You are on page 1of 2

WWII railroad operators battalion

(The following article by Anthony Jones was posted on the Galveston County Daily News website on
October 23.)
GALVESTON, Texas -- There's nothing like the rumble of the steel wheels of a steam locomotive and
disappearing into the darkness on shining rails, unless you just left Le Harve, France, and you're
bound for Saarbruken, Germany, in late 1944.
Bob McArdell and Henry Mettze were 18 and 25 respectively when the Nazi regime had sufficient
resources for one last major offensive, and the choice was made to gamble everything on a push for
the port city of Antwerp. Early morning Dec. 16, 1944, the German Ardennes Offensive took the
Allies by complete surprise in what became known as the Battle of the Bulge.
McArdell and Mettze served with the 732nd Railway Operating Battalion, which was trained at Fort
Sam Houston in San Antonio from 1943-1944. A group of the World War II veterans and their wives,
23 in all, were honored at the Texas Railroad Museum Tuesday.
McArdell, 78, traveled with his wife from their hometown of St. Paul, Minn. As a fireman/brakeman for
the 732nd, he said he was on a train that transported supplies from ships ported in Le Harve, "and
we'd go as far as we could into Germany."
Mettze, who is from Columbia, N.C., and served as conductor, said that the trains they drove were
powered by either steam engines or 500 horsepower General Electric diesels that rambled through
the Black Forest Mountains during the night.
"Everything was in a blackout," Mettze said. "We had no headlights and no steering on the trains."
He and McArdell both said they were surprised that there were not many wrecks. As a brakeman,
McArdell said that whenever the train stopped to drop off cars, he "would walk to the back of the train
and down the track to light flares so other trains would know we were stopped -- nothing worked,
there was no timing -- we just had orders.
"Then I'd come back and uncouple the cars," McArdell said. "We had to deal with mostly sabotage --

blowing up tracks and bridges. It was an altogether different kind of war from today."
There were 50 conductors, 50 engineers and 100 brakemen serving in the battalion and they were
not involved in many skirmishes.
"We'd just stay awake to look out for other trains, and we carried 45s (.45-caliber pistols)," McArdell
said. The U.S. Army boasted a total of 11 Railway Grand Divisions that were sponsored by private
railroad companies and more than 43,000 worked in rail service during the war.
During the Battle of the Bulge, tanks would come to the train for fuel. The train replenished artillery
and other equipment, and carried troops. The train also acted as a rolling hospital and it carried
refugees and German prisoners out of Germany.
John Dundee, executive director of the Galveston Island Railroad Museum and Terminal said they
had "no guns mounted on board, and when you ran the engine, huge plumes of black and gray
smoke spew up in the air, immediately announcing your position to the German air force."
"Yet, you ran the train and moved the troops where they are needed," Dundee said.
The dinner held in honor of the veterans was organized when it was brought to the museum's
attention about a year ago through the Galveston Convention and Visitors Bureau that the group
wanted to visit Galveston.
Thursday, October 23, 2003

1997-2015 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen