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.


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.


  1. My dad, Cpl. Carl F. Roberts was in 283rd Port Company assembled at Ft. Myles Standish and worked at the Port of Boston & Charlestown, MA. They were attached to the 487th Port Battalion in England (or Wales?) in Apr 1944. He was wounded at Antwerp in early 1945.

  2. My grandfather Zeno Skelton served in 487th serving in England.

    Left: December 7th 1943
    Returned: June 1944 with a cane for an injury he recovered from. He refused to discuss any of his experiences. "The things I have seen have scarred my mind for life. Why would I do the same to you?"

    Zeno Skelton
    April 2nd, 1911 - March 8th, 1983


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