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DIARY OF THE SICILIAN CAMPAIGN
Raymond Stallings McLain (April 04, 1890 December 14, 1954) was a general of the United States Army, The first National Guard officer to rise to the rank of Lieutenant General.
George C. Marshall said of Raymond S. McLain "gave great distinction to the term 'citizen soldier'". His service to his state and nation spanned more than forty years.
McLain was born in Washington County, Kentucky. He moved to the new state of Oklahoma in 1907 and took a job in 1912 as a clerk at an Oklahoma City abstract office. Although his formal education ended at the sixth grade, he never stopped studying. He learned the banking and abstract business so well that he eventually became the chairman of the board of American First Trust and Title Co.
He joined the Oklahoma National Guard as a private about the same time and later serving on the Mexican border and in Europe during World War I, as a captain commanding a machine gun company. He was one of the original members of Oklahoma's 45th Infantry Division when it was organized in 1924. In 1938, while pursuing a career in business, McLain attended the Special Command and General Staff Class for Guard and Reserve officers. He went to Europe in 1943 as the commander of the 45th Infantry Division Artillery.
During World War II, he commanded the 45th Infantry Division Artillery in Sicily, where he earned the first of two Distinguished Service Crosses. McLain, who never saw the inside of West Point, but became the highest-ranking citizen soldier in the Army.
I might begin it at midnight, for it was just before that the convoy anchored off the coast of Sicily. I had dozed off for an hour but went on deck to see what was going on.
Off to our right an airplane signal light was making its regular circular revolutions. It continued to do so until after H hour, It was in the direction of Scoglitti from where the "Leonard Wood" was anchored. Some thought it was closer; probably at the point known as Zabaglione. We knew that further to the South was Commodore Bailey's division carrying Ankcorn's (157th Infantry) Regiment and Funk's Artillery.
Almost north of our position a large fire was burning. Some thought it was Biscari Airfield. There were also lights in the direction of Gela where we knew the 1st Division was to land. Though this covered a broad front; it did not seem so from our position on the water about eight miles out. It was not Long after we anchored until flares began to drop. First near shore then at some interval progressively across the whole convoy. AA fire opened. A large search light from the direction of began to play over the area. Naval gun fire opened on it. Again and again it tried to find us; but each time naval gun fire caused it to close out. It must have been for AA, as it did not appear to be able to get low enough to sweep the water level; therefore probably it couldn't tell much about our force.
Boat team's had begun loading immediately. It seemed boats were circling everywhere, boats from other ships (Reserve Units) were reporting alongside. Cox'ns were shouting orders from the deck to the boats, staff officers and radar experts ware checking position by every known means. Admiral Kirk signaled from the "Ancon" to Commodore Phillips asking whether he would be ready at H Hour. Philllps replied he would be at least 45 minutes late.
In fact there had been such a heavy sea running all day, white caps made the surface look like a snow covered terrain. Such a high wind caused grave doubt. Boats might swamp. The wind had abated however. The sea was somewhat calmer but waves still running high. Earlier in the day anxious inquiries came to the Commodore from regimental commanders asking when D-day would be announced. Here we were having circled Tunis arrived off Tripoli, moved North just west of Malta and were within a few hours from Sicily and no D Day. Many thought it would be postponed and we would circle Malta and return the following night. In fact a turn of about 60° was ordered; but it was only a routine maneuver.
The sheer walls of Malta were only dimly visible through the fog and clouds. But its view was an inspiration, reminding us of the grim purpose of our present business. Finally Phillips signaled Kirk asking when D Day would be announced. The reply, "Nothing official, but D Day will be tomorrow". I think it was announced before midnight.
We stood watching the boats form up and move off to the line of departure. It looked like H Hour, which was two hours before daylight would be about an hour late. There had already been some firing toward Gela. Destroyers moved In with assault waves. As they reached the line of departure the destroyers moved to the flank and soon opened a terrific bombardment. Scoglitti, Zabaglione, and previously plotted positions of suspected defenses were blasted by naval gunfire. It was some time later when fire was opened In Bailey's Division to the South in
direction of Camerina. The cruisers also opened at the same time and the "Abercrombie", a British monitor. The shells of all these guns were plain red traveling lazily through the air. The "Abercrombie's" guns' trajectory was nearly as high as it was long. It was an awe-inspiring sight. It was delivering death and destruction to a country that had not seen war for decades. War was descending on a peaceful people who had permitted an ambitious dictator to make war on three friendly nations. The failure of responsible citizenship was now visiting its consequences on an otherwise innocent people, many of whose relatives were in the U.S.; many were even in the invading army.
An enemy plane dropped a long burning flare about two miles off shore. This was followed progressively seaward about every 15 minutes until it had passed over the transports and beyond the destroyers screen seaward. At frequent intervals as the destroyers and cruisers continued their fire toward the shore, air alarms sent AA fire streaming into the sky. Red tracers searched the air for probing enemy aircraft, bombs fell here and there. Unfortunately our own airborne units were probably landing men at the same time. We hoped they were well over the land.
Dawn began to break. We heard from one beach, landing successful, meeting machine gun fire. The beaches had been designated Yellow, Green, and Red from right to left and covered a line about 7000 yards land running in reverse direction from the Acate or Drillo River. It was some four or five miles from the right of Yellow beach to Scoglitti; about 1000 yards of so to Zabaglione. Ankcorn and Funk were landing about five miles South of Scoglitti near Point Secca.
I planned to go in with the first battery of my Command, which was figured about daylight. Delay in initial getaway and a decision to change from a heavy loading boom to a lighter and faster one made it later. I finally ordered a way cleared to my 1/4 ton and radio and got off with Arnote, Large, and a part of the staff. Styron was to come in from the "Ancon" with General Middleton, Burson, and the remainder; of the staff and a part of the battery would come off the "O'Hara". Capt. Scott would follow me soon, I thought, with the part of the Headquarters Battery still on the "Wood". Actually it was late afternoon before he got in.
As we approached the beach, the waves appeared to get higher and higher. We saw on the beach dozens of craft broached and being beaten mercilessly by the still high sea. The sand bars extended well out and some craft were foundered on the sand bars. We stuck 9 hundred yards from shore. Our cox'n pulled back and Headed north for a better opening. He rode in on a wave the next wave carried him closer in and the ramp went down in the water. He stood aside as Myers drove the waterproofed radio jeep into the water, then into the soft sandy beach. We all pushed and made for an opening toward a cane brake. Some work had been done and fortunately some of the cane had fallen over and more pushed over making a passable road along side. In about two hundred yards we told Myers and the staff to pack and wait while Arnote, and a runner and I followed the Infantry trail in through the cane to reconnoiter.
Those we met knew little about the situation, except the infantry had moved in. After going forward about 1/2 mile and climbing a hill to our Left we sent back for Myers and the jeep then moved on forward until we cane to an old rocky road. We turned up to the left in the direction of where we had decided to put our first C.P. I found some of the Division staff and left Arnote to collect the staff and set up the CP. Capt. Art Large was bringing up the part from the wood we had left on the beach.
I took the jeep
and with Myers and Fox went back along the road and turned left towards
Vittoria. Climbing a hill it leveled off and forked one going east and
the other South. Crossing a small dry stream bed on the east branch,
I saw the first dead Italian soldier lying covered with dust. A few
yards further on I ran into General Middleton who had already been up
the road. I returned to the C.P. with him and told him I would like
to reconnoiter towards Scoglitti. Stephenson's battalion [1st
battalion 179th IR] had the mission of capturing that point and
I had several discussions with him on the tactics to employ, urging
to flank it from the high ground to the North.
It was by this time nearly noon, Fox drove me back and I took the road that ran towards Scoglitti. About 200 yards from the fork I saw the first American soldier, lying in the left of the road covered with dust. In about a mile the road ran out, and into an irrigated field. The water was flowing into it, completely blocking wheeled traffic. A jeep was stuck in it. I left Fox with my jeep and took off alone across the field. After walking about three miles I came on a hill overlooking Scoglitti at about a mile. I heard a jeep in the trees at the bottom of the hill. Soon it came on up and I saw it was a captain from the 179th Headquarters or Recon Troop (I don't recall which). He said he had been in the town and had met a patrol from Ankcorn's regiment. They had taken about 25 prisoners and he was trying to get back to Headquarters. I told him about the flooded field and he headed further east, while I went back, towards where I had left Fox.
I then took the road I had seen General Middleton on earlier and came to a road junction above Scoglitti about two miles and running towards Vittoria. There one of Stephenson's had just taken the point and captured about 75 prisoners. I learned that Middleton had had a very narrow escape and that a little later Martin, G-3, had been fired on, on this same road.
reported that there was a battery up the road about two miles, between
there and Victoria. I told the Captain to work on up the road and I
would try to find out more about the situation on his left. I went back
to the C.P. and reported to Middleton. I later found that he had barely
escaped capture over in Cookson's [Commander 180th
IR] area, in the same place where Major "King Kong"
Schaeffer [commander 1st Battalion, 180th IR]
was undoubtedly captured. Observing no jeep tracks ahead of him he had
turned back. Schaeffer who had landed earlier with his battalion must
have been caught in a trap, and captured I saw a burned out American
Jeep later on the Biscari road with German papers and effects in it.
Middleton suggested I try to locate Taylor's battalion [3rd Battalion, 179th IR] which was moving on Vittoria and gave me orders for him after its capture. How I got to the road behind him, I hardly know. I followed a trail that had not been used for several miles and finally came out on a good road. Soon I ran Into some soldiers who said there was troops ahead. Then I ran into a number of paratroopers, and many parachutes on the ground. I kept going and ran on to his aid station where they were tending to some wounded, I had passed several dead Italian soldiers. I finally caught up with Taylor in the edge of Vittoria. It was then after 4 o'clock or 1600. The Artillery was not yet ready to Support him. I sent fox back with the radio to contact Larson and hurry him up. Some of Taylor's troops had worked several blocks into the town but were being sniped at continually and occasionally self propelled cannon would run into a street and fire at a vehicle.
I talked with Taylor about 1/2 hour, while Fox was away with the radio. In that time about five wounded came back from in the town. The crack of snipers' rifles could be heard from several directions. Clark Lee, the INS [International News Service] representative, came up. He said he had been in the town earlier but had been attacked and lost his jeep trying to get away and two of the men with him, Taylor was about in the notion of backing up and bombarding the town with artillery and mortars. The artillery [171st Field Artillery Bn.] had now come up and was going in position just behind us.
It occurred to me that the firing was not heavy and the town should be saved the effects of a bombardment. The inhabitants were then to be seen down many of the streets. I offered to pay a native if he would go in and ask the Mayor or other high official to come out. No price would tempt any of them. While talking a sniper fired from an orchard nearby. Rifles cracked as the soldiers fired back. Soon a white flag ran up over a home in that direction. The boys went in and soon came out with a talkative native, who appeared too stupid to be of any value to the situation.
I proposed to Taylor that we take the two half tracks and two or three jeeps and go into the town ourselves. We crowded as many riflemen on the four vehicles as we could get on. I climbed on the leading half track, Clark Lee climbed on with me. Taylor followed in his jeep, then my jeep and the other half track, (75mm howitzer). A sniper; fired from a church tower. It was smothered with rifle and machine gun fire. I got in a few rounds with my 45 as it was not more than 75 yards away. We went on. The boys fired from time to time. I ordered them to cut it out. As we turned a corner the rear howitzer let go a blast at a house that had had snipers shooting from it foe several hours. We finally came on to the public square and I saw a figure run into a church and close the door. As we had been fired at from a church earlier I Jumped out and ran over and forced the latch on a rickety door. Two of the boys, one an Italian (Vannicola) my Interpreter ran after me. We found only a robed cleric inside, seeing all the figures of the saints around and noting that we were armed, I asked the cleric to come outside as we wanted to talk with him. He cringed and cried and wouldn't move, so we took hold of him and pulled him out to the front, where I told him he could do a great service to the people If he would tell them that they would not be molested if they would go about business and help prevent sniping, but that we would destroy every building that a sniper fired from. He would not do a thing and kept crying for us to let him go back.
Finally I saw some people across the square and went over there and singled out a rather clean cut old man and had the interpreter ask him about the mayor or chief of police. The whole crowd all talked at once. The Mayor and all chief officials had left town. Finally a boy about twelve kept trying to get our attention and said he could lead us to some officials. We went about a block west and about 1/2 block south and the boy pointed to a door -- we found it led into a court. The half tracks followed us. When we entered several official looking persons came out. We found they were minor police officials. Soon a paratrooper came down the stairs drunk. He said they had taken his arms away from him. They said they had simply laid them aside as he became unable to handle them. We got another paratrooper and two of our own men in the same fix. I had them all arrested and turned over to Taylor.
The officials were an ominous looking group; but we had to deal with someone. I told them to get word to the people by the fastest means possible that we would hold them responsible for sniping from their property. No one would be molested unless there was sniping in which case we would immediately dynamite the building or as many as was necessary. Also that they must not sell or give wine to any soldier. Curfew would be at sundown when all must be off the streets. Taylor was to patrol the streets and leave one company in the town at the present location and also his half tracks while he put the rest of his battalion North of town in the position General Middleton had designated to me when I came forward, I wrote this out on a sheet from my note book and I think Clark Lee later got the sheet.
About this time Col. Story, the officer in charge of civil affairs for the division, came up. I told him what had been done, and that I was not yet certain the town was free from a military threat and that Col. Taylor would remain responsible for the safety of the town until further orders. In the meantime he could take over the civil affairs as far as possible. I was glad he could relieve Taylor of this responsibility, as he had had a hard day and more coming up.
I then left Story and Taylor there to coordinate things and started back to the Division C.P. to report to General Middleton. Both his C.P. and mine were then about one mile from the beach and about seven miles West of Vittoria.
Before night we moved up about 2 1/2 miles Southwest of Vittoria on the road Taylor had followed. This was South of the Gela road and just runs out in the direction of the beach.
When we got in the new C.P. I went over in the dark and talked to General Middleton, who had just lain down under a tree to get some sleep. He had been up all night the night before and had been everywhere during the day. He was cheerful and well pleased at the capture of Vittoria and Scoglitti.
In about 1/2 hour the Division C.P. came under shelling from the direction of the beach. Unquestionably a Naval concentration from erroneous coordinates. That night throughout the night the Navy was under bombardment and the sky was full of the red tracers and shells of AA fire. It was a terrific sight. The following night was much the same.
Reports from Ankcorn were uncertain. His first objective was S. Croce Camerina. Later we learned he had taken it after a stiff fight with artillery support from Funk's battalion and moved up on the heights above Comisoo (village) (really the key terrain to the whole country). The situation with Cookson on the left was very obscure. No word from Schaeffer. He had sent word back that he was being hard pressed; running low on ammunition and his knee was hurting. He had wrenched a knee in a practice landing at Arzew, Algeria. Cochran's [2nd battalion, 180th IR] battalion had been badly scattered in landing and he was not in contact with the regiment.
In fact the whole regiment had been badly scattered in landing; much of it across the Acate. Cookson himself and some of his staff had been landed near there.
The next morning, I decided to try to find Kenny and Cookson on the left. There were no lateral roads. I tried to follow a trail. It cut back and after nearly two hours I came out on the Gela road a few miles West of Vittoria. I saw some of our troops moving down the road, I went on through and found they were about two companies of paratroopers moving West.
Later I ran into a part of "E" Company, 180th Infantry, who were across the road. They stopped me and said the Germans held the road a few hundred yards further on. I told them of the paratroopers moving towards them which could help them out. I then cut down a narrow trail just big enough for the jeep, Myers was now driving, Fox radio and Vannicola, whom we all called Pepsicola, as interpreter. In an almost hopeless tangle of small trails just big enough for a donkey with bundles or water jars on his back, with tall cactus as fences on either side, we traced ourselves around the hill which the "E" Company Sergeant said was held by German troops.
After another hour we hit a larger trail with some evidence of travel. We followed it to the North and finally found Capt. Fricke, the 180th S-2, who told us where the C.P. was. I went up and talked with Cookson at his C. P. and some of his staff. Machine gun fire was falling intermittently in the area and our artillery was replying. Cookson stated the situation was bad and he was having serious losses. He had much appearance of being disconcerted, and uncertain. The same atmosphere was prevalent in the C.P. among his staff.
As I left Lt. Col. Mears, who had come there ahead of me from the Division G-3 section, followed me out and expressed the same idea. I then went to the Regimental aid station nearby and the surgeon told me his total casualties were about 35, I then went: to the Artillery C.P. As I left, Capt. Wood, Kenny's liaison officer, asked to ride back with me. As we came out in the road a few spent bullets dropped near us.
Wood later did a very fine piece of work in contacting Cochrane's battalion on the left flank and getting artillery support for it. I found Kenny. He had just been up to my C.P. and returned and was rubbing his feet. He told me things were badly in the air at 180th through over anxiety and indecision. In fact it was plain that they were sitting there getting machine gun and mortar fire and some artillery because the enemy knew where they were and kept pounding them. Any kind of maneuver would have relieved the threat. I went back and suggested to General Middleton that he send Cushman over, since he was the Infantry General, and settle them down and get them going. He did so and later Cushman reported he had found confusion and had straightened them out and thing were much better.
In the meantime, after an all-day wait on the 10th, Muldrow had gotten most of his battalion off, and forward into position West of Vittoria, He had had a 2 1/2 truck strafed and destroyed near our C.P, The machine gunner had stuck to his gun and the clips on the ground gave evidence of how much he had fired at the plane as it went over. During the afternoon of the 11th Muldrow placed a concentration in front of the Paratroopers which stopped a counterattack and probably caught a large German Tank which was later found burnt out on the road in that vicinity.
This was now the afternoon of the 11th I knew the 179th was closing in on the Comiso Airport and Ankcorn was supposed to assist from direction of Comiso. I went over to Division and told General Middleton I was going up to see how Larson was getting along. He told me to see Hutchins as I went up, and give him orders for the night after the port was taken. I missed Hutch as he had moved his C.P. from our road into Vittoria to one Northwest of the town near Biscari road. I proceeded toward the airport from Vittoria and came in behind Taylor, passing several groups of prisoners on the way, Taylor was well up in his battalion and under fire from the airport.
Our artillery was firing on the port and one of Taylor's half-tracks was firing on a large building Southwest of it. I talked with Larson's liaison officer and then arranged with Taylor to keep artillery fire on the port until 4:30 PM (1630). I would go around to Weygand's [3rd Battalion, 157th IR] battalion on the North and make the same arrangement and at 4:30 (1630) all would assault, I went back and got on the North road behind Weygand.
I ran onto Larson who had his radio truck dug in by the side of the road. He had a hookup with Taylor and with Funk, and I could hear Funk's voice for the first time since we landed. He was saying that our artillery fire was falling on Chet James' infantry closing in from Comisoo. Larson was sure he had not fired there so they arranged to repeat a volley to verify the artillery target. Funk reported it "OK" and not the fire he was complaining of. Funk had perfect observation from the heights above Comisoo. Larson's observation was limited by a flat tree-covered terrain. The fire was either German or perhaps one of Taylor's half - tracks. Larson told Funk of our plan to plaster the airport until 4:30 (1630), then assault. (James had had patrols on the edge of the airport as early as noon). I then went ahead to complete the arrangements with Weygand.
I found him behind an old stone building lining up a bunch of prisoners. While we were there an enemy plane swooped around strafing. I explained the plan to Weygand, and he moved out.
I went back to Larson's C.P., and just as I arrived I heard Taylor report in that all resistance had ceased and he was moving in, Larson suspended fire and told Funk to do the same, I started back to find Hutchins, and about a mile down the road decided to turn around and go back to Weygand. I found him moving up his column. They had just had a little trouble with a mobile enemy gun and their AT guns had driven it off. We walked along together, my jeep following. We were approaching the Northeast corner of the port, enveloping it from the Northwest. Suddenly there was a sharp firing about 100 yards in front of us. We rushed forward. It seems a group of Germans had tried to get away in a truck. They had been caught and one had rushed to the truck, seized a gun and shot Capt. Hatter, There was a sharp exchange and they took the rest prisoners. There was also sniping from the right, and as a Sergeant rushed in he was wounded by a mine, I sent Hatter back in my jeep and told Weygand to put his mortars in position to blast out some buildings we could see at about 300 yards through the trees and vineyard.
About this time we heard a plane and saw a German plane taxi down the runway and take off circling the trees not more than two hundred yards from us. We fired rifles but he was gone before we could get machine guns on him, I'm sure he Figured we'd lift artillery fire before assault and that he'd have a chance to get away then, He did.
The mortar got in trees and vineyard and as the first shell fell it was a dud. Before the next one was loaded we saw American soldiers coming in from the opposite side. Just then a Sergeant came in from the flank and said a large number of troops were forming up in the woods to the North of the port. I told Weygand to reconnoiter closely as I knew how James and any of the 157th operated by wide envelopments and it might be James' troops. More troops were coming in from the opposite side of the airport. It was taken finally at 4:30 PM (1630).
I then went back to Hutchins' new C.P. and delivered Middleton's orders, having told Taylor and Weygand what to expect. When I got there, however, I found wire had got in and the situation and orders had been changed slightly because of a tank threat across Cookson's front. This was the one Muldrow had helped stop. After talking with Middleton on the phone I went back to C.P. While I was around during these two days Styron had done an excellent job keeping things going at the C.P. but was squawking because he couldn't get out and see things in the front.
That night the Navy and enemy bombers put on the same show. The sky was red with shells and tracers. The cannonading reached a crescendo, In spite of enemy action, little damage was done. So far we have had no immediate air support. I understand the decision of the air was to strike enemy air before he left the ground. In this they have done a fine job. We have had a very limited air threat, but we needed air reconnaissance. We needed to know what was going on along the roads to front. Ground observation could not tell us this, except in the area along the heights near Comiso.
We had the same C.P. the 2d night as the first, about 2 1/2 miles southwest of Vittoria, in an olive grove.
The morning of the 12th I decided to make my way to Funk on the heights above Comso. He was too far away to get communications. I reported to Middleton, who gave me some word for Ankcorn. I went towards Vittoria figuring I would cut back down the Scoglitti road and over by Donnalugata, However, when I got to Vittoria I met a patrol coming in from Ankcorn's regiment who said the road to Comisoo was open. So I went that route, found four small tanks burnt: out in the picturesque old town of Comisoo, probably by James' AT guns.
The route towards Ragusa from Comiso climbs a steep slope with road very winding and walled. About 5 miles up at a road junction I found Charlie [Ankorn] and his Headquarters and had a talk with him on the situation. He took me out on a point where we could see the whole plain below extending from Comiso across Victoria and on to Biscari on the banks of the Acate. Further across we could see the location of the Biscari airport; one of our objectives not yet taken. It was probably 20 miles air line from where we were. Further to the North at a distance we could see Chiaramonte and Lacodia, which Charlie was to take later. Charlie said he had patrolled to Ragusa on his right and finding little opposition, had taken the town which was in the British zone, and where he was to make contact with the Canadian Division coming up from the East coast. He had secured the telephone exchange and was intercepting messages from the Italian garrison at Rosolini asking for food and supplies and saying they were being hard pressed. They did not know we had Ragusa.
There before us was a magnificent landscape, overlooking Comisoo, Vittoria, and Biscarii and the sea in a distance to the left with the mountain range to the right. Here was the key terrain to the whole area. Incidentally, the Germans were at that time bombing Vittoria and we could see the smoke rising from it; we could also see the Comisoo Airport which was also being strafed. I do not believe the English who were to take it over had yet moved in. Perhaps a few engineers were on it.
I was anxious that General Middleton see the situation from here for future planning. I was amazed that this key terrain had not been more strongly held. I left Charlie and went with Cleverdon and Breeding to Funk's C.P- nearby. Funk was not there, but I talked with Ford and others and started back down the steep slope- I had hardly gone a mile when, 50 calibers began popping. We pulled in close to the wall and so many planes above us. Some peeled off and came in strafing Charlie's and Funk's C.P.s just above us, AA fire was streaming through the air, mostly .50 calibers. Suddenly a plane, high up, started a dive from straight above us. We thought it was dive-bombing at the road we were on, but soon it burst into flames and came streaking by us about 50 yards out and landed about 300 yards down the mountain side.
Myers, Vannicola and I ran down the steep slope to where it had fallen in terrific flames. As we approached, small arms shells were exploding. It sounded like sniping, but we soon decided it was ammunition in the plane exploding in the intense heat. We got one small piece of the wing with letters DS08 on it, and some 20mm ammunition thrown clear. It could not be identified. I was afraid it was a friendly plane, but later our air service said they had lost no planes that morning and that the lettering and paint could be German or Italian. There had been a considerable dog fight above us too high up to identify planes.
We went on back to the C.P. General Middleton had gone to the Corps Headquarters and later had gone on to Charlie's where he had seen the situation and the terrain.
Things were still uncertain in Cookson's area. It was now certain that Cochran was across the Acate with parts of "E" and "F" companies and possibly other elements of his battalion, Cookson had planned a night attack on the enemy position in his front, but morning came and no ground had been gained. His leading elements except on the East where I had seen part of "D" company the day before were still south of Highway 115.
I reported to General Middleton I was going down to see Kenny. He said he thought the force in front of Cookson had fallen back. He had got these information from paratroopers who were north of highway near D Company position. He told me he had sent word to Cookson to advance immediately. I learned also that Highway 115 was open all the way to the river, which paratroopers had been all the way through and Cookson was then moving up, and had selected a new C.P. near the road. I went down the highway but did not run into Cookson's C.P. I reached the road that led down to his old C.P. and turned down it. I found Cookson moving out of his old C.P. to go forward to the new one. He shook his head and said the situation was not good that they had planned a coordinated attack at 4:00 PM (1600) and the Division had sent word to advance immediately for which they were not prepared. He said Kenny had already gone forward with his C.P. We got back to Highway 115. I talked with Cookson a little more as he was crossing the road to go into his new C.P; I turned west toward Gela and took the Biscari road to the right. There I found Kenny - It was then nearly 4:00 o'clock. I told him I had left word for Muldrow and Kron (who had D Battery 36th FA--"Long Toms" range 26,000 yards) to cease fire on Biscari at 4:00 PM (1600), We had been interdicting it for the past 24 hours. It was the only town we had shelled in that area and later until we pushed completely across the island and well up the North shore.
Kenny said he had moved all his batteries forward and was registering them by forward observer on a hill short of the town and a mile or so up the road. I asked about mines and he said they had encountered very few. As I came around the corner to Kenny's C.P., I had seen the big German tank burnt out on Highway 115 either by Muldrow's fire the afternoon before or by AT guns. It was a whopper, and when we got into Biscari there was another one just like it, apparently hit by one of our shells and disabled, ran a short distance down the street and burnt out or was destroyed by the crew to prevent capture.
After talking with Kenny I decided to go forward and look the situation over. There were numerous burnt out German vehicles and material. In one vehicle all that was left of the driver was his belt buckle with charred bit of the belt. One American soldier lay in the road, dead for a day or two. One American jeep was burnt out. It had some German papers in it and other German effects. It might have been the one captured by the ill-fated Schaeffer's party. I saw a hill to the left of the road and drove over on it through a field, I could get a good view up the magnificent valley and the heights opposite, but could not see Biscari although it was not over three miles away.
I saw a battery registering to my right front and immediately drove over there as I was afraid the infantry was in there. It was one of our batteries. The Liaison Officer said he had stopped the registration. Kenny later said he had not been told of the advance. He knew they were moving up to jump off at 1600 but didn't know there was a general advance earlier.
I ran into Lt. Col, Nolan, commanding the leading battalion. He said the registration had come down very near his leading Company and one shell had landed just behind him. There were no casualties, though, so I walked along with Nolan behind "L" Company, his leading company on the right of the road. "I" Company was coming up to the left some distance behind. I told Myers to keep the jeep with Langford's wire truck (a Ln 0 1/4 ton) and as they ran out of wire about two miles from Biscari, I left him and drifted ahead of Nolen into "L" Company.
I talked with the Lieutenant. There had been no opposition whatever so far. The pace was very slow. At a halt L went over to the left of the road to see if I could get a better view up the valley. I saw some of "I" Company's men far to the rear. It occurred to me they might take me for an enemy and open fire so I went back to "L" Company. They were again moving forward in the field on the right of the road. I saw no troops or patrols in the road. I drifted up to the head of the Company and soon with the forward scout. The battalion was in fully-deployed formation. I asked about patrols and found none were out and saw none then or later, I talked with the scout. Then he changed position and a new scout came out. The cry came forward several times that we were moving too fast. Finally word came up not to exceed 50 paces per minute. At a halt I went back a little, saw the Captain of the Company and urged him to move out and gain contact with the enemy, He said, however, he had orders to move as he was and on reaching the town to envelop it from the South.
We moved out again,
and I saw some civilians creeping along in the bushes. One of them said
there were very few enemy left in the town. Pepcicola, my interpreter,
was a little uncertain what they were trying to say. He finally said
one of them said about 25 Germans were in a cemetery across the town
and a few Italian soldiers in the town. One character said there were
only American troops in the town. I thought they might be paratroopers
dropped close by. I'll remember this fellow, though.
Just then I caught sight of a German soldier running between two houses to my right. The alley I was in extended on from the cross street where I was into a narrow street running to the cemetery, I borrowed Pepsicola's rifle and soon the German cane out in that street headed for the cemetery. There was no mistaking him. I fired three times but he crowded close to the buildings and was immediately shielded by buildings. Two more followed him at intervals but closed into the buildings so closely, I could only get snap shots at them as they darted across. I left Pepsicola to fire at the buildings and went back about 100 yards where I found a 60mm mortar. I ordered it into position to fire on the cemetery. About that time the Lieutenant in charge came up and got two more mortars in position quickly.
I climbed a small fig tree and could get a good view of the cemetery. I called the Lieutenant up with me and pointed out the target. We were both in the small fig tree with our heads sticking above the leaves. It was like two men riding a small donkey. But the Lieutenant got his mortars ready quickly and the first one came short at 800--over at 1200. They all came in at 1000 yards and plastered the cemetery with a nice concentration. Later two Germans and one Italian soldier were found in it. The mortar boys got a big kick out of the firing and said it was the first they had had since landing.
About this time someone said the 81mm mortars were up. I gave them for target a large building adjoining the cemetery on the left. They opened fire on it, at the same time as a half-track which came up on the right. Immediately I saw a cloud of dust rising beyond the cemetery and knew that they had had a truck hid behind the large building where they had carried any possible wounded and were now getting away fast.
In the meantime "I" Company was firing off the left rear and moving into the town. "L" Company moved in from the South. I began to look around for Myers; but couldn't find him. I then looked for Nolen to talk with him before I left. About 1/2 mile back I ran on to a runner from Nolen's Headquarters who said Nolen had sent him forward with a message when the firing started. He offered to take me to Nolen's C.P. and we walked about 1/2 mile, while Pepsicola watched the road a hundred yards or so to the right to be sure we didn't miss Myers. After failing to find Nolen where the runner had thought he left him, he made a search around and called from time to time, I told him to go on back to Biscari, as I was sure Nolen was not that far back, I then walked on toward the rear knowing I would run Into the artillery wire line.
I got back to the original positions where I had left Nolan and heard some firing in the trees where some tanks were assembled, I went over to inquire about the firing and to see they were not firing in the town . The Lieutenant in charge said they had not been firing. Later Nolan came up and said he had come back to coordinate his reserve and heavy weapons and his supporting tanks and had just ordered demolitions set off on a German truck or something, I have forgotten his exact statement. It might have been material.
I could not find Myers and the jeep so laid down and waited for about an hour, while Langford radioed for another one to come up from Wash's C.P. It never came and Pepsicola and I finally go in with Langford and rode back to the C.P. where Langford got me a jeep to go back to my C.P. leaving word for Myers to follow whenever he was located.
When I got to the C.P. both the Artillery and Division had moved, as I knew they probably would when I left, I got another jeep at the C.P, and sent the one back I had borrowed.
I made a full report to General Middleton. He was amazed that complete contact had been lost and there was no more aggressiveness than reported. He immediately ordered Nolen relieved and asked General Bradley or Patton for a replacement for Cookson. It was arranged that a Lt. Col. who had a group of Rangers [LTC.William O.Darby] would be sent up. But the officer preferred to stay with his Rangers, and when the report reached Army Headquarters a friend of Cookson's offered to come down and investigate Cookson and help out till the situation could be corrected.
The night after Biscari was taken, Cookson seemed to get some enthusiasm and asked that he be allowed to attack the airport that night. This was granted. I thought it would get nowhere, as they had proposed one against Highway 115 on the 11th which never got off. Next morning, the advance from Biscari was reported a thousand yards or so, North of the town.
Middleton said he hated to have Cookson in command, but had no one else to replace him. Hutchins with the 179th was getting pretty well up on the right of the 180th (center zone) and it was hoped this would force the airport position.
Late the afternoon of the 13th I went up to see Larson supporting the 179th. Reports were that Cookson was held up on the plateau north of the town of Biscari.
After visiting Larson awhile, I drove on down to Biscari and followed the road north towards the airport. I took a branch to right and ran into Muldrow and Kenny who were looking for positions north of the river, also Lt. Kunkel who said the road over the hill ran into enemy artillery fire which he had encountered trying to get some survey work done.
After talking with Muldrow and Kenny and finding the road I was on was a dead end one, I turned back and took the one Kunkel had been on. There were demolitions along it, and engineers trying to repair them, I got part way up then had to take a mule trail, because of a demolition on the main road. I passed two wounded men coming down. At the top I heard no firing so drove on North through an olive grove to where I saw a rise in the ground. I left the jeep and Myers and walked on forward to the crest where I climbed a tree and began to study the terrain across the next ravine in the direction of the airport. Our artillery was putting down a concentration ahead and to my right.
Soon enemy artillery opened, and shells began falling to my right front about 400 yards away. I had seen a jeep over in that direction and saw a half-track moving up along a trail over there. Later I learned that Col. John Church, Chief of Staff, and Capt. Hornbeak, a banker from New Orleans, were over there with Major Cruikshank and got the force of the concentration. It was apparently a battery concentration, Nobody was hurt.
I decided that it was too late to revive the attack that night and started back. Coming through the trees from the direction of the artillery concentration, I ran into a Brigadier General from the War Department, It was General Weidemeyer. We sat down and he asked me what I knew about the situation. I told him what I have written above, and asked him what he thought about the present disposition, with two battalions abreast attacking a position frontally. He agreed there were good corridors on either side of the position, He said he had come down to help Cookson out, but that he said he resented any idea of help and would see things through himself. He said he had told Cookson frankly he was about to be relieved. We talked to several officers, all of whom thought the position could easily be taken. Farther over we ran into Cochran who I had not seen since landing. He had been protecting the left flank across the river with part of his battalion, but had been ordered in and came in (whether by order or not, I don't know) short of the airport. He had been in a good position to move a little further North and flank the airport from the West.
The whole regiment
now faced the position frontally. I told the General I expected nothing
during the night unless pressure from the 179th scared the enemy into
evacuating the post.
There Styron soon came up. He and Weidemeyer had been schoolmates at West Point. We had something to eat and Weidemeyer decided not to go back then but to get up at 0530 in the morning. Styron was anxious to get to the front, so as he and Weidemeyer were old cronies, I volunteered to stay at the CP while he went to the front.
When they came back that afternoon, Weidemeyer said things were going better and Cookson was by-passing local resistance and going ahead. Styron said there was little change as far as he could see. Both said that Duell and Bliss at Cookson's CP were entirely unfamiliar with the situation.
However, the troops continued to attack and the 179th advanced to the airport which was taken and quite a number of prisoners taken. I think the wounded reaching the regimental aid station was 85. I don't have the killed, but possibly 20 or 25.
That evening I drove up to the airport just before dark. One battalion was moving up the dirt road west of the main road. The third battalion was following it and the first was just approaching the airport. I got into a traffic blockade, and as it was dark and there was no fighting, I turned back. Later I learned they had not covered the main road even with a small patrol. It was occupied, as I saw myself the next following morning. Gen. Middleton had found Duell and Bliss about the time I was up there and asked them what they had up the road. They said they were just wondering about the road themselves. He ordered them to cover it immediately with whatever they had. This with Hutchins' advance on the right may have saved a very dangerous situation if the enemy had cared to hit Cookson's flank and rear. It could have been done with a platoon.
We got orders to halt our advance short of the objective as two British divisions would march West on the road. We were not to fire or advance beyond two miles of the Chiaramonte-Grammichele-Caltagirone road. So the observers of both the 171st FA Bn and the 158th FA Bn watched columns of enemy move back along the road as the British moved up, unable to fire on them, I phoned Corps, but orders were orders. So we sat tight. Middleton had grounded me at his CP saying I had been too much on the front. But the old hypocrite struck out himself as he had been doing before and continued to do.
Ankcorn had reached his objective and had been asked to assist the British capture Vizzini. Funk had done some good shooting in this action. Ankcon later sent in a citation for his personal conduct in the affair.
I decided to go up to Chiaramante and Licodia to see Funk. I wanted to get into Grammichele to see what the town looked like, as it had the appearance of a spider web on the map. Actually I found Licodia much more interesting, sitting atop a peak. I ran into the British column moving on Grammichele. Ankcorn was moving West, as we were to change fronts, and go into a new sector. I saw Chet James in Licodia and Knight, Ankcorn's executive. They had only two line companies who had not moved.
I went on down the British column to Grammichele. There I asked for the senior British officer. Soon a colonel came up and asked what he could do for me. I said I was from the 45th and only wanted to know what the situation was with them. He said "Everything all right, they were moving down the road, some fighting but not much--Cheerio" and he was gone. A sergeant came up and asked me to come over to their MP HQ about 100 feet away and get some cool water. I had a very interesting talk with him. He was from Saskatchewan, I then followed the British column towards Caltagirone until I came to the road leading to Biscari. I found the road deserted, but evidence of German road blocks unremoved and of German abandoned bivouacs.
I reached Biscari and turned east. I soon ran into Styron, Arnote, Large, and most of the advance echelon of my headquarters moving to the new sector. It was late in the afternoon and I turned back with them, heading for Gela where we turned North on a tortuous drive to a location 4 miles Southeast of Mazzarino, where we arrived well after midnight, covered with dirt. There we went into a new sector, heading towards Palermo, with the 1st on our right and the 3rd on our left.
We began to encounter mines and demolitions. Below Pietraperzia we lost the first officer of the artillery killed. Several had been wounded. This death was from a mine on the edge of a road as the leading vehicle was turning into a position. It was a question of the engineers by-passing from then on. This they did valiantly. I thought I was too Far behind so moved the artillery CP on the evening of the 17th up to 1/2 miles West of Pietraperzia.