Friday, September 25, 2009

Destination Berlin, The Transportation Corp

In 1944-45 Stars and Stripes published a series of booklets about various units in the war. I just found a link that displays the text from the issue about the Transportation Corp. (click on cover)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

WWII Army Cartoons

Veteran Irving Sugarman emailed me this drawing made by another 304th Port Co. GI, Johnny Love. It illustrates a time when Irving didn't get any mail. It seems like every company in WWII had an artist in the ranks. Of course, there was the famous Bill Mauldin. Some of his cartoons can be seen on the Stars and Stripes website. And there was George Baker, creator of Sad Sack, published in Yank Army Weekly.

This week I found a very nice collection of cartoons drawn by William Schmitt (see envelope bellow). As far as I know his cartoon work was never published, but there is a collection of his decorated envelopes on the 488th Port Bn. History site. The illustration style is excellent, and I love that they were drawn by a fellow Port Company man. Note the T-5 patch on the guy's shoulder!

My grandfather and the other 519th vets have a number of amusing anecdotes that would translate well as cartoons. I'm using the Sad Sack comics and these envelopes as a style reference to create original cartoons for my upcoming book.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Port Companies in the Normandy Invasion

The following lists comes from the US Army website. I also added units that appear on the 1st ESB monument at Utah Beach. I have adjusted the list by assigning the companies to their respective battalions (where possible).

490th Port Battalion, attached to the 1st Engineer Special Brigade, an all African-American unit (see NPR piece)
  • 226th Port Company
  • 227th Port Company
  • 228th Port Company
  • 229th Port Company

518th Port Battalion,
attached to the 1st Engineer Special Brigade
  • 278th Port Company
  • 281st Port Company (this company was attached to the 519th Port Bn. In Nov., 1944.)
  • 298th Port Company
  • 299th Port Company
  • 300th Port Company
  • 301st Port Company

519th Port Battalion
, attached to the 1st Engineer Special Brigade. This is my grandfather's unit, detailed in my book Longshore Soldiers.
  • 279th Port Company (This company was detached from the 519th in Nov., 1944)
  • 280th Port Company
  • 302nd Port Company
  • 303rd Port Company
  • 304th Port Company
  • 305th Port Company
487th Port Battalion, attached to the 5th Engineer Special Brigade. (discussed in Bryan Morses' book, A moment in history: the story of the American Army in the Rhondda in 1944. Transfered to Antwerp in November 1944)
  • 184th Port Company
  • 185th Port Company - I found an article from my hometown paper about a man in this company.
  • 186th Port Company
  • 187th Port Company
  • 282nd Port Company
  • 283rd Port Company

494th Port Battalion, attached to the 6th Engineer Special Brigade, an all African-American unit.
  • 238th Port Company
  • 239th Port Company
  • 240th Port Company
  • 241st Port Company

502nd Port Battalion, attached to the 5th Engineer Special Brigade.
  • 270th Port Company
  • 271st Port Company
  • 272nd Port Company
  • 273rd Port Company

517th Port Battalion, attached to the 6th Engineer Special Brigade. (discussed in Bryan Morses' book, A moment in history: the story of the American Army in the Rhondda in 1944. Transfered to Antwerp on Nov 24th)
  • 284th Port Company
  • 285th Port Company
  • 797h Port Company (formerly A)
  • 798th Port Company (formerly B)
  • 799th Port Company (formerly C)
  • 800th Port Company (formerly D)

On April 19th, 1944 the Army Transportation Corps' 11th Port (a port management organization, not a company or battalion) was attached to the engineer brigades planned for the Omaha Beach landing.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

We Made the Headlines Possible, by George Havens

519th Port Bn guys working outside of Tampico Flats, Antwerp, c.1945

Early on in my research Dave Weaver and Bruce Kramlich recommended this book. To my knowledge We Made The Headlines Possible is the only published book on Port Company work in WWII Europe. The author, George Havens, served in the 105th Port Marine Maintenance Company. Although his unit took no part in the Normandy invasion or its subsequent supply work, the book has been useful to me in presenting a picture of Port Co. life in England and Antwerp.

In November, 1944 the 105th came over from England, landing in La Havre France. They rode 40 and 8s to Antwerp on the same railway the 519th Port Bn. used a few weeks earlier. Undoubtedly, this description could apply to my grandfather's own trip:

Our cars moved slowly, stopped frequently and unpredictably, and started up with no notice other than several high-pitched wistels. When we did stop, guys bailed out of the cramped cars to stretch, scavenge for apples in nearby trees, or run to any close-by house to negotiate for a bottle of calvados or wine. When the wistle sounded, guys came running helter-skelter across fields to cath our car and dive aboard. Several who would not make it simply went to the adjacent highway and hitchhiked to the next village, often beating us there. The car had no toilet, of course, so we had to wait until the train stopped and then take care of business before the train started again. Some guys really got caught with their pants down. (p 59)

The port of Antwerp was controlled by the British army, with a sector set aside for the work of American Port Companies. The 105th came under the command of the American's 13th Major Port Group, likewise with my grandfather's 304th Port Co.. The 105th men stayed in the Luchtbal Barracks. The 304th men moved to the same housing in December of 1945 (they had been living in Tampico Flats). So, there are quite a few experiences shared by the two units. I had hoped that this book would offer more detail about the actual work done by Havens' company, but I suppose there is only so much that can be said about engine repair and maintenance. However, I am very grateful for it's depiction of the general atmosphere, as well as it's collection of facts and figures germane to the service of my grandfather's unit.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Landships at Indiantown Gap

Tthe 519th Port Battalion trained at Indiantown Gap from July 20 to October 17, 1943. Yesterday I was pleased to receive training photographs of Port Companies from this time. Among the most interesting: two ships were built on land to train the Transportation Corp men. (click above picture for a larger image). Between the PA National Guard Museum at Fort Indiantown Gap and the National Archives I have 10 photos from which to choose. I'll definitely include the above photo in my book, and maybe three or four more.

Instruction in night operation, showing winch operators and instructor, ITG 1942.

Instruction on gasoline-driven winch located at land hatch, ITG 1942.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Antwerp, City of Sudden Death

Antwerp, Belgium during WW II. This photo was snapped by my grandfather in 1945.

Below is an article from TIME magazine published 26, March 1945, pp 5-6. The piece describes what it was like to be in Antwerp during the German v-bomb attacks. A copy was among the 519th Port Bn. Papers I received from the National Archives. The 303rd Port Company distributed it to the men on April 6, 1945.

In Antwerp people close doors softly and talk in low voices. Hollow-eyed citizens, clinging to their homes, skulk through the ruined streets. Antwerp is a city of suspense—until suspense is broken by the thunder of guns and the put-put of V-1 robot bombs.
Antwerp was taken from the Germans virtually intact. But now almost half the city’s buildings have vanished in rubble and dust. Most of those that still stand are askew on their foundations, with walls leaning and cracked. In all the city there is not a window pane left. The Germans swore they would deny Antwerp to the Allies as a port. In Belgium cities along the V-bomb routes, sirens wail frequently, as the noisy V-1s pass overhead. But no sirens sound in Antwerp, the bombs’ principle target. In Antwerp men never leave the ack-ack guns, the city’s defense against the V-1s. Against the faster-than-sound V-2s there is no defense at all. These were a few of the details of a story carefully withheld for security reasons, which the Army only began to let out last week. Back from a trip to Antwerp, TIME Correspondent Edward Lockett this week brought a fuller story.

A.S.F. FRONT. The Allies were determined to use the port. It was close to the fighting front. Cherbourg, LeHavre, Marseille were useful (and still are), but the shortest route to the front lay through Antwerp. As soon as Antwerp’s port, damaged by the fleeing Germans, was open again, the Allies lost no time in putting it to work. British supply troops and men of the U.S. Army Service Forces moved in. U.S. commandant of the port is leisurely, drawling 46-year-old Colonel Doswell Gullatt, who graduated form West Point in 1918. Gullat and his men have become fatalists. Visitors move through the area with fluttering hearts, get out as fast as they can. Some combat troops, sent to Antwerp for a “rest,” stayed one day, wanted to be sent back to the front.

Some of them have marked out the constricted area of the city within which they have to move in their work. Nothing could persuade them to step outside those lines; in this way they think they have reduced the mathematical chances of death. In spite of the continuous V-bombing, oil dumps, barge basins, ship repair facilities—all going full tilt—line the waterfront. A floating generator supplies the battered port with its power. In the Antwerp Ford plant, still standing, Belgians assemble Army trucks. (The General Motors plant nearby has been demolished.)

“SHIVER MONEY.” Speed is the order. Men of the 513th Quartermaster group supervise the unloading of ships bringing supplies from Britain and the U.S. Cargoes are transfered to trailers on the long docks. Most of the stevedore work is done by civilians, who get 130 francs a day, plus one meal, plus 30 francs “shiver money,” for working in Antwerp’s hell.

Tractors haul the loaded trailers to “surge pools” (assembly points) where they are ticketed for caravans. Over the ABC route, which is even more efficient than the old, famed Red Ball, trucks haul ten-ton trailers to the front; 1,200 are in operation between Antwerp, Louvain, Liege, and other strategic points.
Other supplies are moved by rail, operated by the 708th Railway Grand Division, whose headquarters were recently in Liege. That city, too has been violently V-bombed. It was in Liege that a V-bomb landed in a field tent-hospital.

A.S.F. has made its answer to the Germans’ stubborn threat: two weeks after Antwerp had been open to shipping, thousands of tons a day were passing through the port.

The Stream which has never stopped flowing. Antwerp’s cracked walls, outlying villages’ narrow streets, dark Belgian farms echo back the never-ending rumble of trucks. The land shakes under the weight of caravans. Men drive as though the devil is after them. From the skies V-bombs still hurtle into the city of sudden death—but bellow, the Army’s supplies still roll.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Organization of the 519th Port Battalion

To help meet the massive logistical needs of the war, the the 519th Port Battalion was activated June 25, 1943. It was made up of Headquarters, the 302nd Port Company, 303rd Port Co., 304th Port Co., and 305th Port Co. My grandfather was in the 304th. The Bn. was attached to the 1st Engineer Special Brigade for the Normandy invasion. It's not clear to me whether the 519th remained under the control of the 1st ESB for the remainder of the war, or of it was detached when they were transfered to Antwerp. The men did continue to wear their engineer's patches: the Army Amphibious patch (blue with yellow eagle, gun and anchor), and the Engineer Amphibious Command (white oval with red sea horse and blue border).

Above is a photo of a monument on Utah Beach dedicated to the fallen men of the 1st ESB. It was Inaugurated on the 1-year anniversary of D-Day, June 6, 1945. On one side of the monument a list of port battalions, port companies, quartermaster trucking companies, and QM service companies. Two additional companies were attached to the 519th shortly before the Normandy invasion. The 519th Port Bn. was joined by the 280th Port Co. on May 4, 1944, and the 279th Port Company on May 13. They were originally part of the 505th Port Bn.

Before the 519th was relocated to Antwerp the 279th Port Co was released from the Bn. In November the 279th departed for a new station—I don't know where. In that same month the 281st Port Co was attached, accompanying the 519th to Antwerp.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Training Port Companies at Indiantown Gap Military Reservation

(click image for enlarged view)

The 519th Port Bn. was trained at Indiantown Gap, PA. In August of 1943 two reporters from the Philadelphia Inquirer came out to observe the training. Dave Weaver was kind enough to mail me this clipping. I am currently in talks with the paper to get permission to reproduce the full article in my book. It's perfectly acceptable to quote small parts of a published piece, but I'd love to include the whole thing. Hopefully, their reproduction fee won't be to high. I'm just a self-published author without the deep pockets of a big book publisher.

Davis, Grace and Davis, Knickerbacker. “Training Transportation Corps: Port Battalions Load and Unload Ships in Pennsylvania Mountains” in The Philadelphia Inquirer, August 15, 1943.