Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Training for Combined Operations: "The Schuyts Were the Biggest Exercises Thus Far"

Training Prior to Dieppe Involving Canadians in Combined Ops

Exercise Schuyt 1 at Irvine Did Involve 'Surprises For Us Too"

H11177. A landing craft containing a Valentine tank being launched down the
slipway of a landing ship during combined operations training on Loch Fyne
in Scotland, 27 June 1941. Photo - Major W.G. Horton, War Office, IWM.
(Similar training took place at Irvine as well, Canadian Navy vets tell us...
and the ship may be HMS Iris or Daffodil, Landing Ships-Stern Chute)


While sharing photographs and related information about the Canadians who volunteered for Combined Operations in a series of posts entitled Photographs: Canadians in "Combined Operations" (meaning the book by Londoner Clayton Marks; parts 1 - 3 so far; link to Part 1), I came across a couple of related stories in a fine book I was referencing, i.e., St. Nazaire to Singapore: The Canadian Amphibious War, Volume 1.

Volume 1 and Volume 2 were compiled by David and Catherine Lewis and Len Birkenes, both men members of RCNVR and Combined Ops. The volumes, inspired by an earlier book, i.e., Combined Operations by C. Marks, contain many significant Navy veterans' stories and much writing and photos by David Lewis himself.

Five significant books were produced by four of the Canadian men above
More information about David Lewis and other authors here

Back, L - R: 'Gash', Clayton, and David Lewis (David wrote and collected
stories for St. Nazaire to Singapore (two lengthy volumes)
Front L - R: Doug and Al (full names are w top photo)

The next four photos relate to St. Nazaire to Singapore:

Readers who peruse Volume 1 using the link provided earlier will learn that the Dieppe Raid was the earliest actions in which a relatively large group of Canadian sailors were used to man landing crafts on enemy-controlled beaches. The raid at St. Nazaire ( read "The Greatest Raid of All" by Lucas Phillips, CE), a few months earlier in 1942 (March 27 - 28), employed only a few Canadians and is breifly documented in Lewis and Birkenes' book.

What follows from Volume 1 is a story by David Lewis related to early training, just prior to the Dieppe Raid, at HMS Quebec, near Inveraray, and at HMS Dundonald, near Irvine, Scotland:

Photo as found in St. Nazaire to Singapore, Vol. 1, page 41

After completing our initial training in Combined Operations boats at Hayling Island, HMS Northney, we entrained for Scotland and took the MacBrayne’s paddle-wheeled steamers from Wemyss Bay for the tourist trip to HMS Quebec at Inveraray.

Particularly for the first and second flotillas but also for the third and fourth later, there were time intervals between basic training and the more serious exercises leading up to major raids and invasions. Of these the largest exercises were Schuyt 1 and Schuyt 2. The name picked was that of a class of agreeable small Dutch vessels carrying cargo about the peace time European coast and river ways. A number had escaped the Nazis and now worked the British Coastlines.

Before these exercises there was a pleasantly relaxed time at Quebec with light duties due to recurrent breakdowns and shortages of boats. The elastic discipline of Combined Ops kept the men together at Inveraray. We waited to learn rope tricks and cliff climbing, the threatened characteristics of Commando activity, but found they were not in our job description after all. So Quebec turned out to be a lot less demanding than we had expected. In fact quite the contrary.*

[* Editor's Note: David Lewis was an Officer. Ordinary ratings would likely disagree with this assessment.]

Lewis continues:

Time was on our hands. Some of us went to have tea with the high-pitch-voiced Duke of Argyle. Some used Mill's bombs to fish his salmon streams, and climbed his mountains and explored his deer park land. The light casualties amongst his sheep were suspect. Some of us had leave with all the pleasant, exciting, and educating experiences of days in the British Isles.

But then we were called together. For a while we had our own ships to carry our landing craft about. They were strange creations indeed. HMS Iris and Daffodil were called Landing Ships-Stern Chute.

LCM being hauled up the slipway on HMS Iris. Photo: Royal Navy,
Imperial War Museum. (Compare with top photo of this post)

They were old Harwich-to-the-Hook of Holland ferries, each fitted out to carry rail cars. They are recorded as being armed with four six-pounders, five Oerlikons and five ancient Lewis guns to protect themselves and their precious cargoes.*

[*Lewis adds: This may have been to terrorize the enemy as I don't remember seeing any guns myself being mounted aboard in our time or later on. Reference: Allied Landing Craft of World War Two, Naval Institute Papers, Annapolis, MD., Fourth Printing, 1989. This book is the completest of all on the subject, factually and pictorially. Thanks to Clayton Marks who found it.]

For awhile they seemed as if they might be our vessels. They could carry thirteen LCAs
mounted on trollies - two per craft. The craft were picked up in the stern chute and hauled up onto the main deck and then, by a complicated switching system, made snug on three tracks on the covered deck. They took us to Irvine for the Schuyts.

Photo as found in St. Nazaire to Singapore, Volume 1, Page 50

The main excitement was launching the crafts by pushing them to the chute one by one and watching them race down the track and plunge into the sea, splashing up a great wall of water. Very spectacular but we couldn't quite crowd out of our minds the possibility that the LCAs would just keep on going down to Davy Jone’s Locker, though it never happened to us. I dread to think what would have happened if we had to launch in rough weather.

Our LCAs were then moored in Irvine Harbour on the Ayrshire coast. We were housed in Nissen huts and tents at HMS Dundonald. The pubs of the harbour were well used*. 

[*Editor's Note: Though David Lewis was their Officer, ordinary ratings would likely not disagree with this assessment.]

Lewis continues:

Our camp was surrounded by a barbed wire fence. Some enterprising matelots (sailors) found them penetrable, as recorded in one of our photos of the time. Len Birkenes and others went forth and back through the fence to enjoy Scottish hospitality.

Len Birkenes returning on Board at Irvine through a makeshift 
gangway. Photo: St. Nazaire to Singapore, Volume 1, Page 44

The Schuyts were the biggest exercises thus far manned by Combined Operations. In conception and organization they were planting the seed that matured on D-Day. The exercise troops were loaded from the mainland and great excitement was present since the beaches would be attended by dignitaries including King George Vl, Winston Churchill and our new chief, Lord Louis Mountbatten. They had assembled to witness The Shape of Things to Come.

Doug Harrison's account begins in the middle of the first dark night. We planned to surprise the enemy and of course there were some surprises for us too.

Pages 41 - 42

My father Doug Harrison's account follows:


It was so damn dark. “Keep closed up!” I can still hear Andy Wedd’s voice to this day. (I am glad I saw him shortly before his death.)

At the night exercise the time of arrival was midnight. The crew was Koyl, Art Bailey, Stoker Lank and his pail (Willard Lank was always chewing kelp), and myself, with a full complement of English soldiers. Believe me, these fellows were sick soldiers. Bailey and I lashed ourselves down as best we could and emptied the helmets as the soldiers handed them up. Destination or landing, I don’t remember. Troon (Scotland)? I can remember two perimeter lights vaguely in the distance.

We were perhaps headed south and it was rough (all of this is true). Our craft ran aground on a sand bar. Koyl ordered everybody - Bailey and I and himself - overboard to look or tread for deeper water. First we tried rocking the craft in conjunction with the motors. No luck. Wandering in sea boots, underwear, duffel coats, I fell into deeper water (which wasn’t too cold fortunately) and hollered, “Over here, sir!”

So we worked our asses off to free the ALC and we were successful. The soldiers helped to rock the craft. Koyl’s fuming, “We are going to be late!” And he is flotilla commander. Bailey and Koyl were able to get aboard. I wasn’t and they drove off and left me out in the water.

I was scared, But I felt I knew Mr. Koyl. I discarded all my clothing but uniform pants and underwear, found a sandbar and waited it out. They made their landing eventually but.... How is he going to find me (this is unbelievable)? I thrashed my arms, swam on my back for short stints to maintain circulation and after an eternity I saw an Aldis lamp blinking.

Motors were cut, then revved up, then cut. Koyl had a fair idea perhaps but I don’t know how he knew where to locate me. Eventually our voices came reasonably close together. I was caught in the light of the Aldis lamp and picked up after one and a half or two hours waiting. My hands were all wrinkled. I felt all in.

When we returned to Irvine (a few miles north of Troon), Koyl, Bailey and I hurried to a local pub (now known as the Harbour Light). We were given hot porridge, rum and our clothes were taken to be dried and we were wrapped in blankets. All of this help came from ladies. It was late afternoon before we left the pub - Royal Sovereign or King George?

I was a very lucky fellow. In the darkness Koyl and Bailey took awhile before they missed me. I didn’t really know what went amiss but the fact that the landing had to be made on time was uppermost in Koyl’s mind.

St. Nazaire to Singapore, Volume 1, Page 46

Full caption with photo: The Public House, the King’s Arms, where the Skinner
family revived Doug Harrison and the rest of Jack Koyl’s boat crew. They used
hot drinks, hot porridge and hot blankets. Pub’s name has been changed,
perhaps in honour of the occasion to “The Harbour Light."

Editor’s Note: I believe the photo and caption above were added to my father's story by David Lewis, creator of St. Nazaire to Singapore Vol. 1, to help clarify the name of the Scottish pub. 

I add this note for the same purpose: I visited Irvine, Scotland in October, 2014 and visited both the long-standing Harbour Lights (formerly known as the Victoria Hotel) and King's Arms Hotel. The Harbour Lights was formerly owned by John and Mary Burns, and the King's Arms Hotel, owned in 2014 by the Scott family, was formerly owned by the Skinners, a family both mentioned by David Lewis and my father (in another story) as the ones who helped out the tired ALC crew. So, of all the names tossed about, the King's Arms Hotel is definitely a good fit, but its name was never changed "in honour of the occasion." So, a bit of mystery remains re where Dad was served rum, porridge, etc.

More about the Dieppe Raid has been listed under click on Headings in right margin.

Also related to Dieppe, please link to Photographs: Canadians in "Combined Operations" (Part 3).

Please note, Part 4 of the above series will follow on this site shortly.

Please email Editor with questions or comments at gordh7700@gmail.com

Unattributed Photos GH 

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