A letter home, by Robert Morris. [EDITED]
Dec. 29, 1943
This letter was taken home by a man returning to the states. Thus it will not have to be censored. I can say a few of the things that I have been restricted from saying heretofore.
LCI-91 ACTION SUMMARY PRIOR TO THE D-DAY INVASION OF NORMANDY
I don't know exactly when you will receive this letter, but I am in on particular rush. Since it is coming to you in rather an unorthodox manner, and hence will miss the censorship that blots out most of the interest from other letters, I shall be able to include a few dates and facts. I am keeping in mind that I must nevertheless be reserved with information that may be of use to the enemy, but things that have happened, and some of the places that we have been can now be mentioned without endangering future operations.
To begin, we started with our whole flotilla and many other ships from Norfolk, Virginia on April Fool's day of last April. So by now we have much the better part of a year overseas. First we stopped at Bermuda. Made a few liberties there. This island is one of the beauty spots of the earth of that I am sure. I have never seen more really beautiful spots even in pictures. Of course, it is still British although we have bases there and much of the stuff there is U.S. The Negro situation there is peculiar. They do not consider themselves as a class by themselves. They call themselves "subjects of the King." The cost of living there is very high, but I should like very much to go back there again, for it is really a beautiful and scenic spot.
So we took off across the Atlantic with many ships and a heavy escort of navy warships. We weren't bothered much going over, as a matter of fact, we had a good time. It took us around 18 days to get from Bermuda to our African port. In the meantime we soaked up lots of sunshine, and also cut our hair in various fantastic manners. I had the noon to 4, and the midnight to 4 a.m. watch every day, and during the day I would be up on the conning tower with almost no clothes. I really had a nice tan when we got to Africa. I wore a sun helmet most of the time, so I did not get my mug as well tanned as I hoped I would.
April 28, we steamed (after leaving most of the rest of the convoy to go to another port) into the Wadi Sebu (Wadi Sebu means river), and up to the town of Port Lyautey (was known as Kyentra), French Morocco. This is about 60 miles north of Casablanca, and about 8 miles up the river inland. Interesting place. There was everything from educational sights to the most sordid of things. The champagne costs about $2.00 - the bottle costs $1.50 and the liquid the remaining four bits. There are a number of ships scuttled by the Germans around here and the process of reclaiming them is going on.
May 9 - my birthday, I had liberty and decided to visit Rabat a city about 40 miles away. We had orders not to go, so we slipped through some vineyards, and through a native village and hitched a ride with an army truck. Spend an enjoyable time there. It is a rather metropolitan city, and in many ways reminds one of home. But the native sections are prevalent enough to help one keep in mind that he is in Africa. We had to hitch a ride back in an Arab truck. Had a rather miserable, but memorable time.
May 27 - Left Lyautey, and proceeded to Gibraltar. On the afternoon of the 28th, we passed through the straights of Gib. We had an easy time until we got into the Mediterranean, but after we got in we had a few airplane scares. They were our first real scares, and they scared us plenty. Next day we acted as escorts for the convoy, and we did all sorts of interesting investigations. If we had been attacked, we would have been in a mess no doubt.
May 30 - Pulled into Nemours, French Algeria. Practiced beaching operations at a place called Sidna Yucha nearby. Lots of things happened here that I will have to save until I can tell you.
June 6 - We loaded with American Rangers and headed out. That night we put into Arzew, Algberia. Early on the 8th we departed again. We were rid of the rangers but head taken on other cargo. We passed Oran and Algiers.
June 11 - Pulled into Bizerte, which was to be our base for the coming operations. The place was in a horrible mess. The street fighting had been going on in the town and had really knocked hell out of everything. Only the rats and the booby traps were left. It was once quite a town, and a large French naval base, but now it is a shamble. There are sunken ships and damaged planes everywhere. Bizerte shall be a place that I shall never forget. It was here that we had our first real air raid. As a matter of face, we had no more than reached the place when we saw our first JU-88s.
There is a large lake near the city called the Lake of Bizerte. It was here that we anchored for so many days awaiting the days of the invasions. We did lot of maneuvers in and about the city of Bizerte. We had night maneuvers, and air rid after air raid. We even used to bet as to the time when Jerry would be over that night. There were periods of lots of work when we would load up with all sort of things, and then again there were periods of unloading. We took a jeep ride thru the wreck that was Bizerte, and the sight was appalling.
The period just prior to the invasion of Sicily was one of the thoughts that I want to think about. For weeks before the invasion we were forced to lay at anchor out in the Lake of Bizerte. We had no radio, no form of pastime. We about went batty. We knew what was coming, but we didn't know where or when. Besides, this was our first action, and we were afraid whether we admit it or not and we all do. So there we were for weeks, day in and day out, setting on this cast iron tub in the hot African sun - just waiting - and waiting. Some of the nerves were getting a little jangled, and we were all eager to get going and it over with.
July 5 - Finally things started to roll - and we were happy. We loaded with troops, maneuvered some, and later anchored out in the lake. That night Hitler sent over enough Junker 88's to make a circus. But they got the worst of it by far. I have never seen such a display of fireworks. We had some heavy stuff because we were starting out on the bid adventure, and so there was a lot of stuff to greet the Axis boys with. The alarm came in the wee-hours of the morning, and so it was plenty dark. I recall one JU [Junkers JU-88] in particular, he came right over to us, and since there were so many ships and guns about he was just literally blasted in pieces. He came down like a wounded duck. It was dark as pitch, and by this time the boys had itchy trigger fingers. Well, one of the Jerry boys had managed to jump from the 88, I will never know how he managed to live thru that hail of steel that came up at him. Well, as he came down, the boys caught sight of the chute in the darkness. As I said, they had nervous fingers. So about a hundred heavy caliber antiaircraft guns cut loose at the object. I am afraid that there was not much left of the chute or the man when they got down. So next morning we got underway and proceeded out thru the smoke screen that had been thrown around things to hinder the bombs. The aim of the Jerries was not so good. They got a lot worse beating than we did. By July 7 we landed with a huge convoy in Sousse, Tunisia. It was here that Patton gave the soldiers a talking to.
Sousse, by the way was as bad a wreck as Bizerte. This war makes a hell of a mess of everything and everyone - you should see some of the people around here - those that are left. July 9 found us by Malta, and so we went on to Sicily. As luck would have, a storm came up. And we were having a miserable time. I pent most of the time either praying or cussing. It made me so confounded mad to think that we would have to have a storm on this night that so much depended upon. The soldiers that we had along were a miserable sight. They were not used to this rolling thu, and some of them were so sick that they wanted to die where they were rather than going on to the beach to die - if they were going to.
Thus came the morning of July 10 - the Invasion of Sicily. This is a story in itself. I saw enough to last a lifetime. The navy shelling the beach, the planes bombing, the flares, the antiaircraft fire, the bombing, the machine guns going off right ahead of us, the pill box that just about got us, but punctured the ship next to us instead. The big ammunition ship that was bombed and exploded to high heaven. The LST that was hit and burned. The wounded that was carried back aboard for us to take back to Africa, the mines, and the thousands and thousands we started back to Africa, I don't think that I have ever been quite so tired - nervous exhaustion. In passing I must say that every man and officer on our ship did a swell job, and non-faltered in any way.
We made numerous runs back to Sicily (we had hit the beach just east of Licata). Took back reinforcements of our soldiers, and one trip even took about 200 of the wild North African Gouimers (Gooms). These natives have been trained as modern soldiers, but they are wild yet. Man when you give a wildman a mortar and modern grenades and rifle, what a spectacle he makes. These fellows fight for the love of it - and for the booty that they can capture. It is told they are pain extra for Italian or German ears that they get - I am glad that they are on our side. Then as a contrast, we took about 200 American nurses to Licata. This was a pleasant time - the best that we had since leaving the states. They are swell people those nurses - bless em all.
One time returning from Sicily, we got lost. We were supposed to sight Pantelleria (the island) about 2 a.m., but we did not see it. That meant one thing - that we were lost, and that we were wandering around in the German minefield. Every second we expected to go sky high, boy, that was a long night. But we got back to Bizerte O.K. Made a liberty in Ferryville, which is across the lake from Bizerte. It too is a miserable town, racked by the war, and stinking in filth and dirt. We made some "private" expeditions and collected a lot of enemy helmets, guns, bullets, bayonets, machine guns, etc. also got some things from some crashed planes.
So began another session of training (more training) in and around Bizerte, Tunisia. But August 4, we were on the go again - and this time in a westward direction. And so we came to Oran, Algeria. But we anchored in Mers El Kebir, an small town about 8 miles removed from Oran. Had a good time in Oran. It is removed from the front, there is a large Red Cross there, and lots to see. It is not blasted by the war, and there are churches and lots of things of beauty. But it was not all vacation. We were sent to a place called Andalouses, Algeria to help train more troops - for the next invasion.
Aug 30 - We left Oran to return to Bizerte.
Sept 6 - We left Bizerte loaded with troops again, and headed for Sicily once more, and on Sept 7 we docked in Palermo, the capital of Sicily, we made an unauthorized liberty, found an old wine cellar and had some real Marsala and Vermouth. Could buy it for next to nothing, and it was really good. But it packed a whallop. Palermo had felt the war. Our planes had blasted it steadily. The area around the waterfront is a big pile of shambles. The force of the some of the bombs was so great that one ship longer than our house was lifted clean out of the water and up on dry land. Boy, what a sock those eggs carry! But uptown the city was in good shape. There was a lot of interesting things to see here. It was quite different than Africa, and wouldn't trust of those [locals] as far as I could throw the 91. Those monkeys are for the guy that is winning. I didn't forget that a month ago, these same punks were throwing hot lead in our direction. And I would just as soon see them in a pile as walking around with the silly smile of friendship that they showed.
Sept 8 - and again we knew we were going into battle again. We steamed out of Palerma, and joined a huge convoy. By now this is old business. Passed by the Isle of Ustica. That night the Jerrys found us and we received a nice bombing. Some of the eggs that they dropped looked as large as a house. They didn't hit anything with them, but when they exploded in the water even though they hit far away, it shattered the ship. All that night we slept out on deck near the guns. We could see and hear firing all around us at times.
Sept 9 - Invasion of Italy, the same story. The hugeness of the thing is almost breathless. There are thousands of ships and men. The beaches are black almost with army and navy gear. Men and machines are everywhere. And further up on the beach are the ones - the men - who were not so lucky. In the shell holes were piled the dead. Some of them had been burned in tanks and looked like badly burned hams. Others had been blasted and only parts of them remained. There were Italian, German, and American together. They were enemies no longer. A liberty ship had been hit and her stern was sticking up in the air. Their were lots of other smaller ships hit too. We had control of the air, and the air was full of all sorts of places. Our bombers would go over in droves and our fighters were always overhead. Once in a while the Jerry would pull a fast sneak-in and bomb and strafe us. Boy how we would duck - and shoot back at them when they came over. There ware a half dozen or so of us that went up on the beach to help the soldiers to unload. Got to see a lot more that way. Even took a walk about and looked things over in general. Not far away was an old Roman temple, that was now full of war and the things of war. I picked up a big knife from the body of a headless soldier. The burial parties would be around soon as they were starting to decompose, and had to be buried. Got some souvenirs from one of the planes that had been shot down, even did some diving and brought up some heavy machine gun ammunition that had been lost to the bottom. It was in quite shallow water, so got it out easily. We spent two days running in reinforcements. Then that night we made up convoy to go back to Sicily. (During the battle of the beach of Salerno, we got our reinforcements off the big transports that lay miles off the beach.) Anyhow, we had not even succeeded in making up convoy, when we had a beaut of a raid. The place was lit up like Times Square. Flares from the bombers, and flashes from the bombs and all sorts of gun fire. When a large ship cut loose at the bombers it looked like a huge volcano erupting. Such a blaze and what a noise. The fragments of shells started falling all around us. And I gave my time bonnet a love tap.
We made a couple of trips back to Salerno. The soldiers were having a tough time of it, and the second time we came back we almost thought that we were going to have to evacuate them. That would have been bad. As an example, on our second trip back we were unloading on the beach, and I had occasion to signal to a British ship. I had to set up on the edge of a conning tower to do so. All I had above my waist was my helmet, and I guess that I made a good target. All of a sudden I heard first one then another slug whistle past. I assure you I lost no time in getting down behind the protection of the conning tower. But after all that time, Jerry had not been pushed back out of rifle range. But the job was done as you know - and give that army of ours the credit. Those guys in army togs do the dirty work and no kidding. Saw the Isle of Capri in the distance, sure would have liked to gone up. Some of our ships did - to help kick the hell out of the Germans thereupon. Jon was successful.
Oct 16 - We left Bizerte for good, and we were not sorry to go. We have too many unpleasant memories of the place. (We had lots of other little adventures such as our trip to Tunis, LaGouletta, and the ancient ruins of Carthage. In Tunis, we had the party with the French girls, and also there we did the job of drydocking this tub and painting her bottom.)
Back we went to Oran. Then to Gibraltar. The fellows really made a liberty there. They liked to have torn the great rock out by the roots. You recall that this was the first liberty in months that was anything like making one in a civilized country. For the first time in a long time we were among English speaking people again. Some of the sorry cases that came back to the ships! The whole Flotilla was together again. We had established a record. Came thru two major invasions, and tho some of the ships had been shot up a bit, and some had been battered a bit, we had not lost one ship - a tribute to the Coast Guard. Then off again, thru Gibraltar, around Spain, and thru the Bay of Biscay and to England.
Landed in Plymouth, England. Boy, was it nice to be around civilization again. The town has been almost blasted to the ground in many placed - rather in most places. I t was a large city, but now only four shows are in operation. Everything is completely black. Then came my London leave. I went by train, and saw quite a bit of the country. Been to Falmouth, and other places. I like it here, but I want to get this next invasion over with, and get back to those good old states. We are in for more training pretty soon. And so, there is a summary of it. Of course, not even a fraction of all has been told. I will have to save that until I see you, but here we are, and hoping that it will not be soon until we are there.
You understand that this letter is confidential, and not to be shown around. It is just for your information. I am sorry for the typing errors, but I have to do this in a hurry, and want just to get the information to you, I am sure that you can read it.