Starting with this first issue, I am going to tackle a year and a half long project to bring the history of the 4th Infantry Division in WWII to all who want to follow it during this historic 75th anniversary commemorative year.
My plan between now and 8 May 2020 (75th anniversary of VE Day) is to give us a monthly dose of what our 4ID troops did between January and May 1944. And then, starting the first week of June this year (D-Day anniversary), I will switch to weekly updates and follow our WWII forefathers in their fight across Europe to victory on 8 May 1945.
I will use historic material from the 4ID yearbooks published in 1946 and other history books, stories from memories provided to me 20 years ago by the 4ID vets who helped win the war in Europe (and published in my War Stories book in 2001), the official After Action Report of 4ID in WWII, pictures as I can find and use them, and anything else that I can find that appears to be of interest to those who love the history of the 4ID.
I plan to make this available in several places: my personal (Bob Babcock) Facebook page; the 4ID Association Facebook page; the 4ID Association webpage (www.4thinfantry.org); and my Americans Remembered web page (www.americansremembered.org). I plan to leave all these up permanently on the Americans Remembered web page.
I likely will find other places to broadcast these historic reports that will be coming out. I encourage anyone who reads these to forward them to your contacts who have an interest in the 4ID history from WWII. We don't want to be spam or a nuisance, but I know a lot of people care about WWII history that I am unaware of and do not have contact with.
Let's get started...
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In this first issue, we will set the stage with the reactivation of 4ID in June 1940 and follow them through their deployment to England in January 1944. This history comes from the 4ID Yearbook that was published in 1946:
Once again war clouds gathered over Europe and it became necessary to increase the size of the armed forces of the United States.
As part of this expansion, the 4th Division was reactivated on June 1, 1940, at Fort Benning, Ga., composed initially of the following units: the 8th, 22nd, and 29th Infantry Regiments, 20th, 29th, 42nd, and 44th Field Artillery Battalions, 4th Engineer Battalion, 4th Medical Battalion, 4th Quartermaster Battalion, 4th Signal Company, 4th Reconnaissance Troop, and the 4th Headquarters and Military Police Company. Units of the Division were below strength and training was retarded until training areas and aids were pushed to completion.
Then in August 1940, the Division was selected to act as an experimental unit for the development of methods recently demonstrated by the German blitz through Belgium and France, and designated the 4th Division (Motorized), and later re-designated 4th Motorized Division in 1941. Thus began a three-year, wide-open experiment, (initially, equipment was not available) although ideas and theories were many and vigorous. The Louisiana Maneuvers of 1941 saw the 4th Motorized Division using trucks, some borrowed, some retrieved from salvage dumps, in lieu of armored half-tracks. Gradually the equipment problem was met and the now full-strength units were prepared for whatever might be the country's need. Pearl Harbor resolved any doubts; the purpose of the men and the extent of their responsibility was evident.
In the fall of 1941, the 12th Infantry Regiment replaced the 29th Infantry in the 4th Division. December 1941 saw the Division move to newly-completed Camp Gordon, Ga. For more than two years, Gordon and Augusta were "home'' for the 4th. In July 1942, the Division was withdrawn suddenly from the Carolina Maneuvers, returned to Gordon, and alerted for overseas movement. This was the first in a series of false alarms which, though disturbing, kept personnel aware of the ultimate objective of the continuing intensive training.
Landings were made in Africa in November but the 4th continued to assault through Boggy Gut, Ga. On Christmas Day, the Division again was alerted. Much equipment had been crated, clothing marked, and physical examinations undergone when, at seemingly the last minute, the move was halted. In April 1943, a permanent change of station was ordered, Fort Dix, N.J. becoming the next station of the 4th. It was here, on August 4, 1943, that the 4th Motorized Division was reorganized as the 4th Infantry Division, in which form it has remained.
Early in September 1943, the Division headed south once more, this time to Camp Gordon Johnston, at Carrabelle, Fl., on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico. Here realistic amphibious training was undergone, and familiarity was developed with the variety of assault landing craft and techniques evolved in anticipation of the invasion of Festung Europa.
Again alerted for overseas movement, the Division shifted to Fort Jackson, S. C., in December, where final personnel adjustments were completed.
As the year 1944 opened, the Division moved to Camp Kilmer, N.J., a staging area of the New York Port of Embarkation. This last alert "took," and on the morning of January 18, 1944, the 4th Infantry Division put to sea. On January 29th, their convoy entered the port of Liverpool, England. Within minutes of landing, the mark of the enemy was plain for all to see as troops marched from ships to trains through block after block of bombed homes, warehouses, and docks.
The Division was established in scattered villages in Devonshire with the Division Command Post at Tiverton, near Exeter. Even before unloading had been completed at Liverpool, the Supreme Commander Allied Expeditionary Force, General Dwight D. Eisenhower and his
deputy, Air Marshal Sir Arthur Tedder, visited the 4th. This was but the first in a series of inspection by distinguished British and American higher commanders. We made welcome additions to the Division family, in the form of the 70th and 746th Tank Battalions, the 65th Armored Field Artillery Battalion, the 1106th Engineer Group, the 377th Anti-Aircraft Artillery (Automatic Weapons) Battalion, the 87th Chemical Battalion Motorized, and the 801st and 899th Tank Destroyer Battalions, which would be with us during the assault and, in some cases, for many months thereafter. For the actual assault the 1st Engineer Special Brigade would support the Division; therefore, personnel of this Brigade were participants with us in the planning phase and landing exercises.
Following are two stories from my book War Stories Volume I: D-Day to Liberation of Paris:
Harper Coleman, Tucson, AZ - Company H, 2nd Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment
Camp Gordon Johnston, Florida
Location: Carabelle, Florida, on the shorts of the Gulf of Mexico. Time: October, November, and part of December in 1943. We came by Pullman train from Kentucky to Tallahassee, Florida. From there we were taken by truck to the camp. I was assigned to Company H of the 8th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division.
The training was all amphibious: we got on and off landing craft out in the Gulf of Mexico, and then back to the beaches of the camp. There was some other training, such as long hikes. One hike was for twenty-five miles in less than seven hours. Quite a few did not make this all the way, but I did. One of the incidents that I remember well happened in the Gulf of Mexico, off Dog Island. We had gone out one night and storms came up. The LCVPs were separated in the storms. The next day the Coast Guard found our craft, along with two others. We were headed toward Mexico, or so they told us. They turned us around and took us back to the right shore on Thanksgiving Day 1943.
After this, sometime in December 1943, we left there and went to Fort Jackson, South Carolina. We were there only a few weeks, mostly to get new equipment and clothing, do some guard duty, and spend a few times in town.
Early in January of 1944, we went to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey. On January 18, we were put out to sea on an English ship. We were about eleven days on the water. The meals were typically English - boiled mutton (sheep) and turnips - none of which was very appetizing. Our lieutenant at the time kept us pretty well supplied with snacks from the officers' exchange, which kept us from getting too hungry. We were offered one meal per day on the ship, and as I recall, we rarely ate it.
When we left New York harbor, everyone was required to stay below deck. Our company, either lucky or unlucky, was part of the guard detail to make sure this was done. I happened to be on deck at the time and saw some of the sights going out of the harbor.
William C. Montgomery, Long Beach, CA - Company A, 4th Medical Battalion
Troopship in January
... From the ferry, we went to a New York pier, a gigantic warehouse-like building, with gangplanks leading up to a ship we couldn't see. Red Cross women gave us coffee and doughnuts while we waited to board. They were angels.
The ship was a large liner called Capetown Castle, formerly on the England-South Africa-India run. It was manned by British merchant seamen, some of whom eked out their wages by selling us baths in the otherwise unused passenger bathrooms. I don't remember any of us took exception to this little racket...
Our quarters had been the Grand Ballroom. Pipe bunks with canvas slings on rope lashings were built up to the ceiling, perhaps six or seven bunks high. We had to fight with our duffel bags and other gear for sleeping room on the narrow canvas.
During the crossing, we were routed out of the bunks each morning for breakfast, given time to go to the commissary when it was open, then mustered out on deck to stand a good part of the day for boat drill. I think the real idea was to get us up and out of the incredible crowding, into the fresh air, and onto the broad decks where discipline was easier to maintain.
Some of our people were so seasick they would not raise their heads and were left in their bunks. The rest of us, when we were in our bunks, played cards or gambled, cleaned weapons, sharpened knives, straightened gear, wrote letters, read, sang, or horsed around.
It was midwinter and the trip was fairly rough. We were on a big ship. I remember looking a the destroyers on the edge of the convoy as they bobbed in and out of sight behind huge seas, wondering how you stayed alive on such a tiny boat. The roughest time was the final night of the eleven-day trip. We anchored in the Irish Sea, probably waiting for port space somewhere. The ship pitched and rolled around violently. I thought it was going to roll completely over several times. Nobody had fallen out of the bunks during the entire crossing, but they did that night.
The next day we finally steamed into what turned out to be Liverpool. I was astonished to see the British dock workers dressed in everyday clothes. In the US, workers doing heavy work like handling ships' lines wore overalls, coveralls, or rough clothing that seemed to be more appropriate.
I remember marching through blacked-out Liverpool that night, so it must have taken some time to unload the ship. We went on a train...
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This concludes Issue #1. I plan to put the next issue out around 4 March, then repeat it on or around the 4th of April and May... then we will go to weekly updates the first week of June.
A reminder - feel free to share this with anyone you know who will enjoy this history lesson.
Steadfast and Loyal.
Bob Babcock, 4IDA Historian and Past President