Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Articles: Operation TORCH, N. Africa, 1942 (Pt. 9)

1200 Canadians in Mighty Convoy to North Africa

News Clippings, and Praise from Nov. 24, 1942

A12666. American troops making their way inland after landing at Arzeu. 
(Note GI smoking cigarette holding the Stars and Stripes.)
Photo Credit - RN Photographer Lt. F.A. Hudson, IWM


Many Canadians in Combined Operations were perhaps well on their way back to England by November 24th, maybe even going for walks with girl friends in Blackpool. And on that Tuesday, some brilliant news about the vast armada of ships 'on its way to North Africa' and the role of those same Canadians aboard landing craft flotillas reached newspapers back in Canada - 16 days after initial landings - perhaps as part of Navy Week.

Though the headline below is wrinkled (see second clip, re The Miracle of War), significant details are presented about the invasion of North Africa which included Navy boys, like my father, volunteers in Combined Ops.

Based on some of the reading I have done I am left with the impression that as many as 200 Canadians (perhaps more) in RCNVR were part of the flotillas of landing craft that transported US and UK troops to shore beginning on Nov. 8, 1942 as part of the Centre Task Force at Oran and Arzeu.

In two places I learn that the Canadian flotillas were six in number, but the number of men per flotilla is not given.

A few words about the flotillas and the extent of their operations are found in the book Combined Operations by Londoner Clayton Marks, as provided by Lt. Cdr. J.E. (Jake) Koyle , DSC, RCNVR, deceased:

Shortly after Dieppe, the Canadian Flotillas, now six in number, were making their preparations for a new operation which subsequently turned out to be "Operation Torch" eg. the North African invasion. For several weeks the British and American troops were trained in amphibious warfare and on completion of this training, the invasion was completed successfully.

This operation, as compared to Dieppe, was a complete holiday as the opposition in most quarters was negligible. By the middle of December, 1942, the Canadian Flotillas were returning to England.

The H.M.S. Ettrick was sunk off Cadiz with the loss of 18 Canadians. Survivors were picked up by a Norwegian destroyer and returned to Gibraltar. The S.S. Clan McTaggart was also sunk in approximately the same area with the loss of 1 Canadian. Picked up survivors were returned to England aboard a British corvette.

On their return to England and by early January they were re-organized into 4 Flotillas, the 55th and 61st manning LCA's and the 80th and 81st manning LCM's.
(Combined Operations, Page 174)

The four Canadian flotillas were heavily involved during the invasion of Sicily and much more can be read about them related to Operation Husky on this website. See SICILY under 'click on Headings' in right margin.

The story that follows is a rare entry about the invasion of North Africa, "the greatest combined operation in the history of the war" (i.e., up to that date).

As we now know, "the American and British navies" (as mentioned above) did not fail. And though "Honours for actual fighting go to the American forces" by the writer, I would add there were no small roles filled by volunteers in the Allied forces, including the 200 (plus) Canadian volunteers in Combined Operations.

More clippings from The Winnipeg Tribune follow, in order to provide a sense of the times and context for the experiences of Canadians in Combined Operations:

The next clipping may relate to a British convoy carrying reinforcements and large amounts of supplies (e.g., weaponry, ammunition, food, trucks, tanks, tank mesh, etc.) needed in order to strengthen and continue the North African campaign:

Details related to Operation TORCH can be found in the book Combined Operations by Londoner Clayton Marks (RCNVR, Combined Operations). Below is part of Clayton's story:


OPERATION TORCH November 8th, 1942 

All information regarding Operation Torch was a very guarded secret, so secret that only a handful of men in the highest planning circles knew it's details. Along with a sketchy outline of the plan, some of the requirements and conditions were made known. Assault convoys and reinforcement convoys moving from the United States and the United Kingdom to the Mediterranean were expected to come under heavy attack by submarine and from the air. The escort forces much larger than usual, would be required and it was hoped that Canada could furnish some of her Corvettes to assist.

The first objectives of the great Armada which got underway during the late days of October were the ports of Algiers, Oran and Casablanca. The Germans were well aware of the preparations for Torch, and were completely misled as to the objectives. Apparently convinced that Dakar was to be the point of landing, they had disposed their large submarine forces well to the south of the actual routes taken by the convoys and the long processions of Allied ships passed to their destinations almost unmolested.

The French Navy was known to be much bitter against the Allies, and especially the British, than the other services; the destruction of their fleet at Mers el Kebir, the Naval base a few miles west of Oran, in 1940 was not easy to forgive. It was almost certain the port installations at the last moment would be sabotaged. To anticipate this a couple of ships - former American Sloops, now under the White Ensign and manned by the Royal Navy - carrying American troops were sent into each of the harbours of Oran and Algiers in the early hours of the morning.

Both attempts failed with heavy losses. At Oran, first the Walney, which charged the Boom at 15 knots, and then the Hartland, which followed her, were fired on, burst into flames and later blew up; in the former out of 17 Officers and Ratings on the bridge, only Captain Peters survived, and the landing party waiting to go ashore, only five. The crew of the Hartland were more fortunate, and although they suffered heavy losses, were able to abandon ship before the end. Peters was awarded the V.C. and was killed in an air crash on the way home.

At Algiers the two ships were the destroyers Broke and Malcolm. The Malcolm was hit in the boiler rooms off the entrance and had to withdraw; the Broke got in at 0530 at her fourth attempt, and managed to berth safely, though under fire. For the next few hours, apart from some small arms fire all was calm, and some French Officials came on board and suggested that the American Officer take over the town, but at 0915 she was heavily fired on by a howitzer, and had no option but to pull out. She got clear and was hit repeatedly as she moved across the harbour. She was taken in tow by the "H.M.S. Zetland", and sank the following day on the way to Gibraltar. Despite these two operations, no sabotage was carried out by the French. The French General Juin, who was representing Admiral Darlan said that all resistance would cease at 1900, November 8th.

At Oran resistance was more prolonged, and the town had to be fought for before surrendering at noon on the 10th. The way was now clear for a clear thrust into Tunisia. 
(Pages 67 - 68)

The following photographs and informative captions, related to US troops, are as found at the Imperial War Museum (IWM), UK:

A12636. American troops before going ashore. 
RN photographer, Lt. J.E. Russell, IWM 

A12667. American troops making their way inland after landing at Arzeu.
Several small landing craft can be seen in the foreground whilst in the distance
can be seen some of the troopships that helped transport the men.
RN Photographer Lt. F.A. Hudson, Imperial War Museum

A12676. A boxing match in progress. (On way to N. Africa)
Photo - Lt. J.E. Russell, IWM.

A12680. A church service for the troops.
Photo - Lt. J.E. Russell, IWM

A12681. American troops preparing to hoist out stores at Oran.
Photo - Lt. J.E. Russell, IWM

A12682. American troops preparing to unload materials for shore.
Lt. J.E. Russell, IWM.

A12684. An American armoured car being unloaded.
Lt. J.E. Russell, IWM.

More news clippings, stories and photographs related to Operation TORCH will follow.

Unattributed Photos GH

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