Thursday, March 23, 2023

Research: Three Months in the Mediterranean, 1943 (4)

 Extra! Read all About! Clippings from The (Montreal) Gazette, 1943

D-Day Sicily Will Arrive in the Shape of a Huge Allied Armada

Armada to Sicily: Allied invasion ships set out July 3-10, 1943, on board the sloop
HMS Alynbank, in convoy. "Part of the huge Allied convoy on their way to Sicily."
Photo - Lt. E. E. Allen, Royal Navy Official Photographer © IWM A 17903


The largest armada in history (up to that date) will soon make landings at several locations upon Sicily's eastern and southern shores. The armada will be accompanied by airborne forces as well, in the form of heavily loaded gliders and regular bombardments. Most of the inhabitants of the island will not be happy to withstand the rigours of war upon their land, but will have to endure losses of all kinds and magnitudes, to their families, friends, homes, properties and more. 

Below please find several timely news clippings from The Montreal Gazette, issues from July 8 - 9, 1943. Useful links will be provided to other newspaper clippings, information from Canadian memoirs, and good quality photographs:

Sicilian airfields were obvious targets, leaving Italian and German forces to wonder when and where the Allied armies would land. They would not have to wait long. 

Got plans for this coming Saturday? You might want to reschedule.

And where, in fact, were Allied forces to attack "the soft under-belly of Europe" (Churchill's words)?

"In 1943, two brilliant intelligence officers conceived a plan that was dubbed Operation Mincemeat. They would trick the Nazis into thinking that Allied forces were planning to attack southern Europe by way of Greece rather than Sicily." (From back cover of the book below.)

"The plan - get a corpse, equip it with misleading papers concerning the invasion,
then drop it off the coast of Spain where German spies would take the bait."

Operation Mincemeat is reported to have had some success, and was depicted in a movie that premiered in 2021:

Operation Mincemeat is a 2021 British war drama film directed by John Madden. It is based upon Ben Macintyre's book on the British Operation Mincemeat during the Second World War. The film stars Colin FirthKelly MacdonaldMatthew MacfadyenPenelope WiltonJohnny Flynn and Jason Isaacs. This was Paul Ritter's final film appearance, and was dedicated to his memory.

The film had its world premiere at the 2021 British Film Festival in Australia, and was released in the United Kingdom on 15 April 2022 by Warner Bros. Pictures. It was released on Netflix in North American and South American countries on 11 May 2022. 

See Wikipedia for more details.

Speaking of movies that have a connection to World War II and (indirectly) to Canadians in Combined Operations....

950 - 1,000 Canadian sailors (RCNVR) volunteered for Combined Operations (C.Ops.) during WWII and took part (most, like my father, by manning landing crafts) in Operation Jubilee (Dieppe raid), and Operations Torch, Husky, Baytown, Avalanche, Neptune, etc. (invasions of N. Africa, Sicily, Italy - at Reggio and Salerno - Normandy France, and more) from 1941 - 1945. Most returned from the war in one piece, partly related to the fact that landing crafts, though often first to the beach, make small targets. 

A small handful of the sailors must have arrived in Europe a short time ahead of other early volunteers to C.Ops. because they somehow snagged (or were snagged for) a role in "the greatest raid of all time" (so says a book by that name, re Operation Chariot), i.e., a raid on a significant dry dock, the largest in Western Europe close to the Atlantic, at St. Nazaire, France, in March, 1942. One sailor's name was John O'Rourke (Lt., RCNVR), and by a pleasant coincidence someone with the same last name appeared in "At Dawn We Die", as mentioned in the caption to the movie's photo above.

In St. Nazaire to Singapore: The Canadian Amphibious War 1941 - 1945 (a two-volume compilation of stories by WWII RCNVR/C.Ops. veterans) John O'Rourke writes the following:

As found in St. Nazaire to Singapore (Vol. 1), page 37

Published in 1995, approx. Collection of Doug Harrison (RCNVR, C.Ops.)

Please link to St. Nazaire to Singapore (Vol. 1), shared by the University of Calgary (Alberta, Canada), to read more about John O'Rourke's experiences at St. Nazaire. Click here, then go to pages 35 - 39. 

Below are two items from The Gazette's editorial page:

More than a few articles in various newspapers (Allied countries) expressed the belief that Berlin and Rome would fall... shortly. The positive momentum that many felt based on victories, for example, in North Africa, lead to the belief in ultimate victory. And when did the Allies enter Rome? June 1944, almost on the same day as D-Day Normandy. And when did they enter Berlin? Almost a year later. 'Positive momentum' is a force to be reckoned with, is it not?

More eyes are on Rome:

Faithful readers - by now, after over 8 years of posts - might come to expect that I will share almost any article that relates to the Canadian Navy. I admit, they'd be right. Especially if there is some connection to 'Canadians in Combined Ops', 1941 - 1945:

The first two groups (drafts) of Canadian sailors to volunteer for Combined Operations came from HMCS Stadacona in late December, 1941. More followed after that, making a group of up to 950 - 1,000 sailors, likely from various Navy bases across Canada. The early groups to volunteer would have been surprised at how large HMCS Cornwallis was compared to Stadacona, that is, if they ever saw the site, or ever knew about it.

From the Navy records of my father Doug Harrison, Norwich, Ontario.

My father moved from Hamilton Division 1 (later know as HMCS Star), to HMCS Stadacona, Halifax, then to HMS Quebec, near Inveraray, Scotland (No. 1 Combined Ops Training Camp), in early 1942. Like the rest of his division, he made his way to Inveraray after a short stint of being introduced to landing crafts at HMS Northney (camps 1 - 4) on Hayling Island, off the southern coast of England, east of Southampton.

The Effingham Division, first draft to Combined Ops, HMCS Stadacona, 1941

Eight Canadian sailors, RCNVR and Comb. Ops., at HMS Northney, Feb. 1942
L - R: Al Addlington (London), Joe Spencer (Toronto), Chuck Rose (Chippawa),
Doug Harrison (Norwich), Art Bradfield (Simcoe), Don Linder (Kitchener), Joe
Watson (Simcoe), Jack Jacobs (town unknown). Brick barracks were formerly for
vacationers. "The toilets froze but the dining room was warm. We survived."
Photo is from the collection of Joe Spencer, 2nd from left. Used w permission

More details about early training on landing crafts can be found here. Questions or comments about the training undertaken at HMCS Stadacona and then at Northney and Quebec can be sent to Gord Harrison @

Now, back to news from The Gazette:

My feeling is that merchant seamen often had a thankless role to play

More news about D-Day -2 (July 8, 1943), from another newspaper, can be found here.

Below please find a few items fromJuly, 1943, aka D-Day -1, Sicily:

Observers could not be blamed for thinking that "a tremendous weight of bombs" dropped upon Sicily's airfields would give the Allied game away. And they'd be right. But the Allies could attack in many places, and a few diversions and deceits (e.g., Operation Mincemeat) had been thrown into the mix, as well as bombings in other areas as a lead up to D-Day Sicily:

Though the Dieppe Raid took place 11 months earlier (approx.), it remained in the news for many years after:

More news from 'the Med', including D-Day Sicily and D-Day Italy (three locations in September!) to follow shortly.

Please click here to view Three Months in the Mediterranean, 1943 (3)

Unattributed Photos GH

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Photographs: Armada to Sicily, July 1943 (2)

 "Three Months in the Mediterranean" Series Develops

With Significant News Stories and Sharp Photographs...

...And the occasional informative, though perhaps unsettling, painting.
Learn more about artist Edward Ardizzone at Imperial War Museum


As a way of drawing attention - in the year 2023 - to the upcoming 80th anniversary of (and events related to) the Allied invasions of Sicily and Italy in July and September respectively in 1943, during which four Flotillas of Canadian Landing Crafts were significant participants (i.e., the 55th, 61st, 80th, 81st Flotillas of LCAs and LCMs), I will share many related news clippings and photographs on this site. My main sources will continue to be The Montreal Gazette for 'news of the day' and the Imperial War Museum for photos... and the occasional painting.

Please click here to get a taste of news articles re Allied advances:

Research: Three Months in the Mediterranean, 1943 (3)

Below please find 12 related photographs by Lt. H. A. Mason, Royal Navy Official Photographer, as found at the Imperial War Museum:

© IWM A 17958. Description - Operation Husky: The Sicily Landings 9-10 
July 1943: Scene in the early morning as the invasion fleet closed in to land
troops, tanks and guns during the start of the invasion of Sicily.
Photo Credits - Lt. H. A. Mason, Royal Navy, IWM

© IWM A 17948. Description - Operation Husky: The Sicily Landings 9-10
July 1943: An army anti-aircraft officer pointing to a map with a stick whilst
three other soldiers look on whilst they are at sea on board HMS HILARY
at dawn of the first day of the invasion of Sicily.

© IWM A 17969. Description - Rear Admiral Sir P. Vian with his Chief of Staff,
Captain Everett, RN, during the Sicily landing operation.

© IWM A 17945. Description - Operation Husky: The Sicily Landings 9-10
July 1943: A small section of the vast armada of ships which took part in the
invasion of Sicily as photographed from landing ship headquarters HILARY
at dawn of the first day of the invasion of the island.

© IWM A 17952. Description - Canadian troops who were among the first to land.

© IWM A 17947. Description - Operation Husky: The Sicily Landings 9-10
July 1943: Staff Officers of Combined Operations having an informal talk
during leisure moments at sea on board HMS HILARY at dawn of
the first day of the invasion of Sicily.

© IWM A 17966. Description - Operation Husky: The Sicily Landings 9-10
July 1943: Out of the war, a group of prisoners waiting to leave Sicily
during the start of the invasion of the island.

© IWM A 17951. Description - Canadian troops who were among the first to land.

© IWM A 17954. Description - Operation Husky: The Sicily Landings 9-10
July 1943: Landing craft going ashore in early morning during the start
of the invasion of Sicily.

© IWM A 17967. Description - Warships of the Royal Navy
shelling gun emplacements (HMS ORION).

© IWM A 17950. Description - Over the sea in a Bosun's Chair, just before the
Canadian troops started their landing on the beaches of Sicily, it became
necessary to transfer Major J M Robinson, Canadian Staff Officer, from
HMS HILARY, to the destroyer HMS WHEATLAND, seen underway.

© IWM A 17953. Description - Captain A. T. Sesia, Historical Officer, and
Major C. W. Gilchrist, PRO, of the 1st Canadian Division,
discussing the attack.

© IWM Art.IWM ART LD 3385. Description - Image: a track running through
an orchard with a stationary tank on the right. Two bodies lie at the side of the
track and the ground is covered in debris. In the centre of the image is
a group of injured or exhausted soldiers sitting under a tree.

On 21 July 1943, Brigadier-General Rennie's 154th Brigade attack Gerbini airfield, spearheaded by 7th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. The defences they attack include deep wire, machine guns and tanks. After three hours the objective is taken, but casualties are heavy. Meanwhile, on 1st Canadian Division's front throughout the day, the men of Tweedsmuir's force at Assoro beat off German counter-attacks. Ardizzone was present and recorded the events in his diary: 'Go forward and get involved in not too pleasant a battle. The approach to the ridge,'ware mines. Tanks on the road, many dead, wounded under cactus hedge, the burning corpse. Tanks burning and blowing up in an almond orchard.' Several sketches used to produce this work accompany the diary entry (IWM ART LD 7580 [A]).

Extended caption: "The orchard and the surrounding country were the scene of very bitter fighting on the morning of 21st July. Our objective had been taken only to be lost again to a German counter-attack. Casualties were heavy."

In 1943 Ardizzone understood that an invasion of Europe was imminent and, with the help of his friends in the 50th division, landed at Sicily in July of that year. His experience there was very different to that of Egypt, as this drawing demonstrates. He witnessed close-quarter fighting and the bleak aftermath of war. Battle in an Orchard of Almond Trees in Sicily is a rare example of his wartime work which shows corpses. Ardizzone acknowledged that his style was not so suited to scenes of violence and even less so to places that had been deserted of people entirely. He tended to focus on the gentle and more humorous aspects of the subjects in his drawings.

Please click here to view Photographs: Armada to Sicily, July 1943 (1)

More photographs soon to follow.

Unattributed Photos GH

Monday, March 20, 2023

Research: Three Months in the Mediterranean, 1943 (3)

 Early Days in 'the Med'. But Surely the Canadians are Coming!

An Opinion Piece about the Dieppe Raid. (Debate Continues!)

Object description: Bathed in sunlight, part of the invasion armada in line ahead,
leaving Alexandria bound for Sicily. Note the barrage balloons above the ships.


We know that Operation HUSKY - the Allied invasion of Sicily - will soon start, i.e. beginning in the early morning hours of July 10, 1943, 3 and 4 days after the news clippings below hit the bustling streets in Montreal. 

And 'if or when' Canadian sailors in the RCNVR and Combined Operations (C. O.) are mentioned in a clip (C. O. was a British organization for which approx. 950 - 1,000 sailors volunteered to handle or man various landing crafts beginning in December, 1941, including my father), you'll be the first to know. 

Warning: The news clip does not even need to contain a direct reference to these Canadians. An indirect reference will do, for certain. Even the slightest of references, e.g., something like "a British sailor on a troop ship off the coast of Sicily saw a couple of unidentified sailors fishing from the back of a nearby ship." It could have happened!

Surely he would have shouted, "Blimey, don't you know there's a war on?!?" Really, it could have happened.

You see, my dad (who wrote a lengthy piece about the early hours of the Allied landing near Avola, Sicily) mentioned in passing that while LCAs (landing craft, assault) were landing British troops on the tenth (Monty's Army), he had an hour to himself before LCMs (landing craft, mechanised) were launched from davits on the Pio Pico (a Liberty ship)...... so he went fishing. 

Royal Navy and RCNVR sailors kicking tires on an LCM. A 12063
Caption: Landing Craft Types. Inveraray, Scotland, October 1942.
LCM (3), front view with ramp down. Photo Credit - IWM

Doug Harrison writes:

July 10, 1943. We arrived off Sicily in the middle of the night and stopped about four miles out. Other ships and new LCIs (landing craft infantry), fairly large barges, were landing troops. Soldiers went off each side of the foc’sle, down steps into the water and then ashore, during which time we saw much tracer fire. This was to be our worst invasion yet. Those left aboard had to wait until daylight so we went fishing for an hour or more, but there were no fish.

"Dad, Well Done", page 31

Really, how bad was the food on the Pio Pico anyway?

[More about the early hours of the landings in Sicily can be found here.]

I shared the article below (but not in full) in the previous entry. After reading it more closely I felt some readers might enjoy the entire piece by Hanson Baldwin. So before I share items from July 6 - 7... here's an item from the 5th:

The last full sentence from the lengthy article above (especially, "upon the events of the next two or three months will depend the course and duration of the war") seems to highlight the same time period with which I am concerned in this series of research entries entitled "Three Months in the Mediterranean, 1943." 

Many key events will slowly unfold and the Canadians in Combined Operations will be kept very busy:

The last two paragraphs above, from an Allied correspondent's POV, provide a couple of interesting, perhaps apt, descriptions of the role the island of Sicily played in the POV of an Axis war planner. 

Firstly, we are informed that Sicily is "a triangular shield for the Axis defence of southern Europe." And the shield will apparently be a tough nut to crack.

Secondly, "the enemy Sicily is valuable - to both Axis and Allied forces - as an unsinkable aircraft carrier" because of its location re the transport of troops and all materials of war. Because of its location Sicily had been on the footpath of many warring nations throughout history. The forces of war were not strangers to the island of Sicily.

The people of Sicily might have to this day an understanding of the effects (and/or side-effects) of war that few others would have.

And now a word from the makers of modern day Rogers Cable TV???

What's that around his neck? Early Rogers Communication Systems?
Photo - Special Collectors Edition, Legion Magazine, Winter 2023

The 'Dieppe Experiment' is recalled by the first (now former) Director of Combined Operations:

. . . . in other words, if I may be so bold (concerning the last paragraph above), the second running of the Dieppe Raid (Operation Jubilee) should have been cancelled just as had been the first running (Operation Rutter) about five weeks earlier.

Hitler's aim was always just a bit off!

Commando raids did not go out of fashion after Dieppe. Quite to the contrary. The history of the Commando is quite extensive and can be linked to Crete and - just a wee bit later - Sicily:

Please click on the link below to view more news items related to July 6, 1943:

Landing craft massed in Bizerte Harbor for the invasion of Sicily. Third Division
troops march aboard, 6 July 1943. Photo Credit - U.S. Army in WW2, Pg. 109

Context: Sicily Blasted as Operation HUSKY Nears

July 6, 1943 - WW2, Allied News Sounds Positive

And now we move on to July 7, 1943, also known as "D-Day minus 3" or "D-Day -3":

Regular readers will understand when I say I include news articles that relate to Allied land, sea and air forces but my main focus/interest relates to the Canadians (RCNVR) who played a significant role in Combined Operations. Yes, I am my father's son.

That being said, I have been fortunate to find some special articles that relate to a Canadian airman who not only flew a Spitfire in 'the Med' but made a significant sighting during a recon flight over Italy in September, 1943. More details* momentarily...

* details - FO John Anthony Vasicek (RCAF Spitfire) described a rare sighting, made a significant report (a "first"), but never returned home after his last recon flight. I had the pleasure of meeting his younger brother a few years ago. Link - Editor's Research: FO John Anthony Vasicek RCAF

Photo from the collection of Charles and Bessie Vasicek

Another rare, home-grown Canadian story:

Lord Keyes has something to say about "a commando enterprise (that) was cancelled - see paragraph 1 below- on the eve of sailing for Italy...":

Note to self: Look for Keyes' book - Amphibious Warfare and Combined Operations - at my favourite used book store!

FYI - re to the headline atop the above map, i.e., "The Backdoor to Europe." One of the war correspondents for The Montreal Gazette, already featured in earlier posts in this series, wrote a book soon after his tour in 'the Med' was over entitled "They Left the Backdoor Open". More information about the excellent book by Lionel S.B. Shapiro can be found here.

And now more about a Montreal M.D. as found in The Montreal Gazette:

Finally, something about the Canadian Navy! And yes, they are on the way to Sicily as well! 

That being said, though the article directs praise toward the R.C.N. contribution re Operation TORCH, the invasion of North Africa, the Canadians (RCNVR) in Combined Ops are not mentioned. I have something to say about that... later:

Editor's Note: I would say that approximately 200 more Canadian sailors should be added to the "cold statistics" mentioned in paragraph one, above. Though the sailors did not man "the diminutive fighting craft" mentioned in paragraphs 4 - 5 (likely referring to corvettes), they manned other small, speedy, essential crafts, e.g., LCAs (landing craft, assault) and LCMs (landing craft, mechanised) while transporting U.K and U.S. troops and all their materials of war to shore at and near Oran and at other beaches in Algeria.

Members of RCNVR and Combined Operations participated in landings
during Operation TORCH (beginning Nov. 8, 1942) east of Oran as part
of the Center Task Force, and farther east at and near Algiers.

Canadian sailors, manning LCAs and LCMs landed U.S. Rangers east of Oran, at Arzeu, as part of the 'Oran Eastern Landing Group' (see the top of the right side on the map below).

The map above is from the book below:

My father writes the following in memoirs:

My group (many from Effingham Division, HMCS Stadacona, Halifax, Canada) went through much more training at H.M.S. Quebec (No. 1 Combined Operations Training Camp, Inveraray, Scotland) and then we entrained for Liverpool. Prominent pub was The Crown in Wallasey. We left Greenock in October, 1942 with our LCMs aboard a ship called Derwentdale, sister ship to Ennerdale. She was an oil tanker and the food was short and the mess decks where we ate were full of eighteen inch oil pipes. The 80th and 81st flotillas, as we are now called, were split between the Derwentdale and Ennerdale in convoy, and little did we know we were bound for North Africa.

The Effingham Division, HMCS Stadacona, November 1941. One year
later these sailors were in N. Africa, volunteers in Combined Operations

I became an A/B Seaman (Able-bodied) on this trip and passed my exams classed very good. The food aboard was porridge and kippers for breakfast, portioned out with a scale. We would plead for just one more kipper from the English Chief Petty Officer, and when he gave it to us we chucked it all over the side because the kippers were unfit to eat.

We had American soldiers aboard and an Italian in our mess who had been a cook before the war. He drew our daily rations and prepared the meal (dinner) and had it cooked in the ship’s galley. He had the ability to make a little food go a long way and saved us from starvation. Supper I can’t remember, but I know the bread was moldy and if the ship’s crew hadn’t handed us out bread we would have been worse off. We used to semaphore with flags to the Ennerdale to see how they were eating; they were eating steak. One of the crew cheered us up and said, “Never mind, boys. There will be more food going back. There won’t be as many of us left after the invasion.” Cheerful fellow. However, we returned aboard another ship to England, the Reina Del Pacifico, a passenger liner, and we nicknamed the Derwentdale the H.M.S. Starvation.

In the convoy close to us was a converted merchant ship which was now an air craft carrier. They had a relatively short deck for taking off, and one day when they were practicing taking off and landing a Swordfish aircraft failed to get up enough speed and rolled off the stern and, along with the pilot, disappeared immediately. No effort was made to search, we just kept on.

One November morning the huge convoy, perhaps 500 ships, entered the Mediterranean Sea through the Strait of Gibraltar. It was a nice sun-shiny day... what a sight to behold.

U.S. troops climb into landing craft, manned by Canadians, from Reina Del
Pacifico during landings in North Africa, Nov. 1942. Photo credit - IWM

On November 11, 1942 the Derwentdale dropped anchor off Arzew (sic) in North Africa and different ships were distributed at different intervals along the vast coast. My LCM had the leading officer aboard, another seaman besides me, along with a stoker and Coxswain. At around midnight over the sides went the LCMs, ours with a bulldozer and heavy mesh wire, and about 500 feet from shore we ran aground. When morning came we were still there, as big as life and all alone, while everyone else was working like bees.

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 for some grapefruit juice I stole.

“DAD, WELL DONE” Naval Memoirs of G. D. Harrison, pages 23 - 25

Doug Harrison (centre) watches as troops and ammunition come ashore on LCAs
at Arzeu in Algeria during Operation TORCH, Nov., 1942. Photo credit - IWM

American troops landing on the beach at Arzeu, near Oran, from a landing
craft assault (LCA 26), some of them are carrying boxes of supplies.
Photo Credit - Imperial War Museum (IWM)

Editor's Final Note: The last news article shared above described the role of Canada's Navy in the following way:

I do not disagree with its description as a "flyweight" or the work often being the "tedious, thankless, escorting task of the convoy." I would just add a bit to 'Her role.' Canada's Navy was not only "protecting the supply line which nourished the British divisions," it was an active, significant (and often over-looked) link in the actual supply line, one that delivered U.S. and U.K troops and all their materials of war to many beachheads, sometimes fuelled by no more than stolen grapefruit juice.

And that their role was oft over-looked is likely related to this numerical fact. Only about 950 - 1,000 members of RCNVR (officers and ratings) volunteered for Combined Operations, out of all those who volunteered (95,000 - 100,000) for the RCN and RCNVR during WWII. 1 per cent of the Navy is a pretty thin slice of the overall role of Canada's Navy.

That being said, since the 1% had front row seats in several raids (including St. Nazaire and Dieppe) and Allied invasions (including Operations TORCH (N. Africa), HUSKY (Sicily), BAYTOWN and AVALANCHE (Italy), NEPTUNE (Normandy, France), and more), their collected stories are an invaluable piece of World War II history. 

(Questions or comments can be addressed to me at

And now back to The Gazette:

More to soon follow from The Med, and from The Montreal Gazette.

Please click here to view Research: Three Months in the Mediterranean, 1943 (2)

Unattributed Photos GH