Texas Military Forces Museum


111th Reconnaissance Squadron
World War II Narrative History

Part VII:  North Africa

Our march along the dusty roads leading to St. Leu was made in single file with plenty of space between men and with files on both sides of the road. A sharp lookout was kept for aircraft. The day was growing hotter by the minute and the sweat oozed through our gas-impregnated woolen uniforms. Our steaming faces were plastered with chalky dust. The bivouac area outside of St. Leu was a flat plain covered with wheat stubble and dotted with strawstacks. Hungry, but too tired to worry about food, we spread ourselves out in the straw to rest. The little blue booklets we had been issued stated that Algeria had little, if any, rain during the month of November. That night we received Algeria‘s allotment for the next twenty-five years!

We stayed at St. Leu for one week, during which details were returned to the beach at Arzew to help unload the ships in the harbor and stand guard over the squadron equipment until transport was available. We divided into groups of twelve men with each group receiving a box of British field rations for one day. Certain components of the rations made excellent eating, although there seemed to be an overabundance of steak and kidney pudding, for which we had no liking. Each group did its own cooking and for a week we thrived on canned bacon, beans and pork, cheese, date and marmalade puddings, "boiled sweets," and topped off each repast with a Players Navy Cut cigarette. The less said about the hardtack biscuits the better.

On November 16 we moved to the air field at Tafaroui, which is just a few miles from Oran. By this time we were firmly convinced that the man who had written the weather section of the little "blue book" was a practical joker of the lowest order. The flat plains were seas of gumbo and the continuous downpours kept them that way. We pitched four-man pup tents to give us protection against the wind in all directions, and made floors out of ration-box cardboard and planking. Every man had himself a fox-hole within spitting distance. The mess section was set up on the lee side of a shrapnel-packed show and we were now eating hot steak and kidney pudding. No improvement. The area around the mess tent was ankle deep in mud and the man in the outfit who, at one time or another, did not take a header into that goo with his mess-kit contents pouring all over himself, is a fortunate character indeed.

On November 24 the "per diem" boys flew in with our new A-20’s, and the tales that were swapped between the air and ground echelons rivaled those of Paul Bunyan. The arrival of the planes meant that there was much work to be done and darned little to do it with, outside of a lot of willing hands. The tools and equipment we had crated and shipped from Charlotte had not caught up with us. Despite this handicap and the adverse weather conditions, the work was soon accomplished. In North Africa there are Arabs, and the Arab is the undisputed world’s champion business man. They soon learned we were a booming market for tangerines and eggs and were not too much worried about the price. The price of eggs shot up from two francs to fifteen francs apiece, and tangerines from one cigarette a dozen to one package per dozen. Times were getting hard.

By December 19 the entire squadron had moved to the air field near Oujda, French Morocco. Here we were joined by the remainder of the 68th Observation Group, who had landed near Wedala on the west African coast. The new air field provided excellent hangar facilities and also buildings for our section shops. Here, too, we received P-39 pursuit-type planes, and these, as well as the light bombers, were rigged up with depth charges. We were soon flying submarine patrol missions over the Mediterranean.

Christmas Eve, 1942, brought the news of Admiral Darlan’s assassination in Algiers and the entire base was alerted in anticipation of possible trouble. It might be added that the eggnog which the mess section had prepared for the occasion was not wasted. On New Year’s Eve we were again alerted, this time against the possibility of enemy parachutist attack. We were grateful that nothing happened.

On January 14, 1943, our commanding officer, Captain Robert E. Bough, was killed when his plane crashed not far from the base. First Lieutenant James H. Deering, Jr., became our new squadron commander.

The days spent at Oujda were busy and uncomfortable ones. Maintenance of the aircraft was hampered by our lack of equipment and the weather was either bad or worse. The men slept in fox-holes that had been dug through layers of rock, and with the continuous rain it was impossible to keep mud and water out of our sacks. We stuffed our mattress covers with straw and slept on them until after a long and especially hard rain, most of us woke to find our mattresses and blankets floating alongside of us. Neither we nor our blankets and clothes were ever dry again until spring. Another thing the "little blue book" writer failed to tell us - it snows in Africa. And even when it doesn’t snow the winter days are sharp and brisk and the nights are downright frigid. A pair of warm, dry socks was our idea of paradise.

An African spring is comparable to a Mississippi heat wave. Within a week after the sun had made its first all-day appearance the brown and barren earth was covered with a fine, irritating dust. Then the sirocco put in an appearance, the whirling dust blotted out the sun and we were forced to wear goggles and dust respirators as means of protection for our eyes and lungs. With the coming of warmer weather and dried-out blankets we began to sleep with our clothes off for the first time. Some of the fellows took to washing regularly and even took sponge baths, using their helmets as bath tubs. A detachment from our photo section went to Tunisia to aid the 154th Squadron, and reports which returned from them convinced us that the war up that way was really rough. During our off-duty hours we played baseball, basketball and volleyball. We had movies shown several times a week and reached a new high when Martha Raye staged a personal appearance for our benefit. We all felt highly indebted to Martha for her fine performance. In March we received our first Mustangs and on April 7, 1943, we took them and our P-39’s to Guercif, French Morocco, where we were to engage in practice gunnery and further training.

Guercif’s only claim to fame was the fact that it was a French Foreign Legion post and its location marked the northwestern end of the Sahara Desert. Uncle Sam added third and fourth feathers by furnishing two lovely young Red Cross ladies to maintain a club for us in this forsaken hole. The war in Tunisia came to its conclusion on May 12, 1943, and on May 24, the 111th squadron moved eastward to Nouvion, Algeria.

The trip from Guercif to Nouvion was made in the infamous 40 and 8 railway box cars. We were assigned eighteen men to a car and even then couldn’t roll over without disturbing at least four men. Trainloads of German prisoners passed us going west and each of their cars contained the full complement of 40 men. Even at that we envied them because they were being shipped to the States. The trip lasted three days - long days.

Nouvion provided fine barracks and double-deck bunks. We were getting up in the world: pup tents in Oujda, pyramidal tents in Guercif, and now - barracks. The base also boasted a fine outdoor movie. The only rub was that the shows couldn’t start until after dark, and dark didn’t come until well after 10 o’clock. The days were so hot that between the hours of 12 and 3 in the afternoon eggs could be fried on the wings of the airplanes. During these hours no work was attempted, so we caught up on sleep lost through attendance at the previous night’s show. First Sergeant Hunt and Sergeants Hubbard, Luke and Stidston were given direct commissions as "shavetails" and Sergeant Eddie Renken became our new Hook ‘n Bill. While at Nouvion the squadron was redesignated as the 111th Reconnaissance Squadron, and we were to operate independently from the group. During our twenty-six-day stay we serviced completely upwards of fifty P-39’s and P-51 ‘s.

From Nouvion one-half of the squadron was flown to Bou Fischa, Tunisia, by transport lane. Little work was done while at this station and we took advantage of the break to visit Sousse, Tunis, Sfax, Enfidavillo, and other towns in which some of the Tunisian Campaign’s bitterest battles were fought. This easy life was short-lived, however, and the echelon moved to Korba on Cape Bon while those of the squadron who had remained at Nouvion convoyed by truck to Tunis. In Tunis they camped in a staging area and readied themselves for the next invasion by waterproofing the vehicles and loading them on LST’s to await the "Go" signal.

Those who were on Cape Bon were keeping the aircraft flying over Sicily on the now familiar "dawn-to-dusk" schedule, and were cursing the fates that had returned them to pup tents and ankle-deep red dust. On the eve of July 10 we were briefed on the over-all plan for the invasion of Sicily which was to begin shortly after midnight. We were all relieved to know that our remaining days in Africa were to be few.

Previous Article | Directory Contents | Next Article