the Glen Edwards diaries


"It Is Not a Pretty Sight" (part 2)

continued from part 1

When the 15th Squadron went home, its eight surviving DB-7s were inherited by the 47th Bomb Group. Because they had relatively sophisticated bombsights and more armor plate, they were often used as lead aircraft, with the A-20 pilots salvoing their bombs when the DB-7 did. Altogether, the 47th had thirty-five bombers on strength.

Since the 47th's bombardiers had no formal training, the group was faced with a Hobson's choice: fly high and miss the target, or fly low and lose planes to German flak. Generally it did a bit of both. "By February 1943," as Colonel Terrell later recalled this period, "we had been in combat two months. My four squadrons were evenly split between two airfields, Thelepte in Tunisia and Youks-Les-Bains, Algeria. . . . We used low-level attack against enemy armoured units, troop bivouacs and communications [and] medium altitude (10,000-12,000 feet) against coastal concentrations, harbours, and enemy airfields."

January 6, Youks-les-Bains Yesterday excitement ran high wide and handsome for quite some time. Just at dusk five or six Junkers 88s came over and raised hell in general. Dave and I heard 'em coming and headed for the hills but didn't get far before the first bombs dropped, so we sought out the hole first at hand and became intimate occupants of same, hugging the floor and all that sort of thing. When we thought the planes were not directly overhead we'd peek up and watch the show. Very pretty, what with the tracers from our ack-ack guns making beautiful arcs in the air, generally trailing the Junkers by about one-half mile. Not much damage was done except by one bomb which hit directly on the operations tent in which Sergeant [Orel] Edwards was working. He died in the hospital. We lost a darn good man. Three others were killed--happened to be near General Doolittle's plane and bomb hit pretty close. The general was in Tebessa.

Most of the 84th Squadron came in today via transport and occupied the holes left vacant by the 15th. Quite a settlement we will have when both squadrons get here.

January 7, Youks-les-Bains The rest or most of the rest of the squadron came in today including all our pilots. Even Captain Fielder arrived. Also we learned that headquarters is going to be with us on this field, plus the 84th.

January 8, Youks-les-Bains The 84th brought in eight planes today, but the P-38s have mostly gone and we only have about eight P-40s so we figure more pea-shooters are needed.

Dave and I have our "Club Cabana" almost completed with grass drapes. Quite cozy. But just the same we take a little walk over the hill about dusk [a favored time for the Germans to attack] and wait till after dark to come home.

January 9, Youks-les-Bains This evening I went duck hunting with Captains Simpson, Miles, and Horner. All we had was two decrepit twelve-gauge shotguns with eighteen-inch barrels. We drove the jeep all over North Africa trying to find a marsh and just at dusk located same. There were plenty of ducks but it was too dark to see same so we came home empty handed.

January 12, Youks-les-Bains Put electric lights in Club Cabana today. Will soon have all the modern conveniences.

January 13, Youks-les-Bains Got in four Beaufighters. The P-40s shot down one by mistake.

January 15, Youks-les-Bains Most everyone was at breakfast when two Messerschmitts came out of the clouds and started shooting up the joint. Also they were carrying bombs which they dropped. No one was hurt but one of our newly acquired fighters was put out of commission temporarily.

This morning I flew Major Widerman over to Telergma to the 1st Armored Division headquarters. General McQuillan wanted to fly around the countryside so I took him up for an hour and a half. The amount of material they have up there is amazing. Maybe the big push is about to start.

January 16, Youks-les-Bains The engineers are fixing our field up with runways and taxi strips to such an extent that I fear it will be entirely too easy to pick out from the air.

January 17, Youks-les-Bains Four of us ate twenty-three eggs, one can Spam, three packages crackers, and one can jam.

January 18, Youks-les-Bains J.C. Simmons and I went to Tebessa this afternoon to obtain some wrecked cars or trucks. Major Fletcher is getting plumb eager and wants to set up a bombing and gunnery range. We are all shivering in our boots, figuring all this planning is going to lead to low-level bombing. On the brighter side, got a package of cookies from home today.

January 19, Youks-les-Bains Spent most of the day in Tebessa talking the French into giving us a couple of wrecked trucks to use for bombing targets. They figure the war should be over in about a year. Sure made them happy to see all the tanks moving up last night.

January 20, Youks-les-Bains This evening Simpson and I went duck hunting. Ruined my new pair of pants in the mud, but got two ducks in the process. Simpson got one. My golly what a guy couldn't do with a good gun and a retriever.

January 22, Youks-les-Bains Yesterday to Algiers to pick up some secret stuff and couldn't make it back so stayed overnight at a hotel in town. Algiers is a most interesting city in all respects. Plenty of French women, lots of shops, and very pretty buildings. The town is built on a hill and everywhere you go you have to climb stairs both outside and inside buildings. Lots of the streets are very narrow and in places the buildings have archways between them, crossing the street.

Got back here today just in time to see Captain Miles, Bensley, and Simmons go out on a mission. Simpson and I ate the ducks--very tasty.

January 25, Youks-les-Bains This morning we were roused out of bed at an unreasonable hour to go on a mission but just as we got our motors started up they called it off as the weather was no good over our target.

January 28, Youks-les-Bains Just got off my tour of duty as Officer of the Day this morning when I noticed a flight of twelve A-20s taxiing out for takeoff, Simpson leading in a DB-7. He started his roll and just got nicely into the air when it looked as if his left motor quit. He went into a steep left bank and about that time hit the ground. The ship blew up. He was one of my best friends and a regular fellow. Sergeants Glen, Vorphal, and Grado were also killed. As yet not enough of Simpson has been found even to verify his existence.

More bad news concerning the 85th Squadron came in today. Seems Captain Maxwell had two of the boys out when they were jumped by some Messerschmitts. All were shot down but some of the crews got out okay. At least the French are bringing some of them back.

January 30, Youks-les-Bains Led a six-ship mission out today to bomb a column of tanks between Maknassy and Sidi bou Zid and really screwed up the detail. My compass was way off due to some additional armor plate which I installed in the plane so I missed Maknassy by quite a ways. Stooged around between Gabes and Sfax for quite a while and ended up bombing what we think was our own column, although they shot down one P-39 which was flying low and strafing. Do better next time I hope. [They were enemy trucks, near the Faid Pass.]

January 31, Youks-les-Bains Henricks and Vance came in today which makes our squadron almost complete except for Pew and the boys. Miles led a flight out today and really had a good mission. They bombed an area just east of Maknassy and set quite a bit of fuel on fire. The fires were still burning at 5:30 this evening. Our big drive seems to be going right along on schedule.

February 2, Youks-les-Bains Camille's Christmas package came yesterday and contained two books. Today Dave and I frequented Club Cabana almost continuously. I read Captain Blood and Dave started Uncle Newt.

The war is not going so good from our angle. The Germans are putting up a stiff resistance and our forces are not gaining any ground. The German air force has been bolstered by a lot of fighters. Today a flight of six P-40s took off from Thelepte and only one got back. Yesterday we lost three P-40s from this field. In my estimation the men responsible for putting our boys in P-40s to fight should be investigated.

February 3, Youks-les-Bains J.C. Simmons led a mission out today and did a good job of it. We took Senid again but not Faid Pass as yet.

February 4, Youks-les-Bains The armored force got pushed clear back to Gafsa which is only forty miles from Thelepte. Not so good. Our big drive backfired.

February 5, Youks-les-Bains Simmons, Van Dusen, Maddox, Sid, and I went over in the hills to cut some logs this afternoon. Got enough to last us quite a while--all winter, I figure. No missions.

Looks like rain or snow.

February 6, Youks-les-Bains Sure enough it rained. This afternoon Simmons and I went over to the Arab village and traded cigarettes for eggs and came home with about sixty. This evening Van, Dave, Simmons, and I decided we should celebrate Simmons's first wedding anniversary so we drank Dave's quart of Scotch. Such a happy bunch of guys I've never seen. Today also marks my being an officer and gentleman for one year. Hope to see many more.

February 7, Youks-les-Bains Ha! Had an air raid today which again caught us flat-footed. Six Messerschmitts came out of the sun, dropped their cargo, shot a few rounds, and continued on their way unharmed. They must have glided in from a pretty good altitude because no one heard them till they started shooting. I was caught out in the middle of nowhere so fell flat on my face but soon decided that I should be in a hole. I figure that during an air raid Jesse Owens would be eating my heel dust.

February 8, Youks-les-Bains Captain Miles led a flight out today and bombed the Faid Pass. Ran into some heavy flak but no one hit.

Van, John, Dave, and I went in and had a swell bath today. Afterward we drove back into the hills and ran onto a real Arab village. The houses are all made of stone and clay. The roofs are covered with dirt which is packed down to almost cement hardness.

February 10, Youks-les-Bains No missions. It's getting so lately that I dread the thought of a mission. Funny how daily missions don't bother you at all but these weekly ones sure get under your hide. All the boys feel the same way.

February 11, Youks-les-Bains Woke up this morning and thought the atmosphere uncommonly cold even for North Africa. Upon peeking out the door found the ground covered with a thin layer of snow. Desert warfare!

Dave has just come in cussing and blowing. Seems like he very carefully arranged his overshoes so that they would be easy to come off, then just before reaching our door his feet slipped clear into them. Now he is struggling valiantly to get them off without getting mud all over the place. There is about three inches of the messiest mud you ever saw clinging to the bottom. He presents a most amusing sight struggling around on one foot.

February 14, St. Valentine's Day, Youks-les-Bains Yesterday morning Roby came up and told Bensley and me to pack our bedrolls--we were going to a rest camp. It was for a duration of twenty-four hours and the camp was located in Tebessa, target of almost nightly bombings. My gosh, what an idea! But it turned out to be pretty good, soft chairs to sit in, a table to eat at, etc. The place used to be the Governor General's mansion. Then last night we were fortunate enough to accompany Captain Warling up to the evacuation hospital where no less than twenty-one nurses are employed. Real honest-to-goodness girls from the States! A swell bunch they are too--living in tents such as those we occupied in North Carolina. Sure would like to line up a dance somewhere.

We came back at noon today and had a mission late this evening. Took off at 5 p.m. and bombed Maknassy. Had several Spitfires for cover. Ran into a lot of ground fire and flak but not accurate. Got back just at dark. The squadron got three missions today. Germans seem to be kicking hell out of us in general on this front.

Got letters from both Wilma and Camille with three pictures from Camille taken in the snow. Hot dawg.

This is the diary's first mention of Wilma, a friend from Berkeley, when he'd worked as a bus-boy in her sorority house. In a letter home, he called her "my blonde beauty from Dunsmuir." Camille was evidently another sweetheart.

The February 14 missions were flown in response to a major German breakout. According to an American communique: "The 12th Air Force, in conjunction with the Royal Air Force, has been providing instant airborne support to our ground troops by rapidly attacking along and behind the enemy front to disrupt the offensive and give our ground troops time to organize and begin a massive counter-offense." But the Afrika Korps rolled on, for its last success in what had become a forlorn defense of Tunisia. On February 16, German tanks were within cannon-shot of the American airfield at Thelepte.

February 17, Youks-les-Bains Yesterday the 85th moved up here and this morning all the pursuiters left Thelepte. They left lots of equipment and had to burn several planes, etc. Fourteen A-20s were left--what a blow! The Germans now occupy the place as well as Sbeitla. I understand the 1st Armored Division is just about wiped out. The Jerries are plenty tough.

This afternoon the 85th led a mission out with three of their ships and three 84th boys--low level, just above Feriana. Captain Maxwell got shot up and made a crash landing just inside enemy lines and we haven't heard from him yet. Russell had to land wheels up out here and two other planes are pretty well shot up. Some party.

February 18, Youks-les-Bains Just learned that J.P. Ford got sort of shot up on the ground the other day trying to get his Spit into the air. He's in the hospital which they moved down here to Youks-les-Bains, so Simmons and I went in to see him today. He's getting along okay.

Captain Maxwell and crew got back this morning all safe and more or less sound. Max has a broken nose.

February 19, Youks-les-Bains I understand the Jerries have planes on the Thelepte field already. If that is so we'll really have a hot time.

February 20, Telergma Captain Akers, Kuhlman, and I left today via transport for Casablanca to pick up three replacement A-20s. Landed here in the rain so didn't take off again.

February 22, Casablanca Got off this morning in fine style and had a swell trip. No one knows anything about us or our planes.

February 23, Casablanca Got a line on the planes at last. We are taking three that belong to the 27th. They are all outfitted with four guns in the nose.

The 27th Bomb Group had flown across the South Atlantic and up the west coast of Africa, reaching Algeria about the same time as the 47th. Instead of going into combat, they went through a long and ill-advised program to toughen their A-20s for low-level attack: two fifty-caliber machineguns were mounted in the bombardier's compartment of each plane, and the plexiglass panels were painted over. About the time the work was finished, the 12th Air Force decided to reequip the group with a dive-bomber version of the North American Mustang, so the A-20 gunships became replacements for those lost by Colonel Terrell's outfit.

Colonel Terrell, meanwhile, was losing more planes, in what would be remembered as the Battle of Kasserine Pass. Among the pilots shot down were Captain Miles and J.C. Simmons of the 86th Bomb Squadron.

February 25, Algiers Got off about 11 a.m. and had a most interesting flight. Morocco is very pretty with all its cultivated fields. Ran into a little weather but made it to [illegible], where we picked up another ship. Left about 4:30 and landed here where we proceeded to town, ate, and got billeted in this apartment house, now furnished with army cots. Hot and cold running water!

February 26, Algiers Spent most all day browsing about in the rain, buying souvenirs, etc. Got re-billeted in the Central Touring Hotel where we have real beds but no hot water.

Heard that Miles and Simmons were shot down in the Kasserine Pass area. They had one hectic day sending out planes singly and in twos and threes. The Jerries were coming and had to be stopped. We lost eleven A-20s in one day's operation but the German drive was stopped and they are now in reverse.