Chapter 19: Cap Bon, Tunisia. Scrounging off Afrika Corps. Enemy Surrender to our Planes. Sicily
May 23 1943 finds B Flight still at Hani Main Airdrome, Tunisia, while we of A Flight are Still at Bou Grara, which is opposite the Isle of Djerba, north of Medanine. (Djerba is the Island made famous by Ulysses, who named it 'The land of the Lotus Eaters'. I am in A Flight, and since our airfield at Bou Grara is unserviceable, B Flight must service the airplanes, which are now used for convoy duty in the Mediterranean, off the coast of Tunis. (this is how we have leapfrogged across North Africa since the breakthrough at El Alamein). We have become used to operating a half-strength, and we think nothing of it any more.
We have sent some pilots home on rotation and have transferred out all our airplanes, and replacements of airplanes have arrived from the 310th Squadron. We now have to check these planes over in order to show them as being fit for duty.
New pilots have also arrived ,and they have to be trained in our methods of operation. On May 30th we received 5 new planes. We are supposed to receive 4 more tomorrow, to bring us up to the required strength.
June 3rd the entire squadron (and the other two squadrons of our Group) are now together at the tip of Cape Bon, Tunisia. (El haouaria). We are now part of the 12 Air Force. The landing Ground is quite nice, not too dusty, cool and windy, since we are surrounded by water on three sides. The area is littered with equipment and stores of all kinds, abandoned by the Afrika Corps when they surrendered. We of course being the experienced scroungers we now are, helped ourselves to jeeps, generators, trucks, cars and stores of every description. These proved to make our life a little more comfortable.
I would like to explain something here, because people who have never served in Armed forces, cannot understand how primitive life is for those in the military service! One has to abide by the rules laid down by the commander of the camp or
airfield of the station on which one finds himself.
If he is a regular army officer (West Point), he is inclined to run his operation on 'spit and polish'! (meaning as if it were peacetime and appearances were more important than efficiency.) Such was the mind-set of our Admirals and Generals in Pearl Harbor and the Phillipines, when we were attacked by the Japanese Dec 6th,1941.
We of the 66th Squadron (and later of the rest of the 57th Fighter Group) who were in the RAF, had been coached by experienced United Kingdom veterans during the drive from El Alamein to Cape Bon, Tunisia. We did not operate like an American Army Unit (Thank God!). Instead we learned to place successful operations above military protocol, and were eminently successful in carrying out our operations in support of the British 8th Army.
Therefore obtaining equipment via less than legal means, was overlooked by our officers for a very good reason. They were happy to give us enlisted ground crews whatever it took to keep us operating like a 'well oiled' machine !
So it was that we started to dive-bomb and strafe the German Military Installations on the Island of Pantelleria, which lay off the Tunisian coast. We hit them with everything we had, Flying Fortresses, A-20s, B-25s, and B-26s.
We attacked from Dawn to Dusk, and the night bombers hit them also. We even dropped pamphlets urging them to surrender. On June 10th, the German Commander radioed our flight that they surrendered to us. It was the first time in Military history that ground forces surrender directly to Enemy Airplanes ! Our ground forces landed today and the Germans surrendered immediately.
We next were ordered to attack the island of Lampedusa, which we did and it shortly surrendered when our landing force arrived there.
Lampedusa, Pantelleria, Sicily
June 18th, we are now at Causeway Landing ground (near Zarzis) and we really have little to do except prepare for the upcoming invasion. Our only amusement was to listen to Berlin Radio spout German propaganda in between musical selections. Axis Sally had a few nasty things to say about the 57th Group, which made us feel good, knowing that our contribution to the destruction of the Afrika Corps was known by the German High Command !
July 6th. Today our planes flew to the Island of Malta, dropped their belly tanks and were loaded with 500 Lb. bombs. They then dive bombed and strafed an airfield in Sicily, and returned to us (at Causeway Landing Ground) in the evening.
July 10th, Today the invasion of Sicily has begun, with Airdrops by both the British and the Americans, in addition to the use of gliders in the invasion force. We are all packed, and ready to go. Our vehicles have all been treated for discharge in surf waters, by adding an extension to their exhaust pipes. You see, if the engine gasses cannot exhaust, the engine will die !
July 24th, our advanced party which has been on Malta handling the planes on their operations over Sicily, has landed at Pachino, Sicily, having arrived there on board an LST (Landing Ship Tank). This vessel approaches the beach as close as it can get, then two large doors open in front and a huge ramp then extends towards the beach (or the dock, if there is one). As soon as they arrived at the airfield, we sent the planes up to them so they could begin operations.
So ends part 19 of my wartime memoirs, as my flight is waiting for orders to move to Tripoli, Libya to board a vessel for Pachino, Sicily.