This is the ninth in a series of reprints of past Ernie Pyle columns about our
troops. Ernie is on leave.
ALGERIA, DECEMBER 1942: The hardest fighting in the whole original North
African occupation seems to have been here in Oran. Many of my friends whom I
knew in England went through it, and they have told me all about it. Without
exception, they admit they were scared stiff.
Don't get the wrong idea from that. They kept going forward. But it was their
first time under fire and, being human, they were frightened.
I asked an officer how the men manifested fright. He said, largely by just
looking pitifully at each other and edging close together to have company in
Now that the first phase is over, a new jubilance has come over the troops. There
is a confidence and enthusiasm among them that didn't exist in England, even
though morale was hlgh there. They were impatient to get started and get it over,
and now that they've started and feel sort of like veterans, they are eager - to
sweep on through.
THAT FIRST NIGHT of landing, when they came ashore in big steel motorized
invasion barges many funny things happened. One famous officer intended to drive
right ashore in a jeep, but they let the folding end of the barge down too soon
and the jeep drove off into eight feet of water. Other barges rammed ashore so
hard the men jumped off without even getting their feet wet.
It was moonlight and the beach was deathly quiet. One small outfit I know didn't
hear a shot 'till long after daylight the next morning, but the moonlight and
shadows and surprising peacefulness gave them the creeps, and all night as they
worked their way inland over the hills nobody spoke above a whisper.
Each outfit was provided with the password beforehand. In the shadows soldiers
couldn't tell who was who, and everyone was afraid of getting shot by his own
men, so all night the hillsides around Oran hissed with the constantly whispered
password directed at every approaching shadow. I wish I could tell you what the
password was. You would think it very funny.
A FRIEND OF MINE, Lt. Col. Ken Campbell, captured eight French soldiers with a
pack of cigarets. It was all accidental. He stumbled onto an Arab sleeping on the
beach who told him there were soldiers in the building up the hill.
Campbell sneaked up, revolver in hand, and opened the door. The soldiers were all
asleep. With quick decision, he stuck the gun back in its holster, then woke the
soldiers. They were very startled and confused. Campbell speaks perfect French,
so he passed around the cigarets, chatted with the soldiers, told them they were
captured and after a bit marched them away.
Pvt. Chuck Conick from Pittsburgh, telling me how the soldiers felt during that
first advance, says everybody was scared but didn't talk about that in the rest
periods between advances. He says they mainly wondered what the papers at home
were saying about the battle. Time after time he heard the boys say: "If my folks
could only see me now!"
BOYS FROM NEW MEXICO and Arizona were amazed at how much the country around here
resembles their own desert southwest. In the moonIight that first night the
rolling, treeless hills looked just like home country to them.
All through the advance the troops were followed in almost comic-opera fashion by
hoardes of Arab children, who would crowd around the guns until they were
actually in the way. Soldiers tell me the Arabs were very calm and quiet and
there was a fine dignity about even the most ragged. Our boys couldn't resist the
sad and emaciated little faces of the children, and that was when they started
giving their rations away.
It got hot in the daytime, so hot that the advancing soldiers kept stripping and
abandoning their clothes until some were down to undershirts, but at night it
turned sharply chilly and they wished they hadn't.
FRENCH RESISTANCE seems to have run the scale all the way from eager co-operation
clear up to bitter fighting to the death. In most sectors the French seemed to
fire only when fired on. It has been established now that many French troops had
only three bullets for their rifles, but in other places 75-mm. guns did
Our oldsters say they didn't mind machine-gun and rifle fire so much, but it was
the awful noise and uncanny accuracy of the 75's that made their hearts stand
The boys who went through it have memories forever. Many say that most of all
they remember little things of beauty like the hills shadowed in moonlight and
the eerie peacefulness of the beach when they landed.