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Friday, February 25, 2011
Chapter 8: Italy.
The disaster at Salerno was averted before the 3rd could get in to save the situation. The British 8th Army had made connection with the Americans from the south while the 3rd was being transported to Salerno.
Bill had a bad scare during these early days when a couple German fighters passed over their trucks but did attack them. Picture of Stroyan and Stiek resting probably in Cicily. Bill's battalion the 39th FA played a key role in saving the Salerno crossing and many American lives. The Rapidio was the river that the 36th Texas Division suffered catastrophic losses after a General could not admit it was time to stop throwing away the lives of him men trying to cross a river. It's not often a soldier can find out exactly how his efforts made a big difference. When the Third Div made their crossing of the Volturno only light weapons got across too. So when the Germans brought up a half a dozen tanks they were in deep doo doo.
Usually you read in histories about battles, attacks, artillery barrages. this and that without identifying the units that did all this. Generals tend to get the glory. In this instance of the Third Division crossing the Volturno it was mentioned in the 3rd Div History of WW2 that the 39th and 10th FA fired on the tanks just in time to keep the troops from being overrun. As Bill Sheldon was the radio liaison with the troops across the river he had much to do with saving the troops. So when Bill read this account he knew he was the one that helped save the river crossing. Usually radio operators wont know all that much about what is going on. Very satisfying.
Talk about screw-ups. After Salerno, the Volturno crossing, the army decided the 3rd needed some amphibious training. Perhaps for the upcoming Anzio landing. It almost became Bills last amphibious training. Actually in war there are lots of screwy ideas. But some develop into practical weapons like the submarine, machine gun. Some however only lose lives. In the Normandy D day landings someone came up with the bright idea of encasing tanks in canvas and floating them to shore. However just a little wave was enough to swamp the tank in the canvas. An idea that it's had not come. In the training before Anzio the big mistake was that the navy unloaded the ducks 12 miles off shore. So far that they ducks carrying the gun batteries ran out of gas and most of them capsized and sank from the rough seas. Luckily Bill was in one of the ducks that didn't capsize and they assisted in saving the troops in the water. Only one was lost but it could have been much worse. The above picture was taken at Anzio. Bill is inside the truck. Monitoring the radio.
After the Volturno it was one hill after another to be cleared of Germans and constant mud. Bill in his stories seemed to credit the mud with about as much opposition as the Germans.
Coming up was Anzio. Anzio was one experience that every soldier in the Division was in the front lines. Of course the Infantry faced the German riflemen but all faced the artillery. The story has been told elsewhere. One close call story told about how one day his captain was directing them ahead to liaison with the Fire control and the forward observer. However the Capt got lost. A Recon car stopped them and told them that they had seen a German patrol ahead and advised them to turn around and get back to safety. During the dark they kept lost and had to stop for the night. They were so close to the front they could see tracers ahead. Now that it is close. Next morning they found their way back. Later the Infantry was taking such a beating they began to raid other units to get Infantry. The order came to send Bill up as a replacement. The battalion commander raised the roof and told them they were not taking his best radio operator. I know Bill was a conscientious operator as he was in everything he did his whole life. Of interest might be the cartoon by Mauldin that showed his characters watching their still make white lightning.
To see Mauldin's cartoon look here. Requires a pdf reader. See the still made by 3rd Div doggies.
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