Saturday, April 29, 2023

Research: Three Months in the Mediterranean, 1943 (5)

In the Early Morning Hours... the Allies Strike

From the Montreal Gazette, July 10 - 12, 1943

General view of one of the invasion beaches, with Italian prisoners
being made to remove barbed-wire in the foreground, 10 July 1943.
Please click here for more photos re Sicily landings


Readers who found posts entitled "Three Months in the Mediterranean, 1943" a week or more ago, covering details from The (Montreal) Gazette, July 1 - 9, may have wondered when I'd start sharing information about the actual invasion of Sicily, aka Operation Husky, aka D-Day Sicily. "Enough with the preamble. Where's the action? When do boots hit the ground?"

The headline below says it all. And for only five cents.

The invasion date was July 10, a Saturday, and not all the war correspondents - who witnessed the events of the days and then wrote about them - got their stories neatly typed up and sent via the Atlantic cable to their newspaper Editors back in Great Britain or Canada or the U.S. (etc.) in time to make the Saturday edition. But some did as you will see below. 

If there were news items published the next day, a Sunday (the Sabbath, the seventh day, a day of rest)... I haven't found them. But on Monday (!), the newspapers were as thick as a New York city phonebook. I say, good luck to all paperboys everywhere to get them folded and delivered by the usual time!

Please find below the news of the day, and the first half of the many items I found on the 12th, as well as links to other related stories and photos, especially related to our Canadians in Combined Ops - manning landing crafts near Noto and Avola, Sicily - who had their hands full from the get go in support of Monty's Eighth Army:

"Small crafts make small targets," said D. Harrison (RCNVR, Comb. Ops)
but the Luftwaffe stuck it to Allied landings anyway (north of Pachino)

Another map will follow with the July 12th news clippings, but the one below, from Londoner Clayton Marks' book, Combined Operations, will show where Canadian Army troops landed (left of Pachino and Cape Passero) with part of the British Eighth Army) and where members of RCNVR/Combined Ops manned four flotillas of landing craft (north of Pachino and Cape Passero) transported a goodly number of Monty's Eighth to shore with all of their supplies... for many days. (The ferrying of materials of war continued for approx. 4 weeks thanks to LCMs, landing craft mechanised, a workhorse of many landings during WWII).

Map from Combined Operations, page 76

And now, more news from The Gazette:

To me, after reading scores of news accounts of operations during WWII, it's understandable that Canadian war correspondents of all stripes mentioned the progress of Canadian Army troops first and foremost before touching on the role of the Canadian Navy. Once "boots hit the ground" correspondents were right behind them, sussing out a headline for their written account of the action. As we know, Ross Munro (Canadian Press, or CP) often hit the ground one second after the troops did. 

All that being said, readers who wonder how their father, grandfather, uncle(s), great uncle(s), etc., who was/were in the navy fared, would sure be happy to see the final two paragraphs above, especially those whose fathers, uncles, etc., were in RCNVR/Combined Operations and manned the landing crafts that delivered the troops and Ross Munro and all their essential supplies (all materials of war) to the beaches assigned.

Allow me to share again the second last paragraph in case you missed it:

Canadian seamen, including my father, began their "training in
manning landing craft" in early 1942, in England and Scotland

The Effingham Division volunteered (the first Canadian group to do so)
"almost to the man" for Combined Operations in Dec. 1941 when at
HMCS Stadacona, Halifax. X - Doug Harrison, front row seat.

British and U.S. ships stormed the Mediterranean Sea in July 1943. Canadian ships were in Canada, perhaps even then in short supply.

"Powerful air forces" did not initially command the skies in all areas of Sicily in July, but their presence was necessary to secure safe landings in many sectors:

As we know, Allied air forces worked together to gradually take more control of the skies over Sicily and the Italian peninsula during July, 1943. Members of the Royal Canadian Air Force saw action in Sicily, and my father, serving the GEORGE Sector at a beach in what is now known as Fontane Bianche* fortuitously ran into a few Canadians at an airstrip near his humble accommodation (a limestone cave) near the beach.

He writes:

One morning in Sicily I woke up in my hammock in our cave (the hammock was slung between two limestone piers and above the lizards) and I saw Hurricane planes taking off just a short distance away. We now began working eight hours on and eight hours off. When we were pretty well unloaded I decided, on my eight hours off, to investigate the air strip and, behold, they were Canadians with Hurricane fighters. I arrived about supper time and explained who I was and was invited for a supper of tomatoes and bully beef... Not that again!

“I have no mess fanny or spoon,” I said, and the cook told me there were some fellows washing theirs up and to ask one of them for the loan of their mess fanny and spoon. So I walked over, tapped a man’s shoulder and asked if I could borrow his equipment. The man straightened up and said “sure” and it turned out to be Bill Donnelly from my own hometown of Norwich, Ontario. I got my oppo, A/B Buryl McIntyre from the cave and did the vino ever run that night. Small world. So when we had had enough Bill crawled into his hole in the ground, covered himself with mosquito netting, and we headed back to the cave. Overhead, Beaufort night fighters were giving Jerry fighters and bombers hell. We felt the courage given us by the vino and slept quite soundly in our dank old cave ‘til morning rolled around again. 
"Dad, Well Done" page 34

*Fontane Bianche is 10 - 11 km north of Avola, which is in the lower right section of the Combined Operations map of Sicily above. The cave was close to not only GEORGE Sector but an Allied airfield. Perhaps I'll be able to track down the location of both during to my upcoming trip to Sicily.

The Montreal Gazette shares very good art pieces re WWII. How could I resist sharing this one of a fellow showing off his seamanship skills:

A few details re the artist, Grant Macdonald, can be found here

And now, a word from our Prime Minister:

"No R.C.N. ships participated... (there is a "possibility" that) Canadians in
in Royal Navy ships had taken part." And in Canadian
Landing Craft flotillas as well, I must add

On Monday, July 12, 1943, quite a few articles re the invasion of Sicily appeared in The Gazette:

"Canadians Land Practically Unopposed At Pachino" refers only to the members of the Canadian Army. Members of the Royal Canadian Navy Volunteer Reserve, while landing British troops (Montgomery's 8th Army) on the eastern shores of Sicily, were opposed by the Luftwaffe every two hours for three straight days in some sectors. Details follow the map below:

If (!), as the last paragraph above states, Allied planes were trying to make a home for themselves 10 - 15 miles inland, who was guarding the eastern shores where Canadians in Combined Ops (for example) were transporting troops and materials of war ashore south of Syracuse?

Lt. Cdr. Jake Koyle (RCNVR/Combined Ops) writes in memoirs:

Enemy Opposition -

When the transport ships arrived off the beaches at dawn small arms opposition had been wiped out by the assault forces but coastal artillery batteries inland were still firing, while a cruiser, destroyer and a monitor were bombarding from port and starboard wings of the anchorage. By 0730 all was quiet - terribly quiet. Everyone expected enemy aircraft from moment to moment and the anticipation intensified the stillness in spite of the intense activity, but it was not until 1130 that the first Italian fighter was seen flying low, hotly pursued by two Spitfires; and not until 1330 did a bombing attack develop. Then one bomber dropped a stick on the sector of "GEORGE" beaches worked by the 80th Flotilla, narrowly missing Lieut. Koyle who was on the beach at the time between an LCT (landing craft, tanks) and an LST (landing ship, tanks) which both suffered heavy casualties.

This is indeed one of the most extraordinary 'narrow escape' stories on record. Lieut. Koyle had beached forty feet from an LCT on the one side and an LST on the other. The larger craft, because of their greater draft, were further off the beach itself when a stick of three bombs fell immediately ahead of Lieut. Koyle's LCM. The LCT was destroyed and her entire personnel killed or fatally wounded. All the bridge personnel of the LST were wiped out. But in the little unarmoured LCM, no one was scratched.

The hands on the beach with beach lines to steady the craft were knocked down and Lieut. Koyle was blown back into the well deck, but the shrapnel passed over them. After such a severe shock, the LCM personnel deserve much credit for the rapid and efficient help they gave the LST's wounded, whom Lieut. Koyle removed to the hospital ship "TALAMBA".

It was with great relief that the troopers (troop ships, e.g., U.S. Liberty ships) who had landed the assault forces were sailed away. There was still a tempting assemblage of shipping off the beaches, perhaps fifty vessels, and the stores they carried were vital to the operation of the 8th Army now advancing towards Syracuse.

At 1530 the first serious air raid took place but a number of dive bombers and medium bombers achieved no success with attacks which were directed mainly against transports. From then on the blitz continued throughout the night and at frequent intervals during the next 48 hours.

Although the bombing attacks were so numerous, there were never many aircraft in any one attack - about thirty aircraft, mostly German, in the heaviest raids on "HOW" sector - and the raids were surprisingly unsuccessful. Not until the evening of the 11th was any ship sunk or severely damaged. Then, in a dusk attack, dive bombers selected a hospital ship lying lit up some distance to seaward of its transport anchorage and sunk her in twenty minutes. 

According to a record kept by a stoker of the 81st Flotilla, there were twenty-three raids on "HOW" and "GEORGE" sectors in the first three days.

Combined Operations by Londoner Clayton Marks, pages 176 - 177

Joe Watson (RCNVR/Comb. Ops) of Simcoe, coxswain on my father's LCM, shared information about the landings in Sicily (at GEORGE Sector) during a later interview:

Article was shared with me by Joe Watson's granddaughter, Simcoe area.
“We were bombed 36 times in the first 72 hours," Dad says in memoirs

And now, back to The Gazette. And for some reason one paragraph relating to the role of Canadians in Combined Ops has been highlighted - about 2/3s of the way down - by someone:

Conflicting accounts exist (re "negligible losses" above) related to the Allied gliders:

A signal came through, i.e., “Do not fire on low flying aircraft, they are ours and towing gliders.” What, in the dark? Next morning, as we slowly moved in, we saw gliders everywhere. I saw them sticking out of the water, crashed on land and in the vineyards. In my twenty-seven days there I did not see a glider intact. We started unloading supplies with our LCMs about a half mile off the beach and then the worst began - German bombers. We were bombed 36 times in the first 72 hours - at dusk, at night, at dawn and all day long, and they said we had complete command of the air.

We fired at everything. I saw P38s, German and Italian fighters and my first dogfights. Stukas blew up working parties on the beach once when I was only about one hundred feet out. Utter death and carnage. Our American gun crews had nothing but coffee for three or four days and stayed close to their guns all the time. I give them credit.

"Dad, Well Done" by D. Harrison, page 31

Back to The Gazette's account:

Everyone in the military, on sea or land or in the air, loves hearing that "the reinforcements are coming!"

Ross Munro, well-respected Canadian war correspondent, 'almost walked in' "four miles southwest of Pachino." I can hear Canadian sailors around the corner, northeast of Pachino, saying, "Hey... wait just a doggone minute"(!):

More to soon follow from July 12 and 13, 1943.

 Two 'old vets' have been mentioned above; centre, Clayton 'Red' Marks;
far right, Jake Koyle (former Lt. Cdr. of 80th Flotilla). 

Questions and comments can be addressed to Gord Harrison at

Please click here to view Research: Three Months in the Mediterranean, 1943 (4)

Unattributed Photos GH 

Thursday, April 27, 2023

Research: About a Trip to Sicily (1)

 My Father Spent Three Months in the Mediterranean, 1943

I Will Visit 80 Yrs Later, to Recall Operations Husky & Baytown

D. Harrison stole chickens from a Sicilian cook in 1943, near Messina
When I fly over, I will pay back his debt! ("How much are 6 chickens?")


As a member of RCNVR and Combined Operations (1941 - 1945) my father drove Landing Craft Mechanised (LCMs) during Operation Husky (Allied invasion of Sicily) - beginning July 10, 1943 - and Operation Baytown (Allied invasion of Italy at the toe of the boot) - beginning September 3, 1943. [His memoirs re those Allied invasions can be found on this site.]

In a few months I will travel to Sicily and the toe of Italy's boot to walk in his faint footsteps, see some of the very same beaches, the lovely horizon of the Med, Sicilian towns and cities, visit (hopefully) the same cave he lived in for 3 weeks during Operation Husky (if I can find it; I think I can!), and buy a few chickens to pay off a long-standing debt (i.e., 80 years old!).

When I go I'll do what I did while in Scotland, England, Halifax and Vancouver Island a few years ago. Meet a few people who share an interest in WWII history, visit RCNVR and Combined Operations sites (related to training or service), hit a pub or two that my father hit many years earlier, "paint the town brown" (his words), check out related museums, libraries, archives, and be thankful I can travel to such places and meet such people.

In Sicily I will travel to Avola (south of Syracuse SE corner) for certain. The city is close to the area that four 'Flotillas of Canadian Landing Crafts' transported British troops and all the materials of war to beachheads in support of those troops. The following maps will help me find my way:

Map re Allied landings as found in Combined Operations (a book re
the role of Canadians in Combined Ops) by Clayton Marks, London

Members of RCNVR/Comb.Ops like my father worked aboard landing
crafts on the east coast between Syracuse and Cape Passero. (Canadian
Army troops landed in southern Sicily, west of Cape Passero)

The map above puts my father, a member of the 80th Flotilla, somewhere near Avola. He mentioned the town or city in his memoirs but never mentioned the sector or beaches where he worked/served for four weeks.

Some of the members of the 80th Flotilla are listed upon a navy hammock.
Painter - S/Lt. Dave Rodgers. Hammock - W. N. Katanna, Leading Stoker.
Hammock as found at Navy Museum, HMCS Naden, Esquimalt B.C.

Though Dad never mentioned his location or sector (where delivery/unloading of supplies would take place) near Avola, his commanding officer provides important details in memoirs, as found in Combined Operations by Londoner Clayton Marks. 

Lt. Cdr. J. E. Koyle (D.S.C., RCNVR) writes: 

When the transport ships arrived off the beaches at dawn, small arms opposition had been wiped out by the assault forces but coastal artillery batteries inland were still firing, while a cruiser, destroyer and a monitor were bombarding from port and starboard wings of the anchorage. 

By 0730 all was quiet - terribly quiet. Everyone expected enemy aircraft from moment to moment and the anticipation intensified the stillness in spite of the intense activity, but it was not until 1130 that the first Italian fighter was seen flying low, hotly pursued by two Spitfires; and not until 1330 did a bombing attack develop. Then one bomber dropped a stick on the sector of "GEORGE" beaches worked by the 80th Flotilla, narrowly missing Lieut. Koyle who was on the beach at the time between an LCT and an LST which both suffered heavy casualties. Combined Operations, pg. 176 - 177

Thanks to Google and another paragraph or two from Lt. Cdr. Koyle about GEORGE, HOW and JIG Beaches - they were in close proximity, and the 80th and 81st worked closely together there - I poked around the internet and one day located the following map. GEORGE sector, north of HOW by about 1 - 2 miles, appears to be 5 - 6 mi. away from Avola. It also appears to be in a single location, not spread out along the coast in 3 locations like HOW. 

Koyle stated the following as well:

For the first eighteen days of the operation, all craft of the 80th and 81st Flotilla were kept in operation all the time. This was a remarkable achievement and the more remarkable when it is considered that the beach conditions, especially in "GEORGE" sector, were not ideal. Although there were few rocks and sandbars offshore, the gradient of "GEORGE" beaches was very shallow, and both sectors had soft sandy beaches so that it was impossible to avoid sucking up sand into the pumping system when the craft were coming on and off the beach.

Combined Operations, pg. 176 

Koyle not only kept his eye on both flotillas, he also had an eye for certain details. Now I know I'm looking for a curved bay with shallow gradient and "soft, sandy beaches. "

The 55th and 61st Canadian LCA* flotillas likely landed British troops in Bark
East zone, at NAN sector, at 3 designated beaches. The 80th and 81st flotillas
were made up of LCMs* and transported fuel, ammunition, food, lorries, jeeps...
(The Canadian Army landed in Bark West zone, at SUGAR and ROGER sectors.)
Map as found at Canadians at Arms (re Operation Husky)

*LCA - Landing Craft, Assault 
*LCM - larger Landing Craft, Mechanised

Thankfully (because a lot of beaches north of Avola will likely be soft and sandy!) I was able to track down more precisely where my father served with the 80th Flotilla. I located the following map, property of Bill Lindsay, 81st Flotilla, in one of my father's books re the Canadian role in Combined Operations. 

It is a treasure trove of fine details re particular ships, bays, beaches and coves,
and "soundings in fathoms" (if you are, say, a nautical person into fathoms).
Map or Appendix as found in St. Nazaire to Singapore Vol. 1, page 179

Whoever drew the map ("not to be used for ship navigation") has helped me find the exact location of GEORGE sector, a significant beach as far as I am concerned re my 'Dad's Navy Days.' As well, a great deal of information can be linked to some of the fine details on the map. Below I will just scratch the surface.

For example, a fathom is 6 feet (1.83m) in length, in this case depth. Flat-bottomed landing craft travelling in the direction of the arrows toward the beaches would only need very few feet of water in order to safely land ashore (and knowledge of the tides). But most craft larger than an LCA or LCM would require much deeper water to approach the shore. The dotted lines from left to right are numbered at 3, 5 and 10 fathoms and one will see much higher numbers off shore to the right. Six straight dotted lines may indicate where vessels were/could be stationed. E.g., At C1 is located Reina Del Pacifico (troop ship) for SNOL (Senior Naval Officer (Landing); at D3 is LST 368 (Landing Ship, Tanks); B3 is Mayo Brothers and C2 is Bigfoot Wallace (both U.S. Liberty ships), etc. 

Thanks to Mr. Google some information is available about the two Liberty ships just mentioned:

SS Mayo Brothers launching in New Orleans in December, 1942

[Mayo Brothers was launched by Delta Shipbuilding Co. in New Orleans. She represents the variety of fields and accomplishments of those for whom WWII Liberty ships were named. The SS Mayo Brothers was named for the brothers William and Charles Mayo, two of the founders of the group medical practice which would grow into the Mayo Clinic, devoted to patient care, research and medical education. The father of the Mayo boys and Civil War surgeon, William W. Mayo, would also have a Liberty ship named in his honor, the SS William W. Mayo, the following May. Post by Curator Kimberly Guise.]

Photo Credit for above two photographs - MARAD Vessel History

Other items on the map relate specifically to Canadians in Combined Operation and their flotillas of landing craft. For example, just north of A1 DILWARA (?) on the map one finds a notation re Empire Charmian (troop ship), and Talamba (Hospital Ship) "Sunk Sat. July 10/43."

My father had to be working nearby because in his memoirs he mentions taking wounded soldiers out to the Hospital Ship, and more. He writes: 

We had a hospital ship with us named the Alatambra (sic: Talamba) with many nurses and doctors aboard. She came in to about three miles in daytime and went out to seven miles and lighted up like a city at night. No one was to bomb a hospital ship and for many hours on end we took the wounded out to her, many being glider pilots with purple berets. Never a sound out of them, no matter how badly they were hurt. Mostly Scotch (sic: Scottish) soldiers.

HMHS Talamba. Sailing into harbour. 
Photo by Captain Ely, © IWM E 24034

My father continues:

One night we saw what appeared to be a tremendous bonfire in the east, offshore a long way out. In the morning, the Alatambra was gone (Lt. Cdr. Koyle says "the hospital ship (was) sunk at dusk on the 11th"), nursing sisters, doctors, wounded and all. Seven hundred and ninety were killed or drowned. The Germans had either bombed or torpedoed her that night. So goes war. ("Dad, Well Done", page 33)

My father's work sector was close enough to see the Talamba suffer fatal damage, so I think the bay in the top right corner of the enlarged map below (a piece of Bill Lindsay's map, aka "Appendix A"),  outlined in black (cf Green, Red and Amber beaches of HOW Sector, work area for the 81st Flotilla), is none other than GEORGE Sector, home of the 80th Flotilla for 4 weeks in July and early August.

Top right, GEORGE Sector, home of the 80th Flotilla, outlined in black
Note the shape of the "soft, sandy" bay and adjacent peninsula, directly south 

I think we have a perfect match of the exact area with a modern day Google map:

An enlarged Google map below reveals approximately the same amount of coast line as the larger Appendix A. Avola was mentioned by my father and it is about 10 km south of GEORGE Sector. (Avola and Noto were pencilled in, on Bill Lindsay's Appendix A, and I believe they are misplaced).

Using the distance guide (lower right with above map), the RED, AMBER and GREEN beaches of the 80th and 81st Flotillas stretch no more than 3 kilometres, and hiking trails are nearby. However, Avola is 7 km farther south, so I'll need to rent a bicycle or scooter while in Avola, southern Sicily to get to the area known as Fontane Bianche (GEORGE Sector). 

And what about the caves that members of the 80th Flotilla lived in for three weeks?

More to follow about Gord's trip to Sicily.

Please click here to view news articles from The Montreal Gazette - July, 1943 issues - about the Allied invasion of Sicily.

Unattributed Photos GH