Friday, June 30, 2023

Articles: London Man Creates Online Archive (re Combined Ops)

Little Known Stories of Canadians in Combined Operations

Building His Website For Almost Seven Years

Eight Ontarians from the first two divisions of Canadian sailors who volunteered
for Combined Ops, at HMS Northney, Hayling Island, England, in February 1942.
Left to Right: Al 'Addy' Adlington, London; Joe Spencer, Toronto; Chuck Rose,
Chippawa; Doug Harrison, Norwich; Art Bradfield, Simcoe; Don Linder, Kitchener;
Joe Watson, Simcoe; Jake Jacobs, Ontario. (Submitted by Gord Harrison,
with permission from Joe Spencer)


The following online news article about my Combined Operations site came about after I contacted CBC reporter Angela McInnes prior to Remembrance Day November, 2021. I called, Angela answered, and I commenced to provide a few details re the archive. She was interested, called back later for a lengthy interview and the rest is history. Part of the interview became part of CBC Radio coverage of Remembrance Day (I've been told that I have a great face for radio!) and the online story became part of CBC News website

It follows below:

London, Ont., man creates online archive uncovering little known stories of Canadians in Combined Operations

Gord Harrison has been building his website for almost seven years

It began in November 2010.

Retired elementary school teacher Gord Harrison, 72 (at time of interview), was sifting through a filing cabinet of written material left behind by his late father, Doug.

Doug had written numerous columns for his hometown's newspaper, The Norwich Gazette, throughout the 90s. For a time, he had served as president of that area's Legion. Harrison's hope was to add something pithy for his own community newspaper column dedicated to that year's Remembrance Day.

Instead of a quote, Harrison discovered a brown Manila folder he hadn't seen before. Inside were 45 pages of handwritten notes detailing Doug's career as a volunteer reservist for the Canadian Navy during the Second World War.

Before then, Harrison thought he knew everything there was to know about his father's life during that time.

Canadians in Combined Ops 'at their ease' aboard ocean-going vessel with their
landing crafts hanging from davits. Left to Right (back): unknown; C. Powers;
Lloyd Evans, Ottawa; Don Westbrook, Hamilton. Left to Right (front): Don
Linder, Kitchener; unknown; Doug Harrison, Norwich (From the collection
of Lloyd Evans. Submitted by Gord Harrison)

"I actually thought he was in the Merchant Marine, and that was a big mistake," said Harrison. "He had a different type of career than I imagined. Natural curiosity took over."

According to Harrison, Doug was one of a small percentage of Canadian men enlisted in the Royal Canadian Navy Volunteer Reserve who took on special duties in Combined Operations in the 1940s.

The Combined Operations Command was a British offensive organization combining the army, navy and air force.

From 1941 to 1945, Doug took on duties that included landing craft or barges directly on hostile shores during dangerous raids and invasions of North Africa, Sicily, Italy and Normandy, France. He wasn't a part of the Dieppe Raid, but many of his contingent were, including Londoner Lloyd G. Campbell.

"[My father] was so angry. He had lost his mates, you know, and I think that survivor's guilt and anger lasted a long, long time," said Harrison.

A Canadian flotilla of landing crafts approach Valetta's Great Harbour, Malta
after the invasion of Sicily; Photo taken in August, 1943. (Submitted by Gord
Harrison, with permission from Joe Spencer)

As Harrison pored through his father's stories, he decided to research the background of Combined Ops and share what he learned in the form of a blog. He's been posting regularly since February 2015.

"It's helped me form this vision in my head of what history is like," said Harrison. "It's like a jigsaw puzzle that's alive.”

The website has helped him to connect to veterans and memoirists as far as Scotland and Sicily. As part of his research, Harrison has traveled across the country several times to visit the Combined Operations training school on Vancouver Island.

His work led him to find a previously unseen photo of his father belonging to the Imperial War Museum. It also helped to reconnect him to his father's lost duffel bag, which had wound up in the hands of a collector in Ottawa.

"He just typed in the name that was on the duffel bag and the volunteer number, and it led him to my website," said Harrison. "It was kind of a happy occasion on Father's Day of this year."

Gord Harrison, son of Doug Harrison, happy to open this gift on Father's Day,
2021, from a collector of militaria. The collector had purchased an assortment
of military items many years ago in Hamilton and it included Doug Harrison's
WWII navy duffel bag. It depicts film star Betty Hutton in a bit of Navy blue.
(Submitted by Gord Harrison)

Most recently, a filmmaker reached out to Harrison for help in researching the invasion of Italy. Harrison's father was involved in that operation for 30 days.

He plans to make a trip overseas to share what he's learned about what it was like for the Canadians who landed crafts on those beaches.

"It's a feeling of accomplishment," he said. "I'm kind of in the story. My dad's in the story. It's kind of nice to be able to have that connection between my dad and I."

My trip to Sicily is upcoming. I will easily find GEORGE Beach at modern day Fontane Bianche and perhaps be also able to locate the cave in which 50 - 60 Canadian sailors survived for a few weeks during Operation Husky (beginning July 10, 1943, 80 years ago this month). 

If I find the cave (aka 'The Savoy' to Canadian sailors) readers will learn about it here first. Unless it hits CBC News!

[Please click here to learn more about research re my trip to Sicily (1)

Stay tuned, I say.

Please click here to view another article that features details about Combined Operations.

Unattributed Photos GH 

Saturday, June 24, 2023

Photographs: Invasion of Sicily, July 1943 (2)

 Imperial War Museum (IWM) Has 1,000,000 Photographs...

(Surely!) Just From the Invasion of Sicily, July 1943

If you lived today in Caltanissetta, "a city in the heart of Sicily," you
would be reminded of the ferocity of battle for the island during WWII.
Photo: Used with permission of Fabrizio Sergi, Film Director, from Santa
Teresa di Riva, 2023 (Very rare, i.e., not from the Imperial War Museum!)


As I continue to share posts of the battle for Sicily (Operation Husky, beginning July 10, 1943), using news clippings from The (Montreal) Gazette, a few photographs from various sources are also included... but their quality is usually very poor, especially when compared to the vast collection of excellent photographs available at the IWM.

So, I will occasionally share, as below, high quality shots found under various headings that compliment the flood of clippings already provided (with many, many more to follow).

Heading - THE BRITISH ARMY IN SICILY 1943 NA 5924 IWM 1/1
 Private Stanley Davis of 5th Seaforth Highlanders rides a pack mule with a
swastika emblem branded on the mule's neck, 16 August 1943. The animals were
now being employed by 51st Highland Division in the hilly terrain near Mt Etna.
(Above are three separate links: Please click on Heading, Sgt. Drennan,
and No. 2 Army Film and Photo Section (etc.) for more excellent shots)

The back side of photo NA 5924 (Credit IWM 3/3)

Before Pte. Stanley Davis (or Davies) found his mule, there's the possibility he'd first hitched a ride to shore aboard a Canadian landing craft, i.e., either the 55th or 61st Flotilla of Landing Crafts, Assault (LCAs). And after the initial landing, all of his supplies - right down to the last bullet he ever fired in Sicily - were delivered to shore via the 80th* or 81st Canadian Flotillas of Landing Crafts, Mechanised (LCMs). 

In St. Nazaire to Singapore: The Canadian Amphibious War 1941 - 45, Volume 1 (page 144) we read the following:

From Force G Conference Report by Acting Cmdr. K.S. Maclachlan, RCNVR
(5th Seaforths is part of the 51st Highland Division)

*Doug Harrison (my father), of Norwich ONT was a member of the 80th Flotilla

The Drive for Messina 10 July - 17 August 1943: Troops of the German XV
Panzer Grenadier march through undergrowth in the Sicilian Mountains,
August 1943. Creator - German official photographer MH 6301 IWM 

Heading - THE CAMPAIGN IN SICILY 1943 - NA 5286 IWM
The Drive for Messina 10 July - 17 August 1943: A panoramic view of the 
Catania Plain. Through the mist in the distance is Mount Etna. Gladstone (Sgt)

General Montgomery stops his car to talk to Royal Engineers working
on a road near Catania, 2 August 1943. Gladstone (Sgt) 

A Bishop 25-pdr self-propelled gun of 142nd Field Regiment firing, 27 July 1943.

Universal carriers of the 6th Inniskillings, 38th Irish Brigade, 78th Division
in Centuripe, August 1943. Gade, Richard Felix (Captain)

An article by Canadian war correspondent Ross Munro tells us about the action a few weeks before the photo above was taken:

Note to Self: When I pack for my trip to Sicily in July (beginning one month from today!) be sure to pack an umbrella. 

More photographs from the Imperial War Museum follow:

Signaller W. Bale working on his jeep using an umbrella for shade, 23 July 1943.

8. Heading - THE CAMPAIGN IN SICILY 1943 - CNA 1098 IWM
The Drive for Messina 10 July - 17 August 1943: The first Royal Air Force 
Supermarine Spitfire lands at an airfield, converted from a wheat field,
watched by Sicilian farmers who are working on the harvested wheat.

Heading - THE CAMPAIGN IN SICILY 1943 - NA 3947 IWM
Planning and Preparations January - July 1943: A DUKW amphibious vehicle
is loaded onto a landing craft at Sousse Harbour. The Sicilian Campaign was
the first to use the American DUKW* and it proved vital in maintaining the supply
link between the sea and land based forces. Creator - Dawson (Sergeant)

*DUKW is the GM manufacturer's code based on D indicating the model year, 1942; U referring to the body style, utility (amphibious); K for all-wheel drive; and W for dual rear axles. )Called a “duck,” the vehicle was shaped like a boat.)

FYI. If used appropriately, the DUKW could prove "vital in maintaining the supply link between the sea and land based forces" as mentioned in the caption with the above photo. However, if misappropriated...

Headline (This Just In!): Ducks Misappropriated by Yanks

From address to Maritime Museum of Vancouver, 1995, by Lt. Cdr. L. Williams,
RCNVR. (re Operation Avalanche, the invasion of Italy at Salerno, Sept. 9, 1943)

From St. Nazaire to Singapore: The Canadian Amphibious War, page 199

Lesson learned?

Heading - THE CAMPAIGN IN SICILY 1943 - CNA 1293 IWM
The Drive for Messina 10 July - 17 August 1943: Chandelier flares light up
an Allied airfield during a night raid by Axis bombers. Bombs are bursting and
a column of smoke rises into the night sky from a fire. Creator - Daventry (F/O)

Heading - THE CAMPAIGN IN SICILY 1943 - NA 5130 IWM
The Drive for Messina 10 July - 17 August 1943: A huge dump of German
Teller mines captured by the Americans near Roccopalunba during their drive
on Palermo. Creator - Whicker (Lt)

Heading - THE CAMPAIGN IN SICILY 1943 - NA 5543 IWM
Operation Husky: The Sicily Landings 9 - 10 July 1943: An Airborne
Division Horsa glider, after landing off course nose down in a field near
Syracuse. Although unsuccessful in achieving their primary objectives, the
Airborne forces did cause considerable disruption behind the lines.*

*"considerable disruption" and considerable destruction to glider pilots, materials of war, and all those on board. These things went hand in hand.

In memoirs my father writes about July 10, 1943 (D-Day Sicily):

"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....

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."

From "Dad, Well Done" page 31

In St. Nazaire to Singapore, Volume 1 (a collection of WWII Navy/Combined Ops veterans' stories re WWII) is found the following photograph and excerpt from page 181:

And who towed the decomposing bodies, "mermen in the greeny blue depths... over to the landing beach?" Men like my father, with landing crafts at HOW and GEORGE Sectors, July 1943. 

One of the new, larger landing crafts, a Landing Craft (for Infantry, Large (LCI(L), first used at Sicily, I believe:

British troops go ashore from an infantry landing ship, 10 July 1943. 

The last two recent photos are used with permission from Fabrizio Sergi, Film Director, from Santa Teresa di Riva, Sicily, as a reminder that the effects of WWII are lasting in many ways:

More photographs and news from 'the Med' to follow shortly.

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

Unattributed Photos GH

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

War Correspondents: Canadian Writers - Sicily 1943 (Parts 1 - 3c)

The Canadian Army Came Into its Own in Sicily, Summer 1943

Canadian Correspondents Were There to Tell Us "All About It!"

Ross Munro and several other writers cover the bases in Sicily during the
early days of action, e.g., July 13 - 15, 1943. Photo taken in Modica.
MIKAN 3578062 Library and Archives Canada (Ottawa)


The well-visited series assembled to share some of the work of war correspondents (Canucks!) during WWII will soon grow to include many stories by Lionel Shapiro of The (Montreal) Gazette,  along with a few news ones I've located by the remarkable Ross Munro.

Why tackle The Gazette (re Canadian Forces in Sicily) when I've already researched/shared The Winnipeg Tribune, Ottawa Citizen and Montreal Star?  Because 'it's there,' and because a few hundred Canadians in RCNVR and Combined Operations, including my father Doug Harrison, served in the Mediterranean for three months (approx., July - Sept. 1943) and the more news I can discover about their adventures, the better, in my humble opinion : )

"If there's 12, where are the other two fellas?" Soon to follow : )
Photo Credit - The Winnipeg Tribune, July 28, 1943

The five entries already completed can be accessed by clicking on the 5 links provided below:

1. Canadian Writers - Sicily 1943 (1)

2. Canadian Writers - Sicily 1943 (2)

3. Canadian Writers - Sicily 1943 (3a)

4. Canadian Writers - Sicily 1943 (3b)

5. Canadian Writers - Sicily 1943 (3c)

More will be added to this series shortly. Stay tuned.

For more good articles by Canadian writers related to the invasion of Sicily, please visit a (to be) lengthy series re news clippings from The (Montreal) Gazette, beginning with entries from early July, 1943. E.g., Research: Three Months in the Mediterranean, 1943 (10)

Unattributed Photos GH 

Friday, June 16, 2023

Research: Three Months in the Mediterranean, 1943 (10)

 The Allied Forces Continue to Drive Northward in Sicily

"Happy Italians Quit in Droves" Says Ross Munro

Civilian resident of Misterbianco, near Catania, paints the slogan ‘Viva
England’ on a wall after the village had been occupied by the Eighth Army
From Photos re The Drive for Messina 10 July - 17 August 1943
 © IWM NA 5450

A view of the back of the first photograph. Photo Credit - Drennan (Sgt)
© IWM NA 5450


The action will be hot - but not always heavy - for 3 - 4 more weeks, i.e., during the invasion of Sicily and as British, Canadian and U.S. troops make their way to Messina, their ultimate destination on the north-east corner of the island. German and Italian forces will make many a day and many a mile a tough haul, though we will often read that Italian forces did not have much fight in them.

First, the headline from The (Montreal) Gazette, one of Canada's leading newspapers of the War Years:

"It's all downhill from here?" 

Though "the exact position of the Canadians had not been disclosed," I have a pretty fair idea where many members of the 80th and 81st Flotillas of Canadian Landing Crafts (i.e., LCMs or Landing Craft, Mechanised) were working, bringing all the materials of war to shore on the eastern coast of Sicily.

The 80th and 81st Flotillas served at Red, Amber and Green Beaches
in the HOW and GEORGE Sectors, between Gallina in the south and
Fontane Bianche in the north of the above map. Research, Part 1

"Italians surrendering in droves..." seems to be the order of the day:

When Canadians in Combined Operations took part in the invasion of Italy (e.g., at the toe of the boot) beginning in early September, some mention staying in a house "with no roof." Below we find out what likely happened to the roof:

A few of the Canadian sailors serving on the eastern shores, at the bridgeheads "the Luftwaffe (were) concentrating on" (mentioned above), share in memoirs that the Luftwaffe attacked on a regular basis ("every two hours" said more than one) for the first three days, as the building up of supplies was paramount. 

My father wrote the following:

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.

Ephus P. Murphy’s pet monkey went mad and we put it in a bag of sand meant to douse incendiary bombs and threw him over the side. The Russian Stoker on our ship, named Katanna, said Dieppe was never like this and hid under a winch. Shrapnel and bombs just rained down.

"Dad, Well Done," page 31

Drew Middleton's article concludes:

Another fine contribution is made by one of Canada's leading war correspondents below. And the contribution of Canadian troops was very, very good as well, as this article ends with high praise for their efforts:

Photo Credit - Imperial War Museum

Though 'Monty's Men' are mentioned in the headline, this type of article reminds us there is a number of battle fronts in the midst of hot and heavy action:

Catania is a major port city on the eastern coast of Sicily, and high on the list of Allied war planners for capture and them immediate use. The article that follows focusses on the "BIG BATTLE DEVELOPING":

Screenshot from "Advancing on Catania". A link to video follows.

Please click here to view a video (7min:28sec) entitled "Advancing on Catania" produced and then issued by Grumant-British News in August 1943. A short summary is provided:


A map illustrates the advance to Catania, images of battle aftermath abound, guns are fired in Lentini, Yugoslav men work among the wreckage, soldiers distribute food to hungry Sicilians, Italian prisoners are searched, fighting carries on in the streets of a small village, the Primsola Bridge is captured from German paratroopers before they can blow it up, a corn field burns, medics assist the wounded, and soldiers splash and bathe in a stream.

"Warning. Booby-traps in Houses. Keep Out!!" (8 seconds of action!)

A 'good news' story follows:

Canadians who served in Combined Operations in the 80th and 81st Flotillas (of landing craft) witnessed the the British hospital ship mentioned above (HMHS Talambra) being bombed before it sunk off the eastern coast of Sicily. 

As found at Wikipedia -

One can see the Talamba listed amongst the ships lining up to be unloaded at HOW Beaches in the map (Appendix A) below:

Many of the ships listed are U.S. Liberty ships, e.g., Mayo BrothersBig
Foot Wallace... Found in St. Nazaire to Singapore, Volume 1, page 179
Please click here to read an entry on this blog/website entitled Story re Combined Ops, "Revenge for HMHS Talamba"

I have several books and accounts re the Dieppe Raid, a few by men who were there (e.g., by AB Al Kirby, RCNVR/Combined Operations from Woodstock, ONT) and I will soon search AbeBooks* to see if Wallace Reyburn's account is still available:

*AbeBooks has links to 'fine' used copies, starting at $84 US, incl. shipping
(which is a bit cheaper than driving to Alexander Books in Ancaster, ONT)

From the editorial page of The Gazette:

RAF and RCAF were soon working together near GEORGE Beaches (home to the 80th Flotilla of Canadian Landing Crafts for approx. 30 days). Not mentioned below, but my father walked from 'The Savoy' (a cave near GEORGE Beach) to the closest Allied airfield about 2 - 3 km. away, for supper and vino, at least once:

Sailors living at 'The Savoy' would say, "Send mail... and food!"

Yugoslav men were mentioned in the video shared earlier (i.e., "Advancing on Catania") and they are again (below), along with "Polish Conscripts", some of whom were unable to "find words German enough to express their delight in being captured." Confused? Read on:

Did you know that Canadian troops could make things go 'Poof'?

Ross Munro, Canadian war correspondent, makes good stories
and headlines. Photo below is from an earlier post in this series

In this series, the above photograph is getting
a lot more mileage than the jeep!

More news clippings from The (Montreal) Gazette soon to follow.

Please click here to view Research: Three Months in the Mediterranean, 1943 (9)

Unattributed Photos GH