Source Document: US Army in WW-2, Pictorial Record
Office of the Chief of Military History
During WW-2, the photographers of the US Army, USAAF, USN, USMC, and USMC created on film a pictorial record of immeasurable value. Thousands of their pictures are preserved in the photographic libraries of the armed services, little seen by the public. In the volumes of US Army in WW-2 now being prepared by the Office of the Chief of Military History, Department of the Army, it is possible to include only a limited number of pictures. A subseries of pictorial volumes, of which this is one, has been planned to supplement the other volumes of the series. The photographs have been selected to show important terrain features, types of equipment and weapons, living and weather conditions, military operations, and various matters of human interest. These volumes will preserve and make accessible for future reference some of the best pictures of WW-2. An appreciation not only of the terrain on which actions were fought, but of its influence on the capabilities and limitations of weapons, in the hands of both our troops and the enemy’s, can be gained through a careful study of the pictures herein presented. Appreciation of these factors is essential to a clear understanding of military history.
This volume, compiled by Lt Col John C. Hatlem, USAF, and Capt Kenneth E. Hunter, with the assistance of Miss Margaret E. Tackley, and edited by W. Brooks Phillips and Miss Mary Ann Bacon, deals with the Mediterranean Theater of Operations and the Middle East. It is divided into five sections: (1) North Africa and the Middle East; (2) Sicily, Corsica, and Sardinia; (3) Italy; 9 September 1943 – June 1944; (4) Southern France; and (5) Italy: June 1944 – May 1945. Each section is arranged in chronological order. The written text has been kept to a minimum. Each section is preceded by a brief introduction recounting the major events set down in detail in the individual narrative volumes of the US Army in WW-2.
The occupation of French North Africa by Allied troops was determined in Jul 1942 when the US and UK Governments agreed to launch a Mediterranean operation in the fall of the year. The invasion, designated as Operation Torch, was to coincide with a UK advance westward from Egypt. Before US soldiers did any actual fighting in North Africa, however, and before the USA was at war, civilian and military observers had been informally attached in May 1941 to the US military attaché in Cairo.
This group was the beginning of a force whose primary function was to service and maintain lend-lease equipment from the US, instruct the UK in its use, and report on how it stood up under battle conditions. The USAAF also was performing missions in Egypt several months before the Allied landings in North Africa. All these activities contributed to the British victory at El Alamein in Oct 1942. Allied troops sailed for North Africa from ports in both the USA and the UK. The US Navy and the Royal Navy shared in supplying transports and naval escort and were able to prevent any serious losses through enemy submarine action. Vital air support was at first provided from aircraft carriers of both Navies and later by land-based planes of the Allied air forces utilizing recently captured airfields.
The Allies hoped to avoid French resistance to the landings by arranging for the assistance of patriotic Frenchmen ashore and by the participation in the operation of Gen Henri Giraud, a French military leader and former Army commander of great prestige who had escaped from France. These plans were only partly successful. The landings on the early morning of Nov 8 at beaches near Algiers, Oran, Casablanca, Port-Lyautey, Fedala, and Safi met resistance at all objectives. The opposition at Algiers and Safi collapsed quickly. Oran could be occupied only after considerable fighting. French forces, especially naval elements, in the neighborhood of Casablanca resisted strongly, but yielded on Nov 11, a few minutes before the final assault on the city itself was to start. After a brief period of neutrality, most of the French forces in northwest Africa joined in the war against the Axis.
The Axis reacted to the Allied invasion by rushing troops to Tunisia by air and sea, and captured the local airfields and ports without opposition. British, American, and French troops drove eastward and at the end of November and in early December launched their attack against the Axis bridgehead. The Allied advance, however, was stopped short of Tunis. Air superiority for the moment lay with the Axis. Lack of means to overcome the increased resistance, in addition to weather conditions which interfered with transport and flying, forced the postponement until 1943 of a renewed advance over the difficult terrain of northern Tunisia.
Meanwhile, the UK 8-A was pressing German and Italian forces back from Egypt through Libya and reached the southern border of Tunisia in Jan 1943. Plans could then be perfected for a coordinated attack against the remaining Axis forces in North Africa by the UK 8-A in the south and the Allied troops in the north consisting of the UK 1-A, the US II Corps, the French XIX Corps, and Allied air forces. Attack by Axis forces at points of their own selection repeatedly interfered with Allied preparations. In February the enemy broke through Faïd Pass and in a series of attacks advanced beyond Kasserine almost to the Algerian border. These attacks were stopped on 21–22 February when the enemy started his withdrawal, destroying bridges and mining the passes behind him. But the Allied forces were closing in. After attacking and turning the Mareth position, the British Eighth Army defeated the enemy there and pursued him along the coast as far as Enfidaville, less than fifty miles from Tunis. Accelerated Allied air and naval attacks choked off the enemy’s supply and weakened his resistance. At the same time the American II Corps was shifted northwest to a new sector on the left of the British First Army.
Then after severe infantry fighting the American II Corps made an armored thrust to Mateur, and after a pause it pushed tank forces east to the sea, separating Bizerte from Tunis. Farther south the British First Army drove directly toward Tunis. On 7 May both Bizerte and Tunis were occupied and by 13 May Axis capitulation was complete. The Allies had achieved their initial objective of opening the Mediterranean route to the Middle East and seizing bases in North Africa. At the same time they had inflicted a major defeat on the Axis Powers. Allied strength in French North Africa had been brought to a total of about a million men. Much of this strength was not intended for the Tunisia Campaign but for later operations against Sicily and southern Italy. Elaborate training establishments were developed by the American Fifth and Seventh Armies and vast supply depots established with a view to future operations from the African base.
Persian Gulf Command
In Jun 1942, an American theater of operations called US Army Forces in the Middle East was established with HQs at Cairo. Under this command were merged various groups and military missions that had been active in this area since the spring of 1941. US responsibilities for moving supplies to the Soviet Union led ultimately to a separation of the Persian Gulf activities of USAFIME and their establishment under an organization that was known from Dec 1943 to Oct 1945 as the Persian Gulf Command, with HQs at Tehran, Iran. From 1941 to 1945 the main business of the US Army in the Middle East was to facilitate the supply of lend-lease goods to UK and Soviet forces. This task involved the construction of docks, warehouses, shops, and highways as well as the operation of ports, a railroad, and a motor transport service in Iran. At the same time the Army constructed numerous airfields and bases, stretching across Egypt, the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, Eritrea, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq, and Iran.
Pyramids near Cairo, Egypt. For more than six months before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the US had recognized the military importance of the Middle East. Lend-lease equipment was poured into Egypt to aid the British in the western desert. The type of transport plane shown above performed constant service in the Middle East area. It was known familiarly as the ‘work horse of the war’, C–47 transport, Dakota.
British Soldiers receiving instructions on an American-made engine at the US Ordnance Repair Depot at Heliopolis near Cairo.
(above and below) Tanks at the Heliopolis US Ordnance Depot. On Black Saturday, Jun 13, 1942, in a battle near Tobruk in Libya, the British armor suffered severe tank losses inflicted by German 88-MM antitank guns. This defeat caused a withdrawal to the El Alamein Line in Egypt. (Tanks are General Grant M-3)
Italian Antiaircraft Gun captured by the British in the western desert of Egypt. Before the US entered the war, American technicians worked closely with the British in the Middle East to obtain information on German and Italian weapons, equipment, and methods of warfare. (Italian Ansaldo AAA Gun 75-MM)
Inoculating Egyptian Worker with the Typhus Vaccine. In June of 1942 a separate command was formed in Cairo, called the US Army Forces in the Middle East (USAFIME). Natives working with US personnel were usually under Army medical supervision. Those handling food were subject to physical inspection and received medical treatment and whatever immunization inoculations were indicated for the locality. The use of preventive medicine stopped the outbreak of epidemics.
B–25’s over the western desert in Egypt. The US Army Air Forces was active in the Middle East several months before the Allied landings in North Africa. The first mission of these bombers was against the enemy-occupied port of Matruh on the coast of Egypt in July 1942. (Plane is a Medium bomber, North American B–25 Mitchell.)
Self-Propelled Howitzer nicknamed the Priest. The crisis which developed when the British were forced to retreat to the El Alamein Line threatened the Suez Canal as well as the Allied air routes to Russia and India. Reinforcements and equipment were rushed to Egypt from the United Kingdom and the United States. The United States sent about 90 of the guns shown above, more than 300 General Sherman M-4’s, and a large number of trucks. By October 1942, the situation had improved. The British Eighth Army attacked at El Alamein and drove the enemy out of Egypt, through Libya, and into Tunisia. (105-MM howitzer, M-7 Howitzer Motor Carriage)
Liberators Bombing Ploesti Oil Field installations in Romania. The first USAAF mission flown against any strategic target in Europe was on the Ploesti oil fields, a twelve-bomber raid by B–24’s from Egypt on June 12, 1942. The next raid on this target, August 1, 1943, was a low-level attack by 177 Liberators from Bengasi in Libya with the loss of 54 bombers. Refinery production was interrupted by these raids from Africa, but was not stopped until the spring of 1944 when continuous large-scale attacks were carried out from bases in Italy. (Heavy Bomber Consolidated B–24 Liberator)
Convoy Bound for North Africa. Troops in the first landings approached their destinations in several large convoys, escorted by aircraft carriers and other warships. The convoy to Morocco originated in several ports of the United States on October 23, 1942, and when near the African coast separated into three major parts. The convoy steaming to the vicinity of Oran and Algiers left the United Kingdom on October 26. Before passing through the Straits of Gibraltar it separated into two parts. Inside the Mediterranean the two sections overtook slower cargo convoys and continued on a course toward Malta until sundown of November 7. That night each section wheeled southward and separated further to reach several landing points near Oran and Algiers. Other convoys had already left both the United States and the United Kingdom before the attacks began
US Navy Figther Aircraft on the flight deck of a carrier approaching the coast of North Africa. In the background is a destroyer escort. Two to four destroyers operated with each carrier, providing antisubmarine protection, picking up personnel from wrecked aircraft, and augmenting the antiaircraft screen around their charge. (Grumman F-4F Wildcat, single seater, carrier fighters)
Oil Tanker refueling aircraft carrier en route to North Africa
Gunnery Practice Aboard a Transport. Submarines were a danger and gun crews were constantly on the alert. (Left, US Navy 3-inch gun; right .50-caliber water-cooled Browning machine gun)
Troops on Transport Headed for French Morocco. Note rubber life belts on most of the men. These could be inflated instantly by means of gas cartridges in belts. In practice it was found that a fully inflated belt was not capable of supporting a soldier loaded down with his equipment. Men who found themselves in the water could not readily get rid of their packs and ammunition belts and several drownings occurred during the landings