The War Illustrated, No. 251, Vol. 10, January 31st 1947

Great Stories of ihe War Retold WADING ASHCRE FROM LANDING CRAFT, British troops found the opposition unexpectedly light :the Sicilian shore defences collapsing under the initial assault. Months of training and planning down to the smallest detail preceded the operation, in which Britons, Canadian and Americans participated, Royal Marine Commandos forming our spearhead. 1'hoto, British Official and the little craft swung down the cliff-side Then the last touch :to wipe the oil from rifles, Bren guns and pistols, for oil would pickup sand and clog the action. We had just finished when we were aware that the vibration of the ship's engines, continuous accompaniment of every moment, day and night, since we left the Clyde, had stopped! It was midnight. A sudden quietness fell. Then the ship's loudspeakers crackled, and the voice of the Senior Naval Officer con­trolling the landing was heard. “(^an you hear me? Can you hear me? Control calling all Naval personnel and Royal Marine Commando. To operation stations—to operation stations.” The Marines hitched up their heavy packs and tramped quietly along the dim-lit corridors and up the brass-bound ladders to the boat- dcck. The gale had dropped as suddenly as it arose. The stars were brilliant, but they were dimmed by the long line of flares with which the R.A.F. illuminated the coastline of Sicily. An endless roar of bombers and the distant, shuddering thump of bombs filled the night air. Instructed by the volte over the loud­speaker we packed ourselves in our. assault craft, swinging from the davits. I quenched an irresistible desire for a smoke by sucking a boiled sweet. After a tense few minutes, Control ordered: “Davits numbers 1—3—5—7—9, lower awa-ay.”" The falls whined of the ship, till we were heaving and tossing on a sea still disturbed by the recent storm. We cruised around for what seemed endless time while blue signal lamps flashed, then fell into formation and offset at top speed for the coast. Soon, but for the loom of a protecting fiakship, the little flotilla was alone. The dim mass of Sicily lay on the starboard bow as we ran diagonally inshore. The swell was heavy, crashing on the blunt ramps of our craft. Presently I noticed a trickle of cold sea-water running round my boots. In a few moments it rose above my ankles, then half-way to my knees. We were shipping an uncomfortable amount of water and called for the pump, but so tightly were vve packed that there was not enough room to work the hand-pump. I heaved myself out of the well-deck and lay flat on the coconut matting of the flat lop of the engine-room aft. Others followed, lying beside me and on the flat gunwales, leaving room for the rest to pump and bale with their steel helmets. But the water still rose and we w'ere forced to reduce speed, dropping out of place in the formation. The land w'as close now. Startlingly, a searchlight stabbed a bright finger out to sea and sw'ept the tumbled surface. Just as we thought it must illuminate us, it snapped off. PAGE 644 In another minute a gun fired close at hand. I flattened on the deck instinctively, but i? was an anti-aircraft gun engaging bombers overhead. The whole flotilla then altered course directly inshore and changed forma­tion into line abreast for the run-in. The engines revved up, and we raced into the shadowy arms of a cove. From the left a machine-gun opened fire, stuttering a few bursts. The bullets shrieked overhead. The beach was narrower than we expected, with long, rocky shelves out,running between which the craft had to feel their way slowly. Our craft grounded quietly, the ramps went down and we leapt from the cold water of the well-deck into the lukewarm surf, ploughing into the beach. The Machine-Guns Fired MoreNo We were surprised to find there was no cliff, only along shelf of limestone, across which it was not difficult to scramble, but it was several minutes before we realized it was the w'rong beach. The machine-guns were mercifully silent, but as we crossed this shelf they opened up again, catching some of our men in their deadly swathe. We took shelter to reorganize in a shallow depression in the sand-hills, where the bullets kicked up the sand on the banks around us and whined harmlessly overhead. It took a little time to pickup landmarks in the darkness, but scouts reconnoitring forward located the footpath, and after that the Troops moved off confidently for their objectives. As I moved forward, crouching low over the rough grass of the sand-dunes, to join headquarters, I heard shrieks and shouts in Italian from the left, the burst of a grenade, followed by silence. Then a stream of red tracer shot out towards the little headland whence the machine-gun post had been firing. The machine-guns fired Further bursts of red tracer marked for us at head­quarters the progress of other Troops as they made their way along the cliffs from strong- point to strongpoint, towards the Punta di Castellazzo and the Casa. Quite quickly, it seemed, the sun came up and flooded the scene with brilliant light. As I made my way up the cliff path to find out the position on the Punta I saw a large batch of Italians with their hands above their heads making their way back to the beach, escorted by a single Marine. On the edge of the cliff 1 passed a machine-gun nest, its defenders dead at their guns, surrounded by thousands of rounds of unfired ammuni­tion. The rising sun illuminated the white Casa in its dominating position, and a stream of tracer rose high towards one of its upper windows as the Marines put paid to a sniper. When I reached the top of the headland the battle was ended. 1 looked down over the main beaches, and in the great bay the big ships lay close inshore, while streams of small craft and DUKW likeS, watcr-beetles, plied busily to and fro. The Canadians were ashore and already pushing up the dusty road to meet us. A big monitor pumped its shells regularly at some target far inland, and three Spitfires were the sole tenants of the intensely blue immensity of the sky. There seemed no sign of opposition anywhere, though a few shots could be heard from the left where our men were rounding up stragglers and snipers. At the Casa della Marza I found a dilapi­dated bicycle, which I commandeered and rode down the rough, narrow road to meet the Canadians up.coming The men I spoke to told me they had only one casualty. 1 seemed almost an anti-climax, after our months of planning and training, to succeed with such ease, but it w-as because of that meticulous care that the operation had indeed gone ‘‘according to plan.”
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