My Dad During World War II
One characteristic common among all the Allied forces during the war was the resourcefulness of the soldiers or the ability of the GIs to "get the job" done no matter what they had to do or what obstacle they came up against. They would improvise and adapt any equipment, utilize all resources to accomplish their mission, and in some cases even do things that would be against the law in other situations. For example, on one occasion my Dad and some other GIs had gone to a movie in Tunis, Tunisia after the surrender of the Germans in North Africa and had taken two command cars for the trip. While in the movie one of the command cars was stolen. When they returned, after learning what had happened, the warrant officer told my Dad to grab some extra coil wires, some other equipment, and come with him. Apparently, it was common for GIs to leave their vehicles in the city and take the the coil wires as well as the keys. They proceeded to return to the city where they drove around until they found a command car; replaced the coil wire, hot wired the ignition, and returned with a new command car. This worked out so well that they also acquired two jeeps while they were replacing the command car. They were able to keep these vehicles and even carried them through North Africa and on to Sicily. Scrounging for whatever they needed to get the job done seemed to be a common practice throughout the war.
Scrounging was also a common practice with the local people in North Africa. On many separate occasions my Dad's unit would be bivouacked in some remote area for four to five days and they would not see anyone from the local area. They would then prepare to move out and the local people would appear from nowhere. They would be scrounging for all the things left behind by the advancing army, such as empty cans, drums, or even what the Americans consider as garbage. The locals once noticed the Americans were leaving some old stale bread that had been discarded in a sump hole. They were leaving this because it was stale and not considered edible. The local people were preparing the bread to eat since many of the people were malnourished with protruding stomachs and wanted any food, no matter the quality.
According to my Dad, the food that they were given was fairly good in the form of K-rations or C-rations. Many times they consisted of corned beef hash or beef stew. He said the food was fairly good, especially if you had the ability to warm them up in your mess kit. He had a special compartment on the side of his wrecker that he always kept filled with these rations in case they were in the field for extended periods of time. This did occur on many occasions such as the time he related when he and Dietz were returning from a mission late at night. On this trip it was raining so they decided to stop under an overpass and spend the night in the wrecker. They were able to get a good nights sleep and had all the provisions they needed; however, according to my Dad, they were blessed that the enemy did not observe them during the night and kill them in their sleep.
Another interesting characteristic of the local people was made vividly apparent in an incident that occurred in North Africa. My Dad was traveling the area and noticed a large concrete vat with GIs in it taking a bath in the nude. It was a watering trough that was being continuously filled by a windmill. While they were in the water a local man came up riding a donkey. He was switching the donkey with every step and he also had six girls walking ahead of him. The man got off the donkey and collected water in 2 gallon containers as the girls waited about 50 feet away. They then left with the girls carrying the jugs of water and leading the way in front of the old man and his donkey. It was learned that the girls were leading the way in case of land mines. Also, if a man had 6 girls and 2 boys, he was considered to have only 2 children. The local people did not have much repect for girls in that culture at the time and treated them as merely "beasts of burden."
The local people of North Africa were of all levels from great wealth to extreme poverty. My Dad met a local girl, named Giselle, from a town called Ariana (not sure of spelling) in Tunisia. She was 14 years old, could speak seven languages and was from a well-to-do family. Her father was a well-known lawyer and represented the country in many affairs of state. My Dad was invited with another GI to her parent's house where they were given a seven course meal with the girl, a friend, and Giselles' parents. This was in a nice apartment near the Mediterranean with an upstairs balcony overlooking the street in Tunis which was a vast difference from the people in the desert, scrounging to survive. She had wanted my Dad to meet her parents which was the reason for the meal at the apartment. She actually lived at a different location toward Bizerte. While they were sitting on the balcony, there was an accident below in the street. They observed as two Frenchmen were arguing about who was to blame even though they had hit a local Arab. They had pulled the Arab aside and were more concerned with their vehicles than the injured man that had been sandwiched between them.
Many times the local people would come up to the Americans and start a conversation. This was how he met Giselle along with several of her friends. My Dad spent a lot of time with Giselle such as going swimming in the Mediterranean until he had to ship out for the invasion of Sicily. He received several letters from her while stationed in Sicily. On one occasion he was helping install an engine on a C-47 airplane by lifting it with the booms of his wrecker. The pilot stated that if my Dad liked, he could fly him to North Africa to see the girl, leaving him one day and picking him up the next. He said that he flew these missions on a daily basis. My Dad was making arrangements to get a pass just for this purpose, when he got notification that they were shipping out for England. He never heard from her again after he arrived in England or throughout the rest of the war.
At one point while in North Africa, my Dad was stationed at Gafsa which was located in Tunisia, inland from the coast. Gafsa was located to the east of some foothills with the Sahara Desert to the west. He and Dietz were in the desert area to the east when they noticed something sticking up at a distance in the middle of the desert. They decided to check it out and learned that it was a tremendous German plane that had been shot down previously. They had seen the tail of the plane from their previous location. While they were at the plane they noticed a huge cloud of dust coming toward their location. They remained to see what this was, when a large convoy of military vehicles moved passed them, four abreast. It turned out to be the British Army led by General Sir Bernard L. Montgomery, "Monty" in pursuit of the Germans which were at that time located between Tunis and Gabes. They had fought and would eventually defeat Field Marshal Erwin Rommel in North Africa. The British Army would later face the same General Rommel when they met in Europe. After the British passed their location, my Dad and Dietz returned to their area in Gafsa.
My Dad had been transferred from the "Queen Emma" as mentioned earlier and then they moved inland eventually ending up stationed at Gafsa, Tunisia. The Americans mission at the time was to keep the Germans from advancing westward toward Oran or Algiers. Many tank battles were occurring in Tunisia at this time as well as battles with the British. One dominant force during the North African campaign was the American tank battalion directed by General Patton. He along with the British Army under Montgomery were finally able to bottle up the Germans on a peninsula near Tunis to end their resistance in North Africa.
My Dad's unit had been transferred from Oran to the small town between Bizerte and Tunis. This occurred near the time the 1st Infantry Division took Bizerte and part of Tunis. It was mentioned earlier that my Dad shipped out from Oran to Sicily when in actuality only part of their unit left from the Oran port. My Dad received his new wrecker in Oran, but then moved it by land, back up the coast toward Tunis. In route another part of the unit shipped out from Algiers and finally my Dad shipped out from a third port near Bizerte. The group that had left from Oran shipped out too early and ended up staying aboard ship for almost a month, sailing up and down the coast of Africa before setting off for Sicily. My Dad's later transport was only an overnight transport, since it was only about 90 miles from Tunisia to Sicily.
A close call occurred during the Sicily invasion while my Dad was observing the landing from the upper deck of his LST, as he and his friend, Wilson Booth, were together waiting to unload. Another LST was positioned to the side of their ship, both waiting their individual times to disembark. Each LST was equipped with a forward elevator for moving the equipment from the upper level to the bottom of the ship where they could be driven off onto land or another landing craft. They were positioned very close together, to the point that a well-placed shell could easily damage or sink more than one ship. A shell did hit the forward position of the LST next to them; however, the elevator was down below and the shell was dropped below deck before it exploded. The shell caused a massive fire below to the point where the LST was moved further down the beach and allowed to burn, destroying the equipment inside. This explosion ultimately destroyed the LST, but the location of the bomb placement prevented damage to my Dad's LST which turned out to be another of his breaks during the war when the good Lord was looking after him.
As a result of the explosion one unit lost most of their equipment. This is where the excess equipment that my Dad's unit had acquired in North Africa came in handy. They gave them some of their equipment, such as the jeeps they had "stolen" on their scrounging raid, previously. Also, as a result of the explosion, a valuable lesson was learned by Booth. Most GIs wore their helmets with the chin strap on the top; however, Booth had his under his chin. The concussion from the explosion caught his helmet and almost "took his head off." He was badly bruised as a result of this impact from the blast. He was not permanently injured, but he did learn to remove the strap for any future missions.
North Africa and Sicily Timeline
After the Allies had taken Sicily, my Dad stayed in reserve until the invasion of Italy had taken place. He was never wounded during the entire war; however, he did spend a week in the hospital while in Sicily. He started having severe headaches for two days and was sent to the medics who then put him in the hospital. They just gave him some pajamas and put him to bed with no medication. A paratrooper next to my Dad heard the moaning and asked the orderly if he could give my Dad something. He came back with a pill and told my Dad to grab the side of the bed. He said my Dad was going to take a trip and a short time later the bed was spinning. He was out cold until the next day. The headache was then gone and they stated that he had a bout with what they called "sand fly fever". They were going to transfer him to another outfit after he left the hospital, but when he went outside he spotted a 1st Division ambulance. He asked if they could drop him at his old unit in ordinance and they stated they could. This was against the orders from the hospital, but he never heard from them after he returned to the unit.
Later in the war after my Dad's unit had come ashore on D-Day he experienced the tremendous firepower of the American forces. According to a set of videotapes about D-Day, the Allies released more firepower during the first hour of D-Day than was released during the entire WWI. Another source, the Time Life Book called Fortress Europe, stated that there were 1200 warships and 4200 landing craft involved in the invasion on that momentous day as well as a vast amount of aircraft delivering this unified attack by Allied forces. My Dad stated that they could observe the planes come over and watch as they opened their bomb bay doors. They also watched as the bombs would come streaming out of the planes only two to three miles from their position. He said there was a tent nearby and you could see it shake from the concussion caused by the tons of bombs. He later learned that some of the bombs had been dropped short of their intended target and had killed many Americans. This had occurred on more than one occasion and also the dropping of paratroopers was miscalculated allowing many Americans to be killed. They had been dropped on German occupied territory and were, therefore, easy targets for the German rifles. One example was the air drop into the French town of Saint Mere Eglise. Many paratroopers were shot and killed before they ever hit the ground. The Germans had flooded many of the fields prior to D-Day with the intentions of hindering the landings. This was successful to a certain extent in that many paratroopers were inadvertently dropped in these fields and therefore, drowned in the process. This also hindered or interfered with the many glider landings.
As mentioned in Part II, my Dad lost his barracks bags when he was being transferred across North Africa and as a result he lost a camera, a watch, and several other items. Later when he was on a mission in Europe, he was able to acquire one souvenir that he was able to secure and to this day he still has the item. He was sent on a mission to pick up a truck that supposedly had been used by a group traveling with the USO to provide coffee, doughnuts, etc. to the troops. When he found the vehicle it turned out to be a German vehicle that he refused to pick up, but there were several items scattered about the vehicle. One was a unique pistol that he kept until the end of the war and he was able to return to the states without losing this item as in the previous incident. The pistol was a German Mauser and when looked up on the internet, it was called a "Broomhandle Mauser". The original weapons had been used during World War I and could be used with an attached handle as a rifle. My Dad's pistol had the sights on the top of the pistol that could be adjusted for long range shooting.
- May 1942: Rommel's Africa Korps offensive
- June 21, 1942: Germany seized Tobruk
- July 2, 1942: British halt Germans @ El Alamein
- Nov. 8,1942: Lt Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower lands on the coast of Algeria and Morocco (500 troop & supply ships, 350 warships)
- Nov. 12,1942: British capture Tobruk
- Feb.14,1943: Field Marshall Rommel pushes the Allies westward 50 miles
- Feb. 21, 1943: Dad's arrival @ Oran, Algeria
- Feb. 23,1943: Allies halt the Germans and push them back into Tunisia
- May 7,1943: Tunis & Bizerte fell to Allies
- May 12, 1943: Organized Axis resistence in Africa ended (350,000 Axis soldiers killed, wounded, or captured) (70,000 Allied casualties)
- July 10, 1943: Allied forces invade Sicily
- Aug. 17, 1943: Allies occupy all of Sicily
- June 6, 1944: D-Day
- June 13, 1944: V-1 Bombing (Vengeance Weapon)
- June 27, 1944: Cherbourg captured by Allies
- July 18, 1944: St. Lo captured by Allies
- July 20, 1944: Attempt on Hitler's life
- Aug. 6, 1944: Patton cut off of Brittany Peninsula
- Aug. 25, 1944: Paris liberated
- Sept. 12, 1944: 1st Army crossed German border
- Sept. 15, 1944: 1st & 3rd Army meet @ Dijon; 1st Army battles savagely for Aachan
- Dec. 16-27: Battle of the Bulge
- Feb. 1944: 1st Army captures Cologne
- March 7, 1945: 1st Army advanced to Remagen
- Apr. 1, 1945: 1st & 9th Army isolated Ruhr Valley & trap 300,000 enemy soldiers
- May 7, 1945: Unconditional German surrender
The Allied forces eventually arrived to liberate Paris even though General Eisenhower originally wanted to by-pass. He did not want the responsibility for 2 million people in Paris at the same time he was attacking the German Army. According to the book, Fortress Europe, the German general (General Dietrich von Choltitz) was ordered by Hitler to destroy all the bridges and many of the strategic buildings. Lucky for the French people, the general could not bring himself to destroy such historic treasures. He even sent word to the Allies that they had better hurry and liberate Paris or it would be destroyed by the remaining Germans even against his wishes. Eisenhower then decided to proceed with the liberation. After arriving in Paris my Dad was surprised how different the city and the people were, compared to other cities he had been through. He stated that you could see a group of young people talking in public when one of them would walk a short distance away. He would then proceed to urinate in plain view and think nothing of this. My Dad also stated how he was surprised with the rest room facilities available for the public. He said there were round rooms on the sidewalk containing urinals for one individual at a time. Anyone could see your feet and above your chest with only about three feet covered from public view. These facilities were all along the sidewalk in Paris and if you needed facilities other than urinals, pay toilets were available at various locations throughout the city. Women ran these facilities, took the money, and monitored their use. Stalls were not available and you simply used slits in the floor for this purpose. The woman would be sitting at the end of the room and appeared to be oblivious to what was happening in the room. Also, the streets were divided with areas in the center with all types of entertainment. One particular one my Dad mentioned was a ring with two men wrestling and they were performing for tips from the public. As my Dad was watching a young woman came up and held his hand. "Female companionship" was readily available in many locations. He stated that you could ask to be with a woman and if she was married or not available, she would tell you where women were available.
At the end of the war while in Czechoslovakia, my Dad had another mission which was unusual in the location that he had to go. A huge area was set aside for the German prisoners of war. This area contained a tremendous amount of captured equipment, such as German trucks and jeeps. Also, in the middle of the area was a special piece of equipment used to spray the prisoners for lice since many of the prisoners were covered. The equipment needed some welding and the mission was to enter this area and weld the tank so it could be used for the spraying. A German prisoner volunteered to do the welding, therefore my Dad allowed him to do so. A man named Johnny France accompanied my Dad and Dietz into the area for this mission since he was a welder; however, they just talked with some female German prisoners while the German officer did the welding. My Dad stated that he could always communicate with most anyone in some way, no matter what country they were from or what language they spoke. He did learn, however, toward the end of the war that he could not communicate with the Russians for some reason. Some Russians were in the area pilfering through the captured equipment and for some reason you could never talk with them. They always seemed to be suspicious of the Americans and especially the Germans. They never seemed to want to communicate and always seemed to be in a hurry to leave the area.
On one occasion I told my Dad that his wrecker seemed to be a moving garage and he tended to agree that it was a well-equipped piece of machinery. Many times the Germans would be in a position and would have the entire area worn to the point it was nothing but mud. When the Americans took over the German position the American vehicles proved to be much better than the Germans in that they had all wheel drive and could easily plow through the mire. It was also very powerful. He stated that on one occasion they came upon a vehicle that had run off the edge of a cliff. It was so steep that my Dad's assistant driver had to climb down the cliff with the boom cable to attach to the rear of the vehicle. It was a two and a half ton GMC truck; however, the Diamond T hauled it almost straight up the edge of the cliff (towing capacity of 20,000 lbs). On another occasion in Sicily it proved to be extremely well-suited to the tasks called for when he had to transport a tank. The road was made of bricks and was wet from the recent rains. He would place the truck in all wheel drive and it would be spinning with all ten wheels digging. He could stand along on the side compartments and maneuver the big rig until the road would dry out and move a little at a time. The powerful Hercules engine, the dual booms on the rear, and the winch on the front of his wrecker proved to be a very strong combination performing very well with the many missions attempted during the war.
Charles E. Crosby