Historical Highlights of the
89th Chemical Mortar Battalion
continued from page 2
On the 9th of April, with four widely separated firing companies to supply, Battalion Headquarters moved into Karnap where they stayed until April 13 when they received orders relieving the Battalion from its attachment to the 79th and attaching them to the 75th Division.
At Karnap the ammunition section released one fully loaded truck to each company. The remaining trucks were kept at battalion headquarters so that as many as five thousand rounds could be placed at any company position within an hour's notice.
The 35th Division crossed the two canals on Monday, April 8. Commencing at 2300 the previous night, the first platoon of A company fired on a woods northeast of Herne. Fire was brought to bear on the target every two hours until 0700 on the 9th when it was increased to one round per gun per minute. The barrage finally lifted at 1100. Meanwhile the second platoon moved forward to within 75 yards of the canal to increase its target area. Four jeeps and trailers and the communications section left from the new position to pick up ammunition and to establish communications with the company FDC which had remained in Recklinghausen along with the other two platoons.
In three hours the jeeps returned safely, but the communications section was pinned down till morning by machine gun fire. Several missions were fired throughout the night, although they were to no avail as the infantry was unsuccessful in several attempts to establish a toehold on the other side of the canal. The mortar positions were the target for heavy machine gun and small arms fire during these attempts.
When the crossing was again attempted, it was discovered that the enemy had withdrawn and left only a holding force, and the infantry reached the south bank without opposition. They advanced into Herne with the second platoon at their heels.
In its only mission of the day, the third platoon knocked out an enemy machine gun nest.
Early next morning, the rest of Able Company moved over the canal and into the town of Herne. The first platoon, with its new executive, Lt Chaffee, worked hard at its positions. Three of the four squads were forced to cut trees down to obtain their fields of fire. When they were finally ready to fire, Capt Westbrook issued orders for the platoon to move on south to another section of town. After moving twice during the day, the first platoon finally located south of Herne. Artillery fire was encountered on both moves but no casualties resulted.
Meanwhile the second platoon had set up in the business district of Herne and retired to spacious apartments in the rear of the gun positions. The infantry was advancing so swiftly that it was impossible to fire from these positions, so the inviting apartments were left behind and the platoon moved to the south of town.
During the day, the third platoon had moved into the northern sections of Herne so, at the end of the 10th of April, Able Company had two platoons south of the town and one north of it. The swift advances of the infantry had made supporting fire unnecessary, so part of the day had been given over to testing and trying the various modes of civilian transportation. The only other activities were care and filling of empty stomachs and a few hours sleep.
Because of lightning infantry advances, the three platoons adopted a leapfrog plan of movement the following day. One platoon emplaced and fired if necessary and, when the attack had moved forward, the other two platoons would move ahead of the one that was firing. The procedure would then be repeated as often as necessary to keep within range.
This plan of movement necessitated an FO with the infantry at all times. It was on one of these FO parties that Sgt Dave Cunniff and Sgt Gene Wittrock became disgusted with the lack of activity. They had walked 10 miles without encountering any Krauts, so they were ripe for some excitement. With the aid of German pistols (but no carbines) they determined to hunt out a German sniper who had been firing on passing vehicles. Unfortunately, the Jerry had evacuated the premises, but perhaps it was best since they discovered that only one of their German weapons was capable of firing at all.
The first platoon moved three times during the day, following in the wake of the infantry. Once, while in position north of Herbedet, they received heavy counter mortar fire. During the barrage, Pvt Michalack had a finger cut by shrapnel but he did not have to be evacuated. The platoon fired several missions throughout the day, the foremost being a successful concentration on a machine gun emplacement at 1500. They finally entrenched at Ouerenburg, 1,000 yards from the Ruhr river.
The second platoon, after moving twice, stopped at Oberstiepel. Before the mortars could be emplaced, the fleeing enemy was out of range, so new positions had to be picked. During the reconnaissance for positions, German gun emplacements were spotted and, when the mortars were set up, fire was directed on the emplacements. A factory surrounded by self-propelled weapons and housing enemy personnel was the most popular target. The fire continued for one and a half hours, setting several barracks ablaze and scattering the troops who became more confused when HE was thrown after the WP. During the action, the fourth gun had a muzzle burst, but there were no casualties and Cpl Taylor and PFC Lawrence Pennington kept firing without a break.
During the afternoon and evening the platoon received heavy counter-battery fire. When one shell came in particularly close, S/Sgt Edward Lundgren proved to be quite a proficient high jumper by clearing an SCR-300 with long antenna in one prodigious leap.
The third platoon, although it moved three times to keep abreast of the attack, did very little firing. They finally set up for the night in a farmyard in Oberstiepel where they spent the night.
PFC Nelson Boyle of the first platoon entertained himself at Owenburg by opening an impromptu shooting gallery, using some unhappy frau's china for targets. The cost of his spree was to roll a full field pack and blanket roll in 10 minutes for Lt Miller.
After a profitable trip through the rich Ruhr valley, the men were well equipped for bartering. Cameras, Lugers, and binoculars were popular items for exchange with the infantry.
The next day the first and third platoons fired on enemy artillery emplacements with much success, but the second platoon didn't take its mortars off the trailers. The company CP moved back to Herne. At 1900 Able Company was relieved from attachment to the 35th Division and returned to Battalion control. The platoons immediately moved back to Herne with the CP.
The company remained at Herne through the 12th and 13th of April. The interlude was most welcome to the tired men, and also to those who as yet hadn't collected their allotment of pistols. To fill out their supply, the company helped the British government collect weapons from the civilians. The mortar men intercepted the Germans and relieved them of their burdensome pistols, thereby saving them the trouble of delivering them to AMG headquarters. Oddly enough the British Army did not appreciate the help so willingly offered by Able Company.
The third platoon spent its free time celebrating the unexpected discovery of a store of liquor. Results of the party were rather disastrous, resulting in two casualties. When a lighted candle set the tablecloth on fire, Sgt Robert Hall inadvertently threw a can of gasoline on the flame, burning his hands severely. Later Cpl Dave "Binky" Bynum, who was having bad dreams, woke from his sleep with a start and stuck his hand through a window cutting himself. Neither was awarded the Purple Heart for his gallant action.
Lou Fricke is believed to have broken all existing records when he volunteered for 14 hours of guard without relief. Perhaps it would be well to add that he was perfectly rational at the time and not a victim of combat fatigue.
Herne was the scene of domestic troubles for the fourth squad of the third platoon. When they moved into their new home, the former owners pleaded with Pvt George Weitz, the squad interpreter, to the let him feed his chickens every evening. After some contemplation it was decided that his request was fair, and permission was granted. That evening he walked around the back yard with a heaping double handful of grain. There he was unexpectedly confronted with the horrible sight of George finishing the job of cleaning the last chicken. The old man turned slowly, threw the grain into the air and muttered, "Alles kaputt."
The boys at the company CP had an opportunity to play Good Samaritan on Friday when a displaced Russian asked for food and clothes. The men took him in, fed him, gave him a bath and clean clothes the wardrobe of the German family who owned the house. When the infuriated German owner tried to chase the Russian away he was forced to give the latter all his cigarettes.
On Saturday morning, the men were ordered to pack up their pistols, whiskey and other spoils of the campaign for the trip to Ickern where the Battalion awaited them. What was to come next was merely a matter of speculation.
After it crossed the canal, Baker Company took a more circuitous route to the Ruhr than Able Company. They followed the 313th south to Schonnebeck and all the way east to Bochum and again they continued on to the river.
The first platoon had fired its screening missions from the north side of the canal in general reserve of the 313th infantry, but when it crossed the river it was put in direct support of the third battalion. Little opposition was encountered on the 9th, and Lt Ellis and Lt Parker reconnoitered and finally moved the platoon to Kray.
The second platoon moved from Ottenkamphoff early Monday morning and registered at Schonnebeck at 0800. Lt Michaels , FO, called for the guns to register on a house in a group of farm buildings. When, after a few rounds had been fired, a direct hit resulted on the house and an old man ran out of the door with an armload of makeshift white flags. Feverishly he placed then on every building around the area so that the soldiers would be sure to see them.
During the day the platoon fired on targets of opportunity. Most gratifying results were received when a searchlight was put out of commission by a round which landed directly in the center of the pit.
By this time, the third platoon had already left Baker Company to form Task Force X.
On the 10th, the 313th moved east from Kray toward its next objective, Bochum. The first and the second platoons followed but little opposition was met and the mortars moved several times without a shot being fired. They finally set up in the outskirts of the city when the infantry ran into some resistance. The first platoon immediately fired on some railroad yards where the Jerries surrendered without any further argument.
British flame throwing tanks were seen in action in Bochum. The Germans were constantly on watch for this weapon, and as soon as they discovered it was being employed against them they surrendered.
The platoons dug in for the night and the company CP moved up in proximity to them. PFC Luther Lesher, recently of the first platoon, was detailed to stand guard at the entrance to the house, which served as headquarters. During the night Luther, who was always quick on the trigger after dark, thought he heard a noise behind him. When he whirled around he accidentally fired his M-1, but nothing except a hissing sound was noticed so Luther went back to his vigil. Repercussions occurred the next morning when Capt Esser discovered an inexplicable bullet hole in the right rear tire of his jeep.
After clearing all the area between Schonnebeck and Bochum, the 313th was pulled back to the vicinity of Essen next day where it resumed its push south to the river. The first platoon moved into position west of Bredeney and Lt Ellis, as FO, joined the commander of a heavy weapons company. The party was moving along rapidly, meeting no resistance, when the lead jeep was hit and everyone in it wounded. Small arms fire was heavy so the party quickly dispersed into a group of houses.
In the excitement, PFC Joe Luchard, radio operator for Lt Ellis, lost his hand set and they were unable to contact the platoon for support. Without the supporting fire, the infantry was pinned down and unable to move. Finally, with a borrowed handset, Lt Ellis was able to reach the company CP and Capt Esser brought a new radio to him. The forward observers then arranged a simultaneous barrage on the woods in front of them. 4.2's, 81 mm's and cannon all fired and, when the barrage lifted, the infantry advanced to the river without any further trouble.
Lt Ellis established an OP on a high bluff on the bank of the river across from Werden. A number of German soldiers working on a bridge were sighted, and surprise fire without registration on the target caused much devastation and confusion till an ack-ack gun zeroed in on the OP and it had to be evacuated. The next day it was reported that the fires started by WP had blown up an ammunition dump.
Meanwhile the second platoon moved back with the second battalion of the 313th to their assembly area at Huttrop, south to Essen. From there they moved on the town of Kettwig. Leading elements of the infantry drove the Germans across the river well before dark. However, the character of the terrain afforded Jerries excellent observation of the town and the hill beyond. Because of this it was necessary to infiltrate into positions about 300 yards away from the river. From this point they registered for defensive fire. During the night the town itself was subjected to heavy enemy fire and, although the platoon was out of range, Lt Johnson and Cpl Kaufman in the FO party spent a restless night.
Heros for the day were Cpl Easton and PFC Edmunds who uncovered some 300 quarts of cognac for consumption by the platoon.
Envy of all Baker Company in the vicinity of Bredeney was company headquarters who moved into a country estate overlooking the river. In what was probably the most successful reconnaissance of his career, Lt Hindin led a party into the town and after some debate settled on the largest estate which could be found. For the ensuing two days, the platoon was wallowing in luxury, a good share of which they carried away with them when they left.
Sgt Holt's gun in the first platoon had a field day on Thursday. Firing on a house at a range of 3,200 yards, the gun scored 14 direct hits out of 20 rounds fired. A tank destroyer was firing in the cellar window at the same time, with the result that the occupants of the house were pretty badly battered.
Although one company of the second battalion of the 313th had forced a crossing of the river during the night, they were pulled back in the morning, and it was learned that the river was not to be crossed as it was the southern boundary of the Ninth Army sector. Lt Johnson was instructed to fire at everything that he deemed a profitable target during the day, and he spent the entire time firing on buildings, gun positions and one tank, which, although out of gas, was manned and causing a lot of trouble. With the aid of the field artillery, the bothersome tank was finally disabled.
About 1500 the second platoon was ordered back into Essen when it was learned that the area was going to be defended by an airborne unit. The 313th was moving to another sector.
On April 13th, Baker Company was relieved from attachment to the 313th infantry. The company CP moved to Langendreer, a few miles from the second platoon, and Capt Esser spent the day trying to reorganize the unit. The CP remained at Langendreer that night, and the next morning all platoons commenced preparing for the move to their rest area near Ickern.
After the second platoon of Charlie Company was detached and sent to Task Force X, the remainder of the company moved forward to Stoppenberg. Both platoons displaced twice to stay within the range of the target areas, but little firing was done.
Cpl Brubaker, while accompanying FO Lt McDowell as radio operator, was slightly wounded when a sniper fired on the party. A bullet passed between his right hand and his hip, grazing his hand. He was treated by an Aid-man and continued to operate the radio.
The next morning, the 10th, Charlie Company again moved forward with the attacking elements of infantry. The first platoon registered on a point 400 yards south of the Ruhr River, and the third platoon registered on a large railroad station in the northwest section of Essen. The registration, handled by S/Sgt Gillespie and Lt Harry Mc Dow for their respective platoons, was completed at 1600.
The general mission of the 315th at that time was one of defense so the platoons provided defensive fire for the regimental front. The third platoon was assigned to destroy a large house containing enemy personnel and the resultant fire was termed very satisfactory by the infantry.
Late in the afternoon, Lt McDow and his party accompanied a reconnaissance-in-force into the eastern limits of Essen. No resistance was encountered, so the next day the regiment moved in.
To facilitate the occupation of the great city, the first and the third platoons were attached directly to the first and the second battalions of the 315th, and on Wednesday the attacking forces pushed all the way to Mulheim on the Ruhr.
There the platoons went back to company control. Registration was again conducted and a defensive fire plan set up.
During the advance that afternoon Cpl Albert Marcil performed an extraordinary life saving act in a most heroic fashion. When a WP grenade on the belt of a infantryman was ignited by a sniper's bullet, Cpl Marcil overtook the doughboy, threw him to the ground and extinguished the fire with dirt. For his action he was recommended for the bronze star.
Charlie Company stayed at Mulheim for another day, but no missions were fired. Late in the afternoon Capt Landback and Lt Cartledge discovered a buried dump of Volksstrum equipment near the company CP. The extent of the find was two pistols, 13 rifles, helmets, uniforms, armbands and ammunition.
That afternoon the 315th was ordered to occupy a new defensive position for the following morning. Accordingly, an advance party was sent into the area, then being cleared by the 35th division, to reconnoiter possible gun positions.
Lt Wance, Sgt Carson, and Cpl Thorp proceeded to the town, which had been designated for the tentative mortar positions. They were passing through a small town still five miles from their destination when they first noticed the peculiar, wondering stares that the doughboys, standing in doorways, gave them. However, nothing appeared to be wrong, and even sporadic machine gun and small arms fire did not perturb the party. Half a mile beyond the village they came upon a road block and, while looking for a way around the block, a few rounds of artillery fire dropped a hundred yards away. They quickly realized that they were in unoccupied territory with their own artillery firing in the vicinity. Two burp guns opened up and helped to chase them back to the friendly protection of the occupied town.
At 0700 the next morning the company moved to its new positions. The first platoon set up in a courtyard of a large machine shop after being harassed by snipers. One doughboy, while talking with a mortar man, was hit squarely in the forehead by a sniper's bullet. The offender was quickly taken care of.
The town was heavily shelled that morning and the platoons did no firing themselves till late afternoon, when they fired on targets of opportunity. At dusk, their positions received a 30-minute barrage followed by flat trajectory fire, which harassed them for the remainder of the night.
On Saturday, Charlie company learned of its detachment from the 315th infantry, and orders to return to Battalion control. They moved from their CP at Haarl by motor convoy and arrived at Ickern that afternoon.
Thus, on the 14th of April, after three weeks of individual and diverse assignments from the west bank of the Rhine river to the southern boundary of the Ninth Army on the Ruhr, the companies of the Battalion were assembled at Ickern, Germany with the 75th Division. What awaited the mortars at Ickern and beyond no man could guess, but whatever it was, the men could be reasonably sure that it would be anti-climatic to the Rhine-Ruhr campaign.
Neither were the campaign and its sensational results without notice from higher headquarters. Several days after the 89th had left on its mission into the heart of Germany, SHAEF [Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force] issued the following order of the day.
21 April 1945
SUBJECT: Order of the Day
TO: See Distribution
The following order of the day issued by the Supreme Commander is to be delivered to every member of all headquarters and units under your command:
"TO EVERY MEMBER OF THE AEF:
"THE BATTLE OF THE RUHR HAS ENDED WITH COMPLETE SUCCESS! FOLLOWING HARD UPON THE FINAL DESTRUCTION OF THE GERMAN FORCES WEST OF THE RHINE, THE 21ST ARMY GROUP THRUST POWERFULLY ACROSS THAT RIVER WITH THE US NINTH ARMY UNDER ITS COMMAND! SIMULTANEOUSLY, RAPID DRIVES ACROSS THE RHINE AND FROM THE REMEGAN BRIDGEHEAD BY TWELFTH AND SIXTH ARMY GROUPS PROVIDED THE SOUTHERN ARM OF A GREAT DOUBLE ENVELOPMENT WHICH COMPLETELY ENCIRCLED THE ENTIRE GERMAN ARMY GROUP 'B' AND TWO CORPS OF ARMY GROUP ‘H' WHOSE MOBILITY WAS RENDERED ALMOST ZERO BY OUR MAGNIFICENT AND TIRELESS AIR FORCES! THEREAFTER, IN THE POCKET THUS CREATED, THE TWELFTH ARMY GROUP ELIMINATED TWENTY-ONE ENEMY DIVISIONS, INCLUDING THREE PANZER, ONE PANZER GRENADIER, AND THREE PARACHUTE DIVISIONS! OVER 317,000 PRISONERS OF WAR WERE CAPTURED INCLUDING TWENTY-FOUR GENERALS AND ONE ADMIRAL! MANY TANKS AND MORE THAN 750 GUNS WERE DESTROYED OR TAKEN! BOOTY IS IMMENSE AND STILL BEING COUNTED! THE ENEMIES TOTAL LOSSES IN KILLED AND WOUNDED WILL NEVER BE ACCURATELY KNOWN!
"THE RAPIDITY AND DETERMINATION WITH WHICH THIS BRILLIANT ACTION WAS EXECUTED TORE ASSUNDER THE DEFENSES (?) OF FIELD MARSHAL MODEL, AND ENABLED ALL ARMY GROUPS WITHOUT PAUSE TO CONTINUE THEIR DRIVE EASTWARD INTO THE HEART OF GERMANY!
"THIS VICTORY OF THE ALLIED FORCES IS A FITTING PRELUDE TO THE FINAL BATTLES TO CRUSH THE RAGGED REMNANTS OF HITLER'S ARMIES OF THE WEST, NOW TOTTERING ON THE THRESHHOLD OF DEFEAT.
"(SIGNED) DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER" 20 April 1945.
By command of Lieutenant General Simpson:
JOHN B. WILLIAMS (SIGNED)
John B. Williams,
Lt Col., AGD,
Asst. Adjutant General
"A" & "D"
Chapter 7 - To the Elbe
As the 89th re-assembled at Ickern, the tide of battle had carried hundreds of miles past the Ruhr, and even now the American Armies were perched on the banks of the Elbe, striving to establish contact with the Russians approaching from the other direction. The need for chemical mortar battalions seemed to have ended, and the men of the 89th began to resign themselves to the prospect of policing chemical factories in the area soon to be governed by the 75th Division.
But meantime, while waiting for higher headquarters to make up their minds, the now battle-hardened troops began to live as human beings once more. Three hot meals a day, mail every day, movies every night, hot and cold showers as the temperament of the "decon truck" went, radios which picked up everything from "Duffy's Tavern" to "Radio Luxembourg" and, above all, sleep and plenty of it, were the order of the day, every day. Though Ickern showed all of the effects of aerial and ground warfare, still there were enough areas left intact to provide comfortable living quarters for all the companies, in addition to divisional units.
The men went about the tiresome but necessary tasks of cleaning and repairing vehicles, weapons, mortars, and weary minds and bodies in a manner which showed that they had passed through their first weeks of combat and come out as veterans. As the days passed, some even found the additional energy for softball, hikes and curiosity hunting.
All good things must come to an end, and so passed this interlude. At 1900 on 18 April, just as the companies were getting their evening parties into full swing, the company commanders were summoned to the Battalion CP and given orders for a move halfway across Germany that would bring the 89th back into combat in support of the 84th Division in the vicinity of Madgeburg.
Company advance parties were ordered to leave early the next morning, with the battalion following six hours behind, for Arendsee, near the Elbe, the destination. The orders caught the Battalion with its pant trailing its knees, and the mad scramble to prepare for immediate movement was but the preview for another of the Army's editions of "hurry up and wait." For that is exactly what happened.
The advance party, however, got off on schedule, under the command of Major Cameron and including all of the company commanders. Steady traveling in beautiful weather carried them the whole way in a single day, breezing along unconcernedly within a few miles of the raiding parties that threatened to cut off the Ninth Army supply lines. As darkness fell, the abbreviated convoy pulled in to Arendsee to find Capt Krizek waiting with orders canceling the assignments to the 84th Division and assigning the battalion to the 29th Division for a new mission 100 miles back along the route just traveled. Since travel that night back along roads partially in German hands was out of the question, the party settled down for the night near Arendsee.
To this day, it is a wonder to the men on that advance party, plus Major Lentz and Capt Krizek, how they managed to come through on April 19-20 without running smack into a Jerry raiding party. Though succeeding days cleared up the situation for them, on the two days mentioned these groups traveled merrily through dozens of towns and villages under the impression that they were in American hands, although they had not been under American control for three days. On the trip up to Arendsee the men and officers casually wondered why units in the larger towns were setting up a perimeter defense, never realizing that the countryside was not safe for lonely travel.
On the morning after the night spent in Arendsee, the town was attacked by Jerry fighter planes, but the men of the 89th were, for the most part, being quickly awakened when the attack had passed over. Throughout the morning of the 20th on the way back to join the Battalion, the advance party drove along the MLR in as innocent and naïve a fashion as one could imagine, without drawing one single warning. Small wonder that it seemed like a screwy war.
What had actually happened was this: in the drive for the Elbe, the American Ninth Army had outstripped the British so that now the left flank of the XIII Corps was exposed to attack from many small units of the German Army not yet engaged. Organized into raiding parties, the Germans were cutting out supply trains, burning the trucks, and threatening the existence of the entire supply and communication system. To erase this threat, the 29th Division was brought up from the rear and given the mission of clearing the left flank to the Elbe, while the British finished the job in the north.
While the advance party merrily retraced its steps next morning through towns "held by the enemy", the Battalion was on the move. After departing from Ickern on the afternoon of the 19th, the Battalion had billeted for the night at Buckenberg. On the move once again the next morning, the leading elements got no father than Netze before they were sidetracked and whisked off to respective regiments in the 29th for duty as follows:
Able Co. attached to 115th Inf. Regt.
Baker Co. attached to 116th Inf. Regt.
Charlie Co. attached to 175th Inf. Regt.
An interesting sidelight on the confusion resulting from the changed assignment is the following:
A Headquarters company truck, loaded with men returning from passes to Paris, was met at Ickern by T/Sgt La Rouche, who had orders to bring the men up to the CP, which was to have been established at Arendsee. The party included a majority of Headquarters wire section, as well as S/Sgt Ransom and T/4 Allen of the medical detachment.
On their way to Ardensee, they were greeted by numerous cheers and greetings, such as "Hurray for the Infantry". Nearing their arrival at Arendsee, A German ME 109 came down set to kill, but ack-ack fire from American anti-craft batteries in the fields nearby frightened the Jerry pilot and he withdrew.
Upon reporting to an infantry colonel from the 84th Division, La Rouche and his men were ordered to stay there for the night and remain under cover as enemy snipers were prevalent. Three of the towns through which they had passed were termed "in enemy hands". On the following morning the truck made its way to XIII Corps Headquarters and received instructions on how to rejoin the 89th.
Able and Baker Companies, meanwhile, took off behind their regiments in a mad dash for the Elbe in which little time was found to set up the guns, much less to fire. No organized opposition of any sort was encountered until the infantry got almost within sight of the river. Charlie Company settled down for target practice during the same period, on pockets which had been isolated and surrounded.
Able Company joined the 115th of Nettlekamp on the afternoon of the 20th, and moved into action on the following day. In their approach to the town of Godderstadt, the infantry had been stopped and the mortars were called upon to give supporting fire. Lt Miller headed a forward observation party, including Sgt Straub, PFC Boyles, and PFC Leo Brown, which accompanied the infantry and called for targets, which knocked out the opposition and enabled the regiment to take the town by 1900.
On the 22nd, the first and second platoons remained in reserve at Godderstadt and, though ordered to move forward, stayed there all day because the proposed new locations were so crowded with troops.
Early that morning, the third platoon was assigned to support the TD's of the second battalion. For a time the infantry was pinned down but later moved forward without opposition and without calling on the mortars.
During the day, T/5 McCall and PFC Rickards went on a house-searching tour and flushed out a civilian who claimed to an American with treatment as such. He had been a tobacconist in Hamburg, leaving hurriedly after the air raids, but he was professedly so happy to see the American soldiers that he showered them with gifts of cigarette lighters, cigars and pipes.
During the next two days, Able moved often to Brasche, to Zernier, to Street. On the 24th, the infantry borrowed the use of the company's jeeps to speed the advance to the Elbe. Nothing of interest happened save in the first platoon where Lt Miller accompanied his drivers and vehicles along with the infantry. Anti-tank mines became more and more numerous, and on one occasion the platoon became lost and had to retrace its route, which revealed that mines had blown up a British vehicle on the same road they has just covered.
The town of Street was about two mils from the Elbe, and the whole area was quiet while Able occupied it. Chief among the daily duties were foraging trips to a binocular factory nearby for souvenirs.
After catching up with regimental headquarters at Hankensbuttel on the 20th, Baker Company began touring the high roads and byroads. While the first and third platoons followed closely behind their respective battalions, the second platoon and company headquarters followed at a distance in reserve. Practically no opposition was encountered for three days and only once was a platoon required to set up its guns.
Large numbers of displaced Russians and Poles were liberated from the surrounding farms as the Yanks advanced, and the third platoon and company headquarters acted the Good Samaritan two times each in as many days with T/5 Arthur Chwalek and Pvt James Markin providing the linguistic know-how to uncover the evidence on the mistreatment of the Allied civilians. On one occasion the third platoon had to use force to stop a riot.
On April 21, the 5th Armored Division sent a task force across the front of the 116th Regiment that crushed German resistance from Salzwedel to Elbe, and the final day of advance to the Elbe consisted of mopping up Jerries left behind by the tankers. On the evening of the 23rd, the regiment was about five miles from the river, just south of the woods known to be full of stragglers. The second battalion, to which the third platoon of Baker was attached, established a perimeter defense two miles in advance of the rest of the regiment, around a crossroad which had been the scene of bitter fighting the day before. Buildings were still burning and dead GI's and Jerries still lay around. In occupying the position, the third platoon took several prisoners and had to fire on stragglers who occasionally advanced from the woods.
The Company CP at the same time was at Weische, and at 2200 that night a message reached Capt Esser calling for ten men and three officers to be at Bn Hq at 0600 the next morning for a pass to Paris. Not content to let a few Germans knock anyone out of a Paris trip, the Captain, Lt Harvey, PFC Harig, and Pvt Marking ventured forth to contact the third platoon. Lick was with them and they brought Lt Kilby, Sgt John Paki, and T/5 John Dickenson back with them three hours later. A similar expedition routed Lt Johnson out of bed at 0200, and he with Sgt James Murray and PFC Ernest Kestner joined the group, which rendezvoused at Luchow and began the long 500-mile journey back into Belgium to catch the pass train.
Next morning the second platoon, which was now committed with the third battalion, was wending its way through artillery fire and over poor roads when their ton and a half truck, overloaded with ammunition and supplies, bogged down in a mud hole. It was necessary to unload the truck and then, only by using a winch was it possible to get the vehicle rolling again.
Baker Company added 19 prisoners to its total when the first platoon bagged that number the next morning. During the day, all of the platoons moved to the vicinity of Breese, near the river, but only the third platoon fired a mission.
On March 25, all of the platoons of Baker Company fired missions, which were to be the final ones by the Battalion in combat, though several platoons fired registration rounds in the Elbe crossing. The first platoon pinned down a number of Jerries and forced them to scuttle their ammunition and vehicles and to surrender. The second platoon was ordered to fire into Laase, a little town on the southwest back of the river, and Sgt Fred Chamberlain's squad did a solo job on the mission. The 60 rounds fired destroyed several houses and started fires, and drew especial commendation because it enabled the infantry to capture the town with 200 prisoners and 10 machine guns without serious casualties. The third platoon fired one harassing mission.
While Baker and Able Companies were occupied with the frenzied dash to the river, Charlie Company fought the war in style. Initially, the 175th Infantry was not committed so the company joined the regiment in its assembly area at Kakerbeck, where Lt Cartledge has remarked that the company went from the best residential areas in a city one night to the cold wet woods in Kakerbeck the next, not a pleasant comparison.
On the following day the infantry cleared out a woods occupied by 400 Wehrmacht and SS troopers from the Von Clausewitz defense group. 120 rounds of HE was the only preparatory fire used by the regiment and this was fired by the third platoon of Charlie. Later the second came along to help put 42 more rounds of HE into the woods in direct support of the advance. The remainder of the company stayed in reserve. By 1900 the woods were cleared and all of the units moved into the city of Klotze for the night.
The 22nd and 23rd brought no missions for the company, which enjoyed the comparative luxury of the Corps' Headquarters town. On the 23rd, convoys of mortar men were taken by Capt Landback to Gardelegen to see first hand the results of the atrocity committed by the SS, in which hundreds of innocent political prisoners had been locked in a barn which was then saturated with gasoline and set on fire. Late that afternoon reconnaissance parties left to select mortar positions from which an attack to clear another patch of woods could be supported.
East and west of Mellen a pocket of Germans was entrenched in woods, and into those woods the first and second platoons poured 550 rounds of HE as preparation for the attack. H-Hour was delayed to allow a public address system vehicle offer the enemy a chance to surrender after the heavy barrage, but the psychological maneuver received negative results. The third platoon, which had been held in reserve, came up to support the other two at 1200, soon after which the infantry jumped off. During the advance, HE and WP were fired ahead of advancing companies and the woods were successfully cleared.
Next day the company moved into position to fire on a 15-mile square area in the Forest Knesebeck, a woods south of Wittingen. At the last minute, however, the regimental commander cancelled the firing because the S-2 could not positively identify troops in the target area, which were suspected to be friendly. In mid-afternoon the mission was cancelled and the platoons moved to Grussendorf.
When Cartwheel had originally been attached to the 29th on April 20th, the Battalion CP was temporarily set up at Uetze, but on the next day it moved to Wieren. From here it dispatched two ammunition trucks to Charlie Company that took nine hours to make the trip because of necessary detours around enemy-controlled points.
Until April 24, the CP remained at Wieren, while the staff members made daily trips in order to keep track of the companies. On that date a move was made to Wustrow. By midnight on the 25th, all fighting south of the Elbe had ceased and troops were scattered to military police duties, with the 89th moving to an area around Klenze, under the control of the 747th Tank Battalion. Able Company went to Leiftz, Baker to Krote, and Charlie to Gaddau. Each company was given motor patrol duties on the main supply route.
Since the Elbe River was rumored to be the international boundary, most of the men believed that the last combat mission had been completed and that the war was over for the 89th in Europe. This was a natural opinion to hold, even though it was to be rudely changed.
In the first few days of duty, recreational programs were set up by the companies The showers at Battalion CP went into high gear and the troops once more began to relax a bit. On the 29th, one change took place which assigned to Able Company the job of policing a chemical plant in the 115th Regimental area. Red Cross mobile canteens made their appearance at Cartwheel CP, and the men enjoyed coffee, doughnuts, and American music from American girls.
This time spent in the vicinity of Klenze was the only military government duty performed by the Battalion during their entire stay in Germany. However, it was not to last long, for on April 29 orders were received that was to send the mortar men to witness the final drama of victory in Europe.
Chapter 8 - Victory
Suddenly, on the 29th of April, when everyone in the Battalion was anticipating a long siege of occupation, an emergency meeting of company commanders was called at Battalion headquarters in Klenze. Cartwheel had received orders relieving it from XIII Corps and attaching it to XVIII Corps (Airborne), which at that time had become an integral part of the British Second Army just north of the U.S. Ninth.
The mission of the Second Army was to cross the Elbe south of Hamburg and contact the Russians at Wismar on the Baltic Sea, at the same time cutting off all German troops in Denmark. The operation was designed to be one of the final pushes to bring about the capitulation of the enemy.
Immediately after the staff meeting, company commanders organized billeting parties and proceeded to Uelzen, Germany, where Major Lentz met them and gave them further information about the deployment of their units.
XVIII Corps had decided to attach Able Company to the 504th Infantry of the 82nd Airborne Division, and Baker and Charlie companies were sent to a veteran regular army Division , the Eighth (Arrowhead). The former company was attached to the 28th Infantry, and the latter to the 121st.
Each unit was assigned to billeting areas and, after securing shelter for their companies, the commanders returned to Klenze to prepare for the move. Early on the morning of the 30th, Headquarters, Baker and Charlie companies moved out of their AMG posts and headed for their assigned destinations. Battalion Headquarters moved to Seedorf, Germany, where they set up an efficient communication system with existing commercial lines. Baker company moved to the town of Boddenstedt, in proximity of the CP of the 28th Infantry, and Charlie company moved to the 121st Regimental area at Poitzen.
But poor, unfortunate Able Company was not allowed a minute of preparation before it was pushed into the front lines again. Through a cold night of rain and snow the company drove to positions near Bleckede, Germany where it arrived at the beginning of the crossing of the 82nd. Artillery fire and frequent strafing made it impossible for the second platoon to move its vehicles up to their positions, and the men were forced to go in on foot.
An FO party consisting of Lt Miller, Lt Sharpe, S/Sgt Haecker, Cpl Humphrey, Cpl Mokscay and Cpl Ward proceeded to contact the forward elements of the assaulting infantry. While waiting for transportation across the Elbe by a British operated "Buffalo," several rounds of enemy artillery came in at their loading site, resulting in the instant death of Cpl Humphrey and injuries to Lt Miller, Sgt Haecker and Cpl Ward; Haecker and Ward were evacuated to the hospital.
A new FO party crossed the river, but the infantry did not request the use of the mortars, and the company remained on the west bank awaiting further orders. Heavy artillery fire was encountered all day, so heavy that the ammunition section attached to the company later stated that this was their toughest spot during combat.
On May 1, Able Company crossed the river. On the other side, many mines were uncovered, some containing as high as 15 lbs of high explosive. These mechanisms were so potent that even large trucks and tanks were thrown some distance by the concussion.
Once the bridgehead had been expanded to facilitate movement, the opposition became negligible, and the men didn't have to unload the mortars all day. Evening found the first platoon at Heidorf and the remainder of the company at Eldine.
Baker Company crossed the Elbe near Hintelhagen and moved into a soggy marshy field near 28th Infantry headquarters on May 1. The night, a cold rainy one, was the first the company had spent in the open since the Rhine crossing, but the men made the most of several large straw stacks in the vicinity, and everyone spent a comfortable night.
Early the following morning the platoons lined up behind their respective infantry battalions, and waited for word to move out. Good roads were few in the bridgehead, and traffic was stalled, sometimes for an hour or more. Vehicles were lined up bumper to bumper for miles with columns of infantry in the middle of the road. The set would have been the Luftwaffe's delight, but their planes were unavoidably grounded.
After a few hours of confusion and congregation, the columns began to fan out and advance. Tank riding doughboys of the 121st had dashed through the area early, and no Krauts were uncovered by the 28th. Eventually, too tired of walking, and loading on every semblance of a vehicle, they advanced swiftly for the remainder of the day. When they finally pulled up for the night, the regiment had cleared half the distance to the Elbe. The infantry CP was set up, and Baker company headquarters dropped off at Sandkrug where they could supply their platoons located in nearby towns.
After a long blackout drive, Charlie company crossed the river at 0130 May 1. Like Baker Company, the unit could find no shelter in the sparsely settled farm land and they too slept out for the remainder of the night. A little flat trajectory fire was encountered during the night but no damage was done.
Early in the morning the mortars were emplaced for the infantry's jump off, but there was nothing to shoot so the company packed up again and followed the 121st doughs. At Rugensee, the regiment was ordered to spearhead the right flank drive of the Second Army to the Baltic, and the tank-riding doughboys got as far as Schwerin before they contacted the Russian horde.
Shortly before it stopped, the convoy was harassed by a Stuka dive bomber who came in low apparently expecting no trouble. He was, no doubt, thoroughly surprised because machine guns all along the column opened up and he was shot down almost immediately. Sgt Melrose contributed his share of the fire from the .50 caliber gun on the communications truck.
A gasoline shortage threatened to force some vehicles to a stop during the spearhead advance, but when each can in the company was squeezed dry, there proved to be enough to keep everyone moving.
All companies were catching a night's rest, and preparing to move on, when there began the unforgettable surrender en masse of the proud and highly vaunted German army. The following three days will constitute one of the most amazing pages in history, and they will long live in the minds of every American soldier who was fortunate enough to witness the drama. For days the roads were filled with jostling, interminable columns of broken, beaten, but inexplicably happy German soldiers. They came in every form of conveyance; tractors, trucks, half-tracks, civilian automobiles, horse drawn wagons; and those that couldn't crowd onto one of the vehicles, trod perseveringly along the side of the road.
But there were more than German soldiers in the surrender column. The hausfraus and the whole family rode along in the back of the wagons, swinging their legs gaily over the sides; and when a halt was called for a meal, they would produce a few scrubby pots and search for food to beg, borrow, or steal.
For the less fortunate single soldiers, Herr Hitler had evidently provided patriotic frauleins as companions and, although the allotment was slim, everyone concerned seemed to be quite contented with the arrangement.
After the first influx of soldiers had subsided, the entire civilian population of Northern Germany attempted to solicit the protection of the American armies. Fleeing from fabled Russian oppression, the innocent Krauts immediately accepted the GIs as bosom buddies and wanted to know when the Yanks were going to fight the Russians. They were all anxious to help.
Every mortar man increased his store of wealth (at the expenses of the German army's ordnance corps) during the surrender. GIs lined the roads, accepting tokens of surrender, watches, binoculars, cameras, pistols, and any insignificant souvenirs that the Jerries were unwilling to part with. When the excitement was over, everyone had an assortment of pistols that would drive most collectors mad.
Ben Cothern, of the first platoon of Able Compan,y looked like a one-man jewelry shop, but despite the aid of his numerous timepieces, he had considerable trouble being at the right place at the proper time.
Shortly after the surrender began, Battalion headquarters crossed the river and located at Hagenow near the Corps CP. The personnel were somewhat perturbed to find that they were a little too far in the rear to collect any weapons from the Germans. There were numerous trips to the forward area, but they produced few pistols, and most of the headquarters souvenirs had to be donated by friends in the line companies.
For the men that were able to see it, Ludwigslust prison camp was a gruesome and poignant record of what the armies were struggling to eradicate in the three and a half long years of war against Nazism. Who could forget the sickening odor emanating from the freshly opened mass graves as bodies of political and military prisoners of all nationalities were uncovered by reluctant German civilians? Who could forget the appalling sight of emaciated, weakened internees lying helplessly on their dirt pallets beside their neighbors who had died, perhaps within the last hour, of utter starvation? Words would never be sufficient to describe the horrible picture, and every man that saw it fervently wished he could take the complete perspective with him to show to the unbelievers.
Immediately after the surrender began, Able and Baker companies were assigned to police details with their particular regiments. Able company helped the 504 Infantry clear away and destroy all enemy equipment in their area, and Baker Company operated infantry outposts for the control of military and civilian traffic.
Charlie Company, located in a group of farmhouses between Wismar and Schwerin, was assigned to the task of guarding prisoners, as numerous cages containing several thousand Jerries had to be kept under constant surveillance. After a few days of rural life, the company moved into Schwerin where they could continue their work in a more pleasant atmosphere. There was even the rare privilege of electricity, and those who didn't have radios soon acquired them while the luxury lasted.
May 9th, 1945, was declared V-E Day by President Truman, but it was an anti-climax for the troops north of the Elbe. Their excitement was over by that time, and their only concern was who was slated for the Pacific first. The question of direct passage or routing through the states was on everybody's tongue.
General Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander, generously allotted all troops champagne, wine, and cognac for the celebration of the victory. Although there was hardly enough for each man to wet his throat, it was still a pleasant wetting.
When two Russian soldiers infiltrated across the international boundary, they were well entertained by members of the first platoon of Able Company. PFC Zollo, for his exciting floorshow, was rewarded by two Russians who showered him with kisses throughout the party.
As suddenly as the order for attachment had come, so came the detachment papers. The Battalion was given a few hours to wind up their activities in the Corps area before it began its movement back across the Elbe to the XIII Corps.
Chapter 9 - Home Again
Two days after the official V-E Day, while the western world was still celebrating its freedom from oppression, the 89th left Hagenow on what proved to be the first leg of its long journey back to the land it had left five months before. By platoon serials, the companies moved out of the Baltic parts to the vicinity of Gardelegen where they were to be attached to the 102nd Division.
However, as each serial arrived at Gardelegen, the commander was notified of a change in orders and told to proceed to a small town by the name of Bortfeld, 9 miles from Ninth Army Headquarters at Braunschweig. The convoy, after a hot tortuous afternoon of riding, and a number of wrong turns in the route, finally arrived at Bortfeld late in the day.
Houses and beds were difficult to find in the village, and the advance parties had barely secured billets for their companies when the men arrived. Some of the platoons were crowded up in small houses with an insufficient number of beds, but additional houses were acquired the next morning, making the living conditions more pleasant.
Signs of imminent overseas shipment were manifest the first Sunday at Bortfeld when the enlisted personnel were subjected to a rugged POM physical examination. Oddly enough, it was the first overseas physical that everyone wanted to pass; they were sure the next sea voyage would be in the right direction.
At Bortfeld the battalion was again attached to the XIII Corps and on the 15th of May, as everyone had suspected, the 89th was alerted for shipment within 30 days. To make the men feel closer to home and garrison life, a training schedule was made up commencing with reveille at 0645. The schedule was a very liberal one, emphasizing athletics and training films. Softball and volleyball leagues were organized, and each platoon was instructed to have a team for each sport. Although many interesting contests were played, the results of the leagues were never published so no one knew how they stood.
The sport that captured and held the interest of the Battalion was the formation of the Cartwheel Softball League. Consisting of teams representing each of the four companies, the league sponsored a scheduled game every evening during the week. Many stars were uncovered in the games, with the result that team managers built up four well functioning combinations that held the athletic attention of the Battalion for the duration of its stay in Germany.
An All-Star battalion team composed of the leading players from the four company teams played one doubleheader away from home while at Bortfeld. Journeying to play the 3rd Separate Battalion, the Cartwheel boys were walloped 10-2 in the first game, but managed to eke out a 2-1 margin in the second contest which was called at the end of five innings.
More POM qualifications were fulfilled. The Battalion underwent a dental survey and attention was given to those who needed it. A rifle range was constructed a few miles from town and the companies expended their excess ammunition at ranges of 100, 200, and 300 yards.
The town theater was taken over by the Battalion and many of the latest films were shown to the men. The theater ran two shows a night except when the schedule was interrupted by mechanical or electrical disturbances.
A canal a few blocks from Charlie Company's area on the edge of town furnished the men with a wartime version of the old swimming hole. They were allowed to go in small groups with a non com in charge. Although the majority enjoyed swimming in the cold, invigorating water, a few apparently went to take sunbaths. Perhaps the sun addicts were drawn by the scenery, which was gracefully augmented by a good percentage of the town's female population.
At Bortfeld, the pass situation took a sharp turn for the better. Allotments were increased considerably and partial payments were drawn for the benefit of those in financial distress. Groups were sent to Paris, Brussels, and the Heerlen Rest Center for three days, but the coveted vacation which came to only a few was the seven day furlough at the French Riviera, the GIs European playground.
Vehicles were given a thorough overhauling in the two weeks the Battalion was at Bortfeld. After being cleaned and reprocessed, they were all repainted and stenciled. However, the German vehicles which had been acquired in its travels were lost to the Battalion. They were hauled away to Ordnance, and many a tear was shed as the convoy composed of 21 vehicles of all descriptions moved out of sight.
Before going ahead to re-supply the Battalion for its return trip across the continent and home, the S-4 section, under Capt Murray, took stock of its operations during the campaign and came up with some interesting facts.
While on the continent, the Battalion vehicles were driven an approximate total of 631,000 miles. The headquarters mechanics, under M/Sgt Louis Goldstein, repaired 50 to 60 punctures daily, of which 15 to 20 required replacement, and also proved to be prime procurers of priority equipment, for scarce hot patches were plentiful in the 89th. Worthy of note, also, is the luxurious fittings of the Motor Pool wrecker, which had undoubtedly the fanciest traveling living quarters in the Battalion.
Supply in the Battalion was a business of dealing often from several hundred miles behind the front with rear area Corps and Army dumps to front line distribution, repair and issue of food, equipment, fuels, clothing, ammunition, and the thousand other needs of a combat unit. Aside from the superior job of ammunition supply handled under Lt Feeks and his ammunition sections, one of the most striking features of supply was the speed with which damaged mortar parts were replaced. During just two days at the Rhine, A and B Companies burned out nine barrels and drew immediate replacements. Following is a table showing the replacement and repair from each of the three companies during combat.
Mortar item Co A Co B Co C Mortar, 4.2 inch, complete 4 6 3 Barrel, complete 13 5 6 Baseplate, complete 4 4 7 Standard, complete 8 2 2 Screw, elevating 3 6 7 Fork-barrel, locking 11 17 22 Sight, 4.2 inch Mortar 1 1 1 Stakes, aiming 1 19 0 Light device, aiming post 1 4 0
In the ammunition line, a grand total 50,079 rounds of ammunition were fired by the three companies in a little over two months of combat, with Able Company being credited with a little over half of the total as a result of the screen fired on the crossing of the Rhine.
The only casualty of the Battalion at Bortfeld was PFC Schaeffer of Baker Company's second platoon when he was accidentally shot in the leg with a carbine. First wounded during the preparatory firing across the Rhine, Schaeffer was soon tagged as the "Lead Man." After a few days in the hospital he returned to the company with a slight limp.
The tragic case of Baker Company's ball diamond is also worthy of note. The third platoon worked tirelessly to produce a ball diamond from a cow pasture. Sod was removed for the infield, the ground was graded and rolled and rolled and rolled, with the acquisition and operation of the 10-ton roller creating a story in itself. When the ex-pasture was finally ready to become the scene of historic diamond conquests, the Battalion moved, leaving the stadium to the cows and the British.
Everyone had become well situated in Bortfeld when word came down from the powers that the 89th would move again. Scheduled passes were immediately cancelled and everything was prepared to leave within 48 hours. It was announced that the Battalion would move on the 28th of May. On Monday morning, the vehicles were cranked up and headed south in the general direction of Frankfurt on the Main.
The 180-mile journey southwest from Braunschweig was made at such a fast clip that the majority of the Battalion's photographers didn't have time to get many shots of the beautiful scenery through which the convoy passed.
Hot and dusty from their long trip, the last miles of which had been on a dirt road, the convoy arrived late in the afternoon at a group of woods in an abandoned Luftwaffe airfield outside of the town of Nidda, 12 miles from Freidburg.
Although everyone admitted that their luck had been extraordinary thus far, they had still hoped for something better than the hard ground for a bed. However, they were soon cautioned that it was only through good fortune and fast-talking that they would be allowed the shelter of the woods. Two battalions nearby were lining up their tents in the open field where the hot sun beat down on them without mercy.
After parking the vehicles in the semblance of a Battalion formation, the men moved into their allotted areas. Impervious to the piles of German bombs that dotted the woods, they pitched their little used tents and cooked 10-in-1 rations over makeshift fires.
The next morning came the big picture. The unit was attached to the XIX Corps. At Nidda, it was to be processed for redeployment to the States, which procedure would take anywhere from 15 to 21 days depending on the cooperation of the men. Naturally, everyone was more than willing to assist.
Everyone soon became accustomed to living in the field again. The areas were cleared of brush and undergrowth, and everywhere the manifestations of camp handiwork, complicated huts, clothes racks and wash stands sprung up.
The training schedule was still followed at Nidda although most of the time was devoted to the care of equipment in anticipation for the forthcoming Inspector General's inspection.
With the aid of a friendly bulldozer, areas were cleared for another softball field and volleyball court for each company. Platoon games were again scheduled for the afternoon, but interest in the Cartwheel League games flourished and occupied the attention of the sports fans.
Competition became stiffer when Battalion Headquarters, the weak sister of the league, suddenly acquired a speedball hurler in a group of replacements. Behind the superb twirling of Pvt Roger L. Satwell, Headquarters quickly vacated the cellar position and climbed to the top. As the season progressed, more and more rabid fans were drawn to the contests, and more and more money exchanged hands as team advocates backed their favorites with cold cash.
The betting fever reached its peak at the final contest between Headquarters and Baker Companies. After seven innings of thrill packed ball, Headquarters emerged the victor, 8-7, PFC Geller, who held the money for Baker Company backers, turned over approximately $150 at the end of the contest.
Final standings of the Cartwheel League were as follows:
Company Won Lost Hdqrs 5 4 Baker 5 4 Able 4 5 Charlie 4 5
Twice a day, those who wished were hauled into Nidda to swim. At the modern cement pool the men swam, dived, acquired suntans and played volleyball. A town hall next to the pool served as a theater for the several battalions in the vicinity. Pictures were shown twice nightly to capacity crowds.
One of the favorite activities at Nidda was the trip to the mineral baths at Bad Nauheim. On these trips the men took fresh water and salt baths at a resort, swam in Bad Nauheim's swimming pool, and played tennis or loafed at the Red Cross. The trips commenced as four-hour affairs in the mornings, but gradually the time was advanced till they were all-day trips.
A few miles north of Bad Nauheim was a mountain retreat known as Hitler's Hideout. An underground network of passages and rooms that finally emerged into what had once been a luxurious hunting lodge, the hideout was a disappointment to most of the men since it had been stripped of all its furnishings and anything that might be construed as a souvenir, and there was nothing to see but the bare walls.
Company cooks lost their buddies when they were ordered to send their permanent KP's home from Nidda. The helpers, Belgians and French who had been picked up a month previously, had been offering their services in exchange for transportation back to their own countries.
All ammunition, excess weapons, overcoats, and other items of equipment were turned into supply sergeants at Nidda. In addition to the turn ins, requisitions were drawn and, between the two, the keepers of the stores were kept well occupied.
The big event in the woods was the inevitable Inspector General's visit. Records were brought up to date; equipment laid out, and full field gear of each man displayed for the assortment of brass that invaded Camp Cartwheel. The Inspector General found the Battalion's vehicles to be the finest he had seen in his 20 years of experience, and the unit as a whole received a rating of superior. As a reward, the men were given vacation of a day and a half.
Although there were no passes to the Black Market center, the men still sold and traded pistols among themselves and neighboring units. The weapons were cleaned and oiled carefully to be in condition for the approaching sea voyage. Carbines and M-1's were neglected and even forgotten while everyone worked on their German weapons.
After several months of free PX rations the men of the 89th again started to pay for their candy and cigarettes. Sgt Erdman, the PX man, built himself a home at the busiest intersection in Camp Cartwheel, and he and a few assistants dispensed cokes, candy bars, cigarettes and gum to the battalion.
After the I.G. inspection, one could hear rumors of the advance party to the States. It seemed to be a matter of days till it left, yet nothing official was said about it. The stories came to a head when each man was issued government forms to notify correspondents to stop writing. Simultaneously, the unit censorship of mail ceased. Everyone knew it wouldn't be long then.
And it wasn't long. The following Monday, advance parties from each company left the woods headed for Camp Lucky Strike situated on the coast of France between Dieppe and Le Havre.
Bad weather plagued the men of the advance detachment during their two-day journey. The rain and cold followed them all the way out of Germany and into Luxembourg City where they spent the night at the Luxembourg Rest Center. Expecting something similar to the gay nightlife of Paris and other European capitals, the men were sadly disappointed to find Luxembourg just a good rest center. Civilians even had plenty of cigarettes.
A little excitement was promised the next night when Major Cameron, who was in charge of the party, planned to stop at Amiens, France. The city looked promising enough, but unfortunately it was off limits to ground force groups (to make room for air force personnel stationed outside of town) and the convoy was forced to go all the way through to Lucky Strike.
The rest of the Battalion moved out of Nidda two days after the advance party left. After an uneventful trip, which included one overnight stop at Trier, the 89th stopped at a convoy bivouac area near Soisson.
This stop proved to be a peddler's paradise. The men dragged out all the loot, clothing and bedding they had been carrying for months, and the opulent but needy French thronged to the area to buy up everything in sight. Every salesman gathered his merchandise into a little pile and waited till someone took a fancy to it. Despite minor linguistic difficulties everyone disposed of their goods that night.
Early the next afternoon the convoy moved into Lucky Strike, and the tired, grimy men climbed out of their vehicles and crawled into the waiting cots.
The consensus of the men was that Lucky Strike was a much better staging area than Twenty Grand had been. Built on what had once been a spacious airdrome, the camp had a network of concrete and steel runways, which very suitably took care of the camp's traffic. Troops were housed in pyramidal tents which, although crowded, were adequate protection against the hot sun of the days and the cold of the nights.
One of the principal modes of recreation was the ever popular sun bathing. Lacking a beach, swimming suits, and the other essentials, the men merely stripped and moved their cots out of the tents. The ensuing nine days produced scores of handsome, brown physiques, and a few extremely red ones.
The Red Cross was very active at Lucky Strike. Coffee and cocoa and sandwiches were served every afternoon and evening, and literature and games were available in the serviceman's center in D block. There were several theaters in camp, and during the Battalion's stay several USO shows (with French performers) entertained large audiences. But perhaps the greatest diversion of all was the shower unit. Nothing was needed; a man could take a shower with GI soap, pick up a clean hot towel, exchange his dirty underwear or socks for clean ones, and leave with a much happier perspective on living. It had been a long time since the men had had hot showers with an abundance of water, and they made the most of the opportunity.
A few days after the Battalion arrived at Lucky Strike, all the vehicles were turned in at Le Havre. They were soon followed by the weapons and other equipments; a minimum of T.A.T. was boxed.
Throughout the eight days at the staging area, rumors were rampant. They reached their climax on Saturday afternoon when the men were notified that the largest United States Hospital ship, the USS George Washington, was at Le Havre waiting for the Battalion.
Soon after the first inkling reached the men, it was confirmed that T.A.T. would be loaded early the following morning, and that the personnel would embark later in the day.
Last minute packing and policing details kept the men busy Sunday morning and early afternoon. Finally, at approximately 1500, everyone carried their equipment out to the road where they lined up in passenger list order to await the arrival of the trucks.
The transportation proved to be the same type of trucks that first ushered the men into the heart of the European Theater of Operations, and after forty miles of familiar bouncing and jolting on the French improved road system, the trucks pulled up at the same beach that four months before had welcomed the vehicles of the 89th.
Loading the entire Battalion on one LCT proved to be quite a squeeze, but the trip out to the George Washington was short and not too uncomfortable. After all, one could endure a little discomfort when he was going home.
Early Sunday evening, the men were stowed away in the bowels of the big ship, little the worse for climbing up and down several flights of steps with bulky, overloaded duffle bags.
The ship's officers, behind the protective shelter of their blustering public address system, were not adverse to admitting that the 89th had the good fortune to be on one of the most comfortable ships afloat, and although there would be some work on board, after a pleasant voyage of eight days the ship would dock at New York.
The next afternoon the George Washington moved laboriously out of Le Havre's battered port bound for Cherbourg to pick up a load of recuperating casualties for the return trip.
Meanwhile it was revealed that the 89th, being the only Battalion on the ship in its entirety, would assume responsibility for all details. When broken down farther, it was decided that Headquarters would be the permanent ship's guard, Able and Charlie Companies would furnish all the personnel to operate the troop mess, and Baker Company would keep the ship in clean, livable condition. Although the various details did keep the majority of the men from getting their accustomed 24 hours sleep each day, they were not so tedious as to destroy the pleasing, languid monotony of the voyage.
From Cherbourg, the George Washington proceeded across the channel and up the Thames to Southampton where it took on fuel and water. Wednesday afternoon, it emerged from the river's mouth and moved west around the southern tip of jolly old England, and at last the 89th was on it's way home.
As always, sun bathing was the popular sport on board. The weather was very provocative for this sort of entertainment, and every afternoon found the decks littered with near naked GIs soaking up the rays of old sol.
The rear hatchway on C deck became the improvised enlisted man's theater while the officers viewed the pictures in the officer's lounge on the boat deck. Pictures were shown continuously from 0800 till 2000, and many men, for lack of anything else to do, saw the same show two or three times.
A few days after the start of the voyage, the George Washington sprouted a hot dance band. Under the direction of T/Sgt Peale Haldt, the orchestra entertained the troops for an hour or so every evening on B deck aft. Peale's Jumpin' Jivers played and sang anything and everything for the amusement of the men. Featured songster was ebony Ace Baylor. No doubt some of the men can hear the haunting strains of the melodies yet.
Post Exchange rations were plentiful in the ship's store and everyone stocked up on candy and cigarettes for the anticipated 30 days they would have to spend in the throes of civilian rationing and scarcities.
No one knew what sort of customs inspection the Battalion would be subject to, and speculation ran high on a few items. Many souvenirs changed hands, and many went to the ship's crew. When everyone was safely ashore with no realization of the expected search, there were many disgusted GIs when they thought what might have been.
On the Fourth of July, the George Washington was one day out of New York. For the occasion, a short, fitting ceremony was arranged on board. After an interlude of band music and a short address by the ship's Chaplain, machine guns mounted on the port and starboard sides chattered tracer bullets at imaginary targets. Then the men of the 89th, the battle tested veterans who had been initiated with shattering explosions, frayed nerves, and the deafening din of combat, stood on the hatchway and almost jumped out of their boots when the blasts of two anti-aircraft guns on the stern rocked the boat.
Land was sighted the next afternoon, and through a misty harbor filled with ships of war from many nations, the George Washington slipped slowly, Coney Island took shape and was passed, the Statue of Liberty was seen in the vague distance, and shortly after 1700 the boat docked at gaily decorated piers on Staten Island.
The welcoming committee, consisting of a WAC band and civilian girls in bright dresses, had hovered close on their steamer in the harbor. They had stayed just long enough to verify the fact that things at home were just as they had been, and with that in mind the men literally sweated out the remaining time until they could debark.
The actual debarking was the reverse of the embarkation at Boston. Men filed off the boat in order and were lined up on the pier for a quick cup of milk and sugared doughnuts. Then they were hustled on to a waiting ferry for the short trip to the New Jersey shore.
On this boat trip the men were treated with a closer view of the Statue of Liberty. The ferry continued past the battery, and up the Hudson River where the Manhattan skyscrapers hove into view, and finally docked at Weehawken. There the men carried their bags virtually miles to a waiting train, and at 2000 they were unloading them some thirty miles north of New York City at Camp Shanks.
After the men had loaded their equipment into waiting trucks, and had started the long hike to their area, it commenced to rain. To say it rained is a gross understatement; it poured, it came down in torrents. By the time everyone had arrived at the area theater for their orientation lecture, even the waterproof wristwatches were soaked.
While the men squirmed uneasily in their rain soaked seats, several officers gave them the big picture. They would be on their way home within twenty-four hours and they would get this and they would get that, but no one mentioned getting to bed for some sleep. However, the last speaker proved to be most popular when he mentioned something concerning the biggest steak anyone had seen for months; it seemed then that no one was sleepy anymore.
After a quick trip to the barracks to deposit extra equipment, everyone hurried to the mess hall. There they sat down to a meal like the one they had been dreaming about. It consisted of a huge steak with French fried potatoes, corn, beans, combination salad, hot rolls, coffee, milk, or cocoa to drink, and watermelon and apple pie with ice cream for dessert. After a meal like that, it was rumored that at few unworthy individuals went back for seconds.
After everyone had recovered sufficiently to walk back to their barracks, the little processing which had to be done was taken care of, a suit of suntans was drawn for the homeward trip, and everyone, except a few men who worked on the records, went to bed.
The exodus from Camp Shanks started at approximately 1000 the next morning when the first trains left for several separation centers. The men had nothing to do until their trains were scheduled to leave, and most of their time was spent in the PXs and phone booths. Everything proceeded according to plan and, by 1800 that night, less than twenty-four hours after their arrival, the men of the 89th were on their way to spending 30 days making up for time lost.
On Tuesday, August 7, 1945, the vanguard of the 89th began to arrive at Fort Jackson with Captain Ignatius Spurio, the first member of the advance party to arrive. By Friday, reception station groups began to pour men back from furlough into the organization, and by the 20th over 80% of the personnel were present for duty.
By the time that the battalion had assembled, the flush of elation over the capitulation of Japan had worn off somewhat, but it was an inwardly rebellious organization which attacked the POM training schedule required by higher headquarters. For two weeks the personnel of the 89th sweated out the possibility of the unit's being sent overseas to act as occupation troops, a possibility that was anything but pleasant to contemplate.
During that period, the required subjects for redeployed units were taken in hand, extending even to the rifle and carbine ranges. For all intents and purposes the war was not over and, in premature desperation, many men applied for special discharges.
On 1 September, the welcome news came through: no more overseas duty for the 89th, and joy reigned with the mortar men. Even though it took three weeks for the channels of information to completely do away with the combat training program, a feeling of satisfaction was maintained throughout the companies. Discharges began coming through, first for the men 38 and over, then down to 35 years of age plus two years of service. Point totals for the Adjusted Service Rating were recomputed, and all men with 80 and above departed for separation.
Late in September, everyone but a minimum number for essential details and those men becoming eligible for discharge on October 1 were sent home on a 45-day furlough. So closed the last active period for the Battalion as a unit. The days at Jackson had been pleasant on the whole, full of rumor and hope and a look to the future. In the weeks to come, the majority of the members of the Battalion could reasonably expect to receive a discharge button and exchange the khaki for mufti, emergency service to the country rendered.
As a combat unit, the 89th Chemical Mortar Battalion actually ceased to exist on the day that it boarded ship at Le Havre. Ever after, the organization was but a means of administration. During its almost two years of activation the Battalion made history which spoke for itself. At all times it kept its standards high, and this was consistently reflected in the superior method of performance and high morale of the men and officers. Though its period of participation in combat was short, it chalked up a record to which every mortar man can point with pride and satisfaction.
To speak of what each man in the 89th will carry into civilian life from his army service is not in the scope of this book. The past is the past and, as time passes, the experience of war will be clouded into a pleasant memory. Let it remain so.
As this book goes to press, orders for the deactivation of the 89th Chemical Mortar Battalion have been received. Thus, after almost two years of honorable service, the organization will cease to exist save in the official documents of World War II.
This book was compiled and edited by a staff composed of the following enlisted men under the supervision of Capt George H. Esser Jr and business manager Lt Americo F. Almeida Jr.
S/Sgt Oce E. Ingold
Sgt Robert E. Jaggard
Sgt Robert W. Easton
Sgt Eugene E. Wittrock
Sgt Alexander E. Martin
Sgt Edward N. Bynon
T/4 Jack Howard
T/4 Dean C. Wolf
T/4 Earl H. Hardy
Cpl Joseph E. Ferguson
Cpl Rocco J. Gatto
T/5 Robert M. Vetrone
PFC James O. Goodwin
Pvt Carlton McAfee
The information was assembled from official battalion reports, company reports, and personal reminiscences, after which the narrative was put together by members of the staff and edited by Sgt Ingold and Capt Esser. Time and space did not allow as complete a book as might be desired, but it is believed that all of the principal events and important periods are adequately covered.
It has been impossible to mention the names of all of the personnel who did work worthy of citation, and it is regretted if injustice is done to any person or group of persons, because an impartial approach in writing the book was kept at all times.
The photographs were contributed by members of the battalion and printed through the cooperation of 1st Sgt Lucian Willoughby, Sgt Edward Bynon, T/4 Jack Howard and PFC Lester Bolander. The sketches and maps are the work of Pvt Carlton McAfee with assistance from Sgt Alexander Martin. [Editor's note: The number of photos and art work in the printed history of the 89th are so great that, regrettably, it is not practical to include them on this site.]
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