Cruiser USS Brooklyn CL-40: call-fire 'talker' on warship bridge recalls combat at Anzio
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USS Brooklyn CL-40
(The links down the left column of the page take you to excerpt experiences from the published book, to which the author has been prifileged to add reader offered historical experiences stimulated by the book. )
USS Edison DD-439
The narrative below came from Edward Gardner, grandson of diarist Milton Briggs, who sent an e-mail on 4/27/2009 at 10:30:51 a.m to firstname.lastname@example.org in which e-mail Mr. Gardner stated: "I grant you license to use it on your website (http://www.daileyint.com) so long as my grandfather and myself are credited (Milton Alonzo Briggs, Edward Thomas Gardner)."
"Through the Eyes of a Sailor," is Radioman 1/c Milton Grigg's log of events aboard the USS Brooklyn in three critical amphibious operations that U.S. and British forces mounted in World War II. These three, North Africa, Sicily and Anzio, came first, second and fourth in the five amphibious invasions made to wrest control of North Africa and the Mediterranean Sea back from the Axis. Specifically, the five operations were North Africa (five landings-Safi, Fedala/Casablanca, Medea, Oran and Algiers), Sicily (six landing operations with the U.S. handling Licata, Gela, and Scoglitti on the southwest), Salerno (two landing operations, British to the north and the U.S. to the south), Anzio (two landing operations, again British north and U.S. south) and Southern France (an extensive spread of landings on beaches east to west and islands offshore). Briggs characterizes Anzio a mistake, a generally agreed conclusion by many historians. USS Brooklyn CL-40 was involved at Casablanca, Sicily, Anzio and Southern France. The reader will discover why Griggs' record does not include Brooklyn's presence at Southern France, and why Brooklyn, was not present at Salerno.
This chronicle, in two parts, Part I ,Casablanca and Sicily, and Part II, Anzio, derives its conviction from the acuity of the man who recorded it, and from the fact that his duty as radio "talker," was on the bridge, the command post of a major combatant ship. Briggs' role was to receive the requests for gunfire from shore fire control parties (SFCPs) ashore, to relay them to the gun director, all the while making sure that the Captain conning the ship could hear those requests and position his ship to bring the maximum number of the ship's guns (fifteen 6-inch guns, on Brooklyn) to bear on the target.
The USS Brooklyn, was the first of a group of seven cruisers, laid down in the mid-1930s, to counter the Japanese Mogami class cruisers. The features in the Brooklyn class were so persuasive that later U.S. Navy cruiser designs borrowed much from the Brooklyns. This class came fitted with a hangar aft, and catapaults for their SOC aircraft, for spotting and observation.
Through the Eyes of a Sailor (This begins Part II, Anzio. Part I covers Casablanca and Sicily.)
by Milton A. Briggs; annotated and compiled by Edward T. Gardner
What you are about to read is a legacy left to me by my grandfather, Milton Briggs. He died in his sleep on February 14, 1986 of congestive heart failure. Milton Briggs, as I remember him, was a kind and gentle man. I think he wanted people to read this because he wanted to remind everyone that even though World War II was the last "good" war, it wasn't very kind or gentle.
Much of what follows was transcribed from fifty year old, handwritten documents. Much of it was written as the bombs were dropping.
A good introduction to this is a letter that he wrote to a cousin.
3 June 1985
You ask for my war experiences; I have only talked of those frightening days to one person, who shall remain nameless, but I will write to you because you ask it from a generation that will soon pass.
I was a voice student in the Moser Conservatory in New York for 2 years. One month before I enlisted, I auditioned for Jacob Schwartz of the St Louis Municipal Opera and was rejected. I was very disheartened and joined the Navy. One week before I left boot camp, the school called me and said Mr. Schwartz was coming to New York to hear me again and was going to give me a chance in the opera, but fate took me in another direction. Thus my singing career was ended forever.
After Navy school, I shipped aboard the U.S.S. Brooklyn, a light cruiser. She was armed with 15 six inch guns, 8 five inch AA guns, 20 40mm guns of 4 per mount, and 40 twin 20mm cannon. She carried a crew of 1600 men. My battle station was radio man on the open pilot house bridge, from where I saw three years of open view combat. My job was to keep a log of battle, and because of my baritone voice, to sing out for the Captain, gunnery officer and navigator, all battle action that was relayed to me by planes, ships, and Army commands from the battle area.
In all church services, (Brooklyn's skipper) Captain Denebrink ordered me to sing "The Lord's Prayer" for the crew. I was given a commendation by him as "the powerful voice that brought calm and clarity in the heat of battle." Such was my only acclaim to glory.
Scott, after 40 years, the memories of war are today as vivid and frightening as the days and hours as when they happened. To the day I die, I will never understand why I shed tears over those events. Time should have erased such memories, but they still remain.
War is so terrible.
(Art Picture of a Skeleton here not reproducible. It was credited to the Imperial War Museum, UK)
The Anzio Beachhead
How can I describe Anzio? How can a man describe Hell? I spent from Jan. 22, 1944 until June 6, 1944 in that inferno. On just one night all that was a boy in me died. On that night, I died in every way except in body. Hell should hold no fear for me because I was in Hell for four hours and lived to remember it. Never was fear written so clearly on men's faces. We met death that night. We looked into his eyes in the fire from the bombers, but he passed us by, for what reason I cannot understand.
Anzio was a terrible error. Thousands of men, or just boys, died on that beachhead and on the ships. We were called by the besieged Army to assist on one more bombardment run. We entered the battle run at 7:45 PM and were trapped by bombers. The run normally took 45 minutes, what we were unable to maneuver. In the next four hours, our destroyer was torpedoed. To my right the British cruiser Penelope was sunk. To my left, the British cruiser Spartan went down. We held our breath, prayed and waited for an end that didn't come. Ahead, a hospital ship was burning. All day they had been loading her with wounded. How many died, only God could tell. Another hospital ship steamed seaward, her hull cherry red from her flames.
(Note: In the lapse of years from these operations in 1944, to Briggs' recall in 1985, his memory merged the loss of HMS Penelope, pictured above, with the dusk action as Anzio that took HMS Spartan and a hospital ship. Penelope went down in a separate, later, trip between Naples and Anzio.)
The beachhead was in flames and the sky was alight with fire and smoke. The scene numbed us on the bridge as we lay there, and our tongues were silent as death. One Ensign, on his knees, gave out with "God save us!" and I guess God answered. In the brilliance of the flares, the faces were so white with fear that still in memory, 40 years later, I still see the goose bumps standing up, each with its hair in the center. As ridiculous as it sounds, I still cannot laugh at it. That one night has haunted me ever since. It will chill my dreams until the day I die. That night, I knew that I would not die in battle. I never felt fear again, though we faced death many times in the days that followed.
We were able to clear and turn the Brooklyn and head to sea after those 4 hours in that pit of destruction. How I sorrowed for those left behind forever. If I ever return to Anzio, I know I will kneel and pray for those boys who died on that beach just "South of Anzio." War is, indeed, Hell in capital letters. (An Anzio cemetery is pictured in "Joining the War at Sea 1939-1945.)
That one night alone so affected me, that I had thoughts run through my mind and a poem through my pen. I am including it for you to read.
From January 22, until about the first week of May, we were in many battles, but I did not record them. My war notes picked up in detail, as the following pages will tell.
One incident in that interim occurred when on a bombardment to Anzio. I was thrown to the deck and suffered a brain concussion and but for a life rope, would have rolled into the sea. I would never have known, but I was unconscious and was in the ships hospital in a semi-coma for nearly a week. I still have the scar and bump on the back of my head.
Following the last page of detail on May 26 , we broke out of Anzio and marched on Rome on June 6, 1944, which was "D-Day" across the channel in France. "D-Day" was the only European invasion that I did not take part in.
( Note: If Milton Briggs' very detailed chronicle can be relied on, and this web page editor is totally convinced it can so be, Briggs' Brooklyn missed Salerno as the result of her hitting those mines off Sicily, requiring extensive stateside repair.)
Following Anzio, we stayed in the Mediterranean and made ready for the invasion of Southern France.
(Photo of shell geyser here. Not reproducible. Photo listed as courtesy of BBC Archives)
Just South of Anzio
On January twenty-two, the year of forty-four;
Grim, determined fighting men went charging to the shore.
No ray of moon betrayed our stealth, as black of night hung low;
When our division hit the beach, just south of Anzio.
Five miles out, our mighty ship rode gently on a swell;
With ready guns and ready hands to blow the foe to Hell!
For we in blue must save the brown, should fall a Nazi blow;
And Army boys had Navy faith, just south of Anzio.
Then great concussions jarred the skies, as cannon spoke with
Roaring out the 'Victory Hymn' across the heaving sea.
The enemy, in blank surprise, could no resistance show;
As we spread out across the beach, just south of Anzio.
We drunk our fill of victor's wine, as forward went the guide,
That drove the spear of righteous wrath into the Nazi's hide.
But repercussions soon were felt, and precious blood did flow;
When Nazi bombers struck us hard, just south of Anzio.
Each passing day brought bombing raids, of ten and twenty more,
Yes! We lost ships and we lost men along that bloody shore.
The nights brought terror from the skies, death rained on us
And lives of brave men paid the price, just south of Anzio.
This Nazi foe, though Satan led, strikes back courageously,
Exacts a price in blood from those who fight on land and sea.
And if we welter deep in blood as on to Rome we go!
We'll finish up the job we started 'south of Anzio.'
We pray that soon this war shall cease, and peace may reign on
And we can journey home again to love and joy and mirth.
Will we forget the hell of war? My heart must answer no!
I saw the blood that stained the deep, just south of Anzio.
O, Woman pray! O, Woman weep!
Let tears from heart depths flow.
He died for you upon the deep,
Just south of Anzio!
O, Woman cry! I thee beseech!
He loved your beauty so.
Your name was whispered on the beach,
Just south of Anzio.
And now they stand at heaven's gate,
With heads enshrined aglow;
Above the greed, the lust and hate,
They knew at Anzio!
O, Man, Pledge this unto your dead!
"That peace shall ever grow,
That ne'er again shall blood be shed,
on a beach like Anzio."
Written on the 8th day of February during the heavy bombardment of the Nazis along the beach of Anzio.
Last night I had a dream!
12 May 1944
USS Brooklyn, Naples, Italy
I dreamed that I walked down a street in a strange city. On the opposite side of the street I saw a great building that was made of dusky colored aged stones. I stopped and gazed at this building, and suddenly there came over me a great impulse to see what was inside!
I crossed the wide, smooth street and climbed the steps that led up to this mysterious house. I knocked on the door, and as it swung open an old man revealed himself from its gloomy interior. He smiled at me and rubbing his hands, said "Would you like to come in and look around?"
"Yes," I answered, and stepped inside.
Taking my arm, the old man led me towards a row of coffin like boxes! There, to my increasingly frightened eyes, reposed many dead bodies!
I gave a startled cry, and drew back in fear. Coming quickly to my side, the old man spoke softly and reassuringly into my ear.
"Don't be frightened. These are only death masks, made from the bodies of every person whose has died through the ages."
In amazement, I looked at him. Then, allowing my eyes to wander, I saw that the room where-in I stood held countless numbers of death masks! Row upon row, tier upon tier, they reached far beyond the limit of my vision.
"Would you care to look at them?" asked the old man.
Mutely, I nodded yes, and holding onto my arm, he led me down between the rows of masks, and as I looked at them, I could see faces that I once knew, but now whose names I had forgotten.
For hours he guided me through this terrible place, and then we came to the last mask!
"Why," I exclaimed, "This one is only half finished!"
Turning, I looked at him, and my breath seemed to stop. He was looking at me with eyes that caused me to tremble violently. A thousand years seemed to pass, and then he spoke.
" I not only make the mask for ones who die, I foresee the future and prepare them in advance. The man whose features will shape this mask is still among the living!"
The expression in his eyes held mine as if he had hypnotized me. But, gathering every ounce of my ebbing courage, I asked the old man this question.
"Are you making this mask of death for me?"
The question asked, I waited, with agonized mind, for his answer.
" I have not made your mask," he said, and then with a voice that carried a tone of terrible finality, he added, " YET!"
Crushing fear swept over me, and screaming at the top of my voice, I dashed at full speed down the aisle lined with coffins and ran out the door of this frightful house!
Struggling violently, I awakened to find myself sobbing!
That drama in my dream was so vivid and so real that it still seared my mind as though it had been a real experience. So real, in fact, that in my sleep-drugged condition, I feared to go back to my slumbers because I might dream again of that awful house and the old man with his death masks.
But, I did fall asleep, and as I had feared, my dream began as follows:
I again found myself at the door of this great building, but now I was a pathetic and tragic figure of a man. For weeks I had not slept nor rested and I feared that I was going insane! And now, in mental desperation, here I was again to ask the old man if he had 'YET' made my death mask.
Knocking on the door, I once more saw the old man smiling at me, and without a word, he led me to the very same coffin wherein lay the unfinished mask.
As I stood there, frozen to the marrow with apprehension, I began to babble as if I were an idiot! " What did you mean when you told me that you had not 'YET' made my death mask? Did you use the word 'YET' to drive me insane?"
The old man placed his hand on my shoulder and said, "You came at the right time. There is your mask! Put it on!"
I screamed at the top of my voice, and twisting from his grasp, ran blindly toward the door. As I ran, I crashed into thousands and thousands of masks and knocked them to the floor. As they rolled about, they chanted in resonant harmony.
"There is your mask, put it on!
Its made to fit you well;
Your life on Earth is nearly done,
We're sending you to HELL!"
My screams had now turned into shrieks of curses towards the old man for what he had done to me! But now I was at the door, and to my terrified eyes I saw that it was locked and I could not get out!
The old man was right behind me, and I could hear him telling me to be calm. I brushed him aside and ran towards a small archway and dashed through it into a small room where many people were standing. In the center of the room was a raised platform, and with a great leap, I landed squarely upon it and turned and faced the old man who stood just inside the archway.
Shaking my finger at him, I screamed that now I would prove that he had tricked me into this predicament, and that these people would be my witnesses!
Turning to the crowd, I saw a preacher. To the preacher, I cried, "That old man told me that I was going to die and that he was going to make my death mask soon! He is trying to drive me mad!"
The preacher said nothing! He just looked at me and then looked at the old man in the archway. A horrible feeling came over me. I saw that the preacher did not believe me! In hunted desperation, my eye searched the group. Suddenly, there in the midst of them, I saw my father.
" Father," I cried, and I could feel the hot tears streaming down my cheeks, "You believe me, don't you? You believe that that old man is trying to drive me mad! You believe me, don't you father?"
My father looked at me and said not a word, but I could see tears in his eyes. Were they tears of pity?
Good God! They think I am mad! Putting my hands to my temples, I began to scream and laugh until the very walls around me swayed and buckled as if they were made of cloth!
Now I knew! I AM INSANE!
Again, I awakened to find my hands pressed tightly against my head, and my mouth open as if I had been shouting. My heart pounding heavily, I listened in the darkness to hear if I had really screamed in my sleep and awakened those about me, but there was no sound from the sleeping men who lay in there bunks in the blackness of the compartment.
Drawing my blankets closer around me to still my shivering, I tried to relax, but my eyes would not close again in sleep. And so I lay there until morning came, staring into the darkness; thinking.. worrying ... WONDERING....
Milton A. Briggs
13 May 1944
U.S.S. Brooklyn Naples, Italy
On May 9th, 1944, at 2300 hours, the big offensive in Italy was begun. And today, less than thirty-six hours after the first barrage was laid down on the land front, the USS Brooklyn made her appearance behind German lines at Gaeta.
Between the hours of 0900 and 1500, her main batteries roared out her furious messages to the Axis positions implanted in the mountains behind the small city of Gaeta.
Last night, May 12th, we were in the harbor of Naples, and word was rumored that we would bombard Gaeta on the following day. We moved from Naples to the comparative safety of Sorrento.
This place, Sorrento, lies in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius, and from our ship we can see the ruins of what was once the city of Pompeii.
At 0400 hours this morning, May 13, we weighed anchor and with our two escorts, the destroyers Kearny and Ericsson, made full speed towards our objective. We made our arrival at 0830 hours, but as our spotting planes were not in the area, we did not get our bombardment niceties until shortly after 0900 hours. Communications once established, our guns began thundering out their shells. For the first one hundred fifty rounds, we saw no hint of retaliation. But before the next fifty rounds were expended, there were large splashes noted in the area of the ships. They were not ranging very near, and consequently there was little anxiety felt amongst the sailors who were manning the three American warships. After the firing of two hundred rounds of our high explosive projectiles, we retired for a short time to partake of field rations.
Returning to the bombardment tasks, we again began hurling our destruction into the heavy gun emplacements of the Germans. We had fired but little more than fifty rounds when the big guns of the Nazis were putting salvos dangerously close to both our cruiser and one of the destroyers.
The Kearny at once began laying down a heavy smoke screen to cover the Brooklyn, and from this blanketing security, we again started to shell their positions. But the big guns on the beach were ranging so close that shrapnel from their exploding bursts was spraying our ship.
Knowing full well that a chance hit in a vital part of our ship might cause serious impairment, Captain Dodge ordered the Brooklyn to retire and return to Naples.
All during the day while we were bombarding, we could hear the rumble of the Army's guns roaring out their barrages. And high in the sky, we were seeing an unending stream of our big bombers heading into the beach with their big loads of destruction.
We expended approximately 300 rounds of six inch projectiles against their gun emplacements during the few hours we were there. It seems pathetic that seven months ago we made our appearance here at Gaeta. At that time we bombarded bridges and troop concentrations. During the seven months since, not one foot of ground has been gained in this area. Not a very credible effort, to say the least. Our work today probably did not hurt the German defenders of Gaeta very seriously, but it is a sure thing that there are many dead Nazis who will not be the cause of the death of any American soldier from now on.
What is more important than a few dead Germans is that there are several big guns that were destroyed by the shelling of the USS Brooklyn. And those were the targets that we were sent out to get. It is with great satisfaction that at last we are on the move in the Italian theatre of war. We have been making a very sorrowful show of effort in ending the war in this part, and let us hope that the guns of our few ships in this area will not grow cold while there is a German target within our range along the Tyrrhenian coast.
Our turn is coming soon to blast the enemy, and to that I have written, let me add this: let their shells always miss, and let ours always hit the mark.
14 May 1944
U.S.S. Brooklyn Naples, Italy
This morning at 0400 hours, there was sounded a red alert over the radio circuits for the Naples area. Although this raid caught us anchored in Naples Bay, it can not be said that we did not expect retaliation due to the action at Gaeta the day before.
I was in my bunk when the speakers sounded all men to their Air Defense Stations. As the lights in the compartment came on and the men began hurrying into their clothes, I debated with myself as to whether I would go topside or lie there in my bunk. I decided on the latter, and tried to go back to sleep. In a very few minutes following the alert, there was a sharp crack of concussion throughout the ship. This was due to the exploding of bombs in our immediate vicinity. I began at once to regret that I had stayed in my bunk, because now Condition Affirm had been set and I was locked below decks.
Time and time again, the ship rang from the force of the bomb explosions. Now I was wide awake and wondering just how long the raid was going to last. Just then the ship seemed to jump out of the water and I knew that one had landed pretty close! There was a very cold feeling around my shoulders and a rather sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. This may have been due to the field rations of the day before, but I don't think so!
The roar and crack of the anti-aircraft barrage could be heard even down to the third deck where I lay. It kept up for a period of about one hour and then quieted down to only desultory reports.
About five o'clock, the all clear came over the speakers and the raid was over. There had been about fifteen bombs dropped in the vicinity of the Brooklyn, but it is evident that it was blind bombing. It might have been different if their flares had been successful in lighting up our ship! But the harbor defenses had put up a thick smoke screen and so no damage to the naval ships was suffered. Sometime this morning, the news report came in that our night fighters had shot down three of the German bombers that made the attack on Naples.
There also came over the radio news the information on the Brooklyn's shelling of the Gaeta area. This is one of the very few times that we have ever been mentioned for the many bombardment missions we have fully and effectively completed.
The news from the front lines say we still maintain the attack and that the Nazi's are resisting fiercely. I can well believe this, as they are a determined bunch!
We should be scheduled to return to the Gaeta area on Tuesday for our run on the gun and supply positions. Another cruiser is there today.
16 May 1944
U.S.S Brooklyn Naples, Italy
At 0900 hours this morning we went into General Quarters. We are about to make our second bombardment attack against the unfriendlies around the Gaeta and Itri area.
Last night, May 15th, we also had one of the humane German air-raids. It lasted from 2100 to 2145 hours. I have not yet gotten to the point where-in I enjoy these air-raids.
Getting back to the Gaeta area, the sea was being swept by mine sweepers when we arrived. Incidentally, the German's have been laying hundreds of mines around the Naples' harbor, and some of our ships, including ours, were not able to get out for a day or so. I have one encounter with mines to my experience and do not crave any more!
Taking longer than necessary to start our first run today, we ran into several surprises. We headed down the friendly path of bombardment and started cutting loose with our heavy guns. We were very arrogant at the beginning, but so were they! Our first salvos had just begun to roar out when the big splashes were falling around the ships during the first part of the run.
The Brooklyn, Kearny and Ericsson are not immune to damage, so as soon as we had run the course, we started tearing right out seaward. Exactly fifteen big salvos from the German guns made us find it very necessary to plan another course of action.
At 1200 hours, we headed back into the firing area. This time we were wiser in our approach, and we went in shooting. Our big target was right in sight of the ship. It was a bunch of heavy guns of some kind and they were situated right atop a huge mountain overlooking the gulf of Gaeta.
Getting the range quickly, we started slamming in fifteen gun salvos. They were the first of this kind since the days of Casablanca when we met the French fleet. The top of the mountain appeared to be crumbling and dissolving right in front of our eyes! It was the first time I have ever seen the power of our guns at such close range. I hope I am never on the receiving end of a like number of artillery!
There were no splashes seen from enemy fire during this first attempt at the mountain. During the succeeding runs, we met much different adversity! The Ericsson sent a sudden report that she had a sub contact and immediately dropped a flock of depth charges. They were so close to the ship that I thought we had hit mines. But the contact did not develop into anything, and we continued our laying it out.
There were a few splashes noticed now. We were pretty close to the beach, and there was a terrible rumbling from the direction of the front lines where the Fifth Army is fighting. There must be hundreds of bombers over the lines, because even the ship is shuddering under the concussion of the explosions of the bombs at the front.
Someone, I feel quite sure, is getting a terrible plastering at the front, and I am equally positive that it is Brother Hitler's children! Our air superiority is wonderful to behold!
Thus far, we have not had a single Nazi bomber molest us at the Gaeta battle front. Suits me fine, too!
Now we are running into a regular hail of shells from the beach! They are smashing into the sea directly in front of the ship, and this is not uplifting to our fighting spirit!
Now we have decided that the German fire is too accurate for comfort, and we are laying down our smoke screen to shield us from the beach! The destroyers are doing the same. The shells are coming in thicker now, and one just landed about fifty feet right in our path! It was so close that I saw it hit the water, exploded, and as the splash went up (about the size of a medium sized house), I tensed for the next one to hit, and when the fountain of rising water reached its peak and dropped into the sea again, we ran over the bubbles!
If they had followed that shell with another salvo, we might have suffered injury. As it was, they followed up with another one that was too late, and it fell into the sea directly in our wake. We were making thirty knots now, and were moving pretty fast!
The fusillade from the beach made it imperative for us to discontinue operations. At 1430 hours, we headed back towards Naples.
They fired twenty-five salvos at us during the afternoon runs. That is, we counted that many splashes! And counting fifteen in the morning, that makes a total of forty (and probably more that we were a target for). So it does not all act one way, because they have a target in us!
We fired 300 six inch shells. I do not think this so many as some may fire, but there is never any doubting the results that we get from our work. The Army is very high in its praise for our ship, and that is the greatest credit that we can be given.
The observation today was one of good work. It was not as good as the day we destroyed nine targets at Anzio, but from the way the top of the mountain appeared to crumble into a cloud of smoke and dust, I can well say that the destruction of what the enemy had there was complete and fully effective.
It was also the most accurate gunfire we have encountered since Casablanca. If the Germans had delayed firing that one salvo that landed dead ahead of us by only a few seconds, The Brooklyn tonight would be carrying a deep wound in her structure, and who knows, but she might have lost a few of the human cogs who make her the hard hitting lady she is!
19 May 1944
U.S.S. Brooklyn Naples, Italy
Today was the calmest day we have ever had in dealing with the Germans. We made our runs in the morning and fired at two targets; they were totally demolished, and the tabulation was 135 rounds at each one. The targets were roads, and the town of Teracina. The reports were that there were square hits on the roads and many hits on the town.
In the afternoon, we fired by chance into some fires and put plenty of extra zest into their flames! But only 45 rounds were expended and then the Army radioed us that there were no more targets for us to shoot at, and we returned to Naples.
The town of Itri, where we fired the first two days, has been occupied, and today it looks like the entire area of Gaeta will soon be in our hands. Teracina is not far from the Anzio beachhead, and it may be soon that our next firing runs will be at the old familiar point of Anzio. I hope so, as that will mean that, at last, the march to Rome will have begun.
I fully expect that in a matter of ten days or so, we will be looking at strange grounds. We will probably be scrutinizing the soil around the mouth of the Tiber River, which is the river way to Rome.
23 May 1944
U.S.S Brooklyn Underway-Anzio-Naples
On this day, we again returned to one of our old stomping grounds, Anzio, and the events that occurred during our days stay were not the most pleasant. It was more than three months ago, on February 8'th, that we were last here at Anzio, and on that day we really piled it into our little German friends, and also we did likewise today. But the story is not in how many rounds we shot at the Germans, but rather of the bad incident that happened to another pair of ships.
When today's work was done, we had blasted the German positions with nearly 500 rounds of six inch shells. The damage was reported to be terrible, and the retaliation was strong and accurate, but none of our ships (the Brooklyn and her two escorts, the Kearny and the Ericsson) were hit. But we heard the whistle of the big shells as they lit into the sea around us. However, I wish to write of the trouble that was NOT caused by the Nazi's.
We were almost into the firing area, driving through heavy seas (which seemed to be always such up Anzio way), when we got the gloomy news that the cruiser Philadelphia had rammed the destroyer, Laub. This was at first thought to be a rumor, but it was the tragic truth! I mean tragic because the Philadelphia was just out of the yard and had been over here only a little more than two months.
We had been planning on her being the ship who would relieve us so we could go home. The news came to us, but not the worst news, her damage! The Laub was the first we saw, and she was in bad shape. She was in danger of going to the bottom from a big hole in her starboard quarter.
An hour or so later, we sighted the Philly, and our hearts dropped. She had a tremendous piece of her bow stove in, and one could see at a glance that it was a long period of repairs for her. Now we are in a predicament, as the English cruiser, Dido, is in Malta for engine repairs, and that leaves only the Brooklyn to do all the work from now on.
The worst news of all was the fact that one boy was killed on the Laub, two were missing, and seven injured. To be killed by the enemy is bad enough, to be killed by ones own warships is worse! As we went by the Philly, I heard one of the destroyers call her that there was a body passing by in the water and if she could pick it up. The Philly answered no, and the poor boy was left to float around in the sea. That is nothing new, as many bodies have floated by us during our stay over here. But it must have been one of the missing sailors from the Laub.
Now we will have to be in this bad firing area steady. That is bad, as it is terribly fatiguing and dangerous. Especially is it dangerous. I wonder now just how long it will be 'ere we ever get home? It surely looks worse as the time goes by. All on account of the 'Famous Ghost' running into a destroyer! She made fun of us when we hit two mines, but she is guilty of a terrible blunder and nearly a crime.
24 May 1944
U.S.S. Brooklyn, Naples, Italy
Today we had a very routine time. We fired 500 rounds into the Nazi's positions and received a fine tribute from the spotting planes for our work on the German troops and other positions. There was very little fire done on the side of the enemy, and we just lay there and poured it into them.
26 May 1944
We stood by over yesterday waiting for a call from the Army. We patrolled off the coast of Corsica and ventured up around the vicinity of the mouth of the Tiber River. This is, as you know, the entrance to the city of Rome.
Today, they started a big offensive at Anzio, and we laid down barrages ahead of the advancing Army troops. We could see the flashes of Army artillery from our ship, so one could imagine how far the Front was from where our ship cruised.
After firing more than 400 honeys into the boys retreating from our Army, we ran out of targets and were ordered to Naples. On our arrival, we heard that the French cruiser, Emile Bertin, had arrived and would relieve us for a couple of days. We have been doing nearly all the work since Gaeta, and have done all the bombardment at Anzio. (Bertin pictured below.)
The Philly, as noted before, got out of the fight by ramming a tin can. Now she is in Malta, and will be for some time. We are
Standing by now for another call. MB.
This represents the end of the Milton Brigg's diary proper.
I would like to introduce you to Doris Briggs, Milton's wife. She passed away February 10, 1997.
15 August 1944
My Dearest Husband,
I rec'd mail from you this morning dated Aug. 2nd, and am so glad to get it and hear that you rec'd a letter from me on your birthday. I sent your card early enough for you to get it in time, so I'm disappointed it didn't get there. I thought it was real cute and very appropriate. Maybe you'll get it soon. I'm so glad to hear that your head is getting better. I can't help worrying about it a little, but I believe you, you wouldn't say it was nothing to worry about if it wasn't true. I heard about the invasion of Southern France this morning and I know you are in it. You haven't missed anything over there yet and since you were expecting dark days ahead, this must be it. I pray you are safe and all right, Darling. They mentioned battleships, destroyers and cruisers taking part and so I'm more certain than ever that you're in it. Dear God, take care of you for me.
I'll have to write Grace and ask her to find out if they are fixing the radio. I expected to be back in a week and was going in to find out about it. I told them not to fix it if it would cost more than ten dollars. Also that you were a radioman and had said that it couldn't cost over that to get it fixed. Do you mind me telling a white lie? Mrs. Bartlett told me that's what the repairman told her. You probably have my mail by now telling you I'm still in Brockway. Darling, you mentioned that your wife gets the best excepting a few things and I'd know what those were. I don't agree with you, whatever those things are. I can't think what they might be, because, since you've been my husband, I've had the best of everything and been completely happy (except while you're away). You are always so thoughtful and considerate and kind to me, besides being lovable and loving. You're the best husband in the world, and I'm not exaggerating one bit! I love you, Milt.
Marcia Jo is here jabbering away. She says quite a few things though. She is a darling. Her hair is real fine but is curly in the back and sides. She always wants googala (drink) and a cook (cookie) when she comes over. She is back and forth all day long. Stands there and yells 'Mama' until someone has to go and get her. Harvey and Georgie want me to go camping with them. The idea is to keep the kids at night in case they want to go somewhere. They want to leave Friday and the man is coming to put down the linoleum that day, so I don't know whether I'll go or not. If we can get him to come Wed. or Thurs. instead, maybe I'll go, although I'm not crazy about the idea. If I do go, I'll write just the same. They aren't even sure about where they're going yet.
Last night, I went through some Colliers' magazines and cut out some comical pictures. Will send a few in letters from now on. The one "Is that you, George?' is slightly off color, but I couldn't help laughing because its just like a woman to say a crazy thing like that and also the drawing is funny. Its terribly hot again today, but was more comfortable last night to sleep. We just had about five minutes of rain, enough to stir up the dust. I waited until after supper to start painting in the bathroom and finished at ten o'clock. All the time I was up there, I thought of the times you'd whistle and I'd answer. It made me very lonely for you, Milton. It sure is torture being away from the man you love, and even more so when he is in a dangerous place. I hope you come home soon as this business is finished. Gosh, how I want to see you, Dear. If you ever have to be gone that long again (God Forbid) I'm going to stow away with you or go somehow. I shouldn't talk so silly, but feel like it sometimes. I'm so lonely for you. Sure is a good thing I didn't know before how long you'd be gone or I'd have had a conniption and carried on terribly.
Well Darling, it's almost time for the mailman to come, so I better stop soon. I'm not newsy today and this is probably a boring letter, but I can't help it. My mind is so full of you and your action there that I'm a blank to anything else. Forgive me when my letters aren't any good. I know you understand. Write as soon as you can, Dear, for I'll be on needles and pins till I hear. All here are fine, including me. Don't know if I gained or not, but wouldn't surprise me if I did. I hope you gain a little soon, you are too thin. I'm sure you will gain though when I get a hold of you and give you some food and a lot of loving. Do you object to any of that? I hope not because I'm hungry for you, Dear. I'll love you to pieces when you come, I'm sure, but at the same time will feed you so you won't lose any more weight from my ardent attentions. I'm a bold wife I guess, am I not? I like to tell you how I feel sometimes.
I'll write again tomorrow, so until then, Milton dearest, you have all my love and all my thoughts and prayers. God bless you, my husband. I love you.
Your wife Doris.
This ends Part II, covering Anzio. It is the conclusion of "Through the Eyes of a Sailor." See Part I, Casablanca and Sicily