OH NO!! FRIENDLY FIRE!!
On a day not long after the break out, we watched a couple of BRITISH Spitfires dive-bombing across a knoll from our position. We cheered them on with football game ‘YEA’s as when a score was made by the home team. Little did we know that the Lieutenant Eric W. Tatlock, who wore the P38 pistol I gave him, was in a jeep next to a British jeep conferring about battleplans. All were killed. The infantry companies awaiting their orders were scattered along a road. The Spitfires dove several times with their lethal fire and bombs. I saw the burnt jeeps a little time later. The British had a funny-looking jeep thing that appeared to be an armored car or a miniature tank on wheels. I know that many of our troops were killed. They could not believe what they were seeing and didn’t take cover soon enough. Where was there to go? Just to scatter. Why didn’t the pilots have adequate training to recognize our jeeps?
MORE FRIENDLY FIRE
One time we were strafed by our own P-51’s. The time was a few days after we broke out of Anzio. The place was CORI, Italy. I later heard they were the Tuskegee pilots. They just finished a mission and had knocked out several German tanks that had been blocking the passage of the 15th Infantry.
While the 15th Infantry GIs waited for the engineers to shove the tanks off to clear the road, we watched from a hilltop church graveyard. Someone said, “Hell with this walking let’s get a German truck to ride”. A bunch of us got on Luther McLean’s jeep and we drove down and got in line with the 15th Infantry. Mc Lean took his place in line and was parked behind the 15th’s Anti-Tank jeeps pulling their 37 MM anti-tank guns–engines idling. There was no room on either side of the tanks. The German tanks were still burning and sitting crosswise in the road. The road was too steep on either side to make a hasty jeep trail or footpath. The officers of the 15th were waiting for the engineers to come and shove the tanks over the bank. In the meantime the GIs were in double file shifting their weight from leg to another and bitching up a fog. Then we heard aircraft! Hurray! We shouted because they did such a good job of softening up the Jerry opposition. Then, I looked up and saw the lead pilot peel off and we were looking right up the barrels of those guns–I can remember seeing the round nose and spinning prop and wings and tail silhouetted against the blue sky!!
They were aiming right at ME!!
Luther McLean, the driver, was the first guy off the Jeep. I was in too much disbelief to jump and I was last, stumbling as I hit the ground. There was a rock wall about 3-feet high on the downhill side of the road that was sculpted along a hillside. I vaulted over the rock wall as if I was running away from a mad bull–I was flying now over the steep bank and I landed against a plum tree. My helmet flew off and it is probably still in the canyon someplace. The P-51 planes had two bombs. One under each wing and they let them go while they opened up with their horrendous machine gun firepower. I think each plane has four guns in each wing. The bullets clipped the limbs in the tree I was hugging as if it was being pruned.
The picture following is the scene.
The raid lasted for minutes but it wouldn’t seem to end. I heard guys screaming and one guy in particular was hollering “Medic! Medic!” He was frantic! I wasn’t far away and even though I wasn’t a medic I was going to help in some way. The screaming GI was leaning over a big redheaded GI medic who was shot in the right neck under his right ear and it exited under his left armpit. That was the trajectory. He was hardly bleeding but it was a fatal shot. If you hit a deer like that you bagged your deer. The big redheaded medic was recognizable to me because I remember once that he and I were on ’sick call’ back in Naples. He had a bad case of trench foot. I remember those large blue feet and that tassel of red hair and his Texas drawl. He was big, but gentle. I had to move on.
The 3rd Division History claims that it was done by P-40’s, but I swear by my P-51 story. I think I am right, because the P-40 or P-39 is armed with a 20 mm cannon up the nose. Mac and I were strafed by a P-40 Warhawk type when we were guarding the bridge. A lone plane came whizzing by, emptying its 20mm cannon on the road, right next to our foxhole. I know it was a P-40. Maybe it was a P-39.
The squadron that strafed us at Cori didn’t fire a cannon! That is a distinctly different harmony. The .50 Cal. machine guns in the wings wouldn’t have drowned out that slower “thump-thump” of the 20’s. I can remember the aluminum-like fuselage but I can’t tell you what the tail looked like. The Tuskegee guys had a certain marked tail. I didn’t look at them from my position hugging a plum tree!! I don’t remember radial engines either! I think the P-40 had radial engines. The P-51 had Allison in-line engines. That’s why they couldn’t support a cannon in the crankshaft. Anyway, I guess I’ll just have to dispute the 3rd Division historian on that one.
I did a bit of research on planes that were equipped with 20mm cannon. I could be wrong about the P-51 versus the P-40. I just know that the plane that strafed Mac and me while we were on the bridge demolition duty fired a single 20MM cannon at us as it darted up the road. I know it was marked with our insignia. It was only 100 feet or less above us .So whatever planes they were, we were strafed, but badly, complete with bombs. As I said in another part of this story, it was rumored that the planes were piloted by the Tuskegee pilots. They definitely deserved credits for the other strafings and bombings such as catching the German tanks which now were burning and holding up our troops. One tank was sideways in the narrow road on a hillside and not allowing passage of the jeeps. Later engineers came to shove the tanks off.
McLean turned the jeep around on the narrow road and we skedaddled back to where we really belonged. Our 30th Regiment had just taken our objective of Cori, Italy after the Anzio breakout. The 15th Regiment was ‘leaping through” to their next objective. We retreated back to our “eagle’s eye” view from the graveyard and watched. The Jerry tanks were moved somehow and the 15th went on to their battle on the other side of the hill. We stayed in the graveyard that night and we moved out next morning. On the right side of the road in the borrow pit was GI blanket after blanket covering the dead of the 15th head to foot. According to the 3rd Division History about 100 men of the 15th regiment were killed or wounded. Several officials in the 30th regiment were also killed at that time.
Another squadron of dive bombers approached from the same direction. We were watching from the graveyard. This time the troops threw out yellow smoke grenades to signal that the troops were friendly. The squadron went on to their ‘real objective’. With such lousy air-to-ground communications, the second squadron might have unloaded again.
At a 3rd Division Reunion, I met Captain Mohr, who joined the 15th just after that friendly-fire incident. He wrote several books and was autographing them. I asked if he was among the survivors of that raid and he said that he had joined as a replacement just a day or so after. He told his wife, who was at the desk helping with his book sales, “I told you about the raid”. We discussed the Tuskegee aspect. He said he was acquainted with some of those pilots in later life. It’s a rumor as far as I am concerned. I can’t verify it, but there must be some records somewhere about those dead GIs and that particular sortie.