April 11, 1944 — What It’s Like With The Yanks In Their Anzio Dugouts

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April 11, 1944 — What It’s Like With The Yanks In Their Anzio Dugouts

War Correspondent, Ernie Pyle, wrote, “Practically everybody on the Anzio beach bead who is back of the outer defense line has his home underground. We correspondents don’t have, but that’s merely because we haven’t got any sense. Also, it could possibly be because we’re lazy. At any rate, this beachhead is so due up that an underground cross-section of it would look like a honeycomb. Even tanks and jeeps are two-thirds buried for protection.”[1]

Ernie continued:

The soldiers dugouts are made by digging a square or rectangular hole about shoulder deep, then roofing it with boards and logs, piling earth on top of that, and digging a trench out from it with steps leading up.

Digging is extremely easy here, for the soil is almost pure sand. Two men can dig a hole big enough for their home in an hour. Two or three hours more, if they have the timbers ready, is enough to finish the simpler type of dugout.

It’s pleasant to dig in sand, but it has its disadvantages. The sides cave in easily. Now and then a man is buried in his dugout. Even the concussion from our own big guns will start the walls of a dugout to sliding in.

The average dugout houses two men. It’s just big enough for their blanket rolls, and you have to stoop when you get into it.

A tank crew always digs in just a few feet from the tank, for which they also dig a hole. The boys then run wires from their tank battery into their dugout, for electric lights. They have straw on the floor, and shelter halves hung at the entrance.

Most of the men sleep on the ground, while most of the officers have cots. But it’s not bad sleeping on the ground in a dugout, for you keep both warm and dry.

Some dugouts have board walls to keep the sand from caving in. Others use the more primitive method of log supports in each corner with shelter halves stretched between them to hold back the sand.

It takes a lot of lumber to shore tip all those thousands of dugouts. The boys rustle up anything they can find out of old buildings. The two most coveted pieces of equipment from deserted houses are wooden doors and wall mirrors. The doors are used for dugout ceilings, and it’s a poor dugout indeed that hasn’t got a fancy mirror on the wall.

From the basic two-man dugout, which is usually bare except for a shelf, a mirror and some pin-up girls, these underground homes run on up to the fantastic in elaborateness.

One of the best I’ve seen was built by Lieut. Edward Jacques, of Cleveland Heights, Ohio, and his driver, Pvt. Russell Lusher of Marion, Ind. They have a wooden floor, shelves and nails on the wall for every item, a writing desk with table lamp, a washstand with big mirror, porcelain lampshades with little Dutch girls painted on them and best of all, hidden on a shelf I noticed two fresh eggs.

But the finest dugout I’ve seen belongs to four officers of a tank company. This dugout is as big as the average living room back home. You can stand up in it, and it has a rough wooden floor. It has a drawing table in the center, and numerous chairs. The four officers sleep on cots around the walls.

Books and magazines and pipes and pictures are scattered on tables all over the place, just like home. They have a radio, and on the table is a sign listing the bets of various people on when the invasion of Western Europe will come.

The officers brew hot tea or chocolate every afternoon and evening. The dugout is heated to the baking point by one of these funny Italian stoves, which for some reason are always painted pink. The officers chop their own wood for the stove.

To go with the pink stove, the boys dug up from somewhere a huge overstuffed chair covered in old-rose upholstery. They have named their dugout “the Rose Room.”

They have several electric lights, and the crowning luxury of this palatial establishment is a Rube Goldberg arrangement of ropes and pulleys, whereby one of the lieutenants can switch off the light after he gets in bed. They even have a big white dog, slightly shell-shocked, to lie on the hearth.

From all this you might draw the deduction that war isn’t hell after all. Well, these men can and do go into battle 20 minutes away, and every day and every night shells and bombs fall around them, and it’s an unusual day when somebody isn’t killed within their own little village of dugouts.

[1] Ernie Pyle. With Fifth Army Beachhead Forces in Italy. (By Wireless). What It’s Like With The Yanks In Their Anzio Dugouts. The Commercial Appeal, Memphis. News Clipping

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