Sicily--ItalyAs described in General Marshall's Report to the Secretary of War, in 1945
The Strategic Concept
CASABLANCA MEETING IN JANUARY 1943 In January 1943, President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill, with the Combined Chiefs of Staff, met at Casablanca. "It was then apparent," General Marshall's Report to the Secretary of War stated, "that our North African operation was to be successful, even beyond original calculations, Tunisia was a lure into which the German command continued to pour great quantities of men and materiel, commitments that were certain to be disastrous for the enemy once the winter rains ceased and the low clouds over the Sicilian Strait cleared, in the face of overwhelming Allied superiority on the sea and in the air. At the conclusion of the North African campaign, enemy killed and captured numbered 349,306 Italian and German troops, and there had been captured or destroyed on land alone nearly 200,000 tons of enemy materiel."
DECISION MADE TO ASSAULT SICILY--OPERATION HUSKY "The problem before the Chiefs of Staff at Casablanca was the next movement to be made following the completion of the Tunisian campaign," the Report continued. "It still would have been preferable to close immediately with the German enemy in Western Europe or even in Southern France had that been possible of achievement with the resources then available to General Eisenhower. It was not. Axis control of the Mediterranean islands and the entire reach of the southern coast of Europe from Franco's Spain to Turkey denied our communications also across the Mediterranean and forced our shipping into a 12,000-mile detour around the Cape of Good Hope. The United States was still involved in the process of a vast mobilization. The Chiefs of Staff therefore considered whether we had the strength to move directly to Italy or what might be the best intermediary steps. It was decided to assault Sicily (operation HUSKY) and, with the approval of the Heads of State, General Eisenhower was advised on 23 January: 'The Combined Chiefs of Staff have resolved that an attack against Sicily will be launched in 1943 with the target date as the period of the favorable July moon.'"
TRIDENT CONFERENCE PLANS EXTENDED ALLIED CONTROL IN MEDITERRANEAN However, before the assault of Sicily was actually undertaken, the President, the Prime Minister, and the Combined Chiefs of Staff met again in Washington, in May 1943, this meeting being designated the TRIDENTconference. "It was at this Conference," General Marshall's Report stated, "that the Combined Chiefs
of Staff decided to extend Allied influence in the Mediterranean to the point where Italy would he forced to withdraw from the war."
INVASION OF EUROPE BEGINS The invasion of Europe began the night of July 9, 1943. Following a crescendo of bombing attacks which knocked out several of the more important enemy airfields, destroyed substantial numbers of Axis aircraft either on the ground or in the air, and disrupted local transport and communications, a force of American and British airborne troops descended on the southeast corner of Sicily, In the early morning of Saturday, July 10, strong Allied forces, made up of American, British, and Canadian troops, under the command of General Eisenhower, began landing operations in southern Sicily. Intensive air attacks by Allied air forces preceded and accompanied the invasion, and supplied widespread fighter cover for the landings, which continued throughout the day.
BEGINNING OF THE END Geographically speaking, the mountainous, vineyard-covered island of Sicily was not an integral part of Hitler's "Festung Europe," but strategically, economically, and politically it was. President Roosevelt, in telling the news late on the evening of the 9th to a group at the White House who were attending a dinner in honor of General Giraud, recalled that Prime Minister Churchill had called the Allied invasion of North Africa the preceding November "the end of the beginning." Said the President, "I think you can almost say that this action tonight is the beginning of the end."
RELIGIOUS INSTITUTIONSTO BE SPARED President Roosevelt addressed a communication to Pope Pius XII in which he said that during the struggles ahead, "churches and religious institutions will, to the extent that is within our power, be spared the devastations of war." He also stated that "throughout the period of operations the neutral status of Vatican City, as well as of the papal domains throughout Italy, will be respected."
FIRST STEP IS LIBERATION On the day of the invasion, a message from General Eisenhower to the French people in France was broadcast in which he warned the French people to keep calm, not to be deceived by false rumors and not to expose themselves to reprisals through premature action. Calling the invasion of Sicily "the first step in the liberation of the European continent," he promised that "when the hour of action strikes, we will let you know."
SICILY LANDINGS A BIG AFFAIR The invasion of Sicily was a very big affair. The British landed on the east side, the Americans on the west side. The American area was divided into three sections. In the center portion, the Samuel Chase and the Joseph T. Dickman, both Coast Guard manned, had a considerable role in the landings. The Leonard Wood, Coast Guard manned, was in the southern section, having come directly from the
VICE ADMIRAL R. R. WAESCHE, COMMANDANT OF THE U.S. COAST GUARD
PINS THE LEGION OF MERIT ON CAPTAIN CHARLES W. HARWOOD
States with the 45th Army Division. In the northern section were many LCI's, making their first appearance. They had been organized in the States and formed a large part of the northern force. On those vessels were very able crews. In addition, there were a few LST's, Coast Guard manned.
"WENT OFF LIKE CLOCKWORK" The invasion of Sicily was looked upon with considerable dread. "Everybody was pretty scared," Captain Charles W. Harwood, USCG, Commanding Officer of the DICKMAN, later related, "We thought--I mean the higher authority--that we might take a shellacking. As a result, everything was planned in detail. We had full dress rehearsals. We had experienced ships and experienced men. The thing went off like clockwork. We ran into some opposition, but there were no submarines involved at this time. Sometimes our own planes and sometimes the enemy were overhead. I regretted that they never seemed to tangle when they were in our vicinity. They did strafe the beaches and they dropped bombs occasionally. They had been flying around and hadn't really hurt us any, and one afternoon I was dissertating to the rest of the officers on how foolish this high altitude bombing was - they couldn't hit us. In the middle of that I heard one of the yeomen say, 'They are dropping leaflets on us!' The leaflets turned out to make a lot of noise. They knocked a lot of holes in us and wounded a few men. It was only a close miss, but close enough to make the boys realize they had been around."
A DISTINGUISHED COAST GUARD LEADER In Sicily, as in North Africa, Commander (later Captain) Harwood was one of the most able leaders, distinguishing himself for sound judgment in planning, thorough indoctrination of his forces, and by his cool and skillful leadership under fire. In addition to his duty as Commanding Officer of the Transport, Joseph T. Dickman, he commanded the Naval Task Group which landed assault battalions directly on the beaches fronting Gela, Sicily. How he came through unscathed while close beside him men were wounded and killed, is a saga of dauntless courage, confidence and faith. As if covered by a shield and buckler, he seemed oblivious of the terror by night and the arrow that flew by day, A thousand fell at his side, but it did not come near him. One of his men reported, "Captain Harwood is awfully cool under fire."
BRAVERY REWARDED Discussing bravery in battle, some time later, the Captain told of an enlisted man who became excited and lifted his hands high above his head, as if to protect himself, as a shell whizzed by. The fearless officer stood absolutely still, and he remained unhurt, the shell passing harmlessly by above his head. On the other hand, the man who raised his hands was struck! Peeling some blood on his neck, he thought he was hurt there, but later discovered the blood came from a wound in his hand. Captain Harwood, a kindly, understanding person, observed that of course the man had raised his hands in a sort of reflex act to ward off danger, and then added with a smile that if that man had kept his hands down the shell would have passed harmlessly by above him.
COMMANDER (NOW CAPTAIN) ROGER C. HEIMER
CAPTAIN HARWOOD'S CITATION Captain Harwood was awarded the Legion of Merit for outstanding service while commanding this Naval Task Group during the assault on Sicily, the award was made by Vice Admiral K, K. Hewitt, Commander of the U.S. Naval Forces in Northwest African Waters, in the name of the President of the United States, and was presented by Admiral Waesche. The citation awarding the Legion of Merit to Captain Harwood reads: "For exceptionally meritorious performance of outstanding service as Commander of a Naval Task Group during the amphibious assault on the Island of Sicily. In addition to his duty as commanding officer of a U.S. transport, Captain Harwood commanded the Naval Task Group which landed assault battalions directly on the beaches fronting Gela, Sicily. By his sound judgment in planning, thorough indoctrination of his forces, and by his cool and skillful leadership under fire the assault battalions were expeditiously landed and supported, thereby greatly contributing to the success of the invasion. The able leadership and outstanding professional skill displayed by Captain Harwood reflected great credit upon himself and the Naval Service."
JOINT PLANS D-day was fixed for July 10, 1943. H-hour was set at 0245. In broad terms, the attack against Sicily was to be made by two attack forces--the American, the Western Task Force; and the British, the Eastern Task Force. The plan was to sever Sicily from its mainland connection and force it to fall of its own weight. Vice Admiral Henry K. Hewitt, USN, was in command of the naval strength of the Western Task Force. Lieutenant General George S. Patton, Jr., was in command of the Western Task Force Army Troops. Over-all naval command was under Admiral Cunningham of the Royal Navy.
PLAN OF OPERATION
The Western Naval Task Force, under Vice Admiral Hewitt was divided into three main attack forces - JOSS, DIME, and CENT. JOSS Attack Force, under the Commander Landing Craft and Bases, Northwest African Waters, Rear Admiral Richard L. Connolly, USN, had as its first objective the port and airfield at Licata. Aboard its flagship was Major General Lucien Truscott, Commander of the 3rd Division. Operating as part of the JOSS Force was LCI(L) FLOTILLA FOUR, in command of Commander Miles H. Imlay, USCG. Its landing position would be on the left flank of the beach area.
DIME Attack Force, under the Commander Amphibious Force, Northwest African Waters, Rear Admiral John L. Hall, Jr.; USN, had as its initial objective the capture of Gela and the airfield at Ponte Olivo. Aboard the DIME flagship was Major General Terry Allen, commanding the 1st Division. Two Coast Guard manned transports formed part of DIME Attack Force: the USS Samuel Chase, flagship, (Commander Roger C. Heimer, USCG), and the Joseph T. Dickman, (Commander Charles W. Harwood, USCG). This group would strike at the center of the beach area.
REAR ADMIRAL MERLIN O'NEILL, ASSISTANT COMMANDANT OF THE COAST GUARD PICTURED ON BOARD THE ASSAULT TRANSPORT, Leonard Wood, WHICH HE COMMANDED (IN THE RANK OF CAPTAIN) DURING OPERATIONS AGAINST NORTH AFRICA, SICILY, AND IN THE SOUTH PACIFIC
CENT Attack Force, under the Commander Sixth Amphibious Force, Rear Admiral Alan G. Kirk, USN, had is its objective the capture of Scoglitti, and the airfields of Cormiso and Biscari. CENT Force would land the 45th Division troops under the command of Major General Troy H. Middleton. In CENT Attack Force was the Coast Guard manned transport Leonard Wood, (Commander Merlin O'Neill, USCG). This group would strike on the right flank.
In addition, there were minesweeping and minelaying groups, destroyer divisions and squadrons, light cruisers and destroyers for shore bombardment prior to troop landings, PT squadrons, smaller auxiliary patrol craft and landing craft, all of whose duties were to be part of the HUSKY Naval Operation Plan, which involved roughly: 2,500 vessels; 4,000 aircraft; and 250,000 troops.1
The operation at Scoglitti was to be ship-to-shore, that is, troops would land from transports in small craft; that at Licata was to be shore-to-shore, that is, troops would come all the way in larger landing craft; and that at Gela was to be mixed. In all three areas, the initial assault troops were landed in LCVP's, whether they had been brought to the area in transports or in the larger types of landing craft.
Eisenhower's first orders posted to the Force were as follows.
"We are about to engage in the second phase of the Operations which began with the invasion of North Africa.
"We have defeated the enemy's forces on the south shore of the Mediterranean and captured his Army intact.
"The French in North Africa, from whom the yoke of Axis domination has been lifted, are now our loyal Allies.
"However, this is not enough. Our untiring pressure on the enemy must be maintained, and we are about to pursue the invasion and occupation of enemy territory.
"The successful conclusion of these operations will not only strike closer to the heart of the Axis, but also will remove the last threat to the free sea lanes of the Mediterranean.
"Remember that this time it is indeed enemy territory which we are attacking, and as such we must expect extremely difficult fighting.
DOWN COME THE RAMPS AS COAST GUARD LANDING CRAFT HIT THE BEACH DURING THE INVASION OF SICILY
"But we have learned to work smoothly alongside one another as a team, and many of you who will be in the first ranks of this force know full well the meaning of air and naval superiority.
"The task is difficult but your skill, courage, and devotion to duty will be successful in driving our enemies closer to disaster and leading us towards victory and the liberation of Europe and Asia."
DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER
General, U.S. Army
LANDINGS SUCCESSFUL The American forces landed between east of Licata and east of Gela, the Canadians around Pachino, and the British units south of Syracuse. The initial landings of the main assault force on July 10, made before dawn at points along the southeastern and southern coast, extended one hundred miles from south of Syracuse to east of Porto Empedocle. In spite of heavy swells and unfavorable weather conditions, the landings proceeded according to plan and by 0600 enemy resistance had been neutralized by the heavy firing of our covering naval force, and the success of all the landings was assured. By 0730, our troops were advancing inland and artillery was being put ashore. Enemy air opposition to the landings was notably light.
ENEMY SURPRISED Long-anticipated as the attack had been both by us and by the enemy, its actual materialization seemed to have surprised the foe. Most of the enemy forces were concentrated in the western and northern parts of the island, and, for the first few days at least, the enemy was unable to move his forces in any great strength to block our advances from the southeast. As the week ended, our troops seemed to be securely established on the Sicilian shore from Licata on the south to Augusta on the east, a distance of about one hundred fifty miles. Several airfields were already in our hands, while our command of the area enabled us to maintain a constant flow of reinforcements from Tunisia and Libya.
HEAVIEST RESISTANCE IN GELA AREA Apparently the heaviest resistance was met in the Gela area, where some German units supported by tanks and a considerable force of Italian infantry were beaten back by American troops. Opposing the landings was an estimated Axis force of from 200,000 to 300,000 men under nominal command of Italian General Alfredo Guzzoni but actually controlled by German General Hans Hube. The first Axis counter-attack came on July 11, when the 4th Italian Division, supported by a hundred German tanks, struck the American beachhead at Gela. The attack penetrated to within a half a mile of the beach at one point but was finally
AN LCM IS LAUNCHED FROM A COAST GUARD MANNED TRANSPORT
driven off by artillery and naval gunfire. After this attack, Axis resistance in the southern area diminished rapidly. Coastal fighting was said to have revealed poor enemy fighting qualities and to have indicated that Italian morale was extremely low. The civilian inhabitants were in the main friendly and cooperative towards our forces.
BRITISH SUBMARINES GUIDE CONVOY As the Attack Forces of the Western Task Force separated for their rendezvous stations, three British submarines that had reached their positions
much earlier, waiting quietly in the enemy waters for this moment, surfaced and guided the silent transports into their anchorage. It was past midnight, July 10, D-Day. The ships were close to shore, close enough for the men to see the fires burning from the bombs that had been dropping all day long. On every ship, battle stations were manned. Troops and boat crews were ready.
BOMBARDMENT BEGINS By 0030, most of the Western Task Force vessels were anchored in their assigned positions. The shore bombardment groups of cruisers and destroyers were ready. The anti-submarine screens of destroyers and patrol craft were sweeping like silent sentries to the seaward and on the flanks.
LAUNCHING AMPHIBIOUS CRAFT Getting the small craft overside was risky, tricky work. Tackle parted, boats were stove in. On the Florence Nightingale, for example, a 25-ton LCM broke loose as it was being hoisted outboard, and began to swing like a pendulum with the roll of the ship, banging up against the ship, now up by the bridge, now by the fantail. And every time she struck the ship's side something gave, with a booming crash that could be heard through the entire transport area. Little rocket boats were smashed and sank as soon as they hit the water. It was a nasty, dangerous business to be carried on in pitch darkness, under the guns of a waiting enemy.
CASUALTIES LIGHT But the job was done, with surprisingly few casualties. The small boats formed their circles, came alongside; the soldiers clambered down the cargo nets into the heaving, totting craft. And at 0215--right on time--the boats of the DIME and JOSS forces headed for the beaches of Sicily. There was an hour's delay in the CENT Area, caused by the weather, then the boats of that force, too, raced in for the assault.
LANDINGS AT GELA The following eye-witness account by Captain Harwood gives an all-over picture of what operation HUSKY looked like as the assault got underway.
U.S. COAST GUARD MANNED COMBAT TRANSPORT Joseph T. Dickman
CAPTAIN HARWOOD'S ACCOUNT2 The Joseph T. Dickman, APA No. 13, was named for the greater part by men and officers from the Coast Guard; with some Navy boats' crews, other ratings, and Navy Officers. The ship was commissioned June 10, 1941 and went immediately to Onslow Bay to train and conduct exercises with units of the First Division (Army). Some of these same troops came back aboard a little over two years later in the Mediterranean and made the landings at Gela, Sicily, with us.
The Dickmman had been ordered to the Pacific but received orders, after making a convoy trip to Brisbane, Australia, to report to the Atlantic Amphibious Force. We were then assigned to the Mediterranean Area and enroute took a consignment of colored troops, about twenty-five hundred of them, from Norfolk to Oran. We were part of an Attack Transport Division under Captain Edgar, USN.
Upon arrival at Oran the Division reported to Admiral Hall, to become part of the Amphibious Force of the Northwest African Waters. For about a month, there, we trained units of the First Division and, in company with the other ships, held a full dress rehearsal at Andaluses Bay, Here actual conditions were simulated as nearly as possible. However, a change in plans was made and the Dickmman was assigned as a task group leader to land a special force consisting of Rangers, combat engineers, and a chemical war service battalion which was to provide artillery support. This unit was equipped with 4.2 mortars. A unit of the RAF, which was complete with trucks, bombs, lubricating oil, gasoline, and mats for the field was also attached. We moved up to Algiers for the final staging.
The landings at Sicily were to be made by three task forces of American units. The one to the northward near Licata, was to be composed of small craft carrying an Army division which was mounted at Bizerte. The central force, which was called the "DIME force was to land at Gela, and on the beaches below Gela. A third unit, the "CENT" made up of transports under Admiral Kirk, was to come directly from the States and land new troops about twelve miles below Gela.
The task group to which the Dickmman was assigned was made up, in addition to the Dickmman, of two British transports, the Prince Charles and the Prince Leopold, some LCI's and LST, one PC boat assigned as the boat group control, and two SC's assigned for secondary control and close fire support. During the rehearsal at Andaluses, the two British boats were not present,
U.S. COAST GUARD GUNNERS TENSELY STUDY THE LOWERING SKIES FOR ENEMY PLANES AS THE COAST GUARD-MANNED TRANSPORT NEARS SICILY
but appeared after we arrived at Algiers. There was time available at Algiers to hold joint exercises, and these were held both in the day time and the night. The principal desire was to indoctrinate the boat crews and the wave commanders, and to see that the technique of both services and all phases of the plans were understood, by every man in the unit. We loaded troops in Algiers and sailed about four days before the assumed date for landing. The Southern Task Force, which had rendezvoused at Oran, fell in behind us, the second day out. The ships sailed down through the Tunisian war channel and headed to the eastward, then turned up, and took a departure off Malta. The column of LST's and LCI's, which had stayed at Bizerte and Tunis, joined us that afternoon, that is on D-1 day.
Very heavy weather was encountered. This did not particularly affect the larger ships but made very rough going for the LCI's and the patrol craft. They were able to pull through, however, and were in their assigned positions when we arrived off the beaches. A British submarine, the Shakespeare, had been assigned to reconnoiter the area prior to our arrival and take a definite position off the approach. During the last few hours the sea moderated considerably and the visibility became excellent. We were able to pick up the signals from the Shakespeare from some distance off and made the approach on her without any difficulty. The ships were in column at this time with the cruiser Savannah acting as tactical command and leading the column. The Dickmman was next in line, followed by the units of her task group. We had been warned that the planes earning airborne troops would probably pass over us as we approached. The landings were scheduled to occur shortly after the moon had set. This was arranged so the paratroops could have some light to effect their landings and then the shipborne units could land at the darkest period. Shortly after we rounded the turn where the submarine beacon was located, the returning planes passed over us, flying about masthead height. In fact they looked so close that I thought they would carry away our barrage balloon. We could see the firing on the island, particularly tracers firing at the planes and some lights. Bonfires were burning. These were visible eight or ten miles distant. After we rounded the submarine, whose position we were able to check and determine as fairly close, a run was made at a definite speed and course and we stopped at what was very nearly the exact position we had determined on for lowering our boats.
This was a very critical phase of the operation, from the transport view-point, because of the difficulty the small boats have in running into the beach, which was unmarked at the time they started. The distance of around six miles, with unreliable compasses, could cause the boats to get off as much as a mile or two. During the final
COAST GUARDSMEN ON GUN HATCH OFF THE SHORES OF SICILY. THEIR TRANSPORT CARRIES U.S. ARMY CONTINGENTS
approach, activities ashore subsided somewhat, as though they had thought the show was over for the evening. When we arrived in that area we stopped and gave some predetermined signals to the ships astern of us so that the entire force would be in its prescribed positions. A boat was lowered immediately for the use of the beach-marking crew. They went immediately in toward the beaches that had been assigned to the force. These beaches lay one on each side of a mole which extended out from Gela about a thousand feet. It had been hoped to seize this mole and use it for unloading of vessels, particularly the LST's. We had considerable time in which to lower our troops and I had intended to wait awhile after we got there in order to prevent the troops from having too long a lay in the boat, pending the run into the beach. However, there was still some activity ashore and a searchlight from the beach began to swing around. It was a rather peculiar thing about the light that each time it swung over us it was lifted. It looked almost as though it was intentional and a rumor (that some of our casualties came back with) was that the Italians thought that their own ships had come in to protect them. They said that they expected the landing and thought that their own Navy had come down to thwart it. Seeing these lights, and knowing the position of the Italian batteries, it seemed that they might start to work on us at any moment so we put our troops in the water and had them ready to go.
The Dickmman could land a complete unit, that is lower them and have them ready to start into the beach, in about twenty minutes. In this case about an hour and a half was available, but it was necessary to get then clear so that if shells started landing the casualties would be very much lighter, and we would be sure of having at least the major part of the men ready to go and carry out their mission. It was also desirable to let the boat-control vessels arrive in position so that the landing boats could form and go on with them. The patrol craft had had some difficulty, due to the heavy weather, and were somewhat late in arriving. So it was necessary to start the boats in on their own. But fortunately, the patrol craft arrived just after they had started and were able to catch up with them. We sent the boats in, kept track of them in our radar screens, and were able to assist them in arriving at the right place on the beach. The scout boat had found the beach and properly marked it. His lights were visible some distance, so the boats were all able to find the correct beach and the correct part of it.
The boats went in in waves. We had two battalions of Rangers, one was divided between the boats of the two British transports, and one in the boats of the Dickmman. These boats
COAST GUARDSMAN CHARLES SHERIS HAS A BIG GRIN DESPITE SHRAPNEL WOUNDS RECEIVED WHEN GERMAN BOMBERS ATTACKED A COAST GUARD-MANNED TRANSPORT CARRYING SOLDIERS FOR THE INVASION OF GELA, SICILY
formed a line abreast and landed simultaneously on the beach. One battalion on one side of the mole and one on the other. They were followed at an interval of twenty-five minutes by a battalion of combat engineers, these being used as shock troops on this occasion. They were then followed by the LCI's carrying the chemical warfare unit with their mortars and immediate ammunition. Behind them we sent in some Army "DUKWs" loaded with ammunition for the immediate support of the troops. The boats ran into some fire on the way in but the troops were able to get off successfully with the exception of one Army Lieutenant who was killed by machine gun fire from shore before he could land. The heaviest fire was received by the boats just after they retracted. Fortunately, however, the crews escaped with the loss of only one man killed and five wounded. Most of the wounded were able to return to their boats after receiving first-aid aboard the ship.
The loading of equipment continued after the first troops went off. Boats were assigned from the Oberon, which is an AKA, and some were also available from the LST, which did not require them for her own immediate use. These were loaded with ammunition and stood by awaiting word from the beach as to the proper place to land, and that the beachhead was secured.
The troops were an unusually able unit. Most of them had been seasoned in the actions at Tunis and in the landings at Oran and were composed largely of specially selected men from the Army. The Commanding Officer of the troops was Colonel Darby of the Rangers, who went in with our boat group commander. He checked the position of his troops on the beach and then landed himself. The troops then immediately went in and around the town, caught the Italian Staff still in their beds, and captured 600 prisoners before daylight. They had so firmly secured the town that the Colonel was able to come back to the ship for a visit at noon time.
There were numerous casualties on the beaches due to the fact that it was heavily mined. Vehicles mines were planted very thickly and there were many personnel mines. Most of the casualties to the troops were caused by the personnel mines. A few were hit by machine guns and there were some small calibre high explosives, possibly 40 mm. type.
Captain Harwood, how accurate was the advance information given you?
U.S. COAST GUARDSMEN TAKE A PARTY OF NAVY MEN ASHORE TO SET UP A NAVAL OPERATING BASE ON THE SICILIAN SHORE
The information was quite complete and very accurate. There was some doubt, however, from the Intelligence as to just how closely the beaches at Gela were controlled by enemy artillery fire, and as to just where the troops were located there. We had fairly definite information of the location of their batteries, and we knew that the beach patrol was assigned for every seventy-five yards of the beach. This information came down through a series of plans. The major plan was made, staging all the units, by Admiral Cunningham, who headed the Naval Forces in the Mediterranean. A further plan made out by Admiral Hewitt, who was head of the United States Naval Forces, Northwest African Waters. This was the plan which gave us our immediate instructions. Detailed plans for the task force were made out by Admiral Hall and his staff, and a further plan was made out by the task group itself, which in this case was the Dickmman.
How well did the small boats operate? I presume you used Higgins boats to get your men ashore. You mentioned Army "DUWKs," I wonder how efficient they were. You also mentioned patrol craft.
These small boats worked unusually well on this occasion. We carried thirty-seven on the Dickmman, and used about 25 others from the other units in the force. These boats were of the latest types, equipped with diesel engines and had some armor-plating on the side. The crews were well trained. Of those from the Dickmman, about half had participated in the landings at Fedela, French Morocco, and the other half had been received to replace some crews that we had left in New Caledonia. These new men had not had actual landing against opposition but had had considerable training, at their school in the Pacific coast. We were also fortunate in having a number of reserve crews.
The beach on which they had to land was quite uneven and it was rather difficult from their smallboat viewpoint. They got in successfully, however. On the initial landing two boats were lost. One had landed its troops and had retracted, was just about to turn when a shell landed alongside the stern and swung the boat around, causing it to broach and swamp on the beach. The other boat was a little more unfortunate. Upon approaching the beach the engineer had a little too much zeal and left the lock on the ramp
U.S. COAST GUARDSMEN UNLOAD THE SUPPLIES THAT BACK UP THE INFANTRY AS THE INVASION OF SICILY CONTINUES
unguarded so that he could man his machine gun. The men had been informed, and it was the general impression that everybody had, that the landing would be very difficult. It was expected that the enemy would give us a warm welcome and our men were to force their way in regardless of the opposition met. This boat, which was in the first wave, would have been able to use its machine guns effectively in case there were local machine-gun nests close to the beach. The ramp was held by the brake and when it was unguarded. Unfortunately, one of the troops brushed against it and released the ramp which caused the boat to flood and sink. There were no casualties, but the troops, of course, were wet and this particular unit of about 35 men were disorganized for some fifteen or twenty minutes after they landed. The others got back safely.
The Army "ducks" were carried on an LST. These were able to launch themselves right over the ramp from the LST and were guided in by boats of the LCVP type assigned for that purpose. A distance of six miles was a rather long run for them as they had no navigational equipment. It was necessary to herd them in very much as you would any barges or other units that have no navigational facilities. The "ducks" landed and were extremely useful on the beach. It had been intended to have them come out and load equipment directly from the ships. Their special function was to approach the beach, continue right up, and take the equipment that they were carrying directly to the place where it was needed. This saved a great amount of labor in handling at the beach. Actual unloading from the ship, however, was not accomplished, as the ducks were kept continuously in use at the beach unloading the small craft, the LCI's, and other units that arrived.
Captain Harwood, how much activity was there from German planes?
There was not any activity from the German planes during the initial assault, but they came over the next day and, of course, some came over that same day. There was a constant succession of our own planes and enemy planes and it seemed for a while as though they never got there together. We were not bothered on our own ship during the day of the 10th and our landing proceeded with considerable dispatch. The men needed very little incentive to unload because a ship hit by a bomb when it is loaded with ammunition and gasoline, as we were, has very
BOMB POCKED WATERS OFF SICILY DURING THE INVASION
little chance of surviving. The weather was fairly good and we got off about 90% of our material before dark of the 10th. This was quite fortunate as on the 11th German bombers started to work on us. They dropped bombs fairly close to us in the morning of the 11th, and some very close to the BARNETT, which was three or four ships down in the column from us. Although they did not make a direct hit, they struck close enough to flood her hold and her ammunition magazines. They hit one or two of the LST's, causing their complete loss, and strafed the beaches and some of the boats at fairly frequent intervals.
In the afternoon, quite a large group of German bombers, probably Junkers 88's, flew over and sprinkled the Dickmman. There were no direct hits, however, the closest being about 25 feet on our port bow. Fragments from this caused a large number of holes in the ship's side and in the superstructure. None of them were over four inches in diameter and all were above the water line so that we were not in any great jeopardy. Small pieces came up through the bridge, through the signal lockers, out some of the rigging-wire on the boat davits.
The casualties occurred in rather widely separated areas and were quite different in their effect. One signalman up in the signal bridge lifted his hands above his head, as a sort of reflex reaction to the explosion, and a piece of fragment went between his two hands just close enough to take the skin off the palms of his hands. He was hardly aware that he had been hurt, scratched his neck and when his hand came down he saw the blood on it and he thought he had been hit in the neck. Another man was lying in his bunk and got a piece of fragment through his shoulder. Another one was sitting in the ship's head and a piece of fragment hit him, took a piece of skin out of his neck. Two soldiers were working ammunition down in the hold and were more seriously wounded by a piece of fragment that came through the ship's side and hit them.
One German fighter plane came over and gave us a little more pleasant experience. He came down fast over the ships and received some fire but it wasn't effective. For some reason or other the fellow turned around repeated his run and we had the pleasure of watching him make a vertical dive with smoke coming out. He crashed close to the beach.
There was a great deal of difficulty in recognizing planes due to the fact our own units were flying over and when the Germans came in it was a question of whether they
AN AMERICAN CARGO SHIP HIT BY NAZI DIVE BOMBERS DURING THE INVASION OF SICILY
were our own or the enemy's. Small craft partly solved this problem by firing at everything that came by. During the night time we received some attention from German dive bombers. They came in, dropped their flares around, and you could hear noises of the bomb-drops sometimes of the planes, but the planes themselves were difficult to see.
There was a great deal of fire. The ships all laid down barrages and for some time the air was full of tracer lines. This was quite a hazard to the ships, largely due to the danger of being hit by ammunition from other ships. We had one 20-mm shell that came up and landed on the bridge of the Dickmman. Fortunately it slowed down or was a dud end didn't explode. Some of the other ships had similar difficulty.
We had one unfortunate incident. While these night bombers were around one of them came down, probably to get but of the barrage, and dropped down right between the ships. I could see him plainly from the wing of the bridge, thought he was crashing, but he leveled off at the water, put on his red tail light, which was not our recognition signal at the time, and managed to get away. The unfortunate part of it was I was about the only one that saw him and before I could get any word to the guns to work on him, why, he was away.
The afternoon bombers managed to drop one bomb right down through the hatch of a merchant vessel that had come In that morning. This vessel loaded with ammunition and gasoline, went in close to the beach. The Germans had countera[tta]cked that morning and came very close to the beach, the beach head, where our equipment was being landed. They fired on this vessel, managed to hit it, and killed one of the crew. The vessel, the Robert Rowan, then got its anchor up and moved out and anchored very close to the Dickmman, probably two or three hundred yards away. When this pattern of bombs landed around us, the Rowan happened to be there and caught one of them. She started to burn and I could see the smoke coming out of her hold. The bridge remained manned on the Rowan.
I sent a signal asking him if he needed assistance. He replied that he did. But there was little we could do for him. We had some portable fire pumps, which we loaded into boats and sent over, but they could not be used effectively. About this time his men started to leave. He had about a hundred troops on board for unloading detail, plus his own crew. We picked up ninety-two of them in boats from the Dickmman, and others were picked up by some of the Army "ducks" that came out from the beach. In addition, he had one or two boats of his own and some few boats came over
FIRE, STARTED BY BOMBS DROPPED AMIDSHIPS, SPREAD RAPIDLY TO THE SHIP'S MUNITIONS SUPPLY, WHICH EXPLODED TO FORM DANGEROUS THOUGH PICTURESQUE PATTERN ACROSS THE MEDITERRANEAN
from other units. It was apparent that he was going to blow up, so we moved up wind away from him about a thousand yards. I had a close view of him as he blew up. It made a grand spectacle and, fortunately, there was not a single man from the ship that was lost; they were able to get off before the explosion occurred. The whole front end of the ship was demolished, but the stern-from the bridge aft-remained intact even after the explosion and fire. One of the destroyers fired into her below the waterline to make her settle. This was of little help, however, because while the vessel settled on the bottom, the oil and gasoline continued to burn and it was still burning up to the time that we left. This was rather precarious during the night because we had to anchor alongside and it gave a silhouette for the planes from the light of the burning ship. Oil and gasoline spread out on the water which also was burning. We had some compensation, however, in that a good deal of smoke arose which gave us a little screen and I had a little consolation thinking that the planes coming over us would also have to pass over the rest of the force. We were on the left flank of the force and in order to properly get us in the silhouette the planes would have to pass over the whole task force first.
We were not bothered by submarines while we were there. A minefield had been laid around to give us some protection and we had quite an effective destroyer screen. The fire support came principally from the two cruisers, the Savannah and BOISE. Two destroyers were assigned for close fire support and were relieved at one time or another. The British fire support vessel was there, the ABERCOMBIE, I think was the name of it. She mounted one large, probably a 14-inch, gun. All during the day these ships passed up and down giving fire support to the Army. The Savannah was particularly useful upon our end of the line. The German counter attack was very nearly successful. They came down the road with large tanks and the Army hardly had enough equipment on hand to stop them. Reports back from the beach indicated that the Savannah had knocked out fourteen of these tanks and that was enough to decide the question for the Germans. The rest of the tanks turned back. One of the bad effects of this attack, this counter attack at this area, was that it slowed down the unloading operations somewhat.
Information on the beach indicated that the Army shore party had been called up to assist in the defense of the beach. We sent in a party from the ship and, inasmuch as our loading had proceeded quite rapidly, we were able to put quite a large unit ashore to assist in the unloading. Due to the experience of the crew we were able to continue our unloading during the air attacks. About the only time lost was the period of ten or fifteen minutes after the close misses when we had to shift anchorage and clear a boat
AN AMERICAN CARGO SHIP HIT BY NAZI DIVE BOMBERS IN AN AIR RAID ON A CONVOY IN THE INVASION OF SICILY
loaded with ammunition from alongside. Later our unloading was rather slow. It consisted mostly of ammunition, about 250 tons were carried in one hold, and quite a bit of this consisted of bombs for the RAF. It took us until the afternoon of the 11th to complete unloading everything. We were able to get all our troops off by early morning of the 10th, that is, the last of the reserve units.
The RAF unit was rather unfortunate, according to the reports received back from the beach. They had two officers and 178 men when they went ashore. The two officers went up to assist a wounded man and, according to the story, the man had been wired up as a booby trap and the two officers were killed. This was quite a misfortune as they were particularly assigned to set up a fire control unit at the airfield.
Captain Harwood, you mentioned that you had RAF men aboard and also that you worked with some British ships and also, I believe, that at one time you carried British troops. Can you say something about the general success of operating with the British?
During the past two years we had an unusual amount of contact with the British. Late in the Fall of 1941, the Dickmman was assigned to transport British troops to Suez. We picked the troops up in Halifax and took them around the Cape of Good Hope, stopping at Capetown. While we were there, the war broke out or rather the attack by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor occurred. The troops were then diverted and we took them up to Bombay. These were all Army men and were very easy to get along with. The troops were well disciplined and had very agreeable interrelationships with the crew of the ship. We put them off at Bombay because it was uncertain then whether they would go up to Suez or go down to Singapore. It was decided to have us go down to Capetown and pick up some strategic material, principally mica and graphite, so that our troops were unloaded and picked up and carried the rest of the way by the British. They were landed at Singapore, according to the story, got there just a day or two before the surrender. Other units of the task force, principally the West Point, Mount Vernon, and Wakefield continued down to Singapore.
In the Mediterranean there was, of course, a large number of British ships. We received considerable
AMERICAN SOLDIER GIVES INFORMATION TO COAST GUARDSMAN EARL SAUTER (LEFT), CHIEF PHARMACIST'S MATE, OF MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN, AFTER HE HAD BEEN TRANSFERRED FROM THE ITALIAN BEACHES ABOARD A COAST GUARD-MANNED ASSAULT TRANSPORT
assistance and offers of assistance from them there, and had units of British destroyers tied up alongside of us. We were able to act very much as a mothership to them. While they did not require very much--small items such as moving pictures and ships stores--these facilities were very much appreciated by them. The RAP troops that we carried up were rather quiet. They were, of course, a small part of our total, but they went ashore with alacrity, perhaps even earlier than was necessary in view of the difficulty they ran into in seizing the airfield.
A big part of the resistance to the Italian convoys occurred in the vicinity of Gela. It appeared that the Italians had been holding some maneuvers a few days before and had withdrawn into the interior so as to be ready to counter-attack the landing where ever it might occur. It appeared that they picked out our spot for their counter-attack.
All the vessels of the task force completed their unloading on the 12th, and we left the area early that evening. The return to Algiers was without mishap. The task force below us continued on down to Oran, but we stopped at Algiers until the harbor at Oran was cleared and then proceeded down there. Upon arrival there I found that my relief had arrived, having come over from the States on the Leonard Wood, and had accompanied them for indoctrination purposes as part of that task force. We effected the relief on the 28th of July, 1943 and I returned to the States on the cruiser Birmingham. We arrived at Norfolk on the 8th of August, which terminated my connection with the amphibious forces.
COAST GUARDSMAN MILTON SILER, SIGNALMAN FIRST CLASS, WAS STRUCK BY SHRAPNEL FROM GERMAN BOMBERS WHILE MANNING A MACHINE GUN ON THE SIGNAL BRIDGE OF A COAST GUARD-MANNED TRANSPORT PARTICIPATING IN THE INVASION OF SICILY
PRAISE FOR PERSONNEL OF Dickmman Captain Harwood praised the personnel of the Joseph T. Dickman for their splendid performance during landing operations at Gela, Sicily, on July 10, 11, and 12, during the initial invasion of Sicily, "Again this vessel has accomplished successfully a difficult task assigned, and I wish to express my appreciation for the expeditious, efficient, and effective work done by the officers and crew prior to and during the recent invasion," he said, "This type of operation, consisting of a surprise landing at night, in a strange and hostile shore, is the most difficult that a ship can be called upon to perform. Our troops were the first assault groups to land on the beaches and much depended on their success in taking assigned key objectives. All objectives were successfully taken and held, due, not only to the excellent work of our boat crews but to the efficient and capable functioning of all departments of the ship. We all know that this was a job Well Done. Every officer and man demonstrated his skill and endurance most satisfactorily."
ALL ARE COMMENDED "The landing was so efficiently performed that it appeared to be almost routine and instead of a few individual performances almost 100 per cent of the complement were commendable. As a Task Unit Commander, I have been authorized to commend personnel of the unit and I am having service records endorsed with these commendations. There will be many more hazardous jobs for every one before this war is over. We have a good ship, and to keep it so requires the unrelaxed efforts of every one. Your accomplishments and safety are dependent upon your skill and discipline."
Dickmman EN ROUTE Describing operations aboard the Dickmman, Lieutenant (jg) Fletcher W. Brown, USCG, later wrote: "Passing Gibraltar gave me quite a thrill but it was disappointing not to see that big Prudential Life sign painted all over it like the ads show. Routine drills, practice, and maneuvers kept us busy until we finally got started on the 'push.' We didn't know exactly where we were going to land, but we had seen and studied maps and pictures of the town emplacements, and surroundings before we got underway. At sea the news was disseminated that our goal was Gela, Sicily-- to be attacked early Saturday morning, 10 July. Excitement and anxiety were at a high pitch which mounted each day of the five that we were cruising around waiting for the correct moment. Friday noon we finally set our course to bring us 'on target.'"
AIR SUPPORT FLIES LOW-- LARGE FIRES STARTED About midnight, July 9-10, the Dickmman took over formation guide and started to lead the other transports and smaller landing craft to the debarkation area. Coincident with this, Allied bombers from Africa and Malta were paving the way with their aerial barrage. Hearing them go over was quite a thrill, as wave after wave flashed by, quite low. They started large fires which at first looked like tiny dots in the distance, but as the Dickmman and the other vessels neared shore the
U.S. AMPHIBIOUS "DUCK TRUCKS" ROLL ASHORE IN SICILY AS A COAST GUARD-MANNED TRANSPORT DISGORGES MEN AND MATÉRIEL FOR THE INVASION
conflagrations lit up the coast like day. "Getting our 'Fix' was thus simplified," said Lt. Brown. "Several times star shells were thrown up--trying to light us up--for we were expected--but they never caught us. Planes returning from their missions barely missed us in their low flight, but winged away without harm."
BOATS LOWERED About 0200, on July 10, came the long-awaited order, "All hands take debarkation stations." The Dickmman stopped, and drifted. Boats were lowered and troops disembarked according to plan. As the boats formed and left for the beach, searchlights from shore began probing the area. Twice the invasion units were silhouetted but for some unexplainable reason the light passed by without pause. The biggest worry was from the shore batteries until the Rangers silenced them.
SUPPORT BOAT EXPLODES PILL BOX EMPLACEMENT "About the time that the boats started hitting the beach," said Lt. Brown, "cruisers, battlewagons anddestroyers were opening up with everything that theyhad upon shore installations of guns and lights. The tracer streams are weird but very beautiful.
Watching the 4-gun salvos from the Limey 15 inchers was quite a sight. Each shell was tracer and the flight from start to finish--and I do mean 'finish'--was rather amusing. The things seemed to float and float and float--quite slowly, too, so it seemed. Our support boat near the beach let go with her barrage which lit upon a pill box emplacement. The explosion of that emplacement was almost beyond imagination--a column of flame shooting upwards about a thousand feet and all of sixty feet in diameter. Later reports said that that blast cleared out many machine-gun nests, enabling our boys to advance into the town."
ALL BOATS MAKE LANDINGS According to Lieutenant Brown, the Dickmman again held the honor spot as at Fedela. "Our job, as left flank ship, was to land our troops frontally against the town of Gela, while other vessels put their troops to the eastward to flank and encircle the town and to advance toward an airport a short ways inland. These latter troops were to be aided by paratroopers dropped in the vicinity of the airfield. Dawn came finally and with it anxiety for the safety and return of our boats and crews. Later we learned that all boats made their landing on the spot and though opposed by intense machine-gun fire, only experienced one casualty."
FIRST INVASION OF AXIS SOIL As they approached the Sicilian shores, the urgency and dramatic quality of their mission became manifest. They were invading the continent of Europe. For the first time they were about to set foot on Axis territory, Europe itself. The area was jammed with shipping. Every kind of craft was busy rushing to shore unloading, returning, reloading. One could count more than a hundred ships. From the small LCI's to huge two-stack liners they lay or shuttled back and forth in droves. Throughout the
U.S. COAST GUARDSMAN MORTIMER R. SPITALNY OF ELIZABETH, N. J., AND PARATROOPER K. BRONES OF INDEPENDENCE, IOWA, LOOK OVER A SICILIAN NEWSPAPER ABOARD A COAST GUARD-MANNED TRANSPORT PARTICIPATING IN THE INVASION
first day, July 10, the shuttling continued. All that day and for the succeeding days, American cruisers did a most wonderful job in knocking out enemy panzer units as they attempted to take our troops holding the town. From the Dickmman, the troops could be seen crawling across the coastal plains towards the town. Much of the credit for saving that sector must go to the cruisers, for without them the troops would have been in a bad way, having gotten little artillery ashore at that time. Barrages continued incessantly day and night. Enemy fighters and light bombers attacked the beaches, but most were shot down. The invasion craft had fine air coverage with few exceptions.
ENEMY PLANES ATTACK AND ARE DRIVEN OFF "Sunday morning I took over Fire Control at 0500, in a rather drowsy condition but primed with coffee to keep awake," the Lieutenant related. "About 0630, a sky lookout forward reported a group of planes on the port bow and one quick look told me all I needed to know. In five seconds our guns were brought to bear and their shells were going home--one had a half a wing knocked off, but continued on. Some reported that he fell over the beach, but this was not verified. Overhead their eggs came down in sheets, giving off an eerie sound which made our stomachs sink to our toes and our hearts jump to our months. They were JU-88's and disappeared as fast as they had come. We missed becoming a casualty by scant margin."
LANDING BOAT SHOOTS DOWN ENEMY PLANE One landing boat, the LMG PA13-1, surprised Army men ashore by shooting down into the sea a German Messerschmitt that had appeared over a dune to strafe our troops on the beach. The boat was stuck on a sandbar and was trying to free itself when the plane was sighted. This landing craft, one of the Dickmman's boats, had been sent to Yellow Beach to unload an LST. (Beaches were designated by color, and the Dickmman had red and green). Units were required to make reports of their operations to their Executive Officer. Following is a report describing the anti-aircraft action of the PA13-1, executed on Yellow Beach, situated east of Gela, on the evening of July 11, 1943, during unloading operations attendant with assault on that territory.
GERMAN PLANE HIT As tanklighter and crew discharged their load, at approximately 2100 Sunday evening, a German fighter plane identified as an Me-109F approached from a westernly direction and executed a strafing attack upon Yellow Beach. The tanklighter had just retracted and gone aground on a sand bar when the plane in question approached from a very low altitude from over the top of the sand dunes on our starboard quarter. It flew very low and on an easterly course parallel to the beach. At about 100 yards from our boat we opened fire with both .50 caliber guns until it was well past our stern, when we could see smoke and fire coming from the vicinity of the aircraft's engine. The plane attempted to climb over a knoll on our port, quarter but was unable to do so, hitting it hard and crashing on the other side.
TWO ARMY MEN AND A COAST GUARDSMAN COMPARE NOTES ON THE INVASION AT GELA, SICILY. FRANCIS McGUNNIFF, LEFT, WAS STRUCK BY A BULLET WHEN LANDING ON THE BEACH WITH THE FIRST WAVE. WILLIAM KILPATRICK WAS WOUNDED IN THE EXPLOSION OF A LANDING MINE WHILE ADVANCING UPON THE TOWN OF GELA. WILLIAM FORSYTHE, SHOWN AT THE RIGHT, IS A COAST GUARD COMBAT PHOTOGRAPHER AND FORMER WASHINGTON, D.C. NEWSPAPERMAN.
PLANE CRASHES Soldiers on the beach who had taken cover during the firing, ran up on the hill and waved to us when they saw that the plane had crashed. The plane crashed about 1,000 yards on the port quarter of the tank-lighter. During this attack no other boats or guns were seen firing at the aircraft in question. This boat expended approximately one hundred rounds of ammunition. Members of the tanklighter crew who participated in the action were T. J. Miller, gunner; R. G. Ward, gunner; B. G. Dannison, coxswain of the boat, R. N. Brown, bow hook; and R. L. McDougal, bow hook. The report was signed by Byron G. Dannison, B.M. 1st class.
EYE-WITNESS ACCOUNTWe made the landing at Gela, Sicily, on July 10th, related Bill Forsythe, Chief Photographer's Mate, USCGR.
With snipers and enemy planes on the loose, I did not have time to write just after the invasion happened; or I might have been too excited; so here goes now, three days after the invasion.
I landed on the beach at 12:45 AM with some combat engineers. Coming into the beach in the dark, we hit a sandbar about fifty yards from the beach. The LCI boat I was in, operated by Coast Guardsmen, got stuck on it; so we bailed out. Luckily, I had enough foresight to waterproof my equipment. With a .45 in one hand and a camera in the other I started for the beach. Our Coast Guard gunners opened fire with two .30 caliber machine guns to give us a covering fire in order that we might have a chance to make it. The surf was so heavy that I was knocked under; when I came up the .45 was full of sand and unable to fire.
I was completely soaked and cold as hell but I ran up on the beach. I never ran so fast in all my life, but it seemed very slow--water-soaked clothing certainly drags one down. The enemy fire was intense. On my right about 300 yards, an LCI was on the beach and was unable to get off; and on my left, at a distance of about 500 yards was an Italian fort that kept firing on the LCI and shelling the landing boats and keeping the beach under fire, with me in the middle. The beach was mined, but this was unknown to us at the time and there we were digging for dear life--and I do mean life.
Dawn was just breaking, so I got my bearings and made for some fishing shacks on the beach to get away from the cross fire of the LCI and the fort. Wet clothes
MEN AND THEIR AMPHIBIOUS TRUCKS RUSH THE UNLOADING OF A COAST GUARD MANNED TRANSPORT ON A WAVE SWEPT SICILIAN SHORE
and cold grey dawn, with snipers getting the range, is very demoralizing. U.S. Rangers, who made the first assault at 2:50 A.M., were bringing in the first prisoners and the wounded. Then came daylight, and our cruisers got the range on enemy emplacements and commenced shelling, which was a relief. Invasion barges manned by Coast Guardsmen brought additional equipment and troops ashore. It was then light enough to get some shots of the beach, scenes of troops in the town of Gela, and Axis prisoners guarded by American Rangers and Coast Guardsmen.
It was now about 7:00 A.M., and the sun was warm enough for me to dry some clothes and look around a bit. The town of Gela is principally a fishing town. It is located on a high bluff and levels off on a plateau. Two and three story houses make up the dwellings. On top are several five-story buildings, and the snipers lodged themselves in a number of these houses. They really made it hot and kept everybody out of the middle of the streets and close to the buildings. An Italian civilian walked over and offered me a dry pair of socks which I gladly accepted. He offered to wash my clothes, but I told him I did not expect to stay, and I gave him some sugar and coffee from my canned rations. I don't think I could have given him anything else that would have pleased him more.
More wounded and prisoners were coming in so I started on the move again. German tanks attacked the town, and all hands took cover. The cruiser and destroyer kept them bottled up in one sector so it wasn't too bad. We met a couple of Italians coming in so we relieved them of their rifles and helmets. It is now about 11:00 A.M., and I am about whipped, so back to the ship for some hot coffee and fresh clothes. We waded out to the sandbar and got wet all over again and had one hell of a rough ride back as the sea was quite heavy.
The Coast Guardsmen who manned the boats certainly did a wonderful job, especially the coxswains who were unable to take cover while making the approach. So back aboard, on checking my equipment, I found I lost two packs of film - to say I was upset is putting it mildly. After risking my life, that topped it all; and now the reaction was setting in. Nervous as a cat, tired as could be, and yet I couldn't rest. I got a sedative from Sick Bay that quieted me for an hour, then back on deck again.
Everyone on the Dickmman did a wonderful job, from Captain Harwood down. There was no rest for anyone all during the operation. Everybody really put out; they had a job to do and they did it better than well. It
ABOARD A COAST GUARD MANNED ASSAULT TRANSPORT, TWO SOLDIERS, WOUNDED IN THE ITALIAN INVASION, ARE TREATED BY A NAVY PHARMACIST'S MATE
certainly makes a man proud to be able to say that he shipped with these boys. The Army men who were with us certainly have high praise for the Coast Guard.
So that is the way Saturday passed - the first day of the invasion, - but dates and days didn't matter while the work went on nonstop. It was just a change from light to dark. When anyone was able to take a nap their clothes remained on and they slept right at their station.
Sunday at 6:30 A.M., when in ordinary times I would be picking up the paper at the front door, two Italian high altitude bombers laid their eggs on our starboard bow and port quarter. I was on the well deck aft and could see two bombs. They looked to be about two hundred pounders. Over and over like duck-pins they fell, silvery and shining. They hit the water about a hundred yards from us but didn't explode.
This was just the beginning. Later, at about 11:00 A.M., another enemy plane came over so high he was out of sight, but you could see the white exhaust from his motor. Then at 3:50 P.M., twenty-five JU-88's came over in a "V" formation, very high. They dropped a pattern of bombs all around us. The Good Lord was certainly with the Transport this Sunday. The bombs made a circle around us, but, with the exception of minor shrapnel damage, we were untouched. It was a miracle. I was on the Sun Deck aft at the time and shooting toward the stem, showing Coast Guardsmen at battle stations, manning their guns while the bombs were bursting and all hell was breaking loose.
During all this time our boats which took supplies ashore were returning with wounded soldiers for treatment by the ship's doctors and pharmacist mates.
At 4:41 P.M., Stukas came over and dived on us. Jerry missed, dropped his bombs 300 yards off our starboard quarter and strafing other ships as he leveled off. The nervous tension that is acquired during these dive bombing attacks is the most nerve wracking thing a person can think of. The Inquisition was mild compared with this. Again at 9:50 P.M. Stukas or ME-109's dropped flares and attacked us again. And that was the way we passed Sunday off Sunny Italy. If heroes go through this I don't want to be a hero, because I was scared and no foolin'.
U.S. COAST GUARD-MANNED ASSAULT TRANSPORT Samuel Chase
There was no sleep Sunday night and everyone was working in the darkness repairing landing boats and unloading supplies. Daylight again and by the middle of the day unloading was about completed. At 5:15 P.M., an ME-109 strafed our decks and shot away our barrage balloon, I was on the Sun Deck and that Messerschmidt looked like silver lightning, I made a shot at his tail but I doubt if a 400 will stop him. With 20 and 40 mm bullets chasing him, one of our Spitfires got on his tail and knocked him off about five miles from us over on the beach. Just about dark we pulled anchor and shoved off. That's about all that happened during our three day stay on the shores of Sicily in the blue Mediterranean.
These three days have aged me considerably."
THE Samuel Chase
A signal from the USS Chase went out: "Good luck, gang. Do it again." It was signed "Terry Allen," (Commanding General of the 1st Division, Reinforced).
Samuel Chase AGAIN LUCKY IN SICILY When the invasion force departed for Sicily, the Samuel Chase was given a key assignment in landing important segments of the Seventh Army in the vicinity of Gela, Once again it accomplished its mission without loss of a man despite an amazing series of adventures, which Captain Heimer's officers and men later revealed, Lieut. Comdr, James S. Hunt gave credit to luck and good preparation, saying, "Guess we are mighty lucky, but I really believe part of the success is due to our ability to handle small boats as a result of long periods of training,"
SOME NARROW ESCAPES "When I went in with the first wave," said Philip Kearney, Boatswain's Mate 1st class, USCG, "enemy fire pinged off the sides of the boat all the way but none of it pierced the armor plating and none of the personnel was hurt. I always seemed to hit the beach about the time the Jerries came over bombing and strafing. But three such attacks didn't scratch my boat or wound my crew. We always got back." Coxswain Leonard W. Rueble, USCG, steered a tank lighter carrying a bulldozer ashore, and just as the equipment made a successful landing on the beach, he saw its driver killed by enemy fire. A 20-mm enemy shell missed Calvin Cooper, Seaman 1st class, by four inches. It struck the side of the engine box of his boat, but didn't explode. If Richard Bunton, Fireman 3rd class, had been standing normally instead of crouching at his post a 50-calibre bullet would have struck him in the head instead of hitting the stern of the boat. "I didn't know when it hit," Dunton said, "because a lot of stuff was flying around--we really knew the enemy was shooting." Several other men had similar experiences.
A RELAXING U.S. PARATROOPER, TELLS TWO U.S. COAST GUARDSMEN WHAT HAPPENED WHEN HIS UNIT DROPPED ON SICILIAN SOIL, ABOARD A COAST GUARD-MANNED TRANSPORT
SOLDIERS AND CREWMEN RESCUED Robert MacCaulley, Boatswains Mate 2nd class, USCG, and Frank Freeman, Fireman 1st class, also of the Coast Guard, stopped landing work long enough to rescue soldiers and crewmen from another transport, which received a direct hit from an enemy bomber. Thomas A. Sheridan, Seaman 1st class, shed his clothes and dived into the pitching surf in the dead of night to rescue nine soldiers. He hauled them ashore one at a time, together with their 90-pound packs. They were being carried out by an undertow after trying to wade ashore when their boat ran aground on a sandbar. Sheridan also picked up thirty-three-men of the same group in his boat and landed them. By then he and his crew had worked steadily for twenty or more hours without rest, landing additional personnel and supplies.
PERFECT LANDINGS Lieutenant John F. Summer, who was commander of the first wave, said the landings went better in Sicily than they ever did in practice. "The boys came through 100 per cent. Always some little things went wrong in practice, but they did everything right that night," he reported. He said that his wave drew only machine gun fire, but later ones had artillery fire and aerial bombardment to contend with.
PACE OF UNLOADING STAGGERS FOE The unloading operations at Gela, chalked up a new record for amphibious warfare, said Lieutenant Blair Walliser, USCGR, who served aboard the Chase. The giant fleet of ships which launched the invasion of Sicily were successful from the start, due to the skill and persistence of the Coast Guardsmen and Navy personnel who landed the troops and supplies in the face of enemy fire and kept them moving at a pace that staggered the Axis defenders. Despite the fact that some landing craft were damaged, supplies and troops kept pouring onto the beaches. Damaged landing craft were hauled out of the water and repaired as quickly as they were hit. William G. Lawrence, Chief Boatswain's Mate, USCG, in charge of a repair group, alone put many landing boats back in action after they had been damaged by enemy shell fire or bombs. He used a salvage boat invented by Captain Helmer.
LANDING CRAFT SWIFTLY REPAIRED In commenting upon the swiftness with which landing craft were repaired after being hit by the enemy, Lieutenant Walliser said that all craft carried ready-made plugs to be put in bullet holes. The boat repair crew of this unit were under the charge of Lieutenant (jg) Ivet L. Logan. The average time for repairing a boat that had to be taken out of the water was only an hour and five minutes. Then the repaired boats were pressed back into immediate service. Captain Heimer coined a motto which became a working formula for all Coast Guardsmen participating in the landing, when he gave the standing order: "Pull them up, patch them up, pump them out, put them back, keep them running." And the men faithfully did. Lieutenant Walliser said that it was impossible to get the Coast Guard crews out of their landing boats, many of the men even sleeping in their boats at night and refusing to leave them for meals.
CAPTURED IN THE INVASION OF SICILY, A GROUP OF NAZI SOLDIERS OF THE AFRIKA KORPS, AWAIT TRANSFER TO A COAST GUARD MANNED ASSAULT TRANSPORT WHICH PARTICIPATED IN THE AMPHIBIOUS ATTACK
HARDSHIPS OF LANDING PARTIES The boats first went in under cover of total darkness, but were soon lighted up by enemy searchlights on shore and picked out as gun targets. However, a cruiser sent some shells into the searchlights and shore gun crews, and the invasion craft went on. As soon as the first wave landed, they sent up flares. Ensign Bernard B. Blahut, was on command of the first wave. Landing parties that went in after the initial attack were seriously hampered by booby-traps set by the enemy, who even mined the bodies of their own dead and Allied dead. The Germans also mined the wounded. As a Scotchman lay dying, he managed to warn a party of rescuers not to approach any closer, for the enemy had put a booby-trap under him.
ITALIANS FRIGHTENED BY SIZE OF ALLIED FLEET Italian prisoners, taken during the engagements along the Sicily shores, were literally frightened by the size of the Allied fleet. One prisoner was scared to death when the Coast Guard and Navy first sent in waves of landing craft, he told Lieutenant Walliser. "It was like a tidal wave," he said, referring to the dreaded "marrubbio of the Mediterranean." A more loquacious Italian engaged the Lieutenant in talk about the Brooklyn Dodgers, saying that he had worked one summer in Brooklyn and become a Dodger rooter. His first question wast "How are the Dodgers doing?" When Lieutenant Walliser assured him that they were doing better than the Axis, the Italian quickly changed the subject, saying, "What a war! I'm going to New York, and you fellows are going to Rome."
ACCOUNT OF LIEUT. COMMANDER BLAIR WALLISER, USCGR"Even before the rolling black line of transports swung into invasion line off Gela, we knew we were close in under the shores of Sicily. High up on the hillsides before us, orange explosions shattered the black silhouette of the land. There was a smell of pine and gunpowder over the sea long before we could even hear the distant bloomp of the bombs hitting.
"All that evening, above the swash and hiss of the ship's going, there had been the rumble of bombers in the sky. Now our problem lay not in finding a light but in picking out the light among the flickering flames along the Gela shore.
"We surged in closer, and a red neon rectangle took shape up in the hills. The Junior O.D. regarded it studiously through the binoculars. 'Maybe it says, Eat at Joe's.' The navigator shrugged wryly. 'More likely it says, This airport has taken one helluva pasting.' That's the field up there all right, and down the coast to starboard is Scoglitti Light.' We all turned and stared at Scoglitti Light: three drowsy blinks every fifteen seconds. There had been no call to battle stations yet, but every station was manned.
U.S. COASTGUARDSMEN LOAD AN AMBULANCE ABOARD THEIR TRANSPORT AT A NORTH AFRICAN PORT AS THEY PREPARE TO SAIL FOR SICILY
"Ashore, fountains of light were streaming into the air, and new red flares were glowing all around the town. Gela was taking it again. An electric sign, flashing 'This is Gela,' could hardly have been more explicit. The ship ahead was an island of blackness in the dark, and so was the ship behind, as the convoy slipped into place in regular columns.
"Captain Heimer moved to the P.A. microphone on the bridge, 'All hands take stations for launching boats!' The Coast Guard coxswains and crews that were to drive the assault and landing boats onto the hostile beaches, grimly took their stations. They had waited eternities for this moment. All hands were ready. We watched the indolent seconds trickle through our watches. 'Lower the first wave!' The winches hummed as the boats slid down on the slick, greased wires. 'Away the boats!'
"The Diesels started up, rumbling in the stillness like a basso coughing into his handkerchief in church. The higher-pitched mutter of the gasoline engines marked the whiter wakes of the speedier boats. There were fading white streaks in the waters--and then nothing. Thirty minutes to H-Hour. Still nothing. Some of the shore fires were dying down now. Twenty minutes to H-Hour. Nothing. A PC boat passed by close aboard, requesting a bearing on the beach. Oriented, she sped off again. Ten minutes to H-Hour. Nothing. Scoglitti Light winked wearily. The middle of the mid-watch. Nothing ever happens on the mid-watch. Five minutes to H-Hour. Nothing. Where were the boats? We scanned the waters close in uneasily.
"There was a crash of light through the blackness--light so bright it carried the impact of sound. Straight out--and around--then up, leaping over our ships--then out--then around sweeping the waters as it went. We saw the landing boats silhouetted in every slightest outline. We knew the Italians, or whatever enemy sat behind that shrill beam of light saw more than we saw. We knew the sights of unknown scores of guns must at that instant be leveling to those boats. In any second, the beam of light would be supplemented with deadlier beams of lead,
"Then the light lifted and stared out to sea. And in that instant there was a blast to starboard, and three red tracers, like a V of planes flying wing to wing, arched gracefully across the sky. The red tracers were lost. There was an instant of complete suspension everywhere--and then the searchlight and its men and the battery beside it, and its crew, and all other living things on that patch of hill mushroomed in a single yellow blast, A general in one of the landing boats sighed deeply and eloquently. He turned to the Coast Guard officer beside him. 'I've followed artillery for thirty years and never saw prettier shooting than that!' These words were echoed by every ship of the fleet that night.
WHILE WOUNDED ARE BROUGHT BACK TO A COAST GUARD-FANNED TRANSPORT, OTHER SOLDIERS ABOARD THE SHIP ARE READY TO TAKE THEIR TURN TO JOIN THE INVADERS OF SICILY
"Now--H-Hour! Rockets on the beach. The first wave was in. Then flashes all along the beach . . . grenades bursting . . . machine guns spluttering . . . mortar bursts . . . support ships pouring their new self-propelled projectiles in onto the shored The second wave and the third wave were in. Rockets all along the beaches now. The cruisers were lofting their shells over with deadly regularity. The destroyers had moved in close and were ghosting down the shore line, slicing their five-inch shells into the enemy wherever his guns flashed against the black hills.
"And Scoglitti Light still flashed--no longer drowsily, it seemed, but in open-eyed, blinking wonderment. Scoglitti Light sitting on a rock watching Americans land on those shores with men, tanks, ammunition, fuel, food, and freedom. 'Overcome and destroy the enemy wherever he is encountered,' was the way the operations order read. Well--he was certainly being encountered now--and destroyed, we hoped.
"On deck, the reserve waves and specialists were going in now. Over the P.A., the boat teams were being called to their stations. Numbers called--like signals for a football team--and the boat formations. On all decks were the singing hum of cables and the impatient click of winches. The thump of feet as men jumped into the boats at deck level . . . men crouching down in the boats . . . keep low--keep aft . . . the click of rifle bolts as men nervously opened and closed the breech . . . a colored mess attendant in the bow of one boat, very black against the shadows . . . chewing gum furiously.
"Now it was dawn--dawn striding over the hills of Sicily-- dawn unfurling its banners in the sky. The waves of boats were coming back from the beach now--some carrying the first wounded. They'd come alongside under the wing of the bridge, and the Coast Guardsmen manning them would shout up: "We've got six wounded aboard!' Then we'd pass the word over the P.A.: 'Stand by to hoist casualties!' The hoisting crews would go to their stations then, and the medical department would send a stretcher party, and we'd haul the casualties aboard and rush them off to the sick bay.
"Daylight brought the first enemy planes. Two of them came by in a hurry, spied the scout plane from one of the cruisers busy spotting gunfire, and closed in on it. The battle was short and had an unhappy ending. What chance could a slow-flying scout biplane have against two Focke-Wulf fighters? The scout plane dove desperately, but the fighters swarmed all over it. There was something sickeningly unequal about it, like two wolves chasing a chicken. Wounded and smoking, she tumbled to the water. There was hardly time for her crew to get over the side before she sank, but a Coast Guardsman in a nearby landing boat picked up her men.
A WOUNDED MAN IS HOISTED ABOARD A COAST GUARD MANNED TRANSPORT DURING THE INVASION OF SICILY
"The wind had returned, and the seas were building all the time. Loading the landing boats was becoming an increasingly severe problem. On the long, high swells, they'd ride up the side of the ship maybe ten feet or more and then slide down an equal amount. Some of our vehicles, according to measurements, had less than three inches clearance on either side in the landing boats. They hung and they swayed and they banged, over the side of the ship--but they landed in the boats right side up, and we men of the Coast Guard hustled them off to shore.
"The dive bombers were over the beaches now, skimming the rampboats and the tank lighters and the various landing ships, and we saw 'skip-bombing,' where the plane lays a few sticks in the water at low altitude, and then watches them ricochet as the bombs leapfrog among the ships on the beach, ending up in a mountainous splash.
"In the broad light of day, we surveyed the waters around us. To one side, the invasion of Licata was proceeding according to schedule. To the other, the coast from Scoglitti to Cape Scaramia was under fierce attack. The horizon was saw-toothed with ships. One officer, counting, got up to 105 and gave up--and he had only just started to swing around the half-moon that centered at Gela.
"Ashore, troubles began piling up. The engineers cleared the land mines efficiently for the infantry. But spotting and disarming vehicle mines is another matter. Buried four or more feet deep, a man can walk across them without difficulty. But the first jeep we rolled out caught it, and three bulldozers in a row got blasted by the big Teller mines. That hurt. We needed those 'dozers for building roads back from the beach, and for salvage work on the boats. Not having them, supplies piled up on the beaches, unloading was slow, and, as a consequence, the boats spent more time than they should have with their ramps down. This increased the danger of broaching, and, of course, once a boat broaches, on the beach, it's useless until pulled off or straightened out.
"It all added up to terrific congestion, and, in the midst of it, one bomber scored a lucky hit, and we had to evacuate two of the beaches. Then came an urgent call from the Army. Unload all possible anti-tank equipment at once. Other cargoes were hastily shoved aside; boats already loading were unloaded and full priority was given the howitzer equipment. We didn't know why the urgency then. We found out later.
"What we did know was that a good part of the Army unloading crews had been called back into the defense areas, and now our Navy and Coast Guard landing boat crews had to drop
IN A NORTH AFRICAN PORT AMERICANS WOUNDED IN THE FIRST DAYS OF THE INVASION OF SICILY ARE UNLOADED FROM A COAST GUARD-MANNED TRANSPORT
their ramps, strip off their coveralls or dungarees, and do their own unloading. This took longer, of course, because the Coast Guard coxswain had to jump back to his controls every so often and turn the boat stern on into the waves to keep her from broaching.
"Incidentally, it wasn't all fun," wrote Captain Heimer to a brother officer at Headquarters. "Had two simultaneous 500-pounders dropped close aboard on the port bow, which sprinkled water on the bridge plus many others. Our boats were superb. There was not a single miss cue or error in the whole engagement. It was truly magnificent. By God, I'm proud."3
For surmounting numerous obstacles, despite enemy air raids, for outstanding skill, and for exceptionally outstanding performance of duty in Sicily, Captain Heimer received the Legion of Merit. The citation was as follows: "For exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services to the Government of the United States as Commanding Officer of the USS Samuel Chase during the amphibious assault on Sicily, July 10-12, 1943. Surmounting numerous obstacles which confronted him throughout this important operation, Captain Heimer, despite subjection to persistent and accurate raids by hostile planes, enabled his ship to disembark assault troops and unload vehicles and equipment on the assigned beach. Through his outstanding skill, expert supervision of the men under his command, and unwavering attention to a vital and difficult task, Captain Heimer contributed materially to the success of our forces in the Sicilian invasion."
Rear Admiral Lloyd T. Chalker, USCG, Assistant Commandant of the Coast Guard, in a letter dated September 23, 1943, praised William G. Lawrence, Chief Boatswain's Mate, USCG, and his crew for their splendid accomplishment in salvaging small boats on the beaches of Sicily.
The Commanding Officer of the Chase in his letter of 15 August, 1943, to the Commander, U.S. Amphibious Force, Northwest African Waters, gives an account of the salvage operations of the Chase salvage boat, 9 July to 26 July, 1943.4 This letter for the most part contains a quotation from your letter to the Commanding Officer of the Chase.
SAFELY OUT OF THE COMBAT ZONE, A COAST GUARD MANNED LST UNLOADS ITS WOUNDED ON STRETCHERS TO AMBULANCES WHICH WILL RUSH THEM TO A BASE HOSPITAL. COAST GUARDSMAN MERLE B. JEWELL (FOREGROUND), ELECTRICIAN'S MATE SECOND CLASS, OF SEATTLE, WASHINGTON, HELPS WITH A STRETCHER
The account is most interestingly written and gives a very clear picture of the operations and what was accomplished by the Chase salvage boat. After reading the account I felt that I wanted to congratulate you and your boat's crew on the salvage work that you did. Please accept my congratulations for your splendid accomplishment and also best wishes for the future.
L. T. CHALKER
Rear Admiral, USCG
Besides the big-ship Navy, there was the little-ship Navy, and also the flat-bottom Navy. Numerically, the greatest was the flat-bottom Navy. It was also the newest, having been developed in World War II. The United States and Great Britain had been spared the horror of waging war on their own soil, but were thereby put at the military disadvantage of being obliged to land their armies upon a hostile shore in order to engage the enemy's land power. The purpose of all landing craft--and of the larger landing ships and the smaller landing vehicles--was the same: to deliver men and supplies over shoals, reefs, mines, and various artificial obstacles to navigation, directly upon the enemy's shore without benefit of harbor, dock, or wharf.
Landing craft differed in two respects: what they were designed to carry--whether men or vehicles or other materials,--and in cruising capacity. A landing ship could cross an ocean under its own power. A landing craft might do so but was usually transported to the theatre of war aboard a ship, and relaunched there for voyaging in narrow seas. A landing vehicle traveled only from a ship or craft lying offshore to the nearby beach.
Following are the principal types of landing ships and craft:
LST--(Landing Ship, Tank)--About 325 feet long; 5,000 tons at full load; delivers tanks, trucks, bulldozers, etc., through a bow ramp.
LCI--(Landing Craft, Infantry)--About 158 feet long; weighs 400 tons. Has quarters aboard for 25 crew men and 210-troops. Has a bridge that looks like the conning tower of an old-fashioned submarine. Disembarks troops over two fretted ramps at either side of her bow. These ramps are thrust forward and downward from the
U.S. COAST GUARD-MANNED LANDING BARGES AND HEAVILY LOADED AMPHIBIOUS TRUCKS RUSH SUPPLIES TO A SICILIAN SHORE
shell of the craft "like turtle limbs." There are guns on her deck. She has been described as not pretty but as having personality. Most of their crews were far from experienced seafaring men. On one occasion, before their long training, one of these little landing barges, so the story goes, was skidding through a winter storm, without a pilot and with no one on board who knew the channels, when her quartermaster cheerfully called up the command tube: "How'm I doin', Captain?" Gradually, many flotillas of LCI's took shape, after long-scale training operations, and played a leading part in the invasion.
LCT--(Landing Craft, Tank)--About 100 feet long; can carry a few tanks, many smaller vehicles; often used like the LCI to carry troops.
LCM--(Landing Craft, Medium)--Used primarily from large ships to shore--although it can cross narrow waters--to land tanks.
LCVP--(Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel)--About 36 feet long; also used mainly from ship to shore, for landing infantry and light vehicles.
LCC--(Landing Craft, Control)--Sheepdog of the landing craft, used by the naval control officer in directing the others to shore.
LCS--(Landing Craft, Support)--A lightly armored craft mounting machine guns from .50 caliber to 40 mm., also rockets, to boost the landing fleet's fire power.
LVT--(Landing Vehicle, Tracked)--An amphibious tractor, whose treads can swim or climb beaches; known as the "Alligator." Later armored.
LVT(A)--(Landing Vehicle, Tracked, Armored)--The "Water Buffalo," really an amphibious tank, developed from the "Alligator."
LCR--(Landing Craft, Rubber)--The 1944 edition of the coracle.
COAST GUARD CAPTAIN MILES H. IMLAY COMMANDER OF COAST GUARD LCI(L) FLOTILLA IN THE INVASIONS OF SICILY AND ITALY
LANDINGS AT LICATA
Another outstanding leader of the Italian campaign was Commander (later Captain) Miles H. Imlay, USCG, commander of LCI(L) FLOTILLA FOUR. His record was magnificent--in Sicily, and later in the assault on the mainland of Italy, as well as in the initial invasion of Normandy. In Sicily, he brought his force of ships and landing craft to the scene of action under withering enemy fire, and speedily sent them to their designated beaches. After the initial attack, he skillfully assisted in the support and maintenance of the Army at the port of Licata. There he labored tirelessly supervising the clearance of mines from the port and speedily prepared it, in spite of continuous enemy fire, for handling the important equipment and supplies. His leadership was brilliant.
For his services in Sicily, he received the Legion of Merit with the following citation: "For exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services to the Government of the United States as Commander of the Reserve Attack Group during the assault on the Island of Sicily. Courageously bringing his force of ships and landing craft to the scene of action, Commander Imlay dispatched them with speed and precision to the designation beaches and later, following the initial attack, skillfully assisted in the support and maintenance of the Army at the Port of Licata. Serving temporarily as Commander of the Advance Base at Porto Empedocle, he labored tirelessly supervising the clearance of mines from the port despite heavy enemy gunfire and speedily prepared it for the unloading and handling of important equipment and supplies. Commander Imlay's brilliant leadership and tenacious devotion to duty contributed immeasurably to the success of our forces in the Sicilian campaign."
A letter to Admiral R. R. Waesche, Commandant of the United States Coast Guard, written on July 30, 1943, by Commander Imlay, gives an idea of how the small boats of that group carried out their assigned tasks in the face of enemy fire.5
OFFICIAL REPORT OF OPERATIONS: JOSS TASK FORCE--RESERVE GROUP
1. The LCI(L) Reserve Group, consisting of seventeen vessels, was detached from JTF Convoy at 1430 July 9, 1943, and steered various courses at various speeds to take positions on flanks of the three reserve group LST's when they were detached from JTM Convoy. At 1700, formed cruising disposition with LST's making good course 270 degrees True at eight knots. At 1759 changed course to make good a course of 360 degrees True. At 1840 sighted reserve group LCT's consisting of six British and twelve American vessels and their escorts from JTS Convoy bearing approximately 240 degrees True, distance three miles. Slowed reserve group to two knots to allow LCT's and escorts
A FLOTILLA OF COAST GUARD MANNED LCI(L)'S MAKES ITS TRIUMPHANT HOMECOMING
to take convoy cruising disposition. All LCT's except LCT-215 seemed unable to join formation due to very heavy head seas. Two escorts were detached to standby and guide these vessels to the rendezvous. At 2000 increased speed to five knots as it was believed advisable to have as many vessels of the reserve group who could maintain speed at the rendezvous on time.
2. Considerable difficulty was encountered during the dark hours of D morning endeavoring not to run down LCT's of the JOSS Advance Force who had fallen behind. No enemy flares were dropped in the immediate vicinity of the reserve group, but a number were observed dropping ahead and on the flanks. A celestial fix was obtained at 0500 and the reserve group, consisting of three LST's, seventeen LCI's and three LCT's anchored in the rendezvous area at 6600. The remainder of the LCT's arrived in groups, the last three vessels arriving at approximately 1045.
3. Six LST's from Green Beach and six LST's from Yellow Beach joined the reserve group at approximately 0800. These vessels and the late arriving LCT's did not anchor in their designated positions as given by the Commander Task Group's Operation Plan. Some of these vessels anchored as far as two miles away from their designated position, and although this may have presented a more difficult target for enemy aircraft, it did complicate the communication problem and decrease the speed and efficiency of despatching vessels and groups of vessels to their respective beaches. No aircraft attacks occurred during the anchorage period.
A. At 1130 all vessels had been despatched to their various beaches.
M. H. Imlay
COAST GUARD LCI(L) FLOTILLA FOUR
LCI'S ROLL ABOUT LIKE CORKS ON HIGH WAVES Lieutenant (jg) Arthur Farrar, USCGR, assigned as Executive Officer to the newly-completed LCI(L) 85, in Commander Imlay's Coast Guard LCI(L) Flotilla A, gave the following description of the trans-Atlantic crossing and operations in the Sicilian invasion.
"We were ordered to Norfolk for outfitting. As the ships filed down the channel on the way out to the Gulf, two red flags were seen flying from the Coast Guard station. The warnings were right, A gale met us before the convoy was well out of sight of land. To most of us Ensigns and a large part of the crew, this was to be the first sea duty. It was a rugged initiation. Some say an LCI will roll on a heavy dew. In this gale they did everything. They rolled and pitched and shuddered. Sometimes they hit a wave with a jolt like running into a
THESE 155-FOOTERS (LCI(L)'S) LANDED AMERICAN FIGHTERS ON THE BEACHES OF SICILY, SALERNO, AND NORMANDY
brick wall. The storm lasted four days. When we arrived at Key West, land had never looked so beautiful . . .. Fine weather prevailed at Key West, but when we were a half day's journey on the waves began kicking up again. By night, giant rollers were tossing the ships around like fishing corks."
ALMOST EVERYBODY SEASICK "All the cooks were sick," the Ensign said, "but it didn't make such difference because no one felt well enough to eat and even old salts became violently ill." "As for myself," he continued, "I didn't feel so bad but I just couldn't control my stomach. I didn't need any time-piece for watch standing because my stomach would take on a fit of convulsions every twenty minutes. After eleven of these it would be time to call my relief and at the twelfth one he would take over the watch. Waves got to be about thirty feet high and were coming at such an angle that many times the ship three hundred yards away would be completely bidden. I found that I could eat in the fresh air so I took my dinner to the conning station and sat down on the deck to eat. The bulkheads were five feet high. The ships rolled over to the right and I could see all the LCI's in the starboard column. It recovered and rolled back to the left and the port column came into view." Everybody felt so miserable, said the Ensign, that a colored steward's mate spoke what many of them were thinking when he asked, in all seriousness: "Suh, do you know any way ah can git into the awmy?"
GOOD TRIP ACROSS AND TIME FOR TRAINING On April 1, 1943, the flotilla said good-bye to the United States and started the journey across to Europe. The weather was excellent. A stop was made at Bermuda, where everybody had a good time. Then the start was made for the war zones. The trip across was slow, taking nineteen more days. However, the weather was good, there were few submarine scares and no action. Upon arrival at a Northwest African port intensive training was begun for the invasion. Rangers wanted lots of practice at landing. In a typical practice a division of LCI's went to the docks and took on about 150 Rangers each. Rangers did not feel their way down the ramps. They ran. In a few seconds each was flattened out behind a rock, bush, or ledge and shooting at objectives. Plane identification classes were added to the training program, everybody receiving the training, and in addition one officer and three men were selected from each ship for an intensive course. As a result of this careful preparation, all planes used in that area could be easily recognized before they came in range of the guns.
AIR RAID OVER TROOP-LADEN SHIPS "Our first action was in the Sicilian invasion," related the Ensign. "LCI's from Flotilla Four were assigned different beaches and consequently went across with different sections of the convoy. The loading of soldiers was a big day . . . The convoy of loaded ships of every description gathered here was enormous. An air raid was expected and came the night before we left. The raid was
INTO AN UNDISCLOSED HARBOR ON THE ATLANTIC COAST FILES A FLOTILLA OF COAST GUARD-MANNED LCI'S. THEY RETURN TO HOME WATERS AS VICTORS CARRYING MOST OF THE COAST GUARDSMEN WHO PUT OUT WITH THEM FROM A TEXAS PORT NEARLY TWO YEARS BEFORE
by from fifty to seventy German planes. To get to the ships they had to come in range of land anti-aircraft defense which was terrific. Dozens of large searchlights picked out the planes and there probably will never be a more intense curtain of fire than was put up* to these Nazi raiders. Almost all of the thousand or so ships fired, and this, added to the land AA defense, made it a suicide bomb run. As a result, most bombs dropped far out in the fields and no damage was suffered by the convoy. Five planes were seen to fall. Some of the Nazi flyers were picked up out of the water and carried to the invasion."
DIFFICULT TRIP ACROSS IN HEAVY SEAS TO SICILY A fifty-mile-an-hour gale made the trip across the Mediterranean very difficult. Troops were very sick. In the daytime it was extremely hard to keep position in the heavy seas, and at night a four-hour O. D. watch was a "killer." Because of the cross-seas, a course could not be held but changes were rapidly and constantly made to keep in the general direction of the guide. "When considering that the LCI upon which we were guiding was doing the same thing, it is easier to see why, while on the same convoy course, the helmsman would receive orders to steer courses ranging from 80 to 150 degrees," said Ensign Farrar. "The heading would be perfect one instant, and the next a huge roller would come along, pick up the bow and toss it 15 to 30 degrees off."
RENDEZVOUS AREA IS REACHED When they reached the rendezvous area, however, the seas quieted down like magic. It was then about 0200. Searchlights swept over the sea in their direction. "More joined and there was a distinctly uneasy and eerie feeling as those lights, evenly spaced along the shore, swept back and forth across our ships," the Ensign said. "Each moment we expected the big guns of the fighting ships to blast out, but the stillness was unbroken. Far in the distance we could see a lot of shooting where other landings were being made. Finally came the time to run for the beach. i'he first wave was delayed for some reason, so that when it came time to go the guide started off at full speed. Those who didn't catch on quickly had to run at flank to catch up."
ENEMY FIRE MISTAKEN FOR FLARES MOMENTARILY "On approaching the beach, single shots of tracer fire could be seen at regular intervals of time. They were going parallel to the beach and looked like balls of fire looping through the air. They traveled so slowly we thought someone was shooting flares along the beach to show us where to land. The error was soon realized, though, upon arriving close enough to hear the shells whine as they hit the water and bounced off. The firing was coming from behind a knoll and was not accurate. We beached in the darkness before dawn, amid a number of LCI's and LCVP's. All three of the first waves had reached the shore almost at the same time."
BATTLE-SCARRED BUT VICTORIOUS, A FLOTILLA OF COAST GUARD MANNED LCI(L)S REACHES HOME WATERS AFTER CROSSING THE ATLANTIC FROM THE EUROPEAN WAR THEATER
TENSENESS DURING FIRST LANDING "On my ship we were so scared our voices sounded strange," the Ensign continued. "While the skipper was giving necessary orders, the signalman and I were assisting by reporting everything going on. Upon sighting a tracer coming our way, we would yell 'Duck," and the skipper always believed us. Finally while the troops were going off I saw a shell headed directly at the conning station just waist high. I yelled something quick and ducked behind the compass stand. The others ducked, too, but nothing else happened. The skipper began to laugh and it was catching. He still claims I yelled, 'Duck, here comes a pink one1.' Witnesses say that shell exploded just before reaching the ship. Anyway, we have never had the same feeling in hitting the beach. Even later, when strong opposition was certain, all of the officers and crew were rid of the tenseness felt on that first landing."
VARIOUS DUTIES OF THE LCI's After disembarking the troops, the LCI's went back to the transport area, and there had to do more shooting as another air raid was on. This raid did not prove very heavy, and the LCI's were ordered back to their home port for more troops. They maintained full speed there and back, and two days later, in the early hours of morning, were hovering over the same beach awaiting landing orders. In their absence the fight had gone well and the LCI's were instructed to take troops to the port of Licata instead of beaching again. Some of the LCI's were assigned as salvage vessels, some were used as messenger ships, some as decoys, and others continued to bring reinforcements. That work continued off and on until the next invasion. Between times, the regular training program continued.
Among those receiving decorations was Lieutenant Farrar, who was awarded the Bronze Medal.
LIEUTENANT ROLAND J. JOHNSON'S ACCOUNT
The invasion barges dumbfounded their crews by crossing the Atlantic, according to Lieutenant Roland J. Johnson of the Coast Guard, who commanded one of the vessels. A flotilla of 76 flat-bottomed landing boats made a 4600-mile, 32-day trans-Atlantic trip under their own power and later landed Allied troops in Sicily, winning the respect and admiration of their doubting crews. The boats went through rough weather with capacity cargoes of munitions.
At the end of the trip across, which included a 10-day stop at a British possession, practice landings were made with the 76 LCI's (landing craft, infantry) and the LCT's (landing craft, tanks) along the North African coast. Lieutenant Johnson participated in these but was prevented
A COAST GUARD MANNED LCI(L) IS HOME FROM THREE INVASIONS IN THE EUROPEAN WAR THEATER
by illness from taking part in the Sicilian invasion where the barges proved their practicability for the first time in invasion warfare. He had to be rushed home by airplane.
One group of naval experts had believed that it was impossible for small flat-bottomed boats of such light draft as the invasion barges to make the trans-Atlantic trip. The designers, however, were confident as to how the barges would perform on the rough seas, and to prove the worth of the boats loaded each one to capacity with war materials and men.
"We were aware of the lousy reputation these boats had before we left," Lieutenant Johnson said, "The crews had no faith) in them, but when the time came to leave all hands were at their stations. Twenty-four of the boats in our flotilla had been assigned to the Coast Guard . . .
"We were just getting the feel of our small ship, when the barometer suddenly indicated bad weather ahead. Before we were in the blow long we knew the naval designers had done a good job.
"It certainly beats hell how this damn box with everything on top and nothing on the bottom keeps right side up,' an old Coast Guard hand said. She fooled everybody. She took the seas on the starboard bow and tossed them off as any good ship does, in a rough seaway . . ..
"By the time we reached Africa, we were ashamed of our distrust of her, and the boys who had given her the appellation of 'coffin,' 'one-way ticket,' 'good-by forever,' and 'trolley car' were calling her 'swell gal.'"
PC LOCATES LANDING POINTS Many hours before the invasion began, the Coast Guard units quietly located landing points. One of the 173-foot PC boats, a Coast Guard boat, located one of these landing points and lay at anchor for six hours carrying out its assigned task. "No mine sweeps swept a channel for us, no one went with us: we went alone," Lieutenant L. W. A. Renshaw, USCG, reported. "Everyone is well aware of the enormous success of our initial Sicilian operation," he continued. "Few people are aware of the smaller landings made behind the enemy lines in Northern Sicily, thereby contributing to the advances of the 7th Army along the North Coast of Sicily towards Messina." Under gunfire and aerial bombardment for eight days this PC carried out its amphibious tasks.
LT. W.D. STRAUCH, USCG
THE LST 331
LST DOWNS ENEMY PLANES While the LST-331 was engaged in towing, beaching, and unloading operations in Sicily, she had several occasions to down enemy planes, which were overhead a good portion of the time. For the most part, they were kept fairly high by the AA fire from her guns, fire from destroyers and cruisers and also by Allied planes. General quarters aboard the 331 were sounded at an average of once an hour during this period. The position of the LST on the beach made her less liable to attack than the transports. For she was at right angles to the shore line and high sand dunes, thus presenting a very small target. This condition enabled her to surprise several bomber pilots who were apparently too intent on getting at the transports.
TWO ENEMY PLANES SEEN TO CRASH "We held our fire until two light bombers passed our port side, flying low, heading for the transports," related Lieutenant (jg) W. D. Strauch, Jr., Executive Officer aboard the LST, which was operating as the flagship for a flotilla group with Lt, Comdr. F. H. Newton, Jr., and his staff aboard. "The planes presented us with a fine target," the Lieutenant continued. "We opened up with all available guns. When last seen one of those planes was on fire and losing altitude. Another plane flew past our starboard side parallel to the ship, flying at about forty feet altitude. The MM's opened up with all available guns. About 75% hits were observed. Sparks started to fly from this plane and it lost altitude and crashed into the sea. Still another plane approached at a 45-degree angle to the bow of the LST, starboard to port. We opened fire and obtained 90% hits. The plane burst into flames and crashed ashore."
LIEUTENANT W. D. STRAUCH'S ACCOUNT
Lieutenant W. D. Strauch, Jr., USCG, Executive Officer aboard the Coast Guard manned LST (Landing Ship, Tanks) 331 sent in, as a factual report to Headquarters, the following actual epic story of the U.S. Coast Guard's role in the invasion of Sicily.
The LST-331 was the flagship of a flotilla group and had on board Lieutenant Commander F. H. Newton, Jr., and his staff. This flotilla group had been assigned to a task force commanded by F. M. Adams, U.S.N., in the organization set up for invading Sicily.
"The ship was loaded with R.A.F. personnel, trucks and other vehicles to be used on Comiso Airport after its capture,
"The wind had been very moderate. However, it suddenly rose to a high velocity and continued to increase.
COAST GUARD-MANNED TANK LANDING SHIPS
The seas started to build up as a result of this wind. The size of the seas and the fact that they were on the beam made it exceedingly rough going for the LST's and smaller craft. Finally, we reached the assigned area and our ship was the first LST to arrive on the scene.
"While anchored here we were in a position to observe the activities in progress. Waves of small landing craft were proceeding shoreward and there was considerable gunfire from the destroyers and cruisers farther out to sea. This gunfire was apparently directed at enemy shore installations which showed signs of resistance.
"A very heavy surf was running although the wind had moderated. Considerable skill was necessary to prevent broaching of these small boats. A number of boats were laying along the beach, abandoned.
"Further orders were not long in forthcoming and we were directed to take in tow two pontoons which were alongside of a Navy tug. We were further directed to beach these pontoons at a point 5 or 6 miles northwest of the transport area. The pontoons were made fast alongside by a Sea Bee crew who were assigned for this purpose.
"We commenced towing and noticed immediately that the motions imparted to the pontoons by the heavy seas were placing a severe strain on the towing lines and cables. This strain proved to be too great for the lines and cables to withstand and the forward lines parted. Before the ship's headway could be stopped, the pontoons swung broadside and parted the other lines holding it fast. Both pontoons started drifting towards the beach, travelling with wind and sea.
"The LST was turned and maneuvered so as to pass a line to the Sea Bees still aboard the pontoons. The wind, sea and light draft of the ship made maneuvering difficult; nevertheless a heaving line was passed, but before a hawser could be run out and made fast the wind carried it away. The pontoons had drifted very close to the surf by this time and it was considered too great a risk to the ship to continue the chase. A nearby invasion craft was contacted and the craft made several unsuccessful-attempts to place a line on the pontoons.
"The pontoons finally drifted into the surf but the invasion craft at last got a line fast and started towing them to a deeper water. While towing them out the tow line parted several times. The connecting links and chains holding the pontoons together, started breaking
A COAST GUARD-MANNED LST (LANDING SHIP, TANK) THRUSTS ITS SNUB NOSE THROUGH A CALM SEA
from the motion of the heavy swells. When the pontoons had finally been towed into deeper water the LST was maneuvered close to the pontoons under difficulty. A part of this difficulty was due to the fact that the aiding invasion craft and the pontoons had separated and were drifting in different directions. Contributary factors were the wind and the sea and the close proximity of shoal water. At last the pontoons were secured and the long runback to the landing beach was started.
"The wind abated slightly and it was possible to take advantage of this lull and bring the LST around into the wind so as to maintain a course farther off shore. But it was impossible to beach the pontoons properly so the LST was anchored and the pontoons moored astern.
"Later the pontoons were brought alongside and rigged for beaching. At last we were underway and approached the beach at standard speed. When the LST grounded, the pontoons surged forward and grounded at the proper location. We then proceeded unloading vehicles.
"The last vehicle went off and we were ready to start unloading other cargo. Unloading this cargo was made difficult because at the inshore end of the pontoons the water was two feet deep. It was decided to construct a rough pier running from the end of the pontoons to the beach. Plenty of rough lumber had been carried for dunnage and some of it was used to construct the pier. The pier was soon completed and material commenced flowing across it immediately. R. A. F. personnel, assisted by various members of the ship's crew, unloaded the entire cargo without any outside assistance.
"While engaged in the towing, beaching and unloading operations, enemy planes were overhead a good portion of the time. For the most part they were kept fairly high by the AA fire from our own guns, fire from destroyers and cruisers and also by Allied fighting planes. General quarters were sounded at an average of once and hour during this period.
"One Axis medium bomber, recognized as a JU-88 was sighted approaching our port bow quarter--altitude about 3000 feet. We opened fire immediately. No hits were scored but the anti-aircraft fire caused this plane to alter course to our port. This bomber dropped a stick of bombs which landed nearby. No damage was done to the ship and no casualties resulted.
RAIL CARS ROLL INTO BOW OF COAST GUARD-MANNED LST
"The position of our ship on the beach made us less liable to attack than the transports. Our ship's position was at right angles to the shore line and high sand dunes, thus presenting a very small target. This condition enabled us to surprise several bomber pilots who were apparently too intent on getting at the transports.
"We held our fire until two light bombers passed our port side flying low, heading for the transports. The planes presented us with a fine target. We opened up with all available guns. When last seen, one of those planes was on fire and losing altitude. Another plane flew past our starboard side parallel to the ship, flying at about forty foot altitude. The MM's opened fire on this one. About 75% hits were observed. Sparks started flying from this plane and it lost altitude and crashed into the sea,
"Still another plane approached at a 45 degree angle to the bow of the LST, starboard to port. We opened fire and obtained 90% hits. The plane burst into flames and crashed ashore. During this period, ship's personnel were hazarded by anti-aircraft-shells bursting close aboard and sending shrapnel about the decks.
"After unloading, we received orders to come alongside of another transport. As soon as the lines were made fast the transport started loading us with howitzer shells and small caliber ammunition. Then we were ordered to the beach again.
"About five minutes after we cleared the beach we heard a low-flying plane approaching. This plane came from inland, apparently using the road as a guide. The plane dropped four bombs in the water at the exact spot where the LST had been beached but five minutes earlier. The pilot evidently became enraged when he found his target had disappeared. He turned, strafed the beach and pontoons, and disappeared into the night.
"While this attack was in progress the steering engine on the LST developed trouble. We proceeded as quickly as possible, using the main engine to steer the ship, in order to place as much distance as possible between us and the spot being bombed. The anchor was let go ten minutes later. We unloaded our cargo, and the LST backed off the beach and assumed guide for a convoy of LST's.
"Prior to and during the invasion a fine spirit of cooperation was displayed by all officers and men attached to the LST-331. Working long hours, day after
U.S. COAST GUARD-MANNED TRANSPORT Leonard Wood
day, with very little rest, the seamanship, gunnery, navigation, and ship handling, together with routine work was carried on in a highly efficient and praiseworthy manner.
"The engineer division also performed its share of the duties connected with this operation in a very commendable way. The main engines and various additional mechanical units were operated very efficiently by the Engineer Division in spite of extremely trying conditions."
LANDINGS AT SCOGLITTI
FIRST TO ARRIVE, DESPITE HIGH SEAS The Leonard Wood was the first transport in the Scoglitti area to get her boats ashore, despite heavy seas. They arrived on Beach Yellow at 0345, H-Hour having been postponed in that area one hour. She experienced great difficulty in swinging the tank lighters. It was particularly difficult to load the vehicles with the boats surging alongside the rolling ship. However, all handicaps were met, and the boats sped on to the shore. The troops left the boats as fast as the surge of the craft and the surf allowed, and moved rapidly across the beach.
UNLOADING UNDER DIFFICULTIES Some of the unloading was done under trying conditions. For instance, one lighter broached when partially unloaded, and the men were unable to do anything about it. To make up for that handicap, however, another tank lighter came in and was unloaded rapidly, and then towed off the one that had broached. Another boat, loaded with a 40-mm gun and heavy ammunition, and also the gun's crew, broached due to lack of proper equipment for removing its cargo expeditiously. Numerous attempts were made to save the boat. All removable gear worth salvaging was removed and placed in a designated location. Then during the day as other boats broached to, coxswains brought their gear to the designated place and left two men to watch over their boats constantly. On the other hand, some boats did not seem to have too much trouble. They made their run to the beach, unloaded, backed off, and were successful in returning to the big ship for more troops and supplies.
UNHURT BY GUNFIRE Many of the little boats, either because they were little or because they were lucky, escaped unhurt even when pursued steadily by enemy gunfire. A beach marking boat, from the Leonard Wood, set out to mark channels for the LST's, LCI's, and other small craft that were to land in that area. The beach-marking crew marked their first channel with buoys. This channel was deep enough for the LST's.
MEMBERS OF THE AFRIKA KORPS OF THE GERMAN ARMY ARE MARCHED ALONG THE SICILIAN WATERFRONT FOR TRANSFER AS PRISONERS OF WAR TO A COAST GUARD-MANNED ASSAULT TRANSPORT OFF SHORE
Another channel was good only for the LCI's and smaller craft. The little party had completed their assignment there and were leaving when they encountered gunfire. At first it was not too close, so they continued their soundings. They had to withdraw eventually because the attack became too heavy to permit work. A shore battery opened up on them later, so they immediately headed out to sea. For fifteen minutes the gunfire continued to follow the little beach-marking boat, but never seemed to fall any closer to it than 35 yards.
HIS BIG MOMENT Chief Machinist's Mate George Drega, a veteran of many years in the Coast Guard, later told in a husky voice of his big moment of the war. It came at Gela, Sicily. Off Sicily, the WOOD was under constant bombardment for four days. LC's surged back and forth, day and night, drawing fire with each new load of reserves and the wounded as they hurried back. "Boy, we were getting it!" Drega said. "Bomb misses, evasive tactics, the Navy doctors topside operating eighty-two hours at a crack. This ship's had more operations than anything afloat barring hospital ships."
OCCASIONAL MISTAKES Drega's prize memory was of the admiral on a nearby cruiser who yelled over the intership phone, "Cease fire! Friendly planes overhead!" The enlisted man at the transport's fire-control station cried back, "Friendly planes, hell! They're bombing us!" And the admiral, a reasonable man, said hurriedly, "Sorry, my mistake!" "Brother," Drega reminisced dreamily, "that was something!"
GERMAN REACTION TO DEFEAT How the Germans reacted to defeat was described by both officers and men of the WOOD as something right out of Mein Kampf. Young officers of the Afrika Korps and the elite Hermann Goering Division marched aboard in desert caps and shorts, Nazi eagles and full decorations, down to the last shoulder patch, gleaming in the African sun. From the moment they hit the deck, they spent every waking moment quoting their rights under the Geneva conventions. Ignoring, senior officers, the Nazi Party members chose their own representatives to make never-ending demands. "They didn't look like the public's conception of them," said Lt. Comdr. Edward Allen, Jr., acting executive officer. "No, sir, the Nordic superman was missing. No Heidelberg scars. But there was no satisfying them. They were even trying to tell me what part of the deck they should be allowed to exercise on. When I told them Sicily had been captured, they screamed, 'It's a lie'. It's a lie!'"
OFFICIAL FACTS AND FIGURES6
PREPARATIONS Upon her return to the United States in November, 1942, and until June, 1943, the Wood was engaged
COMMANDER BLAIR WALLISER, USCGR
in the training of embarked troops in the technique of amphibious landing attack operations conducted with Army troops in Chesapeake Bay. During this period major alterations and repairs were made at the Norfolk Navy Yard, Portsmouth, Virginia.
OPERATIONS On 3 June, 1943, approximately 2,300 officers and men of the 179th Regiment, 45th Division, U.S. Army, were embarked at Newport News, Virginia, and the ship sailed in convoy as part of Task Force 65, arriving on 22 June, at Mers-el-Kebir, Algeria. Preparations were made for the amphibious attack on the island of Sicily. On 9 July, the WOOD took her assigned position off Scoglitti, Sicily, and on 10 July, she began unloading her assault group and equipment. The unloading was completed on 12 July, and although bombs from enemy aircraft landed near the ship, she was not damaged during the operation. From the landing operations at Sicily the WOOD returned to the United States arriving at Newport News, Virginia, on 4 August, 1943, with 766 German prisoners of war and 145 American casualties.
ACCOUNT OF LT. BLAIR WALLISER, USCGR
Lieutenant Walliser was on the Coast Guard Transport Samuel Chase during the landing at Gela, Sicily. He discusses many details of the operation, particularly the difficulties encountered by the small boats.7
PRAISE FOR PERSONNEL Officers were unanimous in voicing praise for the personnel of the support boats which were successful in providing gunfire, and also acted as control and patrol vessels. For instance, the officer in charge of the PA-12 expressed special commendation for the members of the crew of that boat. Coxswain Martin E. Cranston and Engineer James L. Nickel, he reported, were especially deserving of mention and credit for their diligent work, initiative in action, and loyalty to duty. They spent much extra time and effort in preparing the boat for service and kept it in operation in spite of difficulties. Nickel worked diligently on the trip to the line of departure to keep the boat running, when it threatened to break down due to shipping water, water in the oil, and a bent screw. Radarman Henry Levine was very conscientious and made a valuable contribution. Gunners Mate Elbert Smelser and Seamen Andrew deGomar and Maurice Williams were also deserving of praise for their work. This officer voiced what many others thought about their personnel. Commander O'Neill praised the courage and devotion to duty throughout the operation of all the officers and men as being "the highest order."
LEGION OF MERIT FOR COMMANDER O'NEILL For valiantly fighting his ship during severe enemy bombings, and successfully landing troops and equipment, Commander O'Neill was awarded the Legion of Merit. His citation reads: "For exceptionally
COAST GUARDSMAN JOSEPH EDWARDS, CHIEF SIGNALMAN, HAD A CLOSE SHAVE WHEN A PIECE OF SHRAPNEL FROM A GERMAN BOMB WENT THROUGH HIS CAP
meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services to the Government of the United States as Commanding Officer of the USS Leonard Wood during the amphibious invasion of the Island of Sicily. Valiantly fighting his ship during severe enemy bombings, Captain O'Neill successfully landed troops and equipment and brought the Leonard Wood through this engagement unscathed. By his expert seamanship, fine tactical skill and heroic devotion to duty, he contributed materially to our success in this vital operations"
FINE SEAMANSHIP PRAISED General Eisenhower, on July 17, reported to General Marshall? "----All the initial invasion moves were carried out smoothly, and an astonishing lack of resistance was encountered on the shoreline. Captured Italian generals say we secured complete surprise. The airborne operations, which were executed about three hours ahead of the landing, were apparently the first real notice the defenders had of what was coming. Our parachutists and the British glider troops got fairly well, into their positions in spite of very high winds and bad navigating conditions. The landings on the east coast were not greatly troubled by the weather, but the 45th and 1st Divisions had an extremely bad surf. Admiral Cunningham told me that he considered the United States Navy landing operations, under Admiral Kirk (with the 45th Division), to be one of the finest examples of seamanship he had ever witnessed." (See Marshall Report, 1945).
EYE-WITNESS ACCOUNT BY FRED STOUT, SEAMAN 1/C"I was a member of a crew of Coast Guardsmen which spent three days shuttling back and forth from the Leonard Wood to the Sicilian Beach under almost constant fire. We brought troops and supplies ashore and we brought prisoners back. We operated a two way service. And I spent two days on the island because my barge was in no condition, after one of the trips, to take me back to my ship. In fact, it just wasn't.
"The night we hit the Sicilian coast was a black one. Most of the crew of the Leonard Wood, were in good spirits. We had been through fire before end knew just about what to expect. We had bean among the first to unload troops in Africa. And now we were to have one of the spots of honor off Sicily.
"The enemy was caught flat-footed at first. It wasn't until our soldiers had advanced a full two hundred yards onto the island that action started. But then the shells came. The night wasn't so dark after that. Flares and tracers lit up the beach like Times Square in the old days. I could have read a magazine--if I had been interested
WOUNDED SOLDIERS ARE HOISTED ABOARD A COAST GUARD TRANSPORT OFF A SICILIAN BEACH
in reading a magazine at the time. American ships were shelling the German and Italian lines and they in turn were dropping mortars on purs. And, to make it even more cozy, Nazi planes were strafing from all directions.
"The American soldiers were wonderful. I was dammed proud to be on the same team with them. They were scared alright. But they weren't yellow. They didn't want to fight--but they fought. They hit that beach guts first and scattered the enemy in hand-to-hand combat. The Germans ran and the Italians surrendered. One of my shipmates, Abby Meyer, is of Italian descent and he was able to converse with the Italian prisoners fairly well. He had a heck of a time convincing them that Norfolk and New York hadn't been bombed to rubble. They certainly had been told some pretty fancy tales.
"The two days I spent on the beach was fun. I was with Abby and two soldiers. We were entertained by the natives and shot at by Nazi snipers. The Italians were glad to see us and gave us wine and food. We borrowed a horse and buggy and made a round of the rendezvous. In Chicago we called them saloons. As we were about to enter one place, snipers shot at us and we ran like the devil. We ran into a party of well armed American soldiers and together we wiped out the hidden Nazis.
"Abby and I finally got a lift back to our ship and were assigned to another barge. Our ship, of all the fleet, had the most barges return and we were scuttling all over the Mediterranean Sea unloading ships which hadn't been as fortunate."
Medical plans for the Sicilian operations were most elaborately drawn up. As a matter of fact, the facilities proved to be much greater than needed. For the seriously wounded, 17 base hospitals in the Mateur-Tunis-Bizerte region were provided, with a capacity of 8,250 beds. On the spot were two United States and three British hospital ships and four British hospital carriers, with a total capacity of 1,445 stretcher and 1,140 ambulatory cases.
Transports were equipped to handle casualties. The Scoglitti transports could accommodate 1,945 stretcher and 4,820 ambulatory cases, having on board 95 medical and 13 dental officers and 429 corpsmen. The Gela transports, with 49 medical, seven dental officers and 211 corpsmen, could handle 817 stretcher and 2,055 ambulatory cases. At Licata, the LST's were equipped to accommodate casualties.
COAST GUARDSMAN EARL SAUTER TALKS TO A WISTFUL PAIR OF YOUNG GERMAN PRISONERS ABOARD A COAST GUARD MANNED TRANSPORT ENROUTE TO A NORTH AFRICAN PORT
Ordinarily there would be one officer to every four or six LST's, with a corpsman on each. A pool of 52 medical officers and 250 corpsmen were organized from which one medical officer and five medical corpsmen were assigned to each LST not already having a medical officer. Thus, 72 LST's were equipped to handle emergency casualties and to transport them to more suitable quarters. Only the more serious cases were transferred to base hospitals at Bizerte and Oran.
During the first ten days of July 1943, Allied Air Forces subjected Sicily and Italy to continuous and devastating raids. On July 10, British, Canadian, and American troops landed along a 100-mile front in Sicily and began a swift advance up both coasts. Having secured their bridgeheads, Allied forces made good progress on the 10th and 11th. On the 12th, a communique revealed, the following towns were captured: Syracuse, Avola, Nota, Pachino, Rosolini, Ispica, Pozzallo, Scoglitti, Gela, and Licata, The occupation of Syracuse by the British gave the Allies one of the best harbors in the Mediterranean. In spite of bitter opposition, they succeeded in placing more than half of the island under Allied control .before the end of the month. The Allies took large numbers of Axis prisoners, mostly Italians. Thirteen days after the invasion began, they captured Palermo, capital of Sicily, Mussolini resigned on July 25, and Marshal Badoglio became Prime Minister.
Between 5,000 and 6,000 prisoners were taken through July 12. Among those reported captured was General Achilles D'Avet, commander of the 206th Italian Coastal Division, and his entire headquarters. The Division was said to have been almost entirely eliminated. Reported killed in action on the 11th was Lt. General Enrico Francicisci of the Fascist Militia. Allied casualties were reported to be light to that date.
Naval operations in the invasion of Sicily were carried out by more than 3,000 warships, merchantmen, shipping vessels and craft of all types--the largest armada ever assembled. Participating in the operations, in addition to the United States and the Royal British Navy were units of the Royal Indian and of the Dutch, Polish, and Greek Navies. Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsey was Naval Commander, with Vice Admiral Henry K. Hewitt as Commander, United States Naval Forces. Both were under the command of Admiral Sir Andrew Browne Cunningham, Commander in Chief of the Mediterranean.
According to press reports, the enemy general in titular command of Sicily was General Alfredo Guzzoni, Commander in Chief of the 6th Italian Army. Guzzoni, a veteran officer, aged 63, had led the Italian invasion of Albania in 1939. In 1941 he was dismissed, when
TWO COAST GUARDSMEN HOLD A DISCUSSION WITH A WOUNDED PARATROOPER DURING HIS REMOVAL BY LANDING CRAFT TO A COAST GUARD MANNED ASSAULT TRANSPORT OFF THE SHORES OF SICILY
the Fascists shook up the high command, and returned shortly before the invasion of Sicily.
In the early stages of the invasion, no contact was made with enemy surface forces. On the night of the 12th, however, one of our flotillas of MTB's operating in the Strait of Messina engaged two enemy E-boats, which were set ablaze and driven ashore. Signs of increased U-boat activity were reported on the 14th, but it was said that "counter measures had been highly successful and disheartening to the enemy." Throughout the operations, our ships were subjected to bombing attacks by Axis aircraft.
Allied ships did not confine their activities to the intricate and complicated task of transporting and landing troops, vehicles, guns and other equipment. Cruisers and destroyers silenced many coastal batteries that opened fire on our assault boats as they went into the beaches. The surrender of Pozallo was accepted by the commanding officer of a destroyer during the early afternoon of the 11th. American warships supported the troops by shelling tank formations behind Gela, the airfield at Ponte Olivo, and enemy divisions at Porto Empedocle. Naval guns also fired on the port of Augusta and bombarded Catania airfield in the early hours of July 13th.
The Allied air forces played a vital part in preparing the way for the invasion and in providing a fighter umbrella for the landings, and continued to give close support to the ground troops and to bomb enemy airfields, communications and truck transport. On July 3, air operations in preparation for the invasion were intensified, and on the 6th activity on an even greater scale began. The main weight of bombs were directed at strategic enemy airfields in Sicily, although communication and supply targets were also heavily attacked. At least once a day, from July 6 to 9, the important airdromes at Gerbini, Biscari, Comiso, and Sciacca were thoroughly bombed from the air. Gerbini and its satellite fields were hit with the heaviest weight of bombs, approximately 1,000 tons being dropped in the course of the four days' operations. Also heavily hit during that period were the airdromes at Milo, Borizzo, and targets at Palermo, Lucca, Caltanissetta Marsala, Porto Empedocle, Pozzalio, Avola, Nota, San Paalo, and Palazzola. During daylight on the 9th, about 15 Liberators of the Ninth United States Air Force dropped more than 50 tons of bombs on the Axis command headquarters at the resort of Taormina on the east coast of Sicily. The San Domenico Hotel, in which the enemy headquarters was housed, and the general post office, in which were concentrated all communication facilities, were reported demolished by a series of direct hits.
Preliminary figures showed that 52 Axis planes were destroyed in air operations over and around Sicily from the night of July 5th through the day of July 9th, while 32 Allied planes were lost. During a daylight raid on the 8th, enemy planes machine-gunned our crews who
HIS LANDING CRAFT SWEPT BY FIRE FROM TWO GERMAN MACHINE GUN NESTS IN A BEACH INVASION AT GELA SICILY COAST GUARDSMAN ARTHUR A. ARNOLD, SEAMAN FIRST CLASS, OF NEW ALEXANDRIA, VIRGINIA WAS AWARDED THE SILVER STAR MEDAL
had parachuted from their planes. On the 10th, bombers attacked enemy airdromes still in operation, communication points and transport concentrations. Preliminary figures indicated that during the course of the day Allied planes flew approximately 2,000 sorties over the island.
On the 12th, Allied fighters continued their protective sweeps over our shipping and troops. Two enemy merchant vessels were sunk by our aircraft and two destroyers were left burning in the Tyrrenian Sea on the same day. Fighter-bombers continued their attacks on troop columns, truck transports and lines of communication. The principal Allied bombing activity on the 12th was directed against airfields and ports on the Italian mainland which were strategically important to the operations in Sicily. Approximately 100 Liberators of the Ninth United States Air Force dropped more than 350 tons of bombs on the ferry slips and marshalling yards at Reggio Calabria and San Giovanni, the Italian terminal of the supply ferry to Messina. No fighter opposition was offered but anti-aircraft fire was heavy.
Also on the 12th, Liberators for the third successive day attacked the important mainland airfield at Vibo Valentia, on the toe of Italy. The Montecervino airfield, southeast of Naples, was also raided on the 12th. Preliminary estimates showed that during the period from the night of the 9th through the day of the 12th, 118 Axis planes were destroyed over Sicily and Italy as against 50 Allied planes lost. Photo reconnaissance showed that the enemy had slightly more than 300 fighters in Sicily. Seven of the 25 airdromes still in enemy possession were not serviceable. The Allies had captured approximately 12 airdromes, including the important fields at Ponte Olivo and Coraiso.
On July 16, President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill, in a joint statement, told the Italian people that they would have to decide whether they would make an "honorable capitulation" to superior military forces, or suffer the consequences of the "tragic devastation of war." Emphasizing the armed might of the United Nations and their determination to destroy the principles and leaders of Nazism and Fascism the message concluded: "The time had come for you to decide whether Italians shall die for Mussolini and Hitler--or live for Italy and for civilization." Millions of leaflets bearing the message were dropped over the Italian mainland, and United Nations' radio transmitters broadcast the message to Italy.
The Battle of Sicily had two major phases. The first ended July 23rd, with the Americans' capture of Palermo and the sudden collapse of Italian resistance in the western part of the island. With Mussolini's resignation as Premier of Italy, on July 25, there followed a brief period of reduced activity while Italy's immediate surrender to the Allies seemed possible. By the end of July the campaign had been resinned in full force against the three German divisions remaining in the northeast corner.
COAST GUARDSMAN CARL SOLOMON, GM3c, OF 15 ABEEL ST., NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J., WOULD HAVE BEEN A CASUALTY IF HE HAD BEEN IN HIS SACK. HERE HE SHOWS THE HOLES MADE IN HIS BLANKET BY ENEMY BOMB FRAGMENTS
The enemy resisted stubbornly almost to the end, exploiting every advantage of the terrain and every tactical device to impede our progress. After three weeks he yielded to the pressure achieved by our combined ground, sea, and air forces. On August 17, 38 days after the initial landings in Sicily, Messina was occupied, and the Battle of Sicily drew to a close with the Allies' conquest of the island complete.
ATTITUDE OF THE ITALIAN PEOPLE
As soon as the word had spread around that the Americans were in, the Italian people started showing up from cellars all over the place. Those who couldn't walk were carried out. American doctors would arrive and start ministering to the wounded. Everywhere scenes were enacted, both dramatic and poignant. One woman was wounded in the leg and also had a nasty gash on her face. Another woman showed up with a baby about four or five months old or younger that was badly burned on its arms. Everybody was talking at once, trying to show thanks that the Americans had driven out the Germans.
One American combat photographer was starting to leave after having taken pictures when some little boys gave him the Fascist salute. "I turned to them," he related, "imitating the Fascist salute, said, 'not cum sa,' and then giving the old American ' hy-ya, babe' salute, said 'cum sa!' The people around me applauded actually and there was more kissing of my hands. It was touching indeed if anything ever was."
There is good reason to believe (unfortunately the complete story cannot yet be told because of military security) that Anglo-American pamphlets, spread among the German-Italian troops in Tunisia and Sicily by the millions, contributed not a little to the quick Allied victories in those two campaigns. For instance, one captured Italian general threw up his hands and said: "I could do nothing to maintain morale of my men when they were plastered with hundreds of your leaflets every day." What made the leaflets so effective, he admitted, was that his men believed them.
Thousands of Italian soldiers in Tunisia and Sicily came over to our lines, bearing an Allied leaflet, on one side of which was printed a safe-conduct. The leaflet warfare, to be sure, was more successful with the war-weary Italian troops than with the Germans. Yet, surprisingly enough, some of the Germans also were far from immune. In one sector, 65 of the first 100 German prisoners taken had copies of our leaflets on them, even though the German command severely punished any soldier who did not immediately surrender them to his superior officer. Germans, however, were hard to win over. The leaflets were aimed mostly at the Italians.
The success of the leaflets, of course, depended on how they were worded. Various appeals were made in the Italian-language
SICILIAN FISHERMEN, GOING BACK TO SEA AGAIN, EXPLAIN THEIR PROBLEMS TO LIEUTENANT CLAIBORNE PELL, U.S. COAST GUARD, OF NEW YORK CITY, ONE OF THE COAST GUARD OFFICERS ASSISTING IN THE RESTORATION OF THE ISLAND'S FISHING INDUSTRY
pamphlets. The most successful undoubtedly was to drum it into the Italian soldiers that they had a choice of "dying with the Germans or living with us." One of the most successful leaflets began; "ITALIANS! You must choose now--TO DIE FOR THE GERMANS or COME OVER TO US." There followed a few lines telling of how many Italians were arriving in our lines, that they would be sent to America, and that after the war they would be returned to their "fiancees, wives, and children." This leaflet ended: "Put an end to the Comedy. Throw down your arms, and COME OVER TO US."
Another effective pamphlet emphasized the same appeal from a somewhat different angle. It began: "DO YOU WANT TO DIE WITH THE GERMANS OR LIVE WITH US?" There then followed a list of Italians "who have joined our lines." The leaflet went on to ask: "Do you recognize some friends among these Italians?" It then explained: "Several of these have found parents and friends who had emigrated to America. Private de Santis Giuseppe of Via Caoo Monte, Cicerale, Salerno, was actually captured by his father. Bersagliere Monaco Carmelo of Via Vontano 49, Valverde, Catania, was taken prisoner by his brother. More than 3,000 Italians have come over to us Americans . . . They have preferred life with us to death with the Germans. DO AS THEY DO!"
One leaflet was addressed to Italian sailors manning ships carrying German reinforcements for North Africa or preparing to evacuate German personnel. It asked why the Italian sailors should sacrifice themselves and their ships for the Germans. It was a time when one out of every two ships that crossed the Sicilian Straits was being lost. Those leaflets must have struck a very responsive chord in the heart of many Italian sailors.
Kind treatment, radio and leaflet barrages all did their share in winning the Italians, who apparently didn't ask for anything better than to be on our side. In one town the Americans saw nobody but one old woman who had come out of a house cellar to watch them. There was a ravine there that led out of the town and there was a small opening in the side of the hill. A little boy came out of the opening and in a few minutes he was followed by several others. It went on that way until there were about 250 people along a path that led from the small hole, They had been living in caves all together to get out of the terrific pounding it had been necessary to give the town in order to get the Germans out. When the Americans arrived, it was the first time the Italians had dared to venture out into the daylight for days. There were tears in their eyes as they recognized the men as Americans. Old men kissed the hands of the service men. Old women hung on the boys' arms and cried. Some of the Americans felt helpless, for there was nothing they could do at the moment. However, medical treatment was an immediate benefit. And later, the Italian people were to have more food when their fisheries were reopened. Three Coast Guard officers had charge of the program to aid in feeding the Italians by restoring the fishing industry.
ONE OF THE U.S. COAST GUARD OFFICERS ASSISTING IN THE RESTORATION OF THE SICILIAN FISHING INDUSTRY, COMMANDER WILLIAM H. LABROT OF ANNAPOLIS, MD., EXPLAINS THE NEW REGULATIONS TO ONE OF THE MEDITERRANEAN ISLAND'S PICTURESQUE FISHERMEN
COAST GUARD OFFICERS RE-ESTABLISH SICILY FISHERIES
The task of reactivating fishing was entrusted to three American Coast Guard officers who composed the fisheries division of the Agricultural sub-commission of the Allied Control Commission in Italy. The trio were Commander William H. Labrot of Annapolis, Maryland; Lieutenant B. C. F. Mulieri, Charleston, South Carolina; and Lieutenant Claiborne Pell, of New York.
With United States Naval authorities at Palermo, who were aware of the critical food shortage and wanted to be of help, the Coast Guardsmen drafted a new set of regulations patterned after the control measures exercised by the Port Captains in the States. As a matter of fact the issuance of licenses, permits, identification cards, etc. was left to the Capitano Di Porto, the Italian Captain of the Port.
The rehabilitation of the Italian fishing industry was a complex problem for like any other industry it is dependent on others. War had either completely or partially destroyed facilities or it was currently doing so, but everything possible was done to increase the food supply.
In that sense improvising became an art. When an anchor was lacking, a huge stone was never out of reach as a substitute. A dock barricaded by barb wire became a busy fish market, and multicolored push carts took the place of trucks in delivery of fish to the retail trade.
The restoration of commercial fishing in practically all Sicilian waters went a long way toward changing the diet of the people of this Mediterranean Island. Once again the Pescivendoli sang their wares in the streets of Palermo, where the United States Coast Guard officers re-established fisheries.
Pane and Pasta--bread and spaghetti--the principal components of the Sicilian menu, were too costly and too scarce. A kilogram of bread sold for twice as much as a soda jerker was able to earn in a day, and pasta was dearer still. Fish, too, had been beyond the average reach, but with a greater influx of the product, the price came tumbling downward.
The news concerning the resumption of commercial fishing spread rapidly. Motor craft, not unlike the shrimp boats of the Atlantic Coast of the United States, put to sea on the same day the new regulations went into effect and returned the next morning heavily loaded with a variety of pescatorial food.
Awaiting them were more than 200 fish vendors. They stampeded the dock and the decks of the boats. Characteristically--a la Siciliana--the auctioning of the fish reached a tumultuous symphony
LIEUTENANT CLAIBORNE OF NEW YORK EXPLAINS THE NEW REGULATIONS TO THIS WHISKERED SICILIAN
of voices accompanied by the expressive motions of hand and face. On the scene was a colorful auctioneer who could have put to shame his counterpart of the tobacco markets in North Carolina, but his services were of no value. The pescivendoli, in fighting their way to the boats, did all but push him overboard. Such scenes repeated themselves daily and the number of motor craft which put to sea for a day and a night of fishing steadily increased.
For hundreds and hundreds of Sicilians in the industry--from Princes with a dozen or so of names to the lowly pescatore, who couldn't even write their one and only given name--the resumption of fishing activities was a double barrelled event: more food and a job. And for the housewife and her entire family it became somewhat of a salvation if the high cost of pane and pasta were to remain at the high level.
The three Coast Guard officers also completed a survey of certain parts of Continental Italy to recommend, where possible, the partial or complete resumption of commercial fishing to help reduce the bread lines which were ever present every evening at dusk.
MERCHANT MARINE INSPECTION PLAYS PART The Merchant Marine Inspectors of the United States Coast Guard played a very important part in seeing that all ships, with the exception of transports operated by the Navy, carrying American troops and supplies, were in seaworthy condition and properly manned. In its capacity of Technical Adviser to the Water Transportation Corps of the United States Army, the Coast Guard inspected practically all ships, American and foreign, leaving United States ports with American troops on board. The purpose of this inspection was to make sure that vessels were in seaworthy condition and that the lifesaving, fire-fighting and safety equipment on board the vessel for the protection of the troops and crew were in good condition and ready for immediate use. Lifeboat and fire drills were conducted by the Coast Guard Marine Inspectors to make sure that the crew members were familiar with the use of the equipment on board. These inspectors also saw to it that each and every person on board was equipped with a life preserver of a type approved by the Coast Guard, Hence, practically all troop ships carrying American troops from the United States ports, as well as all United States merchant vessels which took part in the invasion had been inspected and approved by the Coast Guard.
PATHWAY TO EUROPE AHEAD The end of the Sicilian campaign came with the fall of Messina on August 17, 1943. The same day, the islands of Lipari, 35 miles north of Messina, and Stromboli, 50 miles north, surrendered to a United States Naval expedition, and with them went control of the Aeolian
AN LST (LANDING SHIP, TANKS), DURING UNLOADING OPERATIONS ON THE BEACH AT PAESTUM
Islands. Now the pathway to Europe led up the long leg of Italy, with only the narrow Strait of Messina to cross.
----On September 3, 1943, the Allies landed on the toe of the Italian mainland. These were the first Allied forces to invade the continent of Europe. "History will always remember this day as the beginning of the answer to the prayer of the millions of liberty-loving human beings not only in these conquered lands but all over the world," said President Roosevelt.
On September 8, an armistice was signed with Italy and put into effect with the first landings in the Naples area. Italian leaders appealed to the Army, and Navy chiefs to cease hostilities against the Allied nations. Under the terms of the unconditional surrender that followed, the Italian Fleet went over to the Allies.
By sundown of Wednesday, September 8, the Salerno invasion fleet passed Cap d'Orlando, Sicily, and headed straight for the Gulf of, Salerno. H-hour was 0330 on the morning of September 9.
Ahead of the invasion fleet moved the minesweepers, pathfinders of the invasion. With supreme impudence they entered Salerno Gulf an hour after midnight to begin their dangerous task of clearing the water of the extensive minefields. An hour later the transports and waiting warships received the signal that the bay was swept, the water clear. (In the northern area the sweepers swept up or exploded 20 mines during the assault and 135 in the first four days).
The night was oppressive. Not a breeze rippled the still water. The landing craft loaded with hot, sweating men, circled while waiting for the signal to go in.
And then, fifteen minutes before H-hour, the silence was ripped to tatters as the bombardment destroyers opened fire on the beaches in concentrated salvos. With that, the waiting German artillery ashore screamed back in fiery defiance as it loosed heavy-shelled 88s over the water. The destroyers and gunboats moved in closer and stepped up their fire. Five minutes before H-hour the rocket boats flared their whistling projectiles, newest addition to modern warfare. Small craft added mortar fire. It was as if all the fires of Vesuvius had been freed. Now, a minute and half before the landing craft were due to touch beach, every craft within range doubled the fiery bedlam with, small rockets, machine gun and rifle fire to clear the beaches for the seaborne troops.
On split-second timing the assault wave went in. The bows of the landing craft grated on sand, jolted and stopped, Down crashed the ramps and over them charged the first of Lieutenant General Mark Clark's Fifth Army.
To those first waves of first assault troops, the beaches seemed clear of the enemy. Some areas were not even marred by the black web
A FORCED LANDING ON THE BEACH AT PAESTUM BEING EXAMINED BY A U.S. COAST GUARDSMAN AND SOLDIER
of barbed wire. Mine-detecting squads felt their way ahead with their round, flat, lily-pad detectors, like humped, biped anteaters, clearing paths through the mines and marking them with white tape. In came the DUKW's, the amphibious trucks, light artillery; more landing craft grated to a stop on the steep beaches. For five minutes after the first soldier stepped ashore the landing was unopposed.
Then the Germans in their well-hidden pillboxes and gun positions opened up. They had been waiting. They weren't surprised by this invasion. They had simply been waiting for the moment when the beaches were full, when it was unnecessary to aim to find a target.
Machine guns and rifles chattered, spit and snarled from positions 150 yards behind the waterline, and, beyond these, belched 88-mm. and larger shells from German tanks and pillboxes. One shell struck a landing craft and it sank in a geyser of splinters, gray paint and water. The troops dug in, balked by the mobile artillery of the tanks. Then, instead of the blast of guns, there were louder explosions where the tanks had been wheeling and firing. Their position had been relayed to the destroyers three miles out in the bay; salvo after salvo shattered the steel monsters.
More troops came in under the covering fire of the destroyers. The beachhead widened; in some places the assault thrust inland as deep as a mile. The cruisers' guns joined the destroyer fire, reaching out ahead of the driving infantrymen.
In four hours the troops had pushed in to Paestum, behind the creeping naval barrage. They held a length of the coastal highway and were forcing the Germans into the hills of Mount Soprano. Dawn arrived, concealed by the glare of shell fire, until suddenly it was daylight, and with it the German shell fire from the heights inland began blasting the beaches. Three German tanks came within 200 yards of the foxholes into which the beach parties and shore engineers had driven and started shelling the transport area. Casualties began to mount. An urgent signal was sent to one of the other beaches for a boat to evacuate the wounded, but it was sunk by enemy fire before it could reach the beach. Seaman 1st Class Andrew Allardi, DSN, took off his clothes and swam out to the shelled boat to help the wounded crew ashore.
Now the Luftwaffe appeared to make the agony supreme, sweeping in from the sea in lightning attacks to aim heavy bombloads on the ships at anchor, and blasting the beaches with loads of light fragmentation bombs that exploded a rain of needle pointed steel on the men and the stacks of equipment that lined the beaches.
News that Italy had surrendered unconditionally seemed somehow terribly unimportant.8
Table of Contents
Next Part (II)
1. See Appendix B for complete list of Coast Guard and Coast Guard manned vessels in this operation.
2. See Official Report in Appendix E
3. From a letter written by Captain Roger C. Heimer, to Commodore Ellis Reed-Hill, September 14, 1943.
4. See Appendix G for this account.
5. See Appendix H.
6. From the Ship's History, 30 September, 1945, transmitted by H. C. Perkins, Commanding Officer, to the Secretary of the Navy.
7. See Appendix I
8. See "Battle Report II--The Atlantic War."