A DIFFERENT WAR: Marines in Europe and North Africa
by Lieutenant Colonel Harry W. Edwards, U.S. Marine Corps (Ret)
Operation Torch (continued)
Operation Husky would employ an assault force
consisting of four American divisions, four British, and one Canadian,
against a defense force comprised of two German and six Italian
divisions. However, the enemy units were capable of quick reinforcement
from the Italian main land across the narrow Straits of Messina.
The bitter lessons of Dieppe and Oran were taken into
account. The seizure of enemy airfields, rather than the assault of
enemy ports, was selected as the first objective. The emphasis was still
on achieving tactical surprise, which ruled out pre-landing air and
naval bombardment; a decision which Hewitt did not favor.
The landing formation was both unusual and bold, with
eight divisions landing abreast on a broad front, allowing only a
minimal force in reserve and quite a distance removed. Measured in terms
of the initial assault, it was to be the greatest amphibious operation
ever to that date, involving a total of 2,800 ships and assault craft.
Unfortunately, the landing forces had no integration of command for air
support, either tactical or strategic, resulting in many problems for
the landing forces in obtaining timely air support. The mistake was
rectified in subsequent operations.
Vice Admiral Hewitt had under his command 580 ships
and 1,124 shipborne landing craft to be employed in transporting General
Patton's Seventh Army, which was divided among three attack forces.
These were TF 86, under Rear Admiral Richard L. Conolly, with light
cruisers Brooklyn and Birmingham (CL 62) and eight
destroyers for escort and gunfire support; TF 81, under Rear Admiral
John L. Hall, with light cruisers Savannah and Boise (CL
47) and 13 destroyers; and TF 85, under Rear Admiral Alan Kirk, with
light cruiser Philadelphia and 16 destroyers. Admiral Ramsey had
818 ships and 715 shipborne landing craft for his landing force,
composed mostly of British and Canadian troops.
Rear Admiral Conolly had a most difficult task: that
of moving some 25,000 men from Africa to Sicily in a fleet of landing
ships, tank; landing craft, tank; and landing craft, infantry, which was
designated JOSS Force. Travelling in a convoy of seven columns, they
were slowed at times to a speed of two and a half knots by strong winds
and heavy seas. This was the first shore-to-shore amphibious operation
to make such extensive use of these landing ships. The Sicilian
coastline presented a further complication. Because it was known to be
fronted with false beaches which would prevent landing ships from
placing their troops and equipment on the shore, pontoon causeways were
brought along to bridge the gap. The newly developed amphibious truck,
called DUKW, was first employed in this operation and met with great
success. False beaches presented no problem for the DUKWs, which could
continue in land, as needed, with their cargo.
Major General Robert O. Bare, USMC
At the start of World War II, Colonel Richard H.
Jeschke was the commander of the 8th Marines, and he led that unit in
combat in the Guadalcanal operation.
In World War II, while serving on the staff of
Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsey, Allied Naval Commander-in-Chief, Colonel
Robert O. Bare worked on the planning of the Normandy invasion. He was
later awarded the Bronze Star Medal while attached to British Assault
Force J during the invasion.
A graduate of the Naval Academy, Class of 1924, Bare
achieved early recognition as a distinguished rifle and pistol marksman
in the Marine Corps.
After his return from England in 1943, he served in
the Palau and Okinawa campaigns in the Pacific in World War II. In the
Korean War he was the assistant division commander of the 1st Marine
Division and was awarded a Distinguished Service Medal and a Legion of
Bare held additional assignments as Director of the
Marine Corps Development Center at Quantico and as Director of Personnel
at Headquarters Marine Corps.
He died on 30 September 1980.
Vice Admiral Hewitt's Western Naval Task Force staged
from ports in Algeria. General Patton and his staff were embarked on
Hewitt's flag ship, Monrovia (APA 31). Once again, Marine Major
Rogers was on board as a staff member. On D-Day he went ashore and was
given the job of supervising the loading of Italian prisoners onto LCIs.
Colonel Litzenberg had been replaced for the landings on Sicily by
another Marine officer, Colonel Richard H. Jeschke, who had served
briefly in liaison with U.S. Army forces in Morocco.
The landings, on 10 July, were made in darkness at
0245 over an area embracing some 37 miles of shoreline in the Gulf of
Gela. Once again the enemy was not surprised, but the landing ship force
did remarkably well despite heavy surf and accurate gunfire. In some
places the beach areas were mined and a number of vehicles were blown
up. There was little combat air patrol over the target area.
On 20 July, the dictator Benito Mussolini was removed
from power in Italy and Hitler ordered a withdrawal of Axis forces from
Sicily. The mountainous terrain assisted the enemy's ability to fight a
series of rear guard actions in the direction of the Straits of
Messina, where the retreat was a short run across in ferry boats to the
toe of Italy. Allied forces tried to intercept this movement by
leap-frogging along the coast in a series of amphibious landings, but
they lagged too far behind the fast-moving enemy forces to cut them off
or to inflict significant losses. In the space of six days and seven
nights, ending on 17 August, the Germans had withdrawn to the mainland
with 40,000 troops and the Italians 62,000, so an opportunity to capture
a large enemy force was lost to the Allies. An important major objective
of the operation, seizure of Sicily, was accomplished.
In June 1943, Marine Colonel Robert O. Bare arrived
in London in civilian clothes, as prescribed by regulations (because he
had a stopover in Foynes, Ireland), for special duty with ComNavEu. His
special duty involved an assignment to the Office of the Chief of Staff,
Supreme Allied Commander. The Supreme Commander to head this office
(General Eisenhower) had not yet been designated, so the officer in
charge was Major General Frederick Morgan, British Army, with the
responsibility of conducting planning and preparations for Operation
Overlord, formerly Neptune, the cross-channel invasion to come.
Bare was detailed as "staff officer plans" in the
naval section under Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsey. He had the task of
selecting British beaches for practice landings and naval gun fire
training. The area selected was Slapton Sands, near Dartmouth. The
British government evacuated more than 3,000 citizens from the area.
In October Bare traveled on a British ship to the Pas
de Calais area of France as part of a fake invasion force to test German
reactions and to try to mislead them about Allied intentions.
Marine Colonel James E. Kerr also participated in the
planning phase for Operation Overlord. He was assigned as a training
officer on the staff of Commander, Landing Craft and Bases, Eleventh
Amphibious Force, Europe. His duties involved the supervision of
amphibious training of personnel for all landing ships and craft to be
used in the invasion. Both Kerr and Bare remained through all of the
planning phases for Overlord and then participated in the landing.
Marine pilots Majs Peter D. Lambrecht, left, and Homer
J. Hutchinson are shown with Wing Commander L. N. Hayes, commander of
RAF Night Fighter Squadron 256, at RAF Station Ford in Sussex from which
they flew missions in May 1943. Photo courtesy of BGen Homer J.
Meanwhile, in the Pacific, the Guadalcanal operation
(August 1942) had revealed to the Marine Corps the need for an adequate
night air defense capability. Marines who served in the Pacific reported
the constant presence of Japanese aircraft buzzing over the combat areas
at night, keeping everyone awake. They collectively earned the nickname
To provide for future night air operations, a cadre
of aviation personnel, including six officers and five enlisted men, was
sent to England in February 1943 for training with the Royal Air Force
(RAF). Lieutenant Colonel Edward W. Montgomery was in charge of the
group and was the primary liaison with the RAF. Lieutenant Colonels Guy
Morrow and Marion M. Magruder were designated to obtain detailed
knowledge of the British fighter control and direction system, including
facilities, personnel, and equipment, and to facilitate the acquisition
of the equipment by the Marine Corps. Major Peter D. Lambrecht and
Captain Homer G. Hutchinson, Jr., were selected for operational training
as night fighters, and Captain Edward Hicks was to be trained as a night
fighter ground air controller. The five NCOs were assigned to train as
air borne intercept radar operators (ROs).
Hutchinson stands in front of the Bristol Beau fighter in which he
fought. Photo courtesy of R. J. Hutchinson, USMC (Ret)
The five aviators of the group were initially
assigned to RAF Station Coltishall for three weeks of flight training in
Bisley and Blenheim aircraft. They wore dark goggles and read
fluorescent instrument dials to simulate night instrument flying.
Lambrecht and Hutchinson were then sent to RAF
Station Cranfield for operational training with the twin-engine Bristol
Beaufighter, and in employing airborne radar to intercept enemy aircraft
at night. Great emphasis also was placed on the ability to visually
identify various aircraft types to help avoid firing on friendly planes.
At this point the two officers were joined in the cockpit by their
Marine ROs, Sergeants Nestor Tabor and Pete Hales, now qualified as
radar operators in the British air borne intercept system.
When this phase of training had been completed, the
two USMC teams were sent to Sussex on 6 May to join RAF Night Fighter
Squadron 256. They were immediately assigned to night combat air patrol
over the English Channel. It was here that Hutchinson learned to
appreciate the ability of RAF ground controllers; these technicians had
the difficult job of keeping friendly bombers and fighters separated in
a crowded air space, while attempting to pick up enemy intruders.
Lambrecht, Hutchinson, Tabor, and Hales, spent three weeks at this
station flying night combat air defense missions against the
Lieutenant Colonel Montgomery subsequently served as
the first commander of Marine Aircraft Group 53, a night-fighter group,
from 1943 to 1945. Lieutenant Colonel Morrow became the first commander
of a Marine night-fighter operational training detachment in 1943.
Lieutenant Colonel Magruder commissioned and commanded VMF(N)-533 in
1943 and Major Hutchinson was his executive officer. Major Lambrecht
commanded VMF(N)-541 in 1944, and in August 1952 was killed in action
while flying a night-fighter combat mission in Korea.
Another group of Marine officers who arrived in
London at this time, on a secret mission, came from the Plans and
Policies Division of Marine Corps Headquarters. They included Lieutenant
Colonels James P. Berkeley, Edward Hagenah, Harold O. Deakin, Norman
Hussa, and John Scott. All spent a week in London on the way to the U.S.
Naval Forces Northwest African Waters Command to take part as observers
in the next invasion, which would be the landing, designated Operation
Avalanche, at Salerno, Italy on 9 September 1943. While in England, they
spent their time with opposite staff numbers in U.S. and British
organizations. Berkeley, for example, a communications officer, visited
the Royal Navy School of Signals at Eastleigh and the British Army
Signal Center at Cheltenham; Deakin went to Devon to view amphibious
The decision for the Salerno operation had been
agreed upon at the Trident Conference in Washington, D.C. on 12 May
1943, as an effort to take Italy out of the war and to engage as many
German divisions as possible prior to a major cross-channel invasion.
Unfortunately, the two-month delay between the landings on Sicily and
Salerno would enable the Germans to bring 13 divisions into Italy with
their top leadership, Field Marshals Erwin Rommel, in the north, and
Albert Kesselring, in the south. The Italian surrender on 8 September
seemed to have little effect on the German occupation force and its
determination to prevent a rapid conquest of Italy.
The command structure for Operation Avalanche was
much the same as in previous operations in North Africa, with Vice
Admiral Hewitt as the Western Naval Task Force Commander. Marine Major
Rogers was once again on board Hewitt's flag ship, the Ancon (AP
66), as a staff officer. Under Hewitt was a largely British Northern
Attack Force under Commodore G. N. Oliver (with the British X Corps),
and a mainly American Southern Attack Force under Rear Admiral John L.
Hall (with the U.S. VI Corps). The leading force was the U.S. Eighth
Army under command of Lieutenant General Mark W. Clark.
Rear Admiral Conolly was again in charge of the JOSS
force of landing ships. The five Marine officers from Washington were
embarked with this force at Bizerte, Tunisia, each on a separate LST
carrying British troops.
Colonel Berkeley said that his LST, which landed
about H-hour plus 2, immediately came under fire from German artillery
and was so damaged that it had to withdraw for repairs to its elevator
mechanism before returning to unload. As a result of this experience he
gained great respect for German artillery and its ability to mass
artillery fire on a target. Lieutenant Colonel Deakin landed at 0340 in
an assault boat wave with a battalion from the Royal Hampshire
Air support was better organized than for the
previous Operation Husky as a result not only of consolidated control
but also the presence of escort carriers. H-hour was set at 0330 and
there was no naval gunfire preparation in the interest of achieving
surprise, but there were heavy casualties in early waves from both beach
defenses and aerial attack. Later waves had the benefit of some
excellent naval gunfire support, which helped to break up a German
armored counterattack against the beachhead. Major Rogers was assigned
duty as liaison officer between the Ancon and the British X Corps
commander, Lieutenant General Sir Richard McCreary on HMS
After the landing operation, all five Marine
officers returned to Palermo, Sicily, on Admiral Conolly's flagship,
Biscayne (AGC 18), for a short visit with two Army generals,
George S. Patton and Lucian K. Truscott, Jr. Lieutenant Colonel Berkeley
recalls the visit with some grim humor. He said they began to discuss
the value of naval gunfire at the landing and Patton interrupted with a
comment that naval gunfire was "no damn good." Truscott disagreed,
reminding him that naval gunfire "saved us at the landings in Sicily."
From there they flew to Oran to brief Admiral John Hall, and then
returned home on 23 September.
It may well be that naval gunfire support and air
power made the difference in the success of the Fifth Army at Salerno.
However, by staying on station, the Navy paid a heavy price. The
Luftwaffe attacked with a newly developed radio-controlled glide
bomb, sinking a number of vessels, and damaging the U.S. cruisers
Philadelphia and Savannah and the British battleship
Warspite. The bomb which struck the Savannah killed an
entire U.S. Marine gun crew manning one of the turrets.
After the Normandy D-Day landing on 6 June 1944, Marine
Col Richard H. Jeschke, second from right, who was an observer at the
landing, went ashore with LtGen Omar Bradley, left and MajGen J. Lawton
Collins, second from left. The officer on the right is unidentified.
After the war, Gen Bradley became Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
in 1949. Photo courtesy of Col Richard Jeschke, USMC
This costly campaign was concluded when the Germans
began a withdrawal on 16 September and Allied forces entered Naples on
1 October. Military analyst J. F. C. Fuller considered Salerno to be
"the most absurd and senseless campaign of the entire war."
The delay at Salerno only compounded the problem for
the next amphibious assault in Italy, scheduled for 8 November but
delayed until 21 January 1944. This was the Anzio operation, called
Shingle, which would turn out to be one of the costliest operations of
the war with more than 5,000 members of the landing force killed.
There was great controversy in the planning phase
among the Combined Chiefs about the wisdom of making this landing. In
the end, Prime Minister Churchill prevailed with the argument that
unless Rome was taken, Italy would never be free of German