It’s hard to imagine nowadays, but Ernie Pyle and his fellow correspondents were given jeeps and allowed to go wherever they wanted. Ernie and his buddy nearly drove into the tank battle in the Kasserine Pass.
Ernie traveled with different units sharing all their hardships, listening to their stories, diving into trenches when a plane was spotted, shivering in the rain in a muddy foxhole. While other correspondents rotated out of the battle zones, Ernie would hand his column to the first soldier he found headed back to headquarters.
And all this time he was keeping up his correspondence with the American people, who relied on him to bring them the unvarnished truth about the war. All the press dispatches went through the military censors, as did all the GI mail, but soldiers and reporters alike knew they couldn’t tell people where they were or where they were going.
What’s even harder to imagine nowadays is Ike’s decision, when the Tunisian campaign was concluded, to hold a press conference and tell the press that he was going to invade Sicily.
Ike reckoned that after the victory in Tunisia, there was going to be a delay while they arranged the logistics for the invasion. He knew that would fuel speculation among the journalists, and that one or more of them would be able to conclude from these logistical arrangements what his next move was going to be.
The Nazis, of course, were sure he was going to invade Sardinia because of “The Man Who Never Was,” the cunning plan by British intelligence to create a fictional Royal Marine officer and have his body wash up on the coast of Spain (where the Gestapo received active cooperation) with telling details of the Allied plans.
They had to concoct a whole personality complete with theater ticket stubs, keys, pictures of a sweetheart, and, for good measure, a couple of letters dunning him for overdue bills. In the documents he carried, the Allied plans to attack Sardinia are alluded to obliquely, but in such a way that the Nazis would be sure to draw the wrong conclusions.
This is all detailed in the book of that name by Ewen Montagu, who conceived the plan and successfully duped the Nazis and undoubtedly saved tens of thousands of lives. Though it was later eclipsed by the Normandy invasion in size and scope, the Allied force that invaded Sicily was the largest of its kind in the history of warfare.
“The broad outline of the Sicilian campaign was announced to our press representatives one month before it took place,” says Ike.”This unprecedented step was taken, paradoxically, to preserve secrecy.”
“During periods of combat inactivity, reporters have a habit of filling up their stories with speculation,” he continues, “and since after some months of experience in a war theater, any newsman acquires considerable skill in interpreting coming events, the danger was increased that soon the enemy would have our plans almost in detail.
“Because of the confidence I had acquired in the integrity of mewsmen in my theater, I decided to take them into my confidence. The experiment was one which I would not particularly like to repeat, because such revelation does place a burden upon the man whose first responsibility is to conceal the secret. But I did succeed in placing upon every reporter in the theater a feeling of the same responsibility that I and my associates bore.
“Success was complete,” Ike concludes. “From that moment onward, until after the attack was launched, nothing speculative came out of the theater and no representative of the press attempted to send out anything that could possibly be of any value to the enemy.”