Chapter 36: Pig! Unrelenting Rain Grounds Our Planes. Montgomery Leaves Us.
Dec 25, 1943. My ship flew at 1.00 PM for 2-3/4 hours, aiding in the evacuation of the Yugoslavian guerrillas from a certain island. Christmas dinner was turkey, corn, potatoes, stuffing, peas, bread, coffee, pineapple pie, apples, nuts, oranges and figs!
I stayed away from the enlisted men’s bar tonight, but many got plastered and some of the officers wound up in the enlisted men’s bar, potted. Tonight, Stripling and Fox returned from a trip to San Marco (on top of Foggia Mountain) with a 150-pound pig tied to the roof of their Fiat car. He was frozen stiff due to the extreme cold at that altitude. That mountain is actually above the clouds, and the roads leading to it are all hairpin turns. We will slaughter him soon.
Dec 27th, 1943: Our planes did not fly this morning so we just sat around in the mechanic’s tent. After lunch we were released for the day, so I went up Foggia Mountain to San Marco with Tillson, Stripling, Schoenfield and Woodrow, using Stripling’s Fiat car. Angelo, the owner of 'Angelo’s Restaurant' served us a whole chicken apiece, smothered in gravy, with spaghetti, and egg omelettes and lots of wine. I bought 4 Roosters and a 20-pound Turkey Gobbler. We got back to camp at 9.00 PM and I tied the chickens and turkey outside our tent and went to sleep.
Dec 28th: to Dec 31st, 1943: I had a touch of dysentery which left in a day or so. I slaughtered the 4 chickens, cleaned and hung them out to air on the side of our tent to cool.
These last few days were uneventful except for constant rain. The field is quite muddy making operations almost impossible. I cooked the 4 roosters and made a gallon of chicken soup, and we sat around eating that for dinner instead of eating a lousy supper of macaroni and tea. As we got down near the bottom of the can, I just dumped in two quarts of water to replenish it.
Jan 1sth, 1944 (New Years Day) began with rain and heavy winds that tore down most of our tents. We had been up most of the night, re-inserting the tent pegs into the ground as the gale force winds tore through the tents and pulled them out. In the process most of our bedding and equipment was thoroughly drenched.
The mess-hall came down during the night because no one was sleeping there to keep it up. As a result, the cooks passed out cans of Cold “C” Rations for our meals. These consist of 3 cans, one was meat and beans, another meat and vegetable stew and the third was meat and hash. We received only one of these. The other can, which we all received, contained 5 hard biscuits (hardtack), a packet of concentrated lemon powder, and several packets of granulated sugar. These were actually “emergency rations”, and we usually got them while we were on the road. They were passed out to us normally as we sat on our trucks while roadside, during a move.
Our airfield was a mess, under water to the extent that all flights were cancelled. This was a far cry from the turkey dinner with all the trimmings with a pie for dessert, which we were supposed to have Christmas Day.
Our airplanes were not damaged by the storm; however, our Fiesler Storch (German Spotter Plane) was badly damaged due to its lightness. All personnel spent the day airing out and drying out clothes, bedding, etc, and setting up more tents. This is the worst rainstorm we have encountered since leaving the United States! We were treated to a spectacular view of the snow on the mountains east of our camp, a sight that we had not seen since leaving the United States. We were saddened to hear that General Montgomery has been relieved of his command of the British 8th Army so he can be sent to England. He is to prepare
for the upcoming invasion of France we are told.
We have fought under his command for a year and a half and we have only nice things to say about him. General Oliver Leese was named as his successor. In leaving, General Montgomery addressed a parting word to the Desert Air Force. I am now quoting those remarks from my friend Al Schoenfield’s book 'The Saga Of The Exterminators Squadron' (The combat history of the 66th Fighter Squadron 1941-1945)
Montgomery said "I am very sad at parting from the Desert Air Force. This magnificent air
striking force has fought with the Eighth Army throughout the whole of its victorious progress; every soldier in this Army is proud to acknowledge that the support of this strong and powerful air force has been a battle-winning factor of the first importance. We owe the Allied Air Forces in general, and the Desert Air Force in particular, a very great debt of gratitude."
(The organizational chart for the
Mediterranean Allied Air Forces, under the USAAF placed the 57th Group in the
Tactical Air Force, under the Desert Air Force.)
While I was working on my plane today, the boys in my tent slaughtered the turkey, and cleaned him, so that we can roast him tomorrow.
I couldn’t help thinking that a year ago we spent New Years Day on the Libyan Coast just past Marble Arch.
Major Yates is back now, and has a desk job in Bari (a nearby town). Nobody is even interested in seeing him, after the manner in which he treated the enlisted men. My eyes are back to normal now. They had been bothering me for several days. No doubt they had been strained from too much studying.
So ends Part 36 of My Wartime Memoirs