1st Lt. John Donald Battery C, Hq.Co.
"533rd batteries held positions until Nazi tanks were almost upon them in North Alsace."
In sub-freezing weather- the 533rd batteries held positions until Nazi tanks were almost on them in North Alsace. New years dawn of 1945 broke clear and bitter cold along the front in the northern-most plains of Alsace where 533rd gun crews, cold and denied many hours of sleep due to the impending onslaught of Wehrmacht tanks.
Since the original alert had been received from battalion headquarters the night before, there had been no further messages. It now appeared that there were no allied forces left in the area; the Mechanized Calvary and the Infantry had long since pulled out. Our communications men at the switchboard and on the radio contacted battalion every half hour to determine that we were still in contact with them and there was no break in communication lines. We were momentarily expecting battalion to order us to pull back,
but the last order to us was to remain intact with our guns trained toward any approaches from the north. We were already involved in firing at occasional ME-109's that were buzzing our sector as though more involved in recconoitering the area.
The battalion was deployed in a jumble of positions as follows: Headquarters and Headquarters Battery were at Savern along with Battery B which was defending Sixth Corps Headquarters against air and ground attacks; A Battery was at Kirchausen;
C Battery was in Sessenheim; and D Battery was defending a bridge near Mutzendorf.
These towns were in an area near each other but some 41 miles north of Savern where Battalion was located. Finally battalion called all the 3 batteries up north and the march order was given. A and C Batteries were to move south to Dettweiller where they would set up at the north end of the village as anti-tank defense while D Battery would go south to Rosenweiller and await further orders but staying in an alert situation, prepared for instant movement.
C Battery had a 40 mm gun and a mechanically disabled 6-by truck on deadline at Battery Headquarters so it was decided that Battery Commander Capt. George Bellin would lead the two Platoon Headquarters, the eight gun sections and the motor pool
South to Dettweiller while his Executive Officer 1st Lt. John Donald would remain behind with 15 men to destroy the gun and truck with explosives if the Germans approached. C Battery arrived in Dettweiller and set up defenses north of Dettweiller.
At 1100 hours they radioed to battalion headquarters at Severn that they were in operational position. Meantime D Battery reported they were in firing position north of Rosenweiller. Personnel of both batteries was discouraged by the fact that these positions had been wrested from the Germans back in November after heavy fighting. This being a grim reminder that when British officers advised Patton to fall back and consolidate his positions, Patton had curtly answered ”I don't want to pay for the same real estate twice!”
And he went on to liberate the airborne troops at Bastogne.(Evidence of Patton's relentless drive North to relieve the situation at Bastogne, was displayed in North Alsatian towns as tanks, trucks, jeeps, with unit designations painted over and foot-slogging infantrymen with unit patches and rank ensignia taped over made their way through sleet, snow and slush. These were silent men with little or no expression on their frost-covered faces. Their blood-shot eyes staring ahead with a determination to accomplish the mission many miles ahead.)
Meanwhile, back at the house that had been confiscated from an Alsatian woman
(who, all along had been suspiciond as a German collaborator) 1st Lt. John Donald and his fifteen men made up of kitchen crew, motor pool, communications and other personnel with ranks of Private up to Sergeant set about packing battery equipment along with personal belongings while awaiting trucks and motor pool towing vehicles to move them down to Dettweiller to join the rest of the battery(hopefully before enemy troops began to enter the village from the North.) Sgt.Ross Hutson and two of his communications crew pulled into the rear of the house in their weapons carrier partially loaded with communications line spools. They had completed bringing telephone lines from original sites of eight gun sections and two platoon CP's. They remarked about how quiet the surrounding area was. They said they were practically overflown by several ME-109's that were reconoirtering the area to determine the presence of American troops. Sgt Hutson informed me that he was sure they were possibly spotted by the planes but they gave no evidence of it. 1st Lt. Donald told Corporal Lockard, our demolitions man that he had better lay out his explosive charges and gear so that we would be able to blow the vehicles parked in the rear of the house. To shorten the story, however, the Krauts didn't appear and the men and trucks arrived about noon and we were in Dettweiller by day's end.
1ST LT. JOHN DONALD BATTERY C,HQ.CO.
LO! THE WORTHY THOMAS STONE:
A HAZARDOUS VOYAGE TO FRANCE
CAGLIARI, SARDINIA, NOV. 13TH, 1943 – Elements of the 533rd Antiaircraft battalion loaded onto the Liberty ship Thomas Stone and embarked from this port on this gloomy day en route to the southern shore of France to join other allied forces in driving German units northward and ultimately back into there besieged
fatherland. The majority of headquarters battery plus portions of ”B” and”C”
batteries were packed into the cramped holds of the rusting freighter as she steamed away from the docks and set a northerly course up the east of the Mediterranean
island. The first port of call was to be in the Straights of Bonoficio at Madalena Island where curious Sardinians would be lining the waterfront to see the ship and those aboard headed for the battle zone in France. While the Thomas Stone lay in the harbor just off Madalena, there was a dramatic incident taking place; Standing at the port rail was a soldier peering anxiously toward the shore where several Sards were making their way out toward the ship in row boats. In one of these boats
was a young woman searching the faces of 533rd enlisted men lining the rail. Suddenly there was recognition in one of the young faces just as the young woman in the row boat saw a soldier smiling down at her-his wife of a short duration. They had obtained permission from Army officials and from priest to be married some time back and it was all legal. Somehow the woman had learned that the 533rd was soon moving to France and entered the combat zone.
It was amazing how the Sards knew in advance when we were leaving a given area and where we would be going. This was also true in North Africa. The Arabs made it their business to know these things. Obviously they had to learn of an upcoming movement of allied units from allied personnel themselves and the only ones in this category could only be upper echelon persons-which takes us back to the old warnings that the “walls have ears” or “loose lips sink ships”. It was real weird.
The soldiers lining the rails of the Thomas Stone stood silently as the young couple waved and smiled across the hundred or so feet of water between them. How they wished that the couple could some way be united even for just a brief meeting. How the young groom yearned to accidently fall overboard and be rescued by the oarsman on the rowboat bearing his wife! Who knows how long it would be before they were together? At war's end? Maybe never? War is hell. As the Thomas Stone made preparations to get underway, the row boats began to disperse and the young bride didn't hide the fact that she was brushing away the tears as the soldier leaned far out over the rail waving the final farewell to her.
Not long after clearing the Bonificio Straits, the Thomas Stone broke into the open waters of the Mediterranean setting a northeasterly course. The wind began to change from westerly to due north and the sea became choppy and covered with whitecaps that were more apparent on yet gentle swells. All this coupled with gathering scudding gray clouds, foretold a rough night ahead. To the starboard there were several boats of the PT class running parallel to the Thomas Stone and making slow headway in the outset of the storm making up out of the Rhone Valley. To the west, ominous dark clouds were fast blotting out the last rays of sunset and the wind was now approaching gale force. As was pointed out previously, the Thomas Stone was a Liberty ship-one of many such ocean-going crafts hastily constructed by shipyards at Newport News, Va., Wilmington, N.C. and a couple of yards on the coast of California to be used in the U.S. war effort in shipment of war materials, foods, ammunition and in many cases the deployment of troops. Most of these ships were staffed by crews of Merchant Mariners with six or seven U.S. sailors to man antiaircraft automatic weapons. Despite the record time it took to build them, these ships were well constructed with expert welding jobs in lieu of rivets which made for better joining of plating throughout the ship. Your writer was happy to get this information from one of the ship engineers. The Thomas Stone was no floating hotel. Sleeping quarters were allotted first to the Merchant Mariners and to the six Navy gunners. Then, any higher ranking military personnel, such as battalion commanders and their deputy commanders. Army captains were offered the opportunity to share spare berths in cabins of the Merchant Marine commissioned officers. Military junior officers were assigned areas on deck with their bedrolls to bundle up in while enlisted men were given space below decks in three large holds where guns and vehicles were blocked into place to prevent rolling with the motion of the sea(of which there was to be a plenty of from the looks of the weather that night. At least they were in close proximity of their bedrolls provided they could be found on the gun section trucks.)
Your writer and five other junior officers found their cots and bedrolls cramped together on a small deck aft of the crew's quarters. There was a canvas tarp stretched over the deck, supported by temporary metal poles and the rising wind was already drenching our rolled bedrolls and we elected to leave them rolled until we were ready to retire for the night so that their interiors would remain fairly dry. We had been issued K-rations to keep among our possessions to be consumed whenever we felt hungry. There were to be no fires aboard so coffee was out of the question. The K-rations contained packages of a synthetic lemon juice that tasted fairly well mixed with canteen water which had a taste of its own with the tablets we dropped in the water for sterilization.
The storm out of the Rhone valley broke around 2200 hours that night and the ship was riding directly into it-facing forty-foot waves that lifted the ship to the crest causing the propeller to be out of the water and shaking the ship violently. We snuggled into our bedrolls and, with the screaming wind, the slashing rain and the rise and fall of the ship nobody had much to say. Once in awhile, some guy would laugh nervously and try to hide his fear by making some inane wise crack. My thoughts turned to my wife and daughter back in Virginia and my parents in North Carolina. I even trained my thoughts back to the young bride and groom back at Madalena earlier that day. How long had it been? Ages? What had ‘ages' to do with anything? This was modern times. Back in Tunisia I had visited Carthage which had been over run by Romans over a thousand years ago. The ship lurched again and I felt it would never stop its plunge over forty feet into the valley of sea water.
We were suddenly wakened by the smoothness of the sea and a blinding sunrise. Then we all began to laugh and talk. Tomorrow we would be in France.
1ST LT. JOHN DONALD BATTERY C,HQ.CO.
"THE LITTLE GIANT"
There she sat. Resting as peacefully as a Canadian goose on a Carolina pond after a grueling daylong flight south. Yet, poised to release its fury on any invader-be it armor or aircraft. Over 57 years ago she was towed by GMC truck over 3800 miles from Casablanca(after being scrubbed clean of cosmolene), over bomb-cratered tarmac roads, through broiling sun and blowing sand across North Africa to Bizerte with many stops during five hectic months. She got herself wet in practice landings on LST's at Arzew and then fired overtime through her barrels at Bizerte and enjoying being freshly cleaned by her crew after each raid. But well worth the trouble after shooting down several enemy bombers.
But her work was just beginning. She was loaded on an LST for a two-day voyage to the island of Sardinia where she and her counterparts would see no action for a whole year except for two batteries deployed on Madalena and San Stephano Islands north of Sardinia that fired on some 25 hostiles raiding the British submarine pens at San Stephano. After this there was no action. On two occasions German recco planes flying at 35,000 feet were spotted but were far too high for the forties. Such overflies were left up to the 90 mm guns-big brothers to the “Little Giants”.
So, on Sardinia the Bofors sat in their revetments and rested comfortably except for gun drills several times a week to keep the crews alert. Normal standbys at dawn and dusk were routine with skeleton crews overnight.
In November, 1944, “Little Giant” found herself and the 31 other Bofors guns on the move again. All 32 of the road-weary weapons converged on the port of Cagliari, Sardinia far to the south of the island where practically a year ago to the day, they had been offloaded from Liberty ships(one being the “Thomas Stone”). The weather had been about the same on that landing as '44., gloomy, gray, rainy and cold. This time the destination was the south of France where Allied troops had landed in August, 1944, and the fighting had advanced far up the Rhone valley into southern Alsace. The entire battalion was now concentrated in bivouac some seven miles north of the city of Marseilles. The men of the battalion were pleased that there was a better climate in France. The trees were colored in the browns, reds, and golds of fall and the air felt cleaner than the flat, hot, humid atmosphere of Africa and the rest of the Mediterranean. The men of the battalion were mostly from the mid-west and the north country which glorified in the autumn crispness.
The battalion convoyed up the Rhone valley as a unit with each battery towing the “Little Giants” and the quad-fifties, passing through French villages where local denizens stood gaping at all the fire power passing before their eyes. Some of them were waving the French tri-colored flags(others were hauling in swastikas). All through the fall, the “Little Giants” jumped from village to village-all with strange names such as Rosenheimer, Urmweiller, Niederbronn, Reinstedt-just places where a lot of soldiers died. The barrels of the “Little Giants” and the fifties belched flame and steel with enemy planes strafing and bombing at opportune times when they themselves were not going down in flame. Things went well for the 533rd until the deep freeze of Alsace set in and someone in the warm comfortable rear area had goofed. The primemovers were short on antifreeze and maintenance men were hard put to prevent blocks from cracking! QM had said there would be plenty of the antifreeze, but apparently the French Army or the black market people were helping themselves while our trucks sat idle with blankets and ponchos thrown over their engines in a vain effort to protect against cracked blocks. Our men stood alerts in the bitter cold and eating mostly cold food although the kitchen crews did the best they could with containers that were supposed to keep food warm. Sure, there were a few complaints about foul conditions but it can be truthfully said that these men stood tall facing adversity(in later years they had a few laughs among themselves at reunions they enjoyed back home.)
Spring began to creep in, slowly at first, and then suddenly like a burst of crimson dawn across the Alsatian plain. Despite the roar of artillery, incoming and outgoing, occasional birdsong could be heard along with the shrill laughter of small Alsatian children in the villages,. The “Little Giants” were on the move again over the tarmac roads, deeply pitted by the wintry weather, but now passing fields of apple trees decked out in apple blossoms which caused infantrymen to refer to it as the “apple blossom fighting.” In the fall, these apples would sure taste good, but just how far would we be from them in the fall? Maybe back home? Who knows, maybe the long journey is nearing an end. The Germans are fast recoiling back deeper into the fatherland. Soon they'll have no more place to run. The chiefs of sections are probably checking the wheels and carriage of the “Little Giants” as they have done so many times before to determine how much longer the trusted pieces would continue to blast away at enemy planes. How many months, years has it been since we drew them from ordnance at Casablanca and cleaned the cosmoline from them? Some of these trustworthy Sergeants probably could feel a lump in their throat as they stood and looked at the condition of the forties. What will finally become of them, they would muse. Probably be given to the French-God forbid!
The “Little Giants” entered Germany in April of 1945 in hot pursuit of the fleeing Germans, crossing the Rhine at Mannheim and arriving at historic Heidelberg at sunset amid purple crepe myrtle with local citizens walking about gaudily dressed and smiling as though the war was over. They stood at a large square gaping at the trucks towing the “Little Giants” and the quad-fifties through their town with husky dust and sweat covered American soldiers looking unconcernedly down at them from the trucks. Your writer stood in the middle of the square directing traffic through the square and onto the road leading out to the south. He needed a shave but enough dust covered his face to hide the whiskers. His battle jacket and helmet were covered with the road grime as he motioned the trucks forward, throwing a friendly salute to the driver of each vehicle. An elderly German woman approached him and asked in halting English, “Are we allowed to remain in the square until dark?”, to which I answered, “Lady as far as I'm concerned you can remain here until midnight-we are just passing through on our way to Berlin!” As to what happened to the gallant “Little Giants”, I can only say in their regard, “Well done! To them and their valiant crews!”
AS TOLD TO ME BY DOC HIMSELF “I REMEMBER THE GUYS FROM THE MOTOR POOL REAL WELL THEY USED TO COME OVER TO SICK BAY AND
VISIT WITH ME AND THE MEDICS WHEN EVER THEY GOT A CHANCE AND I DIDN'T MIND I WAS ALWAYS FRIENDLY WITH THEM AND TALKED WITH THEM ON MANY OCCASIONS AS WELL AS OTHER MEMBERS OF THE BATTALION, I ALWAYS WATED TO STAY ON GOOD TERMS WITH THE GUYS FROM THE MOTOR POOL BECAUSE WHEN I HAD TO GO SOMEWHERE I COULD GET RIDES INSTEAD OF HAVING TO WALK. AND ON ONE OCCASION I HAD TO GO INTO TOWN TO VISIT A HOUSE OF ILLREPUTE TO CHECK ON THE LADIES, THE OTHER MEDICAL OFFICER NEVER WANTED TO GO SO I WOULD DO IT, HE WOULD RATHER STAY AT THE BASE THAN TO GO INTO TOWN SO I GOT AN AMBULANCE DRIVER AND HE AND I LOADED MY GEAR INTO THE AMBULANCE THAT WE ACQUIRED FROM THE MOTORPOOL THAT THE COLONEL DIDN'T KNOW ABOUT AND THEN WE PROCEEDED INTO TOWN. WELL WHEN WE PULLED UP TO THE ESTABLISHMENT AND I GOT OUT OF THE AMBULANCE ALL THESE GI'S AND MP'S EVEN CAME RUNNING OUT OF THE ESTABLISHMENT AS FAST AS THEY COULD AND TOOK OFF IN EVERY DIRECTION WE INVITED THEM TO COME BACK BUT NONE OF THEM TOOK US UP ON THE OFFER I GUESS WHEN THEY SEEN MY OFFICERS RANK IT SCARED THEM, AND HAD THEM THINKING IT WAS A RAID OF AN OFF LIMITS ESTABLISHMENT. MY DRIVER AND I LAUGHED THE WHOLE TIME WE WERE THERE AND ALL THE WAY BACK TO BASE AS WELL AS ALONG TIME AFTER THAT AND TO THIS DAY EVERYTIME I THINK OF THAT DAY I JUST GRIN AND LAUGH IT WAS JUST SO FUNNY HOW EVERYBODY CAME RUNNING OUT OF THAT ESTABLISHMENT”
TSGT. JOHN STUMPF
BATTERY A, 1ST PLATOON,
WHILE BATTERY A WAS IN MOSTAGANUM, FRENCH MORROCCO A YOUNG ARAB BOY CAME UP TO HQ.CO. AND ASKED IF HIS MOTHER COULD DO THEIR LAUNDRY FOR THEM AND ALL THE GUYS THOUGHT SURE WHY NOT SO THEY GAVE THEIR CLOTHES TO THE LITTLE BOY AND HE LEFT.
THE NEXT DAY THE LITTLE BOY BROUGHT BACK THE CLOTHES AND THEY WERE VERY CLEAN AND FOLDED NICELY, WELL WHEN THE WORD SPREAD THROUGH THE REST OF THE BATTERY A BUNCH OF THE GUYS GOT TOGETHER AND FIGURED WHAT THE HECK THEY’LL GIVE THE BOYS MOTHER A CHANCE TO MAKE SOME REAL MONEY AND THEY LOADED UP A 6X6 TRUCK WITH ALL THEIR CLOTHES UNDERWEAR AND ALL AND TOOK THEM TO THE MOTHER TO BE CLEANED AND NONE OF THEM EVER SEEN THEIR CLOTHES AGAIN. SO SHE MUST HAVE MADE A FORTUNE OFF OF THE GI GEAR SHE STOLE FROM THEM.
TCPL JAMES WELLS
BATTERY A, 2ND PLATOON,
GUN SECTION 7
THE SHOT THAT BAGGED THE ME-109 DURING THE WATCH ON THE RHINE RIVER THAT WAS SHARED BY COL.DANCE IN A NEWS ARTICLE SENT BACK TO THE STATES IN 1945 AND REPRINTED IN THE BUGLE THIS MONTH WAS FIRED BY BATTERY A, GUN SECTION 6, UNKNOWN PLATOON WHILE GUARDING A SET OF RAILROAD TRACKS THE GUN WAS SETUP ON AN EMBANKMENT NEXT TO THE TRACKS WHEN FROM OUT OF NOWHERE A GERMAN ME-109 APPEARED AND STARTED A STRAFFING RUN AND ONE OF THE BOYS FROM MISSOURI JUMPED ON THE GUN AND HIT THE FOOT TRIGGER WHICH SENT THE ROUND UP AND GOT THE FIGHTER.