My Dad During World War II
As mentioned in Part I, my Dad traveled throughout the Eastern United States, North Africa, and Europe during World War II by many forms of transportation. In this country he traveled by train to and from most destinations, finally leaving New York aboard a ship called the "Florence Nightingale". He was transferred from New Jersey by ferry traveling by the Statue of Liberty on Staten Island and boarded the transport ship at the port of New York. This ship carried him to his first entrance into the "Big Red One" at the North African city of Oran going through the Straits of Gibralter and into the Mediterranean. It turned out that he went through the Straits once going in and twice going out (ships blowing their whistles each time they passed through). Throughout the war my Dad was transported on 8 different ships through the North Atlantic, the Mediterranean, and the English Channel. Three ships were LSTs used in landings which included Sicily, the mock invasion of Normandy, and the actual invasion of Normandy. The other ships were troop-carrying ships utilized strictly for World War II.
Shortly after arriving in North Africa, my Dad was interviewed by a warrant officer and asked several questions concerning his duties in the outfit. My Dad had attended a motor school at Camp Wheeler, Georgia and had performed very well at the school. He asked my Dad if he had rather "kill Germans or work on trucks" and my Dad stated he really had nothing against the Germans. He did not think much about the interview, but a while later he was assigned to a unit with four wreckers as part of the 701st Ordnance Light Maintnance Battalion. His first job was as assistant driver to a man named, Booth. A short time after starting with the unit they received a fifth wrecker and my Dad was assigned as the driver. He stated he had much rather drive the wrecker than turn wrenches which would have been his other alternative.
After my Dad got his first wrecker in North Africa he had a man named Dietz (from the Washington D.C. area) assigned to him as his assistant driver. Back in the states before the war, he along with his Dad had been motorcycle racers. They had previously raced at Daytona and a few other tracks throughout the South. Somewhere along the way Dietz got a Harley Davidson motorcycle and many times when they had to pick up a vehicle that had been disabled or whatever the mission, he would ride ahead of my Dad's wrecker on the motorcycle. On one occasion a truck was coming through an intersection extremely fast and Dietz had to lay the motorcycle down on its side, sliding up to the rear wheels of the other truck to keep from being hit. He just picked it up and continued on with their assigned mission. My Dad and Dietz rode together most of the war finally ending up in Czechoslovakia when the war with Germany ended. The only time they did not ride together was the period in England when Sergeant Travis was in charge of my Dad's wrecker (related later). This period was for a short while in England through a few weeks after D-Day.
While in North Africa he was transported on his second ship, a British Commando ship after spending about ten days of orientation in Oran. This was a short cruise to a small town on the coast of North Africa which would transport him nearer the front lines. The ship used for this shorter mission was called the "Queen Emma" and they had a sister ship each carrying about 400 men. After disembarking from the ship they had to march along the coast for about eight miles in the dark and in a steady rain. All they could see during the march was as my Dad put it, the "foxfire" which he stated was something in the sea that allowed you to see the waves as they would break on the coast. They marched for several miles and then turned inland when my Dad and two other GIs decided they had marched as far as they were going to for one night. All they had at the time were their backpacks and each man had a shelter half for making a pup tent. Their barracks bags had been sent ahead by truck. They took two shelter halves, made a tent and slept on the other shelter half. It had been very dark and raining the night before and they did not notice, but right next to where they stopped was a tremendous British tent. Some British soldiers were beside the tent making tea and offered my Dad and the other GIs some. Also, they noticed other pup tents were scattered all over the hill with GIs that had done the same thing the night before. They proceeded on to find their units, but they never saw their barracks bags again. My Dad lost a camera, a watch, and several other items that had been in his barracks bag.
It did not take long for the conditions to get harsh in the desert area where the 1st Division was located in North Africa. At one point several GIs were staying in a building with a tarp over one end. This would allow them to have lights on at night during the blackout times as long as the tarp was closed. Also, my Dad noticed that six inches of sand was on the base of the tarp due to sand storms. On one occasion a warrant officer was in the building and woke up the next morning. When he was shaking out his bedroll out came a large scorpion about six inches long. He was one blessed soldier not to have been stung during the night. On another occasion my Dad was outside when the planes started dropping flares over the entire area lighting it bright as day. He and one of his fellow GIs jumped in a nearby foxhole to keep from being seen by the Germans. As the they lay in the foxhole they heard a sound similar to a frog in the foxhole with them. They decided the foxhole was not big enough for three and moved out. The bug turned out to be some kind of wormlike creature that they killed the next day.
My Dad stayed in North Africa until the Germans were bottled up on a peninsula and had to surrender. He then rode back 1,000 miles to Oran. At Oran he turned in his first wrecker and was re-equipped with a new wrecker for the invasion of Sicily. At this point Dietz also lost his motorcycle and was unable to use it in future missions.
As mentioned in Part I, my Dad received the Bronze Star for meritorious achievement in North Africa; however, when checking the WWII timeline from the web site, "the history place", the time period mentioned on his citation would include his service in Sicily as well. The dates on his citation went through the date when the Germans were evacuating Sicily following their defeat by the Allies. My Dads' accomplishments which justified the Bronze Star were much more than one single event, when in fact they included service in two battles and one invasion. My Dad was awarded the medal after he got to England, where he was told to report in his dress uniform.
After completing his mission in Sicily and turning in his second wrecker, my Dad caught his fourth ship on his way to England. He made a detour to Oran due to the condition of his ship. The GIs could not even go below deck due to the presence of "cooties" as my Dad called them or lice. The ship was being sent to the states to be de-loused. It had been used in India and ended up filled with lice. The ship was docked at Oran next to another ship across the dock, both being 35,000 tons. My Dad's unit was not allowed to go into the city and did not even set foot on land. They crossed the dock and loaded onto the other ship which was the fifth ship my Dad had boarded. They then proceeded to England to prepare for what they thought was the invasion of Europe. They did not know at that time it would be the invasion at Omaha Beach in Normandy (D-Day).
Upon arrival in England they had to go up a river before docking the ship at Southampton. My Dad was surprised when the tugboat that assisted in the docking of their ship had the name, "Crosby", written on the side as it's name. After disembarking from the ship my Dad proceeded through London by British train while an air raid was going on and proceeded to their training area in Dorchester, England. England had been constantly bombarded by the German air force and they had done and were continuing to do a lot of damage. Upon arriving at Dorchester he received his third wrecker for the invasion. According to the movie, "The Longest Day", the Allies were stationed in over 1,000 camps throughout England and were totaled more than 3,000,000 strong waiting to cross the channel for the invasion, many also in ships cruising the channel in five foot waves. The weather was very bad during this period and resulted in the delay of D-Day until the final decision to go on June 6, 1944.
My Dad was blessed while he was in England in one respect. The V-1 flying bomb attacks on England did not begin until June 13, 1944 after D-Day. According to one source on the internet, during the first V-1 bombing campaign as many as 100 rockets fell per hour on London. Almost 6,000 people were killed in England and 17,000 injured from the constant bombardment during an eighty day period.
Also, while in England, a Sergeant Travis was put on my Dad's wrecker in the place of Dietz and placed in charge of the wrecker since my Dad was still a private. My Dad did like the sergeant, but he had the wrecker all across North Africa and Sicily. He went to his Sergeant Rainwater (from Mississippi) and told him that if he could not be in charge of the wrecker to take him off, altogether. He told my Dad to stick it out through the invasion on D-Day.
My Dad's sixth ship boarding was from Dorchester when they loaded and thought they were going for the invasion of Europe as mentioned in Part I, but ended up being a practice invasion at Slapton Sands, England. This was a full scale launching of many ships as on Normandy; however, the Germans did play havoc with the convoy. They did manage to sink two ships during this mock invasion. These two ships were leading the convoy much as the real invasion was to have been. My Dad was to come in later in the real invasion; however, this sinking changed that and moved up their landing time to late in the day on D-Day.
Later, close to June 6, 1944, my Dad loaded his seventh ship, a LST (Landing Ship, Tank), for the actual invasion at Omaha Beach at Normandy, France. My Dad's second invasion began the Allies march across Europe which lasted until the unconditional surrender of the German Army in May 1945. My Dad was able to come ashore at dusk of the first day of the invasion by driving onto dry land from a "Rhino" as mentioned previously. A few weeks after the invasion when my Dad arrived, someone asked him if he had seen the bulletin board which was tacked on a tree. When he looked he found that he had been promoted to Tec 5 and was then permanently placed in charge of the wrecker throughout the rest of the war.
My Dad's unit ran into some problems after leaving the beaches and moving inland. At one point they were in the hedgerow country of France. They were backed up against one of the hedgerows when a group of American mobile guns that my Dad called "Long Tom's" began to fire within sight of his position. He stated that he was surprised how quickly the Germans could zero in on the position of the American guns. He stated that within 5 mins a German shell hit within 15 yds of the guns. The Germans continued to fire all around until the Americans were finally able to knock out their artillery.
Snipers proved to be a formidable obstacle encountered on the second day after D-Day, June 7, 1944. At one point a sniper was in the steeple of a church and was successful in picking off several GIs. My Dad was observing this from a distance when a plane came in with a dive and took care of the sniper with a well-placed bomb. He did; however, fly too close to the flames and schrapnel from the explosion and the plane flew up from it's dive with a trail of smoke. The pilot flew out of sight over the channel, but returned a short while later. He then crash landed near my Dad's position. Several GIs ran up to the plane thinking it might be a German plane, when the pilot climbed out and said, "hi ya mate". They then knew he was the British pilot that had silenced the sniper.
Another sniper was also spotted in the loft of a nearby house also in the hedgerow country. My Dad watched as three GIs attempted to set up a machine gun on a tripod. One man carried the tripod, one the machine gun, and another the ammunition. Before the GIs could set up the gun, the sniper shot and killed two of the GIs, with the third narrowly escaping death. A half track was then brought in with quad 50 machine guns to keep the sniper pinned down. A small group of specialists then sneaked up below the loft. Two GIs made a "cat saddle" and allowed a third to reach right below the loft where he proceeded to toss a grenade into the loft killing the sniper.
My Dad had another close call when he was delivering seven "weasels" to the front lines during the Battle of the Bulge. These vehicles were being driven by my Dad and several other GIs and they had been halted at an adobe house near the front lines. One of the vehicles had overheated on the trip and had to be returned. They also had to get special permission to carry the weasels to their final destination. Near their position at the time an air raid was going off while the American forces were firing at German aircraft. My Dad and three other GIs were standing outside the adobe house in the snow watching the firing since it did not seem to be that close. An officer was standing to the immediate side of my Dad when a shell hit the ground right between his legs. They decided they had seen enough fireworks for the moment and quickly proceeded back into the house.
My Dad ended up in Czechoslovakia at the end ot the war after serving for eleven months through the most treacherous conditions and horrible terrain throughout Europe. He had traveled continuously back and forth through Normandy, Northern France, Central Europe, the Rhineland, the Battle of the Bulge, and the Ardenne. Following the final unconditional German surrender, my Dad's unit was transferred by train to a port in the south of France where he loaded onto his eighth ship. This was his final ship and it carried him through the Straits of Gibralter for his third and final time. It sailed through the Straits, out into the Atlantic, and finally headed for home to a port above New York.
While on the ship headed for home, my Dad noticed a GI on the ship who had chronic seasickness. The ship had two vents on the upper deck of the ship. This GI stayed the entire trip on the deck exposed to the weather stretched out between the two vents. Even though my Dad did not know his name, he brought several meals to him. The GI was pale as a sheet and could not keep any food down, but my Dad tried to help him out, anyway. The ships used to cross the Atlantic were fairly new, but according to my Dad they had a 45 degree pitch in the heavy seas with high swells. It was not surprising when many people would get sick. A Lieutenant on one occasion was performing inspection in the mess hall wearing his dress uniform. The GIs had to stand up for meals because the seas were so stormy and much of the food and coffee ended up on the floor. The officer fell down between the tables and quickly learned the dress uniform was not appropriate for duty under those conditions when he slid across the floor in the muck.
Weather conditions were many times harsh on both land and sea for the entire 37 months of my Dad's military duty. He had experienced many extremes of temperature in all forms of weather including snow, rain, or ice and all types of terrain over mountains, through muddy roads, and across rivers where bridges had been bombed. His final transport wound up with a trip through rough seas back to the states, but there was a tremendous consolation to know that a victorious Army was finally returning to a grateful nation.
Charles E. Crosby