Posts Tagged ‘111th Ordnance Company’

Before we begin, we want to share the good news that another family of a 111th soldier has found us via this blog: Tiffany Euler wrote us a while back to say that her grandfather was Charles Euler of Wathena, Kansas. Welcome, Tiffany and family! We hope you’ll find some photos of your grandfather’s time with the unit to share with us.

Dan Turner, son of 111th soldier Frank Turner, asked us a good question the other day. “Did the 111th ever have its own patch or insignia (official or unofficial) while attached to the different divisions during the war?”

The simple answer is no. Since it was only a company-size unit, the 111th never had its own patch. But the men’s photos and my father’s collection of shoulder patches led us to the next question: What patches were the men wearing?

Originally, the 111th was part of the Army’s 36th Infantry Division, a Texas National Guard unit, and they wore the patch of the 36th. At some point after the unit was federalized in November 1940, the 111th left the 36th and spent time in Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, and Camp Shilo, Canada. We think that during that time the men wore the patch of the U.S. Army Ground Forces. In February 1942, the Army created the Army Service Forces, comprising several technical services, including the Ordnance Corps. The patch of the Army Service Forces is seen in some photos and was in the memorabilia of some of the men. Therefore, it is likely that the men of the 111th wore this patch while training in the United Sates before leaving for Europe.

36th Infantry Division

36th Infantry Division

patch army ground troops

Army Ground Forces

patch army service forces

Army Service Forces

 

 

 

 

 

ETO patch

European Theater of Operations

patch seventh army

Seventh Army

Upon arrival in Great Britain, they probably wore the patch of the European Theater of Operations. In February 1944, a few months after arriving in Wales, they were assigned to the First U.S. Army, and we have seen the First Army patch in some of their photos. Because of the high-end maintenance skills of the men of the 111th, they were never assigned to an Infantry or Armored Division. The 111th was an Army-level resource that was assigned as needed.

There were five U.S. Field Armies (First, Third, Seventh, Ninth, and Fifteenth) in Europe during the war. The 111th was initially under the command of the First Army, then later under the command of the Ninth Army. Soon after VE Day, the 111th was assigned to the Seventh Army (which is still located in Germany today), and the men may have worn the Seventh Army patch until they returned to the States for discharge in late 1945.

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From February 1944 until June 7, 1944, the men of the 111th lived and worked at Albro Castle, in St.Dogmaels, Wales. The name is rather ironic — it wasn’t a castle at all, but a workhouse, or poorhouse, that took in the area’s destitute from 1840 until 1935. In the months preceding the D-Day invasion, the U.S. Army had to work hard to find quarters for more than a million service members in the United Kingdom, and obviously a place like Albro Castle fit the bill.

My father, 111th sergeant Bill Johnson, occasionally talked about living at Albro and meeting my Welsh mother at a local dance in a nearby village. And although I don’t recall him mentioning it, he returned there in 1983, nearly 40 years later, to take a look. I know this because I recently came across a stash of his old photos. Had it not been for our work to learn more about the 111th, I would have not known why he took these three pictures or where this place was:

Albro Castle, 1983, front view

Albro Castle, 1983, front view

Structures in rear

Structures in rear

Albro Castle courtyard, 1983

Albro Castle courtyard, 1983

On June 6, 2013, my husband, Ed, and I decided to find Albro, a story we related in our very first posting on this blog. The discovery we made that day — all because of the preservation efforts of its owners, Peter and Tracy Newland — sparked our entire project. We owe them a lot. Last June, we did a posting on this blog about how we spent two lovely evenings with them commemorating the 70th anniversary of D-Day and role that Albro Castle played in WWII. (When my dad revisited Albro in 1983, he most probably met Peter Newland’s mother.)

So I am pleased to tell you that if you would like the experience of living in the same place that your father or grandfather did just before the Normandy invasion, you can do that. Check it out here: http://www.albrocastle.co.uk/

Tracy and Peter have worked hard to turn part of Albro’s main building into two charming and comfy two holiday apartments: one has room for 12 to 14 people, while the other is meant for a couple or small family. We can assure you that today Albro Castle is much more attractive and comfortable than it was when the 111th men lived there. The stunning Pembrokeshire Coast Path is close by; this part of West Wales is a gorgeous and fascinating place to visit, especially in the spring and summer.

Last week we heard from the son and daughter-in-law of 111th Sergeant Frank Sossi: Phyllis and Frank Sossi, Jr. The other day, Frank Jr., opened up an old trunk of his dad’s and unearthed a treasure–a set of copies of the unit’s monthly history reports from January 1944 (when they were in Wales, UK) until the end of the war in May 1945 in Germany, covering almost all of the 111th’s time in Europe. Ed and I had searched but never could find the unit’s monthly reports in military archives, so we are quite excited to have them at last. They are a terrific supplement to the memoirs of Perry Witt and Roland Unangst, which we published on this site earlier. Thanks, Frank and Phyllis!

You will find images of each month’s report at the top of the home page, right next to the little box that says “HOME.”

Frank and Phyllis also sent us more photos. Remember, you can click on a photo to enlarge it:

Frank Sossi in Brake, Germany, summer 1945, giving Hildegard Schirmbeck a piggyback ride

Frank Sossi in Brake, Germany, summer 1945, giving Hildegard Schirmbeck a piggyback ride

Frank Sossi, Alsdorf, Germany, 1945

Frank Sossi, Alsdorf, Germany, 1945

Service section, right to left, Goessel, Cole, Hendon, Gardner, Apple, Dowling, Beckhusen, July 1944

Service section, right to left, Goessel, Cole, Hendon, Gardner, Apple, Dowling, Beckhusen, July 1944

Curt Vosz, Dragon's Teeth outside Aachen, Germany, Nov. 1944

Curt Vosz, Dragon’s Teeth outside Aachen, Germany, Nov. 1944

Matt Ottea, Maastricht, Oct. 1944

Matt Ottea, Maastricht, Oct. 1944

George Legg in Paris Aug 1944

George Legg in Paris Aug 1944

Bodiford, Driscoll, Ottea on VJ Day, Brake, Germany, August 1945

Bodiford, Driscoll, Ottea on VJ Day, Brake, Germany, August 1945

John Andrews and Pinky Johnson, Luchow, Germany, near Salzwedal, April 1945

John Andrews and Pinky Johnson, Luchow, Germany, near Salzwedal, April 1945

Lynn Adams and Alvin Hamburger, March 1945 in Germany

Lynn Adams and Alvin Hamburger, March 1945 in Germany

Matt Ottea, Alsdorf, Germany, March 1945

Matt Ottea, Alsdorf, Germany, March 1945

Walter Bradley next 88mm overlooking autobahn, April 1945

Walter Bradley next 88mm overlooking autobahn, April 1945

Walter Bradley in Flak Valley, Germany, April 1945

Walter Bradley in Flak Valley, Germany, April 1945

Murvel Saucier, Chiene, April 1945

Murvel Saucier, Chiene, April 1945

Loy Knasel, Alsdorf, Germany, March 1945

Loy Knasel, Alsdorf, Germany, March 1945

Cleveland Roy, working in the mud, Heerlen, Holland Feb 1945

Cleveland Roy, working in the mud, Heerlen, Holland Feb 1945

Andrew Schultz and Ray Buggert, Alsdorf, Germany Feb 1945

Andrew Schultz and Ray Buggert, Alsdorf, Germany Feb 1945

Pinky Johnson and Frank Sossi, in Paris, Aug. 1945

Pinky Johnson and Frank Sossi, in Paris, Aug. 1944

Hubert Mathis, Maastricht, 1944

Hubert Mathis, Maastricht, 1944

 

We are beginning to get details of the planning going on right now for a week-long (May 31-June 6) celebration of WWII and the 111th Ordnance Company in St. Dogmaels, Wales (next to the town of Cardigan), the village where the men of the 111th were billeted in the months preceding D-Day, 1944. They tell us that they would love to have family members of the men attend; they understand that the five surviving members who were there in 1944 are all in their 90s now and don’t travel that far any more, unfortunately. Ed and I will be there for sure. Please contact me via the comments section of this blog if you are thinking of coming, and I can give you more information about getting there, etc.

Here is the latest word I have from the organizer of the events there:

“Heather and I aren’t in a position to completely confirm everything we have planned as we are awaiting confirmation on one or two ideas and I wouldn’t want to give you any misinformation at this stage.

“What I can confirm however is that the community of St Dogmaels are planning a series of events during the week [May 31-June 6] commemorating the anniversary of the D-day landings including a special evening (dinner/dance supper) in one of our village halls to welcome the friends and families of the GI’s and if the GI’s themselves cannot make the long journey, we intend to video conference on that evening if this is something they would like.

“During the week we will programme in tours by minibus of certain sites of interest including: Some of the beaches that were re-created to be similar to the Normandy beaches that were used for practice prior to the invasion, e.g. Freshwater Beach; Carew airfield; Henllan Prisoner of War camp.

“When possible (no immediate rush) could you give us an indication of numbers that are interested in coming over.
It would be fantastic to have you here.

“As I say there a couple of other ideas in the pipeline, but we are awaiting confirmation on these. As soon as we know more, one of us will keep you in the loop.”

A couple of weeks ago, we posted a few letters that Tom Sedlacek gave us that his father, Joe, had sent home in 1944 and 1945. When Linda Campbell, Roland Unangst’s daughter, saw them, she recalled that long ago she had saved a letter her dad had sent home (from Blumenthal, near Bremen, Germany) two weeks after the war in Europe had ended — V-E Day was May 8, 1945. After that date, the Army had stopped censoring letters and photos.

So, finally, Roland was able to tell his wife in a nutshell what the 111th had been through in the 18 months since they left New York City in November 1943. (If you recall, the 1944 letters Joe Sedlacek sent home were very carefully phrased.) Those of you who have already read Unangst’s memories of the war (see the link at top of the home page) on this site will find  additional information and observations in this letter.

Here it is — the war in Europe as experienced by the 111th — in just three pages:

page 1

page 1

p. 2

p. 2

p. 3

p. 3

 

 

 

 

Ed and I had the pleasure of spending several fascinating hours this past weekend in Florida with Arthur T. Brooks, one of the five surviving members of the 111th Ordnance Company. He joined the unit as a lieutenant in late 1942 and was promoted to captain and commanding officer in late January 1945. He is a vibrant man of 96 years old, and he regaled us with many stories of his time in WWII. We also enjoyed talking with his lovely wife of 67 years, Judy, and their daughter Louise. It was a wonderful weekend.

Art Brooks and Andrea, Judy Brooks, seated

Art Brooks and Andrea,
Judy Brooks, seated

Ed video-recorded nearly three hours of interviews with Art, which we will edit and send to the Library of Congress for its Veterans History Project. We learned so many new things about the 111th that it will take days to absorb it all, so in this posting I will share one of the stories, relating to their time in Normandy, France, shortly after D-Day. (In the next posting, I will describe how the 111th played a role in helping the U.S. defeat the German troops during the Battle of Normandy.)

This story is about the near-disastrous landing on Omaha Beach of the serial led by Lt. Brooks. His was the slower convey leaving Wales because he was leading the unit’s larger vehicles. Their LCT crossed the English Channel a day later than the rest of the unit.

The 111th unloading on Omaha Beach

The 111th unloading on Omaha Beach

The 111th officers: Goessel, Kent, Witt, Brooks, Goode, Lewenthal, Errington, in Normandy summer 1944

The 111th officers: left to right, Goessel, Kent, Witt, Brooks (center), Goode, Lewenthal, Errington, in Normandy, June 1944

On D+6 (June 12, 1944), as Brooks’ LCT approached Omaha Beach, the Navy man in charge of their LCT stopped it and told them to unload. Brooks was in the lead jeep, and he and his driver were sure they still were too far from shore. They found a pole to check the depth. Sure enough, they were in 10 feet of water. Had they followed instructions, the first vehicles off their LCT would have sunk and men may have drowned. Brooks recalls that he and his driver yelled “No way!” to the sailor and told him they needed to move to a better spot. The spot was found and all went ashore safely.

The best part of this story is that two days before Art Brooks told it to us, I had talked by phone with another 111th veteran, Roger Rickon, from his home near Cleveland. He had told me the very same story, except that he couldn’t recall the name of the officer he was with. And Art couldn’t recall the name of his driver. So we were able to match up the two men! They talked by phone after our visit and relived that memory of nearly 70 years ago. How we would have loved to listen in!

Update, Jan.25: We received a note from John Raisler, a 111th surviving member, saying that he recalled the same landing experience:

“The account of Capt. Brooks’ landing in France sounds very familiar. You see, I was supposed to be the first to load [the LCT], which would have me last one off. No way, there was room for my small truck to fit, so my assistant and I would be first off [presumably after Brooks’ jeep]. The deep water bit, then moving over…well, needless to say we made it, got a little wet but up and away on the beach.”

At first we thought all three men might have been on the same LCT, but after Brooks and Raisler talked by phone a few days later, they sorted it out and determined they were on different LCTs.

As this Thanksgiving holiday weekend comes to a close, I have one more thing to be thankful for, something totally unexpected. Last night, I had the great privilege of speaking to another member of the 111th Ordnance Company, the second survivor Ed and I have found in our search so far.

Arthur Brooks, who is 96, was a captain and the unit’s commander in 1945, the last year of the war, in Germany. He had been assigned to the 111th as a young lieutenant in late 1942, when they began their winter training at Camp Shiloh, Canada. He told me he remembered my dad, which meant so much to me.

I kept the poor man on the phone for quite a while last night. He answered all of my questions and told me much more. I have just revised some previous postings; in future postings I will share more of Captain Brooks’ stories. In the meantime, I am so grateful we can talk to him.