Albert Kirby at Combined Operations training base, Rosneath, Scotland, 1942
Swimming inside the landing craft on the deck of the SS Glenartney, enroute from Liverpool to Capetown, South Africa. 1943. (Albert Kirby is second from right).
Albert Kirby's Landing Craft (LCM910) travelling up the Suez Canal before landing in Sicily, March 1943.
Dieppe Veterans, taken at HMS Saunders, Suez, Egypt. May 1943 (Albert Kirby is bottom right).
Article from Newspaper, The Woodstock Sentinel Review, Woodstock, Ontario, Nov 1943.
"They asked for volunteers to go over to England and drive landing craft in operations against the enemy coastline. And for a kid my age, at 18 years old, that really sounded exciting. We didn’t think much about the danger."
Oh, I was on landing craft. We were practicing with the soldiers in England. We knew that, everybody knew that we were eventually going to have to land back in France in order to take France back from Germany. So landings were a big problem and we had to learn how to do it. There are barge-like boats they carry on a ship up to an enemy coast. They lower the boats in the water, fill us up with soldiers and then we drive into the beach and these are specially designed boats, meant for landing on a beach. So we land on the beach, they drop the front door and out run the soldiers. Then we pull our door up and back off and go back to the ship for another load. And we keep running back and forth because in wartime, you’re not going to get a chance to land in a harbour because they’re all very highly defended. So we had to find beaches where there would be very little defense.
And then these landing craft that were designed in England were meant for that purpose, for taking soldiers into beaches because there would be no docks for landing and tying up the ships. So convoys of maybe, I don’t know, 15 or 20 ships filled with soldiers would come up to a beach as close as they could and in the shallow water, lower the landing craft, fill us all up with soldiers, we’d drive into the beach, drop our front door and the soldiers would all run off. And then we’d go back and get another load and travel back and forth all day until our whole shipload was unloaded. And our whole army then was ashore and making good progress against the enemy as we hoped and that’s the way it turned out.
Well, each ship had to have a fellow up front driving, turning the wheel, steering the thing into the beach. And also another fellow down in the engine room at the back, operating the engines that drove it. And so there was two of us operating the boat and then another additional hand to help for other things that came up. So there was three of us in a crew, on a small landing craft. When I say landing craft, I mean small ones. They were only 35 feet long. Like these days, we think of landing ships, huge ships with doors in the front that come up on the beach and they were just starting to experiment on that sort of thing when I was on landing craft. But most of the landings were done from very small boats that were specially built of steel with a door in the front that opened, fell down like an opened, so the soldiers could run out, down the door, onto the beach.
At that time, I think I was 18 years old and for me, I was with a special group that they recruited here in Canada. They asked for volunteers to go over to England and drive landing craft in operations against the enemy coastline. And for a kid my age, at 18 years old, that really sounded exciting. We didn’t think much about the danger. To us, it was exciting. And we looked forward to being heroes and all that. I jumped at the chance and away I went over there and we trained with other Royal Navy people who had been conducting raids against the enemy coast all along. And then the Dieppe Raid was our very first chance to actually do it. And we were very excited about it. We wouldn’t have missed it for the world. But we quickly got over that cavalier ideal once we were at the receiving end of the enemy fire because it’s one thing to talk about it, but it’s something else to experience it.
I mean, I could sit and talk about it and say, “Oh, I loved it.” But the fact is, I was scared to death. For that moment, I mean, you know. And I was glad when we got back. We left the place without it losing anybody onboard our landing craft. You know, like we did, we made this landing in a veritable hail of machine gun fire and yet, every soldier that we had on our landing craft got off, was still running when we backed off and left. And although we had a number of dents and holes in our landing craft, they’re made of armour plated steel, so they, for the large part, bullets didn’t go through them, but they made big dents in them all over. And, and so it was a frightening thing but we backed off and waited, the plan was to wait. Like we landed them at something like 5:00 in the morning., The plan was to pick them up at, at I think it was 7:00 or 8:00.
Well, we went in at that time, at 7:00. We waited out in the harbour until our time to pick them up came and we went in, we drove in and we attracted such an immense fire from the enemy that it was apparent that we were never going to pick anybody up alive. So we were given a signal to turn around and go back out into the centre of the harbour again while the Air Force and the naval guns tried to settle the enemy down. So we waited for an hour or two out there and then we were told to go in again, it should be a good bunch better now. So we went in and it hadn’t changed a bit, it was just as bad as it was the first time. So we were ordered to turn around and go back out again and then they send us a signal to head back to England. So we headed back to England with nobody else on the boat but the crew. So we landed about 35 or 40 soldiers there, but didn’t pick anybody up at all, they were just left.
First, I have to say that it was violent action. We were landing soldiers in an enemy occupied big city. The city of Dieppe was a pretty big city. Like, you know, I’d say the size of London [Ontario] or more, maybe. But it was a coastal town with a harbour there and we drove our landing craft full of soldiers right into the harbour and they were shooting at us all the way in of course. Because we arrived there a little after midnight, hoping that nobody knew we were coming. But they did know and were ready for us. And so we suffered a pretty high casualty rate. But we poured all our soldiers out on the beach. They attempted to capture the town but they only captured a small portion of it near the beach and realized that they were losing. We were losing the battle and we were going to lose everything if we didn’t get out of there. So we loaded them all back up and took them back out to the … I shouldn’t say all because nine tenths of them were captured or killed. But the one tenth that survived, we loaded them back up and put them on the ships and scooted back to England. And although we called it an utter failure, because we didn’t actually accomplish anything, but lost a great deal of men, but in the papers, they called it a great success because we landed there and came back. (laughs)