Chapter 9: El Alamein to Libya. Strange Diseases
On Nov 5,1942 our squadron was located at LG. 91 (landing Ground) which was situated about 10 Kilometers behind the El Alamein front, Egypt. The Breakthrough by the British 8th Army had begun on Oct 23rd.
Our squadron was often operating at half strength, meaning that each of us did the work of two! Thus, following the procedure outlined by the RAF, we were always about 10 kilometers behind the front lines, regardless of whether we were operating at full or half strength. Our wing consisted of our squadron with 35 Planes, squadrons of Australian and South African Hurricanes, and a British Spitfire squadron.
Alamein 8th Army Attack
On this date, A Flight packed up and got on the road, to follow the Army, since the front had moved a considerable distance in just a few days. This Flight consisted of half the squadron. That is, each tent consisted of 6 men, 3 of which were in A Flight and 3 in B Flight. So the men of A flight (me included) packed up the tent and loaded it on a truck, along with our other meager belongings. The remaining 3 men, then moved into another tent containing 3 A Flight members.
Destruction at Alamein
Our convoy drove through 94 miles containing the residue of a bloody battlefield, consisting in part of burnt-out tanks and armored cars, shattered vehicles of all kinds ,and bodies of German and Italian soldiers everywhere. We were moving up so soon after the battles that there had been no time to remove some of the bodies. We were instructed to proceed to LG.106, near El Daba, and shortly after our arrival the Airplanes landed, and our operations began immediately. We barely had time to set up our tents and dig slit trenches all around it.
Burned Out Trucks at Alamein
We are told that B Flight had left for LG 115 but was bogged down due to heavy rains and they wound up at LG 101 near Mersa Matruh. On Nov 9th we broke camp and traveled 80 miles to join up with B Flight at LG 101,and we found that they had already left for the next airfield, LG 75 at Sidi Barrani.
This is an example of how our two flights continually leapfrogged over each other as the front moved, sometimes not joining up for weeks at a time.
My recollection of this period after the breakthrough, until we crossed the Libyan border, was that it was short lived and consisted mostly of a lot of moves, while at the same time we worked very hard so that our planes could fly daily in support of the 8th Army commanders at the front.
What is missing from the above narrative is how we had to survive in an environment that is inimical to the well-being of our troops who are not native to this area. We, of the Western Hemisphere who sojourn through the Middle East, are not protected by the built-in immunity which the natives enjoy. An example of this would be our propensity to fall victim to various ailments (some of which do not even have names), like sand-fly fever, Malaria, Amoebic dysentery, infectious hepatitis (yellow jaundice) a malady which I was successful in staving-off until we reached Southern Italy! A further complication became evident ,when we found that a simple cut or wound refused to heal, not withstanding the healing attributes of the wonder drugs liberally sprinkled upon such wounds by our medics, such as sulfanilaide, sulfaguanadine, and sulfathiazole.
So it was that we moved across North Africa, fighting the Germans, the elements, the diseases peculiar to North Africa, the lack of drinking water (or washing water for that matter-which for us ground crews meant some times we had to wash our clothes in 100 Octane gasoline. It is therefore not strange that during our North African movement, on several occasions we had to fly ground-crew personnel home because the suffered from lead poisoning! Others had to be sent home for a permanent cure at Walter Reed hospital, suffering from Malaria, Amoebic dysentery.
So ends Chapter 9 of my wartime memoirs, wherein we sojourned from El Alamein, Egypt to the Libyan Border.