The Pittsburgh Press (April 23, 1943)
By Ernie Pyle
Northern Tunisia – (by wireless)
Thousands are the soldiers who want someday to bring their wives and children back to Tunisia, in times of peace, and take them over the battlefields we have come to know so well. But, except for the cities, they will not find much to remind them of the ferocity that existed here.
I have traveled recently over the Tunisian battle area – both the part we knew so intimately because it was on our side and the part we didn’t know at all because the Germans lived there at the time.
You don’t see the sort of desolated countryside we remember from pictures of France in the last war. That is because the fighting has been mobile, because neither side used permanent huge guns, and because the country is mostly treeless and empty. But there are some marks left, and I’ll try to give you examples in this and tomorrow’s column.
Tank skeletons, wooden crosses
East of El Guettar, down a broad valley through which runs a nice macadam road, you see dark objects sitting far off on the plain. These are burned-out tanks of both sides. A certain two sit close together like twins, about a mile off the road. The immense caterpillar track is off one and lies trailed out behind for 50 feet. The insides are a shambles. Seared and jumbled personal and mechanical debris is scattered around outside. Our soldiers have already retrieved almost everything worthwhile from the German debris, but you can still find big wrenches, oil-soaked gloves, and twisted shell cases.
And in the shade of one tank, not five feet from the great metal skeleton, is the fresh grave of a German tanker, marked by a rough wooden cross without a name.
There are many of these tanks scattered miles apart through the valley.
On the hillsides, you can still see white splotches – powder marks from our exploding artillery shells. Gnarled lengths of Signal Corps telephone wire, too mauled to retrieve, string for yards along the roadsides.
There are frequent filled-in holes in the macadam where artillery or dive bombers took their toll. Now and then a little graveyard with wooden crosses stands lonesomely at the roadside. Some of the telephone poles have been chopped down. There are clumps of empty ammunition boxes. But for all these things you must look closely. There was once a holocaust here, but it left only a slight permanent mark. It is sort of hard to disfigure acres of marigolds and billions of blades of fresh desert grass.
Sidi Bouzid in the middle
Sidi Bouzid is the little white village I saw destroyed by shellfire back in February. It was weeks later before I could get close enough to see the details, for the village remained German territory for some time. This was one of the little towns I know so well, and now it is pitiful to look at. The village almost doesn’t exist anymore. Its dozens of low stone adobe buildings, stuccoed a snowy white, are nothing but rockpiles. The village has died. The reason for the destruction of Sidi Bouzid was that German and American tank columns, advancing toward each other, met there. Artillery from both sides poured its long-distance fury into the town for hours. There will have to be a new Sidi Bouzid.
Faid Pass is the last pass in the Grand Dorsal before the drive eastward onto the long flat plain that leads to the Mediterranean at Sfax. For months, we looked with longing eyes at Faid. A number of times we tried to take it and failed. But when the Germans’ big retreat came, they left Faid Pass voluntarily. And they left it so thoroughly and maliciously mined that, even today, you don’t dare drive off onto the shoulder of the road, or you may get blown to kingdom come.
You lean away from danger signs
Our engineers go through these minefields with electrical instruments, locate the mines, and surround them with warning notices until they can be dug up or exploded later. These notices are of two types – either a white ribbon strung around the mine area on knee-high sticks or else stakes with oppositely pointing arrows on top. The white arrow pointing to the left meaning that side is safe, the red arrow pointing to the right meaning that side is mined.
And believe me, after seeing a few mine-wrecked trucks and jeeps, you fear mines so dreadfully that you find yourself actually leaning away from the side of the road where the signs are, as you drive past.