Cruiser USS Brooklyn: Action! Casablanca and Sicily
Call-fire 'talker' on warship bridge recalls gunfire events
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 (Note: This is Part I, covering Casablanca and Sicily. Part II covers Anzio. )
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
French West Africa (Fedala, Casablanca)
December 3, 1942
Below are the true accounts of the experiences that I encountered on the expedition to French West Africa, and the resulting battles that presaged the invasion.
On October 23, 1942, at 5:00 in the afternoon, we got underway in what later was to be called the greatest naval expedition in the world's history of war operations. Where we were going and what we were to do was not known by any of the enlisted men of the Navy -- such plans and knowledge is only known to the officers. For we can only adhere to the saying, "Ours not to wonder why, ours but to do and die". And I suppose in the end, it is best that we do not know. On the second day at sea, we were told that we were on our way to attack Africa, in what was to be the beginning of the second front.
We were told that this had been planned with the greatest secrecy, and that at last the enemy was to be taken by surprise, and although the shock that we were actually going to see action was rather sudden, nevertheless, to know that for once the enemy was going to be surprised was most gratifying. That same evening, sitting in the semi-darkness of the radio shack, sweating from the heat, and half sick from the lack of fresh air, we heard a columnist back in the States make a prediction that the Allies would make an attack on Africa within 10 days.
There was complete silence in the shack, as we gazed at one another in amazement -- our plans, so secret that even we who were offering our lives in its execution and who could not be told, sat there and listened to a world-wide broadcast that such a thing was to be done! How easy for that columnist, living luxuriously and safe back home, to make that prediction! But, how let down were the feelings of the men out there in the black Atlantic on their way to possible death.
It made one wonder just what are we fighting for when such information can be so freely told for all the ears of the enemy to hear! And God knows that they have enough ears! From the next morning on, we had submarines on our trail, and the shudder of depth charges was a constant reminder that our crossing was not to be pleasant.
The seas now started to run heavy. Our cruiser pitched so badly that we ate off of our trays while sitting on the deck. There was little cooked food, as the roll would pour the food out of the cooking vats. We had to go with very little sleep, as one would nearly roll out of his sack.
This weather caused great hardships while standing our radio watches. We were tied to our seats so as to prevent our skidding across the shack. Taking everything into consideration, it was a mighty unpleasant journey! I had been given the plane guard circuit, which was voice, and had very little to do with the exception of standing on my feet all day long in the pilot house. Radio was silent, and there was no transmitting done by our force until the day of battle.
For 13 days this heavy weather condition existed. We were by that time about 600 miles off Dakar and about 900 miles from place of attack. On the 14th day, "Catalina" flying boats and great "Liberator" bombers, based at Gibraltar, met us and patrolled against sub attacks. By that sign, we were within range of land bombers, and we felt uneasy. Although our losses as yet had not yet been a single ship, one plane had crashed in the sea. The pilot was saved, so our losses so far were nothing.
On the afternoon of the 15th day, we were told all about the plans of the operation. Our battle stations were to be manned at about midnight, at which time we would be nearing our attack area.
At 4 that afternoon, this great task force that spread out over miles of ocean, separated into three groups; one was to attack northwest of Casablanca, one at Safi southeast of Casablanca, and we were to attack at the center on a powerful land battery, at a place called Fedala, very close to Casablanca.
We now began our run on the coast. At 7 P.M. I went topside for what I had an idea might be my last night on earth. For one hour I stood there and thought about home. I wondered if they had any idea where I was, and if they knew how much they were in my thoughts on this night just hours before we were to attack.
At 8, I went below and turned in, and fell asleep. I thought I had only closed my eyes for a minute, when the alarm sounded for us to man our battle stations. I looked at my watch and it was 5 minutes past ten. We knew that we must have run into trouble, as G.Q. was not to be sounded until 12:00, and with the feeling that at last the big moment had arrived, we jumped into our clothes, grabbed life belts, helmets, gasmasks, and some other little articles, and ran to our stations. Mine was on the bridge, and I had a first rate view and position to observe all that took place.
We had started running into French and Morrocan fishing craft. Our men were boarding them as fast as we found them, were sealing their radios, if they had one, in order to prevent them from notifying the beach.
Just how well our fifth column were working in Africa was now in evidence, as lights of different colours, and at certain points on the shore told us just how and what to do, and where to go. At a signal from us, the lights on the beach went off. At a little past 12, we swung into position.
At 12:30, over the radio came word that President Roosevelt had asked the Vichy not to resist us, that we were too powerful, and that resistance was useless. At the same time, we heard that Churchill had made the same kind of appeal.
At 1:00, (0100 local time, Navy parlance, November 8, 1942) the first invasion barge hit the water, to be followed by many, many more, and soon the troops were being disembarked.
At 2:15, the first barges headed for the beach.
At 3:00 A.M., I was beginning to feel a little sick at my stomach, as we were in beautiful range of the shore battery, which could easily have blown us out of the water!
At 3:15, word came that the attack was to be delayed for 1/2 hour, which would make it 4:30- zero hour had been determined to 4:00 on the morning of the 8'th of November. I began to breathe easier then at the postponement, but as 4:00 came and the French had not yet given an answer, I began to feel peculiar again.
At 4:15, another postponement of 15 minutes was announced. But now we realized that there was going to be trouble, because if no capitulation had come by now, they were going to fight.
At 4:35, the French started to machine gun our troops on the beach. We could see the tracers from our cruiser.
At 4:40, a French corvette came into our midst, and would not halt at the command of one of our destroyers. The corvette opened fire with her machine guns on the can. The destroyer did likewise, and her first shots killed the captain on the French vessel (This was not verified in print, but was told aboard our cruiser). The corvette then gave in, and hoisted our American flag.
The next day, I saw her bouncing around off Fedala, on patrol against plane and sub attacks. She flew both the French and the American flags. As a vessel of war, she would not have made good scrap metal for the Japanese Navy!
At 4:50, the command to stand-by was given. And at 4:57, the orders to go into action came over the circuit. One moment was calm, and then all hell broke loose! My cruiser and a heavy cruiser, the Augusta, cut loose with the big guns. The destroyers, and there were quite a few of them, were going at it with all they had. It was so dark that only the blasts of the explosions could be seen.
Our ship was maneuvering, and the concussions of her guns fairly made her dance in the water. By this time, I was a pretty scared boy, and was wondering how soon their [shore] battery was going to get our range.
In the midst of this bombardment, some time later, by now I didn't bother looking at the clock, the destroyer ahead of us radioed that she thought she had best get out of there, as there seemed to be the opinion that the land battery of the French had gotten her range. Just then a shell hit her, went into the fire-room and passed through the chest of an electrician, went into the sleeping compartment and exploded, killing another man and wounding several. The destroyer then retired to the rear temporarily, just slightly damaged, but with two dead and a lot of wounded.
At 7:45, the Army radioed us that there was no opposition and that our guns were killing off the townspeople. As I heard this, I got sick to my stomach, as I pictured women and little children being blasted to pieces with those shells we were hurling into that sector. Thank God the report given us about killing townspeople turned out to be untrue.
Our guns immediately ceased firing, and all was once again calm. We could see, through the smoke, several fires burning, and at one point where there had been large storage tanks of oil, a huge column of smoke was rolling into the sky. That is where the heavy cruiser had shelled. The battery was the job that had been assigned to our cruiser. So far, our only damage had been the destroyer that was hit. None of the transports had suffered from the fire of the battery.
We later learned that 120 of our soldier boys would never again see the dawning of another day. It seemed hard to believe that 120 of our boys had died on that coast, just a few miles from where we stood on the deck of our cruiser.
About one half hour later, word came that two French cruisers had come out of Casablanca and were proceeding on their way to give battle to us at Fedala. We were ordered to intercept and destroy them.
I, at this time, felt another peculiar feeling creeping into my stomach as our ship shot up to her full speed and headed out to sea. She was doing 33 knots in a very short time, and I knew we would soon be within range, as Casablanca is about 22 miles from Fedala, and our guns can easily shoot at least 20 miles. Back of us came the Augusta, but we were so much faster that I figured we would get ours before the heavy cruiser got away from the coast. As it was, we very well took care of the matter!
Just a few minutes had passed, when our planes from our cruiser gave us a range, and we started pouring 15-gun salvos in the direction of the French cruisers. It was bad at the bombardment of Fedala, but this was much worse, the shells of the French were falling all around us. They said later that several passed so close to our superstructure that you could hear them go by. One hit the water about 8 yards behind our fantail, which was the closest anyone observed.
We knew that the shells were falling much too close for comfort, and as we began to twist and dash all over the water to get out of their range, but still keeping up our own fire, I received word that the Augusta had been hit. I relayed it to the Main Radio for their information, and I had just finished keying it down when another flash came over that the report had been false. I immediately radioed this to Main Radio, and the sigh that went up from our ship could be heard all the way to Washington, as the 8-inch guns of the Augusta gave us a feeling of security.
However, a few minutes later, the bridge shuddered as though it were going to fly to pieces! We instantly knew we had been hit! Everything began to seem like a nightmare! We just looked at one another, waiting for the follow-up of the French fire, as we knew that several shells must surely follow that one. Then, into the bridge came the word that our No. 1 gun had been put out of action, and one man killed, one dying and 2 badly hurt.
My visions were as black as hell itself, and I thought how would it feel to either be blown to bits, maimed, or drowned in the salt waters of the Atlantic. I remember pulling my helmet down over my ears, pulling my legs up until they surely must have been around my neck, put my head on my arms, said goodbye to the loved ones at home, and waited for the end. But the end did not come! Our guns were still blasting away, the doors of the bridge were blown in by their blast, the men were trying to stand on their feet as the ship almost laid over on her side as we maneuvered to escape the French shells.
A new element had now entered the battle, in the form of a French submarine, which fired 5 torpedoes at us. I did not see this, but I later learned that the torpedoes missed us by a margin so narrow that it was terrifying. The French cruisers were also letting go torpedoes at us, as most foreign cruisers are equipped with torpedo tubes, while ours are not, but their torpedoes caused us no worry due to the range.
A few minutes later, I learned that they were sending motor torpedo boats at us, and at this news, I just groaned and prayed that they would soon run out of fighting machines.
During all of this, our guns were still pouring out mighty broadsides at our opposition. In what seemed like a life time, but was only a matter of 45 minutes, we were ordered to cease fire and return to the transport area at Fedala. A battleship and two heavy cruisers had arrived to take over the battle with the 2 French ships. We turned back to Fedala, but not before the glad news that the fire from our guns had set one cruiser ablaze and listing to port, and smoke coming from the other. And that both cruisers were trying their best to make it back to Casablanca. The one cruiser that was burning and listing to port ran into the beach and was a total loss, the other one we were to meet again later in the day.
In this battle, we fought off an attack by enemy bombers, which in itself is a pretty good feat. Being bombed, I think, is the most terrible thing imaginable.
When we arrived at Fedala, we were radioed to cease all fire until the temporary armistice between the French and us had been discussed, and at this information, we slowed our speed and for a short moment, left our posts to relax and observe the damage done to our ship by the hit scored on us by the French.
I went down to the com deck, and at the first sight of the vicinity where we were hit, I got sick!, My head was thumping to high heaven , and is little wonder I went woozy, because where the disabled gun stood was a mass of red, which I thought to be blood. It covered the bulkhead of the starboard side of the radio shack and was all over the decks. However, and officer told me it was a red dye from the French shell, used so as to give the observers on enemy cruisers the facts that they had hit us and that they had the range. The shell had come in just over the gun shield, knocked the cables that controlled the gun off their moorings, passed between the outspread legs of the sight setter, ripped out a section of the deck, smashed against the radio shack, put a hole in the bulkhead the size of a man's head, cracked the bulkhead to the extent of about three feet, and then ricocheted back over the gun shield into the sea.
This shell failed to explode, and to that we can be everlastingly thankful, because if it actually exploded, very few of us in the radio division would have returned home. I was about 12 feet above where the shell struck, and I have an idea that my unimportant existence would have come to an abrupt ending.
I inquired of P.M. [paramedic?] about the men, and was told that the one reported killed was only badly wounded, and that all would recover, despite the fact that all suffered serious injuries.
The officers met at exactly noon. At 1250, the alarm sounded, and with a feeling of great weariness, and sometimes I think, fear, I once more took my battle station, only God knew then, besides myself, that surely had enough of naval warfare!
As soon as we took our stations, word passed that the French at Casablanca would not capitulate, and that the Jean Bart, the huge 35,000 ton battleship, had opened fire on the Mass' [USS Massachusetts] and the two heavy cruisers, the Wichita and the Tuscaloosa.
The Army radioed us that the Navy was not to bombard the coast, as the people were not hostile, but that we were to sink any naval craft we could find.
We were not long in finding them! At about 1:20, we were radioed to intercept a cruiser and several destroyers on their way from Casablanca.
At the orders, our ship again put to sea, and I again began to wonder how much longer I had to live! Our predicament was rather serious now, we had expended nearly all of our ammunition, and were in no condition to wage another battle at sea.
But someone had to intercept them, and the command picked the Brooklyn to do it, with a little mental support from the Augusta, which always seemed to be kind of lagging when we went into action against the French Navy. In a few minutes, our guns blasted out again at the French! And the French blasted right back! The enemy had several destroyers and they were darting all over the ocean like squirrels. They were very fast; our guns would lay a barrage down on them and they would slip into a smoke screen. At that we would figure they were hit, and about the time we had figured, they would dash out at us from the screen from somewhere else. But they were not always so fortunate, as our shells caught one and sent it to the bottom. Later, I heard that all of its crew went down with it.
Our firing was deadly accurate this time, and the battle had lasted only a short time, when our planes radioed us that the cruiser was afire and out of action, and was being towed back to Casablanca by a destroyer. This so-called cruiser turned out to be the 3000 ton destroyer of the French Navy, and was so large it actually resembled a light cruiser.
This marked the end of our action that day. That night, we heard a French broadcast that said 325 men had died on the 3000 ton destroyer, and when we had a close look at it a week later while in the harbor at Casablanca, it is a small wonder that many more had not died, because it was a mass of junk, a ghastly picture of what modern guns can do. To know that 325 men had died before our guns did not leave a feeling of elation within me, but it had to be them or us, and our guns shot first, and straightest!
At 6:15 that night, I left my battle station, I had been at that post for 20 hours without sleep, food, and only one drink of water. At 6:20, I took one look at the coast of Africa, one at the sunset over where I knew home must be, offered up a prayer that I was alive, went below to my rack and remembered nothing until 5:30 Monday morning, when we were again summoned to our battle stations as we are every morning, and awaited the dawn and its offering.
Dawn had come, and we were about to secure, when a torpedo bomber came at us from the shore. Our AA immediately cut loose on it, and at our fire, it dropped its torpedo and disappeared out of sight and over the horizon on the coast.
The attack was not followed up, and a short time later, we secured from G.Q.
At 7:15, I was in the line for chow when our AA roared into action-- I dashed topside just in time to see the wake of 4 bombs that missed us by not more than 50 feet off our port side. The bomber was so high that he was not visible. By now we began to think that the French were really out to get revenge on us for what we did the day before. I spent the rest of the day at my plane circuit, but we had no further action.
As stated before, our ammunition was nearly exhausted, so we got orders to put to sea and relieve the Cleveland as guard for the carrier Ranger, which we did about 11:00 the next morning, which was Tuesday.
The next two days were routine. The only exciting event was that the Jean Bart was yet in action, and our battle wagon 'Mass' (Milton was using shorthand, for the battleship, USS Massachusetts) had asked for bombers to soften it up. This was not considered until the J.B. opened up on the Augusta, which carries the Admiral, and then shortly after noon on Tuesday, I saw nine dive bombers off the Ranger head into the sky with 15 Grumman "Wild Cat" fighters as an escort.
About an hour later, I saw them return and land. And then over the radio came the message that the Jean Bart was silent. The reason given was that the nine bombers had scored 7 hits with 1000 pound bombs. And who can say that isn't a good reason?
On Friday morning, just after dawn, the submarines attacked us. We were now low on fuel and were to refuel from the tanker Winooski that day. A lookout first spotted the wake of a torpedo. And the thrill of action this time was beautiful to see! Our cruiser never lost its position of protection for the Ranger as at high speed we maneuvered to evade the torpedoes. The Ranger in a matter of minutes had launched her aircraft, and the sky was fairly humming with them!
It was no secret that the subs were after us, and the carrier. Suddenly off to our port beam, I saw a destroyer fire all of its 'Y' guns and, at the same time, roll depth charges off her fan tail.
A moment later, the ocean became a mass of huge fountains as the depth charges exploded far beneath the surface. At this spot, just as soon as the destroyer had cleared the force of her own charges, one of the dive bombers came roaring down in a power dive, and as it came out of its dive, I saw a black object drop into the sea. Another geyser was added to the sight, and either the sub was sunk or escaped, since no more action was observed at that particular spot. Oil slicks were seen to rise to the surface.
Our own planes were keeping my radio busy asking for information. I could give them only what I had seen, and they radioed back that they would cover the cruiser against the attack, and such news made me feel much better!
Suddenly our 20 mm and 1.1 guns began to pour a stream of lead into the water off our starboard side. The Ranger's guns now opened fire on the same area as ours, and just ahead of the torpedo wake was a running geyser of water kicked up by our fire. The torpedo was about 30 feet from our starboard, going forward, and either was meant for us or was intended for the carrier. It missed both of us, and I can well imagine the relief on both ships!
A radio report now came into the circuit that another torpedo just missed the bow of the destroyer leading the carrier.
This huge carrier was a sight to see as she now nearly lay on her side in the turn she made to escape the follow-up of the first torpedo. I could not take my eyes away from the carrier, as at any moment, I expected to see her get hit, because what a grand prize of war to send to the bottom! But she did not suffer a hit, and into Hitler's coffin was driven a few more nails!
Before this attack, our plane had radioed me that she had spotted two fishing craft about 10 miles ahead, and on investigation, informed the cruiser that they appeared to be friendly. They were flying the flag of Spain.
At this phase of the attack, the fishing boats were in plain view, about 4 or 5 miles away, and then in power dives came several planes from the Ranger, almost skimming their masts before they pulled out. But in those dives, no bombs were dropped. The last plane to dive before we executed another turn and lost them, dropped a smoke bomb squarely between them, and the reason, while not known to me then, was made clear later on when they radioed that a sub was laying under the surface between the two ships, and the fishing vessels were a scheme to hid them.
I also learned our carrier's bombers spoiled the subs scheme. A huge oil patch was spreading over the ocean from the vicinity of the smoke bomb!
We were now away from the sub trap, and none of the ships with us had been hit, but now over the radio came word that the tanker that was to have refueled us had been torpedoed. Also came word that at Fedala, the subs had attacked and had exacted a heavy toll. The Tasker Bliss and the Hugh Scott, and Hambleton had been torpedoed. The Bliss and the Hugh Scott, both transports, going down with a large number of sailors being lost. The Hambleton, a destroyer, was still afloat.
(Note: Milton Briggs's timeline is not exactly clear. The transport Joseph Hewes was torpedoed late on the 11th of November; the Navy tanker Winooski and the Navy destroyer Hambleton were torpedoed in the same attack but did not sink. The transports Tasker Bliss, the Hugh Scott and Edward Rutledge were torpedoed and sunk the afternoon of the 12th.)
Our fuel was extremely low, and our predicament became worse, the seas became rougher, until we had to radio into the harbor at Casablanca that we would have to put in there for fuel or put in at Gibraltar. This was, of course, the next day in the afternoon. That morning, Friday, Casablanca had fallen (Nov. 11), and our forces were in command.
Permission to return to Casablanca for fuel was now granted, so we left the Ranger and her newly acquired escorts, the Philadelphia and several cans [destroyers], and later the Massachusetts, and with conditions as they were, we headed for Casablanca.
On Monday morning at 9:30 November 16, we pulled into the harbor, and saw at close range the effect of our attack on the city.
Of the city itself, I have never seen a more beautiful place. The buildings were all tan color, and seemed to be all new in appearance. The rolling hills just back of the city were barren of trees, but green with grass. All in all, the effect was enough to make a land loving boy want to go for a walk over there where large farms could be seen.
The French cruiser we had smashed was seen, and it was a pitiful sight, as was the 3000 ton destroyer, and another 1700 ton destroyer, and all from our cruiser's guns.
All about the harbor could be seen several ships blasted by the American attack of naval guns and our planes. The Jean Bart was there, and from where we could see, looked battered but not ruined beyond repair. In front of us was the Winooski, the tanker that was torpedoed while on its way to refuel us. She had a large hole in her side, but was still afloat and ready to go. Just off our port quarter, only the masthead of a ship could be seen. I still don't know whether it belonged to us or the French.
But most gratifying of all was the fact that not a home or building could be seen that had been damaged, and of this, we later learned that the French and Moroccans were thankful to the Americans for their humane way of waging war. Not a single life of a civilian had been lost from the fire of our guns. But not the same could be said of the French Navy. Over 2000 of their sailors had died under the guns of our Navy that day!
Of the American Navy, we lost 600 men killed, and a great many wounded. Though small in comparison to the losses of the French, nevertheless, that 600 boys had to drown brought a sad feeling. But for the grace of God, how many more of us would have been with them?
On the morning of the 17th, we were pulled out of our berth, and started our trip back to the United States. We now had about 40 ships in the convoy, we were the only cruiser, and the Chenango was the only carrier.
On November 31, after some of the roughest weather I had ever seen, we pulled into Norfolk, and even though I have never hated a city as much as I hate Norfolk, it was still a glorious sight to see American soil, and it brought a wonderful feeling to my heart to know at last we were safe for the present.
After taking on fuel and ammunition, we set out for New York, and docked there at the Navy yard at 5:00 PM on December 2.
From that point, I went to the one place I had been dreaming of throughout all that long trip, through storm and battle, that place was, is, and will ever be, home.
On the second day off the African coast on our way back [home], a fellow Radioman, 3/C [Third Class], passed away. He was a boy of 20, and slept right alongside of me. He had suffered an attack of pneumonia shortly after we left [for] the States and had not gained strength as he should. A blood infection set in and he died at 11:20 on Wednesday evening, November 18. I had gone down to see him at 4:30, and had taken him a package of letters from his girl, whom he was to marry on his return to the States. I wanted to read them for him, but he was too weak to hear them.
At 4:10, on the following day, we buried him at sea, in what was the saddest experience I ever hope to witness. The Chaplain prayed, the Captain spoke, and as the final notes of "Taps" were carried away over the sea, his body, clothed in the Stars and Stripes, was slid into the sea.
As I watched it go, I wondered just how harsh would be God's judgment on the souls of men who caused war, that young men and young people all over the world must have their lives cut off before having a chance to live! I am sure that when Judgment Day comes, His punishment cannot be too dreadful to those who have plunged the world into chaos, sadness and despair.
Milton A. Briggs, RM3/C, US Navy
I referred above that the cruiser Augusta was "lagging behind" in battle. I later learned that she carried General's Eisenhower and Patton, and thus was kept safe while the Brooklyn sailed in "harm's way."
Below are the true accounts of the trip to the Mediterranean. The subsequent invasion of the Axis territory itself. All incidents written are true.
20 June 1943
1600 - On this day at 1600 on the 20th day of June, 1943, we are about 4 hours from the Straits of Gibraltar. We were issued gas masks and flash proof clothing, goggles and fireproof bedding at quarters this afternoon at 1315, and were told by the officers (very considerate of them as we knew as much ourselves) that action by aircraft was very likely to be extreme. It still is an amazing condition on this ship how the information is kept strictly to the gold-braid and none whatsoever given to the men. This condition is ever prevailing, even though it is the men who stand at the guns, radio and all other equipment that is used to fight this war. And those who do all the work are the ones who are kept ignorant of what is to happen. However, there is probably a reason, and it is more than likely this. If everything comes off smoothly and successfully, then the gold-braid will get the credit and the commendations, but if things go wrong, and we suffer adverse affects, then it can all be blamed on the enlisted man... And the poor enlisted man will lose neck for an incident due to his being unable to cope with certain situations because of the withholding of all the facts and vital information that is kept to the gold-braid alone, and the only thing the men can do is guess. Pray that he can always guess right, for therein is the winning of this war. An amusing thing, this gold-braid and the enlisted man! Both are human beings, with the exception of intelligence, and though this may astound most people, the intelligence does not always lie in the brain of the officer. However, there are more important matters at hand to write of than the insignificant condition of the odious gold-braid.
On the 10th of June, at 1200, we left New York and hit the open seas...I gave all my attention for several hours looking at the bluff that faced the river where we lay at anchor, watching the apartment where lived the one I love with all heart and soul... I last saw her on Tuesday night, June 8th and the next morning we moved away from the pier and anchored in the bay to bring on ammunition and other stores. Even now, ten days later, I am wondering if my wife saw the cruiser as it lay there in the stream, and even now I wonder if she somehow heard me say "I love you" as we hoisted anchor and led the convoy away from that certain city.
As to the trip over, it has been smooth, and so far without losing any of our ships or men. We have had submarine trouble continuously, and only yesterday while at quarters, a destroyer dropped a pattern of 3 depth charges on a contact, but as usual, no results were determined. Hitting a submarine is akin to catching a fish with the bare hands, only the kinds of fish we are bothered with sure can retaliate with a real bite. If one is careless, the "bite" can have pretty damaging results!
The food is, as ever, a source of a never ending topic of complaint...To put it very mild, it is the worst we have ever had on this ship... The only decent thing we ever have to eat is an apple or an orange every other day... We can thank God that he is responsible for the fruit, because if he wasn't, then the cooks on this ship would surely spoil that also. Since I started on this trip, several islands in the Mediterranean have fallen to the Allies. Namely, Pantelleria, Lampedu, and Linosa. They have given the impression to the public via newscasts that these islands fell easily, but somehow I have the feeling that the Mediterranean is a good deal hotter place than the magnificent minds of our leaders have tried to make us believe. We will soon find out, as another day will put us in bombing range of the Italian mainland, and I think the Axis still have a roundly number of bombers to make a lot of us wish to be home in New York.
21 June 1943
21 June...1943...1230A; 7:30 A.M. N.Y.T.
At midnight, 0000b, we entered the Straits of Gibraltar. I was on watch until 2345, and then I stood on the communications deck as we entered. To our starboard I could see a beacon light flashing against the background of mountains that was Spanish Morocco...To the port side of the cruiser, I saw lights, tiny flickering ones, that peeked at us from the Spanish mainland itself. At this point the Straits are about 12 miles wide, and one could easily guess that if it were daylight, and visibility were good, how easy it would be to see both sides quite clearly. It was very moonlight, and I thought to myself how information must be rushing to the Axis from the advantageous points on the beach, even though the country of Spain is supposed to be neutral.
I watched the coastline for an hour or so, and then decided to turn in for a couple hours sleep. General Quarters was to go at 0400, and I was extremely weary from lack of rest sleep as it was.
At 0400 I was awakened by the alarm and went immediately to the radio shack, where I got my helmet, gas mask, pencils, earphones and radio logs, and then proceeded to the pilot house, where I stand my battle station watch. I learned there that we had passed the rock at 0200, but visibility was very poor, and only a blur could be seen where the fort was supposed to be...I guess I will have to wait until we leave here to get a glimpse of it. After chow, I went to the shack for my watch... As I hit the comm deck, the destroyer on our starboard beam let go depth charges on a contact...No results were observed. We will no doubt have our troubles here with submarines, as Mussolini has quite a number of them, and the Mediterranean is not a large sea... Which means that we should be found very easily.
We are due at Oran sometime tonight...I wonder what will our experience before we arrive? The time is now 1830 of the same day, and Oran can be dimly seen in the foreground against a ridge of high mountains. We swung into the opening of the harbor, and we then got our first close-up look at the city... It is not much to look at...About the same as Casablanca, but the territory surrounding the city is vastly different, and very inspiring...It is extremely mountainous...The absence of farms and orchards give it a look of exceptional ruggedness. The harbor itself is tremendous...And nearly deserted.
About 25 ships, freighters, of nondescript appearance - are anchored along the beach, and at this particular spot, no warcraft can be seen.
We swung hard to starboard and went past the city of Oran and proceeded to a place called Mers el Kebir, and here was the location we were instructed to anchor.
We went through the sub nets and entered this little port... Several ships of our own navy were to be seen here. Namely a large number of destroyers and several large tankers and supply ships.
It is now sunset, and the sight is one of the most impressive that I have ever seen... The sun is going down behind a high cliff, and is a huge silver glow that seems about ready to burn up the whole world... On top of this cliff is an old French fort, and it is a very formidable piece of construction. Extending along the rim of all these cliff-like mountains are pill boxes set up by the Army. A good defense against bombers!
Seeing about all that I wanted to see, I went below to my bunk and turned in. At 2330, I was awakened for my watch... Upon getting to the shack, I was immediately greeted by an air-raid alert and had to go to my battle station. It was false, as usual, and the secure was sounded at 0130, which is now the 22nd of June.
23 June 1943
23 June 1943 -- 2000b; 2 P.M. N.Y.T
I have not written much since the air raid alert -- nothing has happened, except for the arrival of many ships...The Philadelphia, Boise and Birmingham, all cruisers, have shown up and each brought a convoy over as did we. There is now a huge gathering of all types of men-o-war, oilers, cargo ships and transports. This morning I was treated to my first sight of some English strength in the form of 2 of their mightiest battleships, the King George 5, and the Lord Howe...A submarine of the English Navy also came in at the same time, plus a couple of destroyers.
The wagons (battleships) are excellent looking, and formidable appearing as hell itself, but I think our own battleships of the South Dakota class are many times better. Never the less, I am sure glad to see these limey ships present, as I think we will need all the warships we can get when we head for the invasion of Italy, which is drawing ominously nearer and nearer with each passing hour.
I think we will pull out of here soon for either Bizerte or maybe Tunis...From there we will probably assemble for the attack on Sicily or the Italian mainland.
It makes me nervous the way all these ships are tied up here in this harbor...If the axis could send through a fleet of bombers, we might easily suffer another Pearl Harbor...Such ignorant fools that run the affairs of this war!
On Monday, the day we came through the Straits, I wrote of how I thought the news must be rushing to the Axis from the Spanish as we passed along their coast...To verify my suspicions, one of our destroyers, at 1000 on Friday, intercepted an Italian broadcast that proclaimed the passing through the Straits of 14 destroyers, 1 cruiser, tankers and transports... Such information was so absolutely correct that Hitler could have had a better count of us only if he had been present on the decks of the Brooklyn. However, we did not lose much sleep over it, because there is plenty in the Mediterranean ahead of us to make the axis worry, let alone news of more coming...And quite a lot more came through after we passed on to Oran. In fact, we hear that the other cruisers previously mentioned brought exact duplicates of our own convoy.
Today, the first of our men went over on liberty... Tomorrow I rate, and at the present time I am doubtful as to whether I shall go... Oran offers nothing for sight-seeing, and if I do go, it will be only to get a few souvenirs to take home to my wife. As to going home, I hear it may be September or later before we have that pleasure... If we stay topside in the battles which are to come, I make my guess that we will hit New York around the first part of August... I wish I could look into the future and see what will have happened by the time August rolls around.
The time, as you may have noticed, is now B-time, or minus 2 time. In other words, when it is midnight in New York City, it is 6 o clock the next morning over here in Oran.
Before I knock off for tonight, I want to add that this is the place the English gave the French fleet a shellacking in 1940... We can see from where we are now anchored, a badly battered French cruiser, or it may be a battleship, I cannot tell from where the Brooklyn is anchored. (It was the French battleship Lorraine.) And nearer is a place where the masthead of a battleship protrudes above the water. The rest of the ship, as you can guess, rests on the bottom. I have seen quite a few of the things that a few years ago were headline news in the papers back home... There is no doubt in my mind now as I write, that there will be bigger headlines than any we have seen, appearing soon in papers all over the world... And this time I think I will be present... I only hope I can someday read back home, what is to take place in these Mediterranean waters in the very future.
24 June 1943
24 June 1943--1930b; 330 P.M. N.Y.T.
Very little happened today... I was supposed to rate liberty, but some small thing must have arisen that prevented the higher-ups from granting us permission to go shore... The officers were all granted liberty, though, but such is the make-up of the navy... When any privileges or credits are given out, it is the gold-braid that get it, but when hard work, long and frequent watches are handed out, then we are graciously given it all to do... From such conditions such as happened, makes the morale of the crew of the Brooklyn a very low item in our ships organization. Many already are making their plans on going over the "hill" if and when we get back to the States.
Starting this morning, the ships and destroyers, one by one, hauled up their anchors and proceeded out to sea...Now as I write, only this cruiser and the Birmingham are left...The two English battleships are still here, a couple tankers, and about six destroyers. I hear we go from here tomorrow and make our next port at Algiers, in Algeria...But rumor is rumor, and not too much can be expected of such gossip.
25 June 1943
25 June-1943-1900b; 3:00 P.M. N.Y.T.
We still are at anchor here in the port of Mers el Kebir. My expectations of being out of this desolate spot were not fulfilled.
Nothing of importance occurred today... The wash-room hours for the crew have changed again... They were rigid enough, but now it is practically an impossibility for the majority of the men to even wash their hands... The rooms are open for one half hour each time, four times a day... This is a total of two hours wherein 1200 or more men are supposed to shower and shave once a day! Naturally such rigid hours have no effect on the gold-braid... They have hot and cold running water in their rooms and showers for twenty-four hours per day... Their showers are as large as those for the crew, plus the washing facilities in each of their state-rooms, and there are only two hundred or so officers aboard this ship... Can anyone blame the enlisted man for thinking the navy is only for the convenience of the gold-braid?
I think I will write a little of this ship's organization, being as news today is scarce... To begin, for the first time in the Brooklyn's career, the men are privileged to wear dungarees while at sea. This has been a custom shared by nearly all men-o-war, even including the new battleships, which are supposedly so regulation!
The coming of an admiral on this ship was a lucky break for the crew in that one respect. As to how we changed to dungarees... It came about one morning when the admiral looked out of his cabin and saw the deck hands swabbing down the ship in a rain storm. The men, to the admiral's exasperation, were wearing clean whites...The captain and the executive officer were immediately summoned to his cabin and the law was laid down to them that the Brooklyn had best fall in line with the rest of the Navy. He stated that whites and blues were too expensive a uniform of the day for men to do their work in...How we blessed the admiral for those words!
I have seen men take paint and go over the side of the ship in good whites and blues...An hour later their clothes would be covered with paint and naturally ruined. This immediately necessitated the buying of new clothes right away, as the executive officer will not tolerate clothes covered with paint. Since we have been wearing dungarees, he is continually grabbing men whenever he can for little things that are childish in their importance... We are not allowed to roll up our sleeves... Still, regulation-issue of shirts come that way, and several men have been put on report because of this... When these clothes were issued to them by the United States navy as regulation clothing, we cannot quite see why the "fish" should call then non-regulation... But he is doing it!
On the Philadelphia we can see the men sitting in the sun, stripped to the waist, getting all the benefit they can from a good tan... On every other ship around is the same thing... Still, on here we cannot even as much be topside unless we are properly uniformed, and we are not allowed to sit around in the sunshine without our hats! It is a pretty dammed rotten way to, live, along with no water to keep clean, food fit only for a dog, and the discipline of the ship so ignorantly strict that the men can talk only of hatred, discontent and the future means of either "going over the hill" or getting a transfer at the first opportunity.
This is surely a tragic condition when the ship in itself is one of our mightiest type of cruiser.
A year and a half ago, each day of the week found me vowing to myself that as soon as this mess is over, Hell itself could not keep me in the Navy... Now, each passing second of the minute finds me a million times more determined to get out of this dogs life, for such it is, nothing but the life of a dog, where-in a man is treated so contemptuously that if his will power is not of the strongest, he is going to either degrade himself by sinking into habits of such profane proportions that he will be unfit to go out into civilian life or else he will grow mentally and physically like iron, boundedly determined that navy life will never make him change his habits that were good nor will add any more vices to his repertoire than with which he brought into the Navy. I hope, in Gods name, that I can be counted with the latter when I leave this service, God willing that I live through this war.
29 June 1943
29 June - 1943-1600b; 10:00 P.M. N.Y.T
It has been several days since I have written anything in this account of this none too pleasant excursion. We still are at anchor in this port of Mers-el-Kibir...With the exception of a couple air-raid alerts, nothing has happened that could be called important.
Yesterday, which was Monday, I rated my first liberty here in Oran, but I found it so difficult to even get shaved, because of the water situation, that I did not consider it worth my time to go over.
Today at quarters, we were told that there would be no more liberty for us here, and from that, and a few other sources of information, I figure we will move out of here in a very short time. Possibly within two or three days. Taking everything into consideration, I think our big action will take place on or about the fourth of July...There is no doubt in my mind but what the guns of the Brooklyn will have been pretty warm by the time another week is finished. I may be wrong, but the invasion seems to be drawing nearer and nearer with each passing hour. I think we will hit at one of two places... Either we strike at Sicily, or we will try and land the Army around the lower part of Italy, at Naples, or perhaps we will invade the island of Sardinia. These are only guesses, by one who likes to make guesses in this war! As stated before, no true source of information is ever given us so we can only make up our own thoughts of coming events. We sometimes do pretty good, too!
2 July 1943
2 July - 1943 -1330b; 7;30 A.M. N.Y.T.
Since last Tuesday, we have gone out on a rehearsal run, fired our main batteries at shore targets, and once more are back here in this disgusting port of Mers-el-Kibir; the entire ships personnel is restricted to the ship: in itself, this presages the imminent departure for the invasion areas, although I do not look for it to take place until next week. We take on fuel tomorrow, so after that we are liable to go at any moment
4 July 1943
4 July 1943- l700b; 11:00 A.M. N.Y.T.
At this hour, this national holiday that I once used for spending many happy moments with the family at our reunions is almost over... We are still at Mers-el-Kibir, and still waiting for the orders that will set the gears to working which, in turn, may send us on our way for the invasion. Another change has taken place in the harbor here... Yesterday afternoon, July 3rd. The HMS Lord Howe and the King George 5th hauled in their anchors and, preceded by their own destroyers, put out of the harbor for sea. This very afternoon, I again got a view of some more of the limeys naval might when the Lord Nelson and the Rodney came in and anchored... With them came the British carrier, Indomitable, and four English destroyers. Also a destroyer manned by a Polish crew and flying the Polish flag. The Nelson and the Rodney are what are known as battle cruisers..they carry much less armor than a battleship, but are armed with the same big guns. The lessening of armor adds to their speed, and thus the derivation of battle-cruiser. They have an appearance unlike any other capital ship that I have ever seen. The bridge and after control are away aft of amidships and there is no battery of heavy guns in the after part of the ship at all.
Forward of the bridge they carry 3 turrets, each mounting 3-15 inch guns. This is an excellent arrangement if they always have the enemy in front of them, but what are they going to do if the enemy is at the rear? I will still prefer battle ships of our own design. However, one cannot deny that these British battle cruisers carry a very menacing appearance.
The Indomitable carried quite a few "Spitfires" on her flight deck, and a couple "Swordfish" torpedo planes could also be seen. The "Spitfires" are surely as fine looking a plane as their reputation has proclaimed them to be. I hope we have a sky full of them when the fire-works begin.
There is still no news of our departing! I surely thought that at home on this day the folks would be reading and listening about the invasion, but evidently the time of attack has not yet arrived.
The Axis were as sure as their faith in Satan that the morning of the 4th of July would be the day of our attempted invasion. I would be willing to freely state that they sweat blood during the wee hours of this morning. They would have more than sweat blood if we had struck and probably we would have shed some ourselves, as this killing business is not always on one side only.
6 July 1943
6 July - 1843 0 1800b; 2:00 P.M. N.Y.T.
We are on our way! At 1345 on July 5th. The entire harbor cleared itself of ships. The Rodney, Nelson, Indomitable, and all their escorts started leaving in the morning and following in their wake went the Birmingham, Philadelphia, and then went the Brooklyn.
The task force, as we could see it at dusk, amounted to three cruisers, 20 transports and auxiliary ships, and quite a number of PC boats.
The British ships are not with us, as they have a different task to perform than do we. We now have the facts of what is to be our objective, and it is one of the two that I predicted,..It is to be a massed assault on the island of Sicily.
I will write of it briefly; the Brooklyn and an escort of one destroyer is to attack at a place named Licata which is a city of about 30000 population. At this point we must put ashore a great number of troops who are to capture the city. Our predetermined targets are as follows: first we are to bombard a castle that stands on the top of a hill. This castle is a radio station and possibly a radar outfit. In this area is also a probable battery of defense guns, which if true, will also be our target. We then have a target that is in the heart of the city itself. This means we will have to shell the place. On a strip of land running out into the water is a battery of what may turn out to be railway guns. It is not a true fact that these guns are here at this point, but plans are being considered that it is the truth...If this is true and they open fire on us, then we will be forced to turn our guns on this target. I only hope they do not turn out to be the kind of railway gun that we have guarding our own coastline in the United States. If they are, our days on the Brooklyn may be nearing an end.
There are also a few more targets we anticipate resistance from. These are targets of opportunity, and must be dealt with when they present themselves.
There may be mas, or torpedo boats, submarines and possibly destroyer opposition in this area. We must also have defense against air attacks which is our greatest concern. If anyone ever saw a bombing attack, then you can really understand our intense concern about this type of opposition.
We are to invade the western-most position of the island. The center attack group will be made by the Birmingham, and the extreme southern or possibly the eastern end of the invasion will be handled by an all British assault. The rest is left up to us, and it is entirely enough! The United States forces are furnishing the cruiser strength for this affair; naturally the greatest part of the destroyer strength will also be supplied by us.. The British are supplying the battleships, four of which I have written, and two carriers... We have not a battleship or carrier in the entire plan. This in itself is most perplexing, knowing by having seen, our battleship force and carrier fleet is huge, and why they are not to be involved in the Sicily attack implies that another invasion may be taking place at some other vital point against the Axis. But such is not known to this task force, unless they are keeping it from us.
I know for a near positive fact that we can gather a fleet of perhaps 30 or more carriers of our own in the Atlantic including our newest ones, which I have seen when in the ports back home. The Ranger, Card, Essex, Belleau Wood, Lexington, Yorktown,
Cowpens, Princeton, and several others are a few of the most modern type, and all of these were seen by my own eyes, loaded with planes and ready to go when we saw them in the states in just the past two months. I also know we have the New York, Texas, Arkansas, Alabama, Iowa, and possibly the South Dakota are in the Atlantic. It is a braintwister to try and figure out where these ships must be and what may be their plan in this coming attack on the Axis.
The British are placing three battleships and one carrier at each end of the invasion coast. This is to take care of the Italian fleet if it comes out to give battle. One group is placed to intercept them if they come down from the great Italian base of Taranto, which is on the eastern coast of Italy, or the coast facing towards the Ionian sea. Another group is at our end of the attack, and will intercept the fleet that is based at Spezia and Genoa should they attempt to attack us.
If the British miss the fleet that comes down from Spezia or Genoa, then it will also be the Brooklyn's task to intercept and give battle. The prospect is not too pleasant on this account, as I do not like naval engagements, having been in two already!
They are intending to put ashore about 150,000 men in this invasion. God pity those boys on the transports when we attack, because what awaits them is not pleasant to think of. They are new troops, and I suppose action impending is a subject of keen expectation. It is always that way in the books, and plays too, but being blasted by big guns, riddled by thousands of machine gun bullets, bombed by planes, strafed by planes and assaulted by other types of modern warfare is a terrifying thing to face. A man is so helpless against such opposition as this, and so much depends on the fire support of the attacking warships to break up this kind of resistance. If we fail in our given job to blast and destroy the assigned tasks, then utter destruction and annihilation awaits the army and navy amphibious forces when they reach the beach.
The civilian is so little read and enlightened as to the procedure of an invasion. When we went into the Solomons, the papers screamed with the headlines. The Marines have landed! A very small article may have been printed of a few naval losses, but they appeared to be minor to what the Marines did. To write a little of this, any force of marines or Army or Navy amphibious forces are entirely committed (from the context here, Milton's word 'committed' should be read as 'entrusted') to the protection of the navy in any invasion we will ever have on an enemy coastline... It is the navy that storms to the very teeth of enemy resistance with an attack that destroys the gun emplacements, enemy warships and enemy air attacks that await them at any invasion point. When these barriers are overcome, then the Navy puts ashore the ground forces who then carry the attack inland.
After they are inland, the Navy's job is then only begun. We watch and patrol against attacks from the sea. We convoy and land all kinds of supplies and reinforcements to continue the battle. If it were not for our supplying our land forces, they would not last long enough to even be considered. So in any invasion, never let all the glory be applied to any one force. Too many boys have died in this war in all branches to have the praise and glory go to any particular branch of the services. Let's not forget one so as to give a lot of misplaced praise to another.
As I write, we are now slightly past the city of Algiers. Out of this port have come the Boise and the Savannah with around 20 transports of Army troops. We are slowly gathering a tremendous force of naval craft.
According to the information given us today, there will be about 2500 ships in this invasion. This is more than a man can imagine in one attack. We had around 800 ships in the African incident, so you can see what opposition they anticipate in the taking of this Italian island. We are also to have the support of about 4000 airplanes, which include fighters and bombers.
Yes, it is all shaping up as a tremendous effort and I suppose the results in casualties will be equally the same. The entire assault in Army and Navy personnel will amount to nearly a half million men. This is including the British also, and as they figure 35 percent casualties to be suffered on the Allied side, we stand to lose around 150,000 men in wounded or killed and missing.
How many mothers, fathers, wives and sweethearts that will shed tears when this is over is appalling...But worse yet is the fate that awaits the ones that must face the hell of modern war in a very few days. What an end for a man to come to. Death or worse on the soil or in the coastal waters of a foreign country, perhaps 4000 miles away from home and the ones he loves. We will have such little time to pray, so pray a lot to God Almighty for our preservation, you folks at home, because although we are not afraid to die, we do not want to die. We have too many plans of the future that we want to make come true, and if we die in the fray over here, then those plans will never materialize. But if die we must on this side of the Atlantic then may our going do something that will better the future. Especially may our deaths bring a realization to the strikers and slackers who are laying down on the jobs back home, that they are not the ones that are sacrificing the most! When the bombs begin to fall, the shrapnel and hell of heavy gun fire blasts our bodies, when our minds are strained to the point of insanity during deafening and prolonged action, when men silently pray for just one more chance to see his mother and father, or silently cries for his wife, as he senses death approaching with a roar of blood curdling explosions, when this happens, as it will happen about Friday or Saturday morning at 0245 in the morning, then may those who are sitting in luxurious surroundings, drinking at thousands of bars, dancing in a half million nite clubs, or eating in expensive restaurants, or laying down on the production of war material back home, may they suffer an awakening that will make them realize they are the fortunate ones in this conflict.
I would so much like, as would an innumerable number of others, to be back home with my loved ones when this starts. But my chosen job was to fight for them on the high seas against an enemy who would destroy those I love if he were not destroyed, so whatever befalls me will have to be faced by me alone, and if I suffer death or injury when we attack, I only hope that their tears and sorrow will not be endured for a lost cause.
7 July 1943
7 July 1943 -- 10:30b; 4:30 A.M. N.Y.T.
It is almost noon here in this vicinity of the Mediterranean sea. You at home are still asleep with possibly two hours more of peaceful rest before your day starts. Since this day began I have had a five hour watch that ended at 0430 this morning, slept 2 hours and have been on the run up until this hour, and I go on watch again from noon until 6 this evening. At that time I will have chow and an hour or so later will go to general quarters for the evening periods of sundown until total darkness. We will secure from G.Q. About 2300 and then I will have until 0330 to sleep, or about 3 hours before my next watch. There is very little rest out here for us.
We are on the alert constantly now, as the Italian island of Sardinia is only about 200 miles from our present position. This is only a matter of an hour or less bombing time, and with this large convoy, a bombing attack would not be appreciated!
The entire attack force is to rendezvous at Malta on the day before dog day. Dog day is the Navy phrase used to designate the day on which the invasion is to be made. H-hour, or "how-hour" is the specified hour we land. The day is unknown as yet but will probably be as I stated before, about Friday or Saturday. The hour we know, which is 0245 in the morning. When this hour arrives, you in the States will have the local time of 1045 P.M. It is possible the invasion will hit the newscast before you turn in for the night. If it does, send a few words of prayer for the boys over here.
The orders of the leader of this invasion are that the island must be taken at all cost, and regardless of losses. It is a must job and there is to be no strategic retreat, regardless of how strong the opposition.
If that is the way they want it done, then I guess we will have to do it that way.
8 July 1943
8 July 1943-1430b; 8:30 A.M. N.Y.T.
When one considers the proximity of our convoy to the Axis bases since last evening, there is not a doubt that we should reasonably enough expect heavy attacks. This morning at 0600, we were off the coast of Bizerte. At this time only a little more than 100 miles separated us from Sicily. As dawn came, for the first time we saw the mighty concentration of invasion craft that is massed along the African- Mediterranean coast. It is of such enormous proportions that I can hardly find words to describe what met my gaze.
Now I speak only of the shipping that lays at anchor awaiting the hour of departure for Sicily. In addition to this, I saw from the pilot house an innumerable number of ships and warcraft in our own convoy and the other convoys preceding our own outfit. The transports, subchasers, destroyers, tank carriers, attack transports and several cruisers were in a lane of many ships deep, and extended completely out of sight in the foreground. Motor torpedo boats were extremely plentiful and were in long files on our seaward side. They were also in the same formation between us and the mainland.
I could see very little of Bizerte itself, as visibility was not too much to our advantage. Six months ago this was a hell of killing and destruction, but this morning not a sinister aspect entered the picture. Only the grim, terrifying mass of power of our own Navy craft was to meet the eye. To this in all reverence, I say thank God.
At approximately 0800 we steamed off Cape Bon. Here on this barren peninsula that juts out into the Mediterranean is the place where the Axis were driven and cornered by our forces on land and were penned in from escaping by the naval power of the Allies who lay off the coast and poured barrages in on their prison. It must have been terrible warfare in these very waters only a very short time ago.
As the morning passed towards noon, our ships continued on towards Malta. No lessening of concentrated invasion shipping could be seen. You can use your imagination as to what comfort was imparted to our minds and bodies by the sight of such an amount of collected power.
At 1100 large formations of bombers and fighters winged over our convoy from their bases in Africa and headed towards the island of Sicily. Our press news that we copy in the radio shack tells of the terrible destruction that is being wreaked on the island by our air-force. One item in particular was most gratifying, as it imparted the information that last night our bombers struck at Licata. This, as I have written, is the point the Brooklyn will strike and put ashore our portion of the army and Navy amphibious forces.
At 1230, and you folks are still in bed at home, we passed by several islands that lie out in the sea. One in particular caught my interest by its towering magnificence of solid, barren rock formation. No sign of life could be observed, but I thought I detected a faint column of smoke rising from the center of the place, if we could only tarry and explore these new spots, then all this could be of huge interest but instead we only see from afar, or we pass then in the black of night and only a shadow against the sky tells us of their presence.
Starting at 1300, I saw two squadrons of P-38 fighters fly over the ship, heading towards our bases in Africa... In all probability returning from their raid on Italy. Following them came 33 two motored bombers. As I observed them, I mentally wondered what death and destruction must have remained behind in their wake.
This, however, was a beginning. I next saw a squadron of 18 of our B-19s (Milton meant B-17s) or as you know them, "Flying forts". They cut an impressive picture as they seemed to suspend themselves up there in the sky. But they soon were over our convoy and headed towards the coast. In a matter of less than a half hour, two more squadrons of "Forts" flew over us... All coming from the direction of Sicily. All told, 71 "Forts" passed over us -- one squadron was missing a plane, thus the odd number 71.
One must realize the nearness of this island to our bases at Bizerte, Tunis, Sfax and other points we now have in Africa. Once our planes get off the ground and gain their cruising speed, it only a matter of possibly less than a half hour until they are over Italian territory. In 1 1/2 hours, they can be back, possibly loading their ships again with more bombs for another raid.
It is this close proximity that is amazing us, as we have not yet had a bombing raid or an attack by submarines. As our planes can fly there in 30 minutes, so should they be able to reach us, providing of course, that they would not be shot down before getting within striking range of the convoy.
Still when one sees the number that are massed, waiting only for the signal to dash in on them, it is most puzzling when they do nothing to strike where it could hurt us, and thus benefit themselves. Either their air power here in this area is completely destroyed, or a mighty unpleasant surprise is in store for us about Saturday morning. We reach Malta sometime tomorrow, which is Friday, and there we assemble the different attack forces and make the 70 mile run on Sicily. The proceeding to Malta is a feint to lead the Axis to believe that we are preparing to make an invasion of Greece, Crete, or in some other vicinity. If this ruse works in any degree of satisfaction, it should cause them to pull out some of their air power or start moving reinforcements in that direction. If this succeeds, then our invasion of the island may be less bloody, and that is really what counts most--the saving of lives on the side of our own forces.
According to information, the Italians are about 250,000 strong in Sicily. These, of course, can be quickly added to and reinforced as only a 3 mile strait of water separates Sicily from Italy proper.
We are (not) attacking in the vicinity of this strait, but once we make beach heads where we are striking, then we can pour more troops into the island from Africa than can the Italians from their own armies in Italy. Once we make this beach-head, and the troop carrying ships are unloaded, they will dash back to our African bases for more material and men, and thus provide a ferry that will not cease until the island is completely over-powered, which I sincerely hope will not take long.
9 July 1943
9 July 1943--l700b; 11 A.M. N.Y.T.
As I write, at this moment we are near our rendezvous at Malta. It is a matter of only 10 hours before we attack Sicily. The time is surely drawing nigh.
We are farther out into the sea than at any time of the trip, and the ship is being tossed around quite a bit. This is the heaviest weather we have yet encountered. It is a known fact that we strike tomorrow morning, which is Saturday the 10th, or as you may hear it, the 9th back home. It will be exactly one month to the day since we left New York, as you will remember reading of our departure date in the beginning of this story.
Dinner today was a sorrowful affair, considering that a lot of us may never eat very many meals again. The crew figured they would throw us a good chow, but of the many nauseating meals I have seen on this ship, today's was the limit. Its contents was as follows: Salmon fixed up so odiously that it practically caused stomach convulsions... Potatoes creamed in a manner that made one want to ask the wrath of God to smite the heads of the ones responsible for such indecency...Green beans so horribly mutilated with big chunks of some kind of fat that look was a mighty good reason for seasickness... A slice of bread completed the bill of fare. I shall now desist about the food, and write my last on this before going topside for the duration of the invasion.
I am going to try and jot down what happens as we go.
10 July 1943
G.Q. was sounded at the routine hour of 2O18 B or 4:18 New York time. The weather is extremely bad; by this I do not mean rain and storms, but high winds and heavy seas. All around can be seen our attacking force: there is a large number of P.C. boats dotting the area covered by tank carriers and troop ships.
We have two English Command invasion boats with us, and they certainly are taking the rough weather poorly. If they dig their bow under any more than they do, I think only Providence could keep them topside!
The Brooklyn is taking it easy- all we can notice is the thud of the sea hitting the hull and the howling of the wind. The Birmingham is also doing nicely. I surely feel sorry for all the men who must be deathly seasick: There are a lot of sailors on the Brooklyn who are heaving all over the place. They are all new ones and it must be expected, though, it will probably affect their efficiency when the action comes. And it is coming soon, as we are now forty miles off the coast of Sicily, and seven hours from H-hour.
When we got to Malta, I was further amazed at the amount of ships in that area. They literally covered the sea like a solid mass. The island of Malta could only be dimly seen through the mist. One other island, Gazzoli Island, I think, was plainly seen off our starboard side.
I am now at my battle station. I have the airplane frequency, which is used in target spotting. When a target is fired on, especially at long range, we send our S.O.C.'s out to 'spot' for us. In this job, the planes tell us to either raise or lower, move, fire right or left, and how much to fire on whatever our target may be. They also find new targets and direct our guns to that section using the graph method. I will not explain this in detail, as it will take up too much time and space.
At 2045, our radar picked up six enemy planes about twenty-two miles away. This must be an enemy patrol out around coastal waters of Sicily. The patrol evidently did not spot us, as they flew out of range in another direction.
2120 According to radar, we are now only twenty-eight miles off the Island. In clear weather and daylight, this means that we probably could see Sicily. As we were silently slipping through the blackness, or might I say, what we wished was blackness, an explosion on the fan tail of the Birmingham suddenly lighted the entire area. Nerves and courage dropped like lead, as we arrived at the only possible deduction- the Italians were aware at our presence. There is complete radio silence, so we do not know what trouble exists on the other cruiser.
The conclusions are that one of her planes caught afire. The blaze was nearly out when a second burst of flame flared up. A moment later we saw the mass slide into the sea and the place became reasonably dark again. We later learned that this accident was the result of a flare going off while being installed in one of the Birmingham's planes. These flares illuminate beyond the imagination of a person who has never seen one touched off.
It is now 2200, and at this time there is supposed to be 250 army troop transports carrying about 12,000 paratroops passing overhead. These planes are taking the men into the interior to carry out a diverting attack. Nothing has been heard, of them yet.
2225 and the transports are now flying over the convoy on their way to Sicily. These men must be enduring unusual thoughts as they await the next few minutes that will send them plunging down through the night, only to land in an area full of armed enemy soldiers. I once wanted to enlist in the paratroops because they gave an additional fifty percent of your base pay. I certainly am glad at this moment that I did not carry out my intention. However, it is possible we on this ship may meet death in this affair, but their chances are almost, if not completely, negative.
Time is now 2300, and from the ship, we can see the flash of intense a.a. fire on the island. They are probably shooting at our army transports. We were previously informed that this would be expected, but under no circumstances were we to open fire on the island's guns. That they were firing on our planes did not necessarily mean that the invasion force had been discovered, nor that the element of surprise was over.
I can faintly see my watch here in the blackness of the P.H. (pilothouse) and it reads 2330. We now can hear the Army transports flying once more over the convoy. They are on their way back to African bases. This means 12,000 or so troops have been put into the area and must now be in action around the vicinity of the airport that lies back and to the north west of Licata.
0410 and we can see on the beach that the attack is now in its starting fury. We can see heavy patterns of tracer bullets lighting the beaches. The thud of heavy gunfire is now booming incessantly. The enemy is now shooting up star shells, and the area is being lit up almost like day. The Brooklyn is now surrounded by several star shells and I expect either shore batteries or bombs any minute. Like a streak of lightning, an enemy bomber came at us. We did not even get our guns fired. A huge geyser of water leaped out of the sea on our port side. A split second, later, his second bomb landed off the starboard beam. Now we knew that the presence of our ship was no longer a secret and we got ready to go into action. As the bombs hit, I looked at my watch and it read 0412. Bombers are all over us now and it looks like a hot spot.
A bomber is coming in on a destroyer and us from our starboard bow. The destroyer turned on a dime and left, angled his course, as he did, a bomb exploded at the exact spot his ship had been. We now let loose all our A.A. guns on him as he headed for us. He let the bomb go too early and it missed us. As the plane flashed over our bow, we got him with heavy fire by our 20mm, and he went down in flames. I looked at the time and only two minutes have elapsed since the first attack.
Three more bombing raids and it is getting hotter and hotter around here.
We are only shaken up as yet. No hits have been scored on any of the ships in our own attack group.
It is now 0445 and a large fleet of planes are reported overhead. I am beginning to sweat blood. Now a message comes that they are our own planes and I silently mutter a 'Thank God.
Our heavy batteries are now throwing out barrages at our predetermined targets. The spotting planes report it is too dark to observe our fire, but we do not stop our fire for a second. At two minutes later, we shifted to another assigned target, and so the program went on.
The sun is rising now and is lighting up the world like a huge fire, how I could enjoy a view such as this under different circumstances. We have lost communication with our planes and are firing by radar only. Great billows of smoke can be seen rolling into the sky, as our shells explode in the town. A lot of people must be dying in there.
We have finished off all other targets and are ordered to resume shelling the town again. We do this as ordered, and very effectively, as a short time later, all Naval gunfire is ordered to cease. All assigned points have been taken.
Once more, the Brooklyn has done a mighty effective job, and once more, a young radioman thanks his stars that he is still alive. We had some terrible close shaves when those bombers went into action. They would have surely done great damage if they had hit us.
We went to our battle-stations again about noon. Some targets of opportunity were supposed to be destroyed by us, but our S.O.C.'s reported only three enemy army trucks and bombed some.
After this, we were once again secured.
I will not write in detail any longer, as my notes are falling behind, and from this point on, I will summarize.
It is now 1530 on the 12th of July. A lot of hell on earth has been ours since I last wrote on the afternoon of the 10th. This morning at 0100, is the first sleep I have had since 1630 on the 9th of July. I fell asleep from complete exhaustion and slept until 1100 this morning. So far, this has been a nightmare of work and mental strain. You will possibly realize this to a small extent when I write of it.
Yesterday morning, on the 11th at 0810, we really had a bad raid. The bombers came in low from the land-side and made an attack on everything in sight. I was watching from the command deck toward the town of Licata, when I saw a blast of smoke and flame shoot up near an L.S.T. Then I saw the bomber. It streaked along the beach and dropped its second bomb directly on another L.S.T. The ship fairly leaped out of the water from the bomb's affect. Then it began to burn. Bright flashes reached through the smoke as it began to explode. What happened to the men on it is only too easy to guess. They must have died horribly. And still the war workers at home strike because they think they are treated unfairly. I wish to God that they would be made to take part in something like this for a few days.
While at G.Q. yesterday morning (11th), large formations of enemy bombers struck all along the attack area at the Navy ships. We were missed again by their bombs, but the destroyer Maddox (USS Maddox DD-622) was directly hit and sank. They also hit and sank a transport and bombed and set afire an ammunition ship. What men that were left on the ammunition ship abandoned it and the Philadelphia sank it with her heavy guns. The explosions in the ammunition ship fairly shook the sea as it disintegrated and went to the bottom. (She was the SS Robert Rowan.)
We are now beginning to suffer losses due to the skill of the Axis bombers. Most of the planes are German that are doing the attacking, and they surely are an experienced lot of airmen. It is practically an impossibility to shoot the sons-of-guns down. They are very shrewd. Our own fighters can be over us one minute, and as soon as they leave for a minute or so, then the Germans flash in, bomb the hell out of us, and disappear before the fighters return. The thought in my mind is just how long are they going to miss the old Brooklyn? God, but we have had some close ones.
Last night, at about 2200, we were so near hit that only a miracle must have saved us. I have no radio traffic to handle on my battle station at night, so I was standing out on the port wing of the P.H. watching the bombers raise hell with the troops and ships along the beach. Enemy planes were overhead, and dropping bombs into the sea around us, but I think they were doing this so as to draw the cruisers fire and thus reveal our position. We figured the same and held our fire. During the time, our ship was zigzagging sharply to prove a difficult target for them to aim at. Our radar reported that the planes were drawing away from our ship. For a minute, we were relaxed, and this minute nearly proved fatal. As all was quiet, I faintly heard a motor humming high in the heavens. It was a brilliantly moon-lit sky, but there was no sign of a plane. Suddenly, the hum rose to a howling crescendo of a roaring motor. "Dive bomber" we screamed at everyone that could hear, and then we slammed ourselves flat on our bellies on the steel deck.
I suffered a dozen deaths there in a matter of seconds. The roar grew unbearable and then the whistle of bombs made our very blood stop its flowing as they whistled over our ship and deafened us with their explosions, as they plunged into the sea just about twenty-five feet off the starboard side of the bridge. If they had struck the ship, I would not be writing this now. As I so horribly and distinctly remember counting four explosions, one right after the other, knowing that if they had been on the ship, the bridge would have been blown to bits and the men with it. I felt as I have never felt before, that my time had come; and I remember, as I huddled there on the deck, feeling a terrific rush of air from the bombs, that I bade goodbye to all those I hold dear to my heart. But my time, as then, had not been set.
However, I may as well state that I have no grand illusions about living very long if this continues. But if I go, I go with the picture of the most wonderful woman in the world nestling against my heart. I hope to God that she never experiences the terror and hardships that this picture has endured as it lay in my breast pocket throughout all this period of the war.
12 July 1943
1700 Brooklyn time on the 12th of July
The latest reports of the invasion are good in some places, bad in others. The opposition is very strong inland and until we can put more men and equipment ashore, it will continue to be bad. This blasted bombing is causing much trouble in this respect, but it will be eradicated in time.
A rather tragic accident occurred last night. At 2300, soon after our none too timid experience, we opened fire on a plane as it skimmed the water only about 100 feet of the starboard beam. Later, we heard that this was a friendly transport that had strayed off its course. We did not hit it, but we gave it the scare of its life. Soon after, a heavy barrage of fire went up from the L.S.T. area. As I watched, I saw what I thought was a starshell appear over the ships: it grew brighter and brighter; lighting up every ship for miles around. Then, like a mountainous torch, it blazed into the sea, where it burned and steamed until it went out.
This morning, we learned that it was one of our own army transports loaded with paratroops. Nothing more need be said of our feelings, as what manner of death came to them in that flaming pyre reaches beyond the realm of our conception. And still the rear workers think theirs is the heaviest burden. God have mercy on their filthy souls, that is, if mercy will ever be shown to anyone who takes part in such murderous acts that go with this War.
I will write only of one more tragic incident and then discontinue this for the day. Swan, an ARM l/c, who flew in one of our spotting planes on the morning of the 10th, saw a German bomber attack an LST, as it tried to reach the beach that morning. The plane dropped 4 bombs, three missing, but the fourth scoring a direct hit on the loaded ship. He said the ship turned fiery red from the bomb blast, turned over and went to the bottom. And as it lay there on the bottom, it still glowed like a red hot iron immersed in a pail of water.
Perhaps such incidents as this, and the fate that was for the men on this ship, providing it could be seen, would have an affect on the hearts of those who still abide in luxury and comfort, even though they be coal miners and war workers. Men die horribly in this war; men who have as much right to live as those who lay down on the job back home. To my mind they have much more right to life than those, who by their actions, are causing many more tragedies such as this to be rewarded in the Book of Justice that will one day be opened and the guilty criminalistic slackers will come face to face with their deeds: and may just punishment be their reward.
13 July 1943
0730- July 13
For the first time since along this coast, we spent a night without air raids. During the night, however, I could see heavy flashes of bomb explosions along the beach of Licata. Our safety may have been due to our morning out at sea for about 30 miles. If this was the reason, then I hope we do the same every night. We were ordered yesterday to come up here where we are now to bombard enemy emplacements in and around Agrigento. This is where the Axis intends to make its strongest stand, and I guess the Army is having a lot of trouble over in that area. We bombard at 0800, which is only a half hour away from now.
Dawn had just arrived this morning when at exactly 0550, three bombs plunged into the sea aft of the fantail. We did not even know they were up there. They caught us flatfooted but for the fact that they were Italian, we might well be at the bottom this minute. We did not get a shot at them.
0604 brought three more bombers at very high altitude and three more bombs crashed into the sea off our port quarter. They were Italian bombers again. I wonder how many times they are going to miss us!
0605 and more bombers heading toward our ship.
0610- We were still under attack. We are running away now at 25 knots, and radioing for help. The Army was supposed to have furnished us with fighter protection for this morning, but as always, they are never present when needed. It looks as though we are in for it as we and the Bristol and the Woolsey are the only ones around this area right now.
0620- Reports of large groups of bombers headed for us at around 12 miles. As they reached ten miles, they turned and went inland. I breathed a lot easier when I heard this.
0630- Our fighters are now in sight and there are no enemy aircraft present at this moment.
Thus was the day opened. We are about to bombard the city now, so I must man my radio for target spotting.
1045- And we have just finished the tower and other positions. We sure did a bang up job and could have done much more, but minefields prevented us from closing in- so the targets laying further back escaped our bombarding. We did not shell the town too badly, however, the targets in it must have been destroyed, as the Army radioed us to cease firing.
There is still more for us to do here, but we just learned that the higher ups refused to give us air coverage. I rather think that we will get out of here as it may be dangerous in a very short time. Those bombers are enough to turn a man's blood to water when they drop them [bombs] toward you from so far up that you can't see them.
2045- We did no more shooting today and we are now heading back to Licata with the Birmingham and our two D.D.'s. About 1 1/2 hours ago, we received a message that the Boise was being heavily attacked and bombed by enemy planes. The area around Licata is a very hot vicinity. It is the worst place of all and now we are heading directly at the blasted area again. I have forgotten to write that the moon is up in all its glory now. Its silvery bright and our ships make beautiful silhouettes against its brilliance.
It is this moonlight that may bring about our disaster. I shudder to think of the next few nights that will bring the moon to its full [phase]. Tonight it is just a half, and I can write by its light.
Before I quit writing for today, I may as well state that already we can see bomb explosions over the coastline. I hope that I will be able to write tomorrow of what may well take place tonight.
The next few hours will tell.
One incident I must not forget to write about is this; on the morning of the invasion, two of our destroyers, the Roe and the Swanson, started out to destroy some enemy torpedo boats. In the darkness something went wrong and they collided, seriously damaging both ships, and as I hear killing quite a few of their men. This was a very unfortunate accident, because we could have used their services greatly.
14 July 43
0513- 14 July 43 - Something has happened! We just struck a mine or were torpedoed. The ship raised out of the ocean & shook like a toy in the wind. We do not know how bad the damage [is], but we are not going down yet.
0524- and we hit another mine! There are also unidentified planes over us.
We must have hit a minefield. The ship is now barely moving and is in a very dangerous predicament. If the bombers sight us, we are a gone goose. Or if too many mines hit us, we may blow up inside!
0545- We are in the middle of a minefield. We are stranded and must await further developments.
0900- Since 0545, we have been still in this field. We cannot move because mines can be seen floating all around us. The Birmingham and the two D.D.'s are no where in sight. Where they have gone, I don't know. I sure wish we had company around here!
0930- Some P.C.'s have arrived and the mines are being swept. We are slowly moving again and getting out of here. We have notified the Birmingham to take our bombarding assignment for the time being. As yet, no info on the damage [done to the ship] has been given out, but I think it is serious.
1100- We are clear of the field now, and gathering speed. Our main pumps are flooded, and one tank [that] hold[s] 30,000 gallons of fresh water is gone, but the happy thing is that we are out of that damned mess.
(Note: On page 74 of the 4th Edition of "Joining the War at Sea 1939-1945," there is a short discussion of how the small warship shown at the beginning of this page could deal with mines with its sonar, not available on U.S. cruisers and larger warships.)
What a target we were for the Axis during those 5 hours. They could have hit us from 30,000 feet and we could have done nothing about it. Or they could have fired torpedoes from way out and could have easily sent us to the bottom. We surely were in the most dangerous predicament of the invasion. To have tried to evade bombs or torpedoes while in the field would have caused us to strike more mines and consequently may have been blown out of the water [anyway].
I have never been so shaken up in my life as I was when we hit those mines! The ship shook and jumped so that one's teeth clicked together like castanets. I wonder how long the Brooklyn is going to lead this charmed life of hers, or was this morning a warning that the Law of Averages is finally going to catch up with us?
I heard last night that the Hopi hit a mine and was sunk? I also heard that she was only badly damaged and made port under her own power? I think that the latter rumor is authentic. The Hopi is the tug that one of our men was sent to the last time we had a yard period in Philadelphia. I wonder if he would have rather stayed on the Brooklyn! I nearly got transferred to the little ship myself at the time! Good thing I didn't. From the way those mines tossed us out of the sea, I hesitate to think as to how it affected the little tug, Hopi.
We are hitting a fair speed now and twisting the cruiser around in flank movements. This is to find out if she will hold up from the mine blasts. If she won't, then we want to find out now and not when our lives depend on our ability to maneuver. If it ever happened that our maneuverability was nil, and we had to dodge bombs, then 1200 men might die.
1230- Everything evidently is running near normal as can be expected. We are running on patrol along the coast off Licata. I suppose Licata, Agrigento, and Gela are pretty well known places to folks back home by now- that is if the papers are doing their jobs.
Today as I write this, I have been in my bunk exactly 3 1/2 hours since 1530 on July 9th- or to figure it out- I had 3 1/2 hours in bed out of a total of 117 1/2 hours, or nearly five days. And the prospects of getting any rest reasonably soon is quite remote.
I have not had my clothes off since the afternoon before the invasion, and the only sleep I had was to lie on the deck, which is steel, for an hour or so each night. I have never imagined I could get so weary and live!
According to the news cast I heard today, there are still thousands of miners out on strike because of the injustice they figure was being imposed on them. If they could have been here in this hell for the past five days, there is little doubt in my mind but what the production of coal would rise enormously when and if they could return to the mines! The war workers at home may be enduring terrible hardships and agonizing pervasions, but at least when night comes they do not fear being blasted to death by bombs.
When we were dive bombed 3 nights ago, on the 11th at 2200 hours to be exact, I must have hit the deck a little too vigorously, because the next morning I found my right knee extremely sore. Upon investigation, I found that I had cut it on something that was on the deck where I fell. I never noticed it paining me at the time, as I was deeply concerned about the bombs at that particular moment.
At present, our fuel is pretty low, and I hear we are to return to Oran to take on supplies and refuel the ship. If true, we may be there about a week, then I suppose we will return for more work in this area. I sincerely hope it is true of our going out for a few days, because the crew is sorely in need of rest. But, after all, the boys on the beach are not exactly on a picnic, so I guess we deserve no better than they deserve.
Tonight we will find the moon about 3/4 full. My wife and I once adored such nights as these, but now these moonlit nights are harbingers of possible death and destruction. Until the war is over, and I can once more enjoy moonlight with her, I would much prefer the nights to remain as dark as possible.
15 July 1943
1200 B- July 15 (1943)
At 1530 yesterday we left Licata area and headed toward Africa. In the vicinity of Gela, we were joined by the Savannah and the Boise. The Boise is one under our flag command. The Savannah is under the flag of the Philadelphia. (See below)
Last night was a beautiful thing to see out here on the sea. The moon was almost full and lighted up everything like day. I had the 0000 to 0400 watch and so did not turn in before going on duty, I sat topside and began to realize once more that I was still alive and had good prospects of seeing home again. This morning, for the first time in six days, I undressed and turned in my bunk for 4 1/2 hours sleep. I never knew a thing until I was awakened for chow and my next watch.
We hit the African coast along Bizerte this morning, and are now traveling toward Algiers. We will probably get some minor repair work done here and then return to Sicily.
When we ran into the mine early yesterday morning, we were on our way to bombard enemy artillery at Agrigento. When the mine explosions temporarily disabled us, we radioed the Birmingham to carry out our assignment. This morning we heard that the artillery units had opened fire so fiercely that the Birmingham had to call for help. One of the English battleships that was in the area had to come to her assistance with her 15 inch shells.
Maybe it was a good thing we were not able to return there for that assignment, or else we might have run into more trouble than what we had already been blessed with.
We are due in Algiers at 0700 this morning.
16 July 1943
0700- July 16- As dawn came, we entered the harbor of the city of Algiers. From the command deck, I can get a good look at the place. It is larger than any other African cities I have seen, however, it is nothing to become enthused over. I doubt very much if we get any liberty while here. It will probably turn out that the Gold-braid will go ashore while the enlisted men stay aboard. It doesn't make much difference to me, because I wait only for liberty in New York.
1520- I was in my rack when two explosions rocked the ship. A second later they sounded Air Defense. I beat it topside and just off our starboard side a ship was belching flame and smoke. The bombers must have caught us asleep again. A hospital ship is right near the burning ship. They had better get her out of there. A second ship is burning, but not near as badly. The second ship is half underwater and evidently is the work of previous destruction.
The Boise and Savannah near us have enough ammunition on their decks to blow up the harbor. They are trying to get the two cruisers out before such an accident occurs. Our ship has not yet taken on any ammunition. They first wanted to determine the damage suffered from the mines. However, we are ready to get underway if it looks as though we are endangered. If our damage warrants it, our return to the States may not be too far distant.
The ship that was burning so badly is covering the area with smoke. One hospital ship has already gotten out, and the other is about ready to go. This place may not be as safe as I thought it might be. After all, Algiers is only about one hour from Sardinia and Sicily, and considering this, I guess we can expect many such raids. A lot of men must have died on the ship that is burning right in front of my eyes.
1800- Nearly three hours have passed and the burning ship is being towed out to sea. It is a total loss! Two more ships are badly damaged from the explosions and flames from this ship. New info has come in about the incident. It is now doubtful that the bombers did the damage. It may have been the works of someone smoking or other causes. Anyway, at the present time, we figure that a possible 25 to 30 men must have died from the flames and the resulting explosion. I can see the ship now on its journey to sea. It is still burning furiously and smoke is pouring up into the sky in ever thickening volume. It is a complete loss. Carelessness is costing us a terrific toll in lives and material.
1845- One of the other ships that was afire, but was brought under control, is now a mass of flame and ruin. That makes two ships that are lost to our cause on this single afternoon, plus one more ship that is in trouble from fire; and what will happen to it will have to be written later.
17 July 1943
1100 July 17- Another day and so far nothing has occurred to mar the serenity of the harbor since the tragedy, or should I say tragedies, of yesterday afternoon. At midnight last night, I was relieved from my watch and immediately went out on the com deck for some fresh air and a look at the burning ship. The entire area was lighted up like a lamp from the fires that were raging on the vessel. There was also a full moon and despite the disaster and the imminent dangers of this vicinity, I beheld and was deep in reminiscing of home and wondering if they were all safe. I would give almost anything to be able to ring the door bell of the little apartment that my wife and I have, eat a decent meal, find out all the news from home, and spend a week just resting and forgetting this past nightmare.
I have seen more happen in this past week than I ever have in all my life. How much better would it have been if it were for the good of the world instead of bringing death to so many men, and destruction of so much material.
We are now taking on ammunition on one side of the ship and refueling on the other side from a tanker. I hope to God no accident happens to them as happened yesterday. The facts of yesterday are as follows: An oil tanker exploded and broke in half. The oil and fire spread to a cargo ship and set her on fire. The cargo ship is the one that was towed out to sea. The estimated loss of life is probably more than 200. Now as I write, the cargo ship is laying a few miles from us is still burning and smoking terribly. I wonder if it will ever burn itself out?
According to the press news, the invasion evidently is progressing very much in our favor. I also see where Roosevelt and Churchill have told the Italian people that they would benefit much by throwing out the filthy regime there and get out of this war. They ought to do this, or else that nation is going to take the rest of the time on earth to rebuild by the time we finish with them.
However, the Italians are certainly taking a terrible punishment, and thus far, they have taken it without yelping for mercy. This in itself is quite a surprise. But what else can anyone expect from a people who are now fighting for their homes? If our ship is still fit for battle zone action, there is practically no chance that the Brooklyn will see the States before September. This means that summer will have passed by and I will not have had any of this pleasant season of the year with my wife and the folks at home.
When I think that I may not be with my wife, then how my feelings hit the lowest depths of depression. I so thoroughly hate this miserable existence that I win a major victory over myself when I refrain from thinking about it.
18 July 1943
0930 B, July 18- Sunday morning.
And so cometh another Sabbath day. I am always in deep thought of home on Sunday. Only twice since being in the Navy have I been otherwise. Once, when we invaded Africa on Sunday, Nov. 8th, 1942, and the other just a week ago, when we were quite busy off Licata.
An amazing incident over here is the weather we have been having. Not one drop of rain has fallen, to my knowledge, since June 10th when we left New York. Every day has been bright and sunny. What days of beauty and pleasure could these days have been if I were only home to enjoy them!
Yesterday, the Boise, Savannah and their destroyers, the Butler, Woolsey, Shubrick, and the Herndon put out of here and went to sea. I am still wondering, as are all the men, just how much damage we suffered from the mines. It is undoubtedly worse than we were first led to believe, or else we would have gone to sea with the other cruisers. As it is now, 63 out of our 69 tanks are leaking and another started yesterday. If our water line is as bad as all this, then I shudder to think what will happen if we go out to the battle area and cut loose with our heavy batteries! Or if we hit some more mines or a few more misses from bombs! We might go to the bottom of this otherwise peaceful body of water.
Out quite some distance at sea, I can see the cargo ship still smoking and burning as much as ever. She must have had a tremendous amount of cargo in her holds. Too bad!
Today I rate liberty here in Algiers. If I can procure water for a shave and a shower, I will go over and see what the place is like. Of all the cities in the northern part of Africa, Algiers is supposed to be the best. However, as written in the previous pages, I still await liberty in New York.
19 July 1943
0700 B, July 19- I had my first liberty in the city of Algiers yesterday from 0400 to 2100. It would really be sufficient for me to let the first port sentence speak for itself alone, without any additional comments that I might connect. However, I will jot down a little of the place. As in all other cities, this one also contains an odor of uncleanness. The stores have nothing to offer and the people less. I did buy some extraordinary tomatoes and ate them on the spot. Some plums also disappeared before the astonished eyes of the natives. I passed out several plums to the hungry looking little children that hung around me.
For the sum of 10 francs, I bought 6 of these huge tomatoes. This sum of francs equals 20 cents of our money. Such tomatoes could not be found anywhere in the U.S., and if possible to find them, you would pay at least a dollar for the amount I got here for 20 cents.
The Red Cross has a unit here, and I went there and ate cheese, jelly and meat sandwich plus 3 cups of coffee and a dish of ice cream.
They had French girls doing the work behind the counter, and 2 of them were little beauties. They had raven black hair and the bluest eyes I have ever seen. The only thing wrong is that they are not built nice like our girls back home. I can go on record right now as saying that God really smiles on the United States.
If only the shirkers could see how much they have in comparison with the people of other countries, then, I know that never a minute would be lost in the efforts back home to win and end this war.
There is practically a complete absence of automobiles in Algiers. The vehicles are all Army and only rarely does one see any of the French populace driving. There are a lot of theaters, but I never saw one open.
As in any port where liquor can be obtained, there was a great number of drunken service men. What little a man must think of himself to get in such a disparaging condition. I wanted to get something to take back home to my wife, but not a thing could be found. I will rate again next Thursday, and perhaps I can be successful then.
There is no attraction whatsoever in these foreign cities for this Navy civilian. The entire populace can speak only French, and to try to convey meaning to them in English is an impossibility. To understand them is a little more difficult. They do, however, pick up a little English, and it tickles one to hear them attempt to use it.
The fact that we are not allowed cameras is the main reason we do not enjoy ourselves in these places. The Army boys are allowed to take pictures, but the Navy doesn't place that much trust in nor allow such a privilege to its personnel.
I was in the vicinity of where the ships were afire, and the damage suffered by the buildings when the one exploded was quite surprising. Incidentally, I may as well add that the cargo ship is still burning quite ambitiously. I wonder if it will ever burn itself out? They should put a torpedo into it and sink it.
Seen from the ship, Algiers presents a very imposing appearance. This, however, is sadly dispelled when one procures a close up look at the buildings. The huge stone building that appeared so attractive from a distance, turned out to be windowless and seemingly non-inhabited. As in all other places there is that peculiar odor that at first nearly causes nausea. The most tragic part of it is the large amount of half-naked, half-starved looking small children that stare at you from all sides. To attempt to eat fruit in their presence is almost an impossibility for me. If I were ever to be the man that provoked a war, it would be fought with food that would be used to wipe away the look of hunger that I have seen in the eyes of the little French, Arab and other children in these down-trodden and suffering cities. What a lesson could be taught to the hate provoking, miserable human beings at home that place our own country in peril of conditions such as these by their damnable, lousy attempts of selfishness in their war efforts.
This war may be a means of the people in the U.S. making more money than ever before in their life, but when viewed in the zones of war, and in former areas of conflict, a vastly different aspect of it is obtained. The men and women at home may not realize it, but people are being killed every hour of the day in this war! and none are dying a pleasant death either!
When one seriously considers the terrible amount of men from our own country who will, and already have, die(d) on the oceans and on foreign soil, who will never again welcome and be welcomed by their loved ones at home, it is enough to make one shudder at the price some must pay to fight this war!
I see where I have strayed off on another subject. I cannot help this. The news that we receive of happenings at home is enough to make us who are here in the war zone turn red with rage. I never allow myself to curse, but it requires all my will power to keep from cursing the very souls of certain individuals and [their] performances that take place in our own country. What I restrain myself from doing, there are others who amply supply the epithets.
The government says that the loss of steel production due to the coal miner's strike would have built 60 destroyers! Now, when we men in the Navy have seen our ships hit by enemy bombers, turn red, roasting to death a great many other Navy men, do you wonder why we bear such black hatred for those whose actions on the home front have caused the loss of vitally needed war material & who were, in a way, responsible for the horrible deaths of so many American boys in the services? I only ask that someday, I be granted the supreme privilege of being the service man who wields the bayonet that prods some of those enemies at home to a greater pace! A few inches of steel slipping into their carcasses would not bother my conscience very much.
20 July 1943
1200 B, 20 July
This morning, at 1107, we hoisted anchor and left the harbor of Algiers. A few minutes later, the word was given over the load speakers that we were on our way to the operating area around Licata. I sincerely hope it is quieter than the last time we were there. Temporarily, my fond hopes of going back to the States must be postponed. I guess they will take a ship into battle whether it holds together or not! No one can tell me that those mines did not do quite a bit of damage to the ships hull.
1630- We have now been underway for several hours. All has so far been very quiet. This afternoon, I tried to get some sleep, and during the process, had several dreams of home and of my wife. It may seem silly that a grown man could become so homesick, but I surely did! I lay there on my bunk, sweating from the heat, half sick from the effects of foul air, and thought of home. I could see myself being greeted by Doris. I visualized what she looked like, and I was so successful that I nearly shed tears because of my loneliness. No one but God knows how lonely I have been for her while on the long voyages at sea! Sometimes I doubt that my will power will stand the strain of enduring this existence of misery. I want to be at home with the one I love.
Today makes seven weeks since I saw her. It seems like a lifetime.
21 July 1943 (Note: Briggs' date here and at places in his chronicle like this refer to when he was jotting down thoughts accumulated earlier.)
1000, July 21
Now as I write, we are off Bizerte and are going to lie in and anchor. Here is one city I really would like to see, as the war hit this place pretty hard.
1500- We are anchored about 500 yards from the Birmingham. Our admiral and captain are now over on the Philadelphia where a conference is being held. I suppose they are planning another source of action and where it is to take place. There are quite a number of heavily loaded LST's around this harbor. There are either going to Sicily or we are going to hit perhaps Sardinia. I hope we hit again soon, and finish it up so we can go home. Bizerte, as it looks from the ship, appears to be quite deserted. They say there are no longer any civilians in the city. Bizerte, you will remember, was the place the Americans captured at the time Africa fell to the Allies.
The conference is supposed to end this afternoon, so I guess we will know very soon what we are to do. Personally, I hope we are sent home.
1555- Up came the anchor and once again the Brooklyn heads toward the battle area. We saw, as we headed toward Sicily, convoy after convoy of LST's, or Landing Tank Ships, on their way toward the island. Convoys also were to be seen returning empty. Those LST's can carry about 80[?] medium tanks, complete with Army personnel to man them. I saw also that they had trucks loaded topside.
2330- Just before going on watch, I stood on the com deck and saw the island of Pantelleria about 4000 yards off our port side. It was much larger than I thought it would be.
22 July 1943
1200, July 22
We arrived at Licata shortly before noon. Just as we arrived, we received orders to return to Algiers. The reason is unknown at present. Assumptions are that there is nothing for us to do, or the condition of the ship does not warrant heavy action. Our mission was to proceed to Palermo and bombard gun installations along the coast. Personally, I am glad to return as my better nature does not relish dueling it out with shore batteries, having had such pleasantries before. But as it is, Algiers here we come.
1700- We again passed by the island of Pantelleria. Not much of a place to look at!
2300- As we steamed passed Bizerte, the skies over the place were being pierced with powerful rays from searchlights. I cannot say as to whether it was because of an air raid or some kind of a drill. It did, however, cut an interesting picture. I have seen many more search lights over New York City, but over here a search light stabbing up into the night implies a vastly different suggestion than when one observes them over a city back home.
This afternoon, we received a message telling our Admiral that he was being recommended for the Distinguished Service Cross. The reason why was that the Brooklyn's work in silencing shore batteries was practically history. Well, I am glad the Admiral worked as hard as he supposedly did. However, I think a tiny bit of glory should go to the 1000 or so men who sweat blood feeding the main batteries, watching the communications and perching down in the engine rooms! And also the aviators and ARM's who went out in those pitiful planes of ours to spot our gun fire onto the targets.
Yes, I think medals are due quite a few, not just our Admiral!
23 July 1943
2100 B, 23 July
We arrived at Algiers and anchored at exactly 1800 B. At the present time, we are taking on a full supply of fuel. Quite a surprise came to me today when I was told I was one of the men on the ship recommended for a commendation for my radio work during the bombarding of Licata. Such things as this should never be countenanced[??]. There are many, many men on this ship whose work is as important and necessary as any other work!
24 July 1943
1600, 24 July
Monotony reigns! Only rumor of going home makes the day interesting. We are supposed to go to Oran from here, pick up a convoy and hit for the States.
26 July 1943
1615, July 26
At this exact moment, the anchor was hoisted and we started out of Algiers. I was more than glad to leave the place behind! I hope I never have to look at Africa again as long as I live! In fact, I hope the only soil I ever set foot on is the good earth of home.
The Brooklyn, Birmingham, and the tanker Chicopee, plus our escort of destroyers are to go to the States. We are to pick up the Chicopee and the Swanson at Oran, and then proceed at 18 knots to our destination, which has not yet been announced. But all of us hope it will be the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
27 July 1943
0822, July 27
At the exact time noted above, our anchor was dropped here in Mers El Kibir. The Brooklyn and the Birmingham are the only cruisers present. There are a great many cargo ships and transports here, and about 15 destroyers. The Chicopee is anchored just aft of us and refueling from her are a couple of the destroyers who are to escort us back.
I hope we do not wait very long for our orders to clear this harbor. I really desire to see the African coast disappear behind us as we head into the west. News being scarce once again, I will mention our chow at this point. To put it plainly, it is terrible. We have had no fresh fruit served on this ship for three weeks, and canned fruit is served only once a week or less. I spend most of my time thinking about what I am going to eat when I get home. The civilians at home may be going without so that the armed forces can have it, but I have never seen any evidence of the food ever coming aboard this ship.
28 July 1943
1658, July 28 1943
We have hoisted our anchor and our destination is the best of all other places in the world, the United States. Now the only thing left to worry about is where we are going when we get there? Already rumors we go to Norfolk! May God in all his goodness forbid such a thing! If it cannot be to New York or Philadelphia, then I would rather stay here. That is how much I think of Norfolk!
Our outfit for the return journey is as follows. The Brooklyn in command, the Birmingham, as you know, another cruiser, the tanker Chicopee, and our escorts, the destroyers Swanson, Faut? (Note: Aguess would be the Laub), Wilkes, Denison (Note: Aguess would be the Davison) and Ordronaux [ET Gardner note- I can barely read these names].
We arrived here at Oran on the 21st day of June.. Figuring out the days, it amounts to 37 days since we arrived here, or 48 days since leaving the States. Figuring 16 days for our return trip, we will have remained away from our home for about 60 days, or nearly 9 weeks.
29 July 1943
1300 B, July 29
This morning from 0900 to 1100, I obtained my first good view of Gibraltar. It is a mass of solid rock projecting out of the ocean. It is supposedly studded with big defense guns, but no sign of the guns was visible. I could see several tunnels from where the ship passed by the rock. What they were used for I do not know.
It is the picture of the reproduction on the Prudential insurance policies all right.
We are now about to leave the Straits and hit the open Atlantic. I can say nothing more than that I am pleasantly enthused about heading for home.
(Note: This is Part I, covering Casablanca and Sicily. Part II covers Anzio. )