Friday, June 24, 2016

Presentation: Dad's Navy Days Part 5 (1)

Dad's Navy Days, 1941 - 1945

By G. A. Harrison

Canadian infantrymen disembark from landing craft during a training exercise
before the raid on Dieppe. England, August 1942. Photo - Canada at War

Introduction: The following post will be part of a Nov. 2016 presentation regarding my father's WW2 service with the RCNVR and Combined Operations organization.

MY DAD'S NAVY DAYS

Part 5 - Concerning the Dieppe Raid - Operation Rutter, July 1942 

Lt. Jake Koyl mentions in his files (as found in Combined Operations by Clayton Marks) that after about four months of training in southern England and Scotland the Canadians in Combined Ops were given an official and significant assignment: He writes:

The first operational call received was in early June when they sailed away from their base to take part in some operation, but this was cancelled and all were ordered to return to base.

Though Koyl does not mention the name of the operation, one can determine, by reading the stories and memoirs of a few Canadian officers and ratings, that their first assignment was Operation Rutter, the destination was Dieppe, and though the date had been set for July 8, 1942, it was cancelled one day earlier for various reasons - the chief of which relates to bombings by the German Luftwaffe - and later rescheduled for August 19.

About the lead-up to the first operation (Rutter), one can find a significant passage from a story written by an RCNVR officer, William Sinclair (found in St. Nazaire to Singapore: Vol. 1), as well as confirmation of certain events by young Canadian members of Combined Operations.

Mr. Sinclair not only describes initial training at HMS Northney (Combined Ops base on Hayling Island, Hampshire) and HMS Quebec on Loch Fyne (including his participation in exercises Schuyt I and II), he goes on to mention a memorable voyage from Scotland to southern England prior to the aborted operation related to Dieppe.

He writes:

Finally, about the end of April 1942, our craft - LCAs and LCMs - were embarked on two landing ships (Stern), the Iris and the Daffodil. We then sailed down Loch Fyne to Irvine, Ayrshire.

He goes on to say he and other Canadians camped at HMS Dundonald, and took part in Schuyt I and II, "the largest combined exercises up to that time," under the watchful eye of the King of England, the Prime Minister and Lord Mountbatten. After further training back at Inveraray the LCMs were again sent south to England, this time to the Solent (the body of waterways between Southampton and the Isle of Wight) and aboard the RFA Ennerdale and Daffodil.

About this trip on Ennerdale, Sinclair writes the following:

In company with the Daffodil we sailed for the Solent, and what looked like a forth-coming operation.* Our coastal convoy left the Clyde about the 10th of June, 1942.

About 10 PM (later in the trip, after passing Milford Haven, Wales, and Land's End), just as it was getting dark.... our convoy was attacked by some eight JU 88s. After a few close ones, two of the Jerries were shot down and we proceeded to Portsmouth where the Ennerdale went into dry dock for two weeks as some of her plates had sprung due to near misses. (St. Nazaire to Singapore, page 50)

*A footnote on the same page, written by David Lewis, the editor of St. Nazaire to Singapore: Vol. 1, adds:

Although we didn't know it, we had been attending functions related to Operation Rutter.... Rutter had been interrupted by Luftwaffe attacks on the naval troop carriers and the weather had been unacceptable, so that the operation was cancelled and run again as Operation Jubilee a few weeks later.

Others recall attacks by German Junkers, ending up in Portsmouth and later hearing about the cancellation of the early attempt to raid Dieppe.

Lloyd Evans (WW2 veteran of RCNVR and Comb. Ops) recalls the following in his memoirs:

We sailed from the Firth of Clyde on one of them (i.e., one of the oil tankers converted to carry landing craft), down through the Irish Sea, and somewhere near Lands End, our convoy was bombed.... my first night bombing at sea. I hastily donned my tin helmet which always gave me a headache but this time it seemed as light as a feather and caused no problem at all. One of the main anti-aircraft guns, on our foredeck, jammed, and a JU 88 came in real low to take advantage. Our gunners cleared the jam and shot him down before he could drop his bombs. We managed to get away in safety and ended up in Portsmouth....


Canadians in Combined Ops, possibly in Portsmouth, 1942
L-R; Don Linder, NA, NA, Doug Harrison (reclining), NA, Don Westbrook
Photo credit - From the collection of Lloyd Evans

....We had no clear idea why we were there. The situation was all the more confusing when a large flotilla of landing craft, loaded with soldiers and Commandos, set sail one evening and we remained in port. We could see the Commandos putting detonators in their hand grenades and blackening their faces as though they were preparing for action. The mystery deepened when they returned a few hours later. 

We found out that they had sailed for a raid on Dieppe, France, but returned when they found out the Germans were waiting for them. We could never figure out if our presence there was anything to do with the abortive Dieppe Raid and, if it was, why we were not part of it. We later set sail for Clyde Bank (i.e, Scotland). (Memoirs, page 10)

My father (D. Harrison; see above photograph) writes the following about the same events:

We went from Irvine to H.M.S. Quebec, then to H.M.S. Niobe and then aboard the oil tanker Ennerdale at Greenock in late spring, 1942. Our barges were loaded on the ship too, by use of booms and winches. I recall that before leaving Greenock one of the ship’s crew said to me, “I wish we weren’t going on this trip, matey.” When I asked why he said, “‘Cause we got a bloody basinful last time!” We got our basinful this time too.

During the trip down the west coast of England it seems we pulled into an Irish seaport one night; however, farther down the coast of England we headed south past Milford Haven, Wales, and all was serene.

We usually had a single or maybe two Spitfires for company. There were eight ships in the convoy; we were the largest, the rest were trawlers. Of course, the Spitfires only stayed until early dusk, then waggled their wings and headed home.

On June 22, 1942, my mother’s birthday, O/D Seaman Jack Rimmer of Montreal and I were reminiscing on deck. We must remember there was daylight saving time and war time, and to go by the sun setting one never knew what time it was. Jack and I were feeling just a little homesick - not like at first - and it was a terribly hard feeling to describe then.

Our Spitfire waggled his wings and kissed us goodnight though it was still quite light, and no sooner had he left when ‘action stations’ was blared out on the Klaxon horn.

Eight German JU 88s came from the east, took position in the sun and attacked us from the stern. It was perhaps between eight and nine o’clock because I had undressed and climbed into my hammock next to Stoker Fred Alston. When the Klaxon went everybody hit the deck and tried to dress, and being the largest ship, we knew we were in for it.

I got my socks on, put my sweater on backwards and got the suspenders on my pants caught on the oil valves. I was hurrying like hell and nearly strangled myself - scared to death. They needed extra gunners so Lloyd Campbell of London, Ontario said, “Let me at him.”


The bombs came - and close. They really bounced us around. The gun crew on the foc’sle of the ship was knocked clear off the gun by the concussion and fell but were only bruised.

The attack was short and sweet but it seemed an eternity. A near miss had buckled our plates and we lost all our drinking water. I ventured out on deck immediately and picked up bomb shrapnel as big as your fist. I noticed the deck was covered with mud from the sea bottom. I kept the shrapnel as a souvenir along with many other items I had but, alas, they were all lost in Egypt.

We arrived at Cowe (Isle of Wight) the next day with everyone happy to be alive and still shaking. It indeed had been a basinful. 

The next evening, June 23, 1942 there was terrific activity. Motor launches by the dozen headed out to see what was going on, and it turned out to be the aborted attempt on Dieppe. The next one on August 19, 1942 should have been aborted too.

More to follow.

Please link to Presentation: Dad's Navy Days Part 4 (4)

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Presentation: Dad's Navy Days Part 4 (4)

Dad's Navy Days, 1941 - 1945

By G. A. Harrison

Lord Mountbatten (on right) watching a landing exercise at the Combined
Operations Centre at Dundonald Camp (Army). Dundonald was adjacent to Camp
Auchengate (Navy). South of Irvine. Photo Credit - Histomil Historica

Introduction: The following post will be part of a Nov. 2016 presentation regarding my father's WW2 service with the RCNVR and Combined Operations organization.

MY DAD'S NAVY DAYS

Part 4 - Combined Operations Training in the UK

II - Initial Combined Ops Training in Scotland

A) Camp Auchengate (Navy), south of Irvine

Before going to the Combined Operations Centre south of Irvine (between Irvine and Troon), some if not all the Canadians spent time at HMS Chamois, south of and near HMS Quebec. In other memoirs I read that some (including my father) spent time at Rosneath. (U.S. troops are associated with Rosneath as well, I have learned). Moving about and facing changed schedules at short notice seems to have be a matter of course. That being said, my father's memories related to Irvine were strong and he returned to visit the area in the 1980s or 1990s.

About his experiences in Irvine he writes (in part):

Soon after (time at HMS Chamois), my group was sent up the Loch to Irvine and I shall always remember that town. We practiced running our ALC up the stern of the Iris and Daffodil, i.e., train ferries in peace time that carried whole trains across the channel between England and France. They were later to be used as ALC transports. Their sterns were nearly completely open, but with waves and a stiff wind blowing it was difficult to hit the opening. We practiced and practiced, and once in, winches were used and helped get barges onto tracks. One day I just could not make it. I had a Seaman named Jake Jacobs and he said, “Let me see her. I’ll put her in there.” He pulled the ALC back, poured the coal to her and crashed right into the stern of the Iris. There was Hell to pay.

Then we had to practice living on short rations, i.e., chocolate, hard tack and compost tea (tea, sugar and milk powder in what looked exactly like a sardine can). We received a small allowance, enough for three or four days, and slept aboard the ALC. It was tough going but we made it. When we went into Irvine the townspeople brought us cookies, tea and coffee. What wonderful people. When we left we took up a collection, a whole hatful, and gave it to the townspeople to do as they chose.

One time, Sub-Lt. Pennyfather rather meekly said to me, “Harrison, you look terribly thin and drawn. Here is ten bob, go get a good meal.” When I said, no sir, he said, “But I insist.” And I had a wonderful meal.


Officers outside their Nissan Hut, HMS Dundonald, Irvine
L-R: David Lewis, J. Boak, Davy Rodgers, Charlie Pennyfather, Jake Koyl
before Schuyts 1 and 2. Photo - St. Nazaire to Singapore, Vol. 1

After one of those long sojourns without much food, no shaving, etc., we came back into Irvine and I couldn’t stand it any longer. I loaded my attache case and started up a street in Irvine and met three girls. Two were sisters, Jean and Francis, and the third one we will call Thelma. I was a terrible sight and needed a bath and shave. I walked up to them boldly and said, “Pardon me girls. Could you tell me where I could get a shave and a bath?” They linked their arms in mine and said, “Sure can, Canada. Come with us.”

They took me to 22 Waterside St. in Irvine and I learned the sisters’ last name was Cricksmere. I bathed and shaved, was fed, and given a bed for many nights after a day of training. I corresponded with them after the war. They were English, living in Scotland, and their mum reminded me of my own mother. I know they fed me their own rations, even eggs.

There was also a son about 40 years old, and he and I used to battle Johnnie Walker every night. After a few we would ride the bus to Dragon (sic: Dreghorn) and get a couple of more because they were open longer. Moonlight Serenade and Sunlight Serenade were big hits at that time.

Main Street, Dreghorn is an easy bus ride from Irvine
Photo credit - Old Irvine on Facebook with Janice Clark

Actually, we were stationed at Auchengate camp outside Irvine at the time in bell tents and all washing facilities were outside. We never went ashore the regular way under inspection of an officer. O/D Art Bradfield, who was confined to barracks, inspected us, lifted the fence and said, “Be back on time you guys.” And we always were.

Bell Tent at Irvine: Don Westbrook, outside. Butler emerging.
Photo credit - St. Nazaire to Singapore, Volume 1, page 44

Jake Jacobs was a lead swinger of the first water and said he would make it back to Canada before any of us, and you know, he did. He wangled it somehow and after Auchengate I never saw him again. And just to digress a bit, O/D Seaman Patty Neville used to pee the bed and wouldn’t sleep on the lower bunk, so O/D Don Linder of Kitchener had to sleep with raincoats over him.

Sometimes at Irvine I acted as seaman along with Gash Bailey under a Coxswain named Owen, who wasn’t very bright. One night we had an exercise landing (Schuyt 1), complete with soldiers against shore defences. Also, we had a stoker, Lank, who was below decks. My, it was rough and cold. The stoker took a pail to vomit in and Gash and I lashed ourselves down on ALC cowling.

We had an officer named Jake Koyl who was later to become our commander after Lieut. McRae was captured at Dieppe. During the exercise the soldiers became sick, oh so terribly sick. And what happens a long, long way from shore? We run aground.

Koyl says, “Okay, over you go Harrison and Bailey, and together we’ll rock her loose.” We were wearing big heavy duffle coats and sea boots but over we went. After we got her loose, however, Owen left us out there and headed for shore. We fought for high ground against the waves and, weighing nearly a ton, we took off our duffle coats, dropped into holes and had a wonderful time until Owen somehow found us toward morning. The good people at the pub near the place our ALCs docked took us in, gave us blankets, porridge, whiskey, and dried our clothes.*

Soon after that we were to get our baptism of fire. Our time of training had come to an end. How would it all show up? (From "DAD, WELL DONE" pages 15 - 17)

Doug Harrison (Norwich) and Al Kirby (Woodstock) in Scotland, 1942 - 43 

* My father writes about being stranded in the water, after rocking the ALC loose, in greater detail in an article in other books that deal with the experiences of Canadians in Combined Operations. In it he mentions the name of the family that helped revive him the morning - with porridge and whiskey - after the good soaking he received on the sandbars between Irvine and Troon. With that detail in hand, I was able to locate the pub near the place his landing craft had docked, likely in mid-spring, 1942.

I have also learned the officer Dad mentions, Jake Koyl, was in a great hurry to get to the eventual site of the significant training exercise known as Schuyt 1. It was held under the watchful eye of important dignitaries, i.e., King George VI, PM Winston Churchill, and C.O. Commander Lord Mountbatten. Koyl did not want to be late.

Officer Koyl recaps the first six months of Combined Operations training, undergone by his Canadian ratings, as follows in Combined Operations by Londoner Clayton Marks:

In January, 1942 in (the Dutch liner) Volendam, fourteen Officers and ninety-six Ratings sailed from Canada for the U.K. knowing nothing of what lay ahead but looking forward to a rather exciting life. On arrival in the U.K. they began a course of training which lasted two months, most of this training being (aboard) LCAs, Landing Craft Assault, and LCMs, Landing Craft Mechanized. By the end of April they were split up into two operational Flotillas.

The first operational call received was in early June when they sailed away from their base to take part in some operation, but this was cancelled and all were ordered to return to base. These periods of suspense were most trying on the morale of all men as during these periods of waiting, sometimes lasting over two months, they were posted to routine camp duties.

The first opportunity for action came with the Dieppe raid. Though, not operating as Canadian units, Officers and men were intermingled with R.N. Flotillas and much valuable experience was gained. (Pages 173 - 174)


Though I find it difficult to attach specific training periods to specific places (even the sailors themselves had much trouble), the Canadians trained aboard various landing crafts in southern England and western Scotland for several months in early 1942 in preparation for their first significant raid.... at Dieppe, France.

"Our time of training had come to an end," said my father. "How would it all show up?"

More to follow.

Please link to Presentation: Dad's Navy Days Part 4 (3)

Unattributed Photos GH

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Presentation: Dad's Navy Days Part 4 (3)

Dad's Navy Days, 1941 - 1945

By G. A. Harrison

Unidentified Canadian infantrymen taking part in a Combined Operations
training exercise, Inveraray, Scotland, 27 August 1943. Credit: Sgt. George
A. Game / Canada. DND/Library and Archives Canada / PA-132778

Introduction: The following post will be part of a Nov. 2016 presentation regarding my father's WW2 service with the RCNVR and Combined Operations organization.

MY DAD'S NAVY DAYS

Part 4 - Combined Operations Training in the UK

II - Initial Combined Ops Training in Scotland

A) H.M.S. Quebec, on Loch Fyne (south of Inveraray)

About his first training experiences in Scotland my father writes:

We were all in good shape and this was to be one of the more memorable camps, with our first actual work and introduction to landing barges.... there were lots of adventures, therefore many memories.

We trained on ALCs (assault landing crafts) which carried approximately 37 soldiers and a crew of four, i.e., Coxswain, two seamen and stoker. Some carried an officer.... ALCs were made of 3/16 inch plating, thick enough to stop a .303. (They) sat three rows of soldiers including two outside rows under 3/16th inch cowling, but the centre row was completely exposed. ("DAD, WELL DONE" page 12)

"The centre row (straddling a bench) was completely exposed"
Photo credit - Imperial War Museum

The young Canadians also trained on LCMs, or landing craft, mechanized. About them my father says the following:

LCMs carried soldiers or a truck, a Bren gun carrier, supplies, land mines, gasoline, etc. LCMs wouldn't stop a bullet.

More information about ALCs and LCMs can be found in the first few pages of a significant book produced in London, Ontario by Clayton Marks and his wife Jewel, entitled Combined Operations. (A descriptive section is also included about the use of Infantry Landing Ships in several major operations of World War II).

About the ALCs and LCMs Mr. Marks writes the following:

LANDING CRAFT ASSAULT (L.C.A.)

This craft is without a doubt the outstanding one of all Assault Craft. Extreme length 41 ft. 1 and 1/2 in. Beam extreme 10 ft. 2 in. The displacement light is 8 tons with a draft of 1 ft. 1 in. forward and 1 ft. 9 in. aft. Loaded 13 tons with draft forward 1 ft. 9 in., aft 2 ft. 3 in. Fully loaded maximum speed is 7 knots. Light maximum speed 10 knots. This craft is powered by two Ford V8 petrol engines. Its maximum carrying capacity is 35 fully equipped men, discharging them by means of a ramp. The L.C.A. at slow speeds is a most silent craft and capable of beaching without giving away their position due to noise. It is well covered with protective plating and can resist machine gun and small arms fire. This is the type of craft which was carried by the "Prince Henry" and "Prince David". These crafts were used in the landings at Dieppe, North Africa, Sicily, Italy, Southern France, Greece and D-Day.

Troops taking part in a Combined Ops exercise in Inveraray, circa 1942
Photo Credit - IWM

LANDING CRAFT MECHANIZED MARK I (L.C.M. I) (BRITISH)

These craft, designed to be carried and lowered from ships, used to rush ashore equipment required by the initial assault troops. Their length is 44 ft. 8 in. with a beam of 14 ft., their displacement light is 19 tons, loaded 35 tons. The L.C.M.s are equipped with twin Chrysler engines with a loaded speed of 7 and 1/2 knots. These are all steel built but do not afford much protection against enemy fire. These craft have done excellent work in invasions and are especially useful where larger craft cannot approach the beach. Great endurance is required by the crews as their task is one which often lasts several weeks with the minimum facilities for food or sleep.

LANDING CRAFT MECHANIZED MARK III (L.C.M. III) (U.S.A.)

A newer type of L.C.M. designed and built in the U.S.A. and used in great numbers by the R.N. They are designed to carry a load of 30 tons. Their length is 50 ft. and beam 14 ft. Their displacement light is 22 tons, loaded 52 tons. They are powered with twin Gray, Buda or superior Diesels, the first named having proved itself the most sturdy. The advantage of this Landing Craft is the fact that it is quite seaworthy and capable of cruising about 1,000 miles at a speed of 6 knots. The maximum speed of the Gray Diesels is 8 knots with a full load.


The LCM was a D-Day Workhorse
Photo Credit - Combined Operations, page 14

Construction and training related to landing craft took place on Canadian soil as well but these programs developed later in the war than they did in the UK. Some Canadians with experience in Combined Operations activities in Dieppe, North Africa, Sicily and Italy, including my father and several of his closest mates (from the afore-mentioned first Canadian draft of volunteers to go to southern England and Scotland for training in January 1942), were later involved in the Canadian programs established on Vancouver Island.

In Volume 2 of The Naval Service of Canada  (by G. N. Tucker, 1952) we learn the following:

(Early in 1942) the Joint Services Committee on the west coast was considering a more elaborate scheme involving combined army-navy Operations and the use of assault landing craft.

The scheme as finally worked out involved the use of a hundred wooden landing craft provided by the army, manned by the navy, and maintained by both services....

Early in 1943 the training in Canada of combined-Operations personnel for service in the European theatre of war had been given careful consideration.... combined-Operations activities were concentrated at Courtenay (and) Naval training later moved to the nearby naval camp at Comox Spit, formerly operated.... for musketry and seamanship training. This establishment became known as "Givenchy III." In February 1944 there were 51 landing craft on the west coast of which all but 8 were based on Comox. Page 232

LCM(W)s (i.e., wooden) were constructed in Vancouver in the early 1940s
Photo as found in Canada's War At Sea, Part III, Pg. 93

LCM(W) going through its paces near The Spit, Comox B.C. circa 1944
From St. Nazaire to Singapore Pg. 104: Photo - R. Berger 

Because the training on assault landing craft in Canada took place at a later date than Scotland, I will share more information about it later in the presentation, using my father's WW2 timeline as a guide.

At HMS Quebec, near Inveraray, Scotland, all former training experienced by young Canadians was put to the test in short order and much more was learned during the early months of 1942. In his memoirs my father writes:

We did much running up on beaches so soldiers could disembark and re-embark, always watching the tide if it was flowing in or going out. You could be easily left high and dry, or broach* too, if you weren’t constantly alert. We took long trips at night in close single formation, like ducks closed up close, because all you could see was the florescent waters churned up by propellors of an ALC or LCM ahead....

....We clambered up scrambling nets and Jacob’s ladders and became very proficient because we learned to just use our hands. We did this training  on a liner called the Ettrick, which we will hear more about later on. Her free board was high, i.e., the distance between the water line and hand rails, and we got so it took about three seconds to drop 25 - 30 feet on scrambling nets. ("DAD, WELL DONE" pages 12-13)

The Ettrick at Inveraray, Scotland. Photo credit - combinedops.com

*"You could be easily left high and dry, or broach too", said D. Harrison.
Canadian sailors handle anti-broaching lines months later in N. Africa as U.S.
troops disembark. Photo Credit - RN photographer F. A. Hudson

I think my father took to the training, and took it very seriously when need be, and could see and recall in his mind's eye various sights, sounds, smells and important skills related to his training many years after WW2 had ended.

At age 73, when providing responses to a Combined Operations questionnaire (later published in St. Nazaire to Singapore), he wrote the following about his training:

Tides, winds, currents, ropes, motors, oil, cold dark cramped quarters. We learnt in a hurry in CO and it stood us all in good stead for after the war. A strange foreign world and we made it work. The officers, like ourselves, must have seen the ratings growing as they gained experience. As Montgomery said about the Canadian soldiers, “It wasn’t a matter of how, just when.” ("DAD, WELL DONE" page 79) 

As well, while writing a chapter about his experiences related to the invasion of North Africa and his subsequent safe return to England, his mind went back to his training in Scotland. Though - quite naturally - many memories sprang to mind about going on an extended leave in the UK, he says, "I am going to leave my memories about hilarious occasions I enjoyed during leaves until last." He preferred instead to recall 'lessons learned' on beaches near Inveraray and Irvine. 

He writes the following:
    
The job of the seaman on an ALC or LCM is to let the bow door down and wind it up by means of a winch situated in the stern of the barge. This winch is divided so you can drop a kedge (anchor) possibly about 100 or so feet from shore depending on the tide. If it is going out you can unload and then put motors full astern, wind in the kedge and pull yourself off of breach.

The tide is very important and constantly watched. If it is going out (on the ebb) and you are slow, you can be left high and dry, and if so, you stay with the barge. If the tide is on the make (flowing in) you use the kedge to keep you from swinging sideways on breach. In this case your kedge would be out only a short ways. After much practice, however, the kedge can be forgotten and everything done by engines and helm. Each barge has two engines. ("DAD, WELL DONE" page 26)

His description of necessary boat-handling skills seems quite thorough and is very similar to that found in an authoritative book by Hilary St. George Saunders about a very well-known fighting force entitled THE GREEN BERET: The Story of the Commandos. On page 46 we read (in part) the following:

In the early stages of development through which the Commandos passed, each troop trained as far as possible with the naval officers and ratings who manned the craft which were to take both into action. They belonged for the most part to that great company of H.O.'s, as those who enlisted for the duration of 'hostilities only' were known throughout the Navy....

....The training was designed to deal with the problems of approaching a hostile shore, landing upon it, remaining off it at close call, and then re-embarking troops from it. Much of it, therefore, appeared highly unorthodox, and men who for years had regarded running a ship aground as the most perfect example of professional incapacity, spent days doing little else. How to beach, when to beach, how long to remain aground, how best to use a kedge for getting off, how to avoid stripping a propellor: these were among the problems they learned to master.

They needed no one to tell them that the tide never stood still. If it were running out, then the landing craft had to be continually eased down the beach towards deeper water, or she would become stranded. If the tide were coming in, she must drive with it up the beach, or a cross wind might catch her and put her bows about. 

'The business of keeping a ship beached but not stranded, or shuffling it on its belly up and down the shore, while it is being loaded or unloaded, possibly under fire, is no game for any but the trained,' was a comment of one of the instructors, and he spoke no more than the truth.

'The good thing about this job,' one of (the new sailors) was heard to say, 'is that we all know we are doing something that has never been done before.' Pages 46 - 47

Though my father does not say he trained with Commandos, it is very likely he trained with the American Rangers at camps near Inveraray and Irvine familiar to commando units, in preparation for the Dieppe Raid (aka Operation Rutter, July 7, 1942; Operation Jubilee, August 19, 1942) and the invasion of North Africa, November 8, 1942.

Commandos warm up with OXO.
Were Canadians manning the landing craft offshore? Maybe so!
Photo - Fullarton Times, Scotland, Sept. 1942 

More to follow about Combined Operations training near Irvine (and elsewhere).

Please link to Presentation: Dad's Navy Days Part 4 (2)

Monday, May 30, 2016

Photographs: "The Spit" at Comox, Vancouver Island, BC

HMCS Givenchy III, The Spit: From the 1930s to 2016

Aerial shot of The Spit from 1930s. Photo credit - Comox Library

I visited HMCS Quadra recently, the Canadian Navy base formerly known as HMCS Givenchy III (as well as 'The Spit' and 'Cowards Cove' in my father's naval memoirs). It was a Combined Operations training ground during WW2, and while I was there I hoped to gain a better understanding of the context and setting of some of my father's photos from 1944 - 45.

I walked twice around as well as onto The Spit (I ignored a few of many DND "No Trespassing" signs) and talked with a local woman familiar with the location of the 1940s baseball diamond where the Navy Number 1 team practised their batting and ball-handling skills, at the time not far from government oyster beds and wood booms.

I came home with the knowledge there would have been several reasons why my father thought the area was like heaven on earth.

 My plane looks toward The Spit. Comox is to the right, Courtenay beyond it.

 Buildings (some WW2 era) used by HMCS Quadra (Sea Cadets) dot The Spit

 Three mates (D. Harrison, centre) relax, 1944. Town of Comox in background.

I relax on The Spit, similar location, i.e., opposite Comox, 72 years later

 My father, centre, enjoys time off near the end of The Spit

"Batter up!" Practice field with ball screen, rudimentary benches - on the Spit.
Bill Grycan stands behind Dad. Railroad tracks appear in background

 Navy No. 1 Team, likely at Lewis Park, Courtenay

No date on card. Credit - Ian Douglas, Vancouver Island Postcards

Please view photographs related to Canadians in Combined Ops on the East Coast, i.e., Halifax, NS. Link - Presentation: Photo Gallery (1)

Unattributed Photos by GH

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Presentation: Dad's Navy Days Part 4 (2)

Dad's Navy Days, 1941 - 1945

By G. A. Harrison

D. Harrison on sentry duty, HMS Northney. Circa January 1942

Introduction: The following post will be part of a Nov. 2016 presentation regarding my father's WW2 service with the RCNVR and Combined Operations organization.

MY DAD'S NAVY DAYS

Part 4 - Combined Operations Training in the UK

I - Initial Combined Ops Training in Southern England

How long the new Canadian recruits stayed at HMCS Niobe on the Clyde River is not known at this time but it sounds like for only a few days. Then they were sent packing to various Combined Ops training camps on Hayling Island on the southern coast of England.

My father Doug Harrison writes:

We spent little time at Niobe but entrained for Havant (editor - adjacent to Hayling Island) in southern England, to H.M.S. Northney 1, a barracks (formerly a summer resort) with a large building for eating and then cabins with four bedrooms. This was December, 1941 or January, 1942 and there was no heat at all in the brick cabins. The toilets all froze and split. But we made out. Our eating quarters were heated. ("DAD, WELL DONE", page 11)


Canadians (from SW Ontario) in Comb. Ops at HMS Northney, Hants, England
Circa January 1942.  From L - R: Allan Adlington (London), Joe Spencer (Toronto),
Chuck Rose (Chippawa), Doug Harrison (Norwich), Art Bradfield (Simcoe),
Don Linder (Kitchener), Joe Watson (Simcoe), J. Jacobs (unknown)
Photo - Credit - From the collection of Joe Spencer 

Lloyd Evans, another Canadian volunteer, writes:

After a few days at the Greenock base we were posted to HMS Northney III on Hayling Island near Portsmouth on the south coast of England. The purpose was training and it was there that we discovered we had 'volunteered' to operate Landing Craft for future raids and landings under the auspices of Combined Ops (Operations). (My Naval Chronicle, page 9)

The young sailors would soon learn that they would spend a good deal of time over the next two years travelling (often by train) to a cluster of Combined Operations establishments spread along the coastlines of SE England and NW Scotland. They would spend a few weeks or months here, another few weeks or months there, and in between training sessions they would participate in raids, e.g., Dieppe, and invasions, e.g., North Africa, Sicily, Italy.

45 locations are listed, 4 or 5 very familiar to Canadians in Comb. Ops

No. 29 - HMS Northney I, II, III, IV. Repair based Combined Ops
Pilotage Parties (C.O.P.P.) Depot. Combined Operations, page 7

Harrison and Evans briefly refer to duties performed while at their first camp. Unfortunately, no mention is made of landing craft exercises. But both do recall lonely nights on sentry duties.

Evans writes:

Some nights I stood guard duty at the end of a long pier as lookout for German raiding parties. In the lonely darkness of the night this inexperienced 18 year old discovered the power of the imagination! It seemed that the end of the watch would never come; I was gaining a sense of the terrible nature of modern warfare as I realized in my imaginings how easily they could be turned into brutal and bloody reality. (Ibid)

Harrison says:

I had the misfortune to break the toe next to my big toe on my left foot. I went to sick bay and someone applied mercurochrome, told me to carry out my usual duties and sent me away. Running, guard duty, anything, I toughed it out.... We were issued brooms for guard duty in some cases at Northney, sometimes a rifle with no ammunition, and they were expecting a German invasion. Rounds were made every night outside by officers to see if we were alert and we would holler like Hell, “Who goes there? Advance and be recognized.” When you hollered loud enough you woke everyone in camp, so sentry duty was not so lonesome for a few minutes. (Ibid)

I'm pretty sure my father was trying out a bit of a joke on the last line. My family calls it 'Harrison humour' and it takes some listeners a while to get the hang of it. Good luck.

Though my father goes on to say "there was no training here (at Hayling Island)", I have found a few lines elsewhere that suggest otherwise, from a young Canadian officer, Kendall 'Happy' Kidder. His story - Small Landing Craft Training - is available online thanks to work done by Geoff Slee, creator of 'Combined Operations Command' (website, Scotland), and various contributors, including the officer's wife, Jill Kidder.

I read:

Training bases for 'small' landing craft were set up at Hayling Island on the south coast of England and at Inveraray in Scotland. The first Canadian flotillas joined the RN in January of 1942. Kendall was posted to HMCS Niobe in Scotland on March 1, 1942. It was the main manning and pay depot for the Canadian Navy in the UK.... a gloomy brick building which had been a mental hospital and was locally known as the 'loony bin.'

As well I read:

The initial drafts from Canada arrived in Scotland and soon were shipped to Hayling Island east of Portsmouth for initial training in the smaller 'landing craft assault', LCA's, for about three weeks. Hayling Island had somewhat the same shape as Portsmouth so on occasions lights in the fields were dimly lit to appear much like Portsmouth to the German bomber pilots. This ruse gave Portsmouth some relief from the daily bombing the civilians suffered. Didn't please the farmers of Hayling Island much to become the target. [contributor Bob Crothers, RCNVR, Combined Ops].

Whether the Canadians participated in duties ("running, guard duty, anything," said my father) or small landing craft training, most agree that after a few weeks they heard an "all aboard" and north to Scotland they did go.

My father writes:

This was to be one of the more memorable camps, with our first actual work and introduction to landing barges.

More to follow.

More information about early training at Hayling Island can be found at an earlier post on this website - Training re Combined Operations, "Havant and Hayling Island"

As well, please link to Presentation: Dad's Navy Days Part 4 (1)

Unattributed Photo - G. Harrison

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Presentation: Dad's Navy Days Part 4 (1)

Dad's Navy Days, 1941 - 1945

By G. A. Harrison

HMCS Niobe, a Canadian base in Scotland during WW2, was named after
the above ship*. Photo credit - Silver Hawk author

Introduction: The following post will be part of a Nov. 2016 presentation regarding my father's WW2 service with the RCNVR and Combined Operations organization.

MY DAD'S NAVY DAYS

Part 4 - Combined Operations Training in the UK

In January, 1942 the first Canadians to volunteer for Combined Operations once again left Canada, this time aboard the Dutch liner Volendam - in a blizzard of blinding snow, not in resounding cheers - to eventually arrive at barracks called HMCS Niobe in Scotland. 

Al Kirby (RCNVR and Combined Ops) writes:

"It was late in January that we re-embarked (aboard Volendam) to arrive in Scotland and learn that we were destined to join Combined Operations, driving landing craft." (Early Days in Combined Ops)

It appears that although lessons aboard landing craft would begin shortly after their arrival, the first drafts of Canadians learned valuable lessons while being transported across the Atlantic Ocean as well.

The Atlantic Crossing and Safe Landing in Scotland

About what my father describes as "an eventful trip", he writes the following:

The convoy consisted of a destroyer H.M.S. Firedrake, armed merchant ship Jervis Bay (sister ship of the famed Burgess Bay who held off a large German man o’ war until the remainder of its convoy could escape, costing her her life and all aboard) and an American four-stacker loaned by the USA to England. 

The Dutch captain lined us all up and assured us we would arrive safely because the Volendam had already taken three torpedoes and lived to sail. This was very heartening news for those of us who had never been to sea except for a few hours in Halifax upon a mine-sweeper. Our first meal was sausage with lots of grease. Naturally, many were sick as it was very rough. 
            
Late at night I was on watch at our stern and saw a red plume of an explosion on our starboard quarter. In the morning the four-stacker was not to be seen. The next evening I heard cries for help, presumably from a life-raft or life-boat. Although I informed the officer of the watch, we were unable to stop and place ourselves in jeopardy as we only had the Firedrake with ASDIC (sonar) to get us through safely.

After some days we spotted a light on our port stern quarter one night. It was the light of the conning tower of a German submarine. How she failed to detect us, or the Firedrake detect it, I will never know. I was gun layer and nearly fell off the gun (4.7 gauge). I informed the Bridge and the Captain said, “Don’t shoot. Don’t shoot. It could be one of ours.” But as it quickly submerged we did fire one round to buck up our courage.

Some days later we spotted a friendly flying Sunderland and shortly after sailed up the Firth of Clyde to disembark at the Canadian barracks called Niobe. Before we disembarked, however, we took up a good-sized collection for the crew of the Firedrake for bringing us through. It was soon confirmed that the American four-stacker had taken a fish (torpedo). (from "DAD, WELL DONE", pages 8 - 9)

HMS Firedrake. Photo Credit - Firedrake Assoc.

So, before even setting foot in a classroom or on a beach to practice handling a landing craft, the Canadian sailors learned much concerning the dangers of going to sea during wartime, for example, not everyone would survive, and cries for help would not immediately be answered. 

Lloyd Evans, another early member of RCNVR and Combined Operations adds this to the story re the trip across the Atlantic:

That evening, while on lookout duty on the bridge, I was surprised to see one of the destroyers, HMS Belmont, go full speed ahead followed shortly by two huge explosions. She had been hit by two torpedoes..... For obvious reasons we didn’t slow down to look for survivors but, since we were only a short distance from Halifax, a rescue ship came out to look for them....

The rest of the trip was reasonably quiet with the remaining destroyer (HMS Firedrake) doing double duty. In effect she proceeded at high speed most of the time to cover all the distance normally undertaken by two ships. In appreciation of their great efforts we passed the hat around for the benefit of the crew. About ten days later we sailed up the River Clyde to Gourock in Scotland. The final stage of our journey was by bus to the Canadian Base HMCS Niobe a few miles away in Greenock.
(Memoirs, Lloyd Evans).

About HMCS Niobe one can find the following at The Memory Project:

During the Second World War, HMCS Niobe was a shore establishment near Greenock, Scotland that served as the Royal Canadian Navy’s overseas headquarters and a transit point for personnel for their overseas appointments. (Robert Sutherland

According to my reading material, the men disembarked safely at HMCS Niobe, likely filled with anticipation about what would happen next, but had little time to even look around before they were given orders to board a train destined to take them from the southern shores of the River Clyde to the southern coast of England.

All aboard!

More to follow concerning the Combined Ops training in England and Scotland.

*HMCS Niobe ca. 1898 - 1915, Royal Canadian Navy. HMS Niobe was a ship of the Diadem-class of protected cruiser in the Royal Navy. She served in the Boer War and was then given to Canada as the first ship of the then newly created Royal Canadian Navy as HMCS Niobe. After patrol duties at the beginning of the First World War, she became a depot ship in Halifax. Damaged in the 1917 Halifax Explosion, she was scrapped in the 1920s. Two of HMCS Niobe's 6-inch guns are preserved in the City of Saint John, New Brunswick. (RCN Photo, as found at Silver Hawk author)

Monday, May 9, 2016

Audio: Lysle Sweeting, Coxswain on an LCM

Lysle Sweeting, Coxswain on an LCM

Lysle Sweeting, front and centre. Photo credit - The Memory Project

Introduction: One will find hundreds of audio files related to the experiences of men and women associated with many branches of Canadian Armed Forces and Canadian organizations (e.g., Red Cross, CWAC, etc.) at The Memory Project. Most audio files are accompanied by authentic WW2 photos and a written transcript.

Please link to the audio file at The Memory Project related to the activities of Lysle Sweeting, a likely member of the Royal Canadian Navy Volunteer Reserve and Combined Operations. His story touches on his experiences on landing crafts during the invasion of North Africa (at Arzew) in 1942 and Sicily in 1943.

A landing craft at an undisclosed location in Africa, 1942. 
Photo credit Lysle Sweeting at The Memory Project

A short segment of Lysle Sweeting's transcript follows:

I was a coxswain on the LCM which is a Landing Craft Mechanized. You would take tanks and trucks. And then there was the LCAs, which was Landing Craft [Assault], just small ones. And the actual first troops that hit the beach would have been on them and for bigger ships, it was the LCTs, Landing Craft Tanks, to put the big tanks on and whatnot; they could take 10 or 12 of those on a landing craft. There was two ships that we were on, on merchant ships; they put the boats over the side and then they put the contents in. There was supposed to have been an officer on my ship and one on the other one, but the other boat was ready before I was, so they took off with, Lieutenant Barclay was the officer in charge, which left me with just… I was in charge by myself. And on the way in, there was a lot of shooting and what it was was the French Foreign Legion, they pretty well owned Algiers [Algeria]. And we were about 20 miles east of Algiers City, at Arzew, was where we landed. But we were being shot at, at the time. I had, I had one shot where a bullet came down. I was in this square box, as the coxswain steering the ship and we had pads on the outside, anti-shrapnel pads and had one bullet land right in, about that far from me, that’s the closest I ever came to what could have been death.

Please link to Audio: George McLean - RCNVR, Combined Operations