calm and safe for unloading the troops and supplies, my father would likely have said, “Good landing, fellas.” Though a later news interview limited his experiences to three sentences (saying ‘it was “quite easy”’; ‘his point of invasion was at Arzeu’; and ‘it was his first operation after a year of training’ - Brantford Expositor, 1944), his memoirs and Norwich Gazette columns written 30 - 50 years later reveal more.

A12649. American troops landing on the beach at Arzeu, near Oran, from a
landing craft assault (LCA 26)*, some of them are carrying boxes of supplies.
Photo Credit - Lt. F.A. Hudson, IWM.

(* This editor believes the landing craft is numbered 426, a partner to LCA 428 (in earlier photo) and the sailor (far left) handling the anti-broaching lines is Canadian Doug Harrison).

Admittedly, there were several good, easy days during the landings. My father once transported U.S. troops to a beach within sight of an outdoor cafe. “Good reconnaissance,” he said. But a few days were harder, even dangerous. It seems planners expected some fiery resistance at Arzeu - home to “two coastal batteries and a French garrison” says an online source - and got it.

My father recalls sniper fire two times. First, while his landing craft was grounded on a sandbar not far offshore. He says, “I kept behind the bulldozer blade when they opened up at us.” Second, before taking a rest break, he recalls that “the Americans... found out snipers were in a train station - and shelled the building to the ground level. No more snipers.”

Apart from these incidents, the landings (from the point-of-view of some Canadians in Combined Ops) were chiefly characterized by non-stop work.

Jack Dean of Toronto, pilot of my father’s Landing Craft Mechanized (LCM) writes, “We worked steadily for 11 days. It was a 24-hour-a-day job and we would catch a couple of hours sleep at night if the sea was calm... our landing craft carried American troops ashore and then ferried in (their) supplies: bulldozers, ammunition and tons of light equipment until the merchant ships were empty.” (St. Nazaire to Singapore)

Canadian sailors - about 200 strong now - had to unload their LCMs quickly, on schedule, at the right location, with anxious officers wanting fully-supplied troops before moving inland confidently from the beaches. And it is known that U.S. forces brought a lot of gear, with inherent advantages and disadvantages.

A12690. US Troops disembarking with the aid of nets. Lt. J.E. Russell, IWM.

A12704. LCP's leaving the troop ship for shore. Lt. L. Pelman, IWM.

At Arzeu, an American Commander “insisted on sending so much gear ashore with his men that the landings from the LCM Flotilla were delayed by nearly two hours and the whole program fell more and more behind the clock. The troops went ashore greatly overloaded and... any opposition would have been disastrous.” (P. 68, Combined Operations)

Fortunately, resistance remained light during the initial assault landings (Nov. 8 - 11), and one U.S. soldier has Doug Harrison to thank for not being so ‘greatly overloaded.’

About those four days Dad says, “For ‘ship to shore’ service (after initial troops were landed) we were loaded with five gallon cans of gasoline. I worked 92 hours straight and I ate nothing except for some grapefruit juice I stole.”

He also records that before his next full week of work began (“during which reinforcements and supplies had to be ferried ashore”) he was given a much-needed break.

“Well done. An excellent job, Harrison,” his Royal Navy officer said. “Go to Reina Del Pacifico (Queen of the Pacific) and rest.”

Getting there was half the fun.

Please link to  Editor's Column: As Published in Norwich Gazette (12).

Unattributed Photos GH

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