Unit History of the
97th Chemical Mortar Battalion
5 May 1944 to 1 September 1945
written by George T. ("Ted") Wright at Camp Polk, Louisiana, in October 1945 when he has a corporal in Company C of the battalion.
Training for Combat Service
The 97th Chemical Battalion (Motorized) was activated on 5 May 1944, at For Leonard Wood, MO. Its raison d'etre was to train for combat activities against an enemy of the United States as quickly and as efficiently as possible and, in consequence, and the following steps were taken to prepare the battalion for overseas duty. A training schedule was adopted which called for cadre refresher courses to be given until the battalion reached 80% of its Table of Organization strength. This training was designed to acquaint the non-commissioned officers and potential non-commissioned officers with the duties that would be required of them in their new cadre positions. When the battalion reached 80% of its full strength, the individual training was to begin and to last for five weeks, followed by the unit training phase, these two being designed to complete individual and unit qualification for overseas duty.
Captain Sterling N. Vines, who joined the organization from the 89th Chemical Bn (Mtz), assumed command of the battalion on the date of its activation and organized the following tentative staff until a more permanent one could be formed.
Capt James F. Kirn, XO
2nd Lt Lars I. Granberg, S-1
1st Lt Samuel J. Charles, S-2
Capt Edward C. Grustmacher, S-3
1st Lt Edwin L. Glantz, S-4
1st Lt Robert R. Huber, Co A CO
1st Lt Gerald Kaplan, Co B CO
1st Lt William C. Kunz, Co C CO
1st Lt William M. Hochstetler, Co D CO
On the date of activation, 83 enlisted men arrived from Camp Carson, Colorado, to form the original cadre. On 10 May 1944, Maj John F. Lontz, from Hq, Chemical Warfare Service Replacement Training Center, Camp Sibert, Alabama, joined the battalion as it commanding officer and reorganized the staff, designating Capt David F. Snoeberger as S-3, and Capt Ira M. Williamson as executive officer, both of whom had served in the CWS RTC at Camp Sibert. Capt Vines took command of Co A, Capt Kirn of Co C, and Capt Grustmacher of Co B.
On the day that Maj Lontz assumed command of the 97th, he made get-acquainted calls on over ten principal officers at Fort Leonard Wood. Throughout the training, Maj Lontz kept in close contact with the chemical officer, Army Ground Forces, Col Milton T. Hankins, and with other high-ranking officers interested in the battalion from an official point of view. Several colonels, Brig Gen Clarence F. Townsley, artillery commander, XXXVI Corps, Maj Gen John P. Lucas, CG of Fourth Army, and Lt Gen Ben Lear, CG of AGF, were received cordially when they visited the battalion at Fort Leonard Wood and again in Camp Gruber, Oklahoma, where the battalion later trained. Pleasant relations were established and maintained with key officers.
The first contingent of fillers, numbering 65 men, arrived from Camp Carson, Colorado, on 30 June 1944, and the next day 119 men joined the battalion from Camp Rucker, Alabama, from the 93rd and 94th Chemical Bns (Mtz). 10 July 1944 saw 65 former members of the 87th Inf Div, previously air force and ASTP trainees, enter the 97th. In August a large number of men was received from the TDRTC in Camp Hood, Texas. September found the battalion welcoming new faces from Camp Reynolds, Pennsylvania, and further strength was added in succeeding months from the 95th and 96th Chemical Bns (Mtz) and from Camp Beale, California, before the battalion went overseas. Even before training began, and throughout the months of training, the problems of supply and personnel reared their ugly heads. Sufficient equipment was eventually garnered nevertheless, and the personnel staff managed to survive the hectic days engendered by the heavy overflow of fillers during June, July and August in particular.
At the beginning of the battalion's life, training assumed the form of cadre refresher courses, and these continued until the battalion was well stocked with fillers. On 7 August 1944, the first phase of formal training began with the inception of the individual training period, designed to train each man in his job as a member of an organization, working largely on a cooperative basis. Two weeks later a specialized training phase was inaugurated, during which each man was better acquainted with the specific details of his particular duties.
On 25 September 1944, the battalion entered the second major phase of its training, the unit training period, which endeavored to accustom battalion personnel to the experience of working together in platoon, company and battalion units for platoon, company and battalion missions. This period of training included firing problems with the 4.2" chemical mortar, foot and motor marches, and bivouacs, brief or protracted; in short, training designed to demonstrate to the individual the necessity for cooperative effort. The unit training period was continued until 5 December 1944 when it was cut short by the battalion's movement to Camp Gruber, Oklahoma.
A difficulty in the training program was encountered in the personnel turnover caused by large numbers of Class D [unfit] personnel which the battalion uncovered during the latter months of 1944. Attempts were made to weed them out of the battalion and to get sufficient replacements for them. A large number of men was received in December from the 95th Chemical Bn (Mtz) to fill the holes created by the loss of the Class D men, and the former group, already trained in the 4.2" chemical mortar, proved to be extremely valuable to the 97th.
By this time, however, several changes in command had taken place in the key officer positions within the battalion. By comparing the following with the previously included list, one may see that changes were made between 10 May and 3 December 1944, in the S-2 section and in the commands of all the weapons companies except Co B.
Maj Lontz, Bn CO
Capt Williamson, Bn XO
1st Lt Granberg, Bn S-1
Capt James A. Richardson, Bn S-2
Capt Snoeberger, BN S-3
Capt Glantz, Bn S-4
Capt Thomas G. McCreanor, CO, Co A
Capt Gruetzmacher, CO, Co B
1st Lt Hochstetler, CO, Co C
Capt John E. Williams, CO, Co D
On 1 December 1944, the advance detachment departed for Camp Gruber, Oklahoma, and on 5 December 1944 th remainder of the battalion, traveling in motor convoy, arrived at the Oklahoma station. Training, temporarily interrupted, continued with the firing of platoon and company tests in which, on 14 and 15 December, all the companies except Co B failed to qualify and were obliged to repeat the tests, which they did satisfactorily. Two War Department inspector general visits were withstood by the battalion at Camp Gruber while refresher training and POM [preparation for overseas movement] processing continued.
On 11 January 1945, Maj Lontz departed from the 97th to the officer replacement pool at Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania. On 13 January 1945, Maj Edwin S. Hays Jr assumed command of the 97th and reorganized the staff. Capt Charles R. Endsley Jr became battalion XO, Capt Williamson became S-2, and Capt Richardson took command of Co D. Maj Hays had been instructing at the Chemical Warfare School, Edgewood Arsenal, MD, in 4.2" chemical mortar tactics and techniques. Previously he had served for two and a half years in the China-Burma-India Theater of Operations as a 4.2" chemical mortar instructor of Chinese troops.
On 2 January 1945, the advance detachment of the battalion, consisting of Capt Ira M. Williamson, 2nd Lt Cleo Vaupel and T5 Thomas C. Watson Jr departed for the New York Port of Embarkation. On 9 January 1945, they boarded the U.S.S. Monticello, a converted Italian liner, and on the following day the ship sailed. The Monticello docked at Le Havre on 21 January 1945, whence the advance detachment proceeded in a truck van to Camp Lucky Strike, about 40 miles up the channel coast. On 23 February 1945, the advance party moved to Camp Twenty Grand, also within the Normandy Base Sector.
In the meantime, the body of the battalion had long since set out, having been assigned to the Fifteenth U.S. Army. On 19 January 1945, the battalion arrived at Camp Shanks, NY, and, after final processing was completed, boarded the former French luxury liner, the Ile de France, for movement overseas. On 3 February 1945, the ship sailed. Eight days thereafter found the battalion in the Firth of Clyde, awaiting debarkation orders at Greenock, Scotland. On 13 February 1945, the battalion set out for Winchester, England, by train, and the next day arrived at Camp C-5 overlooking the ancient city.
On 17 February 1945, the 97th Chemical Bn (Mtz) was redesignated the 97th Chemical Mortar Bn, and reorganized under T/O&E 3-25, dated 29 September 1944. The new T/O&E called for three mortar companies and one headquarters company, the latter performing also the functions of a service company and whose main duty consisted of supplying ammunition and supplies to the mortar companies. Co D was inactivated on that date. Important changes of command were as follows:
1st Lt Elmore C. Grim, MTO
2nd Lt Glen Vaupel, Ammo Off
2nd Lt Franklin O. Krumm Jr, Hq Co XO
1st Lt Gilbert L. Shellhouse, Co A Liaison Off
Capt James A. Richardson, Co B CO
1st Lt Ener H. Nelson, Co B XO
1st Lt Kenneth W. Reilly, Co B Liaison Off
1st Lt Chester Magness, Co C XO
Capt Edwin L. Glantz, Hq Co CO
On 28 February 1945, Lt Grim was designated CO of Hq Co, relieving Capt Glantz who remained S-4.
On 24 February 1945, the battalion left Camp C-5 for the port of Southampton. After two days of tiresome traveling across the English Channel and up the Seine River, the battalion arrived at Camp Twenty Grand, France, Normandy Base Sector, for final staging in preparation for departure to the combat zone. On 7 March 1945, the nine platoon leaders were placed on TD [temporary duty] with Hq, Ninth U.S. Army, They reported to the Ninth Army chemical officer and were sent as observers to the 89th and 92nd Chemical Mortar Bns which were already in the line. This was done for the purpose of combat orientation. They returned 30 March 1945, having participated in what was later to be called the Rhineland campaign, including the actual crossing of the Rhine, and brought back much useful information concerning the use of the 4.2" chemical mortar in combat. The officers who composed the party were:
1st Lt Victor B. Casey
1st Lt Richard B. Elliott
1st Lt John C. Elmore
1st Lt Charles F. Flynn
1st Lt John E. Jenkins
1st Lt Gerald Kaplan
1st Lt Edgar E. Lunn
1st Lt John M. Rife
1st Lt Elmore C. Woodward
Germany and Aftermath
From 9 April 1945 to 12 May 1945, the 97th Chemical Mortar Bn participated in the Campaign of Central Europe. Its principal duty was to provide security guards for hospitals containing wounded Axis military personnel, arms factories, arms, food and clothing warehouses, and similar places of military value. The 97th did not have the opportunity to use its mortars in any intensively fought battle since the German army was retreating across its country too rapidly. The battalion was used primarily as a member of the Corps Area Defense Command which was assigned with defense of the rear areas against attacks by parties of German troops bypassed in the terrific onslaught and rapid advance of the American forces. The battalion was charged with the guarding of captured hospitals containing German soldiers and preventing them from joining resistance pockets or guerilla parties made of SS troops and small elements of the German army. Further, it was the battalion's duty to protect installations containing food, arms, airplanes and airplane parts, and machine parts from attacks by bands of German guerillas.
On 8 April 1945, the 97th was relieved from assignment to the Fifteenth U.S. Army and reassigned to the Third U.S. Army. The next day a quartering party including Maj Hays, Maj Snoeberger, Lt Granberg and four enlisted men left Camp Twenty Grand, France, for the Third Army in Germany. The battalion meanwhile left Camp Twenty Grand and, traveling east, bivouacked near Reims, France. The quartering party arrived at Luxembourg on 10 April 1945. The main body of the battalion proceeded to Kaiserlautern, Germany, while the quartering party, having tried vainly to catch up with the Third Army Hq, arrived at the rear echelon of that Hq in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. On the same day the battalion became attached to XII Corps. 1 April 1945 found the main body of the battalion reaching Vacha in Thuringia, Germany, meeting the quartering party at that point. While traveling on the autobahn between Frankfurt am Main and Erfurt, Lt Gen George S. Patton, CG of the Third Army, commended Capt McCreanor, Co A CO who was in the lead vehicle of the battalion convoy, on the appearance and march discipline of the convoy. Orders were received the same day attaching the battalion to the 26th Infantry Division.
The following day, 13 April 1945, the battalion was relieved from its assignment to the 26th Inf Div, and Companies A, B and C were attached to the 90th, 26th and 71st Inf Divs respectively. On the day the battalion arrived at Steinheit in Thuringia, and the next day, Co C and Hq Co remained in Steinheit while Co A departed for Lobenstein and Co B for Suhl. On 15 April 1945, the battalion was relieved from performing its primary combat mission. The attachments of companies to divisions were revoked and the companies reverted to battalion control. The battalion was in turn attached to the 17th Armored Group which was directing the Corps Area Defense Command.
The 97th was charged with the guarding of captured hospitals to prevent wounded German soldiers, among them many SS troops, from escaping to join resistance pockets. In addition, the battalion provided security guards to defend installations containing food, arms, ammunition, planes and machine parts from being attacked by small groups of German troops which had been bypassed in the onslaught of the American forces. Besides these duties, the battalion was given the responsibility to keep open about 150 miles of the main supply route, and by motorized patrols to guard it against ambush and sabotage. Finally the 97th was used to clean up bypassed pockets of isolated enemy troops. What follows is a detailed account of the battalion's activities during the period 16 April to 21 May 1945. During this time the companies were decentralized and charged with guarding various types of installations at numerous locations.
Hq & Hq Company: The CP was established in Eisfeld, Thuringia, on 16 April; moved to Kronach, Bavaria, on 21 April; to Kaltenbrunn, Bavaria, on 24 April; and to Miltach, Bavaria, on 29 April. On 4 May, the company made its final displacement during the European war in its move to Viechtach, also in lower Bavaria.
Company A: On 16 April, the 1st and 2nd platoons were attached to the 2nd Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron in Meiningen, while the rest of the company placed security guards at Ilmenau, Gehrein and Breitenbach, and the company CP moved to Stockheim. Installations at Coburg and Neustadt were guarded beginning 18 April. On that date, the 1st platoon, Co A, 204th Engineer Bn was attached to Co A of the 97th for a period of one week during which the battalion was overextended. On 25 April, the attachment was terminated and the company moved to Grafenwohr to guard a large toxic gas dump. On 28 April, the company CP moved to Schwarzenbach. On 1 May, the company moved to Falkenstein and the next day posted guards in Walderbach, Sewartsach, Matten, Tittling and Viechtch. On 3 May, security guards were provided for Bogen, Graffenau, Kotating and Zweisel. The next day Titling was abandoned and installations in Deggendorf on the Danube River were guarded. The company CP moved on 9 May to Regen.
Company B: On 16 April, Co B was assigned the guarding of large arms factories in Suhl and Zella Mehlis. On the next day, enemy troops having been reported in woods west of Zella Mehlis, the third platoon, augmented by one gun of the first platoon, set up mortars and fired 49 rounds into the woods with negative results. In this action, the company worked in conjunction with the 133rd Eng (C) Bn and one platoon of the 2nd Cavalry Recon Squadron. On the same day, while investigating a disturbance in the arms factory formerly belonging to J. P. Sauer & Sons at Suhl, Germany, Sgt Robert E. Govanus was shot and fatally wounded by the enemy who had made a raid on the plant in an attempt to obtain arms within the plant so as to further their guerrilla efforts. PFC Joseph J. Sullivan, the platoon aid man, volunteered to move into the exposed area where the wounded soldier lay. He remained with his comrade and continued to administer first aid treatment in spite of his exposed position and under enemy fire which became heavy at times until the emergency was over. On 29 May 1945, PFC Sullivan was cited for his "utter disregard for personal safety and courage under fire." On that day he was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for his heroism. Sgt Govanus was the first and only man lost in action by the 97th. During the same exchange of fire, 1st Lt Richard B. Elliott was slightly wounded in the right thigh. For his wound, Lt Elliott received the Purple Heart.
Company B's CP moved to Heuhaus on 20 April and the next day guards were posted in Bad Steben, Kounersreuth, Steinweissen, Hof, Helmbrechts, Schwarzenberg, Lobenstein and Ober Rodach. On 24 April, 1945, the company CP moved to Schwarzenberg, and the following day two platoons were sent to Grafenwohr where they assisted Company A in guarding the large toxic gas dump previously referred to in discussing Company A. Bindlach also received a group of Company B guards on 27 April. The next day found the company CP in Cham. Motorized road patrols were sent out to keep open the main supply route between Cham and Wieselreitn. Two scout cars were added to the battalion's equipment to assist in this vital task. Guards were posted in Rotz, Nelbersdorf and Stamsfried on 29 April. In late April too, the 2nd platoon of Company B was charged with guarding several barges tied up in the Danube River near Passau, Austria, which contained shells and bombs filled with new types of toxic gases.
On May 1, the company CP moved to Bodenwohr and guards were posted in Hillstett. The next day the 2nd platoon was visited by Brigadier General Rowan, ETO chief chemical officer, and colonel Hankins, formerly the AGF chemical officer and at this time on a tour of inspection in the ETO. On the same day, the motorized road patrols began to guard the MSR betgween Amberg and Schonberg, and the route was extended the next day to run from Amberg to Grafenau (a distance of over 150 miles during the maximum extension of the company), all static guards of the company having been relieved. On 4 May, patrols covered the route from Grafenau to Passau, Austria, Freyung, and turned toward the Czechoslovakian border to Tittling. The company CP moved to Regen on 6 May while the first and third platoons moved to Transfelden and Oberhaus, respectively.
Company C: On 16 April, Company C moved to Schleusingen. The 3rd platoon was attached to Company B in Suhl while the rest of the company guarded installations in Hildburghausen, Erlau, Klost Vestra, Brattendorf, Eisfeld, Schleusingen, Wasungen, Schmalkalden and Ober Massfeld. The company assembled two days later at Sonneberg and guards were posted the following day at Sonneberg, Oberlind, Stockheim, Kronach, Ober Rodach and Mainleus. On 21 April, the company CP moved to Stadt Steinach while elements of the company moved to Bayreith, Neuenmarkt and Hochstadt where they established guard posts. Wunsiedel was the recipient of company guards the next day. The company CP was moved to Pressath, with Mantel, Neustadt and Weiden being added to the list the following day. The new post was established in Neid Murach on 30 April. The company moved to Viechtach on 2 May, while guard posts were established at Bruck, Roding, Nieder Murach, Amberg, Wosendorf, Pertolzhofen, Neunberg, Bodenwohrer, Rotz and Hillstett. Unter Eging received some guards on 6 May. Another post was added at Prackenbach on 9 May.
For these activities and for the efficient execution of all the duties assigned to the battalion, the 97th received a letter of commendation from the commanding general of XII Corps on 28 May. In addition to the general distinction which the battalion secured for itself, several members of the 97th distinguished themselves during the time the battalion spent in Germany. Besides Sgt Govanus who was killed in action, Lt Elliott who was wounded in action, and PFC Sullivan, the story of whose heroism has already been cited in this history, the following members of the 97th were honored for their activities.
On 15 May, 2nd Lt Charles Shadle was awarded the Purple Heart for injuries received from an exploding booby trap that had been set in a food warehouse being guarded by Company C. Lt Shadle narrowly escaped with his life.
On 29 May, the Soldiers Medal was awarded to 2nd Lt George R. Sommer who "displayed heroism by rescuing a soldier from drowning in the Ilz River in Germany. With complete disregard for his own safety, Lt Sommer dived fully clothed into the swollen, swiftly flowing stream, reached down underneath the surface to raise the sinking, unconscious soldier to the surface, and carried him to safety."
The following men and officers received the Bronze Star Medal during May and June for having "distinguished themselves by meritorious service during the period 8 April to 8 May, 1945, in Germany, in connection with military operations against an enemy of the United States:"
Major David F. Snoeberger, Bn S-3
Capt Edwin L. Glantz, Bn S-4
Capt Charles R. Endsley, Bn XO
Capt William M. Hockstetler, CO, Co C
S/Sgt Charles H. Kerr, Supply Sgt, Co C
S/Sgt James L. Ferguson, Motor Sgt, Hq Co
S/Sgt Walter W. Hirsch, Supply Sgt, Hq Co
Sgt Arthur W. Bowers, squad leader, Co C
Sgt Roger M. Volkman, squad leader, Co C
Cpl Francis X. McDonough, company clerk, Hq Co
Tec 5 Irvine S. Walsh, Bn mail clerk
Tec 5 Arnold W. Johnson, Bn Hq clerk
PFC Wallace J. Schuette, driver, Co C
T/Sgt Gerard J. Ehler, Bn Operations Sgt
S/Sgt Albert J. Powell, Platoon Sgt, Co A
Sgt John W. Mitchell, squad leader, Co B
Sgt Sam L.S. Belcher, squad leader, Co B
Tec 4 Whiteford Hatcher, First Cook, Co A
Cpl Franklin I. Miller, mortar crewman, Co A
Cpl Morton K. Wolf, IMG Cpl, Co B
PFC Clarence Feltman, field lineman, Co B
Cpl George Tatich, mortar crewman, Co C
On 21 May, the battalion reassembled in a German troop training and maneuver area to sharpen their somewhat rusty shooting eyes, and to embark on a preliminary training program for the Sout Pacific combat area. Firing problems and firing tests conducted by the XII Corps artillery section revealed that no one had lost his gunnery technique to any appreciable extent, and the comment was made that it was well for the health and welfare of the Wehrmacht that the battalion had not had the opportunity to uncork its devastating gunnery against it.
On 12 June, the 97th Cml Mortar Bn was authorized to move to Camp Lucky Strike, France, prior to redeployment through the United States. Grafenwohr was cheerfully deserted and successive nights found the battalion bivouacked near Nuremberg and Kaiserlautern, Germany, and Soissons, France, before Camp Lucky Strike was reached. On 30 June, the battalion boarded the U.S.S. Wakefield (formerly the U.S. luxury liner, the U.S.S. Manhattan), manned by the U.S. Navy, and sailed for home the next day. The Wakefield steamed into Boston harbor on 6 July and the battalion soon scattered throughout the 48 states and Mexico for recuperation purposes. Following recuperation furloughs, the battalion reassembled at Camp Polk, LA, in the middle of August where additional training prior to redeployment to the Far East began. After the formal surrender of the Japanese, however, redeployment orders were cancelled, and the transfer began of men having low ASR scores. On 1 September, the battalion was continuing its redeployment training while awaiting instructions as to the final disposition of the unit, and anticipated the arrival of a new commanding officer, Lt Col Roland P. Fournier from the 25th Hq & Hq Detachment, Camp Gruber, Oklahoma, to replace Major Hays who was being relieved from active duty on ASR points.
Such official records as appear in substantiation here are those few which have been available from the somewhat depleted files. Dry they may be, but relevant they are too and, indeed, the reader, not overly interested in the currents of officialdom but with a fertile imagination, may read between the lines something of a romance, even perhaps a blazing pageant. Between the stiff, starched sentences of these pages, one reads the story of human lives, pitched in different directions, together, separately, hotly, dispassionately, carelessly, and with the most sublime caution.
Although the history of the 97th covers a period of only sixteen months, it takes us through some of the most significant events of history. There is food for thought at many places along the road we have traced, and the letters, memoranda and other official documents supplied in the appendix will be of value to any careful student of the 97th Chemical Mortar Battalion. [Regrettably, the appendix is not available.]
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