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Chemical Warfare Service Chemicals in Combat

Chemical Warfare Service Chemicals in Combat

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Published by Bob Andrepont
United States Army history of the Chemical Warfare service in combat in World War II
United States Army history of the Chemical Warfare service in combat in World War II

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Published by: Bob Andrepont on Feb 06, 2011
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Twenty maintenance companies were supplied to the ground forces
overseas by the CWS before the end of the war. Though designed to
serve field armies, they could also be, and frequently were, assigned
to the Communications Zone. Their mission was third and fourth
echelon maintenance of all CWS equipment and materiel, which could
and did include everything from salvaging discarded gas masks to
manufacturing parts for the 4.2-inch mortar. While maintenance
companies were intended to function as salvage and repair centers near
CWS Class II and IV depots, in practice some maintenance units as-
signed to field armies found it necessary to send their men forward
beyond the army service area for close support of the front, in order
to keep mortars and smoke generators in combat condition.
T/O 3-47, 1 April 1942, set the authorized strength of a maintenance
company at 4 officers and 119 enlisted men, organized into a head-
quarters outfit, a 3-unit repair platoon, and a salvage platoon. The
repair platoon was supposed to include all of the company's skilled
mechanics not assigned directly to headquarters, leaving the salvage
platoon to operate principally with laborers. A revised organization
table published in November 1944 showed a maintenance company
pared down to 93 officers and men. The two platoons were redesignated
gas mask repair and equipment repair, respectively, and nearly all the
enlisted personnel authorized were classified according to specific skills.

23

(1) Ibid., pp. 35-37. (2) 43d Cml Lab Co Tech Rpts 81, 10 Jul 45, and 90, 22 Aug 45. CWS

314.7, Unit Files.

24

Ltr, CO 14th Cml Sv Bn to CG CPBC, 22 Aug 45, sub: Recommendation for the Meritorious
Service Unit Award. CWS 314.7 Unit Files.

CHEMICAL WARFARE SERVICE UNITS

289

The platoons were organized into functional sections.25

Nevertheless,
experience in the field throughout the war showed that under the
pressure of combat requirements the work of maintenance companies
often left prescribed organizational patterns behind.
One of the more noteworthy service records of the war was that
of the 12th Chemical Maintenance Company, which acquired eight
battle credits in the course of assignments ranging from Tunisia
through Sicily and Italy to central Europe. Activated 1 May 1942 at
Fort Custer, Mich., the 12th went overseas in March 1943, landing
at Casablanca on the 18th. It was assigned to Atlantic Base Section
and its first job was running CWS supply dumps. In the last month
of the Tunisia Campaign it operated in conjunction with advanced
supply depots at Bone and Ouled Rahmoun in eastern Algeria and at
Tabarka in Tunisia. It began to undertake more orthodox mainte-
nance work—salvage and repair—in the days after the Tunisia Cam-
paign ended.26

An advance detachment of the 12th, assigned to 3d Division, landed
in Sicily on 10 July 1943 at the outset of the invasion, in order to get
a CWS supply dump functioning as soon as possible near the combat
area. The rest of the company was in Sicily by the middle of July.
During the month or so of fighting that followed before Sicily was
won, the company provided the first example of close maintenance
support of combat units by the CWS. The 12th's maintenance and
repair officer, Lieutenant Notorangelo, took a 10-man detachment
into the combat zone near Sant'Agata in the second week of August
to carry out on-the-spot maintenance for the 4.2-inch mortars of the
2d Chemical Battalion. The battalion was supporting the infantry
advance along the north coast of Sicily on the left wing of Seventh
Army. The maintenance detachment later proceeded south to Ran-
dazzo, on the right wing, to perform the same service for the 3d
Chemical Battalion, after getting needed parts from a rear depot. At
the same time, Lieutenant Notorangelo utilized this experience to
provide the Chemical Officer, Seventh Army, with the first detailed
figures available on attrition rates of mortar parts in combat.27
After a period of salvage and repair work in Palermo, marked by a
concerted effort to get the required number of serviceable gas masks

25

TOE 3-47, 22 Nov 44.

26

Hist of the 12th Cml Maint Co.

27

Draft Ltr, CO 12th Cml Maint Co to CG NATOUSA, 17 Nov 43, sub: Recommendation for
Award. CWS 314.7 Unit Files.

290

THE CHEMICAL WARFARE SERVICE

ready for the coming campaign, the 12th followed the Allied forces
into Italy early in November 1943. Setting up shop at the Fontanello
Caves near Naples, the company reverted to its role of depot operator,
storing incoming CWS supplies for Peninsular Base Section. It found
time to re-establish its gas mask repair line, though, with the aid of
some Italian civilian labor. In December the 12th responded to an
emergency report from Fifth Army that mortar propellant charges
were too damp to give accurate ranging. Discontinuing its gas mask
line, the company set to work improvising a powder ring dryer and a
shell reconditioning line and repacking the propellant rings in water-
proofed cases. Two weeks after the operation began an explosion and
fire wrecked the shops, though fortunately there were no major casual-
ties. The 12th put its equipment together again at another depot near
Casandrino, devised a more reliable powder ring dryer, and had its
lines operating again within a week.28
Meanwhile, a mortar repair detachment had settled at Capua to
service the mortar battalions attached to Fifth Army. In April 1944,
the remainder of the company also moved to Capua. There they found
the weapons repair section, commanded by Lieutenant Notorangelo,
established at the erstwhile Royal Italian Arsenal, which the retreating
Germans had wrecked before moving out. The section had joined other
Fifth Army service troops in getting the installation in working order
by salvaging usable machinery and acquiring additional equipment,
Italian, American, or German, wherever possible. In effect, the 12th
now had an arsenal of its own. It was fortunate that this was so, for
the demands for smoke generator and mortar spare parts rose sharply
under the pressure of the bitter Italian campaign of 1943—44. When
the depots could not supply enough parts, the 12th's Capua arsenal
manufactured them. The Weapons Repair Section, making full use
of the skills of a large working force of Italian civilian machinists,
inaugurated this new mission with the fabrication of mortar cup forks.
A number of other items were soon added to the list as the rugged
terrain, long usage, and high ranges took their toll of the overworked
4.2-inch mortars. Shock absorber slides proved especially vulnerable.
To keep the mortars in working condition, the 12th cast and machined
new slides of bronze—after liberating the bronze from Italian naval

28

(1) History of the 12th Cml Maint Co. (2) 12th Cml Maint Co, Activities During the Italian
Campaign, 1943-44. CWS 314.7 Unit Files.

CHEMICAL WARFARE SERVICE UNITS

291

CAPUA ARSENAL, AS THE GERMANS LEFT IT. Within thirty days it was producing
mortar parts for the Fifth Army.

vessels in Naples harbor—which subsequently proved to be more dur-
able than the brass slides they replaced. Tube caps and steel recoil
springs were also prominent in the mortar parts output of the Capua
arsenal. For the mechanical smoke generators and the power-driven
decontaminating apparatus the weapons repairmen fabricated sprocket
gears of several types, along with nuts, couplings, and the like.
The usual repair functions of a maintenance company were carried
on side by side with the manufacture of spare parts. The Capua arsenal,
as reconstructed by the 12th, contained a cradle rack for repairing
400-gallon tanks from power-driven decontaminating apparatus, a
welding shop, a repair shop for vehicular components and chemical
handling trucks, and sections for work on Esso and Besler mechanical
smoke generators. The 12th's gas mask repair sections occupied a
shop of its own, with two production lines for the disassembly, repair,
and reassembly of damaged or salvaged masks. A group of Italian

292

THE CHEMICAL WARFARE SERVICE

soldiers assisted in the operation of this facility, which turned out
over 150,000 reconditioned masks in less than five months.
In September 1944, the 12th was assigned to Seventh Army, then
engaged in pushing up the Rhone Valley from the coast of southern
France to join the armies in the European Theater of Operations. By the
end of the month, the company was in Dijon, serving as a unit of
Continental Advance Section. A weapons repair group, designated as
Detachment A, moved on to Épinal to resume close support of the
mortar battalions. More work was done to improve the Capua shock
absorber slide, including the addition of small amounts of phosphoric
tin to the original bronze alloy. Mortar cup forks continued to be
made. Portable flame throwers were reconditioned. By December the
rest of the company reached Épinal, whereupon a reorganized and
somewhat smaller Detachment A moved out to the front. It took up
quarters near the command post of the 99th Chemical Mortar Battalion,
then supporting Third Division on the Colmar front. Here, within
range of German artillery, the detachment kept the battalion's mortars
in operating condition. The detachment remained with the battalion
throughout the winter, and in March 1945, moving forward across
the Saar with the front, became the first portion of the 12th to enter
Germany. Before the end of the month it was across the Rhine. By
the time the Germans surrendered, it had accompanied combat troops
deep into southern Bavaria.29
A second close support group, Detachment B, left the main body
of the 12th in mid-March to join the 87th Chemical Mortar Battalion
in Germany. The 87th had begun to take part in the advance across
the Rhineland, and the detachment had to carry out its mission between
rapid movements forward. Once across the Rhine, and before moving
ahead to the 96th Chemical Mortar Battalion, Detachment B performed
a final individual maintenance mission for the 87th on the eve of the
battalion's transfer to First Army. Together with the other forward
elements of Seventh Army it had penetrated Austria before hostilities

ended.30

Chemical maintenance companies were not as extensively utilized
in the Pacific war as they were in Europe. Only two maintenance com-
panies got west of Hawaii, and one of these, the 10th, ended the war

29

Hist of 12th Cml Maint Co.

30

Ibid.

CHEMICAL WARFARE SERVICE UNITS

293

as a CWS general service company, a type of all-purpose support
organization much favored in the Southwest Pacific Area. Before its
conversion, however, the company had made important contributions
in its original role. The 10th Chemical Maintenance Company, acti-
vated 1 July 1940 at Edgewood Arsenal, was sent overseas three months
after Pearl Harbor as part of the forces assigned to rebuild Allied power
in the Southwest Pacific. It reached Australia early in April 1942, and
like the 42d Chemical Laboratory Company joined Base Section 3 in
Brisbane.

As an early arrival in the theater, one of the 10th's original tasks
was to assist the 62d Chemical Depot Company in the operation of
CWS depots in Australia. It was not long before special maintenance
problems resulting from waging war in a tropical environment began
to dominate the scene. A major example was the discouraging failure
in combat of the M1A1 portable flame thrower in the course of the
Papua Campaign. The 10th spent the greater part of 1943 putting
the discredited weapon through an extensive series of tests, in the
course of which all flame throwers in the SWPA were thoroughly over-
hauled.31

It became clear that tropical heat and humidity were the
flame thrower's chief enemies. Pinhole corrosion of the nitrogen, hydro-
gen, and fuel cylinders, occurring in 75 percent of the weapons ex-
amined, led to leakage, low pressure, and consequent failure in the
field. Corrosion resulting from moisture attacked other components
as well, and batteries deteriorated readily when exposed to jungle

climate.32

The 10th set to work to clear up as many of these defects as possible.
There was no quick solution for the problem of pinholes in the cylin-
ders. All that could be done was to repair those cylinders which were
not excessively corroded and replace the rest, insofar as supplies per-
mitted. In order to make it possible for troops to spot flame throwers
with defective cylinders before attempting to use them in combat,
pressure gages and adapters to fit all types of commercial pressure

31

(1) Ltr, CmlO USASOS SWPA to CmlO's Base Secs 2, 3, 4, and 7 and CO 10th Cml Maint Co,
16 May 43, sub: Flame Throwers. Sixth Army Rcds, 470.71 Flame Thrower. (2) Ltr, CG USASOS
SWPA to CO 10th Cml Maint Co, 6 Feb 44, sub: Commendation. History of the 10th Cml Maint Co.

32

(1) Ltr, CCmlO USAFFE to CmlO USASOS SWPA, 12 Apr 43, sub: Auxiliary Equip for Flame
Throwers. FECW 470.71/6 in CWS SPCVO 470.71 APO 501. (2) 3d Ind, CO 10th Cml Maint Co
to CCmlO USASOS SWPA, 29 Dec 43. Sixth Army Rcds, 470.71 Flame Thrower.

294

THE CHEMICAL WARFARE SERVICE

cylinders were added to the flame thrower service kits.33

The problems
resulting from wet electrical systems were met by waterproofing the
weapon effectively enough to enable it to stand total immersion and
still retain its usefulness. The company's own tests of the results of
its waterproofing project included the firing during rainfall of random
samples of waterproofed weapons after keeping them under water for
about seventeen hours. It was able to report by October of 1943 that,
given adequate pressure in the cylinders, the flame throwers which it
had waterproofed and checked would function as intended regardless
of moisture.34

While the work on flame throwers was of major importance, it was
far from constituting the only large-scale project of the 10th in Aus-
tralia. Reconditioning of depot stocks was a continuing task. Providing
waterproof seals for gas mask canisters kept the company busy on
more than one occasion. Some 180,000 canisters of one type were
waterproofed in late 1943 and early 1944; the company historian per-
tnitted himself the remark that the job had become somewhat monot-
onous after the first hundred thousand. By April 1944, however, the
10th found itself somewhat short of CWS assignments and tending
more and more toward ordinary garrison details as the focus of war
moved northward toward the Philippines. At last the company itself
moved northward, to New Guinea, in August 1944, and shortly there-
after was reorganized. Pressure toward the streamlining of rear area
service units in the theater had been reflected in proposals to replace
the CWS depot, maintenance, and decontamination units with general
service companies capable of meeting all of these requirements as they
arose. Though the European theater commanders had been unimpressed
with the idea, it seemed sufficiently attractive in the special circum-
stances of the Southwest Pacific to cause it to be adopted in the case
of a few selected units, as soon as an appropriate table of organization
was published. This event occurred in the summer of 1944, and the
10th, just arrived in New Guinea and past the critical period in its

33

Ltr, CCmlO USAFFE to CmlO USASOS SWPA, 10 Jun 43, sub: Flame Thrower Testing Equip.
Sixth Army Cml Sec Rcds, 470.71 Flame Thrower.

34

(1) 10th Cml Maint Co, Instrs for Changing the Battery in the Flame Thrower and Rewater-
proofing, 28 May 43. Sixth Army Rcds, 470.71 Flame Thrower. (2) Rpt, CO 10th Cml Maint Co
to CCmlO USASOS SWPA, 25 Oct 43, sub: Rpt of Serviceability of Flame Thrower, Portable, M1A1,
Waterproofed. CWS 314.7 Unit Files. (3) Ltr, Maj John J. Shaffer, USAR, to Hist Off, 19 Sep 56.
Major Shaffer, then a captain, commanded the 10th Chemical Maintenance Company for the greater
part of its service in Australia.

CHEMICAL WARFARE SERVICE UNITS

295

maintenance mission, was one of the units to experience the change.
As of 1 November 1944 it was reorganized as the 10th Chemical War-
fare General Service Company. The remainder of its war service,
including an additional eight months in New Guinea and the last month
of the war in Luzon, was spent under that name.35

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