Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Dad's Navy Days: September 3, 1943 - Italy (11)

My father, a Leading Seaman with RCNVR and a volunteer member of Combined Operations, had likely been thinking about what his part would be in the invasion of Italy for several weeks while resting and recuperating on the island of Malta in August, 1943. Officers weren't talking and ratings* could only guess. Restless nights among the inhabitants of Malta's tent city were surely common.

["Combined Operations badge; found at rafbeachunits] 

He wrote about his naval experiences on more than one occasion and for different audiences. He wrote personal memoirs in 1975 for his family, newspaper articles in the 1990s for his hometown weekly and short stories for books later published by inspired members of the RCNVR and Combined Operations. About D-Day Italy and his subsequent 30 days of labour upon landing crafts he wrote a good deal.

For example:

     Although no one ventured a word (while in Malta), we all
     had Italy in the back of our minds. Before we got too settled
     in, we were throwing our hammocks aboard our landing craft
     again and heading for Sicily. Our flotillas beached at the mouth
     of a now dried up river bed at Mila marina, then a few days in
     Catania harbor itself, where we had a good view of German
     low-level attacks on a British cruiser.

[Loaded LSTs in Catania harbour, Sept. 1, 1943:
Photo from rafbeachunits]

     At night we watched  German planes try to take evasive
     action as they were caught in the searchlights which circled
     the harbor. During the day we could see the smoke from Mt. Etna.

     At midnight on September 3, 1943 our Canadian landing craft
     flotilla, loaded once again with war machinery, left the beaches
     near Messina, Sicily and crossed the Messina Strait to Reggio
     Calabria in Italy. The invasion of Italy was underway.
     [The Norwich Gazette, circa 1992]

Father was not the only person to later write about events related to D-Day Italy, a significant invasion that occurred 70 years ago today. Another member of Combined Operations recalls the following:

     Invasion of Italy

     “During the last days of August our forces boarded ships of
     all description for the long awaited invasion of the continent
     of Europe. I do not recall the hour of our departure from
     Catania but it was during the night of September 2nd or the
     very early hours of September 3rd for it was during the hours
     before dawn that we sailed through the Strait of Messina with
     our long range guns in Sicily and our naval escort blasting the
     shoreline in the Reggio di Calabria area with everything we had.
     Our guns on the Sicily side were firing directly over our flotilla.
     It was indeed a wild and scary sight as we headed in, just as dawn
     was starting to break. We had no real understanding as to what
     we were going to face. We simply hoped for the best and planned
     for the worst. As it turned out the initial enemy opposition was
     much lighter than we anticipated.”
     [W. Sinclair MacLeod, excerpt from memoirs found at rafbeachunits]

My father recalls opposition was lighter than expected as well. He also recalls that "the devastation was unbelievable."

More to follow.

* ratings: seamen of different rank, e.g., probationary, ordinary, leading


Please click here to read Dad's Navy Days: August 1943 - Malta (10)

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