World War II
History of The Iowa National Guard
CW2 David L. Snook
The United States went to war in 1917 "to make the world safe for democracy." By 1939, that goal seemed remote at best. Throughout the 1920s and the 1930s dictators emerged – Benito Mussolini in Italy, Adolf Hitler in Germany, and a militarist faction in Japan – determined to use force to achieve expansionist national aims. By the summer of 1940, Germany had overrun most of Europe, and Japan had conquered much of eastern China. It was becoming increasingly difficult for the United States to maintain a position of neutrality.
In May 1940, Pres. Franklin Roosevelt asked for large supplements to his January defense budget, including a program for 50,000 planes a year. In June, the War Department began releasing surplus arms to England. In September, the first peacetime draft in American history was passed by Congress. In conjunction with the Selective Service Act, the National Guard of the United States was ordered into active military service for one year of preparedness training to ensure its viability should the nation enter World War II. The phased mobilization began on Sept. 16, 1940, and was finally completed in early spring of 1941. Thus, when the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor brought the United States into World War II at the end of 1941, America was not wholly unprepared. National Guard forces had been mobilized for almost a year.
In 1941, the Iowa National Guard consisted of elements of the 34th Division (which also included soldiers from Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota), the 113th Cavalry Regiment and the 124th Observation Squadron. Eventually, the 34th Division and the 113th Cavalry were sent to the European Theater. The 34th saw action in North Africa and Italy. The 113th took part in operations across France, Belgium, Holland and Germany. Pilots of the 124th patrolled the Gulf of Mexico, searching for German submarines.
The following articles highlight the achievements of each of these organizations during World War II:
- "The 34th Infantry Division in World War II" by Retired Lt. Col. Homer R. Ankrum, published in The Iowa Militiaman, Spring Quarter 1991 (just after the reactivation of the 34th Division on Feb. 10, 1991).
- "The 113th Cavalry Group – Iowa’s Cavalry in World War II" by CW2 David L. Snook
- The 124th Observation Squadron: The Beginning and World War II" (reprinted from The History of the 124th Fighter Squadron/132nd Fighter Wing, Iowa Air National Guard, 1941 Thru 1982.)
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The 34th Infantry Division in World War II
By Lt. Col. (Ret.) Homer R. Ankrum
When asked the significance of the date February 10, most Iowans would appear a bit perplexed. A few would opine, "Wasn't that the date of the big blizzard?" Naturally a few would blurt out, "Gosh, it's only four days until Valentine's Day." However, there are still a few gray-haired old-timers who would rub their chins, lean back their heads and muse, "Let's see now, February, 10th, yep that's the date back in 1941 when my old Guard unit, the 34th Infantry Division, was mustered into federal service for World War II."
This year , February 10 was again etched into the minds of thousands of young Iowa and Minnesota Guardsmen as the standards and campaign streamers of the 34th "Red Bull" Infantry Division were removed from storage, proudly hoisted by color bearers, and marched on line, signifying the return of that great battle-tested division to its rightful role as an active Army National Guard division, this time with headquarters in Minnesota.
In ceremonies at many locations across Iowa and Minnesota, proud old veterans of the Red Bull Division stood at attention, then pinned the Red Bull insignia of the 34th Division on young guardsmen. Emotions ran high, for this was the day that Red Bull veterans had been striving for since 1968.
In 1946 the 34th Infantry Division was reorganized with headquarters in Iowa under the command of Maj. Gen. Ray Fountain. An additional National Guard division was authorized, and Minnesota, anxious to have a division headquarters, became headquarters for the new 47th Infantry Division. In 1968 a reduction in Army National Guard divisions was ordered, and high-level political and military leaders in Minnesota prevailed upon the powers that be to place the historical 34th Infantry Division on inactive status while retaining the history-devoid 47th Infantry Division as an active Guard division. Although the 34th Division Headquarters was originally located in Iowa and now is in Minnesota, most Red Bull veterans feel--politics aside--that a grievous wrong has been righted.
As the old Red Bull warriors stood in ceremonies on February 10, their minds no doubt reflected back to that early morning 50 years ago when alarm clocks clanged across Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota, causing nearly 8,000 young guardsmen to hurry to their armories in below freezing temperatures, not fully realizing the impact that their muster into federal service that day would have on their young lives.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt had ordered the 34th Infantry Division, among others, to active duty for a period of 12 consecutive months unless sooner relieved. Although the call-up was authorized in October 1940, the camp they were to occupy had not yet been readied. Consequently, February 10, 1941 had been set for the official muster. Few men in the 34th Infantry believed that they would return to civilian life after one year for the world's militaristic scenario offered little hope.
On or about February 26, 1941 crowds jammed railroad sidings to bid farewell to the 34th Infantry Division Guardsmen, then under the command of Maj. Gen. Ellard Walsh of Minnesota. They boarded trains bound for Camp Claiborne, which had been carved out of the swamps and pine forests some 18 miles from the city of Alexandria, La. The cantonment area, in various stages of completion when the guardsmen arrived, consisted of 6,006 tents for enlisted men and 759 tents for officers. There were wooden frame mess halls, buildings, a hospital, two service clubs and a theater.
Camp Claiborne would have drawn few "takers" if placed on a multiple-choice list. The troops about to be spoiled with these palatial accommodations included the following: the 68th Infantry Brigade, consisting of the 135th (Minnesota) Infantry Regiment and the 164th (North Dakota) Infantry Regiment; the 67th Infantry Brigade, consisting of the 133rd (Iowa) Infantry Regiment and the 168th (Iowa) Infantry Regiment; Minnesota's 59th Field Artillery, 151st Field Artillery, and 125th Field Artillery; and from Iowa, the 185th Field Artillery.
Special troops consisted of the 109th (South Dakota) Engineer Regiment, 136th (Iowa) Medical Regiment, and the 109th (Iowa, Minnesota, South Dakota) Quartermaster Regiment. Other special troops included the 109th (Minnesota) Ordnance Company, the 34th Division (South Dakota) Signal Company and the 34th Division (Minnesota) Military Police.
Although still not completely equipped, vigorous training was quickly initiated in the rain-induced quagmire. The men simulated light machine guns for training and substituted stovepipes for mortars. Until the new M1 Garand semi-automatic rifles arrived, the principal armament of a rifle company consisted of .30 caliber 1903 Springfield bolt-action rifles, Browning automatic rifles and Colt .45 pistols. The poor weaponry was understandable, when one considers that the units had just emerged from the Depression, during which period the entire military budget wouldn't buy a modern-day bomber.
After completing several small-scale maneuvers, the division, by then under the command of Maj. Gen. Russell P. Hartle, participated in the Louisiana Maneuvers, which involved the Second and Third U.S. Armies. With the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor December 7, 1941 and declaration of war, the division was spread through the South, guarding sensitive installations. But January 1, 1942 found them enroute to Fort Dix, N.J. for subsequent shipment overseas.
The 164th Infantry Regiment was pulled from the division to help form the Americal Division. The division was triangularized according to the three infantry regiments concept and the division's artillery was reorganized into four direct support battalions: the Minnesota 135th, 151st and 175th, plus one general support battalion, Iowa's 185th Field Artillery Battalion.
On January 26, 1942, elements of the 133rd Infantry Regiment, under the command of Col. Howard J. Rouse, Sioux City, Iowa, arrived in Belfast Harbor in North Ireland. Milburn H. Henke, Hutchinson, Minn.--then with Waterloo, Iowa's Company B, 133rd Infantry Regiment--stepped down the gangplank to become the first man of the American Expeditionary Force to set foot in Europe. Other elements of the division soon followed.
Training in Ireland was intense. The balance of small arms weaponry arrived, but direct support artillery units, stripped of their 105mm guns at Fort Dix, had to be issued British Eight-Pounder guns. Field training was the byword, but the division would suffer from lack of extensive combined arms training with tanks and artillery. Maj. Gen. Charles W. Ryder, A World War I veteran, was placed in command of the 34th Infantry Division.
Volunteers from the 34th Division provided 80 percent of the men for a newly formed 1st Ranger Battalion and many of them participated with the British Commandos in the famous raid on Dieppe, France.
The 168th Infantry Regiment and 175th Field Artillery, with attached units, were sent to Scotland to train for the invasion of North Africa, and some 600 of the division's men volunteered to fight with the British Commandos in that invasion. While still in Northern Ireland, the 2nd Battalion, 133rd Infantry was pulled from its regiment and assigned as security troops for Allied Forces Headquarters in England, a move which would sorely hamper the regiment's tactics in North Africa.
Veterans of the division, who comprised the 168th Infantry Regimental Combat Team (RCT) under the command of Col. John W. "Iron Mike" O'Daniel, will well recall the invasion of Algiers. In addition to the 168th Infantry, the RCT consisted of the 175th Field Artillery Battalion, Company C; the 2nd Platoon of Company D, 109th Medical Battalion; Company C, 109th Engineer Battalion; and a detachment from the 34th Division Military Police.
Some will recall the night of November 7, 1942 when they were put ashore some 11 miles west of their designated landing site and the long run to rejoin the regiment in the assault on Algiers. Ultimately they seized the French Vichy Government Capitol which led to the end of French resistance in North Africa.
Those who were with Lt. Col. Edwin T. Swenson's Minnesota 3rd Battalion, 135th Infantry Regiment will recall how the French beckoned with searchlights, leading the ships into the Algiers harbor, then opened fire on them. They will recall the total lack of armor, which resulted in their being overrun by tanks. They will remember the casualties and their short internment as prisoners of war before the French surrendered. Those with the British Commandos recall their seizure of sensitive installations and airfields. Others who were with the Rangers went ashore at Arzew, a port city near Oran, and seized a hilltop fort.
Sened Station will always be remembered, by those who were assigned or attached to the 168th RCT, as their baptism by fire against the Germans. They were hastened forward to an isolated portion of the front, assigned a new regimental commander, Col. Thomas D. Drake, and attached to the 1st Armored Division. They were then led into position during the night by a 1st Armored Division lieutenant who became disoriented. At daylight they found themselves sitting like ducks in front of the German lines. A pitched battle ensued, resulting in cooks being among the first casualties. With courage, however, the 168th rebounded and drove back the enemy. One of the strangest events of the war occurred when Sgt. Leonard "Swede" Nelson, Villisca, Iowa directed fire which knocked out an 88mm anti-tank gun crew with a short-range 60mm mortar.
After a seesaw battle, the 168th RCT, still attached to the 1st Armored Division, found itself on the high hills of Lessouda, Ksaira and Garet el Hadid, overlooking Faid-Kasserine Passes. It was there German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, the Desert Fox, decided to divert a portion of his Afrika Korps from the British Eighth Army front and attack the Americans.
The 168th RCT was thinly spread over a wide, heretofore considered undefendable, front with rifle companies defending unheard of five-mile sectors. While preparing their defenses, the balance of the 34th Division, after arriving in Oran, moved forward to relieve battered French forces some distance away in the Fondouk Pass, Hajeb el Aioun areas.
Even though the 168th Infantry reported heavy German buildup in Faid Pass, Gen. Eisenhower and staff continued to maintain that the German thrust would be at Fondouk Pass. Gen. Rommel and Gen. Jurgen Von Arnim knew differently and at 6 a.m. February 15, the massive assault on Faid Pass began. The 1st Armored Division's obsolete tanks were no match for the Germans' highly sophisticated panzers. Nearly 400 armored vehicles descended upon the RCT, wiping out American tanks and artillery all the way.
When the smoke of battle cleared, only Lt. Harry Hoffman and two enlisted men from the 3rd Battalion, 168th Infantry had escaped becoming a casualty or being captured. Brig. Gen. (Ret.) Robert Moore, Villisca, Iowa--then a major commanding the 2nd Battalion, 168th Infantry Regiment--miraculously led 420 men through the encirclement to safety. Out of Regimental Headquarters, support companies and attachments, only one man--Lt. Col. Gerald Line, Regimental Executive Officer, Sioux City, Iowa--escaped. Only the 1st Battalion, 168th Infantry--in reserve positions--remained relatively unscathed.
At Fondouk Pass Col. Robert Ward's 135th Infantry Regiment (Minnesota) was still relieving the French when the attack started. Col. Ray Fountain, Des Moines, Iowa, who commanded Iowa's 133rd Infantry at Hajeb el Aioun, barely had his regiment in place when the Germans cracked the French infantry lines to his north. The regiments were placed under siege and executed some brilliant delaying actions in their withdrawal to more defendable terrain, Kef el Amar Pass, where 34th Division Artillery Battalions did a fabulous job in helping halt the enemy advance.
It was at Hajeb el Aioun that Capt. John Agnes, Sioux City, Iowa and Lt. Washington Carter, Montgomery, Ala., came up with an ingenious entrapment plan which resulted in the 3rd Battalion, 133rd Infantry anti-tank gun crews--with their tiny 37mm guns--knocking out a scout car and two light tanks. This action temporarily halted the advance of the German 21st Panzer Division and contributed to the successful withdrawal of the regiment. Lt. Col. (Ret.) Harold Doyle, Waterloo, Iowa, then a captain commanding Company A, 133rd Infantry, went through a harrowing experience with his unit while covering the withdrawal of the 1st Battalion of that regiment.
It is well to point out at this time that--while on line--regiments functioned as Regimental Combat Teams (RCTs) The Iowa 133rd Infantry Regiment was supported by the Minnesota 151st Field Artillery Battalion, Company A of the Iowa 109th Medical Battalion, and Company A of the South Dakota 109th Engineer Battalion. The Minnesota 135th Infantry Regiment was directly supported by the Minnesota 125th Field Artillery Battalion, Company B of the Iowa 109th Medical Battalion, and Company B of the South Dakota 109th Engineer Battalion. The 168th Infantry Regiment received its direct support from the 175th Field Artillery Battalion, Company C of the Iowa 109th Medical Battalion, and Company C of the South Dakota 109th Engineer Battalion. Additional attachments were made as the situation dictated.
Providing general support were the 185th Field Artillery Battalion; 34th Reconnaissance Company; 109th Medical Battalion; 109th Engineer Battalion; and the 34th Division Signal, Ordnance and Quartermaster companies. When regiments are mentioned hereafter, they will be deemed to include attachments. However, when the regiments were rotated, the artillery often stayed on line.
After Faid Pass the 168th Infantry, now under the command of Lt. Col. Gerald Line, Sioux City, Iowa, was reorganized and reformed from the remaining men and replacements, many from the 3rd Infantry Division. Then, for the first time, Gen. Charles Ryder had command of his entire 34th Division. However, little did he expect that British Gen. John T. Crocker, who held little affection for Americans, would direct the next attack. The feeling was similar among many higher ranking British officers because they resented Gen. Eisenhower's having been appointed Allied Forces Commander without any combat experience.
The hill masses of Fondouk stood high above the flat desert sands. Orders were to move straight across five miles of flats and seize the hills, with no diversionary attacks. The first assault, as predicted by Gen. Ryder, failed miserably. In the second attack, Gen. Crocker diverted British troops from attacking hills on the division's flank, resulting in the Germans occupying hills overlooking the 34th Infantry Division's flank. Scheduled air support never appeared. Despite heavy casualties, the 34th Infantry Division moved forward.
After darkness, still determined to prevail, the 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry penetrated enemy lines, the 135th Infantry broke loose on the left flank and the 168th Infantry moved forward on the right flank. Fondouk belonged to the 34th Division. During the advance into the foothills, young Pvt. Robert D. Booker, Company B, 133rd Infantry Regiment, bought his buddies' lives with his own when he grabbed his light machine gun, went forward under heavy fire and saved many from certain death. He was the first 34th Division soldier to receive the Medal of Honor.
American troops had been much maligned by some members of the staff of British Gen. Harold R.L.G. Alexander, Gen. Eisenhower's Field Operations Commander, for setbacks at Faid Pass and the failure of the first attack at Fondouk. After Fondouk the 34th Division was moved up nearer the Mediterranean seaboard under American command and given the objective of taking Hill 609, a towering bastion in the desert.
It was at Hill 609 that 34th Division Commander Gen. Ryder was given latitude in decision-making authority and was provided armored support by attachments from the 1st Armored Division recently equipped with the new, more effective Sherman tank. With commanders at all levels determined to prevail, they began a vicious assault.
The 135th Infantry Regiment fought like possessed tigers to take Hill 531, the most formidable, enemy-defensible foothill. The 168th Infantry Regiment troops were moved at night to make strategic assaults, one after the other. At last, in final assault positions, the 133rd Infantry was pulled from limited commitment and, along with the 168th Infantry (under command of Col. Frederick B. Butler since Fondouk), seized the higher elevations of the strategic hill mass in a final burst of energy.
The seizure of Hill 609 cracked the Axis lines and German resistance crumbled. Soon, all of the Allied Forces were advancing. The final glory was to go to the British except, perhaps, for Capts. Vincent Goodsell and Einer Lund, both company commanders in the 135th Infantry Regiment, and their drivers. The adventuresome foursome took an unauthorized jeep excursion into Tunis. The balance of the 34th Division, who had advanced in a series of battles to within striking distance of Tunis, had to be content with sitting back while the British marched triumphantly into the city. However, even the British press gave high praise to the 34th for its achievements at Hill 609.
Men of the 34th Division had more than the enemy to contend with at Hill 609. To avert malaria, orders were issued to administer dosages of Atabrine to American troops. The Atabrine "backfired" in more ways than one because the prescribed dosages caused acute diarrhea. It was incredible how the 34th Division men, weakened by days of fighting and uncontrollable bowels, could summon up the energy to bring the battle to a successful conclusion.
The 34th Division was allowed to sit out the Sicilian Campaign and prepare for the Italian Campaign. The division made use of the time by training replacements and conducting combined arms training with tanks and artillery in live-fire exercises, which had not been made available to them in Northern Ireland. By fall they were honed for the impending Italian Campaign.
During this period the 100th Infantry Battalion, a separate Nisei (Japanese-American) unit from Hawaii, arrived in North Africa and was quickly attached to the 133rd Infantry Regiment to replace the 2nd Battalion which had been on security duty at Allied Forces Headquarters in England.
The only 34th Division unit to land at Salerno on "D" Day, September 9, 1943, was the Minnesota 151st Field Artillery Battalion under the command of Gen. E. Dubois, Boone, Iowa. The 151st went ashore in support of the Texas National Guard 36th Infantry Division. The Germans struck hard and fast, their armor driving the 36th Division back to the beaches. Knowing that if the Germans reached the beachhead all was lost, the brave men of the 151st Field Artillery lowered their high-angle fire 105mm howitzers, bore-sighted down the tubes, and in a rapidity of fire for that weapon that would not have been believed to be possible in the heat of battle, knocked out tank after tank.
The 151st fired 10,504 rounds during the battle compared to 7,904 rounds expended during the entire African Campaign. The 36th Division Chief of Staff is quoted as saying, "If it hadn't been for the 151st, it is probable the beachhead would have been destroyed!"
Meanwhile, the 34th Division, enroute from Oran, Algeria, had been alerted that the beachhead was in danger and to prepare for a wet (assault) landing. This it did but fortunately the 36th finally prevailed, and ships carrying the 34th Division dropped anchor September 22, 1943 and the troops went ashore.
Moving with a sense of purpose, the 34th Division, with the 133rd leading the way, hastened to relieve enemy pressure on the British, who were still trying to clear Naples. Moving north, it eliminated resistance at Ponte Romito, then crossed the Calore River and continued through Montemarano. At Benevento a raging battle developed. With Benevento captured, the Volturno River loomed in sight.
An autumn chill was in the air and swimming season had long passed when the Red Bull Dogfaces reached the lower reaches of the Volturno River, where the German Army had decided to make a strong stand.
On October 13, 1943, the 135th Infantry launched its crossing near the Calore River, using guide rope and fording and engineer assault boats. In the 168th Infantry area near Limatola, such volunteers as Sgt. Joseph B. Flatt and Maj. (Dr.) Roger Minkel, Newton, Iowa, of the 109th Medical Battalion, braved the swiftly flowing water and swam ropes across to the opposite bank. The going was tough with heavy enemy resistance, but the advance continued and a bridgehead was established.
Reaching the second Volturno River sites on October 18, 1943 the 133rd Infantry, in a column of battalions with the 1st Battalion leading, passed through the 135th Infantry Regiment and--under heavy enemy bombing and strafing--hurriedly forded the river in an attempt to capture a bridge intact. But the Germans had rendered it unusable with explosives. However, a bridgehead was established and held.
The 135th Infantry made its second crossing October 19 and came under heavy enemy fire and encountered heavy minefields and swamps. In that vicinity and along the roads, the regiment encountered the thickest minefields that they had seen to date. The enemy launched a strong armor-infantry attack, but the regiment held its ground and edged forward to take Piedmonte.
With all of the regiments across, the Red Bull men fought their way through grape arbors and villages until they reached the third crossing sites. On October 21, 1943 Col. Ray Fountain, Des Moines, Iowa, received orders rotating him to the States and Lt. Col. Carley Marshall was placed in command of Iowa's 133rd Infantry Regiment.
By the time the 34th Division units reached the third Volturno crossing sites, they had yet to dry out their clothes and boots from the first two crossings. However, they had gained considerable experience in crossing rivers.
The 168th Infantry, after a thunderous 30-minute preparatory barrage November 3, 1943 forded across the upper reaches of the Volturno at midnight, and by 10 a.m. had seized Roccaravindola. The 133rd Infantry crossed with its objective, Santa Maria Olivetto, one mile across the valley.
When all regiments of the division had made their last crossing and had seized their objectives, a drive was initiated to the Rapido River and Cassino.
To the Red Bull foot soldiers it appeared that Italy was made up of mountains, villages and Volturno Rivers. They had fought three vicious series of battles and crossed the Volturno three times. Wet and miserable, the valiant troops continued the crossings, driving back enemy defenders, only to repeat the action all over again. Minefields, machine guns, mortars, multi-barreled rockets, and enemy artillery fire continued to cut sharply into the ranks of the 34th Division. The Red Bull men literally bartered their arms, legs and blood for each objective.
Crossing the Volturno became a nightmare for the Red Bull Dogfaces. After each crossing they looked hopefully to the rear, expecting to see a fresh unit coming forward to relieve them and give them an opportunity to dry out or change their wet clothing. This proved to be wishful thinking, for relief never came. On and on they fought, clearing the enemy from such towns as Limatola, Amorosi, Ruviano, Caiazzo, Margherita, San Angelo, Alife, St. Angel de Alife, St. Leonard, Castello de Alife, Dragoni, Pratilia, Para, Santa Maria Olivetto, Roccaravindola, Ravindola, Montaquila, and Fillignano. To those who didn't speak Italian, the names of towns on the maps looked like an Italian restaurant menu. Strengths dwindled more with each engagement. Replacements received were few, and--without rest--weariness was overtaking the men, but move on they did.
Heroes were so numerous during the Volturno battles that it would not be possible to do them justice in this article. However, it would appear an exception should be made in the instance of Chaplain (Father) Albert Hoffman, Dubuque, Iowa.
With men falling right and left from rifle, machine gun, mortar, and artillery fire and the ever-present land mines, Hoffman continued, as in Africa, to lead medics, helping to give first aid and last rites to the dying. While giving aid to the wounded in a minefield at Santa Maria Olivetto, Hoffman himself stepped on a mine. He ordered his men not to come to his aid, but their love for him prohibited their obeying his order. One was killed while attempting to help him. Eventually Hoffman was brought out, but lost a leg. For his brave deeds in Africa and Italy, Hoffman became the highest decorated chaplain in the service of the Unites States. (An armory in Dubuque, Iowa has been named in his honor.)
Before the 34th Infantry Division stood the snow-capped mountain peaks of Monte Pantano and Monte Marrone where the Germans had anchored in what they felt would be their winter line. The crisp air of early winter was bone-chilling. In the valleys below the formidable mountains stood the Red Bull men in sleet, melting snow and a quagmire of mud, wearing wet uniforms and shoes. Throughout the area men could be seen attempting to help tanks, artillery, and trucks out of hub-deep mud. To make mattters worse, the Dogfaces had not yet been issued winter uniforms.
On November 29, 1943, Col. Frederick Butler's 168th Infantry, on the left, set out to take Monte Pantano. On the right flank, the 133rd Infantry, commanded by Col. Carley Marshall, moved out to attack Monte Marrone, remembered by veterans as Sawtooth Mountain.
Monte Pantano will be recalled by participants on both sides as a short-lived brutal battle. Men of the 133rd Infantry have no fonder memories of Monte Marrone, although the Germans did not defend Old Sawtooth with quite as much courageous vigor.
Success at Pantano first appeared imminent as the 168th cleared out foothill blockhouses, but in a saddle near the crest the Germans counterattacked like demons possessed. Capt. Benjamin Butler (no relation to Col. Butler) led Company A, 168th Infantry in a brutal bayonet attack time after time to drive the enemy from their lines. The 168th Infantry troops met the enemy eyeball to eyeball midfield with assault fire, then drove them back with bayonet and rifle butts. All day and all night the battle raged.
Running low on ammunition, some of the 168th Infantry men threw C ration cans at the charging enemy who, in the darkness, mistook them for grenades, thus buying enough time for those with a few rounds to reload and fire. Grimly the 168th Infantry held on, advancing inch by inch, refusing to give up ground gained.
On the right flank the 133rd Infantry and attached 100th Battalion relieved the 504th Parachute Infantry and pushed forward in a series of attacks to better anchor the lines, thus preventing the flanking of their positions and those of the 168th Infantry. After heavy fighting, they seized the left slopes of Monte Marrone and outposted Cerasuola.
The Germans pounded both Pantano and Marrone viciously with mortar and artillery fire, then strafed the area with fighter planes. Still the 168th and 133rd Infantries refused to budge.
It was at this point that a fortuitous development occurred. Sgt. Norman Raner, Company I, 133rd Infantry, now of Perry, Iowa, discovered an abandoned radio, somehow left behind when an Allied forward observer was wounded or killed. Testing it, he found an American artillery outfit on the other end. He could see enemy artillery firing on Pantano and directed highly effective fire on their positions. Raner later was given a battlefield commission and assigned as an observer with Cannon Company, 133rd Infantry.
On the night of December 3, the 135th Infantry Regiment relieved the 168th Infantry. Attacks and counterattacks continued on both sides, and casualties climbed. At last, on the night of December 8, the 34th Division was relieved by the 2nd Moroccan Division.
Brig. Gen. (Ret.) Ed Bird, then Lt. Col., 168th Infantry, can raise his right hand, minus two fingers, and attest to the ferociousness of the battles. All three of the regiment's battalion commanders--Bird, Albia, Iowa; Lt. Col. Floyd Sparks, Centerville, Iowa; and Lt. Col. Wendell Langdon--became casualties.
Coming down out of the snow-covered mountains, above the tree lines, was a terrible experience for the men of the Red Bull. They were totally exhausted, and some had trenchfoot so bad that they could hardly walk. Litter bearers operated in relays, only carrying casualties in excess of five miles. Some casualties slid down the hillside, while others had to be lowered by ropes down steep cliffs.
Heroes during the battles are too numerous to mention, but Capt. Benjamin Butler, now a retired major general, then commanding Company A, 168th Infantry, was awarded a Distinguished Service Cross and the 1st Battalion, 168th Infantry was given a Presidential Citation for its outstanding performance while bearing the brunt of the brutal German assaults.
Wet, worn and weary, the Red Bull warriors at last were given a short respite in squad tents erected amid the smaller mud puddles near St. Angelo de Alife. Time was spent cleaning clothing and equipment, bathing at portable shower units, and training hundreds of badly needed replacements. Oh yes--they enjoyed an occasional beer and rest on a cot! The Red Bull men hadn't even partaken of Christmas dinner before the 135th Division was alerted to go back up front. The 36th Infantry Division, after its most creditable performance of the war, had seized San Pietro, but had bogged down before reaching San Vittore.
In succeeding days the 34th Division regiments relieved their 36th Division counterparts, and the Red Bull battlers went about the gruesome task of driving Germans out of the Italian mountains.
After house-to-house fighting, the 135th Infantry drove the Germans from San Vittore. The terrain became rougher and rougher in the 10-mile stretch from Lenoci to Radicosa. There were no vehicular roads, only a few footpaths, and above the tree lines even these were obliterated in a glaze of snow and ice.
Movement of supplies and evacuation of wounded became a horrendous task. Packboards were strapped to men's backs and mules were pressed into service to carry much needed ammunition to isolated locations. Casualties in some instances were carried up to 14 miles on litters. The 109th Medical Battalion finally had to be augmented with litter bearers from the regiment's support companies and extra details from line companies.
Day and night the raging mountaintop battles continued. Cicereli and surrounding hills were cleared. Only the looming Mount Porchio, Cervaro and Trocchio and their foothills stood in the division's pathway.
The 168th Infantry seized Cervaro. The 133rd Infantry combined with the elite 1st Special Service Forces (forerunners of today's Green Berets) to push the Germans from Mt. Majo, Mt. Vischataro and numerous hills in that area. Meanwhile, the 135th Infantry fought every step of the way up the approaches to Mt. Trocchio. All regiments fought brilliantly and in the end all of the hill masses were taken.
Adequate descriptions of these brutal battles and of the adverse conditions under which they were fought is not possible in these writings. Those who fought through those miserable days and nights have them etched, like a horrible nightmare, in their minds forever.
With these strategic hill masses seized, the Red Bull men could, in the distance, see the Rapido River and the awesome mountains surrounding Cassino, where hundred and hundreds of them would become wounded or lose their lives.
Cassino and its surrounding hills, Belvedere Hills, Abate Hills and snow-capped Monte Cairo, presented a bone-chilling bulwark of defendable terrain and the Germans knew how to use it to greatest advantage. Cassino Abbey stood as a pillar of rock in the mountain's crags. This constituted the formidable Gustav Line, which was to become a thorn in the side of Allied Armies.
Across the Rapido, waiting to greet the Red Bull Division, was the 211th Grenadier Regiment of the 71st Grenadier Division, which held the town of Cassino; the 44th Austrians controlled the Massif. To the north, defending Mone Castellone and Monte Cairo, was the 5th Gebergestruppen (mountain) Division. Providing additional fire support was the 7th Werfer Regiment with six batteries of 150mm guns and two batteries of 210mm nebelwerfer rockets.
The 34th Division troops cleared the Rapido River banks, established positions, then prepared to launch a diversionary attack and render support fire for the 36th Infantry Division, assigned to make the initial crossing.
Minnesota's 135th Infantry faked a strong attack across the Rapido on January 10, 1944 as the 36th Division launched its crossing. Using minefields and withering machine gun, mortar and artillery fire, the Germans literally decimated the Texas Division, driving them back across the river, shattering their effectiveness as a division.
The 34th started probing patrols at once in an attempt to find a suitable crossing site. On January 24 the 100th Battalion (Hawaiian) crossed, but was driven back. Attempts at establishing a bridgehead were made by the 1st and 3rd Battalions, 133rd Infantry, but they were repelled with heavy casualties and the 3rd Battalion made still another unsuccessful attempt. The 100th Battalion succeeded, then--lacking armored support--again was driven back. Attempt after attempt to cross was made by the regiments, but to no avail.
On January 27, 1944 the 168th launched a ferocious river crossing attempt. Tanks bogged down and the infantry forged ahead in minefields. Under withering fire, without tank support, the 168th men had to move back. Further attempts by the 168th failed to establish and hold a bridgehead, as tanks were either mired in the mud or were knocked out.
Lt. Col. Harry W. Sweeting, the commander of the 756th Tank Battalion then moved his unit upstream and, under cover of smoke, managed to get 23 tanks across the river. The 2nd Battalion, 168th Infantry, encouraged by tank support, then stormed across the river, drove the enemy back and surprisingly held its ground. On February 1, 1944 the 135th Infantry crossed the 168th bridgehead and took up positions. That same day the 133rd Infantry crossed and cleared out an Italian barracks area.
With the 168th Infantry holding ground in the vicinity of Caira, the 133rd Infantry moved toward the town of Cassino. The 135th Infantry moved up the hillside toward the Abbey. The 133rd Infantry reached the city of Cassino, fought a pitched battle, but succeeded only in taking and holding little more than half the town.
The 135th Infantry doggedly moved forward under the Germans' noses for days, fighting desperately to reach the Abbey, but had to be satisfied to reach it with patrols. Meanwhile, the 168th Infantry, in the higher elevations, made attempt after attempt, but was never able to drive the enemy from the hills. Col. Robert Ward, 135th Infantry Regiment Commander, became a casualty at Caira and Lt. Col. Charles B. Everest, Council Bluffs, Iowa assumed command.
Cassino was no doubt one of--if not the most--bitter large-scale battles fought during World War II. Neither side would yield. Unable to dig into the mountainside, men piled rocks around themselves for protection. But when mortar and artillery descended on them, the rocks shattered, creating even more shrapnel.
Feet froze, and men ran out of rations and ammunition because resupply could be accomplished only at night. In some instances men in isolated locations scavenged the dead for ammunition and rations. Still they held their ground. Strengths of units dwindled, as they fought off enemy counterattack after enemy counterattack.
Permission finally was granted to bomb the Abbey, which many felt was being used as an enemy observation post. (135th Infantry men who reached the wall said they had seen the enemy at that location.) On February 15, 1944 wave after wave of Allied bombers reduced the Abbey to rubble.
Gen. Alexander, Commander of the Allied Forces in Italy, who had learned of the 34th Division's depleted, exhausted condition from a member of his staff, finally ordered the 34th Division to be relieved by the British 4th Indian Division and the 6th New Zealand Brigade.
The 3rd Battalion, 133rd Infantry had succeeded in cracking the Gustav Line at one point, but were so low in strength that a deep penetration was not possible. Two men from Company L, under the command of Lt. Dennis F. Neal, Villisca, Iowa--Pfc. Leo J. "Pop" Powers, Anselmo, Neb., and Lt. Paul F. Riordan, Charles City, Iowa--both won Congressional Medals of Honor while cracking the vaunted Gustav Line. Riordan was killed in action while leading his men in the capture of the jailhouse in Cassino. Had fresh troops been available to exploit the Gustav Line breakthrough, the battle for Cassino possibly could have ended sooner.
Down from the blood-spattered hills and out of Cassino came the brave Red Bull men, many with trenchfoot so severe that they dared not take off their shoes for fear that their feet would swell and they couldn't get them back on if the enemy attacked. Many had to wait for stretchers while buddies helped some down the hills. The feet of hundreds had to be amputated.
Companies were so badly depleted of manpower that it was not uncommon to find rifle companies, which were authorized 193 officers and enlisted men, down to 50 men and--in a few instances--30 men in strength.
The performance of the 34th Division at Cassino is etched deeply in the annals of military history. Despite the tendency of British historians to downgrade American military action while enhancing their own, British historian Dominick Graham, author of Cassino, had this to say about the Red Bull Division: "Considering the conditions and the unsuitability of some of their equipment, the performance of the U.S. 34th Infantry Division, a National Guard outfit, in coming within an ace of cracking the mountain defenses of Cassino, is almost beyond praise."
Graham goes on to quote Fred Majdalany, a British Indian Division company commander: "The performance of the 34th Division at Cassino must rank with the finest feats of arms carried out by any soldier during the War. When at last relieved by the 4th Indian Division, fifty of those few who had held on to the last were too numbed with cold exhaustion to move. They could still man their positions, but they could not move out of them unaided. They were carried out on stretchers."
Only a small number of the heroes were decorated for their valor. In some instances those who witnessed the heroism were killed before the deed could be reported. Then too, the 34th Division was never known for handing out medals with the C rations. Besides, it would have kept the entire regimental staffs busy for a year writing up citations.
Cassino, in future years, became somewhat of a yardstick by which to measure the ferociousness of battles. Months later it would be learned that it took nearly five divisions of troops to shatter the bulwark at Cassino and accomplish what the Red Bull men came "within an ace" of doing.
While the Red Bull Dogfaces were still liking their wounds in a rest area behind Cassino, the 2nd Battalion, 133rd Infantry Regiment (then dubbed "The Palace Guards"), commanded by Lt. Col. B.G. Marchi, Fort Dodge, Iowa, rejoined the regiment. They were fortunate to learn some of the combat tricks of the trade from the regiment's battlewise veterans instead of learning them the hard way.
British Prime Minister Winston Churchill's folly, the invasion of Anzio, was launched January 22, 1944 by Gen. John P. Lucas's VI Corps to relieve pressure on the Gustav Line and, hopefully, cut off the enemy's defending forces in that area.
At first, the landings at Anzio appeared to be garnering success, as Allied Forces penetrated nearly to Rome. The Germans were able to move in reinforcements more quickly than anticipated, however, and they drove the Allies back into a perimeter some 11 miles long and seven miles deep in the vicinity of the harbors of Anzio and Nettuno.
Allied Forces were cornered on flat ground with both sides dueling with their deadly weapons. While German aircraft strafed and bombed the beachhead, the airbursts from Allied Forces' anti-aircraft guns cast black pockmarks in the sky. No one, but no one, will forget the huge German railroad guns that were pulled in and out of caves in the mountainside. The guns were dubbed "Anzio Annies" by some, while others called them the "Anzio Express," due to the projectile sounding like a rail car flying sideways as it creased the air overhead.
Arriving from the vicinity of Naples by Landing Craft Infantry (LCI), on March 22, 1944, the 135th Infantry Regiment, now under command of Lt. Col. Harry W. Sweeting, and 168th Infantry Regiments--with artillery--and attached units, commenced relieving elements of the battle-weary 3rd Infantry Division. The 3rd Battalion, 133rd Infantry relieved the battle-scarred 504th Parachute Regiment.
With the 442nd (Nisei) Regimental Combat Team's arrival on the beachhead, the RCT was attached to the 34th Division and the 100th Infantry Battalion was assigned to that unit. The 133rd Infantry Regiment and the 442nd RCT were assigned the task of preparing a secondary line of resistance in event of enemy penetration.
On April 1, 1944 the 133rd Infantry Regiment, now under the command of Col. H.W. Schildroth, relieved the 168th Infantry Regiment where they remained until the breakout. Then in mid-May the 168th Infantry relieved the 135th Infantry to give that regiment some time off of the main line and to give it an opportunity to rehearse its role in the spring offensive.
Meanwhile, the division's artillery battalions remained in position, battering enemy lines and firing counter-battery fire missions. The 109th Engineer Battalion was kept busy helping infantry troops remove enemy personnel and tank mines.
Night after night patrols were dispatched through enemy barbed wire and land mines so thick that they seemed to blanket the earth. Thousands of men lost their lives or legs to these terrible devices. When not patrolling, probing attacks were launched by both sides, either to even up lines or to discover a weak link through which to launch an attack.
The front line was the entire beachhead and no one, from the harbor inland to the front lines, was safe. Ammunition and military impedimenta were stored in every available open spot or building. Even the half-dug-in hospital tents were surrounded by ammunition and supplies. Nurses wore helmets and several were killed or wounded.
Scattered through the rear area were some 1,500 field pieces, not including tanks. It was the largest close concentration of artillery in World War II, with the exception of Stalingrad on the Russian front. To add to this firepower the Navy pulled offshore at critical periods and lent the support of its big guns. By spring every house or building on the beachhead had been badly battered or flattened.
The Germans attempted to break through Allied defenses with strong pushes in a few areas, but were repulsed with such losses that they abandoned further efforts. Somehow the Allies managed to hold the perimeter intact. The Air Corps, in a show of force, bombed towns and enemy defensive positions around the perimeter.
Fresh troops and tanks started arriving from Naples in the spring. It was obvious that the time for an all-out offensive was drawing near. Shortly before 6 a.m. on May 22, 1944, with one simultaneous boom, every field piece and mortar on the beachhead opened fire. The skies lit up with muzzle flashes and the earth tremored as if shaken by an earthquake ranking high on the Richter scale.
On the right flank the 133rd Infantry, under the command of Col. H.W. Schildroth, supported with firepower while the 1st Special Service Forces made an assault. The Special Forces suffered heavy losses while cracking the enemy's first line of resistance. The 133rd Infantry passed through and continued the attack, driving the Germans out of their sector of the Lepini Mountain range.
In Col. Harry W. Sweeting's 135th Infantry sector, units launched an attack toward Cisterna. It was in this action that two Company E, 135th Infantry sergeants made an attempt to win the war by themselves, wreaking havoc upon the enemy in their path. Sgts. George J. Hall and Ernest Dervinshian both won the coveted Medal of Honor.
That night, without rest, the 133rd Infantry moved in a long forced march across the beachhead to a hilltop area northwest of Cisterna. On that flank the famous 3rd Infantry Division had suffered horrible casualties while taking Cisterna and the 36th Infantry was called up to bolster the attack. Meanwhile, the 135th Infantry, attached to Combat Command "A" of 1st Armored Division, slashed forward north of Cisterna. The 1st Armored Division--in a mad dash--attempted to sack the retreating Germans. The 168th Infantry Regiment, now under the command of Col. Mark M. Boatner, was holding firm, waiting for the division's drive to the north.
On these high vantage points the Red Bull Dogfaces took a last look at the flat beachhead where they had been trapped like rats in a barrel, hastily received their C rations, and headed toward Rome.
The Germans were waiting on the next hills. If they were waiting for the Red Bull men they weren't disappointed, but they got more than they bargained for. In a series of forceful rapid-fire attacks, the enemy was driven back quickly. By now the 2nd Battalion, 133rd Infantry Palace Guards had not only proven themselves on defense, but offensively as well. Lt. Beryl R. Newman, Company F, 133rd Infantry, went on a rampage, knocking out machine guns and clearing the enemy out of houses as if the war was going to end before he could prove himself. For his day's work he received the Medal of Honor.
At last, the division's troops reached Villa Crocetta and the walled village of Lanuvio. Here the Germans, with labor battalions, had built and fortified the strong Caesar line, designed to wreak havoc upon advancing forces.
Stubbornly, the enemy resisted all attempts to penetrate their bastions of defense. On the right flank, Col. Henry C. Hine, Jr. succeeded Col. Boatner in command of the 168th Infantry. That regiment soon was battering German troops at Villa Crocetta time after time, but was driven back with heavy casualties.
It was at Villa Crocetta that the recently battlefield-commissioned John Vessey, Jr. directed his first artillery fire and scored on his first hits. (Vessey went on to become a four-star general and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.)
On the left flank, the 133rd Infantry ran into equally heavy resistance. The Germans wouldn't budge. The 179th Infantry Regiment, 45th Infantry Division, had launched an attack to the west (left) of the 133rd Infantry and nearly had been decimated. It was then that Minnesota's 135th Infantry moved across the rear to launch an attack through the 179th and attempt a penetration. Trapped in the lowlands, the 135th Infantry losses were staggering. Three-quarter ton trucks were pressed into service to haul out the dead bodies stacked like cordwood.
At last the German lines bent, then buckled. The 168th Infantry Regiment, low in manpower, was beefed up with the 109th Engineer Battalion and--with a strong thrust--moved up through Villa Crocetta. On the left side of Lanuvio the 2nd Battalion Palace Guards smashed though the town while the balance of the 133rd Infantry, the 100th Hawaiian Battalion and the 135th Infantry Regiment moved around the outskirts. The Caesar Line then buckled and the three regiments and the 442nd RCT linked up north of Lanuvio.
During the heated battle in the draw west of Lanuvio, the Germans were about to overrun the Company L, 135th Infantry positions. Pfc. Furman L. Smith, on an outpost, held an enemy company at bay with his deadly marksmanship. Through his tremendous courage, he saved many of his buddies. At Villa Crocetta Capt. William W. Galt, Headquarters, 1st Battalion, 168th Infantry, commandeered a tank destroyer and literally wiped out a section of the German lines to prevent the enemy from flanking a company. Both were awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously.
When the list of casualties was compiled it was discovered that the number of casualties per day was the heaviest of any engagement fought by the Red Bull Division.
In a series of strikes, the city of Albano was cleared, pockets of enemy troops were driven from the hills, and the 34th Division troops drove hard to the hills south of Rome.
From high plateaus south of Rome, the Red Bull men stood, waiting for orders to move in and capture the city--the centuries-old objective of many armies. But, not unlike at Tunis, their orders were to stand fast. Roman Fever, so to speak, had been contracted by all higher level commands in Italy. The 34th Infantry Division men could have been in Rome and had it cleared before the show on the outskirts was completed.
On June 4, 1944--from their hilltop perch--the Red Bull men could look down on Highways 6 and 7 and see troops being moved up from every direction. The British Eighth Army was far behind, but French forces were pushing to get in the act. The 36th Infantry Division (Texas) was pushing up with the 1st Armored, and so forth. The whole display reminded one of kids crowding to get into a Saturday afternoon movie matinee.
Gen. Clark decided to bypass the older divisions in the theater and give the honors to the 1st Special Service Forces. It was an elite force, but the 34th, 3rd, 45th and 1st Armored Divisions had been battling steadily for the honors for a long time and their men were not at all happy at what they were seeing. The Special Forces were credited as being the first into Rome by higher headquarters and the press. The unhappy 36th Division commanders were told to get out of the line.
The 168th Infantry had been alerted to move into Rome several times, but each time orders were canceled. Meanwhile, the 135th Infantry and elements of the 1st Armored had been ordered to strike south of Rome, cross the Tiber River and seize the airfield at Vetebro. They were able to move out before the orders could be canceled. Whether by accident or design, they kept slamming ahead until they had established a command post in Rome at 1:30 a.m. on June 5, 1944 and laid claim to being the first infantry regiment in Rome. However, their regimental commander, Col. Sweeting, was not present, as he had been captured while conducting his own reconnaissance. Col. Charles P. Greyer was placed in command of the 135th Infantry Regiment.
Rome had been captured by the Allied Forces and a new chapter could be added to its centuries of military history. The Dogfaces of all units had long spoken of what they would do when they got to Rome. There were a few impromptu celebrations with the Romans who greeted them, but the festivities were short-lived. The pursuit of the enemy could not wait.
In the true spirit of practice established by higher command, the 34th Division was given no rest and ordered to continue its advance. Someone must have thought that the Red Bull Dogfaces needed to keep their combat skills honed.
First to fall to the 34th Division was the port city of Civitavecchia on the Tyrrhenian Sea, with the 168th Infantry leading the way. The afternoon of June 6, 1944 word filtered down of the Allied invasion of France, which completely negated the importance of Rome. The glamour was in Europe and the Dogfaces in Italy would suffer from that campaign's prestige.
From Civitavecchia, the 133rd Infantry took the lead in pursuit of the Germans. South of the old Roman outpost city of Tarquinia, where a German airfield also was located, the enemy decided to stand and fight vigorously to halt American advances. Time evidently had to be bought for withdrawing troops and they fought like tigers. After a bloody battle Tarquinia fell in a twilight attack. The Dogfaces will never forget how a German Bicycle Battalion scurried to ride off in retreat. It reminded many of the shooting galleries at the old county fairs as riflemen plinked them off like targets on a pulley as the Germans attempted to ride hurriedly away in the day's last shadows. Some German aircraft were caught on the ground before they could escape.
With Tarquinia seized, the 34th Division was at last given a rest and some men took their first baths since early March 19, 1944, the date they departed the Cassino area. They were long past the stage of a modern deodorant breakdown and any group of 10 or more gave off an aroma akin to a polecat convention.
Gen. Clark must have decided the Red Bull men would develop pup-tent fever if they slept out of the elements too long and on July 24, 1944, they were alerted and sent back to the front to relieve the 36th Division.
In the 442nd RCT area, stiff resistance was encountered at Surreretto. The 100th Battalion earned a Presidential Citation when it bypassed the town and wreaked havoc on an enemy battalion. On the left flank, the 133rd Infantry sacked Monte Pantoni. The 168th moved with the line and helped severely maul an enemy battalion.
The 133rd Infantry Regiment, with the 2nd Battalion Palace Guards in the lead, sliced hard around Castagnano, cutting off enemy troops and paving the way for the regiment's advance to its objective, the Bolgheri River.
Men of the 133rd Infantry Regiment will never forget the hotly contested battle for Cecina, near the Tyrrhenian Sea. Col. Schildroth, the 133rd Infantry Commander, overly anxious to take the town, ordered Lt. Col. B.G. Marchi's Palace Guards to push across the flat second river bottom terrain to the river's edge, with surrounding hills occupied by the enemy. Quick to react, the German Panzer and Infantry units slashed through their ranks. One company, already under strength, suffered 54 casualties. However, the Palace Guards rebounded, seized Cecina, and the advance continued.
In other action, the 168th Infantry seized Riparbella. On July 3, 1944, the 133rd Infantry and 135th Infantry seized Collemezzano, while the 34th Reconnaissance took Casali. With hill masses seized by the 135th and 168th, the 3rd Battalion, 135th Infantry fought its way to Rosignano.
Rosignano had been a peacetime vacation resort, but no one could convince the 3rd Battalion, 135th Infantry Regiment that it was a desirable place to spend the Fourth of July. The Germans allowed them to enter the town, surrounded them, and then closed the gates, so to speak. On one side of the city square was the enemy, on the other side, the 3rd Battalion, 135th Infantry. The fireworks display was phenomenal, outdoing anything the men had ever seen in their hometowns.
So confusing were the battle lines that one enemy battalion dug in its positions with the soldiers' backs to the Red Bull men. The Minnesota 125th Field Artillery blasted the disoriented enemy's positions, adding further confusion to the enemy's ranks. The 442nd RCT launched an attack from south of Rosignano and--not having been invited to the Fourth of July party--the Germans turned their attention to the 442nd RCT. The memorable Fourth of July celebration lasted until July 6 and will long be remembered by all participants.
The drive continued to Leghorn and was marked with artillery units scurrying from position to position rendering support, often from exposed positions. Such objectives as Patina, Piere de St. Luce, Quercianiella, Mt. Maggiore, Usigliano and Colli Aberti, fell to the 34th Division and 442nd RCT.
With all 34th Division artillery batteries performing in a fantastic manner, the 135th Infantry pushed through the 100th Battalion, captured Ceppeto, and seized Casone. With the assistance of the 742nd Tank Battalion and 804th TD Battalion, by nightfall the entire 34th Division held the high ground and the next day the Red Bull men--along with the 363rd Infantry--secured the greater part of the city of Leghorn.
It was on July 21, 1944 that Gen. Charles L. Bolte assumed command of the 34th Division. Bolte, a powerful figure of a man, would prove to be an outstanding commander. (Later he became U.S. Army Deputy Chief of Staff and peacetime commander of Allied Forces in Europe.)
The Red Bull forces then seized Pisa, where they were hurried past the Leaning Tower and a short time later were relieved and sent to the former Italian resort area, "Rosignano by the Sea," courtesy of the 3rd Battalion, 135th Infantry Regiment, for a badly needed period of rest and reorganization.
During the rest period, the 442nd RCT, along with the 100th Battalion, were pulled from the division to join the already withdrawn 3rd, 45th and 36th Infantry Divisions and 1st Special Service Forces in the invasion of southern France. Fifth U.S. Army had been stripped of much of its long battle-tested divisions. All priority had been shifted to Europe, as the Allies had liberated Paris and were pounding German 7th Army Forces with aerial bombardment.
Back at Rosignano, the rotation system continued, and a new procedure of giving the old-timers a 30-day temporary duty to the States was inaugurated. Some would return to battle the Germans up the Po Valley in the final days of the War.
By the time the 34th Division went back into action on September 6, 1944, the Midwestern flavor of the division had diminished considerably. Even in the 2nd Battalion, 133rd Infantry, Midwesterners were not plentiful. Although smaller battles receive little historical attention, it is not uncommon for units to have suffered five to 10 casualties in these encounters. When added up, these losses became quite astronomical over a period of time.
From the vicinity of Florence, then held by the British, the 34th Division launched its drive to the Gothic Line in a series of quick advances against enemy rear-guard action. Rains fell heavily as the regiments moved further into the mountains. Then the 168th Infantry hit strong resistance. In a pitched battle, 168th Infantry troops seized Collina, Puliana and advanced toward Larguno.
Again the 34th Division found itself in high rugged mountains where off-road traveling by vehicles was impossible. Pack mules again were pressed into service.
Col. Henry C. Hines' 168th Infantry, with patrols out front clearing minor resistance, advanced through seven villages. The 133rd Infantry advanced 20 miles over rugged terrain to Legri, where the regiments came abreast. Terrain was growing more mountainous and as many as 15 hours were needed to evacuate casualties. The 109th Medics and detailed litter bearers did a highly commendable job.
On September 10, 1944, the 168th Infantry encountered strong resistance at LeCroci. After a heated battle the enemy was driven out of Casa Farno and Cavalina. The 133rd Infantry advanced over extremely rough terrain to St. Margherita in a series of skirmishes. Both the 133rd and 168th Infantry Regiments steadily moved forward to the Gothic Line, where the 135th Infantry launched an enveloping movement around the right flank.
In the Company K, 135th Infantry area, this company reached a heavily fortified area. Lt. Thomas W. Wigle, a young executive officer, watched the men make attempt after attempt to scale a rock wall. He asked and was given permission to take command of the platoon. He went forward, his men helped him over the wall, and then he opened fire on the Germans and his men crossed over. By that time Wigle had killed several of the enemy and had set about clearing several houses of the enemy until he fell mortally wounded. Lt. Wigle was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously.
Storming ahead, the 135th Infantry penetrated the Gothic Line September 16, 1944, and the 133rd Infantry seized St. Margherita. On September 18, Col. William Schildroth was killed in a minefield and Col. Gustav J. Braun was assigned the 133rd Infantry command. A gap exited in the lines, so Gen. Bolte closed it with the 168th Infantry, and by September 22 had seized Trondale. That sector of the Gothic Line had been completely shattered by the Red Bull regiments.
It was October 1, 1944. The mountains were getting higher and the weather colder. One would have thought the Germans would have given up the fight, but the 168th Infantry fought a bitter battle to take Mt. Galleto and the heights along the Setta River Valley. Meanwhile, the 133rd Infantry seized the intermediate objective of Cedreccitia and headed toward Monte Venere.
It was October 12, 1944 at Monte Venere when the 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry commander, Maj. Edward M. Farbert, was wounded and Capt. Richard F. Wilkinson was placed in command. He had been around since Africa and knew the tricks of the trade. With a strong frontal attack in progress, he snaked a company around to the rear and hit the confused enemy, a proud German Paratroop Battalion, from both ends. The enemy either became casualties, surrendered, or somehow hotfooted it out of the area. For its action, the battalion won a Presidential Citation.
In a series of short, but bitter actions, the 133rd Infantry seized Collina, the 168th Infantry seized several hills, and--in a bitter battle--took Osteria di Ruggeri, Banzole and Nuova, and then crossed the Sambro River. The villages of Manzuno and Varole, among others, fell to the raging Red Bull warriors and they pressed onward until they reached a formidable hill mass some 12 miles south of Bologna.
In front of the division stood majestic Monte Bel Monte, Castle di Zena, and a mighty bastion of German mountain defenses. Time after time the division's regiments battered themselves against the enemy's seemingly impregnable defenses, only to be cut to ribbons for their efforts. There--in the cold, wet rains and mud--they battled until snow made further progress virtually impossible.
A stalemate developed with patrol and probing action being the order of the day. The Red Bull men dug in. With both sides entrenched (with the exception of a few localized attacks), the front remained little changed until spring. Misery was the watchword, except for short stints by units and individuals to the Montecatini Terme rest area. It was on the winter line that Gen. Gustav Braun, the newly appointed Deputy Division Commander, was killed by enemy gunfire while on reconnaissance in a light aircraft.
From Rome northward, replacements and supplies became even sparser. All attention had been given to the war in Europe, and ammunition had to be rationed. Veterans of the winter line will long remember absorbing German artillery and mortar barrages and not being able to retaliate in kind. Although Allied air power had prevailed since North Africa, somehow the Germans had managed to maintain adequate supplies.
From Anzio to Bologna, a quiet, withdrawn young farm lad, Pfc. Edwin J. Lemke, Webster City, Iowa, made numerous solo raids behind enemy lines, knocking out enemy gun emplacements, blowing ammunition dumps and playing havoc with enemy communications. Although his deeds could be established from his reports and after an attack through the area, he was alone and without witness. The Phantom of the Fifth U.S. Army front, as Lemke was dubbed, did win the Distinguished Service Cross for deeds witnessed. Efforts still are being made to get him awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously.
The spring thaws came and time for the big offensive drew near. Gen. Harold R.L.G. Alexander, Allied Commander in Italy, announced the end of ammunition rationing. Air Force bombing had halted much of the delivery of the enemy's ammunition and fuel to the front.
On April 9, 1945, the British Eighth Army launched its offensive. On April 24, the Fifth U.S. Army IV Corps jumped off in the attack and the II Corps leaped from its dugouts and moved forward April 16.
The 133rd Infantry relieved the 363rd Infantry Regiment and headed north, seizing Monte Arnigo. The 3rd Battalion, 133rd Infantry, now commanded by Lt. Col. B.C. Marchi, Fort Dodge, Iowa, then passed through his old 2nd Battalion, crossed the Savena River and--with the 752nd Tank Battalion--marched triumphantly into Bologna. Col. Marchi had been ordered to halt his march at the outskirts of the city, but later said, tongue-in-cheek, "I didn't get the order!" Marchi had no intention of having his 34th Division troops sit on the outskirts as they had at Tunis and Rome, while some other unit reaped the glory.
Low on ammunition and fuel, the German Army--powerful as it still was--crumbled against the Allied onslaught. In some instances they moved artillery and trucks to the rear, pulled by oxen. The Allied Armies crossed the Po River and dogged the Germans in hot pursuit up the Po Valley. In the grand finale some 40,000 troops surrendered to the 34th Division. German troops in Italy officially surrendered April 29, 1945. Col. John M. Breit, then commanding the 135th Infantry Regiment, 34th Infantry Division, received the surrender of the German 34th Infantry Division. Col. Breit was given the honor of receiving all the Red Bull Division prisoners. On May 7, 1945 the war in Europe ended.
The 34th Division amassed 517 days of combat. One or more 34th Division units were engaged in actual combat with the enemy 611 days. The division was credited with more combat days than any other division in the theater. The 34th Division suffered 3,737 killed in action, 14,165 wounded in action, and 3,460 missing in action, for a total of 21, 362 battle casualties. Casualties of the division are considered to be the highest of any division in the theater when daily per capita fighting strengths are considered. There is little doubt the division took the most enemy-defended hills of any division in the European Theater. The division's men were awarded 10 Medals of Honor, 98 Distinguished Service Crosses, one Distinguished Service Medal, 1,052 Silver Stars, 116 Legion of Merit medals, one Distinguished Flying Cross, 1,713 Bronze Stars, 51 Soldier Medals, 34 Air Medals, with duplicate awards of 52 oak leaf clusters, and 15,000 purple hearts.
It is of interest to note that the division's only Distinguished Flying Cross was awarded to a non-pilot, Sgt. William Kriedler, Duluth, Minn., 125th Field Artillery Battalion. When the pilot became a casualty over Anzio, Kriedler took over the plane's controls and landed safely on an airstrip.
Additionally, 34th Division men and three units were awarded President Citations, 15 Unit Commendations, and 525 individual division citations. Individuals won seven British, seven French and six Italian medals. The French government awarded the Croix de Guerre with Palms to the division for its gallantry in action alongside French troops.
Small wonder the old veterans of the Red Bull Division were unhappy when their division was placed on the National Guard's inactive list, for they were rightfully proud of the 34th Infantry Division's accomplishments.
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The 113thCavalry Group
Iowa’s Cavalry in World War II
CW2 David L. Snook
Part I – From Normandy to Paris
On June 6, 1944, a great Allied offensive began to free Europe from the domination of Nazi Germany. By the end of June of that year, the Allies had gained a foothold on France’s Normandy coast. A great offensive then commenced that would sweep away more than four years of Nazi tyranny. One of the units taking part in this offensive was the 113th Mechanized Cavalry Group. The 113th Cavalry was originally an Iowa National Guard organization. By 1944, it still had much of its Iowa core, although it had been augmented by additional troops from throughout the United States.
In the late 1930s and the early 1940s, cavalry units in the U.S. Army had undergone a great transition, the elimination of horses. Jeeps, trucks, light tanks, armored cars, and mounted howitzers replaced the horses. For the 113th Cavalry Group, the final transition had only been made in April 1942. Even after almost two years of mechanized training at Camp Bowie, Texas and Fort Hood, Texas, many of the men still missed the horses. As Sgt. Glen Bell wrote, "Of course I missed the horses. I had been with them such a long time. They all had names. They had been a great part of my life." The horses were gone, however, and it would be as a mechanized cavalry group that the 113th would make its great contributions to World War II.
In January 1944, the 113th Cavalry convoyed to the Glasgow area of Scotland, then transferred by rail and truck to Camp Lobscombe, near Salisbury, England. Shortly after arriving in England, the regiment was reorganized into a Group Headquarters and two Squadrons: the 113th Reconnaissance Squadron, Mechanized; and the 125th Reconnaissance Squadron, Mechanized. Four months of training followed prior to deployment to France in June.
The 113th Cavalry Group landed at Omaha Beach in Normandy on June 29, 1944. Some advance elements of the Group had been on the beachhead since D-Day. The 113th was part of XIX Corps, which was included in the 9th U.S. Army. The 113th became known as "The Red Horse Group" from the bright red rampant horse insignia adopted by the organization at the time it was formed years before. The men of the Red Horse were about to write a new page in the unit’s history, carrying on traditions begun by their forefathers during the Civil War.
Immediately upon landing, the 113th headed inland to support the 30th Infantry in a projected attack on the important transportation center, St. Lo. The initial objectives of the Red Horsemen were two small towns named Goucherie and Le Mesnil-Veneron. Fighting was especially difficult due to the terrain. Dense hedgerows surrounded most of the fields in Normandy, making advancing slow and costly.
There were many examples of bravery and courage. "Tec. 5 John G. Prentice of Cleveland, Ohio inspired his unit in a demonstration of raw courage that brought a lump to the throat of every man who saw the incident." (Eagen, William, The Man on the Red Horse
) "Prentice was in one of two tanks brought forward to blast out several well-placed enemy machinegun nests. As his tank rolled forward to commence firing, a German 88 shell hit the left side of the turret and set the tank on fire. Although wounded, Prentice refused to bail out and run for cover. Firing his machine gun into enemy positions, he held his ground, enabling the tank crew to escape. His action also allowed the second tank to withdraw unharmed. Immobilized and exposed, Prentice died fighting."
In another action, near Goucherie, "Sergeant Fed E. Mollenhour, Center Point, Iowa was wounded three times. . .He started out his day leading a patrol around an enemy flank when his unite was pinned down by machine gun fire. Keeping calm, the sergeant brought his men out of danger, covering the withdrawal with his own weapon, dropped eight Germans and knocked out an enemy machine gun emplacement. He was wounded twice, but climbed into an armored car, manned two of its guns, and killed more than a dozen more of the enemy. Again he was wounded, and although he wanted to continue fighting, he was ordered out of the line and sent back for medical aid." (Eagen)
American forces entered Goucherie and Le Mesnil-Veneron on July 11. German forces then began to pull back toward St. Lo.
The battle for St. Lo was both difficult and deadly. Despite massive air assaults, German troops put up a stubborn house to house resistance. In addition, German artillery occupied the heights above the beleaguered town. Nothing could move without taking heavy casualties. The dead and wounded on the American side began to run 1,000 per day. St. Lo finally was captured on July 18. Avranches and Coutances were taken a few days later. The way was now open for an Allied breakout from the coast. The great Battle of France was about to begin.
The breakout from Normandy involved the problem of fighting through the boscage or hedgerow region of western France. It had been almost useless to run tanks against hedgerows. They reared up as treads climbed the matted vegetation. The waiting Germans fired into their unprotected underbellies, knocking them out.
A sergeant from New Jersey, Curtis G. Culin Jr., thought of a solution. His idea was to weld tooth-like irons to the front of his Sherman tank. He reasoned that they might hold the nose of the tank down while the edged "teeth" cut into the hedgerow. He tried it on a captured hedgerow. "Revving up his engine, he rammed straight into the mass. The Sherman shuddered, then roared lustily as it heaved, the treads straining like rippling muscles. Ripping and tearing, the Sherman kept its nose down and bulled its way through. It worked!" They called it the "Rhino," and Sgt. Culin received a Legion of Merit Award from Gen. Bradley himself. (Eagen)
Throughout the month of August, Allied forces drove rapidly northeastward from Normandy toward Paris. During the advance, the 113th Cavalry had a dual mission – screening for the 30th Infantry Division and maintaining contact with VII Corps on the Division’s right and the 2nd Armored Division on the left. Division orders to the 113th read like something from the old horse cavalry days: "Fan out ahead of the advance in a fast bold run, keeping well ahead of our skirmish lines."
As Allied forces pushed north, German resistance began to weaken. On Aug. 22, after taking more than 1,000 prisoners, which represented over two-thirds of the strength of the entire 113th Group, a number of contacts were made with various units of the British 2nd Army. Much of the German 7th Army was now encircled.
During this period of fighting, Sgt. Arnold Kruger of Leola, So. Dak., with a bullhorn and an interpreter, went forward to the edge of a woods where a company of Germans had holed up. He saved many lives on both sides when he successfully persuaded 80 of the enemy to surrender. Kruger later was awarded the Bronze Star.
On Aug. 25, XIX Corps, of which the 113th was a part, swept north of Paris as part of the great Allied offensive that liberated the French capital that same day. A key Allied objective had been achieved. German resistance seemed to be crumbling. But the stubborn enemy would reorganize. Months of fierce combat lay ahead in Belgium and Germany.
Part II– From Paris to the Elbe
By September 1944, the men of the 113th Cavalry Group were combat veterans. They were battle-tested by three months of hard fighting that had seen Allied forces move from the Normandy beachhead to liberate Paris at the end of August. The first phase of Allied operations was now complete. Paris was once again a free city. A new phase was about to begin – the pursuit of the retreating Germans across northern France, Belgium, Holland, and into Germany itself.
To begin this new phase of Allied operations, the 113th Cavalry Group launched its own American-style Blitzkrieg – a 280-mile dash, first through northern France to the Somme River, then across the Belgian border to the Meuse River and the Albert Canal. Providing a reconnaissance screen for the 79th and 30th Divisions, the two squadrons of the Group, the 113th and the 125th, raced from Beaumont to the Somme (a distance of 150 miles) in less than two days, reaching the famous river on the night of Sept. 2. In the succeeding six days, they smashed through another 130 miles of enemy-held territory and into Belgium, brushing aside stiff enemy resistance, screening for the various divisions of XIX Corps, and slowing down to shoot it out with desperate German defenders whenever necessary. In his book, The Man on the Red Horse, William Eagen describes the weeklong advance as "a classic cavalry operation, spectacular in its speed, and superb in execution."
In late September, the rapid pace of Allied operations began to slow. For more than three months, German forces had retreated across France and Belgium. Now, as reserves became available, they managed to reorganize. The closer the Allied advance got to the German homeland and the complex of defensive fortifications known as the Siegfried Line, the more it became apparent that the going was to become much rougher.
During October and November, while being alternately attached to the 29th and 84th Divisions, the men of the 113th Cavalry Group made slow but determined progress against well-fortified German positions. This activity culminated with the taking of the town of Beeck, Germany, on Nov. 30.
On Dec. 16, the Germans launched their "Ardennes Offensive." This offensive marked the beginning of a bitter 10-day struggle that came to be called the Battle of the Bulge. During this time, the 113th Cavalry Group reverted to a defensive posture, nervously watching as American forces to the south fought desperately to halt the enemy attack. An Allied counter-attack, spearheaded by the 2nd and 4th Armored Divisions, eventually tuned back the enemy advance.
With the stabilization of the situation in the Ardennes, Allied forces could resume offensive operations. At this time, the 113th Cavalry Group was returned to the control of XIX Corps and ordered to assemble at Waldheim, Germany.
Throughout January and early February, the Allied advance was delayed at the Roer River. The Germans still controlled a series of dams on the river. Any move across the river was threatened to be swamped by floodwaters, should the Germans decide to blow up the dams. On Feb. 9, the dams were destroyed. The construction of temporary bridges finally permitted American forces to cross the river at the end of February.
After a 10-day period of rest and rehabilitation, the 113th Cavalry Group returned to front-line duty, occupying a region along the Rhine River near the towns of Anstell and Niederaussen, Germany.
Much of the month of March was spent securing bridgeheads and constructing pontoon bridges.
On March 24, the 9th
U.S. Army (including the 113th
Group), the British VII Corps and the British XXX Corps struck hard across the Rhine to initiate a new Allied offensive called Operation Plunder. On March 31, the 113th
Cavalry reached Davensburg, Germany, and picked up its final orders. It was to operate as a screen along the north flank of XIX Corps and maintain contact with the adjoining XIII Corps. The fast-paced operations of the next two days resulted in the capture of almost 2,000 prisoners, as well as large amounts of both equipment and supplies.
On April 3, the 113th Cavalry Group became part of a new composite armed force. This force included artillery, tank, tank destroyer, engineer, infantry, and reconnaissance elements. Due to the growing reputation of the 113th, its commander, William S. Biddle, was chosen to command the new force. It was named "Task Force Biddle" in hid honor.
From April 4 to April 8, "Task Force Biddle" advanced rapidly to the Weser River, constructed a pontoon bridge. Crossed the river, and then turned south. After breaking strong enemy resistance at Stadtoldendorf and Negenborn, the Task Force continued its quick pace, taking Gehrenrode, Einbeck, Ilsenburg, and finally the important industrial town of Wernigerode. At Gehrenrode, two German generals were captured, General-Major (Brig. Gen.) Erik Busch and General-Lieutenant (Maj. Gen.) Walter Beschnitt. Both were on leave, and both expressed amazement at the tremendous motor columns of the Red Horse task force and the seemingly unlimited air cover.
On April 4, the 9th Army was detached from the British 21st Army Group and reassigned to the 12th U.S. Army Group. Lt. Gen. McClain, XIX Corps commander, immediately reestablished his objectives and designated the 113th Cavalry and the 2nd Armored Division as his advance units in the drive to the Elbe River.
By the end of April, American forces had reached the Elbe. On April 29, the 125th Squadron was sent on a mission to establish contact with Russian forces.
As the armored column of the 125th Squadron rolled toward Klieken, it encountered increasingly heavy enemy fire. It was at this point that the Red Horse Cavalry lost one of its most dashing and decorated heroes, Lt. Jerry O’Donnell. He was killed as he led his platoon against entrenched forces on the outskirts of Klieken. The brave lieutenant had led his celebrated platoon of the 125th’s Troop A in a succession of actions all across Europe, only to die within a few days of V-E Day. O’Donnell’s decorations included both the Croix de Guerre and the Silver Star.
Ordered to bypass Klieken, the 125th Squadron resumed its push toward the east. "Ranging more than 20 miles out beyond the nearest Allied forces, the Red Horsemen pushed ever deeper into an area swarming with enemy forces, guerrillas and bands of fanatical die-hard Nazis. The Squadron was now the furthest east of any Allied force in the entire northern portion of Germany" (Eagen)
The 125th Squadron finally made contact with elements of the Russian 121st Division near the town of Apollensdorf. Retired Brig. Gen. Arnold E. Harjehausen, a former member of the 125th Squadron, was present at the link-up.
"The Russians were a motley crew," Harjehausen recalls. "When we contacted them we had a difficult time figuring out what unit they belonged to. We found a Russian major general, but he wouldn’t talk to us."
Eventually two Russian tanks showed up, and a man and a woman got out. The woman spoke perfect English and brought an end to the confusion. A series of high-level meetings followed. Russian and American prisoners were exchanged, and American-held territory east of the Elbe Ws turned over to Russian control.
The formal end of the war took place at midnight, May 8. For the men of the 113th Cavalry Group, it was the end of a long hard trail that stretched over 800 miles from the original landing at Omaha Beach. The Group had survived 309 days of actual combat, destroyed or captured over 600 tanks, armored cars, half-tracks, and other vehicles, and taken more than 21,000 prisoners.
"The unit as a whole had won three written commendations from commanding generals of the divisions under which it had served; and the officers and men had accumulated an almost unbelievable total of medals and awards for a force of such small size. Won by men of the 113th Group were 2 Distinguished Service Crosses, 1 Legion of Merit, 96 Silver Stars, 454 Bronze Stars, 870 Purple Hearts, 1 Legion of Honor (French), 7 Croix de Guerre (French), 1 Military Cross (British), and 1 Military Medal (British)." (Eagen) "In 1948, at a memorial meeting in Des Moines, "two royal Belgium citations were awarded the Red Horse cavalry; one for the celebrated dash across Belgium, the other for establishing a bridgehead across the Meuse on September 11 (1944). The red and yellow Belgium Fourragere decoration adorns the colors of the 113th—a prideful reminder of those thrilling days when they led the way for Allied armies." (Eagen)
After inactivation following World War II, the 113th Cavalry was reorganized and federally recognized in 1947 as the 113th Mechanized Cavalry Squadron. In 1949, it was redesignated as the 113th Antiaircraft Artillery Automatic Weapons Battalion.
In 1959, it was converted and redesignated as the 113th Armor, a parent regiment under the Combat Arms Regimental System, consisting of 1st Reconnaissance Squadron, 113th Armor and 2nd Medium Tank Battalion, 113th Armor.
These groups were reorganized in 1963 to consist of the 1st and 2nd Battalions, 113th Armor.
History came full circle in 1992, when another reorganization reestablished the 1sst Squadron, 113th Cavalry. Squadron Headquarters and Troops A and B are located at Camp Dodge. Headquarters Detachment and Troops C and D are located at Waterloo.
124th Observation Squadron
The Beginning and WWII
The official beginning of the Iowa Air National Guard was 25 February 1941, the day the 124th Observation Squadron received its federal recognition. However, the real beginning dated back to 1925 when a group of World War I pilots made their first of six unsuccessful attempts to obtain federal authority for an Air Squadron.
The first indication that Iowa might be allotted an air squadron came on 15 May 1940, when the National Guard Bureau asked Governor George Wilson and Adjutant General Charles H. Grahl if the state of Iowa still desired the allocation of an air squadron. Their affirmative answer of 20 May 1940 also stated the unit would be located at the Des Moines Municipal Airport.
On 30 July 1940, the Secretary of War authorized the National Guard Bureau to effect the following addition to the Iowa National Guard. "Organize the 124th Observation Squadron under Table of Organization I-255N6, with federal recognition not prior to 1 January 1941."
With this authorization in hand, the City Council, Chamber of Commerce, and a nonprofit corporation of local Des Moines citizens began to work on obtaining a hangar and armory at the airport for the new unit. Plans for a hangar costing $575,000 were initially approved, but were reduced to stay within a $350,000 limit. The total project would be funded by a $250,000 Work Program Administration (WPA) grant, $50,000 from the National Guard Bureau (NGB), and $50,000 from a nonprofit corporation of Des Moines businessmen. The President signed the work order on 16 January 1941. Due to numerous shortages of money, labor, materials and design errors, the first military planes would not be parked on the apron at the National Guard hangar until 2 November 1943.
A servicing detachment was assigned to the base in May of 1943 to help ready the facility as a turnaround/refueling base. The new Commander, Major Robert Lee (a direct descendant of General Robert E. Lee of Civil War fame) encountered his first major task of requesting $620.00 from the City to repair a roof leak, a problem that still exists today. Des Moines did become a favorable turnaround base, but aircraft frequently developed strange and generally unexplained grounding discrepancies for two- or three-day periods. The WAC Training Center at Ft. Des Moines may have been a contributing factor.
As plans were being developed to build a hangar/armory for the new air unit, organization/recruiting plans were also progressing. In January 1941, the Adjutant General appointed Major Lester G. Orcutt as Commander of the 124th Observation Squadron. Major Orcutt's primary duty was to start recruiting members for his squadron. An ad in the Des Moines Sunday Register, 9 February 1941, asking for recruits for the new unit brought over 300 applicants in the first few days to the recruiting center, a defunct orange juice stand. Major Orcutt personally interviewed all applicants and made the selections. The new recruits were sworn in and the 124th Observation Squadron was federally recognized on 25 February 1941.
NCOs from the Army Guard gave the new recruits their basic training at the Argonne Armory. After "basic training," they received technical training at the Tech High Aviation Lab, then located at 10th and Clark Street.
The first unit aircraft, a BC-1A arrived 9 March 1941, followed by a ZO-38E and an O-47A on 17 April 1941. Flying operations were headquartered at the southeast end of the municipal airport (currently the employee parking lot). A total of 1250.5 flying hours were accumulated by the time the unit was mobilized on 15 September 1941. The "Iowa Hawks" consisted of 27 officers (15 pilots, 1 flight surgeon), 110 enlisted men and 5 aircraft.
Fort Des Moines gave the "Hawks" a 15 day indoctrination to full-time military life before they moved to Sherman AAF, Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas. There they were joined by the 127th Observation Squadron of the Kansas Guard. The major emphasis was flying training; however, this was hampered by lack of airplanes. If it had wings, they attempted to fly it--0-31, 0-37, 0-49, 0-52, even a Piper Cub on floats. During Nov 1941, the standing order was "no airplane in commission would be on the ground more than 10 minutes for fuel and a pilot change between sunup and sundown."
Capt. John O. Bradshaw (retired from USAF as a General) commanded the 124th when it was transferred to Ellington Field, Houston, Texas, Apr 1941, to begin anti-submarine patrol. Since the 0-47 was armed with a gun only, the crew would report sighting to bomber aircraft for the attack. However, the enterprising armament section rigged the 0-47 with depth charge racks and could now "attack."
In July, the 124th Observation Squadron was moved to Galveston, Texas, to continue SUB-PATROL as part of the Gulf Task Force. On 15 July, the 124th suffered its first fatality when an 0-47 on a test hop killed maintenance officer Capt. Berle E. Sampson and crew chief TSgt Ralph Bottolfson. Sgt John W. Knight escaped with minor injuries. The unit also registered its first "enemy kill" from the Galveston AAB. MSgt James N. McGuire was serving as bombardier when a submerged submarine was sighted and immediately attacked. Depth charges from the rigged racks were precisely on target. The dead whale was used for gunnery practice for several days thereafter.
When submarine attacks started occurring near the mouth of the Mississippi River, the 124th was moved to New Orleans MAP to increase air surveillance in the area. The unit continued to "scrounge" aircraft since wartime production was still growing to meet the need. The 124th sea plane operation was terminated by an unsuccessful rough water landing.
Lt. Albert Snider, a West Point graduate, was named Commander in Nov 1942. He was very instrumental in the unit being redesignated the 124th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron and moved to Key Field, Meridian, Mississippi, as a Replacement Training Squadron, a role the unit would retain until being deactivated on 30 Apr 1944. The squadron had P-39s, P-40s, and a P-51B. Upon his promotion to major, Sep 1943, Snider was transferred to a combat unit overseas. Many of the remaining original 124th Observation Squadron went with him.
Edward White, a combat veteran, commanded the 124th TFS until deactivation. The unit had only one fatal accident during its RTU mission. An inexperienced student became lost and ran out of fuel, Dec 1943. In Feb 1944, the unit's anniversary was celebrated by thirteen of the originals still with the unit.
The 124th TFS was officially retired from active service on 30 Apr 1944, for the duration of World War II.
Reprinted from The History of the 124th Fighter Squadron/132nd Fighter Wing, Iowa National Guard, 1941 Thru 1982.
The Iowa State Guard (1942-1947)
CW3 David L. Snook
The mobilization of the Iowa National Guard, in 1941, left state authorities with a major problem. There was no longer a state military force to assist with natural disasters and other state emergencies. On February 28, 1941, the state legislature approved Governor George A. Wilson’s request to authorize a replacement organization, the Iowa State Guard. The governor and the legislature did not immediately implement this authorization. Since the mobilization of the National Guard was for only one year, it did not seem cost effective to train a replacement force when Guard units would be returning to the state in only twelve months. With America’s entry into World War II, however, the situation changed. In December 1941, Governor Wilson ordered the organization of the Iowa State Guard "to provide military protection for the State of Iowa during the absence of the National Guard."
Former adjutant general and World War I veteran, Lieutenant General (Retired) Mathew A. Tinley, was assigned as The Commanding General, Iowa State Guard. An officer corps was appointed, and two regiments were organized. Each regiment consisted of 16 companies of 3 officers and 60 enlisted men, each, and a medical detachment of 5 officers and 30 enlisted men. The First Regiment occupied the southern half of the state and the Second Regiment, the northern half. A Military Police Battalion was also established.
As in other states, Iowa State Guard volunteers included men "rejected by the Selective Service for physical disabilities, essential war workers, other citizenry with industrial exemptions, and public-spirited citizens well beyond compulsory military age." (Hill, Jim Dan, The Minute Man in Peace and War, The Stackpole Company, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 1964) A number of younger men also volunteered, hoping to learn some basic military skills before being drafted into the regular forces.
A program of 13 weeks of intensive basic training was instituted, which resulted in the rapid development of the State Guard units within a very short period of time. An extensive survey of all vital installations in the State of Iowa was completed, and plans for safeguarding these installations were prepared.
During its period of service, in addition to its security duties, the State Guard also assisted with several state emergencies, including a major fire (Dubuque), tornadoes (Sioux and Webster Counties) and several western Iowa floods (1943 and 1944). With the reorganization of the Iowa National Guard in 1946 and 1947, the last units of the Iowa State Guard were deactivated on 17 September 1947.