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From the Stars and Stripes archives

Story behind the invasion story: A brilliant maneuver, rich in anecdote, is reviewed

By STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 26, 1944

Saturday morning's Allied landing on Italy's Tyrrhenian coast south of Rome looked more and more like a routine maneuver operation yesterday — instead of the suicide mission the troops expected.

The complete surprise, the non-appearance of the Luftwaffe until nearly seven hours after the invasion, and the next-to-nothing ground opposition stamped it as one of the most brilliantly successful amphibious operations of this war — if not in history.

But the emphasis yesterday was not on the strategy but on the human element — the little men on the transports, the landing boats and on the beaches who jumped ashore eagerly in the dead of night because they knew that at last they had a chance to finish the slow, slogging, inch-by-inch crawl to Rome.

He Lost a Rifle

There was a good deal of fun about it, in retrospect, as correspondents made clear yesterday in delayed dispatches. There was, for instance, the American who took an unmerciful kidding because he lost his rifle on the eve of invasion ... the Army nurse who gave strict orders she wanted no professional dealings with any landing troops after the operation began ... the Navy commissary officer who insisted on collecting an overdue mess bill even as the transports were moving in to the beaches ... the four drunken Germans who wandered into the American lines in a staff car ... the Nazis caught with their pants down who fled in their underwear.

To some extent, the success of the landings probably was attributable to the Allied strategy in drawing three German divisions south to the main front to seal off an anticipated attack. The Fifth Army had given indications it was planning a big push. The Germans rushed down, were promptly pinned down by the Fifth Army, and the amphibious troops flowed onto an unresisting shore.

The operation had been cooking for weeks. Troop movements and ship movements and other preparations could mean only one thing. Then, on Thursday, 36 hours before the assault. Fifth Army correspondents were called in and told what was coming.

"We are going to smash Jerry with a left hook and knock him dizzy," the briefing officer said. Conditions were just right. There had been 15 days of mostly fine weather. The ground had hardened; trucks and tanks no longer mired down. The air force was able to operate again.

The troops were in shape too. One unit commander, talking things over with his colonel, said everybody was ready except two officers who were "a little off their feed." It turned out one had a broken leg and the other a temperature of 106 degrees. In mock seriousness, the colonel said anybody with a broken leg or a fever over 103 degrees couldn't go.

The battalion commander, Lt. Col. E. S. Adams, of San Francisco, a West Pointer, class of 1940, warned everybody to be careful getting off the landing ships.

"There's a two-foot drop when we leave," he said, "that's a pretty big drop." Somebody wanted to know if it would be a dry or wet landing. "Wet, probably," he said, "about three feet of water, cold water."

Navy Gives the Orders

Adams said the Navy would give the orders so long as the troops were aboard.

"The Navy will tell us what to do in any emergency. If there is air or sea or submarine attack they'll issue lifebelts and give instructions for abandoning ship."

The troops got up before daylight Friday to embark. They sang and whistled as they rolled their blankets. That was the time Pvt. James Parham, of Wisconsin, couldn't find his rifle. Nobody seemed excited. Capt. Fordyce Gorham, of Muncy, Pa., was full of pep. When correspondent Clark Lee wandered in looking for a bedroll, Gorham turned on his best hillbilly accent, and inquired:

"Goin' a-feudin' this mornin', neighbor?"

Later, aboard one of the destroyers going northward through the Tyrrhenian Sea, the Navy outdid itself at dinner. A double ration of chicken, white rice, fresh peas, and peach cobbler for dessert. Everybody knew it might be the last good meal for days.

That didn't keep Lt. Robert Stanley's mind off his commissary books, however.

"That reminds me, suh," he said in a soft Richmond (Va.) drawl to Lt. Gordon Smith, of Darien, Conn., "there's a mess bill for you on my books."

Smith said he had no money but that he'd give Stanley a check. "On any bank you want," he explained. "I haven't any bank accounts, either."

There was the usual small talk. The gunnery officers belittled "the guys on the bridge" and the engineer officer maintained that ships were only engines with a gun stuck here and there.

Wait'll these Ju88s start chasing you and the bombs start popping," he chortled happily at the executive officer. "You'll holler for knots then."

Put On Clean `Drawers'

Lt. Archie Boswell, of Norfolk, Va., was trying on a new-type life preserver, big and bulky like Boswell. Somebody told him he should wear it all the time, "it improves your figure." Somebody else started a point-by-point comparison of Boswell and Mae West. The argument that resulted was interrupted by the ship's loudspeaker. It ordered everybody to take a shower and put on clean underwear.

This, an officer explained, is just an old Navy custom before action. It reduces the danger of infection from wounds. Just then the loudspeaker squealed again. "Battle stations," it said.

The most surprising thing about the landing, of course, was the lack of opposition. On some beaches not a shot was fired. On others there was only scattered fire from what seemed to be two 88s.

The silence of the German guns worried a photographer who landed with Don Whitehead, Associated Press correspondent.

"This isn't right," he said, "1 don't like it."

A near by doughboy had a ready answer.

"It ain't right all right," lie said, "but I like it."

Unlike Salerno, there was no high ground from which the Germans could dominate the beaches. Floating mines were the biggest menace to the landing boats, but the Navy just eased through them and made the beaches safely.

Some of the enemy were caught so flatfooted they were found in their underwear. One group hot-footed it across 50 yards of beach, through low brush. wood, across a field and then inland a mile to a farmhouse. Inside, the beds were still warm. Three Nazis had made a run for it in the nick of time. One was caught, but two scooted off in an armored car toward their own lines.

A young German lieutenant in command of the detail guarding the stretch of beach where the Americans entered was caught in an ignominious situation. He had been sent down from Rome two days earlier to command the company and almost before he knew what happened he and three others in his command post had been taken prisoner. They hadn't even had time to place machine-guns along the beaches.
 

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