Thursday, March 14, 2013

vignettes from a world at war (3)

In 1942, in the middle months of WW2, US Rear Admiral Henry Kent Hewitt of Norfolk, Virginia and RCNVR Leading Seaman Gordon Douglas Harrison of Norwich, Ontario joined forces during Operation TORCH, one of the most significant amphibious operations to that date. "Some believed it to be the greatest amphibious gamble since Xerxes crossed the Hellespont in the fifth century B.C." (pg. 31, An Army At Dawn)

Rear Admiral Hewitt, at US President Roosevelt's order, would command the Atlantic Fleet's new Amphibious Force. Leading Seaman Harrison would ferry soldiers and all manner of war material to the shores of North Africa. The two men never met but shouldered their loads without question. More about Hewitt's goals and role follow:

'operation torch'

late that summer came
Roosevelt's decision to seize
North Africa in Operation TORCH.
Two great armadas would carry
more than 100,000 troops to
the invasion beaches.
One fleet would sail 2,800 miles
from Britain to Algeria,
with mostly British ships
ferrying mostly American soldiers.

The other fleet, designated
Task Force 34, was Hewitt's.
He was to sail 4,500 miles
to Morocco from Hampton Roads
and other U.S. ports
with more than 100 American ships
bearing 33,843 American soldiers.

In a message on October 13, General
Eisenhower, the TORCH commander,
had reduced the mission
to twenty-six words:
"The object of the operations
as a whole is to occupy
French Morocco and Algeria with
a view to the earliest possible
subsequent occupation of Tunisia."

The Allies' larger ambition in TORCH
had been spelled out by Roosevelt and Churchill:
"complete control of North Africa
from the Atlantic to the Red Sea."

(pg. 22, An Army At Dawn by R. Atkinson)

When LS Harrison put his shoulder to the wheel he had little or no knowledge of the above details. In fact, he only learned he was destined for North Africa once the British ship he had boarded in Scotland entered the Mediterranean Sea. But once his landing craft had been lowered from the Derwentdale and was freed from a sandbar, he got to work. Some of his notes follow:

'only snipers'

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
some grapefruit juice I stole.

(pg. 25, "Dad, Well Done")

Dad tells the tale with a bit more detail (e.g., he wasn't alone behind the 'dozer blade) in another spot in his lengthy, informative notes (all made possible by the fact he knew how to duck). More to follow.

Photos by GH


Please click here for another vignette from WW2

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