June 24, 1943 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

René’s journal entry for June 24, 1943…




          June 24 we left bright and early at 5:25 A.M. Roy would always tell us the night before at what time we were expected to pull out and then, long before that time would arrive in the morning, he would be prancing around like a caged lion hurrying everyone up so that, in the end, it turned out that we would be leaving anywheres from 15 to 45 minutes ahead of schedule. But, that is Roy — he’ll never be different. Some of the guys moaned a bit about this, but for my part, I was all for it.

            Some of the time, Roy would give instructions to me that I would misinterpret and naturally catch hell from him. Then at other times he would try to signal what he wanted us to do and his signals were not explicit enough or were confusing, so that we would end up where he did not want us. But all in all we got along very well. I certainly think that it was no little feat to bring a convoy like ours that great distance with inexperienced drivers, none of whom knew anything about convoy driving, over roads about which no one knew anything — to bring them all that distance without the slightest mishap to vehicle or personnel, and to do it in record time. Yes, I think that not only Roy, but all the drivers deserve a great deal of credit.

            That fifth day was quite a day. We were on the road for a little over 15 hours and yet only traveled some 242 miles. Reason: we ran into plenty of traffic and it rained some when we were way up in the mountains. At two different points, British Bren-gun carriers (long flat trailers) skidded in the mud and had a devil of a time getting back on the road. The second one actually turned over and managed to block the passage for a long string of trucks that were both in front and behind ours. We had to stop and wait for them to clear the road, and it was most annoying because of the heat, the long hours, etc. When one is on the go it isn’t bad, but if one has to wait somewhere in the middle of a trip like that, it gets awful annoying.

            One of the interesting things we passed that day, and also on some of the other days, were the convoys of returning prisoners. One rarely saw a guard with them. There would be whole truck-loads of prisoners and the only allied soldiers would be the driver and perhaps one guard for every two trucks. No, neither the Italians nor the Germans were at all anxious to part company with the trucks that were eventually taking them to the U.S. Can’t blame them, can you? We talked to some of the guards when one of their convoys was stopped along side of ours, and they said that when they stopped for rest, they never had to look around for the prisoners to be sure they were all back in the truck; for, if they started out without a couple of them, the prisoners would come running and yell so they could climb back aboard.

            At one place we bumped into a fellow who had been guarding some 30 prisoners, and when he counted them the next morning he somehow found that he had collected 18 more during the night for the count was then 48.

            At the end of the fifth day we found ourselves in the little town of Chardiman or something like that. [Probably Ghardimaou] The only field we could find to bivouac in was pretty well fertilized and was rather bumpy. But finally we found a portion of it that was not so bad and all hit the blankets early – Roy again on the trailer and me in the truck.

.

Watch for my next message on
June 25

Click on map to enlarge
Day 5 – Setif, Algeria to Ghardimaou, Tunisia

5:25AM to 8:30PM
Cohn’s Courageous Commandos traveled 242 miles




Today was an especially long day due to traffic and rain in the mountains. Also, René notes, “At two different points, British Bren-gun carriers (long flat trailers) skidded in the mud and had a devil of a time getting back on the road. The second one actually turned over and managed to block the passage for a long string of trucks that were both in front and behind ours.” Pictured above is a British Bren-gun carrier.



June 26, 1943 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

René’s journal entry for June 26, 1943…




            On the 26th, we loafed around and I turned in the extra rations we had and the quartermaster equipment. I got to see some more of the town that way and found it all the same – a total wreck.

           That afternoon we went swimming at a beautiful beach that was about seven miles or so from Bizerte, but to get there it took about 40 minutes because it was over a terrible road, through a couple of creeks, etc. But, boy, it was worth it. The sand was like Carmel, clean and white, and the water was a beautiful greenish-blue — calm, clear and no waves at all. It was really warm water — in fact almost too warm. Golly, it was really nice. We had brought two trucks down to the beach, one with men and the other, officers, and all were reluctant to leave the beach.

            That night we were assigned an air-raid shelter that was about a block and a half from our hanger. And, during the night, sure enough, came the air raid alarm. We dashed for the shelter and somewhere along the line the “all-clear” came but as we weren’t used to it, and in fact, hardly knew what to expect, we missed it, and waited around in the shelter until Roy was able to get more information. Then a few hours later, the second alarm came and we hi-tailed it to the shelter, which was built underground and which smelled rather poorly. We all vowed that if another alert came we were going to remain in our beds, and to heck with the shelter.

            We were eating at a Navy mess on shore and though it was certainly a relief after the meals we had had en route, it was far from good, being strictly altered C-ration.

.

Watch for my next message on
June 27


Hanger “Cohn’s Commandos” were assigned to while in Bizerte




An un-exploded bomb from the air raid the night of June 26th.



June 27, 1943 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

René’s journal entry for June 27, 1943…




            On the 27th, I took 3 of the trucks and the jeep in to the Ordnance office and turned them in. Then tried to find the dope on getting the men paid, but was unable to find anyone who knew anything about it. When I returned, I found I was scheduled to board a ship that afternoon with my men. The 8th men also were to board theirs, and Eddie Welles, also, but the rest weren’t assigned yet. Naturally, I got my things together, prepared to store most of the stuff and take only barracks bag (an extra one I had) and musette bag aboard with me.

            In the afternoon, we piled into what is known as an LCT, and were taken out to Lake Bizerte where all the ships were anchored. On the ship (the 386) I was given swell quarters — a bunk with an inner spring mattresses — a lower, with no room-mate at the time. The room had a desk, a shelf, hangers, and what was more important, a fan. It was luxury itself. I had nothing to do on the ship except get acquainted with the Pharmacist Mate and the supplies that were already on board, and get acquainted with the officers and men. Carl, Bernie and Al Querhammer made themselves acquainted and settled in the crew’s quarters. They had canvas three-decker bunks on the “troop compartment” deck, where it got awfully hot during the daytime but wasn’t so awful at night.

            As soon as we got aboard, the difference in food was noted. It was good food well prepared and we had swell fresh bread that was made right on the ship. One day we even had chocolate ice-cream which, though flaky, was cold and most welcome. We had lemonade, iced, as often as we wanted it and on one occasion one of the colored mess attendants even brought a glass full of the lemonade out to Q and me while we were standing out by the rail.

            As our ship was scheduled to carry pontoons, the load of vehicles that we had on the top deck already had to come off, and as a consequence we were in at the dock considerably more often during the next week than were the other ships. I naturally spent some of that time with Roy and the rest, but on the 2nd that gang up and left and went to Tunis where they were to get on the LSTs that had been assigned to them. That left Eddie and myself as the only 59ers up at Bizerte. I saw Eddie a couple of times, but as his ship was out on the Lake most of the time, we didn’t have much of an opportunity to really get together.

.

Watch for my next letter on
June 29


While René was given “swell quarters,” with no roommate, the enlisted men were on the “troop compartment” deck with “three-decker bunks.”



July 5, 1943 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

René’s journal entry for July 5, 1943…




            After the pontoons on our ship were hoisted on the sides, it became obvious that the ship I was on was really the experimental ship, for they started building a “flight-deck” for Piper-cub planes. They had to build this forward of the cabins and wheel house and over the top of the ventilators. As they naturally had to extend it clear to the bow of the ship, this eliminated from action the 40mm gun on the bow, as the runway covered the gun. Finally, after they had the runway built, they put one plane up on it and we took the ship out on the lake for a trial launching of the plane to see whether it would be possible for the plane to actually take off.

           To prevent accidents or, rather, to prevent the pilot from great danger in case the flight wasn’t successful, the Captain had fire-fighting parties on each side of the bow end of the ship and had Q and myself in the small boat out ahead of the ship to pick up the pilot in case he crashed. General Truscott came aboard to witness the performance. Then the young Captain who was to try the plane and runway out, climbed nonchalantly into his plane, and when the ship was going full speed into the wind, he set off in the plane. He used up the full length of the runway for his take-off, but he had told me that he intended to use the full length to impress the General with the difficulties of the situation. However, as he hit the end he took a little bounce downward and I thought for a second that I was going to have business. But, he kept on flying, went up nicely, circled around us a few times and then headed in to land on the field, while we headed back to the dock.

Click on images above to enlarge.

.

Watch for my next message on
July 6


General Lucian King Truscott, Jr. pictured (center) above took command of the 3rd Infantry Division in March 1943, and oversaw preparations for the Allied invasion of Sicily, code-named Operation Husky. Between 1943–45, he successively commanded the 3rd Infantry Division, VI Corps, Fifteenth Army and Fifth Army.



The ship René was on was really an “experimental ship” with a “flight-deck for Piper-cub planes.”





July 6, 1943 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

René’s journal entry for July 6, 1943…




            We had several air-raid alarms, generally one or even two a night, and some during the daytime, but nothing happened until the early morning of the July 6th. “General-Quarters” sounded around 4 A.M. and it wasn’t long before all hell broke loose. We were in at the dock, had a nice white line down the runway and made a very nice target. On top of that, the ship next to us was loaded with ammunition on her top deck and considerable gasoline below. A nice situation. We could see the planes in the spotlights and all the guns poured out the lead at them. We later heard that there were some 50 planes. When I heard a bomb come whistling down I ducked back inside, as did the other Army Officers who were aboard. That whistle was no pleasant sound. All the guns on our ship were cutting loose and it really jarred us plenty. There was such a din outside that if anyone were trying to think, he couldn’t have even heard himself think.

            Soon, Mr. Mitchell (one of the Sea-Bee officers, who had been in the Coast Guard in San Diego and who was also a Construction Engineer) came running in saying that he had a wounded boy with him and that something had exploded up by the forward guns. I looked at the soldier he had brought back to the ward room, saw several shrapnel wounds in the back of his leg and then went off forward, amid all the din of the firing, to see what had happened up front.

          They already had one of the fellows down in the port troop compartment, and it didn’t take more than a glimpse to see that he was finished. He had a wound over the left occipital region, had a wound on his face, near the nose, and also one by his neck. He breathed his last as I reached him.

          Then Cisco was brought in with a deep gash in his right groin. One of the boys had slapped a handkerchief above the wound as a tourniquet and the bleeding was thus controlled O.K. When the tourniquet was removed there was very little oozing, so we gave him some morphine sulfate and put a large bandage over the wound after the magic powder.

            Then, I was called to the other side where there was another fellow who had been hit. I found him with a big gash that took away most of his left ear and a good chunk out of his occipital and temporal bone, exposing the occipital lobe to view. He also had a penetrating wound in his right upper abdomen. He was breathing only spasmodically, about one per 20 seconds. I gave him some caffeine and then tried to get into his heart with some 1:1000 adrenalin. The needle, however, was woefully lacking in length and consequently could only give the adrenalin in the tissues. The caffeine worked temporarily, as it stimulated his respirations for a few minutes, but then he relapsed again and soon was finished.

            Then some of the smaller wounds started coming in, the firing having ceased as I remember, though, I’m not really sure what time the firing stopped. Lt. Jr. Mockbee (the executive officer, an old-time Navy man with 23 years in the Navy behind him) had a crease along the left side of his neck — a close call, and we were so busy with others, that it wasn’t until things were all over that we got around to him. He also had a big tear in the back of his field jacket, and he later remembered that he had been knocked to the deck and must have hit his shoulder at that time.

            Just what landed up by that forward gun was never really figured out. There were shrapnel holes through the ammunition box there, and there were a couple of 20mm shells and also some Italian shells, but whether it was American or enemy shells that landed and caused the damage was never decided.

            Lt. Beddoe quickly got the tank-deck cleared enough so that a vehicle could transport the injured to the hospital, and he himself took the boys to the 56th.

            It was later found out that at least four planes had been shot down here and it is the consensus of opinion that our three-incher brought down one right in the harbor behind us. It was the only gun shooting at the time that the plane faltered and started down, and the boys were pretty proud of that. Some of the enemy pilots were later on picked up out in the outer harbor.

            Apparently our ship suffered the worst damage to personnel, though some of the others had wounds of various kinds also. Apparently numerous bombs had been dropped, one right behind the hangar where the boys had been sleeping when they were here — but this one turned out to be a dud. Others were dropped near various dumps, one exploding in the center of a ration dump but ignited only one pile of food.

            I went up to the 56th later in the morning and the boys there, Craven and Hurd, said that they had plenty of planes over them, but only some shrapnel landed near them. They were having plenty of business that morning – some 75 casualties from 4 A.M. to 11 A.M., five in all dead that were brought to them.

.

Watch for my next message on
July 7


As René writes in his journal, “‘General-Quarters’ sounded around 4 A.M. and it wasn’t long before all hell broke loose. We were in at the dock, had a nice white line down the runway and made a very nice target.”



July 7, 1943 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

René’s journal entry for July 7, 1943…




            On the 7th, as we were completely loaded we had orders to go to the outer harbor and anchor, so I went up early to the 56th and found that three of our boys could come back to the ship, so I brought them back with me.

          By that time, our load was quite a sight. We had two half-tracks with mounted 50mms on them — one on each side of the deck up by the elevator. They had both fired considerably during the air raid and one shell had landed on the hood of one of them, going through a bed roll that was there, and just tearing it to bits. That was where the soldier got his shrapnel, as he was on the half-track gun at the time.

          We had our “flight-deck” with two Pipers on the top and one on each side on the main deck. These were covered with camouflage from some of the trucks below. The camouflage had been the joint idea of Captain Ruud and myself and had been seized upon rapidly by all concerned. They even took my own idea of putting the two planes that were on top with their propellers facing each other instead of with tail to nose as they had been.

            Below the “flight-deck,” between the planes and the half-tracks, were 30 Arab donkeys. What a sight!! There was plenty of hay for them on the deck also, and strangely enough, they seemed to enjoy the trip very much, not getting near as sick as did many of the soldiers and even sailors.

            As equipment below, we had a various assortment – trucks, half-tracks, tanks, amphibious 6 X 6s, jeeps, etc. etc. Just before we pushed off from the dock, who do I bump smack into but Col. Westmoreland. I was glad to see him, and vice-versa, and I was only sorry that he was not traveling on our ship.

            We anchored out in the outer harbor on the 7th and then the whole tremendous convoy shoved off at about 5 A.M. on the 8th. The trip the first day wasn’t bad, not too rough at all and I managed okay. That day we sighted, behind us, the whole gang from Tunis – they were too far behind for me to be able to pick out any of the numbers of the ships, but we knew they were the rest of the gang. Eddie’s ship was right beside ours for the whole trip to Sicily.

 

.

Watch for my next message on
July 10


As René writes in his journal, Below the ‘flight-deck,’ between the planes and the half-tracks, were 30 Arab donkeys. What a sight!! There was plenty of hay for them on the deck also, and strangely enough, they seemed to enjoy the trip very much, not getting near as sick as did many of the soldiers and even sailors.”




July 10, 1943 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

René’s journal entry for July 10, 1943…




           On the night of the July 8th and all during the day and night of the 9th, the weather was fierce — the water was rough and there was a 40- to 60-mile-an-hour gale blowing the whole time. I decided to spend most of my time on my bunk, as the outside was rather crowded, and though it was rather hot indoors, the recumbent position was far less conducive to getting rid of one’s meals. Ate O.K., however, and never really was nauseated, but just didn’t feel right. Stayed on the bed and read all day.

            We sailed quite a ways out of our way, going clear to Malta, apparently to confuse the enemy. On the night of the 9th we had constant “general quarters.” Then, in the early morning, just what time I never noted, things began popping. We were some ways off shore and bombs started falling around us and there was plenty of firing from the shore batteries. But the cruiser and destroyers with us did all the returning of the firing, and some of the other ships did also, but we didn’t fire a shot, not having the opportunity.

            Apparently at some point, one or two of our own planes were shot down, but just how true that story was — they were supposed to have been shot down by our own fire — no one has ever found out. Anyway, just before dawn, our #1 Piper took off, and as we were not heading absolutely directly into the wind, he had a little trouble and went out over the side some 20 yards before he came to the end of the runway. However, he stayed up and circled around successfully. He was at first shot at by one of our ships who mistook him for the enemy, but he wasn’t hit. Then, immediately afterwards, the second plane took off, this time most successfully.

            Following that, we headed into the beach and set loose the pontoons. We were the first large ship into the shore and the first to have their pontoons launched. The weather had, suddenly around midnight, changed favorably – and there wasn’t much wind and the sea was relatively calm, so the small boats had no trouble getting in. Apparently there were no mines on the beaches at all and the only trouble came from shore batteries and snipers. We found that there had been four deaths caused by snipers.

          The cruiser and destroyer were pounding shells into the town. Every once in a while we would see shells coming out from the town and then pretty quick a burst from the cruiser (Brooklyn), and then no more bursts from that particular part of the city.

          It took quite a little while to unload the ship as one of the half-tracks got stuck and couldn’t get traction on the pontoon for some reason or other. But soon everything went rather smoothly.

            Our donkeys had quite a time getting off, as they tended to fall in the spaces between the various sections of the pontoons. They went off the sides into the water on several occasions, but that didn’t seem to phase them and they kept on swimming into shore. The end of the pontoons were in a couple of feet of water, so all the jeeps, etc. that went off got a nice soaking, and so did the men.

           Over on our left we saw a tank and a caterpillar that were sunk — apparently they had come off an LCT while it was still too far out in the water. Just the tops of the vehicles were seen. The men coming off the LCTs were having trouble getting ashore, and two almost drowned as we watched, for the ship could not get in quite close enough and had to let the men off in six feet of water — with packs and all that was pretty difficult. So they started unloading onto the causeways after a while, and it was certainly a heck of a lot easier and less dangerous for the men.

            After we had unloaded the equipment and donkeys and water, we pulled out and let one of the other ships take the causeway. After we had pulled out a little ways, Mr. Mockbee and I were standing on the bridge and we saw a plane come down over the mountain. We both thought it was a P40 at first, and then just as we both recognized the black cross and let out a yell of enemy plane, that plane let go with three bombs right where we had been but a few minutes before — missing an LCT and LCI that were close together. There were several other planes around also, but they vamoosed over the hill when the destroyer let go with all her guns.

            While we were still hitched up to the causeway, Capt Ruud and I had gone to the edge of the causeway, but as there was no reason to go ashore, we decided not to get soaking wet. But just then a wave came up and over the causeway and we found we had spoken too soon — for we were both drenched.

            Mr. White, who had been aboard for several days, an A.P. photographer from Washington D.C., had gone ashore when we first landed and got plenty of good pictures and then returned to the ship before we pulled out. He took several pictures on the ship, getting one of all the officers and some of the men. He also got pictures of our donkeys and of our planes. He was quite an interesting and darn nice fellow, and we only hoped that he would get back to Algiers in time to get his pictures to Washington before any other photographer made it.

            After pulling out from the beach, we launched our other two planes and they took off beautifully and with no trouble. We sat around out in the water for a few hours, and then finally a convoy was formed and we started back to Bizerte.

.

Watch for my next letter on
July 12

Photographs from the Invasion of Sicily – July 10, 1943



View from René’s ship as it approached the shore.




René described how the pontoons were deployed: “These pontoons were carried over lashed to the sides of the ship – then were dropped overboard some time before reaching the beach – ‘sea-bees’ manned them. The ship went full steam ahead, hitting the sand of the beach and the pontoons keep going to land. They are anchored to shore and then pulled into position so one end is at the mouth of the LST.”

 






On July 10, Dr. Philip Westdahl, still in Casablanca, wrote in his journal, “SICILY INVADED! We hope it’s the beginning and most of all that we will finally be in it. A letter from the gang up north would indicate that they may be part of a hospital ship in the original invasion. Who knows, maybe they are at work this very day.”