Robertson Bruce Graham
A WWII Remembrance-Part VI
Submitted by: Randy Graham © July 2003 Roseville, CA
Back In Action – Part 1
Five to six weeks after being wounded, dad was in the air again and participating in a raid over Messina, Sicily. Four days after this raid, June 22, 1943, dad writes to Gran and John R. about being back in combat and the African summers. He says, "Things are well under control, again, by young Graham. My arm is all healed up now, and I'm back in combat. In fact, I've already made one mission. Sure was sweating it out, too. Never have felt so nervous in my life.
"On that raid, I flew with Capt. Emerson, our Squadron Flight Commander, in lead ship. He likes the way I fly so well he has put me on his crew. Sure is a break for me. It's a wonderful position to fly, but has the most responsibilities. It makes me rank second on the battle board as far as responsibilities go. "African summer is well on its way, now. It's hotter than the devil these days. Bugs, flies, and all kinds of insects are coming from everywhere. The cootie season is just about here now, too, and we are sweating it out. I found three on me yesterday. Hope I never get any more than that! They bite like hell."
In another letter to Gran and John R. dated July 2, 1943, dad complains about the African weather. He says, "Everything is fine over here, except Africa itself. The temperature has been no less than 120 every day and often as high as 125. The nights are cool and comfortable, though, so we sleep well. The bugs and flies are a great nuisance here - and the ants! Such big things!
"Enemy aerial resistance is getting stiffer over here especially over Italy itself. Still, with what they expect, it has not increased proportionately. We've been pounding hell out of their air force, through both bombings and by our gunners on the plane. They can't keep replacing such tremendous loses very long without seriously weakening the Russian front, and their whole damned Luftwaffe. Won't be long now. You watch!"
In a letter to Gran and John R. dated July 13, 1943, dad mentions the invasion of Sicily as seen from the air at 20,000 feet. The successful invasion of Sicily was very important to the Allied efforts in securing the Mediterranean and launching an assault on Italy and Southern France.
In Land Battles: North Africa, Sicily and Italy, the importance of this invasion is explained: "The location of Sicily made it very important to Allied strategy. The island extends southwestward from Italy to within ninety miles of the coast of Tunisia. Here the Sicilian channel divides the Mediterranean into two basins, east and west. So long as the Axis air and submarine forces could be based in Sicily, the Allies could not open the 'lifeline' from England to Asia, through the Suez Canal.
"Sicily was also important to the Allies as a possible stepping stone for further attacks against the Axis in Italy and Southern France. The conquest of Tunisia provided the Allies with a number of seaports and air bases from which to mount and support an amphibious attack across the Sicilian channel. And once the island of Sicily was in Allied possession, its seaports and airfields would then be useful for the next short overwater jump to invade Italy itself."
The invasion of Sicily began just before dawn on Saturday, July 10. Dad participated by bombing Gerbini, Sicily on July 5, 6, and 8 and on the day of the invasion, July 10. He writes "I saw - from 20,000 feet Saturday - what the entire world has been waiting for. The invasion of Europe! What a sight! I'll never forget it, believe me! All I can tell you is that I saw it. You'll have to obtain details from the papers and radio. History was sure in the making that day!"
On July 14, dad participated in a raid over Messina, Sicily. The next day, and again on the 17th, he bombed Naples, Italy. On the 19th, he bombed the San Lorenzo marshaling yards in the city of Rome, in preparation of the land invasion to follow in September. He mentions this raid in a letter to Gran and John R. dated July 29, 1943. He writes "Will get off a letter to you before it gets too damn hot to write...You asked about how many missions I have. We never say anything about them, or mention anything about coming home - the fellows are superstitious that way, myself included figures it brings you bad luck. So you just have to sweat us out, like we do. Understand?
"Our squadron was the first one over in the now historic Rome raid, and my ship was the fourth. It was quite a sight. If any of the Italians in [Santa Cruz] are disturbed, tell them that we bombed strictly military targets. I know, because I saw every bomb drop, as I was one of the first over the target. The Vatican was plain as day, and couldn't be mistaken. Our nearest target to the Vatican was four miles away. With our super-precision bombing, we never miss our targets over a few hundred feet, and then only because of bad clouds over the target.
"So please assure anyone disturbed by the bombing of the Eternal City, that not a bomb went astray. That raid was by far our best bombing to date in the war. All historic and cultural landmarks were very carefully outlined on our target maps, and we were given strict instructions not to drop our bombs if we weren't sure they would hit the target. I might say, we knocked hell out of our target - completely destroyed so much, we won't have to return for some time."
"Enemy resistance over Rome was practically negligible. Very ineffective much to our surprise. We anticipated a heavy barrage of flak, and the entire Italian Air Force to try to stop us (we had no fighter escort of our own) but we were greatly disappointed. They must have been taken by surprise. Only a few days before the great Rome raid, I saw the invasion of Sicily from 20,000 feet. What a sight! From that altitude, we could see the entire 100-mile front. I'll never forget it.
"Mussolini's resignation has made us all very happy over here. We can figure it as the first crumbling of the Axis war - the rest will fall in short order. Our forces have not by far reached their tremendous striking power. What will happen when we do?"
By the time this letter reached Gran and John R., dad had participated in two more raids: one on July 21 over Grosetto, Italy and the other on July 23 over Leverano, Italy. Dad wrote a letter to a local Merced columnist, Vic Reich, concerning his experiences Vic published the letter in the Merced Bee as follows:
"We have mentioned Lieutenant Bruce Graham in this column several times in recent months because Bruce is a local boy who is making good in a big way piloting a big army bomber over on the Mediterranean war front
"The much decorated flyer is just like one of the family at the Express Office because he used to work here when he was a youngster in high school and never failed to drop in for a visit on his return home since leaving Merced
"All of which is leading up to say we received a letter from Bruce this morning which makes such interesting reading that we feel sure you will enjoy sharing it with us. So here it is:
"'Friday, July 16, 1943. Dear Vic - I've been trying to get a letter off to you for considerable time now, Vic. Today I finally got a rest, so I decided I'd better take advantage of my free time. Mother sent your column to me. The one you published letters to John R. and my sister. I appreciate the swell write up Vic.
'Mom and my wife are making scrap books for posterity, and I'm sure future Grahams will enjoy that column more than anything. As I've said many times before, the Red Cross is truly indispensable here. The American public can be rightly praised for sponsoring such an organization. Again, I want to thank you for your recognition of the A.R.C. in your column. You and Rad Radcliffe are in good positions to give such information to the public. I feel as though enough can't be done to publicize their morale-building work in hellholes like this.
'I hear Baker (scoop) is back with you once again. I've written the son-of-a-gun, but guess he has not received my letter. Tell him to take time out to dash off a few lines to an old buddy. Is Stan still with you, or is he wearing G.I. stuff now too?
'By now you must have had all the public details on our invasion of Sicily. I was there, by gum, and saw it all from 20,000 feet. Our job was to blast the hell out of a few still serviceable airfields and I don't mind saying we did one of our best bombings. Undoubtedly no resistance to the invasion will ever come from those fields again.
'I'd give anything to tell you what I saw, etc., but am afraid of censorship. However, it was an inspiring scene and brilliantly executed and timed. As you know, they invaded a 100-mile front, and from my view I could see the whole 100 miles. In fact, we could see all of Sicily, and the toe of doomed Italy.
'We've got no easy assignment over here, Vic. And don't be fooled by the wishful thinkers that the Italian's can't fight. In the air, they are plenty tough, and have ample guts. I know - I was wounded by an Italian fighter that couldn't be scared off by my gunners. And now, with the invasion of their homeland, they are getting twice as tough. You know the weakest guy in the world is going to put up a damn good battle when you try to drive your car through his house.
'However, its got to be done and it shall be! We promise. If the Italians only knew how much better off they'd be with our troops instead of Hitler's thieving Gestapo, they'd welcome us. Our prisoners are treated first class - we know, because we've had to give up half our rations to feed them. And we are fed better than any army is in history.
'An item concerning German treatment of our wounded officers and men they captured might make interesting copy for your sheet. While I was convalescing in the hospital from my wound, three American officers - a major, a captain and a lieutenant - were brought in. They had been wounded in action at the front, and fell into German hands.
'They were shot by machine gun fire while on reconnaissance in a jeep. As soon as they were hit, the Germans rushed them to a hospital and apologized unceasingly for having to wound them so badly. Of course that may all be so much baloney, but the major said they sounded sincere.
'At the German hospital they were given the best of care and comfort but were not subjected to severe questioning or interrogation. When Tunis fell, every German fled but the hospital staff and attendants. When the English finally got around to looking over the hospital, the Germans voluntarily surrendered all arms, and asked permission to continue their duties - a request they promptly received, and with only a handful of English Tommies for guards.
'The wounded lieutenant had to have his left foot amputated above the ankle. The American surgeons say it's as beautiful an amputation as they've ever seen. The German prisoners, as a whole, think the Americans are very selfish and stupid. Good only for business and mechanical achievement. The more educated say we are 25 years behind Germany in science (physics and chemistry) and medicine. They give much credit to our air forces and respect the flying fortress with fear and admiration.
'I understand there are quite a few fellows over here from Merced but so far I've run into none of them. Sure would give a month's check to see a familiar face again! Tell the natives at home not to grippe about the hot weather, Vic. Home was never like this. It's so hot here that I threw a bucket of water on the ground and before I could turn around, it had evaporated without any trace.
'The temperature is never any lower than 120 degrees F., and it's getting hotter every day. Next month we expect it to reach 130 and 135 - and there are no trees for miles. Our one salvation is cool nights. We always use a blanket or two to sleep under. No one complains, believe it or not. Every one is so busy we don't notice it too much.
'I'd better close for now. I've rambled on for quite a time. My regards to all. If you get a chance, please write. As ever, Bruce Graham.'"
To be continued . . .
Submitted by: Randy Graham © July 2003 Roseville, CA
Published in U S Legacies Magazine October 2004