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US Air Force

34 Days in Buzz Bomb Alley

 

34 Days in Buzz Bomb Alley
 

(Edited)Sergeant Alfred Di Giacomo, a switchboard operator has been working shifts on the Ninth Tactical Air Command telephone switchboard since the invasion of Normandy in June 1944.

 
The Ninth TAC fighter planes, under the command of General Elwood "Pete" Quesada, have been providing air support to the units of the U.S. First Army since the Normandy invasion.

General Elwood "Pete" QUESADA
 
I was assigned to the 926th Signal Battalion.  The battalion provided communications for the 9th Tactical Air Command before and after the invasion of France.
 

After the breakout from Normandy in August, the battalion and the 9th Tactical Air Command leapfrogged through France.  Our advance was stalled and on October 2, 1944, we set up the Command Center for the 9th in Verviers, Belgium.

 

Starting in late October, we started to see buzz bombs flying overhead heading for Liege at the rate of one an hour.  By December, the number of buzz bombs the Germans were sending over both day and night increased in intensity.  They not only targeted Liege but the City of Antwerp was also targeted.

 
(The buzz bomb or V-1 (Vengeance Weapon) was a small pilot less plane powered by a pulse jet.  It was armed with a ton of explosives.  It emitted a putting noise while in flight and was guided by a simple gyro mechanism which at a prearranged distance would cut off the fuel supply.  The noise would stop and everyone waited breathlessly to hear how close it would it.)
 
The following are excerpts from the diary I kept during my three years in the service.
 

December 16: German attack!  On Saturday, 5:30 a.m. the German's counter attack began in the Ardennes.  Winter weather hit us hard just as the offensive began; it turned bitter cold and several days later snowed heavily.  Cloud cover limited visibility so our planes were grounded.  This morning our Doctor Clugston and the ambulance driver were wounded when a shell from long-range artillery exploded near their ambulance near Spa.

 

December 17: Much confusion and rumors.Worked at midnight and at 1:30 in the morning of the 18th a phone call from Ninth Air Force G-2 to our G-2 reported that 90 Ju55's and 28 Ju88's were taking off from Germany to drop paratroopers in an area east of Aachen.  All units were alerted.

 
At 0300, our radar picked up the planes; German paratroopers were dropped in three different locations.  Most of them were soon captured.
 
We received a call from "Frontier Baker," a forward outpost of the 555th Signal Aircraft Warning Battalion that the Germans are getting so close that they have to close down and move.  Some of our "D" Company radio and repeated outpost men had to fight their way out.  I finished work at 8:00 a.m. and found that we are ordered to pack our bags and be ready to move.
 
A report came in saying the Germans had captured Malmedy, and are advancing toward Verviers.  German planes have appeared overhead and buzz bomb activity seems to have increased.  Today we counted 120 V-1's heading for Liege.
 
December 18: Infantrymen from the 29th Infantry rest camp in town have left to join their units.  Units of the 99th Division are moving into town and the tanks of the 7th Armored Division drove through town going to the front.  (The 7th Armored held the Germans at St Vith for many days and six battalions of the 99th held off five German divisions for 36 hours and ruined the plans of 6th Panzer Armee for a quick breakout.)
 
Administrative section of IX TAC is moving out.Operators Erickson, Unkelbach and others left for Charleroi to staff our back up facilities.
 
I worked from 4:00 to midnight and the switchboard was very busy for the two pilots Al Jaffee and Richard Cassaday from our 67th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron in spite visibility located a German armored column near Stavelot and radioed their location.  Four fighter groups from our 365th and 368th fighter groups attacked the column seven times until it was too dark: 32 tanks and 126 vehicles were destroyed.
 
We had an air raid warning around midnight but there was no attack.However, some long-range shell fire landed outside the town.  The German continue their advance.
 
December 19: Heard that Dr. Clugston has died of his wounds.  At 2:30, orders came through for us to evacuate.  Packed our bags and bedrolls on trucks and pulled out at 3:30, traveling some 20 miles to Liege arriving at 6:30.
 
The road to Liege was congested so we did not arrive until late.  The weather was near freezing; the rain was changing to snow.  Just as we arrived at the school building that housed "C" Company, a buzz bomb cut out above us, but landed elsewhere.  We had supper and bunked with "C" Company sleeping on the floor in the school gymnasium.
 
Liege is an important crossroad and the Germans are determined to knock out Liege.  The air raid sirens sound several times a day, every day as German aircraft appear overhead trying to bomb the bridges and supply depots.But the worst is the sound of the buzz bombs that one hears day and night.  They are coming over ever 12 to 15 minutes.  There is an occasional explosion from V-2's as well.  It is all very nerve racking and dangerous.  As some infantrymen who were on rest leave said to me, "It is like a continuous artillery barrage."
 
December 20: We are sitting around waiting for orders and still living in the school gymnasium.  Most of the operations men are her in Liege, some of "A" and "D" Company went to Roux (Charleroi) together with my barracks bag that contains all my clothing.  Huntsman and McCrain have arrived from Verviers having shut down the switchboard.
 
In the meantime our rear emergency system was put into operation.  The backup communications in Charleroi provided the communications for the 9th TAC operations.  We learned that shortly after we left Verviers our building was struck by long-range shell fire knocking out part of the wall.
 
We have no indication what is going on to the front lines.But we heard the Germans has massacred a large group of American prisoners in a field.
 
December 21: We were informed our switchboard van is being set up in a courtyard of a school, now occupied by 9th TAC headquarters which is now in Liege.
 
During the night a buzz bomb landed and broke some windows in our bedroom (the gymnasium).  We still have no idea as to what is going on except that Liege is under aerial attack by the Germans. (Little did we know that the enemy was just 20 miles south of us and that on December 22 a unit of the 2nd Panzer Division did try to proceed up Highway N15 to Liege but were turned away at Manhay.)
 
December 22: Liege is now off limits.  We moved from the "C" Company billets to a boy's school across the street.  We telephone operators are assigned to a classroom on the second floor of a three-story wing and have cots to sleep on.  My bed is next to a partition wall.  I was to work at midnight but the schedule was changed.
 
In addition to the buzz bombs, we had an air raid during the night with the air raid sirens sounding, flares from the bombers lightly up the ground, antiaircraft fire, bombs exploding, the whole works.  Some of it was pretty close to us.
 
December 23: Finally went back to work. I worked in the morning 8 to 4 in the switchboard van in the courtyard.  It was a very busy day for today was the first day of reasonably good weather.IX TAC mounted 696 combat sorties and Allied fighter planes shot down 133 German fighters.However, we still have no information on what is happening just south of us where hundreds of our troops are engaged in desperate battles.
 
Front Wing of our Quarters in Liege, Belgium
 
In the evening, we were told there was a rumor that the Germans were going to drop paratroopers into Liege that night.  We grabbed our guns and went outside waiting for further news.  At 9:00 p.m. the air raid alarm sounded and some German bombers came over.  We watched the planes dropping flares to light up the targets.Antiaircraft fire soon filled the sky.  We could hear the bombs landing somewhere in the city, but there was still no sign of troop carriers or paratroopers.
 
During the day, 260 9th Air Force C-47's dropped needed supplies to the surrounded troops at Bastogne.
 
December 24: That night we had an air raid and then one time during the night we heard a buzz bomb stop overhead.  We dove under our beds but it landed elsewhere.  Rumors are that IX TAC may move again as Liege may soon be under attack.
 
December 25: Christmas day: Worked from 0800 to 1600 and it was very busy.  For on this day, the Combat Command "B" 2nd Armored Division with the support of our fighter bombers, counter attacked the German Panzers and stopped them just two miles short of the Meuse River.
 
At our Christmas dinner held in the gymnasium.  We had guests as well for we shared our meal with a group of children from town.  Besides the buzz bombs, the German air force staged air raids all day long, including strafing the streets.
 
December 26: Worked in the morning and was on guard duty for two hours.  We had a short air raid at night with the usual pyrotechnics, but our main concern was the buzz bomb that landed close by.
 
December 28: At 0225 in the morning, I awoke to the sound of a buzz bomb diving.  A whistling sound that got louder and louder and then came the explosion… a buzz bomb had struck our building.  When I realized it was diving, I covered my face with my blanket just before it struck but my hands were exposed.  The windows blew out, walls collapsed.  My bed was next to a partition, which had a blackboard.  The blackboard fell on top of me and on top of the blackboard fell the plaster and brick infill from the stub wall.  Flying glass cut my exposed hands, my bags and my blanket.
 
For a few moments, there was dead silence, and then I heard someone crying to help from outside the building.  I was able to crawl out from under the blackboard and in the dim moonlight make out there was plaster and broken glass everywhere.  Some or part of the walls and ceiling was gone.  All the windows were blown out.  Two large wooden ceiling beams straddled Jackson's and Fountain's beds.
 
I pulled out my trousers from under my head, where it was serving as a pillow and finally dug out my jacket and shoes.  My right hand was bleeding badly so I wrapped it with a handkerchief.  My left hand has some minor cuts.  As I checked with the men, I found we all had received some wounds from the flying glass.
 
I went down the now rickety wooden staircase to the street with great difficulty.  As I walked through the courtyard, I saw that the front wing and the kitchen was a mass of rubble.  On reaching the street, I saw a number of men were digging in the debris.  I could hear voices calling for help.  The GI's were feverishly pulling away with their bare hands the bricks that covered the bodies.
 

I went down the now rickety wooden staircase to the street with great difficulty.  As I walked through the courtyard, I saw that the front wing and the kitchen was a mass of rubble.  On reaching the street, I saw a number of men were digging in the debris.  I could hear voices calling for help.  The GI's were feverishly pulling away with their bare hands the bricks that covered the bodies.

 

V-1 at Liege (Photo Orv Iverson)
 
I was limping from the weight of the blackboard as I walked across the street to "C" Company billets where I was able to bandage the cuts as best I could, as the medics were in the street busy treating many other injured men.  There was snow on the ground and I was cold and shaking.  I went to the gym, someone gave me some blankets, and I lay my sore body down, got warm, and went to sleep.  The rest of the night was a haze.  Late in the morning, we went back upstairs carefully dug out and collected our belongings in all the debris.
 
We has six men killed: three radiomen from "A" Company; M/Sgt Lloyd Hunt, T/4 Olin Fritz, T/5 Robert Baldwin and one of our cooks, Pfc Santiago Gonzalas, and two "B" Company men T/4 Talisfor Budzeika and T/5 Robert Bevins, who had just joined us having escaped from Bastogne.  57 men were wounded, some 12 serious enough to be hospitalized.  I knew Sgt Hunt and was sorry to hear of his dead and, of course the death of the other men as well. (And as happened to so many of us we never really had a chance to attend to the burial of our comrades.)
 
That afternoon I had dinner with "C" Company and as I had to work at 4:00 p.m., I left my belongings in the gym to be moved to my new billets in a school on the Boulevard d'Avroy.  I walked to work on the 9th TAC switchboards and at 4:00 in the afternoon operating with a bandaged hand, sore side and hip and still shaky and nervous.  It was very busy as well.
 
In the afternoon, my belongings were moved to my new quarters that we are sharing with the 327th Fighter Control.  After coming off duty at midnight, I went to the address of my new billets and went to my assigned classroom on the top floor.  I found I was all alone.
 
Except for my bed and my belongings, the room and the rest of the floor was empty.  It was kind of eerie in being the only one in the building.  As there were no blackout curtains on the windows, I had a view of the events occurring outside.  It was bad enough that I was still unnerved from the experience I had just gone through, but that night lying in my cot I could see the German bombers dropping flares that lit up the sky, the antiaircraft fire and the exhaust of the buzz bombs flying by and every so often, the explosions.  I did not sleep well that night.
 
December 29: I discovered that the men had moved to the basement.  I went to work at 8:00 a.m. with my hand still wrapped in a makeshift bandage.  Our planes were flying again so we were very busy.  Worked until 4:00 p.m. and after I finished work, I moved to the basement.  I am living in a former coal bin with eight other men.  The room is windowless, dark damp, dirty and cold so we sleep with our clothes on.  All of the men in the room are strangers to me.  I felt all alone.
 
January 3, 10, 11, and 19: Buzz bombs stopped overhead but landed elsewhere.  In several cases we switchboard operators were at work in the van when it stopped.  Most of the units moved back to Verviers on the 19th January 1945.
 
January 22: I packed up and arrived in Verviers around noon and went to work on the switchboard at midnight.
 
January 24: I worked from 4:00 p.m. to midnight and on January 25, I worked from midnight to 8:00 a.m.
 
January 22 to January 25: Ninth TAC flew some 1.500 sorties against the retreating German Army destroying hundreds of vehicles, tanks and armored vehicles.  Our telephones were busy.
 
February 1: There are no more buzz bombs.  The buzz bombs attack is over.
 

(Al's book is "A Soldier's Diary."It is available from:

http://www.xlibris.com/ASOLDIERSDIARY.html

 

(Cost is $19,99 plus shipping.)

 
See also very interesting website concerning the 926th signal Battalion at the address:http://home.earthlink.net/~iversonom/belgium.html
 
Source: Battle of the Bulge November 2009

Sgt Alfred Di GIACOMO

926th Signal Battalion Sep.

9th Tactical Air Command

 

Ninth United States

Army Air Force

 

Battle of the Bulge,

Belgium