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The terrain of North Africa

The British and the Americans fighting together in North Africa

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Early life for Radford was tough because of the Great Depression. He grew up in a family of eight including his parents. They were very poor; however his father was fortunate to have jobs. Everyone in the family created their own gardens and raised their own pigs. Essentially everyone in the family had to chip in. Radford played football in high school yet he remembers that most of the time he had to work. He graduated high school in May of 1940. He joined the National Guard at the age of fifteen. They drilled once a week and Radford learned a lot. When there were rumblings of war in Europe his parents pressured him to stay out of the guard. He stayed out until roughly the middle of 1941 when his guard unit was activated. He calmed his mother by telling her that he was going to make thirty six dollars a month, which was a good paying job at the time. The infantry unit Radford was in was activated February 10th 1941. In March they were shipped to Camp Claiborne in Louisiana. The tents, mess halls, and overall facilities were good. They trained there until January 1st, 1942. The 133rd Infantry [Annotator’s Note: 133rd Infantry Regiment] was requested to go to Ireland. When North Africa was invaded on November 8th, 1942, the 133rd was in Ireland as a reserve. In Ireland they did a lot of training.During the withdrawal at Kasserine Pass, Radford’s unit set up a defensive position about nine miles back from the original line. German tanks had pursued cautiously and at thi defensive position Radford and his men repelled the first German tank they saw, which in turn thwarted the rest of the Germans. Even though they had retreated, they did manage to win one small engagement. After Kasserine Pass they got equipped with new helmets and new weapons. Fonduke, North Africa was the site of their first major engagement. They had a British General along with General Ryder. There was a pass that they needed to get men and tanks through, but the debate was what should go first. Should the tanks go through or should the men clear out the hills so that the tanks could go through safely. Radford and his men went up to the sweep the Germans out of a position that was defended by a murderous crossfire. Radford notes how many of his men just dropped dead. The Germans came back with tanks the next day and eventually took the pass. After that they were told to go back and train.

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Roosevelt [Annotator’s Note: General Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt, Jr.], from the 1st Division helped to train the men. He would come around and get in the men's faces and tell them they were not tough enough. After their training they travelled about one hundred and fifty miles, which took about three days, to a place called Hill 609. Radford's job was to take a few men around the side and scout it. There were a bunch of Germans on the hill yet Radford and his unit did not get tasked with assaulting the hill. Radford and his men, after the war in North Africa was over, indulged themselves on German food and supplies. After the war in North Africa was over the men had some free time. The terrain in Africa was mountainous, not necessarily desert. Some of the hills were very high and offered the Germans excellent defensive positions. Water was hard to come by, yet the engineers did a great job digging wells. The weather was actually cold in some parts, when they first got to the more northern part of Africa there was snow in some parts. In Tunisia it was very cold at night but during the day it would get warm. Radford likens the climate to Arizona. Radford recognizes that not many people can identify with the experience he had because of the gruesome nature of it. In combat the men you trained with and the men you lived with are dying around you, it can be a harrowing experience. Radford helped to identify the bodies as well. When the Germans were attacking Radford felt helpless and did not even raise his head up to see what was going on. 

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After the combat that Radford initially saw, a feeling of hatred began brewing towards the Germans. The fact that Radford saw his buddies being mowed down and killed wore on him.In Italy, after a small battle, Radford lined his men up correctly to go back to headquarters. On the way back they ran into one German who was dead on the ground. Radford kicked him and he did not move. Further ahead was a larger German who Radford proceeded to kick. This man got up and put his rifle over his head. Radford would have shot him but the safe on his Tommy gun was on. The man surrendered and Radford brought him back to headquarters. When they got back an officer came over and reminded Radford that the prisoner still had his rifle and to remove it. They interrogated the German man, he was from Hamburg. It was a scare for Radford because the man could have easily killed him. In North Africa, Radford did not have any close encounters with Germans because of the nature of the terrain.Radford remembers the Carolina boys and the southern members of his unit being "good boys" and excellent fighters. Radford remembers advancing in a combat situation and seeing his men fall around him. As much as he wanted to help, it was not his job to. It was the medics’ job to take care of the wounded. It was hard for Radford to make sense of what was going on around him because of the precariousness of the situation. Radford remembers most of the names of the men he lost while in North Africa. He does not remember where most of the men were wounded because they were most likely evacuated the night of and never seen again.

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The Hill they were attacking [Annotator’s Note: in North Africa] was eventually cleared of Germans and the advancing soldiers were allowed to move unmolested. Radford did not have much interaction with British troops. Their tanks came through the lines one time. Radford notes that they were brave soldiers and good fighters. He remembers the British inviting them over for tea one time. Radford saw a lot of the British during the celebrations in Tunis, they all celebrated together. 135 [Annotator’s Note: 135th Infantry Regiment] ended up taking the hill while Radford and his men patrolled the perimeter. A lot of the Germans on the hill left their stuff behind. Radford remembers seeing some of the caves the Germans lived in and a lot of the stuff that they kept in the caves.The 34th Infantry Division was always attacking; they were seldom on the defense. They were also night fighters. At Fondouk Pass Radford's unit got it bad. He and his men ran into a unit of German convicts who were ordered to hold the hill and if they came down they would be shot. Radford notes that they were good shots. He saw more American soldiers dead then Germans. The men would talk after the battle and take account of who was dead and wounded. After they talked about it they tended to move on and they tried to not think about it. Radford did not dwell upon the possibility of death too much, yet he and the men would discuss the possibility of getting a wound that would send them home.

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They were trained to kill or be killed. They did what they were trained to do and did what they were ordered to do. Radford is proud of the discipline instilled in him and the traditions of the US Army. They hoped for thousand dollar wounds [Annotator’s Note: military slang referring to a wound received in combat which is serious enough remove the soldier from the fighting, but is not fatal]. Radford and his men felt like they could fight when they went to North Africa. Initially the British fought hard because they were fighting over their land. It took awhile for the Americans to realize that their men were now getting killed and that this was a serious fight and a serious war. Radford remembers a lot of hatred towards the Germans. He was never a part of a group that shot German prisoners. They did not shoot Germans because they would not have wanted that treatment for captured Americans.After the fight in Tunisia they were shipped back to Oran, this caused them to miss the invasion of Sicily.They got on a ship in Liverpool, England. Radford and the 133rd [Annotator’s Note: 133rd Infantry Regiment] boarded the Empress of Australia. From there they went through the Strait of Gibraltar on their way to North Africa. On their way to North Africa a ship hit the Empress of Australia and put a big hole in it. They thought they had been torpedoed but they had not. They received a tow into Oran. They had bad luck on their way to Ireland as well. The Dutchess of Athole was the name of that ship.

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Italy was different fighting then North Africa. In North Africa it was mostly wide open plains with rolling hills. In Italy it was tougher to fight because of the terrain. Also the Germans were fighting a tactical retreat. The Germans laid mines, blew up bridges, and otherwise made it difficult for the Allies to proceed. Radford recalls a lot of night fighting; he was wounded at Monte Cassino. Most of the fighting was offensive fighting through the rugged terrain. At Cassino is where they were stalemated.Radford has since visited most of the places he was at during the War. He and his wife visited the Cassino area and stopped to pay homage at the American cemetery. They also stopped at a cemetery that contained the German dead. There are a number of cemeteries there as well that commemorate men who died from various countries. Radford mentions New Zealand, the UK, and Polish as all having cemeteries in Italy.When Radford was wounded he was talking on the radio standing upright. Radford said it felt like a sledgehammer and he was immediately knocked to the ground. They pumped him up with morphine and got him back to the aid station. Radford was taken from station to station. He remembers being asked where he was wounded by some nurses. Also he remembers the men who were wounded around him. A number of Radford’s men thought he was dead. He was operated on the next day by a Jewish doctor from Chicago.

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They put Radford in a tent with a bunch of wounded guys after the surgery [Annotator’s Note: after being wounded in Monte Cassino, Italy]; he was in a lot of pain. The doctor ended up taking out the piece of shrapnel in his neck. Eventually he was shipped to Naples and stayed there for three months while he was under observation. They were not able to immediately stitch up the wound, which was why Radford needed to be in a hospital for three months. After he recovered enough from the wounds, h underwent physical therapy. He was no longer useful as a soldier, but he was able to type and was shipped back to the United States to Hot Springs, Arkansas.His orders took him to New Orleans and he spent ten months on the Chalmette Strip. Radford had a good time in Louisiana. Radford was discharged on August 31st, 1945. He was going to go to Tulane or LSU [Annotator’s Note: Louisiana State University] on the G.I. Bill. He wanted to go home and tried to enroll at Creighton. He was not able to register right away, ended up messing around with some girls, and got an offer with the National Guard making one hundred and fifty dollars a month.Radford states that he always wanted to be a lawyer. He purchased a laundry and rental company. He sold that company and got married. He also owned a beach hut company, made a decent amount of money and retired. Radford enjoyed going back to Italy to see where he had fought and also to view the graves of some of the friends he had lost. A lot of good men were lost out there. The British also did a good job.Radford remembers the ferocity of the German .88 [Annotator’s Note: German 88mm antiaircraft and antitank gun]. In Tunisia Radford saw a Mark VI tank [Annotator’s Note: a British tank] knocked out by American artillery. The German tanks that were knocked out ended up in the hands of the American Engineers. They tried to make sure the tanks were intact so that they could be shipped back to the United States and examined.

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Radford was at Camp Claiborne in the 166th [Annotator’s Note: in Louisiana with the 166th Infantry Regiment] when he heard about Pearl Harbor. The base was on alert and Radford remembered thinking, "where the heck is Pearl Harbor." Roosevelt [Annotator’s Note: President Franklin Roosevelt] came on the radio and told the country about the Japanese attack. Radford and his men did not think much about it because they were not expecting to ever fight the Japanese. The soldiers ended up getting yellow fever shots which fueled their speculation as to where they were going. They were shipped up to New York. The soldiers had never seen anything like New York before and a lot of the men were overwhelmed. They ended up on the troop ship Dutchess of Athole. Radford never got seasick on the way to Ireland. They zig-zagged the entire way to avoid submarines. They arrived safely in Belfast and ended up training there for about ten months before they went to Africa.Radford believes that the war changed him a bit. The idea of getting killed helped to change him. He considers himself extremely lucky that he was not killed. He also feels remorse that he got evacuated for being wounded. The idea of leaving the men behind, even though he was wounded, hurt him. If he could do it again he would not join the infantry. Radford thinks about the men he lost every day. Radford thinks a lot about the men who were killed, yet at the time he could not think about it a lot because they had to follow orders and complete the job. Radford also minded who he befriended, especially when the replacements came in because he did not want to get to know a new guy who had a good chance of getting killed. 

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Charles Radford tried to keep his mind on the task at hand because once someone died they were dead; they had to be able to move on quickly. It bothered a lot of people that there was little time to pay homage to the dead. There were times when Radford did not eat for a day. He also recalls that there were times when he refused food in order to carry extra ammunition. In Africa they lived off of British rations. The men used to get tins of Canadian bacon. Radford took care of his men, as a squad leader he had to watch after ten to twelve men. Radford had to make sure that the men changed their socks. He notes that some men did not change them intentionally so that their feet would freeze at night. Radford feels as if the fighting in Africa was tougher because the German resistance was stiffer and because of the terrain; a lot of the time they were out in the open. In Italy it was a different story because of the nature of the terrain. Radford was never a part of any of the amphibious landings and he is grateful for that. In Tunisia, Radford’s squad was fortunate enough to knock out a German tank. His men swarmed the tank to take out the Germans, they killed one and happened to keep the other one alive even though he was badly wounded. The chaplain was consoling the dying German. Chaplain Hoffman stuck around with the men of the 34th Division. He ended up losing a leg in the war.

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There are not many men left that served with Charles Radford. Radford at one point ran into Ernie Pyle. Pyle was attached with the 34th, yet Radford was still able to get near him and listen to him talk to some of the guys. The worst battle that Radford was in was the battle of Fondouke, the Germans were waiting for the Americans to walk into the ambush they had set up. Radford expressed a desire to see the German prisoners of war. He never got the chance to check out the superior German equipment. Radford was conscious of the fact that they were always on the advance and that it was going to cost men to take the hills.

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