Canadian artillery guns in action.Sidney Fox
Canadian artillery guns in action.Sidney Fox
"Sicily was a very difficult place with mountains and hills of various sorts. And there was lots of firing. Lots of things to shoot at. Quite a lot of prisoners. The Italians were surrendering very easily and it was very noticeable when you ran into a German unit."
Well, the big excitement occurred shortly before landing when they discovered that there was a sandbar off shore and they had navy underwater demolitions teams and whatnot who went in and landed on the beach to see what the problem was. Well, the problem was that our landing craft could not get through and put us on the beach. They were liable to let us off in fairly deep water. So, we switched from landing craft of various sorts, a fair substantial number of people, into DUKWs, which could roll over the sandbar and roll up on the beach. Now, in the light of the fact that there was not to be serious opposition, this worked. If there had been, it would have been murder.
We-- like all landing operations, most things go wrong. And we did not land on schedule. I was supposed to, with 1st Brigade Headquarters, get ashore, set up a temporary headquarters with communications and then the brigade commander would arrive. In actual fact, as it happened, my landing craft was swung in the davits and smashed itself into the side of GLENGYLE. So, my brigadier and I went in together. We had no vehicles because they had been sunk in the convoy that the submarines had destroyed part of. And we had a set of some sort, which we commandeered some poor Sicilian’s donkey and cart and had this set mounted on it. However, it was rather heavier than the donkey. So you would have to lean on the shafts to get his little feet down onto the ground and then he could go. However, we were alright. Everyone reached their objectives without any difficulty.
The Italians seemed only too willing to surrender. And I don’t know what the actual casualties were, but I think almost negligible. Things certainly got tougher later. There were no Germans on our front, which was one of the things that made the difference. So we proceeded to go across Sicily, the Americans on our left and the British on our right. And we shook down fairly well. Sicily was a very difficult place with mountains and hills of various sorts. And there was lots of firing. Lots of things to shoot at. Quite a lot of prisoners. The Italians were surrendering very easily and it was very noticeable when you ran into a German unit. Things would just suddenly stop and progress was not anything like as easy. However, we got through Sicily and had a rest period at the top end near Mount Etna. Unfortunately, it turned out to be one of the worst malaria areas in the whole of Sicily. The consequences of which were that about two or three weeks later, people started coming down with malaria. The other thing is that, not having seen fresh vegetables in any quantity in a long time, the troops became pretty enthusiastic about what they could pick up in the fields and consequently, they got various forms of diarrhea.
At the end of when Sicily was declared secure, I left brigade major, 1st Brigade and was posted to command the 10th Battery in 2nd Field Regiment. We crossed Reggio, across the Straits of Messina, in an absolutely cloudless day in a LCT, I guess, with our guns and started from the very toe tip of Italy, Calabria. Up towards Taranto where we turned left and proceeded up the main part of the boot. About this time, the Italians surrendered, we did almost no firing at all, until we came up around Campobasso. No not quite as far as Campobasso. At that time, Strome Galloway was acting CO [Commanding Officer] of the RCR [Royal Canadian Regiment] and my battery was supporting him. We were leading the division and ran into some German opposition and Strome and I figured out a small attack. The only problem was that we had been moving so fast, that we didn’t have any maps. We had run right off our maps. However, we provided support for the RCR. And during this time, the divisional commander and the RCA [Royal Canadian Artillery], who was Brigadier Bruce Mathews, arrived up. I was sitting on top of a haystack. And Bruce Mathews said, “Bob, what are you using for map?” Well I said, “Well, I’m using the only thing I got, Brigadier. I got one old Italian automobile club map with no grid on it.” He said, “Don’t ever let the school of artillery hear about this.” However, what we would do, we would fire an airburst and adjust it and then bring it down to the ground. Fortunately, we didn’t hit any of our own people. But it was that kind of time, because we were way, way off our maps. Again, that was caught up pretty quick and we had maps as we moved on up.
We rested in Campobosso. The division with the Canadian army, with some enthusiasm, renamed every street, 40 Avenue or Young Street, or St Catharines Street or what have you. And I’m sure the Italians appreciated this no end. We had about ten days of that and the gunners continued in action because there was some counter battery work to do. But the division, as such, rested. Then we were alternating between 30 British Corp and 13 British Corps. 13 Corps, corps commander was General Dempsey who had been the BGS of 1st Canadian Corp before the corp was completely Canadian. General McNaughton was commanding it, but his BGS was General Dempsey. So we had good rapport with people we knew. And both corps were very good and excellent, because they had been in the desert for years and years and years. And our relationship was very good. Monty used to take an interest in us and come and visit periodically. And I say, again, that it was awfully good experience for Canadian soldiery and we learned a great deal.