Posted in 276th AFA, Research, WWII

4th Armored Division Memoir – Battle Rattle

While researching the history of the 4th Armored Division during WWII, I came across a fascinating memoir “Battle Rattle” by Roger Boas. The memoir was written when Boas was older as an effort to convey to his family what he had been through during the war and how those experiences influenced the rest of his life.

The deeply moving account begins in the author’s early years and provides an insightful background as to his physical and emotional state at the beginning of the war. Although a practicing Christian Scientist, Boas was acutely aware of his family’s Jewish heritage. This gave him a perspective that was different from many American soldiers. A graduate of Stanford and its Artillery ROTC, Boas entered the Army as a Second Lieutenant in early 1942. The newly minted officer went through training in several locations around the country and was eventually assigned to the 94th Armored Field Artillery Battalion of the 4th Armored Division.

The title of the book, “Battle Rattle,” is a term Boas says was used to refer to the ailment soldiers suffered as a result of combat similar to the term “Shell Shock” used during World War I.  The term “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder,” which defined the psychological and physical disorder that results from experiencing various types of trauma, did not come into use until Boas was much older. As he says in the book, after World War II soldiers were given no assistance in returning to civilian life. No one acknowledged that military personnel who had been in combat might have problems that prevented them from settling down, from making sound decisions, from dealing with the stresses of everyday life. Many of these combat veterans had trouble holding down jobs. Some developed drinking problems. Some suffered from bouts of depression or raging tempers. Boas realized late in his life that he suffered from PTSD, as did many others, including my father-in-law.

The book is well written and provides many personal accounts of events during the war. One event in particular that affected Boas deeply was when he and another officer, Bob Parker, came upon the Ohrdruf Camp which they would later learn was a sub-camp of Buchenwald. Images of emaciated bodies piled up after being executed and partially burned bodies would stay with him the remainder of his life.

If anyone is wondering why I am interested in the 4th Armored Division, my father-in-law’s unit, the 276th Armored Field Artillery Battalion, was attached to the Fourth Armored Division in March and April 1945. I wanted to learn more about the 4th Armored Division’s activities during this time. It was an added bonus to find a memoir of a soldier who had served in an Armored Field Artillery Battalion and whose experiences might be similar to those of my father-in-law.

There were differences between the two which affected each’s view of the war. My father-in-law was a sergeant assigned to one of the M-7 track-mounted artillery guns where Roger Boas was a lieutenant who served as a Forward Observer for the 94th AFA. Nevertheless, the memoir provided insight into the thinking of a soldier and how he dealt with his experiences. The account also provided vivid accounts of the action that the 4th Armored Division saw during the time the 276th AFA was attached.

Dad’s Gun

Another reason for my research is for my current work-in-progress. I strive to make the information about the war as accurate as possible. Roger Boas has provided me with insight into not only the mind of a soldier but also into his emotional responses to very stressful events. This will be invaluable in creating a realistic hero in my novel.

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Posted in B-17, History, Research, WWII

B-17 Nine-o-Nine

As promised in my last post, here are more photos of the B-17 Nine-o-Nine that we flew on a couple of weeks ago. These were taken on the ground as we walked around and examined the plane before our flight. I’ve seen so many pictures of B-17’s, but a picture does not compare to seeing the airplane in person.

On Feb. 23, 2018, we drove out to Cecil Field to see the Collings Foundation’s Wings of Freedom 2018 tour. The main attraction for me was the B-17 G Nine-o-Nine. I’ve been fascinated with the B-17 from the time I began researching for what turned out to be my first published novel, Kitty’s War. In my novel, the hero is a navigator on a B-17 stationed in a fictitious air field in England as part of the U.S. Eighth Air Force.  

The B-17 G is a later version of the famous bomber which had the “chin” turret added in the front just below the navigator’s perch in the nose of the airplane. Since the German fighters often attacked the bombers from the front, flying straight into the formation, the designers added a gun position on the nose to fire at oncoming fighters.

 

The Plexiglas surrounding the bombardier giving him maximum visibility. He used the closely guarded Norden bomb-sight to zero in on the target and drop the load of bombs. When under attack from fighters, the bombardier fired the 50 caliber machine guns in the “chin” turret.

While the plane was still on the ground, I climbed inside to look around. This is the entrance the pilot, co-pilot, bombardier and navigator would have used to enter the plane. In movies and newsreels I’ve seen them jump up, grab hold of the top of the opening and pull themselves up into the bomber. The ladder makes it much easier.

Once inside, I moved forward into the nose. Straight ahead you see the bombardier’s seat. Note the ammo belts for the guns and the big wooden box for extra ammunition.  To the right of the bombardier’s seat are the controls for the “chin” turret guns. The navigator’s desk is behind the bombardier on the left. The navigator was also responsible for manning a machine gun.

The navigator would have carried maps marked up with the day’s mission. These would have been given to him in the briefing prior to taking off. Although the flight path for the primary target and the secondary target were already worked out, if something went wrong, the navigator would have to use the maps and his training to get the crew back to their base, or at least back to England.

Climbing back down I continued my walk around the airplane.

Behind the wing, the ball turret is visible beneath the fuselage. In this swiveling device, the ball turret gunner could swirl around and shoot in almost all directions. Shorter airmen manned the ball turret due to the cramped space in this position.

The tail gunner guarded the rear of the airplane. My husband is pointing to the gun sights in the small window. The sights would have been used to aid the tail gunner in aiming his guns. The Flying Fortress, as the Boeing B-17 was called, had thirteen 50 caliber machine guns which covered every direction to defend itself from enemy fighters.

The bomb bay doors were open as the B-17 sat on the ground. So I stooped down and looked up to get this shot of the “fake” bombs. Cool view!

Inside at the waist gunners’ positions you can see the seats added for those of us who would fly. The seats consisted of a small cushion to sit on and a larger one to lean back against. Looking through the plane from here, at the rear entrance, you can see the top of the ball turret, then through the radio room and into the bomb bay. The large yellow bottle-like container in the center of the photo is an oxygen bottle. This airplane was not pressurized. When the altitude reached about 5,000 feet the crew had to put on oxygen masks so they could breathe. The oxygen masks were attached by long tubes to numerous oxygen bottles throughout the plane. This aircraft was also not heated. The crew wore bulky, padded, electrically heated suits and gloves to stay warm and prevent frostbite at high altitudes.

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The contraption pictured here is the “put-put.”  If you have read my novel, Kitty’s War, you will remember my reference to it during a mission when the plane is damaged. It is the back-up electrical generator used to provide vital power to systems if the main power supply from the engines was lost.

Here is a close up of one of the four, powerful, 1200 hp engines.

Finally, a parting shot of this beautiful bird. We had a great day both touring and flying in this fantastic B-17. Thanks to the Collings Foundation for restoring these historic aircraft and for keeping them in flying condition so that the public can see them and experience flying in a World War II vintage airplane.

Posted in B-17, Research, WWII

Flight in a B-17

View of the St. Johns River from the Bombardier seat

What an incredible flight! My husband and I recently flew in “Nine-O-Nine,” a WWII vintage B-17 G owned and operated by the Collings Foundation. The B-17 along with a B-24 and a P-51 are touring the country as part of Collings 2018 “Wings of Freedom” tour.

Since I took so many pictures that I want to share, I will split them up into more than one post. I’ll start with the in-flight shots on “Nine-O-Nine.” The on-the-ground pictures will be in a later post.

Let’s start with me waiting to take off.  Notice that we are sitting on the floor in the waist gunner positions. No luxuries here.

Once in the air we were allowed to move around in the plane so that’s what I did. Here is the waist gun position looking out over the wing. 

Next comes a view of downtown Jacksonville way in the distance. We flew out of Cecil Field so we were a few miles west of downtown. It’s in the mist but if you enlarge the picture you can see the skyline.

After getting my flight legs in the moving plane, I managed to find hand holds and made my way around the ball turret.  Looking down I could see daylight around the unoccupied gunner position. Not wanting to drop my cellphone when the plane made unexpected movements,  I decided to put it away and only use the camera hanging around my neck on what was proving to be an unsteady journey through the plane.

I moved from the waist gunner area forward into the radio compartment. There were eight passengers on board for our flight. This lady sat in the radio operators position. 

Beyond the radio compartment is the bomb bay. Notice the narrow walkway, just wide enough for my foot, and the small ropes to hold to steady yourself. The v-shape of the bomb supports made for a tight fit as I squeezed through grabbing for something solid to hold onto. Imagine having to do this at 20,000 feet with the bomb bay doors open. Not for the faint of heart.

Beyond the bomb bay is the flight engineer’s position right behind the pilots. Here the top was open. Very windy for the passenger looking out. Out to the side the flight engineer could view the engines from his spot behind the pilots.

We were told not to talk to the pilots during the flight and, believe me, we all wanted them to focus on flying this large, four-engine airplane. They did a fabulous job. Notice that the co-pilot is a woman. Reminds me that the WASP pilots flew B-17’s around the U.S. during the war.

Now down into the small passageway leading to the nose. I had to drop down to the wooden surface, and then get down on my hands and knees and crawl into the nose where the navigator and bombardier sit.

Straight ahead is the bombardier’s position surrounded by Plexiglas.  Notice the gun sight in the center and the machine gun that he operated.

On the left side of the nose is the navigator’s desk. This would have been where the hero in my novel, “Kitty’s War,” sat. Again, there is a machine gun, not in the picture, that he fired when needed.

Back in the waist gunner positions my husband and two other passengers look out the windows. 

Another view out the windows at the river below as we head back to the airfield. 

And, finally, me standing in front of the gun at the waist gunner position with my wild “bomber” hair style. What a fun, once-in-a-lifetime experience. 

 

Posted in Historical Sites, History, My Novels, Research, WWII

Elveden Hall as Setting for novel Kitty’s War

The setting in a novel can provide a unique location for events to unfold. Some authors use real places and real historic landmarks in their books. I recently read “At the Water’s Edge” by Sara Gruen and she used Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness as her setting. Other authors create completely fictional locations to suit their needs. And some create fictitious locations based on actual places. This is what I did in my novel, Kitty’s War.

While doing research for Kitty’s War, I needed a fictional location for the 8th Air Force Second Combat Bombardment Wing Headquarters where the main characters got together. I knew that during WWII the English took over large country houses and estates for use by the military and some of these were assigned to the growing American forces. These estates were ideal for the Air Force because they provided enough space for construction of air fields and temporary buildings for housing and other needs. The large homes were perfect for headquarters.

My image of an English country house was something like Highclere Castle used for the setting of Downton Abbey. I couldn’t use that one so I went in search of houses that were actually used by the military. That’s how I found Elveden Hall. It had a fascinating history including that it had been owned by Maharaja Duleep Singh, ruler of the Sikh Empire, during his exile in England. While living there he completely redesigned the interiors of the house to resemble the Moghal palaces in India.

During WWII Elveden Hall served as headquarters for the 3rd Bomb Division, also known as the 3rd Air Division. That made it perfect for my purpose. I made changes so that it is more a fictional location that a real one, such as adding a hospital and air field which were not actually on the grounds and changing the name to Ellingham Castle . For more information about the US Air Force in England during WWII, including a picture of a Women’s Army Corps corporal working at Elveden Hall, follow this link.

I have not been the only one who thought Elveden Hall would make an interesting setting. Several movies have been shot there including “Eyes Wide Shut” where director Stanley Kubrick used the interiors to create a unique atmosphere. This YouTube video of one scene shot there will give you an idea of the interior of this unique house.

Kitty’s War is available online.

Posted in History, Research, WWII

The War Comes to the U.S. East Coast

When Hitler declared war on the United States, U-boat captains delighted in the opportunity to hunt along the east coast of America. They had roamed the coast of Europe, stalked the shipping lanes of the North Atlantic and guarded the entrance to the Mediterranean. After the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor, the United States declared war on Japan and Germany declared war on the U.S. Before these momentous events there had been tension and confrontations between German U-boats and American ships as they assisted the English and Canadians in escorting ships transporting goods across the North Atlantic. When war was declared, the U-boats headed for the east coast of the U.S. where they found easy pickings in unarmed and unescorted American merchant ships. The Germans called it “Operation Drumbeat.”u48-uboat-wwii

Shipping along the east coast from Maine to Florida, as well as along the Gulf coast, became targets. Along the eastern seaboard  One hundred and twenty-one (121) merchant ships were either sunk or damaged during 1942 alone. Why were they such easy targets?

The merchant marine vessels had no protection. They were unarmed and they had no military escorts. Although the war in Europe had been raging since 1939 and the German U-boats had been attacking ships in the Atlantic headed for England, the United States was woefully unprepared to protect vital shipping along her coast line. Also early in the war the United States did not have strict black-out rules. It took a while for many areas to realize that light from the shore endangered ships at sea. German U-boats could target ships at night by tracking the vessel’s silhouette against the light from the shore.photo80mnus-torpedtankerlc

Imagine standing on the shore and watching a ship burning after it had been hit by torpedoes. That’s what happened along the shores of Florida in early 1942. Read an interesting interview with German U-boat Captain Hardegan where he tells of sinking a tanker off the coast of Jacksonville in April 1942. He saw the ship against the lights from the beach and after it was hit he said he could see the people on shore watching it burn.

We don’t often think about the number of ships and the number of lives lost by the Merchant Marines. Their task was vital and their losses were higher than other military branches. But they weren’t technically military despite their critical role in transporting all kinds of materials.enroll-merchant-marine

Something had to be done to stop the loss of life and vital cargoes. Initially the focus had been on protecting the west coast, but it didn’t take long to recognize the threat of the German U-boats along the eastern seaboard. The Navy and the Coast Guard increased patrols searching for the U-boats by sea. The Army Air Corps flew patrols along the coast and the Civil Air Patrol was established to fly additional patrols searching for the enemy.

Meanwhile, shippers had to find a way to safely transport vital cargo including shipments of oil. They turned to transport through the intracoastal waterway. This protected route utilized existing rivers, waterways and canals to ship a variety of cargo in barges. Improvements to depth and width of this waterway enabled larger vessels to pass through this route.

The Navy organized escorted convoys of merchant ships traveling along the east coast. That, combined with increased Air Corp bomber activity, reduced the number of ships sunk. By 1943 fewer merchant vessels went down and numerous U-boats were sunk off the eastern coast of the United States.

The remains of sunken merchant ships and German U-boats can be found all along the east coast. See this article and photographs about ship wrecks off the coast of North Carolina.

In my novel, Kitty’s War, the hero floats toward shore in a raft after his merchant ship was sunk off the east coast. Stories of this little known part of the war inspired the opening of my novel where the hero and heroine meet for the first time. You can purchase Kitty’s War on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-a-million, iTunes, Kobo and The Wild Rose Press.

 

Posted in 30th Infantry Division, History, Research, WWII

The 30th Division’s Final Push to the End of the War

With this post I will finish my series of posts on the exploits of the 30th Infantry Division during World War II. I have been distracted by other events in my life (like selling my first novel). Nevertheless, I need to bring their story to a conclusion and, in doing so, tell of some interesting occurrences during the last days of the war.

After crossing the Rhine River on March 24, 1945, the 30th pushed into the heart of Germany. By the 28th, the 8th Armored Division passed through their lines and the mission of the 30th was to follow behind and mop up. After Dorsten fell on March 29, XIX Corps took command of the 30th. By April 1, Old Hickory was reassigned to following the 2nd Armored Division on a long road march eastward towards Berlin. Before them lay the Teutoberger Wald, the place where the Germanic tribal chief, Hermann, defeated the Roman legions of Varus in 9 AD. The 2nd Armored Division left the Autobahn, which veered north at this point, and crossed the long ridge of the Teutoberger Wald with the assistance of the 30th. A German Officers Training School aided regular troops to resist the Americans in the rough, steep, heavily forested terrain. They tried to take a stand on Monument Hill, the site of the Hermannsdenkmal (the statue commemorating famous battle), but Old Hickory defeated them.

On April 7th the 117th Regiment cleared Hamelin minus K Company who had been left behind to guard an Allied Prisoner of War camp. During the advance the 30th took over an assortment of installations, including airports, hospitals, training camps and German research facilities. All had to be guarded in addition to the thousands of German prisoners. Feeding the prisoners, freed POWs and slave laborers fell to the military which was unprepared to care for such numbers.

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Frank Towers talking about his experiences with the 30th Infantry Division

The 30th’s next objective was Brunswick. The German commander, General Veith, called for a truce to negotiate a surrender of the city, but after a meeting with General Hobbs, Commander of the 30th, the Germans refused the terms of “unconditional surrender.” The conference was only a delaying tactic to allow the German Army to escape. Fighting resumed almost immediately with the 117th Regiment attacking and the 120th moving into position to block escape from the city. By April 12 the 3rd Battalion of the 117th remained to mop up Brunswick while the remainder of the 117th along with the 120th pushed eastward toward the Elbe River. (The 119th was attached to the 2nd Armored Division at this time.)

After Brunswick fell, the 743rd Tank Battalion and infantry from the 119th Regiment were proceeding toward Magdeburg when they passed through the town of Farsleben. Lead elements found a long freight train stopped on the track. The Nazi guards attempted to flee from the Americans but were captured. The train had a full head of steam and was awaiting orders when the Americans showed up. It didn’t take long to determine that the old freight cars contained 2,500 Jewish prisoners who were being moved from Bergen-Belsen prison camp to some unknown location in the east. Problem was that the Russians were advancing from the east. The bridge over the Elbe had been destroyed and at one point the Nazis ordered the crew to drive the train into the river which would have killed all aboard. Shocked by their discovery the Americans could scarcely believe the condition of the prisoners. Frank Towers tells the story of the liberation of the train and the following events in a section of the book “The Fighting 30th Division – They Called Them Roosevelt’s SS” by Martin King, David Hilborn and Michael Collins. You can also watch and listen to Frank Tower’s account of the incident in an interview by University of Florida oral history program on YouTube.

Although the 30th Infantry Division had been issued maps through to Berlin, the order came down that they were to take Magdeburg and stop on the banks of the Elbe River. The Russians would proceed from the east and the two allies would meet at the Elbe. Many in the 30th were disappointed at not getting to push on into Berlin.

Magdeburg appeared an easy task. There were hopes of a surrender but when men went in to discuss it with the German commander they found him either unwilling or unable to surrender the city. Before the attack by both the 30th Infantry Division and the 2nd Armored Division, bombers unloaded on the already damaged city. Within twenty-four hours Magdeburg was cleared. It was April 18, 1945.

With orders to hold at the Elbe, Old Hickory’s fighting in Europe came to an end.  While they waited for the Red Army and the German surrender, which finally came on May 8, 1945, the 30th occupied the area and took 7,468 prisoners.  Some crossed the river to escape being captured by the Russians. All along the line the large numbers of surrendering German soldiers became a burden on the Allies to feed and house. In addition, there were thousands of freed slave laborers and liberated prisoner of war camps to deal with. Contact with the Russians came on May 4th.

Old Hickory moved south from Magdeburg to Thuringia and assumed occupation duty after the surrender. Near the end of June, the 30th learned they had been chosen for redeployment to the Pacific Theater. Their orders would carry them home, to the United States, to prepare for the invasion of Japan. Those individuals with enough points to be discharged were transferred primarily to the 76th Infantry Division with lower point individuals from the 76th moving into the 30th to replenish its ranks. These transfers due to points often explain why a veteran’s discharge papers show him in a different division from the one he fought with.

In July, the 30th moved across Europe to Camp Lucky Strike near Le Havre, France. The bulk of the division crossed the channel to England to await shipment to the U.S. That’s where they got the news that Japan had surrendered August 15, 1945. The 119th Regiment had sailed from France on August 12 so they were at sea when word came. All the men of Old Hickory let out a sigh of relief.  Their fight was over. On Aug. 16th the division boarded the Queen Mary and sailed for home where the 30th Infantry Division was deactivated on November 25, 1945. The 30th Infantry Division left a glorious record of bravery, hard fighting and sacrifice in which we can all take pride.

Posted in 276th AFA, Research, WWII

Researching a World War II Army Veteran

Several people have contacted me asking how to get information about a family member who served in the military in World War II. I do not profess to be an expert on researching individual veteran’s records but since I have done some research I can provide a little guidance.

I have been immensely fortunate that I have records directly from the veteran for my most immediate family members who served in WWII. I have a copy of my father’s discharge paper and a box of letters he wrote to my mother during the war. We have my father-in-law’s copy of his unit history from the 276th Armored Field Artillery Battalion. These histories were published right after the war and I have learned that they are both rare and valuable. The family also has his discharge paper. These can be very helpful as a starting place in searching for records.

On the other hand, last year when I was searching for information about my father’s cousin, Herman Connell Jr., who was killed in Europe in 1945, I found out just how difficult it was when you had very little specific information about the soldier. All I had was his name and the unit he served in which was on his gravestone. I was able to compile a story about his unit and the action they were in at the date of his death but I couldn’t get any specific information about his individual experiences.Finding Your Fathers War Cover

The inquiries I received prompted me to look for some guide to searching for records. What I found was an excellent book which contains an enormous amount of information. “Finding Your Father’s War” by Jonathan Gawne is a must-have book for anyone looking for information on someone who served in the U.S. Army during World War II. I would even go so far as to say that it is a must-have book for anyone writing about World War II. It deals with the Army only, no Navy or Marines. It does include information about the Army Air Corp since during WWII the fly boys were part of the Army. It wasn’t until after the war that the Air Force became its own branch of the service.

One of the main reasons Gawne focused on the Army was that a fire in 1973 destroyed much of the individual service records as well as the company level records. The Navy, Marine and Coast Guard records were not burned and are available through those branches.

Some things discussed in “Finding Your Father’s War” I had already figured out from various sources. If I’d had this book it would have been so much easier and faster. There are other useful tidbits in Gawne’s book that I did not know. If you are trying to put together the pieces of someone’s military service these little details can yield a wealth of understanding.

I’ll give you some examples just to give you a feel for what I am talking about.

One of the things that I had already figured out from the many memoirs I’ve read was the structure of an Army Infantry Division. Each division had three infantry regiments thus it is referred to as a triangular organization. A division also had division artillery and division headquarters where all the support units were attached. Continuing with the triangular organization each infantry regiment was divided into three battalions plus headquarters. Although each infantry regiment had a unique number (the 30th Infantry Division consisted of the 117th, 119th and 120th Infantry Regiments), the battalions were simply numbered 1st, 2nd and 3rd (so the 117th Infantry Regiment had a 1st Battalion, a 2nd Battalion and a 3rd Battalion plus Headquarters). Each Battalion was made up of three rifle companies and a heavy weapons company. A letter designated each company but the letter designation wasn’t the same in each battalion. Instead it went like this: 1st Battalion consisted of Company A, Company B, Company C and Company D, the last being the heavy weapons company; 2nd Battalion consisted of Company E, Company F, Company G and Company H, again with the fourth one being heavy weapons; 3rd Battalion consisted of Company I, Company K, Company L and Company M, again Company M was heavy weapons and the letter J was skipped. So if you know your Army veteran was in Company H, he would have been in the heavy weapons company of the 2nd Battalion. This can be helpful since many historical accounts of battles refer to the battalion.

Something I learned from “Finding Your Father’s War” is that the soldier’s serial number isn’t just a random number assigned when he entered the service. The number will tell you something about the soldier. Serial numbers with no letter prefix means the soldier was an enlisted man. The prefix “O” indicates he was an officer. Others with letter prefixes included nurses, warrant officers, WAC’s and others. If the first number was a “1” the soldier was an enlistee. If it was a “2,” he was in the National Guard. A “3” meant he was drafted. Late in the war some draftees were given serial numbers starting with a “4.” The second digit in the serial number tells the geographic region of the country the soldier was in when he entered the service. These numbers correspond to the service commands within the United States. A map is included in the book.

In addition to this book there are numerous resources online that can help you. The National Archives, the Center for Military History, division organizations websites and Facebook pages, and even sites like Ancestry.com and Fold3.com. Local historic societies and local newspapers may be a source since many servicemen had articles written about them during the war. Family stories and even old pictures can provide clues especially if you know what to look for.

Good luck in searching for your WWII veteran’s records. It is always fascinating to learn about an individual’s service during the war when millions were in uniform and had such a variety of experiences.