Chapter 82: Rover Joe Explained. Stealing Food to Survive. Flame Bombing the Gustav Line. Selling Smokes.
Oct 7, 1944 Grosetto, Italy; 5AM Scheduled mission was cancelled due to heavy rain. Before lunch we flew 4 missions. I took care of Gene Schnabel’s plane (No. 2) and it flew once. 'B' Flight sent to planes to Sicily, to bring back beer and whiskey in their wing tanks. In the afternoon we flew 4 more missions. They were all dive bombing, in which they went after targets assigned to them by Rover Joe.
Rover Joe needs explaining, and I am pasting here, Dave Hutton’s correction to my original memoir of this date. In the original I said that Rover Joe was one of our pilots, flying a light plane at the front lines and passing the target information to our pilots as each flight arrived there. He was receiving these targets from the Infantry ground commanders of our ground forces. I had thought (as did all ground crews) that this situation still prevailed, as it did when we were operating in the Desert Air Force with the RAF, in support of the British 8th Army in North Africa. Dave was a pilot in the 66th squadron, and he now publishes the 66th squadron’s newsletter.
A minor correction. Pilots were not flying the front lines as Rover Joe but were actually on the ground with the front line troops. I know because I was Rover Joe for a full week. Dick Johnson flew me to an air field just north of Pisa where I met with another pilot from the 84th Fighter Group. We picked up a jeep and drove north and reported to a Major O'Brien, a British officer who was in charge of British and American troops in that particular section.
We could see the German troops across the valley in front of us. Various front line units would call in describing the target they wanted hit. When 57th pilots would check in I gave them the coordinates of the target and a description such as large house at the SE. corner of road intersection which I could usually see from our lookout post. They would then dive bomb the target and I could watch the bombs explode. Inside the target might be a gun emplacement, ammo storage or troops. When targets were hit and destroyed I always said, 'Good Show.' This usually went on from dawn to dusk with numerous flights checking in. It was an interesting and very effective close support operation.
If you wonder why this confusion took place, you have to understand the different ways in which the British and the American Armies operate. In the British 8th Army, we were kept abreast of events. In the American Army, only the officers knew what was happening.
In the evening I wandered through the mess hall while making my rounds on guard, and helped myself to various foodstuffs which we in our tent could use in preparing meals for ourselves. For example flour, sugar, cinnamon, canned fruits, chopped walnuts, etc. You need not snicker here, because we had to become pretty good cooks and bakers, given the lack of enthusiasm of our own cooks to prepare decent meals!
In addition to this, we had to continually defend ourselves against the possibility that our mess sergeant would attempt to become independently wealthy by selling our food staples on the local market. For example, in Tunisia our Mess Sergeant was found by the CID (Central Intelligence Division) to have been selling bags of sugar and flour to the local populace and pocketing the proceeds.
He was sent home in chains via a helicopter, no doubt headed for the U.S.Army prison at Fort Leavenworth! In helping ourselves to foodstuffs while on guard duty, I can only say that we were driven to such acts because of the laziness of our cooks. On many occasions after they served a peach or apple cobbler pie (from canned fruit), I have asked and received the leftover dough. I was able to make a pie 100% better than that which our slothful cooks prepared, and I was not a hot-shot baker. I used a Dutch oven that I made from an empty 5 gallon can of oil encased in dried mud!
Oct 8, 1944 Grosetto, Italy. No flights this AM, the weather is too bad. The 65th squadron has been off operations the past two weeks, while 120 mm rocket tubes have been installed on the wings of their planes. We have a P-38 high altitude fighter plane
accompanying each flight which takes pictures of the damage wrought by our planes.
It is a P-38 which has been fitted with cameras to perform as a reconnaissance plane. No flights in the afternoon due to intermittent rain. We are now using fuel tank incendiary wing bombs in addition to the six 120 mm rockets carried by each of our P-47 fighter bombers. These fuel tank bombs contained gasoline thickened to the consistency of jelly, and contained two igniters. Upon contact with the ground they burst, spreading the resultant flames 50 feet in the air.
These rockets and bombs were very effective in that they produced a demoralizing effect on German ground troops in the Gothic Line, who feared that each flight of P-47s carried those dreaded Fuel Tank Bombs!
It is interesting to note that these fuel tank incendiary bombs were the precursors to the napalm bombs used in subsequent U.S. military actions.
I now find that I have amassed a total of 10 cartons of cigarettes and have to get rid of some of them. I will I will invite one of my Italian kitchen-worker friends to the tent and see what kind of deal he can make for them.
I received two letters today, one from my older brother Murray who is a forward observer with a field artillery battalion somewhere in France. The other is from my cousin Marvin who was in the Philippines in a supply outfit. He was operating from a trailer containing a complete machine shop and reproducing any metal article not otherwise obtainable. He was a tool and die maker in civilian life and
strangely enough the U.S.Army used his job description to determine where he was to serve!
Oct 9, 1944 Grosetto, Italy. No flights scheduled this morning because of bad weather. I went back to the tent, washed up, played cards and just rested. After lunch we were again released due to bad weather. I got letters from my brother Murray and Cousin Marvin Berrin and found out that they are both in France now. We are told that we will move near the Arno River soon. Our camp area is now 6 miles from the airfield, and it takes a half hour to get to work.
Oct 10, 1944 Grosetto, Italy. There was nothing doing this morning due to bad weather. We flew 4 missions in the afternoon. I took care of plane no. 74 and it flew once. By the time the last flight returned and we serviced them up, it was way past dinner time.
The following day I pulled a 50 hour inspection on plane No. 02. Woody, Google, Slim and Wallace all helped me. Lt. Colonel Yates came around and asked when the ship would be ready, saying he wanted to fly. I told him we would be done by nightfall. I finished the inspection, and then washed out my shirt and pants with 100 octane gas. Plane No. 80 fell off a wing jack and a hole was punched through the right wing. It was Vic’s fault because he was putting air in the tail strut while the plane was on the jack!
Oct 16,1944 Grosetto, Italy. Little doing the past few days I help other crew chiefs with their planes. An Italian civilian came around and I sold him some clothes, making $50.00 First Sgt. Pettis returned from a visit at the front lines, and says it is really rough there. Major Leaf is still there.
Today I had nothing to do as I do not have a plane of my own yet, and there is little work to do on our planes right now. Willie Williams told me that three of our pilots will fly planes to Naples to have to have rocket tubes installed on them, and that they will ferry back three RA 28 brand new planes. If that is true I ought to get one of those three new ones. Marshall got caught trying to send German luger ammunition home, in the mail, and was reduced in grade (busted)!
So ends part 82 of my wartime memoirs.