Irwin "RED" Frederick Hutchins   -   IN AFRICA

Irwin was a grinding machine operator for Blood Brothers in Allegan for over a year before he entered the Army on June 6 1942. He traveled to Fort Benning, Georgia for 3 months of basic training then to Fort Knox, Kentucky for additional training on truck driving. His work at Blood Bros. on universal joints got him this job. His unit was the 78th Field Artillery Regiment, 13th Calvary which soon traveled to Norfolk. Here Irwin was advanced to Private First class. They boarded a troop ship and were bound for Africa. Some of the division boarded ship in New York City.

In time the division was grouped up with other ships. When the time was right, they landed and saw their first war action at Casablanca, Morocco on November 8th, 1942.

Irwin’s specialty was “TRUCK DRIVER LIGHT” where he drove 1/4 and 2 1/2 ton trucks hauling personnel, supplies and equipment. On crossing Africa, there was an event Irwin related to LaVerne. The unit’s convoy was traveling at night with blackout lights and they stopped for some reason. In the morning he started to step out of the truck but stopped short, they were at the edge of a steep cliff. It was here, Russell Skinner had to hide in rugs.

Press writer Hal Boyle, described some of the action: In February 1943 Rommel foresaw that German troops left in Africa would be bottled up between the British First Army and the

American Second Corps forces to the west, and Montgomery’s pursuing Eighth Army which was pushing up the south toward the Mareth line. Hoping to deal with these enemies one at a time, he broke his Panzers from Faid Pass through the weakest point in the American lines which were buttered thin over a long line. Two battalions of the 34th Infantry Division holding positions on two hills outside the pass delayed the Germans precious hours until reinforcements could be summoned.

After sweeping over these two battalions, taking hundreds prisoner, Rommel’s panzers drove on 60 miles through Sbeitla and Kasserine Gap in western Tunisia, until halted at Thala by British tanks and American artillery of the 9th Infantry Division which made a 400 mile march through winter storms to arrive in the nick of time. Another German column swinging around in a pincers from the south had taken Gafsa, Teriana and Thelepte. Alarmed by his losses and Montgomery’s rapid drive toward the Mareth line, Rommel reluctantly had to pull back his battered Panzers without achieving either of his two greatest goals.

These goals had been, first, to seize American headquarters near Thebessa and all its supplies, and second, to swing northward through Thala behind British First Army’s rear, capture great Allied base at Constantine and perhaps even thrust west and take Algiers itself, Supreme Headquarters of the Allied forces in Africa. One thing Rommel did achieve. He upset Allied plans and delayed for two months a pending Allied offensive, thus prolonging the end of the African campaign until May 19, 1943.

Many of the German forces captured in the Tunisia area ended up in the United States at Camp Lakewood on Allegan Lake, east of Fennville.

Continuing, the division prepared for an attack on Sicily. Irwin's unit boarded ships again at Tunis, Tunisia, see photo right.  The Division as a whole did not enter combat until the invasion of Sicily, when it made an assault landing at Gela, 10 July 1943. After a short voyage they landed at Licata, Sicily and captured the Island back from the Germans.  The whole division left the Island from Palermo, the capital of Sicily, and sailed West in the Mediterranean, through the Straits of Gibraltar far out into the Atlantic, looping back towards England, avoiding the German subs.


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