Friday, January 29, 2010

Antwerp X comic

A friend living in Antwerp emailed me a photo of this amusing cartoon. This decorated folder held files for Antwerp X. That was the name given to the American, British, and Polish anti-aircraft units defending Antwerp from German V-1 rockets. This cartoon is held at Antwerp's city archives, the FelixArchief. If you are interested in learning more about Antwerp X, definitely check out Impact: The History of Germany's V-Weapons in World War II, by Benjamin King. The author gives very detailed information on the organization, types of anti-aircraft artillery used, placement, tactics, etc. Antwerp X was of no use against the V-2 ballistic missile, but against the low-flying V-1 the A-A guns were bringing down close to 98% by the end of the war.

Monday, January 25, 2010

US Air Force records from WWII

This blog focuses on my mother's father, Cortland Hopkins. He served in the US Army from 1943 to 1946. My father's father also served at the end of the war. Harold Brozyna (pictured at left) was a US Air Force radioman aboard a weather reconnaissance B-17. With Harold's discharge papers in-hand, I decided to research his unit, the 53rd Reconnaissance Squadron. If you are looking for info on a particular unit, then here's what you do:

Unit histories and supporting documents of the Army Air Force and Air Force are held at the Air Force Historical Agency. This agency is located on Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama. Their website offers one-page fact sheets for the various commands, divisions, squadrons, etc. (click on "Organizational records"). To obtain copies of full WWII records I emailed: AFHRANews (insert at symbol) (You may also phone at 334-953-2395) My request simply detailed the unit, defined a date range, and provided my mailing address and contact info. On August 31, 2009 I wrote:

"I am interested in copies of World War II Operation reports (or other documents) for the 53rd Reconnaissance Squadron, Long Range, Weather under the command of the 311th Photo Wing, Mapping and Charting, Army Air Force June 1945 – July 1946"

On December 22 I received a package from the USAFR Historian. It included several photocopied documents, plus a catalogue of their full holdings on the squadron. To receive more documents I would need to purchase microfilm print-outs.

I was very pleased with the Air Force Historical Agency's easy process. Four months passed between my request and the receipt of the package, but long processing times are to be expected of a government office. I really appreciated how attentive the AFHA staff is. When there was a delay due to computer problems, they let me know. When I called them on the phone a real person answered, as opposed to the recording offered by the National Archives.

So! I hope this post helps someone out there. I placed my own WWII Air Force research on hold until I finish my 519th Port Bn. book, but I will add one future post about the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron. Among my papers were six proposed drawings for the unit insignia. I'll scan them in and share.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

De Schaduw van de Bevrijding, Schrijvers

This past fall I joined the World War II forum, It was there that I met Kelly Versmissen. She lives in Antwerp, and is researching the American units stationed there during the war. After realizing our shared interest, she recommended Peter Schrijvers' book, Liberators. I wrote a book review a few weeks ago. I thought it would also be illuminating to see the perspective of a Belgian reader. Kelly read the Dutch language edition and sent her own review in English and Dutch. Check it out:

Liberators by Peter Schrijvers – a short review
Liberators distinguishes itself from other WWII books by being one of the only reference-books in the world written about the pro’s and con’s of the Anglo-American liberators in Belgium. Being of Belgian descent himself, author Peter Schrijvers investigates the subject in a surprisingly unbiased way. He sticks to the facts and makes purely scientific statements. The fact that he is a professor American and International History at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia may be the cause of his objectivity.

The content of the book itself is very innovative. In three parts, Schrijvers reveals the dark side of the liberation and its actors as well as the nuisance of the incapable members of the Belgian resistance and the forever scrounging hungry citizens. This combination illustrates how the liberation of Belgium wasn’t as glorious and euphoric as most people think. The first three days or so had been wonderful and festive, in strong contrast to the aftermath, during which jealousy, murder, disease and even racism became a part of the daily routine for both citizens as soldiers.

Liberators is a refreshing reference-work for everyone interested in WWII, that shatters some of the biggest illusions and longest sustained misconceptions of occupied countries and their liberators.

De schaduw van de bevrijding door Peter Schrijvers – een kort verslag
De schaduw van de bevrijding onderscheidt zich van andere boeken omdat het een van de enige naslagwerken in de wereld is die de voor- en nadelen van de Anglo-Amerikaanse bevrijders in België omschrijft. Hoewel de auteur Peter Schrijvers van Belgische origine is, onderzoekt hij het onderwerp op een verrassend onbevooroordeelde wijze. Hij houdt het op de feiten en maakt enkel puur wetenschappelijke vaststellingen. Het feit dat hij een professor Amerikaanse en Internationale Geschiedenis is aan de University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australië, kan hiervan de oorzaak zijn.

De inhoud van het boek zelf is zeer innovatief. Schrijvers onthult in drie delen zowel de donkere kant van de bevrijding en diens actoren als de overlast met incapabele Belgische verzetslieden en immer bedelende hongerige burgers. Deze combinatie maakt duidelijk dat de bevrijding van België niet zo euforisch was als de meeste mensen zouden denken. De eerste drie dagen mochten dan wel geweldig en feestelijk zijn geweest, de nasleep stond hiermee in sterk contrast. Jaloezie, moord, ziekte en zelfs racisme werden een deel van de dagelijkse belevenissen voor zowel burgers als soldaten.

De schaduw van de bevrijding is een vernieuwend naslagwerk voor iedereen die in de Tweede Wereldoorlog geïnteresseerd is. Het ontkracht enkele van de grootste misopvattingen over bezette landen en hun bevrijders.

Monday, January 18, 2010

US Port Units in Antwerp in WWII

The Port of Antwerp was run by the British Army after capturing it from the Germans in September of 1944. They assigned a section of the port for American use. The American units were under the command of the 13th Major Port and 5th Major Port. The following lists comes from a 13th Major Port document housed in the FELIXARCHIEF (city archives) of Antwerp. A Belgian friend of mine scanned a few pages for me. I will be requesting more 13th Port documents from the US National Archives.

There are two things that interest me about these pages. First, I'm happy to learn the names of the American units working in the port during the war. Secondly, I was impressed to see that these units all received Belgium's Croix de Guerre. My grandpa and his buddies were not aware that the 519th was awarded this military decoration. Their discharge papers do not reflect this because the Army did not typically include mention of foreign military awards. However, I am aware that France bestowed their Croix de Guerre on the the 519th for its part in the Normandy invasion. To signify this the men received received ribbons for their uniform and the unit flew a special banner. I wonder if the same treatment was intended by Belgium, or if the recognition was meant only to appear on paper. More investigation is needed! [Important note (February, 26, 2010): since posting this piece I have learned the 13th Major port did not receive the Belgian Croix de Guerre. Read the update.]

Below is the text from the 1946 13th Port document.
It appears to exclude the anti-aircraft units that shot down V-Weapons on the perimeter of the city. I read the names from a photo of the document. I think I got all the numbers right, but I may have miss-read a couple blurry numbers.

With Whom We Served

Unfortunately records of units who served with us in England are unavailable. The order awarding the Belgian Croix de Guerre to the 13th Port and attached units, fortunately gives us a list of those who were with us in Belgium during the long bombardment. The Belgian decree is follows:

Decree of December 7, 1946, No 3254ter

The Port Units of the armed forces of the United States in service at the Port of Antwerp who participated in the defense of the city against flying bombs include:

Headquarters and Headquarters Company 13th Port
Headquarters and Headquarters Company 5th Port
228th Army Postal Unit
22nd Postal Regulating Section
358th Engineer General Service Regiment
1598th Engineer Utility Detachment
1592nd Engineer Utility Detachment
694th Engineer Base Equipment Company
1072nd Engineer Port Repair Ship Company
1218th Engineer Fire Fighting Platoon
1717th Engineer Floating Power Plant
138th Finance Disbursing Section
134th Finance Disbursing Section
345th Medical Composite Section
350th Medical Composite Section
29th Field Hospital 30th General Hospital
119th Ordnance Bomb Disposal Squad
120th Ordnance Bomb Disposal Squad
121st Ordnance Bomb Disposal Squad
Headquarters Detachment 793rd Military Police Battalion
Company A 793rd Military Police Battalion
Company B 793rd Military Police Battalion
Company C 793rd Military Police Battalion
Company D 793rd Military Police Battalion
3037th Quartermaster Bakery Company
995th Signal Service Company
3616 Quartermaster Truck Company
267th Port Company
268th Port Company
HQ and HQ Detachment 152nd Quartermaster Battalion
HQ and HQ Detachment 487th Port Battalion
Medical Detachment 487th Port Battalion
184th Port Company
185th Port Company
186th Port Company
187th Port Company
282nd Port Company
283rd Port Company
339th Harbor Craft Company
334th Harbor Craft Company
344th Harbor Craft Company (this was accidentally omitted from the original, and correctly added in 1953)
345th Harbor Craft Company
352nd Harbor Craft Company
105th Port Marine Maintenance Company
HQ and HQ Detachment 517th Port Battalion
Medical Detachment 517th Port Battalion
797th Port Company
798th Port Company
799th Port Company
800th Port Company
284th Port Company
285th Port Company
HQ and HQ Detachment 519th Port Battalion
302nd Port Company
303rd Port Company
304th Port Company
305th Port Company
280th Port Company
281st Port Company
3883rd Quartermaster Truck Company
3583rd Quartermaster Truck Company
4261th Quartermaster Truck Company
3611th Quartermaster Truck Company
3610th Quartermaster Truck Company
4262nd Quartermaster Truck Company
3601st Quartermaster Truck Company
Medical Detachment 793rd Military Police Battalion

Note: although it was not in Antwerp long enough to be recognized in the above list, the 109th Port Marine Maintenance Company was in Antwerp from March 25 to mid-June 1945. They were housed in the Luchtbal Barracks.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Services of Supply in WWII, ETO

On their left shoulder, the men of the 519th Port Bn wore an oval patch featuring a blue star, red lightning bolts and a broken chain on a blue field. This was the insignia of the European Theater of Operations, US Army (ETOUSA). After the formation of the Supreme Allied Headquarters in February 1994, ETOUSA focused on the administration and supply of US troops. The insignia represents this function by incorporating the blue star and white petal-shaped field of the Service of Supply (SOS). The US Army's Transportation Corp was a part of the SOS, along with the Quartermasters, Medical Corp, Engineers, Ordnance, Signal Corp, Chemical Warfare Service, and Military Police. Bruce Kramlich, from 519th HQ, saved a little book printed in Paris in 1945. The following quote is from pages 12-13 of Randolph Leigh's American Enterprise in Europe: The Role of the SOS in the defeat of Germany:

And after the forward fighters of ground and air came the soldiers of the Services of Supply. These were the armed men who represented American industry transported to Europe to fight it out with German industry under most unfavorable conditions. Often within the combat area the men of the SOS performed with courage and ingenuity the multitudinous tasks put upon them. Heavy tasks, generally prosaic and often miserable. Members of the port battalions—men on the docks unloading ships—railway men—truck drivers...
Men piling ammunition in dumps scattered through lonely forests—men moving masses of supplies in and out of bleak warehouses—men building camps and staging areas in muddy fields...
Men covered with grease and grime as they work upon locomotives in gloomy roundhouses— locomotives men building highways by hand and by bulldozer—men rebuilding railroads destroyed by bombs, shells, and demolition explosives...
Men driving DUKWs, lighters, barges, Rhinos—men going without sleep on all sorts of transportation runs, including the famous Red Ball...
Thousands of men doing their duty wherever they happened to be, in defiance of danger and exhaustion.

Despite the author's excessive and often grammatically inappropriate use of em dashes, I think the above passage provides an evocative impression of the work done by my grandfather's outfit, and the SOS as a whole.

Note: If you don't happen to know a WWII veteran with a copy to lend, you can order a PDF of American Enterprise in Europe from Merriam Press.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Stevedore Softball

I got a lot of writing done this weekend. One of the things I added was a bit about the battalion softball team. In 1946 there was a competition among all the American units stationed in Europe. The 519th’s Historical Data Report was proud to report that their team did quite well:

“…from the various companies a Battalion softball team was organized and when the preliminary rounds of the Com Z softball tournament started the 519th was enetered. The 519th successfully defeated all local contenders to the crown and emerged Port Area No, 3 champions. Through another series of games they became the Chanor Base representative for the Com Z tournament at Merseille. The entire team flew from Brussels to Merseille in a C-47 where they met teams from the various Base Sections, representative of hundreds of teams on the Continent. The 519the team, after winning its first two games in this tournament, eneded the campaign finishing runner-up. This hard-working aggregation reflected fine spirit and credit upon the Battalion as a whole.”
The guy in the top photo looks like it might be John Larock. Robert F. Lipke is in the bottom shot. I know a lot of professional ball players were drafted during the war. I wonder what has been written about these baseball games in WWII. Has anyone read When Baseball Went to War, by Todd Anton?

Thursday, January 7, 2010

ABC Express Line in WWII

Someone recently emailed me a question about the ABC Express Line. I tried Googling the term, and found nothing, so I thought I'd fill the void with a post here.

The starting point for the ABC Express Line began was Antwerp, Belgium. This was the longest express trucking line used by the Allies in WWII. Supplies arrived in the port of Antwerp by ship. Civilian dock workers unloaded the cargo and moved it to the marshaling area just outside the port. This was done under the supervision of Army Port Companies, such as my grandfather's 519th Port Battalion. From this point fourteen different Quartermaster trucking companies hauled the supplies east to depots near the front lines at the Belgium cities of Liege, Mons, and Charleroi. This route was also called the "Antwerp-Brussels-Charleroi" line.

While the predominant vehicle trafficking the Red Ball Express route leading from Normandy had been the 2-ton GMC Jimmy truck (the famous "deuce and a half"), the ABC Express Line saw heavy use of 10-ton tractor trailers. I am not sure if the British and Canadians employed their own trucking companies, or if all the Allies relied on American trucks. I suspect the latter is true. This route began on November 30, 1944 and was in use until March 26, 1945.

Extract from TIME magazine published 26, March 1945, pp 5-6:
"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."

1. Bykofsky, Joseph and Larson, Harold. United States in World War II, The Technical Services, The Transportation Corps: Operations Overseas. Center of Military History. Washington, DC 2003.
2. Colley, David. Road to Victory: The Untold story of World War II’s Red Ball Express. Washington, D.C. : Brassey’s 2000.
3. Lockett, Edward. "City of Sudden Death" in TIME magazine published 26, March 1945, pp. 5-6.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Book review: Liberators, by Peter Schrijvers

Liberators would be welcome on the shelf of any arm chair general. The writing style is approachable to the casual history buff, while the Belgian civilian perspective offers a more comprehensive understanding of the war in Europe.

In his epilogue Peter Schrijvers quotes a short passage from Rebirth of the West*. Although pulled from another book, this line is a convenient representation of Liberators: The Allies and Belgian Society 1944–1945. The passage and Schrijvers' book both speak of Belgium's introduction to fascism, the suffering brought by the Germans, the military triumph of the Anglo-Americans, and the enthusiastic Belgian acceptance of American culture and politics:

"By the fall of 1944, however, the Nazis in Belgium had lost both the literal and the metaphorical battle. By then, as Duigan and Gann have noted, fascism 'no longer appeared—as it had in the 1930s—the cause of youth, and of a banner-waving future. Instead, the US and Britain had out-produced, out-organized, out-thought, and out-fought the Axis Powers.'" —Liberators, p.272

As a 21st century man living in a long-time and affluent democracy, I was a little startled to consider that fascism had ever appeared as the fresh way of the future. I suspect that the typical World War II history buff limits his reading to battles, military equipment, and war heroes. The ideological environment that brought on the war is ignored, as is the war's dramatic influence on European society. I myself am guilty of the same oversight. Initially, I looked to this book only as a source for details on Allied supply work in the port of Antwerp (and for that it is useful). Yet, I immediately became engrossed by the author's fascinating accounts of Belgian war-time life.

The Belgian people experienced diverse interactions with the Americans, British and Canadians. Liberating Allied troops were welcomed with great exuberance. The Belgian resistance struggled for respect. German collaborators were publicly shamed. Women were gripped by passion for the young Allied soldiers. Belgium's unemployed received work from the Allied military. A populace living under severe food and fuel rations resented Allied apparent wealth. American popular culture and goods were embraced. New politics were developed with a look to the Anglo-Americans.

In Liberators a depth of realism balances the popular view of idyllic European liberation. The author gives full attention to evidence for the Belgians' negative perceptions of the Allied forces. I reason this to be an adherence to the objective principle of completeness—not an attempt at radical revisionist history. Our understanding is indeed revised, yet Belgian gratitude and admiration for the Allied nations remain the defining qualities of their wartime relationship.

*from Rebirth of the West, The Americanization of the Democratic World, 1945-1958, by Duigan and Gann.