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709th Railway Grand Division

Dave Kaufman

With the outbreak of WW II, the War Provost Marshal. Their duties were related
Department was faced with the serious to coordinating the railway MP battalions
problem of moving vast amounts of per- and companies, establishing railway
sonnel, equipment, supplies, and vehicles guards to combat theft, handling theft re-
over great distances in the shortest time ports, and conducting court martials. The
possible. Their solution was to utilize the theft rate was reduced remarkably follow-
U.S. railroad system. The strength of ing the activation of these new sections.
America’s railroad system lay in its man- The second new section was the Fiscal
agement, corporate direction, personnel, Section, which essentially functioned as an
and equipment. The U.S. Army Military on-the-spot accounting section. It had
Railway Service (MRS) was formed. Over been learned (the hard way) that the U.S.
351,000 railroad personnel eventually government had been overcharged or even
served in the armed forces during the war, bilked for payments in foreign countries.
and some 25,000 ended up in the MRS. 709th RGD insigne Manifests and bills of lading were soon
Railroads “sponsored” MRS units, “true”.
putting railroad personnel into the same On a white cloth disc, it has a standard US The 709th RGD was activated at Camp
shield with blue stripes and a red border to
military railway unit. Former railway em- Millard at Bucyrus, OH on March 15, 1944,
the shield; the unit designation “709 RGD”
ployees in civilian life became military en- in red at the top of the shield, with a small under the leadership of Lt. Col. Frank E.
gineers, military brakemen, military yard- SOS insigne in proper colors at the base of Cheshire. The American Association of
men, and military office workers. Sponsored the shield. An attached tab with red letters Railroads “sponsored” the division. The
units included railway operating battalions and a blue border reads “Military Railway initial cadre was subsequently transferred
Service”. The unit was authorized the to the Specialized Training Center located
(ROBs), railway shop battalions (RSBs),
COM-Z and Services of Supply SSIs. nearby at Mifflin, OH. After this training
and railway grand divisions (RGDs). The
ROBs actually were the engineers, firemen tion worked closely with engineer construc- was completed, they rejoined the division
and brakemen; the RSBs conducted major tion battalions in the rehabilitation of and the entire unit underwent infantry train-
overhauls and repairs to equipment, and bridges, track, rail beds, and culverts. ing. Upon completion of the infantry train-
the RGDs performed administrative duties Again, these duties expanded dramatically ing, several men were transferred out as
similar to that of the administrative offices with the recapture of civilian railways. cadre for the 774th RGD.
of a railroad. The RGDs were to coordinate These sections also had EM water chem- The unit left the NY POE on Septem-
the functions of two or more ROBs and ists to ensure the clarity and purity of local ber 20, 1944 and arrived in Liverpool, En-
RSBs. They too had personnel with previ- water supplies to ensure proper operation gland eleven days later. For some unusual
ous civilian railway experience, from cleri- of locomotives. reason, the 709th RGD spent only four days
cal to stationmaster, and those with spe- The Stores Sections was responsible in England on directed hikes before being
cific railway civil engineering skills. In for coordination of all supply requirements shipped to France. The division was an
many cases, each RGD had 25% to 35% of to the ROBs and local civilian railroad com- organic element of the 2nd Military Rail-
its personnel with railroad experience. panies, when necessary. Fuel reserves way Service. On Oct 14, they finally re-
Each RGD had an HQ & HQ Co, com- were the main concerns. As the railroads ceived their first assignment - damaged and
manded by a “General Superintendent” (a in Europe expanded in various directions dormant Port of Le Havre. The division
lieutenant colonel) and his staff (25 offic- with the success of Allied operations, truck also began directing traffic that included
ers; 56 EM). The HQ & HQ Co had an traffic was reduced. processing tremendous numbers of German
administrative section, and four technical The Transportation Section was re- POWs. There were no intact rail lines or
sections: Equipment, Engineering, Stores, sponsible for the duties related to handling standing bridges within the immediate area,
and Transportation. cars (assembling and classifying), tracing and the transshipment of supplies was
The Equipment Section was respon- of car movements related to supplies and hopelessly bottlenecked.
sible for supervision over all RSBs, for return of empty cars, and supervision over Coordinating activities with engineer
proper maintenance of locomotives and telegraph and telephone lines. This became construction battalions and engineer gen-
cars, for maintenance of shop machinery, even more important as civilian railways eral service regiments, the 709th RGD be-
and related reports. Proper maintenance of came back on line. It should be noted that gan improving the flow of supplies over
locomotives and cars increased dramatically French civilian railroads subsequently be- local non-rail corridors. Supplies were
with the recapture of civilian track and re- came responsible for the transportation of offloaded from ships onto trucks, trucked
lated rolling stock. U.S. and Allied troops as the war pro- across town on specifically designated
The Engineering Section was respon- gressed eastward into Germany. Casual- roads, offloaded from the trucks to DUKWs
sible for the physical aspect of railroad op- ties who had been recuperating received to cross the multitude of waterways in the
eration, including track repair and mainte- free rail travel while on the mend. immediate area, and then transferred to
nance, coaling and watering stations, in- Near the end of the war, two new sec- freight cars on good existing tracks. From
cluding the quality of water, and mainte- tions were activated, but not all RGDs em- there, the supplies moved with rapidity
nance of all signals. They also submitted ployed them. The first new section was across France. What was once a trickle
reports related to these duties. This sec- became a flood. The 709th RGD controlled
the 722nd ROB, 724th ROB and 743rd ROB during the crisis of the Bulge. Lines of trans- rehabilitation of the rail tracks, culverts and
at this time. portation and communication belonging to bridges as needed in their new territory.
However, on November 9, the division the 709th were being cut by the German By the end of the war, the 709th RGD
was transferred to Malines, Belgium, near offensive. Evacuated equipment was jam- had the largest span of control in the ETO.
the Port of Antwerp. There arrival was ming traffic ways of supplies coming down It supervised the 734th, 741st, 743rd, 744th
timed with the unleashing of the V-1 rock- from Antwerp. The under strength divi- 752nd ROBs, and the 755th and 763rd RSB.
ets into Antwerp. Occasionally, the V-1s sion managed to correct the traffic way The demobilization of ground forces rap-
fell short and struck Malines. The 709th problems before the Bulge salient was idly occurred in the 709th’s span of con-
did not suffer any casualties, but many men pushed back. The 709th had the responsi- trol, such that only the 722nd, 744th and
of the unit spent hours rescuing injured bility of maintaining all the rail lines, both 752nd ROBs were under its command in
and removing bodies from the debris of military and civilian, in Belgium during the June 1945. The 709th was soon transferred
what had once been a structure. offensive, and ensuring that supplies met to Calais, France, in anticipation of a trans-
While the 709th was stationed in the increasing demand. For their efforts, fer to the SWPTO, but the end of the war
Malines, a liaison team consisting of two the 709th was awarded a Meritorius Unit with Japan caused a change in deploy-
officers and three EM was assigned to Commendation, the highest award for a ment. The administrative unit instead
Antwerp to coordinate railway traffic. Vari- service unit. The 709th was the first RGD docked at Boston POE and personnel fur-
ous other liaison teams were sent out to to do so. loughed or otherwise discharged. A small
different locations within the operating area The risk of enemy attack was not the cadre (nine officers, one EM) was trans-
to inspect and direct the activities of the only danger faced by this administrative ferred to Ft. Eustice, VA in January 1946
ROBs and RSB in the division’s chain of unit. In February 1945, a major fire erupted and inactivated in 1950.
command. among more than 75 cars, some containing
Not quite a month later, the 709th white phosphorus, in the switching yards Bibliography
moved up to Brussels and had a change of at Soissons, France. The fires caused nu-
COs. Lt. Col. Cheshire was replaced by Lt. merous explosions, and two officers of the Gray, Carl R., Jr., Railroading in Eighteen
Col. Merle M. Shappell. With the German 709th managed to clear the yard at great Countries, Schribner and Sons, NY 1955
breakout leading to the Bulge and the goal personal risk, with a loss of only four cars.
of recapturing Antwerp, the 709th fell back Replacements for those men sent to Gregory, A.G. Maj, TC Saga of the 708th
on its infantry training and posted guards the infantry eventually arrived, and the Railway Grand Division, The B & O Rail-
and checkpoints in the vicinity of Brussels. 709th was given new operating territory - road Co, Baltimore, MD 1947
New Year’s day brought an attack by the Holland and Germany. As it moved in newly
Luftwaffe on nearby airfields. In the hit- acquired territory, the mission was sub- Spratley, Albert W., 1st Sgt, Highlights of
and-run attack, two British planes were jected to the vagaries of destruction. Some History of the 709th Railway Grand Divi-
downed and AA fire knocked down two railroad facilities were not damaged at all, sion, Brussels, Belgium 1945
attackers. others were completely destroyed, and the
Infantry replacements were taken from remainder were somewhere in between. The
the 709th, leaving the division shorthanded 709th successfully directed the repair and

The 709th RGD poses in Brussles in 1945. SOS SSIs can plainly be seen on several of the men.