Sunday, December 2, 2012

Blaise Castle, in Bristol, England

Blaise Castle, spring 1944. Herbert Koller (from Milwaukee, Wisconsin) is kneeling in the center. On the far right is Richard J. Justice (from Ashland, Wisconsin). I think the man on the far left might be Phillip Rose (from NY)
Blaise Castle as seen in November 2012. Photo courtesy of Anthony Beeson.
My grandfather's WWII photo album had three interesting photos of a Medieval-looking tower. He labeled them as "Antwerp," but after posting the images here I learned it is actually Blaise Castle in Bristol, England.

My grandfather served in the 304th Port Company of the 519th Port Battalion, US Army. His unit was stationed in Bristol from April 11, 1944 to May 30, 1944. A veteran of the battalion identified some of the faces in the top photo (see caption). I know these men were also from my grandfather's 304th Port Company, so I assume the whole group from the same company.

Anthony Beeson, a retired Fine Art Librarian at the city library in Bristol recently emailed me about these photos. I was interested to see the state of the building in the 1940s, and he sent me the modern-day photo above. Thanks Anthony!

An unnamed GI from the 304th Port Company at Blaise Castle, Bristol, England.

An unnamed GI from the 304th Port Company at Blaise Castle, Bristol, England.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Black Swan pub in Bristol

The Black Swan pub (on left) from a 1930s postcard. Click for larger image.
The Black Swan today, courtesy of Google Maps.
Before the Normandy invasion my grandfather was stationed in Bristol, England. During the day his company trained and moved military supplies at the docks. In the evening they stayed in private homes in Stoke Bishop, a suburb of Bristol. My grandfather has always enjoyed his beer. When telling me about the 304th Port Company's stay in Bristol he made sure to mention his favorite pub:

“We went to a place called ‘The Black Swan.’ We called it ‘The Dirty Duck.’” Guinness Stout was the drink of choice. Corty was amused by the long-handled English taps. “It’s funny, you go into these places, and they have these long handles for the beer. The beer was warm! I guess they didn’t make it cold until after the GIs came.” Cold or not, the beer flowed freely. Drunk Americans stumbling home at night were liable to be picked up by the local authorities. “Our CO [commanding officer] didn’t want that. He liked his beer too. He appointed MPs to help the guys back to their barracks, instead of jail or the stockade. I never drank too much, so I could find my way back.” —Longshore Soldiers, p. 50.


I talked to the other veterans, did a little Googling, and think I found the right place. There's a Black Swan at 92 Stoke Lane, Westbury-On-Trym, Bristol, BS9 3SP. The Bristol area has two pubs by this name, but this one is a short distance to the homes in Stoke Bishop where the GIs were billeted. At the time of publication (2010) I was unsuccessful in finding a photograph of the pub in the 1940s, so I made the the little drawing at the left to print in my book.

This month a retired staff member of the city library in Bristol emailed me the top photo of Stoke Lane. It comes from a 1930s postcard which was reproduced in the book Westbury on Trym, Henleaze, Westbury Park : on old postcards by Janet and Derek Fisher. So, I finally have a photo of the street the way it looked when my grandfather was there.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Three 339th Harbor Craft Company GIs on the roof of Tampico Flats

Photo probably by David Stein, 1945, Tampico Flats, Antwerp. 
The daughter of David Stein, a GI in the 339th Harbor Craft Company, contacted me by email. Her dad and his company were housed in Tampico Flats during their service in Antwerp. Her dad's photo album included this nice shot of three GIs on the roof of the apartment building. Maybe you recognize one of these guys?

I wrote a short post about the US Army Harbor Craft Companies in Europe. I have a bunch of photos of the 339th Port Company. I'll post those sometime soon.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Club Chipper, Antwerp, 1945

519th Port Battalion men at Club Chipper, 1945 (left to right): Lee Harringer, Dave Weaver,
Bob Lipke (in front), Don Woods, Bernie Beals, and Bruce Kramlich 

In talking to the GIs who had served in Antwerp I learned that port company soldiers frequented a particular club after hours—Club Chipper. Bruce Kramlich, a veteran of the 519th Port Battalion HQ, shared a photo of himself and friends having a drink at this enlisted men's club.

A GI by the name of Mansfield served in Antwerp in the 267th Port Company. His son found my blog, read my book, and noticed the photo of the guys at Club Chipper. Mansfield had saved a bunch of records from the war, and among them was the club charter and an excellent photo of a band on stage. The bands playing at Club Chipper may have been Army bands. My grandfather's 519th Port Battalion, for instance, had a swing band as well as a marching band.

Mansfield's photo. Notice the European Theater of Operations insignia, which also appears as a shoulder patch on the men's uniforms.
The charter documents provide an interesting behind-the-scenes look at the running of a club like this. The club served enlisted men of the 519th Port Battalion (my grandfather's unit), the 267th Port Company, the 268th Port Company, 22nd Postal Unit, "with a honorary membership given to the 776th Field Artillery Battalion and 6801 Claims Team for duration of their stay in Antwerp, Belgium."

On November 30, 1945 the first board members of the club were appointed to the position by their respective commanding officers. After the first sixty days these board positions were filled by election. The first board officers and members are named in the document:

Board Officers
Edward D. Benore, President
Edward Ryan, Vice-President
Thomas J. Jur, Secretary and Treasurer

Board Members
Robert J. Fialkowski
Marvin Newman, HQ, 519th Port Bn.
Frank Moran, 267th Port Co.
William Haskins
Clifford Lidskin, 303rd Port Co., 519th Port Bn
William C. Knox
Donald Gropp
Raymond McAloney, 22nd Postal Unit

1st Lt. Ross J. Novelli (of the 155th Port Company) was in charge if safeguarding club funds.

This photo was provided by the daughter of Tom Kroening who served in the 305th Port Company, 519th Port Battalion. It's probably a shot from Club Chipper.

Club Chipper was open from 5:00 pm to 11:00 pm daily, except Sundays when doors opened from 2:00 pm to 11:00 pm. Club members had an "initiation fee" of 100 Belgian Francs, with monthly dues of 50 Belgian francs. An advisory board could suspend the membership of anyone causing trouble or breaking the club rules. Soldiers could bring guests to the club, but female guests were required to be 18 years or older.

Three GIs served as cashiers and another handled supplies, and a NCO (a sergeant or corporal) guarded the club after hours, and was replaced by a civilian guard during the day. I expect the civilians were there to act as club bouncers, while the sergeant was there to protect the Army's property. Belgian civilians were hired to tend bar and wait tables. The club served beer, Coca-cola, coffee, and other refreshments. Unfortunately, the charter doesn't mention where the club was located. It would have been fun to see what the present-day building looks like.

A club like this would not have been possible in Antwerp during the war. Large gatherings in the city were especially vulnerable to the daily bombardments by German V-1 and V-2 rockets. Yet, after Germany's surrender crowds were once again allowed and soldiers' duties were relaxed. Bored GIs could too easily find ways to get in trouble with the locals and each other. To keep the peace and keep high morale the Army found it useful to entertain its troops with controlled activities such as Club Chipper.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

My Book Talk in Schenectady, NY: October 13, 2012

On Saturday October 13th I will be giving a public lecture at the Grems-Doolittle Library in Schenectady, NY. The subject will be my book Longshore Soldiers, with a special focus on wartime Schenectady. In 1942 and 1943 my grandpa Cortland Hopkins welded tanks at the American Locomotive Company's Schenectady plant. Since publishing the book I met several other Schenectady natives who joined an Army port battalion and served in Normandy, just as Cortland did. The lecture will be a good opportunity to share their story.

Schenectady ALCO workers with a completed M4 Sherman tank.

This will be the only venue for my one-stop "book tour". I'm pleased that my talk and slide-show will take place so close to my own hometown of Rotterdam. If you can't make the event, then be sure to check out my blog posts on Schenectady in WWII and visit the new ALCO Musem.

Lecture Venue:
October 13, 2012, 2pm
Grems-Doolittle Library
32 Washington Avenue
Schenectady, NY 12305
tel: 518-374-0263

For more info on the event:
visit: SchenectadyHistory.net
call: 518-374-0263

Friday, August 10, 2012

A Short History of the 487th Port Battalion in WWII

My book Longshore Soldiers follows the experience of my grandfather and the 519th Port Battalion. While the history of his unit is very similar to that of the Army's other port battalions in European theater, there were differences in exactly where each served. Here on the blog I'm posting individual histories for other the port battalions, offering more specific detail. I've started with all the port companies that served in Normandy, and As time goes on I will add more. Today I am writing about the 487th Port Battalion.

The 487th's service closely followed my grandfather's battalion. Both units trained at Indiantown Gap, worked in Normandy beaches, and served in the besieged port of Antwerp. At the end of the war the 487th moved on to the port of Bremerhaven, Germany. I requested photocopies of the battalion's official unit history. The US National Archives sent me a huge stack of various reports. Most are pretty mundane record, but the battalion medical detachment wrote a nice history in paragraph form. I am quoting extracts from Captain Norman Vernick's record here. I've left out some of the uninteresting paragraphs that don't describe the battalion's experience. Photographs are provided by Charles Morris, who was a member of the 284th Port Company.


MEDICAL DETACHMENT
487th PORT BATTALION
APO 69, US ARMY

30 January 1946

SUBJECT: Annual Report of Medioal Department Activities. TO : The Surgeon General, Washington, D. C. (Thru: Technical Channels).

3. The 487th Port Battalion composed of Headquarters Detach-ment and four port companies was activated on 1 December 1942 at Indiantown Gap Military Reservation, Pennsylvania. The battalion left the United States for the United Kingdom on 20 August 1943, received its Medical Detachment in England, and served there until 1 June 1944. During that time, medical aid men were attached to the various port companies of the battalion. The medical officer and dispensary, with necessary personnel, was with the battalion headquarters serving as a clearing point for emergency cases from the various companies. Naturally, sick call and the other functions of a dispensary were carried on. The prime mission of the company aid man was to accompany the troops during training and maneuvers and to give first aid when necessary. He was to expedite the evacuation of emergency cases to the dispensary or to the hospital, as the patient's condition warranted.

4. The battalion was composed of the 184th, 185th, 186th, 187th Port Companies, with the 282nd and 283rd Port Companies added on 1 April 1944. The Battalion was attached for the invasion of France to the 1st U. S. Army, who in turn attached it to the 5th Engineer Special Brigade. Their mission was to supply personnel for the ship platoon working with Battalion Beach Groups for the unloading of cargo from ships, and to coordinate the activities of ship platoons to effect the most efficient and rapid unloading of assigned ships.

5. On D-Day plus l, the battalion headquarters set up a Command Post at Omaha Beach, but the troops were held aboard ship until the assigned bivouac area could be demined. The landing had proceeded according to schedule after some unavoidable delay. Mines had to be cleared from the beaches to obtain an area large enough to work in. Needless to say, these comparatively simple operations were executed under inconceivable difficulty, but, as attested by numerous commendations from higher headquarters, all personnel performed excellently.

6. The medical set-up was much the same as before, with the exception of minor changes necessitated by the increased demands of combat conditions, as close a liaison as possible was kept between the company aid men and the medical officer. Evacuation was through regular channels. The problem of medical supply became acute at times, but not enough to hinder the proper function- ing of the medical detachment and the best treatment of the wounded.

7. One specific incident will illustrate the conditions and method of operating during this critical period.

8. Enemy air attacks were withstood each night during the first week of unloading. No severe casualties were sustained except on one ship, which, during the early hours of June 10, [the same night that the SS Charles Morgan was attacked on Utah Beach] fell victim to bombing and strafing attacks which killed 3 men, seriously wounded 18, and slightly wounded 5 more. It was the coaster Actinia, whose main cargo was gasoline.

9. The holds and the hatches of the ship were completely filled with cargo. There was no room for the quartering of troops below deck or equipment to provide temporary shelters above decks in oase of air attacks. At about 0035 hrs., 10 June, an unidentified number of enemy planes dropped flares. One landed on the bow of the ship. At the same time, the flames from a balloon [a barrage balloon], which had been shot down, added to the light from the flares. An enemy plane then strafed the deck and bridge of the ship, and a few seconds later stick of 3 bombs landed. Another plane again strafed the deck and bridge of the ship. T/5 Lawrence E. Hubbard, of the 282nd Port Company, helped a man, whose arm had been blown off at the shoulder. He took the man to the captain's cabin and administered first aid. He then returned to the deck and helped in the task of treating the rest of the wounded. The Battalion was spread out over twenty (20) small coasters, and this happened to be one with no regular Medical Detachment personnel aboard. T/5 Hubbard was the aid man appointed and trained on his coaster, and used such first aid equipment as carried by a company aid man and found It adequate for the type of work which he was required to perform. He was awarded the Bronze Star for his service at that time.

10. After ensuing attacks, and as soon as conditions would pemit, the wounded were transferred to a nearby hospital ship.


GIs from the 280th Port Company, riding 40 & 8 train cars from
Omaha Beach to Antwerp, Belgium, November 1944.

11. On 8 November 1944, the battalion moved to Antwerp, Belgium to perform stevedoring duties. The aid sen were called back from the companies to work in the dispensary with the medical officer. This set-up proved very satisfactory, as the companies were billeted closer together and not more than a few minutes from medical aid at any time. Many casualties were treated here during the constant V-l and V-2 attacks on Antwerp.

[The 284th Port Company joined the battalion in June, 1945.]


The Lehe Barrracks, Bremerhaven, Germany, 1945 or 46. Photo courtesy of Charles Morris.

Charles Morris at the Lehe Barrracks,
Bremerhaven, Germany
12. On 25 May 1945, the 487th Port Battalion moved to Bremerhaven, Germany, with Leha Barracks assigned as billets [under the command of the 17th Major Port]. The buildings needed repair and cleaning to be made habitable, but this job was carried out with promptness and efficiency by all concerned. The Medical Detachment was fortunate in receiving excellent space for a dispensary. The space in use at present was apparently used for like purposes by the enemy forces. The men with the detachment at the time cleaned, painted, refinished, and refurnished the entire space and made it into a model dispensary and dental clinic. Captain L. K. Pious was the battalion surgeon at the time and is the one mainly responsible for the excellent conversion.


The US Army in Germany website has more photos of the supply work in Bremerhaven.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Omar Bradley, by Steven Zaloga review

My grandfather Cortland had a lot of respect for General Omar Bradley. He was proud to say that her served under Bradley during the Normandy invasion. Cortland even saw him on Utah Beach shortly after D-Day. The general was yelling at some sergeant for allowing the men to work without their helmets.

Omar Bradley commanded the entire American ground force during the Normandy invasion, yet he is often overlooked by those with casual interest in WWII history. Eisenhower, MacArther, and certainly Patton are the American generals who steal the spotlight. Osprey Publishing recently published a solid and short biography of Bradley in their Command series. In 64 pages the author presents Bradley's military career and a good sense of his quiet, yet determined personality. Zaloga condenses the general's history well, while still managing to highlight interesting details. For instance, the dour expression seen in Bradley's photographs is a result of losing his front teeth in a sports accident.

The book discusses Bradley's role in the strategy of the war in the Mediterranean and Europe, and his relationship with other Allied generals. It touches on his responsibilities in the Veterans Administration and his role as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Cold War. In addition to Bradley's war record, it was his management of the VA (which assisted GIs after the war) and his humble upbringing that won the respect of regular Joes like my grandfather.

Besides the war biographies written by the general himself, there have been very few texts devoted to Bradley. Zaloga offers a quick and comprehensive introduction to Omar Bradley, and he shares numerous seldom-seen photographs dug from the collections at the National Archives and the US Army Military History Institute.

Friday, May 25, 2012

History of the 502nd Port Battalion

My book Longshore Soldiers focuses on my grandfather's port battalion, the 519th, so I am pleased to use this blog to share short histories of the other Normandy port battalions. This month the National Archives sent me their records for the 502nd Port Battalion. While short, this ten-page report was surprisingly well-written. (Usually these Army reports are written in a plain utilitarian language.) The report gives a concise account of the unit's service during the war, highlighting some notable events taking place on Omaha Beach. The 502nd was one of the segregated battlaions. All the enlisted men were African-American, while the officers were white. This first post includes text in the introductory letter. The full report fill following a later blog post. I have typeset the photocopies to make it easier for you to read:

502ND PORT BATTALION
COMMUNICATION ZONE ETO
APO 562 US ARMY

5 September 1944

SUBJECT: Unit History.

To: Commanding Officer, 5th Engineer Special Brigade, Communication Zone, ETC, APO 562, U. S. Army. (Attn: Brigade Historian) In accordance with letter, Hqrs., 5th Engineer Special Brigade, dated 1 September 1944, Subject: Unit History, the following is submitted for the 502nd Port Battalion.

1. CASUALTIES AND CHANGE IN COMMAND: As one of the few regularly constituted SOS [Service of Supply] units selected to accompany the Combat Engineer Battalions in the establishment or the Beach Head, the 502nd Port Battalion suffered some casualties. These included Lt. Colonel JAMES T. PIERCE of Erie, Pa., the Battalion Commander who had activated and trained the organization. On D plus 3 and only two weeks before he would have celebrated the thirtieth anniversary of his original Army induction Colonel PIERCE lost his leg in tne explosion of a German anti-personnel mine. The same explosion wounded 1st Lt. KENNIE E. HATFIELD, the Bn. Adjutant wno was evacuated and later returned to duty, and Tech. Sgt. Elbert D. Blocker of Corona, New York, the Battalion Sergeant Major. Major MARTIN S. HAYDEN of Grosse Pointe, Michigan assumed command.

Three of the five 502nd men who lost their lives on the Normandy Beach were drowned as they were being landed on tHe afternoon of D plus 1. These men, members of tne 270th Port Company, lost their lives when a landing line stretched ashore from a grounded LST gave way as tney worked their way ashore. But for the heroism of an officer and four EM of tne Battalion, the casualty list would have been higher. 1st Lt. WILLIAM B. MORRIS of Wilmington, N.C.; S/Sgt. Herbert R. Brooks of Bronx, New York; Cpl. Robert D. Bond of West Somerville, Mass.; Sgt Scott Clay of Brooklyn, New York; and Pvt. William H. Beach, Jr. of Warick, New York repeatedly risked their lives by going out into the channel water after men who were unable to get ashore alone. In all they brougnt ashore 16 men including the three upon whom their efforts at artificial respiration were unsuccessful. The officer and the five EM have all been recommended for the Soldiers Medal. 

2. BATTALION BAND: The 502nd Port Battalion has good grounds for the belief that tneir organization was the first to furnish organized entertainment to American troops in Normandy. The story goes back to tne United Kingdom and the determination of Col. PIERCE that his Battalion would have a band. Instruments were procured and a band formed at Camp Crookston in Scotland. The instruments were brought along when the Battalion sailed for
France. On approximately D plus 12 the first concert was given. It was an unplanned and informal affair which partially disrupted
Beach operations as soldiers gathered from the fox holes or adjacent fields and trucks pulled up on tne road to listen to a little jive. On orders of the Brigade Commander the band was removed from other duties and put "on tne road" as the first organized show in Normandy. Nightly they performed under the direction of Cpl. Eugene D. Cosby of Alquippa, Pa., the band leader. Band ofiicer is 1st Lt. FREDERICK A. STONE of South Sudbury, Mass. who started his formalized musical career with Barnum and Bailey's Circus Band and continued it as the trainer of many a Massachusetts National Guard and American Legion Band. Master or Ceremonies for the road show was Chaplain EDWARD G. CARROLL of Washington, D. C.

3. OPERATIONS: In the workings or tne Plan Neptune, the
502nd, like otner Beach Head Port Battalions, encountered unanticipated obstacles and devised solutions which at times violated and in other instances added new chapters to the book on
stevedoring rules. Initially the operation was according to plan;
all ships began to arrive from the States which not only had no
gear for their discharge but which in some cases had been loaded
with the assurance that they would be discharged at fixed installations and with the heavy equipment of such fixed docks. Port Battalion ofricers who had been taugnt tnat booms must never be over-loaded discovered that the writer or that rule had not considered tne question of "calculated risk" as it may be necessitated on a Beach operation. Section leaders discovered that the books carried no description of the proper gear for some of theirpeculiar lifts into landing craft. They fougnt a battle of telephone poles during a period when that unappreciated commodity arrived in a succession of ships. Tney devised their own sling for handling bundles of pierced steel planking which proved to be one or the primary bugaboes or a ship-Dukw operation. They encountered and conquered the problem of sorting in the holds all cargo regardless of how badly it had been mixed in loading.

4. PAST HISTORY OF BATTALION:
Significant dates in the history of this Battalion are
as follows:
Activated, Camp Myles Standish, Mass.------------25 March 1943.
Sailed for ETO from Port of New York-------------13 October 1943.
Arrived, Camp Crookston, Glasgow, Scotland-------19 October 1943.
Arrived at marshalling area, Llanover, Wales-----15 May 1944.
Sailed for France.....----------------------------2 June 1944.
Arrived of French coast--------------------------7 June 1944.

From the Commanding Officer:
Kennie E. Hatfield
1st Lt., TC, Adjutant

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

WWII E-Award Poster


I found this WWII era E-Award poster on the New York State Museum website. In 1942 the Schenectady plant of the American Locomotive company received the Army-Navy Production award in recognition of its work producing M-3 and M-4 tanks. My grandfather Cortland was a welder at the time and was pleased to receive the award. As pleased as he was, Cortland was still eager to join the Army (this is discussed in my book).

You can read more of my blog posts about Schenectady's war production.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Lehigh Portland Cement at Indiantown Gap


I found this 1941 magazine ad on eBay. It's interesting to me because my grandfather had his training at Fort Indiantown Gap, and my dad worked for Lehigh Portland Cement. I bought the ad and gave it to my dad as a gift. I think it's neat that in 1943 my grandfather walked on concrete that was made by his future son-in-law's cement company.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Francesco Barone 1944 article


I found a 1944 issue of the Schenectady Gazette that tells of a member in my grandfather's unit killed in Normandy. (Unfortunately, the article misspells his last name.) Francesco Barone, like my grandfather, lived in Schenectady NY and was assigned to the 304th Port Company in the 519th Port Battalion. When I asked my grandfather if he knew any other GIs from his hometown, he said "Yeah, but he died on the beach." I didn't know this man was Barone until a family member happened to email me in 2010. There were a lot of guys in the battalion from New York, but their hometowns weren't listed in my records. Barone was killed when a German plane bombed the supply ship he was unloading. The attack on the SS Charles Morgan is discussed in my book, and I wrote several posts about it on this blog.

In 2010 a man living in France sent me photos of graves and honorary road markers for men that killed in Normandy. Below is the road sign mentioned in the article that was dedicated to Francesco Barone.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Pyramid Tents on Omaha Beach

A year ago I wrote a post about the huts built by the supply troops working on the Normandy beaches from June to November 1944. While these simple accommodations were the typical living arrangements, it turns out at least some companies received pyramid tents late in the operation.




These two photos were sent to me by Charles Morris. He served on Omaha Beach in the 284th Port Company, 517th Port Battalion. Sometime around October his company received pyramid tents. They knocked down their scrap wood huts and moved into these 6-man tents. It was good to get out of the cramped covered foxholes, but the GIs were able to use them only until November when they left the beaches for Antwerp.

The 284th Port Company's use of these tents seems to have been unusual. I speak to veterans representing eight different port battalions in Normandy, and no one else slept anywhere but their foxholes and huts. From June to July sleeping above ground would have been impractical. In June German aircraft would strafe and bomb the beach at night. In July the Germans continued nightly reconnaissance flights over the beach. They didn't attack, but the American antiaircraft guns would fire up at them, showering hot metal debris (and falling bullets) on the ground. It was wise to sleep in the safety of a foxhole. By August the German flights ended, but providing more comfortable shelters to the supply troops was low on the list of supply priorities.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Rising Sun pub, 1944

In 1944 the US Army's 339th Harbor Craft Company was stationed in port of Plymouth, in Devon, England. I haven't searched for the company's historic record, but I do know that a 339th member, David Stein, was there June 6 to September 25, 1944. The company was training and assembling/transporting barges for the upcoming Normandy invasion.

At some point someone from the company took a trip to Torpoint in nearby Cornwall. He snapped the below photo of some English kids in front of The Rising Sun pub. Thank you to Christian of Remember September 44 in the Netherlands who sent me the photo. I looked up the pub's name on Google, and was happy to see the place is still in business.



Rising Sun: The Green, Kingsand, Torpoint, Cornwall, PL10 1NH. Photo courtesy of Google Streetview.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

WWII Army stevedore cargo hooks

Historians are known for focusing on seemingly minor details. A WWII military historian might obsess over the particular shade of olive that was used on a uniform, discuss the specific metallurgical content of tank armor, or maybe argue about which was the "best" automatic gun in the war. Well, as a port battalion historian I get to talk cargo hooks. Maybe these tools aren't as exciting as paratrooper's knives, but I'd say they were more important to the Allies' victory.

The cargo hook was a stevedore's primary hand tool used to move supplies in and out of a ship's hold. In 1943 the 487th Port Battalion tested out three different types. Perhaps not surprisingly, the government issue hook was thought to be of a lesser quality than the two civilian types. 1st Lt. Bruce Butterworth reported, "The Government Issue Hook is really a bale or hay hook. When used on crates or heavy boxes, the user's hand is scraped painfully, with an ensuing danger of infection." Lt. Col Montgomery Jackson reported "After using the Government Issue Hook, civilian Straight Hook, and the San Francisco Hook, we find the Government Issue Hook to be useless." The battalion black smith shop tried to rework the GI hooks, but they could make little improvement.


The preferred type was the San Francisco Hook. It was made of tempered steel, had a sharp point to grip the wooden crates, and featured an "S" curve in the shank to protect the worker's knuckles. (see photo below)


Another civilian hook, was the New York Hook, also called the Straight Hook. Also of tempered steel, it featured a longer straight shank which permitted a direct lift without harm to the user's hand. (see below)

In June of 1943 the 487th headquarters requested that they be issued with either of these civilian type hooks. An officer wrote back from the Army Transportation Corps, agreeing to the request. So, it looks like the Army port battalions did use the superior New York or San Francisco hooks during the war. I plan on asking the veterans I know if they know which type they used, but I doubt they would have paid that much attention to the exact name of the hook. I'm sure they were simply happy to have working tools.

On February 27th I spoke with Donald Hemphil, who served in the 284th Port Company. He described the usefulness of these tools: "You could move so much more with the hooks that you couldn't with your hands. You looked down the hold, and every guy had a hook."

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

LST-1020 unloads troops in Southern France

This photo shows a Landing Ship Tank unloading GIs on a beach in Southern France. Army port battalions often unloaded LSTs, but in this case the cargo is just walking off. This image and a description of LST-1020 can be found on NavSource.org. The specific beach isn't named in the photo caption, but I remember a rocky beach just like this in Marseille, which happened to be the major point for Allied supplies into Southern France.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Future ALCO museum in Schenectady



Duncan W. Fraser, President of ALCO (left) and S. E. Skinner, President of Oldsmobile inspect a welded patch on an M-4 tank in Nancy, France, December 1944. Courtesy of the National Archives.

A reader of this blog tipped me off to the fact that the future American Locomotive Company museum has found its space at 1910 Maxon Road, Schenectady. They are currently in fund-raising mode. My grandfather was an ALCO worker before joining the Army in 1943. He welded tanks and the secret M-7 mobile howitzer. This is discussed in the first couple chapters of my book.

The museum will focus on the company's locomotive production, but the director tells me that they will also have a M-7 on display. To learn more about ALCO's wartime efforts see my series of posts on Schenectady in WWII.

Schenectady ALCO workers assembling an M-7, 1943.

Proud ALCO workers with a completed M4 Sherman tank.

A Schenectady-built M7 being tested (probably at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland).