In March 1943, just a few weeks after the Hayling COPP depot was established, a team of 15 men was sent out on an ill-fated mission, to examine the southern beaches of Sicily. Canoes were transported to within half a mile or so of their target and then launched from submarines. Before launching they were loaded with the equipment, and then floated free from the partially trimmed
submarine. Depending on the distance and the operating conditions the canoes were also often launched from small landing craft.
The teams operated in pairs, the navy personnel normally doing the sea reconnaissance, and the army the on-shore military surveys. The army officer sat in the front cockpit with his navy paddler in the rear. They paddled to within a few hundred yards of the shore
and anchored. The heavily equipped army man would then swim to the beach.
Lieutenant Philip Smith, RN, one of the expedition leaders, surveyed the area around Gela on the south west coast, with his partner Lieutenant D Brand, RNVR. Due to the appalling weather, upon completion of their mission, they missed the rendezvous with their carrier, the Royal Navy submarine P44 United.
Rather than risk capture, they then made an epic 75-mile trip back from Gela to their Malta base at Valetta, in heavy seas and with just one paddle, having spent over forty-four hours in their open canoe. When the exhausted pair arrived, Smith was asked by the incredulous Port Captain what they had done with their submarine!
Smith and Brand were awarded the DSC for their courage. However, overall the operation was not a success. Tragically, of the 15 men
who set out, five were captured, five were lost, and only five returned to base. But lessons were learned, and ultimately thousands of Allied troops would owe their lives worldwide, to the dedication of the men of COPP.