First Division Veterans(Brief Division History - Commentary)
America entered World War II on December 7, 1941. Commanded by MG Terry de la Mesa Allen, the 1st Division was the first American division sent to Europe, arriving in Great Britain in July 1942. The Big Red One led the invasion of French North Africa near Oran, Algeria, on November 8, 1942. Dispersed among British units as they fought their way east across Algeria into Tunisia, the Division learned hard lessons in combat against the Germans at the Battle of Kasserine Pass. Re-assembled under Allen’s command, the Big Red One scored the first American defeat of a German unit, the 10th Panzer Division, at the Battle of El Guettar in 1943. The division had become a battle-hardened unit.
In late March 1943, both the 9th and 1st Divisions would combine their battle efforts. The 60th Combat Team was detached to fight the battle of Maknassy, while the remainder of the division moved to El Guettar. Here the 1st Inf. Div. on the left and the 9th Inf. Div. on the right, as parts of Gen. Patton's II Corps, were to attack on the Gafsa-Gabes axis to relieve the pressure on Gen. Montgomery's British force to the south. Detachments reduced the 9th for this operation to six — and for several days to five — infantry battalions. Principal handicap, however, was the almost complete lack of adequate maps. Nevertheless, the attack was launched on the morning of March 28, and for the next 11 days a bitter battle was waged for hills 290, 369, and 772. By April 7 the enemy had pulled back and the 9th, after occupying forward positions, made immediate plans to begin the long, secret trek to northern Tunisia leading to an eventual end to the conflict.
It's been said, there may have been some rivalry between Manton S. Eddy's newly formed 9th Division and the U.S. Army's well known First Division. It's also assumed by some, that General Eddy discouraged self ingratiating articles regarding his beloved new Division. Author and historian Red Phillips pointed out that Eddy would rather not engage in what he personally considered inappropriate behavior for a commander, but that in fact had no dislike for journalists. It's also a fact that Terry Allen was a much different personality. Ernie Pyle wrote numerous articles glamorizing Allen which helped put him in a different league. But Allen's Division was not above scrutiny. Omar Bradley was very critical of some of the actions of the First Division in North Africa, condemning what he considered to be poorly disciplined troops. At anyrate, all of this would help perpetuate the now famous legends of the First Division.
During the journey to interview surviving veterans of the 9th Division, it was discovered that some of the men still harbored some resentment toward the First Division. As I learned later, it became obvious that most of this was simply due to circumstances at the time; two generals possessing totally different personalities, and two totally different public perceptions. It's a fact; both Divisions saw horrendous combat and may have suffered equally in their attempts to liberate Europe. They also fought in many of the same places. As time was running out, I felt it imperative to reach out to the few 1st Division veterans left, and get their own personal opinions. It seems, at least some of the veterans expressed no personal superiority, except their obvious pride in their own Division.
Orfio 'Ike' Corsetti
Mr. Corsetti served in the 1st Signal Company, 1st Division. I visited with him in August 2012. At 92 years old, his memory was still sharp as he recalled his introduction to combat in North Africa 1942. He was responsible for various aspects of communication installations; laying wire, climbing poles, and setting up field phones between command posts. He related one particularly gripping story about his detachment during a vicious Stuka raid: "We were about half way in this convoy assisting the Brits with communications when suddenly out of nowhere came these ominous shapes diving straight for us from the sky. They were JU87 dive bombers screaming down. I remember diving for cover and then looking up. It was terrifying not knowing when or where they'd drop their payloads. All I could do was watch in horror as the bombs landed. The German pilots came in about telephone pole height getting closer and closer. You'd swear they were coming straight at us. It was terrifying." In other stories, I learned that Mr. Corsetti was actually present during the famous apology speech given by Patton for slapping an enlisted man. His impression was that the apology was a 'half hearted attempt.'
In this photo, (provided by Ike Corsetti), we see Danny Johnson, 8th from the left, center, who bravely fended off attacking Stukas with a 50 caliber which he welded to the platform in the back of his truck. Ike Corsetti can be seen to his left.
Ike Corsetti - Additional Biography
The 1st Infantry Division pointed the way, first to reach England, first to hit the Germans in North Africa and Sicily, first on the Bloody Beaches of Normandy on D-Day, and first to capture a major German city, (Aachen). The soldiers of the 1st Infantry Division amassed a total of nearly six months in continuous battle with the enemy. Ike Corsetti with the 1st Infantry Division had three D-Day landings, plus North Africa, Saint Lo, Aachen, Hürtgen Forest and battle of the Bulge. By war’s end after three operations under General Patton’s command, we finally rolled through Germany and into Czechoslovakia. The 1st Infantry Division monument can be seen on Omaha Beach, Normandy.
Henry L. Knauber
Interview February 2013. I first met Mr. Knauber at the same discussion group with 1st Division veteran Ike Corsetti. It was at the Capillary of the Round Table WWII in Hummelstown Pa., April 2012. The talk was moderated by Vietnam veteran William S. Jackson. Both Mr. Knauber and Mr. Corsetti served in the 1st Division. Just before our interview, Mr. Knauber was getting ready to take a long road trip to Utah. At 92 years old, it was astounding that he was in such great physical condition. He actually hiked 5 miles each day! The 1st Division and 9th Division followed parallel paths sometimes fighting in the same towns and battles in North Africa. During our interview Mr. Knuaber recalled the terrifying air raids in Gafsa and Gabes. He witnessed two of his freinds break down from shell shock. In another story, he recalled seeing a British plane shot down during a dog fight near Tunis: "We walked up to the downed aircraft which apparently had been there for sometime. The remains of the poor pilot was still visible, as his body was never removed." Watch a preview here.
Fort Benning June 1944 Fort Benning Georgia with a live snake
Photo of Henry L. Knauber taken in 1938, Zerbe, Schuylkill County Pa. He was 18 years old and riding a
Henderson Motorcycle. He lived in the same house for 60 years.
Photos and memorabilia provided by the veterans and their families.
This independent documentary is not intended to be a comprehensive account of the war in North Africa 1942-43. The completed film will feature rare interviews from veterans connected to the story. The search to locate veterans within this time frame was very difficult. With no funding and a small film crew who sporadically assisted with re-creations, the bulk of production falls upon one individual. Contributions of any kind are welcomed. firstname.lastname@example.org
Photos, illustrations, art work or interviews may not be reproduced, copied, stored, manipulated or redistributed without the expressed permission of the author.
Jacqueline Borock, Esq. email@example.com
Michael Fraticelli - North Africa 1942-43 Survivors' Stories © 2015