Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Editor's Research: Operation Baytown (Italy WWII) (5)

The Invasion of the Toe of Italy's Boot, Beginning Sept. 3, 1943

Articles, Context from The Winnipeg Tribune, Sept. 4, '43

Are people of Sicily looking across the Messina Strait to the toe of the boot?
Photo Credit - The Winnipeg Tribune, Sept. 4, 1943, page 6


Operation Baytown began in the early morning of September 3, 1943. A heavy barrage was followed by invasion forces (Monty's Eight Army and the Canadian First Division) that crossed the Messina Strait (nervously at first, later rather peacefully) on landing crafts of all sizes, destined to disembark upon a ten-mile-wide, unopposed beachhead with Reggio di Calabria at its centre.

Significantly, Canadians troops were carried for the first time aboard Canadian landing crafts, i.e., the 80th Flotilla of LCMs. Many details re the crossings have already been shared in Part 4a and Part 4b of this series. Most details are from The Winnipeg Tribune (digitized), including stories by Canadian war correspondents, and several items are from rare sources, books containing stories written by veterans of WWII who were there at the time.

More details follow on D-Day +1, i.e., one day after disembarkation day, primarily from the same resources at our disposal, i.e., The Tribune and navy memoirs:

Read about the three Italian cities that were captured quickly below, and why the "sweep" was unexpectedly easy:

While the British and Canadian armies are making significant advances upon Italy's toe, as well as inland, reinforcements from Canada are landing on UK shores:

Those who are pressing for another Allied landing - this time "a full-scale invasion of Europe across the English Channel (e.g., northern France)" - will have to wait until June, 1944, nine months in the future:

Goering was wrong once, and he'll likely be wrong again

Before we read Ross Munro's article from Sept. 4 (designated as "Delayed" from Sept. 3, D-Day Italy), I share this brief piece from the previous day - dispatched to Canada from London - that indicates where Munro was on the 3rd. Please note the second sentence that begins, "If this indication is borne out..." 

Well, Munro's own article does indicate that the indication was in fact borne out! Now we actually know that he was in fact where somebody else said he was on the day of the invasion. Fourth times a charm?

Yes, I could have just let Mr. Munro speak for himself...

The blotched out word below refers to "the beaches of Pachino"...

Some readers can now likely guess why Munro's news re September 3rd, the day of invasion, was delayed. Yes, he likely spent a lot of time talking to "hundreds of troops", but then he'd have to sit down and do some typing. And when finished typing... he'd have to get his finished pages back to a location (perhaps by landing craft) where they could be transmitted in some way back to his HQ (censors would have to take a peek) and then to Canada (likely by underwater cable). It's complicated, and Mr. Munro wrote a column about the laborious process... and when I find it I will include it here : )

Sholto Watt, another fine, Canadian war correspondent (with The Montreal Star) adds his perspective, also designated as "Delayed".  

A few descriptive passages from other news articles by Mr. Watt,
including his view of Reggio on Sept. 2, 1943, can be found here

The answer to the question below is... Salerno, September 9:

Perhaps unbeknownst to the illustrator of the following editorial cartoon - also seen at top of page - his image would remind people who stood on Sicily's shore (Allied troops, Sicilian residents) and looked across to Reggio di Calabria (on the toe of the boot), that a victory bell had been rung.

And readers who are familiar with Sholto Watt's Montreal Star column from September 2nd, would perhaps sense a connection between his final words and the "First Light of Dawn."

Watt's final words:

And the next morning
in the hours of darkness,
I stood above the Straits and heard
and saw the shattering bombardment
which breached the first wall of the dungeons
and came to the ears of jailers and victims
throughout the prison of Europe.

The scene above actually looks a lot like what one would see when looking from Sicily's shore to the Italian mainland. Dorman H. Smith, the illustrator, was either lucky or had done his homework... or....?

Randolph Patton, also featured in the previous post, has more to say on the editorial page of The Trib:

Patton writes about Montgomery's progress "along 140 miles of coast... along the sole of the Italian boot," and suggests that if "the Germans are not present in strength" then "progress inland should be rapid."

There is evidence that some of the Canadians in Combined Operations, i.e., members of the 80th Flotilla, manned landing crafts that assisted in other long ventures along the coast.

In St. Nazaire to Singapore: The Canadian Amphibious War 1941 - 1945, Volume 1, we can read a short account by Ed Corbett (RCNVR, Combined Operations, 80th LCM Mark 3 Flotilla) about the landing in Italy and plans to move many miles "up (the) coast of Italy." 

He recorded the following in his diary:

Corbett provides many details in a short breath, and I will elaborate on a few:

Sept. 1. "Moving out today" - from Augusta, Sicily. 

Sept. 1. "We are landing in Italy and are to take (troops, materials of war) to Reggio Calabria. 926 guns, also naval guns (were on hand to bombard the Italian coast at Reggio).

Sept. 2. "Landed at St. Teresa, Italy" - Santa Teresa di Riva, Sicily (about 10 miles south of Messina).

Sept. 2. "Zero hour (for landing or disembarking Canadian troops) 0430" - 0430 coincides with the time given in a newspaper report entitled "Beachheads Established" in previous post, Part 4b.

Sept. 3. "We are making 42 mile round trip." - Though my father and Ed Corbett were members of the same flotilla, and there is some chance they travelled together at times, my father recalls a seven-mile trip from Messina to Reggio, or 14-mile round trip.

Sept. 4. "Was ashore in Italy." - the photos and captions below are attributed to Ed Corbett:

"First lunch on mainland Italy. Men of the 80th LCM Flotilla" Photo - Ed Corbett,
found in St. Nazaire to Singapore: Canadian Amphibious War, Vol. 1, pg 192

Photo - Ed Corbett, found in St. Nazaire to Singapore: Vol. 1, pg 192

Sept. 5. "...loaded troops for assault on town 150 miles up (the) coast of Italy" - based on Corbett's future mention of Salerno, the troop movement is likely related to the American and British combined operation on Italy's shin, not the sole of the boot as Patton described.

[Editor's Note - Ed Corbett and other Canadian members of RCNVR and Combined Operations were certainly used to long amphibious voyages. By landing craft they had travelled from Sicily to Malta after their work during Operation Husky was completed (i.e., related to the invasion of Sicily, beginning July 10, 1943); they had journeyed back to Sicily as well in preparation for the invasion of Italy, Operation Baytown, beginning September 3.

And in order to get to the Mediterranean Theatre of War in the first place, they had travelled 1,000s on miles aboard troop and cargo ships around the continent of Africa in order to enter the med via the Red Sea and the Suez Canal. 

Below is a Navy hammock with names of some of the members of the 80th Flotilla of Landing Crafts at work in Italy in September. Ed Corbett's name is seen in the left column and almost opposite is D. Harrison, my father. The hammock can be seen, by appointment, at the Navy Museum in Victoria, B.C.] 

Photo Credit - The Navy Museum, HMCS Naden, Victoria BC

"My first reaction after unrolling the hammock was to hold it to my nose.
It smelled like diesel fuel." Photo - G. Harrison, Editor. B.C. 2014

Sept. 5. "Hold town for three days until army reaches us." - sounds like a plan that includes the subsequent arrival of U.S. Gen. M. Clark's Fifth Army.

Sept. 5 - 6. "Cancelled... bad weather. Sailed for Messina." - sounds like Ed's services changed - for only a few days - from moving troops many miles northward to ferrying supplies to Italy's toe, closer at hand.

More details from Corbett's diary will be revealed in future posts.

And now, back to The Winnipeg Tribune;

The next post will share an article about how the Allies were putting a few hundred miles of Sicily's railroads to good use!

Meanwhile, on another war front, Mme. Chiang Kai-Shek inspects ruins in China's provisional capital;

And last but not least (also delayed!), Chips wins a major award.

More news to soon follow from the Monday paper, September 6, 1943.

Please link to Editor's Research: Operation Baytown (Italy WWII) (4b)

Unattributed Photos GH

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Editor's Research: Operation Baytown (Italy WWII) (4b)

The Invasion of The Toe of Italy's Boot, Beginning Sept. 3, 1943

Articles, Context from The Winnipeg Tribune, Sept. 3, '43

Headline on the day's 2nd edition. The Trib boasted 'up-to-the-minute' news


The EXTRA morning edition shared the first news with Canadians related to Operation Baytown (without ever mentioning the actual name of the invasion plans or operation), D-Day Sept. 3, 1943, at Reggio di Calabria, and surrounding areas on Italy's Toe.

Other operations were planned as well: Operation Avalanche would be the most difficult Allied landing on Italy's mainland at Salerno (a bit south of Naples), D-Day Sept. 9 on Italy's shin; Allied troops would soon land at Taranto, Italy's heel as well. So, more invasion news will be forthcoming. Stay tuned : )

Before the sun sets on Italy's toe, however, please find below news clippings from The Winnipeg Tribune (digitized) re a very significant D-Day involving not only Monty's Eighth Army but the Canadian First Division and many Canadians in RCNVR and Combined Operations aboard the 80th Flotilla of Landing Crafts (landing crafts, mechanised, aka LCMs).

The invasion forces crossed the Straits of Messina from a number of ports and coves and landed at Reggio and other towns, ports and beaches, e.g., Scilla and Melito. Once boots were on the ground, machines and fuel and guns and ammunition (and all other materials of war) followed in their wake in order to establish well-supplied beachheads.

Reggio, Taranto and Salerno can be seen on the illustration above.
Credit - Eclipse page 32, by A. Moorehead

News reports and photographs are from The Tribune (digitized) unless otherwise stated:

Above we read, "There was no mention of American ground forces taking part in the amphibious attack."

The American Fifth Army, commanded by Gen. Mark Clark, would be much in the news beginning on D-Day September 9 at Salerno 

In other paragraphs in the above report we read a few words about a Rome communique telling how German aircraft were effective against Allied convoys and "shipping in the roadsteads at Catania and Augusta," but that might be either false or a delayed report from a few days earlier.

My father writes about seeing German aircraft in one particular harbour in the days before the invasion at Reggio:

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.

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.

Page 113, "Dad, Well Done"

Though he may have started transporting goods and machines on an LCM out of Mili Marina, he eventually moved to a bombed out house (w no roof) north of Messina, as did many other Canadian sailors.

A Canadian LCM Flotilla Engineer officer recounts the following re D-Day Sept. 3:

Just after dark that night, September 3rd, we left the beach to join our appointed convoy of LCI's, LCT's and LCA's. This convoy was passing at a certain time close inshore but it was like a game of hide and seek to find them. This done, we proceeded up the coast to Mili Marina, where our particular boat was to pick up a Canadian Brigadier and his HQ staff.

The beaches along this part of the coast are paradise for landing craft with about a five to one slope, and were well marked with distinguishing lights. The time set for the final stage of the trip was 0300 (3:00AM). We knew the plan was to lay down a heavy artillery barrage from the island across the Straits of Messina.

Just as we turned from the coast to proceed due east to the Italian toe, the barrage opened up. And what a deafening roar! It was magnificent to say the least, and even a quarter of a mile off-shore we could feel the concussion from the guns. By the time we reached mid-channel a fog was settling down and this was turned into a good imitation of London's foggiest weather by the smoke from the exploding shells as we neared the coast. Navigation was difficult, but we managed to keep on the stern of our guiding M.L. (Motor Launch)

With all the racket, plus a general expectation of a heavily opposed landing we expected to hear enemy guns opening up at any minute. Nothing happened - we crept in closer - still nothing but the pounding of our own guns, then one of the Brigadier's wireless sets began to pick up messages. "Red beach unopposed" and later, "Green beach unopposed"! By this time we were able to dimly see the outlines of the hills through the smoke and fog.

Coming closer still, we could see the troops of the initial wave walking along the beach. By this time invasion craft of every description were milling about. What a sight! On the beach, while the troops were unloading, gay banter could be heard from the boats' crews. And so easy was the first permanent invasion of Europe!

How true Churchill's words proved, "We shall strike the soft under-belly of Europe!" Nowhere on the toe were the landings opposed by a single shot, nor was a single enemy plane in sight overhead. But there were planes, ah yes, the faithful Spitfires droned reassuringly as dawn broke.

This was but the initial landing in Italy.

Our next job was to act as ferry service across the Straits to keep a steady stream of vehicles and supplies to Monty's Men. This was first done from Teressa*(sic) and later from beaches north of the Messina harbour. In the latter place we were able to billet the Flotilla in houses close to the beaches.

*Santa Teresa di Riva, about 10 miles south of Messina

Page 100, Combined Operations by C. Marks, London ONT

Distance from north of Messina to Reggio is approx. 7 miles, one way

Readers - please note the last line above. The photo is from
Operation Husky, beginning July 10, 1943

The following photo, from another inline source, reveals Canadian troops coming to shore at Reggio di Calabria on September 3rd. Operation Baytown, Italy.

The Royal 22 Regiment landing on the beach at Reggio
di Calabria on the morning of September 3, 1943
Photo Credit - Italia 1943 altervista

Readers, please note that the above photo does not reveal the Allied army leaders
meeting on beaches of the Italian mainland, on Sept. 3rd or thereafter.

Perhaps before the Army leaders sat down for lunch at Reggio di Calabria shortly after the successful invasion, hearty members of the 80th Flotilla of Landing Crafts (RCNVR and Combined Operations) beat them to the picnic table first! 

"First lunch on mainland Italy. Men of the 80th LCM Flotilla" Photo - Ed Corbett,
found in St. Nazaire to Singapore: Canadian Amphibious War, Vol. 1, pg 192

News from The Winnipeg Tribune continues:

Future accounts re "Landings At Other Points," e.g., Taranto and Salerno, will be found on this site as well:

Taranto (heel) and Salerno (south of Naples, shin) can be found above

Over the 'Southern Wall' we go, Boys!

The heading on the next article may remind readers of some of P.M. Churchill's well-known words:

An informative editorial follows:

It is my understanding that Ross Munro, well-known Canadian war correspondent, landed at Reggio aboard an Allied landing craft (manned by Canadian sailors?) and his first report will be listed on this site asap, if it can be found:

Although the following article was on Page 1, just left of the major headline, I have left it 'til the end because of its good "sum up' for the invasion day:

More news and views will soon be forthcoming from The Winnipeg Tribune and Navy memoirs.

Unattributed Photos GH