Saturday, October 7, 2017

Presentation: November 8, 2017 (1).

About 75 Years Ago.

[Canadian sailors, after two years in Europe. Circa Dec. 1943]

old sailors,
sons and daughters will not desert you....

My father, second from left (above photo), and his mates (all members of RCNVR during WW2) returned to Canada from war-torn Europe in December, 1943. They had steadfastly trained for and served during the following raids and invasions - Dieppe, North Africa, Sicily and Italy.

Because they volunteered for Combined Operations after completing their RCNVR training schedule in Halifax in late 1941, they were whisked away to the UK to be trained to drive assault landing craft (ALCs) and mechanized landing craft (LCMs) containing Allied troops and all the materials of war - from ship to shore, to the right beach at the right time, come Hell or high water - for days on end when needed.

About 1,000 Canadian men grew skilled in handling various small, speedy crafts in all conditions. "Landing crafts made small targets," said my father, but as eye-witnesses to the chaos and carnage of war, their many stories loom large today.

I will present some of their stories, memories, prose and poignant thoughts about World War II at Landon Library in London, Ontario on November 8 (the 75th Anniversary of the invasion of North Africa, 1942), beginning at 7 PM. Please join me there.

old sailors,
sons and daughters will not desert you,
and your stories will unfold.

you will stand throughout the ages
until all your tales are told. 


For more details, please link to Presentation: All Background Notes - Dad's Navy Days

Photo GH

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Memoirs: William Eccles, at D-Day Normandy Pt. 2

"We Anchor Offshore.... and Watch the Show"

William Eccles and mates enjoy some 'R and R' aboard LCI(L) 295

Mr. Eccles' mate (far left in top photo) ready for action
Photo credit - From the collection of Reg Eccles


The Allied invasion of Normandy, France began on June 6, 1944 and included the participation of Canadians in Combined Operations (members of RCNVR in many cases) aboard Landing Craft, Infantry (Large) (aka LCI(L).

Preparations for D-Day Normandy, known as Operation OVERLORD (and Operation NEPTUNE when considering just the naval side of the total plan) was a massive undertaking. Plans included, on the part of Canada, the construction and manning of 30 LCI(L)s to move troops and materials of war ashore on the west side of the British Zone, as seen in the map below, as found on page 232 in St. Nazaire to Singapore, Vol. 2.

Countless men and weapons of war were landed and assailed the coastline of France in hopes of overpowering and defeating Axis Forces and ending World War II.

In St. Nazaire to Singapore, Vol. 2 one can read a few more details about the men and work of the LCI(L)s, including LCI(L) 295 - upon which William Eccles and his mates served - one of seven large landing crafts part of the 264th Canadian Flotilla.

For example, from page 227, we read the following about an incident that occurred during a particular day of training near Southampton, right beside Eccles and landing craft 295:

The Mine Incident Outside Weymouth

By John T. Corcoran, AB, RCNVR (LCI(L) 310, 264th Flotilla)

One morning, during manoeuvres, we were the lead ship in the port column in the line ahead formation. It was a perfect day, the sun was out, not a cloud in the sky.... I must admit, it was a sight to behold, Canadian, British and American LCI(L)s alternating from the line ahead to line abreast in single and double formation....

Suddenly the bow lookout (Corcoran) acted very strangely, jumping up and down, waving his arms....

Then we saw it - 30 yards ahead - an ugly mine three quarters submerged. Only the top and horns out of the water....

The craft was sluggish on the port turn and LT Campbell in the LCI(L) 295 was close on the starboard side.

Then we hit it, not a glancing blow on the side, but dead centre on our wide flat-bottomed bow. The force of the blow must have loosened every rivet in our superstructure, but the mine did not explode. Thank Goodness!

But that was only the beginning of our troubles....  

(Please click here to read the rest of the story).

Eyewitness accounts and photographs provided by William Eccles of day to day action aboard LCI(L) 295 are very valuable, as well as rare and illuminating. More from William's journal and photo collection are provided below.

From June 6, 1944:

Below is the view of the coastline from LCI(L) 295. A Landing Craft, Tank (LCT) can be seen approaching the beach east of Arromanches, France.

Troops disembark from LCI(L) 305 of the 264th Canadian Flotilla. To its right is LCI(L) 295, with gangplanks almost ready for disembarkation of troops. LCT 555 is far right, bow still up:

A portable dock, aka Rhino bridge (I believe) is used by troops and trucks for faster disembarkation:

More from the journal of William Eccles, from D-Day +3:

More to follow.

Other details related to events that occurred after D-Day are provided in Part 1.

Please link to Memoirs: William Eccles, at D-Day Normandy Pt. 1

Unattributed Photos GH

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Articles: Sicily, August 3 - 11, 1943 - Pt 14.

Near the End of Canada's Days in Sicily

Allied troops close to Messina. Canadian Navy boys are about done.

Canadian Army boys hand out biscuits. Happy days.
Photo credits - The Winnipeg Tribune, Aug. 3 1943


Members of the Canadian Army and Navy would not have crossed paths more than a few times - if at all - during the invasion and 'clean up' of Sicily.

Beachheads and supplies (food, fuel, ammunition, new weapons, clothing, mail, etc.), delivered by ship and transported to shore by some Canadians in RCNVR and Combined Operations, were concentrated in the southeast corner of Sicily, e.g., south of Syracuse on the east coast. And the battle front was moving slowly - as were Canadian troops -  toward the northeast corner of Sicily, toward the city of Messina, just a few miles away from e.g., Reggio de Calabria on the toe of the boot of Italy.

Canadian sailors were days away from receiving orders to exit "The Savoy" (limestone caves, i.e., their accommodation, near Avola, south of Syracuse) and transport their landing craft to Malta for rest, recuperation and repair. (Members of the Canadian 80th Flotilla of LCMs would participate in the invasion of Italy, about one month away).

About the last days on Sicily, August 1943, my father (of RCNVR and Combined Operations) writes:

One morning in Sicily I woke up in my hammock in our cave (the hammock was slung between two lime-stone 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.

After approximately 27 days I came down with severe chills and then got dysentery. I was shipped to Malta on the Ulster Monarch.... (Page 34, "DAD, WELL DONE")

Avola and "The Savoy" are near Noto, lower right of map.

My father's commander, Jake Koyl, writes the following about the same time period in his memoirs:

Life Ashore -

The conditions for men ashore off duty varied. The 81st Flotilla Officer, Lieutenant Mullins, went ashore on the second day, after a day of ferrying high octane gas through air attacks, and managed to arrange with the Army for the billeting and feeding of his men at a rough camp about three minutes walk from the beach.

The 80th did not fare so well and had to fend for themselves. They found, after living and feeding from ship to ship until the 21st of July, a cattle cave near the beach, which provided shelter but was uncomfortable and dirty. Both Flotillas lived mainly from Army "Composite" rations and what meals they could get from merchant ships they were unloading.

However, there were compensations. After things settled down, there were frequent opportunities for visiting nearby Sicilian towns, and sampling (to say the least) the local wine, Vino. Leave expeditions were organized to Noto (15 kilometres away) and to Syracuse, where the Canadians patronized the Fascist Armoury which contained all manner of war trophies....

The LCM's were kept on the job for longer than had originally been planned. Port demolitions, as the Press has reported, were not very complete but they were very awkward. Bollards had been destroyed and obstructions in the water also hindered ships in coming alongside so that most of the unloading had to be done by LCI(L)'s while the ships lay at anchor in the crowded harbour, a perfect air target. Therefore a greater volume of stores had to be taken over the beaches. This proved unexpectedly difficult in the last days of the operation when ships were unloading into LCM's bulky cargoes originally intended for discharge onto the docks of Catania.

Sicily Achievement -

Emphasis has throughout this report been laid on the difficulties encountered, but it should not be forgotten that in spite of everything the projected totals of stores taken over the beaches from Landing Craft was considerably exceeded; in other words, the operation as a whole was most successful in its achievement, however hard it was on the personnel who did the job....

(From an officer's report:) "GEORGE" sector will close 1200 tomorrow 5th of August. In 25 days, during two of which we had no ships here, we have discharged 24,959 personnel, 4,871 vehicles and 19,814 tons of stores. In addition 1,900 prisoners of war have been embarked....

That is a grand job well done and it has been done due to three things, common sense, guts and real co-operation between services.

I can only hope that if there is another job to do we may have the same team. I have no doubts of the result. Good luck and thank you all!"

At the end of the 28 days, eighty LCM's in the two squadrons of three Flotillas each which had been working "GEORGE" and "HOW" sectors, remained in operation. The record of the Canadians was particularly good since only two of their craft out of twenty-two were non-operational.

In another Flotilla working the same sector, the 83rd LCM Flotilla, only three craft out of fourteen remained operational. The eighty operational LCM's proceeded under their own power down the east coast of Sicily, anchored under the shelter of Cape Passero, and made Malta the next afternoon, the 7th of August. (Page 181 - 182, Combined Operations by Londoner Clayton Marks)

Charley Sellick, Jim Ivison, Canadians in Combined Ops
In Sicily: July - August, 1943

Jack Trevor, Canadian in Combined Ops
In Sicily: July - August, 1943

A convoy of LCMs approaching Malta, August 7, 1943
Above three photographs - From the collection of Joe Spencer,
Canadian in Combined Operations. Used with permission.

* * * * *

In order to get a sense or context of the times, i.e., the last week in which the Canadians in Combined Ops worked in Sicily, readers will find below newspaper articles, photos, cartoons and movie and product ads from August 3 to August 11 issues of The Winnipeg Tribune (please link to digitized version).

Sub-Lieut. Frank Wade sent a letter home that provides a few details about the landings of the British 8th Army at Syracuse. He would not have seen members of the Canadian Army and their landings, since the Canadian troops landed south, then west, of the SE tip of Sicily. However, he may have seen Canadian landing craft (LCMs) disembarking 8th Army members.

Ross Munro's articles continue to be a regular feature in Canadian newspapers. Part of an article re our own Princess Pats follows:

Articles by Scott Young (father of Canadian singer-songwriter Neil Young) also appear on occasion:

Praise for Canadian troops and navy members appeared in the August 5, 1943 version of The Winnipeg Tribune:

Below is a snippet from Page 4 of The Tribune (Aug. 6, 1943) that mentions the role of "scores of barges" in the enemy withdrawal from Sicily. A Canadian sailor might say about their own, "Don't call 'em barges."

The "largest armada of all time" (up to that date, and including four Canadian flotillas of landing craft) is featured below:

After the Canadians in the 80th Flotilla of landing craft finish their rest, recuperation and repairs (to their craft) on Malta (August 7 - Sept. 1, 1943), they will proceed to Messina, Sicily to prepare for the invasion of Italy.

Landing craft shuttled supplies from Messina to Reggio Calabria on the toe of the boot(see below), a distance of approx. 7 miles, for about 30 days before being ordered to embark for N. Africa and then England.

The brave island of Malta features prominently in a few stories written by Canadians in Combined Ops who spent about a month there before the invasion of Italy:

Caption with above photo reads in part: "MONTY" MEETS CANADIAN OFFICERS: During a tour of the Canadian area in Sicily, Gen. Sir Bernard Montgomery, commander of the British 8th Army, dropped in on a Western Canadian infantry brigade. Standing up in the back of his car, "Monty" is seen talking with Major-General Guy Simonds, of Winnipeg (binoculars slung), commander of the 1st Canadian Division, a brigadier and the commanding officer of a Western Canadian Permanent Force unit. (Photo Credit - The Winnipeg Tribune, Aug. 7, 1943)

Many Canadians in Combined Ops who participated in the invasion of Sicily had also been active - about 11 months earlier - in the disastrous Dieppe Raid (Aug. 19, 1942). Because the Canadian sailors lost mates at Dieppe (for the first time) and some had been taken as prisoners of war, it is possible they felt avenged by the work of the "Red Patch Devils":

We will read of more "Navy Shells" hitting Italian targets near the toe of the boot because of the upcoming invasion of Italy (e.g., Operation BAYTOWN and Operation AVALANCHE), beginning September 3, 1943:

More to follow about Canadians in Combined Ops while in Malta.

Please link to Articles: Sicily, July 28-31, 1943 - Pt 13.