(This edited narrative is the result of interviews with Herman Chanowitz, former captain in the 2nd Tactical Air Communications Squadron, and a veteran of the Allied campaigns in North Africa, Italy, France and Germany. He is a long-time resident of Naples.)
In Sicily we landed at a place called Gela. I think it was in July, 1943. The English landed near
Catania and Siracusa. That was a very rapid campaign. The idea was to clear the Mediterranean of
German submarines, make it tough for them to get supplies and also make it easier for us to get
supplies. The big thing was to try, if possible, to prevent the Germans who were on Sicily from
getting out with their equipment. We landed north of Messina; the only way you could get out was
by sea--the straits there.
When we got into Sicily, the Germans knew that there was no way that they could save the
situation. They couldn't kick us off. All they could do was make damned certain that it took time for
us to get them off, and they wanted to get off the island with all their equipment and all their men.
To do that meant they had to cross the Straits of Messina. We were not able to prevent them from
doing that. In spite of the fact the we had control of the air and control of the sea, they managed to
get all their equipment off. This was a big disappointment because the next landing was going to be
up at Salerno, and the idea was to prevent all the Germans who were on Sicily from getting up there
to protect that zone. But they got out. There was some ill feeling between Eisenhower and
Montgomery. Montgomery thought he knew it all. He didn't cooperate. His job was to get the
Germans before they got off. But he didn't do that. He just took his sweet time, and the Germans
managed to get off the island of Sicily.
I got to Salerno--the next invasion--by sea. I think it was around the 9th of September. While we
were on the ships going from Sicily to Salerno, there was this big announcement that Italy had
given up and, in essence, were not going to fight against the Americans. That's when the king took
over from Mussolini. The idea was that the Italians were not going to provide any resistance against
the American landings. The Germans were very well aware of what was happening, of course, and
Hitler came out and said, well, they double-crossed us, so as far as I'm concerned, if our soldiers see
any Italians, kill them.
There was a lot of resistance to the landing at Salerno. It was touch-and-go for a long time. The
Allies came out with an announcement saying that it looked kind of bad. For a while, they talked
about putting us back on ships and landing at a different location in the Salerno area. There were
two different corps that were landing. We were both part of the Fifth Army. I think there was the
American Second Corps and there was the British Corps. They were the ones who landed north of
Salerno. The Germans almost threw us back to the sea. They were trying very hard to come down
the middle and isolate us.
I landed with the headquarters of the 36th Infantry Division up around Battipaglia. The Brits
landed further north around Salerno. I remember sleeping right next to the temples in Paestum. I remember
the night we saw all these airplanes coming over. Some of us thought they were German planes
because the Germans had been bombing there just before the Americans came, but they were planes
that were bringing American airborne troops. We did a lot of shooting, not knowing who was
coming on down. They were our own troops.
On the road from Salerno to Naples--by Nocera--we did have the Special Service forces. They
landed at Vietri with the idea of going up to a path overlooking Nocera. Nocera is a city on the road
that goes from Naples to Salerno, but above that is this path that the Rangers wanted to take because
this would give them a good idea of any [German] reinforcements coming down from Naples.
There was a big fight there.
I drove into Naples--I'll never forget that--by way of the route from Salerno to Pompei and
Torre Annunziata, all along the ocean. All that had been pretty badly bombed. When we came into
Naples--my God, what they [the Germans] had done to that port was absolutely incredible. They
had destroyed just about everything they could destroy. We stayed, if I'm not mistaken,
in a palace that is now a museum. Capodimonte. We stayed there for a couple of nights.
Naples had become a vital port of supply, and the Germans knew that, so they would come over at
night and bomb the hell out of it. So we'd all go into underground shelters. It was funny being there
with some of the Italians who had brought their own wine and guitars--with bombs going of up
above. War can be hell or it can be a kind of a paradise, depending on where you are and who you
It was bad in Naples, of course. They were lacking all of the basic things--petrol, food,
medicine. When we got there, what came immediately behind us was the Allied military government. It was
their job to get the community working again. They went ahead and requisitioned the best villas.
They had access to all the best things Naples had to offer. They could commandeer it all;
they never had it so good. Some books have been written about that--the poor Italian gals that
had no food, nothing to eat--and the prostituting they would do just to try to get some food.
I think it was called Naples 1944 [ed. note: Naples '44 by Norman Lewis. Pantheon Books.
New York. 1978.]
Later, when Vesuvius erupted in 1944, I happened to be back in the Naples area because we were
still stuck in front of Cassino. Air support in that kind of territory couldn't do much, so I
occasionally had some time off, and they let me take a jeep and come on down to Naples. I had met
Adriana, and I would go visit her. I knew some guys who flew Piper Cubs and one of them took me
up with him. He was there and I was with him when he took those pictures. We weren't in danger,
but the Allies had gone ahead and built an airfield on the plain near Mt. Vesuvius. All those
airplanes were ruined by the ash.
(Photo credits: The map of the Salerno invasion is a detail of a larger map on the website of the History
Departmentof the United States Military Academy. The photo of the 1944 eruption of Vesuvius
is courtesy of Herman Chanowitz. Photo restoration by Tana A. Churan-Davis.)