THE NEXT DAY
Officers' changes began again, also, Lt. Cobb was transferred to the 1260th Combat Battalion. He was replaced by Lt. Alfred Hodges of the unit. Lt. Kissack left for the 102th Infantry Division and an overseas assignment. The news was received later that Lt. Kissack had been killed in action. Captain Gilligan and Olson went to the 380th Engineers. Captain Warren MacKay was sent to the 187th from the 380th as a dental officer. WOjg Fred Murphy, from the AAA command at Camp Davis, replaced WOjg Maeder as an assistant motor officer. Captain Comstock and Lt. Weinzettle transferred to the 1695th engineers. Lt. Edward Parrish joined from the 1283 rd battalion. In September, Capt. Jack Witt transferred in from the 380th completing the roster of both officers and enlisted men who were to go overseas with the 187th.
Inspection after inspection of men, equipment, area and records followed. Men from the Inspector General, the Adjutant General and just plain everyday generals came around to look over the 187th.
Note from me. Before battalions were sent overseas they needed to be reviewed by several military higher-ups to make sure these units were qualified to be sent overseas for battle.
By the end of September, when everyone in the battalion began to feel like he was living in a store window the 187th was declared "ready."
In the midst of it all, the battalion packed itself off for a week of training at Staunton river park in Virginia. The weather held out, miraculously, that week, and valuable training was accomplished in assault crossings and floating bridges.
On September 4, the advance detachment, consisting of Captain McAnally, WOjg Jones, and Pfc Douglas Hart, left for Fort Hamilton, NY. and an overseas destination.
After several delays, the battalion finally received a definite shipping date and on October 11, a year to the day after the cadre had arrived at Camp White, the 187th mounted a train which was to take it to the port. A band playing at the railroad siding added import to the occasion.
Men on that train did what troops always do on trains, read, play cards, try to sleep, or talk. But it was a subdued group. Everyone was busy with thoughts about the future. Many, in their own minds, dwelt on the previous year with the 187th and especially the last three months at Camp Picket. There were pleasant memories of home or of weekends in Richmond, Washington, even Philadelphia, and New York, despite the hard-backed seats and uncomfortable ride of the buses from camp.
The next morning the train arrived at New Rochelle, New York. The battalion hiked from the siding to a wharf from which ferries transported the men to Fort Slocum. Those same ferries were to receive lots of traffic from the 187th in the week that followed.
There was lots to do at Slocum that first day. Everyone was issued a gas mask, given a physical inspection and typhus shots, passed through the gas chamber and over the abandon ship course.
But for the next six days, life was enjoyable. The food at Fort Slocum was excellent. The WACs stationed there were among the most beautiful in the army and the post had all types of recreational facilities. Then, too, there were passes to new York City! The time passed all too soon, but on the 19th alert orders arrived.
The following day, after a final inspection, the 187th marched aboard an army transport, General Horton, and was carried down Long Island Sound to the Brooklyn Port of Embarkation. At Pier #4, carrying all their equipment, the men struggled aboard the Italian motor ship, Saturnian. The 187th was the first unit aboard and Col. Peace was appointed troop commander. The battalion was given ship duties, H&S and Baker company as ship guard and MP's, Charlie company as kitchen details, and Able company as Auxiliary gun crews.
At noon on the 20th, the battalion was assembled on deck to watch President Roosevelt pass on his way to campaign rallies in greater New York. The distance was too great to see the Commander in Chief clearly, but many men felt that the President had come down especially to see them off.
Other troops started aboard that night and loading went on steadily until Sunday morning, the 22nd. At noon, the Saturnia weighed anchor and departed in a huge convoy for points unknown.
Life aboard ship soon became humdrum. Movies were run in shifts. Px lines reached the length of the ship, practically, and soldiers with large appetites found it difficult, at first to respond to two meals a day. But it was an adventure and most looked upon the experience as such. Charlie company men eat continuously since they worked in the Galley. (my father was in Charlie company) Baker company men as MP's took delight in ordering around hard to get along with paratroopers. Able company helped out the other companies in addition to acting as auxiliary gun crews. There were no alerts, although once, everyone was sure that they heard depth charges being dropped by the destroyer escorts that protected the convoy. The fifth day out, the water was rough and many became sea sick. It was not a violent siege but for some members of the battalion even two meals a day became too many.
Finally, after the world seemed to have been swallowed up by the sea, Lands End was sighted on November 1st. Early the next morning, the great chalk cliffs of Southern England rose out of the sea to greet the convoy. At noon, the Saturnia docked at Southampton.
First impressions of England consisted of a glimpse of bombed out warehouses and factories, of an English band arrayed on the dock, murdering American tunes and of an address over the ship's loudspeaker system by a representative of the British War Office. The latter was novel after ten days of: "Attencione, Attencione, no fumari a la Ponte."
Unloading took several hours, during which doughnuts and coffee were supplied by the Red Cross. By early evening the last train loaded with men of the 187th left Southampton for an eight-hour ride to Cuddington, Chester, England.
Baggage was unloaded and tossed onto trucks. The battalion then hiked the mile (British concepts of a mile never agreed with an American GI's idea) to Delemere Park camp and arrived to find hot "C" rations and coffee at 0200.
The 187th was the first unit in the camp and had to set up housekeeping from scratch in the long, low, wooden huts that contained wooden double deckers and straw mattresses. Col. Pearce became post commander. All other battalion functions were operated on a post basis. This was to last until the 1124th Group moved in to take over.
Able and Baker companies took off again the next day by track and train to Dalton- in-Furness to prepare camps for incoming troops. This turned out to be a pleasant interlude in a section of England that had previously seen few American troops.
Subsequently, in a week or so, both companies returned to Delemere and immediately left for Stockport, Needwood, and Wightwick and Preston race course to prepare more camps for expected troops. By thanksgiving, the entire battalion was together again at Delemere.
The next month was an enjoyable one, for the most part. There was a limited amount of training in bridging and mines, with lots of time left over for 48 hour passes to London and Manchester. In addition, there were trucks nightly for Chester, only 15 miles away. Many of the men found the pubs of nearby Norely, Cuddington, Weaverham and Northwick excellent places for relaxation. The beer began to taste better and some even acquired a taste for half-and-half. British money became less of a mystery. Everyone soon learned that a "thruh-penny-bit" was worth a nickel. English women seemed glad to have the Yanks around and many of these yanks from Alabama, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Texas, and other states reciprocated.
English children thought up all sorts of variations of their familiar war cry, "Any gum, chum?" to the never ending amusement of the men from the states. Fish and Chips turned out to be a tasty treat for many who didn't like fish. English trains continued to remind them of the Toonerville trolley.
Early in December, several non-coms attended a Bailey bridge school in South England, while three officers and nine enlisted men left for mine school at Epernay, France. A vague reminder that there was still a war going on across the channel.
Note from me. The 187th landed in Le Havre, France 12/29/1944. Epernay was approximately 200 miles from Le Havre.
Equipment started to pour into the battalion from depots all over England. Finally, by the middle of December, the 187th was ready. On the 16th, an advance party of four officers and 20 men left for Southampton and Rouen.
Note from me. My Father told me when I was a small child that all he saw was death and destruction everywhere he went. He said it smelled like death the whole time he was there. More to come on death later!
Early morning of the 19th saw the battalion leaving Delemere Park by motor convoy for Camp C--13, near Southampton. The next five days were spent eating "C" rations and slogging around in the mud at C--13. On the 22nd, H&S company and the headquarters platoons and drivers of the line companies departed C--13 on a "dry run" to the docks at Southampton. All was not ready. On Christmas Eve, this same force with the battalion staff and all the battalion equipment drove into Southampton and boarded the liberty ship, Daniel Hiester. The diet continued to be "C" rations. Five days later, the Hiester docked at Rouen, France.
Note from me. After arriving at the coast of France, the liberty ship traveled upstream on the seine river to Rouen. This was the H&S Company. The main battalion settled just outside Le Havre.
The remainder of the battalion meanwhile, had crossed the channel in an LST in more sumptuous style and had docked at Le Havre. They were camped at block B just outside Le Havre.
At Rouen, the battalion was reunited with the advance detachment which had been freezing in the December cold in tents in Area (X), five miles from Rouen, and with the party from mine school. Cat. McAnally, Mr. Jones and Pfc Hart had joined the advance detachment from England a week earlier.
Note from me. Because of the open airwaves, the military used code names for map locations. Area B, Area X, Sword beach, Omaha beach, Utah beach, you get the picture. All the maps produced by the army's mapping division would have these key locations marked on the maps so army personnel would know where to go. Also, it gave the forward observers the ability to identify where the enemy was without giving the information over the airwaves.
On December 30th, the entire battalion arrived at the Red Horse assembly area 40 miles from Rouen. It was freezing cold at night and just warm enough during the day for the entire area to become a sea of mud, unlike even the ooze of Oregon's agate desert. It was as unpleasant a new Year's Eve as any man in the battalion had ever spent before.
The 187th had been assigned to VIII Corps, Ninth Army and within a week movement orders were received. A long, bitterly cold motor convoy on January 6th brought the 187th to Longuyon in northwestern France, close to the Luxemburg and Belgian borders. Snow was over a foot deep in spots as the convoy made its way through the blackout to a fortress of the Maginot Line, less than 20 miles from the front.
It was comparatively warm, deep below the surface of the earth in the electrically heated fortress. The fort was located on the flank of the line and was one of the few that had not seen any action when France was overrun in the 1940s. Many of the men made cigarette lighters out of cartridge casings in the huge machine shops. Others operated the miniature railway that connected the widely dispersed gun turrets. Still others explored tunnels miles from the section where the battalion was quartered.
On January 8th an advance party left the Maginot line and crossed into Southern Belgium to procure billets (housing for troops) in the area held by VIII Corps in the Battle of the Ardennes, then still raging.
Suddenly orders were changed and the 187th was transferred to the control of XX Corps, Third army. A change in the tactical situation had caused this. Army intelligence had received definite proof that the Wehrmacht was planning another push, south of the "Bulge," in a area near St. Avold, France. Engineers were desperately needed to prepare the area for defense and to open roads, blocked by snow, for tank columns.
By the 11 of January the battalion had made another long, cold motor march, with its ever-present "C" rations and frostbite, and had settled down in Bouzonville, France, 11 miles from the front and the city of Saarlautern.
A command post was set up in the old courthouse and the staff sections immediately went to work on plans for the defense of the area. Able, Baker, and Charlie companies billeted in nearby buildings. Battalion supply and the motor pool were located in a warehouse.
The 187th was attached for support to the 95th Division, old friends of the West Virginia maneuver area.
Note from me. The 95th Division was training just above them when the storm hit and did damage to Able company at the town of Elkins, West Virginia.
The Division was thinly spread over the Saar river line and defense installations were badly needed.
Work was begun immediately on the construction roadblocks. Bridges and overpasses were prepared for demolition and gun emplacements were made ready. Men worked like beavers for over three weeks steadily with very little sleep, their meals consisting largely of frozen "C" rations. A strange virus struck Charlie company and spread to the rest of the battalion. Men became weak and too ill to work under ordinary conditions, but still, the road patrol 24 hours a day continued and snow removal crews worked steadily. Casualties from frostbite began to mount.
Note from me. Most people have heard of the Germans not supplying their troops with cold-weather gear in Russia. Frostbite was prevalent with all the armies in that time period and caused hundreds of cases of frostbite. If you take a look at old WWII photos in the wintertime, you will see (US Army Men) men with no gloves on and towels or parts of blankets wrapped around their boots.
During this time, the enemy was not silent. Men working on roads or guarding roadblocks were shelled frequently. Bouzonville, itself, was strafed by enemy aircraft. No one was hurt. Men operating a battalion water point in Bouzonville were certain that they hit one of the planes with fire from their .50 caliber machine guns.
Beginning on the night of January 20th and continuing for the next few nights, Bouzonville was shelled by an unknown weapon. Shells exploded at eight-minute intervals. Windows were broken and Able company's officers' quarters were filled with debris when a shell landed just 30 feet from their billet. Luckily, nobody was hurt.
The weapon was discovered to be a giant 380MM railway gun, hidden in a tunnel by day, to avoid being spotted from the air, and was brought out at night to hurl high explosive shells into Bouzonville. After a few days, division artillery located the gun and put it out of commission.
Line companies moved out of Bouzonville the last week of January to smaller towns closer to their work. Able company moved to Holling, Baker to Bettange, and Charlie to Gomlange, all within 10 miles of the CP.
The work on roads continued and now that the immediate danger of a German attack was over, the roadblocks were dismantled and all the work done with such urgency a few weeks before had to be undone.
A party of men was sent to clear minefields in the vicinity of Metz. Others were sent back to the banks of the Meuse river to attend a school on floating bridges conducted by a heavy pontoon battalion there. Others were sent to storm boat and sea mule schools.
On January 27th, 70 men were transferred to the 44th Engr's., a unit which was then operating at less than half strength. This cut the 187th's strength to 517 men, over 600 men had crossed the channel with the unit.
A mine explosion at Metz wounded Lt. Knox, Cpl. Launch, Sgt. VanDemark, Sgt. Oleson and Pfc Thelan, all of Baker company.
Launch was the most seriously wounded, the others were returned to duty within a month.
Early in February, the 187th was transferred to XXI Corps of the Ninth Army and alerted for movement to the Corps Sector. A 20-hour motor march in freezing weather with "C" rations for nourishment carried the battalion through Northern France, Luxemburg, Belgium, and into Southern Holland to its destination at Echt, a town liberated by the British only two days previously.
The Ninth Army had been selected to "kick off" the big Spring offensive against the Germans along the Roer River. The battalion was to play an important part in the preparations for the campaign. Main supply routes to the front, only 10 miles away, had to be constructed and maintained, while bridges needed strengthening and repair.
Men worked under German guns daily as they commuted between their billets in Holland and their jobs in Germany. On February 22nd a terrific explosion of a store of Riegel mines in Waldfeuch, Germany, instantly killed Lt. Jones, Cpl. Bodtcher, Tec. 5 Combs, and Pfc Ross, all of Charlie company. Soon afterward, Sgt. Folsom of Baker company was killed in action in this same town.
Soon afterwards Baker company built a Bailey across the Roer river which they named the "Captain Stromberg Bridge."
Battalion strength rose for the coming push as 70 reinforcements arrived in late February. Within a month, 37 more were assigned to the battalion. These men were mostly infantrymen, but all proved their worth to an engineer unit before the next few months had passed.
On February 23rd, the big offensive along the Roer began and by the first of March, troops of the Ninth Army were 40 miles inside Germany. The night of February 28 found the second platoon of Charlie company, led by Lt. Tumas, spearheading a drive by the 15th Calvary Squadron into the town of Roermond, Holland. Although hundreds of mines were removed and deactivated that night, there were no casualties.
On march 3rd, the 187th moved into Germany and set up its command post in Loberich. Charlie company secured billets just outside the city of Breyell. Billeting parties arrived in Lobberich while the last enemy resistance was being crushed.
During the next week, the battalion opened roads for supplies and cleared mines. All sorts of equipment was found to make life more pleasant, and for the first time, men were beginning to enjoy a few of the comforts that exist even during wars.
TO BE CONTINUED
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