12 October 1943 Lt. John Ko, of the Japanese American Battalion, 133th [sic], on reconnaissance, preparatory  to going into battle against the Germans in Italy.

12 October 1943
Lt. John Ko, of the Japanese American Battalion, 133th [sic], on reconnaissance, preparatory to going into battle against the Germans in Italy.

American infantrymen in an assault boat haul themselves across the Volturno River in mid-October 1943 during the first major river crossing in Europe by Allied troops.

American infantrymen in an assault boat haul themselves across the Volturno River in mid-October 1943 during the first major river crossing in Europe by Allied troops.

The Allies had made some progress in Italy as soon as they were over the Volturno river but they very soon ran into the next line of German defences. The war then reverted to trench warfare, as each side tried to batter each other with artillery. In amongst it, the infantry were expected to send out probing patrols to find the exact positions of the other side, perhaps to capture a prisoner for intelligence.

In the U.S. lines was a remarkable individual who had begun to make a name for himself as soon as he had joined the fighting in Sicily. Audie Murphy was so baby faced and young looking that his Company commander had then tried to make him a message ‘runner’, to spare him front line duties. Murphy kept going out with patrols anyway, so they had to promote him to Corporal and put him back in the frontline.

Not only did Audie Murphy have an extraordinary war, he had an extraordinary capability to write about it. This is his account of an undated episode that happened soon after the crossing of the Volturno river:

Now the light of the new day is streaking the sky, beneath which the enemy is creeping.

A combat patrol.

Seven gray-coated and helmeted forms emerging like ghosts from the mist of an Italian dawn. Beneath the uniforms, seven men. The warm blood throbs through their veins; their chests heave. And one casts an anxious eye toward the light that blooms in the sky.

Seven soldiers seeking us out. Grenades swing from their belts; their rifles are ready; and their ears are bent for the slightest sound that will give our position away. Trained to kill without an instant’s hesitation or an atom of mercy, they want only the opportunity to blow us into mincemeat.

We accept the facts coolly; remove the safety locks on our rifles and lie as still as the rocks among which we hide at the edge of the quarry.

My mouth goes dry; muscles tighten, the heart beats in slow, steady pulsations.

Quietly, rapidly Swope checks his machine gun. He chooses his range, gauges his sights, and freezes into position. It is his job. If he fails, we must think and act quickly; otherwise we may think and act no more. But we have every confidence in that calm trigger finger and piercing blackness of eye.

The Germans labor up a draw that cuts the slope like a wrinkle in a fat man’s stomach. Despite all care, their boots slip on the stony soil; and at each small sound the men start nervously.

The leader is obviously an old-timer. I can see from his actions that he does not like the situation at all. The route he has chosen is dangerous indeed, but is the best that the area offers. On two sides, he has at least partial concealment.

But what of the forward end of the draw? A greenhorn should know that would be covered. Evidently the German knows too. He halts, waves his men down, and moves forward a few yards alone.

He pauses and gazes straight in our direction. I glance at Swope. He has the tense, sensitive, motionless appearance of a bird dog at point.

Apparently the German has not spotted us, but still he is not satisfied. Again he advances, stops, and scans the terrain. Then he shrugs his shoulders and motions for his men to join him.

We know when they are in effective range of the gun. Still Swope waits. With his cold Indian cunning, he is letting them come dangerously close.

“What’s the Chief going to do?” whispers Kerrigan irritably. “Shake hands with the krauts before he shoots them?”

The bronzed head snaps forward. Rat-ta-ta-ta… Twenty rounds. No more. Swope is not one to waste ammunition.

“Okay,” he says, without turning his head. “They’re yours.”

We turn our attention to the wounded. They are all still conscious. One has the embarrassed expression of a man suddenly exposed while answering a call of nature. He appears too old to be gadding about with a gun. His face is shriveled; and his uniform fits like a sack.

His lips peel back in a yellow grin. It is the forced smile of an unwilling loser. Or maybe he wishes to be friendly. He coughs. Red froth bubbles from his mouth. He ceases pretending. Fear and shame pass from his eyes. He must know now that he is dying and we can harm him no further.

The other two are not so sure. They are young, hardly over twenty; and from the freshness of their uniforms, we guess they are newcomers to the lines. They cringe and snarl defiantly, doubtless not knowing how badly they are wounded.

See Audie Murphy: To Hell and Back

A wounded German prisoner awaits medical treatment along the bank of the Volturno on October 17, 1943.

A wounded German prisoner awaits medical treatment along the bank of the Volturno on October 17, 1943.

A U.S. soldier north of the Volturno disables a mine, which has been discovered by the engineer holding his metal detector. “All roads lead to Rome,” quipped General Harold Alexander, the commander-in-chief of Allied forces in Italy, “but all the roads are mined.”

A U.S. soldier north of the Volturno disables a mine, which has been discovered by the engineer holding his metal detector. “All roads lead to Rome,” quipped General Harold Alexander, the commander-in-chief of Allied forces in Italy, “but all the roads are mined.”

{ 3 comments }

Oct

20

1943

Bomber on fire and under attack over Leipzig


20th October 1943: Bomber on fire and under attack over Leipzig

was hit. lt came through the fuselage and hit me low, down through the top of my legs, and lifted me up and smashed me right across the soft edge of the structure. I fell down onto the floor, ending up underneath the navigator’s table which was only a short distance away. Afterwards I pulled myself up, because everything below my waist was in a hell of a pain. Because it was dark I didn’t know how it had happened or really where I was.

Oct

19

1943

Disabled PoWs repatriated in Prisoner Exchange


19th October 1943: Disabled PoWs repatriated in Prisoner Exchange

hours spent among the 1,200 new passengers in the Drottningholm on Monday morning furnished a stimulating and indeed an inspiring experience. Most of them had been prisoners for well over three years; all had endured long and severe hardships; some were maimed and many more had less obvious injuries, yet all of them displayed a buoyant spirit. It became apparent, after on had talked with the men in different parts of the ship, that theirs was not merely the natural cheerfulness of men who were going home. These were men whose confident spirit had remained high and intact through the darkest period.

Oct

18

1943

Carrier Pigeon “GI Joe” wins medal


18th October 1943: Carrier Pigeon “GI Joe” wins medal

message contained information that the British 169th Infantry Brigade, of the 56th Infantry Division, had captured the village of Colvi Vecchia at 10:45 hours just a few minutes before a unit of the Allied XII Air Support Command was due to bomb the town. The pigeon made the trip of some twenty odd miles, from the 10th Corps Headquarters, in the same number of minutes.

Oct

17

1943

Joy and tragedy as Canadians liberate Italy


17th October 1943: Joy and tragedy as Canadians liberate Italy

the following morning Gerry Swayle and his platoon were told to occupy San Stefano. It was assumed the enemy rear guards had all withdrawn across the Biferno overnight and Gerry would meet with no resistance. I saw him just before he started off and told him about the joys of liberating Ripalimosani.

Oct

16

1943

The Germans hold the Dnieper Line


16th October 1943: The Germans hold the Dnieper Line

Russian infantry in solid serried ranks attacked behind a barrage on a narrow front, with tanks in support, and one wave following the other. Numerous low-flying planes attacked those strong-points which were still firing. A Russian infantry attack is an awe-inspiring spectacle; the long grey waves come pounding on, uttering fierce cries, and the defending troops require nerves of steel.

Oct

15

1943

A suicidal German counter-attack


15th October 1943: A suicidal German counter-attack

Minutes passed. It seemed like an eternity, although it was not long after mid-night. The seriously wounded Obergefreiter had become still and his breath was coming in gasps. I saw the white of his eyes glistening and felt his sound hand feeling for mine. Then a sigh was wrung out of the dying man. ‘Ah, Herr Leutnant’, he said. His head fell to one side. Again, I was shaken by a feeling of horror. Finally, I made off from crater to crater.

Oct

14

1943

The Sobibor Death Camp revolt


14th October 1943: The Sobibor Death Camp revolt

4:15, Oberscharfuehrer Graetschus, the German in charge of the Ukrainian guards, arrived at the cobblers’ shop to pick up his order. While Yitzhak held the Nazi’s leg in a firm grip, pretending to pull the boots, Arcady Wajspaper and Siemion Rosenfeld slipped out from the back room and split the skull of the Nazi with the ax. Then his deputy, the Ukrainian Klatt, entered, calling his boss to the telephone. He too was attacked and killed.

Oct

13

1943

Infantry attack across the Volturno River


13th October 1943: Infantry attack across the Volturno River

had orders to keep our rifles dry but they trailed over our shoulders. The three 2 inch mortars in their case were under water as I struggled to keep hold of the rope. Completely soaked we reached the enemy side where our pioneers and many helping hands pulled us up the bank. Sodden but relieved we formed up in a soaked, shivering long line. The enemy had left us alone.

Oct

12

1943

Poor quality Soviet army recruits


12th October 1943: Poor quality Soviet army recruits

We had to teach them how to handle themselves on the battlefield and on the defense, how to rise from the ground at the start of an attack, and how to understand and always remember their responsibility to the oath they had taken. Finally, they had to learn the elementary things — an understanding of which flank was the right flank, and which the left.