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.

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