*Selected photos and memorabilia provided by the veterans.
The documentary was initially inspired by a journal written by my father, (Anthony L. Fraticelli), in 1942-43. He wrote about his experiences as a Coast Guardsman aboard an ill-fated transport ship, the USS Thomas Stone during 'Operation Torch'. Torpedoed and run aground November 7th 1942, the Stone carried the 39th Regimental Combat Team of the newly formed 9th Division into Algiers. From landings in various ports of North West Africa including; Algiers, Oran, Casablanca, Safi, and others, British and American forces would learn to fight side by side. This Anglo-American invasion force would eventually capture more than 250 thousand German and Italian soldiers pushing them into Tunis. From there, American forces of the 9th Division would continue into Sicily and beyond gaining more experience but not without cost.
AP-59, the USS Thomas Stone after it was torpedoed, towed, then washed aground in Algiers November 1942.
'Hooligans' (as they called them), this partial group were among #25 total Coast Guardsmen assigned to the Thomas Stone. Supplementing the 500 or more Navy Crew, (not exactly endeared by Capt. Bennehoff), they were to help man the small boats for the invasion of Algiers. Top Row; From Left; Unidentified Officer, Unidentified Sailor, Robert Donnelly, Robert Fraley, Matthew Magdic, Unidentified Sailor, Dick Morgan, Unidentified Officer. Bottom Row; Clarence Cray, Philip Kaftka, Joseph Motyka, Sidney Serota, Kenneth Evans, 2 Unidentified Sailors.
*Photograph courtesy Steve Motyka.
Sample Collection of National Archives Documents Regarding the USS Thomas Stone
These Documents show the deck log entry for November 7th 1942, details of the torpedo strike, and a partial Coast Guard Muster.
Captain Olton R. Bennehoff
Captain Bennehoff was an ex-mariner and came up traditional Navy ranks as a strict disciplinarian. It's been said he may have saved the day for the imperiled crew of the Thomas Stone. Torpedoed, then towed with great difficulty in dangerous waters, the ship was then tossed around like a toy boat by fierce winds and storms. The French Navy only added to Bennehoff's troubles as they refused the crippled ship the safety of Algiers inner harbor. Wracked by continual disappointments and catastrophe, the ship and crew endured countless air attacks by JU-88's and bombing that would bring any sailor to his knees. As Navy veteran Frank Rush recalls: "There was one guy who pounded his fists on the deck praying to God the bombing would stop." Coast Guardsman Robert Fraley recalled: "It's true we Coast Guardsmen were given lousy details but Bennehoff actually helped save our asses with preparation, drills, and discipline."
Surviving veterans of the North African campaign reveal their own personal stories of fear and courage. At an average age of 19 years old, some shared a common link aboard AP-59, the USS Thomas Stone. Others spoke about their own personal experiences. After surviving the torpedo strike, another journey of near-disaster occurred when a young Army Major, Walter M. Oakes, made a decision to launch 24 tiny landing craft 160 miles from Algiers. The journey was perilous, but the invasion went on and the rest is history. With a focus on the 9th Division, using re-creations based upon interviews of untold stories, this documentary gives a unique original approach to the invasion of North Africa. The completed film will include commentary from various historians, sons and daughters, and veterans from various branches of service including: the U.S. Army, Army Air Corps, Navy, Coast Guard, ANC, and veterans of the Afrika-Korps.
Sample Collection of National Archives Documents Regarding the LCV Journey
These documents reveal how the LCV's were exposed to a dark rough sea, proving it was more than they could handle for the tiny Flotilla.
Major Walter M. Oakes
Considered a tough, no nonsense officer, Major Oakes was determined to get to Algiers despite the near sinking of the Stone by an aerial torpedo dropped by an He-111. It wasn't enough to simply sit and wait to be towed, missing the invasion. Oakes and Bennehoff paired up and put together a plan they hoped would sail them away safely in the night. In late afternoon November 7th 1942, Bennehoff took out his slide rule and compass. He estimated that given adequate fuel and maintaining proper speed, the flotilla of tiny landing craft could actually make the journey, (160 miles), to Algiers. The LCV's were early versions of LCVP's which put the coxswains high above and vulnerable to the elements. Other craft used were different versions of the 36' Higgins boats with a small covered canopy, hardly sea worthy for such an extended voyage. Coast Guardsman Robert Fraley recalls: "I was in the lead boat with Major Oakes and more petrified than during the torpedo strike. The sea became rough and thrashed us around like toy boats. I thought for sure we'd all perish." *Photograph courtesy Tina Lee.
Sample Collection of Army War College Documents Regarding The 9th Division's Baptism of Fire During the Battle of El Guettar - North Africa, March 1943.
Documents: Flawed recon & heavy enemy fortification at El Guettar, Colonel Brown is Relieved, and 47th Regiment 'E' Co. is Devastated.
Commencing in 2006, this tribute documentary features more than 50 interviews with American and German veterans from world-wide searches including sons, daughters, and historians relevant to the story. Many of the veterans have since passed. Their stories, (only glimpses), could be the last we see from a generation who sacrificed so much to save humanity from a global crisis of catastrophic proportion.
The re-creations are accented by rare archival footage. The project is primarily the work of one filmmaker-producer-historian who occasionally received help from a few reliable production people. The film is dedicated to the veterans in the story, and to ALL veterans.
Initial support team: Toni Fraticelli, Leilani Goode, (Line Producer), Kurt Eberling Jr., Michael Mullin, Rob Coccagna, Ted Dyer, GT, Geoff Morris, and a few others. Gary Miller's 82nd Armor reenactment group, (among others), were the first reenactors on the set. Matt Carroll's 9th Division reenactment group would later join the project. Project Liberty Ship the 'John W. Brown' was an integral backdrop for the ship scenes. The hundred or more WWII reenactors have been the backbone of the project and the veterans became extended family.
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
Jacqueline Borock, Esq. email@example.com
Photos, illustrations, art work or interviews may not be reproduced, copied, stored, manipulated or redistributed without the expressed permission of the author.
Michael Fraticelli - North Africa 1942-43 Survivors' Stories © 2015