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Serving Uncle Sam: A Military Life in WWll

Gerald Schwartz USAAC 1940 - 1945

   

Chapter 21: Scordia, Sicily. Wine Evenings! Conquest of Sicily. Catania. Learning Italian

Aug 3,1943 (Scordia, Sicily) We are now operating from a Gerbini airstrip south of Catania, and are attacking enemy movements in the northern end of the island. There were fierce battles taking place on the plains of Catania and the British 8th Army was bearing the brunt of it. Once again the 57th Group was lucky, because we only suffered several light night attacks without serious damage.

However the RAF on a nearby airfield was not so lucky because they lost many men and airplanes.

As if to compensate us for having to operate on a dusty airfield and endure nighttime air raids, wine was plentiful! Every evening after all operations were concluded, there magically appeared a huge barrel of wine outside of the enlisted men's day room.

For a while we were busy attacking enemy shipping, and since we couldn't find any, we bombed Messina harbor and adjacent beaches.

Aug 4th: Our operations have now intensified, in that for two days we sent a flight of four ships over the Catania-Messina road to strafe road transport. Today, Catania fell to the 8th Army, and it appears that Sicily will fall soon.

Aug 5th: We mounted 8 strafing missions today against German ground forces. We are told that forward elements of the British 8th Army are now beyond Catania and the Germans are withdrawing into their last line of resistance. We are now receiving replacements for the airplanes that we have lost in combat and from other reasons. We understand that the American Army (which is on the other side of Sicily) is creating pressure against their side of Messina, so that it's fall seems imminent.

Aug 12th: Once again our luck held out, because more than 15 JU-88s raided an adjacent airfield (the 244 RAF Wing) and they lost 8 airplanes and had 15 men killed and 25 wounded. Our field was so close to theirs that some of the German flares landed on our field. However our ack-ack did not fire and apparently the Germans did not recognize us as a target!

In addition, the 121st Medium Bomb Group lost 8 men killed, and one of their ack-ack batteries lost 3 men. The Germans lost two bombers to RAF Beaufighter night-fighters and three to ack-ack.

Some of us went into Catania to "nose around", however there was little to see that was not destroyed by air attacks. In various places you could even smell the dead bodies, such as at the bridge over the river just outside of Catania.

The Gerbini Landing Grounds Contained heaps of "junk" which had been airplanes, destroyed by our various Air attacks, without even one plane in salvageable condition.

The city of Catania is a total wreck, with nearly every building damaged. Some buildings were only a shell with nothing standing in the center. Nevertheless, it was a lot better than what we had encountered in a year in North Africa, and for that we were thankful. You can understand our exuberance after a whole year of monk-like existence.

Aug 16th: The Sicilian campaign appears to be drawing to a close. We have been mounting around-the-clock bombing and strafing attacks on troop-laden water-craft at the evacuation beaches, in the straights of Magellen which separates Sicily from Reggio Calabria, and around the port of Messina.

Tonight, at 8 PM, Messina has fallen, and the war in Sicily is over.

Our level of operations is now reduced, which gives us a chance to visit the surrounding countryside and mix with the Sicilians. After spending three months here, and studying Italian while practicing it on the natives, I found that while I was learning the "Rome" Italian Grammar and pronunciation, there was a huge difference in the way the Sicilians spoke Italian. Not only in the pronunciation but in the words they used in place of "Rome' Italian words.

In other words while educated Sicilians spoke the "Rome" Italian, they also spoke the Sicilian dialect. It just made it harder for me to learn Italian because I had to learn the "slang" first! However I persevered and my hard work within the next three months found me speaking Italian well enough that I was called upon frequently as an interpreter!

So ends part 21 of My Wartime Memoirs.

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