Archive for May, 2019

Five years ago, we first came to Barry to have a look at where the 111th called home here—Brynhill golf course (in tents) and what was left of Camp G-40, places where the 111th began their European journey in November 1943. Our guide was Barry at War Museum member Glenn Booker, and our driver/U.S. Army Jeep owner was Wayne.

This past week we returned to Barry to give a presentation at the museum and have another ride in Wayne’s Jeep. We had a great time meeting all the museum’s volunteers at a supper prepared by Rose, one of the volunteers, and seeing Glenn again.

In front of the museum; that’s Glenn second from left

The American and Welsh flags flying outside the museum on Wednesday night.

Neal, me, and Wayne

We didn’t have any “then and now” photos in mind for this trip, mostly because the structures the men lived in are long gone and we weren’t able to identify locations of the area photos we had. But the next day, Terry, one of the museum volunteers, spotted one of the places:

Penarth Road, Cardiff, the eastern end of Cardiff General Station, 1943 or 1944

Same location today

Many thanks to the folks at the Barry War Museum for putting on a memorable evening for us Yanks!

Paris—then and now

Posted: May 18, 2019 in 1944, Liberation of Paris

Our last stop on this “tracings” trip was Paris, but the 111th men saw it early in their tour, the last week of August 1944. By chance, they arrived in Saint Remy de Chevreuse, near Versailles, just a day after the Liberation of Paris. All the men were given passes to go into the the city, and they had a ball!

My father, Bill Johnson, and Percy Ackert on the Eiffel Tower. Dad never mentioned to me that he had been to Paris. We didn’t go up the Eiffel Tower.

John Andrews, Ray Buggert, and Peter Patrick at the Arc de Triomphe, having a rest.

Ed Sutcliffe last week at the Arc de Triomphe, having a rest.

The 28th Infantry Division—which the 111th had belonged to in Wales—marched down the Champs Elysees as part of the liberation celebration, and Lt. Perry Witt was there: “I will not attempt to explain to you the feelings that the Parisians had for us or any American soldier who had arrived after the liberation. We were fortunate in seeing the American 28th Division parade down the Champs Elysees. The people cheered, cried, and swarmed around me as I stood watching our boys go by.” Cpt. Art Brooks recalled, “It was unbelievable, the Parisians were in a frenzy!”

We spent the night in Saint Remy de Chevreuse, a very pretty village, but since our men had camped in tents there, we could only look at open fields in and around the town and guess where they might have been:

The 111th’s summer-long stay in Brake, near Bremen, from late May until the fall, must have seemed like an eternity for the men, as they waited their turn to go home according to the point system, based on time in service and other factors. Their work was pretty much over with, and at least two of the men took the time to write their memoirs of the war, which are elsewhere on this blog.

Brake was, and still is, a port on the Weser River, south of Bremerhaven. The unit took over six apartment buildings. Today we drove into Brake, a much larger town than we expected. We decided to have lunch before driving up and down streets looking for those apartment buildings.

It was a good thing we did. We showed the waitress our photos. She wasn’t sure and sent over one of the other guests. That woman also wasn’t sure and said she’d send over her husband. He recognized them–but spoke no English. His daughter was there, so he called her over and she told us the street name (Brommystrasse) and where it was, near the port several blocks north of us. We drove over, and there they were, still being used:

Lt. Kent wrote that down the street from the apartments, “We took over a bar room, using the bar on the ground floor for recreation and the second floor for company headquarters. Across the street from the bar was an Olympic-size swimming pool, which I promptly appropriated and had filled with the aid of conscripted German help.”

Kent continued, “I also hired some German carpenters to convert the swimming pool bath house to a mess hall, confiscated enough china and silverware from a nearby kasserna (armory) to accommodate the company, and hired some women to assist the cooks.”

 

This is the building in the man’s photo marked “Our Room.” Not evident in either photo, but which we could see, were cranes at the port in the distance.

This is a picture of our apartment taken while the Germans were in full swing. I found it in the room here Campbell.

campbell9
DeLaGarza, Sedlacek, Raisler

Leo De La Garza, Joe Sedlacek, and John Raisler, in front of their “home” in Brake, Germany, summer 1945  

Roland Unangst on right

Roland Unangst on right in Brake

Red Cross Club, Brake, Germany Campbell

The American Red Cross club in Brake, Germany—the building is no longer there

Swimming at pool in Brake, GE. Occupation time after V-E Day

Swimming at the pool in Brake

Well, this one was a bit of a challenge. My father wrote on the back of this photo, “Luchow, Germany.” That’s John Andrews on the left and Dad on the right. As John’s son David once said about this photo, “It looks like the two of them won the war single-handedly.”

So we thought it would be fairly easy just to go to Luchow, a few miles north of Salzwedel, where we are staying, and locate the town square, where we would find the building in the background. We figured the remains of the statue would be gone. This is where the men spent the week before the end of the war. They were assisting the 29th Division with the processing of German POWs.

We drove to Luchow this afternoon, found the town square—but the big building didn’t match up at all. Hmmm. Luchow is a lovely ancient town, quite large, but we couldn’t find an information office or a museum. We had parked the car in front of some shops, and something told me to try an optometrist’s shop.

With photo in hand we went in, and Ed showed it to the man at the desk. He took a quick look and said, in perfect English, “No, that’s not here. That is in Dannenberg, up the road.” Now, what are the odds of finding someone who knew that? All these lucky encounters are getting a little weird.

So of course we got back in the car and drove to Dannenberg. It was a pretty drive of about 10 miles on country roads.

The town was bigger than we expected, so we drove around for a while looking for the main square. We spotted the information office, so I went in, photo in hand. The young woman at the desk took one look at the photo and said, “Follow me, I’ll show you.” We stepped outside and she pointed to the building at the end of the short street. She laughed when I told her the story behind the photo.

Note that the building has gone through some renovations over the past 74 years. Note also that I had a slightly different photo.

The town square, Dannenberg, Germany

This posting, by sheer coincidence, is being made on the 74th anniversary of VE-Day, May 8, from the very town where the 111th celebrated it. The men were so happy that the war was finally over, at least in Europe. They could begin to dream of going home. But first a celebration was in order.

The Allies had crossed the Rhine River on March 25, 1945, and soon the 111th began to follow the troops deeper into Germany. They left Munchen-Gladbach on March 31 and spent April and early May all over the place—Dinslaken, Nulert, Ahlen, Dorsten, Hannover, Wathlingen, Bodenteich, and Salzwedel, and, on May 6, Neubeckum, in the neighborhood known as Friedrichshorst. There they moved into a cement factory.

This was the modern cement plant; it closed in 2006.

We found the cement plant easily today, but we knew it was too modern to have been around in 1945. Except for one car, the place was deserted. But by chance, the owner of that car—a guard, perhaps?—was leaving to go home while we were there snooping around, and he stopped to see what we wanted. He spoke good English, was intrigued by our search, and told us to follow him to an area behind the large towers. There we saw the old portion of the plant, certainly where the men had been.

Our men knew that the war in Europe was over by May 7, but the official announcement  would not be made until the next day. Seeing no good reason to wait, the men were ready to celebrate. The company commander, Capt. Art Brooks, put the always-creative Lt. Fred Kent in charge of finding refreshments for the celebration. Here is how he described the task:

“After scouring the surrounding area, I finally located a distillery where I procured what appeared to be a ten-gallon barrel of pure grain alcohol…I repaired to where the kitchen was set up in the cement factory and instructed the cooks to mix the alcohol with an equal amount of water and to add to it some caramelized sugar to give the mixture some color and flavor…in no time the men were lined up with their canteen cups to partake of this deadly brew.”

“In reminiscing over this event, I’m convinced God must have been watching over us, for I’m certain that that must have been the most dangerous day of our company’s wartime experiences. The men were absolutely inebriated, but in their exuberance to celebrate by firing their rifles in the air, they were incapable of raising them to a trajectory higher than the horizontal, with the consequence of bullets flying all over the place.”

VE Day, Friedricshorst Nuebeckum, M. Frank Turner with unit

Some of the men, VE Day eve, 1945, in the cement factory.

Lt. Kent continued, “It was truly a miracle no one was shot. Poor Lt. Stan Errington was OD [officer of the day], and no sooner had he succeeded in quieting one group of men when suddenly there would be another eruption of small arms fire and flares. It wasn’t until the small hours of the night that he was able to reestablish tranquility, but by that time I think he was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Thus ended VE Day.”

After I first posted this, I realized I needed to add observations of the night from two of our favorite soldiers—Roland Unangst and John Raisler. “That night we used a confiscated wind-up record player and a bunch of German records (‘Roll Out the Barrel’). It was a good tune. Lord, we were happy it was over,” said Unangst.

Raisler talked to us about the craziness of the celebration, but concluded, “The whole war was a grand experience, but I assure you, once is enough.”

On March 4, 1945, the 111th left Alsdorf, Germany, and headed 36 miles northeast to the town known then as Munchen-Gladbach. The Roer River had been crossed at last and things were moving fast. The Allies had taken Munchen-Gladbach only three days before the 111th arrived. the 111th stayed here until the last day of March.

The company clerk, Frank Sossi, wrote about their arrival: “Unless my eyes deceived me, the so-called super-race must have established a new national emblem, for all the homes along the route were fluttering snow-white flags in the wind.” He continued, We shared a pretty good area with the 29th Division QM Company. It had formerly been the city police headquarters.” There they waited for the big push and the crossing of the Rhine River on March 25. They followed the infantry further into Germany and moved steadily east and north for the next month.

We already knew that the apartment building where they lived was still standing, and we had the address in this large city, thanks to two blog friends. Here are the then-and-now photos:

img210 Our home at Munchen Gladbach, Germany, Spring 1945 

Their shop yard was in a police academy quadrangle “that took up an entire city block” and looked like this in March 1945:

img226 Small arms set up in Munchen Gladbach, Germany

It turns out that the quadrangle is directly across the street from the apartment building and is still being used by the police! It was locked up, so we couldn’t get in. For that reason, we couldn’t see the exact same spots as ones in the men’s 1945 photos. But the windows and other building details match so closely that we are sure this is the same place our men worked in for a month in March 1945.

Matt Ottea, John Andrews (drilling), and Bob Hammer working on a 105 Howitzer in Munchen-Gladbach

Lt. Kent recalled that in his role as special services officer, he was responsible for the men’s morale. “Before leaving Holland, I made a deal with a brewery in Maastricht–whereby because of the shortage of wooden kegs—for every four empty kegs I brought them, they would give me one filled with beer….I had my men search through the bombed-out cafes in the area to search for empty kegs. We finally accumulated eight of them, and the second day we were in Munchen-Gladbach, I send a truck back with the empties to return that afternoon with two kegs filled with beer.” The men must have truly appreciated Lt. Kent.

The men of the 111th suffered through a bitterly cold, busy, and often frightening winter in Heerlen, near the German border. They arrived in late October and left in early February, crossing the border into Alsdorf, Germany, as the Germans were being pushed east. The town suffered periodic shelling by the Germans from across the Roer River in November and December 1944.

The unit was under the Ninth Army here, supporting the XIX Corps and the 29th Division. In late December, with the Battle of the Bulge in full swing, they were given the added duty of supporting the 102nd Infantry Division.

On New Year’s Eve, the Luftwaffe strafed and dropped bombs over Heerlen from midnight to 4 am. It was not a great way to start the new year. The company clerk, Frank Sossi, wrote in his monthly history report, “This month [January] was a difficult one in every respect.” They were worried about a possible German breakthrough from the north and developed three evacuation plans. German paratroopers were landing in the area dressed in U.S. Army uniforms, hoping to infiltrate the lines. There was a severe shortage of parts with so many damaged vehicles and equipment coming from the front lines. And snow began to fall.

Today we are in Heerlen with our blog friend Peter Pauwels, who is showing us places around the town where the 111th worked and lived.

Heerlen Holland 1944

Same place, 75 years later. This was the entrance to the 111th’s work area, where they repaired vehicles and artillery. It was a former brickyard.The street name is Grasbroekerweg.
img172 Shop area at Heerlen, Holland

Shop area, Heerlen, winter 1944-45, and today, from the other side with Peter and Andrea. It’s a parking lot!

The Baggen meat market, near the 111th work area. Soldier Roland Unangst made life-long friends of the Baggen family, even naming a daughter after one of the Baggen daughters.

This vacant lot near the 111th work area was the location of the large house that was used by the 111th’s officers as their home and offices.

Thank you, Peter, for all your help! We couldn’t have learned all of this without you.