749TH TANK BATTALION
Training in Texas And England
February 1943 - June 29, 1944
Editor: Tell me about the training in Texas and the trip to England. My Aunt, Betty
Minielli, tells me that during the training time
in Texas, she lived in the same off-base building as did the wives Geraldine
Osborne and Ruby Sacre. When the Battalion was activated and heading for
Britain, she traveled to New York to be with Willie when the ship departed.
During that time she met Linda Kotowich, who lived on Staten Island. She also
stated that she still receives Christmas cards from Reader McDonald and Lester
Rosencrantz: I was part of the cadre that was originally trained at Fort Knox, Kentucky. We then moved to Fort Lewis, Washington. During 1941 we didn't have any tanks; we did get a few of them in 1942. In 1943 we moved to Texas. One day it was hot, next day it was cold. On a cold morning those tanks would belch out a gallon of gas when you started them up. We had a few engine fires because of that.
I didn't get sick on the way to England. I was lucky to be on the top deck. If I had been in the hole, I might have gotten sick, too. When we finally got some tanks in England, we nearly ran over a few people because we weren't used to driving them.
I remember we had to wash our clothes in an old rain barrel.
Myers: I'm from Cincinnati, Ohio and I'd never been anywhere before Texas. We were on a train and really didn't know where we were going. All kinds of things happen on a train at night. I was in the cook's car; we cooked on a wood-burning stove and had smoke going everywhere. As I think back on it now, it was really antiquated. We got to Texas in the middle of the night, and the "cadre" was there to meet us. The sky - I had never seen anything like it. Gigantic. There were stars all over the place. I thought "Man, we must have landed in heaven." I woke up the next morning and it was cold and barren - the worst morning I had in many years. That was my Hello from Texas.
We made friends real fast, got assigned to our outfits. They would call out names and tell you what Company you were assigned to and you would go to the designated place; if they didn't call your name, you were to stay there and be in the headquarters Company. My name wasn't called, so I stayed with the headquarters Company. I was never called for any duty. I would see my name on the duty board and it would say "Kitchen". The Sergeant would say "Get out of here." He thought I was being funny. It just so happened that there were two of us with the same name. This wasn't discovered until a few weeks later when we had a dental inspection. When my turn came I stepped up and gave my name and he said "Man, you've already been here." They discovered I was supposed to be in "B" Company. Lucky for me that I followed my father's advice to "learn what your job is and play the straight and narrow." When other guys were sneaking off into town, I didn't go. If I had been picked up I would've been charged as AWOL.
I was told to get my barracks bag and get on up to "B" Company. I threw my bag and mattress over my shoulder and started walking up the street. Several guys yelled "Hey, you must be Myers." I reported to the Orderly room. They said "Well in hell have you been?" They sent all my mail to my home. I ended up with 30 days of KP. I was the best garbage can scrubber in the Army.
My 1st Sergeant was Sgt Death. He was an alcoholic and an immaculate dresser. Every morning he'd "fall out" and be "present and accounted for", but we knew he was drunk.
While we were in Texas, my buddy Sacre went over the hill during training. Sgt Death asked me to go pick him up. I said no; I might have to shoot him. The MPs brought him back.
When were in New York at Camp Schenck, it was the first time we'd seen "Kilroy Was Here." Everybody was writing it on walls wherever they went. Some of the guys got a pass to go home. My Platoon Sgt Jim Denneny - I was his driver at the time - he got married and entered the Army at 16. He said he wasn't going to go overseas without seeing his child, so he and Fried and a couple of other New York guys got passes. When we got our orders to ship out, those guys weren't back yet. A few of us guys grabbed their bags - it was early in the morning, black outside - and at assembly we said all present and accounted for. As we were heading down the street, here they came. That was a close call.
I loved being on the boat over to England. We were in the advance guard and we stood in with the Navy. We were on a cruise ship, The Santa Paula I think, and we had about 12-14 guys in a stateroom. When we were on rough seas, I was inside with the gun crews and I wanted to get outside on deck. I made friends with a Navy guy so I could put on a safety line and go out on deck. I'd never see that much water in my life. I never got sick but some of the guys died all the way over. When it was time to eat I was the first in line. They'd just get sick.
Our entertainment was shooting craps and playing cards. There were some guys who'd give me money to shoot craps if I promised to play cards. I was a lousy card player, only 18 years old. I'd win some money craps and they'd take it back in cards. When I landed in England I didn't have enough money to buy my rations a dollar and 20 cents. I sent all of my monthly money home.
We landed in Cardiff, England on a dreary day - there was a band playing. It was raining, just like it always was in movies about England. I said "I've been here before." We went to Camp Foxley. We didn't have tanks for quite a while. Right down the road was Madeline Carol's estate; she was a movie star. She volunteered as a nurse on one of the British trains. She often invited GI's to her estate.
The little town of Coventry was nice. All the guys were chasing after the women. The Black Quartermaster outfit had been there before us, but we didn't know that. A friend of mine and I were walking up a sidewalk on a Sunday afternoon and saw a couple of women pushing a baby carriage. We said "Hi" and looked in the carriage. There was a little black baby. We thought we were the only guys who'd been there. Well, they had been there already and were gone. They apparently built the camps.
Sometimes we'd get to go out on a Saturday night. Right down the road from us was a British Women's outfit. We'd meet the women in the pubs and walk them back to their base. Jim and I would flip a coin to see who got the fat or ugly one, since the women always traveled in pairs, too.
McFadden: Here's an interesting thing: in "B" Company, there turned out to be 4 ministers. I've been a minister in a Masonic lodge for 25 years.
I had a little adjustment to make when the fighting began I guess because I came from a family where I wasn't allowed to have a BB gun or even a pea shooter. And then they put me in a tank.
I was attending college and one of my courses was automotive farm machinery - I was studying Horticulture. One of the things I learned to drive was a rubber-wheeled farm tractor. When they gave me a questionnaire at the draft center that mentioned tractors, I checked it off. My thought was "Oh, Boy, I should get an easy job here." When I saw those tanks at Camp Bowie, I could have cried.
Sgt. Meritt was from the "cadre" that was part of the original battalion. I think it was formed in the state of Washington. They came to Texas and tried to make tankers out of all the draftees.
We had options for what we wanted to be in the tank - gunner, technician,
driver. I chose to be a gunner, why I'll never know. I passed the test and they
sent me to gunnery school at Fort Knox for 6 weeks. When I got back the Company
Commander asked me to come out to the firing line where there were about six
tanks. They had red tape in front of the tanks to keep people away from danger
during firing - they had been firing at some old tanks out in the distance. All
the tanks were connected via radio, and Captain Redford stood on the back of my
tank, leaned over the hatch - I was sitting in the gunner's seat - and said
"Bill, explain over the radio what you learned at Fort Knox about the
firing device's solenoid floor button." I told them it was just a matter of
stepping down on the button, and as I did so there was a rattle of machine-gun
fire. Redford yelled "Oh, my God." Some young GI had crawled up in
front of my tank. Killed him right there. I didn't know the guy. I could have
gotten a discharge, but I decided to stay. I named my son after him - Michael
Editor: Tell me what you remember about the trip to England, your stay there, and the move to France.
Baker: The trip from the U.S. to Bristol took three weeks. The seas were rough, and submarines were known to be in the area. But we were in a huge convoy and we did not get attacked. The accommodations were far from the best; hammocks were stacked 5 high. One quickly learned the best hammock was the highest one because people would get sick and you would be out of the way of the cascade of food that would come down. The food was terrible. They had armed guards in front of the doors of the lockers where the food was kept, especially the dairy ones where the ice cream was kept.
The experience was very dull. In fact I would say that at the end of that time (the sea trip) that we were in the worst physical shape - terrible food, no activities, and no sleep. Cold - the ship was not heated to any extent. Salt water, so no showers. Deplorable conditions. It astounded us, though, when we came into Bristol - and this was in cold weather - there were Americans troops standing on the dock as we came in to port. They were begging for coins to be thrown to them; this was just amazing. You might expect that if you go to islands and the natives would be standing there. But these were Americans troops and most surely they had gotten their pay. But if you were going to throw them away, throw them their way.
We were put on trains and taken to the camp where we would be staying - up in Herefordshire- on the Welsh/English border. The camp (Camp Foxley, an estate) had been set up already; we didn't have to do anything. They were permanent barracks, not tents. The heating arrangements were a little unusual. They had a space heater - a small stove that used coal. But space meant that the six inches around the stove would be warm; everyplace else there was no heat. The mattresses were stuffed with straw. But this was not a particular hardship.
Training started immediately with our tanks. We were not on alert, but we did train continuously. It was the first time we used live ammunition, including hand grenades. Tank firing was done in Wales. We fired out over St. Georges Channel. There was a continual driving rain in the Black Mountains there. Very poor accommodations. Field rations were used - cold food. But, we all survived.
There was a town called Hereford, about 40,00 people. It was within walking distance, a few miles. You could go into town. I always thought that the English treated us very well. They were very tolerant of the American troops who at times could be arrogant and sometimes know-it-alls. They had their version of USO (NAFI huts) and they provided free beverages. They tried to include the soldiers in their normal social events. They had some resentment against the troops, and justly so, because the Americans were running around using copious amounts of gasoline, and gasoline was extremely scarce for the British civilian population.
We were near the city of Coventry. It was bombed one day, and the next day we were allowed to go and see the town. It was nearly flattened. It gave us a good idea of what we were going to face.
There was one unusual situation. There were white troops and colored troops, so to avoid friction there were "white" nights and "colored" nights in town. Remember that these were all young men and the same girls were in the town these different nights. It made for a difficult situation. There was more than one casualty.
We were scheduled to go in the first invasion wave, but our Colonel Donaldson was in the hospital with a case of the measles. Saved us from annihilation, I think. He had enough influence to insure his troops weren't going to go into battle until he led them in. We had a day-and-a half warning. Wrap everything up and get into our tanks - we had our tanks ready for combat then. On the way to Bath one of the tanks skidded on the cobblestones and rolled right over some poor guy's roadster parked at a pub. The people jumped out of the pub and screamed at us. We replied "See the guy at the end of the line. He'll sign your card." We went to Portsmouth - a freight port - whereas Southampton is for passengers. We put the tanks on "hards" -macadam paving lots. Then we had one of the dirtiest jobs. We had to put a tar-like substance on the entire tank - every inch, every bolt, every rivet hole - for waterproofing. We did not know if we would land on land or 3-4 feet of water. Here you are - hands and clothes full of tar, gooey, sticky, tired, hungry- and there is no place to go. You're parked on these macadam lots. Sleep on the tank or sleep on the ground.
The tanks were loaded on the landing craft the next day. Accommodations - food, rest were again non-existent.
When we landed, we were only in three or four feet of water. The tanks had "bonnets" which kept the water out of the carburetor - they were discarded as soon as we landed on the beach. We could see and hear flashes of fire and see the smoke from the ongoing battles nearby. German planes were still strafing the beaches. Barricades were still in place. We moved up the roads and over the cliffs. The first few cities I remember are St. Mere Eglise, La Haye du Puits.
Niemeyer: The only strong memory I have of England was that we had to drive without lights at night.
Kinchloe: The English were having a bad time; they had been hit hard by the war.
In the early days of our training, your Uncle Willie and I were in the same tank. But he couldn't get along with the driver so he asked to be transferred to a different tank in our platoon.
The tar-like substance was put on "B" Company tanks before we left Camp Foxley. Seasick? I saw several men get seasick on the way over to England and stayed that way for a few days - one of them was me.
Tribbey: Before we left England Captain Redford said "I don't care how you do it but I want two radio receivers in every tank. Each tank had one receiver and one transmitter. Each platoon had one tank that had two receivers - one in the Platoon Officer's tank and one in the Platoon Sergeant's tank. We were at G-25; I can't remember the name of the town. I weaseled around with the Signal Corp guys and we ended up with our two receivers per tank.
Troutman: We went on a Clyde-Mallory liner. The name was either Santa Paula or Santa Maria. The trip was nice, calm. When we got close to England the seas got a little bit rougher. We were told that there had been a submarine attack on the edge of the convoy, but we didn't notice anything since we were in the middle. I don't remember anybody getting seasick.
We had a picture taken of the 2nd Platoon while we were in England. Some of the guys may not have been there when the picture was taken. For example, my loader Cafero was picked up right before we left England. There was a McDonald that's not in the picture, too.
England was a pleasant, quiet place at that time. We landed at Cardiff, Wales. We stayed in a small city of Hereford, about 20,000 people. Narrow streets, lots of pubs. Kind of hilly, barren countryside. We would go to the hills of Cardiff for artillery practice.
I had to go into Hereford about every other weekend because some of us helped with military police duties. They had "black" and "white" nights - segregated. So we would go in on "black" night for MP duty. We had a few scrapes, drunken brawls, but all in all it was pretty peaceful.
Editor: How about mutton? My uncle had nothing good to say about it.
Troutman: They said it was mutton, but it tasted more like horsemeat to me. I didn't go for it very much.
When it was time to ship out, we got to the marshaling area and were delayed for a while. I heard the delay was because most of the tanks had been lost in the first wave and they decided to wait a few days for the rest of the tanks until they had control of the beachhead. Then we got loaded up and then got off again - our tanks were still loaded. My recollection is that we sat there for a few days on those LSTs before we headed to France.
I think we had one platoon, or less, of tanks on one LST.
Cooley: Your uncle Minielli was in my crew while we trained in the States. Some of our maneuvers were in Louisiana.
I was seasick half of the time on the trip over. The boat went up and down constantly. I was glad when we finally got to the Irish Sea - much smoother.
I remember Fish and Chips. French Fries and fish wrapped in a newspaper.
I was a friend of the chef (Sgt McLean). One day he asked me to get a dozen eggs in town. He wanted to take the shells and sprinkle in the powered eggs to make them think they were fresh eggs.
I went to Glasgow, Scotland to learn how to waterproof tanks.
Troutman: I was told that the young man was the driver of the tank. He had stuck his head up through the hatch and the "coax" machine-gun was right there alongside the cannon. The "coax" gun was used to get a bead on something because it fired 30 caliber tracer bullets. You could use it effectively up to 800 yards to get the distance to a target. Then you'd use the cannon.
The trip over in the boat was uneventful because we went over in a huge convoy of ships. I heard it was one of the largest convoys that ever crossed the ocean. At least 100 ships of all sizes. Occasionally you would hear a "boom" in the distance. I guess they were dropping mines.
We did have separate "black" and "white nights in the town of Hereford. Too many fights otherwise.
Breakbill: Texas. Always hot. We started out with a cavalry outfit. When the guys from Washington came down, they had never been in a medium tank before, only light tanks. They put us in a M3 tank with 5 Chrysler engines mounted in it. Very hot inside when you were buckled up. The turret traverse was only 45 degrees. You set astraddle the transmission, like sitting on an oven turned wide open. We were in those tanks for three weeks, learning were everything was so we could run it blindfolded. Then they took us out to learn how to drive them.
One thing you were told you had to know - you could never get it into low gear without stopping dead still and starting over. We were 40 miles out one day when one guy knocked out the clutch. They didn't want to drag it back to camp, so I drove it all the way back without the clutch.
I started out in "A" Company I think. Later on Niemeyer took my driver position in Redford's tank and I went over to "B" Company. I knew Osborne in Texas. He and I used to go down to Coleman, Texas together. I'm pretty sure he was in the 2nd platoon.
When we went on maneuvers in Louisiana, we ran into what I guess was something like quicksand. Pools of water 20-30 feet across. If you put your hand into them and shook it, the whole pool would shake like Jell-O. I was in a tank with your uncle Willie, Jim Meritt, Arthur Sacre - I forget who the other guy was. I was a T/5 before we started maneuvers, but for some reason they never told me about, I was busted to Pvt. Never told me why. When we got overseas I made it back to T/5 and then Sergeant.
Your uncle Willie used to sing this song. He and I would get together and try to harmonize. I wasn't a very good singer. Willie had a good voice. But I can't remember what the name of the song was. I liked the song.
Willie and Sacre were buddies, too. Sacre was originally from Sullivan, Indiana. I was there once when I was driving a truck in the 70's. I looked up his phone number, but his relatives told me he had moved to a city near Lafayette - Frankfort. Sacre always seemed to have a chip on his shoulder. When we were in Europe he got involved in a battle, and apparently got into shock. They took him off the front line for a while. The last I heard, he was a conductor of some train, or some such.
I didn't get sick on the sea trip to England. There was a guy named Beverly Bushing who turned green the second we got on the boat and stayed sick until we landed in England. All the officers were on the deck above us; they had plenty of nurses and booze up there.
I never came as close to starving as I did on that trip. In the morning they'd give us a cup of what they called coffee - I think it had some lye in it. It wasn't fit to drink. At lunch they'd give you a piece of liver sausage; I still don't like liver sausage. At supper they'd give you what must have been horse meat - the more you'd chew it, the bigger it would get. They opened the PX on the boat every day and there would be a line so long that it would still be there when they closed the PX. I saw candy bars selling for 5 dollars. Cigarettes were 55 cents per carton - no tax. I had one good meal on the way over. They put me on KP. They were moving baked chickens up from the kitchen below us, and I stole one of those chickens. That's the only meal I had from the time we left New York until we got to England.
Our beds were 2 by 4's with fence wire strung between them. About 5 1/2 feet long. You'd hang off both ends. when you slept - if you could. If I remember right, the British government would charge the US $28 dollars for any damage to those bunks.
March 18, 1944. My birthday. A bunch of us got into a poker game. Draw poker. I think a had a jack and king of hearts. I drew three more kings. Shortly thereafter we got the word to move out. About 2:00 in the morning. Dark outside. We went tearing down the road, and I caught a telephone wire right in the mouth. The wire snapped - sounded like a ricocheting bullet. I cracked my head on the back of the turret. Cut my lips up pretty bad. But they healed up just fine.
For two weeks some of us went someplace else in England to help train some new recruits. I remember the trip because it was near the end of the month and I was short on money. I got into a poker game and had $900 by the time I went to bed. When I woke up the next morning and went to the PX, my wallet was empty. Somebody had stolen every penny I had won.
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