CENTER FOR U.S. WAR
VETERANS' ORAL HISTORIES
World War II
Edward L. Bimberg was born in New York City in December 1919. He enlisted in the New York National Guard’s 101st Cavalry regiment as a private in 1939 because he “liked horses.” At the time, Bimberg was a student at New York University majoring in journalism. In 1941, the 101st was still a horse-mounted unit. Although many of his friends were eventually drafted, Bimberg was already in the National Guard, and so was called before the United States entered World War II, in January 1941, to active duty with his regiment for a year’s training.
The 101st was federalized on January 27, 1941 at Fort Devens, Massachusetts, converted to a “horse-mechanized” unit, and subsequently transferred to Camp Davis, North Carolina. In the fall of 1941, the Carolina Maneuvers proved that the horse/mechanized composition units were ineffective, and so the 101st was completely mechanized after the United States entered the war in December. Bimberg became a radio operator instead of a cavalry trooper. He left the regiment for anti-aircraft artillery officer candidate school in the summer of 1942. After successfully completing the course, Bimberg was sent to Fort Bliss, Texas as a 2nd lieutenant in the 638th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion. The battalion was armed with 40 millimeter and .50 caliber anti-aircraft guns.
After intensive training at Fort Bliss as well as Fort Carson, Colorado during the winter of 1942-1943, the 638th was selected to be part of the North African Campaign. Lieutenant Bimberg described his voyage across the Atlantic to Africa as “not pleasant,” because the overcrowded transport ship frequently had to abruptly zig-zag to avoid the threat of German submarines. There were many “general quarters” drills and alerts to prepare the passengers for a possible attack.
The transport safely made port in Oran, Algeria in early 1943, and was assigned as the anti-aircraft defenses for an airfield at Kairouan, Tunisia. It was subsequently relieved by a British unit and was shifted around Tunisia to different airfields, but never experienced combat. Bimberg, now a 1st lieutenant and platoon leader, enjoyed being stationed in North Africa, since he had read about the French Foreign Legion and was excited to walk in the footsteps of that legendary force. On one occasion, while eating dinner at a hotel in Tunis, he spotted actor Adolph Menjou in the lobby.
During his stay in North Africa, Bimberg was assigned to a mine and booby trap detection school, along with British troops, who he described as “first class.” Throughout his tour he interacted with soldiers of diverse nationalities, including Indian, French, Italian and German regular army troops, the latter two as prisoners of war, as well as Arabs who fought with the French as guerrillas. Bimberg had little contact with indigenous people; he was nervous about them being possible spies. His biggest complaint was the lack of sanitation at remote airfields.
Due to the lack of enemy air activity, Lieutenant Bimberg was often assigned temporarily to other duties, including transporting prisoners of war. On one occasion when he was escorting German POWs to a camp, they started singing marching songs, which was prohibited for fear of angering local civilians. When Bimberg ordered them to cease, they hummed the tunes instead. He recalled that the Italian prisoners he encountered had “gaudy uniforms,” were good people, but apparently not very enthusiastic soldiers. The barbed wire enclosed prison camp Bimberg was assigned to had separate areas for Germans and Italians. He also served on courts-martial, where he and two other officers were both judge and jury. One case Bimberg recalled involved a fist fight between American and British soldiers.
In early 1944, Bimberg’s unit was shipped across the Mediterranean to the island of Corsica, a Vichy French territory recently liberated by the Allies, which would serve as a major air base for the rest of the war. The 638th was deployed along the waterfront in the port town of Bastia, and saw its first incoming fire during a raid by enemy ships. He was ordered not to return fire, which depressed his men’s morale, but they opened up on a subsequent German air raid, which restored their spirits. Bimberg admitted to being scared during the attacks, and he recalled that a friend from Georgia asked him if he was. He answered truthfully, and the Georgian responded that he would know Bimberg was lying if he said he wasn’t.
There were upsides to duty in Corsica as well, and one of Bimberg’s enduring memories of Bastia was of the “Florida Club,” an Allied officer’s club where he relaxed with French officers of the Moroccan “Goums” or irregular soldiers. He remarked that the Germans had “been terrified of these savage tribal warriors,” and Bimberg admitted to being a bit scared of them himself, until he visited their nearby camp. On one occasion he hitched a ride via aircraft for ten days R&R in Rome.
After eight months on Corsica, the 638th moved to Naples, Italy, where the battalion was disbanded, because the Luftwaffe was no longer a significant problem for the Allied armies. Most of the enlisted men were transferred to the infantry, but Bimberg was assigned to be a “co-commander” of an Italian truck transport company, a component of the 2675th Technical Supervision Regiment, Allied Commission (Italy had joined the allies), based in Florence, Italy. The unit consisted of six American officers and noncommissioned officers, five Italian officers and one hundred Italian enlisted men. One of Bimberg’s favorite men in the company was a soldier named Georgio, who, prior to the war, was a race car mechanic. Georgio had a bit of an attitude, but was easily the most skilled mechanic in the unit.
Bimberg described his time in the truck company, over the winter of 1944-1945, as “easy.” While accompanied by an official interpreter who was an Italian Count, he spent time sightseeing, partying and speaking to interesting civilians. In the spring of 1945, Bimberg’s unit left Florence, attached to the Fifth Army as part of the campaign to capture Bologna. He began to feel truly part of the war in the mountains above that city, witnessing artillery barrages and actual combat.
After Bologna fell, the company moved through the city, which Bimberg recalled as being “filled with corpses,” then on to Modena when the war ended. He had been promoted to captain and was appointed as an accident investigation officer for the entire truck battalion. This required Bimberg to travel over much of northern Italy by Jeep. He enjoyed the work, as he got to sightsee across the beautiful countryside. Bimberg’s task was to write accurate accident reports, as the Italian truck drivers would often lie about what happened in an incident in order to avoid punishment.
Bimberg began his return home in the spring of 1946, traveling to Rome and then Naples, where he boarded a Liberty ship returning to New York City. He remembered the voyage home as much more relaxing than and not as crowded as his trip to North Africa. His only complaint was that the civilian sailor crewmen complained about the lack of ice cream, while he had had to make do with C-rations for several years. After landing, Captain Bimberg was processed through Camp Kilmer and Fort Dix before arriving back in Brooklyn.
Although he never returned to North Africa, in the years after the war Bimberg traveled with his wife as a tourist in Italy, visiting Rome, Florence, Naples and Pompeii, as well as the site where his truck company was organized. In summing up his wartime experience, he said that the war transformed him from a boy into a man. In the postwar years, Bimberg rejoined New York National Guard and maintained his interest in horseback riding. He served in the Guard through 1952. In conclusion, Bimberg stated that he would do it all over again if given the chance, and he said he was jealous of the soldiers who were able to go to Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War.
Captain Edward Bimberg was awarded the American Defense, Europe, North Africa and Middle East Theater with four bronze campaign stars, Good Conduct, American Theater and World War II Victory medals. In the years after the war, he worked in New York City as an advertising copywriter, and then owned and operated riding schools in New Jersey. Bimberg wrote a number of articles for military history and riding magazines, as well as four books on the North African soldiers in the French army. At the time of his interview he was living in Wall Township, New Jersey.
Edward Bimberg passed away on December 16, 2010, at the age of 91.