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 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.