Friday, September 6, 2013

Dad's Navy Days: September 1943 - Italy (12)

I can find three instances where my father remarks about D-Day Italy (September 3, 1943; the first major Allied invasion of Europe during World War 2) and the subsequent month's work of ferrying supplies to the troops on the 'toe of the boot' via landing craft. His words inform me he and his mates faced little or no opposition during the invasion, and he was seeing the devastation of war at a level not experienced up to that point.

["7:00 a.m., D-Day Italy, September 3, 1943":
photo attributed to rafbeachunits]

The Brantford Expositor reported a few of his thoughts while he was home on leave in December, 1943:

     The Italian campaign was “easy,” so far as his share of the
     invasion was concerned, he said. “There was nothing to it.
     It was just a matter of walking in and taking over, after a
     55-minute bombardment of   Calabria, on the toe of the
     Italian boot, by naval guns and rocket guns.” 
     [The full interview can be found in "DAD, WELL DONE":
     The Naval Memoirs of Leading Seaman Coxswain
     Gordon Douglas Harrison]

[Map from SEIGE: MALTA 1940 - 1943]

He provided a bit more detail 30 years later (circa 1975) when committing his WW2 experiences to paper for the first time:

     There was no resistance. The air force had done a complete
     job and there wasn’t a whole building standing and the
     railroad yards were ripped to shreds. How long we worked
     across the straits I cannot really recall, but perhaps into
     October. [page 35, "DAD, WELL DONE"]

And even more details are found in a column he wrote for his hometown weekly newspaper 20 years farther down the road:


     It was no different touching down on the Italian beach at
     Reggio Calabria at around midnight, September 3, 1943
     than on previous invasions. Naturally we felt our way slowly
     to our landing place. Everything was strangely quiet and we
     Canadian sailors were quite tense, expecting to be fired upon,
     but we touched down safely, discharged our cargo and left as
     orderly and quietly as possible.

     In the morning light on our second trip to Italy across seven
     miles of the Messina Straits we saw how the Allied artillery
     barrage across the straits had levelled every conceivable thing;
     not a thing moved, the devastation was unbelievable and from
     day one we had no problems; it was easy come, easy go from
     Sicily to Italy. [The Norwich Gazette, circa 1992]

Easy come, easy go. Load up and start the engines. So, back and forth between Sicily and Italy he travelled for about 30 days.

I am fortunate father liked to write things down and that he wrote matter-of-factly and with a steady hand in 1992 (at the age of 72) about the invasion and evident devastation in Italy. And I am fortunate he left behind more stories about things that occurred during his time there with the 80th Flotilla.

Through his stories I find myself motoring along with a young man over 14 miles of open water in a landing craft burdened with the materiel of war, a young man who turned 23 on September 6, 1943, seventy years ago today.

["Doug Harrison (front centre), age 23 in 1943"]

How did he celebrate? With some Navy rum or Sicilian vino? I'm not sure, but a few stories remind me he didn't make out too badly while delivering goods from Sicily to Italy. Except for stealing a few chickens he didn't bend many rules at all.

More to follow.

Unattributed photos by GH


Please click here to read Dad's Navy Days: Sept. 3, 1943 - Italy (11)

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