Naples:life,death &
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extra ww2 photos from Herman Chanowitz - Jan 10, 2017

This is a short page of photos taken during WWII by Herman Chanowitz. In general, they relate to his oral history accounts at one of these three links: (1)  (2)  (3); that is, to the Allied advance from Salerno through Naples to Mt. Cassino and beyond. The first one deals with the Allied invasion at Anzio, which Herman took on the way to Rome. I intend to put up 8 or 9 of these. I'll try to include commentary as it occurs to me.

entry Jan 10, 201      
Anzio Annie

The gun, itself, was a K5 (K for Krupp), the main manufacturer of German artillery in both world wars. The barrel was 21.5 meters/71 feet long and could swivel. Anzio Annie had a German nick-name, as well. German gun crews called her "die schlanke Bertha" (slender Bertha), a pun on "die grosse Bertha" (Big Bertha) of WWI infamy, also by Krupp. Bertha was the name of Cannon King Friedrich Krupp's wife! A hefty hausfrau, you can bet. There is a whole page on Krupp here. Herman must have been passing through in Civitavecchia and snapped this photo from his own train as he passed. Good eye, Herman!

The unusual name of the Church of the Most Holy Japanese Martyrs, in ruins in the background, refers to a group of Catholics who were executed by crucifixion in 1597, at Nagasaki. Their martyrdom is significant in the history of modern Roman Catholicism. The church was built in 1872 and rebuilt in 1950. It is now spectacularly adorned with paintings by Japanese artist Luca Hasegawa. A website is here.
 Herman labelled this, "Anzio. German railgun." That was the common term for this artillery piece in WWII. Today the term would be "railway gun" (to avoid confusion with the modern magnetic rail gun. The Germans had more than a dozen of these in Europe and two of them were in Italy near Anzio to protect against the Allied invasion at that beachhead. They actually had names: Robert and Leopold! They were both termed "Anzio Annie" by the invading Allies and were an important part of the tenacious German retreat towards Rome. The Battle of Anzio (part of the overall battle for Rome) turned into a 4-month stalemate (Feb-May '44) witj heavy casualties on both sides, while these two behemoths scooted back and forth on rai lines from Fascati to Ciampino within easy shelling range of the Anzio beachhead, firing 15 explosive rounds an hour before ducking back into one of many covered railway tunnels, out of sight. This one has to be one of the two, but the location is identifiably the Church of the Most Holy Japanese Martyrs in Civitavecchia on the coast 100 km (60 miles) north of Anzio. It must be in June 1944 after Rome was liberated and the gun was being dismantled and prepared for shipping. Parts of it are in museums.
entry Jan 11, 2018
Crosses on a Fence
From the date, 1944, The site is between Cassino and Rome. Herman's narrative finishes with the Battle of San Pietro infine in December 1943 a few miles south of Cassino. From January 1944 until June the offensive was directed at overcoming the strong German Gustav Line, which included the town of Cassino as well as the famous abbey. The line was really a series of three fortified lines, each heavily defended. The offensive that Herman took part in then became part of the overall drive on Rome, including the German defenses in the Alban hills and at Anzio. The push started in late January and it was not until June 4 that the Allies entered Rome only two days before the Normandy invasion on the coast of France.

Labelled simply "Crosses on a Fence," this is another of Herman's photos "worth a thousand words." I tend to think that this is a real burial site, not just a commemorative site, perhaps a single trench grave for six fallen comrades, the stones along the front actually covering the trench. The markers are skewed as if they were put up hastily. The names are clearly visible. The years 1939-1944 mark the year that WWII started and the year that it ended for these soldiers. The marker itself is the standard German military decoration called the Iron Cross (Eisernes Kreuz), black with silver or white trim on all four arms of equal length. It is still the insignia of the Bundeswehr, the modern German armed forces.

entry Jan 12, 2018
Capodichino Airport - After & After

There is a complete entry on the Allied bombings of Naples and southern Italy at this link. These two particular photos are of the airport at Capodichino, then as now, the main Naples airport. It was one of the three main targets of aerial bombardment of the city, the other two being the main port and the main train station. The point of all of this was to interdict the massive amount of Axis supplies flowing through those points on the way to German armed forces in North Africa.

The photo on the left (above) was taken by Herman and pretty much sums up the situation. He couldn't take the photo on the right  (no selfies in 1943!) because he is dangling his legs from the tail section of what probably used to be a fine FW (Focke-Wulf) aircraft, possibly the Fw 190, a versatile single-seat single-engine fighter widely used by the Luftwaffe in all theaters of WWII. (I can't really tell, though. If you can, please tell me). Herman is slightly out of focus, but the plane isn't doing too well, either. The photo is probably October '43, right after the Allies took Naples and the Germans started to move north.

entry Jan 14, 2018
  Comparison & Contrast
Herman continues to astonish with his photos. These two --obviously "twins," of a sort -- look like one of those Comparison and Contrast exercises in high school English classes. The Comparison part is clear: they are taken from almost the exact same spot, probably minutes or maybe just seconds apart. I don't know which one was first, but it doesn't matter. I have displayed "Town Ruins, Man on Street" first and "View of Hill" second. Further comparison: the devastation is total, probably from aerial bombardment and not artillery fire, although maybe that doesn't matter, either. The Contrast part is also obvious: "Town Ruins, Man on Street" is about the horrors of war; the man is in uniform, but it's hard to tell from which nation. It's anyone's guess what he's thinking -- maybe something like, "Good God All-Mighty!". He is standing across from the ruined and darkened facade, still standing, of a building that no longer exists.

Then, assuming that photo to have been taken first, Herman waits a short time for a cloud to move a bit and throw a shadow on the hill and your mind's eye is distracted from the devastation and sees a painting called "View of Hill" and you see the romantic medieval castle up there and it suggests peace and quiet. Well, it is peace and quiet, but that's because it's not a medieval castle but home-town to a good number of persons maybe a few weeks earlier. Now we hope, they are off hiding in some of the many caves in the surrounding hills.

I don't know of a way to tell with any certainty the name of that town. From the other photos in the same batch that Herman gave me, the road is probably Route 6 up the Liri Valley (so-called "Death Valley" by Allied attackers), but it could be anywhere along that stretch from the approaches to Cassino to some point past the Gustav Line on the way past Anzio to Rome. A lot of that road looked like these photos.
entry Jan 15, 2018
Faces: Beautiful, Scary, and Hard-Working

I suppose there is nothing remarkable about this photo. Herman simply knew a good shot when he saw one. He called her
Nonna Bella (lovely grandmother) and she still certainly is that. Her black dress indicates that she is a widow. There is sadness, bemusement, and patience in her eyes, as if she wants to say, "Young man, a camera? Really?"

There is no indication of place, but from other
photos in the same batch, it's a small town or village in the northern Campania region or southern Lazio (Latina) taken as the Allies moved north.

Next - this is the one that scared me. It still does.

It's labelled "Italy, Norma,'44 - Little girl on steps."
Norma is a town in Lazio, below Rome, inland from Anzio.
She's barefoot and filthy. Her eyes are half-open. Lifeless slits.
"Herman," I said, "is that child...?
"No, she got up. I don't know why they put her down like that."

   The hard worker                                    
The photo is marked as "Italy, Sessa, 1944." Sessa is short for the town of Sessa Aurinca, a hill town in the nothern Campania in the province of Caserta.  They are about to start up "Death Vally" towards Cassino.

"Herman, is that really a donkey?", I asked.
"Do I look like Charles Darwin to you"
"I mean really Equus africanus asinus, a domesticated member of the horse family, Equidae. Or might it not be a mule, the offspring of Mr. Donkey and Miss Horse?"
"It's an ass, like you."

There are more than 40 million donkeys in the world today.
Until recently donkeys and mules were valuable in many military units and are still important on farms and in rural civilian communities in the world as pack and draft animals. Oh,  the biological "reciprocal" of a mule, that is the offspring of Mr. Horse and Miss Donkey is called a hinny. This one is carrying some sort of a basket, possibly for wood. In the war they were also used to remove the fallen. There is picture of that, here.
entry Jan 17, 2018

The Free French & the Moroccans

The terms Free France and Free French Forces (France Libre and Forces françaises libres) apply to the French  government-in-exile
and its military forces led by Charles de Gaulle during the Second World War. They continued to fight against the Axis powers as one of the Allies after the fall of France in 1940. Set up in London in June 1940, it organized and supported the Resistance in occupied France as well as participating in the war against the Axis in north Africa and Italy by making use of troops from French colonial north Africa. The enlisted men were all colonial North Africans, while officers and NCOs were French, such as the gentleman in this photo. Herman's label on this photo reads "cassino 44 french 2LT with 2nd Moroccan division." He is not further identified.

All sources, including Herman in his oral history account, praise the valor of Moroccan troops in overcoming tenacious German resistance. Herman and many other sources, however, also speak of the vicious episodes of "rape, pillage, and plunder" by marauding Moroccan soldiers in the weeks and months after the battle for Cassino. There is an entry on those episodes at this link.

 entry Jan 17, 2018

It's a Wonderful Life

I'm not being facetious, but this family looks happy, well-fed and loved. Herman titled the photo "Group44". If it's 1944 then it may be after the Germans pulled out of Rome and headed north. The war is not over, but it will in another year. The photo is not in a village, but looks like a city or town that you can see through the rubble in the background. But if these people survived the worst war in human history with their family intact, there is cause to be happy.

Good looking family. The father in the back on the right looks like he has seen war. Just a hunch. The kids look fine, except for junior in the middle on the left who may have been in a fight.  His brother, in the cap and slouching with his hands in his pockets, is the wise guy in the family.The two girls below the mother are lovely.  Everyone looks -- well, not super neat and spit-shined -- but maybe they're on the way to, or coming back from -- church. Herman probably saw them and walked up and said "Golly, what a lovely family. Do you mind if I take a picture of you?" That's all it would take because no one could resist a sincere pitch like that from Herman. So Mom has them fall in, in order of age, poses the girls up front, tells her husband he forgot a tie, combs down some loose hair over here and adjusts a button over there, and there's your family. The little squirt, lower left? --they rib him a lot but love him dearly. The little girl on the right?-- delicate. They love her too.  It's gloriously incongruous. In spite of the bits of rubble, there is nothing of the pall of war.

entry Feb 4, 2018
victory at Sea
Herman, always the flair for the dramatic! Actually, this one is kind of intriguing. (You can almost hear the strains of Richard Rodgers' Victory at Sea playing in the background!) The title on the shot is "Vesuvporthole." Gee, thanks. That's the easy part. It's a bit trickier trying to pin down the date. First, this is shot from the south-east, from a vessel moored precisely at the port of Castellammare at the beginning of the Sorrentine peninsula. Thus, this must be after the invasion at Salerno (mid-late Sept. '43)  when the Germans had retreated back through Naples to string their defenses on the approaches to Cassino, but before the Allies had actually started to off-load men and personnel into Naples, itself, in this case probably off-loading into Castellammare and driving to Naples. That's what is about to happen from the looks of the vessel at the very left of the photo, seen through the porthole. There are so many cranes on that ship that it has to be one of the famous  "Liberty ships" (more on them in a later photo, below), often used as troop transports but mostly for handling cargo and equipment. It occurs to me I don't know why Herman was on that ship since he says here
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...
If he drove "...from Salerno to Pompei and Torre Annunziata...all along the ocean..." he would have had to turn south at Pompeii to drive the few miles to the port of Castellammare and find that ship with the port hole. Maybe that's what he did -- anything for a picture. The other object in the water you see through the port hole is not a ship but a small island named the "The Rocks of Rovigliano" just off the coast: sighting over that is what lets you figure out where Herman's ship was located. My guess: early October, 1943. The arduous trek up towards Cassino was still in the future.

                                                                  Going Home                                         added Feb 7, 2018                                           
Since I mentioned Liberty ships (directly above), I shall jump forward a bit from the previous photo (from Oct 1943) to this one taken by Herman aboard the Felix Grundy. It is titled "Going Home". There's no date on the photo but it was in the same batch of prints as the one of the troop train (below) that is labeled Marseilles, December '45. That struck me as strange since V-E Day was 8 May 1945 and V-J was August 15 ( also September 2, the date the armistice was actually signed .) These troops returning to the U.S. were in a French port as late as December waiting for a ship. The Felix Grundy was the one they got and here they are seen lounging in luxurious comfort (meaning they are alive and going home!) on the passenger deck. 
Liberty Ships
She was a so-called "Liberty ship," one of the products of an incredible shipbuilding effort to mass produce as many vessels as possible to serve as cargo and troop ships in the European, Pacific and Asian theaters. The effort produced 2,710 "Liberty ships" (affectionately termed "ugly ducklings") between 1941 and 1945, an unprecedented example of industrial output. It was organized by Henry J. Kaiser (1882 – 1967), the American industrialist who became known as the father of modern American shipbuilding. He established the Kaiser Shipyards, which built the Liberty ships. Afterwards he formed Kaiser Aluminum and Kaiser Steel.
The ships were "prefabricated"; that is, they were identical in design and produced assembly-line fashion in sections that were then welded together at 18 different shipyards in the United States. They were all 134.57 meters / 441 ft 6 long with a beam (width at the widest point) of 17.3 meters / 56 feet 10.75 feet; they averaged about 11 knots (18.5 kph / 12.7mph on 2 oil-fired boilers and a single screw. They had a range of 20,000 nautical mi (37,000 km; 23,000 mi) They carried stern-mounted 4-in (102 mm) deck guns for use against surfaced submarines, and a variety of anti-aircraft guns. As troop ships they were intended to carry 550 troops but often carried more. For the homeward bound leg, maybe you just had to wait your turn. (Returning 8 million service members from overseas was quite a task. The operation to do so was named Operation Magic Carpet.) It was conventional to name the ships after illustrious, deceased Americans. (You could buy a ship and name it for 2 million dollars. Felix Grundy (1777 – 1840) was a congressman and senator from Tennessee and served as the 13th Attorney General of the United States. The Felix Grundy was launched in June of 1943, and decommissioned after the war, sold to a commercial shipping company and then scrapped in New Orleans in 1965. Similarly, many of the the ships became mainstays of commercial fleets trying to start up again after the war in places such as Greece and Italy. Three of the vessels are preserved in the U.S., two as museum ships.
Meanwhile, back at the Marseilles train station, we see the guys pouring out for a smoke break. The chalk art on the side of the train doesn't compare to the elaborate "bomber art" of WWII, but it's fun trying to decipher: "Home for Xmas? (we hope)" (Ok, that puts it at early to mid-December); "Pig Ahoy" (pig ahoy?); I can't read the caption on the cartoon except it ends with "Daddy"; and so forth.

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