Friday, December 31, 2010

1st ESB Utah Beach Monument in Winter

In December my friend Dave Ashe snapped these photos of the 1st Engineer Special Brigade monument on Utah Beach. The monument was built in 1945 on top of a concrete bunker, which had been part of the Germans' Widerneststand "resistance nest" 5. The sides of the monument lists all the units that were part of the 1st ESB in Normandy (see see previous post). My grandpa remembers donating some of his pay toward building the structure.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

WWII US Army Harbor Craft Companies in Europe

Above photo: tugboats in the port of Antwerp, photographed by my grandfather in 1944.

In researching WWII US Army port battalions I became familiar with other Transportation Corps units that served in port supply operations. The Army was were never very comfortable coordinating with the Navy, and it didn't want to rely completely on civilian boat workers. For the Normandy invasion the US Army created the harbor craft companies to man it's small supply craft, mostly barges, cranes, and tug boats. The War Department Field Manual FM 55-130: Transportation Corps Small Boats and Harbor Craft, published in 1944 gives a short description of the Army harbor craft company:

"The harbor craft company is a military unit organized for the purpose of ferrying cargo from freighters and transports arriving in theaters of operation. The vessels may either be riding at anchor offshore in the open sea or, which is more likely, anchored in a harbor. Cargo from ships is loaded by Transportation Corps port company personnel onto the barges. Tugs, tow boats, or marine tractors then propel these barges to the shore for unloading. Any cargo too heavy for the vessel's gear lift is handled by the 60-ton floating crane."

Harbor craft companies took part in the Normandy supply operations. Destination -- Berlin! The Transportation Corps will furnish the necessary transportation! was small booklet published by The Stars and Stripes. It mentions the contribution made by the invasion's harbor craft companies. It begins by marking the accomplishments of the 334th Harbor Craft Company:

"During August 1944 alone they performed 1403 channel operations. These army sailors towed 150 vessels and 288 barges into harbors, made 117 ferry trips, and threw in five salvage expeditions for good measure."

As with the port battalions, these rear area troops often came under enemy fire. The same Stars and Stripes booklet describes an incident in the supply of Cherbourg:

"The men of the harbor craft companies had a big hand in making Cherbourg a success. Harbor craft companies are an invention of this war and this theater. The first six companies were activated at the Charleston POE in May 1943. During the last war the Army depended on French civilian tugboats, but this time the enemy made that impossible. The Army had foreseen this situation and was prepared.

This is typical of what these companies were up against at Cherbourg: the crew of one ST-75 in a July 18 convoy from Southampton to Cherbourg was made up of men from the 328th and 335th Harbor Craft Cos. In a dense fog this ST-75 and five other boats became separated from the convoy about midnight. Fired on when be approached the shore on the following morning, the ST-75's ship's master set a course to the north. Before he could clear the Channel Isles, enemy shore batteries opened fire.

The first round took off the foremast. Seven of the crew went overboard. One soldier-sailor refused to abandon ship and went down. A sergeant was so badly injured that he later died. An officer was severely wounded in the leg. The survivors clung to a rubber raft until nearly dark the next day, when they were picked up by a British destroyer and returned to England."

In September of 1944 the immense port of Antwerp was captured by the Allies and it opened to shipping in November. Joining my grandfather's port battalion there were the 334th, 339th, 344th, 345th, and 352nd harbor craft companies. The port had been closed during the German occupation, and the Allies allowed very few civilian ships after its liberation. Consequently, there was a huge population of unemployed Belgian port workers available. The Allies hired the civilians to unload and transport the flood of military supplies. Soldiers from the harbor craft companies and port battalions were then free to perform other military duties in the port. My grandfather and many men from the harbor craft companies served guard duty on the supply ships, docks, and in the warehouses. They protected Allied supplies from black market heists while under a constant barrage of German V-bombs.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Longshore Soldiers Book Description
and Table of Contents

Through firsthand accounts, historical photographs, and original maps, Longshore Soldiers recounts the wartime experiences of Cortland Hopkins and ten other port battalion veterans. As part of the US Army's Transportation Corps, they were responsible for ensuring that thousands of tons of military supplies were packed, unloaded, and delivered to the front lines. Moving from training stateside, to supply operations on the beaches of Normandy, to dockwork in the massive, high-risk seaport of Antwerp, Belgium, and finally to deactivation, Andrew Brozyna offers a compelling narrative of what daily life was like in this remarkable yet often overlooked service. Perhaps most importantly, Brozyna's use of personal histories as the basis for examining the logistics of WWII's European theater ensures that readers never lose sight of the individuals involved.

Read a sample excerpt.




Image sources

Chapter 1. Schenectady
An introduction to Cortland Hopkins, grandfather of the author, and his hometown.

2. American Locomotive Company
Cortland take a job welding M-4 tanks and the secret M-7 "Priest" mobile howitzer.

3. In the Army Now
Cortland joins the Army. An introduction to the 519th Port Battalion, Fort Indiantown Gap, and the other veterans interviewed by the author.

4. Boston
Training, supply work, and anecdotes from Boston harbor.

5. The Atlantic
A description of the voyage to England

6. England
Stories from the GI's interaction with the people of Bristol.

7. The Invasion
Preparations for the invasion and the morning events of D-day.

8. Utah Beach Dangers
A description of dangers faced by the supply troops on Utah Beach: German snipers, weeks of artillery fire, and attacks by air.

9. Beach Work
An explanation of the duties performed by the port companies, an unprecedented method of unloading supply ships at sea.

10. To Antwerp
The liberation of Antwerp, the Battle of the Scheldt, and the port battalion's move to Belgium.

11. The V-weapons
A discussion of the Germans' V-1 and V-2 rockets, the bombardment of the city, and its effect on the civilians and military servicemen there.

12. Work in the Port
The duties of the American supply troops in Antwerp: unloading ships, guarding the docks, and traveling through Belgium as train guards.

13. The Ardennes Offensive
The effect of the Battle of the Bulge on American supply operations in Antwerp.

14. War's End
A description of the leisure activities in Antwerp that kept the GIs out of trouble after Germany's surrender: sports, dancing, and tours of Europe.

15. Homecoming
Cortland's last duties in Europe, his last brush with danger, his return to the US, and marriage to his sweetheart.

The port battalion veterans after the war.

Appendix A: Battalion Honors
The military decorations awarded to the 519th Port Battalion by the US, France, and Belgium

Appendix B: Company Rosters
A list of names of the men who served in the 519th Port Battalion

Appendix C: 519th Port Battalion Insignia
A description of the shoulder patches and uniform insignia

Appendix D: 519th Historic Data Report
A copy of the official battalion history written by 519th HQ in 1946

Appendix E: Timeline
A list of important dates in the battalion's history

Appendix F: Port Battalion Organization
Organizational charts of a standard WWII US Army port battalion, headquarters, and port company



Thursday, December 23, 2010

A GI's Christmas in WWII Belgium, 1944

Belgium was especially cold in the winter of 1944 / 1945. Chilled rain fell on the coast near Antwerp and snow showered the interior of the country. Coal to heat people's homes was very much in demand. It was common for a train carrying coal to Antwerp to loose tons of it's cargo due to pilfering. Trains in Allied service were better protected. Military supply routes from Antwerp to the front lines were guarded by port battalion troops. Don Hemphill, in the 284th Port Company, 517th Port Battalion was one of these train guards (the guy in glasses pictured above).

These photos were snapped in January, 1945 by a man in his guard detail. It must have been an unusually warm day since he is seen without a jacket and the girls aren't bundled up. Hemphill and three other GIs had been guarding a train to the supply dump at Charleroi, close to the front lines. As detailed in chapter 12 of my book, local Belgians usually hung out at the station to offer the Americans a place to stay. It was often several days or even a week before the guys found a truck headed back to Antwerp. Don and I got in touch after my book was published, so I am happy to add his story here.

After this particular train run Don and his fellow guards were invited into the home of the Diesbeck family ("Disbecq" in French). They lived in the suburb of Marcinelle, just outside Charleroi. Eleven-year-old Renie (the young girl pictured with Don in the white socks) had an interesting story to tell the GIs. Don shared with me her dangerous activities during the German occupation: "Mr. Diesbeck was a baker and several people could visit his home without raising the suspicion of the Germans. Reine said that often she would carry guns to school in her backpack to be passed on to the underground." Men from the Belgian resistance delivered weapons to the bakery, Renie brought them to school, and passed them on to other resistance men before she came home. To this day Don and Renie still exchange Christmas cards.

Don recently shared another train-guard story taking place on Christmas, just a few weeks before meeting the Diesbecks: "We were somewhere on the Belgium-German frontier, cold and lost. Oh! It was so cold, and it was snowing. Night found us in a railroad yard, and one of the men said he could smell smoke from a coal fire. Aware that we had an opportunity to get warm, it did not take long to find that this smoke came from a small building, approximately 12 x 20 ft., that was part of the yard complex. After we made our way inside, we found 25 or 30 men who were in the same predicament as we were. These men were silent, and it did not take long to find the reason. We could hear the voice of a soldier, seated on his helmet, beside a small stove. This soldier—with the aid of a flashlight—would read from a Bible, explain what he had read, and answer questions that came from the men around him."

"I do not remember why we left that warm place, but I do remember there were men in that building who came to know Christ, and something there touched us all. Outside the ground was covered with snow, the air was cold and crisp, the silence was overwhelming, and the sky was filled with stars. There was one star, in the East, that seemed to be the brightest of all. Five men, a long way from home, knew something special happened that night."

Last year I posted a story of a GI's Christmas party in Antwerp from veteran, Dave Weaver.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Color photograph of 1st Engineer Special Brigade

I believe this is the only color photo in existence showing troops from the 1st Engineer Special Brigade. It was sent to me by my friend David, a fellow WWII researcher. This photograph was snapped on Utah Beach, Normandy sometime in the first few weeks after the invasion. Note the barrage balloons floating above the supply ships in the background. German fighter-bombers continued sporadic attacks on the beach throughout June. Those balloons deterred low-level attacks. Speaking of which, check out my articles about the sinking of the SS Charles Morgan. My grandfather's company was onboard when it was bombed on June 10, 1944. By July, the air attacks stopped, making the balloons unnecessary.

The smiling soldier holding the letter is a technician, 5th grade (note the shoulder patch). This was the same rank held by my grandfather at the time. I think the most interesting thing to see in this color photo is the blue helmet marking. The arc scene on all my black and white photos seems to be white. The 519th Port Battalion veterans all assured me it was blue, which is born out in this image. The troops attached to 1st ESB all had this marking.

The port battalions attached to the 5th and 6th Engineer Special brigades (on Omaha Beach) had helmets with white arcs and the blue and yellow amphibious insignia painted underneath. See image below:

This black and white photo was sent to me by Charles Morris. Charles served in the 284th Port Company, which was attached to the 6th Engineer Special Brigade for the Omaha Beach invasion. The men stand in front of a scratch-built shelter made from discarding packing boards. The shot was taken on Omaha Beach in June, 1944.

Monday, December 13, 2010

History of the 13th Major Port, part 3

This is the last part of the 13th Port history as presented in the 1946 publication, The 13th Port: 1943-1946. Click to read Part 1 or Part 2.


To be selected to open and operate a great port such as Antwerp, was a high honor. To do this when upon this port depended the supplies for most of the American troops facing the Germans, was a great responsibility.

The two maps following give a fair idea of the importance of the Port with reference to the fighting front. The Canadian First Army and the British Second Army were supplied through the British section of the Port of Antwerp through General Montgomery's 21st Army Group. The American 12th Army Group, comprising of the Ninth, First, and Third Armies were supplied by the American Section of the Port. The American Seventh Army which had come through Marseilles was supplied through that port.

On September 23, 1944, General Eisenhower wrote to General Marshall, Chief of Staff, as follows: "Right now our prospects are tied up closely with our success in capturing the approaches to Antwerp. ...if we can only get to using Antwerp it will have the effect of a blood transfusion."

In his Biennial Report to the Secretary of War, General Marshall says of Antwerp: "By 27 November the Port of Antwerp was in operation but was under heavy fire of the vicious German V-weapons, which fell at one time at the rate of on every 12.5 minutes causing thousands of Allied civilian and military casualties, and cast grave doubt for a time upon the advisability of continuing the operation of the Port."

And later in the same report, General Marshall goes on to say: "With the promise of a large increase of supplies through the Port of Antwerp in late November, General Eisenhower in mid-November launched a changing offensive to penetrate the Siegfried Line."

We who were there know what it took to get ships unloaded and cargoes started for the front. But many of us were too busy to see it clearly as others did.

Friday, December 3, 2010

History of the 13th Major Port, part 2

A sergeant of the 13th Port guarding Falmouth's docks.

At Plymouth we took over the British port known as Raglan Barracks, where we had a few British troops, come British Navy, and an ever changing group of Port Battalions, Port Maintenance Companies, Harbor Craft Companies, detachments of civilian tug-boat Captains and Mates.

At Plymouth we assembled "Sea Mules", unloaded tug-boats from the decks of Liberty ships, unloaded supplies galore for the American Army and Navy and for our British allies; and supervised operations elsewhere.

At the time of the invasion Plymouth outloaded Liberty ships carrying combat vehicles and crews to the "Far Shore" and handed American wounded and German wounded and Prisoner of War.

TRURO, TOTNES, HAYLE: The Barge Program
In February we learned that we were supposed to be in charge of constructing 400 wooden barges and 400 steel barges for the invasion, with a deadline of June 1944. Prefabricated materials were being shipped from the United States. We were to assemble in ship-yards in England. The project was supposedly started in October 1943. Through some oversight nothing was said to us about it when we arrived in January 1944.

Investigation showed that materials were clogging the English railroads so that embargoes were threatened. The ship-yards to assemble these large boats were still to be constructed. And through some miracle the 13th was supposed to do iin three months work which had been planned for eight months.

Between February and June 1st, ways were constructed at Totnes, Truro, and Hayle. All the wooden barges had been constructed and launched. And all of them would have been completed, except that steel did not arrive from the United States.

Steel was unloaded at Plymouth and Falmouth. At Totnes when carpenters were unavailable for constructing wooden barges, a colored Port Battalion took over and turned them out faster that the English carpenters had been doing. At Truro a Railroad Maintenance Battalion helped out wonderfully in making the steel barge program a success.

The successful completion of the barge program before D-Day was an achievement in which all members of the 13th took pride.

Falmouth was operated by us from early in 1944. First was the job of unloading steel for Truro and shipping it by barge up the river. Then handling Naval stores—from heavy pontoon sections to tailor's thread.

When the 13th Port took over at Falmouth, we were told it could handle a maximum of four vessels and 2,000 tons per day. Instead we stepped it up to nine vessels and 4,500 long tons a day.

As D-Day approached, our job was to outload men and vehicles for the invasion. By ten days after D-Day 11,000 vehicles and 34,000 men had been outloaded at Falmouth. The original schedule at Falmouth called for handling 44 ships. Actually we handled 84.

From the start operations at Falmouth were carried on under high pressure. The small group of officers and men who served at Falmouth did an outstanding job, for which the 13th Port received great credit from the Navy and the Army.

Fowey is an interiguing old port on the Cornish coast which was assigned to the 13th Port as an outloading point for all kinds of ammunition for troops in Normandy.

In peace time it is a loading point for clay used in making porcelain and chinaware. In the early stages of World War II the English had used it as an ammunition shipping point for English troops on the continent.

The American Army was told that its limit was 350 tons of "ammo" per day. They hopefully doubled the figure and handed it to the 13th Port. The 13th, in turn doubled the figure and shippe dmore than 1400 tons in a single day. The limiting factor was that there were never enough ships available to take the stuff!

Fowey was supposed to operate till D plus 90. Instead, by about D plus 45 it had outshipped all the ammunition it was supposed to handle, and the 13th Port closed shop and returned to Plymouth, ready to go to Europe.

Read Part 3

Sunday, November 28, 2010

History of the 13th Major Port, part 1

During WWII the 13th Major Port was in charge of seaport operations. In England it oversaw the supply work in preparation of the Normandy invasion. In Antwerp, Belgium the 13th managed the American port operations while under continuous bombardment by German V-weapons (this is discussed in my book). In 1946 an official history was published for members of the unit. I have copied portions of this history below:

The 13th Port: 1943–1946
Headquarters and Headquarters Company 13th Port was activated on January 25h 1943 and moved to Fort Hamilton, NY where Colonel Walter D. McCord assumed command on February 17th and started organizing and training it.

The Port was organized on the Table of Organization of a Major Port for duty overseas. Scarcely had training begun when it was decided in Washington to send the 13th to Churchill, Canada to unload supplies there during the short season it was possible to navigate the Hudson Bay.

This was done and, in June 1943 advance detachments of the 13th had actually left for Churchill when a change in the overall picture made it unnecessary to send a Port to Hudson Bay.

Again the Port was reorganized, and this time its personnel was expanded, and training was concentrated on fitting it for operation in the European theater.

It sailed for England on 29 December, 1943 arriving some 10 days alter, and immediately went to Plymouth, England.
[the 13th also operated in English ports of Totnes, Truro, Hayle, Falmouth, and Fowey.]

It left Plymouth in Octobers, 1944 having done an exceedingly creditable job in helping to launch the invasion of "Fortress Europe" and in supplying the troops there during the "build-up" and the "break-through" stages of the Normandy Battle.

From Plymouth it went to Antwerp, Belgium, where, with the British it opened and operated the immense Port of Antwerp, supplying the sinews of war to all the American armies facing the Germans, except the 7th Army which was supplied through Marseilles.

After V-E Day, the 13th helped outload personnel and supplies in connection with Redeployment. After V-J Day in September 1945, redeployment became outright demobilization, and the 13th Port self-demobilized in the fall of 1946.

During its operations it served under five Port Commanders. Each contributed his bit to make the history of the "lucky 13th" interesting and distinctive.

Colonel Walter D. McCord - was in command in the States and some time in England.Colonel Curtis A. Noble - was in command while in England.Colonel Doswell Gullatt - was commander of the 5th Engineer Special Brigade on Omaha Beach. Gullatt took command when the 13th arrived in Antwerp.Colonel Edward C. Forsythe - was commander of the 5th Major Port in Antwerp. At the end of the war when the 5th was deactivated Forsythe took command of the 13th.Colonel Fredric L. Knudsen, Jr. - took command after V-E Day. He had been commander of the 263rd Infantry Regiment, 66th Division.

When the 13th Port trained in the United States it knew that Army regulations wisely made a Port an exempt station, directly under the War Department, and provided that an overseas Port would be directly under the Theater Commanders.

When we landed in England we found the facts of life were different. There old cumbersome systems were in full force and effect. The Ports were under Districts. Districts were under Headquarters, Service of Supply, and it was under the Theater Commander!

The many layers of Command through which communications must pass between a Port and the Theater agency concerned caused delay and added to difficulties of operation, as many of the intervening layers of command had little idea of the composition, functions, and operation of a Port.

Despite the handicaps inherent in this intricate set-up, and the prevailing obsession to break up all service units and "remold them nearer to the hearts desire" of the SOS, the 13th Port remained intact as an operating unit, and performed creditably at Plymouth, Fowey, Falmouth, Totnes, Truro, and Hayle. Its members on detached service were located all through South England during the preparations for and launching of the Normandy invasion and the build up following, and did excellent work throughout the whole period.

This is part 1 of a series of articles I posted about the 13th. Read Part 2.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Ravenoville, Normandy Then & Now

When I shared a scan of Marvin Newman's photo album with my new friend David in Ravenoville, France he immediately recognized a street corner in his town. At the top is a photo he snapped last week. Below is the same corner in 1944. If you look at the right you can see two 519th Port Battalion GIs. The arc on one guy's helmet is recognizable as a tiny white line. (click the photos to see a larger version)

Ravenoville was the closest town to where my grandfather's battalion bivouacked off Utah Beach. They were camped in an apple orchard 1.5 miles south of town from June 24th to November 15, 1944. David, who lives there now, is working on a project to map out all the US casualty markers on the roads around Utah Beach. More on that to follow.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Yanks Guide to Foreign Country USA

In preparation for returning to the States after the war the GIs in my grandfather's port battalion received an amusing guide to the new "foreign" country they'll be entering. It was a spoof of the US Army's guidebooks to countries in Europe. A while back a veteran told me about this Yanks Guide, but he no longer has his copy. The daughter of William Kelly, a friend of my grandfather, recently scanned his copy. I'm not sure who exactly produced spoof guide—if it was distributed only in the disembarkation point in LeHavre, France or if it is something all GIs in Europe received. If you know anything of GI life during the war, you can expect a few chuckles.

Yanks Guide to "Foreign" Country "USA"

In view of the fact that some of the personnel now overseas have been forced to accept an assignment in the United States, we are printing this short and practical guide to that foreign country.

The United States is composed of land. Bisecting it in the center is the Mississippi River. Everything east of the river is known as New York, while everything west is simply called Texas. There are a couple of other states, but they are not important.

Do not be inveigled into sleeping on one of the big, soft, mattress-covered beds common in the States. Many cases of curvature of the spine have resulted from such practices. In order to get a comfortable night's rest, it is best to carry a blanket and sleep on the floor.

Americans have the disgusting habit of bathing twice a week. Care must be taken when stepping into the shower, as hot water is fairly common and cases of scalding are often reported. Stay away from hot water as much as possible. People have been known to turn white as a result of using too much of it.

Food is generally plentiful, but in some localities powdered eggs are almost unobtainable. You will probably be forced to eat the shell covered kind on most occasions. Do not eat the shell, simply crack the egg and toss away the outer covering. By the same token, dehydrated vegetables are almost extinct in the United States. Stores feature potatoes, carrots, spinach and turnips in their natural status. You will notice pieces of soil still clinging to these items. Wash before eating.

In many restaurants you will see an item called "steak" on the menu. This is to be eaten with a knife and fork. Steak has a meaty taste and isn't too revolting after one gets used to it. Of course, it doesn't come up to the luscious detectability of our own Bully Beef.*

Water comes out of faucets unchlorinated. It is wise to carry a small packet of chloride tablets with you. To make doubly sure, place the water in a lister bag before using.**

One must be cautious when ordering drinks in a bar or saloon. Bartenders try to sell old aged stocks of Scotch and Bourbon. Don't be taken in by such practices. Some of the whiskey is very old and obviously spoiled. If "blonk" wine*** isn't available, it is wise to carry a small flask of alcohol and 100 per cent octane gasoline with you.

The country is run by Republicans, Democrats, and Frank Sinatra. It's a big place because it stretches all the way across the country. Keep on your toes and you will get along okay.

My Notes:
*Bully Beef was the name given to the canned corned beef eaten in the field.
**A lister or "lyster" bag was a canvas sack suspended from a tripod to hold chlorinated drinking water in the field.
***I haven't confirmed this, but I assume "blonk" wine was homemade alcohol. I have read of GIs making moonshine with Army apple juice, and several of the veterans I speak to said they did the same.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Illustrated Album of Marvin Newman

In October I was happy to receive an email from Mark Newman. His dad, Marvin, was a member of the 303rd Port Company. Marvin was an artist. In 1943 he was drafted shortly after graduating from the High School of Music and Art in NYC. Many of Marvin's cartoon appeared in Army publications during the war. After returning home Marvin put together a photo album with illustrations and hand lettering on almost every page. It's a real gem. Mark was good enough to photograph his dad's album and email me the images. I went through and cropped in on the best drawings. Click on any of the images for a larger version.

The above illustration is self-explanatory.

Here we see barrage balloons on Utah Beach. The steel tethers tied to the balloons were a deterrent to low-flying German aircraft. They were done away with shortly after the first Allied ships discharged their cargo and returned to England.

A photo of Ralph Richard (from 519th HQ) with the Duchemin family who owned the farm where the GIs were camped. This is flanked by illustrated street signs to nearby Normandy towns.

In November 1944 the rough winter waters made supply work over the Normandy beaches impossible. The port of Antwerp was captured by the Allies, so the 519th Port Battalion moved there by train.

Marvin's illustration of the dreaded German V-1 "buzz bomb."

After the v-bomb attacks ended and Germany surrendered there was an increase in group activities in Antwerp. The 519th had a marching band and dance band to entertain the troops.

In the fall of 1946 furloughs and passes were made more common. This was to keep the GIs occupied and out of trouble.

If you look in the background of the photograph you can see the spotted umbrella Marvin used as referene for his drawing.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

WTEN TV interview with my grandfather

On Veterans Day my 96-yr-old grandfather signed copies of my book Longshore Soldiers. WTEN News from Albany, NY came to his assisted living home to interview him and his daughter (my mom). Reporter Nicol Lally sent the above photo and called me for a quick interview. You can watch the video in this post or visit the WTEN website.

Friday, November 12, 2010

American Locomotive Company demolition in Schenectady

I just heard that the American Locomotive Company (ALCO) buildings are now being demolished. The river-front space in Schenectady will be developed into mixed commercial and residential space.

During WWII Alco produced tanks and other weapons for the US War Department. They produce the majority of M-7 Priests, which was a secret weapon until their use by the British 8th Army during the 1942 battle of the El Alamein.

My grandfather was a welder at Alco. Chapter 2 of my book discusses how he and the rest of the Alco workers received the Army/Navy E-Award in 1942 and in 1943 they were honored by representatives of the British military. The photo below shows the factory in 1942.

There was an effort to save some of the buildings for an Alco museum, but I'm not sure if that succeeded. You can view an Albany News 10 video news clip about the demolition in progress. Click the "Schenectady in WWII" label below to see related posts on this blog.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Veterans Day Book Signing in East Greenbush, NY

WWII veteran Cortland Hopkins will be signing copies of my book, Longshore Soldiers on Veterans Day, November 11, 2010.

Copies of the book will be sold for $20 this Thursday at Evergreen Commons, 1070 Luther Road, in East Greenbush. Cortland will be sharing stories and signing autographs from 10 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. A portion of sales will go to Evergreen Commons' activities & entertainment budget.

Last evening the Albany Channel 6 news interviewed my grandfather. You can watch the November 8th video above.

Update: The news ran a follow-up on Veterans Day with footage of Cortland signing books. You can view the Nov 11th video clip here.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Jeeps and Storefront in Belgium?

This is a photo from my grandfather's WWII album. I think it's a great shot, but I'm not quite sure where it is. The French writing indicates either France or Belgium. Men from the 519th visited Waterloo battlefield and nearby museums in the fall / winter of 1945. Above the door it says "Museum" and the GIs' dress indicates the war is over. So, I suspect that this museum and cafe is near Waterloo in the French-speaking area of Belgium.

Monday, October 25, 2010

WWII Antwerp warehouse guard

Guard duty was an important duty of the port companies on the docks in WWII Antwerp. Pilferage of Allied supplies was rampant. In the above photo you can see a man from the 517th Port Battalion guarding a warehouse full of supplies. I know he in the 517th because of his helmet insignia. My grandfather's 519th had been attached to the 1st Engineer Special Brigade and wore a lone full blue arc on the face of their helmet. The other US port battalion in Antwerp, the 517th, had served with the 5th Engineer Special Brigade and had a white half-arc with the Amphibious Training Command insignia under the arc. It's tiny, but you can see this in the photo above. I apologize for the poor quality image. It's a photocopy of a page from a 1946 unit history of the 13th Port, which had commanded US supply operation in Antwerp.

Now that my book is published I am interested in researching other port battalions in the European Theater of the war. My immediate plan is to write a magazine article about the port companies' role in the D-Day invasion on both Utah and Omaha beaches. After that I may write a more general history book.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

284th Port Company roster

In September, 2010 I had the good fortune to receive an email from Donald Hemphill. Don served in the 284th Port Company. This company trained and worked in many of the same places as my grandfather, so my book is a good reference for the 284th's service. Although in different battalions, Don and my grandfather both served in Boston, Bristol, Normandy, and Antwerp.

The 284th started out as attached to the 505th Port Battalion, which was activated in the spring of 1943. They trained at Camp Myles Standish and worked in the Port of Boston. On November 5th 1943 the battalion boarded the SS Explorer and arrived in Glasgow, Scotland on November 16th. On the 18th they arrived at Camp Sea Mills to work Bristol's Avonmouth Docks. In April of 1944 the company moved to Transportation Corps Training School at Mumbles, Wales. It took part in Exercise Tiger, the ill-fated invasion practice off of Slapton Sands.

In May of 1944 the 284th joined the 517th Port Battalion which was attached to the 6th Engineer Special Brigade for the normandy Invasion. They worked Omaha Beach from June to November 1944. When Antwerp opened to shipping the battalion was transferred to work the Port of Antwerp. In fact, his company was living in the same apartment building as my grandfather's company, Tampico Flats. In June 1945 the company was reassigned to the 487th Port Battalion and moved to Bremerhaven, Germany.

I sent Don a copy of my book and he sent me a copy of his company roster. I am posting the names here in the hopes that veterans or their families may get in touch with me. The list organizes names by home state, but omits rank.

Clarence L. Filyaw

Robert Bonsells
Clark H. Hibell
Sergio L. Moreira
Emilo Y. Renteria

Melvin C. Swanson

Connis B. Boccuzzi
Frank A. Cassetta
Ralph L. Cipriano
Robert Drapatin
John F. Dessereau
Edward M. Grifa
Frank O'Brien
Jerry M. Raimo
Clair B. Roys, Fr.
William A. Sabetta
Maro Samela
Michael D. Santone
Arnold J. Scriven
Boleslaus J. Sowal
Frank S. Tarrasewicz
Frederick D. Trowbridge

Vernon R. Elarbee
George W. Floyd
Vernon Hartlene
Julian Keathley
Luchen B. McCracken
Pervis Roach
Orlo W. Smith
Keith C. Whitlock
Charles R. Whittaker

Stanley J. Black

Russel R. Antler
Stanley A. Rzewnicki

Alexander L. Bride
John T. Wilson

Benton M. Mullins

Stewart M. Beatty
B.M. Sumrall
Edgar B. Wroten

Keith R. Calef
Clarence E. Childs
Herman A DeRasier
Earl F. Dore
Joseph B. Kelly
John L. Nadeau
Robert Whiting

Karl J. Wheeler
Harr J. Dempsey

Lionel S. Andrade
Victor G. Barrett
Joseph Barys
Louis Bonavire
Roger Bonneville
Richard A. Boscardin
Armand J. Boucher, Jr.
Roland A. Boucher
George F. Boufreau
Anthony Brzostecki
Charles E. Buxton, Jr.
Francis E. Byrne
Albert E. Chretein
Fred Clifford
William Cloutin
Albert M. Colonna
William R. Crevier
Joseph H. Diaz
Joseph A. DiStasio
Joseph E. Ferriera
Clarence Fournier
Robert E. Gelinas
William B. George
Edward V. Goff
Valmore R. Gonneville
John Hagerty
Louis Joseph
Raymond A. LaRue
Chester G. Long
Charles J. Morris
John J.P. Morrison
Charles E. Powell
Boleslaw P. Przydzials
Thomas Ruta
George M. Sahilakas
Daniel J. Salmon
Anthony A. Sannicandro
Raymond A. Savary
Walter J. Silva
Joseph R. Soares
Francis Stimporziewski
Thomas J. Sweeney
Hagerty Tilkin
Kenneth H. Sennett
Clayton L. Vaughan

Glenn J. Rice
Vernon H. Zahl

Winifred B. Johnson

Robert C. Alexander
George L. Arnett
Rex Butler
Henry D. Callicutt
James C. Clark
James F. Coleman
Thomas L. Cook
John Davis
John W. Edwards
Melvon R. Eldridge
Robert L. Goff
Forrest L. Grisham
Vester R. Hallmark
Thomas A. Harris
Donald A. Hemphill (Don gave me this list)
Alvin Howard
Samuel R. Liddell
Jessie M. Martin
Waldo C. McClamroch
Lester S. Nicholson
Robert W. Pollard, Jr.
Ernest L. Smith
Richard A. Stulman
Keylon C. Randle
David W. Shilton
Basil M. Sumrall
John P. Thomas, Jr.
Walter L. Tribble
William F. Tyer
Hugh C. Wallace
Clifton Williams
Dewey B. Windham
Edgar B. Wroten
Thomas P. Yates

New Hampshire
Jpseph N. Anton
J. Antony
George Beckwith
Russell C. LaClair
John E. Travia

New Jersey
John J. Farley
Charles Mershon

New York
Thomas M. Aiello
Lawrence W. Agoney
Rolf C. Anderson
Howard Bensen
Irvine Charles
Alexander Goldman
John "Irish" F. Haren
Charles J. McGroarty
Laurence P. Ritcha (spelling?)
Leonard L. Rosenberg
Carl R. Schwartz
Edward J. Simmons
Anthony Zahorian, Jr. (the document listed Zahorian as from PA, but his son and daughter contacted me to say he was from NY)

Miller C. Baumgardner
Walter E. Consylman, Jr.
Lewis H. Eshbach
Landis H. Eshelman
Jacob Fritz, Jr.
George C. Herzberger
Steven E. Jacobs
Sameul Lowery
Victor A. Mahdad
James Mitchell
Michael Proch
Andrew Spero
Steve Torau

Rhode Island
Walter E. Barber
Harold E. Briggs
OScar L. Bruvere
Carmine Catola
Lew H. Chin
Henry Costa
John Costa
George M. Cunha
Lawrence Diaz
William S. Edelman
Jack Feldman
George Fitzsimmons
Charles N. Fuller
Sherman N. Greengus
Mever Grossman
John E. Hague
Herbert Hiatt
Russell F. Hamieson
Frank A. Joyner
Francis J. LaLiberte (LaLiberté ?)
Eugene N. Larence
Joseph F. Laurie
Enville P. Leueille
Arthur Lori
Duane W. Kelley
Leonard K. King
Robert L. Lomas
Andrew T. Mignacca
Joseph Morrisey
George H. Potter
John Silva
Chester Swiszcz
Maurice Turgeon

South Carolina
Harol J. Rowell

Floyd Willis

Robert L. Ward
Oscar O. Gibson
Theodore N. Hine

Francis C. Stack
Edmiund F. Short

Harvey Durham

Eugene G. Denio
Leonard A. Ruzinski

P.S. I'm not sure which company he was in, but I found the obituary for William James Farthing who served in the 517th Port Battalion. I'm putting his name here in case his family ever tries to research his service.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Duchemin family orchard

While working on Utah Beach the 519th Port Battalion camped in an apple orchard owned by the Duchemin family. The above photo comes from Bruce Kramlich from HQ. Back row: Mr. and Mrs. Duchemin, Ralph "Pop" Richard, and Mrs Duchemin's mother, Mme. Hamel. Front row: Marie, Corentin, Geneviève, Camille, and Andrée. If you know any of the Duchemin family, please let me know. I would like to learn where exactly they had their farm. I know it was about 1 and a half miles south of Ravenoville, Normandie.

Update December 2015: I got in touch with Corentin and with the son of Andrée. The Duchemin family still runs the farm! 

In the background of the above photo you can see a line of huts built with dunnage (scrap wood from the cargo hold). A-frame roofs straddled their fox holes for better protection from the elements. See this post for a detailed description of their huts.

Above photo shows a GI using his helmet as a wash basin for a shave.  Because the 519th was a non combat battalion the men had the time to take pictures of their daily life.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Captain William Adams of the SS Charles Morgan

The grandson of the captain of the SS Charles Morgan got in touch with me recently. He sent me a copy of William Adams 1945 award of the Merchant Marine Meritorious Service Medal, the highest honor a Merchant Marine could receive. It gives an excellent description of what happened to the ship after it was hit by a German bomb off the coast of Utah Beach on June 10, 1944.

Meritorious Service Medals Awarded "for Conduct or Service of a Meritorious Nature" during World War II

Merchant Marine Meritorious Service Medal

Adams, William
Master, SS Charles Morgan 06/10/44
Captain William Adams, was master of the SS Charles Morgan. The ship had delivered her cargo to a European port, reloaded nearly 500 Army personnel and several hundred tons of equipment for the Normandy beachhead. After discharging this equipment and debarking nearly all soldiers in the initial invasion, the vessel was struck in No. 5 hatch by a bomb, causing her to settle by the stern in about 33 feet of water. Fires were started and several men killed. Getting all fires under control, Captain Adams searched all quarters for possibly trapped and injured men and left the ship only after she was declared a derelict by the U.S. Navy salvage officer. At low tide he and eleven of his crew volunteered to reboard the ship in spite of continued enemy action. Pumps were manned to keep the engine room dry and make possible the salvaging of valuable stores and equipment Sep. 22, 1945.

In April the son of the first mate aboard the ship told me that the German plane was allowed to get so close, because there was an order for all ships to hold their fire unless the plane could be clearly identified. In the first few days following the invasion jittery gunners in Normandy had shot down several Allied aircraft by mistake. Since the attack came at night identification was extremely difficult. First Mate Curtin received the Silver Star for his heroic efforts on the sinking ship.

My grandfather's Army port company was aboard the Charles Morgan when it was hit. My book Longshore Soldiers discusses the event from their point of view.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Indiantown Gap in WWII

Chapter 3 of my book deals with the training at Fort Indiantown Gap Military Reservation, Pennsylvania. The men of the 519th Port Battalion (an other other port battalions) learned about winch operation (see photo above), rigging, stowing, checking gear, mechanize equipment, warehousing, and the myriad other responsibilities of the Army stevedore.

The above photo shows training at one of the landships, replicas of supply ships built on dry land.

Dave Weaver, Bruce Kramlich, and John Shireman posing with the 304th Port Company banner.

Kramlich and Shireman with a view of some of the fort buildings.

A 1943 map of Indiantown Gap from a welcome guide. Bruce Kramlich write in the notes.

The concrete foundation of the two landships, SS Manada and SS Swatara, can still be seen today.

In 2008 the site received a historic marker from the state of Pennsylvnia. Today Indiantown Gap is home to the PA National Guard Museum.

See my previous post on Indiantown Gap: Landships at Indiantown Gap and 1943 Philadelphia Inquirer article about the stevedore training on the landships.

Monday, August 30, 2010

More stevedore softball

Chapter 14 of my book talks of the 519th's activities in Belgium after Germany surrendered, but before the troops were shipped home. Sports were a popular way to alleviate boredom and keep idle men out of trouble.

The daughter of a 519th Port Battalion member found this blog, and sent the above photo. Terry's dad was Raymond W. Otto, who served in the 302nd Port Company and played on the battalion softball team. Her photo shows the team in Marseille, France after a game in 1945. She also provided my book with another team photo taken in front of Tampico Flats.

At left are a few newspaper clippings from Stars and Stripes. Larry Botzon from 519th HQ saved these. They describe the team's success. The 519th softball players were the champions of Belgium and European finalists. Click image for a larger view.

See my original softball article about the European Theater military softball league.

Monday, August 23, 2010

519th men attacked by German bombers

A Landings Ship Tank (LST) sinks off the coast of Utah Beach. Photo courtesy of Dave Weaver, 519th Port Bn.

Chapter 7 of Longshore Soldiers discusses the 519th's part in the Normandy invasion. On June 14, 1944 a Chicago Tribune reporter interviewed GIs working on Utah Beach. Naturally, he choose to speak to men from Illinois. Matt Marvin, from 519th Port Battalion Headquarters was from Freeport, IL. He described the nightly air attacks by the Germans. The Luftwaffe pilots assumed the ship Marvin was unloading was carrying ammunition, so they tried bombing it three nights in a row. He was quoted as saying "What are we—magnetic?"

Click on the image at left to read the article. Another Illinois native from 519th HQ, Larry Botson, sent me this clipping: Noderer, E. R. “Chicagoans on Target Ship of Nazi Bombers,” Chicago Daily Tribune, p. 1. June 15, 1944.

Marvin's Liberty Ship avoided destruction, but another supply ship unloaded by the 519th was sunk four days earlier. See my post about the SS Charles Morgan.