Historical Highlights of the
89th Chemical Mortar Battalion
Chapter 1 - Stateside
Chapter 2 - Merrie England
Chapter 3 - Roer to the Rhine
Chapter 4 - The Rhine Crossing
Chapter 5 - Drive to the Emscher Canal
Chapter 6 - Drive through the Ruhr
Chapter 7 - To the Elbe
Chapter 8 - Victory
Chapter 9 - Home Again
As the history is long, it is divided into three separate webpages.
Dedicated to the memory of the three members of the 89th Chemical Mortar Battalion who gave their lives in the service of their country:
Sergeant John R. Watts, Company B, 24 March 1945
Private First Class Theodore V. Mollinedo, Company C, 25 March 1945
Corporal Ross W. Humphrey, Company A, 30 April 1945
Introductory remarks by Lt Col James R. Hudson, CWS, the battalion commander who activated and organized the 89th.
"The 89th Chemical Battalion was activated at a time when the 4.2" chemical mortar was still somewhat of an unknown quantity as far as combat was concerned. Of the few battalions that were activated before the 89th, only the 2nd and 3rd had seen any action. The rest were still in training.
"The 40 officers that were ordered to Camp Roberts pending activation were all well aware of the fact that we had little to go on in regards to lessons gained in combat. We had no manual and very few training aids. We knew that we would have to train from the "cuff."
"The first few weeks at Roberts were among the most trying of the unit's experience. We had no men, no equipment, no duties, no organization and time really hung heavy. Those that were there will never forget the grass drill, football and softball games, mountain climbing and speed marches.
"Eventually things started happening. The activation orders came, a sergeant from some laboratory company arrived, the cadre made its appearance one cold, foggy morning about 0400, and we started sweating out the arrival of the "fillers."
"Several years, or so it seemed, after the officer and enlisted cadre arrived, we had enough men to start one platoon in each company in training. That was a great day. After looking over the men, it was evident that the 89th was destined to write many exciting pages of history.
"Several factors stood out from the beginning. The officer cadre was far above the average in the number of outstanding officers. They were all young, well trained, and ambitious.
"The enlisted cadre was undoubtedly the best that ever came from Camp Sibert. They were "in the pink" physically, well trained and full of enthusiasm. That original enthusiasm never slackened, but grew steadily. The fillers were soon imbued with it, and you did not need a crystal ball to foresee the kind of outfit that was in the making. All of the predictions that were made for the 89th by its officers and the inspectors were fulfilled many times over. Any man who was fortunate to have served with the 89th can well be proud of that service. The friendships that were born during training and fused in the crucible of combat will be lifelong. No friendships, no matter where they are formed, will be firmer or longer lasting.
"My association with the 89th was the high point of my life, leaving it was definitely the lowest. I wanted to see everyone and say "So long" but the lump in my throat was much too large. No commander ever had more support than the officers and men gave me. All I can say is that I am truly grateful to you all."
by the battalion's second commander, Lt Col Donald E. Yanka, CWS, CO from 21 September 1944 to the unit's inactivation in October 1945.
"Of all the things which man has, I believe that none equals his memories of the past. The future is unknown and uncertain, and one is never sure that a future really exists for him; but the past is always with a man, and, best of all, one can select and remember those incidents which please him most. Time smooths out the rough spots of a man's life, and the harsh and bitter past is forgotten in favor of the joyous moments. Men have always been going to war and I believe that, in spite of what idealists scream at us, men have always enjoyed wars not for killing, the pain, or the hardships involved, but because of the comradeship, the friendship, and yes, the love of men at arms for each other which rises to heights far above that found in any other walk of life. I do not feel that we comrades really knew what we fought for, nor did our dead know what they died for; but to live, to fight and to die was our pattern of existence. Men of the 89th, you did it well and nobly, and, as you smoke your pipe in the evening by the quiet and piece of your home fireplace, remember the most thrilling days of your life."
Chapter 1 - Stateside
On November 5, 1943, the 89th Chemical Battalion, Motorized, was activated at Camp Roberts, California, per General Orders, Headquarters, 4th Army, by Command of Lt General William A. Simpson. Major James R. Hudson, CWS, a reserve officer with experience in World War I in the Field Artillery, assumed command.
The day of activation found the battalion composed of forty officers and no enlisted men, and for the officers, the order of activation was an instrument so long postponed that it had become a standing joke. Many of them had been suffering labor pains since their attendance at the First Battalion Officers Course at the Chemical Warfare School in September, and all had been waiting at Roberts since mid October.
Even before activation, Major Hudson had effected an organization so that on the day of activation, the battalion could wheel into action. The result was a staff that included:
Major Charles C. Cameron executive officer
Captain John R. Hyndman S-1 and Hq Detachment commander
2nd Lt Gustav W. Krizek S-2
Captain Marshall E. Lentz S-3
Captain Sterling N. Vines S-4
And the company commanders:
Captain Amery B. Dunn Company A
Captain Mason L. Downing Company B
1st Lt Charles R. Landback Company C
1st Lt Thomas G. McCreanor Company D
Hardly has the ink dried on the activations order before the cadre, which had been groaning and sweating under a super combat training program, was on its way from Camp Sibert where it had been recruited from the Replacement Training Center cadre. These 80 men pulled into Roberts on a bitterly cold Sunday morning at 0400 to be greeted by the battalion commander and his party and escorted to the luxurious setting of Camp Roberts' one and only "tent city". Together with a few ASTP men who wandered in during the month of December, they sweated out the cold and the tents until the coming of the New Year, when the battalion moved into the elegance of barracks, recently vacated by infantry cannon company units departed for the Pacific.
For the first three months after activation, the training schedule consisted of cadre training, sharply divided into two phases physical conditioning spiced with a little infantry drill in the morning, and mortar training in the afternoon. Few are left of men and officers who took that training. Few, if any, of those will ever forget it. Calisthenics, grass drill, and double-timing were emphasized, but these and all that came before or after pale besides the memory of Cameron Hill, a young mountain that grew in the backyard of the 89th and being in the backyard, it must be climbed daily. The young men raced up, the older men plodded up, all the men collapsed at the top.
Because of the scarcity of men, particularly men without stripes, all up to and including the grade of sergeant pulled KP, guard, and fatigue details. No small wonder, then that every new addition to the battalion was greeted with open arms and sent to the kitchen these boys fresh out of ASTP units on the coast. By January the battalion strength was well over one hundred men, and promotions began to come through for all who had proven themselves qualified.
Slowly but surely time passes on. Many men, particularly in the communications field, were sent to attend the excellent courses provided in the IRTC and FARTC across the highway at Roberts; others, teams of officers, were sent on detached service to field artillery battalions at Roberts and Hunter Liggett Military Reservation to find out what made tactical units run; still more officers and enlisted men alike were detailed to act as umpires in the maneuvers being conducted at Hunter Ligget between the 89th and 71st Divisions, maneuvers which were designed to prove the ultimate value of light divisions. The sum total of these experiences was to see how not to operate, lessons which received practical application in the months to come.
In the meantime, the battalion conducted some mortar shoots of its own, using the mortars which had been handed down to them by the 81st Chemical Bn. Notable among these shoots was the day when Lt Esser, while conducting the cadre to the scene of demonstration, led the men down the wrong valley, necessitating a walk of three miles to correct the error.
Having once occupied the barracks coveted so long, the companies found, to their consternation, that they were stripped and at once set about to remedy the situation, action which soon caused the Battalion to gain another reputation, that of procurement. Nightly reconnaissance and procurement trips, plus some conducted in broad daylight, into nearby vacated areas soon served to make the living quarters of the 89th more habitable and comfortable. These operations came to a temporary halt, however, when the local Special Troops commander came upon a dismantling procedure on a highly prized pool table, not the property of the 89th, and discovered that those working on the job had the approval of a certain company executive officer. Some ears burned that day.
The first major personnel change in the battalion occurred on February 3, 1944, when Captain Vines bade good-bye to the storerooms of S-4 and assumed command of Co A, vice Captain Amery B. Dunn, transferred. Lt Vincent Deptula, exec of Co A, succeeded to the S-4 job.
Early in February, in the midst of preparations for a three-day problem at Hunter Liggett, the electrifying and long-hoped for news came in the fillers were on the way. And on February 8, 1944, the first group was "assigned and joined" via Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Hardly had the men been divided to the companies and training started when another group from Fort Sheridan, Illinois, arrived, to be followed in quick succession by groups from Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana, Fort Meade, Maryland, and two and three from many of the reception stations in the Far West. By the middle of March the battalion was almost at full strength.
By reason of the haphazard manner in which the fillers reported, a makeshift system for beginning training was adopted that saw the first platoons in each company begin the first week of basic training, knock off and begin again two weeks later when their numbers were augmented. By the end of another fortnight the second platoons were at full strength and into the training program. But it was to still another month before the third platoons were at sufficient strength to start "MTP, Week No. 1." And in that month, things happened.
Late in March Captain Hyndman and Captain Downing left to attend a course at the Chemical Warfare School, with a resulting change in command that became permanent when they received orders transferring them from the battalion on the completion of their course. WOJG Juster, a new arrival, became personnel officer and acting adjutant; Lt Krizek assumed command of Headquarters Detachment; and Lt Esser succeeded to the command of Co B.
Mr. Juster immediately began a program of reorganization and training in the personnel section that eventually resulted in the efficient unit that went on to draw down ratings of "Excellent" and "Superior" on the frequent inspections by the I.G. and inspecting teams from higher headquarters which plague units from activation to deactivation.
The discontinuance of the Army Specialized Training Program in March dumped around one thousand students in Camp Roberts, all destined for the 89th Division. However, a change in plans sent approximately one hundred to the 89th Cml. Bn, many of whom were immediately thrown into cadre jobs where the battalion was still under strength for a unit just beginning to train some five hundred new recruits.
To further complicate the problems already mounting, the IRTV was ordered to expand its facilities at Camp Roberts and to take in the areas now occupied by separate units, which were to be transferred. The 89th breathlessly awaits its destination soon announced as Camp Carson, Colorado. In addition to carrying on its training program, the unit now has to pack its equipment save for the jeeps which the mechanics had labored so many hours on to bring up to standard, only to turn them in with many never having had fifteen miles added to the speedometer.
Few wanted to leave California. California has been good. Los Angeles and San Francisco were within easy reach on weekends, the weather had been perfect; the glamour of the Far West was real. But orders were orders. Farewell to San Miguel and Paso Robles and San Jose and Cameron Hill and San Luis Obispo. California, and particularly Roberts, was hot in the summer anyway. The 89th would winter in California, vacation in the Rockies for the summer.
On April Fool's Day, by mere coincidence, the large shipment of fillers arrived from New Cumberland, Pa., and the battalion was up to strength at last. These men, fresh from a transcontinental train trip, had hardly gotten off the train before they were back on again as the 89th Chemical Battalion, Motorized, boarded two trains on the 6th of April and pulled away. Up to Sacramento over the Sierra Nevada's through Reno across the Great American Desert through Salt Lake City over the Rocky Mountains through the Royal Gorge onto the Prairie at Pueblo and up to Colorado Springs on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. The trains pulled into Carson late in the afternoon to be met by the advance party, Major Cameron and Lt Kilby, and the companies were served their first meal in one of the new double mess halls that night.
Despite the fact that a snowstorm, the first of the season for the California veterans, swept over Carson the following day and that the 89th took Colorado Springs apart the following night, by Monday training was on in full swing as it was to be for months to come.
During the first week at Carson four more officers reported in to keep going the cycle of personnel changes that had been going on for two months. For one reason or another, forty percent of the original officer strength of the battalion had transferred to other units, their places being taken by recent graduates of the 26th and 27th Officer Candidate Classes. Among the officers new to the Battalion were Lts. Ellis, Evans, Weismiller, Parker, Kilby, Hagan, Haralson, McDow, Duncan, Kirsek, McDowell and Reese.
The month of April witnessed the activation of the smallest, but one of the most important units in the battalion the Medical Detachment. Headed by S/Sgt Flavil H. Ransom, and Tec/4 Walter H. Hill, who operated the dispensary and trained the men, the original group included James L. Frazier, Arthur Oliver, Bernard R. Robinson, Caspare J. Madonia, Frank Jackson, Oda R. Pierce, Hyman Ruben, Dale C. Howe, Frederick O. Dail, Jerry E. Kent, Matthew J. Schmiers, Thomas E. Smeltzer, Thomas G. Hunniford, Caroll T. Luchard, James A. Stewart and Lawrence J. Welling. For the first three months, Lt Buckley, a MAC officer on detached service to the 89th, trained the detachment, and it was not until August that the first and only regularly assigned surgeon, Lt John C. Christensen, joined the organization.
An eventuality that has long been plaguing the battalion commander became a fact in the first weeks at Carson when it became known that the 97th Chemical Bn Mtz was to be activated early in May and that the 89th was expected to furnish the cadre. For a unit that could not boast 200 basically trained men and that was just getting its own MTP training well under way, it was a cruel blow to be expected to furnish 80 trained men. The problem was there, and by hook or by crook, the men selected, approved by Col Brice, XVI Corps chemical officer, and sent on their way May 5. Four officers, Capt Vines, Lt Huber, Lt Kaplan, and Lt Hochstetler, were also lost. With Captain Vine's departure, Lt Clyde H. Westbrook took over the CO's desk in Co A.
By the time May rolled around, it became apparent that the awkward organization of the unit in training was becoming too complicated to handle that the condition of the first platoon leading the second by two weeks, was somewhat of a strain on Plans and Operation. Accordingly, Corps directed that training be suspended for the first and second platoons for a four-week period, at the end of which all of the platoons could continue on a common basis. The break was made at such a time that the first and second platoons had just finished their basic training period of seven weeks, and the common start would be made as the specialist phase began.
During the quiet period, the men in the first and second platoons were granted furloughs with the idea in mind that they would possibly have to be credited as their POM furloughs. This fact was no source of satisfaction to the late arrivals in the third platoons, which continued training.
To do justice to the period of MTP training is impossible. The effort and toil and sweat and profanity that went into those weeks can never live as stark fact. Rather, the detail was smothered in the haze of plodding onward, day by day, while here and there something jumped out of the mist to be remembered.
Prominent among the high spots of individual training were: physical training where the lungs and legs of civilian life protested, expired, and rebounded into life with newfound strength; the hours on the drill-field where the awkwardness of the new recruit melted into the coordination of the soldier; the long hours becoming acquainted with the M-1, the carbine, and firing positions which finally culminated in the long days on the range for preliminary and record firing; the introduction to basic military subjects such as hygiene and sanitation, camouflage, military law, and military courtesy and discipline, all important but all subject to endless repetition in the future; and army discipline, a necessary evil which most men accepted and some few didn't.
The succeeding phase of specialist training necessitated the breaking down of men into groups in order to learn the principal job planned for them. Their first assignments involved many mistakes and subsequent shifts, but eventually order appeared out of chaos. It was in these weeks that the mortar made its first appearance, together with its thrice-damned cart; that the platoons began to get their first experience as a unit tugging mortar carts up and down barren gullies on the Carson ranges; that the companies first fired the 4.2 and miraculously failed to kill each other; that driver training began; that wire and radio were introduced to the embryo commo sections; that IMG men learned the mechanisms of firing; that the day began at six and did not end until ten at night with many thanks to S-3 and "addenda"; that the officers and non-coms cheerfully carried their hangovers to the firing range on Sundays; that passes were few and tempers were short.
And all of this ended on a sunny Thursday in July (the day after Wednesday, July 14 to be exact), when the battalion was given its MTP test by XVI Corps and came flying through with an E for "Excellent." A holiday weekend followed in which Colorado Springs was turned upside down, and pockets were turned inside out. At the same time, the worries of the men in the third platoons were erased as they set out on their long-awaited furloughs, during which the remainder of the battalion followed a strictly fill-in schedule.
It is generally agreed by the member of the battalion that Camp Carson was the most pleasant camp in which the battalion was stationed, despite the occasionally temperamental weather, which brought alternate snow and heat at most annoying times. Just ten minutes away from the camp was Colorado Springs, and the opportunities ever present in a resort town were amply taken advantage of. Numberless recreational spots were within easy distance the world-famed Broadmoor Hotel, offering athletic and social relaxation, Pike's Peak, Garden of the Gods, and Cave of the Winds, particularly popular for scenic relaxation; Will Rogers Memorial and the Zoo for sentimental interest; night spots of all kinds in the city itself. Denver was about 75 miles away for those who chose a conventional type city.
Tough as the training schedule was, it was still possible to coordinate several trips of more than ordinary interest into the training. The first actual battalion convoy was made to Royal Gorge Canyon, over which hangs the world's longest suspension bridge; by company and battalion, trips were made to Cripple Creek, once the largest gold mining center in the world and now of interest since it is practically a ghost town; and there are those in Baker Company who will never forget their first trip to Cripple Creek via the Stagecoach Road when the turn of a curve on a one-way goat trail revealed a total washout, which the men filled in themselves and continued on their merry way.
One well-remembered trip came on July 4 when the Battalion motored to Rocky Mountain Arsenal in Denver to march in the parade awarding the Army-Navy "E" to that CWS industrial plant. The heat was terrific, the ceremony long, and many men fainted before the last eulogy was delivered. But compensation came when, the parade over, the majority of the men headed for Denver and a quick spree.
During the mid-summer lull following MTP tests, more personnel changes came about, including one, which affected every man. Lt Col Hudson, as he has been since March, received orders transferring him to the Chemical Warfare School where he was scheduled to become Director of the Officer Candidate School. Battalion commander since activation, Col Hudson could feel that he had performed a job "well done," and the men and officers who had come to feel affection as well as respect for the Old Man hated to see him go fully as much as he hated to leave. Major Cameron assumed command following his departure. In addition, Lt Francis J. Winters took over the duties of adjutant with the transfer of Lt Deptula to Washington. Six new second lieutenants, fresh from OCS, Lts. Connell, Almeida, Repschleger, Michaels, Bethea and Linton reported for duty.
As the month of August arrived, the Battalion was scheduled to enter into a two-month period of unit training that never came off as planned. On July 31 headquarters received information to be prepared for AGF firing tests to be given by the CWS Board on August 17, tests that involved a state of training on a company level that would not normally be accomplished for two months. In a frenzy of activity the companies entered upon a series of problems designed to make them qualified for the test in two weeks, problems designed to teach every man the essentials of his duty, to make each platoon and company an efficient firing unit under almost every conceivable type of combat.
As any sane person could foresee, the job was too big for perfection, but miracles were performed in those two short weeks. Platoons that were thirty individuals under a commander on August 1 were awkward but efficient units on August 15. Mistakes were made but rarely repeated. So the great day arrived. That day was perhaps the biggest disappointment of the training period, for the tests that were to determine the battalion's fitness for combat turned out to be trial tests to provide information for the Board in Edgewood. Though the let down was great, the two-week period still produced the most intensive and practical training undergone during the stay in the states.
Though the 89th never participated in any combined maneuvers, a strenuous and never-to-be-forgotten week in the field in the first week in September ranked as it's longest and perhaps its best shakedown before it actually entered combat. For pure physical strain and exposure, it at least equaled the worst that the continent had to offer.
It was during this phase of unit training that the 89th Chemical Battalion Motorized was definitely placed on alert for overseas combat service and Preparation for Overseas Movement began. POM received its emphasis in training, supply and records, but the first way in which it affected the men in the battalion was in supply. Since the equipment in the hands of the companies was not combat serviceable as judged by inspection, immediate measures were taken by the S-4 section, under the supervision of Captain Edward R. Murray who became S-4 in May, and T/Sgt., Thomas H. Woods, to secure completely new equipment to replace the old, as well as to procure equipment authorized but never issued to the 89th. As the weeks passed, the priority of the battalion rose and high priority items, particularly in the ordnance and engineer classification, began to come in.
Personal equipment also received attention, and by sleight of hand and a magic wand the 89th drew sleeping bags and combat boots in addition to all new wool clothing, glamorous items to military eyes that drew envy from adjacent units which were not so equipped.
Beginning in August and extending into October, the XVI Corps, which was now the next higher headquarters, administered several tests on various subjects such as medical, intelligence and ground defense for air attack, all of which the battalion passed with high ratings.
The sands of time were running out on the stay at Carson with a wholesale evacuation of AGF troops from the post. Before final departure, however, most of the companies worked in a last fling with Colorado Springs' social life, and particularly to be remembered are lavish affairs staged by Dog Company and Baker Company on successive weekends at the Elks Club, with members of the WAC detachment as important and honored guests. The beer flowed and the sky was the limit on those nights.
Also, not to be slighted was the Wild West Rodeo staged on the post with combined professional and GI entrants. Principal competitor from the 89th was PFC Edgar Groves of Baker Company who was bucked off his horse in the time of eight complete seconds.
One last major personnel change occurred as the battalion entered its last fortnight at Carson: Capt McCreanor leaving to join the 97th while Lt Ignatius J. Spurio transferred from Baker Company to take over Dog.
On the 20th of September the 89th Chemical Battalion staged a parade with full field equipment, and as it marched from the parade ground the head of the column turned toward the railroad loading area where the men loaded Pullmans once more this time for Camp Gruber, Oklahoma. The vehicles and equipment preceded the troops by a day on a special train, manned by a crew predominantly mechanics and commanded by 1st Lt Bennett B. Harvey. After chugging its way across Nebraska, down through Missouri, and into Oklahoma, the train slid to a stop at Gruber on the morning of the 21st to be met by the advance party and a new commanding officer for the 89th, Lt Col Donald E. Yanka, formerly with the Replacement Training Center, Camp Sibert, Alabama.
It was at Gruber that the final processing for overseas shipment was made, and the camp was jammed full of other troops with the same object in mind. POM charts became the most important item in the training program. Makeup's were run on firing, training films, lectures and administrative forms. Final physical checkups were made by Lt Christensen. Those men unqualified for overseas service were screened and transferred.
As usual S-4 bore the brunt of the task, closely followed by Mr. Juster's personnel section. Although it was the butt of many jokes, "Noory's Rug Shop" issued tremendous amounts of clothing most of which was new, and altered a considerable percentage of it. Capt Murray and his men begged, borrowed and stole to bring the clothing standards of the battalion up as high as possible. More unit equipment poured in. In all, seventeen shortage lists were processed involving clothing, individual equipment, and T/O & E equipment.
Almost immediately after settling down at Gruber, it became necessary to begin packing equipment for overseas shipment. To accomplish the job, Lt Kilby was temporarily borrowed from Baker Company, given a detail headed by PFC Paul Whitfield and each company artificer, and told to go to work. Enormous numbers of boxes were procured into which the hundreds of items of equipment began to be packed, waterproofed and banded. Each box had to be stenciled and copies made of the exact contents. Reams of paper were consumed to deliver the required number of copies detailing the contents of each and ever box. When Lt Kilby was taken off the job to go on the advance party, Lt Krizek took over and supervised the cleanup and the packing of the TAT equipment that traveled along with the battalion.
By October 12, all of the men had been duly processed with the exception of the new replacements destined to join two weeks later in order to bring the 89th up to T/O strength. In the many months up to this time, literally hundreds of personnel changes and transfers were effected, involving both officers and enlisted men. Each company felt its way forward, changing men's assignments, dropping physically and mentally unqualified men, and adapting personalities to jobs. All companies came up to strength on rating with the cadre and ASTP veterans pulling down most of the first three grades, and the 89th trained mortar men snagging the lions' share of the remainder.
One big requirement remained to be filled. Ninety percent of the battalion was eligible for furloughs, which were granted from October 12 to November 10, with each man and officer getting at least 10 days at home. This period also saw those not on furlough giving the nearby city of Tulsa frequent visits, for the reception afforded by that oil city soon established it in the minds of the troops as one of the finest "leave" towns in the country. On one memorable visit, Lt Harvey, a Tulsa resident, arranged for a weekend that included a police escort to lead the convoy of trucks into town with sirens blowing and all traffic cleared. Well over two hundred men made that trip.
The future now became a reality, training was a blur in the past and POM was largely completed. As millions of men before them had done, the men of the 89th faced the coming journey across the water with a cross between apprehension and anticipation.
First to leave was the advance party consisting of Major Cameron, Lt Kilby, and M/Sgt Louis W. Goldstein, battalion motor sergeant. On November 9 these men departed for New York, where on November 14 they boarded the Aquitania, famous British liner and veteran troop ship. Next to take off were Captain Murray and Lt Robert D. McDowell who acted as advance supply agents at the Boston Port of Embarkation, designated as the port of departure for the 89th. The bulk of the equipment was shipped to Boston on October 30, for loading on a separate ship, and it was the task of Capt Murray and Lt McDowell to check this loading.
November 15th was the first anniversary for the battalion, but on that date the companies had orders to be on the move to the east, so a large-scale anniversary dance was scheduled for and held on November 12 at Gruber. A committee under the direction of Lt Cartledge with S/Sgt James Mickle as master of ceremonies made all arrangements, including the importation of girls from Tulsa, and the dance was a huge success.
On the 16th of November, all was ready. Individually and collectively, the battalion was packed. That afternoon Hq. Detachment, Baker and Dog Companies boarded one train, Able and Charlie another, and both headed for Camp Myles Standish, Massachusetts. by different routes. By Sunday afternoon, 19 November, the battalion was bedded down in Camp Standish, and the date of departure was in the hands of the officials in that camp.
The next few days were spent fulfilling requirements established by the staging area: shots, showdown inspections, movies, lectures and demonstrations. Three and four times, men made their "last" telephone calls home. By the end of the week passes were authorized and taken to Boston, Providence and Pawtucket.
Then suddenly, the end approached. The 89th was restricted on November 30, advance details left Myles Standish to travel to Boston and board ship in order to facilitate the complete loading which was to come on the following day. For the umpteenth time every man repacked his equipment. Early on the morning of December 1, the 89th Chemical Battalion, Motorized, climbed on still another train, which pulled out for the Boston Port of Embarkation. Training was over. Next stop the European Theater of Operations.
Chapter 2 - Merrie England
On the afternoon of December 1, 1944, the 89th was assembled on the Boston pier waiting word to board ship. While a 4-F band filled the building with martial music, Red Cross matrons treated the overseas bound mortar men with hot coffee and doughnuts. With the festivities over, the battalion finally began to load. First went Headquarters Detachment, then Able, Baker, Charlie, and Dog Companies. The men lugged their shiny new duffle bags up and down the treacherous gangways, and at 1530 that afternoon they were packed tightly into their bunks awaiting departure.
The Marine Wolf was a converted freighter, Type C-4, small in size, yet equipped to carry two or three thousand troops. Bunks, stacked in closely packed tiers of five, had been erected in the hold originally designed for carrying freight. Into a compartment such as this was packed the 89th, complete with equipment, as well as parts of other units.
The mess hall was about as conveniently situated as the hold. Tables were the proper height to eat standing and they were just close enough to afford trouble for the passage of two hefty GI's with life preservers.
The Marine Wolf waited calmly at the dock Friday night, but she got underway in the gray light of the morning of December 2. After the momentary thrill of the first ocean voyage had deserted the men, they were snapped back to reality with the organization of work details, which consisted of KP, guard, latrine orderlies and general police of the ship. First Sergeant William J. Wethington of Dog Company, sole commander of the duty department, established a flexible roster, which enabled the duties to be distributed evenly among the four companies and Headquarters Detachment.
Battalion headquarters was set up to handle the administrative problems in conjunction with the regimental headquarters of the different commands on board, and Col Yanka was put in command of all troop passengers. The Battalion's medical section assisted that of the ship, while the signal department furnished men to operate the radios used on ship-to-ship communications for convoy control.
On the following day out, the ship began to show signs of being in deep water as the sea tossed and foamed, throwing the little Marine Wolf back and forth from crest to trough. Waves broke even with the gunwales of the boat, spraying the deck with wintery salt water and first signs of seasickness became prevalent. It was not uncommon to see the stairs leading from quarters to latrine lines with pale faced GI's carrying their steel helmets, hopelessly making a last effort to reach the sanctuary in time.
Those that were religiously inclined and still able to navigate, attended makeshift church services in the mess hall.
The Marine Wolf was but one ship in a large convoy composed of ships rendezvoused from every major port on the Eastern seaboard. There were tankers, freighters, large troop transports and a British aircraft carrier, with little destroyer escorts to be the "eyes and ears" for the convoy commander. The course lay southward, then due east until, just off the Bay of Biscay, a turn was made to the north. At this point the convoy split, one group continuing due north to Liverpool while the other headed for Southampton.
As the voyage progressed, special services came into play. Movies were shown in the mess hall to large attendances, even though the pictures were old and the film broken in several places. It was an escape from seasickness, tension created by the crowed conditions, and the unpleasantness of the passage in general. Lt Robert Ullrich organized a swing band, which appeared several times before capacity crowds on the open deck, as well as in the mess hall when weather would not permit activity above. PFC Ignazio Licata and Sgt Ray Shull and their accordions contributed special sessions in the hold, and Cpl Lindley B. Bynum kept the joint jumping with his "boogie-woogie" on the ivories.
An athletic program, sponsored by Lt Charles F. Bethea, featured boxing every evening as long as the fighters held out. Each company furnished participants, and the men were paired off according to their weights; other battalions on board also participated. The program featured a former pro from Fritzie Zivic's stables, an exhibition by a former Light Heavy Champion of Golden Gloves fame, and Sgt Heber Holt of Baker Company, and bouts by Tec/5 Gaylord Rolfe, who was crowned Heavyweight Champion of the Battalion.
Chow was the most talked of subject of the trip. Meals were served only twice a day because of inadequate messing space and when the men did get inside the mess hall they were invariably served stew of the worst variety. Each troop compartment was assigned specific times to eat, and the last man was hardly through the chow line for the first meal when the first man for supper was ready to eat. The food was generally poor, and the atmosphere in the mess hall did not add to the taste of the food. Volunteers for KP were plentiful in a desperate attempt to fill their empty stomachs. However, the famine was mitigated somewhat by the cooks and butchers, who faithfully smuggled food into the troop compartments to their buddies.
A day aboard ship usually started at 0630 with the ever popular words, "It is now reveille," droning over the loud speaker. When the men heard that remarkable announcement, they invariably rolled over and ignored the rest of the world until chow time. Soon after the morning meal was completed, the emergency alarm would ring summoning them back to their quarters for "abandon ship" drill. Because of the crowded conditions, confusion always reigned, and many an unfortunate face in the lower bunks was quashed by an oversized brogan. While the men shivered on the open deck, supposedly at their "abandon ship" stations, the ship's commander inspected their quarters, suggesting changes and improvements here, there and everywhere. The end of another complete and perfect day was always manifest when the unseen voice announced, "It is now blackout, no more smoking on the open decks".
After the voyage had progressed uneventfully for several days, it was revealed that the Marine Wolf's original orders to dock at Cherboug, France had been changed to read Southampton, England where with 89th was to receive further orders. At the time the Battalion commander and the ship's captain only knew the orders, but they no doubt changed the lives of every soldier on board the Marine Wolf.
With the absence of undue excitement, the trip continued and special service facilities, few that they were, entertained the men to the best of their abilities. Cigarettes, donated by the automobile manufacturers and tobacco companies, were distributed to the troops, each man receiving a pack a day. Tec/4 Dean C. Wolf and Tec/5 Melvin C. Frost of Headquarters Detachment assisted the special service non-com of the Transportation Corps in this job. Playing cards, dice, checkers, and various other games were distributed, and reading material, ranging from English classics to comic books, were available to the personnel. To keep up with their current literature, some of the men forsook the heat and poor lighting of their compartment and searched out cool spots in the cold storage rooms below and the decks above.
On December 11, as the voyage seemed to be nearing its termination, activity among the boats of the convoy was noted by the men on deck. Ships, which had been following the convoy closely all the way began dispersing maneuvers, followed by unidentified explosions and spouting water. Rumors soon made the rounds. The explosions were depth charges, and the destroyers were chasing Jerry submarines who were searching for innocent prey. However, the scare persisted through the rest of the day without any tangible occurrence, and the excitement gradually subsided. At no time was there any evidence of consternation, as the men never knew what was actually happening.
At 0845 on the morning of Dec 12, the hope and expectation that had been utmost in the minds of the men since the day they had boarded the ship was fulfilled. Land had been sighted. The morale of everyone hit an unprecedented high as they crowded to the decks to get a glimpse of the almost invisible shores of England. That night the Marine Wolf anchored outside the harbor of Southampton, and the next day she slowly worked her way past the Isle of Wight and up the river into port. The battalion stayed aboard until 0200 on the 14th, when the companies debarked and dropped their duffle bags on the soil of jolly old England.
After being served coffee and doughnuts on the pier by the Salvation Army, everyone entrained for Stone, Staffordshire, England, where the battalion was to be quartered. The train passed through the outskirts of London, affording a glimpse of some effects of the blitz in that metropolis. Twice the men were served tea and pastries on the trip, but first contact with English food was not a culinary success.
The battalion arrived in Stone on the afternoon of the 14th. After detraining, the troops marched through the village to the Fuston Factory where hot chow was served; then they proceeded to their assigned billets. Headquarters Detachment was to stay at a former working man's organization, the Lotus Club; Able and Dog Companies were billeted in the factory, pre-war home of English pottery, and more recently, quarters for Tommies; Baker Company was given the Redlands estate on the outskirts of Stone; and Charlie Company was put in some Nissen Huts in the Lotus Club area. Radford Hall, another wealthy but ancient estate, housed Battalion Headquarters and the commissioned personnel of the unit.
Naturally the first few days at Stone were spent getting oriented to the situation, customs of the people, British monetary system, and England in general.
The first big job on the hands of the staff was to reorganize the Battalion according to a new T/O and E, which called for three line Companies instead of four, and a Headquarters Company instead of a mere detachment. There was no fundamental change in the organization of the line companies except for a shift and increase in personnel, but the major revisions was the formation of a large and omnipotent Headquarters Company. This fourth company consisted of the original detachment functions plus a large ammunition section, a larger communications division, and its own mess.
The problem, which immediately presented itself, was which company should be deactivated. The difficult decision was finally reached, and according to General Order No. 1, 19 Dec 1944, reorganization of the Battalion would be effected by the deactivation of Dog Company and the absorption of its personnel by the rest of the Battalion. By the same order, Headquarters Company was activated.
Reorganization began with the dissolution of the third platoon of Able Company, the third platoon of Charlie Company, and the second platoon of Dog Company. The first platoon of Charlie Company, with Lt McDowell, Lt Linton and S/Sgt Gillespie became the third platoon of Charlie Company, and Lt Lawler, Lt Chaffee, S/Sgt McNeeley and their third platoon of Dog Company became the third platoon of Able Company, S.Sgt Joseph Yourren became the platoon sergeant of the first platoon of Baker Company, and the rest of his original second platoon was dissolved and absorbed by the various platoons of Baker Company, since none of them were broken up. The personnel of the other two platoons that were dissolved found themselves scattered throughout the companies of the Battalion.
Capt Edward E. Murray was assigned as commander of Headquarters Company in addition to his regular duties as Battalion S-4; Lt Robert Ullich became executive officer and First Sergeant Wethington was appointed first sergeant. Dog Company's motor pool personnel were transferred to Headquarters and S/Sgt William F. Foote became company motor sergeant. Mess personnel of the defunct unit were transferred to Charlie Company while the latter's cooks moved to Headquarters, and Dog Company supply men were assigned to Headquarters, with S/Sgt Robert J. Peterson becoming supply sergeant for the company.
The Headquarters ammunition section was also formed at this time. 1st Lt James J. Feeks, recently transferred from Able Company, was designated Battalion Ammunition Officer, and S/Sgt R.H. Laney from Able Company became Battalion Ammunition Sergeant. The whole department of ammunition supply was divided into three working sections headed by S/Sgt Harold A. Berkowitz from Baker Company, S/Sgt Richard G. McLennand from Charlie Company, and S/Sgt Tom Maxey.
First Lt Alfred A. Ulanowski was assigned to Baker Company and at the same time, designated Assistant Battalion S-3; 2nd Lt William F. Repschleger moved to Able Company; 2nd Lt Marvin L. Ritzman went to Charlie Company; and 2nd Lt Charles F. Bethea was sent to Charlie Company.
2nd Lt William F. Ellis was assigned to Baker Company as Weather Officer, and 2nd Lt George R. Krsek was designated Battalion Communications Officer. Capt Ignatius J. Spurio, formerly Company Commander of Dog Company, was assigned to Headquarters Company and designated as Battalion Motor Officer.
With reorganization completed, the days at Stone were spent drawing equipment and brushing up on communications systems in connection with fire direction control. Every phase of training, the individual job of every man was stressed. All vehicles were drawn at Stone, as were mortars, the new mortar sights, new adjustable carbine sights, signal equipment and quartermaster supplies.
Battalion communications in the village were much better than anyone had hoped for, and they contributed materially to the administration of the unit at Stone. Battalion phones were tied in with the commercial lines of Stone, and by calling 47, a through trunk line could be gotten to any point in the United Kingdom. Two operators from each company handled the switchboard.
In these days many, were the trips to the far corners of England for procurement of equipment and supplies. The S-4 section, communications, motor pool and ammunition men made pilgrimages to Newberry, Liverpool, and several places in Wales. Lt Krizek visited London for seven days when he was called to an Army Information Staff School, and WOJG Martin W. Juster and T/Sgt Roger LaFranier, as well as the executive officers of each company, attended a Graves Registration Course in the same city.
Passes were liberal at Stone, and the men lost no time in taking advantage of them. Nightly they visited Hanley, Newcastle and other towns in the vicinity, and on two-day passes there was always London to see. London and Piccadilly Circus had more points of interest to offer.
As for the majority of the men, they frequented the pubs wherever they went. Warm beer, dart games, community singing, and tall tales with the Limeys gave the places a homey atmosphere which everyone enjoyed. At the Crown and Anchor or the White Horse a "chug a lug" game could almost always be found in progress. That entertainment furnished hours of pleasure for the heartiest drinkers.
Outstanding among female companions were the WAF's stationed in Stafford; they helped brighten many a GI night. The American Red Cross, with its dances, girls, coffee and doughnuts was a popular place for the society set. The British Women's Voluntary Service was also a good place to spend some time, and the homes of many of the residents were opened to the men, especially at Christmas time.
The last week in Stone was spent servicing the newly acquired vehicles, mounting new equipment and packing everything for the Battalion's next jump. On the morning of February 13, 1945, the men waved goodbye to Stone, and the vehicles moved south in the cold, rainy darkness. The predominant problem for the most part of the trip was how to keep warm and this was solved in many fashions, none of them very satisfactory. Neither did slow convoy speed of 15 miles per hour improve the mental attitude of the men.
At 2300 that night the convoy moved into a gasoline dump on the southern coast where they filled the thirsty tanks; from there it was a short trip on to the staging camp new Weymouth. The rows of empty, wind-whipped tents looked entirely uninviting to the men, notwithstanding the fact that they had been on the road seventeen hours. No lights, no hot water in the latrines, and sickening C rations led them to hope for immediate shipment to the continent. However, everyone slept soundly for the remainder of the night.
Early the next morning the battalion prepared to load on the LST's and LSI's. After much confusion, without which a movement could not be made, the unit was divided into two parties. Vehicles, with two men each, were loaded on LST's, Baker and Charlie Company on one and Headquarters and Able on the other. The remainder of the men, the walking party, were put on an LSI later in the afternoon, and all the ships pointed their bows toward Le Havre, France.
After an uneventful evening and morning the landing party debarked at noon, February 15. From Le Havre they moved by truck convoy to Camp Twenty Grand, arriving there later in the day, but the convoy of the 89th's vehicles was a little more unfortunate, as they didn't arrive till 0200 the following morning.
Le Havre was the first glimpse of all-out war that presented itself to the men. True, they had seen the results of the blitz on London, but damage in England was slight as compared with what met the eye in France. Damaged vehicles, gutted buildings, pillboxes, and gun emplacements; grown men fighting for cigarettes; women and children searching for coal along railroad tracks; everywhere reminders of the Nazis; this was the cruel perspective that greeted the 89th.
Camp Twenty Grand was located approximately nine miles northwest of Rouen, France. A comparatively new staging area, there was nothing but the barest necessities. Men spent most of the days wading the knee-deep mud between the motor pool and the battalion area. The cold nights were good for sleeping if one could keep warm, but often the solitude was disturbed by trigger-happy negro guards who spent their evenings taking pot shots at frightened GIs.
It was at Twenty Grand that the men first learned the value of bartering. Cigarettes, candy, gum, coffee, soap and anything else that could be salvaged from overloaded duffle bags was offered in return for fresh eggs, French bread, and cider with was often strengthened with H2O.
All activities at the mud hole were centered around last minute preparations for combat. Wire cutters were added to the jeeps, they seemed to be the order of the day in the ETO in the late winter. Vehicles were packed, unpacked, and repacked in an effort to get the maximum advantage of the precious storage space. Enclosures were added to their vehicles by several ingenious drivers. The coming cold weather was in the back of the mind of every man.
Lt Parker, Lt Cartledge, and S/Sgt Laney drew the Battalion's basic load of small arms ammunition at Le Havre. Each man's ration, which was issued to him at once, consisted of forty-five rounds of carbine shells or eighty M-1 rounds, and smoke and fragmentation grenades.
The Twenty Grand motor pool sponsored a working detail to haul rocks and rubble from nearbyby Rouen to hard- surface the camp roads. 89th men thoroughly enjoyed themselves on these trips as five-man crews only hauled two loads a day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Several hours were spent in Rouen, seeing the city and visiting bars and other popular retreats.
It was while the Battalion was awaiting orders that the ammunition section was organized to fit the Battalion's prospective combat needs. Lt Feeks remained as ammunition officer and he chose two direct assistants, S/Sgt Laney, and S/Sgt Erdman. The three sections were named alphabetically to correspond with the three firing companies. S/Sgt John's section was designated to supply Able Company, S/Sgt Berkowitz, Baker Company, and S/Sgt McLennand, Charlie Company. S/Sgt Martin was in charge of a small section designated as Headquarters ammunition; this was would be a mobile group and would assist any other section that needed help at any particular time.
A few fortunate individuals were able to get a quick view of Paris from Twenty Grand. Lt Krsek, Tec/4 Reeder, Tec/5 Gill, and Pvt Camerlengo of the Battalion communications section made a last-minute trip to the French capital to secure vital supplies and the party was unavoidably detained for one night in the city. Their route along the Seine River afforded them a clear picture of the destruction wrought by the American Armies in their push through France.
On the 17th of February the Battalion ammunition section traveled to Somme-Sons, France, to pick up the basic load of 4.2 ammo, the allotment of which was 40 rounds of HE and forty rounds of WP per mortar. That convoy, which passed through Cattear-Thierry, also had a welcome delay in Paris at the expense of three flat tires.
Two days after the ammunition had been secured, the 89th received orders stating that it was now assigned to the US Ninth Army and was to report to Nieustadt, Holland for further orders. The next day the advance party left for Ninth Army Headquarters in Maastricht, Holland.
At Masstricht, the party was oriented and informed that the Roer River would be crossed within the next few days. The 89th was ordered to stand by at their assembly area at Niewstadt and await orders from the XVI Corps committing the Battalion for action.
The next morning Capt Murray, T/Sgt Wood, and Sgt Pitts reported to XVI Corps Headquarters at Sittard, Holland; there they received orders to hold the unit at Nieustadt pending the arrival of further orders.
Captain Murray's party arrived at its destination about noon and spent the remainder of the day locating billets for the men. Fear of thickly planted mine fields and booby traps slowed the work considerably, but on the other hand no civilians had to be evacuated due to the efficiency of German and American artillery.
Meanwhile, Col Yanka, Maj. Lentz, and the executive officers from each company, with their enlisted men, moved forward to observe the 92nd Cml Mortar Battalion in action in Julich, Germany, where it had just completed the crossing of the Roer in support of the 29th Division. From Battalion Headquarters, the party from each company was sent forward to the CP of the corresponding company in the 92nd to observe their methods of operation. Even in the midst of combat, the hosts were very cordial and helpful, but the advance party left the front with a vivid picture of battle conditions in their minds. After passing through war-torn Aachen and Duren, Col Yanka and his convoy arrived at Nieustadt at 2300, February 23.
The main body of the Battalion left Twenty Grand on the morning of February 22. The convoy was divided into platoon serials and they moved out at the usual intervals, but the trip had hardly begun when a catastrophe occurred at Rouen. Major Cameron's jeep and a first platoon jeep of Baker Company carrying PFC Maurice Beasley, PFC Lewis Jones, PFC Bill Spradlin, and PFC Roy Wileman were squeezed together by a heavy truck. Fortunately, no one was injured, but both jeeps were salvaged and replacements pulling one-ton trailers, a somewhat overbalanced combination, were drawn on the spot.
The ever-present cold necessitated the use of blankets in profusion during the trip. Lasting impressions were made by a preponderance of burned out vehicles along the roads, allied as well as enemy. Many of the men wondered if their own vehicle might soon be seen along the roadside in the same condition. Other impressive but amusing sights were the French open-air sidewalk latrines; they served the purpose although they afforded little privacy in doing so.
The Battalion proceeded as far as Cambrai, France the first day. Here the vehicles were given first echelon maintenance and the men prepared their bivouac area in an open field just beyond the town. Hot "ten-in-one" rations were the sum total of the menu, and the cold wintery ground was the bed for everyone except a few acrobats who managed to curl up in jeeps and trailers.
The next day brought the convoy into Belgium. At every opportunity the men conversed with the people and learned, first hand, of the ferocious crimes of the Germans.
Early in the evening of Feb. 23 the convoy moved into Holland, and passed the 95th Division, which was in reserve, just before reaching Maastricht. On the other side of the Ninth Army Headquarters all lights were turned out to conform with blackout precautions.
At 2000 the first serial approached Nieustadt where it was met and led into the town by Cpt Murray, Sgt Wood and Sgt Pitts. Strict warnings were issued of mines in the area, and mine detectors were used to clear areas for vehicles where were dispersed and camouflaged. Assigned billets were found and, after much excitement about booby traps, everyone quieted down for the night.
Distant rumblings of artillery and an occasional aircraft overhead reminded everyone that the battle was near. The gutted buildings and stories of civilians testified that this very town had recently been the scene of combat.
On the afternoon of the 25th the Battalion suffered its first casualties when T/Sgt Charles Marriott, Lt Sidney L. Wells, and Tec/4 James Henson were injured in the explosion of a Jerry hand grenade. All three men were quickly evacuated. Lt Wells and Sgt Henson later returned to the Battalion but Sgt Marriott was sent back to the States.
The following day at Nieustadt was spent in further packing vehicles again. Much excess equipment was moved to a battalion dump, and each man was stripped of everything but his essentials. Details were furnished to assist a section of the 30th Cml Decontaminating Company in cleaning shells for the ASP. The 89th men did a particularly efficient job because they expected to be using the shells very soon.
One thought was uppermost: when would the Battalion receive its first combat assignment?
Chapter 3 - Roer to the Rhine
The 89th, now officially designated as "Cartwheel," had not long to wait for its first combat assignments. On the afternoon of February 25, orders were received from XVI Corps Headquarters attaching Charlie Company to the 35th "Santa Fe" Division which was poised near Linnich for the jump across the Roer.
An advance party reconnoitered the east bank of the river that evening while the company remained at Nieustadt, quietly preparing for its introduction to combat. A few hours later, in the darkness of the early hours of February 26, the men climbed into their vehicles and moved toward Porcelen where positions had been selected. The convoy ran into difficulty several times when drivers allowed the interval between their jeeps to become too great for blackout driving. When the light began to break through, the twisted bodies of German soldiers could be seen scattered along the road, and the stomachs of the men tightened because they knew that at last they had hit combat.
At daybreak the company was forced to cross a half-mile strip of road which was under full observation of the enemy. Perhaps the hour was too early for the Jerry observers to be functioning, because the convoy passed over the spot safely and reached Porcelen shortly afterwards.
The mortars were immediately set up in the soggy sod of the river bottom, and perimeter defense was established, but no fire missions were called for by the observers.
The first instance of any excitement occurred at 0100 the following morning when an enemy patrol moved directly through the first platoon's mortar position. Opening contact with the enemy so surprised the men that the Jerries escaped unharmed, and a chance to capture the first prisoners in the Battalion was lost.
Later in the morning the company moved to Birgelen and prepared to fire again but the 134th Infantry, which Charlie Company was supporting, was moving so swiftly that the 4.2s were not needed.
Birgelen was in the so-called northern hinge of the infamous Siegried Line, and the village and surrounding hills were dotted with huge reinforced concrete pillboxes, most of which were untouched by the lightening thrusts of the doughs. It was around one of these German emplacements that PFC Wigert noticed some suspicious activity. He immediately called S/Sgt Carson who soon identified the suspects as Jerries. The first platoon sergeant, with the aid of T/4 (Windy Dick) Butler and Sgt Joe Burson, soon had extricated seven luckless Krauts from their fortress. For his action Sgt Carson was awarded the Bronze Star.
The captors made one mistake, which was soon corrected and thereafter never duplicated. Although they searched the prisoners they neglected to relieve them of their watches and jewelry.
When Charlie Company was getting its introduction under fire, the rest of the Battalion was nervously awaiting assignment at Nieustadt. At 0600 on February 27, the 89th was attached to the 79th Division Artillery, which was supporting the line on the left flank of the XVI Corps front, and further attached to the Division Artillery.
The Colonel reconnoitered for a Battalion C.P. and finally selected a site at Waldfeucht, just beyond the German-Dutch frontier.
Able Company was further attached to the 694th Field Artillery Bn in support of the 15th Cavalry Squadron. At 0600 on the morning of the 28th, advance parties left Divarty Headquarters to select mortar positions at Linne, Holland and St. Odilienburg, Germany. Lt Miller, S/Sgt Haeker, Cpl Humphrey and Cpl Mokcsay reconnoitered for gun positions in St. Odilienburg, while the second and third platoons prepared to move into Linne.
The remainder of the company waited nervously at Nieustadt for the return of the reconnaissance parties, and squad leaders were briefed on anticipated missions by Lt McDow. About mid-morning the advance parties came back, and Able Company started to move up.
Everyone was tense and expectant as the convoys advanced, but nothing except the dull boom guns in the distance disturbed the quiet atmosphere. The first platoon moved to an orchard near St. Odilienburg and immediately dug in, but no fire missions were forthcoming. The company communications system was slow in being established and, when contact was eventually made with the company CP, the platoon was notified to join the second and third at Linne, which was three miles from their position.
Meanwhile, the second platoon under Lt William L. Sharpe had fired the first rounds in the battalion when they laid concentrations on the outskirts of Roermond which was the next objective for the 15th Cavalry.
Late in the day, all of Able Company was firmly entrenched in and around Linne and was ready to support the Cavalry's jump off at 0600.
When the 15th Squadron crossed the Roer the next morning, they found the east side of the river surprisingly free from Jerries and moved into Roermond without opposition. Shortly after the capture of Roermond, the mortars were relieved from support of the cavalry and ordered to return to the Battalion area at Waldfeucht. At 1200, Captain Westbrook and one enlisted man from each platoon selected billets near the Battalion CP, and later in the afternoon the company moved into its assigned houses.
Along with the advance parties of Able Company, Capt Esser, Lt Harvey and the platoon leaders of Baker Company proceeded to Division Artillery Headquarters where they were sent to the 310th Field Artillery Battalion CP. Colonel Satford, CO of the artillery outfit, was undecided as to what use he could make of the mortars since the front, which was merely a holding line, was comparatively inactive.
It was finally decided that Baker Company would emplace its guns in the area of the 314th Infantry. The town of Higen was chosen for the tentative positions, and the artillery survey officer led the advance party forward. He had some difficulty locating Hingen, so it was 1030 before the party selected their site. Lt Harvey immediately returned to Nieustadt, where the company was waiting, and led them to the mortar positions.
Intelligence soon informed the CP of the 314th that the Jerries were withdrawing from their bank of the river. At 1300, Col Safford notified Capt Esser not to set up in Hingen but to look over the area to the northwest. The captain immediately reconnoitered a woods near Muningsboschof, and shortly after dark the company moved into the positions he had selected.
For security's sake, the motor pool and kitchen unites were left at Hingen, but that town received a shelling during the night belying the idea that it was a rear area.
The three firing platoons dug positions in a dike and the CP moved into a portion of a house a few hundred yards ahead of the mortars. Phones were tied in to the 15th Cavalry and all preparations for firing were completed that night but, as with Able Company, there were no missions.
Lt Kilby, with PFC Bruce as radio operator, moved forward into St. Odilienburg where they selected the first OP in a church steeple of that hamlet. Nearby infantrymen had butchered a calf, but before they could exploit their handiwork they received orders to move out. Lt Kilby and PFC Bruce prudently hauled the calf back to the third platoon where it served its purpose.
At 1130 a phone call from Major Cameron ordered the company back to Battalion control at Waldfeucht. After two platoons took wrong turns and several vehicles has been stuck in the mud, the company finally assembled in some bombed out houses that the S-4 section had designated for them. Eventually, slightly better quarters were located, and the company settled down to another session of waiting.
On February 28, upon receipt of orders from the 134th Regt, Charlie Company organized a security and reconnaissance patrol to clear the town of Dohr. Lt Cartledge, together with the platoon leaders, the first sergeant and a few men entered the town, but no resistance was encountered and the patrol returned to Bergelen to prepare to move.
Rations were nil in the company since the mess truck, when ordered forward from Porcelen to Bergelen, had taken a wrong turn somewhere on the eight-mile trip and had headed for parts unknown. As a result, the platoons ate what food they could find. However, they didn't fare too badly. They foundd sufficient eggs, ham, canned cherries, cheese in toothpaste tubes, canned sardines and chicken, to appease their appetites, and there was also plenty to drink.
To this day no one has been able to trace the route of the mess truck in its ensuing three-day ramble, but it is believed to have covered most of the Ninth Army sector as well as points on the British and Canadian fronts. The driver used all his gas and filled his tank with borrowed fuel three times. For those three days the cooks kept hot coffee on the field ranges and the ingredients of a meal at their elbows in the event that they could unexpectedly run into the company in their wanderings.
By the 28th, the situation had developed into a fast moving race with the 134th Infantry right on the heels of the Jerries, pushing them all the way to the Rhine. The mortars followed the swift infantry thrusts as closely as they were able in their vehicles. They seldom set up the weapons as no support was needed by the spearhead.
Before daylight on March 2, the company moved into Kaldenkirchen. The entire Division was on the move, and the roads were so congested that the traffic was suspended at several points. The commanding general of the 35th Division had the good fortune to catch Charlie Company's vehicles lined up bumper to bumper awaiting repairs on a bridge. While Lt Cartledge feigned sleep, the general asked Sgt Willoughby some very embarrassing questions.
The mess truck finally found the company in Kaldnkirchen, and within an hour of their arrival a hot meal was served, the first the hungry men had eaten in several days. The meal was interrupted only once when a barrage of screaming meemies landed a few hundred yards from the mess truck.
From Kaldenkirchen, Charlie Company moved to Straelen. All three platoons emplaced immediately, but the third platoon was abruptly pulled out at 1400 and ordered to set up the guns in Geldern. Lt McDowell, Sgt Gillespie, Cpl Zuercher, Cpl Hayser and T/5 Rolfe contacted the infantry and the platoon was brought to within a mile of a skirmish between the U.S. tanks and strong German machine gun positions. After a reconnaissance for gun positions, the platoon moved into its designated area, but found it occupied by 81 mm mortars, so the 4.2s moved into an alternate site, a cluster of farmhouses.
The F.O. party advanced into Geldern via a footbridge which was the only available route, and while crossing they were subjected to heavy machine gun fire but everyone effected the passage successfully. Having established radio contact with the platoon, preparations were made to fire on the town but, since the exact position of friendly troops was unknown, no firing was done. After an hour of waiting, it was learned that the British 2nd Army troopers were entering Geldern from the north and linking with the 35th in the center of town.
The guns were then laid in for possible defensive fire, but there was no activity on either side during the night, and the next morning the third platoon reverted to company control at Straelen without having firing a round.
On March 3rd Capt Landback, Sgt Bynon and Sgt Melrose reconnoitered Bonningshof for possible gun positions for the coming night. During their search they ran across two Jerry paratroopers who appeared more than happy to surrender. The captors liberated a German luger from one of the prisoners, thereby gaining the distinction of taking the first pistol from a live German.
Charlie Company immediately moved into Bonningshof where they were relieved from the 134th Infantry on the following day, March 4th, and attached to the 320th which was taking over the starring role of the "Santa Fe" Division.
The pocket formed by the Canadian First Army and the U.S. Ninth was the last one west of the Rhine in the northern sector, and as it was being squeezed tightly, the resistance toughened considerably, bringing into extensive use for the first time the 4.2 mortars manned by the 89th.
At 1010 on March 5, Lt Wance fired the first platoon, through the company FDC, from positions in Oermten. The first target was enemy snipers who were holding up the infantry's advance. The first round was short, but the second hit squarely on the target and 12 more rounds neutralized the position. A few hours later the second platoon expended 45 rounds of HE in destroying an enemy strong point.
Late in the afternoon, the company moved into Kamp, a picturesque old village built around an ancient cathedral on a lone hill. The town had been badly shelled, and torn bodies of soldiers, civilians and animals cluttered the floors of many of the buildings.
Lt Feeks, battalion ammunition officer, arrived late the same evening with a number of replacements from Battalion Headquarters, and the new men spent their initial night in combat sweating out a heavy enemy barrage in a group of battered houses.
Ever tightening German resistance was making the Wesel Bridge pocket a tough nut to crack. The Jerries, in a final desperate attempt to retain their last foothold west of the Rhine, threw crack paratroopers and SS men into the bridgehead. Most of the enemy's heavy artillery had been displaced to the east side of the river, but there were still plenty of self-propelled guns, mortars and rockets left for close-in defense.
Lt Wance, while FO for the company March 7, encountered a piece of hot shrapnel that scooped the works out of this wristwatch and momentarily stunned him. Cpl Thorpe, the Lt's radio operator, continued to register the company while the former recovered from the shock of his experience. After a few minutes rest and a fresh chew of tobacco, Lt Wance was able to resume his observing.
Later in the day the same two, with the addition of Cpl Marcil, were forced to cross a heavily shelled area under fire in order to direct fire support for the attack of Baker Company of the 320th Infantry. Charlie Company laid a smoke screen that enabled the doughs to take their initial objectives, but opposition was so great that the infantry was forced to withdraw, again under cover of smoke. In spite of the terrific resistance encountered, no casualties were suffered, and that phenomenon was attributed to the success of the protective screen. For his part in the action, Lt Wance was awarded the Silver Star.
Upon the completion of the mission, the first and third platoons moved to the new positions along well-observed roads. Heavy mortar fire forced them to infiltrate into their areas, but no casualties were suffered until the following morning, when a heavy mortar shell landed between the third and fourth guns of the first platoon. Cpl Mears of the number four gun suffered eight pieces of shrapnel in the left arm, chest and stomach from the blast. Sgt Lindenlaub, the new company mess sergeant who was just then leaving the area in a jeep, was hit by a fragment, which pierced the base of his skull, wounding him seriously. Other near casualties were Sgt Willoughby who had his helmet dented by another missile and Pvt Briggs who sat in the back seat of the jeep while two pieces of hot lead slashed the canvas curtain on either side of his head. The two casualties were immediately treated by PFC Frederick O. Dail, who handled his first victims in a swift, efficient manner. They were then evacuated by Sgt Willoughby and Pvt Guacci.
All platoons fired on the town of Millingen that night. German troops were scattered when we cracked the slate roofs of their billets and WP was dropped through the apertures to finish the job. Virtually two thirds of the town was destroyed in that manner.
In the attack on Millingen, Lt Charles F. Bethea was acting as FO for the company, and was with the infantry as it braved heavy artillery fire to advance on the town, where the Germans were improving their positions. Both the mortar and artillery forward observer parties selected OP's in a convenient house, but on the way to the OP were caught in a mortar barrage. The field artillery party turned around and came back to the infantry CP, but Lt Bethea and his men sweated it out and finally reached the house. Here he found an abundance of targets, and he immediately laid down a 200-round HE barrage on prepared enemy positions, resulting in the surrender of approximately 70 German paratroopers. Despite being annoyed by its own artillery, the FO party continued to man the OP during the attack.
March 9th saw a concentration of 400 rounds laid on a wooded area concealing the enemy After the downpour ended some two hundred Jerries decided that they no longer wished to die for Der Fuhrer.
Directing and correcting fire, the third platoon set the village of Drupt aflame late that afternoon with a mixed concentration of HE and WP.
Shortly after they fired on Drupt, the same platoon expended rounds of WP in maintenance of a smoke screen to cover the flank of infantry units, which were entering the how of Holmanshof. Although extreme difficulties in emplacements were encountered, the screen was maintained for one hour. Number one and two guns were forced to go out of action five times, the number three gun four times, and the last gun once. Base plates were set on the ground, and the guns were fired until the muzzles were ten inches from ground level. Even enemy shells, which fell exceedingly close to the mortar positions, failed to break up the protective shroud through which the infantry advanced.
By March 10th, the three firing platoons of Charlie Company were nearing the Rhine, and the majority of their targets were already situated on the eastern bank of the river. Observers, from what vantage points they could find on the sparsely settled river bottom, proceeded to direct harassing fire whenever and wherever the retreating men of the Wehrmacht could be found. Various targets, such as boatloads of troops, vehicles, emplacements, moving artillery, and infantry activity, kept the mortars busily engaged.
Back at the company ammunition dump could be found many German dead who had never been searched thoroughly. The ammunition section occupied its spare time by looking for pistols, watches, binoculars and other souvenirs that might have been missed by the cursory inspection of the hurried doughs. Pvt James Allen's search led him to poke in a haystack where he unexpectedly flushed a slightly wounded Jerry soldier. Both Allen and the kraut were so frightened that they were unable to decide on the proper procedure for the capture of a prisoner, but Allen finally brought his man in.
The next day marked extensive fire by all platoons on targets of opportunity. As the company was assembling for the noon meal, the Jerry entertained them with another screaming meemie barrage, which was more noisy than dangerous.
The Wesel pocket was eliminated on the morning of March 11th and, as the 35th Division no longer needed the heavy mortars, Charlie Company dug their guns out of the dikes of the Rhine and headed back to Battalion Headquarters which was then at Bruggen, Germany.
In all of Charlie Company's action from the Roer to the Rhine, ammunition was supplied by S/Sgt McLennand and his battalion ammunition section. With his three trucks Sgt McLennand hauled the necessary ammunition from the ASP to the company dump, and often right up to the mortar positions, under complete observation and heavy shellfire from the enemy. Although the section had only been organized two months before in England and some of the replacements had not come in till after the campaign had started, it functioned smoothly and played a vital role in Charlie Company's effective support of the 134th and 320th Regiments.
After the return of Charlie Company to Bruggen, an ammunition section from Headquarters Company was dispatched to pick up the unexpended ammunition left behind near Millingen. Sgt Shull led the party, which ran into more trouble than it anticipated, and had with him T/5 Patenaude, and PFCs. Newman, Maselink, Couch, Mathews, Caloway and J. Edwards.
The men found the positions where Charlie's platoons had left the ammunition under harassing enemy fire but succeeded in loading it up and getting under way. On reaching Straelen on the return trip, however, they found that the bridge, which they had used on the forward journey, had been knocked out. Engineers pressed into action to repair the damage while the loaded ammo trucks waited nervously. At last the bridge was repaired and the detail resumed its journey back to Bruggen without further incident.
While the only active company in the Battalion was cavorting around the Rhineland in the wake of the 35th Division, Able and Baker Companies remained at Waldfeucht with Battalion Headquarters. Finding themselves among the citizens of an enemy nation for the first time, the men of the 89th were not quite sure how to act. Guards were extremely nervous and trigger fingers itchy. A man was virtually taking his life in his hands if he ventured on the street after dark.
Everyone collected their first German souvenirs when an abandoned wooden shoe factory was discovered in the town. Full of the clumsy footwear when the Battalion moved in, the factory was soon cleaned out, but no profit was realized by the stockholders. Waldfeucht was a badly shelled town and very few of the buildings were untouched, but the men curiously poked around in the ruins, uncovering nothing but still enjoying themselves.
On Sunday morning, March 4th, Col Yanka decided that the Battalion had fallen too far behind the advancing infantry, so he took an advance party consisting of the company commanders and aides, crossed the Roer at Heinsberg, and proceeded north to Venlo. At Venlo, where the colonel contacted 35th Division Headquarters, he was advised to contact Corps Headquarters at Kaldenkirchen. At Corps they were rather critical of the proposed move, but they finally consented to it in the event that an open town could be located. The colonel was warned that all towns off the main roads had not yet been cleared and that he was taking a chance by moving up.
The advance party spent the night at Kaldenkirchen and the next morning the town of Bruggen was located, eight miles away, which proved to be unoccupied. Billets were scouted and marked, and parties from each company were left to guard the area while Col Yanka and the company commanders returned to Waldfeucht to the unit.
The move to Bruggen was effected on a dreary afternoon marked by sporadic cloud bursts which dampened everyone spiritually and physically. However, dispositions brightened somewhat when the convoys reached their destinations. Bruggen was a town almost entirely untouched by the transient warfare, and in addition to the gratifying number of comfortable billets, there was a noticeable scarcity of civilian population, a fact which greatly facilitated the Battalion's foraging expeditions.
The remainder of March 5th, after the arrival at Bruggen, was spent by acquiring for the houses additional furniture, stoves, dishes, or whatever else was deemed necessary for the ultimate in comfort.
The village was a looter's paradise. The entire Battalion roamed the streets from morning till night searching every house that caught their fancy. Barracks bags were loaded with souvenirs, most of which were later discarded to make room for more valuable loot. Bicycles and motorcycles were seized, and the pedestrians were not safe in the streets. There were many unopened safes in Bruggen, and they kept many amateur crackers busy but, when the Battalion moved, the contents of the majority were still unmolested.
PFC Ronald Walker of the third platoon of Baker Company was the only casualty at Bruggen. While cleaning his carbine in his spacious billet one afternoon, Walker accidentally shot himself in the foot and had to be evacuated.
The 89th was treated to a gruesome preview of the horrors of combat when they visited the Graves Collecting Company, which was located across the road from Battalion Headquarters. The Collecting outfit, whose job it was to retrieve the dead from the battlefield, was busy from morning till night sorting their cadavers. It was most appalling to watch a truck pull up to the building and a head roll out onto the cement with a hollow, sickening thump. Spectators were all imbued with the same thought, "This might be me."
Hardly any of the Ninth Army's rations were touched when the men found an abundance of canned fruit in cellars. Tempting eatables were set with borrowed china, and banquets of fried chickens, potatoes, fruits, and vegetables were devoured.
The intriguing novelty of the banquets was that the dishes never had to be washed. After each meal the dirty china was hauled away, and clean utensils were acquired at one of the neighbors.
The 89th anticipated a long stay at Bruggen so a training schedule was soon published and all platoons simulated classes through the day. The men still managed to find time to explore the town, however.
On March 10, the battalion was assigned to the 30th Division, and they received the interesting news that they were chosen to support the Rhine River assault two weeks hence. Intricate plans had been formulated, giving the 89th a vital role to play in the affair. Orientation began, training plans were intensified, and the men began to realize that someone wasn't fooling about the whole thing.
The next day the companies were ordered to pack their equipment and/or "loot" and be ready to move back into Holland for the two week preparation. The night before the companies left Bruggen, the Battalion was relieved from the "Old Hickory" and attached to the 79th Division, which had been chosen as the other assault division for the crossing.
The convoys left their German haven shortly after daybreak the morning of the 12th and proceeded to a small Dutch village near the German border. At Nuth, quartered in the railroad station, beer halls, and private homes, the men found a comfortable, friendly community such as they had not seen since they left England.
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