Wednesday, December 7, 2011

504th PIR Friendly Fire Tragedy in Sicily

On the night of July 11 after the Battle of Biazza Ridge, many men of the 505 bore witness to a horrifying incident involving the 504th PIR. Bill recorded what he saw in a letter to his sister:

“[On July 11 at night]…our own navy… shot down 27 transport planes killing 410 paratroopers, who were coming in to reinforce us.” Source: William Clark, letter dated June 13, 1945

Years later, in an interview after the War Bill told his  friend, Herd Bennett about the incident:

“He was lying in a fox hole watching the 504th make the jump. He states that he laid on the ground and saw many of the C-47 transport planes (they were bringing the paratroops in) blasted out of the air by American artillery that thought they were German airplanes.” Source: Herd L. Bennett as told to him by William Clark, August 19, 1999.

For Bill, the worst thing next to witnessing his friend’s death, was the shooting down of planes from 504 by the US navy. Bill had seen a lot of good men and close friends die that day, but the SNAFU by his own forces was overwhelming. It could have been avoided in his opinion, and now Bill was to watch as they needlessly died.

These were sentiments shared by other troopers who occupied his position on the ridge that night:

“Sergeant Raymond Hart, with Company H, and his men watching from Biazzo Ridge could see ‘troopers jumping out of burning planes. Needless to say, we felt like we had lost the war. More than one man cried that night.’” Source: “Four Stars of Valor: The Combat History of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment in World War II”, Nordyke, P.,  2006 p. 91

General Gavin was also on Biazza Ridge and remembered what he saw:

“It must have been ten o’clock at night when all hell broke loose in the direction of the beaches. Antiaircraft fire was exploding like fireworks on the Forth of July, tracers were whipping through the sky, and as we were observing the phenomena, the low, steady drone of airplanes could be heard. They seemed to be flying through the flak and coming in our direction. Everyone began to grasp their weapons to be ready to shoot at them. A few of us cautioned the troopers to take it easy until we understood what was going on. Suddenly at about 600 feet the silhouettes of American C-47s appeared against the sky – our own parachute troops! Some seemed to be burning, and they continued directly overhead in the direction of Gela. From the damaged planes some troopers jumped or fell, and at daylight we found some of them dead in front of our positions.” Source: “On to Berlin”, Gavin, J., 1978, p. 42

“Later we learned that it was the 504th Parachute Infantry that was being flown to a drop zone near Gela to reinforce the 1st Infantry Division. General Ridgway had been there to meet them. Unfortunately, the Germans had sent in parachute reinforcements on the British front to the east the same night. In addition, there had been German air attacks on our Navy, so when the parachute transports showed up, our ships fired at them, and twenty-three were shot down and many damaged.” Source: Ibid.

Major Mark Alexander commander of 505th PIR 2nd Battalion had been  misdropped along with his troops far too the southeast of Gela. On the night of July 11 was perfectly placed to see the shooting:

“After dark when we hit the coast road again, we could see the invasion armada in the water off Gela. From our strung-out position along the coast road, we saw two German bombers fly in, bomb the fleet and fly off. I’d say about two minutes behind them came 48 C-47s carrying the rest of the 504th paratroopers. They came in at roughly the same altitude and from the same direction as the German bombers.

“The navy opened fire. From where I was, I could see the planes were our own, but the navy got excited and just kept shooting. Finally they stopped, but they had knocked down 23 planes. Some of them were able to make a hard landing on Sicily, but a whole bunch of men were killed. Even the 45th Division got in on the shooting. They thought the Germans were attacking.” Source: “Jump Commander” Alexander, M. and Sparry J, 2010 pp. 86-87


504th PIR Paratroopers aboard their C-47 Sent to Reinforce the 505th PIR, July 11, 1943

Source: “United States Army in World War II Mediterranean Theater of Operations: Sicily and the Surrender of Italy” Garland 
A., etal., 1993, page 137 retrieved May 4, 2011 from

The cost of the friendly fire incident to the 504th was 81 killed, 16 missing, and 132 wounded. Source: “Four Stars of Valor: The Combat History of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment in World War II”, Nordyke, P.,  2006 p. 91

The 52nd Wing of the Army Air force was flying the 504th troopers. They suffered 7 men killed, 53 missing, 30 wounded and 23 C-47s lost. Source:Valor Without Arms: A History of the 316th Troop Carrier Group, 1942 – 1945”. Ingrisano, M. 1991 p. 23

In Bill’s 1945 letter he states that 27 planes were shot down and 410 paratroopers. He wasn’t far off on his estimation of the number of planes lost. Given the date of his letter and his ability to get accurate information, his estimate of the number of men killed wasn’t too bad either.

As Major Alexander noted, minutes before the C-47s appeared, the Navy’s ships were attacked by Luftwaffe bombers. Furthermore, the Navy had been under attack all day. Messerschmitt ME 109 fighters had strafed some ships, while others had been bombed by Junkers Ju 88 medium bombers and Heinkel He 111 heavy bombers. The navy fired on the C-47s because they thought they were under another attack.

“The persistent enemy air attacks had one unintended result, namely the predisposition of Navy gunners to fire at any aircraft, frequently before identifying them.” Source: Operation Husky:  The Allied Invasion of Sicily, 1943” Nutter, T. 2003



American Ships Under Air Attack off Gela During the Day of July 11

Source: “United States Army in World War II Mediterranean Theater of Operations: Sicily and the Surrender of Italy” Garland  A., etal., 1993, page 167 retrieved May 4, 2011 from

C-47 Crew Perspective

The paratrooper perspective on the ground was of harrowing disbelief. But what was experienced by the men in the C-47 aircraft was far worse.  Michael Ingrisano, a C-47 pilot quotes the 316th Troop Carrier Consolidated Mission Report of Husky 2 about their experience:

“All went well until the airplanes began to enter the designated corridor. There shore batteries opened fire on the airplanes and the entire corridor became alive with deadly machine gun fire and heavy flak. The fire became so intense that the formations broke up, each airplane seeking openings through the heavy curtain of fire. The situation became more acute as the planes approached the area of the DZ. By that time there was sufficient dispersion among the aircraft that some airplanes were able to drop their troops in comparatively calm territory, one airplane dropping 3 miles from the DZ; another 7 miles; another 10 miles from the DZ; others dropped the paratroopers as close to the DZ as possible despite the intense fire, some of them making two passes, others 3 passes over the field before being able to identify the drop points through the heavy bursts of fire.

Six of the planes failed to drop their paratroopers. They felt it suicide to drop them through such concentrated fire. One ship made 3 attempts to approach the drop zone but could not because of the impenetrability of the anti-aircraft fire. Another plane, trying to escape hostile fire, was going at such an excessive speed that it could not jump its troops.

All the airplanes that were able to survive the intense accurate fire dived through the barrage and headed out to sea, over the coast in the
vicinity of Gela and Licata. There another tragedy confronted them: Our own Navy.

As rapidly as they passed over one vessel, the next one took up the fire, and so it continued some 20 miles out to sea. In desperation, the pilots expended their pyrotechnics signals, but it only aided the massacre. For some it outlined the silhouette of the airplanes in the air; to others, the flare looked like another burst of flame hitting the target. Several of the C-47s were shot down in the sea. The survivors, in most instances, were saved and taken aboard naval vessels.

There they learned to some satisfaction that there were explanations for the tragedies seemingly unnecessarily committed. Just 10 minutes before the C-47s arrived at the DZ the Germans had been dropping bombs, the 14th raid of the day. The captain of one vessel told them that inter-boat communications system had just announced ‘All planes in the immediate vicinity are friendly,’ when suddenly a 500 pound bomb
burst within 200 yards of the destroyer. The reaction was in the form of active retaliation. Into this the C-47s flew. One pilot, 1st Lt. Ray E. Everhart, further reports ‘The crew on the destroyer seemed to know about as little about aircraft identification as I did about battleship identification.’ A very good example of this: The skipper called back at one time, ‘Gentlemen, you see a beautiful formation of B-17s going to
Sicily to bomb Italians.’ Actually they were British Halifaxes.

Survivors who crash landed in Sicily were told that one officer was going to be relieved because he had announced over the radio and in the clear the fact that American paratroopers were expected in the vicinity between 2200 and 2400. Yet, 2nd Lt. George S.[John J.] Hoye [44th], one of the survivors states: ‘Ground troops reported that they had not been warned that friendly airplanes would be over our area and had assumed planes were hostile.’

The mission was costly to the 316th Group: F/O Anderson and co-pilot Lt. Harpster [45th] concluded: ‘Something should be done about
friendly naval craft firing on us. Also something should be done about flights constantly losing formations. On the whole the mission was extremely dangerous and costly whereas it had [no] reason to be. Evidently the safest place for us tonight while over Sicily would have been over enemy territory.”
Source: “Consolidated Mission Report, 316th Troop Carrier Group, A-2 Section, Husky No. 2”, Aug. 5, 1943. As quoted in:Valor Without Arms: A History of the 316th Troop Carrier Group, 1942 – 1945”. Ingrisano, M. 1991 p. 21

Wreakage of Douglas C-47 over Sicily cropped

Wreckage of a Douglas C-47 which crashed about 4 miles north of Palermo airfield, Sicily on October 24, 1943

(Gives an idea of what a C-47 crash looks like)

504th PIR Perspective

The paratroopers of the 504 had their own horrendous stories to tell about the disaster. Here’s one from Lt. A. C. Drew of Company F, 504:

“The pilot of my plane gave me the warning twenty minutes out from the DZ. After the red light came on, he had to give me the green light in about one minute, due to the plane being on fire.

“We jumped into a steady stream of antiaircraft fire, and not knowing that they were friendly troops. About seventy-five yards from where I landed , plane No. 915 was hit and burned. To my knowledge only the pilot and three men got out. The pilot was thrown through the window. Another plane was shot down on the beach and another plane was burning about one thousand yards to my front.

There were four men killed and four wounded from my platoon.Three of these men were hit coming down and one was killed on the ground because he had the wrong password. After landing, we found out this had been changed to ‘Think’ – ‘Quickly’. The antiaircraft fire we jumped into was the 180th Infantry of the 45th Division. They were not told we were coming.

“We tried to reorganize, but found we didn’t have but forty–four men, including three officers. We searched all night for the rest of the men. After accounting for them we took care of the dead and wounded and started toward our objective. We arrived at the 504th CP at 2:00, July 12, 1943.” Source: “All American All the Way: The Combat History of the 82nd Airborne Division in World War II” Nordyke, P., 2005 pp. 84 – 85. 

Post War Conspiracy Theory of Friendly Fire Cover-up

Article7.This newspaper clipping is from Bill’s sister’s scrapbook of the Sicilian invasion.

The article praises the ability of the Army, Navy, and Army Air force to work well together as an effective team. It’s an analysis of the post invasion success, and was published on July 12 or 13 1943.

To quote the article:

“Co-ordination of the three arms in the invasion appears to have been masterfully planned and executed” .

Interestingly none of the newspaper articles in her collection say anything about the friendly fire attack. Even if the press did know about it, it’s logical that they wouldn't report it.

For obvious reasons, the enemy didn’t need to know about a disaster of this magnitude. Not to mention the demoralizing effect it would have had on morale for the Allied forces fighting around the world, and the populations on the home fronts. This is especially true given that Operation HUSKY was at the time the largest sea and airborne invasion ever attempted and the first successful major joint US-British attack on Hitler’s “Fortress Europe”.

Articles like these one would be tantalizing fuel for proponents of the alleged cover up of the friendly fire disaster. Allegations of a cover up sprang up once the American public became aware of the incident, which wasn’t until sometime after the war was over.












Newspaper Article Analyzing the Successful Coordination Between the Army, Army Air force, and Navy .

Source: Dayton Herald, circa July 12-13, 1943

© Copyright Jeffrey Clark 2011 All Rights Reserved.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Bill’s Friend Who Died at Biazza Ridge

Today is Veteran’s Day in America, 11/11/2011. The 11th of November is also Remembrance Day in the British Commonwealth of Nations. Many other countries also observe this day as a special day of war remembrance.

For this Veteran’s Day I would like to focus on Bill’s friend who perished in the Battle of Biazza Ridge, Sicily 1943 and all of those men who died in that horrible battle.

Below is a picture of Bill with his best friend before the 82nd Airborne left America for Casablanca. I have not been able to discover his name, but I believe that he is the same friend who died at Biazza Ridge.

Bill & Friend
Figure 1:  Bill with his Buddy
Source: Author’s Collection

Figure 2: Ponte Dirillo Memorial to the men who fought and died in the area around Ponte Dirillo, the bridge over the Acate River,  including Biazza Ridge, Sicily July 9 - 11
Source: Image courtesy of the United States Navy, Credits U.S. Navy photo by Journalist 2nd Class Stephen P. Weaver,  US Naval Air Station at Sigonella, Sicily during a remembrance ceremony in 2003 Retrieved May 2, 2011  from
Bill’s friend is most likely among those named on this memorial. Unfortunately, I have been unable to conclusively tell which name it is.

The Search for Bill’s Friend

The last time I interviewed Bill was on March 22 2006, between 2:00pm – 4:00pm at his Miamisburg rest home in Ohio. Six weeks prior to this I had finished writing the chapter in the book dealing with Sicily. My intention was to take this opportunity to read to him what I had written, get his reaction and perhaps evoke from him some buried memories. It was a long shot and my expectations upon seeing him were low. Some months earlier Bill suffered a stroke which left his speech and motor functions severely impaired. When I entered the room he was lying in bed seemingly immobile staring blankly into nothingness. I had my doubts as to whether he could be reached because he didn’t respond to anything I said by way of greeting or description of my purpose for visiting him.

Getting nowhere with small talk, I decided to begin reading the chapter. After page nine Bill’s eyes began to focus and he turned his head toward the manuscript and looked at it. The more I read the more alert he became. An hour later I finished reading the chapter.

Bill now appeared to be compos mentis. His eyes were clear and expressed interest. I asked him if he wanted me to read it to him again. This time he responded with an affirmative nod. As I read he listened intently with his unique focused expression. It’s a look he got when he was particularly interested in something. Anyone who knew him would have instantly recognized it. With that look on his face I knew he was with me. I permitted myself the luxury of a small measure of hope.

When I reached the section on my account of his participation in the battle of Biazza Ridge he lifted his head off his pillow and I saw his eyes moving from left to right across the page. He was actually reading the material for himself! I held the book up for him to read more, which he did for a time before losing strength. I asked him if he wanted me to read the section on Biazza Ridge again. He nodded, yes. As I read he became more animated, time and again looking lucidly at me then back at the manuscript.

Once I finished that portion I asked him “Were you at Biazza Ridge?” To my surprise he spoke clearly responding with “Yes.” I could hardly believe my ears as he had been unable to speak for months. I looked up from the book at him and he was staring back at me with a dark, frightened expression on his face. The unexpected stark look shocked me.

Gathering myself I ignored the stare and pressed my advantage asking him “Did you have a good friend who died in the War?” Again he responded “Yes.” I asked “Did he die at Biazza Ridge?” Bill nodded affirmative. “Did he die in a Tiger tank attack?” Again he nodded affirmative. “Or did he die in another campaign?” He shook his head – no.

I showed him the list of names of the men who died  on the Ponte Dirillo memorial in Figure 2 above. I asked him “If I read out the names of the men who died at Biazza Ridge could you tell me the name of your friend?” There was no response, so I continued by holding up Figure 2 closer to his face. I repeated “This is a picture of the memorial to those who died at Biazza Ridge.” I took his hand in mine and told him again “I am going to read you the names on this list. If I say the name of your friend, you squeeze my hand”. He returned his gaze to look at the list.

I took this as a sign that he understood, so I proceeded to read the names to him. He seemed to react when I reached the positions in the list around the names of “Aloysius Boncyk”, “Stephen Vidumsky”, and “Alfred Glascock”. To my dismay he did not squeeze my hand, but became very excited and began trying to form words. I read the list again and got the same reaction at about the same places in the list. Bill was trying with all his might to tell me the name. Given the timing of his reaction, I couldn’t tell for certain which name in the list he was reacting to. I tried a third time, focusing on the following names one at a time: “Aloysius Boncyk”, “Stephen Vidumsky”, and “Alfred Glascock”. Whenever I mentioned any of these names he reacted strongly by trying to form words.

He looked up at me, frustrated before turning his gaze back to Figure 2. His eyes were moving from left to right across the page. He was reading the names. As he read his face became very sad and a tear formed in the corner of his right eye. By the time he was part way through the list more tears were forming. He continued reading until he finished. Then he turned his head away and gazed out his window.

In his condition my bringing up the past was obviously hard on him. I tried to console him. I told him what he did in the War was a tremendous cost for any one man to bear. I said we are grateful that he fought in Sicily and the rest of Europe so that we could be free today. I said that his sacrifice was a debt we as his family could not repay. I told him that he had made all the difference in our lives, opening for us opportunities for achievement that would never have otherwise been obtainable. I said without his sacrifice his brother James Clark would not have been able to become the success he was. The mention of his brother lifted Bill’s mood. He had once told me that that James Clark was the best that Preble County High had ever produced. Although he would never admit it, in some way he must have known that he was in at least a small part responsible for James’ success in academe and business.

Bill’s attention went back to the manuscript again, so I asked him if he wanted me to continue reading to him. He nodded his head, yes, so I read it to him one more time. At the end I asked him “So what do you think? Do you like it?” He responded “Yes” and nodded his head. I told him how I was going to write the rest of the book starting with Salerno and going through the battles and the good times he had in England, Ireland and continental Europe, ending with the occupation of Berlin. I asked “How do you like the plan?” A smile came across his face as he responded “It’s good.”

I am presently researching how Aloysius Boncyk, Stephen Vidumsky, and Alfred Glascock died.  These names and the other names listed in the table below are the most probable. All were members of 3rd Battalion Headquarters Company, Company G or Regimental Headquarters Company.  To the best of my knowledge all of the men in the table fought and died at Biazza Ridge.

There is another reason some of these names are strong possibilities. During my interview with Bill’s brother Henry Clark Jr. he was fairly sure  that the man’s name had the letter G in it, or was somehow associated with that letter. He also thought that the man might have come from Ohio and that was one reason for their friendship.

The one name on the list which satisfies all of these criteria is Aloysius Boncyk. Aloysius was from Mahoning county, Ohio.

Other strong possibilities are John McGuigan of RHQ and therefore flew in Bill’s serial,  and Alfred Glascock  as well as  the other men from G Company named below. Note that some names listed on the monument in Figure 2 are not listed below since they did not fit Bill’s story for valid reasons. Either they later died of wounds, or were from 1st battalion and died in the battles around Ponte Dirillo (not at Biazza Ridge), or their deaths were already explicitly explained in existing histories by eye witnesses and they did not die in the manner explained by Bill.

Table 1: Possible Names of Bill’s Friend Who Died in the Battle of Biazza Ridge 

County, State
Serial #
Boncyk Aloysius     PFC G KIA Biazza Ridge 7/11/1943 Mahoning, OH 15072250
McGuigan John,  J PVT Reg HQ KIA Biazza Ridge 7/11/1943 Queens, NY 32012829
Glascock Alfred   PVT G KIA Biazza Ridge 7/11/1943 Loudoun, VA 33183948
Myrhow Harold,  L PFC G KIA Biazza Ridge 7/11/1943 Spokane, WA 19096523
Angelo Dominic, T PVT G KIA Biazza Ridge 7/11/1943 Philadelphia, PA 33314899
Meile Carroll , W PVT G KIA Biazza Ridge 7/11/1943 Baltimore, MD 20343348
Barnett Walter, M PVT G KIA Biazza Ridge 7/11/1943 Pottawattamie, Iowa 20743494
Moynihan Cornelius, J Jr  CPL G KIA Biazza Ridge 7/11/1943 Kings County, NY 12063157
Knight Vernon, F PVT HQ/3 Bat KIA Biazza Ridge 7/11/1943 Multnomah, OR 39317596
Vidumsky Stephen, W PVT HQ/3 Bat KIA Biazza Ridge 7/11/1943 Northampton, PA 33183338
* Fiske Raymond, E PVT HQ/3 Bat KIA Biazza Ridge 7/11/1943 Hampden, MA 11061719

Special Forces Roll of Honor, US Paratroopers of World War Two

Phil Nordyke’s 82nd Airborne in World War II website “All American All the Way” (which has been down since March 2011), but almost all of the 82nd Airborne rosters from the site are available through Bibliotheca Alexandrina’s “Wayback Machine” Internet Archive at*/

I also have private copies of all of the 82nd Airborne rosters from World War II.

* Note:- Raymond Fiske’s photograph (located at does not match the photo of Bill’s friend in Figure 1 above and so may not be the person in question.

If anyone has more information or photographs of any of these men, please contact me.

Please take a moment to honor all of our veterans this Veteran’s Day, 2011.

© Copyright Jeffrey Clark 2011 All Rights Reserved.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Into Hell & History


German Paratroopers

Source: “Saga of the All American: History of the 82nd Airborne Division in World War II”, Dawson, F., 1946 p. 197

With what is known about the battle and all of the discoveries made from interviews with Bill’s siblings as well as letters he and his brother Henry wrote home during the war, it is possible to reconstruct his personal battle with the Hermann Goring Panzer Division at Biazza Ridge. What follows is my attempt to do just that. Hopefully, this fact based reconstruction will serve to honor the unbelievably horrendous sacrifices made by the 505 veterans of that bloody battle .

Bill probably arrived at Biazza Ridge in the morning of July 11, and definitely before or during one of the Tiger tank attacks on 3rd Battalion’s positions on the western slope of the ridge. Perhaps he was there from the beginning and was one of the Regimental Headquarters Company (RHQ) serial troopers who stormed the ridge with Company G routing the Germans from their positions and driving them down the western slope. Maybe he arrived while Company H counter attacked with bayonets and helped drive the Germans from the ridge the second time. He might have come later perhaps in one of the smaller groups that arrived during the day. It’s improbable that he came as one of the 50 troopers that arrived with Lt. Swingler of Service Company, because that isn’t consistent with the story Bill told his brother Henry. In that story Bill was clearly fighting Tiger tanks by firing his weapon at their glass viewfinders. He would have needed enough light to do that. Not only had Lt. Swingler arrived after the tanks had been driven off by the naval bombardment, but the final attack that his men had fought in occurred at sunset which was 8:30pm on July 11, 1943. Moreover, Bill recalled being present to see the howitzers firing almost vertically at the Tigers and that happened before Lt. Swingler arrived.

When he got there he probably met with his close friend – his buddy, who’s a member of G, H, RHQ Company, or Service Company. Bill and this man are very good friends and they’re glad to see one another. They’re both relieved to have made it through the jump and subsequent journey to the ridge, but there’s no time to exchange much of anything else. An officer sends them directly to the front line, telling them to take up a position on a gap in the line. They see that German infantry and tanks are advancing on the 505’s position on the ridge. It’s during one of the German counter attacks. Someone shouts out information about the Tigers, or perhaps they recognize from their training that these tanks are heavy Mark VI Tiger tanks mounted with 88mm cannons. They can shoot the infantry, but there is nothing that their 30 caliber M1 Garand rifles can do against the heavily armored Tiger’s. They run or crawl part way down the western slope of the ridge to their position in the line of advancing tanks and infantry. Bullets zip by and mortar shells explode around them killing other troopers. Like many other men, they may not have slept since the night of July 8. Thankfully, adrenaline begins to course through them reinforcing their skills learned from their intense training as paratroopers.

Laying low in a depression or a slit trench previously dug into the shallow shale of the ridge, they survey their position. They see the Tigers advancing in front of the infantry. They shoot at the enemy soldiers and provide covering fire for the bazooka teams who risk their lives at close range to fire bazookas at the tanks. Part of the developing strategy is to aim their M1 rifles at the view finders on the Tigers in an attempt to hit or at least harass the enemy inside the tanks. Perhaps this will distract the tank crews and buy the bazooka teams time to fire their weapons.



Tiger Mark VI Captured in Tunis 1943.

Source: Wikipedia Commons 

Note the view finding slit on the hull (just right of tanks center front) underneath the 88mm cannon. This is the slit the 505 troopers were firing into with rifles

To their dismay, Bill and his buddy realize that the bazookas cannot penetrate the heavy over 4 inch thick iron steel armor of the Mark VI Tigers. Far worse, to their horror, they see the tanks firing their 88mm cannons at individual troopers. The men are blown into pieces or disappear in the cloud of the exploding 88mm shells. They are now bearing firsthand witness to the Hermann Goring Division’s brutality. They see tanks getting very close to other men who try and disable the Tigers by placing gammon grenades in their tracks. This isn’t successful and more often it ends in the death of yet another trooper. As the morning wears on more troopers arrive taking the place of those who died and to expand the 505’s postion. During the attacks, Tigers repeatedly run low on ammunition and need to pull back and reload. When they do, Bill’s mind feels some respite, but his stomach doesn’t. It ambushes him with a sharp burning sensation, clutching with the realization that the attacks will continue relentlessly, until he and his fellow paratroopers are all destroyed.

It’s during one of these attacks, that personal tragedy strikes. Bill and his friend are in a forward position firing their rifles to shoot into the viewfinder on a Tiger that’s close by. They are supporting a trooper who’s placing a gammon grenade in the tank’s track. Unexpectedly, the tank crew spots them in their slit trench. It swings it huge cannon in their direction. Quickly they decide to split up, diving and running out of the way. Bill is able to run a short distance, and lands into another trench, this one deeper, more protected than the one he previously occupied. Turning over to take stock of his situation, he sees his friend scouring around, desperately trying to find cover. He’s unable to find anything and while he’s looking, the Tiger takes aim. Bill tries to get his attention, waving for him to come his way, but in the roar of the battle, and the confusion of his situation his buddy doesn’t hear. Helpless, in despair, Bill watches as the awful cannon fires. He hopes with all his heart that it will miss. But it doesn’t. The 88mm shell explodes with a direct hit on his friend. He disappears becoming a pink cloud, almost indistinguishable from the huge ball of smoke and pieces of shale thrown up by the explosion. Bill is devastated. His stomach retches dry at the sight. Later, he will have time slip into a long dark depression, but for now all of his senses are keyed on his survival.

Hunched down in is trench, Bill chances a glance at the Tiger and can’t believe what his eyes see. The tank has changed course and is now moving toward him. Its turret has swung around in his direction. He quickly dips his head down desperately hoping he wasn’t spotted. With luck he thinks it will pass him by. But it doesn’t go away. Instead he can hear it moving up and down, scouring the terrain, as if it’s looking for him. A stark realization dawns on Bill. The Tiger is hunting him. As the seconds tick by it is getting closer. Now it is very close. Close enough that he can hear voices of the men inside. Suddenly it stops. Above the grumbling engine a weird electrical motorized whining noise startles him. The sound is emanating from the machine’s turret as it robotically jerks left and right making adjustments in its aim. Bill scurries 20 feet or so down the trench away from the sounds. The trench opens up into a deeper natural ditch, offering better cover. This new position in the ditch affords Bill a safer view of the tank. From here he can see it stopped almost on top of his previous position. He thinks about making a run for it, but decides against it. The terrain is too open for that. He stays put instead.

After a few seconds the lid of the turret clangs open. A German tank crewman’s head and torso pops out. The German combs the area around Bill, looking for him among the terrain, relaying the information through his headset to the others inside. Unexpectedly an odd calm swiftly descends over Bill. With his weapon he takes careful aim at the German’s head and cocks the trigger. Retribution for his friend is now at hand. Should he fire? He hesitates. He’s an exceptional shot. Missing isn’t the issue. He had seen the two MG 34s mounted on the Tiger’s turret and hull make meal out of other men earlier that day. He is too close. To fire now would mean certain death. Reluctantly he quells his fury and lowers the gun. Vengeance will have to wait another day. Abruptly, the German lowers himself back down and the lid slams shut. The tank turns and heads back on its way up the ridge.

Bill watches for a few minutes as the Tiger crawls relentlessly on, blowing away other troopers with its hellish 88mm cannon, grinding them up with its dreadful MG 34 792mm caliber machine guns. Appalled, enraged, he soon turns away. A fresh charge of adrenaline surges through him, shocking his body back into the reality of the battle. He returns to the fight.

Soon after, the putrid Tiger begins to hunger for more fuel and ammunition. It’s a hideous abomination. The brainchild of some engineering genius detached from the sorrow it would pour out onto the world. Cutting a vivid image from some ghastly nightmare, gurgling and growling it lurches back to a German support crew to slurp up a fresh meal of gasoline, bullets, and more of those gruesome 88mm shells. Once sated, it guns its thunderous engine to signal its rage at those brave, stubborn, but stupid little men hopelessly defending the ridge and its delight in anticipation of the carnage it will soon inflict upon them.

Bill somehow finds the strength to fight on, teaming up with other troopers. He fights through the day. Later in the afternoon he hears of Gavin’s command that the 505 will stay and fight, that there will be no retreat. If the Tigers overrun their position, they will hold their ground and attack the German infantry. At hearing the order from his beloved colonel, Bill’s resolve is now galvanized. He will stay and fight. He will avenge his friend. If he dies, then so be it.

In the afternoon, while firing at German infantry from his foxhole Bill watches a Tiger that has broken through the 505ths thin line. He sees troopers die in rapid succession as the immortal tank sprays its bullets at the men with its heavy machine guns. He witnesses the howitzer shoot multiple rounds at the monster and feels retribution as it retreats in the clouds of dust. His voice is among those who cheer at this small victory.

The day is now growing old. Glancing at the sky Bill can see that the scorching Sicilian sun is getting lower, but it won’t set until 8:30pm. Over the past hour the German attacks have become more determined. Like his fellow men, Bill’s ammunition is running low. Now he must make every bullet count. There are holes appearing in the 505’s defensive line making it easier for the Germans to take more and more ground from the paratroopers. Bill’s been fighting all day. He’s drained. He’s feels spent. He is forced to retreat to a position further up the ridge. The Germans now make a very powerful push and are within 50 yards of Gavin’s command post, only a few yards away from Bill’s new fox hole. Just when he thinks his luck has run out he hears the howl of artillery fire followed by earsplitting explosions. The artillery is gratefully coming down on the German positions. He cheers, but can’t hear the sound of his own voice. The navy’s 155mm artillery shells decimate the Germans and in the face of this justice, the menacing Tigers are at last forced to retreat from the ridge. Bill can see them regrouping about a mile away.

It’s impossible for us to comprehend how Bill has gotten this far, let alone understand where he got his strength to participate in Gavin’s final counter attack at 8:30pm. Gavin rallies every man present for this final charge. They all line up on the ridge awaiting the order. Where Bill’s standing, a thick cloud of dust and smoke from the navy shelling has settled with no wind to blow it away. Bill’s local visibility is at best 30 yards. When the command is given, the paratroopers charge screaming and yelling down the western side of Biazza Ridge. Among them, Bill’s gaunt silhouette can be seen momentarily before it vanishes into the haze. Halfway down the slope he reappears barreling down the hill with the other paratroopers. Running out on to the plain they soon encounter machine gun fire, explosions from mortars, and 88mm shells from the Tigers. Bill sees that some men have been unlucky enough to run into Tigers. Through sheer numbers they overwhelm the tanks setting C-4 explosives in their tracks and turrets, disabling them. He pursues the retreating German infantry, who are now running for their lives just ahead of him. He sees a group of three who appear to want to stay and fight. They fire at him with their bolt action Karak 98b rifles. Fuming with vengeance, Bill dispatches them in fluid motions with his M1 Garand. As the Germans flee into the distance Bill hears the call to cease the assault and regroup at the bottom of the ridge. The Germans for now at least have been driven away. Bill sees them off in the distance milling about in confusion.

Walking back up the ridge Bill and a few other men are ordered to form a team to supervise German POWs as they collect the bodies of fallen paratroopers for temporary burial. It’s thankless grisly work and he’s glad to leave when they’ve finished. As he turns around to go he is surprised to see Col. Gavin nearby, looking at the graves. Bill watches him briefly. Gavin, with tears in his eyes, seems to be looking through rather than at markers. He quietly walks away leaving him to grieve in piece.

Bill virtually collapses upon reaching an empty foxhole. For the first time finally there’s a moment to rest. Nothing occupies his mind except a blank dull sense of loss, the feeling of an empty victory, punctuated by flashes of horror. He tries sleeping, but that proves difficult. No one knows for sure if the Germans would regroup and attack again during the night. When he does drop off, the nightmares are unspeakable.

The day of July 11, 1943 never really ended for those troopers who fought at Biazza Ridge. They were doomed to relive it again and again, every day, for the rest of their lives. They would go through all the usual symptoms of trauma victims after the initial shock wore off. They felt anger at the Germans and this fueled a desire to kill more of them.

For Bill it lead directly to his decision to volunteer for the Salerno jump. He would feel guilt for not doing something to save his friend and suffer remorse for not being the one who died. Later, a profound sadness would pervade his mind and stay with him as a constant companion. As is often reported for people in this situation, Bill never befriended another man while he was in the Army. Bill’s sister, Doris said that he purposely never made a close friend in the service after seeing his friend die. She said her father understood why. He had fought in WWI and he had experienced his own close friends perish in war.

Below is a picture of Bill with his buddy before they left for Casablanca.


Bill with his Buddy

The next post will document the progress in discovering the name of the man in this picture. It’s quite probable that he is the same friend who died at Biazza Ridge.

© Copyright Jeffrey Clark 2011 All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Memorial Day Remembrance

As we commemorate those soldiers who died in war since the U.S. Civil War on this upcoming Memorial Day of May 30, 2011, I want to share a poem entitled “Just Folks”, possibly authored by Edgar A. Guest. I found it among some news paper clippings from 1943, kept by Bill’s family when he and his brother Henry went off to fight in World War Two.

It’s a touching poem which to me exquisitely captures the essence of the sacrifices made by those from both sides of  war – on the home front and in the multiple theaters of operations around the world.


Just Folks by edgar A. Guest


Although this poem is entitled “Just Folks” the actual poem with that title written by Guest is completely different. There is a public domain book by the same title and author which can be found at Project Gutenberg. “Just Folks” is the first poem in the book, but the words of the above poem cannot be found anywhere in the volume. Furthermore, nowhere can I find a Guest poem by the title “Do This”. It is possible that the news paper erroneously attributed the work. Whether or not this is a Guest poem is a mystery to me.

Here are some links for more about Edgar A. Guest and his wonderful poetry:

Sofine's Edgar Guest Collection

Academy of American Poets 

Project Gutenberg

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Establishing Bill’s Presence at Biazza Ridge


“The ALLIED airborne operation in Sicily was decisive despite widely scattered drops which must be expected in a night landing. It is my opinion that if it had not been for the allied airborne  forces (82nd) blocking the Herman Goering Armored Division from reaching the beachhead, that Division would have driven the initial seaborne forces back into the sea. I attribute the entire success of the Allied Sicilian Operation to the delaying of German Reserves (by the 82nd Airborne Division) until sufficient forces had been landed by sea to resist the counterattacks by our defending forces (the strength of which had been held in mobile reserve).”

Kurt Student General der Flieger Troops

“[Foot note:-] The above opinion was rendered at the Nuremburg Trials by General Kurt Student  foremost authority in the German army on Airborne Operations. Student commanded the German Airborne Operation on Crete and was Chief of Staff of all German Paratroops from 1943 until his capture by allied forces after the German collapse.” Source: “Saga of the All American: History of the 82nd Airborne Division in World War II”, Dawson, F., 1946 page 92




General Kurt Student

Source: Wikipedia commons,_Bernhard-Hermann_Ramcke,_Kurt_Student_crop.jpg

Bill never talked directly about Biazza Ridge after the war to anyone I know of until near the end of his life. At times I tried to ask him about it, but he always shifted the discussion in other directions. There was one conversation we had when I was 11 years old which I later discovered was related to the battle. My family was visiting the Clark farm in Ohio. During a large family gathering at the farm house, Bill studied me from a distance. He noticed I was alone and bored –  there were no other kids my age around. He approached me and asked if I wanted to go for a drive to see the covered bridges in Preble County. Feeling left out, I gladly accepted.

Bill drove me around to several bridges, all of which were impressive to say the least. We pulled over inside one of them to get out and take a closer look. He really loved those bridges. Bill explained how they were constructed, their immense age, associated maintenance issues, and what a treasure they were to the local community. He told me that he would often go out to one and just sit there to relax and reflect.

After that he fell silent and his eyes drifted. Out of nowhere he started talking anxiously and quickly as if verbalizing an “always on” continuous stream of conscious thought. He spoke mainly of rifle bullets and explosives. He described what a bullet from a 306 rifle can do to a man even from long distances. He gave graphic, detailed descriptions of what can happen to somebody when hit by a high explosive round from a German 88mm gun at close range. It was all stunning to hear. Seeing the torment on his face, I wanted to say something to help ease his pain. Having no way to relate to him, I just quietly listened. Years later the realization dawned that that was exactly what he wanted. I remember feeling deeply saddened for him. To see a person instantaneously turn into a “pink cloud” as Bill put it,  is too great a burden for any man to bear and retain his sanity – which by some miracle he was able to do.

His letter to his sister Doris gives a tantalizing clue that Bill might have fought in the Biazza Ridge battle. From it, we can at least tell that his battalion was in the battle and that therefore, he could have been there. The battalion Bill refers to was sometimes called the 505th Regimental Headquarters Battalion which included the Regimental Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Service Company, and the Medical Detachment. Personnel from that unit fought at Biazza Ridge. We already know that his steps can be traced from where he actually landed to the direction of his original drop zone, which cuts through Biazza Ridge. But the question remains: was he there?

On November 4, 2005, I interviewed Bill’s older brother, Henry Clark about Bill’s war time experiences. Henry served with the US army air corps 47th Liaison Squadron as a mechanic stationed in England, France, and Germany, so he was nearby Bill’s unit in 1944 and 1945. The brothers took advantage of several opportunities to meet one another on recreational leave. During these furloughs, Bill told Henry much of his experiences.

After Bill came back to England from Normandy, Henry wrote a letter home dated 23 July, 1944 concerning Sicily. He wrote from his station at the 47th Liaison Squadron at Heston Aerodrome outside of London, England. Bill had come over from the 505 base at nearby Quorn to visit Henry on a six day furlough. This letter is the most revealing of all Henry’s letters concerning what Bill went through in Sicily and provides further evidence that Bill was at Biazza Ridge.

In one of the interviews with Henry I focused on a good friend of Bill’s – his best buddy – who died during the war. I asked Henry where Bill’s friend had died. Henry told me that his buddy died in Sicily during a battle with tanks:

“Did I tell you what precipitated the tank attack on those guys? A tank has got a glass thing where you can look through made of pretty heavy stuff. These guys were shooting the glass visors out of those German tanks. They [the Germans] got tired of that. All they had to do was put another one in, but they probably got tired of doing that, so they just took after them guys. Bill said that they used an 88 on his buddy [an .88mm gun mounted on the tank]. They had separated, so the guy [tank driver] has to turn around and hunt him, so Bill had a chance. He had an out there. That’s living on the edge. These were Tiger tanks too. They were heavy duty jobs. You couldn’t just shoot them down with anything. You about needed an armor piercing 88 I guess. I used to know that guy’s name because Bill liked him pretty much. It was a big shock for Bill. Bill told me it a couple times – the guy’s name.” Source: Interview with Henry Clark Jr. November 4, 2005

After the interview I handed Henry a list of names of men who died in Sicily and asked him if the man’s name was on the list. Henry couldn’t remember the friend’s name or even if it might be one of the people on the list.



Captured Mark VI Tiger I Tank in Tunisia, North Africa, 1943

The viewer Henry Clark talked about is a slit located opposite the machine gun and underneath the 88mm gun

Source: Wikipedia Commons

As Henry talked my understanding of what actually happened to Bill’s friend was startling because it pointed to Bill’s presence at the Battle of Biazza Ridge. Henry’s memories also concur with the letter mentioned above which he wrote home summarizing Bill’s experiences during Operation HUSKY.

Henry Clark Jr. Letter Home Dated 23 July 1944









Transcript of Henry’s Letter

Pvt. Henry Clark Jr. 15195205

47th Liaison Sqdn APO 6A6

C/O Postmaster New York, New York

Post marked 28 July 1944

Dear folks, [Internal date] July 23rd 1944

You are probably wondering what has become of me as you haven’t been hearing from me very often lately.

I wont try to make any excuses for not writing.

Bill dropped in to see me since I last wrote. He had a six day furlough so he spent five days down here with me.

We had quite a time an a lot of time to talk. Won’t try to tell you everything as it would take a book for that.

He’s still the same guy. The only difference I could see was a “G.I. Haircut”

He has done a lot of fighting in the “E.T.O.” an has three stars in his ribbon plus the “Purple Heart” which he doesn’t wear.

That magazine clipping I sent home outlines his story very well. He says it was the worst for him in Sicily. He hurt his knee there an also lost his gun on the jump, but according to his story he soon got another gun an had some stiff engagements with some of Jerrys panzers. He really has some stories to tell, some of them are amusing an some are not so amusing.

He is definitely a soldier an a good one with a lot of experience behind him. All of this helps out. He says “The first engagement is the hardest.” Bet Pap can vouch for that. Bill will have plenty of stories to tell when he gets home.” [The letter continues, but talks of activities and events concerning the latter part of the war]

As ever.


Henry’s 1944 letter and Bill’s own letter written to his sister in 1945 are proof that Bill was at Biazza Ridge. The only other tank battles fought by the 505 in Sicily occurred nearby west of Biazza Ridge where 1st Battalion 505 was engaging the western kampgruppe of the Hermann Goring Division. Those men fought the smaller, but no less powerful Mark IV Tigers. Bill is clear in his letter to Doris that his battalion fought the larger Mark VI Tigers – the same ones that Col. Gavin’s mixed units (consisting of personnel from Company B of the 307th Combat Engineers, Regimental Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Service Company, as well as G and H Companies) fought at Biazza Ridge.

It’s certain that Bill was there and fought in the battle. From what we now know, the battle can be reconstructed from Bill’s perspective – the subject of the next post.

© Copyright Jeffrey Clark 2011 All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Battle of Biazza Ridge

Operation Husky: Axis Forces in Sicily

In July 1943, the defenses of Sicily were as follows: there were between 200,000 and 300,000 Italian troops; and about 30,000 Germans on the island. The Italian forces were comprised of several divisions with troops spread thinly over the island’s coastal defenses, but they were poorly equipped and suffered from low morale. Most would surrender due to their hatred of the War and Mussolini. The supreme Axis commander for Sicily was General Alfredo Guzzoni. The Axis troops made up the Italian VI Army. It is widely recognized that although the German forces were part of the Italian VI Army, they were firmly under the control of Field Marshall Kesselring the top German commander in Sicily who reported directly to the German high command in Berlin.



Italian General Guzzoni

Source:  “United States Army in World War II Mediterranean Theater of Operations: Sicily and the Surrender of Italy” Garland
A., etal., 1993, page 77. Retrieved May 4, 2011 from

The German defenses were comprised of the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division, stationed near Marsala and Trapani in the Western tip of Sicily and the Hermann Goring Panzer Division which was deployed inland behind the Gela beaches around Niscemi in the east and Biscari (now named Acate) in the west. See Map 1 below.


Invasion Sicily

Map 1: Distribution of Axis and Allied Forces July 10, 1943

Source: “Sicily Campaign”, Birtle, Andrew J., 1993 U.S. Army Center of Military History. Retrieved May 2, 2011, from

The Axis strategists knew they didn’t have enough armed forces to win against an Allied invasion of Sicily and realized that their only hope was to stop an invasion early by pushing the Allies back into the sea before they could gain any foot hold. There were two perceived landing areas, one on the beaches around Gela and the other in the West, near Marsala and Trapani. Field Marshall Kesselring saw the potential of an Allied landing near Marsala and shortly before the invasion convinced General Guzzoni to transfer the 15th Panzer Grenadier’s from Gela to that area. Source: “Sicily Campaign”, Birtle, Andrew J., 1993, U.S. Army Center of Military History, Retrieved May 2, 2011, from


German Field Marshal Kesselring

Source: “United States Army in World War II European Theater of Operations: The Supreme Command”, Pogue F. 1954, Page 212. Retrieved May 4, 2011 from 

The 15th Panzer Division was at full strength, and if they stayed near Gela the outcome could have been very different for the Allies. A “panzer” division is German for an armored division being composed of armored tanks, personnel carriers, infantry, artillery, anti-aircraft units, and signal corps, etc. Designed for Blitzkrieg, (which translates to “lightning war” in English) its units were mobile and mechanized.

The other main German force on Sicily, the Hermann Goring Panzer Division, had its roots as a Nazi police battalion created in 1933 by the then Minister of the Interior, Hermann Goring. It notoriously took part in part in the purge of Hitler’s enemies during the Night of Long Knifes, between June 30 and July 2, 1934. In 1935 it was designated the Regiment General Goring, a component of the Luftwaffe where it trained and served primarily as an anti-aircraft flak unit. In 1942 it was transformed into the Hermann Goring Division, which was composed of 5000 paratroops; the remains of several parachute outfits from campaigns fought on the Eastern Front and Crete. It was sent to Tunisia where after fighting with distinction, it surrendered in May 1943 with scant members escaping to Sicily. At the time of Operation HUSKY, the Hermann Goring Division was re-designated “Panzer-Division Hermann Goring” and was in the process of growing to the size of a true panzer division. Source: “Axis History Facebook”, M. Wendel, 2009. Retrieved May 2, 2011 from

Later during the Italian campaign, the Hermann Goring Division was found to have committed atrocities:

“Evidence has been found to show that a large number of the atrocities in Italy was committed by the Hermann Goering Parachute Panzer Division. Notable offenders also were l Parachute Division, 16 SS Panzer Grenadier Division and 114 Light Division.” Source: “Report of British War Crimes Section of Allied Force Headquarters on German Reprisals for Partisan Activities in Italy” Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression. Volume VIII. USGPO, Washington, 1946/pp.572-582 S. Stein 1999. Retrieved May 2, 2011 from

Later in the War,  The Hermann Goring Division was sent to Poland where on August 4, 1944, it fought in Warsaw as one of the units carrying out  Hitler's orders to destroy the city:

“The Hermann Goering Armored Division advanced into the center of the city, driving civilians in front of its tanks as a protective shield and for the purpose of disassembling the barricades.” Source:  “For over two months...” Gessing, P., 2000, Polish Academic Information Center, University at Buffalo. Retrieved May 2, 2011 from

Even if it had yet to commit these atrocities, one could reasonably surmise that the Division would be expected to be tough and ruthless with its roots as a Nazi police battalion bearing the name of one of the worst Nazi criminals of the War. After HUSKY, the name “Hermann Goring Division” was tantamount to describing a malevolent brutality that would endlessly sear the hearts and torment the minds of the men in the 505 who fought them at Biazza Ridge.

In June of 1943, the Division was being reorganized under the command of General Paul Conrath – the same man who led them in Tunisia. During HUSKY, its reorganization was still in progress so it was under strength and included some unproven personnel. Despite this the division was an inarguably powerful force, being composed approximately of:

  • Over 100 tanks including a company of 17 Mark VI Tiger I heavy tanks from the 215th Tank Battalion,
  • Mobile units of anti tank, anti aircraft, and artillery,
  • Reconnaissance units,
  • 2 infantry battalions, and the
  • 3rd and 4th Fallschirmjager regiments from the 1st Parachute Division.

Sources:On to Berlin” Gavin, J pp 36 – 38, 1978 and “Comando Supremo: Italy at War” (sic), Heddlesten, J. Retrieved May 2, 2011, from

As reported in an earlier blog post, Preparing for Operation HUSKY – Invasion of Sicily the 505 leaders, except for General Omar Bradley  had no idea that the Hermann Goring Division was in the area.



General Paul Conrath Commander of the Herman Goring Division

Source:  “United States Army in World War II Mediterranean Theater of Operations: Sicily and the Surrender of Italy” Garland
A., etal., 1993, page 80. Retrieved May 4, 2011 from

Operation Husky: Allied Forces

An early plan called for the invasion of Sicily at two points simultaneously, one in the northwest corner around Marsala and Trapani and the other in the southeast corner of the island around Gela and Syracuse (see Map 1 above). In these locations there was a natural combination of good landing beaches, ports, and airfields. The Axis opposition to the invasion was expected to be strong because German troops had proved worthy opponents in Tunisia, and this would be the first time the Italians would be defending their own country. This led to General Eisenhower adopting a conservative plan which called for an invasion of Sicily at the Island’s southeastern corner.

The invasion would consist of seaborne landing troops supported by airborne infantry. The British 8th Army under Montgomery was to land on beaches starting at the Pachino Peninsula and ending to the south near Syracuse. The British objectives included capturing the cities of Augusta, Catania, an airfield at Gerbini, and then Messina.

The US 7th Army of which the 82nd Airborne Division was a part was made up of 200,000 men under General Patton. It would land on beaches in the Gulf of Gela. The US 1st Division would land on the beaches directly around Gela. Its job was to capture the adjacent airfields, then move into Niscemi. The 45th Infantry Division would land to the right of the 1st Division on the beaches west of Scoglitti. It was to capture Comiso and Ragusa where it would meet up with the British 8th Army. The 82nd Airborne Division's 505th PIR and 504th PIR 3rd battalion objective was to take and hold the high ground north of the beaches in front of the 1st Division. They were also to take and block the road leading south from Niscemi and the intersection at Piano Lupo called the “Y”. The 3rd Division would land on the beaches around Licata. It was charged with the security of the left flank of the 1st Division. The seaborne Allied invasion forces were to land simultaneously at 02:45am, July 10th 1943. Source: “Sicily 1943”, Birtle A. J. U.S. Army Center of Military History. Retrieved May 4, 2011 from



Gela Beach Looking East toward Scoglitti

Source:  “United States Army in World War II Mediterranean Theater of Operations: Sicily and the Surrender of Italy” Garland
A., etal., 1993, page 90. Retrieved May 4, 2011 from



The Sicilian Coastline looking West from Scoglitti

Source:  “United States Army in World War II Mediterranean Theater of Operations: Sicily and the Surrender of Italy” Garland
A., etal., 1993, page 140. Retrieved May 4, 2011 from

Upon reaching the early objectives of the invasion, the US forces were given somewhat ambiguous orders to support the British push toward Messina. The British general Alexander was the chief planner for the invasion, and he had chosen to leave the details of how to take the rest of the island until after early invasion objectives were reached. When it came time to make these decisions, the US forces were ordered to halt at Highway 124. It was deemed that this road was needed so that the British 8th Army could drive up through the middle of the island. This would make the US 7th Army defunct, a fact that upset the US brass, and in particular General Patton, who had assumed that once successful the US forces would continue to advance along side the British all the way to Messina. Unfortunately for Montgomery, Patton decided to take advantage of the situation by using some of his forces to attack the Germans in the north and west of the British, taking Trapani, Palermo and pushing on to liberate Messina, ultimately reaching the city before Montgomery.

The Axis Response

General Paul Conrath, with his Hermann Goring Panzer Division was in the best possible position to push Patton’s 7th Army invasion force back into the sea on the night of July 9th – 10th. Recognizing the importance of the beaches around Gela and Scoglitti to an Allied invasion he had already deployed his division about 25 miles inland from the invasion beaches (See Map 1 above and Map 2 below). His forces were far enough back to be out of reach from naval guns, but close enough to strike quickly in the event of an amphibious invasion. There was also a road network which gave him two separate approaches to the invasion beaches. One was to the west leading from Niscemi to the beaches where the 1st division was to land. The other was in the east and led from Biscari (Now named Acate) to the beaches where the 45th division would land. Source:Onto Berlin” Gavin, J., 1978, pp. 35-36

Conrath took advantage of the road network and its close proximity to the beaches by dividing his forces into two battle groups, each one was called a “Kampfgruppe”. In the event of an Allied amphibious invasion, the Western Kampfgruppe would attack the beaches around Gela via the Niscemi road, while the Eastern Kampfgruppe would attack the beaches around Scoglitti via Biscari (now named Acate). On its way down to the beaches, the eastern group would pass through Biazza Ridge. Source: Ibid, page 35-36

(Click on the lines and other icons for information about troop concentrations, positions, and movements.)
 News of the imminent  invasion had already reached General Guzzoni in his Axis 6th Army Headquarters before any Allied troops landed. As soon as word reached General Conrath he wasted no time and at 10:00pm on July 9 while Bill’s C-47 was still over the Mediterranean, he alerted his command of the possible Allied invasion around Gela and Scoglitti. However, he quickly ran into problems. By the time subsequent communications were made, Bill had jumped and his fellow paratroopers from the 505 and 3rd battalion of the 504th PIR had cut the communication lines during the night of July 9 and early morning of the 10. Conrath was unable to communicate with any Axis forces including his own, resulting in failure of his units to receive orders. In addition, the 3rd battalion of 504 had landed near its assigned DZ and was attacking columns of Conrath’s Western Kampfgruppe causing confusion and panic. Source:Onto Berlin” Gavin, J., 1978, pp. 35-36

The Axis counter offensive had suffered badly. In part because of the communications failure they missed their opportunity to reach the beaches and stop the landings at Gela. By 2:45am on July 10 the landings by the 1st Infantry Division around Gela and those of the 45th Division were well underway. The landings were a success due in large part to the heroic efforts of the troopers from 1st Battalion, 505. They were able to stop the advance of the counter attacks of the Western Kampfgruppe consisting of Mark IV Tiger tanks and other armor moving along the road from Niscemi towards the beaches around Gela. They also captured the “Y” - a vital road intersection allowing access to the beaches between Niscemi and Gela. Source: Ibid, page 38-41


The “Y” Road Junction Leading to the Invasion Beaches from Niscemi and Vittoria

Source:  “United States Army in World War II Mediterranean Theater of Operations: Sicily and the Surrender of Italy” Garland
A., etal., 1993, page 137. Retrieved May 4, 2011 from



Ponto Drillo, the Causeway over the Acate River – 5 miles from the “Y”. Seized by the 505 on July 10

Source:  “United States Army in World War II Mediterranean Theater of Operations: Sicily and the Surrender of Italy” Garland
A., etal., 1993, page 118. Retrieved May 4, 2011 from

Finally, Field Marshall Kesselring was able to get through to the 6th Army, who relayed the orders for the Hermann Goring Division to continue their attack early on the morning of July 11.  As a result the final attack from the Western Kampfgruppe consisting of German tanks and armor was launched that morning from the Ponte Olivo airfield  - west and out of range of the formidable paratrooper positions - across open flat country toward the invasion beaches. It was stopped on the outskirts of Gela by the veteran 1st Infantry Division. Source: Ibid, page 38-41


Wrecked German Tanks on the Gela Plain after Their Defeat by the 1st Infantry Division

Source:  “United States Army in World War II Mediterranean Theater of Operations: Sicily and the Surrender of Italy” Garland
A., etal., 1993, page 171. Retrieved May 4, 2011 from



Typical Axis Defensive Positions on the Coast Road East of Licata

Source:  “United States Army in World War II Mediterranean Theater of Operations: Sicily and the Surrender of Italy” Garland
A., etal., 1993, page 134. Retrieved May 4, 2011 from

By the afternoon of July 10, the Eastern Kampfgruppe of the Herman Goring Division moved south toward the left and right flanks of the US 45th division beachhead. The force consisted of the 1st panzer Grenadier Regiment (consisting of 2 battalions), one armored artillery battalion, and one heavy panzer company, consisting of 17 Mark VI Tiger I heavy tanks each weighing sixty tons and mounting an 88mm main gun. Source: Ibid, page 35-36

This force amounted to 700 infantry, a battalion of self-propelled artillery, and a company of Tiger tanks. Source: “Sicily 1943”, Birtle A. J., U.S. Army Center of Military History. Retrieved May 2, 2011 from

By the early morning of July 11, the eastern Kampfgruppe was at Biazza Ridge as can be seen in Map 2 above. This is the force that Gavin was going to attack.

 The Battle of Biazza Ridge

Biazza Ridge is a place of honor, a place of respect. In Fort Bragg, there’s a housing development that bears it’s name. This is the place where the famous battle between the Hermann Goring Panzer Division and elements of the 505 took place.

After making a long trek from his actual drop zone, Col. Gavin arrived in Vittoria early on the morning of July 11, where he heard reports that there were paratroopers a few miles to the west. He headed in that direction to find the 3rd Battalion getting organized. Col. Krause, the 3rd Battalion commander, told Gavin that there were Germans between their position and Gela, where the 45th Division was engaging them. Gavin took a platoon of 307th combat engineers and headed west on the highway leading from Vittoria to Gela. Soon he heard gun fire and continued down the road. At this time it was about 8:30am. He reached a point where a railway crossed the road and saw Biazza Ridge in front of him about half a mile away and 100 feet high with a gradual slope to the east. The firing he had heard earlier was coming from the ridge and its intensity was increasing. The firing was from Germans of the Hermann Goring Division and the 180th US Infantry. They had engaged each other on the west side of the ridge south of the highway. The Germans were occupying the ridge. Gavin deployed his platoon of engineers ordering them to take the ridge. He then sent for 3rd battalion and they came. Source: “Onto Berlin” Gavin, J., 1978 page 28


505 Troopers Advancing on Biazza Ridge, Morning July 11

Source:  “United States Army in World War II Mediterranean Theater of Operations: Sicily and the Surrender of Italy” Garland
A., etal., 1993, page 166. Retrieved May 4, 2011 from

“As Company G, 505th, leading the 3rd Battalion, swept across the ground in front of the ridge, pinned down engineers and headquarters troopers jumped to their feet and joined in the assault up the Eastern slope.” Source:All American All the Way” Nordyke, P., 2005, page 74

The ridge was soon captured because the German’s pulled back in front of the Company G attack that contained troopers from Regimental Headquarters Company. Source: Ibid page 74. Several riggers were also present in the initial attack and Bill could well have been one of them:

“The American Parachutists, a hodgepodge collection of engineers, cooks, orderlies, riggers, clerks, and riflemen, had no field guns, antitank guns or tanks and would be vastly outnumbered in the looming confrontation.”  Source: Breurer, W., “Drop Zone Sicily: Allied Airborne Strike, July 1943”, 1983, page 138


Biazza ridge Sicily Invasion—U.S. paratroopers advancing through the Sicilian countryside after night landing. Gela, Sicily. Photos taken by the US Army Signal Corps during World War II

505 Troopers on top of Biazza Ridge, July 11

Image Source: The U.S. Army Military History Institute. Retrieved May 2, 2011 from

Credit: WWII Army Signal Corps

The troopers pushed the Germans over the top and down the western slope of the ridge. Fire intensified with mortars, artillery and machine guns. The Germans swiftly counterattacked, and the troopers were forced back over the ridge’s crest. At that point Company H took over the attack from Company G. They were ordered to fix bayonets and then charged over the ridge engaging the Germans in bloody hand to hand combat, killing many of them and forcing a German retreat. Sometime at this point the men on the ridge first heard the German tanks. The troopers on the ridge chased the Germans down the western side. The Germans counterattacked again, using tanks in addition to the infantry. The tanks were Mark VI Tiger tanks each equipped with an 88mm cannon. There were 17 of them. The tanks began firing at individual troopers with their 88mm cannons. Source:All American All the Way” Nordyke, P., 2005, page 74 - 75

“Sergeant Bill Bishop, with Company G, hadn’t had enough time to dig a slit trench, when one of the Mark VI tanks came up the gentle slope toward him, suddenly stopping close by.Me and a fellow named Duke Boswell were laying within two or three feet from the tank treads in a small ditch. They would shoot at a single man with the 88’s they had on those tanks. They killed a bunch of people with that 88. They ran over one man’s legs. Of course he died from shock. His name was [Sergeant] Gerald Ludlam.’” Source: Ibid Page 76

Col. Gavin later commented on the power of a Tiger tank:

“A Tiger tank is an awesome thing to encounter in combat. Weighing more than 60 tons, armed with an 88 mm. gun and machine guns, it was far more formidable than anything we had ever seen, and we had nothing in our own armored forces to compare with it.” Source: “Onto Berlin” Gavin, J., 1978 page  31


Mark VI “Tiger I” Heavy Battle Tank in Sicily, 1943

Source: Wikipedia Commons,_Sizilien,_Panzer_VI_%28Tiger_I%29.jpg

A review of the Tiger VI technical specifications reveals its terrible power. The PzKpfw, Mark VI Tiger I Heavy Battle Tank, coded by the German Army as the “SdKfz 181”, commonly known as a “Tiger I” had a crew of 5 and was in service from 1942 - 1945. Boasting a 88mm gun mounted on its swiveling turret, the Tigers must have seemed like mobile artillery to the men of the Allied units who encountered them. They had two MG 34 792mm machine guns, one in the turret and the other on the front of the hull. The tank’s defensive armor was 1.02” thick (26mm) at its minimum and 4.33” (100mm) at its maximum. At 27 feet long (8.25m), 12’3” (3.73 m) wide, and 9’4” (2.85m) tall, the Tiger Mark VI was one of the most massive tanks of the entire war.

It weighed an enormous 121,253 lb (55,000 Kg) yielding a ground pressure of 14.8 lb/in2 (1.04 Kg/cm2). But for all of its weight, the Tiger I was fast enough and had a long range. It boasted road speeds of 24 MPH (38 KM/h), cross country speeds of 12 MPH (20KM/h) and a maximum range of 62 miles (100 KM). The tank’s field agility was equally impressive, as it was able to drive over any reinforced vertical obstacle standing 2’7” (80cm high) and move through trenches as deep as 5’11” (1.8m). Its fording depth was 4’ (1.2m). Rounding out its agility, the weapon could tackle gradients as steep as 35 degrees. All these reasons made the  Tiger I one of the most fearsome Blitzkrieg weapons in the German arsenal. After the “King Tiger” manufactured in 1944 for the Russian Front it was the most powerful tank of WWII. It’s easy to see why the German tank crews driving them felt invincible. Source:Tanks of the World”, Miller D., 2000, pp. 121-122

The 505 troopers were using bazooka teams to try and take out the tanks. A bazooka team consisted of two men. One loaded the shell into the bazooka and the other man took aim and fired. The operation took time to perform. From the time a bazooka team got into their position, loaded, aimed, and fired, they were exposed and vulnerable. The tanks took advantage of this by turning their 88mm cannons on the bazooka teams and blowing them away. The Tigers also had machine guns mounted and would use these with devastating effect on the pinned down troopers. Source:All American All the Way” Nordyke, P., 2005, pp. 76-77

At this point the German tanks and infantry couldn’t break through the 505 line. The tanks would run low of ammunition and needed to periodically fall back to supply teams to replenish. Moreover, the 505 held the high ground on the ridge making it difficult for the German infantry to take the hill even with the tank support.

As the battle progressed, wounded troopers were arriving in increasing numbers all telling of how the Tigers were firing at individuals with their 88s. German prisoners were coming back too:

“They said they were from the Hermann Goring Parachute Panzer Division. I remember one of them asking if we had fought with the Japanese in the Pacific; he said he asked because the paratroopers had fought so hard.” Source: “Onto Berlin” Gavin, J., 1978, page 30

The Tiger supported infantry attacks continued until the afternoon of July 11. During the day small groups of troopers were arriving and as they came in they were sent to the front line to reinforce the men on the ridge.  Even with all the new arrivals, it wasn’t going to be enough because the 505 didn’t have any heavy weapons to deal with the Tigers and infantry alone couldn’t destroy them. Gavin was determined to hold the ridge. He resolved that if the tanks overran their position, they would remain on the ridge and engage the German infantry. The tanks would have continued on to the beach in an attempt to push the 45th Division back into the sea. Source: Ibid page 77-78

In the letter to his sister, Bill writes:

“This all took place on one of those dark days that my battalion was fighting 13 “Mark 6” or “tiger tanks” with 30 caliber rifles an two 75 m.m Howitzers.” Source: William Clark, Letter to his Sister, Doris Clark, June 13th 1945, page 2-3

Gavin had insisted on parachuting with two pack 75mm howitzers. These were the same weapons that Bill mentioned in his letter. At this point, Col. Gavin got the howitzers and placed them in camouflaged positions just underneath the eastern side of the ridge. When the tanks got to the top of the ridge they would have their softer undersides exposed. This is when the howitzers would open fire aiming at their underside, hopefully taking them out.

By the time the howitzers were in place, one tank had broken through the lines and was chewing up the troopers. One of the howitzer teams took shots at it, and it retreated. Due to the smoke and dust from the howitzer attack, it was unclear what, if any damage was sustained by the retreating Tiger.

A little later at about 4:00pm, the Tigers were advancing and had come to within 50 yards of Gavin’s command post. It looked like they were going to crest the ridge and overrun the 505 entirely. At that moment, Gavin’s men were able communicate with the Navy and they called in an artillery barrage from the 155 mm Naval guns. Following the intense bombardment, the Germans withdrew and regrouped about a mile away. By about 6:00pm word came that reinforcements were coming. They arrived around 7:00pm consisting of Sherman tanks from the 45th Infantry Division and about 50 more paratroopers from Regimental Headquarters Company led by Lt. Swingler of the Service Company.

With the additional troopers and heavy artillery, Gavin decided to counterattack in order to strengthen their position in the event that the Germans decided to attack again. At around 8:30pm the 505 attacked with everyone that was present including:

“….regimental clerks, cooks, truck drivers, everyone who could carry a rifle or carbine was in the attack.” Source:All American All the Way” Nordyke, P., 2005 page 81

Although the troopers were under fierce fire from the Tigers, machine guns, mortars and small arms the attack was successful, and the Germans retreated thus ending the battle of Biazza Ridge. During the fight, Lt. Swingler came upon a Tiger sitting in the road with its crew outside. He dropped a grenade among them and the explosion killed all of them. It was the first Tiger captured during the battle.

In the aftermath, men were picked to dig graves and the fallen paratroopers were temporarily buried.

“Head bowed in prayer, Capt. Al Ireland peeked at the resolute regimental commander who stood looking down at the graves. There were tears in Colonel Gavin’s eyes.” Source: Breurer, W., “Drop Zone Sicily: Allied Airborne Strike, July 1943”, 1983, page 139


Col. Gavin (Right) at Biazza Ridge Morning of July 11

Source:  “United States Army in World War II Mediterranean Theater of Operations: Sicily and the Surrender of Italy” Garland
A., etal., 1993, page 169. Retrieved May 4, 2011 from


Below is a newspaper article from my collection that gives a good summary of the participation of paratroopers in the Sicily invasion. The way it reads, it’s certainly recounting the actions of the 505. The team commander referred to is Col. Gavin.



Newspaper Article summarizing the paratroopers’ participation in the invasion.

Source: Dayton Herald, circa July 12 1943


The next post will focus on establishing Bill’s presence and reconstructing his participation in the battle of Biazza Ridge.

© Copyright Jeffrey Clark 2011 All Rights Reserved.