Roland Black (far left out of picture) trains with fellow cadets at the HMS King Alfred in Hove, England 1940.Roland Black
Roland Black (right) in North Africa during his service with Combined Operations.Roland Black
Roland Black's camp in North Africa early in the war.Roland Black
Roland Black after the war in 1946.Roland Black
HMS Glengyle (Landing Ship Infantry, Large) in port in North Africa.Roland Black
"To sail into Grand Harbour in Valleta, and see the desolation and the destruction that over 700 enemy fighter bombers and fighters had left"
The call came in North Africa, in the Mediterranean, for the Royal Navy to establish a training base near Alexandria [Egypt] in the Suez Canal area for the ships and [for] HMS Glengyle, which I told you I was serving on, to train with the New Zealand troops and the Indian troops from India in the battle against [German Field Marshal Erwin] Rommel [commander of German and Italian forces in North Africa] in the western desert for the next two years. Then, of course it was all defence by Britain and the Royal Navy in Crete, in Tobruk [Libya], in Malta.
My ship, or HMS Glengyle, was one of the very few convoys that finally got through with food and ammunition for the Air Force and supplies and medicines for the people, citizens of the island of Malta, which was at a very low ebb at that time and [British Prime Minister] Mr. Churchill is quoted as saying he, he thought he would have to give Malta up to the German and Italian forces [Malta was of strategic importance to the British forces, who used the island as a base from which to interrupt the flow of enemy resources to North Africa]. Which would mean North Africa would be lost. General Rommel and his Panzer divisions in North Africa would then be successful and the war indeed would have been lost. To sail into Grand Harbour in Valleta, V-A-L-L-E-T-A [Malta], and see the desolation and the destruction that over 700 enemy fighter bombers and fighters had left in its wake over the previous two years, and to think that we got out with only one bomb in the bow, we got back to Alexandria.
In landing groups, normally a battalion at a time, sometimes less, or fewer, it was night raids and [in November 1941] we were scheduled to assist in [Operation Flipper] a raid on Rommel’s headquarters [in Libya], to capture him. And that night, it was discovered that when the troops went ashore, Rommel had already left to report back home to Hitler and you might say, it’s a disaster as far as the efforts there are concerned but still, it was an exciting experience.
Others equally so, I think were withdrawal of troops from, the New Zealand troops from the Island of Crete, which was being bombarded by German glider troops for the first time during the war. And they were never used again in any campaign. They were too expensive for them. [Allied forces had occupied Crete since October 1940, providing the Royal Navy with important access to strategic harbours. In April 1941 Hitler ordered the invasion of Crete, which began on May 20, 1941. Despite heavy German casualties, on May 27, the Allies were forced to begin their withdrawal].
It was usual after you were competent over a period of time, that you would graduate to the larger vessels. And take command and I guess that was perhaps the final exciting episode. When I took my landing craft, I think my crew was something like twenty-six as I recall, twenty-six men. We took supplies, equipment and tanks and munitions and landed at El Alamein [Egypt]; came ashore during the night. And we were there for a day and a half, mainly loading invalided men and officers from the [Field Marshal Bernard] Montgomery [British Eighth] Army, which wasn’t too far away a distance from us on the shore.
And one exciting moment, I suppose, was when my coxswain, who was a junior petty officer, had a few too many - he perhaps found the stress and strain a little too much. And I had to put him in irons and substitute him for a junior crew. We then left and returned to Alexandria. It was about a two-day trip. After that, things quieted down in the Middle East and it wasn’t long when I returned to Canada for Foreign Service leave, after two and a half years.