A great invasion armada prepares for battle

Allied assault troops board American invasion craft in North Africa while, in the background, fully loaded landing craft set sail for Sicily.

Allied assault troops board American invasion craft in North Africa while, in the background, fully loaded landing craft set sail for Sicily.

Troops queue for a mug of tea at an Egyptian port while waiting to embark on ships bound for Sicily.

Troops queue for a mug of tea at an Egyptian port while waiting to embark on ships bound for Sicily.

The largest amphibious invasion force in history was now assembling at sea. Convoys from the UK would be joining ships from the North African naval bases. This was a far larger operation than Torch and the prospect of a hostile reception was much greater. Yet levels of secrecy remained high and many men did not know where they were headed until the last few days.

In North Africa Lieutenant Derek Whitehorn RNVR, was beach master for the Commando forces:

Doing his rounds in a jeep General Montgomery pulled up and asked me, ‘Who are the sailors and where do they come from?’ He made a few remarks directly to us, emphasising our importance and how we must not let down the folks at home.

Later I was ordered to attend an oration by Monty to all the officers involved in the initial thirty- minute phase of the forthcoming assault. This was most inspiring and for the very first time gave me tremendous confidence in what we were about to undertake.

See Beachhead Assault: The Story of the Royal Navy Commandos of World War II.

Troops embarking into landing craft at Tripoli for the invasion of Sicily, 3 July 1943.

Troops embarking into landing craft at Tripoli for the invasion of Sicily, 3 July 1943.

A British soldier reads up on Sicily, the target for the next Allied invasion, July 1943.

A British soldier reads up on Sicily, the target for the next Allied invasion, July 1943.

Stewart Linsell was an officer with Combined Operations on a ship travelling from Britain:

On the 3rd July, after ten boring days, we passed through the Straits of Gibraltar. Into the Med, but where to? Unbelievably those ten days of utter boredom saw the Atlantic calm as a mill-pond, and to pass the time the Canadian officers joined us in various card games and exercises and races around the long deck. Every day now we were visited by Sunderland, Catalina and Liberator aircraft.

The following day a large merchantman, the ‘Pride of Venice’, way off our starboard side was torpedoed and sunk. An hour later the ‘St. Esytt’ off our port side was torpedoed and sunk. We all had the horrible feeling that it was our oil tanker the U-boat was really after. Or was there more than one?

That evening, after two weeks at sea, we were told our destination was Sicily, and our landing beach in the south-east corner near Pachino. Soon after hearing this there was an almighty explosion close to hand and rushing on deck we saw the ‘Dervis’, the Commodore’s ship just ahead of us, had been torpedoed. Four more destroyers had joined our existing four the previous day, along with the old monitor ‘Roberts’ with its twin massive 16inch guns. After fourteen minutes the ‘Dervis’ sank.

We later learned that of the three huge convoys heading for Sicily ours was the only one to suffer any losses.

See BBC People’s War. U-boat net has more precise details.

HMS Roberts had 15 inch guns and was primarily designed for naval gunfire support.

HMS Roberts had 15 inch guns and was primarily designed for naval gunfire support.

Men of 2nd Seaforth Highlanders embarking onto landing craft at Sousse en route for Sicily, 5 July 1943.

Men of 2nd Seaforth Highlanders embarking onto landing craft at Sousse en route for Sicily, 5 July 1943.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Editor July 4, 2013 at 9:43 pm

Scott, many thanks for the update.

Scott July 4, 2013 at 6:39 pm

Ships are missnamed in this commentary. “City of Venice” not “Pride of Venice”, and “St. Essylt” (with an “l”). These were attacked by U-375. The “Dervis” was sunk by U-593 on July 5. Convoy KMS-18B on “uboat.net” has pictures.

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