Chapter 17: Butterfly Bombs. The Slobs Meet 1st Army. 65,000 Prisoners
April 2l,1943 found both halves of our squadron together (A Flight and B flight) near Kairoun, Tunisia. We just were hit with a new kind of weapon, dropped from a German airplane. During last night's air raid we heard strange fluttering noises. This morning as we all walked towards the Mess Tent for breakfast an enlisted man had a leg blown off, by what we supposed was an Anti-personnel mine, no doubt planted by an Arab working for the Germans.
Our armament officer shortly told us that it was not a mine. It was a new weapon consisting of a bomb, which when it reached about 1000 Feet from the ground, was blown open to discharge 24 large Hand Grenades. These had a pair of closed wings, which then opened and rotated a certain amount of times, and then fell off. These small bombs were now armed, some to go off upon contact, others had delayed action fuses set to go off anytime up to 24 hours later.
We were later told they were aptly named Butterfly Bombs! Once these bombs were destroyed, we were very, very careful how we walked around after an air raid.
We naively assumed that the German Army had run out of imaginative ideas on how to kill us. Were we in for a rude shock? One morning shortly afterwards, several of our trucks developed flat tires, and one of our planes was damaged on take off by a blown out tire. To our surprise we found many three pronged steel objects, with sharp tips lying about the airfield and camp area. They resembled a large version of the jacks used by children in a game requiring dexterity with the use of the hands.
We had been the object of a visit by Midnight Charlie of the Luftwaffe the night before, and he apparently dumped bushels of these Steel Jacks while bombing us.
Several mornings later while walking to the mess hall, we were surprised to find 80 steel spikes embedded in the field and camp area. Luckily neither airplanes or personnel were struck by these objects during the previous nights bombing.
We couldn't help wondering whether the Afrika Corps was running out of bombs, and had to resort to these unusual implements of war.
We, of A Flight left today for a more forward airdrome near Kairouan, Tunisia named Hani Main L.G. (Landing Ground) .It was not much of a drive, but it was one none of us will ever
forget, for various reasons. Firstly, we passed various units of the American Ist Army, which had landed at Oran on Operation Torch together with the British 5th Army. We were dressed with all sorts of military uniform from various armies, such as Italian Alpine shoes, British Battle Dress, Australian Hats, and desert boots of suede. We were all dressed differently, given that we had no steady source of supply from the British 8th Army.
Our coveralls were oil stained and shabby and for 8 months we had been washing our clothes in 100 Octane aviation Gas. The Ist Army Americans were smartly dressed in proper Olive Drab (winter) uniforms. They looked like an Army, whereas we looked like a bunch of slobs. Their faces were pale, whereas ours were tanned from 10 months in the blazing sun. They were clean shaven (as befits a typical American Soldier) , whereas we had beards and must have appeared to them like a group of Bums! Our trucks were weather-beaten and theirs wore the new Olive Drab color of the modern American Army !
On the way to the new Airfield we had to drive through the town of Kairouan, Tunisia. As we entered the town, our senses were immediately assailed by a smell, the like of which we had never encountered in our lives !
We had visited Alexandria, Egypt, and we thought that the smell of the corpses buried above the ground , covered by a mound of dried mud, was the worst there could ever be. Were we ever in for a surprise ! During the entire drive through the town, we had to hold our noses, to keep from vomiting, so bad was the odor in Kairouan, Tunisia. We subsequently learned that Kairouan was the second choice for Moslems to visit yearly on the required pilgrimage, if they couldn't go to Mecca, Saudi Arabia !
April 22nd, we are now at Hani Main, Landing Ground supporting the British 8th Army with Dive Bombing and strafing missions. We have attacked shipping near Tunis, and we are told that it should fall shortly. Our field is less than 25 miles from the front and we can hear the heavy cannon firing.
May 5th, the British 8th Army has begun their push! We bombed several vessels trying to reinforce Rommel at the Port of Tunis and fighter bombers of the Desert Air Force sank one German Destroyer and set another on fire off La Goulette. We are told now that our forces are on the outskirts of Bizerta and Tunis, and they are expected to fall shortly.
May 7th, we flew four missions, bombing enemy shipping and docks in Tunis. Shortly thereafter Tunis fell, thus trapping the remnants of the German 15th Panzer, and the Hermann Goering Division between Tunis and Bizerta. Then General Patton's American Second Corps took Bizerta. Realizing their position was hopeless, those 6,000 Germans surrendered.
May 10th, the whole front is deteriorating rapidly as both Allied armies continually squeeze the remnants of the vaunted Africa Corps between them in a giant pincers movement. Since May 3rd around 65,000 Enemy soldiers have been taken prisoner !
So ends part 17 of my Wartime memoirs.
Footnote: I was advised on March 11 that my old buddy Lou Lederman passed away. One always feels he has lost a little of himself when an old close friend dies. We shared many enjoyable times together, at our camps as well as while visiting strange and exotic cities..