The date is also the 70th anniversary of the action in the harbour of Oran, Algeria which earned Canadian Capt. Frederic Thornton “Fritz” Peters, VC, DSO, DSC and bar, DSC (U.S.), RN the Victoria Cross and the U.S. Distinguished Service Cross – the highest awards for valour offered by Britain and the United States.
Born in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island and raised in Victoria, British Columbia before joining the Royal Navy at age 15 in 1905, Peters is unique among Canadian war heroes in receiving multiple awards for valour in both World War One and World War Two.
The story of Fritz Peters is told in the new biography “The Bravest Canadian – Fritz Peters, VC: The Making of a Hero of Two World Wars”, by Trail, B.C. writer Sam McBride. The main sources used by the author are a recently-discovered collection of personal letters, photographs and other documents that reveal Peters’ personality, motivations and remarkable fearlessness and cool demeanor in battle.
Published by Granville Island Publishing of Vancouver, B.C., the book will be available in book stores, through amazon.com and in electronic formats in November 2012.
The invasion of Vichy French territory was the first large combined operation of British and American forces. The initial targets of the invasion were the two largest cities and ports in Algeria, Oran and Algiers, as well as Casablanca in Morocco.
The harbour attack began on Sunday, November 8, 1942 at 3 am — two hours after the first Allied troops landed on beaches on the west and east flanks of Oran — as the cutter HMS Walney at top speed smashed through the harbor boom, followed immediately by its sister ship HMS Hartland. Despite heavy fire from all directions and 90 per cent casualties among the crew, Peters was able to maneuver Walney close to its target landing site a mile and a half within the congested harbour.
Peters and other survivors were taken prisoner by the French defenders, but released two days later when the city surrendered to advancing American troops. Peters was carried through the streets of Oran as a hero, but tragically he died in the evening of Friday, November 13, 1942 when the flying boat transporting him back to England to report on the action to Prince Minister Winston Churchill crashed in heavy fog in Plymouth Sound.
The surrender of the last Nazi forces in North Africa in May 1943 in the French colony of Tunisia secured Allied shipping lanes in the Mediterranean and gave the Allies bases for subsequent invasions of Sicily, mainland Italy and France.