Chapter 54: British/French Navy Mock Battle. Naples Attacked. German Commandos Seize British Radar. German Vessels Sunk. Presidential Citations. Spanish Accordion.
April 29, 1944; Alto, Corsica. Due to the rainy weather, few operations have taken place and very little else going on. We flew three missions today and were able to blow up several bridges and tunnels and hit railroad yards. As an interesting sidelight to our operations, we were amused to hear that there is a mock battle taking place between the British Navy and the French. The British are going to try to capture this island, and the French are supposed to repel them!
We had a canteen today, and I bought a lot of extra things that I didn’t need, and brought them over to my Spanish friends in the French Ack-ack crew on our airfield. They repaid me by giving me so much of their French wine, that I will be able to sell a lot of it.
I heard over the radio that Naples was attacked the night of the 25th with 40 plus German bombers. This morning there were several German bombers over our field and the French ack ack heavies opened up on them. One hunk of shrapnel landed close to my plane. Our officers moved out to a place up in the mountain close by, situated near a river. It took a week for our officers to build a new mess hall. The prefabricated hut that had formerly been the Officers Mess was turned over to the enlisted men to be used as a “day” room.
Our operational days are quite long, because we have to arise at 4.30 AM for the first mission and we are not finished with our days work until about 8.30 PM. We notice an increase in the amount of naval craft off the coast, and we wonder whether this is a harbinger of things to come in the near future. Everybody is speculating about when D-Day is supposed to take place, and we hope it is soon!
April 30, 1944 this morning I finished making a 100 hour inspection on my plane that I started yesterday. There were three dive bombing missions today over Northern Italy against Bridges, tunnels, Railroad Marshalling Yards and motor transport. This evening the weather turned quite cold. There was a movie after dinner and watching it in the open air became very uncomfortable.
May Ist, 1944 There was an anti-shipping mission at 8.30 AM. My plane was on it, but when it returned it under-shot the field and crashed. The pilot was one of our new ones, and was uninjured.
There were two other missions today against enemy communication lines in Northern Italy. We are now using our new day room to relax in, play cards and ping-pong.
Last night there was a commando raid by the Germans 8 miles from here. They slipped in under cover of darkness, dismantled a British radar unit and carried it off.
There seems to be something afoot right now, because a large German convoy was spotted headed towards the island of Elba. Nine vessels were sunk by British destroyers before then arrived there. The British Navy is waiting for the Germans to come out so they can finish them off.
We are quite close to the action, and can see the island of Elba on a clear day. At a group meeting this morning we were told that General Cannon had put us in for two more Presidential Unit Citations and we could expect to receive them shortly. One of those Department of Defense Citations is 'for our outstanding performance in the shooting down of 75 enemy aircraft off Cape Bon, Tunisia on the 18th of April, 1943'. The other is 'for the effective bombing and strafing of enemy rail and road lines in Central Italy during the period from April 1st thru April 14th, 1944'.
The following day saw us make two dive bombing missions over Northern Italy. We hit railroad marshalling yards and ammunition dumps. Our pilots reported excellent results for their efforts. From these missions, three of our planes suffered damage, but all returned safely.
It is now a year and 9 months since we have been in continuous combat. We see ourselves continuously pressing forward towards some hazy distant goal, with nothing to ease the monotony of doing the job we know must be done. We cannot allow ourselves to dwell upon the why’s and wherefores of our present plight, because we could easily become depressed.
After dinner tonight, seeking to rise above my despondency, I sought the company of my Spanish friends in the airfield’s French ack ack unit. I asked Manu to come over to my friend Ceferino Vigil’s tent and play his accordion for us. He did and the three of us sang Spanish songs to the accompaniment of his accordion. This seems to be the only pleasure I can get nowadays, other than that of doing a good job by keeping my plane flying.
So ends part 54 of my wartime memoirs.