World War II combat diary of J.J. McAndrews: German snipers, souvenirs and a volcano
Posted by PA3 L. Laughlin, Monday, October 21, 2013
The Great Lakes Coast Guard is sharing the story of Petty Officer 3rd Class J.J. McAndrews on his journey across the Atlantic Ocean into the Mediterranean Sea for the invasion of Italy, then to the shores of Normandy for D-Day, in our five-week series “World War II combat diary of J.J. McAndrews.” This series comes from the day-to-day diary written by the boatswain’s mate while aboard a landing ship during the war.
Editor’s Note: Much of the text that follows was taken directly from McAndrews’ diary. Most grammatical and punctuation errors were retained as they were written. However, slight edits were made to enhance readability.
Aug. 22, 1943: We have arrived in Bizerte and dropped our anchor. We have found out that the broadcast was true. The only word I can think of when describing the port and city of Bizerte is “hell.”
There is nothing left of the city. Bizerte is bombed to the ground and all its French inhabitants deserted it. American soldiers occupy it now.
There are many ships lying in Davey Jones Locker in this port. We had to zigzag to get to our place of mooring in order to keep away from the sunken vessels.
You should see the condition of the city. It is tragic. Nothing but destruction.
After we docked, I was given permission to take a stroll and went over to the hillside of Bizerte.
On the hillside are the wreckages of hundreds of German planes and also a few English and American ones. Some of the fliers burned right on the spot where they crashed and little sticks mark their graves.
(Editor: The Tunisia Campaign was a series of battles that took place in Tunisia, North Africa, between Axis and Allied forces. The Allies consisted of British Imperial Forces, including Polish and Greek contingents, with American and French corps. The battle opened with initial success by the German and Italian forces, but the massive supply and numerical superiority of the Allies led to the Axis’s complete defeat.
During the campaign, the Allies lost more than 76,000 lives and 849 planes, while the Axis lost roughly 300,000 lives, 1,045 planes and had more than 600 planes captured.)
Aug. 25, 1943: Today got really bad news. We have to change ships with the Navy. They will receive our new LST 175 and we will receive their old worn out LST 326. The crew has taken it pretty hard.
Aug. 26, 1943: In our new ship. This ship was in the invasion of Sicily and has seen quite a bit of action. It has three German planes to its credit.
It also has a tremendous hole in its side about 56 feet long. Boy, did we sure get the bad end of this deal. The captain doesn’t understand why we had to make the change either, but told us to make the best of it and keep up the good spirit we had on the LST 175.
(Editor: LST 326 was laid down on Nov. 12, 1942, at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, and launched on Feb. 11, 1943. The ship was sponsored by Mildred E. Kelly and commissioned on Feb. 26, 1943.
During WW II, LST 326 was assigned to the European theater and participated in the Sicilian occupation in July 1943, the Anzio-Nettuno advanced landings in January and February 1944, and the invasion of Normandy in June 1944.
LST 326 earned three battle stars for service during the war.)
We have had five general quarters while in Bizerte. We were anchored right next to a ship that was sunk a few days previous during a night raid by German planes. Every day we see German photo planes fly over and take photos of the harbor. We expect a raid any time.
Aug. 28, 1943: Headed to Tenes, Algeria. Luck was with us again, as we were not in a raid by German planes while in the port of Bizerte.
This trip has been real rough, and many of the kids are seasick. Even I feel very dizzy, and I do mean dizzy.
Sept. 1, 1934: We have landed in Tenes. This place is beautiful and it reminds me of Lake Luzerne. We are able to go swimming and to shows on the base. This base was bombed a while ago, but not much damage was done.
Here we are loading up cargo to take to another port.
Sept. 6, 1943: We left Tenes headed for Oran.
Sept. 7, 1943: We arrived in Oran.
Sept. 14, 1943: Nothing has happened in Oran. We anchored here for seven days. Now we are headed to Bizerte.
Sept. 17, 1943: We have arrived in Bizerte.
On our trip here our bow doors started to come apart. We had a great deal of trouble with them but were finally able to fix them.
Upon arrival to Bizerte, they have immediately started unloading our tank deck. The cargo consists of a pipeline, a few trucks and other mechanical devices. The trip here was quite calm and we didn’t have any air raid alerts.
Sept. 27, 1943: We have received orders to go to Palermo, Sicily.
On this stay in Bizerte, myself and a couple of the fellers went ashore to the hillside where all the damaged shot down planes are piled up. If I remember correctly, a picture of this place was in Life magazine. Boy, there sure are plenty of remains of shot down French, German and English planes.
Nearby are crosses indicating the graves of the pilots of some of these planes. They are very simple emblems and writing on the crosses giving the names of the pilots.
Sept. 28, 1943: We have gotten underway headed to Sicily with a heavily loaded ship of English troops and their trucks.
Sept. 29, 1943: We have arrived and anchored in Palermo. We immediately unloaded. This port has been badly bombed. Our planes did the bombing and boy, it seems as though they didn’t miss a thing. I do not get liberty here.
Inquired about George Cornish, but none of the soldiers I asked knew of his location.
Oct. 1, 1943: Have heard that we are going to go to Naples, a seaport in Italy. Today the allies took that port.
(Editor: Though Neapolitans did not rebel under Italian Fascism, Naples was the first Italian city to rise up against German military occupation. The city was completely freed by Oct. 1, 1943, when British and American forces entered the city.)
We loaded cargo aboard the ship. The cargo consists of equipment for the Army engineers such as cranes, trucks and other riggings.
Also, we are carrying ammunition and dynamite. All we need now is a direct hit on the ship, and we would never know what hit us.
Today I met Sgt. Nelson. He is a 51-year-old with three sons in the service from Rockaway. He was a swell man.
Oct. 2, 1943: Got underway.
Oct. 4, 1943: We anchored at Agropoli, Italy for a short time but got back underway this afternoon and kept going until we reached Salerno, Italy and anchored here.
The city is badly bombed.
Oct. 15, 1943: We sighted Naples and it looks beautiful from a distance but when we came nearer to it the conditions of the ruins in the city could be noticed.
(Editor: Naples was the most bombed Italian city during the war. There were about 200 air strikes between 1940 to 1944 by Allied forces, with 180 raids on the city in 1943.
Estimates of civilian casualties vary between 20,000 to 25,000 killed.)
There are only three other ships in the whole port here, two liberty ships and one salvage ship. We are the first LST to arrive since the allies took over.
The port is a hell of a wreck and the city, which is located on a hill, is still smoking. There is nothing left of the port and the city is a mess. The Germans sunk all the ships before they left so that our ships would not be able to dock and unload cargo here. They did not leave anything behind.
We can also hear the sound of gun fire as there are still German snipers in the town.
Everything is very quiet since all the inhabitants of the city are hiding out in the hills. The city is deserted and looks like a ghost town.
I did get a big kick out of seeing Mount Vesuvius and the Isle of Capri. We passed the isle a few miles before hitting Naples. Vesuvius was smoking and made a beautiful picture.
Oct. 9, 1943: Today I had liberty. I picked up a few souvenirs. The Italian people sure do stare at us, as we are the first sailors to land here. They have very little food and water since the Germans took everything. It is really tragic to see them standing in long lines trying to get a mouth full of water and a little something to eat.
Oct. 6, 1943: The captain had liberty today and when he came back to the ship he told us that the Italians were starting to come back from the hills to their homes in the city. He said he saw some of them going down into the sewers for water.
It is really sad, but war is war.
Oct. 8, 1943: Tonight general quarters sounded at 9. I hopped out of my rack and as I ran out onto the deck I could see tracer bullets all over the place.
What a noise.
I got to my station and I naturally felt a little scared. We fire our 40mm which is located on the bow. No planes were knocked down; they must of scooted back to their nests in a hurry.
It was plenty exciting, dark as hell and bullets whizzing all over the place.
Lucky for us nothing happened to us since we still had the TNT aboard.
(Editor: Tracer ammunitions are bullets that are built with a small pyrotechnic charge in their base. Ignited by the burning powder, the pyrotechnic composition burns very brightly, making the projectile visible to the naked eye. This enables the shooter to follow the projectile trajectory to make aiming corrections.)
Oct. 10, 1943: No service men are allowed to go into the city for a while. Buildings are blowing up because the Germans set booby traps throughout the city and they are continuing to go off. In the last few days, about 100 people have been killed from the explosions.
Oct. 12, 1943: The city opened back up today.
Oct. 13, 1943: We are almost completely unloaded. We had five alerts since coming to Naples.
Oct. 14, 1943: We left Naples and are in route to Palermo, Sicily.
Oct. 17, 1943: Arrived in Palermo, staying here for only one day though.
Oct. 18, 1943: Headed back to Bizerte, in a convoy consisting of our sister ship the LST 327 and three Landing Craft Infantry ships as escorts.
(Editor: Landing Craft Infantry ships were amphibious assault ships used to land large numbers of infantry directly onto beaches. The LCIs were loaded with more than 200 infantry men and were used to proved gunfire support to troops landing on a beach.)
Oct. 19, 1943: We are underway headed for an unknown destination on the Italian coast. We are carrying American field artillery troops and their equipment.
Oct. 23, 1943: Today, we moored with our bow on the beach in a place called Bagnoli, Italy. It is located just a little up past Naples. The other LSTs in the convoy came to moor at the same spot.
We unloaded right away.
There are ten other LSTs lined up close together on the beach with us. After we straightened up the ship and had everything secure, about 14 of the fellers went down in the tank deck to play a game of touch tackle football.
While we were playing, general quarters sounded.
We ran like hell to our battle stations.
Next week, the Great Lakes Coast Guard plans to post the next installment of the World War II combat diary of J.J. McAndrews blog series, titled “Dropping eggs by the dozen.”