654th Tank Destroyer Battalion

Beginning with the CP being established 1/2 mile
SE Fallow at 122400 hours July 12,1944, the
entire history was reproduced from notes made
during or immediately following combat engagement
under combat condition.

FRED E. MOON
The 654th Tank Destroyer Battalion was activated at Fort Benning, Georgia, on the 15th of December, 1941, from the provisionally designated Fourth Anti-Tank Battalion, 4th Motorized Division, which had just completed its tests on maneuvers during October and November, 1941. The original personnel, both Officers and enlisted men, came from the Third Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, and Division Artillery, 4th Motorized Division. Colonel Stuart Cutler, Infantry, who has commanded the provisional 4th Anti-Tank Battalion during its tests, remained with the unit upon its activation and assumed command under War Department Orders. He was formerly Executive Officer, 22nd Infantry Regiment.

Under date of December 26, 1941, the 654th Tank Destroyer Battalion moved from Fort Benning, Georgia, via convoy to the newly constructed Camp Gordon, at Augusta, Georgia, occupying barracks on 21st and 22nd Streets between 4th and 5th Avenues. About the middle of February, 1942, Colonel Cutler was relieved as Battalion Commander and given a new assignment at which time Lieut-Colonel Conn of the 8th Infantry, 4th Motorized Division, temporarily assumed command.

Under date of March 26, 1942, Colonel Lansing McVickar, Infantry, assumed command of the unit and immediately proceeded in preparing it for combat, by initiating vigorius training scheduled with special attention to physical endurance and fitness. The Whole of 1942, was spent in intensive training, maneuvers, endurance hikes up to 150 miles with full field equipment, swimming instructions at Merry (“McVickar”) Lake, and physical tests by the Second Army. The battalion was the highest unit in the Second Army physical tests, conducted during January, 1943. The Battalion received its first M10 Tank Destroyers about the 15th of Dec., 1942, and schools were promptly set-up, to learn their functions, and application. During January, 1943, the battalion went to Camp Stewart, Savannah, Georgia, and fired the three inch destroyer guns, the first time, which was satisfactory. While at Camp Stewart, the unit fired .50 caliber anti-aircraft fire on the camp range and was considered by range officials, as the best ever fired at that range. During the period from date of activation the unit has been attached to its parent organization; the 4th Motorized Division under Major General Raymond O. Barton. The two units looked upon each other, with family respect and each held the highest regard for the other. During the first part of April, 1943, the 654th Tank Destroyer Battalion, was detached from the 4th Motorized Division, who were preparing to proceed to the staging area, and were attached to Headquarters, 3rd Headquarters Detachment, Special Troops, Second Army at Camp Gordon, Georgia.

On April 15th, 1943, the unit departed in two serials; one via convoy and one via rail to the maneuver area, in the vicinity of Gallatin, Tennessee, where it participated in maneuvers, until June 19, 1943, when it went into the assembly area North of Gallatin, Tennessee, in preparation for the return trip to Camp Gordon.

During the period that the unit was in the assembly area, in the vicinity of Gallatin, the new T/O was put into effect, reducing the enlisted strength from 926 enlisted men to T/O. Men over then were transferred to the Tank Destroyer Replacement Center, at Camp Hood, Texas.

On June 25, 1943, the serial returning via convoy, departed from vicinity of Gallatin; the serial by rail having to wait in the hot Tennessee sun, restricted to the vicinity of the railway station, until June 27th, before transportation could be arranged for the return trip to Camp Gordon, Georgia.

The battalion closed in its home station, on June 29, 1943, at which time Colonel Lansing McVickar, relinquished command of the battalion, to Lieut-Colonel William V. Martz, Calvalry, U.S. Army, reporting to the Commanding General, Tank Destroyer Center, Camp Hood, Texas, for assignment. The unit had been notified that movement overseas could be expected about September, 1943, and the period between July 1, and September 30, 1943, was spent in preparation for overseas movement. Two weeks out of every month, were required to be spent in the field; which was two weeks of hell insofar as the men were concerned.

Upon assuming command, Colonel Martz immediately established an officer and noncommissioned officers club in the battalion area; started the publication of the Panther, a weekly battalion newspaper; sponsored dances for the enlisted personnel, and took special interests in all athletic activities, with the unit.

The “Battalion Cemetery” will long be remember by all personnel of the organization. The story behind the cemetery is this: A small plot was fenced off adjoining 5th Avenue, and the policy was that every man who was gigged for purely trivial military offenses, or not knowing the fundamentals of his primary military training, he would be “buried” by a formal ceremony, and his name plainly printed upon the white cross, followed immediately by the offense; for instance Private York of the Reconnaissance Company had the embarassment of being the first victim for the battalion cemetery, because he could not correctly read a compass. He was brought to the cemetery on a litter, followed by his platoon and the company bugler who blew taps over him and a cross erected which read: “PRIVATE YORK, RECONNAISSANCE COMPANY”. ‘HE COULD NOT READ A COMPASS”. Civilians passing the area, not knowing what was happening, would stop, get out of their cars, and remove their head dress, thinking that an actual funeral was being conducted. The cemetery was dreaded by all and it done lots to further training and enforce discipline,

The battalion, having participated in three major maneuvers, namely: Carolinas 1941: Carolinas 1942, and Tennessee, 1943, and having completed all phases of small unit training and antitank defenses, was alerted on 12 September, 1943, for overseas movement.

On September 13, 1943, the unit was instructed to send an advanced party consisting of two officers and two enlisted men, to report to the Commanding General, Port of Embarkation, Brooklyn, New York. First Lieutenant Lee R. Barnes (in charge), First Lieutenant Louis B. Reich, Technical Sergeant, Everard A. Taylor and Technician Fourth Grade William R. Roe were selected and departed from Camp Gordon, Georgia, during the afternoon of September 13, 1943, via rail for their destination, arriving at the Port of Embarkation at Brooklyn on September 17th. During the afternoon of the 17th, and the morning of the 18th, the party received the routing physical examinations and inoculations prior to embarking. In the late afternoon of the 18th, the party went aboard the Queen Mary (a former British Luxury Liner). At 1130 hours, on the morning of the 19th, of September, the giant queen of the seas, slipped out of the harbor, unescorted, and headed for her destination, unknown to all except the Captain of the ship. Rumors ran high among the personnel aboard, however, that the destination was England.

The troops aboard consisted largely of advance parties, of various units alerted for overseas movement, which included the 2nd Infantry Division; 29th Infantry Division, various Tank Destroyer Battalions, Quartermaster and Trucking Battalions, General Hospitals, and Air Corps personnel. The total personnel aboard, totaled over 16,000, about 250 Nurses and 100 German soldiers, who were being exchanged for totally disabled Allied soldiers.

The voyage was completed in five days without event; docking at the First of Clyde, Scotland, on the 25th of September, 1943. The majority of the troops aboard were dispatched to various bivouac areas in England, detachments from the 654th Tank Destroyer Battalion, 2nd Infantry Division, 65th Medical Battalion and 6th Calvalry, proceeded to North Ireland, via the Irish Sea, port of Larne, Belfast then to Armagh where the party was met by American guides, who took the parties to Gosford Castle where they remained for several days. The 654th Tank Destroyer Battalion party, after several days at Gosford Castle, were escorted to the battlalion’s future home; Derrygally and The Argory, County Tyrone, in the vicinity of Trew-And-Moy Station. Every item of housekeeping equipment had to be drawn prior to the arrival of the battalion; beds, straw, coal, electricity, water, stoves, desks, showers, and sewage had to be arranged through the British authorities. A detachment of enlisted men, under Lieutenant Huie, 10th Infantry, 5th Infantry Division, were made available to prepare the camp. The entire period from the date the advanced party arrived at Derrygally, and The Argory, was spent in preparation of the camp, under most adverse conditions, but which was accomplished prior to the arrival of the battalion. Meantime, back in Camp Gordon, Georgia, the battalion was making last minute preparations for the movement to the port of Embarkation, and on September 19,1943, the battalion was tentatively assigned to the V Corps, and attached to the 2nd Infantry Division. Showdown equipment inspections were held daily. Colonel Kirkwood, the Commanding Officer, 3rd Headquarters Detachment, Special Troops, Second Army, to whom we were attached, was in the battalion area continuously checking on last minute details and preparations.

On September 26, 1943, the battalion was assigned to Headquarters European Theater of Operations, and attached to the V Corps, U.S. Army.

On the 28th of September, 1943, Lieut-Colonel William V. Martz, the commanding officer, call the battalion together and informed them that they were going overseas, and that the night of the 28th would be the last they could spend in their homes and impressed upon each officer and enlisted men the essentials of secrecy. At 0800 hours on the morning of September 30, 1943, Colonel Martz gave the command “Forward March” that started the 654th Tank Destroyer Battalion, to the railhead, to the waiting trains, and to ultimate combat with our enemy; the battalion closing at Camp Gordon, Georgia at 1045 hours on the 30th of September, 1943, in two serials. At Washington, District of Columbia, about 2400 hours on the 30th, the two trains were combined and arrived at New Rochelle, Long Island, New York, in the rain, at 1620 hours October 1, 1943.

During the period October 1st, to 6th, the battalion spent at Fort Slocum, Long Island, New York, in brick barracks, drawing items of equipment which were short; receiving physical examinations and inoculations, and passing in review each afternoon before the Post Staff, including the WACs. All personnel were on a restricted status and no passes were granted, during the period in which the battalion was at Fort Slocum.

On the morning of October 6, an advance party of five officers were sent to the Port of Embarkation, to arrange for the embarkation of the battalion, and at 0620 hours on the morning of the 7th of October, the unit departed from Fort Slocum, enroute to the Port of Embarkation, at Brooklyn, aboard the Harbor Boat “HORTON”, arriving at the Post, at 0930 hours, and immediately began to embark on the US Army Transport “JAMES PARKER”. On October 1, the battalion was attached to the 2nd Infantry Division. Embarkation was completed during the 7th, and at 0230 hours, on the morning of the 8th of October, 1943, the JAMES PARKER, slipped out of the harbor in the still of the night to join the other components of the convoy, at a rendezvous at sea. Rumors ran high and speculations were in order, as to our destination; the majority favoring England.

The James Parker, the former U.S.S. PANAMA, of the Panamanian Steamship Lines, had been converted into a troop ship with a normal capacity, of about 3000 men. Several other units occupied space on the James Parker, including an Engineer Regiment, consisting of about 3000 men, and officers which made available space limited, especially as to housing and feeding accommodations which were critical. There were some twenty seven large transports in our convoy, in which it was known the 2nd Infantry Division, was traveling. The convoy was escorted by the U.S. S. Battleship Arkansas, and fifteen destroyers. The Arkansas sailed just to the left of the James Parker, throughout the voyage, which was a good morale builder for the lads aboard, most of them who had never seen the Atlantic, in fact, any ocean before starting the voyage to Europe.

On the morning of the 13th of October, the convoy encountered a severe storm in the North Atlantic, which lasted for three days and nights. Life boats were torn from the ship; furniture torn from the walls, and the kitchen, which was in the hold was topsy-turvy, and it was necessary for the personnel, aboard to eat sandwiches for the three days. During this storm, Private James E. Hughes of Company “A” was on duty in the ships bakery, as assistant baker, when a large 55 gallon drum of oil weighing about 300 pounds broke loose from its lashing, and was rolling toward a soldier who had been pinned down by a bread rack, which had fallen upon him, interposed his leg between the barrel and the soldier, preventing it from crushing him, but prevented serious injury or death to the other soldier, for which deed he was later awarded The Soldier’s Medal.

At 0800 hours on the morning of the 17th of October, some one shouted “LAND” and every one rushed upon deck and the shores of Ireland could be seen in the distance. We continued to sail down the Irish sea during the day; the convoy splitting one half going toward Belfast, North Ireland, and ours continuing down the Irish Sea to the South. At 2230 hours on the 17th of October the James Parker anchored in the Harbor of Liverpool, England, where we stayed the remainder of the night. At 1700 on the 18th of October the James Parker steamed into the docks of Liverpool, where it was welcomed by the American Band assembled on shore. Debarkation was not started until the afternoon of the 19th, when Lieut-Colonel Martz and his staff walked down the gangplank; being the first member of the 654th Tank Destroyer Battalion to embark upon foreign soil. The battalion completed debarkation at 0630 hours and were transported by trucks to Aintree Station in Liverpool, where it entrained for Northern Ireland in two serials, the first serial leaving Liverpool at 1945 hours and arriving at Stranrear, Scotland, at 0305 hours the following morning. The unit detrained and marched to a British Transit Camp about two miles from the railway station, where it remained for the remainder of the night.

At 0700 hours and after having a typical English military breakfast consisting of week semi-hot tea, 1 slice of semi-raw fat bacon, and half-cooked navy beans, with “NO SECONDS”. It was hard on the men because of the fact that they had not been able to obtain a good meal for two days and the amount issued each man by the British was far less than enough for the hungry, physically fit men of our organization. At 0830 hours, on the morning of the 20th of October, the battalion marched to the docks at Stranrear and boarded a commercial steamer in military service by the British Government for Larne, Northern Ireland. The trip of only two hours duration, was extremely rough; partly due to the normal roughness of the Irish Sea and partly to the flat-bottomed transport. Several men of the battalion suffered from seasickness during the entire voyage across the Irish Sea; among them worthy of special mention are Captain Little, our Surgeon, Captain Witherspoon and Corporal Spernak (Andrew My Boy).

The transport docked at Larne at 1400 hours, on the 20th, where we were met by Lieut. Reich of the advance party and who had made arrangements for dinner at an English military station just outside the city limits, the type of food being about the same as that at Stranrear, Scotland. At 1500 hours, the first serial departed from Larne via rail for Trew-and-Moy, Northern Ireland., which was our final destination, arriving there at 2300 hours. The battalion was greeted at the station by Lieut. Barnes, Technical Sergeant Taylor, and Technician 4th Grade Roe. The men began detraining immediately, lined up and marched to their permanent home in Northern Ireland; Derrygally and the Argory, which was about a mile from the railroad station, closing in camp at 2400 hours on the 20th of October, 1943.

The advanced party had the camp well established and furnished and a hot meal was awaiting our arrival. You should have seen them GIs eat! Best of all was mail from home was in camp and was distributed that night, and the moral of the men, even though fatigued as they were, went high.

The following morning, a survey of the location revealed that the camp was divided into two distinct sectors; Derrygally House on one side of the Black River and The Argory on the other; both owned by a retired British Statesman about 87 years of age, by the names of Barnes, who with his son aged about 37 years, and servants resided at the Argory. The command post was established in the servants quarters, in the courtyard of Derrygally House, where it remained the entire period, the unit was stationed in Northern Ireland. The camp consisted of Nissen Hutments and adequate space was available for the entire unit. The officers quarters were established in Derrygally House; except that the Reconnaissance Company occupied the Argory across the river, which housed most of the entire company. Both houses were the old castle type, with over twenty rooms in each, located in the typically Irish Hills. The scenery was beautiful but the climate terrible, due to continual rain. The neighboring towns were Moy, three miles distance; Dungannon, the most frequented by the men, 10 miles distance and Armagh, Headquarters of the 2nd Infantry Division was 10 miles distance. Taxicab service was immediately established from Derrygally to Dungannon, with a fee to ten shillings each way (Two Dollars to you).

The camp was formerly occupied by members of the 5th U.S. Army who had departed for the invasion of Italy and was in a pretty run-down condition, and the task of rebuilding the camp fell to our lot, which was immediately begun on the following day after our arrival.

On October 22, 1943, the battalion was relieved from assignment to the V U.S. Army Corps, wand was assigned to Headquarters European Theater, of Operations and attached to the First U.S. Army. Lieutenant C.C. Smith (R.A.), 263rd A.T. Battery (R.A.), Castle Camp Gilford, Partadown, Northern Ireland, was assigned as liaison officer between the 654th the Tank Destroyer Battalion and his unit.

Upon establishing camp, the battalion entered into a phase of intensive physical training, small arms training, scouting and patrolling, map reading, identification of enemy aircraft and vehicles, and long night hikes in the darkness of Irish nights; where darkness is darkness. The climatic conditions in Northern Ireland is one thing which the men, most of them form the sunny south, could not become accustom; it rained at least twice daily, when it failed to rain the whole twenty four hours. Passes for twenty four hour periods were granted to visit Belfast and other nearby cities. The Red Cross cooperating with the Army, had established sleeping rooms in the larger cities for the men on pass, with a fee of fifty cents per night. Hotel accommodations were hard to get otherwise. The men found the Irish to be friendly and respectful, but very odd from our standards of living. They were difficult to understand at first, but as time went by we had no trouble in understanding their language, and many of our own men were picking up the Irish terms of “Aye, Aye Old Boy” “Sure it is old Boy”.

The city of Dungannon was the principle city frequented by men of the battalion; chiefly, because there were no other soldiers in the vicinity and because, taxicab transportation to and from the city was available. Acquaintances were made quickly among the population and it was not long before the men of the battalion were being invited out to Irish homes for dinner, parties, dances, etc. Several of the men married Irish girls during the battalions period in Northern Ireland, and others are looking forward to returning to Northern Ireland after the conclusion of the war to wed the girl of their choosing.

Thanksgiving Day was one of the few beautiful days which we observed while in Northern Ireland. Turkey was served to all the companies and a party was given in the officers quarters for their guests, which included American Nurses and British ATC Girls. Close liaison was established between the unit and all units in the area, both American and British. Rigorous training schedules were being enforced in preparation for the great day. All the men were in first class physical condition and very little sickness prevailed during the entire period the unit was stationed in Northern Ireland.

At Christmas, a party was sponsored by the battalion for the benefit of the children of Moy, County Throne, Northern Ireland; armored vehicles being decorated and paraded through the streets, a Santa Claus with presents. The Irish children will never forget the X-Mas party extended them by the battalion. This done lots in furthering good will of the unit in the locality. Letters of appreciation continued to reach Headquarters for several days after the holidays..

On 23rd of November, 1943, the unit was attached to the 2nd Infantry Division with Headquarters in Armagh, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland.

To further good-will between our British Allies and with a view to learning something of their tactics, weapons, methods of training and environments one officer and five enlisted men from the battalion were placed on special duty with the 263rd Anti-Tank Battery (RA), Castle Camp Gilford, Portadown, Northern Ireland, for a period of ten days; likewise Lieutenant C.C. Smith (RA) 263rd Anti-Tank Battery (RA), from the same station along with five enlisted men from the British Army were sent to the 654th Tank Destroyer Battalion for the same period, which resulted in a further understanding between the two units of the Allied Army.

On 20th of February, 1944, Captain Henry R. Vanderipe, Commanding officer of Company “B”, was relieved from assignment with the battalion and transferred to a noncombatant branch of the service as the result of physical disability. He was later assigned to the Military Police and assumed the duties of Assistant Provost Marshal in the London Area.

On 21 February, 1944, Captain Charles C. Madden, Commanding Officer of the Reconnaissance Company, was relieved from assignment with the unit and ordered to the 10th Replacement Center in England for reassignment.

On 24 December , 1943, the battalion was assigned to Headquarters European Theater of Operations, attached to the First U.S. Army, and further attached to the XV Corps. On 17 January, 1944, it was assigned to XVC Corps, attached to 5th Tank Destroyer Group. During January 1944, the battalion set up a school for the indirect fire study, under the supervision of the Commanding General, 2nd Division Artillery, Brigadier General Hayes, Major Jamison, 1st Lieut. Vaught, 1st Lieut. John F. Baker, from the 12th field. Artillery Battalion were designated as instructors. Classes were conducted three nights per week in Derrygally House for all officers and first Three Grade enlisted men. Later during the period of instruction Major Jamison, Lieut. Vaught and lieut. Baker were relieved and replaced by Captain Merrill Younger, 12th Field Artillery Battalion 2nd Infantry Division and Captain Hugh Parkin, XV Corps Artillery, as instructors.

On 29 January, 1944, one officer and twelve enlisted men were sent to the A Range at St. Johns Point, Northern Ireland and fired AA until 12 Feb. 1944. ( Hq. Co.) On 7 February,1944, on officer and sixteen enlisted men from Headquarters Company fired AA fire at St. Johns Point, Northern Ireland, until 12 February, 1944. Co. “A” fired indirect fire from M10s at Benbane Head Range, Northern Ireland from 24-28 February, 1944, under supervision of Artillery instructors.

Headquarters Company sent five enlisted men to Anti-Tank Range at Busmills, Northern Ireland, who fired direct Anti-Tank fire from February 25-28, 1944. Co. C fired direct anti-tank fire at Benbane Head Range, Northern Ireland, from February 27th to March 1, 1944, inclusive.

On March 3, 1944, the Reconnaissance Company sent fifteen enlisted men to Benbane Head Range, Northern Ireland, who fired 37mm anti-tank fire until March 8, 1944. On 9 March 1944, the Reconnaissance Company fired 37 mm anti-tank practice at Broughschane Range, Northern Ireland, until 16 March, 1944.

On 15 March, 1944 two officers and eleven enlisted men fired at Broughschane Range, a .50 caliber anti-tank fire until 18 March, 1944.

Co. A fired direct anti-tank fire at Broughschane Range from March 15- 18, 1944. Seven enlisted men fired .50 caliber anti-tank fire on Broughschane Range from March 22-25. One officer and four enlisted men fired anti-tank fire at Broughschane Range from March 21-27, 1944 both of the above were from Headquarters Company. One officer and eleven enlisted men from Headquarters Company fired .50 caliber anti-tank fire at Broughschane Range from March 29-30, 1944. Reconnaissance Company fired 37mm anti-tank fire at Broughschane Range from March 30-31, 1944, inclusive.

On March 31, 1944, all personnel at the various ranges and detached service elsewhere were ordered to camp. Rumors were high that the long awaited invasion of Europe was at hand, but instead, everyone was routed out of bed at 0300 hours on the morning of April 1, 1944, in their best clothes, convoyed to Armagh, Northern Ireland, where the entire 2nd Infantry Division, and all other neighboring units were assembled to hear a speech by a distinguished visitor. At 1000 hours, Lieutenant General George Patton, Jr., appeared, inspected the troops, and made an address which include frank statements about the enemy in the presence of shocked British Aristocrats, among them, and concluding he said “Veterans of the Third U.S. Army, remember this: If you can’t stick the son of a bitch in the ass, shoot him in the ass as he runs away.” At 0800 hours on the 3rd of April, General Patton inspected the battalion area at Derrygally, in the cold Irish rain. He shook hands with First Sergeant George Barnausky and First Sergeant Owens and wished them God Speed. He complimented Colonel Martz on the appearance of the camp and the military bearing of the men and assured him that he felt even tho the unit was small, it would definitely make a showing when committed against the enemy. ( no truer words were ever spoken.)

On March 29 Co. C fired direct anti-tank fire on Broughschane Range until April 1, 1944. Co. B. fired indirect fire at Collin Top Range from April 7-8, 1944, and from 19-23 April at Benbane Head Range. April 3 Co B fired indirect fire at Sperrin Mountain Range for one day only. Company A fired indirect fire at Collin Top Range from 21-23 April and direct fire at Bush Hills April 23-25, 1944.

On 24 March, 1944, Major General Haislip, CG, XV Corps, accompanied by Colonel Jacoby, Commanding Officer, 5th Tank Destroyer Group, inspected the battalion at Derrygally Camp with satisfactory results.

On 27 March 1944, Brigadier General Hayes, CG, 2nd Division Artillery visited and addressed the officer at Derrygally Camp at 1300 hours.

As can be determined from the records the majority of the months of January, February, March, and April, 1944, were devoted to indirect fire study, range firing, hikes, small problems, drawing equipment and other final preparations prior to entering combat.

On 20 April, 1944, Major General Haislip, Commanding General, XV U.S. Army Corps, Third U.S. Army, formally presented the Soldier’s Medal to Private James E. Hughes, of Company “A”, 654th Tank Destroyer Battalion, for Heroism aboard the U.S. Army Transport JAMES PARKER on 14 October, 1943, while at sea. A formal ceremony was held on the parade ground at Derrygally with music furnished by the 6th U.S. Army Cavalry Band.

On April 21, 1944 Brigadier Ernest, Commanding General, 1st Tank Destroyer Brigade, accompanied by his Aide, Lieut-Colonel Cadenhead, visited Company “C” at Collin Top Range, Northern Ireland, and witnessed the company firing indirect fire, with which he was completely satisfied, and indicated so to Colonel Martz.

On 22 April, 1944, Brigadier General Ernest accompanied by Lieut-Colonel Cadenhead, inspected the unit in garrison at Derrygally Camp, and indicated to Colonel Martz the Commanding Officer of our unit that moving day was not far in the future. General Ernest expressed satisfaction as to the efficiency of the battalion upon completion of his inspection and held a personal interview with each staff officer of the battalion at the company post.

On 23 April, 1944, Lieut-Colonel Martz was directed to report to the Commanding General, XV Corps, located at Portadown, Northern Ireland, at 2000 hours, where he was informed that the unit would participate in Problem “JERK” (which was the movement of the XV Corps form Northern Ireland to Southern England).

On the morning of 25 April, 1944, the unit was informed by Colonel Martz that the battalion would participate in Problem Jerk, which they of course knew nothing about. Captain Alexander Kaufman, Dental Corps, and T5 Frechette of the Medical Detachment were transferred to the 8th Infantry Division. April 25 and 26 were spent in packing and closing out all business at Derrygally and The Argory. Battalion was relieved from XV Corps and assigned to XX Corps and 4th Tank Destroyer Group, 26th April, 1944. At 0700 hours on the morning of 27 April, 1944, the Command Post Group, Headquarters Company, Company “A” and Company “B”, departed from Derrygally, Northern Ireland, in two serials; one via convoy and the other via rail, both elements arriving at the Port of Embarkation in Belfast, Northern Ireland, at 1300 hours, and immediately began embarking upon LSTs. Embarkation was completed at 1700 hours, except that one officer (Lieut. McNaught) fifty-two enlisted men (including the Sergeant Major) and twenty-six vehicles could not board the available LSTs due to inadequate space and reported to the Railway Transportation Officer at Belfast for transportation. At 1700 hours the first contingent steamed out of Belfast Harbor and headed South destination unknown. The first contingent, or serial including the command post was in command of Lieut-Colonel Martz; Major Robert I. McKesson, Battalion Executive Officer, being left at Derrygally Camp to bring the remainder of the Battalion to its destination when transportation was available. At 1000 hours on 28 April the convoy of LSTs dropped anchor at Swansea, Wales, where they spent the night aboard ship and started debarking the following morning at 0700 hours, splitting into two columns; one wheel column traveling overland in command of Captain Edwin H. Berry, II, Battalion S-3, and the other traveling by rail in command of Colonel Martz.

On 30 April, 1944, both serials closed in the assembly area at Welford (?) Park, Berkshire County, England, without incident. Meantime back in Belfast the stranded personnel for whom no transportation was available were sweating it out; cut off form the unit and restricted to an SOS Camp, consisting mostly of Negroes; but, back at Derrygally Camp the Reconnaissance Company and Company “C” who formed the second and last serial were living the life of Reilly; eating chicken, pork chops, steaks, enjoying two and three movies each day and doing nothing but participating in athletics. Some life for those joes!!!

On 30 May, 1944, the “Lost detachment” at Belfast were notified to take all their vehicles to the Docks during the afternoon, and at 1700 hours elements of Company “C” and the Reconnaissance Company began to arrive. We were alerted at 0300 hours on the morning of 1 May, proceeded to the Port and begun embarking, which was completed by noon, except for three vehicles and enlisted men of the “lost detachment” who had no place in the convoy and had to remain in the SOS Camp for an indefinite period, but were lucky enough to find space on board an LST which was incompletely loaded with the 654th Tank Destroyer Battalion. After embarking the convoy of five LSTs steamed out into the Irish Sea and anchored until 1700 hours when they steamed south, arriving at Swansea, Wales (after battling a storm all the way) at 0230 hours on 3 May 1944. The other serial of the Reconnaissance Company and Company “C”, under Major McKesson, remained at Derrygally Camp for the time being.

On 4 May, 1944, debarkation begun at 0700 hours in the rain and the convoy under Captain D . L. Benton, Jr. departed from Swansea, Wales, in the cold (and it was cold) rain for Welford Park, England , at 0800 hours, traveling overland, arriving at Welford Park, England, on 5 May, 1944. The remaining serial under Major McKesson, traveled via rail, departing from Derrygally Camp, Northern Ireland, on 07 May, 1944, to Larne, Northern Ireland, where they embarked, sailed down the Irish Sea to Swansea, Wales, traveled by rail to Welford Park, closing in the assembly area on the night of the 9th May, 1944.

Upon arrival in the assembly area, Major McKesson was transferred from the battalion to the V Corps Artillery, and departed from Welford Park for his new Station on the 10th of May, 1944.

Our new location was in a one time English Park bounded by woods and a highway running from Newbury to Wickham. The weather was a little different from Northern Ireland insofar as rain was concerned, but at that, we still had plenty.

The principle town for recreation was Newbury, but soon after we were established passes for forty-eight hours duration only were given for London and most every member of the battalion spent at least one pass in London sightseeing.

The construction of the camp was immediately begun, pyramidal tents being obtain by Colonel Martz for the men and a large hospital ward tent obtained for the command post, the post exchange, and recreation hall.

On 30 April, 1944, the battalion was assigned to the Third U.S. Army, attached to XV Corps, 4th Tank Destroyer Group.

On 17 May, 1944, the battalion was assigned, or rather attached to the 35th Infantry Division, who had just landed from the States and established in the vicinity of Travistock, England. The battalion considered thoroughly trained and ready for combat, and in the assembly area at Welford Park., did very little training during its stay at that station. Small group training continued, waterproofing schools, communications schools, bomb disposal instructions, identification of enemy aircraft and vehicles were stressed the necessary guard and camp duties comprised the major duties during our period in that assembly area.

At 1200 hours on June 5, 1944, the unit was alerted at 0815 hours on the morning of 6 June, 1944, the news blared out the announcement of the landings on the coast of France. All passes were cancelled and the unit restricted to the limits of the area. On Jun 10, Master Sergeant Moon, Warrant Officer Woodrugg and Technical Sergeant Taylor attended a course of instructions conducted by the Staff of the Third U.S. Army, at Travistock, England, for the 35th Infantry Division, for a period of three days, outlining the essentials of administration in combat.

On 18 June, 1944, the battalion commander and staff reported to the Commanding General, 35th Infantry Division, for instructions prior to embarking for the continent, and on 19th June, the advance detail consisting of 1st Lieut. Gomer D. Hughes, Tech 4 Grade Charles W. Pittman and Tech 5 Grade Thomas M. Quaranto, departed from Welford Park, and reported to the CG, 35th Infantry Division, at Travistock, England. The period from the time the advance party joined the 35th Infantry Division on June 19, 1944, to date of departure was spent in drawing and replacing items of equipment, modifying M10s and armored cars, marking clothes and final processing prior to entering combat.

On 28th June, 1944, Captain Henry A. Giedd, company commander of Headquarters Company was admitted to hospital and 1st Lieut. Lee R. Barnes, assumed command of the company.

Under date of July 5, 1944, the commanding officer was advised that the unit would depart from Welford Park on 7 July, 1944, for the marshalling area in the vicinity of Weymouth, England, and on 7 July, in a pouring rain, the battalion started to move out of the assembly area at Welford Park at 0628 hours. The convoy traveled through Marlsborough, Warwick, Salisbury, Dorchester, Weymouth, in the rain the first echelons arriving at the marshalling area at 1400 hours, a distance of 107 miles from Welford Park. The command post, Headquarters Company, Company “A” and Medical Detachment were established in area D-10 and Companies “B”,”C” and Reconnaissance Company in area D-8.

Quarters in pyramidal tents were available with permanent mess halls being maintained by colored personnel of the SOS. Recreation facilities were available in the manner of a library, moving pictures, ball diamonds, etc. All personnel were restricted to the area which was enclosed by barbed wire and conversation with civilians of any category was forbidden. All members of the battalion were warned of enemy air activity within the zone and to be on the lookout for German butterfly bombs which were frequently dropped in the area during the night by enemy planes.

LST assignments were immediately made upon our arrival and items of equipment necessary which could not be obtained at Welford Park were drawn, during the period. The weather during our stay was rainy and cold and the mud miserable. The day of 8 July was spent in accomplishing motor maintenance. The men enjoyed good chow, showers and a movie during the day, but rain prevailed throughout the day.

On 6 July 1st Lieut. Gomer D. Hughes, Tech 4 Grade Charles W. Pittman and Tech 5 Grave Thomas M. Quaranto, landed with the command post of the 35th Infantry Division at Omaha Beach, where the Division command Post was established in the vicinity of Fallot, France.

On 5 July, just prior to the organization departure form Welford Park, Colonel Lansing McVicker, the units former commanding officer, who was then in command of the 9th Tank Destroyer Group, visited the battalion and renewed acquaintances. He was very well pleased with the appearance of the battalion and upon his departure expressed his opinion that it would make a definite impression upon the enemy.

At 0100 hours, 9 July, 1944, the 3rd platoon, Company “A”, under 1st Lieut. Eugene Martinez and Staff Sergeant Jack P. Davis, departed from the area, in the ran, at 0400 hours, for the RDRP #8, a distance of 14 miles, where they embarked on USA LST Number 1168, for France, remaining in the harbor until in the early hours on the 10th where they sailed for the continent.

A 0330 hours, 10 July, 1944, the 3rd platoon, motor maintenance section and security section, sailed for France, and at the end of the period were enroute to France. The remainder of the battalion were alerted at 0100 hours on the 10th and began movement to RCRP #8 at 0330 hours, a distance of 14 miles from the marshaling area. The command post group, Headquarters Company, Company “A” ( less 3d platoon, motor maintenance and security which had previously sailed) began embarking on USA LST # 516 at 1500 hours; Company “C” began embarking on USA LST #2 and the Reconnaissance Company on LST Number 1425 at 1045 hours. Co B began embarking on USA LST #975 at 2030 hours, and the convoy of LSTs steamed out into the bay at 1700 hours and anchored for the night; less the LST upon which Company “B” was sailing which did not complete loading until the following morning. One vehicle, the T2 wrecker from Company “B” fell out of the convoy due to mechanical failure and had to be left at the marshalling area, along with Tech 4 Grade Mroczka, Tech 5 Grade Huddleston, Tech 5 Grade Matteson, Tech 5 Grade Trocher, and Pvt 1cl Carter. At 0500 hours the battalion, less company “B”, in convoy with 15 other LSTs steamed out of the Harbor at Portland, England, into the English Channel, with France as their destination.

The trip of 83 miles was uneventful and the weather during the crossing was excellent, the channel which is generally rough was calm, and no enemy activity either from the water or air was encountered. The men ate with the crew during the voyage and hot coffee was available in the galley throughout the trip at all hours.

At 1545 hours on the afternoon of 11 Jul, 1944, the coast of France came into view over the horizon and everyone aboard rushed out on deck to get the glimpse of the land on which we were to fight, die and liberate.

As we approached the harbor the mute evidence of the fight on “D” Day was evident. Battered and half-emerged ships of all descriptions were visible which had sunk or put out of action as the American Army rushed ashore on 6 June, 1944. German knocked-out pill boxes, dug-in on the hills overlooking the approaches to the shore could be seen, but U.S. Army vehicles were running to and fro by the hundreds on shore and a camp atop of the hill could be seen with the Stars & Stripes proudly flying. The beach into which we were headed for debarkation was “OMAHA BEACH”, at which place one of the bloodiest fights of the landings on “D Day” was fought. Part of the beach consisted of high steep cliffs, part a gentle slope from the hills which had been studded with German pill boxes made of concrete and reinforced with steel. It was evident what had to be accomplished by the initial assaulting American troops prior to demolishing those concrete pill boxes as artillery fire would not effectively destroy them, it being necessary to blow them apart with satchel charges. It was also evident by the number of ships in the harbor that the Luftwaffe was an item of history, as both to the right and left, as far as the eyes could see were ships of all nature unloading implements of war and troops without interference. At 1730 hours after bull-doziers had piled sand around the ramps of the LSTs in our convoy, Colonel Martz and his staff debarked, being immediately followed by other components aboard.

Debarkation was complete at 2015 hours, and the convoy less Company “B” (who was left in the harbor at Portland, England) and the 3d platoon of Company “A”, who had landed previously, began movement inland to a transit camp, a distance of 3 miles from the beach, closing in the transit area at 2300 hours, and occupying areas D-1,2,3 and 4, where they spent the night. During the night at the transit camp, enemy planes attempted to bomb the beach but were driven off by violent antiaircraft fire from American Batteries. Its funny how troops with no combat experience could be so dumb, after all their training, as to rush out into the open, which we did that night, to witness the aerial attack and AA fire. Not one man had a foxhole or protection in any form, and we were at that very moment in range of artillery fire.

Upon arrival at the transit camp, the 3d platoon of Company “A” was in camp awaiting our arrival, having arrived and debarked at Omaha Beach at 0330 hours 11 July , 1944. The 35th Infantry Division to whom the battalion was attached had been committed to combat on 8 July and were then north of St Lo in contact with the enemy awaiting our arrival.

At 1030 hours the battalion was alerted for movement to the front lines the following morning, and Colonel Martz reported to the 35th Infantry Division command post. Upon debarking the battalion was detached from the Third U.S. Army and XV Corps, and was attached to the First U.S. Army and XIX Corps, but remained attached to the 35th Infantry Division.

Colonel Martz returned to the transit area at 0100 hours, followed by Lieut. Hughes the battalion Liaison Officer, who had landed with the Division command post on 6 July, swearing that a sniper had took a “pot shot” at him between the division command post and the camp. Colonel Martz immediately called a conference of all company commanders and staff and made plans for occupying positions, beginning at 0400 hours on the morning of the 12th July, 1944.

At 0300 hours on the morning of 12 July, Company “B” completed debarkation and moved to the transit camp at 0800 hours, after the battalion had departed form the area, and were alerted for movement to the front immediately. The gun companies were attached to the following units of the 35th Infantry Division upon debarkation, Company “A” to the 219th Field Artillery Battalion; Company “B” to 161st Field Artillery Battalion and Company “C” to 127th Field Artillery Battalion.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s