THE Royal Palace of Caserta contains both Fifth Army Headquarters and Fifteenth Army Group Headquarters. It could have swallowed the Algiers AFHQ for the Mediterranean Theater as well. It is a monstrous encampment, worthy of the enormous military bureaucracy and its equipage. Lt. Alfred de Grazia, AUS, CAC-MI will never get to the end of it, whether by foot or car. The Bourbon Kings of The Two Sicilies built it of a rich tan stone in the Eighteenth Century with the grand and marvelous flourish of a Versailles. Its large gardens and exotic trees shade noble walks along which military officers might amble while deciding how to wrest Italy from the Germans.
To him the set-up is dismaying. It appears to be a summer resort of the Pentagon. It would appear that the Army is taking on a long- term lease therefor. Luckily for his morale, the weather is turning bad, the mud is beginning to climb to the tops of his boots and lick at his leggings, and the combat propaganda detachment is bivouacked on the fringe of the palace; it occupies a couple of olive- drab pyramidal tents.
He is out on the job every day contacting the units of the line, which is at the Volturno River when he first starts up; the line then is forced in a score of bloody engagements to the outskirts of Cassino, where it gets stuck. As the year draws to a close he is awaiting news of the birth of his "son," and hangs around the tents excessively, or so it seems to Lt. Col. Weaver, himself tent-loving, who asks him courteously whether he shouldn't be out making the rounds of the Front. This embarrasses him a little: that he could be imagined as slacking or lazy or afraid; yet he does not want to confess a real reason for dragging his feet, that he believes any moment now may bring the Message from the Red Cross.
Devotedly he details his existence to his Wife, saying little of the baby as the fateful date, December 29 -- his own birthday, too -- comes and goes; it is a crisis, and he would not want to put a wrong construction upon the absence of news. On the First of January he describes the day before, December 31, 1943:
The New Year has started out as a howling banging affair. A wind blew up last night and even now twenty-four hours later is threatening to deprive us of our means of support. As I write I feel that my eyes have run amuck; it seems as if the tent grows bigger and smaller, constantly. Very disturbing and very true. It does grow bigger and smaller and the wind comes in great breathtaking swooshes that leave one to marvel that the pegs are still grounded.
I spent a most bitter day and still have a few shivers left over. The rain, sleet and wind crawled into our very marrows. The Army is perfectly miserable. Wretched soldiers, drenched to the skin, their tents blown down or the rain blown in, a sea of mud and a welter of newly created lakes, the sides of the roads raging torrents and snow in most places a few hundred feet up.
I went down to the dump to get some shells fixed up and found complete devastation. The crew were huddled in a little room in a stone manger [shed?] looking on the hostile outside dejectedly and miserably. Not only had their records blown away, but also their tents, leaving a pile of messy trash half buried in mud. The chaos revealed a cornet which was being reclaimed by one of the boys, and with an eager lip I tried it out. I suppose that it was strange to play "Stardust" out in the open like that, with numb lips and fingers, but it was only a small absurd bit in the whole Krazy-Kat scene.
Hundreds of trees have blown down, many of them olive trees and hardly expendable. It is a conspiracy of wind and rain. The rain softens and the wind gives the mortal blow...
Last night was spent in the tent. We drank a little rum and wine, opened and fried a tin of tongue which I believe Mom or you sent me, and sang a few songs. At midnight we fired our guns, adding to the general impression of a giant night battle with tommy- guns, rifles, pistols, BAR's, and even a machine gun which I could have sworn I heard. We came in and drank some coffee. I stayed up a while cleaning the guns and about the time I went to sleep, the wind began. Out of the daze of slumber, I remember various articles tossing about the tent and scary blasts which one could hear starting in the trees far away and which came towards and through us in a final rush like huge breakers...
If one takes to signs, the year will be mighty and awful. It may be good, too, because I saw a beautiful rainbow in the midst of all the rigors today.
The four officers -- Dabinette, Foster, Herz and himself -- sleep in one tent. The office of the detachment is in another. An account of it makes up most of another letter a week later (still no word of the baby):
Perhaps, in view of your expressed hatred of offices, I can describe what an army field office looks like. First there is the tent, dark green or camouflaged, and then inside, instead of beds, you have folding camp tables which hold hardly nothing except a pencil and a piece of paper. If you are lucky, you also have a chair, barring that a stool or box or anything that will stave off collapse. With this table you must execute masterful maneuvers to open maps which are peers of anything Standard Oil ever put out, including as they do every house or former house, and everything down to a machine gun in size. Every once in a while a wire crew comes in to put in a phone or take it out, which doesn't mean much since it never works, except of course to add to the confusion. The phone is a tantalizing instrument, you must admit. Half the time you get a whisper, which leads you to bellow enthusiastically into the mouthpiece, rising in a great crescendo on the margins of comprehension and resulting in two messages at least, neither understood or correct. Or there may be three or more, depending on how many other units become attached to your wire meanwhile. If the other members of the "office" have not been driven to seek out the enemy in hand-to-hand combat by the confusion and concussion of the phoning, they are having a merry time with their maps and overlays. (The overlay, for your information, is a heavy, semi-transparent paper that when placed in a certain position on part of the map, will show you strange and interesting things that somebody in a different staff section has found out about the war.) The tent can hold one man waving a map and overlay about, but more then two is hell, more than a man can stand. One of the results of this map-waving activity is to camouflage the stove which is strategically placed in the center of tent where you can't help tripping over it. Of course, the stove is well-tended. Every once in a while, in this closed-in canvas, sealed from the frigid air, an attendant lifts the lid, puts a mixture in, and a great, thick, black and oily column rises and covers the tent down to within three feet of the dirt ground. The attendant is coal-black in the oriental tradition.
A few moments later, it is safe, though unhealthy, to raise yourself from the prone to resume work. Whatever you were doing need not lay as you left it however, because the clerk, profiting from the demoralization and cloaked by the smoke screen, has gone about putting what is laughingly called the "file" in order. That means sweeping off all the odd bits of paper on the desk into a clumsy wooden basket labelled "in" or "out" - no difference. Some days later, when there is no comic magazine or copy of the Stars and Stripes available, he may perform a ritual called "putting the file in order." He takes the basket and a handful of used folders, already used for three or four subjects a temps perdu, including Italian social security taxes, Fascist Gioventù and the PWB vehicle record, and places the papers from the basket into respective files, putting most of them in the thin files and none of them in the fat files. In cases where the logic is inescapable, he makes the choice appropriate, such as incoming personal mail in the correspondence file, etc.
Knowing how hard-pressed for time the clerk has been, very recently an assistant was solicited from a replacement center. The assistant might have done well if he had tried, but since he is little and ugly, he works like Goebbels to establish master propaganda plans. Today, due to the fact that the rest of us, forewarned, had seized all available vehicles and rushed to the Front, the Colonel was cornered by the new man who has made long extracts from the Bible which prove among other things that the Germans can't win. He wanted to shower the enemy with these convincing, powerful words. Out of nowhere, the colonel was inspired to state that it might seem sacrilegious if the Germans then used the leaflets for toilet paper, as they are wont to do with extra ones. Highly impressed by this reason, the fellow retired to a corner of the tent, muttering something about making the paper rougher.. He is a holy terror. I gave him a note to someone down the line and he put it in an air-courier pouch bound God knows for where. One can only say that he has a certain utility in applying band-aids to people who burn themselves on the stove.
Odd people come around too, visiting firemen from the occupation team who want to get the smell of powder in their nostrils or to feel what an army is like. Or someone from Counter- Intelligence may call up to find out whether an Italian we have is a secret agent or is spying on a secret agent or just wants to become one. Our intelligence man can best answer that, but he is secrecy reductus ad absurdum and doesn't know where he is himself.
Then the mail comes in, which doesn't disturb the lack of routine at all. A package is opened and the walnettos spill out. The caramel gets stuck to the desk or some confidential papers and they are forever confidential. When the unlettered ones begin to curse loudly and the din is too much, Herz gets up and delivers a fiery oration on the need for quiet. But by that time, it's late enough for lunch anyway.
We retrace our steps to the matter of the baby. He, she -- he thinks "he" because his own mother, Kate, has borne four sons and no daughter -- was subject of a call from the American Red Cross well before Christmas. For no good reason, he received a garbled message contradicting his Wife's advices. The Secretary of Dr. "Jack" Greenhill (He is the eminent gynecologist who is also Lt. Johnny Hess' step-father) told them that the baby would be a girl and would be born in January. Remarkable on both scores, fifty years early in sex-prognosticating method, weeks late in length of term.
On January 13, he writes,
...When I got back from the Front, I found a message to call the Red Cross. I did so, and a barely audible voice told me I was the father of a girl infant. He said both you and the baby were doing well and I could ask no more.. It looks as if I shall spend the future beating off suitors. That ought to be fun. When it comes down to it, I am just as happy with a girl as with a boy. Think how much a girl can accomplish in reference to the rest of her sex compared with a boy... I think we'll make her an all-around girl, swimming, cerebration, and socializing. Herz has already asked for her hand but I've told him, with your presumed approval, that she doesn't want to have anything to do with an old fogey.
She has of course written profusely, but the mails are slow; he writes on January 24 that a batch of mail has been arriving, dated December 24, 25, 27, 29, January 3 and 4, chock full of details on how to give birth to babies, a difficult birth it was, many hours long, the head was too large and was squeezed thin and had to be helped through by an incision, but Jack Greenhill did a masterful sculptural restoration afterwards with his strong skilled hands. Worse than anything that the soldier has been suffering: Motherhood! Jack Greenhill tried to hold things off, he jested, to give her the same birthday as her father, but, what with everything else happening, he had all he could do to bring forth the strapping bawler at over nine pounds.
So now all of their correspondence would be carried on over the head of this infant, so to speak, enough about her in it to fill a pediatric textbook, avantgarde because there is so much love in it. They call her Kathryn and Esther, after the paternal and maternal grandmothers.
The worst campaign of the War -- West of Russia, though some even doubt that -- proceeds regardless. The soldiers cannot believe it will last so long: they keep expecting a break-through on some other part of the Front. The vast fleets of Allied tanks and vehicles can hardly be employed in the mountains and the mud. Italian mule companies have to supply the French, Indian, and Polish infantry, trying to conquer the German bastion from the Northeast massif; most of the animals are killed or plunge to their death off the slippery trails.
The terrain and the immobility make it a battle of riflemen, mortar crews, sappers, and machine-gunners. (Riflemen are actually equally automatic-weapons men and grenade-throwers, and learn to employ bazookas to explode bunkers, where these fail against the too-heavy German tanks.) Among the Allied troops, the casualties are practically all in the infantry battalions; and in these battalions, each starting with about 400 rifles, 80% of the casualties are riflemen and lieutenants. Murderous to medics, too. The evil weather and incessant cannonading make life unbearable for those not hurt or diseased. Nor do you rejoice in the hurt and death around you. A Special Forces soldier sits on the body of an enemy while poking C- ration from can to mouth; no insult intended, it's better than sitting in the mud.
Seven months pass, incredible, November to June, an Italy that gives to fighting troops the lie about its famous climate, food, touristic pleasures, and comforts. The people remain human despite continual misery and misfortune: there are women who hang their wash within gun range, making soldiers feel foolish. In the middle of this period, in case anyone should wish to know, Lieutenant de Grazia has come and gone and come again.
The Campaign has its several phases, which he associates with the nationality of the troops principally engaged. The Fifth Army Command is American, under a British-commanded Army Group that controls both it and the Eighth Army to the East. The troops are the most polyglot of the War: British, American, Canadian, New Zealand, East Indian (Hindu, Sikh, Gurkha, etc.), Polish, French (Continental, Pieds noirs, Algerian, Moroccan, Tunisian), Jewish, Brazilian, Italian. The American Headquarters Guard is Spanish- speaking, Puerto-Rican. One may mention more specifically Scottish, Irish, and any number of quasi-national contingents. Disgracefully, past racist policies keep American blacks out of combat whether as segregated units or individuals, though they support part of the logistical chain from Naples; the French and British, in contrast, do embrace black African combat troops. The supplies, the equipment, the arms, are increasingly and mainly American and brought up by American transport.
Contacts with the Adriatic region are bringing in Yugoslav partisans, and he has by the end of 1942 been converted to support communist Tito's Partisans rather than the royalist "Chetniks" led by Draza Mikhailovich. Why? Because his intelligence sources have brought in one report after another to the effect that Tito's men are doing much more damage to the Nazis and Fascists than the royalists. Anyhow, he does not like Kings. "D" Section in Naples, his people, have swung over to Tito, and, as if by some concatenation of intelligences, Winston Churchill has decided that Tito is the man to support. So, when a couple of vigorous Yugoslav partisans are introduced to him, he says, "Any friends of Tito are friends of mine."
The first phase in the gruesome winter-long Battle is the set of struggles to reach the Gustav Line, pivoting on the Town and the huge Benedictine Monastery hovering above it; American and British would argue about who did most to arrive at this point. The Rapido River Crossing, fought principally by the 36th American Division, of Texas National Guard ancestry, is the larger part of the second phase. The 442nd Japanese-American battalion, later regimental combat team, begins to play its distinguished role. The American 34th Division also is launched into the impossible, and loses half its riflemen. Whose defeat is worse, the 36th's or the 34th's? Who failed? Before long, every fact is known about both episodes. But, where every fact is known, the truth acquires a multiplicity and complexity never to be resolved into an answer. One thing is sure now: a frontal attack upon Cassino is madness. Still, the Command orders it again and again.
He regularly visits these units and the 45th and 3rd Divisions and 1st Armored Division, hearing and spreading gossip, examining their situation maps, which are better locally than those at Army HQ G-2. The next propaganda operations are planned. He asks them to shoot certain leaflets over selected targets, explains why, gives them copies and English translations of the material to be exploded over the Germans, and shares whatever information he may have about the results of past firings.
They like to hear his opinions about how the war is going generally and when it will end: he is a live source. They get their news regularly and ordinarily from the Stars and Stripes. They get letters and clippings from home. But Americans do not write much. They hear an occasional short-wave broadcast. Men come back from leave in Naples and tell what they hear from other soldiers there.
He supervises the conversion of smoke shells at the little ammo dump his Team maintains, and tells the artillery ammo trucks where and when to pick up and deliver the shells. In each shell are about three hundred leaflets carrying general and specific messages; as the shell which is set to explode at a certain height over enemy pathways or positions goes off, the leaflets spread out in a pattern and drift down to where they may be reached and read by the soldiers. It takes about 15,000 leaflets to cover a division's front, about 50 shells. A single burst, about 100 yards up, on a windless hour, will usually put the message near anyone below within a diameter of 150 yards. The Germans are told by their officers that they should turn in enemy propaganda without reading it, but they read and often keep it, even if, to the minds of Allied troops and the Propaganda Team for that matter, they seem hardly responsive. They should be showered with the paper at dusk, so that they can observe the fall and pick them up after dark, safe from both enemy and friendly fire.
Then, along the way, he sometimes visits infantry units and get their ideas of what might bother or affect in advantageous ways the conduct of the enemy, and talks with prisoners or prisoner interrogators for their information about specific weaknesses and details that will lend authenticity to the propaganda when received by the enemy. This information goes to the Team, the intelligence and ideas to Martin Herz and Hans Habe. Unfortunately, Habe now catches jaundice and then contracts pneumonia and ends up in a hospital to the rear. When his Christmas gifts arrive from home, his friends save the finer little pieces for him and devour the rest, as he had bequeathed them to his friends, though they feel a bit ghoulish and sad. Herz, too, contracts jaundice, which seems to be endemic, but stays on.
Like any profit-seeking businessman, the Lieutenant must explain to Tom Crowell, civilian printing manager, what is happening to his product in the course of processing and delivery. They discuss the crushing power of acceleration on the rolls of paper and try to locate stronger paper that will stand the initial explosion, will not catch fire, will not be shredded when bursting out of the shellcase in the secondary explosion over the target. Tom has his operation camouflaged under canvas and it has to be seen to be believed. He had discovered in Africa a German tank-carrying truck, given up in the general surrender in Tunis, perhaps the largest non-trailer truck ever to have been manufactured. He has collected in it a Webendorfer offset press, a Miehle letter-press, a composing machine with linotype, a full hand-setting array of fonts, a ton of paper, and a paper-cutter of large dimensions. He painted the name, the "Gutenberg Special," upon it in large letters. He and his three soldier assistants live in the truck.
The Team quickly develops an operating system that is professional, that is, that has routines, rules, standards, criteria for evaluation of results, testing and research. It is quite different from the organization, methods, equipment, and division of labor foreseen by the designers of the First Radio Mobile Radio Broadcasting Company a year earlier at OSS in Washington and Camp Ritchie. Proof of this comes in a manual of combat operations for an army team, called Functions of the Fifth Army Combat Propaganda Team, the first ever achieved and the model for all to come. The hand of the Lieutenant from Chicago is heavy in its writing and editing. Tom prints the book up nicely and binds it with glue. It is sent to Army units around the world. As part of its preparation, the Lieutenant works on the perfection of firing tables for the typical American weapon, the 105 mm howitzer, for the weight of the removed smoke cannisters is different from the weight of the leaflets and the settings on the shell have to be adjusted accordingly; further the wind operates on paper differently than upon smoke.
He also thinks of producing effects upon the morale of more distant troops by the use of larger cannons. The 155 mm howitzer is used for longer range and larger bursts, as well as for short ranges where profitable. An artillery officer tells him of seeing a dead German half blown away by a 155 mm shell but with a hand still clutching a leaflet captioned, fittingly, "Now things will really be in earnest." He borrows from the artillery a 155mm gun, together with its crew. He has its smoke shells converted to contain leaflets, five times as many as the 105 mm shell holds. Then the piece is dragged to the foot of a long gully, and set up. He climbs up the gully to approximately where the shells will burst, and takes cover. Then a prearranged cannonade with various settings brings about bursts and leaflet showers around different points that can be mapped. Thus he can prepare a kind of firing table to substitute for the normal tables of cannon of this calibre. He assures, too, the readability of the available paper stocks upon explosion. After a third round is fired, an American vehicle comes bouncing down the trail; they thought that they were coming under enemy fire.
The amphibious landings at Anzio are really a third phase of the Cassino Campaign, tied in clumsily with the 36th Division Attack of the second phase. Early in the month Herz and De Grazia are told of "Operation Shingle." A strong force is to be landed at Anzio, to cut the German lines running south to Cassino and perhaps trap the divisions now at the Front. Buck Weaver and the others figure that, if they can unsettle the minds of the German soldiers at Cassino a bit, they might give way more readily in the face of the coordinated attack along the Cassino Front. They might even be bottled up.
Secretly and carefully the leaflet is drawn up and printed. It maps the landings, tells the readers that they are in danger of being trapped, and recommends the usual ways out, all colored in the terms and mood of heroic pessimism: slacking off resistance, retreating, letting oneself be taken prisoner at the first opportunity.
On 22 January, Allied troops land on the beaches of Nettuno and Anzio against insignificant resistance; even the minefields are a negligible problem. On the Cassino Front, the Lieutenant has made his arrangements with Captain Peterson of the 34th Division artillery, which covers the central Front. Two days before the landings, a typical fire plan is mapped. The projectiles are set for air bursts every hundred yards from the first positions on back for 800 yards. Then, on 22 January at 15:50 the leaflet is systematically exploded upon the startled German soldiers: they learn of Operation "Shingle" before their commanders do. Total surprise, the dreamed- for element of all battle, is achieved, on both Fronts.
But General Lucas, in command at Anzio, exhibits no hurry to dash for the arteries of communications and their protecting hills. For that matter, he hardly attends to the chance to sweep right into Rome, which is weakly defended and has a population eagerly expectant. As soon as they encounter significant resistance, his troops are ordered to dig in, to await reinforcement, despite their vast superiority in organization, numbers, artillery, and air power. Despite, too, the fact that they have a powerful navy off shore, which can defend them if they are forced back, employing the same kind of deadly fire that broke up the Axis counterattacks against the Gela beachhead in Sicily.
Our Lieutenant is disturbed to hear that the operation has been checked by counterattack. He hurries to the Map Room of G-2 of Fifth Army. He is astonished by what he sees. The invading forces have identified at least two-score enemy elements. True. But they are scraps of this and that. The Germans are halting every landser going or coming on leave or from hospital, any vehicle, gun, unit -- no matter of what division or special designation or competence -- and throwing them together into a makeshift "Army", and pushing them forward against the Americans and British. The Allies wait; better German units arrive; the Germans counterattack incessantly, as they are doctrinally commanded; and the new Anzio Front freezes.
The Germans are so proud of their performance that they prepare their own leaflet, something rare on the Cassino Front. They reproduce part of the Allied leaflet, then place a tiny dot alongside the beach on a map of Italy, far from Cassino, and crow, "Here is their bottling up (Kesselschaft)!" He writes to his wife that the Beachhead "is like a bird-cage into which the enemy can poke his finger anywhere. But already he's been bit, and bit badly."
Third Division, P.O.Box Anzio, asks for somebody to talk sense into the enemy. Martin Herz volunteers. Al de Grazia is willing to go but it doesn't take much persuasion for him to concede his part of the job to a new comrade, Infantry Lieutenant Joe Ferla, who has a gentle smile and a willing heart, and feels that this is his dish of tea. They go by boat, bearing with them the loudspeaking equipment needed to talk across the lines. With local help, Herz and Ferla set up. The amplifier is sneaked forward to within sniper's range of the enemy. They leave it there and follow back the wire they've laid. Then they start to talk into a microphone. What they say is deemed obnoxious, apparently. Or perhaps it is too seductive. An 88mm artillery shell explodes nearby. Martin is blown about and scratched up. Joe is struck by shrapnel in the guts and hip. He holds his guts in and tries to roll under his jeep and is hit again, this time by a 50 cal machine gun bullet. Martin calls for help and they are evacuated. With some surprise on all sides, especially his own, Joe survives and begins the long journey back through the chain of hospitals that ultimately ends with the Big PX. Our Lieutenant wonders whether he ought to have gone and done the job right, which, translated, means, whether they would have had better luck had he gone himself.
Joe met nursing friends in his second hospital. They had been
guests of the Team below Cassino. The Team is now on a field, well-drained, with a large cave alongside, complete with giant wine barrels without wine. They turn this into an officers' mess and club for all personnel. Otherwise they camp on stones or in the mud. "Club Rainmaker" inspires a party or two. Of this one Al writes ruefully, swearing that he hardly ever has behaved so.
Tomorrow is Leap Year Day and I regret deeply that you won't be around to offer me some sort of amorous inducement. Herz is in an even worse position since one of his few golden opportunities to snatch a bride is wasted on the tent and myself. I thought I denoted a note of rancor in his leaflet today. For most of today, I felt I had been clubbed. The assailant was the demon rum, the dissolving agent at a drinking party last night. The party was a classic of stag drunks, a group of men all with hidden talents that came out as the cognac went in. There was singing (shouting), violence to property and person, and some remarkably good specimens of solo dancing. Everyone at one time or another was ushered onto the dance floor by his guiding spirit and committed to the dance. Tom Crowell and Jim Clark were best, Tom with a complete repertoire of old burlesque songs and soft shoe steps, Jim with a gay, graceful Sprite of Spring affair.The publisher of the New York Post, whose name has slipped me at the moment made a most beautiful partner for Tom in a couple of steps straight from old vaudeville. I can't possibly describe how funny they were, typical old New York specimens. My modest contribution was bit parts in a couple of spontaneous and united buck and wings. I did somewhat better on the ballads, and was pretty good in the knife-throwing contest, though when I broke the bone handle of my knife, the latter degenerated into chair-throwing. Finally Tom, who had been sweet and jolly all evening, knocked Hindley down, which sobered up Hindley who was then able to drive our car. We got lost, infuriated a guard and finally got to bed. This morning I didn't feel so good.
Back in December, he establishes a daily routine. Each day he crawls out of his bedding roll, usually first one up in the tent of four officers, brews coffee in a heavy tin can on the pot-bellied stove while shaving, and begins his rounds of the Front. He cannot tell at
the beginning of a day how far he can get and whom he will see. He can be sure of seeing the barren hills, the exploding shells, both friendly and hostile, the dug-in companies, the destroyed farmhouses and bombed villages, the peaks of the Apennines turning white in the first snows of winter, and roads that are sometimes asphalted and pitted with shell-holes, at other times dirt roads and often only paths. He drives a Willys jeep, that has lost its exhaust pipe against a stone and can cause soldiers to dive into ditches when it backfires; he gets it fixed at a motor pool down the line, so he can drive in peace with just the ordinary noises of warfare, the continuous booming of cannon from one point or another of the compass, the artillery shells that shriek, the crazy jackass brays of the six-mouthed Nebelwerfer mortars. He almost never hears the small arms fire, being a safe distance away (he hopes), if only because they signal an attack or counter-attack and are accompanied by deafening cannonading and occasionally by aircraft diving and bombing in support, always of the Allies, never of the Luftwaffe.
He is continually uneasy about land mines (over a half-million actually were dug up around Cassino alone); he hates the thought of getting his legs or balls blown off. The refrain of the song: no balls at all, no balls at all, she married a man, who had no balls at all. Mines seem to be everywhere at first, but as the front stabilizes they are discovered and deactivated, and besides he tries to keep to familiar paths known now to be free.
Captain Foster has a similar job with British Corps on the left flank to the Sea. They have their tea-times on occasion. "You know what I'm doing now? Sweating out a pot of tea with Foster. Foster is jumping up and down besides the stove watching the water begin to boil. It's very important, the process, to the British. They make a gay, childish fetish of it, towards which I feel very sympathetic."
When his wife asks about his health, he replies that he's "very healthy, hardly ever miss a full meal, and even, strange as it may seem, visit my favorite toilet regularly. That last is a laugh. One of my victory aims is to get established on a familiar toilet seat once more. Vulgar, isn't it? But not, if you've visited the great number of inquisitorial devices I have. It does make one versatile and agile, anyway. The present one is a wood crate, worked over by some reluctant EM who apparently had 1) either a grudge against the power-wielding class, 2) or a very tiny bottom. In Foster's words, it's like trying to pass a camel through the eye of a needle. And in the cold dawn, a half inch of frost doesn't help."
One time Foster comes in quite late because he has been held up at a bridge under fire, which the German guns cannot hit in just the proper way to collapse it, and finally they quit; but he is mostly impressed by a dead civilian without a hat, "without a hat," he says repeatedly, and one doesn't know why this detail should obsess him. But then the American recalls the old Lancastrian song he has been taught, which in dialect goes something like this: Nympt te moor pah thet, o nympt te moor pah thet, o mympt te moor pah thet, sung as medieval church dirge. Else ye shall catch thy death o could:...... repeat and refrain then we shall av to bury thee ....then'll cum th'wurms and et thee oop.... then will th dooks cum et th wurms....then we shall kill and et te dooks...so we shall av to et thee oop and of course it ends as it begins, "don't go out on the moor without your hat."
Foster worked with the first leaflet-cannon in North Africa, a 25- pounder that he drove around with its crew, firing upon targets of opportunity. Now the peddler's little business has expanded. It is big business in which they are engaged, a business that prospers when times are bad but capital is available, climaxing on the Cassino Front between January and May of 1944. The analogy of combat propaganda with a business enterprise can be carried far: research and development, industrial design, licensing to sell, sales territories, raw material purchases, processing and production, warehousing and distribution, advertising, customer relations, volume of sales: all of these have highly analogous operations in combat propaganda. The work is subsidized, hence not conforming to the private capital model; but if a percentage of incoming surrenders and breakdowns in morale were toted up as sales and paid for on delivery, the operation, if cleverly and efficiently conducted, would be quite profitable on the whole.
There is a psychological and ideological difference, very important, such that no one, the Lieutenant, Habe, even Weaver, will ever tolerate the business analogy: their operation is intimate with the State, with the sacred symbols of government, with all that makes war so interminable and inevitable, the "participation" of gods, sacrifice, honors, martyrdom; war is a sacred activity to the Great Body of Society, never mind the poor devils unwillingly at high risk.
The Team moves out of Caserta to consolidate the operation and to catch up with the Front, leaving Buck Weaver behind for Army liaison, still their Commander. They locate in the ruins of a farmhouse, camouflaged, and out of range of all except heavy artillery and aircraft, from which there is apparently no threat. That's where Club Rainwater is.
Visiting firemen are ever more common, from units across Italy, from Army HQ, from Naples, from North Africa, even from London and the States, for the slaughter, misery, and legends of Cassino are becoming famous by word of mouth, soldiers' letters, newspapers, and film. It is the only European ground show where the Westerners are admitted. To hear the artillery serenade, to see bombs bursting in air, occasional dogfights in the sky, and the famous bleary-eyed bearded characters of Bill Mauldin's cartoons: that's the ticket. Al de Grazia sometimes carries a visitor along, warning him not to appear curious about what he is seeing and not to attempt joviality, prayers, or righteous wrath, nor optimistic forecasts about the end of the war or the waning power of the Germans.
Lt. Commander Livingston Hartley is irrepressible. He is so different, in his braided peaked naval cap and naval insignia, that soldiers are bemused. After all, his business is boats, which they vaguely realize are separate and distinct ways of winning a war. Liv comes in one time telling of watching across the lines to a farmhouse under fire and of "a funny little German running in and out crazily." It appears that every visitor forms his own peculiar indelible memory.
Not long afterwards he is riding with Lieutenant de Grazia, who is going up a road taken often before without being fired upon; but suddenly large calibre shells whistle overhead and begin to crash nearby. Hartley leaps out and runs for the ditch and rubble, De Grazia behind him for he has to stop the jeep before jumping, so he is struck by the absurd sight of this lanky naval officer in the flapping huge long greatcoat and the visored cap skipping along the side of the road. He blames Hartley for the incident. The same German observer, who had watched the Lieutenant on various occasions and thought him too insignificant a target to waste some precious shells on, spotted the braid and thought, now we'll catch ourselves a General!
De Grazia does a little visiting on his own, to Naples where he beds down with "D Section" at the splendid Palazzo Caracciolo. He joins in the general elation at the news from Algiers that Col. Hazeltine, their detested Chief of Psychological Warfare Operations, has been summarily relieved of his command on December 24; C.D. Jackson is temporarily running the show until a military Commander is designated. There are now new English arrivals to meet, John Reynor, a media executive; John Vernon, a more typical aesthete and scholar; and Edmund Howard, rather like his brother, Hubert except that he has a more distinctive and wry sense of humor and is more of this world. (A third brother, present Lord Howard, is G-2 with Eighth Army HQ.) There is talk of Alfred coming back to join them; Alfred, more militaristic of mind, is hoping for a breakthrough by some means. Whereupon he might do another Bari caper and be one of the first to arrive in Rome. Just imagine its plethora of media- control challenges! And other joys!
He fixes up a ground hut for himself alone out of a mosquito net and the canvas of two pup tents, sleeping on a canvas cot, shaded by bulrushes. He is practically sewn into his long woolen underwear, and sleeps rather like pickle in a herring roll-mop, four blankets and a quilt inside a canvas roll. It is from here that he now leaves upon his daily milk run. The weather is bad, the troops in a poor mood. The Army is stuck; one adds brightly "But the Russians are doing great." This Front begins to look permanent. New things are being added. More and more ammunition and artillery and airplanes arrive so that the enemy is subjected to practically continuous bombardment and dare not move about in the light. As if he didn't know, a leaflet tells him, "We are firing twenty shells to your one and, if we need to fire another five, we can do that too!"
The Army Quartermaster has moved up an ingenious system, a mobile bath and clothing exchange. Soldiers proceeding along the main road, Highway 6, South of the front lines are directed by a sign to where they can strip off their clothing, hand it in, take a hot bath, receive a set of fresh clothing, get back in their vehicle and go on their way. He is favorably impressed by it. Americans are dirtier at the Front than the English: he recalls Heycock in Sicily bathing daily out of his helmet using a large sponge that he treasured; Heycock always walked after a meal, too, as if he didn't walk the rest of the day. De Grazia comes upon several Germans, just surrendered, one morning; they have emerged from days of a filthy inferno; one blonde sad lad is picking dirt from another like him, and combing his hair with the carefulness that monkeys use on one another. Maybe Americans learned as children to punish their mothers by dirtying themselves. And now they are punishing the Army in a way that is hard to prevent.
There is a lot of dirtiness among the troops, despite directives to the contrary; trench foot is common; no one wants to take off his boots and socks in the cold and muck and what the hell, so a guy spends a few days in the hospital; he needs the rest anyhow. Let them cut off a toe, for that matter; it's better than going back to the foxholes. Foot disease is the Cassino campaign's equivalent of the malaria of the Sicilian campaign.
He has a small problem, impetigo, dirty, no, an itinerant barber is wandering among the soldiers cutting hair, scrapes his cheek with an infected razor. It itches and spreads. He applies salves, stops shaving, begins to look like Bill Mauldin's famous cartoon infantryman, G.I. Joe. The nuisance clings and spreads. He chaperones a truckload of men down to see what Pompeii is like; it happens that at this very moment Mount Vesuvius is erupting. They watch it as they drive along, shooting a column of tephra flaming into the sky, exploding white steam clouds, carrying a delicate white collar of snow, red beads of lava trickling over it and down its flanks. The men are impressed by the Roman pornography; he had seen it before the War.
His face still blotches and itches, and now his neck. He stops by an evacuation hospital and there meets Dr. Stillerman whom he knew at the University of Chicago, who says Kupperman is here, too, so there were now these two acquaintances who said why don't you stay for a couple of days and clear it up. He sends Pvt. Long back to bivouac and climbs into a bed under canvas. He is awakened near dusk by a monotonous loud drawling voice saying, "There's a real soldier. He sure looks like he's been through hell. It's awful to have to live that way," and poking a long nose this way and that from the gloom of his corner of the tent, like a groundhog sensing the air, seeing who was listening, nobody, judging from the motionless lumps in the beds, with their own world somewhere else, except for the Newcomer, who was embarrassed; he hated pretense and was proud of shaving regularly; he did not approve of G.I. Joe's couture; he stirred visibly to signal the long-nose to shut up. "I reckon he's waking up now," the man says, raising himself on his elbow, his horse-face sympathetically pointed that way. "How do you feel, Lieutenant, not so good, huh?"
"That's good. It'll be time to eat soon." He espied an orderly outside: "Hey, orderly, what about some lights in this tent?" Then.. "That orderly is a real funny character. He's got a good deal going for him. You know, he goes into Napoli every week. He picks up medical supplies and he spends the night there every time, he has a regular girl. I told him, `Hey, boy, you better watch out who's laying your girl the rest of the week, a big buck nigger, I bet.' And he says to me, `No, sir. I have her scared with my medical supplies. She thinks I can tell when she's had a man.'.. This orderly took a blood test from her when he first met her and had the lab give him a report with her name on it, so she thinks he can check her up any old time. Ain't that a bitch?" There are several amused sounds. "I tell you, it's something! He said it to me, too. You know that creek down the hill right over there? Well, here were these soldiers coming into the hospital with V.D., they get treated, but when it's time to leave they still have it. It beat the hell out of the medics how come. You know what? These guys, when they were let out to walk around, they headed down to the creek where these Italian women are washing clothes. A couple of these have the clap, and give it right back to them." He laughs, but gets serious. "You know, whenever I get next to one of these Italian girls, I tell her, now don't you go around with any niggers, you understand, you hear me? They say, yeah, sure, O.K... but they're just pigs, they do it anyway, .. they say, `Capitano, you crazy,' pointing their finger at their head."
Nurses apply ointments, sulpha, but the Lieutenant had already done this. He plays volley ball with the medics; they are good at it. He watches the two doctors operating on brain wounds. Kupperman, he says, I saw a letter from you in Private Maroon, the alumni magazine. He raises his eyebrows questioningly above his white mask; he doesn't remember writing. Well, it wasn't much except a thank you note. He remembers.
Back in the ward there is a flurry and the orderlies bring in a lieutenant who is laughing loudly and put him to bed, saying, stay there now until the doctor sees you. He had been sitting with several men that night in a half-destroyed villa, he tells the other beds, listening to the sound of an airplane overhead. (Our Man knows the place, the very house, on the lee of Mt. Trocchio.) Then there was a whistle, an explosion, and all his natural functions stopped dead; when the smoke cleared, there rested in the middle of the room a large armed bomb breathing heavily. He dove out a window and began running wildly he didn't care where, mines or no mines, until they caught up with him and brought him to the hospital. He giggled and chortled as he talked.
The Lieutenant is disgusted with his own case and moves to a backup hospital farther south where he is given anti-biotic injections and the volcano is beautiful by day and night. He heals quickly and amazingly. He shaves and reveals the miraculous radiance of a Saint. So he departs for the Front, finding it just as he had left it. Worse. Civilians have been finally evacuated for good, under military escort. Maybe the combatants just couldn't feel like proper warriors with the women hanging out a wash and the men plowing.
The holidays have passed, the Anzio trap has failed, the cold is unending. The world-famous Benedictine Monastery of Montecassino stands nobly on Montecassino above the town of Cassino. Most of the priests have withdrawn. Italian civilians are known to have taken refuge inside. The Germans claim from Berlin and Rome that they are respecting the neutrality of the Monastery and safeguarding its treasures. As he bumps along on his milk run he hears different stories. He hears reports of helmeted figures appearing in windows, of firing from the gardens, of binoculars flashing. He knows practically nothing about the dramatic events inside -- the rescue of the art treasures, the occasional death and wounding of civilians, the negotiations between the Germans and the priests, the increasing number of civilians from the village and country around who have begged and forced their way into the Monastery. He looks often, but sees nothing untoward through his own glasses. He says so to his comrades time after time, because the whole Army is becoming agitated over the question: are the Germans using the Monastery for gun emplacements, a reserve encampment, and artillery observation, or are they not?
The troops' mood is ugly. You scarcely dare say that the Monastery is not full of Germans taking their ease. One day he is at a natural rock fissure and path by the Rapido to note the day's catch of possibly interesting cases, and several German prisoners are being led through by two Moroccans with fixed bayonets. A short Texan of the 36th Division appears, a lieutenant, and says we should kill these bastards (actually Our Guy was wondering at their good fortune in not being killed by the goumes). They have been firing down on us all day, the sons of bitches, he says. Our Lieutenant hesitates; he can't be sure how determined the officer is; he looks mad: so he says, diffidently, well that's why they're there, you know, that's their job, too, and the other lieutenant glares and snarls but let's them pass. There'd probably be trouble with the goumes anyway; they were expecting a bounty for bringing in live prisoners.
But that 's the mood along the Front. Pretty soon there'll be no prisoners taken, and then we'll have the German expending his last cartridge before giving up and it's the last rounds that kill the most, Allied prisoners will disappear, too, on the way to the Rear. So thinks Our Man, and it is one of his biggest discoveries. Like a travelling salesman who after many wearisome trips "on a shoeshine and a smile" happily formulates the most compelling of sales pitches. He puts aside most talk about obtaining deserters by propaganda, which is the first idea occurring to everybody, and says in a pessimistic low-keyed manner that the idea behind the leaflets is to weaken resolve in specific ways. The effect of the propaganda is measurable by the number of rounds of ammunition left unexpended when a position is abandoned, by the minutes, even seconds, earlier at which an enemy withdraws or surrenders, by the minutes earlier of the hour when the truck driver pulls over to sleep, by how much rest he imagines that he needs; by how exhausted he feels; by whether he believes he has already done more than his share; by the number of times the thought runs through the enemy's head that, while we may not lose, still my family will be needing me when this is over.
The War does not look so hopeless to the German soldier. (Their Generals will go on fighting forever, of course. It is a goofy error of Allied strategists and propagandists not to threaten the German Generals directly, saying, "You know damned well that this War is lost to you. Your men and women do not. If you do not bring it to an end you will be considered criminally negligent on their account!" The ordinary German, up to a high rank, is a docile infant in the face of authority, and will believe and follow it.)
But see all the reasons for a soldier to keep up his overall faith in victory, especially given his masters' assurances. So far as the German soldier is concerned, the Western Allies had been destroyed at the Dieppe landing, in Norway, and very nearly in Africa and Italy. The richest, most productive part of Italy is theirs. They are so deep into the Soviet Union that any reverses there can be deemed temporary and not so significant. (Stalingrad is hard to deny, however. Tunis was the Italians' fault.) Germany holds the Baltic States; Sweden and Switzerland are cooperative. All of Eastern Europe is held, Greece, too. Millions of workers from everywhere are "voluntarily" producing goods for the war. Every Eastern German Division has about 2000 volunteer semi-soldiers doing everything but shooting at their own Soviet soldiers; but there are a million Russians and East Europeans who are actually fighting the Russians, too. There are French, Belgian, Dutch, Spanish and Italian troops fighting on their side. Spain is supportive. Italian Fascism is reviving, following Mussolini's rescue. The Germans are looting the European Continent and hunger is unknown to their people. There are great plans for rebuilding Germany from the wealth of the whole world. The Japanese, finally, are winning one victory after another in the Pacific Theater, and will soon turn upon the Soviet Empire. Add to all of this, a confidence in one's top leadership much greater than that enjoyed by Allied leaders, and a belief in the Nazi ideology, which, whatever its perplexing points, promises them and their loved ones a thousand years of comfortable hegemony over the whole World.
No, the Fifth Army Combat Propaganda Team, correct in believing in Allied victory, realistic by contrast with most other experts, is nonetheless optimistic in order to keep up its own morale, and is continually frustrated in finding the key to the ordinary German soldier's mind -- except at the cat's hole at the level of the floor: these men refuse surrender out of immediate affection and loyalty to their platoon; they refuse because they fear for their lives in giving up. True, but not the whole truth at all.
Americans and British give themselves up as prisoners in less desperate circumstances than the Germans. They are more confident of victory than the Germans. The penalties are less for surrenderers. Moreover, the American believes that much rests upon his individual fate; at the same time, he has a larger belief in his own value as a person. Furthermore, a matter both important and little understood - - for it seems so odd -- is the fact that experience in combat improves one's judgement about when surrender is a necessary condition to survival. The experienced German soldier realizes better than the inexperienced American when his situation has become hopeless, and, since the normal inclination when endangered is to be pessimistic, the American soldier will surrender under conditions when the German soldier will not, even when, objectively viewed, the German is receiving much more murderous shelling, air attack, and small arms fire.
Amidst the continual blasting of the cannon, in this desolate landscape, party to the falling dead and anguished wounded, there is a considerable dialogue going on between the German common soldier and the little propaganda group inside the cave, representing the Allied troops. Troops know this and, although the fearfully rigid soldier almost invariably reacts spitefully to saying any word to the enemy, he soon wants to carry on discussions and becomes eager to hear what his representatives are telling them and why aren't we telling them that they had better surrender right away or else we'll massacre them, something they, of all people, do not really believe can be done. They are in despair. They want to give voice. The propagandists give voice. There are developed several potent and tested messages, based upon careful analysis of expertly conducted interviews of the enemy. They come to be memorized by the Lieutenant.
You could call them the Product Line. There is the "One Minute that may save your life". It is generally useful, to remind the enemy of the possibility of his giving up and of how to do it. There is the official formal-looking and dead-serious surrender pass, the laissez- passer, the Passierschein. "No soldier should be without one," was the motto. They are copiously distributed. More and more enemy keep a copy tucked inside a boot, under a canteen, or in a pocket; it is a misdemeanor to possess one. It is designed to lend courage in the event of surrender, when a man is completely at the mercy of his captors. The weekly Frontpost is welcome among the Germans for its timeliness, calm, and reliability. A translation of this is afforded the Allied troops as well; translations of all messages to the enemy are given to the artillerymen doing the firing. Frontpost is a world round- up that is every bit as honest, though self-serving, and competently chosen and presented as, say, the typical American network television news half a century later.
Besides these general products are the special items. When the 5th Austrian Mountain Division or the Herman Goering Division enters the Front, each is given a message of greetings, which plays upon terrors past, present, and future, adding, as always, you are welcome to come over any time. All Austrian units receive copies of the declaration of the Chiefs of State promising to restore the independence of their country. Again, a particularly fruitful set of interrogations results in a firing to a battalion, entitled "Wo bleibt Hauptmann Eberle?" Eberle, the unit commander, had been hanging around the rear, and the leaflet reported a number of troubles in the battalion, but "Where is Captain Eberle?" He was kidded by his fellow officers afterwards. It helped to humanize the Allies as enemy and impress the Germans at how much was known about their behavior. The "Shingle" leaflet that I described above was another kind of special operation. Working at top speed, which Our Lieutenant, liking races of all kinds, arranges and clocks in the case of Hauptmann Eberle, the Team can gather intelligence, draft a text, print it, pack it into shells, deliver it to a battery and fire it quickly. The several shells burst in small puffs of sooty smoke, letting their silvery cloud of leaflets float down upon the Captain's men within ten hours.
The half-dozen officers discuss and argue and reach agreement on the principles of propaganda to be employed against the German troops over the long winter of Cassino. What had best be said to the enemy! Their principles, tested from day to day, come to form the doctrines that are authoritatively handed down to the several armies in the great campaigns of France later in the year. For better or worse. As we shall see.
One day near the middle of February, the combat propaganda officers are called together by Lt. Col. Weaver who explains that Fifth Army HQ has finally determined to bomb the Monastery, to wipe it off the face of the map, with a great air and artillery bombardment. Afterwards, the infantry will attack and capture Monastery Hill.The officers are impressed. Who would not want to see this bottleneck at Cassino blown open.
They do have doubts. De Grazia, for one, disbelieves the intelligence that is supposed to lay behind this decision. So far as the bombing is concerned, he does not know enough about the limitations of air bombardment to dispute whether a bombing, if heavy enough, must really wipe out the usefulness of the Abbey to the enemy. Yet the prospect occurs that troops can fight from behind rubble as well as or better than they can out of windows. He has not seen any action from the windows, for that matter, nor is there any consensus of the divisional intelligence officers on this account. He has argued, both on aesthetic grounds and on military grounds, but mildly and circumspectly, with artillery officers who want to open fire on the Abbey. Nor has Herz brought back from the interrogation of German prisoners any evidence that other German troops are fighting from or are even present, resting or observing, in the Abbey; yet Herz is known to get amazing confessions from his prisoners; furthermore, he talks to the military interrogators regularly; no word from them, either.
Our Man's advice is not being asked at this point. He is expected to help prepare a leaflet to be fired into the Abbey, telling the Italian civilians hiding there to get out lest they be gravely endangered by an impending action. No help is to be promised them in fleeing; no instructions are to be given; the Germans are not to be accused outright of occupying the premises; no indication of the nature of the threatened action is to be given. The leaflet is drafted in English. A deliberately vague wording is managed: the Germans have known how to use the Monastery.
We have until now been especially careful to avoid shelling the Monte Cassino monastery. The Germans have known how to benefit from this. But now the fighting has swept closer and closer to its sacred precincts. The time has come when we must train our guns on the monastery itself.
We give you warning so that you may save yourselves. We warn you urgently: Leave the monastery. Leave it at once. Respect this warning. It is for your benefit.
Neither the Army Group Commander, General Alexander, nor the Fifth Army Commander, General Clark, dares sign the message. The Chief of Staff, General Gruenther, approves the text. Italians at Army HQ work on its translation. Tom Crowell prints it. Our Lieutenant supervises its packing into shells, and consults with Division G-3 about which battery is to fire the twenty-five rounds. He pulls the loaded trailer to the firing site, where the shells are unloaded.
It is 13:00 hours of the day before the bombing. He has gone as far forward as necessary -- it is probably well beyond a rifle shot; there are eminences from which to observe the Monastery grounds and windows, all of them -- and he waits. Below and behind him, to his right, he can view an American infantry company in reserve. A number of men come out of their holes to get at the hot food that a crew has brought up to serve. Enemy artillery shells come flying at them and they dive hastily back into their holes, their lunch interrupted. Not far from them and slightly above are elements of another company; these men witness the scene and laugh, pointing.
He turns to the Abbey. Massive, impressive, calm, silent, many windows broken, here and there a piece chipped off its facade by an artillery shell fired "accidentally-on-purpose", claiming that the round had fallen short, or been defective, or that a wrong setting was used. At the designated time, the artillery pieces fire their thousands of leaflets upon the lower face of the Abbey. He observes that most fall short of the windows or drift beyond reach. Then he sees leaflets fluttering down, several unmistakably wafting into the windows of the bottom story. The message must not only get inside but it must go to where the people are sheltering. Other leaflets are observed to
fall upon the grounds to the west side of the great building. He descends to the rocks next to which he has parked his jeep, and drives back to camp. The leaflets got in, he reports, we can call HQ and tell them.
At the outposts of the Allied side of the Abbey, a kilometer from the gates, sentinels have been warned to watch out for escaping civilians, perhaps a great many of them. In fact, none appear. Night falls. Still no refugees. Dawn. The period of warning has past. Once more he climbs a height facing the abbey, not so close this time, Mt. Trocchio. He -- there are others there as well now -- waits for the planes to come. They do. Almost precisely at 09:30. From over the Apennines come the bombers, wave upon wave, suffering no flak, no enemy fighters. Passing over the Monastery each Flying Fortress releases its three tons of high explosives. This goes on for some time to dump their thousand tons. Some fall far off target (to where, he will learn, Indian and New Zealand troops are struck as they wait to attack. American vehicles are hit three miles away. About 17 miles away, at Presenzano, 16 bombs exploded around the advanced camp of General Mark Clark, working at his desk.)
He goes down the hill now and works his way East to where any survivors might show up. There emerge a few Italian civilians, women, children, older men. Is this all of you, he asks. They are all dead, they say, all dead. Didn't you get our warning, he asks the woman who appears to be fairly composed. Yes, and we tried to get out...
But it may be best here to extract from his report of March 5 to "D Section", Naples, through regular Fifth Army channels, the section that deals with the bombardment. The document, as can be seen, is carefully drawn; for he is treading on dangerous ground; the Abbey Affair is being suppressed. It will continue to be censored for a long time. On March 9, in answer to an inquiry from the British Foreign Office, General Wilson, the Mediterranean Commander, submits evidence and claims that the Abbey has been part of the Germans' main line of defense. By then, every concerned officer on the ground at Cassino and Naples knew that the Germans had respected the Abbey to the best of their ability, and in fact, that they benefitted from letting it stand unoccupied, for there was little to be gained by firing from exposed windows.
REPORT ON THE ABBEY AFFAIR:
Dates: Weeks previous to February 15, the Abbey was under observation. Our men stopped several hundred yards from it under machine-gun fire, about a week previous. There were widespread reports of German use and occupation. These reports so lacked confirmation that on February 13, the Command was still not sure and draft of leaflet was so worded.
Types of [here scratched out in original:rumors] reports: Flashing of glasses seen; Mg fire reported received; Germans seen running about. [Here, in the original, he has scratched out, probably as provocative, the words, Mere dogmatic supposition:]SP gunfire reported. Received Italian reports that it was fortified by the Germans. The Germans were at least using the shelter of its walls. At least 16 shell holes existed in the Abbey previous to all-out assault. Civilians in Abbey variously estimated at 1,000 - 3,000. January [Note: February] 13, in the evening, Mr. Clark got call from II Corps to draft leaflet. It was approved same evening by the C.S. (Chief of Staff), translated into Italian and fired next day at 13:00. Morning of February 15, all-out assault began.
Inside story of Abbey: First man to cross the lines appeared about 0200 hours on February 16, a group of about 8 at 12:00 at the CIC, two miles from Cassino. He was about thirty, wounded in the head and somewhat bruised. He said among other things: The Germans closed the gates after the leaflet was received, just as they had been doing all along. This was due, I think, as much to stupidity on the part of the German guard as to any other command. He said the leaflet was "Scheiss." Even on the day after the bombing the guard kept the gate locked. For two weeks the Germans had been outside the gates. There was not a single German in any part of the Abbey. There was no OP, no SP gun, no MG. Once two Germans and an interpreter, probably German, came to the Abbey grounds and spoke with the priests, who totalled six in all. The Italians went for 17 days with hardly any food. Water was hard to get since any one who wandered out came under Allied fire. There were some dead and wounded before the big bombings. A German Red Cross man came in to perform an amputation. There was no medicine at all in the Monastery, except for a little ointment. The civilians were allowed access to the whole Abbey, save a section which was near our forward lines on the slope, down to the town. The reason given for this is that the Americans would see the figures and think them German. This would bring on the destruction of the place.
The warning was known to every single person, through at least two leaflets which were blown into the Abbey. This was fortunate since no one wandered out at all and the leaflets were dropped over the Abbey and not into it. The people only half-believed it. There, several voices were heard, - one which thought it was phony. (For example, it said that the leaflet was not signed by anyone.); one, that it was not meant to be carried out; another that they would be safe despite the bombardment which was not expected to be so heavy; and finally the voice of those who would have liked to get out but realized the terrible danger involved for anyone who stepped outside. The German soldier(s?) outside told them to stay. The bombings began next morning to the consternation of all.
The bombings killed, wounded many. There were many who were in the upper reaches of the Abbey and did not get down to the cellars in time. When afterwards, they started to run from the Abbey in panic, the Allied artillery-observers mistook them for Germans and ordered them fired upon by air-burst shrapnel. In the night of the 15th, some got away; the morning afterwards, the Germans opened the gates. On the afternoon of the 16th, there were successive air assaults again. Artillery fire on the Abbey was continuous.
One woman, a land-owner, who spoke intelligently and restrainedly, whose husband had been killed next to her, said she passed some German soldiers on the way through the lines. The terrific blasting of our artillery and air force was felt in the area around the Abbey, and she remembered one German soldier clinging in a shell crater, sobbing convulsively. Despite her own terror, she cracked at him: "Why don't you stop crying and come with me, if you feel that way about it?"
The interrogation of the others that escaped failed to reveal striking new facts. It was not possible from these people to tell how close to the Abbey German positions actually were. The number of dead and wounded cannot be ascertained. Most of the refugees seem to have escaped into the German lines.
The Lieutenant's report does survive. It is read and forwarded, "D Section" to both Army Headquarters, 15th Army Group and ultimately to London and Washington. And it ends up in secret archives until an official British inquiry quotes it in 1949. The evidence in its favor mounts steadily -- from the friars, the Church records, German witnesses, a scholar. In 1969, a United States Government document will get around to admitting that the Germans were not in the Abbey.
There is no access to the Abbey except from the German lines. No one had thought to seek an armistice to collect the wounded and dead. No one had thought to have ambulances and litters and first- aid personnel ready. The Germans would have given some help but they are desperately busy. Allied artillery has begun an intensive bombardment immediately. To the joy of the gunners, every cannon is unleashed. They are psychologically massacring the Abbey. The Allied troops waiting to attack have been pulled back because of the great expanse of the bombing, yet are ordered to attack as soon as the bombing ceases.
The Indian Division is unready to attack; conditions were such even before the bombing that it could not get ready, General Freyberg was told; but the Air Force could not be asked to do this every day, you know, so the attack must go forward, ready or not. By the time the Indians have crawled back up to the original jump-off line, the rubble has created an entirely new configuration of stone and debris, cut new paths, and given the Germans time to bring up reserves and ready themselves for the inevitable assault. The attack is a ghastly failure. And now there is no reason to observe the sanctity of Montecassino; the Germans dig themselves in securely. Their defensive positions are stronger than ever.
It does appear that General Clark had opposed the attack, whether for fear of the repercussions from American Catholic quarters or because he sensed the illusions of the intelligence reports. Those who backed the attack included Air Force General Ira Eaker, 15th Army Group Commander Alexander, and the New Zealand General Freyberg, Corps Commander, whose 4th Indian Division troops were to attack after the bombing. The Division General of the Indians, Francis Tuker, who had been opposed to a frontal assault on Cassino and considers only the heaviest imaginable bombing would be effective, has come down with an arthritic attack and is hospitalized while the final decisions are taken.
The Germans got around to disseminating a leaflet among their enemies weeks later, declaring that "all decent people in the world were set aghast by the news that one of the most venerable monuments of Christian culture, the Abbey of Cassino, has been destroyed by British and American bombers." It denounces "the colossal lie" of German use of the Monastery. "And What Have You Gained?" shouts it headline. "By thus violating this sanctuary of Christianity, your bombers have given us every right to incorporate the remnants of the Monastery in our system of defenses. The ruins have been turned by our men into a formidable fortress which has defied all your efforts during the past weeks and caused you an untold number of dead and maimed." Thus has your shameless crime boomeranged, it concludes.
It is not to be the last disastrous air attack that curses the battlefields of Cassino. When all other tactics have failed, and exactly a month later, on March 15, a huge air armada attacks the town of Cassino, hurling down 1200 tons of bombs in the single assault. Our Hero is again there. As awful a sight as anything else is the flight that he observes coming in from the Southeast and not waiting to reach Cassino, but, coming upon the town of Venafro, there release their bombs upon French and American troops and the civil population. The towns must have looked alike to the flight leader; but, too, he read his maps badly and had not been briefed well nor watched the flights ahead of him and the smoke of their bombings. Hundreds must be dying in the bursts before his eyes, thinks Our Lieutenant. Had such an accident happened to American, or even British, troops, rather than to French troops in one case, to Indian troops in another, and twice to Italian civilians, more criticism would have fallen upon the generals from home, despite the heavy censorship. Now once again the debris suits the defenders nicely, the attackers have had to withdraw and then return, and once more they are mowed down, and must retreat. Thus phases three and four end in fresh disasters for the Allies.
After the destruction of the Abbey, the American newspapers are quick to justify the Army's action. The New York Times carries a five-column headline: "U.S. Blasts Nazis in Mt. Cassino Abbey!", then a three-column picture headed "Historic Abbey Turned by Nazis into Fortress Before Their Rout!", and several captions above the story itself: "200 Germans Flee," "226 Bombers Alternate with Artillery to Rout Enemy!", "Monastery is Wrecked!" The news report is credited to C. L. Sulzberger, who is at the Cassino Front representing the Times; the Lieutenant encounters him only once, and, after a few words of casual conversation, deems him a conceited and unpleasant fellow.
The same correspondent had been headlined on his January 29 despatch provocatively: "Clark Order prohibits 5th Army from Attacking Church Property! Courtesy to Vatican Handicaps Advance as Enemy is Said to Use Religious Sites for Artillery Observation!", and writes that "many lives may be lost" in consequence. (The use of the word `courtesy' in this context is probably as poisonous a thrust as General Clark ever receives.)
The presence of a great many civilians and monks is known to Army headquarters and hardly a secret, but their fate is buried like many of the civilians themselves. Indeed, the Officer briefing the heavy bomber crews prior to the action exhorts the crews to recall how the enemy had used mosques and churches in Africa to protect their skins, and tells them that the Abbey is alive with German troops and that no civilians are inside the place. Some 144 Flying Fortresses are involved, these from Foggia. Another 22 medium bombers come in from Sardinia later, and there occurs still another bombing of the Abbey ruins the next day by 59 fighter-bombers. The briefing officer for this last occasion tells his crews that the substructure of the ruined Abbey is still alive with German troops. In all, some 500 tons of bombs are dropped upon the magnificent structure, the heaviest bombardment ever to occur of a single point target. The official Army Air Force Diary concludes, "This medieval fortress has been gutted and now lies in ruins. It is difficult to see how any of the occupants of the building could have survived the weighty attack." The Air Force generals are delighted to display their capabilities.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt calls a press conference the same afternoon as the bombing to say that he has read accounts of it in the afternoon newspapers and that these had shown how the Abbey was being used by the Germans: "It was a German strongpoint -- had artillery and everything up there in the Abbey."
Not one German soldier is killed in the bombings. A couple of hundreds of Italian men, women and children are ripped apart, blasted to death, crushed, the rest miraculously escape, many with wounds. The monks, save for one who chooses to abandon himself to the destruction, are preserved. All of these have weathered the devastation. There is a strictly military lesson here, on the coordination of bombing and ground operations, on the proper weighing of intelligence, on the control of riotous rumor, on the limits of bombing even of the heaviest kind, all considerations of morality aside; but the Air Force refuses to acknowledge the facts, much less reconsider some of its tactics and procedures.
Moreover, it is not as if this kind of bombing comes free of cost. The Mediterranean Allied Air Force, with its aircraft to the number of 4000, is composed of 315,000 men who use equipment and supplies extravagantly, as much all told as the whole of the Fifth Army. They are not employed 100% in support of the Cassino campaign, true enough; a larger part of their effort goes directly to bomb targets in Germany and occasionally to the Balkans and Central Europe.
Could one argue that this immense Army of the Air, on the occasions of its two attacks upon Cassino, is, in net terms, fighting on the side of the Germans? In each case, the net casualties are friendly soldiers (never mind the friendly civilians), the huge costs of the operations are Allied, the military damages are to the tactical advantage of the enemy, and the destruction of art and culture is a propaganda victory for the enemy and is to the detriment of mankind. So the answer must be affirmative.
Could one also argue that the Monastery and all the lost lives might be preserved and saved? Certain German officers have taken upon themselves the salvation of the Monastery. They befriend the priests and do not wish death upon the civilians inside. They are even trying to keep up a three-hundred meter neutral unmilitarized area around the Abbey walls (violated by their troops to some extent, using a cave for refuge, for example, and placing a couple of cannon there for a time; but, recall that the Abbey itself is pockmarked by Allied shelling). They arrange for the art treasures of the Naples museum and the Abbey itself to be transported to safety. All of this is known to the Pope at the Vatican. There are also means of making the facts known to the Allied Command through diplomatic agencies in the Vatican and even in Washington.
It would be simple and not even exceptional for a Commission of Church, Allied, and German representatives to enter the Monastery under a truce and reside there for the duration of the battle, assuring both sides that the Monastery is not being used to military advantage. Here the Pope errs. He should contact both sides and propose the arrangement. Both should probably accept. Only the great fool General Freyberg might obstruct the idea. Perhaps nothing will placate the many soldiers and their journalist mouthpieces, however, except an effort at destroying the Abbey. Still, once more, my answer is affirmative.
Our Lieutenant is not of an infantry battalion, hence his own chances of survival are excellent, and we can expect to have him with us for a while longer. Never does he intimate in his letters home any doubt of this, and is often gabbling about the great future He and She and now all Three will have together. Early in his stint, on a call at the 34th Division, the Artillery Officer asks him how he got there. "I went up to St. Pietro, and turned off where those three tanks of ours are burned out, and cut back down." "That road is under fire; why don't you take the lower road? Why take chances?" The Major's concern was touching. "I will." But he doesn't. The lower road is rough, as well as long. Nothing happens, of course; the chances are against it. He figures it out as he drives around. In a single day-long infantry attack, anywhere from 10% to 60% casualties would occur (before the troops would, if they could, break and withdraw). On his milk route it would take him all year to accumulate a considerable chance of getting hurt. Occasionally you can see incoming bursts ahead or behind. Almost all of it is counter- fire to the sides here and there where the enemy believes he can hit a battery or group of men. Actually, if you want to estimate the number of troops engaged in combat, even over a whole war as for an engagement, you need only double the number of casualties. For if you come near to getting hit, you'll get hit sooner or later.
"Am I rash?" He never thought so of himself. "Am I brave?" Whatever that means: the word is obsolete. Not likely. "Do I believe, as someone asserts, that it can't happen to me?" Not at all; on the contrary, he carries at all times a conviction that he is likely to catch it. Why is he comfortable under long-lasting fairly risky conditions; perhaps there is a sort of nihilistic sense of freedom and also a possessiveness, that you have something that is precious and that almost no one else wants (except the poor guys who are laying around out there and must stay where they are come what may.)
Could it also be that his preoccupation part of each day with personal life and a love five thousand miles away could act as an antidote to the fear of death, preventing him from developing such an obsession? In the four months on the Cassino Front, he has written 131 pages in 46 letters to his wife and received even more in return. He has been enabled to follow from one day to the next the growth of his infant, viz., on March 3, received the middle of March:
Darling -- another letter from you today dated the 20th, a record day it seems for literary output (unless you have the dates mixed). Gosh, it seems we're or rather, you, are still no closer to Cassino than when it was written. It must be maddening. As you say, even the papers here forget about Cassino for a while. Its importance is minimized or, in the case of my favorite rag, the Sun, completely pushed off the pages by the damnest other events. Like today, an ill-tempered librarian was killed by an even more ill-tempered Negro in the National Cathedral in Washington. That's the one up Wisconsin Ave. that Mrs Singleton was the pillar of. God, you'd think that the millennium had come from the headlines in the Sun.
At Kathy's present rate of growth, or rather, her prenatal rate (fects, I'm telling you, fects) she would reach the size of the sun at maturity. She gets fatter and I get thinner. It's positively obscene. Actually, I weigh 124 with funny shoes on, but I'd like to weigh more, just out of perversity. Correct, her hair is brown and fuzzy, her complexion flawless and tan. She really has beautiful skin. I could simper and say I use Ivory and thereby win a big cash prize but to tell you the truth, I never use water on her face at all, not since she had a rash about a month ago. I douse her with olive oil; gnashing my teeth all the while since it tastes a lot better in salad than on her, and as a result, she always has a faint aura about her, like zucchini. I wonder if you would be able to appreciate all the miracles about her -- things that seem so miraculous to me. Possibly not, but then, when we have another child, you'll think a lot of things are wonderful that I'll be completely blasé about. For instance, there is the primary miracle, which fortunately for my peace of mind no longer appears as such, that she's able to live the night without my standing by with pulmotor and pediatrician. Apparently - I've discussed this with Mir and another gal - - every new mother feels that way the first week she's alone with the baby. I don't know what peculiar psychology it is that makes the mother think the child will stop breathing the minute the lights are out. But, to quote our famous friend Mr. Marquand, there it is. Then there is the miracle of the cereal. Leave us face it (remind me to send you that song, same title) -- even the hungriest little gal, and ours is, resists taking things off a spoon at some time or another. As a result, I still have cereal on my shin bones from this morning. And tonight's feeding is on a blanket, the floor, the baby's nightshirt and my forearms. She still gets some of it down her. That's the miracle. And then there are the assorted miracles of the smile, the laugh, the coo, the boisterous laugh and the general ability to stay awake alone for long periods of time without crying. She really is a non-crying baby, though when she does get sore, like today when she was hungry and I gave her a bath first, she gets purple and her eyes get wet and red from crying. But as soon as I immerse her in the little tub, her expression changes through apprehensiveness finally to a big smile. She likes the water. Then when I take her out and start to dry her she yells again. You bet I'm a little heroine, with bottles exploding to the right and left of me...
Thus does the theotropy of life defeat the entropy of war.
Perhaps his reading leads to the same end, that of keeping him part of the world that exists beyond cannon-shot. He does a lot of reading, principally in contemporary novels of the better sort and high-level treatises on the war and foreign affairs. Perhaps he realizes more than the others how the chances of disaster diminish as one is taken out of the firing line of advance and retreat, away from the grips of a machinegun, away from the handles of a stretcher. He is not only relatively relaxed, but despite everything feels that the Front will crack and the Germans will retreat.
Even when the Campaign ends, he hardly appreciates how terrible it has been; nor will he for a long time; nor will the rest of the World ever come to realize that it was worse than the Normandy landings, worse than the Break-out in Northern France, worse than the Battle of the Bulge -- more agonizing for all concerned, and with more casualties. That its fearsome rates may even have been worse overall than those of the trench warfare in World War I. Considering only the American case, proportionate to the number of men engaged, United States troops at Cassino and its `left flank' engagements at Anzio suffer many more casualties over a seven month period than will be endured by American troops in ten years of war in Vietnam.
Over 400,000 casualties will have been suffered by the struggling armies during the Cassino Campaign. Two-thirds of the men of the contending battalions will have been eliminated by death, wounds, imprisonment, or disease. Six times as many Allied troops as Germans will lose their lives. He feels the folly of the campaign but is too young to understand the weaknesses of his generals and to criticize them confidently. Nor is he well enough informed about the true state of affairs; actually no one, not even some one of these generals, is sufficiently informed.
He does believe this: after the inexcusable failure of his generals at Anzio, the best way to break the stalemate is across the western coastal plain and hills, letting Cassino be isolated; for the Germans, although they could defend themselves there forever, could not break forth from there with sufficient force to cut and strangle the Fifth Army from the flank. He does not know that General Alphonse Juin has this plan in mind and will execute it.
Thus comes the last phase, a French attack through the mountains near the Tyrennian Sea and a Polish attack upon the Abbey's eminence from the East. The Poles, recklessly brave, suffer casualties beyond belief. Only this last French attack can be called truly successful. Some would award General Juin and his two French- North African Divisions top prize for performance and effectiveness, from April through May.
But the "victory" at Cassino -- never mind who is left in command of the field, which is determined by the production quotas achieved by Detroit as against the Ruhr -- could also be assigned to the First Parachute Division of the German Army, granted that they are entrenched in a practically impregnable bastion. Outnumbered by the attacking enemy two-to-one, five-to-one, more. No air force cover. Probably no group in history has received a greater enemy barrage of fire -- ten, fifty, tons of high explosive per man? Casualties at sixty percent and more. Inflicts four times, perhaps ten times its casualties upon the enemy. Uses all of its weapons ingeniously. Builds bunkers and surrounding defenses indefatigably. Repels several major attacks. Counterattacks continually. Few are captured. When captured, they divulge little information. The units disengage in the end reluctantly, when the Army's flank is being turned on the West and they are repeatedly ordered out by the Army Commanders. Their high morale stems from their esprit de corps, their training, their belief in miraculous "secret weapons" to come. They are dedicated to Adolf Hitler.
The better they are as soldiers, the more of Our Boys they kill. Furthermore, the longer they resist, the more time they afford to Himmler, Borman, Ley and the SS butchering battalions of Germans and East Europeans to kill innocent and harmless men, women and children. To their valorous delaying actions, prompted ultimately by heinous ideals, is owed the death not only of thousands of Allied soldiers but also of as many actual and potential teachers, scholars, writers, artists, scientists, and highly qualified citizens of Europe as they themselves numbered, some 20,000. These were the months, and year, during which two millions persons were murdered by the German authorities.
Still, so mad and absurd is the Inner World of Values, if the First Para Div were the German's weakest division, and its soldiers were uniquely less loyal to Der Führer -- in short, ideally Our Boy's kind, our kind, of German -- both friend and foe would ignore them or treat their history contemptuously. So it goes.
The First Parachute Division and three other first class divisions had been negligently permitted to escape from Sicily where they could have been battered from a distance by artillery, naval guns and aircraft. The costly grueling man-killing campaigns of Italy might have been unnecessary. Hitler is criticized for having fought for Italy; but the Allies' most experienced troops were fighting here instead of on the French invasion front.
Our sprightly Lieutenant won't be around Cassino much longer, though. His half-millionth of the Allied flesh and blood is not much needed: with or without him the carnage goes on. He is not enthused over his part of the war here any more, doing what another guy could do as well, all was dulling clockwork, while in Naples friends in British Intelligence are beckoning. He lets them know: promptly the "D-Section" people in Naples put in a call for him, and a gobbledygook 5A HQ AG TO of April 3 sends him off. It is extraordinary; they still number no Americans among them, not a military officer; they had seen to this somehow; they had among them only the famous American violinist, Albert Spalding. The Lieutenant was their lusty, ironic, laughing companion of yore, spouting episodically the radical epistemology and sociology of the University of Chicago, knowing something of British history, who could be as insulting of the Americans as they of the English. And so it happened.
He leaves the Front depressed and strangely nostalgic. He loves the faces and voices that have surrounded him. He will miss the tired slovenly figures along the paths, in the tents, sprawled among ruins, who between wanting to know nothing and forced into knowing nothing, do know practically nothing, but will say something to be helpful and will even speak up, muttering phrases on occasion.
He writes of Sgt. Harrari who can beat three chess players while blindfolded. Of an officer reciting insulting jokes about the President and Eleanor Roosevelt at a battalion mess he happened into down the line. Too, of a visiting OSS Captain, a Kansas editor and Chicago graduate, who was amazed by the sight of Britishers playing soccer within cannon range. And that Brownie Roberts came in one night, having spent a while in a hole while shells were sporadically descending, to say that two G.I.'s playing dice on a sunken path near him wouldn't stop for anything, until exploding shell-fragments hit the crap-shooter in both of his waving arms.
...I feel, [he writes] as tired these days as I've felt anytime until now. The full impact of this creeping, petty pace comes down on us here. The illusive town of Cassino stretches prettily out before us but mocks any advance. How many times have I seen it there, languid in the morning mist or crystal-clear in the bright afternoon, its windows sharp checkers of black, or dissolving and dying into the dusk, spitting out flashes like blood. So near and yet so far, so quiet and yet so menacing, dead but full of the vermin of mines and machine guns close- in. When there is a lull in the fire, there is such peace that at times I feel like driving straight down Highway #6 into the town. A couple of visiting firemen almost did by mistake. And there is or was the Abbey that I learned to like very much, standing as it did so majestically above the town, untouched by the fury of cannonading around it. Its change was ghastly, like the beautiful girl from Shangri La who turned repulsive before our very eyes upon leaving the sacred protection of the valley. The Abbey now looks like any one of the gutted, aged castles that crown many an Italian mountain. People at home can forget Cassino for a week at a time, but every minute we must hark to it. That's why the War seems to move so slowly to us.
It is more than a month later, early April, that he departs. The Italian campaign is still going poorly. The Second Front is nowhere in sight; hopefully it is near in time but is a well-kept secret. Luckily for the Allies, the Soviet armies are absorbing the energies of over 90% of all the German armed forces of the land and air. On the eve of his parting from the Cassino front to join "D Section" in Naples, he writes to her, "The Russian news is the hand of the only clock that brings me nearer you."