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INTERVIEWS AT THE FRONT
SERGEANT R. DuHAMEL, Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion, 60th Infantry. Djebel bon Douaou, 3 April 1943.
I was sent as a replacement. I sailed from New York 5th March; landed in Oran 19th March; sailed from Oran 21st March; arrived Phillipeville night of 24th March; left Phillipeville by truck 25th March; arrived at a post near Constantine 25th March; left 26th March; arrived Ain Beida 27th March; left Ain Beida 31st March; arrived 9th Division 31st March; was on outpost on this mountain 1st April.
I am one of 100 replacements of the 60th Infantry who are on this section of the mountain range. Some of these men never fired the rifle. Some, including myself, have never thrown a live hand grenade. The men have little respect for authority. They always talk back as if something was being put over on them, and never take their orders cheerfully. The men talked as they came up the mountain in spite of being cautioned not to. (The older soldiers, who had been there ten days, nodded emphatically that this was the case.)
We moved up into the hills here night before last. Yesterday I got permission to go out scouting, and took a man with me. Today I came alone and didn't tell them I was coming, because I didn't want one of those other men with me. Yesterday I guarded some prisoners back. The other men are quieter today. It was because the men on patrol exposed themselves so much that I went off alone today. The commanding officer of the other company up where I am, a second lieutenant, I overheard saying he wanted to get away from this new group because they exposed themselves so much.
I left my blankets and pack carrier back with the APO (Rear echelon of the 1st Armored Division), and am in with another boy in a cave. He had four blankets. I didn't know we were going to stay out. I asked, and no one knew anything. We left with one day's rations.
On the way to the front we had good food and shelter, were in pup tents part of the time. I had a ride in a truck to a steam bath near Ain Beida. In camp near Constantine we were lucky, we had mattresses with straw. I left my extra clothes back at the APO; it is all in one barracks bag. The rations on the way up were good — if they were "C" rations, they were heated.*
[*NOTE: This conversation took place on the top of a jagged mountain peak, Djebel bou Douaou. For five miles the track we followed to the foot of the mountain was under observation and within range of various German guns, and for that reason our party was limited to one peep load of 3. The Germans frequently fired guns, up to 88's even at small vehicles. The officer who drove the peep had perfected himself in the SOP for single vehicles to avoid fire. This procedure is to use a change of pace. Drive at a relatively high speed long enough for the Germans to figure a lead, then change abruptly to a relatively low speed and keep this speed about long enough for the Germans to figure a new lead, then go fast again. If this is done properly a vehicle is hard to hit. We were not fired upon.]
I wanted to get a picture which would show the precipices and the mountain ranges. After we finished talking I posed the other two of our party so that the mountain ranges would show in the background. When the picture was taken we started down the mountain; a minute or two later the peak we had left was plastered with German mortar fire. —TJC
(At 2200, 4 April, Germans made a night attack on this position. It was repulsed by hand-to-hand fighting and grenades.)
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COLONEL STACK, Commanding the 6th Armored Infantry, Maknassy, 5 April 1943.
We had a man who stepped on a 'Bouncing Betty' the other day, but was not badly hurt. He had an ammunition carrier over his shoulder and 1 think that is what saved him. He said to the doctor, 'Doc, it seemed that something was just pushing my foot and leg up in the air when I stepped on it.'
We captured some German rations the other day and they were good — good food. All Europe is feeding Germany, as the containers showed that the food was produced in Czechoslovakia, Belgium, and in many other countries.
SERGEANT WILLIAM KEITH, Company "G", 6th Armored Infantry.
When you are up in a place and not firing and the enemy are dug in, unless you can find something definite to shoot at, and you are sure you can hit it, hold your fire. It does nothing but draw enemy fire on you and will draw mortar fire. Men are hard to keep quiet and hard to make stay down in places like that. I think the best place to work is on the enemy flanks or in behind the enemy. We traveled fifty miles behind the enemy lines one time and they never got us. This was at Kasserine Pass.
The enemy will shoot at anything that moves and he will shoot anything that he has got at it. He does a lot of wild firing.
We haven't had many replacements, two or three in our platoon.
We eat "C" rations and they are pretty good. We don't cook them, but eat them cold. Get along pretty well on that.
COLONEL STACK: "C" ration cans open below the top. This makes a very messy dribble and gets the men dirtier than necessary.
SERGEANT KEITH: We don't use our mess kits except when we are back from the front. Most of the men use the lemon juice in their water because it seems to make it last longer. We get a canteen a day and it isn't too much, but we get along on it.
When you are moving men they are dependent on the noncommissioned officer or leader as to how to move forward. Sooner or later they will lose contact with the non-commissioned officer, as he has to stay at the head. You should have a second-in-command. It is a good thing to have the individual man keep in contact with the man in front of him. The new men don't know many of the men in the company and get lost into some other platoon or company. if you have a good second-in-command he can keep them together. The men follow better than trying to send a man up by himself.
COLONEL STACK: That is why our losses are so high in noncommissioned officers and officers.
SERGEANT KEITH: There is another thing, sir, we have men in our company that don't know how to shoot rifles, and that is pretty tough.
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SERGEANT WILLIAM T. ETRITGE, Company "I", 6th Armored Infantry, Maknassy, 5 April 1943.
Three main things that I think are important: the first is to keep your weapons clean — they won't fire if you don't. Stay under cover. I have had men who were not under cover and they haven't come back. Then get all the fire on the enemy that you can. Our company has been longer in this battle than any other company, from the 15th of February to the 3rd of April. My men were jumpy then but they are better now. We get plenty to eat and get a canteen of water a day.
The enemy has a good machine gun, but if you can get through you have got him. You can get away from his artillery and his mortars.
Three days ago we were going to attack, we were going towards the hill. I put scouts out in front. The enemy let my scouts get within 20 to 25 yards of them and, I guess thinking we were all there, put mortar fire behind us and opened up with machine gun fire ahead. They got my two scouts. The scouts had got close enough so that they couldn't be hit by mortar or machine gun, but it looked as if they were hand grenaded. The grenades set the grass on fire under the scouts and when one got up to put the fire out, they got him. We seen we could not get past the machine gun so we were ordered to withdraw.
I would say the enemy's best shots use telescopic sights. Nobody could shoot that long a distance and be as accurate. One took a piece out of the seat of my pants at what seemed a very long distance. Without a telescope, he could not see to shoot that close. After I got back I was watching the hill for the two scouts and seen six Germans come back and get one of the scouts; I know that he wasn't dead. They wouldn't let us get up to the other one.
I have replacements that have never shot a rifle. They came from Fort Knox from the Cooks' and Bakers' School. They came with pistol belts and rifles. Most have never fired. I have six of them.
The best way to fight is first artillery, then tanks, and us to follow tanks up. That hill is booby trapped and mined.
It is best to keep very quiet. At any time at night whenever you make a slight noise the enemy immediately opens up with machine gun fire and mortars.
We can whip him if we can get to him.
At one place the enemy had machine guns placed and protected by snipers. We were to take the hill. I was 200 to 250 yards from the enemy and was lying down. I seen a sniper from the top of his nose up. I knew that it would take a good shot and I had my rifle pointed in his direction. I decided to wait and finally he moved up to chest height and I squeezed one off but didn't hit him. Then I seen another, just his helmet, then he raised and I squeezed another one off; I got him, he raised up on his toes and fell over. I never did get any fire from them. I sent a scout out to locate machine guns and a sniper got him in the stomach. There was a bunch on the hill that fired at everything. This scout that got wounded knocked six out of one machine gun nest with a hand grenade and the other bunch thought that he was going to throw another one and took off, but were cut off from behind. That drove them back to their gun.
All I know to do is to keep firing at them.
The boys have nicknamed the German machine gun the 'typewriter' because it is so fast.
You can find anti-personnel mines if you watch closely as you go along. You can see three prongs sticking out. About seven pounds of pressure will set them off. We have taken them out and put the pins back. We call them the 'jumping jacks'.
One time a boy about 25 yards in front of our half-track was fussing around and digging in the ground. All of a sudden he exclaimed, 'Look what I have uncovered — a bomb!' There was a large size bomb buried in the ground. I told him to let it alone and taped it off.
The boys always say that if you want to spot an enemy plane in the sky to look about 2000 yards in front of the antiaircraft fire.
COLONEL STACK: We can't get the men to lead the airplanes with antiaircraft fire. They just won't lead enough.
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SERGEANT LELAND A. SUTHERLAND, Company "G", 6th Armored Infantry, Maknassy, 5 April 1943.
We were attached to the 2nd Battalion when the last attack was made and we came under fire. Just the minute we got up there we made a night attack. The scouts drew enemy fire. All the machine guns fired and the men had to learn one thing — that was to stay down. I lost three men. I can harp and preach but the men won't get down. The whole battalion tried to advance but couldn't, so we had to encircle around the right. COLONEL RINGSOK asked me how many men I had. I told him I had 30 men. He took us around the side and the objective we had to take was one hill that night. We were doing fine work as far as jobs could go. But it got pretty expensive as far as men were concerned. You could not buck that kind of dug-in position with rifles, and the artillery was no good — the enemy would just get in holes until the firing was over, and come out unhurt. I have learned that artillery couldn't hurt you if you just got down in a foxhole while the firing was going on. The men soon learned to get down while they are firing.
They have guns set up that don't have a grazing fire, but cross-fire. They are set up to get you on the sky line.
I have no experiences to relate, but have had the hell scared out of me here for a month or so. I have learned that we have to play for keeps. One thing them Germans and Italians are like, a corporal in my platoon says, like gray squirrels; they can't stay still, all you have to do is lay down and shoot them as they pop up. If you wait long enough they will pop up. You just lie and wait. I have got a couple of them myself. I have seen them knocked down all the way from here to Oran.
I think that my men are getting smarter now. They learned from Kasserine Pass. We lost vehicles and the men scattered. There is safety in numbers. We had 40 men and got through them. If you have a patrol of 10 men, and they spot you and shoot at you, you don't shoot back — you leave. But if you have a whole platoon you answer them back.
In our company we have not got many replacements. We got sixteen last night. Everyone felt good to get them. It made my platoon feel fine. I put my best men with them, I picked a good old man for each new man. The old man showed the new one just how to dig his fox hole and told him everything. We were sorry they were mostly from Cooks' and Bakers' School. We need riflemen.
Our medical battalion takes care of both sides; if we find Germans we take them in too. We had two brothers fighting side by side. One time we had a machine gun nest to take and one of the two brothers was in my platoon. We got up to the place where the machine gun was and this brother got up to throw a grenade. He got hit in the head but I know that he wasn't dead. We couldn't bring him out. We were ordered to carry on the attack. I don't know whether he died or what happened to him. Do they take care of our men the same way? A few days ago the same kind of thing happened and the German and Italian medics took care of some of our boys. A medical corporal went up there the other day to get one of our wounded men and was waved back because the area was booby trapped.
I think that they are the poorest rifle shots on earth. Our main trouble has been the artillery. The M1 is our best gun. We argue pro and con on the Springfields and M1's, but it is the M1 for me.
It took 3 squads to take a machine gun nest on high ground at night by working up by crawling. We got where he couldn't depress the gun down enough to hit us. We got him surrounded while the rest of them drew fire. The men went forward and threw hand grenades. He shot all around like a cornered tom-cat. GENERAL WARD was right up there with us. I was the man that loaned the rifle to him and he drew fire for us. His carbine had quit on him. I believe he also threw a grenade at the machine gun nest.
It is impossible to fight anybody that is dug in when you have rifles only. One doesn't consider the sniper dangerous; you consider him more of a harrasser. One thing is, you can't find him out. I have had glasses and never could spot them. We put machine guns out in the night and take them in during the day. In the day we have observation posts, one man at them at all times. We have the observation posts where the most trouble is expected.
The first night at the front it would give you the jitters. The enemy would send a blast of fire to lei you know that he was still there, and they fire all kinds of fire-works.
He has one of the fastest guns I have ever seen, but he is not accurate. He is the poorest shot there is, or else I can run the fastest and dodge the fastest of any one I know.
The first flares that I seen I thought the Germans were advancing on me. Now I don't pay no attention to them, and we throw them too. The German shoots like hell but don't hit anything. You can see the tracers going overhead. The first attack we made I got one boy shot in the shoulder and it was a long shot, about 1000 yards, but I guess it was just a lucky shot.
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STAFF SERGEANT SEABORN DUCKETT, 6th Armored Infantry,
The first thing is to keep your head and have good concealment. Keep your eyes open because the Germans are pretty smart and you have to keep awake to get them. At Kasserine Pass I know we lost some men by going to sleep. You got to be awake all the time. We lost men by wanting to go to sleep. They seem to get the idea that they should have rest more than anything else. They don't get scared until it is too late. Up at Kasserine Pass a man didn't carry out orders that he should have, orders to move to the top of the mountain, and some of those that went to sleep didn't come out. It is necessary to obey orders. I believe that my men obey me because they think that I know what I am doing, and the new men seem to have confidence in me. A lot depends on a smart leader.
We have had no opportunity to use the weapons on the half-tracks except for anti-aircraft fire.
What ranges for fire have you and the enemy used?
Around 300 yards. The enemy lets you get right on him before he fires. He lets you get right into his traps and then opens up with machine guns. I have had very little rifle fire from the enemy.
Most of our casualties have been from machine gun fire except one that was caused by a bomb. We had four killed in the last action, and none wounded.
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PRIVATE JACK MOORE, Company "L", 60th Infantry, Maknassy, 5 April 1943.
It seems like everything the enemy uses is designed to harrass a man. They start firing at night and the guns seem to crack overhead, and it makes it seem as if they were right on top of you. Their tracers seem to have curves on them. But if you wait, and take it easy, you can soon tell where they are. They have flares that make it look like convoys coming, down the road, and they have flares that are good for nothing, but make it seem like an attack is taking place. They have snipers that don't have much of a chance of hitting anything, but scare the hell out of you. I am not afraid of it now anymore but last Monday we took a pretty good beating from their artillery. It was our second attack, and many men were pretty scared, but you readily realize that if you are in the ground it is pretty ineffective. I try to tell the men to take it easy. On a patrol the other day we were looking over an area in which it was understood there was a machine gun. We went out and looked around and nothing happened until we got past it. When most of the men got past the gun it started in. We looked all around to find it. One sergeant got hit twice in the hand and started to look for a better position to get in. I don't believe there were any better positions. It was just as good to lay on the flat ground. They have a mortar up there and nobody has ever got up to it. We hear vehicles that I guess are bringing ammunition to them. At night they fire several rounds just for nothing. Most of them have good guns and it seems as if they shoot at everything. If a man was over there with a gun and the enemy knew that he couldn't hit him, he would shoot anyway. Three days I laid up there out of gun range, but they would shoot.
We are doing all right. We got a new bunch last night and they were jittery and nervous at first and because of it we nearly lost a lieutenant. I don't blame the new men for getting jumpy. The sergeant put these men in digging new positions. One of the fellows was digging when another man came up. He gave the countersign but the new man, because he was jittery I guess, didn't hear it, reached down and brought his gun up and fired. It was lucky that he missed though; the distance was about eight feet. The other day a few got scared and made a run for it, but a second lieutenant got them back in their positions and they stayed it out. This was during a real shrapnel barrage. They took it pretty good. We were glad to get replacements and they are very anxious to learn. I believe that no matter how long a man has been in the Army, until he hears that first one go over, he is a rookie.
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CAPTAIN GAIL H. BROWN, 60th Infantry, Maknassy, 5 April 1943.
I have learned considerable from many true experiences, first of all about foxholes. It is something no one back in the States realizes the importance of, until he actually comes under fire. The next thing I would consider important is being able to shoot at the proper time rather than wasting ammunition; this was a big thing at our landing at Port Lyautey.
The next thing that I noticed up here, the first night we hit here and made the attack towards the big hill, was a massing of troops when they came under fire. They herded together like sheep. I was weapons commander at the time. I found machine guns emplaced close together and where they had no field of fire. The heavy machine guns and light machine guns placed close together. However, after organizing my own machine guns and mortars and trying to help the infantry to spread out and get a field of fire, they actually learned for themselves, because that night enemy artillery and mortar fell in on us. As it was they were spread out and well dispersed. The troops learn very fast.
The next thing that I find important is the getting of information down to the troops, for the very simple reason that they don't know what is happening and they don't know what to expect and what to do at the proper time. It has been emphasized before, but the officers don't seem to realize the importance of it. The discipline is very good and the morale high. Replacements seem to help in this because it seems like the men have someone new to talk to and tell stories to. At one time we were to get replacements and were told that they were coming in but they didn't come. The morale went down a lot that night. Last night they came in and we told them to dig foxholes and everything that we learned by experience. The replacements look like a good bunch of boys. They were a little scared at first because they didn't know what to expect and the people at the rear told them so many different stories. The replacements arrived last night and received baptism of mortar fire this morning. Nobody was hurt because they dug all night and had good foxholes.
We remove enemy mines by tying a heavy stick on a rope and dragging them out and exploding them. Handle the booby traps in the same way.
I had one experience that I will never forget. It was the second day of battle and we were making an attack that night. COLONEL TOFFEE, Battalion Commander, was just wounded in the knee and the Executive Officer was in the Rear Command Post. I was up by GENERAL WILBUR, who had been up at the time to reorganize the troops on the ridge. Then I went on up and got on top to help in this and found no American troops but looked into the faces of German troops. I got two incendiary bombs thrown in my face and was shot at also. I shot back and believe that I got one. Then my pistol wouldn't work any more so I got out of there. I later found out that the boys were back reorganizing.
Most of our casualties have been from mortars and artillery and some machine gun fire. They open up with machine gun fire at night and our machine guns fire back. Then they open up with mortars and artillery fire. The mortars seemed to be coming in from the back of us.
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