Chapter 23: Repairing Ju88. Major Threatens us with Colt45. Sabotage! Schwartz the Red!
Aug 22, 1943: We are still in Sicily.
Today, I was supposed to accompany Albert Schoenfield, three pilots, 1st Sgt. Leland Pettis, and Flight Chief Leslie Moulton on a mountain-climbing trip to the top of Mt.Etna. Unfortunately I had to do some minor repair on my airplane. In addition, my eyes were bothering me, so I went to the Medics and they washed my eyes with a solution of boric acid. They still hurt. I can't sleep: it is too hot and the flies pester the life out of you. I hardly have the strength to stand up!
The 2nd event of note that I referred to in Chapter 22 now follows: (here I am using as reference, "My Diary" which I started keeping upon our arrival in Sicily).
Today, just before dinner, Luis Lederman asked me to go to Gerbini Airdrome in Catania, and work on a damaged JU-88 (German 2-Engine Medium Bomber) for our squadron. So I took my cot and bedroll and joined Lt. Benedict, Louis Lederman, Carl Volter, and Herb Gluckman.
Location of Gerbini airfield complex
We arose next morning at 6 AM and started to change the right engine. We ate lunch with an American Service Squadron at Gerbini Airdrome, and had the engine changed by 1 PM. Then we had to change the prestone cooler and oil radiators because of shrapnel holes. We also had to change the propeller on the engine.
JU88 Light Bomber
We were quite adept at repairing and replacing German Airplane engines, because while in North Africa we had salvaged damaged German planes which we found, so that our pilots could have dog-fights with them. In that way we found weaknesses and armed with that knowledge, our pilots had a "leg up" on the German pilots.
As an example, we found that the ME-109 Fighter could not turn sharply to the right, due to the strong leftward torque of the engine. Being so forewarned, our pilots always tried to approach those German planes from the right.
Just as we started to run the engines up with a view to taking off, here comes An American Major in a jeep, and says we cannot take the airplane! He said he was with the AMGOT (American Military Government) and since we were making no moves to shut the engines down he started brandishing A 45 caliber Army Colt Automatic at us!
Well, we taxied the plane back to the hangar, but we were so angry that we all made some modifications to that aircraft, to guarantee that it would take a miracle for it to ever fly again. I pulled a wire from the ignition harness of each engine, and slid the bare wire out of the insulation. I then cut off 5 inches from the center of each wire, and then fed the bare wires back through the insulation from each end, so there would be a gap in the center with no wire. I also smashed a knuckle of one of the landing struts with a sledge hammer to guarantee that the landing gear could not be raised.
Meanwhile the others were busy creating problems designed to keep that plane on the ground forever, such as re-arranging the contents of the Magnetos
(Distributors in an automobile) . You see, that Major thought he was going to use that plane as his ticket back home so he could accompany it on a War Bond Tour! He believed that because that plane had been manufactured six months before, which made it quite a find ! I still have that metal tag!
We returned home at 6 PM that night, thoroughly disgusted. I know that we had successfully made that bomber inoperable, because weeks later when we passed that airfield on the way to the port of Messina to leave for Italy, we saw it in front of the hangar. There were men all over it hard at work, and I remember chuckling out loud and saying to no one in particular "lots of luck fellows” !
Aug 24th, 1943 we had one mission today using 500 Lb bombs, escorting Boston and Baltimore Bombers, attacking a railroad yard in Italy.
To give you an example of the condition our squadron is in, the Doctor gave us a "morality" lecture, because we had the following medical cases: 4 of Gonorrhea, 1 of syphilis, 7 of Malaria, and 14 of dysentery! It seems that the longer soldiers remain overseas the less attention they pay to personal hygiene and are thus more susceptible to many forms of sickness.
While in Sicily, I discovered that there was an active Communist Party. I heard that there was to be a party meeting and I and a friend tried to join them but were rebuffed. We went to the door, and when someone opened the small peep hole, we held up our arms and made a fist. (That was supposed to be the sign that we were Reds. Unfortunately they did not recognize us and refused us admission.
I met an Italian soldier in Scordia today, who told me that in one German hospital there were 4500 soldiers with Arms or legs amputated because of frost-bite suffered in Russia. He said "Russia is Hell”!!)
Aug 29th I got a 3-day pass and spent it in Catania. Not much to see there because of the air raid destruction. We were told that 35 Flying fortresses “pattern bombed” the town to cause such damage. Apartment houses for example consisted only of their walls, with the contents demolished.
Sept 3, 1943 The Invasion of Italy started at 10 AM today. Landings were made at 3 points in Southern Italy, with a minimum of casualties. We flew missions all day starting at 5 AM. We are told that we will be leaving shortly for southern Italy
So ends part 23 of my wartime memoirs.
P.S (1) See Aug 22nd (above).. It is interesting to note that Lou Lederman never mentioned in his diary entry of that date, that I accompanied him to Gerbini airport to work on that damaged JU-88 Medium German Bomber! This event was taken from Lou’s diary and it appeared in Al Schoenfield’s book (the saga of the Exterminator Squadron ). Perhaps I was invisible in those days!
PS (2). Lou Lederman died in early 2005.
PS (3) Al Schoenfield died later that year.