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.