My first sight of Karouba was on the last trip of theBone-Bizerte run. We were well into the month of May, 1943, when after weaving a treacherous course among the sunken hulls in Bizerte harbor, the skipper turned to a small inlet. As we tried to squeeze through, the currents and wind almost caused us to broach on alarge ship lying crosswise, almost blocking the entrance. An emergency backdown, with a little more speed for steerage, allowed us to squirt through into the canal. The canal, although dotted with little red flags, courtesy of some unheralded divers, marking the sunken and sabotaged ships, was navigable. At the end of about a half mile, on the starboard side, was the French Naval Air Base of Karouba on Lake Bizerte.
I am told by some who have visitedAnzio that one would never know it was the sight of our toughest fight in the Mediterranean. Not so with Karouba that day. Some battlefields retain their grief, others don't.
It was around noon whenLopez and I walked through the base, each step raising a small cloud of dust. The air hung hot and heavy. Not a sound from bird, cat, dog or human, just a suffocating silence. Worst of all was the unmistakable stench of rotting bodies. I had a strange urge to whistle... softly.
We walked through thecratered streets littered with shattered red tiles from the roofs, and the telltale pockmarks of machine gun fire covered the surrounding walls. Now and then we were startled as a zephyr rattled the laid back tin roof of a hangar. Circling back to the LCT, neither of us realized we hadn't spoken a word.
The skipper took the craft down toPhilippville to pick up a crane which turned out to be the one our staff carpenter, Stupka, ran later on. The quartermaster officer wouldn't release it because there was no qualified operator, so we hung around for a while before heading backto Karouba.
On the way back, in the first rays of the morning sun, we werenearing a place where we usually passed between two foreboding rocks. I believe this is in the area of La Galite. At first we saw some floating packages looking something like the bundles of ammunition for the 155 guns. Then the skipper , with his glass, saw what looked like a capsized LCT with its rudders, props and anti-fouling bars projecting upward. This proved to be true. As we neared it we could see a huge hole near the bow. The skipper circled looking for survivors, then ordered a shore party which turned up a startled Arab and some camel tracks.
When we got back to Karouba there were theLCTs we'd left in Arzew. After all the stories and reunions, we learned the craft had been 4th or 5th in line of a group passing between those rocks when it was believed to have hit a mine. One man forward in the head was missing and presumed dead, the rest were rescued by the other crews. Flotilla 10 had now lost two craft and Sicily, Italy and Southern France were yet to come.
(The electric shop is out of the picture at lower right)
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