Sunday, January 16, 2011

History of the 490th Port Battalion in WWII

I've been speaking to Charles Sprowl, a veteran of the 490th Port Battalion. You can see him interviewed in the documentary A Distant Shore: African Americans of D-Day. In December I requested copies of the National Archives' historic data report for the 490th. I've outlined the battalions history here.

The 490th Port Battalion, US Army Transportation Corps, was activated on January 25, 1943 a the Service of Supply Unit Training Center, New Orleans Staging Area, Louisiana. Major Harold E. Bonar assumed command (Bonar was later to take command of the 517th Port Battalion). My records show the names of eight other officers:
Captain Joseph D. Bayle
Captain Paul Forrest Mielly, Adjutant
2nd Lt. Barron Bridges, Assistant Adjutant
1st Lt. Avery E. Kolb, Adjutant
1st Lt. Herbert S. Butterworth, commander of A Company (later 226th Port Company)
1st Lt. Albert S. White, Jr., commander of B Company (later 227th Port Company)
2nd Lt. John C. Cullum, commander of C Company (later 228th Port Company)
2nd Lt. William R. Elliot, commander of D Company (later 229th Port Company)
Non-commissioned officers came from the 381st, 386th, 393rd, and 485th port battalions.

APRIL 1943
The battalion companies A,B,C, and D were redesignated as the 226th, 227th, 228th, and 229th port companies. The Medical Detachment was activated and added to HQ and HQ detachment. Companies trained on landships at Unit Training Center at New Orleans.

MAY 29, 1943
Arrived at Charleston Port of Embarkation. There was no functional training in stevedore skills except for riggers. Winchmen and signalmen had some additional training on a landship, but it was often out commission.

August 11 left Charles Port of Embarkation by rail and arriving at Camp Patrick Henry, Virginia on August 12. On August 20, 1943 left Camp Patrick Henry aboard the transport ship Argentina.

Arrived in Liverpool, England on September 4, 1943. Preceded by rail to barracks in Maghull, Lancashire, England. Conducted first live port battalion duties under the command of 4th Major Port and later the 15th Major Port. Worked with civilian British stevedores unloading ships in Liverpool.

226th Port Company was sent to Transportation Marine Operations Division School at Mumbles, Swansea, Wales on March 11. The 226th trained with amphibious truck companies. Left Mumbles on May 7, 1944 for Penarth, Cardiff, Wales.

Lt. Colonel Harold E. Bonar left the 490th to take command of the 517th Port Battalion. I don't know who replaced him.

227th Port Company left on April 11 to Par, Cornwall for duty with the 1st Engineer Special Brigade. The 227th participated in the ill-fated training exercises at Slapton Sands: during Exercise Tiger the Allied ships were attacked by German E-Boats. May 7 left Par, Cornwall for Penarth, Cardiff, Wales and arrived on May 8, 1944.

HQ and HQ Detachment, 228th, and 229th port companies left Maghull via rail for Shirehampton, Seamills Camp on April 28, 1944. (my grandfather's 519th Port Battalion was also based on Seamills). Left Seamills on May 16, 1944 and arrived at the invasion marshalling area at Harpton Court, New Radnor, Radnorshire on May 19, 1944.

226th and 227th port companies arrived at Penarth, Cardiff Wales on May 7 and 8 respectively. Both companies worked the sub-port loading coastal ships with ammunition, some of which was later unloaded on Utah Beach by the same units. Both companies left Penarth on May 19 and rejoined the other 490th Port Battalion companies at Harpton Court, New Radnor on May 19, 1944.

At New Radnor the companies prepared equipment for the invasion. There was not enough impregnated anti-gas clothing for all the men to be fully suited. Thankfully, the Germans did not resort to the use of poison gas.

JUNE 2 - 5, 1944
Major Robert J. Reynolds takes command of the 490th Port Battalion. On June 2 the full battalion left new Radnor and boarded transport ships at several embarkation areas. On June 5th their ships joined the invasion fleet destined for Normandy.

JUNE 6, 1944 D-DAY
The 490th Port Battalion hits the beach at Utah Beach, under the command of the 531st Engineer Shore Regiment, part of the 1st Engineer Special Brigade. There was one man killed on D-Day. Sergeant Willie R. Collins, 228th Port Company was killed by German Artillery. Five men were wounded, all in the 227th Port Company: Pfc. Curtis C. Hamblin, Pvt. Willie G. Harrison, Pvt. Edward Pitts, Pvt. Norwood B. Nickens, and Captain Glenn D. Cohee. One man was honored for his bravery. Staff Sergeant Arthur W. Jackson of the 228th Port Company earned a citation from the First US Army and a Bronze Star for his "refusal to stop working an ammunition ship under close enemy artillery fire until the ship master stopped the steam on the winches and orders were issued to abandon ship."

JUNE 6 to NOVEMBER 21, 1944
The port companies unloaded supply ships off the Uncle Red section of Utah Beach. See my book Longshore Soldiers for a detailed description of the dangers, work, and life on the beach.

November 1944
The battalion left Normandy by boat on November 21, 1944 and reached Le Havre, France on the 22nd. From here it drove to Rouen by truck, arriving later that same day. Camped in a race track. Worked in the river port at Rouen unloading supply ships and guarding German prisoners.

December 1944
During the Battle of the Bulge 490th men were detailed to guard certain areas in the city. Some of the port company men volunteered to leave the 490th and join the first integrated combat infantry units.

JULY 2, 1945
259th Port Company attached while in Rouen, France.

August 1945
The 226th, 229th, 259th port companies left Rouen by truck for Chanor Training Headquarters, Camp Lucky Strike, St. Valery-en-Caux, France on August 17, 1945. 821st Amphibian Truck Comapny attached to battalion on August 22. These companies began training for deployment to the Pacific Theater. The 227th, 228th, and 259th port companies were detached from the 490th Port Battalion and remained in Rouen to continue port supply work there.

226th, 229th, 259th port companies left Camp Lucky Strike by truck for Motteville, France on September 17, 1945. While at this camp the 490th disbanded. Enlisted men were separated into a variety of different units and shipped back to the States.

The battalion was awarded the French Croix de Guerre with palm. 490th Port Battalion men received the bronze arrowhead for it's part in the D-Day invasion and two campaign stars for Normandy and Northern France.


  1. My Father Capt. John M Minnick from Havre Montant was assinged to 490 Port Bn in Rouen France early 45 and some months later was assigned to Hq & Hq 16 Major PT Bn in Le Havre France. He had and invitation for the American Consulate for Thanksgiving Day 11/22/1945, 4 Impasse Saint Michel. Any chance I can review where he worked and what he did.
    Lynn Minnick (son)

  2. I serve the 490th Transportation Company with 7th Trans. Battalion in 1971, Fort Eustis, VA.

  3. My friend Cathy Floyd her father served in the 227th black troops in the Longshore men.
    WW II I was interested in looking at her dad's album and she loaned me his photo album of his time in France. I have from his album and the information contained now have purchased the book and ordered the dvd I am a lover of history especially when I can connect it to some one I know. I have scanned these photos and want to write her a little story about her fathers journey. I have been a friend of her family for a while and knew her dad personally a fine man. One of the photos is a black baseball team called the Atomic Bombers. ByVonda


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