Travelogue of a Division Quartermaster – Part 1
Lt. Col. James H. Caruthers, Q.M.C.
The Quartermaster Review
This is an account of the duties, experiences, and problems of a division quartermaster from the time the Second Infantry Division departed from its home station at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, in November 1942, to the fall of Brest, in September 1944. The narrative covers movement of the Division through the embarkation area to a destination in North Ireland, subsequent movement through marshalling and embarkation points in South Wales, the landing in France on D+1, and experiences 104 days of action.
“It is realized,” writes the author, that, due to developments in the course of the conflict, certain of the methods used to provide means and facilities for handling non- T/O responsibilities mentioned herein will be of no benefit to quartermasters in the field. In fact, many have no doubt already devised better solutions. However, my views and experiences are given for what they are worth, and if only one idea for solving some of the multitudinous problems of the division quartermaster is derived from these notes, my passing them on will not have been in vain.”
November 1942 to September 1943
In November 1942 this division was moved by rail from Fort Sam Houston, Texas, (where it had been stationed since the last war) to Camp McCoy, Wisconsin. It was approximately 75o when we left Fort Sam Houston. Three days later, when we arrived at the new camp, it was 25o below zero. An extensive and detailed training program was drawn up, which involved winter and oversnow operations. Acclimation to sub-zero temperature was the major problem. Parkas, mountain-boots, mukluks, mittens, two- and four-man tents, snowshoes, skis, toboggans, and many other items were shipped to us for experimental purposes during this period. Men were given daily instruction in the wear and use of snowshoes and skis. Each man was fitted with three pairs of socks, ski boots, ski trousers, skis, and poles.
All training culminated in a division maneuver, which was held at Ottawa National Forest, in the vicinity of Watersmeet, Michigan, during March 1943. Upon completion of this maneuver and return to Camp McCoy the snow started melting and winter training came to an end.
From April to August, 1943, training continued, covering the attack of a fortified position, village and wood fighting, and battle indoctrination of all kinds.
In July 1943 the Division was secretly alerted for overseas movement, and preparations were started for showdown inspections and complete equipage of the Division for combat. This movement was later postponed to August, and again postponed until September. Movement of the Division was completed when the 28th and last train departed from Camp McCoy at midnight, 30 September 1943.
On the 2nd of October the Division was alerted for shipment overseas. Lists were made of all final shortages existing upon embarkation, which were due to be shipped to our overseas destination. The Division sailed in a large convoy about the 5th of October, destination unknown at that time. Another large convoy joined us, and with naval and air protection we proceeded across the Atlantic. The trip over was uneventful, except for usual rumors of submarines. We arrived safely off Ireland on the 17th of October.
The Division lay off-shore two days before disembarking. Navy transports and, commercial liners converted to transports were used for the overseas movement. One Infantry regiment, with various other units, including the Quartermaster Company, was carried on a Navy transport which was later sunk off the coast of Normandy during the invasion. Usual lifeboat and abandon-ship drills were held throughout the entire journey. The Army furnished the personnel for all guard, fatigue, and mess operations aboard ship. Two meals a day were served. Men were double-bunked. One half aboard ship were assigned bunks and slept twelve hours while the other half stayed on deck. Then the second half slept while the first half stayed on deck. The sea was calm, the weather perfect except for a storm three days out of New York.
The Division, upon disembarking, was shipped by rail to an area approximately fifteen by twenty miles square in the southern part of North Ireland. Camps formerly occupied by British troops were used to billet units of the Division. Many such camps included luxurious estates and castles, which were freely given for use as regimental, battalion, and other headquarters. All troops in the town were in civilian buildings and residences, except for one Infantry regiment, which was billeted in a permanent military post formerly occupied by the British.
I neglected to mention previously that an advance party of thirty officers and thirty enlisted men preceded the Division by fifteen days. This advance party had prepared all the billets for occupancy, with the assistance of key personnel from another American division already stationed in Ireland. Two days’ supply of rations and an initial supply of cleaning and preserving materials were laid in by the advance detail at each camp, prior to the arrival of the Division. At this stage we became involved in the British supply system, because each camp had its British officer in charge of barracks, who furnished the housekeeping supplies and maintenance of buildings. This officer performed the duties corresponding to a supply officer of a post, camp, or station. Each camp also had a garrison engineer, who maintained all buildings and utilities, and furnished fuel. At this time, also, it was discovered that supplies were not just across the street in a Quartermaster warehouse as they were in the States. The British had been at war for over three years and had learned the meaning of conservation and salvage of all kinds of supplies and equipment. All tin cans, waste paper, and other articles ordinarily discarded, were picked up and shipped to a location where they could be remade into usable articles. All kitchen fat was rendered and turned into British salvage, to he used in the manufacture of explosives. Even bones were boiled clean and likewise turned in.
We looked to the British for the supply of all items essential for housekeeping purposes, for the maintenance and repair of buildings and utilities, and for the supply of all petrol and coal. We looked to the NIBS (North Ireland Base Section) for the supply of rations, clothing and equipment, and other items peculiar to our combat needs. It was necessary to trans-ship supplies from England to Ireland, and due to the critical shortage of coastwise shipping facilities it required almost six months to secure initial equipment necessary to replace that which did not accompany the Division. Practically no organizational Quartermaster equipment was brought, except for field ranges and other essential items necessary to bivouac the unit for a short period of time. At this time, also, we learned the literal meaning of bare shelves and empty warehouses.
By the end of October all units were settled down in their new homes in a strange land, and soon became acquainted with the local inhabitants and the damp, rainy climate, for which this country is noted. It was necessary to provide heated buildings in every camp.
We missed modern plumbing and sanitary conveniences to which we had become accustomed. Very few billets enjoyed the distinction of having a bathtub or water-closet. Honeybuckets were used as toilets, and were emptied daily by civilians under contract to the British. The senior division officer in each locality was designated camp commander. In fact, each camp was a small post in itself, and flew an American flag. This officer was responsible for all administration in the camp, guard and security measures, and police of adjacent civilian communities. Most of the Division was billeted practically on the Free State border of Eire. Strict security measures had to be exercised at all times to prevent any sabotage or leakage of information. In spite of rigid enforcement of these measures we were surprised, shortly after our arrival, by having a German radio station dedicate a musical number to the new American division
ration in order that these children might enjoy luxuries which many had never known before. This gesture went a long way to cement good will between the Irish and American peoples.
In December I attended a conference of all Quartermasters in the ETO, at the Eastern Base Section in England, on mess management and care and use of British stoves, which were quite complicated to operate. Upon my return to the Division, a school on these subjects was held in each camp. So effective was the campaign to reduce wastage of food that no mess had more than one No.10 can of garbage at the end of each meal. Civilian garbage-removal contractors complained that they were not getting enough garbage.
In January, authority was secured from Army Headquarters for all of the division special staff to visit the corresponding staff officers of two Infantry divisions which were stationed in England after having been through the African, Sicilian, and Italian invasions. In the course of conversations with the quartermasters of these divisions I secured much valuable information. Two days were spent at ETOUSA (European Theater of Operations – United States Army) Headquarters, London, and the details of the over-all plans for the invasion, and supply in connection therewith, were secured.
Also, during this period, the division commander, artillery commander, and chief of staff, flew to the Italian battlefront and Anzio beachhead, and remained for approximately three weeks. Schools were held with the staff, and procedures were developed for operations during combat, based on the combined experiences of battle-tested individuals.
The provisions of POM and SSV (Short Sea Voyage) were put into effect in March. These provided for another showdown inspection for serviceability and quantity, and the marking of all vehicles and boxing and crating of equipment for overseas shipment.
About April 15 the Division was alerted on twenty-four-hour notice for movement to England. This alert was received on a Saturday night, and on Sunday morning all the special staff and their supply officers were put aboard a transport plane. The supply sections worked all Saturday night consolidating all shortages of equipment; and these requisitions were taken with us. We landed at First Army Headquarters, where conferences were held with the army G-4, and the general plans for the division were outlined. Individual conferences were then held with the corresponding army staff officer, to work out in detail our respective phases. The army quartermaster had arranged a conference with SOS (Service of Supply) representatives, which was held in his office the following day. After I became familiar with the army plan of supply for the coming invasion, my supply officer and I proceeded to the SOS headquarters, where three days were spent in securing clearance on all requisitions, supplies being located by telephone and instructions issued to hold until we picked them up. The Division was given a 1-A priority on procurement of all items. I secured blanket authority from OCQM to go to any depot in England and secure supplies available, taking an extract of the reduced shortages to the next depot, where similar procedure was followed. The army quartermaster placed a field grade officer at SOS Headquarters as a liaison officer to expedite the clearance of showdown requisitions. In this connection much valuable assistance was rendered by that officer, particularly a few days later when many difficulties were handled by telephone.
In the meantime the Division had been moved by boat to concentration areas in South Wales, replacing another division, unit for unit.
Immediately upon arrival, plans were made for the dispatch of trucks and officers to the various depots located throughout England on which extract requisitions were made. In many instances it was found, when our trucks arrived, that the depot on which the extract had been made did not have all of the supplies. For this reason, each convoy of trucks was placed in charge of an officer, or responsible NCO, so that an extract for those items not picked up would be made before the trucks left the depot. Before leaving, the officer or NCO would verify, by phone, to the next depot as to whether or not such items would be available there. If so, the convoy would proceed to the next depot to pick up any items available, before returning. Many of these convoys were gone five days and covered several hundred miles:
A division DP (distribution point) for distributing this mass of supplies and equipment was set up about thirty miles from headquarters.
By means of the procedure outlined above, 97.8 per cent of all shortages were secured and issued to the Division.
At this time, after persistent efforts and correspondence, which lasted three months or more, I secured an overstrength of two officers and twenty-four enlisted men. Utilization of this overstrength will be covered in succeeding paragraphs.
It required approximately thirty days from the Division’s arrival to secure and issue shortages. In the interim, normal supply of Class I and III was handled by the assistant division quartermaster and an assistant supply officer. Class III requirements were secured by each camp by direct call on the nearest British CSD (command supply depot). It was impossible to control deliveries through the ODQM, as was done in North Ireland.
May to June 1944
About the middle of May, movement of the Division to marshalling camps was made. Many units had only a short distance to go to these camps. Upon arrival, all marshalling area camps were sealed in for security reasons. These camps were situated in out-of-the-way places and hidden from towns and highways. Here, also, we were briefed as to the exact details and the part the Division was to play in the invasion. This was accomplished with schools, sand-table models, and maps. SOS static troops furnished personnel, supplemented by division personnel, to operate messes, assist in waterproofing of vehicles, and procuring last-minute items needed. Several such camps were used by the Division. On the 28th of May, movement to the P of E (port of embarkation) was started.
The entire Quartermaster Company, with all vehicles, was loaded on a British collier. Openings had been cut through the bulkheads, and vehicles were lowered into the hold. Personnel were bedded down on top of the four hatches, with a tarpaulin stretched between two masts as protection against the weather. Officers double-bunked with the ship’s officers. No messing facilities were available. However, the ship’s captain made available for our use a forty-gallon steam boiler in which were placed cans of meat and vegetables from 10-in-1 rations aboard, thus making it possible to give the men two hot meals a day. The other meal consisted of a K ration with coffee. Thirteen days’ rations for our strength was put aboard before sailing.
All available space on each side of the hatches was filled with 5-gallon cans of water and gas. We sailed on this collier on the 30th of May. At this time we guessed D-day to be 1 June. The ship’s captain was a Britisher, with more than thirty years’ sea duty. His name was Captain F. A. Bright. He had four other ship’s officers with him. Captain Bright was most apologetic for the lack of messing, bunking, and sanitary accommodations, and went out of his way in offering every assistance in improvising such facilities. He had the ship’s carpenter install latrines and electric lights where needed. He also loaned us certain cooking utensils.
Our ship joined a large invasion convoy the following day. Every conceivable type of craft was in this convoy – from garbage barges from the Thames (which were loaded with gas cans and other classes of supplies) to Liberty ships and transports. It was impossible to count the number of craft which were visible as far as the eye could see. The convoy was well escorted. The weather was very bad and it was later discovered that D-day was postponed on this account, from day to day, to June 6th. We spent eight days on board ship, as the convoy moved very slowly and stopped at intervals. At night we could see tracer bullets and hear gunfire between our escorts and attacking E-boats and submarines. On board ship during the journey all men were instructed on how to wear Navy pneumatic life preservers under their equipment. The equipment was so arranged that it could be shaken off with a shrug of the shoulders and dropped into the water if it became necessary to leave the ship.
It might be appropriate to mention here that this division was in the follow-up phase, which means we followed the 1st Division, which made the actual assault on the beach.
When we arrived off the beach near St. Laurent, wreckage of LSTs, LCTs, and even Liberty ships was all around us. Approximately thirty ships of every size and description, including Liberty ships, were deliberately sunk in the form of a semi-circle off the beach, to form a breakwater for landing-craft.
With the thousands of craft waiting to unload men and supplies, the tremendous task of a harbor master may well be appreciated. While standing off-shore we were subjected to many air attacks, and flak from the hundreds of anti-aircraft guns on shore fell on the deck like hail. It was necessary at all times to wear steel helmets because we were exposed in the open, and during attacks the men would huddle under the ‘tween deck and forecastle. Fortunately, no one was injured during these raids.
We were completely unloaded, including vehicles, on a large barge which accommodated all vehicles and personnel. The barge was run ashore on a sandbar and the front ramp was let down. Vehicles were driven through shallow water about ten feet to the shore. By this time fighting troops were about three miles inland, and we proceeded to the assembly area, about one mile from the village of St. Laurent. In a farmyard, vehicles were de-waterproofed, and the company was organized. Late that afternoon we moved down to a bivouac area, about half a mile from the village. This was our first night in actual combat, and all during the night we became familiar with the sounds of battle. Alert guards were on duty around our entire area, as German snipers and other- isolated groups were in the vicinity. Here also we first became acquainted with actualities of the job we were soon to see much more of-that of handling the dead. Three dead Germans were in our bivouac area, one with half his head shot off. The horrors of war were well reflected in the forms of these dead soldiers.
All units came ashore with three days’ rations, consisting of Ks and Cs. The next two days were devoted to locating beach dumps and procuring rations and gasoline for the Division. A division DP was established on our third day ashore.