Chapter 102:To Milan In A Jeep. Mixed Up With Surrendering German Convoys. Liberating a Kubelwagon. Sneaking Past Redcaps to Milan. On To Alps.
May 1st 1945. Villafranca, Italy
With very little flying taking place now, Slim borrowed a jeep and he, Dell and I took off for Milan. It was a bit scary because there were still pockets of German soldiers that were being mopped up by our people as well as the Italian Partisans.
We were somewhere north of Pisa when we suddenly ran headlong into a long line of vehicles and cannon. We had hardly realized that the vehicles had German swastikas on them before we were waved to a halt by a German officer. One of my friends and I were able to make out what he said because we both spoke low German from our childhood. He said that he commanded a field artillery battalion and he wished to surrender.
He asked us for directions to the prisoner of war cage in Pisa. We gave him directions, and then my friend said 'let’s take one of these kubelwagons' (German jeeps). The convoy consisted of alternate high backed trucks towing a howitzer, with German Jeeps containing a officer between them. He went to the second jeep and told the officer to get out and climb on the back of the truck in front of his vehicle.
He was quite unhappy about this but he did so. When he climbed on the back of the truck all the soldiers immediately moved to the front of the truck. It was as if they were suddenly confronted with a Vampire! We had always known that there was a huge gulf between the German officers and enlisted men, but this was the first time we had an opportunity to see it. They actually appeared frightened by their close proximity to an officer!
We then got into the two jeeps and headed back to Villafranca. When we returned and checked over the German jeep we found that the back of it was loaded down with all kinds of goodies, such as canned sardines, ham, and fruit. We wasted no time in painting out the German insignias and painting our insignias on the jeep. We then got into that jeep and headed for Milan once again.
We were moving along quite nicely in the mountains near Lake Como when the engine suddenly died. Fortunately all three of us were aircraft mechanics, so we removed the carburetor, fuel strainer and gas lines and cleaned them out with gasoline, and reinstalled them. The engine then worked fine. We all agreed that those parts became clogged up due to the use of 'erzats' (artificial) gasoline by the Germans. That gas is the result of liquefying coal to make petroleum, and then refining it into gasoline with a catalytic cracker. It has the tendency to leave deposits in the fuel system of vehicles, and it smells like rotten turnips!
We got back on the road again and eventually reached the outskirts of Milan only to see a British Redcap roadblock ahead of us. We knew that Milan was out of bounds, so we turned around and entered a side road. After a while we came to a farm and we stopped to get directions. I asked the farmer how he takes his produce into Milan and he said he uses a donkey cart and takes narrow dirt roads, avoiding the main road. He obligingly drew a map of these dirt roads for us. After rewarding him we started out again and in an hour we entered Milan the back way without seeing any British Redcaps.
Milan is a large modern city, but it retains the concept of plazas. In one of those plazas in front of the Cathedral of St. Paul, we saw the bodies of Mussolini, his girl friend Clara Petacci, his assistant Caruso, and several others. They were all strung up by the heels, with evidence of shotgun blasts on their bodies, and signs hanging from their torsos.
While partaking of the pleasures of the city I met a woman who joined our party. We finally decided to visit the Alps and to our delight this woman said she lives in San Felice in the Alps and would like to return home. She said she would guide us, so off we went. That night we reached San Felice and it was up in the Alps and getting colder all the time. Her parents were so happy to see her that they suggested we spend the night as it had gotten quite late. We slept in their attic which had hams and cheeses hanging from the rafters. We had a picnic slicing off pieces from them.
We resumed our voyage the next morning (without her) and after several hours we realized that we did not know where the Swiss border was. Rather than take a chance on crossing the border and being detained by the Swiss, we decided to return home. We got back to Villafranca that day after taking turns driving with few stops.
May 2nd ,1945 Villafranca, Italy We just got the word that the German High Command had surrendered unconditionally, and that all hostilities would cease immediately ! What welcome news!
We spent the day driving around in the German Volkswagens, visiting just about every town around here except Venice. We went to Mantova, Brescia, Verona, Bologna, etc. The people here in Northern Italy are swell! They give us wine, eggs and fruit and won’t take any payment. Things are quite cheap here and there is a lot to buy. I hear that we are not even supposed to be here. We were supposed to move on D-30 but General Darcy took it upon himself to move us up here. We hear he was demoted to Colonel and relieved of his command