Operation Ferry

This was the British amphibious landing at Porto San Venere in southern Italy to support ‘Baytown’ (i) (7/8 September 1943).

It was only on 6 September that Lieutenant General M. C. Dempsey, commanding the XIII Corps within General Sir Bernard Montgomery’s 8th Army, which had landed at Reggio di Calabria in ‘Baytown’ (i), decided that Brigadier R. E. Urquhart’s 231st Brigade should land near Pizzo, on the ‘instep’ of the Italian ‘foot’ to the north-east of Reggio di Calabria, during 8 September, hold a bridgehead at Porto San Venere, and attempt to cut off the German forces falling back in front of Major General G. C. Bucknall’s 5th Division by cutting Highway 18.

Naval support for the undertaking would be provided by the monitor Erebus and the gunboats Aphis and Scarab, and air support would be provided by Air Vice Marshal H. Broadhurst’s Desert Air Force, which offered 90 Curtiss Kittyhawk fighter-bombers of the RAF to attack positions, 70 Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawk aircraft of the USAAF to strafe and sweep, and 250 Supermarine Spitfire fighters to provide continuous air cover over the beach-head.

The time available for the preparation of the operation was very short as the assault convoy sailed from Messina at 18.30 on 7 September. The time limitation had also made it impossible to arrange navigation aids for finding the planned landing beaches, and it was therefore hoped that accurate navigation would be provided by ‘fixes’ obtained as the assault convoy proceeded along the coast to the north of Cape Vaticano. But at night it proved impossible to see the breakwater at Porto San Venere, and almost inevitably, therefore, the leading troops landed in the wrong places and in the wrong sequence on 8 September. Fortunately, though, there was no one to challenge the landing.

This provided Urquhart’s troops with the opportunity to reorganise themselves just in time to receive the first elements of Generalleutnant Smilo Freiherr von Lüttwitz’s 26th Panzerdivision, of Generaloberst Heinrich-Gottfried von Vietinghoff-Scheel’s 10th Army, which began to arrive at 08.15 with the 3/4th Fallschirmjägerregiment in the lead. At 09.40 eight German dive-bombers attacked the craft off the coast, and 40 minutes later the whole of the 26th Panzerdivision’s Kampfgruppe had entered the fray. About 11.30 the 3/71st Panzergrenadierregiment was committed, made no impression on the 1/Dorsetshire Regiment and then sought to by-pass the British-held position along a side road.

The German paratroopers delivered a strong attack during the afternoon on the 1/Hampshire Regiment holding the northern part of the British position, and there developed a hard fight in which the British held their ground, and toward evening the whole German force pulled away to the north. The Desert Air Force intervened on several occasions, and had the greater share in destroying 11 German pieces of artillery and nine vehicles.

The 231st Brigade’s casualties were about 200 men, and three landing craft and one motor torpedo boat were sunk or damaged. The 5th Division, now spearheaded by the 231st Brigade, now advanced toward Nicastro on 9/10 September, but met no opposition as the focus of the Germans’ attention had by this time shifted farther to the north to the area of Salerno, where ‘Avalanche’ had been launched.