Operation Husky and Canadian Signals

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OP HUSKY Battle Map.jpg
The Allied invasion of Sicily, codenamed Operation Husky, was a major campaign of the Second World War, in which the Allies took the island of Sicily from the Axis powers (Italy and Nazi Germany). It began with a large amphibious and airborne operation, followed by a six-week land campaign.[1] The operation was mounted by British, Canadian and American forces and lasted from 10 July until 17 August 1943. The Signals components of the Canadian force selected for Operation Husky were 1st Canadian Infantry Divisional Signals (1 Div Sigs) and 1st Canadian Army Tank Brigade Signals (1 CATB Sigs).

The intent of this page is to address the aspects of the operation pertaining to the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals. For a detailed description of the overall Canadian actions during Operation Husky, a good source of information can be found at CanadianSoldiers.com.

Preparations

In early May 1943 the two Signals units moved by road from their billets in Southern England to the staging area in Scotland. Owing to limited Middle East port facilities, it had been decided that some forces would come directly from the United Kingdom and the staging was in the area of Troon, Ayrshire, Scotland.[2] 1 Div Sigs HQ was established at Corraith House, Symington[3] while 1 CATB Sigs was established at Hoddom Castle[4].

The time in Scotland was spent undertaking intense preparations. On the equipment side there was work to do to gather much needed supplies and equipment including waterproof bags and wireless gear, as well as adopting new vehicles, vehicle kitting, painting and waterproofing. As the Canadian force was to be supplied over the Eighth Army's lines of communication, it was necessary for the sake of standardization to adopt, in the main, British types of equipment which were in use in the Mediterranean Theatre and which could be maintained or replaced from bases in the Middle East.[5] Perhaps the biggest shift was for 1 CATB as they were required to leave their Ram tanks in the South and had to quickly adopt Sherman tanks which 8th Army used. For 1 CATB Sigs that meant shifting wireless installations into the new tanks. Other vehicles arrived for the units to bring them up to strength and to prepare them for operations. Remote controls for certain wireless sets proved difficult to obtain and aerials for the wireless set No. 22 were in short supply.[2] Although there remained some shortages, through the efforts of Col. E. S. Cole, Chief Signal Officer Combined Operations at the War Office and Brig. Genet, Chief Signal Officer First Canadian Army, the units were able to turn in all sets and technical equipment for packing and loading on 1 June.

While the units were making their preparations, those planning the operation were busy as well. A myriad of details had to be worked out to ensure that the force, consisting of over 26,000 troops, arrived at the proper time despite traveling over 2,000 miles in ships of different speeds and from different ports. For the Canadians, the Navy assigned shipping to four main convoys; fast and slow "Assault Convoys" to support the initial attack with fast and slow "Follow-up" convoys dispatched to reach Sicily three days after the initial attack.[6]

In early June, long motor convoys began to arrive at ports along the west coast of Britain to be loaded aboard ships. Once a ship was finished loading, it sailed up the west coast into the Clyde and anchored in its respective assembly area. Assault troops of the 1st Canadian Division were loaded between 13 and 16 June. The troops were not to leave immediately and on 18 June Exercise Stymie, a landing rehearsal, was held. The weather interfered but overall the results for the Signals aspects were satisfactory. One last rehearsal for 1 Div Sigs took place five days later when the men went ashore in "Landing Craft, Personnel" (L.C.P.s) to carry out a setting-up drill.[7] Finally, on 28 June, 1 Div Sigs sailed aboard the HQ ship HMS Hilary in the "Fast Assault Convoy" while much of their equipment was in the "Slow Assault Convoy" which had left the United Kingdom in two groups on 19 and, with much of the Signals transport, on 24 June.

Secrecy was paramount to the operation and by all accounts, the location of the assault was a well guarded secret. The rank and file new that they were preparing for an assault and that it was somewhere for which tropical gear was needed but that was the extent of thir knowledge until after they sailed. Each ship had sealed bags that contained the necessary orders, signal plans etc for the assault as well as well wishes from Commanders at various Formations. These were opened on 1 July and all ranks cheered heartily at the news that they were entering the Mediterranean theatre of war and were to become part of the famous Eighth Army.[8]

The trip out was comparatively uneventful for the "Slow Assault Convoy" until, between Oran and Algiers, disaster struck on the night of 4-5 July. Axis submarines torpedoed two of its merchantmen, the St. Essylt and the City of Venice. The St. Essylt was abandoned in flames while an attempt to tow the sinking City of Venice to Algiers failed.[9] There was little loss of life from these sinkings but the loss of equipment was more serious. On the afternoon of 5 July the convoy was struck again and a third ship, the MV Devis, was sunk. Its main cargo included mechanical transport, heavy weapons and stores for the follow-up wave. Thus, the Devis carried 22 of the Division Headquarters' 26 motor transport vehicles, half of the division's 17-pounder antitank guns, some field artillery pieces and important signal equipment. On board, along with the Convoy's Commodore, were 35 British and 261 Canadian officers and men.[10] In all three ships sunk there were personnel and vehicles from the Signals units and the personnel losses to Signals included ten men[11]. Aboard the ship carrying The Three Rivers Regiment (12th Canadian Armoured Regiment), Signals were manning the anti-aircraft guns when it went down. Divisional Headquarters lost most of its vehicles and Signals equipment while "L" Section, supporting 3rd Canadian Infantry Brigade, lost its entire AFG-1098 equipment.[7]

The Landing at Pachino

To be written.

The Advance Inland

Loading mules in Sicily
To be written.

Honours

Signalman J.H.M. Dehler was awarded the Military Medal for his devotion to duty and disregard for his own safety.[12] The recommendation stated:

On the evening of 22 Jul 43 the enemy heavily shelled our position at Linertina. Sigmn Dehler was on duty as operator of the 22 wireless set working to Bde. The wireless vehicle containing the set was in a small wood. Enemy shells began falling close to the vehicle, one about 30 feet in front and one about 15 feet in rear. Fires broke out. Then an ammunition truck about 20 yards from the wireless vehicle caught fire and A.Tank shells and other ammunition began to explode. While this was going on another enemy shell dropped about 6 or 7 feet in front of the wireless vehicle and other fires started nearby. Shelling in the immediate vicinity lasted about an hour. All personnel in the vicinity of the wireless vehicle took cover at the beginning of the shelling and, except when required to leave cover to perform duties, remained under cover while the shelling lasted. Sigmn Dehler might have taken cover or lain down beside his vehicle at least for short periods, however he remained at his set in a very exposed position throughout the shelling and maintained communication with Bde H.Q. He showed great devotion to duty and disregard for his own safety.

Casualties

1st Canadian Divisional Signals suffered a total of 19 fatalities during Operation Husky and its lead up while 1st Canadian Army Tank Brigade Signals suffered none.

Name Date of death Burial location Circumstances
Sigmn H.A. Ball Jul 5, 1943 Cassino Memorial MV Devis was torpedoed off the coast of Africa when the convoy was proceeding to Sicily.
Sigmn C.G. Brown Jul 12, 1943 Agira Canadian War Cemetery Killed by low-flying aircraft which attacked the Div HQ convoy.
Cpl R.W. Devlin Jul 19, 1943 Agira Canadian War Cemetery Killed when carrier struck a mine.
LSgt G.F. Glover Jul 5, 1943 Cassino Memorial MV Devis was torpedoed off the coast of Africa when the convoy was proceeding to Sicily.
Sigmn J.C. Hall Jul 5, 1943 Cassino Memorial MV Devis was torpedoed off the coast of Africa when the convoy was proceeding to Sicily.
Cpl G.J.B. Henry Jul 27, 1943 La Reunion War Cemetery Was severly burned on 5 July when MV Devis was torpedoed off the coast of Africa when the convoy was proceeding to Sicily.
Sigmn E. Jantzi Jul 5, 1943 Cassino Memorial MV Devis was torpedoed off the coast of Africa when the convoy was proceeding to Sicily.
Sigmn H.W. Jinssen Jul 12, 1943 Agira Canadian War Cemetery Killed by low-flying aircraft which attacked the Div HQ convoy.
Sgt T.S.S.H. Kroon Jul 12, 1943 Agira Canadian War Cemetery Killed by low-flying aircraft which attacked the Div HQ convoy.
Sigmn W. Moore Jul 5, 1943 Cassino Memorial MV Devis was torpedoed off the coast of Africa when the convoy was proceeding to Sicily.
Sigmn M.S. Quick Jul 12, 1943 Agira Canadian War Cemetery Killed by low-flying aircraft which attacked the Div HQ convoy.
Sigmn R.A. Quinn Jul 12, 1943 Agira Canadian War Cemetery Killed by low-flying aircraft which attacked the Div HQ convoy.
Sigmn W.H. Semple Jul 5, 1943 Cassino Memorial MV Devis was torpedoed off the coast of Africa when the convoy was proceeding to Sicily.
Sigmn T.W. Simpson Jul 21, 1943 Agira Canadian War Cemetery
Sigmn D. Smith Jul 5, 1943 La Reunion War Cemetery MV Devis was torpedoed off the coast of Africa when the convoy was proceeding to Sicily.
LCpl B.G. Stiles Jul 5, 1943 Cassino Memorial MV Devis was torpedoed off the coast of Africa when the convoy was proceeding to Sicily.
Sigmn M.A. Taylor Jul 5, 1943 Cassino Memorial MV Devis was torpedoed off the coast of Africa when the convoy was proceeding to Sicily.
Sigmn F.C. Thompson Jul 5, 1943 Cassino Memorial MV Devis was torpedoed off the coast of Africa when the convoy was proceeding to Sicily.
Sigmn N.A. Walker Jul 18, 1943 Agira Canadian War Cemetery

References and Notes

  1. Wikipedia - Allied invasion of Sicily
  2. 2.0 2.1 History of the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals 1903-1961
  3. War Diary, 1st Canadian Divisional Signals
  4. War Diary, 1st Canadian Army Tank Brigade Signals
  5. Official History of the Canadian Army in the Second World War, Volume II, The Canadians in Italy 1943-1945. Lt.-Col. G.W.L. Nicholson. Page 37.
  6. Official History of the Canadian Army in the Second World War, Volume II, The Canadians in Italy 1943-1945. Lt.-Col. G.W.L. Nicholson. Page 40.
  7. 7.0 7.1 History of the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals 1903-1961. Page 126.
  8. Official History of the Canadian Army in the Second World War, Volume II, The Canadians in Italy 1943-1945. Lt.-Col. G.W.L. Nicholson. Page 44.
  9. Official History of the Canadian Army in the Second World War, Volume II, The Canadians in Italy 1943-1945. Lt.-Col. G.W.L. Nicholson. Page 45.
  10. Valour at Sea, The Sinking of MV Devis, July 1943. Fowler, Robert (1998). Canadian Military History: Vol. 7: Issue 3, Article 9.
  11. Note: An eleventh, severely burned, succumbed to his injuries and died on 27 July.
  12. The London Gazette, Supplement 36232. 2 November, 1943. Page 4848.