Personal Stories

At War — Sicily

Northward across the Mediterranean pointed the Allied path toward victory. Modern three-dimensional war was giving the lie to ancient history’s lessons against Mediterranean northbound invasion. Precept had not reckoned with air power. The Ninth Air Force moved into the island-conquering, pre-invasion phase without rest from Tunisia. Coordinating with the North African air, land and sea forces, the Ninth shared heavily in the actions that brought the fall of Pantelleria the impregnable, and in rapid succession, Lampedusa and Linosa.

The Fifty-Seventh was ordered to prepare for the impending invasion of Europe, with Sicily as the first stepping-stone, and “A” party moved to Bou Grara, L.G., Tunisia to waterproof vehicles and equipment for an amphibious landing operation. Meanwhile “B” party operated from Cape Bon, bombing Pantelleria and Lampedusa, and assisting greatly in the surrender of their garrisons. Cape Bon was a “scroungers paradise” as the evacuating enemy forces left equipment everywhere. Every fifty feet along the road lay a German truck, jeep or trailer, and the men in the Group soon were riding around in eight-cylinder reconnaissance cars and Renault convertible coupes. German generators hummed in the camp nightly, supplying power for lights and music furnished by Herr Rommel’s radios. It was amusing to tune a German radio to the German propaganda station in Berlin and hear Sally-talk about the “Butchers of the Fifty-Seventh.” Later in the month the two parties met at Causeway, Tunisia, and after a few short days “A” party moved to a rocky camp on Malta, “the Gem of the Mediterranean.” There the men saw the sights, watched the tremendous quantities of invasion material pile up, slept on the ground under pup tents, and awaited D Day.

Fighters of the Ninth during May flew 2,182 sorties on 162 missions. This was during a period when many American fighter pilots with hundreds of operational hours accumulated in the long desert drive were being returned to America to teach or to head new units being trained for war.

The Eighth Army invaded Sicily on July 10 and nine days later “A” party landed at Pachino, Sicily, driving through the surf onto the beach in typical newsreel style. Soon the entire unit was flying from one of the Gerbini airstrips south of Catania, hitting enemy movement in the northern end of the island. The airfield was close to the fierce battle-taking place on the plains of Catania and the Group sweat out several night attacks of the Luftwaffe, luckily escaping one, which destroyed many men and airplanes on an adjacent British field. The unit lived in an orange grove and for the first time had fresh vegetables with meals. Wine was plentiful there at Scordia and a huge barrel was on tap outside of the mens’ day room every evening.


A veteran of 114 fighter plane combat missions Captain James Hadnot, while on leave to the U.S., listed as one of his most unique experiences his flying of three captured German Me-109’s taken on Sicily.

He said in a news interview, “During the Sicilian campaign one German airport was captured so quickly the Germans didn’t have time to destroy three of the Me-109’s on the field. After these planes were painted a bright yellow and given Army markings for easy identification they were turned over to the 57th for trial.” As soon as he mastered the technique of flying them – and according to Jimmy they take special handling – he in turn instructed other pilots in their use. The planes were not modified in any way, the instrument markings were left in German and on occasions German gasoline was used in them for more accurate competitive performance.

Using the captured German planes selected pilots flew them in combat and simulated “dogfights” with pilots in American planes so our men would be familiar with the abilities and weaknesses of the Me-109’s.

Before mid 1943, the African Campaign was the “only game in town” from the U.S. public’s point of view. With that campaign over, the Pantelleria operation finished and the Sicily action drawing to a close, the public’s attention was being drawn to England where American forces had been building up. The softening up of the enemy had begun in preparation for D-Day, which was to occur a year later. The Ninth Air Force was being transferred to England with much of the press corps following them. The 12th Air Force, which had entered Africa through Morroco on the west coast, had supported the American ground forces entering Africa, also from the west, near the end of 1942, remained in the Mediterranean to support the Italian campaign. On August 22, 1943, the 57th was transferred to it.