Friday, July 30, 2010

Longshore Soldiers released!

Yesterday I gave final approval for the book. It was great to finally see the work in print. I'm waiting for my fist box to arrive, but the book is now available on amazon.com. You may read a sample excerpt here.




Monday, July 26, 2010

Tampico Flats, Antwerp: then and now

From November 18, 1944 to December 20, 1945 the 519th Port Battalion men were billeted in Tampico flats. Men from the 517th Port Battalion also lived here. This apartment complex stands in the north west corner of Antwerp, right up against the docks. The buildings are surrounded by these streets: Santiagostraat, Canadalaan, Columbiastraat, and Tampicoplein. You'll notice all the streets in the dock area were named for the various parts of the world that brought shipping to the port. The original "Tampico" is city in Mexico.

My book only includes a few photos, so I thought I should post the remainder here. My friend Raf, a resident of Antwerp, was nice enough to send me photos of the buildings as they look today.

Richard Krause on the left, and James Dolan on the right posing outside the building.

Krause again and another guy. Note Tampico Flat's distinctive exterior tile walls.

519th men in line for guard duty. The 303rd and 304th port companies spent all their time in Antwerp on guard duty. After December 20, 1945 the entire battalion (or what was left of it after so many GIs were shipped home) was engaged in guard duty. Note the plywood covering the windows. Just about every pane of glass in the port had been shattered by exloding v-bombs.

Dave Weaver returned to Antwerp in the 1980s. He photographed the building and marked where his room was. It seems that the original first floor exterior tiles were still in place. In 1944 the roof was flat and open and it was used as a mess hall. Sometime after 1946 a pitched roof was built on.


Tampico Flats as seen today. My friend Raf photographed the buildings this past winter. The first floor exterior tile has changed.

A few more photos of the 1940s building can be seen in a post on WW2 Forums.

Here's a link to the buildings on Google Maps. As you can see the apartment is very close to the docks.

Photos above: Bruce Kramlich (at left) leaning against the Canadalaan side of the building. Photo below: Bruce (in window at right) with 519th Port Battalion men.


Friday, July 16, 2010

Trench Art Exhibit, Longmont Museum, Colorado

My local museum is currently putting on an exhibit of World War I and WWII trench art. These art objects were made by soldiers out of military junk. A couple of my grandfather's objects appear in the show. The exhibit is traveling around the country, but my grandfather's bracelet and frame are only appearing here in Colorado.

While in Antwerp a German V-1 "buzz bomb" exploded near my grandfather, blasting a piece of shrapnel by his head. He took the metal as a souvenir and showed it off to his buddies. A friend was in charge of monitoring the German POWs in the port. He knew that one of the Germans was a former jeweler and could make something nice from the metal. For a small price Cortland had an interesting keepsake made for his girlfriend, Marjorie. The prisoner fashioned the rough shrapnel into a charming heart-shaped bracelet. “I gave him three packs of cigarettes. He almost kissed me!” The German prisoner etched the date, and my grandfather scratched in "V-1" himself. The museum wanted a war-time photo of my grandpa (see above). I mounted it in a frame made in Antwerp, which my grandfather bought in the Army PX (Post Exchange).



Apparently, this was a common souvenir in WWII Antwerp. Bruce Kramlich, from HQ also lent the Longmont Museum his shrapnel bracelet, which is a simple polished band. John "Jack" Shireman, from my grandfather's 304th Port Co., also had a V-1 bracelet made in Antwerp. It is not in the show, but he sent me a picture (see below). His was fashioned by a GI. It features John's name on the front and his girlfriend's name on the inside.


If you are in Colorado, come check it out:
Swords to Plowshares: Metal Trench Art of World War I and World War II
July 17 to September 26
I am scheduled to give an author talk at the Longmont Museum on September 15th.

Although not trench art, the above ring is interesting. The dad of one of the soldiers in the battalion worked at a ring company—the kind of place that made high school class rings. He had a bunch of rings made up for the 519th Port Battalion. Bruce Kramlich ordered one before shipping oversheas. The ring features the US Transportations Corps insignia on the top with "519th Port Battalion, U.S. Army" written around the edge.

A favorite publisher of mine, Shire, has a book about trench art: Trench Art by Nicholas J. Saunders. It's out of stock at the moment, but you can find used copies on amazon.

Photo: 304th Port Co men with Normandy kids

Here's a great photo that didn't make it's way into the book. It shows members of the 304th Port Company with some kids in what I assume is Normandy. It looks like the kids are wearing German field caps. The guys are in jackets and gloves, so this should be the fall of 1944. This photo was shared by Anya DeLaura, daughter-in-law of Mike DeLaura, who served in the 304th. It's a great shot, but there just wasn't room for it in the book.

There are 80+ photos in my book, most of which have never been published before. I sent the book files to the printer today. In a week or two I will have a proof, and if that looks good the book will be ready for purchase.


Tuesday, July 13, 2010

1st Engineer Special Brigade assigned troops and attached units

In my stack of operation reports from the National Archives is a list of all the core units assigned to the 1st Engineer Special Brigade, along with a list of the attached troops. I did not add the list to my book, so I thought I should include it here. This is the unit composition while on Utah Beach.

Units Assigned to the 1st ESB
1st Engineer Special Brigade, HQ & HQ Company
531st Engineer Shore Regiment (see note 1)
3 shore battalions (see note 1)
24th Amphibian Truck Battalion, HQ & HQ Detachment
462nd Amphibian Truck Company
478th Amph Trk Co
479th Amph Trk Co
306th Quartermaster Battalion HQ & HQ Company
556th Quartermaster Railhead Company
562nd QM Railhead Co (see note 2)
3939th QM Gas Supply Co
191st Ordnance Battalion HQ & HQ Detachment
3497th Ordnance MAM co
625th Ordnance Amm Co
161st Ordnance Platoon
577th Quartermaster Battalion HQ & HQ detachment
363rd Quartermaster Service Company (see note 3)
3207th QM Service Co
4144th QM Service Co
261st Medical Battalion (Amphibious), HQ & HQ Company
3 Medical Companies (Amphibious)
449th Military Police Company
286th Joint Assault Signal Company
33rd Chemical Decontamination Company

Units Attached to the 1st ESB
2nd Naval Beach Battalion
38th Engineer GS Regiment, HQ & H & S Company
2nd Engineer GS Bns
467th Engineer Maintenance Company, 1st Platoon
440th Engineer Depot Company, 1st Platoon
1605th Engineer Map Section
1217th Engineer FF [fire fighting?] Platoon
1218th Engineer FF Platoon
62nd Quartermaster Battalion, HQ & HQ Detachment
4061st Quartermaster Service Company
4083rd QM Serv Co
4088th QM Serv Co
4090th QM Serv Co
4092nd QM Serv Co
4190th QM Serv Co
244th Quartermaster Battalion, HQ & HQ Detachment
552nd QM Railhead Co
3878th QM Gas Supply Co
308th QM Railhead Company (attached to the 306th QM Bn)
3877th QM Gas Supply Company (attached to the 306th Qm Bn)
4132nd QM Service Company (attached to the 577th QM Bn)
607th Qm Graves Registration Co, 4th Platoon (attached to the 577th QM Bn)
537th Quartermaster Battalion HQ & HQ Detachment
3692nd QM Truck Co
3683rd QM Truck Co
3684th QM Truck Co
4002nd QM Truck Co
4041st QM Truck Co
815th Amphibious Truck Company
816th Amphibious Truck Company
817th Amphibious Truck Company (attached to the 24th Amph Trk Bn)
818th Amphibious Truck Company
3615th Ornance MAM Company (attached 191st Ord Bn)
23rd Ordnance Bomb Disposal Squad (attached 191st Ord Bn)
175th Sig Repair Company, Detachment
215th Sig Repair Company, Det
999th Sig Sv Company, Det
3111th Sig Sv Company, Det
165th Sig Photo Company, Det
1st Medical Company2nd Section Advance Medical Platoon
3rd Aux Surgical Group
301st MP Escort Guard Company
595th MP Escort Guard Company
Company "D," 383rd MP Battalion
52nd Finance Dispursing Section
Det 8th AF Intransit Depot Group
490th Port Battalion
226th Port Company
227th Port Co
228th Port Co
229th Port Co
518th Port Battalion
278th Port Company
281st Port Co
298th Port Co
299th Port Co
300th Port Co
301st Port Co
519th Port Battalion
280th Port Company
279th Port Co
302nd Port Co
303rd Port Co
304th Port Co
305th Port Co

Notes:
1. After the Utah Beach Operations closed in the fall of 1944 these units were reorganized as Engineer Combat Group with three Engineer Combat Battalions. They joined the US 9th Army in the Netherlands.
2. This unit substituted for the 557th QM Railhead Company which lost the major part of its personnel by enemy action during Exercise Tiger, the rehearsal for the Normandy invasion.
3. This unit substituted for the 3206th QM Service Company which lost the major part of its personnel by enemy action during Exercise Tiger, the rehearsal for the Normandy invasion.

This information comes from an internal Army document I retrieved from the National Archives:
Report on Operation NEPTUNE. Headquarters, 1st Engineer Special Brigade, November 19, 1944.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

US Combat Engineer: 1941-45, by Gordon Rottman review

There's a story that my grandfather tells that amuses him quite a bit. The war was over and he and thousands of other GIs were waiting in le Havre, France to be shipped home. He got to talking to an infantryman and a combat engineer. The infantryman was bragging about how he had been fighting the enemy in Germany, unlike these rear echelon guys. The engineer asked "Did you cross a bridge to get there?" "Yeah," responded the infantryman. "Well, who do you think put it there?!"

The US Army engineers built bridges, removed enemy obstacles and mines, demolished blockades, and were sent into combat when needed. Gordon Rottman's new book, US Combat Engineer 1941–45 is a useful introduction to this resourceful service.

The US military was not at all prepared for its entry into the war. Rottman explains how the Civilian Conservation Corps gave millions of American men the skills that would serve the armed forces well. The CCC was President Franklin Roosevelt's pre-war social program that put the nation's unemployed to work planting trees, fighting fires, cutting trees, running telephone wires, building roads, bridges, dams and parks. All this outdoor activity improved physical fitness, taught skills, created teamwork, preparing men for military life. The Army engineers in particular included a large percentage of men who had worked in the CCC.

Rottman provides an excellent overview of the wartime draft*, creation of new military units, training, and general military life Stateside. He spends a good 40 pages (out of 62) of his book on this subject. There is also a description of daily Army life in the field in Europe. These sections make the book valuable to anyone studying the WWII US Army, as they are applicable to nearly any unit outside the engineers. Perhaps it would have been better to include less general Army info, and more specific engineer info. I had been wanting to read more about Army life in the States, so for me it was welcome.

The last third of the book details the engineer's relationship with the infantry, their duties, their equipment, vehicles, and their role as combat infantry. Rottman ends the book with three fictionalized scenarios to provide sample missions typical of the engineers. The first is an account of building a pontoon footbridge for an infantry assault. The next scenario details a company's demolition of a German blockade in a city street. In the last example we learn how the engineers would tackle a German roadblock—by detecting and removing mines and booby traps, then hauling away felled trees.

Osprey's US Combat Engineer 1941–45 is a welcome introduction to the engineers. It's descriptions of daily army life are appropriate for any US Army unit serving in the States and Europe. There are 7 full page color illustrations by Adam Hook, noted military artist.

*On page 8 the author states that draftees were not offered deferment on compassionate grounds—caring for sick parents for example. However, I would like to suggest that it would be more accurate to say that the draft boards did not officially postpone men's service for this reason. I speak to two veterans who say their local draft board allowed them six months to continue supporting their sick parent. I realize two is a small sample number, but it seems sympathy by local draft boards may have allowed some boys to stay home a bit longer than the rules would allow.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Royal Engineers in Antwerp

Yesterday I received an email from the son of George Hunter, a veteran of the British Army's 186 Mechanical Equipment (Transportation) Company. Hunter's section operated and maintained all the bulldozers, excavators, etc. for the units who did port construction and repair. In Antwerp they were attached to the 930 Port Construction and Repair Company, which had responsibility for the British section of the Port of Antwerp.

The No 2 Mechanical Equipment (Transportation) Units landed on D-Day. As part of the Royal Engineers they built the Mulberry Harbors on Gold Beach and then moved on to Antwerp to clear out the port. They worked on port, railway, and canal construction and repair throughout the theater. The unit structure was as follows:

No 2 Mechanical Equipment Units:
186 Mechanical Equipment (Transportation) Company
41 Mechanical Equipment (Transportation) Section
42 Mechanical Equipment (Transportation) Section
43 Mechanical Equipment (Transportation) Section

869 Mechanical Equipment (Transportation) Company
53 Mechanical Equipment (Transportation) Section
54 Mechanical Equipment (Transportation) Section
55 Mechanical Equipment (Transportation) Section

876 Mechanical Equipment (Transportation) Company
44 Mechanical Equipment (Transportation) Section
67 Mechanical Equipment (Transportation) Section
74 Mechanical Equipment (Transportation) Section

Rory has done an impressive amount of research into the history of his dad's company. He has identified several of the men in the above group photo. Here is a list of names in the section:

Officers
Captain Francis H. Smith
Lieutenant A. F. Goff

Lance Sergeant
Gerald G. O'Hare • Bert Larbey

Corporal
George B. Hunter • R. W. Liddell • A. E. Halewood
G. W. Hickson • W. J. Smith

Lance Corporal
Don H. Munro • R. W. Walker • Alfred A. Forsythe
K. Nuttall

Sapper
K. G. Bushell • A. S. Carlslaw • H. Carney • J. Carney
W. Carney • Charley B. Chainey • W. Chambers
W. S. Clayton • W. W. Y. Dennis • M. J. Donnelly
J. A. Earwicker • H. Eastwood • Randy W. Gandy
H. Gunton • Fred Hankison • R. T. Harris • R. Heyes
D. Horsfall • R. F. Howes • F. Johnston • Alfred A. Jones
G. P. Jones • E. Kaveney • J. Lalley • Ginger Lloyd
J. McKay • R. H. Mogg • H. Murgatroyd • C. Newrick
T. Nowland • F. N. Palmer • J. Pemberton • N. A. Pitcher
J. Reay • Saunders • J. Taylor • J. Thompson
F. C. Timms • D. Tobin • Jack Walker • J. Wallace
D. G. Wallaker • A. A. Wareham • G. Watson
D. O. Williams • J. R. Winn • C. Wrights • D. W. Wight

If you see your name or that of a family member, please email me and I will put you in touch with Rory.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Antwerp in World War II

At the beginning of my research I was hoping there was a book devoted to Antwerp's war time experience. Unfortunately, there is no such book in print, but there are two books about the V-weapons that feature a full chapter about Antwerp. London is known to be targeted by Hitler's V-1s and V-2s, but Antwerp was actually the city that was more heavily bombarded. Consequently, these two books each feature a chapter titled "City of Sudden Death" after the 1945 TIME article that popularized that nickname. The two books' chapters approach the subject from different angles, making them complimentary pair.

Impact: The History of Germany's V-Weapons in World War II was written by Benjamin King and Timothy Kutta. King was the Command Historian of the US Army Transportation Center at Fort Eustis, VA. Since my grandfather's 519th Port Battalion was a Transportation Corps unit, King's concern with supply issues was especially useful to me. His chapter on Antwerp tended to me more technical, focusing on bombing figures, rocket flight patterns, antiaircraft artillery, etc.

V-2: A Combat History of the First Ballistic Missile was written by Tracy D. Dungan. Dungan runs V2Rocket.com. His chapter deals more with the personal experience of the people who suffered through the bombardment.

When my book Longshore Soldiers is published this month, I'm pleased to report its description will further contribute to the study of WWII Antwerp.

281st Port Company roster WWII

The sad thing is I don't have an names for the 281st Port Company. The surviving 519th Port Battalion HQ documents date to August 1944. This was before the 281st was attached. If you, you're dad, uncle, etc. was in the 281st, then please let me know. I'd like to include his name here.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Brief history of the 505th Port Battalion


This training photo shows men loading a DUKW with a small crane in Camp Leroy Johnson, LA sometime in the 1940s. (photo courtesy of the U.S. Army Transportation Museum)


The 505th Port Battalion came into my research because two of it's companies were separated from the unit and attached to my grandfather's 519th Port Battalion. This was done in anticipation of the Normandy invasion.

Last week I was put in touch with two men from the 505th Port Battalion. One veteran, Herbert Israel, served in the 279th Port Company. Peter Sloboda served in the 280th. After several phone conversations with the two I am now able to outline the unit's history. In my book I include a paragraph about the 505th, but I thought a fuller account should be posted online.

Both men were drafted in April 1943. Unlike the 519th, the 505th Port Battalion did not train at Fort Indiantown Gap. It seems they did not receive specialized stevedore (dock worker) training until arriving at Camp Miles Standish. They trained there and worked Boston’s docks in the summer of 1943. Just like my grandfather, Peter Sloboda was assigned to help Boston's postal service. The USPS was short-staffed because of all men at war, so GIs substituted as mailmen.

On September 30, 1943 the battalion departed Boston. The men boarded a transport ship in New York City on October 2nd. They arrived in Glasgow, Scotland and took a train to Morriston, Wales. This town is just outside Swansea. The men were stationed in a military camp. Some of the port companies worked Swansea's docks, while others received further training. For a few weeks Peter Sloboda and the 280th Port Company moved to Mumbles, Wales for more training. There they were billeted in local families' homes. (photo at left is Peter Sloboda on Mumbles' beach, 1944)

The 280th Port Company was removed from the 505th Port Battalion and attached to the 519th Port Bn. on May 4, 1944. The 279th Port Company was attached on May 13. The 519th and its newly attached companies boarded ships at Bridgend, Wales.

They took part in the Normandy invasion, landing on Utah Beach. The port company men unloaded the ships which had transported them from the UK, then they hit the beach in landing craft on June 7, 8, 9, and 10, 1944. The 280th Port Company was unable to land on Utah Beach. This was due to the congestion on the beach in the first few days of the invasion. The company motored over to Omaha Beach, the men boarded trucks and then drove overland to Utah Beach.

From June to November 1944. The two former port companies of the 505th worked alongside the 519th men unloading supply ships. A detailed description of this work appears in my book.
While the other port companies of the 519th camped in an apple orchard, the 279th remained in foxholes on the beach. Rough winter seas made supply work over the Normandy beaches impossible. By this time French and Belgian seaports had been liberated and could be used for Allied shipping. On November 12 the 279th Port Company left the 519th and rejoined the 505th in Le Havre, France. The 280th Port Company remained with the 519th, working the port of Antwerp until the end of the war.

Unfortunately, I do not know where the other companies of the 505th Port Battalion served from June to November 1944. I could request the 505th Port Battalion's documents from the National Archives. Yet, this is expensive (maybe $75) and there is no certainty that they will have anything useful. I recently purchased copies of the 518th Port Battalion. Unfortunately, the only records they have for the 518th are monthly reports of supplies moved. I now appreciate how fortunate I was to find a detailed history of my grandfather's 519th.