Memories of the 94th Chemical Mortar Battalion
written by Ed DeRinze, former HQ Company Armorer, 94th Chemical Mortar Battalion.
In the spring of 1944, I along with a dozen or more of us, all seasoned veterans of a former tour of duty on the west coast in a Barrage Balloon Battalion, were transferred into the newly formed 94th Chemical Battalion. The cadre of the 94th welcomed us with enthusiasm and we were all placed into various positions throughout the new battalion. I was asked by Captain Calo, CO of "A" Company, if I would consider taking the job of Armorer/Artificer of his company and I immediately said yes. I held that position throughout my tenure in the battalion and never regretted it.
The long hot summer of 1944 remains in my memory and the intense training programs that included a forced march of 4 miles in 50 minutes and the infiltration course that we all had to crawl through. All of this was brought to a finish at Panama City, Florida where we went by motor cavalcade to relax and recuperate after all of that training. The sudden, fierce hurricane like storm that hit us while we were camped in pup tents on the beach will never be forgotten. Later, I heard about the rampage in town by many of our troops that necessitated police action. All of these events served to bond us together before we went overseas and into action in France and Germany.
The long tiresome trip by sea on the huge ship Aquitania will never be forgotten. We were stuffed on board like sardines with all of our equipment loaded into our bunks in three tiers. We had to live in those bunks for 15 days and it was an experience that I never forgot. I will also never forget how the 94th was detailed to do the chores of KP for the entire voyage. It was the orders of our Colonel that it would help us to escape boredom while on the ship to have something to do other than lie in the bunks or become seasick. I suppose that it worked because I along with many others enjoyed doing the chores and the chance to get around on the ship.
We arrived in Greenock, Scotland 15 days after we left New York and were transported by railroad train to Winchester England where we were stationed in the barracks of the old British Regiment named Winchester Rifles and stayed there for 6 weeks. It was a cold and dreary winter and the barracks were heated by fire places in each room. However, we enjoyed the English countryside and the townspeople of Winchester were most thoughtful and kind to us during our stay.
Our stay in Winchester was brought to an abrupt halt when we got the order to move out. I remember the hustle and bustle of getting our gear together and being transported by trucks to our embarkation point to cross the English Channel. Once again we were crowded together on board a British ship that proceeded very slowly it seemed through the night dodging German subs to our destination at Le Havre, France. I will never forget that night sleeping in a hammock fully clothed nor the next morning as we disembarked over the side of the ship. We had to climb down cargo nets slung over the side with all of our equipment slung to us including our rifles. Then we were crammed into a waiting LST boat that took us into shore where we had to jump out and wade in. I really expected to be under fire from the enemy but apparently at that time our boys had pushed them back a few miles by the time we landed there.
After we had landed we were marched to board a French train that took us inland a few miles to a small French village and an army camp named Twenty Grand after the cigarette of the same name. Ironically, with today's aversion to cigarettes and those who smoke them, this was a very popular commodity back then. There were a few more army camps named after cigarettes of that time such as "Lucky Strike" and "Old Gold" and these were popular smokes for the soldiers as well. Thinking back to those times, I wonder if things would have been different with the quick pick-up and soothing effect of those smokes that we all enjoyed back then. We certainly did not think about the bad effects on our health from smoking all we wanted was something to soothe our nerves and it was great to look forward to.
We stayed at Camp Twenty Grand for a few weeks and then moved out as one long caravan of Jeeps and trucks to travel into battle. The 94th was known as a motorized battalion that carried everything they had by motor vehicle and this included a motor pool, supply trucks, medical department and kitchen supplies. We were a self-sustaining unit that could travel quickly from point to point with substantial firepower from the 4.2 mortars to come to the aid of infantry units that needed us. I believe that our units fulfilled that purpose throughout those last few months of the war.
In conclusion, and without dwelling on the many experiences that the 94th had I want to say here that we did perform our duty as was intended with the utmost skill and with good leadership. Although the records show that we shot off many rounds of 4.2 inch mortar fire and even some small arms ammunition but I do not believe that it inflicted enough harm on the enemy to cause much damage.
We were in Austria when the word came out that the war was ended and we would be coming back to return home and then be shipped to fight against Japan. After about 2 months we returned to home base, I was given a 30 day furlough, and got married and while on honeymoon was delighted to hear that the war with Japan had ended with the dropping of the atom bomb.
The 94th was awarded two battle stars for its part in the Central Europe Campaign and the Rhineland Campaign. I for one wore these ribbons with pride and I still have them pinned to my "Eisenhower Jacket" that has been stored in our attic for these many years. As a member of Headquarters Company, I personally did not confront the enemy in a combat situation however, I am sure that other members of companies A, B, C and D experienced more drastic conditions than I did. We were all part of an efficient fighting unit that worked together, enjoyed pleasures together and accomplished the job that they were commissioned to do.
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