COAST GUARDSMAN’S EYEWITNESS STORY: SALERNO LANDING WAS NO PINK TEA

John Folk CPhoM, a Coast Guard moving-picture cameraman from Atlanta, Ga., sent the following report to Washington after he landed with the Fifth Army in Italy. The message was written aboard ship on the way back to North Africa.

AT SEA IN THE MEDITERRANEAN—The invasion of Gela in Sicily was a pink tea compared to this invasion of the Italian mainland.

I went in with the first wave from our transport. Our task force landed near the town of Paestum, south of Salerno. We were flanked on the left by British forces and on the right by Germans. The enemy was prepared for us, and the beach where we landed contained hundreds of mines. Heavy artillery up in the hills dropped a constant rain of shells on us.



salerno invasion wwii navy coastguard

Navy and Coastguard personnel take cover from German shelling at Salerno.

Right after hitting the beach, I made for some sparse cover about 75 yards from the water’s edge and proceeded to dig in. Unfortunately I’d picked out one of the hottest spots for my foxhole. For about an hour I was forced to stay there.

Shells were screaming over my head and landing on the beaches. They actually clipped the grass above me. Two of them burst extremely close by. One hit the ground just a few yards away and the concussion kicked me in the chest like a mule.

Back in my foxhole I found I wasn’t injured, but my hearing was greatly impaired. My ears rang for a long while, and I worried with fear I had a permanent injury, but everything seems to be OK now.

These foxholes are a very good place to be when the enemy has the range. I picked up a souvenir from my life jacket, which was lying on the ground—a piece of hot shrapnel.

Cruisers and monitors offshore began firing in an effort to knock out the enemy gun emplacements inland. Those Jerries certainly had the range and were dripping the eight-ball in the corner pocket all too often.



As soon as our forces got the guns that were giving us such a hot reception, I ventured out to make a few pictures. Enemy guns up in the hills were very well hidden and difficult to erase, much more so than in Sicily. My stuff this time probably won’t be nearly so spectacular as at Gela. There are no “shots” of enemy bombers because we had marvelous air cover for this job. In one day, before noon, our fighter planes knocked down 20 enemy aircraft on their way to attack us, and repelled 40 attempted raids.

Each minute now sees us farther along toward Africa and our “home port.” But if somebody slammed a hatchcover or made a loud noise, I think I’d break a leg getting topside. We were given a “going away” present by the Jerries, and I don’t think anybody on board will ever forget it.

But God has ridden the bridge with us again on this trip, and after my cruises so far, I am certainly humble in his presence.

For Further Reading Check Out:

Bitter Victory: The Battle for Sicily, 1943


The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944 (The Liberation Trilogy)




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