75 Years Ago — 4ID in WWII — Issue #5 — Final Preparations, May 1944 / by Matt King

 

From the 4ID Yearbook published in 1946:

Each move to the ports for these rehearsals had been made under complete security restrictions. The final move, during the third week of May, differed in no essential feature from those made previously. Yet it was the insensate man who did not realize that "this is it."

Arriving in the marshalling areas, units found the areas surrounded by barbed wire and, once inside, none were permitted exit or contact with any outsider, civilian or military. "Briefing" was begun. United States forces were to attempt landings on two French beaches, one under VII Corps, the other under V Corps. The assault division in the VII Corps plan was the 4th Infantry Division, while the assault element of V Corps, on VII Corps' left, was the 1st Infantry Division, reinforced by one regiment of the 29th Infantry Division. A third beach was to be assaulted by British forces, to the left of V Corps. By reason of the tide along the Channel coast, the first troops to land would be those assaulting the beach nearest Cherbourg - the 4th Infantry Division.

The mission of the Division was explained; the job for which each man had been prepared was fixed in relation to a given piece of Normandy beach. Models of the assault beach were studied; gas-proof clothing was issued; waterproofing of vehicles and equipment accomplished. During the first few days of June the troops loaded onto ships for the final pay-off run.

From Mr. 22nd Infantry by Michael Belis:

As Battalion Commander, Major Earl "Lum" Edwards would hold command over Companies E, F, G, and H of the 22nd Infantry Regiment. In addition to getting 2nd Battalion into a state of readiness for the upcoming assault, Edwards spent a great deal of his time studying a mock-up of the beach on which his Battalion was to land. He was provided with a Nissen hut in which the mock-up was installed and he was the only one allowed to enter that hut. Daily aerial photos taken of the beach and inland area were brought to him and he studied them all, planning what his moves would be once the invasion got underway in order to achieve his Battalion's objectives. As the 6th of June approached, Major Earl Edwards was as ready as he could be to take 2nd Battalion 22nd Infantry ashore into Festung Europa.

Before he could assault into France, Edwards had another problem he had to deal with. A few days before the actual landing, he suffered from hemorrhoids and was in a great deal of pain from them.  He found his ailment gave him considerable trouble in walking. He asked his roommate Tom Keenan to report his condition to Colonel Tribolet. He was sure his medical situation would prevent him from making the landings.  In his memoirs, Edwards described the resulting events:

“Later in the day an ambulance drove up to our quarters and two medics came in and said that I was to come with them. They helped me to the ambulance where I found Col. Tribolet and the Regimental Surgeon, Dr. Kirtley. We drove away and soon parked in front of a U.S. Field Hospital. Col. Tribolet and Dr. Kirtley went in and soon returned. We then drove a while and parked in front of another hospital.

The same thing happened. So we drove on to another. This time some medics came out and carried me in and within a short time I was operated on. After an hour or so of recovery, I was carried back to the ambulance which returned me to my quarters and I was placed again on my bunk. All this time no explanations whatever. I later learned that Col. Tribolet was determined that I would command the 2nd Battalion in the invasion so he and Doc Kirtley decided to take me to a hospital and ask if they would operate on me and immediately release me to their care. If the answer was "no" they simply carried me to another hospital and so on until one agreed.

So I went into the landings with a large wad of cotton taped to my rear. Fortunately, the salt water and a few artillery rounds cured me. I don't remember ever thinking about it after we landed.”

Back in London, WAC PFC Helen Kogel Denton continued to type the D-Day orders, as covered in her book World War II WAC:

We were experiencing some of the worst V-2 bombings that London had endured. If you could hear the noise the bombs made, you knew you were okay. But if the motor shut off, we immediately got under our desk and covered our heads. When the bombs hit, the whole building would shake and dust flew everywhere. Because the Germans knew where we were working, our compound was hit often. By this time, we were sleeping three stories underground in a bomb shelter in the Square. Every night about dusk (which was around 10:00 PM with wartime double daylight savings time), we would take our blanket and a pillow and head for the shelter. The first floor underground was for people coming in off the street, the second floor was for British people, and the third floor was for the Americans. There was a single cot with a mattress for each of us; we provided the blanket and pillow. Each morning the all clear would sound and we would go back to the hotel, dress, and go to work.

Day after day I sat in my tiny office, officers bringing me more material to include in the operations order I was typing – later to be announced to the world as Operation Overlord, the code name of the invasion of France, or D-Day. Each day the guard came in and repeated the process of taking my ribbon out of my typewriter, collecting all the carbon paper I had used, and burning it in the fireplace. The paper I had typed was taken by an officer and, I assume, locked in a safe. This project kept me busy from late February through April 1944.

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When I finished the project I had been working on, I was asked if I would like to take the final work to General Eisenhower. I jumped at the opportunity, and was thrilled that I would get to meet him. We often saw the generals, but only to salute and move on – this was quite an honor for me. When he asked if I knew what I had typed, I assured him I did and was honored to have been trusted with such an important job. He told me that one copy of the order would be sent to General MacArthur, to use as a guide in developing a similar plan for the invasion of Japan.

He then asked me if I knew that I had a brother in England. I told him, “Yes, but I have no idea where he is.” He responded with, “We know where he is, and we want you to go see him this weekend.” He then handed me a pass and permission to take the train to Salisbury, England, where my brother, Jerry, was stationed as part of the 3rd Armored Division. This was quite a thrill as I hadn’t seen Jerry since he left home in 1940, four years earlier. We had a wonderful weekend together. Jerry was given a jeep so we could visit some of the countryside. Saturday night we attended a USO dance where I got to meet a lot of his buddies. I stayed overnight with an English family before boarding a train late Sunday afternoon for the trip back to London.

Following is a copy of the order giving Helen time off to visit her brother…

 

HEADQUARTERS
EUROPEAN THEATER OF OPERATIONS
UNITED STATES ARMY
OFFICE OF THE CHIEF SIGNAL OFFICER, APO 887
RCM DIVISION

6 May 1944

SUBJECT: Personnel Off-Duty
To: Commanding Officer, WAC Detachment B

1.     Private First Class Helen E. Kogel, A-704886, is permitted to have time off this afternoon, 6 May 1944, to check travel status.

2.     It would be appreciated if PFC Kogel could be authorized a pass to travel to Salisbury, Wiltshire, tonight and tomorrow, to visit her brother whom she has not seen for 2 ½ years.

3.     Sunday, being her normal day off, will not affect her duty status.

(Signed)
T. J. PALIK
Major, Signal Corps

 

Back in London, WAC PFC Helen Kogel Denton had some experiences that will be of interest to our readers, as will all her WWII experiences covered in her book, World War II WAC, available at www.deedspublishing.com:

With my main project complete and while waiting for the invasion to take place, we took advantage of some time off to see the sights of London, such as Madam Tussauds’ wax museum, the Tower of London, Shakespeare’s home, the Abbey, and, of course, the USO had canteens and dances at some of the largest gardens (as they were called).

 

One of my highlights in London was the Saturday I stopped by the USO to see what trips were available. We selected a bus trip to Windsor Castle, the home of King George and his family. When we arrived, the King’s flag was flying, indicating he was in residence and that we would only be able to view the outbuildings. We saw the chapel, the carriage house, and one large room that had his paintings in it. As we were walking around the room, the door opened and the King, the Queen, and their two daughters, Elizabeth and Margaret, walked in. We were astounded when they came up to us and asked who we were and where we were from. I was the first one in line, and when the King approached me, I didn’t know whether to kneel or bow or curtsey, or what the procedure was. So I just extended my hand in greeting. Then he introduced his daughters, Elizabeth and Margaret. He asked if I had met Elizabeth since she had just been assigned as a driver for the American Army. Of course I said, “No, I haven’t, but I wish her luck. Maybe I’ll see her around.” Never in my wildest dreams did I ever expect to see the King of England and the future Queen of England in my lifetime.

And I will introduce you to another source that I will use throughout the coming year as I cover the happenings of the 4th Infantry Division's fight across Europe in WWII - the Diary of Clifford "Swede" Henley who proudly served with the 22nd Infantry Regiment (we had a brief excerpt from Swede's diary in April). I will introduce it as follows, written by his friend and fellow 22nd officer Tommy Harrison who had his secretary type Swede's diary after the war (I thank Swede's two daughters for giving me permission to use this diary):

"My name is Cliff Henley. My friends call me Swede, and I was told I am to room with you." 

This was my introduction to Swede. The time was February 1942. The place was Camp Gordon in Augusta, Georgia.  His statement, "my friends call me Swede" was ironic because in all the years I have known him, I never knew of anyone who wasn't his friend or didn't like him. The only possible exception to this would have been the Krauts, but they didn't know him personally - at least the way we did. You can bet your bottom dollar though, those Krauts that did get to know him, respected the hell out of him. 

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I had another roommate, Lt. Dave Henry, who had attended Clemson College at the same time as Swede. Through Dave I learned that Swede had left his mark at Clemson the same way he was to leave his mark with the 22nd Infantry. He was one helluva football player, as well as an excellent boxer. Naturally, he was one of the best-liked men on campus... would you have expected anything less? 

In copying Swede's diary, nothing has been changed. If a town or a name is mispelled, it's because it was written that way. The language, at times, was embarrassing to my secretary as she typed the diary; but the language, nonetheless, remains unchanged. ...

This diary was never intended to be a book. The entries were made by Swede so he could relate these memories to Lila, his wife, and other members of his family back in Sommerville, South Carolina. I can remember the times when I was with Swede and he would pull out his little book and recall the happenings of the day. This would usually occur late at night or early in the morning after the outposts were set up and all companies had reported they were secure for the night. Between a couple of slugs of cognac, Swede would make his entries. 

Now, almost thirty years have passed, but yet in reading his diary, I found myself laughing at Swede's unique way of expressing himself, and once or twice had to wipe away a tear. I am sure you will sense the same emotions as you read the following pages. God - the things you forget ... not necessarily wanting to ... but time has a way of erasing from your mind, the good as well as the bad, when you don't live them day after day. Somewhere, however, locked in a little comer of your brain, those memories are still there. Swede's diary will trigger those memories. 

It is not my intention to write a novel about Swede Henley, although if I were a writer, I would want to do so. I just wanted to print up this diary for him to share it with you. However, I couldn't pass up this opportunity to write something about Swede as a preface to this printing It is a liberty I couldn't resist to pay homage to a fellow soldier and friend. 

Tommy Harrison, January 1973, New York, New York 

1-15 May 1944 

During this period we were getting all of our equipment, guns, and vehicles ready to go someplace. Destination unknown. Sgt. Horowitz (Supply Sgt.) began receiving equipment to be used only for D-Day operations. Sgt. Haixe (Motor Sgt.) was given orders to waterproof all vehicles. The 105 M3 howitzers were waterproofed. All articles of clothing that were unnecessary were turned in. We knew we were going someplace soon but when and where, God only knows. 

15 May 

We received orders to move to Y-9 sausage in marshaling area and await orders. On the afternoon of the 15th under the command of Captain CM. Henley, the company left South Brent Post, South Brent, Devon by motor for Y-9 camp. We knew that we were seeing South Brent Post for the last time. All the cooks and unnecessary company headquarters personnel were sent to Denbury Camp, Newton Abbot to join us later. The company command group were - Capt. CM. Henley Co. Commander, 1st Lt. Frank Eggleston Recon and Executive Officer, 2nd Lt. Edgar Harris Assistant Platoon Ldr. and Recreation Officer, 2nd Lt. John Bullock Supply Officer, 1st Lt. John Ward, Platoon Ldr. 2nd Platoon, 1st Lt. Capelle Platoon Ldr. 3rd Platoon, 2nd Lt. Joseph Kinsinger Platoon Ldr. 1st Platoon, 1st Sgt. Joe Salego - Motor Sgt. Samuel Haire - Supply Sgt. Jacob Horowitz - Communication Sgt. Irwin Lichtman - Platoon Sgt. 1st Plat. Sgt. Evans, 

Platoon Sgt. 2nd Platoon Sgt. Dufresne, Platoon Sgt. 3rd Platoon Sgt. Froehlich 
Section Sgts. Montanaro, Weber, Fatata, Gunst, Skinta, LaBarba. Company strength 7 officers 129 EM.

 

15- 31 May 

Lived in the marshaling area and took life easy and sweating out what was to come, when and where D-Day H-Hour would find us. The Company was briefed on the 22nd but was not allowed to brief the company officers until the 26th and the company the 29th. Many hours were spent studying the maps of the terrain we were to land on. Plans were made so that everything would work regardless of what happened. Every man knew what he was to do in case the leaders were knocked off. Orders came for the company to load at Dartmouth on Hard "A" on 2nd of June on LCT 2045, an American built LCT with a British crew. 

Chaplain Bill Boice in his "History of the 22nd Infantry Regiment in World War II" described the last half of May as follows:

It was with mingled feelings that the elements of the regimental combat team received orders to move to the marshalling area. 

These had been interesting days, charged with tension and anticipation, days when we had come to know and respect the British, and to appreciate this brave island. All equipment was carefully packed and waterproofed. Personal effects, save only that which could be carried, were stored in foot lockers and sent to the Effects Quartermaster in Liverpool for indefinite storage. All documents which might identify the unit were destroyed. No identification other than dog tags or AGO was retained. 

On the night of 18 May 1944, the regiment moved by foot under cover of darkness to an assembly area. Then, shivering and cold, the men were moved by truck to three marshalling areas designated as X, Y and Z, well away from towns and villages on the southern coast of England. Civilians were kept from the area or were required to remain in the area until after the invasion had occurred. The preparation and secrecy surrounding the pre-invasion were of the highest order, and while aware of the impending action, the officers and men of the regiment operated on daily stand-by orders without specific knowledge of invasion plans. An era had passed; preparations were finished. Mail home was curtailed and impounded, heightening the thoughts of loved ones and homes. 

Each soldier wondered about his own courage. Yet, there was an eagerness to get into battle, to join the action against the enemy, and there was little expressed fear. It was not even possible to express personal uncertainty in letters; thus the pressure began inexorably to build. Last-minute equipment was requisitioned and obtained. Quick courses in elementary French, designed to give each man enough knowledge to ask for help in case he was wounded or food if he was hungry, were taught by qualified instructors. There was much joking about the lack of the French phrases most of the men were interested in. 

It was while in the marshalling area that the new type demolition, the Bee-hive, was demonstrated to the assault companies. This new employment of a long-known principle of physics pleased GI's who soon caught on to its use and wanted to demonstrate more times than there were Bee-hives to be used for demonstrative purposes. 

Chaplains conducted worship services daily. A regiment that had given little indication of religious interest prior to this time now began to take its religion seriously. Jewish officers remained on duty while Catholic and Protestant men were at divine services. The Jewish Chaplain from Division Headquarters conducted Jewish services for the men of his faith. Attendance increased so sharply as to warn the Chaplains of the magnitude of their spiritual responsibility....

The strength and service of the Chaplains of the Twenty-Second Infantry can never be measured. It is enough to say that during these crucial times officers and men realized as never before the worth of their Chaplains and the seriousness of the task ahead. Spiritual strength counted. 

Elements of the Fifth Armored Division ran the marshalling guards and did everything possible to make these last days in Britain as pleasant and comfortable as possible for every member of the Division. By this time, the men knew the impending assault was but a few days away. One soldier remarked that he felt like a turkey prior to Thanksgiving. The remark was greeted with laughter at the time; it ceased to be funny within a matter of days. All mail was impounded, both outgoing and incoming. Sand-tables were constructed to an exact scale of the beach which was to be assaulted. The exact location of the beach, however, was still carefully kept secret, and only the battalion staffs, plus the company commanders involved, knew the place of the assault. Not even they had been told the day or the hour. The sand-tables were placed in tents and carefully guarded as the men were brought into the tents in small groups. They became familiar with the terrain so that they could recognize physical features either by silhouette or by sight. 

The time in the marshalling area seemed incredibly long to soldiers who were keyed to a pitch. At last, orders came to move out and again, under the deep cover of darkness, the companies loaded in trucks and moved slowly over the steep hills of England toward the coast. The trucks halted on back country roads at about 2:00 A. M., and the soldiers, loaded with assault equipment, sat unbelievably cold in the sharp English night. No movement was allowed and there was nothing the weary soldiers could do but miserably await the morning. The night was clear and there was no fog. Lights were prohibited and smoking was allowed only within the covered trucks. A trucking unit provided the soldiers with breakfast put up in paper bags, and hot coffee was supposed to be served. The coffee was cold and bitter. The breakfast consisted of thick, dry slices of English whole wheat bread with cold bologna and a cold hard fried egg. Among other marks of war, surely one part of the English countryside was covered with the brown stains of disdained coffee and the wreckage of the world's worst breakfast. 

Prior to dawn, the soldiers dismounted and already weary under their heavy assault loads, they moved up the steep hill and toward the loading harbors. It was with relief, not unmixed with anticipation, that they saw the countless landing craft and assault boats that were to convey them across the channel. It was well past midday when the men got aboard and moved to their cramped quarters below deck. Space was at a premium; officers and men alike crawled into web-laced horizontal bunks barely far enough apart for both the man and his equipment. No men were allowed on deck. Time was spent in final briefing, and impregnating clothing with an evil-smelling preparation to resist gas. Men were warned to expect gas attacks on the beach. 

Meals were a problem, and the men became acquainted with the 10-in-1 ration. Better than the K ration, and with a greater variety, the cartons contained canned foods, soluble powdered drink, crackers to take the place of bread, jelly or jam, canned milk, and toilet paper. Of all the ignominy of war, nothing so irritated and amused the men as khaki colored toilet paper. Surely, they felt, this was the last ignominious word in modern camouflage. The ration contained enough food for ten men and thus was called 10-in-1.

From Gerden Johnson's "History of the 12th Infantry Regiment in WWII":  

Early in May test firing of all weapons, trial loadings of vehicles, concentration on new supplies, and waterproofing of vehicles and signal equipment all pointed to the long awaited day. Then one evening General Bradley came to Exeter and addressed all officers of the division. He concluded his remarks with, "I'll see you on the beaches." That sealed it....

In the concise words of the field order and illustrated on large wall maps and aerial photographs, the 12th Infantrymen were told that the 4th Infantry Division with attached troops, supported by air and naval task forces, would assault the Cotentin Peninsula of France on D-Day to capture Cherbourg. Only, the name of Cherbourg was not mentioned at this point for reasons of security.... The Naval Task Force would provide lift, protection at sea, gunfire support, and would breach all underwater obstacles. The IX Tactical Air Command would furnish air support.

Commencing at H-hour minus five on D-Day the 101st Airborne Division, less certain glider elements, would land by parachute and glider in areas west of Turqueville with the principal mission of assisting the landing of the 4th Infantry Division. At H-hour minus four the 82nd Airborne Division would land by parachute and glider astride the Merderet River, with one regiment east thereof. It wold capture Ste. Marie Eglise and the strongpoint south of Beauzeville Au Plain, making contact with the 101st Airborne Division at that place. It would protect the south and west flanks of VII Corps along the Douve River south and east of Terre De Beauvil. The regimental directed that "All units will be alert to recognize and will make every effort to locate, contact and assist personnel of the 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions in respective zones of action," and to promptly relieve them.... When the doughs had completed their briefing, they were so sure of every detail that enthusiasm reached the highest peak ever seen. They were impatient and eager to get going. The old axiom of instilling supreme confidence by giving the American soldier the whole picture had been proven. The only question left was, "When would D-Day be?"

One final Lum Edwards story for now, that was first published in War Stories: Utah Beach to Pleiku back in 2001:

General Sir Bernard Montgomery, while inspecting troops of the 22nd Infantry Regiment in England prior to D-Day, asked various officers where they were from in the "Colonies". When Lieutenant Colonel John F. Ruggles was asked, his reply was, "the North East Kingdom, Vermont, Sir!"

Major Earl W. "Lum" Edwards replied by answering, "From the Heart of Dixie, the land of black-eyed peas and grits. Mississippi, Sir!" General Sir Bernard Montgomery was caught off guard, momentarily shocked and stunned by Major Edwards' reply. A brief second was required by the general in order for the bits and pieces to settle. Upon regaining his composure, General Sir Bernard Montgomery replied, "Gad, I thought that was a river!"

*****

This Issue #5 is the final of my monthly reports on the training of the 4ID in England prior to D-Day. Hopefully you have felt the work that was being done all over England by the divisions who were destined to fight across Europe to liberate it and the world from the grasp of the Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler.

Starting the first week of June, I will have weekly issues that will run from D-Day (6 June 1944) to V-E Day (8 May 1945). I will do my best to help you see the highlights of one division who is representative of all the divisions who liberated Europe and bring an end to the Nazi regime.

I encourage you to share this with anyone you think will enjoy reading it. One of my favorite quotes of all time is, "if we forget history, we are destined to repeat it." Most of the "Greatest Generation" who made this history is gone now, it is the duty of we who are their offspring to understand and carry on to our Families the history of WWII. If anyone thinks this couldn't happen again, they have their head stuck in the sand.

Tighten your chin strap and get ready for a historic ride across France, Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, and deeper into Germany over the next year. I'll tell the story to the best of my ability - in weekly chunks.


Steadfast and Loyal,
Bob Babcock, Historian and Past President, National 4th Infantry Division Association