Chapter 24: Invasion of Italy Begins. Italians Surrender. Scrounging German Planes. Mission to Naples. Fruit and Nuts A'Plenty
Sept 3rd 1943: At 11 PM on Sept 2nd, the English Commandos landed on the toe of Italy (Reggio Di Calabria). At 4.30 AM Sept 3rd the actual invasion began, with the British 8th Army's thrust for Reggio. The airfield at Reggio was serviceable immediately for use by fighter airplanes. The invasion was preceded by a huge artillery barrage from Sicily.
Invasion of Italy
Our control of the air was made clear by the fact that only two attacks by 6 ME-109s
were sustained by the assault troops. We mounted 5 flights today providing air cover and bomber escort.
Sept 4,1943; I took the morning off and wrote a letter to Cousin Jack Schenninger.
Our line chief, Sgt. Beck started a "Flying Club" with the two captured German airplanes we have. One is a Heinkel and the other an Italian "trainer" airplane. We had found these
Airplanes at airfields on which we operated. They were in bad shape, and we replaced parts from other such planes in order to make them operable. We all got a chance to fly around a bit in those planes.
On Sept 3rd I had given Lou Lederman a Beretta Italian automatic pistol that I had 'liberated' and he had promised to sell it to one of our pilots (Lt. Burgess). Well, today he returned it and said he couldn't sell it!
Sept 6,1943: This afternoon we had a "canteen" (comfort rations), and I bought 5 Packs of cigarettes, 2 pkgs of gum, tobacco, and razor blades. Today I met one of the men I knew 2 years and 10 months ago at Mitchell Field, Hangar No. 7, when we were going through our 8 weeks of basic training. It was really nice to talk over old times.
Sept 7,1943: General Spraats visited our airfield today. There are no missions scheduled today. My Pilot, Lt. McMahon promised to take me for a ride tomorrow in our airplane.
Sept 8,1943: My plane flew two missions today. Also, the Red Cross Lady was here today with coffee and doughnuts. The news came over the radio today:Italy has capitulated, and the invasion on Rome and the Italian coast starts tonight!
We are told that the Italians are fighting the Germans and the Italian pilots have been instructed to fly their airplanes to Sicily and to land there. Our Operations officer told us that this had all been planned in advance with the Italians and that they are going to help us. Before the American and English paratroopers land on the coast of Italy tonight, the beach will be "softened up" by the shelling from 18 cruisers and battlewagons.
Sept 9, 1943, the news came today that Hungary has declared war on Germany. The radio claims that Italians are fighting Germans in Greece and that there are riots in Berlin.
My plane flew a mission today, attacking motor transport on the roads. It seems the German Army is pulling back.
Sept 10, 1943: my plane flew on a 16 ship mission to Naples. They had to stop and refuel at Messina, Sicily. My present pilot is Lt. Shaw. We had an English liaison officer who explained the invasion tactics, using maps. The U.S. Army 5th Division and a corps of the British Army have landed near Naples, and we are told the invasion is going as planned. The combined British, and American Forces under the command of General Mark Clark have come ashore at Salerno today.
Sept 11, 1943: 'A' party is scheduled to leave at dawn tomorrow for an airfield 8 miles past Messina. There was a squadron meeting this afternoon, to explain the move tomorrow.
Sept 12, 1943: We (A Party), got on the road at 6 AM this morning toward Catania using the main road, then we took an inland route which was filled with twisting and turning places and hair-raising curves. As we passed settlements the people tossed hazel nuts to us. When we arrived at Messina we found out that the outfit we were supposed to replace didn't even know about it!. So, we drove out on Cape Orlando (a peninsula) and parked for the night. It was a nice spot, with grape vines, almond and fig trees,
and we were able to shake the trees so that the fruit could fall down and be eaten.
Dinner was quite late but we did get coffee and lots of fruit from the orchard so we didn't mind!
Sept 13, 1943: We lounged around during the morning. After lunch, Capt Mallet made a speech, reprimanding us for our bad behavior while on the road in convoy. We took it in good humor. Spracks and I went to Milazzo in the afternoon seeking fun and games; however the hunting was less than satisfactory.
We did fill up on grapes and nuts, and went swimming in the Mediterranean. On he way back to camp we passed an American Engineer Company, and saw an American pyramid tent in an isolated area. So we rolled it up and took it with us, we had developed the habit of 'borrowing
any equipment we could possibly use, while in British 8th Army. You see, in the British Armed Forces it is called 'scrounging'. I suppose it is a throw back from the time of the
Napoleanic Wars, when the French soldiers had to live off the land as they marched.
I do know that if we had been operating in the American Army, and were caught with such scrounged materiel, we would have been brought up on charges.
So ends Part 24 of my wartime memoirs as we are poised ready to cross the straits of Messina in pursuit of the German Army in Italy.