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.

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