"Let's Get Outta Here!
That's the Object When Unloading at Anzio"
By: Ernie Pyle
April 22, 1944
The greatest apprehension I've found in the
Anzio-Mettuno area is not among the men on shore who have been under it
constantly for weeks, but among the crews of ships that sit out in the
It takes several days to unload a big freighter,
and during all that time they are subject to shelling from land and air
raids from the sky. Their situation I'll admit, is not an enviable
It's true that few of them get hit, considering
the amount of shooting the Germans do out there. Yet there is always
the possibility. And what gives them the creeps is when they're sitting
on a ship full of ammunition or high explosives.
The crew of these big freighters are members
of the Merchant Marines. They merely operate the ship. They
don't do the stevedoring work of unloading. That's done by soldiers.
They have a good system for that. At
Naples a whole company of port battalion soldiers is put on each ship just
before it sails. They make the trip up and back with the vessel,
do the unloading at Anzio, and when they return to Naples they go back
to their regular dock jobs there. A different company goes aboard
for the next trip.
The result is that each one-time unloading
crew is so anxious to get unloaded and get out of Anzio that everyone works
with a vim and the material flies.
NEW SYSTEM WORKS
Up until a few weeks ago all unloading was
done by port battalion groups based at Anzio. As soon as the crew
finished one ship, it would have time to go to work on another. There
wasn't any end to it. The boys just felt they couldn't win.
Since the new system went into effect, efficiency has shot up like a rocket.
The bigger ships are unloaded just as they
would be a the dock, with winched hoisting out big netfuls of cargo from
the deep holds and swinging them over the sides and letting them down -
not onto a dock, however, but into flat-bottom LCT's which carry the stuff
to the beaches.
Each hold has a dozen or so men working below,
plus the winch crew and the signal men. They are all soldiers.
They work in 12-hour shifts, but they get intervals of rest.
I was aboard one Liberty Ship about 10AM.
All five hatches were bringing up stuff. You could lean over and
watch the men down below piling up ration boxes.
And on the deck immediately below us you could
see scores of other soldiers trying to sleep, the deafening noise of the
winches making no difference to them. They were the night shift.
They slept on folding cots between blankets, with their clothes on.
One crew boss was Sgt. Sam Lynch, of Wilmington,
Delaware. He is a veteran soldier, having served four months in the
Arctic and 14 months on this side. Before the war he was a fireman
on the Pennsylvania Railroad and later railway mail clerk. He is
married and has one child.
I asked him how he liked coming up to Anzio
on a ship and he said he didn't like it too well. "The trouble is,"
he said, "that you feel so darned defenseless. If you could just
man a gun and shoot back it wouldn't be so bad."
But the Navy operates the gun crews aboard
all these freight ships and the soldiers can only sit there idle and sweat
it out when bombs or shells start flying.
IN HIGH GEAR
You should see the work when the ship is about
finished and it looks like though they might not get through in time for
the next convoy.
They laugh and tell a story about one ship
which finished 45 minutes after the convoy started. The skipper pulled
anchor and started chasing the convoy. The Navy radioed him orders
to stop and wait. But this fellow kept right on going. He simple
figured he rather face disciplinary action at Naples than German bombers
for one more night at Anzio.
The Navy's premise was that he was in greater
danger from German subs and E-boats while running alone after the convoy
than he would be from another night at Anzio. They have it all figured
out by percentages, and they are right.
But this fellow was lucky and caught up with
the convoy. I never heard what his superiors did when he got there,
but I bet they didn't invite him out for a round of golf.
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