Laundry and the Tactical Situation
Operations of the 600th QM Company in Europe
The Quartermaster Review
SINCE First Army’s 600th QM Laundry Company landed on Utah Beach, its mission has been that of servicing VII Corps divisions and corps troops. From the Cherbourg Peninsula through France and Belgium into Germany, this company has followed a corps which, in every campaign, has moved quickly and aggressively. It has been necessary, therefore, that it execute its movements promptly and with a minimum of production time lost. It was essential, too, that, in reconnaissance, operating sites be selected which were within reasonable proximity to the troops, yet beyond the range of enemy artillery.
Decreases in laundry output occurred not only as the result of company movements but, more markedly, because of the changing tactical situation, which often has prevented combat elements from sending in laundry. Conversely, laundry production has soared when the tactical situation became static, as during rest and regrouping periods. In the following sketch of this laundry’s operations since arrival on the Continent, an attempt is made to convey this striking correlation between production and the tactical situation as it existed during each of the various campaigns.
From Disembarkation to the Assault on St. L0 (16 July-24 July): When the 600th QM Laundry Company landed on Utah Beach on D plus 40, Cherbourg had been taken and the fighting had extended to the base of the peninsula. The first week of laundry operations began five days before the breakthrough at St. Lo. Among the seven divisions which the company serviced were the famed 1st, 4th, and 9th Divisions.
Breakthrough at St. Lo (25 July-1 August): During this period VII Corps broke out of the Peninsula and the 600th promptly followed, moving a distance of forty miles. Some pockets of resistance had to be eliminated, and a German counterattack at Mortain kept most of the combat elements engaged in a very fluid situation. There were six divisions in Corps at this time and all of them, for the most part, were on the line. Consequently there was a lull in laundry operations.
Pursuit through France and Belgium (16 August-18 September): During this period the 600th accomplished six moves, covering a total distance of 560 miles, and reached the German border. The length and frequency of these moves, with the added handicap of a gasoline shortage and the steady engagement of the 1st, 9th, and 3rd Armored Divisions, brought about a decline in total laundry production. The greater part, by far, of the output occurred during the last ten days of the period.
The Assault on the Siegfried Line (18 September-23 December): The pace of the Allied armies was slowed in order to regroup and strengthen for a knockout blow against the West Wall. The assembly of supplies, material, and reinforcements had to be built up with provision for adequate reserve power. This static period offered the laundry its first great opportunity to perform its mission on a large scale. It operated on a twenty-four-hour basis and brought its facilities closer to the troops to be served. Mud greatly delayed the process of evacuation, as tractors and trailers had to be pulled out of laundry areas by Ordnance wreckers. Yet, in spite of these delays, production totalled 2,462,864 pounds, with the following divisions receiving service at various times: the 1st, 4th, 8th, 9th, 83rd, 99th, and 104th Infantry Divisions, and the 3rd and 5th Armored Divisions.
The German Counterattack and the Battle of the Bulge (24 December-7 February): The company went fifty miles back into Belgium and set up to operate for any unit requesting service. Corps troops and divisions were too busy reducing the bulge to avail themselves of laundry facilities, and the first two or three weeks of this period were, as a result, marked by a decline in laundry operations. Yet it was necessary, in order to prevent the freezing up of equipment, to keep the laundry engine generators running constantly, even though work was not always on hand. The company moved south again in order to keep up with the rapid corps advances. Then As the situation became more stable, laundry began to flow in at an increasing rate. Again a peak of activity was reached as the company operated two twelve-hour shifts to service the 83rd and 84th Infantry Divisions, the 2nd and 3rd Armored Divisions, and the usual corps troops and officers.
The Rhine Offensive (9 February-9 March): In the early part of this period, during which First Army made ready for the assault against the Rhineland, the 600th found its services once more utilized to the fullest extent. Many troops, in the line over an extended period of time during the Battle of the Bulge, welcomed the opportunity to change into clean clothing. Since the tactical situation was quite static during the early part of this period, transportation and time were available in which to carry laundry to the 600th. As a result the unit experienced one of its peaks of activity-this in spite of time lost when the trailers had to be pulled by means of a bulldozer and wreckers from a flooded area in Belgium. Six days elapsed before every trailer was again in operation at the new site in Germany.
The Trans-Rhine Campaign (10 March-29 March): This period found the 600th accomplishing two moves of forty-two and forty-seven miles respectively, the latter carrying it to the west bank of the Rhine. Prior to establishment of the first bridgehead on the east bank, the combat troops had ready access to the laundry. This was another high point in the history of its production services, with each of its sixteen trailers operating seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day.
After March 30th the laundry was situated some distance from the troops serviced, as a result of the dynamic offensive again taken by the Allied armies, and a decided lull in laundry operations was already in evidence. However, as the ferocity of organized resistance continued to lessen, some elements were withdrawn from the line for more frequent utilization of the laundry’s services.
Whatever the tactical situation, this laundry continues to “put out” day and night for those who are really putting out.