A Ramble Through My War: Anzio and Other Joys

A Ramble Through My War: Anzio and Other Joys

by Charles F. Marshall


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780807126363
Publisher: Louisiana State University Press
Publication date: 08/28/2000
Pages: 300
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x (d)

About the Author

Charles F. Marshall served in the U.S. Army from 1942 to 1946, achieving the rank of captain. In 1974 he retired as a partner in Marshall Knitting Mills and in 1994 published Discovering the Rommel Murder: The Life and Death of the Desert Fox. He lives in Holtsville, New York.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

To War via North Africa

I came to World War II by way of French North Africa during the Mediterranean rainy season. I was part of a contingent of eight officers and sixteen enlisted men, all but two fluent in the German language. Of the officers, three were first lieutenants and the other five of us second lieutenants. The enlisted men were all sergeants except for two or three corporals.

    After eight days of zigzagging designed to frustrate German submarine attack, our ship, a fast one, and sailing without escort, ended its Atlantic crossing at Casablanca, Morocco, on December 2, 1943. Two years before, propelled by the wizardry of German field marshal Erwin Rommel, German and Italian forces had swept across the deserts of Tripolitania, Cyrenaica, and Egypt to within spitting distance of their goals, Alexandria and the Suez Canal. Then, short of manpower, ammunition, artillery, tanks, and particularly gasoline, and subject to overwhelming British and American air superiority, Rommel had to forsake the objectives so tantalizingly close to his grasp. Further disadvantaged by the Allied decryption operation, code-named Ultra, which revealed messages to and from the German High Command, he was forced into a long retreat.

    The Afrika Korps's retreat ended in the surrender of the Axis forces in Tunisia in May 1943, leaving control of all North Africa in Allied hands. Rommel's early successes, however, forced the scrapping of General George C. Marshall's plan for the invasion of Europe in 1943.

    As Rommel hadpredicted to Hitler in beseeching reinforcements, the Axis loss of North Africa would be followed by an Allied invasion of Italy. And that had occurred.

    Our little group had graduated from the army's intelligence school at Camp Ritchie, Maryland, and after a briefing at the Pentagon, was now en route to the battle in Italy.

    At Ritchie we had been put through a two-month course in prisoner of war interrogation, followed by an intensive four-week postgraduate course in "order of battle." This is the study of the enemy's organization and equipment, but in actual battle it becomes the pursuit and evaluation of the collective intelligence gained from all possible sources. Some of this information, often much, comes from the interrogation of prisoners and military and civilian deserters. This is enhanced by the study of captured enemy documents such as field orders, codes, maps, field manuals, memorandums, newspapers, letters, and photographs. Other data comes by way of espionage, counterintelligence, radio intercept, fighter pilot reports, aerial reconnaissance reports, and aerial photo interpretation.

    Although all these means are not always operating simultaneously, some combinations of data gathering are always in play. From this cumulative data, much is known about the enemy, his capabilities, and often his plans. Sometimes order-of-battle (usually abbreviated OB) practitioners can even construct psychological profiles of enemy commanders.

    While the enlisted men might be more or less restricted to specific chores, the OB officers quickly become enmeshed in the whole intelligence picture. Once involved in a campaign, any OB man worth his salt soon knows infinitely more about the enemy than he knows about his own forces.

    None of our group had ever been in North Africa before. Much of the construction in Casablanca surprised us. Many of its buildings were elegant and modern. On the other hand, the Arab component of the population came up (or down) to our expectations. Every child seemed able to say, "Gimme smoke! Gimme candy!" Teenage youngsters would offer surprisingly high prices for blankets, shoes, mattress covers, and other army matériel. Although eighty cents for a pack of cigarettes would seem a poor offer today, at that time a pack of cigarettes in the States sold for fifteen cents or even two packs for a quarter.

    After five days encamped in tents in a field ankle-deep in mud, we boarded the famous French "40 and 8s" (forty men or eight horses per car) for Algiers in Algeria, the second French colony. The train chugged along at a snail's pace and often spent an hour or two idling at small stations for no good reason that we could discover. Nor could the American engineers running the train shed any light. They had their orders. It was the French way of doing things.

    Our group was lucky. Unlike the hundreds of other men who suffered the discomforts and indignities of the boxcars, we were assigned a coach.

    For meals during our four-day, 700-mile journey, we were given C rations. The C ration, was the ration for one day in the field and consisted of three cans of meat and vegetables, three cans of crackers, sugar, powdered coffee, and a confection. Eaten cold, C rations would win no epicurean prizes, but quickly a bit of American ingenuity came to the rescue. A candle was put into an empty can, and a can of the rations placed on top to be heated. As time went by the "stoves" improved, two or three candles side by side simultaneously firing the heating unit and warming the processed contents closer to gastronomic acceptance.

    When we arrived in Algiers, site of AFHQ (Allied Force Headquarters), the enlisted men went off to a camp and the officers were quartered in Pullman cars at a railroad siding. An obliging native orderly would get a girl to spend the night in the compartment of any officer with romantic yearnings.

    The next day Major Holsten, the commanding officer of our unit (2680 Headquarters Military Intelligence Service), which was attached to AFHQ, came to welcome us. When he had finished with the formalities, he told us he needed a couple of officers to accompany the drivers taking a batch of two-and-a-half-ton trucks to Oran, a seaport some 220 miles to the west. There the drivers were to drop off the trucks and pick up the jeeps that had been allotted to the order-of-battle contingent. Tired of life in trains, I, along with a Lieutenant Alfred Pundt, volunteered for the assignment.

    In civilian life Pundt had been a professor of history at Penn State. Known as Doc among the officers in deference to his Ph.D., Pundt had come by his commission via the ROTC. About thirty-eight, with a fair complexion and bald except for a fringe of wheat-blond hair, he was six feet tall, well built, and had an energetic stride. Rarely hesitating to break regulations if they inconvenienced him, he often affected haziness about what an officer's duties and privileges were, usually determining them in his own interest. He was divorced from the German woman he had married while a graduate student studying in Germany, and the marriage had soured him on women, although it had not diminished an insatiable appetite for priapic adventure.

    Doc Pundt was a man with whom I would be closely linked in the campaigns in Italy, France, Germany, and Austria. Although on the surface we did not have much in common, we would become good friends. We were ten years apart in age, and whereas I was a practicing Catholic with a conservative background from the world of business, he was an atheist and, like so many in academia, an apostle of socialism, whose cause he sought tirelessly to advance.

    Once, early in our association, when he was pontificating on the virtues of socialism and castigating the iniquities of capitalism, he sought to clinch his diatribe with, "Now all right-thinking people know ..."

    At this point I interrupted: "Cut the crap, Doc! If anybody disagrees with you, they are not right-thinking. Is that it?"

    Startled, he quickly backpedaled. But thereafter, for whatever reason, he sought out my company at every opportunity and gave up proselytizing in my presence.

    The trip proved enjoyable and the scenery delightful, the green rolling hills reminding me of southern California where I had received my basic training with the Fifth Armored Division. Stops for meals and to answer nature's call were often enlivened by Arab youngsters peddling oranges that we were afraid to buy, having been warned of the danger of contracting dysentery from their unwashed fruit.

    Mid-journey, we stopped the first night in a town named Orleanville, and Pundt and I went in search of entertainment. The first public building we wandered into turned out to be a steam bath. Neither of us interested in a steam bath, although it was a cold drizzly night, we resumed our wanderings, using flashlights to find our way through the pitch-black streets. Against my better judgment, which was eroded by Pundt's persistent cajoling, and somewhat emboldened by the security of the pistols at our hips under our trench coats, we left the French quarter and ambled into the dirty native quarter. Here our attention was drawn to a building from which a racket was coming. As we drew closer, we recognized the sound of tambourines and boisterous singing.

    Doc rapped on the door. It opened a crack and a voice asked in French what we wanted. Pundt, whose French was better than my two years of college French, responded. Inside the door, in a vestibule, a panel was slid open and Pundt paid some kind of cover charge. Another door was unlocked and we found ourselves in a large smoke-filled room. It was a combination bar, social club, and house of prostitution, we quickly gathered.

    The patrons, mostly men, many of whom were seamen of various nationalities and in various stages of inebriation, were seated at tables bearing bottles of wine. Some had girls on their laps, presumably negotiating sex, while others gazed through the haze of smoke at two scantily clad dancers gyrating suggestively to the beat of their tambourines.

    A bosomy barmaid brought us a bottle of red native wine, for which I am sure I was charged as a "rich American." Concerned by the suspicious, even antagonistic, eyes focused on us by some of the patrons, who obviously were wondering what the hell two American officers were doing here, I moved my chair to sit with my back against the wall. While our search for entertainment had no specific goal, this sailors' dive was certainly not it, and halfway through the second bottle we left.

    It was now late. I had a cold that I had been nursing for days and that wasn't helped by the bone-chilling dampness of the country's rainy season. I proposed we rejoin our group, but Doc was intent on a further exploration of the town. So we parted.

    The next morning he told me he had an Arab boy, a young pimp, take him to the home of a French-Arabian girl, the hour costing him 500 francs. Back in Algiers later he was to go into the "off limits" Medina (native quarter) and lie with a twelve-year-old Arab girl. His mania for collecting sexual experiences, I reflected, could not have been an asset in his wife's eyes and was probably one of the causes for his failed marriage.

    Arriving in Oran, we delivered the trucks and started back to Algiers with the jeeps. It was another drizzly day, and en route one of the jeeps skidded on the slippery road, pushing an Arab and his donkey into a ditch. Neither was hurt, but the Arab immediately began a series of wails interspersed with calls on Allah. We lifted the jeep off the donkey as the Arab pulled the fear-stricken animal out of the ditch by its ears.

    Army regulations required an accident report, but since the donkey and its owner were unhurt, and since the Arab spoke no English and we no Arabic, we moved on only to be involved in a second incident shortly after. One of our drivers, in going around a blind curve in the mountains, pushed a French army vehicle into a ditch. A captain and two lieutenants emerged, the captain bleeding from a cut suffered from the shattered windshield. The French vehicle's fender and spare tire had been ripped off.

    This time an accident report was filled out. In the later stages of the war, when I had become somewhat disenchanted with the French, whenever I thought of the incident I wondered if some day the French government, with typical Gallic reasoning, wouldn't bill the American government for the damages to the vehicle, although it was the American government that donated the vehicle to the Free French forces in the first place.

    We arrived in Algiers without further mishap.

    While Doc Pundt and I were destined to work closely together during the war, the man who was to become my closest friend in the OB group was Alex Shayne, a twenty-six-year-old burly Polish-born Jew with a lumbering gait who spoke no German but was fluent in Polish, Russian, and Italian. His face had five o'clock shadow at seven in the morning. Although his complexion called for dark eyes, he had disconcertingly blue ones. He had grown up near the Polish-Russian border and then for several years lived in Italy before coming to America. He was gifted musically and with a sense of humor that often had me in stitches.

    One night during our stay in Algiers, to kill some time, Shayne, a British officer, and I went into the entertainment district to see a show. As we left the theater, two ladies of the evening crossed the street and fell in with us.

    The girls ignored the Englishman, experience probably having taught them that American officers had deeper pockets. One grabbed Alex's arm and the other mine, importuning us to partake of their charms, assuring us that their sexual favors were like no others ever experienced by man, while we tried to shake them off by pleading that we were due back at quarters, a story they refused to buy.

    The ignored Britisher, determined to get some fun out of the situation, insisted that the "ladies," emphasizing "ladies," were entitled to introductions, whereupon he introduced us by our first names as Lieutenant Alex and Lieutenant Charlie. As a consequence of this nicety, and despite our rejections, for the next ten minutes the more curvaceous of the two girls hung on my arm and kept up a refrain of, "Pleez come, Sharlie. Collette luffs you! Collette luffs you, Sharlie!"

    Thereafter, for the duration of the war, whenever Alex and I met, and we were to meet many times in Italy, France, Germany, and Austria, his greeting to me would be a mile-wide smile followed by a hearty bellow, "Pleez come, Sharlie! Collette luffs you, Sharlie!"

    Delighted to see him, I always joined in his laughter, despite his roaring this greeting through the whole G-2 section. Earlier requests of "Come on, Alex, knock it off!" had no effect and in time I gave up. For Alex, this greeting had become a Pavlovian reaction. Years later, when I was newly married, he came with his wife and daughter to visit me, and his greeting was no different, causing my bride, I noticed, some curiosity. He, too, noticed the questioning look and mercifully explained, something he never did during the war.

    Alex was a great friend. More about him later.

    In Algiers, the port, dotted with sunken ships, only their tops visible above the water, was something of a mess. While the impression was one of clutter, the city as a whole was clean and bustling with the activity of Allied Force Headquarters. Traffic was fast and furious. One formed the impression that a bounty was awarded for every pedestrian a driver could hit. Forty miles an hour down side streets was just standard operating procedure.

    After a few days we left the city. It was raining again and seemed a good time to leave. Major Holsten shook hands heartily, wished us well, and promised us lieutenants that we would probably never be promoted. On that cheerful note, we mounted our jeeps and headed for the next stop on our way to the war in Italy.

    After driving four hundred miles through the coastal mountains of Algeria, we entered Bizerte, a port city at the northern tip of Tunisia. The outskirts were marked by piles of captured enemy equipment, much of it battle-damaged, the detritus of the two-year Allied battles with Rommel's forces.

    We stayed in Bizerte four days, during which time Christmas came and went. While there, Doc suggested we find a restaurant and experience a taste of the local cuisine. The cuisine, it developed, was unembellished black market, standard U.S. Army rations, for which we paid a fancy price.

    Some of us took the opportunity to drive the forty miles to Tunis to the site where the remnants of the Axis forces in North Africa, 230,000 men, had surrendered. Something more than half were Italians. The rest were stragglers from Rommel's Afrika Korps, who, we were told, had marched into captivity singing, their spirit unbroken.

    Our time in Bizerte up, we boarded a navy LST (Landing Ship, Tank) for the voyage to Italy where the Allied armies were locked in tenacious battle with Hitler's forces. The ship had surprisingly good accommodations for men and officers, but what astounded us more was its practicality. Powered by two diesel engines, it was able to carry 2,100 tons through rough waters and could be beached in water so shallow that its cargo could be unloaded or driven off. On this trip it was filled with vehicles.

    With the new year, 1944, just ahead of us, we were now headed for "sunny Italy," glad to forsake the bone-chilling rains of North Africa. The Mediterranean crossing proved uneventful, and on New Year's Eve we drove our jeeps off the LST in the port of Naples.

    We were met, of course, by another bone-chilling rain.

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