Thursday, February 9, 2017

Context: Tide Turns as Operation HUSKY Nears

July 5, 1943: Invasion of Sicily, Five Days Away. 

Jack Trevor (Canadian in Combined Ops) ready for action in Sicily.*
Photo Credit - From the collection of Joe Spencer, RCNVR, C.Ops.

Just a few days before the invasion of Sicily, members of the 55th, 61st, 80th and 81st Canadian flotillas of landing craft were very likely steeling their nerves - like so many others - for their responsibilities aboard various landing crafts during an upcoming operation.

Canadian Seamen like Jack Trevor (above) would not have known the name of the operation or its duration, but they would surely have known something big was about to happen. In later years some would write about unloading troops and tons of supplies of war ("ship to shore") for about 25 - 30 weeks, with most of their time spent working hard aboard Landing Craft, Mechanized (LCMs), scrambling for safe accommodation and scrounging for meals. Some spent weeks in caves near Avola, their labours lightened only on brief occasions. 

Articles printed in The Montreal Star on July 5, 1943, inform us of a few events that were occurring just days before Operation HUSKY.

Headlines are reproduced from microfilm, University of Western Ontario

A lengthy article tells of "a Commando-type operation" at Crete:

We read:

"A special Middle East communique tonight said that small British land forces carried out raids on air fields in Crete Sunday night." (Front Page, The Montreal Star)

We learn several Axis planes on the air field were destroyed before the raiders withdrew. Our soldiers, likely coming from North Africa, learned something about Axis defences against an upcoming invasion. It has been speculated that Crete, 190 miles from Libya, would be a valuable asset to the Allies because of its air bases, now in enemy hands and able to thwart "any blow at Greece."

The BBC "made a special broadcast" to all Cretans not to assist in the British attacks. Part of the message suggested to Cretans that the Germans may make their own broadcast that an invasion is underway in order to drive the islanders to action, thus giving German troops the "opportunity of wreaking their savagery on you."

The broadcast warned that Germans would likely exact reprisals on innocent civilians because of the raid or any Cretan involvement, but the Cretans were encouraged to bear it, realizing that any victims, "by their suffering and calmness", would "contribute to the longed-for purpose of the common struggle." 

No details were provided about the size of the British force. The assumption was made that they were well-trained Commandos, having not been on the island since a German hammering in June, 1941. 

It was suggested that regaining Crete, the fourth largest island in the Mediterranean at 160 miles long, would be a good step for the Allies in the direction of establishing control once again in the Balkans.

* * * * *

From The Montreal Star. Photo from microfilm.

We read:

New York, July 5 -(A.P.)- The submarine, on the basis of announced sinkings, continued to lose force as a menace to Allied shipping and loss of life in the Western Atlantic as the war ended its 201st week today.

For three of the last four weeks, there were no losses of merchant ships given by the navy. That left at 670 the Associated Press total of announced Allied and neutral merchantmen sunk in the Western Atlantic since the United States entered the war.

The "best month.... in the war"

It will bore out the statement by Prime Minister Churchill in London that more than 30 U-boats were destroyed in May and that the "massacre" of one of Germany's most dependable weapons continued through June. The Prime Minister declared that "since the middle of May scarcely a single merchant ship has been sunk in the whole of the North Atlantic" and that June was the "best month we have ever known in the war."

The announcement from London last Saturday that a great convoy recently crossed the Atlantic under continuous air protection - "the mid-Atlantic gap was filled by planes from a British carrier" - marked another step in the increased protection given to convoys.

A Stockholm dispatch said that the German Admiralty had been forced to withdraw at least part of its underseas fleet from the Atlantic shipping lanes to learn new techniques to combat the latest Allied counter-blows from carriers.

* * * * * 

Photo Credit - Radio Paris

From British United Press we read the following:

LONDON, July 5 - (B.U.P.) - Nazi propagandists have picked July 14 as their new date for an Allied invasion of France, their third prediction in six weeks, while Italian reports told of growing concentrations of Allied landing barges in the Mediterranean from Gibraltar to Cyprus.

In an obvious attempt to lower hopes in the occupied countries and buoy those of the germans by setting "invasion" dates and then mocking their failure to come true, the enemy-controlled Paris radio , which previously set June 22 and the eve of July 4 as the "zero hours", now forecast that the big attack would come on France's Bastille Day.

Indications that the German Propaganda Minister's efforts were ineffective were seen in a L.S.O.W.I. report of an editorial in the Belgian Nazi newspaper Bruesseles Zeitung that the course of the war was imposing a heavy "psychological burden" on the Axis because "never before has the enemy threatened us more and never has he seemed so prepared to accomplish his threats."

Italian Plans 

While the Germans hammered on the theme of a Western Front invasion, Nazi broadcasts quoted the aviation newspaper of Milan that Italian air scouts have spotted increasing Allied concentrations in the Mediterranean, particularly at Malta and Pantelleria.

The Swiss Newspaper, Zurich Dietats, reported in a dispatch from Rome that the Italians, alarmed by recent British announcements that "the sword of Damocles hangs over Rome," have begun to develop the capital's air defences, adding, "Rome now also is regarded as directly threatened not only by air but also by possible landings on the nearby coast. The famous fountain and monuments are hastily being protected by sand bags and the Romans have been forbidden to take their traditional seaside holidays."

Well-informed sources here said last night that the greatest Allied offensive operation of the war thus far - what Premier Winston Churchill called "amphibious operations of peculiar complexity and hazard" - is about to be launched against the Axis. It was stressed, however, that despite the openness of the preparations along the North African shore, there would be a large measure of surprise in the Allied attack.

Planning and Preparations January - July 1943: View of the dockside of
Sousse Harbour, Tunisia. Landing craft are loaded with vehicles and equipped
in preparation for the invasion. Photo Credit - Bundes Archive at Histomil

Meanwhile Allied and neutral reports told of continuing sabotage in the occupied countries.

Railways Hit

In Yugoslavia, Slovenian patriots destroyed eight railroad stations, wrecked three others, blew up two railroad bridges, and derailed a troop train, according to reports received by the Soviet information bureau here.

The B.B.C. yesterday quoted the secret Yugoslav radio as saying that the Yugoslav patriot groups which recently escaped from the Nazi encirclement in Hergovina and Montenegro now have reached the heart of Yugoslavia and are making notable progress along the railroad from "Sarajevo to Uxica," C.S.S. reported.

Premier Benito Mussolini, in a recent speech before the Fascist party directorate, admitted that the party has been purged of dissident elements  and warned that loss of the war would turn Italy into a fourth or fifth rate power, Axis broadcasts said today. The reports of the speech indicated that the party had to use strong measures to stamp out unrest in the face of threatened invasion.

Premier Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler
Photo Credit - Fascist Italy

A Transocean German dispatch broadcast by Berlin said Mussolini "advocated sharp measures against all those who jeopardize the moral unity of the nation". The purge Transocean said, was needed to discipline the party. The same dispatch reported steps by Mussolini to force industry and agriculture into line and said the Duce proposed "ruthless measures" to stamp out the black market.

"The cessation of work which occurred in some instances during March was brief and for economic reasons," Transocean said, possibly referring to a strike at Turin reported at the time. 

Mussolini said the fascists must realize they can't give up the war. 

"Either we win this war - as I firmly believe - together with our companions of the Axis - or else Italy will get a dishonorable peace which will degrade her to fourth or fifth rank among powers," he was quoted by Stefani (Italian) news agency in a Rome broadcast.

* * * * * 

The Montreal Star, July 5, 1943
Photo from Microfilm

About the Russian Guns we read the following:

LONDON, July 5 -(C.P.)- Preparations for a German attack in the Belgorod area northeast of Kharkov have been smashed by artillery and mortar fire with heavy loss to the Nazi forces, the Russian mid-day communique broadcast from Moscow and recorded by the Soviet monitor announced today.

The war bulletin reported only minor action had taken place in other sections of the front. "Several dozen" Nazi troops were killed in a night raid on trenches in the central front and a reconnaissance detachment was dispersed by machine-gun fire, the communique said.

North of Chuguev, 22 miles southeast of Kharkov, Soviet artillery smashed two self-propelled German guns which had been shelling Red Army positions, the bulletin stated.

Nazis Defeated

An attempt by a strong German punitive force to encircle a guerilla unit in the Leningrad area was smashed after several days of fighting, the communique said. Action which developed on the northeast front over the weekend, where the Russians said yesterday they had wiped out 800 of 2,400 tank-supported Elite Guardsmen who attempted to re-capture an important hill, has apparently subsided. The Soviet midnight communique described the action, which it said included two attempts to advance by the Nazis. From the Russian account of the battle it was presumed here that it took place in the Velikie Luki sector, about 90 miles from the Latvian border.

From the Berlin radio came reports that the Nazi High Command is convinced that recent Russian transport movements indicate that "a Soviet offensive now is to be expected almost any day." The German radio also confirmed the Russian announcement of fighting in the Velikie Luki area, but described the action as a Russian attack which had been repelled.

Air Losses

The Russian midnight bulletin recapitulated German and Soviet air losses for the week, declaring that Red Army fliers and anti-aircraft detachments had downed 66 Nazi planes against 18 Russian losses. The Russians also said in their midnight report that an enemy transport had been sunk in the Barents Sea above the Arctic Circle.

Guerilla activity continued in the Leningrad area, the midday communique said. It announced that a German train had been derailed, smashing the engine and four coaches. The killing of a chief of German intelligence office and the wounding of "another high official" when guerillas destroyed an automobile also was announced.

* * * * *

Cleaning Ad from The Montreal Star, July 5, 1943

From an editorial page comes the following, to Adolf Hitler:

From recordings of Axis radio trumpetings just a year ago:

July 8, Rome Radio: "Pantelleria's guns have disturbed the dreams of many who had basked in the pleasant belief of our impotence."

July 9, Rome Radio: "There is no more room for the British in the Mediterranean: they can neither cross it with their transports to Egypt nor efficiently threaten our transports to Libya."

Photo Credit - Nazi Propaganda**

July 16, Rome Radio: "Beaten up on the sea, Britain cannot maintain her control over her vast lands, and the entire building collapses bit by bit like an edifice which is unable to stand up against the march of time. In Egypt as in Russia, in the Mediterranean as in the Atlantic, the fate which as sentenced Britain's hegemony is the same. No event can possibly alter it."

July 11, Radio Zeesen: "No further proof is needed that the R.A.F. is utterly incapable of carrying out large-scale raids entirely with modern bombers."

July 13, Radio Hilversum: "The men who have won as often as german soldiers and their fellow-fighters are driven by an elan which moves mountains. Men, on the other hand, who have so many defeats as the British and their Allies, have no hope regarding their morale."

* * * * * 

The Montreal Star, July 5, 1943. Photo from Microfilm 

An article about 'The Gallup Poll' says the following, in part:

While it can't be definitely proven, it is doubtful if any great leader has enjoyed the confidence and support of so many of his countrymen, for so long a time and through so many changes of fortune, as has the doughty Rt. Hon. Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of Britain.

While satisfaction with the war effort of the British Government has ebbed and flowed in the British mind, satisfaction with Mr. Churchill as Prime minister has, even in the blackest days of the war, never sagged below 78 per cent  of the British people since the British Gallup Poll first started polling his popularity in late 1941. Latest results from the British Institute, cabled to the affiliated Canadian Institute, show that today Mr. Churchill's popularity with the British masses continues at the highest point in the Institute's a8-month record. No less that 93 out of 100 Britons polled express satisfaction with the job he is doing.

The question, put to a carefully constructed miniature of the British population, was this: "In general, do you approve or disapprove of Churchill as Prime Minister."

The Turn in the Tide of War

....Word from the British Institute also shows that the turn in the tide of war in favor of the United Nations has not changed the Britishers' opinion that Britain, America, Russia and China should form a Supreme War Council to plan and direct the war on all fronts. For many months, public opinion in Britain has favored such a step and today, 76 per cent of those interviewed continue to vote "yes" to this question, a majority which is virtually the same as was found some months ago, in a poll of Canadian opinion....

* * * * *

Prior to the invasion of Sicily the tide of war was turning in the Allies' favour, in spite of positive (and deceptive) radio broadcasts from Berlin. Many factors can be considered related to the turn. This last short article from the July 5 issue of The Montreal Star presents information about one of the factors:


Washington, July 5 - (A.P.) - United Nations aircraft production now is about three times Axis output, by the estimate of some United States Government officials, with American producers alone putting out nearly double the combined Axis total. The United States in May produced between 7,100 and 7,200 planes, with June production figures expected to show another increase.

By comparison, about 2,200 planes a month are estimated to be coming from plants in Germany, in Nazi-occupied countries and in Hitler's satellite nations. Japan is thought to be producing about 1,200 aircraft month and Italy around 600.

Victory Loans attempt to stamp out Axis leaders.
Photo Credit, The Comox Argus, 1944

*Jack's rib cage is starting to show beneath his shirt. This photo was likely taken after the invasion and the weeks spent on a subsistent diet and damp nights at The Savoy (a Sicilian cave near Avola).

**At 'Nazi Propaganda': "The key speeches were often announced by sirens and all work had to stop so all could listen to public loudspeakers. These were considered 'Important National Moments'. This meant that the Nazi party again through control could persuade and create support from the German people as they never heard anything bad about the Nazi party only good."

Unattributed Photos GH

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