Page 1 of 1

A Small Part of Operation Torch

Posted: Mon Feb 27, 2012 11:16 am
by Colin Campbell
The following comes from two pages torn from "The Nautical Magazine" which must now be 50 odd years old. The story has connections to the Clyde..Greenock..Western Isles..Irish Boats..WW2 and was written by Captain J D Armstrong

"While in command of HMS Royal Scotsman during the summer of 1942 we spent the period prior to sailing to North Africa training the Army units sent to us for amphibious warfare.
Spending some weeks at a time in the waters around the Western Isles, practising day and night landings,either "Wet Shod" or "Dry Shod",the latter in anything up to four feet of water, and "Wet Shod" much deeper. Eventually it seems that something special was afoot: the Dieppe landing took place while we were training.
After training we were sent up to Glasgow for some modifications,and for additional petrol stowage extra to the tanks for the landing craft. These were of the quick release type but the new stowage was on the after well deck and rather poor protection from anything bigger than small arm fire.
Sundry visits took place, meetings in Glasgow and so forth:eventually an American Naval Captain,an old friend and an American Colonel of Marines ,wanted to know if they could take passage with me if I was willing. I agreed, if my Admiral would approve. And there was no trouble in that direction.
Eventually having stored and oiled we anchored at the foot of Loch Long and our party embarked. United States Rangers and some Engineers and Technical troops. In addition a British Port Party under a Commander Royal Navy
There was practically no communication with Princes Pier Signal Station, the traffic was so heavy that they had almost given up the struggle. So we were at a disadvantage being a "closed ship".
My Paymaster had asked how long our passengers would be expected to remain on board, and when told "at least a month" informed me that we did not have sufficient stores on board for that period,and would require certain additional items. Meat flour and other dry stores. Quite a list in fact.
Sending for the Rangers CO I put him in the picture and he at once offered to make up the required amounts from the American Stores Depots in the area.
He took a party of Rangers ashore,under strict orders to maintain "security", which he did. But in order to make certain that nothing was overlooked ,drew three large trucks from the Transport Pool, and triplicated the stores order, adding a number of goodies suitable to the American palate,not the least being cans of toasted peanuts and peanut butter.Their liquid requirements too were not forgotten.
Returning to Albert Harbour,they "chartered" a drifter with cases of fruit Juices,tomato juice etc and transferred the supplies. We had so much ,even to Tbone steaks,ham steaks and the like that our chummy ship HMS Royal Ulsterman had to take some of the stores:after all she also had Rangers embarked.
After a discussion, it was decided that the embarked American other ranks would run their own troop kitchen and give the troops American style catering after all they had provide the stores.This meant breakfast and supper. The officers joined the Wardroom Mess.
We sailed on the appointed day in company with the vast collection of troopships gathered for the invasion of North Africa.
Apart from a few scares of air attack and submarine alerts ,everything passed off as planned, even to our small flotilla nipping in to Gibraltar for oil and water allowing us to switch from the Algiers portion of the convoy and join up with the Oran portion.
After sailing ,I asked the Colonel what he had done with the transport. "Left it on the dock" he replied."If they ever catch up with me Ill have forgotten all about it "
On the outward passage we learned more about our passengers. They were the First Ranger Battalion. Founded on our own Commando organisation and trained by them. The word Ranger was famous in American history, and the idea came from American General Lucien K Truscott.
A Major William O Darby was the first Commanding Officer of the Ranger Battalion and he proved himself such an able leader that his unit became known as "Darbys Rangers" After his rapid promotion, Colonel Darby became one of the most decorated American officers. He was tragically killed on April 16th 1945 in the Po Valley, just prior to the German surrender in Italy.
We were not to know this at the time ,as the Rangers were green troops, apart from their training under our Commandos in Scotland. And the North African landing was to be their first taste of active service.
Our destination,after leaving the Clyde,was known only to a few.One evening in my cabin I was reading through one of the Illustrated London weeklies and came across an article on the future conduct of the war by their then Millitary Correspondent Capt Liddell Hart.
He had summed up the general situation and offered the opinion that the only place we could successfully spread the war was by an invasion of North Africa.I wondered at the time if it was a double bluff. If so, it worked . The overall picture is so well known there is no need to deal with it here.
The landings duly took place , our target was the port of Arzeu,a short distance east of Oran. All went well and shortly after the capture of the town had been consolidated, I received an official call from Colonel Darby ,complete in pink pants and dress uniform.This took me aback for a few minutes: then I asked for transport to return the call.
This was arranged, and from somewhere a sword was produced,complete with belt So in my No1 uniform I duly returned the call. There was some leg pulling ,but Colonel Darby said that he ,as Mayor or local Head Man would have to give me the freedom of the town. Which he did, and presented me with a couple of rolls of silk,which eventually found their way home.
Shortly after this,having made good our loss in landing craft we did some salvage of engines and gear from wrecked craft on the beaches and said goodbye to our Rangers and sailed for Algiers with of all people a Docks Operating Group. Many of whom were from Surrey Commercial Docks and some of the foremen I knew.
On arrival at Algiers I managed to land the petrol which we had embarked on the Clyde. It was in four gallon cans and totalled about 1000gallons. We were met by an Army Transport Officer who asked for documents regarding the shipment.He was horrified when told there were no papers and that we had not signed for the spirit.
It was our first consideration to land the petrol as air raids were beginning on Algiers and the stuff was a definite hazard on board. As the army would not accept the shipment without documents ,I asked the Docks Company for help and with their able assistance it was stacked on the quay. It was not long before the news got around and various officers ,who had managed to"obtain" transport were soon filling up,and taking a couple of spare cans as well,
The stack only lasted about two days and the only traces were a few empty cans. I often wondered how that little lot was written off.
The Rangers went on to do good work in North Africa,Sicily and Italy.This was my first experience of American troops and certainly the Rangers were a credit to their trainers ..our Commandos.
The sequel to the story of the US trucks was that a couple of years later I was stationed on the Clyde spending the last year of the war there.
One day I was talking to the Duty Commander at Albert Harbour and he mentioned the three trucks that had been cluttering up the place for a year or so, and he could not get anyone to accept responsibility for them.
When I told him the Ranger story he nearly blew a gasket making remarks about people leaving things laying around, My last recollection was of the trucks being taken over by the RN who made good use of them.
Prior to departure from Arzeu to Algiers we ,in company with HMS Ulster Monarch were ordered to tow Duchess of Richmond off the beach. She had grounded during a rising swell.
After some manoeuvring, we managed to get lines on board aft and by a long slow steady pull, eventually got her afloat again. If we had not succeeded she would have become a total loss, as the weather deteriorated rapidly with a rising heavy swell.
Unfortunately she was a Crown responsibility and there was no salvage".

Re: A Small Part of Operation Torch

Posted: Tue Feb 28, 2012 8:21 pm
by Colin Campbell
A wartime shot of HMS Royal Scotsman

Re: A Small Part of Operation Torch

Posted: Tue Feb 28, 2012 8:23 pm
by Colin Campbell
A wartime shot of HMS Royal Ulsterman