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formation of the United Nations, the daughter of an N&W employee penned her testament of hope for a new world. Here is Betty Milton, age 15, writing in the Norfolk and Western Magazine (1): …The great leaders of today have assembled in San Francisco to discuss peace, for they realized that…a lasting world peace…must be well planned, with every country sharing in it. In order to make this possible, we must stamp out intolerance, hatred, greed and jealousy between countries and among people… Think of (those) who fought on Bougainville, Tarawa, Saipan, Tinian, Guam and in the Philippines. Nothing held them back…Now it’s up to us to finish the job. We must help those countries to grow again into…peaceful lands…We must rid the world forever of people who want more than their share; who want to dictate to the world; who would torture, destroy or kill to get what they want…We must begin at once to eliminate the chief causes of war. We must encourage friendly relations among countries... Youth in the service of acting for global responsibility! Betty was ready, steeled for “the job,” no doubt, by the plain-out force of will she had known in her people across the years, just ended, when the nation had committed to the struggle, whatever the cost, to safeguard freedom’s future and hope for all. Betty could not have known the full measure of the story we are about to recall, but, for sure, this story—N&W’s contribution to the Military Railway Service—does make for an arresting note in history’s irrepressible search for a worldwide culture non-racial, pluralistic, authentically democratic and free.
“KEEPING ‘EM ROLLING” IN WORLD WAR II
N&W IN THE MILITARY RAILWAY SERVICE
1) MRS: THE BIG PICTURE We accomplished our mission because…we knew our business and… operated to as great a degree as possible the railroads of Europe in the good old American way. (Gen Carl R. Gray, Jr., MRS Director General) (2) (The MRS story) acclaims the heroism of G.I. railroaders in moving gargantuan amounts of freight and large numbers of troops, often under intense fire and bombardment, over impossible railroads…hopelessly, it seemed, beyond repair…with motive power that in the US would have been
relegated to the scrap heap half a century before. (3)
Railway units were organized within the US Army Corps of Engineers from WWI until November 1942, when the reconstituted Military Railway Service (MRS) was lodged within the US Army Transportation Corps, itself created in July of that year. At the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor the US had just one fully mobilized rail unit, the 711th Railway Operating Battalion (training); a number of railways had agreed to sponsor military rail units, still, however, on inactive status. As Railway Grand Division (RGD), Railway Operating Battalion (ROB) and Railway Shop Battalion (RSB) sponsors, our nation’s railways committed to draw from their highly specialized ranks leadership to be commissioned as unit officers, and made enlisted technicians as well, with a view towards fielding an “American railroad in uniform”. (4) Although virtually all officers had considerable prior railroad experience, only 40 per cent of MRS enlisted personnel had prior civilian railway experience, meaning that most enlisted personnel, apart from non-commissioned officers, had to be trained from scratch. Over the course of the war 40 US railways would step up to the plate to sponsor most of the MRS’ 12 grand divisions and 52 battalions. Analogous, essentially, to a regimental headquarters operation, the RGD, with approximately 25 officers and some 70 enlisted personnel, consisted of an administrative section and transportation/engineering/equipment/stores technical sections, and commonly exercised command direction over two or more ROBs and one RSB. Typically, the ROB consisted of a Headquarters and Headquarters Company (administration, train dispatching, signals), Company A (structures, maintenance of way), Company B (maintenance of running equipment), and Company C (train operations), with 25 to 30 officers and normally up to 800 enlisted personnel serving an operational range akin to that of a US rail division. Likewise, the RSB (steam), a back shop heavy repair and assembly operation, consisted of Headquarters Company, Company A (erecting and machine shop), Company B (boiler and blacksmith shop), and Company C (car repair shop), with manpower roughly equal to the ROB. RSBs (diesel) similarly were four-company units. Organization and deployment of MRS units were highly fluid in character. Whereas combat battalions had fixed assignments within particular regiments, MRS battalions, not permanently assigned to given RGDs, were deployed among RGDs as evolving theater Transportation Corps mission requirements dictated. N&W’s 755th RSB, for example, while in France and Belgium, as we shall see, reported at diverse times to four RGDs. Further, exigencies in the field frequently produced line unit arrangements at variance from the official tables of organization. And detachments often were assigned to points remote from the battalion base, the case, again, as we will encounter, below, with N&W’s battalion. MRS’ first mission beyond the contiguous states was the leasing (from October 1942 until war’s end) and enlarging for military purposes the celebrated White Pass and Yukon Route in Alaska, accustomed to shutting down in the winter, with temperatures reaching 70 below zero amid 90 mph winds. Up to the challenge was the 770th ROB (“men…used to snow and lots of it”), which took care of business up and down the line all through the winter. With manpower recruited from 17 US
railways, the 770th operated the “toughest, steepest 110 miles of railway in the world” (6), much of it on a four per cent grade, permitting consists of around just 13 or so cars. An arresting portend of the MRS story ahead! In April 1943 the 714th (CMO) ROB took over the Alaska Railroad and ran it for the duration of the war. In late 1942 the 702d (UP) RGD (later, 3d MRS) and related units were called to take over from the British the operating of the Trans-Iranian Railway, some 800 miles, standard gauge, in a land whose right-of-way in the mountains at 7,200 feet descends to the coastal plain “where the temperature goes up to 150 degrees and stays there”. (7) Augmenting indigenous locomotives were US Army Transportation Corps (USATC) class S-200 (ALCO/Baldwin/Lima) 2-8-2 standard gauge steam locomotives within consignments of 200 units destined for Iran and British use in the Middle East and in Italy. Commented the MRS’ Director General, “Our friend Zhukov would never have reached Berlin, had it not been for…military supplies for Russia which were hauled from…the Persian Gulf…to the Caspian Sea.” (8) What an endurance for the MRS-operated 400 locomotives and 5,000 freight cars: 231 tunnels, over 4,000 bridges, severe flooding and washouts. Silver lining: in Iran the MRS did not have to overcome war ravages. In mid-1945 MRS returned control of operations to the British. In the story to follow the RGDs in North Africa, Italy and Southern France were organized under the 1st MRS, while the 2d MRS, the command relevant to the N&W’s 755th RSB, was responsible for RGDs in the Northern ranges of the European Theater of Operations, US Army (ETOUSA). (9) MRS battalion detachments landed with the November 1942 invasion of North Africa, whose decrepit main rail line ran roughly parallel to the coastline, 1,400 miles—in three metric gauges—Eastward from Casablanca. Introduced were USATC “MacArthur” locomotives, within consignments of nearly 800 of the class S-118 (ALCO/Baldwin/Davenport/Porter/Vulcan) 2-8-2 steam engines, meter gauge, sent to MRS units North Africa and, most of all, to India. Also engaged were USATC standard gauge S-160 2-8-0 steam locomotives. During the course of the campaign in North Africa the 703d (ACL) RGD, followed by the 701st (NYC) and 704th (GN) RGDs and constituent units, with 1,000 US freight cars and 180 US locomotives, weighed in with British Transportation Service units to face railroading “the hard way” (10), eliciting from one Maintenance of Way officer the wry comment, “Our MRS has yet to find an obstacle too difficult to surmount, if not in orthodox fashion, then by squeezing out of necessity whatever invention is required to reduce the insuperable to the negotiable…” (11) to Rome, to V-E and V-J Days Up next: Fortress Europe! The first ROB to land on European soil was the 727th (SOU), which supported Gen George S. Patton’s Seventh Army in Sicily, beginning at Licata with the landing of an advance detachment of the unit on 13 July 1943 (DDay + 3) and steaming up for a run within four hours after landing. By the end of the month the entire battalion was engaged in Sicily, in short order clearing and running most of the trackage on the island, with 300 locomotives, 3,500 freight cars and 1,400 miles of right of way seized in Patton’s awesomely swift drive to the
North and East. Since the captured equipment was in good condition, no Allied railway equipment was called to Sicily. Naples, which would become the MRS’ first headquarters in Italy, was taken on 1 October 1943; three days later an advance echelon of the 703d RGD, from North Africa, reached that city. The 703d and constituent units straightaway took over the portion of the Italian State Railway in Allied hands, in support of Gen Mark W. Clark’s Fifth Army on the Mediterranean flank. Subsequently the 701st and 704th RGDs and constituent units from North Africa and the later-activated 774th RGD and related units served in Italy, all facing prodigious repair work to restore trackage, bridges, tunnels, installations and running equipment, virtually inoperable everywhere due to appalling German demolition in retreat. In Naples alone some 10,000 laborers were marshaled to clear the debris, install trackage and restore service across yards and mainlines alike. Notable in the Italian campaign was the deployment of nearly 250 ALCO/Baldwin/Lima superheated 2-8-0 steam engines (USATC class S-160, standard gauge) built 1942-1945, to complement remnant ALCO/Montreal 2-8-0 “Pershing” engines sent (nearly 400) to Italy during WWI and reconstruction thereafter. “Pershing” locomotives likewise in the 1940s were recovered and run, along with the USATC engines, by the MRS in North Africa and France. Field necessities in both Mediterranean and European theaters often compelled the conversion of locomotives from coal to oil fuel—for the MRS, a fast-shuffle three-day operation. MRS headquarters personnel in Naples came from 34 US roads; one officer from the N&W was so assigned. (12) It should be noted here that the MRS in Italy was an Anglo-American operation, with British rail units serving in support of the British Eighth Army fighting its way up the peninsula on the Adriatic flank to the East. On 4 July 1944 the first MRS train entered Rome, one month to the day following the seizure of that city, which would become the primary MRS center in Italy, with oversight, at its peak, of operations (conducted in the main by the Italian State Railway) along some 3,000 miles of trackage. By 2 May 1945, when the remnant Nazi-Fascist forces in Italy surrendered, MRS operational supervision extended into the great Po River plain. After the war, residual MRS supervisory units, due to the question of Trieste, remained in Italy until inactivated late in 1947. After the Normandy (6 June) and Southern France (15 August) invasions of 1944, many of the MRS units in Italy, including the 703d and 704th RGDs and constituent units (the 701st and 774th RGDs remaining in Italy) were sent to Southern France, where, by the close of the year, over 40 bridges and 800 miles of track had been restored to service, and 4,000 miles of rail lines were in operation by the 1st MRS. Main port: Marseilles, which, by V-E Day (8 May 1945), had discharged more war tonnage than any other European port. 2d MRS operations in Northern France, then Belgium-Netherlands- Luxembourg and, finally, Germany, emanated in the main from ports of entry at Cherbourg and Le Havre in France, Antwerp in Belgium and Bremen in Germany. By V-E Day some 2,000 USATC locomotives and 20,000 USATC loaded freight cars had been transshipped from the UK to Northern France and Belgium for deployment and maintenance by constituent units of five RGDs (706th – 710th [PRR, SOU, B&O, Ass
Am Railroads, ATSF]). This, coupled with rendering operable seized equipment: a colossal challenge for the Yank rail units often in forward areas facing unremitting fire from the enemy which often had managed, in flight, to wreck installations, stores and equipment. By V-E Day the MRS in Europe was running 35,000 freight cars, and hospital/leave/troop tactical deployment/prisoner of war/refugee train equipment over 11,000 miles of trackage, under Gen Carl R. Gray, Jr., MRS’ Director General, headquartered in Paris, who reported to the European Theater Chief of Transportation. The war in Europe ended, MRS units in the field soldiered on, transporting demobilized US troops, repatriated prisoners and refugees, and conveying control of rail operations back to national civilian authorities. Headquarters, MRS in Europe, was closed on 24 October 1945, while military railroading, in evolving formats, would remain a permanent division to this day within the US Army Transportation Corps. In India, with diverse rail gauges, the MRS was called upon to support Chinese defenders and British and American operations in Burma. By March 1944 the 705th (SP) RGD with five ROBs and one RSB were deployed to run 800 critical miles of the Bengal and Assam Railway. The last MRS unit departed for the US in October 1945. Transportation challenges in the Pacific Theater were met by air, naval and motor transport forces in the main. In 1945 the 775th RGD, with two ROBs, several mobile workshop, railway operating and base depot units, was organized for duty in the Philippines, where the trackage was of five gauges, and locomotives, coal being scarce, were fired with driftwood, pulpwood and coconut hulls. After V-J day (14 August 1945) diverse line units within the Pacific Theater were deployed briefly to Japan (the railroads there being reasonably modern). During the course of the war nearly 5,600 locomotives and 84,000 units of rolling stock were exported from the US for use by MRS and Allied forces. There were 12 RGD, 40 ROB and 12 RSB (nine steam, three diesel) units; of the 64 units, 13 would serve in more than one theater, and 18 would serve in the UK preparatory to theater engagement. MRS railway grand division and battalion peak strength in the several theaters was as follows: theater RGDs 3 9 1 1 1 ROBs 6 27 4 5 5 RSBs 3 11 2 1 1
N. Africa Europe incl Italy Middle East India-Burma Pacific incl Alaska
MRS forces, additionally, included a General Headquarters; multiple theater headquarters; diverse railway transportation and base depot companies, mobile workshop and hospital train maintenance units; and, for security purposes, Military Police battalions, on average one per RGD. Total MRS strength: some 50,000 personnel. Our purpose now turns to sketching the story of the Norfolk and Western-sponsored 755th Railway Shop Battalion, which for freedom fought the good fight in the UK, France and Belgium. The other RSBs, sponsors and deployments: 753d (CCC&STL; N. Africa, Italy), 754th (SP; Iran, France), 756th (PRR; UK, France), 757th (MILW; UK, France, Germany), 758th (ATSF; India), 760th (diesel) (ALCO/Baldwin; N. Africa, Italy), 762d (diesel) (ALCO/EMD; Iran, Germany), 763d (DL&W/LV; UK, France, Belgium), 764th (BM/CV/B&A[NYC]/D&H; UK, France), 765th (diesel) (ERIE; UK, France), and 766th (Assn Am Railroads; France).
2) N&W’S RAILWAY SHOP BATTALION The ingenuity, superior craftsmanship and faithful service of the officers and enlisted men of the (N&W) Battalion made it one of the outstanding units of the Military Railway Service…The Battalion gave an excellent account of itself and truly did the Norfolk and Western proud… (Gen Frank S. Ross, US Army Chief of Transportation, European Theater, to the N&W President, W.J. Jenks, 1945) (13) I desire to commend the entire Battalion and its Norfolk and Western officers and men for very superior service…(and) outstanding record of accomplishment in the maintenance of American motive power…(and) repair of Belgian and French locomotives and cars…(Gen Carl R. Gray, Jr., Director General, MRS, to the N&W President, W.J. Jenks, 1945) (14) The 755th RSB, half of whose officers and some 25 of whose enlisted personnel (with prior technical experience) came from the N&W, was organized on 30 November 1942, trained at Camps Claiborne and Millard, respectively, in LA and OH, and arrived in the UK on 12 December 1943, pursuant to the build-up and preparations for the invasion of France and subsequent service on the continent. The first MRS unit to arrive in the UK, on 15 July, had been the 729th (NH) ROB. “Run ‘em out of steel!”
The four MRS shop battalions in the UK erected rolling stock (20-ton box, 20- and 40-ton gondola, 40-ton tank, 50-ton flat, 35-ton refrigerator, 20-ton cab cars) shipped from the US knocked down (a box car could be fully built up in 45 minutes), and made ready for placement on depot ready tracks the standard gauge USATC 28-0 (ALCO/Baldwin/Lima) and 0-6-0T (Davenport/Porter/Vulcan) steam locomotives (classes S160 and S100, respectively) and diesel switching and road engines (ALCOGE/GE/Whitcomb). (15)
The shop battalions were pressed into service, further, to fit out Liberty ships and assemble floating cranes, rail barges and LSTs for Channel shuttle missions. As the Unit File, 31 July 1944, puts it, …Certainly something new to a rail unit!…Civilians (had been) launching a barge every 10 to 12 days…The 755th within a short while (produced) similar barges at the rate of one…every 26 hours…(a) feat largely due to modern pneumatic equipment, teamwork and determination…Col. Stevens (unit commanding officer) had told his men to “run ‘em out of steel” and that is exactly what they went ahead and did… The 755th worked at Sudbury-Staffordshire, Hainault-Essex, Longmoor, Liss, Hants, Kings-Newton (car erection); Caerphilly, Wales (steam, diesel locomotive preparation); Truro and Hayle-Cornwall (barges, sea mules). To show the degree of preparedness: American steam locomotives had water placed in the boilers. Wood and paper were placed in the fireboxes for the match upon arrival on the continent, and enough water was placed in the tenders to keep them moving…(16) By D-Day, 6 June 1944, for their rendezvous with history, the headquarters of the 707th (SOU) and 708th (B&O) RGDs were in the ready in the UK, with the following constituent units: 712th (RDG, CNJ), 717th (PRR), 720th (CNW), 728th (L&N), 729th (NH), 733d (CG) ROBs; 755th(N&W), 756th (PRR), 757th (MILW), and 763d (DL&W) RSBs. trial by fire: Liege The first MRS unit to land in Normandy, an advance detachment of the 2d MRS, made for the high ground above Utah Beach on D-Day + 11, to be followed, presently, by the launch battalion unit, the 729th ROB (NH), arriving 2 July 1944 and commencing immediately operations based at Cherbourg. With the unit: an N&W man (see Part Two, 3). By the time of the seizing of Paris, 25 August (the first supply train, operated by the 712th (RDG, CNJ) ROB, arriving one week later) these other units had landed in France: 706th (PRR), 707th (SOU), 708th (B&O) RGDs; 712th (RDG, CNJ), 718th (CCC&STL/NYC), 720th (CNW), 740th (C&O) ROBs; and the 755th (N&W), 757th (MILW), 764th (BM, CV, B&A, D&H) RSBs. N&W’s 755th, which landed at Utah Beach on 16 August, 2200 hours, was the second RSB to arrive from the UK. (17) The battalion proceeded via truck convoy to the Brittany Base Depot at Rennes, France (about 90 miles South of the Normandy beaches, and just 15 miles from the front lines) and would remain there for two months, transitioning increasingly from running to heavy repairs. From the Unit File, 20 October 1944:
Here at last was the great task for which the unit had been trained…This was it! The first Railway Shop Battalion in the Brittany sector. Setting up quarters in bombed-out apartment houses at the corner of Rue Arthur Fontaine and Boulevard Villebois-Mareuil, (we) went about overcoming the language handicap and slowly, yet efficiently began working with the French civilian workers in the yards and shops at the Rennes depot and main station. On 11 October, in a permanent change of duty station, the 755th was sent to a quiet Belgian provincial capital in the heart of Wallonia—to the gateway of the Ardennes, Namur, some 30 miles Southeast of Brussels (which would become, in February, 1945, 2d MRS headquarters). Battalion headquarters: an ex-maternity hospital and nurses’ quarters (later, from January, the Institut Kegeljan). Within the first weeks in Belgium two forward detachments beyond the headquarters and Salzinnes locomotive shops in Namur were organized: at Ans, a suburb of Liege (car shop, with Company C), and, just a few miles from the German border, at Herbesthal (locomotive shop, with Detachment B). A distinct leg-up for the 755th: of the major Belgian rail shops, those at Namur survived virtually intact, the least damaged by the war. Most of Belgium had been liberated by mid-September 1944, with a loss, for the rail community, of 1,200 railwaymen, over 400 locomotives, some 70 diesels and nearly 24,000 freight cars. The 755th would be called upon to service a fair share of USATC 2-8-0s (300 requisitioned) and freight cars (6,000), and to coax life out of damaged European equipment deemed suitable for overhauling. (18) As in France, the 755th found local railway personnel eager for victory’s sake to pull and haul with new American colleagues. On the continent at diverse times until war’s end the 755th saw action as a component of the 706th (PRR), 708th (B&O) (19) and 709th (Assn of Am Railroads) RGDs, the MRS units butting up against the Siegfried Line and West Rhine defenses. Destiny, that is, would place the 755th among the MRS units “in whose very lap a war was being fought” (20), most dramatically during the Battle of the Bulge when Gen. Von Rundstedt overran the Third Army. At just 20 miles from the German border, the scene of terrifying trial was Liege, “the nerve center of the supply line of the First and Ninth Armies—the palm of a many-fingered rail net that stretched in all directions”. (21) The city in whose very palm, indeed, would be endured this hot stab of nails: the fury of intense air and V-1 “buzzbomb” attacks that would take MRS lives, including an enlisted man from the 755th, and up to 10 per cent wounded in some battalions. Small wonder that Liege came in for the punishment: during the Bulge struggle 75 per cent of rail supplies on the continent was at Liege depots. Namur, too, with Liege, Antwerp and London, had its deadly portion of V-1 and night air attacks. Through the thick of the Ardennes campaign, in base and forward venues alike, N&W’s 755th toiled on. over the Rhine…
With the dismemberment of the German Bulge, heroically achieved by mid-January, the drive on to the Rhine and beyond was irrepressible, a lightning advance. By February 1945 the operational territory of the 708th RGD, the 755th being one of the two RSBs most closely associated with it, encompassed 78 railheads, “perhaps the greatest number ever served by one division of the MRS (and) certainly (so) in a forward army area.” (22) Some performance: by March 708th units were running nearly 300 trains per day. Upon the opening of the bridge at Remagen, 7 March, and of pontoon bridges shortly thereafter, motor transport convoys from railheads to the West began streaming across the Rhine to East-of-the-Rhine railheads, where MRS units, working with captured steam locomotives and rolling stock in ready-to-run condition (708th units alone seizing several thousand locomotives, 2-10-0s in the main), again moved war materiel Eastward. To the 732d (GN) ROB fell the distinction of running, on 10 February, the first MRS train on German soil, just West of the Rhine. The first Allied railway link over the Rhine River (see front cover), the “last barrier” to Berlin, a 1,752-foot single track span erected in 10 days at Wesel, about 80 miles Northeast of the N&W battalion’s Eastward shops at Liege, had been completed on 8 April 1945; the following day the 720th (CNW) ROB, in whose ranks was a seasoned N&W veteran (below), took the first train over the bridge, bound for Muenster. (The Wesel design was employed elsewhere on the continent, as for the bridging of the mighty Po River [at Revere on the crucial Bologna-Verona line in Northern Italy], a 1,565-foot structure erected in six weeks and opened on 8 July 1945.) Readers will be stirred to learn that at the request of the US Army Chief of Transportation, ETO, the 755th crafted memorial plaques honoring three Corps of Engineers men who lost their lives in the construction of the Wesel bridge: “presented by the officers and men of the Transportation Corps, ETOUSA, as a tribute and pledge that they will not have died in vain…” (23) V-E Day, as recorded in the Unit File, 3 June: The 755th joined with civilian railway workers in parading through (Namur), stopping at the Belgian War Memorial (1914-1918)…(and) continuing to the railroad station…(for) brief ceremonies in the station square…(Later in the month) Memorial Day services held in front of the billets…honored the three members of (our) unit along with soldiers everywhere who had paid the supreme sacrifice. On V-E Day the 755th was a component of the 709th (Assn of Am Railroads) RGD, whose other units were the 734th (T&NO/SP), 741st (GM&O), 743d (IC), 744th (MILW) 752d (BM) ROBs, and the 763d (DL&W, LV) RSB. For combat forces the struggle was over. Not so for the 755th, however; inactivation of many MRS units could not occur straightaway, there being imperatives across the continent for round-the-clock assistance to local rail forces laboring valiantly to help their nations get back on their feet.
On June 19th (1945), Detachment ‘B’ of the 755th Ry Shop Bn came back to its parent unit from Herbesthal, Belgium…Men from the detachment had been drawn from each of the four companies, and there were many reunions as they swapped stories of happenings over the last (eight) months…Det ‘B’ gave a fine account of itself throughout the drives of the First and Ninth Armies and during the German Break-through in December, 1944. They were able to give “on the spot” service to GI locomotives and cars and they put back into operation the first captured German locomotive…moved back from the front lines for repair, in November, 1944…(24) We should note that in Belgium the 755th • • • • • • built snow plows for seven USATC 2-8-0 locomotives engaged in track snow clearance during the severe l944-l945 winter lettered locomotives named in honor of MRS personnel killed during the Ardennes campaign (17 in the 741st ROB [GM&O] alone) fitted out 30 USATC 2-8-0 locomotives with heating systems for hospital trains participated eagerly in the Red Cross’ War Orphans Fund built two chapels (via Co C) on the grounds of US Army hospitals in Liege and Brussels published a monthly newsletter (November 1944 – September 1945), The Journal Box. Simple French lessons, poetry and other compositions, among other features, by our soldier-railroaders, artfully assembled “despite the hazards of war”. (25) (With a little luck, some of the issues may surface one day, with extracts appearing in the Arrow…)
The last months after V-E Day saw the unit (under the jurisdiction of the 706th [PRR], 708th [B&O] and 710th [ATSF] RGDs) finding some deserved time away from stillpressing duties for Special Services sports events, dances, and the like. Over the summer three 755th men married local women, reports the Unit File, “enhancing the ‘good neighbor’ policy…” A wrap-up, grand show took place in Namur on 29 September 1945, in honor of Gen. Carl R. Gray, MRS’ Director General. The formation, the largest MRS parade ever held on the continent, passed in review an RGD headquarters and three rail battalions, including the 755th. Two weeks later, reports the Unit File, with highranking MRS brass on hand, the men of the 755th offered a farewell ceremony to Belgian railway co-workers for their “splendid cooperation”, memorialized by a plaque presented to Belgian colleagues at the Salzinne Shops in Namur. The 755th left Namur on 1 November 1945, bound for inactivation at Reims, France, later that month. “and now the work was completed…”
The 2 June 1945 operational report (see below) reveals that in Belgium through May, V-E Day month, N&W’s 755th RSB repaired 396 locomotives and 3,478 cars. As battalion active duty time was winding down, the Unit File dated 7 September and 5 October records that in France and Belgium combined, through September 1945, the 755th had repaired and returned to service 655 locomotives and 4,523 cars of all types. In the latter report, this pensive judgment: Looking into October, one could see the final act coming up. Some would be here to celebrate the unit’s full year in both Namur and Liege, while others would be on their way home. The 755th Railway Shop Battalion had made history in leaving a trail of wondrous achievements in England, Wales, France and Belgium. Men had worked side by side month after month and now the work was completed. We had done our part in seeing to it that “THE TRANSPORTATION CORPS WILL FURNISH THE NECESSARY TRANSPORTATION.” For service which earned consistently “superior” evaluations the 755th was awarded the Meritorious Service Unit Plaque (see box), now displayed at the N&WHS’ archival center in Roanoke. (26) As ascertained from the Unit File and the Magazine, the Bronze Star was awarded to 30 men of the 755th, of whom 12 are identified as N&W people (27): • • • • • • • • • • • • Lt Charles W. Cookes (inspector, Shaffers Crossing) Maj C.C. Godsey (gang leader, Roanoke Shops) Capt William O. Hunt (assistant road foreman, Williamson) Capt V.R. Mackie (carpenter, Roanoke Shops) Capt D.R. May (machinist, Roanoke Shops) Lt Col Garland W. Meredith (foreman, Pulaski Shop) Maj Foster Musser (machinist, Roanoke Shops) Capt C.A. Paxton (inspector, Roanoke Shops) Lt J.E. Pettry (machinist, Roanoke Shops) Lt S.P. Seifert (inspector, Roanoke Shops) T/Sgt Harry L. Smith (machinist, Lambert Point Shop) Capt Frederick Stiff (clerk, Roanoke Stores Dept)
The commanding officer, Lt Col Miles G. Stevens (SOU), and executive officer, Lt Col Garland W Meredith (N&W), were awarded, respectively, the French Croix de Guerre and the US Legion of Merit. A Transportation Corps survey (28) at war’s end revealed that of the 21 MRS personnel with 20 or more years of prior rail experience (average MRS civilian railroad experience: three years), seven were N&W people. Here they are, proudly recalled:
• • •
from N&W’s 755th RSB: Lt Ray Bowles (gang leader, Roanoke Shops), Maj C.C. Godsey (gang leader, Roanoke Shops), Maj Foster Musser (machinist, Roanoke Shops), Sgt J.C. Myers (clerk, Shenandoah Div) from the 720th (CNW) ROB: T/Sgt L.C. Johnson (yard engineer, Scioto Div) from the 756th (PRR) RSB: S/Sgt Leslie Patton (machinist, Portsmouth Shop), Sgt W.C.Pasley (shop man, Bluestone Shop)
We now step aside: it is right that 60 years after the mobilization of the 755th RSB, selected 1940s testimony regarding the battalion, as it appeared in the pages of the N&W Magazine, speak for itself, resounding, this time, for sequel generations…
(facsimile articles) Endnotes The Norfolk and Western Magazine is cited throughout as Magazine. At this writing the N&WHS’ archive Magazine collection is not complete, and members once again are urged to keep an eagle eye open for opportunities to encourage private owners to donate their collections to the archive. Certain public and university libraries (see Inter Library Loan Service) have Magazine collections, incomplete, as a rule. Happily, the Virginia Polytechnic Institute (VPI, Blacksburg, VA) collection is 100% complete. From the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA, College Park, MD) the writer was able to secure copies of the 100-page 755th Railway Shop Battalion Unit History File—original documents produced by the 755th, now in copy deposited at the N&WHS archival center in Roanoke. For purposes of this article, references are cited as from the Unit File. With the exceptions of references in notes 9 (Pictorial History),15 and 34 (Part Two), the works cited, in photocopy in the main, have been filed at the N&WHS archival center in Roanoke. 1. “My Ideas on World Peace” in Magazine, 1945, p. 462 2. in “Military Railway Service in World War II”, Brotherhood of Locomotive and Enginemen’s Magazine, June 1947 3. DeNevi, Don and Hall, Bob, US Military Railway Service in WWII, Stoddart Publishing, Toronto, 1992, pp. 8, 84 4. per n. 2 5. per n. 2 6. Magazine, 1944, p. 310 7. per n. 2 8. per n. 2 9. See Headquarters, Southern Lines of Communications, ETOUSA, 1945, American “Rails” in Eight Countries: The Story of the 1st Military Railway Service, for a 27-page narrative; a companion work, Headquarters, 2d Military Railway Service, ETOUSA, 1945, Pictorial History, is a 145-page photo
essay and narrative overview of 2nd MRS headquarters operations. In February 1945 the 1st and 2d MRSs were brought under MRS General Headquarters, ETOUSA, Paris. For a critical analysis of MRS operations in Europe—learnings and recommendations—see Report of the General Board, US Forces, European Theater, Study 123, Military Railway Service, 1946. 10. DeNevi and Hall, op cit, p. 45 11. ibid, p. 46 12. Gray, Carl R., Jr., Railroading in Eighteen Countries: the Story of American Railroad Men Serving in the Military Railway Service, Scribner’s, New York, 1955, p. 136 13. Magazine, 1945, p. 561 14. ibid, 1946, p. 6 15. Some 2,000 USATC 2-8-0 steam engines, the most numerous of MRS classes, and indeed one of the largest of classes anywhere in the world, were built during the war for assignment in the main in Europe. Nearly 400 0-6-0Ts were built for service largely in Europe. For a full discussion of MRS steam and diesel locomotives, with deployments, see Tourret, R., United States Army Transportation Corps Locomotives, Tourret Publishing, Oxford, 1977, 1995. 16. Gray, op cit, p. 169 17. According to Gray, op cit, p. 178, and the Unit File,1944, at variance with the claim in the Magazine article reprinted herein, that N&W’s 755th was the first RSB landed in France from the UK. 18.For elaboration of the 1944-1945 rail situation in Belgium, see Dendry, W., “Resurrection of the Belgian Railways in 1944/45”, in World War Two Railway Study Group Bulletin, v. 6/6 (1996) (www.ww2rsg.org). 19.The first RGD to operate in the UK, to land in the ETO from the UK, to establish headquarters in Belgium, and to run trains in Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, the 708th during the German Bulge offensive saw “not one unit of (its) jurisdiction backed up for one inch, and not one ounce of supply entrusted to its charge lost to the enemy” (Gregory, A.G., The Saga of the 708 Railway Grand Division, 1947, pp iv, 25). Another authority (Bykofsky, Joseph and Larson, Harold, The Transportation Corps: Operations Overseas [United States Army in WWII, The Technical Services], US Dept of the Army, Office of the Chief of Military History, Washington, DC, 1957, p. 344), however, claims that the Bulge action indeed set back rail operations, forcing the evacuation of the 708th forward railheads, including Herbesthal, site of N&W’s RSB forward locomotive shop. Either way, N&W’s 755th was up and close to the Ardennes struggle and Germany’s vainglorious Goetterdaemmerung. 20. Gray, op cit, p. 188 21. Gregory, A.G., op cit, pp. 15, 57 22. ibid, pp. 27, 62 23.The Yankee Boomer (MRS weekly), 14 June 1945 24. ibid, 12 July 1945 25. Magazine, 1945, p. 13 26. The plaque was displayed at the Motive Power Building, second floor, in Roanoke until it disappeared from public notice sometime in the 1980s, upon the remodeling of the facility. Meanwhile, Tom Aker, who was employed by the N&W in the early 1960s, had taken a fascination to the plaque, since he had served as an officer with the 714th ROB, the rail training battalion of the US Army Transportation Corps, at Ft. Eustis, VA. Over the years Tom traced the plaque’s
whereabouts to obscure storage points, and at length, around 1990, for his perseverance the artifact was rescued from oblivion and given to him. Subsequently Tom conveyed the plaque to the N&WHS, to the well-imagined fullthroated cheers of all enthusiasts of the N&W story. 27.The sources are silent on the provenance of 17 of the medalists, while another, the unit commander, was not in N&W service. The writer has uncovered no “master” list of 755th medalists, so the citations reported herein may not account for all honorees. 28. Magazine, 1945, p. 433 (to be continued)
“KEEPING ‘EM ROLLING” IN WORLD WAR II
N&W IN THE MILITARY RAILWAY SERVICE
Part One in the last issue sketched the MRS story as a whole and N&W’s 755th Railway Shop Battalion experience in particular. We now draw further upon the record as set out in the wartime issues of the Norfolk and Western Magazine, concluding, as seems fit, with two postscripts which serve to put the N&W’s MRS story in the context of N&W’s wider wartime engagement. We resume with accounts, beyond the 755th RSB, as to N&W railroaders-turned-soldiers serving…
3) IN OTHER MRS UNITS…
We operate about 120 miles of narrow-gauge track through some of the thickest jungles in the world…where there are all kinds of snakes and wild animals. Elephants blocking the track are the
biggest problem. We do have some good American-made locomotives…During the monsoon…the mud reaches our knees. We live in bamboo huts…(We) haven’t seen (the enemy), but that doesn’t say (we) won’t. (Sgt. E.E. Webb [yard fireman, Radford Div], Cpl I.W. Good and Pfc Carl Bentz [firemen, Shenandoah Div], writing from India) (29) N&W men served likely in a good number of the RGD, ROB and RSB units deployed across five continents. (30) The Magazine, for example, cites a Kenova Shops yard engineer serving in the “USA(rmy) railway corps,” a Pocahontas Div brakeman serving as a “conductor in North Africa,” a Pocahontas Div fireman assigned as a “locomotive engineer in the Near East” (“Our railroading here would remind the old timers of the Clinch Valley of about 1913.” ), a Shaffers Crossing machinist assigned to an ROB in North Africa, a Scioto Div telephone operator assigned to a “railway battalion…which received a unit citation” in Naples, a Roanoke Terminal brakeman serving as yardmaster with an ROB in Holland, and still others serving “railway battalions” variously in North Africa, India, diverse European nations, and the Pacific. Still, on occasion assignments to specific MRS units abroad did manage to get through in Magazine reporting. Examples: • 713th (ATSF) ROB, Italy—a brakeman, Kenova Dist 757th (MILW) RSB, France—a trackman, Pocahontas Div 729th (NH) ROB, Germany—a telephone operator, Scioto Div, assigned as the battalion’s chief telephone operator 770th ROB, Alaska—a yard clerk, Portsmouth, assigned as battalion yard clerk and relief assistant yardmaster, and a car inspector, Durham Other Magazine reporting cites N&W personnel assigned to the 714th (CMO) ROB in Alaska and the 763d (DL&W) RSB in Belgium.
Apart from assignment in N&W’s 755th RSB in the UK, France and Belgium, most N&W personnel serving in other MRS units appear in Magazine writing to have been deployed to the Mediterranean and Iranian Theaters. In the latter case, our soldierrailroaders, from late 1942, served the 730th (PRR) ROB and the 754th (SP) and 762d (Alco) RSBs, all involved in running the Iranian State Railway, lifeline for war materiel arriving at Persian Gulf ports and destined for Russia. Among those serving the 730th was Sgt. B.F. Caudill (fireman, Pocahontas Div), who for 22 months was an engineer on the Qum-Teheran run, with a 1.5 per cent grade on one stretch of 57 miles. While serving the 730th with 10 other N&W people—two officers and eight enlisted personnel—Caudill encountered husband/wife Russian engine crews, and found that “out of 40 cars, five ordinarily had air brakes, five had hand brakes, and the rest had nothing.” (32) At least two N&W men received citations for service with MRS units beyond the 755th RSB: S/Sgt C.R. Boyle (yard clerk, Portsmouth), 756th (PRR) RSB, and Lt Charles M. McManaway (inspector, Roanoke Shops), 754th (SP) RSB.
4) POSTSCRIPT 1: HOME FRONT “WHEELS ROLLING TO VICTORY” 5
Each one of…our boys…carries with him our faith and hope for an early and complete Victory. With them we are one in spirit, for theirs is the confidence that we will not let them down. On every foreign battlefield, in every ocean, in every sky, there is some Norfolk and Westerner in uniform who is remembering the “boys at the shop,” the “folks in the office,” the “men on the trains,”…fighting harder as he remembers that he can depend on us to back him up. Are we doing all we can to justify that faith?…Let each of us make every effort to…keep the wheels rolling faster than in the past…Let’s continue to keep ‘em rolling…by putting all we can into War Bonds…(33) Although in the main this article is about the N&W in the service of the MRS abroad, we cite briefly the difference N&W “precision transportation” made to the war effort “back home.” (34) Notable war years achievements: N&W employees bought $11 million in war savings bonds, pursuant to campaign goals of 10% payroll deductions for this purpose. Some 300 non-N&W locomotives received heavy overhauls in the Roanoke Shops. N&W conveyed locomotives to other US roads in need of increased wartime motive power (17 Y-2 and 19 Y-3 engines to the Bingham and Garfield/D&RGW and Santa Fe/PRR/UP roads, respectively). N&W’s principal traffic commodity, coal, increased an average of 40% in each of the war years from pre-war (1939) tonnage totals, while overall freight traffic volume was 1.5 times the 1939 volume. Passenger traffic, boosted by troop movements, increased to an annual level, in 1944, 11 times that of 1939. The Windsor Yard (eight tracks, 50 cars each) was built in mid-1944 to accommodate carloads of explosives awaiting shipment at nearby Norfolk. To escape coastal waters submarine action against coal shipments, the Shenandoah Valley line was upgraded with double trackage at the Lofton grade and centralized traffic control, permitting a 30 per cent increase in operating capacity and accommodating all-rail movement of Southern Appalachian coal to Northern and New England destinations. By 1944, 85% of war materiel tonnage “from sewing kits to tanks”—telephone poles, knocked-down boxcars and gondolas, aircraft, fuel, food, aircraft landing mats, Bailey bridges, landing barges—handled through the Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation, destined for Mediterranean and Western European ports, was delivered by N&W. POSTSCRIPT 2: “A LETTER FROM HOME” When I see the success with which (people) of all races and walks of life are working and fighting for one cause, I am glad to be able to serve. Yet, I am hoping that it will all be over soon and that we can get down to the job of working for a peace in a sane, equitable manner. (WO Edward Logan [janitor,
Roanoke Shops], with a “rail unit in France”) (35) Browsing through the 1940s war years issues of the Norfolk and Western Magazine, volumes 20-24, is a deeply moving experience. Small wonder that readers in uniform over and again testify that the Magazine is like “a letter from home.” Thumbnail sketches of N&W towns. A series on the several shops, three or four stories per year. Personnel retirements (“with the veterans”). Correspondents’ reports from the operating sections (“the party line”). Death notices (“the innumerable caravan”). “Inside” reporting on the life of the railway. The nontechnical, down home stuff of a company house organ that without fanfare serves up snapshots of what’s happening in “the N&W Family”. And there it is, even, month after month, the Ralston Steel Car Company’s ad with N&W’s B-5 box car n. 48000 or G-1 gondola n. 99200! Then, amid stories on Victory Gardens, scrap drives, and war savings bonds drives, the continuing wartime features: Our Fighters Speak and Bravery Under Fire (correspondence and reports from abroad), and In Our Country’s Service (listings of furloughed personnel in the armed forces). And stories on the transformation of the N&W into a fit instrument of military purpose, fully in stride with the monumental movement of war traffic on the home front. In Grateful Tribute is the regular honor roll of N&W wounded and, by war’s end, of the 106 killed in action, including at least four from the Roanoke Shops and General Offices (Capt Sherman Burroughs, clerk, Accounting Dept; Pfc Benjamin Hubbard, shop man; T/5 Eugene Pandlis, Car Service Dept; and Maj John Sours, machinist) who gave their lives on D-Day while in the service of the heroic 116th Infantry, the 29th Division’s launch assault wave in the Normandy landings. Many N&W men, in fact, became D-Day veterans with the 116th Infantry, drawn from Southwest Virginia. Also lost in the D-Day invasion was Milton Ward, USN, apprentice machinist, Lambert Point Shop. Often when I sleep in a foxhole, I think of home and a soft bed…I remember one time when it rained night and day for a week…We would get up a few times during the night, dip the water out, and then lie down until it would fill up again. I got as wet as an old hen, but that didn’t keep me from staying in the hole, because big shells were coming over…We are now up on the Anzio beachhead (where) I am the number two gunner on an 81 mm gun…(Pfc E.C. Akers [helper car repairer, Roanoke], awarded the Silver Star for gallantry in action with the 34th Infantry Division in Italy) (36) N&W personnel served in all WWII theaters, on the land, over the waters, in the air. At length, from an employee base of 24,000, nearly 5,000 N&W people would be numbered among those who served in the armed forces. a dining car waiter, a timekeeper In issue after issue, as though in marching cadence, the reader is drawn right into the story of “the greatest generation”—fit and tall in the service of safeguarding democracy through perilous times. By name, N&W division and work station, here’s
a shop man, a signalman, a helper pipefitter, a train porter, a coaler, an oiler and packer, a storehouse man—on and on, from all across the railway, called to the struggle. An apprentice boilermaker, a track man, a weighmaster, a clerk, a section man, a hostler, a car repairer, an engine cleaner—all there. On and on they keep answering the call—a helper tinner, a janitor, a brakeman, a boiler tender, a timekeeper, a derrick car man, a switchtender, a fireman, a helper moulder, a welder, a dining car waiter. Front and center, assigned to the far reaches of the war effort, in every branch of service, a helper machinist, a soliciting freight agent, a painter helper, a sheet metal worker…Here it is, in humankind’s epic struggle for inclusion, up against the demonic forces of exclusion—each fighting person’s part, of value beyond all telling of it. Every month the Magazine receives word of N&W personnel “somewhere” in North Africa, Sicily, Italy, Iran, New Guinea, the South Pacific, and still elsewhere. Just for example, • • • • • • • • • • • • • • Lt Reid Aaron and Lt Herman Ramsey (Scioto Div chainman and yard office clerk), POWs after the fall of Corregidor Lt Victor Armistead (assistant signalman) and Lt Clarence Spillman, Jr. (Norfolk Div helper machinist), C-47 pilot and navigator in a troop carrier command in North Africa and Sicily Capt James Brooks (Roanoke Terminal messenger), P-51 pilot awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) following 27 missions and downing 13 enemy aircraft in the Mediterranean Theater Maj G.E. Butler (Norfolk Div assistant roadmaster), commanding officer of a P-38 squadron, with over 50 missions (North Africa, Europe), awarded the DFC with Oak Leaf Cluster, the Silver Star, and the Air Medal with 11 Oak Leaf Clusters Maj James Curl (Scioto Div extra caller), awarded the DFC for gallantry as an ace flyer in North Africa and Sicily campaigns Lt Malcolm Gill (Norfolk Div clerk), B-17 pilot, awarded the Air Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster for action in Europe Yeoman 1st cl Claiborne Goodwyn (Norfolk Div steno-clerk), LST crew member in the invasion of the Marshall Islands Lt Judson Foster (yard clerk, Norfolk Terminal), with 62 missions in the Southwest Pacific as B-25 bombardier-navigator Lt Guy Linkous, Jr. (Norfolk Div steno-clerk), B-26 pilot, 12th Air Force, awarded Croix de Guerre with Palm for action over France S/Sgt George Miller (Accounting Department clerk), awarded the DFC and Air Medal with clusters as a B-17 ball turret gunner with the 8th Air Force (Europe) Lt (jg) Mason Miller, Jr. (Accounting Department clerk), survivor in the sinking of a light cruiser in the Battle of Kuln Gulf (Pacific) Sgt Frederick Rutledge (Abington Branch track man), gunner on a reconnaissance aircraft, downing enemy aircraft on the Tunisian coast Lt Edward St. Clair (Norfolk Div assistant signalman), B-17 (The Roanoke Magician) pilot, 8th Air Force (Europe), over 30 missions, awarded the DFC and Air Medal with 5 Oak Leaf Clusters Cpl Warren Short (shop man, Roanoke Shops), awarded the Bronze Star for heroic service in the assault on Iwo Jima, a Marine mortar squad leader who also fought at Saipan, Tinian and the Marshall Islands
• • •
T/Sgt Everett Smith (Norfolk yard brakeman), with 67 missions over Europe as a B-26 gunner T/Sgt Harold Smith (Pocahontas Div track man), B-17 radio operator, awarded an Air Medal for service with the 8th Air Force (Europe) Lt Jasper Whitlock (apprentice machinist, Roanoke Shops), 55 missions over Europe, awarded Air Medal with 9 Oak Leaf Clusters, 4 campaign stars
As cited in the Magazine, in the Army, six N&W enlisted personnel and four officers received the Silver Star, 19 enlisted men and 18 officers, the Bronze Star. In the Air Corps four enlisted men and 10 officers received the Distinguished Flying Cross, one officer, the Silver Star, and 12 enlisted personnel and 16 officers, the Air Medal, often with multiple clusters. In the Navy, the Silver Star was awarded to an enlisted man and the Bronze Star to one enlisted man and one officer. The Distinguished Flying Cross was awarded to one Navy Air Force enlisted man. In the Marines, one enlisted man received the Silver Star, while three enlisted men received Bronze Stars. Of course, many were those receiving, among other honors, the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, the Purple Heart, and ribbons for participation with units receiving special citations. “So far as is known,” reports the Magazine in mid-1945 (37), the one member of the “N&W family” to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor was “one-man Army” S/Sgt James Spurrier, son of a Pocahontas Division engineer. Presented by Gen Dwight D. Eisenhower, the award was in recognition of Spurrier’s single-handed capture of German-held Achain, France, late in 1944. Earlier, Spurrier received the Distinguished Service Cross and the French Croix de Guerre. He had seen 31 months of service in the Pacific, had been wounded, returned to the US, and, upon requesting reassignment to combat duties, had been sent to Europe. “What so proudly we hail…”
Endnotes 29. Norfolk and Western Magazine, 1944, pp. 437, 583, 623 30. Wartime press reporting linking personnel to specific units abroad of necessity was uneven. Relying in the main upon incoming correspondence (often not escaping the censor’s hand) from furloughed personnel overseas, the Magazine could not offer fully comprehensive and definitive reporting. Nor, truth to tell, can this article. In researching diverse materials from both military and non-military sources, inconsistencies and variant fact patterns do come to light. 31. ibid, 1943, p. 353 32. ibid, 1945, p. 264 33. ibid, 1943, pp. 33, 475 34. Of particular note are Magazine articles beginning as follows: 1943, p. 46; 1944, pp. 2, 50; 1945, pp. 58, 62, 170, and especially p. 434. For overviews of national wartime rail operations, see Farrington, S.K., Jr., Railroads at War, Coward-McCann, New York, 1944, featuring a chapter on N&W’s Roanoke Shops and Schaffer’s Crossing.
35. Magazine, 1945, p. 124. A poignant reflection, no doubt from an AfricanAmerican employee. The Magazine, of course, mirrors the culture of the time. One reads, in the war years issues, of minstrel shows, for example, while a regular back pages rubric brings “News of Our Colored Employees”, segregated even in reporting of valor on the battlefield. Well does this janitor-become-Warrant Officer contemplate the forging of another America “in a sane, equitable manner…” Exactly to Betty Milton’s point, top of this article, Part One. 36. ibid, 1944, p. 320 37. ibid, 1945, p. 237 ________________ Sincere thanks to the N&WHS president, Jim Gillum, who in valued and continuing ways made available relevant N&WHS archival material for the researching of this article; to the following, most helpful in locating primary source material: Tony Cane (World War Two Railway Study Group [UK]), Timothy Renick (US Army Transportation School, Fort Eustis, VA), Kenneth Schlessinger (National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, MD) and Carolyn Wright (US Army Transportation Museum, Fort Eustis, VA); to N&WHS’ Tom Aker and Gordon Hamilton, for the search for surviving N&W MRS veterans. A deserved salute to the Arrow’s editor, Jarrell Greever, whose splendid counsel, patience and layout acumen are well known to readers of these pages. The writer, an ROTC grad, served in Italy in the mid-1950s with the US Army Transportation Corps. He has become a student of the Italian State Railway’s steam era; many times he has been on the site of the MRS’ back shop (753d [CCC&STL/NYC] RSB) in Naples. Arrow contributions include occasional writing on developments of interest to N&W modelers working in N-Scale. A retired Presbyterian minister, he is working on an N-Scale basement layout in his CO home, featuring N&W’s Roanoke-Blue Ridge-Bedford, VA action, c. 1950. (box or side bar for Part Two, 3) with the 758th RSB in India Bob Hord, 82, a no-nonsense steam man (“I cleaned up other engineers’ mistakes”) who served in the N&W’s mechanical engineering department in Roanoke, for most of 1944-1945 was the shop dispatcher with the 758th (ATSF) RSB, based at Saidpur (Uttar Pradesh) and Dibrugarh (Assam), along a pre-war “tea and lumber” road in Northeast India. In a late 2002 interview from his home in Richmond, VA, he spun an arresting tale, replete with exacting details, of his experience with the unit. As was common MRS practice, Hord’s unit collaborated with locals, in one case with 1,200 shop personnel schooled in the British engineering culture of very deliberate, time-consuming work. That would change: when the 758th moved in, locomotive repair output surged ahead five-fold. The Yanks weren’t getting out Rolls-Royces: “We didn’t give a damn whether those locos rattled or not…” In fact, he continues,
“Steam purists back in the States would have foamed at the mouth had they known what sometimes went down in getting steamers back out on the rails…” Footnote: eye-catching, gleaming stainless steel trim on British locomotives tended to… disappear. Reason: “Well, our shop guys just happened to know how to convert that stuff into…super watch bands.” The 758th worked on British (including Beyer-Garratt 4-8-2+2-8-4 articulated), German, Czech and USATC (including a consignment of over 400 MacArthur 2-8-2) steam engines, and national rolling stock with “non-automatic ‘automatic’ couplers.” Happily, in the mix were some 12,000 USATC freight cars. Heavy shop machinery, a 65-ton wheel lathe, for example, likewise was brought in from the US, to be surveyed at one point, with Hord right on the scene, by the British Viceroy, Adm. Louis Mountbatten. The 758th was the sole MRS shop operation in India, serving all five ROBs assigned to the sub-continent. Says Hord, “In the way of technical know-how, our unit had whatever smarts circumstances called for. Great for me, as I got to do for Uncle Sam what I love doing, just my ticket.”
THIS MERITORIOUS SERVICE UNIT PLAQUE IS AWARDED TO THE 755TH RAILWAY SHOP BATTALION, SPONSORED BY THE NORFOLK AND WESTERN RAILWAY, F0R SUPERIOR PERFORMANCE OF DUTY IN…EXCEPTIONALLY DIFFICULT TASKS, AND FOR THE ACHIEVEMENT AND MAINTENANCE OF A HIGH STANDARD OF DISCIPLINE… THIS UNIT OPERATED A HEAVY REPAIR SHOP IN AN OUTSTANDING MANNER AND RETURNED TO SERVICE AN UNUSUALLY LARGE NUMBER OF LOCOMOTIVES AND CARS, DESPITE DAMAGED FACILITIES. THE SUPERIOR PERFORMANCE AND UNFALTERING DEVOTION TO DUTY DISPLAYED BY THE PERSONNEL OF THE 755TH RAILWAY SHOP BATTALION WAS IN KEEPING WITH THE HIGHEST TRADITONS OF THE ARMED FORCES OF THE UNITED STATES. BATTLE PARTICIPATION: NORTHERN FRANCE, ARDENNES, RHINELAND, CENTRAL EUROPE. Headquarters, COM Z, ETO, 2 May 1945
CAPTIONS (APART FROM COVER) FOR NARA CD PHOTOS #1 USATC gondola, fresh from 755th RSB car erecting yard, on the way to UK depot ready line, 1944. Photo: Unit File. December 1944, Belgium: 755th RSB crafts master plates for snowplows to be mounted on track-clearance locomotives. Photo: Unit File. 8 May 1945: V-E Day parade, with local railway workers and 755th RSB in formation before the central railroad station, Namur, Belgium. Also on hand, not pictured: a massive turnout of joyous, cheering citizens set at liberty from the iron fist of domination. Photo: Unit File. 755th RSB car assembly line, UK, 1944. Photo: Unit File.
N&W’s 755th RSB at work on USATC 2-8-0 (left) and European (right) locomotives. Photo: Unit File, undated, likely Belgium, 1945.
FOR BOB HALL ENGINE DEPOT PHOTO YOU SCANNED
April 1944, Newport, Wales: readied by shop battalion at nearby Caerphilly, USATC 2-8-0s on depot tracks await Channel crossing to the European Theater. Photo courtesy Bob Hall, Railway Negaive Exchange. FOR 2-8-0 SCHEMATIC Largest (2,000) of the MRS classes, the USATC S-160 locomotive was deployed in the main to the European Theater.
for locations in text: see hardcopy via FEDEX
CAPTIONS 1) for N&W Magazine cover to go with 4) POSTSCRIPT 1: Cover, Norfolk and Western Magazine, April 1945. 2) for 3) IN OTHER MRS UNITS…: Landing at a Middle East port, a USATC 2-8-2 locomotive. The S-200 engines were assigned to the MRS in Iran and to British rail units in the Middle East and Italy. Photo: Norfolk and Western Magazine, June 1943. FOR SIDEBAR, BEGINNING OF PART 2 …We feel confident that, when history is written, the contribution of the American railroads in the form of railroad personnel in the Transportation Corps’ Military Railway Service will be one to which you can always point with pride. The Military Railway Service…has operated under conditions which even the layperson recognizes as extremely difficult and dangerous. It has risked life and limb to get supplies through and hospital trains back and, what is more, it has succeeded in this mission. This achievement has been made possible only because the American railway corporations, individually and collectively, have sacrificed trained manpower from their organizations to achieve this purpose…(of supporting) the American soldier who is now driving forward to Victory. --Gen Frank S. Ross, US Army Chief of Transportation, European Theater, to the Association of American Railroads (quoted in the N&W Magazine, 1944, p. 594)
16 February 2003 Good evening, Mr. Greever…Your mission, should you choose to accept it, ain’t no bean bags, no cotton pickin’ piece a’ cake. Good luck. This message will selfdestruct in five seconds… Poof… Kidding aside, Jarrell, you should have a bunch of fun on this one, as I have. You will find everything well organized, I think. I’ll walk you through this with care. First of all: the earlier text and instructions are now superseded, so be sure they are all nixed so as not to get mixed up with current material. OF EARLIER MATERIALS, KEEP ONLY VISUALS AND GRAPHICS. I am sending at present materials (all as attachments) relevant to the first installment (May-June) only. When you signal that that is fully to bed, I’ll send the second installment materials. So as to enable you to get a sense of the flow of the text preparatory to insertion of visuals, I will send you TOMORROW four e-mails, so as not to overload a single transmission. I will dispatch TOMORROW via FEDEX the visuals, including the NARA CD, and a hard copy of the text, with recommended points for insertion of visuals indicated in the margins. This transmission concerns text composition matters. Tomorrow’s transmissions are actual texts. The first installment (Part One) text breaks out as follows: 1) MRS: the big picture breaker: to Rome, to V-E and V-J Days 2) N&W’s Railway Shop Battalion breaker: “Run ‘em out of steel!” breaker: trial by fire: Liege breaker: over the Rhine… breaker: “and now the work was completed…”
Endnotes. Please set in a font size as small as you wish. I have kept them to a minimum (28, Part One; 9, Part Two). I am with you: this is not a book, nor a dissertation. I do think, though, that an historical society journal need respect modest endnotes as here presented in light of references consulted, which some readers may wish to pursue. Endnote numbers in main text: I have them in parentheses, with the same font size as the text. I do not expect you to go through the text to convert endnote numbers to the conventional smaller font, elevated. The way you find them in the text is fine with me, and I trust with you, also. Paragraph breakers: Please keep in bold type if possible. Font size: Text (except headings) is prepared in “11”, although inadvertently I believe it may have slipped into “10” a time or so. I imagine you can correct as needed. Of course at your election you may reduce/enlarge font sizes anywhere for spacing purposes. Numerals: I use Arabic numerals for 1-10, and spell out eleven and above. Headings: Stylize at will. Abbreviations for ranks: I consistently cite military ranks without periods at the end (as Gen, Lt, Sgt, etc), per common military practice. Citation of dates: Ever since my two years’ military service I have continued to cite dates the US Army way, as 1 January 2003. Trust this is OK by you. Quotations: Simple phrases I retain, with quotation marks, in paragraphs, but multiple-sentence quotations I usually set off by indentation, with Italic type, no quotation marks. Text in parentheses: A fairly frequent device for me, to avoid overloading the sentence flow with details (and this article, in the nature of the case, has a bounty of details). I leave for overseas on 4 March, returning 10 April. I can be reached overseas at my usual e-mail address. I imagine by the time I leave the May-June installment will be home free, but in any case I can be reached abroad if necessary. You may call me at home as needed at 970-204-9870 before my departure. Go well. Frank THE TWO PASTE-UP PAGES Location: Part One, Section 2, at the end, before Endnotes.
If you can work in the two pages as presented, fine. They have a certain appeal, being facsimiles from the Magazine. If you need to edit out some material, cut in the following order: 1) SHOP BATTALION COMMENDED (and page reference 561) 2) FRENCH SALUTE N&W BATTALION (and page reference 590) Order: First—“First in France” page Second—“Wheels Rolling” page
new details of an arresting partnership _____________________________________
N&W in the Military Railway Service
This article is a sequel to the Arrow v. 19 (nos. 3-4, 2003) stories on the Military Railway Service (MRS) in WW II, and, in particular, on the 755th Railway Shop Battalion, sponsored by the Norfolk and Western. Much of the v. 19 narrative on the 755th derives from RG 407 in the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) at College Park, MD. In a 2004 visit to NARA I examined material in the second relevant RG, 336, the source of most of the supplemental information to follow. Photo-copied material from the two RGs I have deposited with the N&WHS archives in Roanoke. I also acknowledge additional material discovered in Norfolk and Western Magazine issues which have been archived by the N&WHS since the writing of the v. 19 accounts. To date I have located no 755th veteran for interview purposes. It is, of course, 60 years since the N&W unit was deactivated in Europe several months after VE Day, and the ranks of living WW II veterans are more and more diminished within the cadences of the inexorable soundings of Taps. Should any reader be in touch with or know of a surviving 755th veteran, do know that an interview, if agreed to, would serve as a most valued chapter in the N&W historical memory. Frank Gibson _________________________________
We feel confident that, when history is written, the contribution of the American railroads in the form of railroad personnel in the Transportation Corps’ Military Railway Service will be one in which you can always point with pride. The Military Railway Service…has operated under conditions which even the layperson recognizes as extremely difficult and dangerous. It has risked life and limb to get supplies through and hospital trains back and, what is more, it has succeeded in this mission. This achievement has been made possible only because the American railway corporations, individually and collectively, have sacrificed trained manpower from their organizations to achieve this purpose…(of supporting) the American soldier who is now driving forward to Victory.
(Gen. Frank S. Ross, US Chief of Transportation, European Theater, to the Association of American Railroads, quoted in the N&W Magazine, 1944, p. 594) 1. Belgium: the 755th RSB’s defining challenge (The 755th) has behind it an enviable record of achievements amassed in the UK during the Invasion Preparation days and later here on the continent where they have been confronted by numerous problems, not the least of which was their proximity to the Belgian Bulge of late ’44 and early ’45…(Headquarters, 709th RGD, Historical Report, 15 May 1945, p. 17) The first RSB to be deployed to Belgium, the 755th engaged in all-steam locomotive work, until diesel service was incorporated into the Salzinnes/Namur shop at war’s end. Though the Unit File does not record fully consistent figures with respect to service of cars, it is clear that the N&W unit’s maintenance of US and European equipment on the continent—France, two months; Belgium, one year—until the disengagement days beginning in early October 1945 came to 655 locomotives (597 in Belgium), while likely over 4600 (4566 in Belgium) cars were repaired and returned to the ready lines. That’s all heavy shop work, since the Railway Operating Battalions undertook light servicing of equipment. The 755th would be called upon to serve hard by Germany’s desperate, last-gasp Ardennes/Bulge campaign in the deep winter of l944-1945. From the Unit File (9 January 1945): several officers were dispatched (December) to Valenciennes, France, “to secure quarters for the battalion in case an emergency movement would be necessary in connection with the recent German counter-attack…” And this, likewise in December: several contingents were withdrawn from the 755th for infantry replacement “when German spearheads got to within 15-20 miles of Namur and Liege (755th operational centers)…” Stark witness to fierce times! From the Unit File (7 September, 5 October 1945): “During the Ardennes Campaign a record number of locomotives and cars was turned out in spite of buzz-bomb attacks, as well as enemy strafing…(O)ur battalion played an important role in seeing to it that supplies rolled to the First and Ninth Armies at the time when they counted most…” The stuff of logistical support! There is no greater example of how indispensable the Military Railway Service was in World War II than in how it supplied General Patton. (Many) remember the famed Red Ball Express, that brilliantly organized and operated truck transport system which handled 7,000 tons daily. With Patton pursuing retreating German armies, Red Ball had to follow, often handling operational gear on roads stretching 400 miles and more. But the mileage turnaround from Cherbourg to Liege was 1,044. Said General Somerwell, commader of the Army Service Forces, “The trucks, of course, required a tremendous amount of gasoline. Their payload over such a long distance was relatively small. We always felt that if the effort up there was to be of any size, it would have to be supplied by the railroad.” (DeNevi, Don, America’s Fighting Railroads, Pictorial Histories Publishing Co., Missoula, MT, 1996, p. 52)
2. 755th RSB organization The Headquarters and Headquarters and Service Company, with the commanding officer (general shop superintendent), executive officer (assistant general shop superintendent), adjutant and supply officer, included railway stores, shop maintenance and electrical platoons. Company A included erecting shop, machine shop and diesel platoons. Company B was home for the boiler shop, blacksmith shop and pipe and tin shop platoons. Freight car and passenger car platoons were located within Company C. A medical detachment was assigned to the unit. When activated, the 755th authorized strength, 682 men, was 22 officers, two warrant officers, and 658 enlisted personnel. As sponsor, the N&W supplied roughly half of the officers and a solid number of the NCOs, all of whom were assigned to battalion leadership ranks consistent with well-honed N&W experience. Since large numbers of enlisted personnel had no prior rail backgrounds, and since, in any case, rail battalions embraced a composite of personnel from many roads, the 755th, as commonly was the case for rail units, trained in the US for a year before deployment overseas as a unified RSB. Rail battalions could be highly decentralized, with detachments serving in venues remote from the headquarters. 755th detachments from the main body served in the UK and in Belgium (but not so in France). The Arrow v.19 articles cite six car erection venues and one locomotive assembly site in the UK; an additional site, the Ebbw Junction Shed near Newport (Wales), serving both car and locomotive work, has come to light. (On average, 270, 170 and 300 man hours were required, respectively, for pre-deployment preparation of USATC 2-8-0, 0-6-0 and 650 H.P. diesel locomotives exported from the US to the UK.) Likewise, an additional work site has been identified in Belgium: in the summer of 1945, the Ronet/Namur engine house for light repairs. (Earlier reported: the Salzinnes heavy engine shop in Namur, the car shop in Ans/Liege, and the Herbesthal engine shop.) Finally, the Unit File cites a Detachment A in Belgium, exact location not noted. A highly-detailed, well-organized overview (140 pgs.) of RSB technical operations in the UK and France may be found in The History of the 756 Railway Shop Battalion (PRR), contained in the NARA RG 336, Box 542. Unfortunately I have found no comparable 755th document in the NARA files or elsewhere. The 756th document does well serve to take the reader into the very bowels of an RSB. An appendix reveals that six N&W men served in the 756th, which labored in the proximity of the 755th in the UK, and would follow the 755th to France, although not to Belgium. 3. 755th RSB assignments within Railway Grand Divisions (RGDs) RGDs coordinated the work normally of several Railway Operating Battalions (ROBs) and a Railway Shop Battalion (RSB). The 755th Unit File is not always consistent in
details, but the following construction of 755th overseas assignments within RGDs I believe to be reasonably accurate. location UK France Belgium interval Dec 43 - Jul 44 Aug 44 Aug 44 - Oct 44 Oct 44 - May 45 Jun 45 - Jul 45 Jul 45 - Sep 45 Sep 45 - Nov 45 RGD 708 (B&O) 706 (PRR) 706, 708 708, 709 (Assn Am Rys) 708, 710 (ATSF) 706, 708 (1st MRS)
755th RSB in The Yankee Boomer
Published 7 October 1943 – 27 September 1945, the Boomer was the weekly mimeograph/offset newsletter of the Military Railway Service, covering the Mediterranean and European theaters in the main. Unit stories (“the switch shanty”), promotions, tonnage and dispatching statistics, and excerpts from unit news sheets abound in the Boomer (an 85 percent-complete collection of which is in NARA’s RG 336, Box 40). Unfortunately, The Journal Box, the 755th news sheet, appears not to be in the NARA archives. Readers: if you know of the whereabouts of surviving Journal Box issues, do alert the N&WHS archives!!! It is worth digressing to note the following Boomer inaugural headline: Gen. Patton Lauds MRS Unit—the 727th ROB (SOU), the first MRS unit to land on European soil (Sicily). Among other banner headlines: First Allied Train Enters Rome (July 1944) and 732d (ROB-GN) Crosses Reich Border (April 1945). No comprehensive 755th story is featured in the NARA Boomer collection. However, episodic briefs on the 755th do appear, the major entry being the 31 May 1945 account of “Victory Day in Belgium”, the 8 May 1945 VE Day ceremonies in Namur, the 755th base, noted in the Arrow v. 19 stories. Other occasional notices (“over there”) concern the War Production Board’s authorization for the building in Roanoke of 10 2-6-6-4 locomotives (October 1943); N&W Roanoke Yards trackage upgrades (April 1944); N&W trackage extensions in KY and VA (October 1944); relocation of the 755th headquarters to Av. de Malagne, Salzinnes/Namur (February 1945); notice (June 1945) as to the N&W battalion’s Meritorious Service Unit Award (General Order 68, Hqs, Com Z, ETO, 2 May 1945—see Arrow v. 19/3, p. 11); summer-fall 1945 notices as to return of detached sections to the battalion’s center, Namur; employment of 2,000 local railroaders in the Namur sector; individual departures to the US; 755th goodwill US Army hospital chapel construction; weddings with locals; recreational activity; a new mess hall and diverse individual awards. 5. 755th RSB pre- and post-war status
I am indebted to N&WHS’s Tim Moriarty for wrap-around documents (now deposited with the N&WHS archives) on the 755th WW II service. • The predecessor unit, the 662d Engineer Battalion, was constituted 1 July 1933; redesignated 21 February 1941 as the 755th Engineer Railway Shop Battalion; further designated 16 November 1942 as the 755th Railway Shop Battalion, Transportation Corps. The N&W-affiliated 755th activated 30 November 1942 at Camp Claiborne, LA, and inactivated 1 January 1946 at Camp Patrick Henry, VA (at variance with Arrow v. 19 citation of November 1945 inactivation in France). The 755th was activated, again N&W-affiliated, in the Organized Reserve, Second Army, 7 July 1949 in Roanoke as the 755th Transportation Railway Shop Battalion (authorized strength: 20 officers, 6 warrant officers, 599 enlisted men) and inactivated 30 December 1950, also at Roanoke.
It is likely that the 755th Reserve status was essentially “on paper”, although subject to mobilization in event of national emergency. An Army Reserve accounting (via Tim Moriarty) cites 45 rail units as of 1 September 1949, all skeleton detachments affiliated with some 30 roads and rail associations. The 1950 action appears to close the book on the 755th. Fast-forward to today: “The days of railway battalions sponsored by civilian railways are long gone,” says Tim Moriarty. “It’s doubtful with today’s minimal manning that railways could support a mobilization and still operate…” 6. N&W personnel in other MRS units It’s swell that young men who are drafted can carry on their railroad work and give the Army the benefit of their experience. I urge every young man on the N&W who is entering the service to stress his railroad experience when being classified after induction. The Army needs experienced railroad men and especially telegraphers, linemen and mechanics and will offer ratings to men who qualify. (Pvt. J.W. Bailey, 719th ROB [T&NO/SP], Norfolk Division yard brakeman, in N&W Magazine, 1943, p. 111) In addition to earlier-reported (Arrow v. 19/4, p. 4) MRS units identified as having N&W personnel within their ranks, subsequent research has uncovered the following units claiming N&W men: • • • • 709th RGD (Assn Am Rys), European Theater 719th ROB (T&NO/SP), Mediterranean Theater 728th ROB (L&N), Iran, European Theater 791st ROB (MRS), Iran
In all, the N&W Magazine cites nearly 20 named MRS units with N&W personnel, including seven of the 12 RSBs. While the 755th by virtue of N&W sponsorship could claim the largest component of N&W people, other units, such as the 730th ROB
(PRR), with 11 men, numbered significant contingents from the N&W. The Magazine relied upon correspondents from the field; for want of direct word most N&W people assigned to MRS units were never accounted for by the journal. Nor does any other source known to this writer supply the big picture of N&W personnel serving across MRS units. While thus confronted with a most inexact science, it seems reasonable, all considered, to estimate that of the nearly 5,000 N&W people in the military, well into some hundreds served in the ranks of MRS units. 7. sign-off salute to the MRS Across this story I have sought to locate N&W’s wartime overseas rail action as a constituent element within the wider canvass of the MRS and partnering US roads. I should therefore revise certain MRS figures from the Arrow v. 19 accounts. Subsequent NARA research (RG 336, boxes 506, 518) uncovered the following war’s end summary information from a 26 June 1945 memo of the MRS Director General to Chief of Transportation, European Theater, and a 1 July 1945 MRS chart of units: • The MRS globally counted 11 Railway Grand Divisions, 38 Railway Operating Battalions, 12 Railway Shop Battalions (seven steam, two diesel, three steam with diesel platoons), and 44 diverse headquarters and specialized units, for a total of 105 units. Some 45,000 personnel were numbered across the 105 rail units. Considering also Military Police Battalions, assigned normally one per RGD, the total under MRS command was approximately 52,000. By VE Day in Europe, scene of the 755th appointment with history, MRS units were working close to 50,000 cars over 25,000 miles.
From diverse US Army Transportation Corps sources I have developed a chart of WW II MRS units (too extended for the present article), including US railroad sponsors and overseas theaters to which assigned, which I will gladly e-mail upon readers’ request via firstname.lastname@example.org. It is fitting here to record a line or so from Railroaders Always, an MRS ballad which appeared in the Boomer issue of 27 January 1944. Pick up almost any WW II operational history and precious little will be found to chronicle the story of the support echelons, as the MRS, lifeblood for the celebrated strike forces which for everyone’s freedom secured the waters, conquered airspace, and rescued nations from tyrants. Could any call to responsibility, full-throated, steal upon the corridors of the heart with a message more homespun than From Maine to California and from every whistle stop, from engine and the “dog house”—from shanty and from shop— with steam and steel and sweat, along the rail we blaze a trail… railroaders always. Visuals (New Details/MRS article, Gibson)
1) cylindcr pix. VISUAL CENTERPIECE. HIGHLY EMOTIVE SHOT. PLACE WHERE YOU THINK BEST CAPTION: Cylinder overhaul, 755th RSB, Namur, Belgium, November 1944. In the first five months of 755th duty in Belgium—including the Ardennes-Bulge campaign —36 USATC 2-8-0 locomotives had cylinders welded, work of “the highest order… showing great initiative and ability (and) retaining in service motive power that otherwise might have been deadlined on account of unavailability of (cylinders)…” (Unit File, 7 March 1945; Unit File photo, NARA RG 336) 2) Boomer graphics CAPTION: Boomer header CAPTION: Boomer rubric icon CAPTION: Boomer cartoon, 5 July 1945. If not an air victory, how about a wandering cow? The above accompany section 4. If you are in a crunch for space, please get at least the header (The Yankee Boomer) in. The cartoon, I think you will agree, is a trip. 3) North Africa reprint fits with section 6. 4) “Honors and Distinctions”: Optional, your call. IF YOU USE IT, PLEASE “BOX” IT. CAPTION: from “The Saga of the 708 Railway Grand Division” (1947), the RGD to which the N&W unit was most closely associated
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