Secrets and my Recollections of World War II - Changes

Secrets and my Recollections of World War II

Gardner L. Friedlander 1990, 2000


The Germans retreated to a line north of Naples, with Mt. Cassino near the center. I was off scouting in the mountains for a radar location when I noticed a barber shop in a village. We all (the driver, a technical sergeant, and I) were dead tired, but decided a shave and a haircut was just what was needed. The driver stayed with the .50 caliber machine gun mounted on the jeep; the sergeant took a chair in the back corner of the room, his Tommy gun in the ready position, and I took the barber chair first. The barber was scared, but he did a faultless job on each of us in turn as we rotated positions, and was rewarded by being paid in American gold seal dollars (good only in areas of occupation).

On return to the ops room, we found our trip was in vain. Our British friends and their radars (and Peeper) were already gone, to the east coast of Italy. The west coast was all American, and would continue so; the east, British. We had received replacement radars (SCR 584's), and sixty or so technicians, guards, cooks, and other support personnel to run and maintain each of them. This was a big change, to the newest thing developed by the gang we had trained with in England and other wizards. The presentation of information was on a big PPI tube, like a 25 inch TV screen, much more accurate and easier to interpret than the replaced sets.

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The radars were UHF, about 1 cm. wave length; the replaced British sets, about 2 foot wave length. The transmitters were powered by magnetrons, similar to the power unit in a micro-wave oven, and the whole technique new. The operations manual was a book the size and weight of a big city telephone directory, and I never did more than thumb through it. I really was never acquainted with the technical aspects, but didn't have to be, for each set came equipped with a second lieutenant who was. Each set was mounted in a van; the antenna was on an elevator that was lowered when the set was to be moved. No more getting a radar set off a truck, setting it up on the ground and draping a tent around it!

We started getting better equipment, trucks, radios. The port of Naples made possible getting fresh food to us  although we understood that a full one third of all tonnage landed in the first six months ended up in the local black markets.

Our ops room and living quarters were in a villa about half way between Naples and the Isle of Capri, overlooking the Bay of Naples, and we had a spectacular view - especially when there was an air raid. The villa was a luxurious one, lots of bath rooms and RUNNING water.

More changes: Our battalion commander (the West Point colonel) left us for another assignment, and the executive officer, an old National Guard military police major, took command. Then a change that affected me: one of the company commanders and the battalion adjutant (both of whom had been at these jobs since the outfit had been formed in the United States) became sick and were sent home. I took over BOTH jobs in a period of a few months. My operations room experiences came to an end. I moved to battalion headquarters east of Naples in the town of Frattamaggiore. There we even had an officers' mess located in a house near the school which was HQ. We junior officers slept in a mobile Quonset hut; the men, in school rooms.

Signal from General Spatz
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John Graves had been with me a good part of my stay in England, and we had gone through the whole war since then in parallel capacities (though, for instance, he was in Algiers when I was in Oran). He slept immediately next to me in the Quonset (although he had not been as fortunate as I to get a cot.) He went on sick call one day, and died the next, of spinal meningitis. That shook us up, but no one else got infected.

My company "B" had two radars, each with about 60 men and an officer, and fifteen or so observer units. Each observer crew had three to seven men (depending on the assignment), one a non-com, with radios mounted in a jeep. The radios were first class; they could talk to planes on their frequencies, and could communicate to the operations room (usually by long wave, CW [code]). Later, in France, some of the crews got half track armored vehicles, and went with armored divisions or spear-head units. When fully manned, I had 200 enlisted men (including my headquarters staff) and was supposed to have 6 officers, which I never had. Maybe I was too choosy, but the officers sent me from the replacement depots never seemed to fit in. My noncoms were more competent than the replacement officers. A good part of the time I was the only officer at the company headquarters.

We Outsmarted Them on Radar
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Our whole battalion went inactive, relieved by the 593rd SAW Battalion fresh from the U.S. For a week or so, the only excitement was when an army bakery half a block from our school-HQ was hit by a stray bomb. Their ovens were gasoline heated, and the spare gas drums exploded in a spectacular manner, usually going fifty or 100 feet up before banging like sky rockets.

I got a 3 day pass, my first since the wedding in Bristol, England. The U.S.O. had set up a R & R (rest and recreation) unit on the Isle of Capri, and it sounded delightful. The navy provided a launch to get there. After four hours of playing ping-pong and reading cowboy magazines and comic books, and four hours of wandering the streets in the rain, I had had enough. The food was not as good as that in our own mess. I left on the next launch, probably 48 hours after arrival.

I don't know where the Red Cross girls and the U.S.O. shows were, but up to the time I hit Capri, I had not seen either, except the Red Cross girls and their doughnuts were at the airfield when we went to see Churchill. Later, after the breakout from Anzio, we did see a Bob Hope show, with Frances Langford. At the Capri officers' mess there were a couple of Red Cross girls, but they had eyes only for men of field rank or higher. It was some years after my return to civilian life that I contributed one cent to the Red Cross.

With one day left of my three day pass I wandered the Naples waterfront, and found a man willing to hire his sail boat to me, so long as I would take along his son to "skipper". The boy never touched the tiller, but I had a grand sail.

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We had a big operational change about this time. Perhaps because of the ineptness of our new commander, the "retreaded" WWI Military Police major, or for an unknown reason, our battalion lost control. We were no longer independent, but subordinate in a variety of ways to the Air Corps. One of the trained-in-England radar officers came back as an Air Corp major, part of the 12th Air Corps Tactical Air command staff, and he became the tactical boss of our radar.  He was excellent. We no longer chose the locations for our radars, or positions for the ground observers. In the ops room, the radar officers had much less authority, and even the determination of "friend or foe" went to the Air Corps duty officer.

As a company commander, this relieved me of the technical responsibility of siting the radars, but not of the day to day responsibilities. Wherever my men were, I still had to see that they were fed, housed, got their mail, and that they were doing their jobs. If a radar (or truck) part or pair of pants was needed, that was up to me. They were still my men, to promote or (seldom) admonish. One job I never was happy with was to write a letter of sympathy to next of kin.

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Gardner L. Friedlander 1990, 2000
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