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Operation Torch

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Operation Torch was a combined British/american invasion of the Vichy French North African coast which took place between November 8 and 12, 1942.

The Clyde was chosen as the main assembly and final training area for the operation. The inner firth was already well defended by a series of layers of defences, and the lower firth was patrolled by ships on anti-submarine patrols. The area was also covered by listening posts, indicator loop stations, three coastal batteries, and the final barrier of the Cloch Boom, which was covered by the guns at the Coastal Battery Cloch Point and two 12-pounders sited at Dunoon.

Passage through the boom was presided over by an XDO (Extended Defence Officer), then Captain Tancred, from a group of buildings which lay on the hillside above the Cloch Lighthouse. Signals requesting passage through the firth were sent as NWSP (Navy wants ship passed), with permission being granted by the reply SPG (Safe past guns).

Training

Large areas of the surrounding area became Restricted Areas due to the extensive troop training being carried out in advance of the operation, much of it involving live firing. Tented camps were established throughout the area to accommodate the troops.

One specific area of training involved the destruction of coastal gun batteries. The coastal battery at Cloch Point was used to train American officers and senior sergeants, who were taught to disable the guns by destroying their sights. Unable to be laid, or aimed, the guns were effectively rendered useless. They were taught that the best way to totally destroy a gun was to load a first round into the breech, then force a second into the barrel. When the gun was fired, using a long lanyard or wire, the blockage resulted in the destruction of the barrel.

Coastal Battery Ardhallow, which had two 6-inch guns and a large 9.2-inch gun (which was never fired due to the number of local windows which would have shattered as a result), was used as an attack target which teams of camouflaged Americans would assault by night. During the day, young officers in flashy uniforms and equally flashy large staff cars would try to talk their way in to the battery. All ended up in the guard hut.

Security

Sergeant Robert A Simpson, a native of Gourock whose father owned the Gourock Times and its associated print works, was responsible for port security and travel control. This association was put to good use when special 'S' passes were required for issue to non-military personnel visiting ships in the firth. The small print works with its small staff of known and trusted local staff posed less of a security risk than a larger facility.

In order prevent troops in transit from mixing with the general public and potentially giving any information away, a large toilet was built on Platform 4 of Gourock Station, exclusively for use by troops.

The organisation of Operation Torch meant that a huge number of telephone calls would be made. Telephone exchanges of the day were not automatic, and needed operators to connect the call, so many additional telephone operators were drafted in to handle the load. All those who were drafted in had Scots accents.

Planning

The detailed planning of the convoy assembly, the massing and dispersal of the troops, and the loading of the ships was carried out in a requisitioned convent in Barhill Road, Gourock, called Marymount. This was better known within naval circles of the time as Signal City. The required painstaking detail to be considered, and even took into account the minimum space required by one man in a hammock.

Logistics

Six convoys were assembled in the waters off Gourock. In order to achieve this number and provide sufficient escort numbers, other convoys were re-routed on longer but less dangerous routes which required few escort vessels, or even none. Others, such as the larger and more hazardous Murmansk convoys were cancelled. The Russians were given many and varied reasons for the cancellations, so that the real reason would not be revealed or become apparent.

Troops were loaded at night, when whole tented camps would be vacated and disappear overnight. This proved to be a bonanza for some locals, with much tinned and other food behind left behind in the darkness. Unfortunately, there were also reports of some casualties arising from live ordnance which was also left behind.

The first convoy left on October 22, 1942, the last on November 2, 1942.

References

  • A River Runs to War by John D Drummond.

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