May 13, 1944
On May 9th, 1944, at 2300 hours, the big offensive in Italy was begun. And today, less than thirty-six hours after the first barrage was laid down on the land front, the USS Brooklyn made her appearance behind German lines at Gaeta.
Between the hours of 0900 and 1500, her main batteries roared out her furious messages to the Axis positions implanted in the mountains behind the small city of Gaeta.
Last night, May 12th, we were in the harbor of Naples, and word was rumored that we would bombard Gaeta on the following day. We moved from Naples to the comparative safety of Sorrento.
This place, Sorrento, lies in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius, and from our ship we can see the ruins of what was once the city of Pompeii.
At 0400 hours this morning, May 13, we weighed anchor and with our two escorts, the destroyers Kearny and Ericsson, made full speed towards our objective. We made our arrival at 0830 hours, but as our spotting planes were not in the area, we did not get our bombardment niceties until shortly after 0900 hours. Communications once established, our guns began thundering out their shells. For the first one hundred fifty rounds, we saw no hint of retaliation. But before the next fifty rounds were expended, their were large splashes noted in the area of the ships. They were not ranging very near, and consequently there was little anxiety felt amongst the sailors who were manning the three American warships. After the firing of two hundred rounds of our high explosive projectiles, we retired for a short time to partake of field rations.
Returning to the bombardment tasks, we again began hurling our destruction into the heavy gun emplacements of the Germans. We had fired but little more than fifty rounds when the big guns of the Nazis were putting salvos dangerously close to both our cruiser and one of the destroyers.
The Kearny at once began laying down a heavy smoke screen to cover the Brooklyn, and from this blanketing security, we again started to shell their positions. But the big guns on the beach were ranging so close that shrapnel from their exploding bursts was spraying our ship.
Knowing full well that a chance hit in a vital part of our ship might cause serious impairment, Captain Dodge ordered the Brooklyn to retire and return to Naples.
All during the day while we were bombarding , we could hear the rumble of the Army's guns roaring out their barrages. And high in the sky, we were seeing an unending stream of our big bombers heading into the beach with their big loads of destruction.
We expended approximately 300 rounds of six inch projectiles against their gun emplacements during the few hours we were there. It seems pathetic that seven months ago we made our appearance here at Gaeta. At that time we bombarded bridges and troop concentrations. During the seven months since, not one foot of ground has been gained in this area. Not a very credible effort, to say the least. Our work today probably did not hurt the German defenders of Gaeta very seriously, but it is a sure thing that there are many dead Nazis who will not be the cause of the death of any American soldier from now on.
What is more important than a few dead Germans is that there are several big guns that were destroyed by the shelling of the USS Brooklyn. And those were the targets that we were sent out to get. It is with great satisfaction that at last we are on the move in the Italian theatre of war. We have been making a very sorrowful show of effort in ending the war in this part, and let us hope that the guns of our few ships in this area will not grow cold while there is a German target within our range along the Tyerhennian coast.
Our turn is coming soon to blast the enemy, and to that I have written, let me add this: let their shells always miss, and let ours always hit the mark.
May 14th, 1944
This morning at 0400 hours, there was sounded a red alert over the radio circuits for the Naples area. Although this raid caught us anchored in Naples Bay, it can not be said that we did not expect retaliation due to the action at Gaeta the day before.
I was in my bunk when the speakers sounded all men to their Air Defense Stations. As the lights in the compartment came on and the men began hurrying into their clothes, I debated with myself as to whether I would go topside or lie there in my bunk. I decided on the latter, and tried to go back to sleep. In a very few minutes following the alert, there was a sharp crack of concussion throughout the ship. This was due to the exploding of bombs in our immediate vicinity. I began at once to regret that I had stayed in my bunk, because now Condition Affirm had been set and I was locked below decks.
Time and time again, the ship rang from the force of the bomb explosions. Now I was wide awake and wondering just how long the raid was going to last. Just then the ship seemed to jump out of the water and I knew that one had landed pretty close! There was a very cold feeling around my shoulders and a rather sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. This may have been due to the field rations of the day before, but I don't think so!
The roar and crack of the anti-aircraft barrage could be heard even down to the third deck where I lay. It kept up for a period of about one hour and then quieted down to only desultory reports.
About five o'clock, the all clear came over the speakers and the raid was over. There had been about fifteen bombs dropped in the vicinity of the Brooklyn, but it is evident that it was blind bombing. It might have been different if their flares had been successful in lighting up our ship! But the harbor defenses had put up a thick smoke screen and so no damage to the naval ships was suffered. Sometime this morning, the news report came in that our night fighters had shot down three of the German bombers that made the attack on Naples.
There also came over the radio news the information on the Brooklyn's shelling of the Gaeta area. This is one of the very few times that we have ever been mentioned for the many bombardment missions we have fully and effectively completed.
The news from the front lines say we still maintain the attack and that the Nazi's are resisting fiercely. I can well believe this, as they are a determined bunch!
We should be scheduled to return to the Gaeta area on Tuesday for our run on the gun and supply positions. Another cruiser is there today.
16'th May 1944
At 0900 hours this morning we went into General Quarters. We are about to make our second bombardment attack against the unfriendlies around the Gaeta and Itri area.
Last night, May 15th, we also had one of the humane German air-raids. It lasted from 2100 to 2145 hours. I have not yet gotten to the point where-in I enjoy these air-raids.
Getting back to the Gaeta area, the sea was being swept by mine sweepers when we arrived. Incidentally, the German's have been laying hundreds of mines around the Naples' harbor, and some of our ships, including ours, were not able to get out for a day or so. I have one encounter with mines to my experience and do not crave any more!
Taking longer than necessary to start our first run today, we ran into several surprises. We headed down the friendly path of bombardment and started cutting loose with our heavy guns. We were very arrogant at the beginning, but so were they! Our first salvos had just begun to roar out when the big splashes were falling around the ships during the first part of the run.
The Brooklyn, Kearny and Ericsson are not immune to damage, so as soon as we had ran the course, we started tearing right out seaward. Exactly fifteen big salvos from the German guns made us find it very necessary to plan another course of action.
At 1200 hours, we headed back into the firing area. This time we were wiser in our approach, and we went in shooting. Our big target was right in sight of the ship. It was a bunch of heavy guns of some kind and they were situated right atop a huge mountain overlooking the gulf of Gaeta.
Getting the range quickly, we started slamming in fifteen gun salvos. They were the first of this kind since the days of Casablanca when we met the French fleet. The top of the mountain appeared to be crumbling and dissolving right in front of our eyes! It was the first time I have ever seen the power of our guns at such close range. I hope I am never on the receiving end of a like number of artillery!
There were no splashes seen from enemy fire during this first attempt at the mountain. During the succeeding runs, we met much different adversity! The Ericsson sent a sudden report that she had a sub contact and immediately dropped a flock of depth charges. They were so close to the ship that I thought we had hit mines. But the contact did not develop into anything, and we continued our laying it out.
There were a few splashes noticed now. We were pretty close to the beach, and there was a terrible rumbling from the direction of the front lines where the Fifth Army is fighting. There must be hundreds of bombers over the lines, because even the ship is shuddering under the concussion of the explosions of the bombs at the front.
Someone, I feel quite sure, is getting a terrible plastering at the front, and I am equally positive that it is Brother Hitler's children! Our air superiority is wonderful to behold!
Thus far, we have not had a single Nazi bomber molest us at the Gaeta battle front. Suits me fine, too!
Now we are running into a regular hail of shells from the beach! They are smashing into the sea directly in front of the ship, and this is not uplifting to our fighting spirit!
Now we have decided that the German fire is too accurate for comfort, and we are laying down our smoke screen to shield us from the beach! The destroyers are doing the same. The shells are coming in thicker now, and one just landed about fifty feet right in our path!. It was so close that I saw it hit the water, exploded, and as the splash went up (about the size of a medium sized house), I tensed for the next one to hit, and when the fountain of rising water reached its peak and dropped into the sea again, we ran over the bubbles!
If they had followed that shell with another salvo, we might have suffered injury. As it was, they followed up with another one that was too late, and it fell into the sea directly in our wake. We were making thirty knots now, and were moving pretty fast!
The fusillade from the beach made it imperative for us to discontinue operations. At 1430 hours, we headed back towards Naples.
They fired twenty-five salvos at us during the afternoon runs. That is, we counted that many splashes! And counting fifteen in the morning, that makes a total of forty (and probably more that we were a target for). So it does not all act one way, because they have a target in us!
We fired 300 six inch shells. I do not think this so many as some may fire, but there is never any doubting the results that we get from our work. The Army is very high in its praise for our ship, and that is the greatest credit that we can be given.
The observation today was one of good work. It was not as good as the day we destroyed nine targets at Anzio, but from the way the top of the mountain appeared to crumble into a cloud of smoke and dust, I can well say that the destruction of what the enemy had there was complete and fully effective.
It was also the most accurate gunfire we have encountered since Casablanca. If the Germans had delayed firing that one salvo that landed dead ahead of us by only a few seconds, The Brooklyn tonight would be carrying a deep wound in her structure, and who knows, but she might have lost a few of the human cogs who make her the hard hitting lady she is!
19'th May 1944
Today was the calmest day we have ever had in dealing with the Germans. We made our runs in the morning and fired at two targets; they were totally demolished, and the tabulation was 135 rounds at each one. The targets were roads, and the town of Teracina. The reports were that there were square hits on the roads and many hits
on the town.
In the afternoon, we fired by chance into some fires and put plenty of extra zest into their flames! But only 45 rounds were expended and then the Army radioed us that there were no more targets for us to shoot at, and we returned to Naples.
The town of Itri, where we fired the first two days, has been occupied, and today it looks like the entire area of Gaeta will soon be in our hands. Teracina is not far from the Anzio beachhead, and it may be soon that our next firing runs will be at the old familiar point of Anzio. I hope so, as that will mean that, at last, the march to Rome will have begun.
I fully expect that in a matter of ten days or so, we will be looking at strange grounds. We will probably be scrutinizing the soil around the mouth of the Tiber River, which is the riverway to Rome.
23 May 1944
On this day, we again returned to one of our old stomping grounds, Anzio, and the events that occurred during our days stay were not the most pleasant. It was more than three months ago, on February 8'th, that we were last here at Anzio, and on that day we really piled it into our little German friends, and also we did likewise today. But the story is not in how many rounds we shot at the Germans, but rather of the bad incident that happened to another pair of ships.
When today's work was done, we had blasted the German positions with nearly 500 rounds of six inch shells. The damage was reported to be terrible, and the retaliation was strong and accurate, but none of our ships (the Brooklyn and her two escorts, the Kearny and the Ericsson) were hit. But we heard the whistle of the big shells as they lit into the sea around us. However, I wish to write of the trouble that was NOT caused by the Nazi's.
We were almost into the firing area, driving through heavy seas (which seemed to be always such up Anzio way), when we got the gloomy news that the cruiser Philadelphia had rammed the destroyer, Laub. This was at first thought to be a rumor, but it was the tragic truth! I mean tragic because the Philadelphia was just out of the yard and had been over here only a little more than two months.
We had been planning on her being the ship who would relieve us so we could go home. The news came to us, but not the worst news, her damage! The Laub was the first we saw, and she was in bad shape. She was in danger of going to the bottom from a big hole in her starboard quarter.
An hour or so later, we sighted the Philly, and our hearts dropped. She had a tremendous piece of her bow stove in, and one could see at a glance that it was a long period of repairs for her. Now we are in a predicament, as the English cruiser, Dido, is in Malta for engine repairs, and that leaves only the Brooklyn to do all the work from now on.
The worst news of all was the fact that one boy was killed on the Laub, two were missing, and seven injured. To be killed by the enemy is bad enough, to be killed by ones own warships is worse! As we went by the Philly, I heard one of the destroyers call her that there was a body passing by in the water and if she could pick it up. The Philly answered no, and the poor boy was left to float around in the sea. That is nothing new, as many bodies have floated by us during our stay over here. But it must have been one of the missing sailors from the Laub.
Now we will have to be in this bad firing area steady. That is bad, as it is terribly fatiguing and dangerous. Especially is it dangerous. I wonder now just how long it will be 'ere we ever get home? It surely looks worse as the time goes by. All on account of the 'Famous Ghost' running into a destroyer! She made fun of us when we hit two mines, but she is guilty of a terrible blunder and nearly a crime.
24 May 1944
Today we had a very routine time. We fired 500 rounds into the Nazi's positions and received a fine tribute from the spotting planes for our work on the German troops and other positions. There was very little fire done on the side of the enemy, and we just lay there and poured it into them.
26 May 1944
We stood by over yesterday waiting for a call from the Army. We patrolled off the coast of Corsica and ventured up around the vicinity of the mouth of the Tiber River. This is, as you know, the entrance to the city of Rome.
Today, they started a big offensive at Anzio, and we laid down barrages ahead of the advancing Army troops. We could see the flashes of Army artillery from our ship, so one could imagine how far the Front was from where our ship cruised.
After firing more than 400 honeys into the boys retreating from our Army, we ran out of targets and were ordered to Naples. On our arrival, we heard that the French cruiser, Emile Bertin, had arrived and would relieve us for a couple of days. We have been doing nearly all the work since Gaeta, and have done all the bombardment at Anzio.
The Philly, as noted before, got out of the fight by ramming a tin can. Now she is in Malta, and will be for some time. We are
Standing by now for another call. MB.
This represents the last of the diary proper.