H/T War History OnLine.

We get a glimpse of World War II through the eyes of Biagio Castiglione.

Biagio Castiglione was a Combat Engineer at the Corps level and mostly drove trucks. A regular GI, he always had a camera with him and would take photos of anything that caught his eye.

He had trouble finding a film in the combat zones so he’d try to find some in liberated Paris when he drove to get supplies or was a driver for an officer. Some he got developed by the Army, probably at a medical or intel unit but most rolls were just mailed home to be developed when he got back.

 

The Photos

These pictures have never before been seen, they’ve been in photo albums for 70 years, War History Online is proud to publish them for the first time!

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Biagio Castiglione in Nov 1943 when he was 20 years old.

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Basic Training

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It’s 1943 and they are at Camp Swift, Texas going through basic training. This is Biagio with an M1 Carbine. The barracks are behind him.

The push toward the Second World War began when the Great Depression shook the world’s economy in October 1929. Already reeling from severe austerity measures, Germany went over the edge. Poverty increased dramatically and the country’s already fragile financial system was brutalized even further. Resentment quickly flourished among the general public towards the nations that had seemingly put them in this dire situation.

This paved the way for the rise of the Nazi party, under Adolph Hitler. He was swept to power on a tide of nationalism and resentment, and quickly set about rearming the country, despite the fact that this directly violated the terms of Germany’s surrender in 1918.

In the east, the Russian Empire’s revolution in 1917 resulted in a Communist state. Italy became Fascist, while Japan’s military government began plans to expand their empire beyond China. Germany forged new alliances, and these formed the basis for the Axis Powers, the union that would eventually come to be opposed by the Allies.

 

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Biagio holding an M1 Garand. His friend is holding a Thompson Submachine Gun. He foolishly has his finger on the trigger. Luckily, the Army didn’t trust anyone with ammo unless they were at the range or in theater. This photo shows a better view of the training barracks.

England and France

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Biagio Castiglione is standing at the far left
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Biagio took this pictures after, what was left of, St Lo was liberated. A bulldozer clears a road through the rubble. Note the church steeple.

Germany moved even closer to the Second World War – the most deadly conflict in human history – when Hitler annexed Austria in March 1938, to reunite the German people separated by the terms of the Treaty of Versailles. This was only the beginning of Hitler’s ambitions, however.

His forces did the same with Sudetenland (the German-speaking region of Czechoslovakia) in October of the same year. Remembering the horrors of the First World War, Britain and France did nothing.

Eventually, of course, they were forced to declare war when Germany invaded Poland, on the 1st of September, 1939. Germany then marched on Denmark and Norway, followed soon afterward by the invasion of Belgium and France. This pattern of seemingly unstoppable German expansion would continue for much of the war. The Soviet Union had a pact with Germany, but even that was eventually scrapped as Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa in 1941, marking the start of his invasion of Russia.

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Trucks carrying supplies from the beach to the front.
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Another cleared road.
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Biagio on Kitchen Patrol. The water heaters sit in the garbage cans and the men swished their mess kits in the water to clean them after eating. The markings on the trailer show 9th Army 1115th Combat Engineers.

Events turned in the winter of 1941 when the German advance into Russian territory was halted.

The United States had managed to distance themselves from any direct involvement in the war, but that all changed when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on the 7th of December, 1941. Believing they had neutralized America’s Pacific Fleet, the Japanese then attacked the Philippines (which belonged to the United States at the time) and Hong Kong (a colony of Britain). Other nations in the Pacific were next. The United States declared war on Japan, forcing Germany to declare war on America. In so doing, Italy became an enemy of America.

The next stage of the war took place in North Africa, which was already split between various European powers. War arrived there in 1942 as the Allies and Axis forces tried to control supplies of oil necessary for the war effort and vital industries. For the Allies, control of the region gave them a much-needed stepping stone into Italy, which surrendered in October 1943.

Germany

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Sturmtiger
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A destroyed Panzer Mk IV
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Biagio Castiglione is on the left. The guy on the right is not identified. Note the camera case strap around his neck. It looks like a tire change on a 1115th Engineers staff car.

In June 1944, the Allies landed on the French beaches of Normandy – giving them a foothold in Western Europe. Russia, by then an Allied country, began moving its armies east – part of a three-pronged effort to enter the German heartland. The Russians reached the German capital in Berlin first – ending the war in Europe on the 8th of May, 1945. Not so in Asia, due to a still-defiant Empire of Japan.

 

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There’s a dog around that looks healthy. With the starvation going on, a dog was a rarity, a luxury, and even a food source. It looks like bullet marks on the wall from an earlier fight. The jeep has a unit modified bar in front to counter cables strung across roads to catch drivers in the neck.
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A North American P-51B or C model with a swastika on the tail. (The more advanced D Model had a bubble canopy and a lower fuselage top behind it.) Biagio sitting in the cockpit pretending he’s the Red Baron.

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Not wishing to prolong the war further and avoid wasting more American lives, the United States decided to use the atom bomb against Japan. On the 6th of August, 1945, Hiroshima became the first ever target of a nuclear weapon, while Russian forces invaded Japanese overseas territories.

Yet still Japan remained defiant. Three days later, another atomic bomb was dropped on the city of Nagasaki, and it was clear that the war could not go on. Japan surrendered on the 15th of August and formally signed a peace treaty on the 2nd of September, 1945 – thus ending the Second World War and redrawing the map of Europe and parts of Asia.

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Two more pictures of, what appears to be, a BF-109
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The name on the truck at the right is “Collie”, Biagios Dodge WC 51 was named after his girlfriend who became his wife after the war.

The next three photos were taken in Ulm, Germany. The huge cathedral there was amazingly undamaged and you could climb upstairs to the top. My dad was in full tourist mode and took scenes of the rubble below.

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Here’s the view of Ulm from the top of the cathedral. You can see the main roads cleared by engineer bulldozers to make it easier to move around the city center. Most of the wooden roofs are burned away leaving hollowed-out brick structures.
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Here’s a lower level view of Ulm’s rubble.
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The notes on this packet of negatives says, “Koblenz (Coblenz) – Pontoon bridge & Fortress.” The XIX Corps built 15 bridges across the Rohr and I’m guessing this one across the Rhine.

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Here’s a Bailey Bridge under construction by engineers. Unfortunately, the notes on the envelope containing this negative did not match what was on the negatives inside. I’m pretty sure this is Biagio’s Engineering unit though.
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This photo is the farthest east they got when they met up with the Soviets on the other side of the Elbe River at Magdeburg. The Truman Bridge was built by the 295th Combat Engineers which is my Biagio’s sister unit in the XIX Corps. They were divided into 4 units before they came ashore in Normandy.
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An American Cemetery

Going Home

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Biagio (on the right) and two friends on the Riviera waiting for a ship back to the states. He arrived home to Niagara Falls in December 1945. I gave him a lot of grief for having the worst shined boots in the group. Note his camera case on his hip. Also note the Kodak film sign on the lower left. These photos were shot on Kodak’s Panatomic film.

 

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Going home. Biagio got home to Niagara Falls in December 1945. He left out of southern France on a Liberty Ship. The top photo is passing Gibraltar. You can see another Liberty Ship with the rock of Gibraltar behind them.

 

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The men on the deck. Biagio is seated outside the safety rail with his nose just above the bar. Later he told stories about rough seas making everyone puke. I guess it’s worth it if you’re going home.

All pictures reproduced with permission

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