Monday, February 16, 2015

Dad's Navy Days - Authentic Photos, North Africa, 1942

Imperial War Museum Photographs

[Authentic caption: "American troops manning their landing craft assault from a doorway in the side of the liner REINA DEL PACIFICO. Two of the landing craft are numbered LCA 428 and LCA 447. Operation 'Torch', the Allied landings in North Africa, November 1942"]

I knew I had purchased a rare treasure (B. Lavery's book, Assault Landing Craft) after spotting a couple photos within that were taken during the Allied invasion of North Africa in 1942. Yesterday I located the photographer's name (Royal Navy Lt. F. A. Hudson) and this morning I found a series of ten shots taken during the same week or so. One was of American troops climbing into assault landing crafts manned by Canadian members of RCNVR and Combined Operations (above).

Another was of American troops climbing ashore from a landing craft (428) at Arzeu and walking past my father, a member of RCNVR and Combined Ops, and dressed in his Navy blues. Pretty amazing, I say.

[Authentic caption: "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... during Operation 'Torch', November 1942.]

Q: Does my father appear in the first photo as well?

A: Very likely. I see one fellow who closely resembles him in build but again his head is turned, so I am only 95% certain.

After a 92-hour shift (moving men and supplies from ship to shore) my father was allowed to return to Reina Del Pacifico for much needed R&R. In his Navy memoirs he writes the following:

     After the 92 hours my officer said, “Well done. An excellent job, Harrison. Go to Reina Del Pacifico and rest.” But first the Americans brought in a half track (they found out snipers were in a train station) and shelled the building to the ground level. No more snipers. 

     I then had to climb hand over hand up a large hawser (braided rope) to reach the hand rail of Reina Del Pacifico and here my weakness showed itself. I got to the hand rail completely exhausted and couldn’t let one hand go to grab the rail or I would have fallen forty feet into an LCM bobbing below. I managed to nod my head at a cook in a Petty Officer’s uniform and he hauled me in. My throat was so dry I only managed to say, “Thanks, you saved my life.”

     The Reina was a ship purposely for fellows like me who were tired out, and I was fed everything good, given a big tot of rum and placed in a hammock. I slept the clock around twice - 24 hours - then went back to work.

     In seven days I went back aboard the Reina Del and headed for Gibraltar to regroup for the trip back to England. During the trip I noticed the ship carried an unexploded three inch shell in her side all the way back to England.

As one might expect, I am delighted - for various reasons - to have found a few photos concerning the invasion of North Africa that closely relate to stories from my father's Navy memoirs. First, when I rewrite his memoirs in the future I will be able to add authentic materials to the package. Second, I feel I must now visit North Africa one day to walk along a beach near Arzeu and look for faint footsteps in the sand. There are other reasons as well.

For now, I guess I'd better start saving up!

: )

Photos from Imperial War Museum

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