Men aboard the HMCS Prince Henry watch a Landing Craft Assault tow members of the FSSF in rubber boats. LAC PA-107905
After the demise of the Plough operation to destroy hydro electric facilities in Norway, the FSSF continued to train for operations in that theater of war. The British wanted the Force moved to England so that it could be ready should small raids or an actual invasion of Norway take place (Op JUPITER) later in 1943/44. Since it was deemed impossible to infiltrate the FSSF and the snow tanks via parachute or air landing methods, it was decided to give the Force training in amphibious landings. The British wanted the Force moved to Britain for this training. In fact, the main reason for this demand was to bolster winter warfare assets already in the UK in order to further deception plans surrounding Norway.
In April 1943, in a change of plans, it was agreed between the US and British that the Force undergo this training at the Amphibious Training Center, at Camp Bradford in Virginia. Only after this training was complete would the FSSF be shipped to Britain. However with operations in the works against the Aleutian Island of Kiska in the North Pacific Ocean, the US asked the British to divert the Force to that operation citing the need for experience. The British reluctantly agreed. However, once that operation was completed, they were to immediately move to Britain. The amphibious training received at Camp Bradford and Norfolk Virginia was now to be put to the test. Although it was determined that the enemy had vacated the island shortly after the attack went in, the Force was able to undertake a landing using rubber boats under realistic conditions.
Soon the course of the war found the FSSF in Italy. There they suffered heavy casualties dislodging enemy bastions along the winter line. However after clearing the initial defensive line, the allies bogged down before the next line known as the Gustav line. In a plan that was supposed to take pressure off forces along the Gustav line, the FSSF landed to bolster the defense of the beachhead at Anzio. There again, the FSSF suffered heavy casualties expanding the Anzio perimeter and later during the allied breakout to Rome.
It was around this time that serious calls were being made by both the US and Canadians to dissolve the Force. However before this could be worked out, the invasion of Southern France was finally to go forward. Initially code named ANVIL and later recoded as DRAGOON, the FSSF was assigned a very similar operation to that undertaken at Kiska the previous August. The FSSF was split and assigned to assault, by sea, the two main Islands of the Hyeres Island chain. The 2nd and 3rd Regiment was assigned the Island of Levant while 1st Regiment was assigned the Island of Port Cros.
With US Seventh Army Intelligence stating that coastal guns and garrisons were present on the Island (and a peep of the defences made by members of the Force onboard a submarine confirming these reports) it was the job of the Force to neutralize both in order to protect the main invasion by units of US VI Corps (US Seventh Army) and Free French forces.
The main problem confronting the Force before the DRAGOON operation was trained forcemen. With all the previous fighting and heavy casualties, few remained with the training and experience of amphibious assaults. More particularly, the handling of rubber boats. In order for the old hands to show the newbies how to do it, training in earnest began in July. This was only roughly a month before DRAGOON took place. The main landing ships involved in the training of the Force were HMCS Prince Henry and Baudouin. The photographs shown on this page depict members of the FSSF training with members of these Canadian landing ships. They were taken on 9-10 August 1944 depicting tactical amphibious exercises mounted against the Islands of the Ponziano Archipelago located a short distance off the Italian city of Naples. Others are of the FSSF move on the 11th to their staging area at Propiano Bay on the Island of Corsica. There are also some of the actual DRAGOON operation from 15 to 18 August 1944. These show enemy prisoners captured on the Islands from the 917th Regiment of the 242nd Division and Kriegsmarine being transported on landing craft to prisoner cages set up along the mainland coast somewhere between Sylvabelle and St. Raphael. While substantial garrisons were present on the Islands holed up in old fortifications, the coastal guns turned out to be dummies. After DRAGOON, the FSSF found themselves in Southern France chasing the enemy to the Italian border.
The cliffs of Ponza and armoured Landing Craft Assault from the HMCS Prince Henry LAC Photo GM-2380
Forcemen and crew from the Canadian Landing Ship HMCS Prince Henry on the Island of Ponza off the coast of Naples 9 August 1944. LAC Photo GM-2450