World War II combat diary of J.J. McAndrews: A war-torn winter and the Allied invasion of Italy

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.

 

McAndrews and another feller smile at the camera while sitting on the beach in front of the Landing Ship, Tank 326. McAndrews was abaord the LST 326 druing World War II. U.S. Coast Guard photo courtesy of McAndrews' family

McAndrews and another feller smile at the camera while sitting on the beach in front of the Landing Ship, Tank 326.
McAndrews was abaord the LST 326 druing World War II.
U.S. Coast Guard photo courtesy of McAndrews’ family

Nov. 11, 1943: We have left Bizerte en route to Oran. No cargo with us. For the trip we are accompanied by 9 other LSTs. We are to pick up more cargo and troops and then head back to the invasion of Italy.

 

The weather in this part of the world is really getting foul. The rainy season has started and the sea sure is rough. It is really tough on the stomach when we are on rough seas because these kinds of ships tend to roll considerably as they are flat bottomed. On a rough sea, even the saltiest fellers of the crew get dizzy. Most of the fellers hit the sack under these conditions, if they are not on watch. That seems to be the best place to stay in order not to get seasick.

 

Nov. 14, 1943: Arrived safely in Oran.

 

Nov. 17, 1943: Leaving Oran en route to Naples with a cargo of French personnel consisting of 8 offices and 192 enlisted men and their equipment and trucks.

 

Nov. 18, 1943: Having trouble with our port engine. We have to keep going ahead on just our starboard engine.

 

Nov. 20, 1943: Anchored in the bay of Bizerte. Fixed our port engine yesterday. Today a Dutch sub surfaced in front of our convoy. The sub’s bow was damaged considerably. Our escort ships went over by the sub to make sure of the identity. It was Dutch!

 

Scott, the feller who was wounded in the air raid we underwent during our last visit to Naples, received the Purple Heart Medal for his misfortune. The captain presented it to him.

 

Nov. 21, 1943: Practiced general quarters and fired all our guns in a practice demonstration. Boy, the 3-inch 50 on the stern makes a hell of a racket when it is fired. It really makes you jump.

 

Now on our way to Naples in a convoy consisting of 9 other LSTs. Heard there was an air raid over the city and we are due there tomorrow at 2 p.m.

 

Nov. 22, 1943: Arrived in Bagnoli, a district of Naples, at 2:15 p.m., and had two general quarters throughout the afternoon. A German plane was taking pictures. We expect an air raid tonight and all the crew are tense.

 

Luck was with us and the Jerries did not come over.

 

(Editor: The WWII slang Jerries does not come from the “ger” in German. The term actually refers to the helmets worn by the German in World War I, which their opponents thought looked like chamber pots or jerries.)

 

Nov. 23, 1943: Today has been very rough and stormy. The sea is rough as hell and it is raining in buckets. We left the bay at 2 p.m. bound for Bizerte but are having a rough go and are rolling continuously.

 

Nov. 25, 1943: Today is Thanksgiving but we are not having a Thanksgiving dinner since we are still en route to Bizerte and the seas are too rough.

 

Nov. 26, 1943: Arrived in Bizerte today and docked at 10:30 a.m. Had a swell Thanksgiving dinner.

 

Nov. 28, 1943: Today is Sunday. We got underway at 9:30 a.m., bound for Palermo. We are the flagship of the convoy.

 

(Editor: Palermo is the capital city of Sicily, located in the northwest of the island.)

 

Dec. 1, 1943: Arrived at Palermo and moored. We proceeded into dry dock. It looks like we are in for plenty of work.

 

Dec. 2, 1943: All the water is out of the dry dock so all hand turned to scraping the barnacles off the bottom of the ship. We got a good view of the holes in the hull of the ship. They are located on the port side. They sure are tremendous, both of them.

 

To sum it up, everybody has worked very hard while the ship is in dry dock, especially deck force.

 

Crew members of Landing Ship, Tank 326 work while underway aboard the ship. LST 326 participated in the Allied invasion of Italy and France during World War II U.S. Coast Guard photo courtesy of McAndrews' family

Crew members of Landing Ship, Tank 326 work while underway aboard the ship.
LST 326 participated in the Allied invasion of Italy and France during World War II
U.S. Coast Guard photo courtesy of McAndrews’ family

 We painted the whole bottom with anti-fouling and anti-corrosive paint. What a job! 

 

The holes in the side of the ship are being repaired by Italian dock workers supervised by a naval repair company.

 

We also painted part of the super structure gray.

 

While there I have had quite a few liberties. I took a ride in a horse and buggy.

 

The city had an American bar and a few of the lads and myself went there. I had a few drinks just to try them out. Fair. Ha ha ha

 

Dec. 12, 1943: After plenty of hard work, the job is complete.

 

Dec. 13, 1943: Left Palermo en route to Bizerte.

 

Dec. 21, 1943: We left our mooring station en route to Bagnoli with a load of U.S. Army and English army passengers and also their vehicles.

 

Dec. 23, 1943: Arrived at Bagnoli at 2:50 p.m., moored and unloaded right away.

 

Dec. 25, 1943: Christmas day finds us sailing along the high seas.

 

Dec. 26, 1943: Arrived in Bizerte, had a swell Christmas chow.

 

Dec. 29, 1943: The ship ran aground today, had to have tugs get us off the sand bar. We are en route to Italy again.

 

Dec. 31, 1943: Arrived at Bagnoli at 11 a.m., and unloaded right away. It is raining like hell and there is plenty of lightning.

 

Jan. 1, 1944: New Years, we were supposed to get underway today but have been delayed for 24 hours due to very rough seas.

 

Jan. 2, 1944: Got underway today bound for Bizerte. Today is very cold and it is raining like hell.

McAndrews poses for the camera with two other fellers aboard the Landing Ship, Tank 326. McAndrews was aboard the LST 326 during World War II. U.S. Coast Guard photo courtesy of McAndrews' family

McAndrews poses for the camera with two other fellers aboard the Landing Ship, Tank 326.
McAndrews was aboard the LST 326 during World War II.
U.S. Coast Guard photo courtesy of McAndrews’ family

 

General quarters rang. Manned our battle stations. Naples was having an air raid.

 

We were lucky we just missed it. We could see a few flairs that were dropped from the German planes, but secured after 15 minutes.

 

Jan. 3, 1944: Today we had gunnery practice with all guns.

 

Jan. 4, 1944: Arrived in Bizerte harbor at 6 p.m., received sudden orders to get underway en route for Tunis because a storm is on its way.

 

(Editor: Tunis, the capitol city of Tunisia, is located in the northern part of the county along the Mediterranean Sea.)

 

Boy was it rough.

 

Jan. 5, 1944: Anchored in the outer harbor of Tunis this morning.

 

Jan. 6, 1944: Still rough. We started to get underway to go back to Bizerte but after we traveled a few miles our port engine broke down so we had to turn around and come back.

 

Tonight has been very rough. We lost our bow anchor and then had to let go our stern anchor. Hopefully our stern anchor will hold us through the night.

 

Jan. 8, 1944: Got underway for Bizerte at 8 a.m. and arrived there at 3 p.m.

 

Jan. 12, 1944: Today we heard that we are definitely going to be in on the invasion. We have been expecting it for quite some time but it is pretty definite to come off this month. We are scheduled to haul pontoons on the invasion.

 

Jan. 13, 1944: We pulled out of Bizerte, loaded with a pontoon crew originally from a LST who had their stern blown off by a torpedo. Had the pontoon bridge fastened to the stern anchor cable towing it to Salerno.

 

Jan. 15, 1944: We pulled into the docks of Salerno and moored. This part has been bombed fiercely.

 

Jan. 18, 1944: We are underway to go on a practice invasion with six other LSTs. Picked up three Landing Craft Tank ships and four Landing Craft Infantry ships. We are loaded with English assault troops. At 2 a.m. we dropped anchor and the small boats took off with assault troops and headed for the beach. We were at general quarters all through the time the small boats left the ship. We had a few more general quarters during the night.

 

Crew from U.S. Coast Guard Landing Ships, Tank 326 and 325 and His Majesty's Ship Landing Ship, Tank 320, unload equipment while the ships are beached at Sicily, durining World War II. McAndrews served aboard LST 326 during World War II. Photo by Graeme Orchard

Crew from U.S. Coast Guard Landing Ships, Tank 326 and 325 and His Majesty’s Ship Landing Ship, Tank 320, unload equipment while the ships are beached at Sicily, durining World War II.
McAndrews served aboard LST 326 during World War II.
Photo by Graeme Orchard

Jan. 19, 1944: Practiced beaching on Salerno beach and our load of equipment drove off the ship. We then got off the beach and went over to Salerno harbor and moored. We started to load the English assault troops again and a ship load of equipment.

 

Jan. 20, 1944: We pulled out of the harbor and anchored in the bay. We were loaded down with troops.

 

Well this is it folks, we are on our way to invade somewhere along the Italian coast.

 

Jan. 22, 1944: We got underway yesterday morning, went to Anzio Bay, south of Rome, and anchored.

 

On our way here we had church service held by the captain.

 

General quarters sounded at 10 p.m. At 2 a.m. our assault boats went ashore with the troops.

 

We were the first wave.

 

The Germans were caught completely by surprise.

 

Boy what a barrage our cruisers and rocket boats blasted at the shore just before the invasion took place. The whole vicinity lit up just like day light.

 

You can’t imagine what a feeling it is to go on an invasion.

 

This morning we were still anchored in the bay but later we moored closer to the beach.

 

The German 88s opened up on us and boy, they sure came close.

 

We stayed there for a few minutes then the captain decided it was too hot. We hurriedly to get underway and moved out further and as soon as we left the 88 shells hit the exact spot we just before had been anchored.

 

We are still loaded with equipment as it is too hot to bring an LST to the beach.

McAndrews poses for a photo while aboard the Landing Ship, Tank 326 during World War II. McAndrews served aboard the ship for the war. U.S. Coast Guard photo courtesy of McAndrews' family

McAndrews poses for a photo while aboard the Landing Ship, Tank 326 during World War II.
McAndrews served aboard the ship for the war.
U.S. Coast Guard photo courtesy of McAndrews’ family

 

(Editor: The 88 mm gun, commonly called “the eighty-eight,” was a German anti-aircraft and anti-tank artillery gun. It was widely used by the Germans throughout the war and was one of the most recognized German weapons of the time.)

 

Jan. 23, 1944: We received orders to go back to our original beach. We did and by means of pontoons we beached and unloaded.

 

After unloading we went out to the convoy assembly area. Got underway for Naples at midnight.

 

All through the first few days of the invasion cruisers and destroyers were aiding the ground forces by bombarding further inland. They had quite a job trying to knock out the 88s.

 

Jan. 24, 1944: On our way back to Naples. We finally arrived at 8 p.m.

 

Had two general quarters tonight.

 

Jan. 25, 1944: We pulled in and started loading promptly. Going up to the beach head again, you can hear the front lines roar of gun and flashes in the sky.

 

Jan. 26, 1944: We arrived back at Anzio at 7 p.m. Cruised around all evening. Had three air raids in the course of the night. One at 6 and 6:45 p.m. and 5:45 a.m.

 

Jan. 27, 1944: We are to stay here at Anzio harbor and tie pontoon to us and we are to act as a dock ship for a few days.

 

We beached at 4 p.m.

 

We have had 11 air raids so far up to 8 p.m.

 

We saw two allied planes shot down and two Jerries were burned.

 

We saw one of the allied pilots bail out.

 

It is quite a thrill watching a dog fight.

 

Yes, today has been quite a thrilling day.

 

Jan. 28, 1944: Last night was really fierce with raids. A liberty ship was blown up. And today is a day that I will never forget.

 

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 “Limeys and Jerries and Frogs, Oh Boy!”

 

 

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