Operation Torch - A Royal Marines Story - Stanley Ogilvie
Unit/ Formation: RM People
Period/ Conflict: World War II
Date/s: 8–16 November 1942
Our recruit training had as its prime objective, the teaching of discipline by responding immediately to any word of command without question, and to achieve this we spent hours foot drilling under the watchful eye of our drill instructor on the Barrack Square. We acquired a high degree of fitness by spending much time in the gymnasium and also in the swimming pool, and I began to feel that I could cope with service life, always bearing in mind the maxim, ‘If it moves, salute it; ifit doesn’t, then paint it’.
Our training then continued under canvas in Cornwall, being taught military skills, the handling of weapons, field craft and going on long route marches covering 30 miles in under the optimum 8 hours. It was during one of these long route marches that Marine William D. Howells, affectionately always known as ‘Ben’ and who came from Cilfrew in Neath, who was in the next rank to me, began to limp saying that one of his feet was hurting him terribly.
To drop out on a route march was a sign of weakness, something we did not think about, so to help him I volunteered to carry his rifle as well as my own, exhorting him with the fact that it was only a few more miles back to camp. But still he limped, so Marine Glyn Griffiths from Llanelli who was in the other neighbouring rank volunteered to carry his back pack to make it easier for him. When we finally arrived at our camp, Ben flopped on to his bed, took offhis boot and sock and inside was the cause of all his suffering. A little rolled up ball of paper with the message on it, ‘May good luck go with the service man who wears these socks’, which had been inserted by the machinist who had knitted that pair of socks.
Needless to say, Ben did not think much of the good wishes. Thereafter, Ben became my ‘oppo’, defined in Royal Marine jargon as a close friend. The ‘opposite number’ of a two man team, a system used to ensure maximum effectiveness in military activities.
11.On the completion of our military skills training we returned to Stonehouse Barracks to complete the naval side of our training. This comprised the learning of seamanship, semaphore, morse code, together with naval gunnery ranging from 0.22 rifles through to high angle anti-aircraft weapons and 15 inch naval guns.
On the 7th of December, 1940 we were told by one of our instructors that the Japanese in an aerial attack had practically annihilated the American fleet at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. And so Japan entered the war on the side of the Axis with this event precipitating the entry of America into the Second World War on the side of the Allies.
All our intensive infantry and naval training culminated on the 20th of February, 1942 when as a squad and feeling super fit, we were passed for duty before General Sir W. W. Godfrey, K.C.B., C.M.G., Honorary Colonel Commandant, Plymouth Division. Having declined a commission and a non-commissioned rank, I, together with others of our squad volunteered to join Combined Operations, being posted to Eastney Barracks, Portsmouth for further intensive training.
On the 19th of August the ill-fated onslaught on Dieppe known as Operation’ Jubilee’ took place. We were lined up on the parade ground and could distinctly hear the noise of the battle continuing in France, but we were not called upon to give support to the raid which culminated in some 1,000 dead. The bodies of two thirds of the Canadian troops and a fifth of the British Commandos littered the French beaches, a further 2,000 men being stranded and taken prisoner. A costly operation in which we took no part after waiting several long hours for the ‘Stand Down’.
A short while later we were sent north to Scotland for landing craft exercises on the troop transport ships “Reina del Pacifico” and the “Monarch of Burmuda “, both pre-war luxury liners now commandeered for war service.
The training and exercises all had the same purpose, apart from the training as assault troops to fight alongside the landing parties, we were to form crews of light naval craft which supported landing operations during an invasion. This entailed dealing with the problems of approaching a hostile shore, landing upon it, or remaining off at close call and with the possibility of re- embarking troops from it.
The grand name Landing Craft Support [Medium], (LCS[M]) referred to our craft, 30 feet in length with an 8feet beam, shallow drafted and armour plated down to the water line. They carried a crew of 12, consisting of a Royal Naval Officer, a coxswain, a signaller, a seaman, a stoker and 7 Royal Marines each of whom, in addition to the usual kit carried a Thompson sub machine gun. The stoker sat aft between two Ford V8 engine which drove the twin propellers. The craft was fitted with a 4 inch mortar, which fired smoke or high explosive shells, a turret with twin Vickers 0.5 machine guns and smoke laying apparatus on the stem. In action the noise in the confined spaces was deafening.
All the training and exercises was soon put to good use, when with our (landing) craft swinging on the port side leading davits, we sailed in convoy from Liverpool aboard the Orient Line Transport Ship “Otranto” on the 23rd of October, 1942.
Our destination was unknown to us but it was evident that as the weather got slowly Warmer we were heading in a southerly direction. Our particular objective was the beach at Sidi Ferruch, just west of Algiers.
The noise of the engines of the assault craft had announced the advent of the invading force and we were subjected to searchlights being turned on us, and to a not very effective fire of artillery and machine guns. The enemy had been taken by surprise, but their underwater and air defences proved strong, and Allied ships were lost, together with much military equipment and the lives of many service men.
On our run in to the beach we had a whole panoramic view of the coast line with the red-tiled, white washed buildings standing out so beautifully against the light of dawn. At the time I thought that war was not so bad after all, little realising that war, like cream, turns sour within a very brief space of time.
On the morning of Monday the 9th of November, at 10.00 hours an armistice was signed, and so ended Operation ‘Torch’, but with operations continuing eastwards along the North African coast into Tunisia and Libya."