Attempting to Identify Babe’s Location from the Clues in His Letters

Babe latest letters help indicate he had recently been in this area.

The last three 1944 letters I’ve transcribed from Babe have relatively large gaps between them — July 22, Aug. 6 and Aug. 31 — and they seem to give a little hint about where he might be. Clearly, based on the Aug. 6 letter, he’s close to the Mediterranean Sea, since he goes on at some length about the beauty of the water and the day he would spend swimming in it.

That makes sense, from what I think I’ve been able to understand from the literature.

I’m still struggling to understand what I’m reading about troop movements in various military campaigns during World War II. I’m probably making it harder than it should be. But I can’t get my head around a simple arrow a map that shows where something as gigantic as the Fifth Army — with potentially 50,000 men and their materiel — moved between one date and the next.

That said, a summary of  what is now called the “Rome-Arno Campaign” published by the U.S. Army Center of Military History outlines the strategies and movements during that campaign between Jan. 22 and Sept. 9, 1944.

During the period of this latest round of letters, on July 1, the publication notes that town of Cecina fell to 34th Infantry Division, Babe’s unit, as it was marching with the Fifth Army northward up the Italian boot. Cecina is a western coastal village about 33 miles north of Follonica — also on the western coastline.

I mention Follonica because the “Numerical Listing of APO’s (Army Post Offices)” that I talked about here indicates that the 34th established its APO at Follonica on Aug. 1, 1944 — which must mean it lagged about a month behind the forward units of the division that took that territory in Italy.

In any case, it seems to suggest that during July, Babe’s unit was well entrenched along the western coastline of Italy. The Rome-Arno publication goes on to say “the 34th and 88th Infantry Divisions and the U.S. Japanese-American 442d Regimental Combat Team (helped) capture the port of Leghorn on 19 July before reaching the banks of the Arno with the rest of the Fifth Army on 23 July.”

“Leghorn” was the English-language translation for Livorno, another western coastal city 25 miles north of Cecina. The Arno River is perhaps another 15 or 20 miles north of Livorno.

All that, of course, came scant weeks after the June 4, 1944, capturing of Rome, the first Axis capital city to fall to the allies. The Rome-Arno campaign literature notes that “elements of the 1st Special Service Force, 1st Armored Division, and the 3d, 34th, 36th, 85th, and 88th Infantry Divisions” took the city that day.

I wonder, of course, whether Babe was among those “elements” to be involved in the capture of Rome. Just two days later, the Allies unleashed the Normandy “D-Day” Invasion.

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