134th Infantry Regiment
"All Hell Can't Stop Us"
By Major General Butler B. Miltonberger, Former Commanding Officer, 134th Infantry Regiment
and Major James A. Huston, Assistant Professor of History, Purdue University
Transcribed by Roberta V. Russo, Palatine, Illinois
THIS CERTIFIES THAT
I AM POM QUALIFIED
FIT TO FIGHT
AND READY TO GO
CAN'T STOP US
- 134th Inf. P.O.M. Qualification Card.
The "final examination" Tennessee Maneuvers - passed, there was little question but that the 134th Infantry was ear-marked for movement overseas before many weeks. The time at Camp Butner, North Carolina, was the time to complete preparations for that movement.
After the mud and ice of Tennessee, however, it was clear that the catch-all of training schedules, "care and cleaning of equipment" would take on a real meaning during those first days back in garrison. Preparation, in fact, did not get very much beyond that for a while, for soon there was an interlude - maneuvers again, and this time more rigorous than ever.
The 134th Infantry and its combat team-mates (161st Field Artillery Battalion; Company A, 110th Medical Battalion, 1st Platoon, Company A, 60th Engineers, and a team from the 35th Signal Company) had had the fortune (good or ill, depending upon your point of view) to be one of the few regimental combat teams chosen for the specialized training of mountain maneuvers in West Virginia. (Probably for possible use in the contemplated invasion of Southern France.)
There, with the rucksacks made heavy with sleeping bags, rubberized mountain tents and aluminum pins, gasoline cooking stoves, and C, D, and K rations, the trainees marched over rough terrain, climbed rocks (with the aid of pitons and hammers and karabiners and nylon ropes) and participated in a series of tactical exercises. Dressed in herringbone mountain jackets, pants, and caps, and shoepacs (footgear with rubber feet and leather uppers), worn with heavy wool socks and felt insoles, the men were able to endure the sudden blizzards and deep snows without suffering from frostbite or exposure.
Once in Camp Butner again, there was little further distraction from the central objectives of completing preparations from movement overseas. This was a much more complex task than it had been back in December, 1941, when the Regiment had been scheduled for a Pacific voyage, and it was much more detailed than it had been back in July and August, 1941, when the 2nd Battalion moved to Alaska. Previous experience had shown too many deficiencies, and now every item - of training, of supply, of personal affairs - was being checked closely. In order to make this check effective, charts went up in the day room of each company, and every officer and man received a "P.O.M. Qualification Card." These cards listed 23 items, each of which was to be initialed by an appropriate authority as evidence that the individual had met the respective requirements. The items:
Chiefly responsible for close supervision of the charts, and so the check on P.O.M., was the regimental executive officer, Lt. Col. Albert D. Sheppard. A lieutenant with overseas service in World War I, Colonel Sheppard had risen in succeeding years to the executive officer in Missouri's 140th Infantry. Peace-time pursuits as journalist and as commander of the Missouri State Police had equipped the officer well for his military duties. He had come to the 134th Infantry in May, 1941, to take command of the 3rd Battalion, and in January, 1942, his assignment as regimental executive officer had become effective. As such, he was second-in-command of the 134th Infantry; his was the duty of co-ordinating the staff; his would be the duty of supervising activities at the command post in the absence of the regimental commander. An affable "son of the middle border," and a gentleman of the old south, Colonel Sheppard now could apply his congenial manner but seriousness of purpose to a highly detailed and urgent task.
Members of the regimental staff, then, were being kept busy, not only with the usual functions appertaining to their assignments, but with more frequent and more detailed - and more important - inspections, and with greater details surrounding final preparations. The officer primarily concerned with matters of personnel and administration was young, dapper, Capt. Lysle I. Abbott of Omaha, adjutant and S-1. In the more specialized assignment of personnel officer - the one who supervised all company personnel records - was Captain Raymond J. Anderson of York, Nebraska. He was one of those officers who seemed to have been made to order for his job. Captain Anderson, a charter member of the Service Company, had held the same job for some length of time. Captain Abbott, on the other hand, got his start as an enlisted man in the old 2nd Battalion Headquarters Company, but more recently had served successively as regimental communications officer and then as 2nd Battalion adjutant before coming to regimental headquarters.
Concerned about security of military information and with the training of intelligence personnel, including members of the Regimental Intelligence and Reconnaissance Platoon and the intelligence sections of the battalions, was Major Dale M. Goodwin, regimental S-2, who had come up from Company D, North Platte.
All military, efficiency personified, Capt. (soon to be Major) Dan E. Craig, also of North Platte, as operations and training officer, had the headaches of getting 100 per cent qualification in training requirements. This meant repeated "clean-ups" of every kind in the tremendous tasks involved in keeping up with absences, replacements, furloughs, and passes in getting every man through every required training activity. Captain Craig's more recent previous assignments had been commanding officer of Company M, and then S-3 of the 2nd Battalion.
A recent change in supply officers after the physical incapacity of Major Edward C. Gatz of Omaha, brought Major Thomas S. Morton, of Nebraska City to the staff S-4. Formerly commander of Company A, then regimental adjutant, acting executive officer of the 1st Battalion, and finally 2nd Battalion executive officer, Judge Morton (or "Sim," depending upon the circumstances) brought an easy-going diplomacy, and a business-like effectiveness which made themselves indispensable in heading the regimental supply. The S-4 had a dry humor which could penetrate any situation; it was born of intellectual insight, and the slow-moving, fast-thinking major conveyed the impression of always having the situation in hand.
Directing the 2nd Battalion in its preparation for overseas movement - and for combat - was Major (soon to be Col.) - Alford C. Boatsman of Beatrice, Nebraska, who had replaced Lt. Col. Dean E. Cooney when the later was called for a special mission to China. A deliberate, but decisive officer, Major Boatsman ("Jimmy" to his fellow-officers) had come up through Company C, and then commanded Company D; just prior to his joining the 1st Battalion as commander, he had been regimental S-3. Most of the Regiment's long training programs had been executed under his general supervision.
Commanding the 2nd Battalion still was Lt. Col. Denver W. Wilson who had taken command when the "new" 2nd Battalion was organized. Diminutive in stature, but a cool, thorough thinker in all situations, Colonel Wilson was another product of North Platte and Company D.
Lt. Col. Alfred Thomsen of Omaha had succeeded Lt. Col. William G. Utterback of Nebraska, as commander of the 3rd Battalion. An old 3rd Battalion officer, Colonel Thompsen had been regimental adjutant upon mobilization, but if there ever was a field soldier, this was he, and he had gone to the 1st Battalion as executive officer where he remained until his return to the 3rd. He had a personality which breathed vigor into anything which he undertook, and he had a tremendous physique to back up his thoroughness. He was jocular, but serious-minded; kind-hearted, but a stern disciplinarian; comprehensive in outlook, but thorough in details.
Staff, battalion commander, the warrant officers (God bless them), the company commanders, the 1st Sergeants, the junior officers, and all the rest, were working with a thoroughness characteristic of their Regiment in making themselves ready for the supreme test which even now could be felt to be drawing closer and closer.
Repeated training programs and cries of "wolf!" - that the Division was about to move overseas - had led to some impatience on the part of some men. It was not that any of them ever was really enthusiastic about finding himself in the midst of combat - they knew too well what it would be like; much of the romance surrounding World War I had failed to make a reappearance - but after so many months, many wished to get overseas and get on with the task at hand. "This outfit never is going to fight," they would say. It was time for another talk with the officers of the Regiment; they assembled one afternoon in the small building which served as an officers' club, "I know that some of you have been getting impatient to get over there and get into action; well, you'll get your bellies full of fighting soon enough - after the first day you'll wish to God you were back here going through basic training again. Now it looks like we'll be on our way within four to six weeks, and it looks like England. Now let's do everything we can possibly do to get these troops into perfect shape to get this job done."
Everyone knew that this was no cry of "wolf!" Already, April 3, 1944, a confidential letter had arrived alerting the unit for movement. An advanced detachment was to be ready for movement April 10, and the remainder of the Division was given a readiness date of May 1.
The pace quickened as April drew to a close. There was a division review, and Major General Paul W. Baade addressed his whole command, "You have a record through training and maneuvers of which to be proud . . . this is a good division . . . in the days to come I shall at times probably call upon you to do what seems humanly impossible . . . "
Two days before departure from Camp Butner, the entire Regiment assembled in the Field House. There were preliminary remarks from staff officers, some on-the-spot entertainment, and then a hush fell over the 3,000 men as they gave to their regimental commander the attention which they always gave.
"We shall be moving overseas very soon now, and within a few weeks we shall be in the thick of combat. When we land over there, I intend for this to be the best regiment in the United States Army, and it will be the best - the best dressed, the best disciplined, the best fighting. I intend for as many to come back as possible. The only way that we can get the job done and bring back the maximum number is to have discipline that is superior. That is why you have heard me constantly harping on little things like shoe shines and haircuts and keeping helmet chin straps fastened and saluting and all the rest of it. I have heard you singing that song around the barracks, Old Soldiers Never Die; there is more truth in that than we can realize now. And let me tell you why 'old soldiers' get along in combat - it's because they have learned how to take care of themselves, to move forward out of artillery fire, to take advantage of cover and concealment, to work as a team, and to fight back."
There followed the final check-ups, the "dry runs" for boarding trains while carrying the heavy duffel bags and equipment . . . then the move by rail (May 1) to Camp Kilmer, and the rush through final clothing and equipment checks, orientation on what to expect overseas, issue of new type gas masks, more physical examinations, practice in the use of cargo nets for abandoning ship, more "dry runs" on entraining, and finally chalk-marking the steel helmets and marching off in roster order (the discipline of the Regiment was such that, in spite of passes to New York City, not a single A.W.O.L. was left behind) to the "canned" music of Stars and Stripes Forever to board the trains - it was the evening of May 11 - then the ferry across the Upper Bay to Staten Island . . . and there a band playing and Red Cross girls passing out coffee and doughnuts, and someone shouting, "There's the gang plank we have been looking for so long" . . . and the heavily-laden men marching aboard the naval transport, A. E .Anderson - a vessel of 26,000 tons which also carried Division Artillery Headquarters, the Division MP Platoon, the Band (fortunately for the Regiment's music entertainment), the 60th Engineer Battalion, and the 161st Field Artillery Battalion - and then the great convoy, guiding on the famed cruiser U.S.S. Marblehead, with a baby flattop near, destroyer escorts zigzagging out in front, and a blimp hovering overhead . . . and the life aboard ship, those agonizing hours for the seasick, the almost endless chow lines for the two meals a day, the police and inspections, the hours at reading the Guide to the U. K., playing cards, at small talk . . . and then, the welcome sight of the Irish coast, the pause in the harbor at Belfast where the appearance of the Battleships Texas and Nevada suggested that something big was up, for the only good reason for a dreadnought in European waters was for support of an invasion . . . and then, the break-up of the convoy, and the movement down through the Irish Sea to Avonmouth at the Port of Bristol . . . and there a Home Guard band from a Bristol aircraft factory out in a light English rain to greet the Americans with such tunes as Over There, Yankee Doodle, and Ole Man River while the Mayor (complete with topper), and a British Army officer came aboard to make a welcoming speeches . . . then debarkation and loading into compartments of English trains as dusk fell for the all-night trip down to the western end on Cornwall. Men grasped at a rumor, "We are going to be held as counter-invasion troops along the coast until after the big show is well on the way."
"Sure, we are old hands at beach defenses."
Units were distributed (troops were assigned to billets in houses, small hotels, and other buildings set aside for the purpose) according to the following station list:
The days in Cornwall - the "Riviera" or the "California" of Britain - where members of the Regiment made friends as they had done wherever they had been, where strands of barbed wire ran along the beaches to remind visitors of the very real threat of invasion of Britain itself only a few years earlier - those days again were days for more training and for more perpetration for eventual movement. The 35th Division had been assigned to the Third Army, and its commander was found to be none other than the redoubtable Lieutenant General George S. Patton Jr., who had disappeared from the Mediterranean some months earlier with the explanation that he was going to "command another army."
Soon directives and letters of instruction were coming from the colorful commander. Some excerpts from a letter of April 3, 1944, suggest some of his patterns of thought:
1. You will not simply mimeograph this and call it a day. You are responsible that these usages become habitual in your command.
1. There is only one sort of discipline - perfect discipline. Men cannot have a good battle discipline and poor administrative discipline.
* * * *
6. One of the primary purposes of discipline is to produce alertness. A man who is so lethargic that he fails to salute will fall an easy victim to any enemy.
7. Combat experience has proven that ceremonies, such as formal guard mounts, formal retreat formations, and regular and supervised reveille formations are a great help and, in some cases, essential to prepare men and officers for battle, to give them perfect discipline, that smartness of appearance, that alertness without which battles cannot be won.
* * * *
9. Officers are always on duty and their duty extends to every individual, junior to themselves, in the U. S. Army - not only to members of their own organization.
* * * *
III. Tactical Usages
1. a. (1) . . .
(2) There is only one tactical principle which is not subject to change. It is: "To use the means at hand to inflict the maximum amount of wounds, death, and destruction on the enemy in the minimum time."
* * * *
(8) The larger the force and the more violence you use in an attack, whether it be men, tanks, or ammunition, the smaller will be your proportional losses.
(10) Our mortars and our artillery are superb weapons when they are firing. When silent, they are junk - see that they fire!
b. (1) Use roads to march on, fields to fight on.
* * * *
(6) The effect of mines is largely mental. Not over 10 per cent of our casualties come from them. When they are encountered they must be passed through or around. There are not enough mines in the world to cover the whole country. It is cheaper to make a detour than to search; however, the engineers should start clearing the straight road while the advance elements continue to detour. See that all types of troops have mine detectors and know how to use them. You must - repeat - must get through!
(7) Never permit a unit to dig in until the final objective is reached, then dig, wire, and mine.
* * * *
(10) In battle, small forces - platoons, companies, and even battalions, can do one of three things - go forward, halt, or run. If they halt or run, they will be an even easier target. Therefore, they must go forward . . .
a. Infantry must move in order to close with the enemy. It must shoot in order to move. When physical targets are not visible, the fire of all infantry weapons must search the area probably occupied by the enemy. Us marching fire. It reduces the accuracy of his fire and increases our confidence. Shoot short. Ricochets make nastier sounds and wounds. To halt under fire is folly. To halt under fire and not fire back is suicide. Move forward out of fire. Officers must set the example.
The "marching fire" to which General Patton referred was a tactical concept of his which ran completely counter to traditional infantry doctrine. Now instead of movement from cover to cover by short rushes, and cover by fire from men in prone position, he proposed the movement forward of the entire platoon or company or battalion - moving forward steadily with every weapon blazing. The theory was the sound one that the flood of cracking bullets would tend to keep enemy heads down constantly, while the attacker could continue his advance without (relatively) too much difficulty.
There were special schools for selected officers and men of the Regiment, there were visitors to the unit for special instruction, there were special courses within the Regiment. Lt. Eldephonse C. Reischel, 3rd Battalion motor officer, Chief Warrant Officer Harry Dahlgren, assistant regimental maintenance officer; T/5 Willard Gambill, and T/5 Otto Ribben, went to Bideford for a school on the waterproofing of vehicles. Lt. Thomas F. Murray of the 1st Battalion, and Lt. Charles D. Hall of the 3rd Battalion went to Bristol for a week's bomb reconnaissance school. Major Godwin was ordered to a 10-day intelligence school in London, and Captain Elbert B. O"Keefe, assistant regimental S-2, and the battalion S-2's attended a longer combat intelligence course in the American School Center at Shrivenham. Captain Edward P. McGehee, of the Medical Detachment, a three weeks' field medical school. Lt. Col. Sheppard and the battalion executive officers attended a Transportation Quartermaster Conference and School. There were others - towed weapons waterproofing for cannon company and the anti-tankers, waterproofing of signal equipment for communication officer, a course in London on street fighting for two enlisted men.
Perhaps there was a sigh of relief on the part of men of the 134th when some of the suspense of awaiting impending developments was broken with the announcement of landings on the Normandy coast June 6. Perhaps there was some thanksgiving that they were yet in Cornwall, but at the same time there was the anticipation which sprang from the knowledge that soon the 134th Infantry surely would be called upon, and there was confidence in the conviction that training had been thorough, that esprit was real, that discipline was superior.
Instruction teams arrived from the 28th Division to conduct an amphibious school and an enemy weapons school. Captain Lumley of the 737th Tank Battalion conducted a conference with battalion commanders and S-3's and special units commanders and regimental staff on the organization of the medium tank battalion and of its employment with infantry.
Lt. Arthur Gertz, assistant personnel officer, conducted a school on morning report summaries and battle casualty reports for all company commanders, executive officers, first sergeants, next highest ranking N.C.O.'s, and assistant company clerks. There were further courses of instruction on amphibious operations, on firing German weapons; officers' schools on radio procedure and use of the slidex given by Captain Karlovich, communications officer; a class on civil affairs by Captain Martin of Third Army Headquarters, and Lt. Keltner, assistant regimental S-3; classes on mapping and the British grid system by Lieutenant Haugen; night scouting and patrolling exercises under the supervision of Major Godwin and Captain O'Keefe.
In addition to all of this - and more - specialized training, there were more of the normal training pursuits in the units - weapons firing, small unit tactical problems, marches. And still there was a time for a softball tournament, a volleyball tournament, Red Cross clubmobiles, movies, U.S.O shows, dances.
The Regiment found itself on the spot June 26 when General Eisenhower and General Patton elected to make a visit of inspection. But those distinguished officers found the 134th Infantry on its mettle. Captain Abbott took a guide party to meet the visitors, accompanied by the division commander and his staff, at Redruth in the late afternoon. They went directly to Hayle Range where they watched members of Company L running squad problems in a manner very much to their satisfaction. Then they moved over to Penzance where they watched the 1st Battalion in a retreat parade, and again there was reason for a favorable impression. In a short address to the troops at Penzance after the ceremony, General Eisenhower welcomed them to England and the ETO, and he spoke of the high state of training which the Regiment had achieved; he recognized the important role of the infantry and he called for its vigorous actions in the use of marching fire. Finally, he expressed his confidence in the ability of the Regiment to do whatever job might be assigned to it, and he looked to the future with the promise of a "party on the Rhine."
That the reaction of General Eisenhower and General Patton to what they had seen on their visit to the Regiment was a good one became clear in a conference in which the regimental commander talked with those two high officers and General Baade. It seems likely now that it was then that the thought to move the 35th Division up to an earlier sailing date for movement to France took root. In any case, a warning order came just five days later - 1 July - for movement to the marshalling area the next day. Moved up ahead of such divisions as the 28th and the 5th which had been overseas for some months, the 35th was to be the tenth infantry division to land in Normandy.
The earlier movement order did not, however, find the 134th Infantry and the 35th Division unprepared. In fact the "top secret" alert order had been received the evening before the original landings in Normandy. This was concerned primarily with security measures (i.e., denying the leak of any military information which might be useful to the enemy) and with directing the fulfilling of all instructions given in the "bible" covering such preparations: ETO - POM - SSV - (European Theater of Operations - Preparation for Overseas Movement - Short Sea Voyage).Subsequent administrative instructions (confidential) contained detailed instructions concerning the handling and carrying of all classes of supplies in moving to the marshalling areas and in embarking for the "short sea voyage" across the English Channel.
Movement orders were not issued to battalion and special unit commanders until shortly before midnight that same 1 July. A light rain was falling again as men of the 134th Infantry marched out early that Sunday morning (Lah We Lah His - "We Move on Sunday!") to the railway stations designated for the respective units. The Regiment was divided into two groups, one to go to Plymouth, the other to Falmouth. In one of the few mix-ups which members of the Transportation Corps made in all their dealings with the Regiment, Company M proceeded to Plymouth instead of Falmouth, but soon matters were set right.
Processing in the marshalling area was short; for the individuals, it consisted mainly of changing English pounds into French invasion francs.
The next day, 3 July, the troops moved by truck down to the hards, and then boarded ship. Some went directly aboard the Liberty ship and the British transport, HMS Javelin, while others, boarding and LSI (landing ship, infantry) were shuttled from the hard to the anchorage in smaller craft. By regimental order, all troops were dressed in long underwear and oily, smelly, protective clothing (herringbone twill treated to protect the wearer against mustard); this had been ordered to insure warmth on the channel and to keep the woolens free of dirt and salt water so that they would be usable on the other side. That evening the men watched the vehicles hoisted aboard and secured in the hold, and then gathered in groups around boxes of 10 to 1 rations to make their meals - some resorted to the expedient of cooking strips of canned bacon by laying it on steam pipes of the ship. Then they unrolled their blankets for an attempt at sleep on the decks, but they watched bomb reflections against the southern sky and streams of colored tracer bullets which made a beautiful, if disquieting, display during the night as though it were a planned prelude to the celebration of the Fourth of July.
When the vessels carrying the 134th Infantry pushed out through the choppy seas of the English Channel that Independence Day, they were found to be but a few of the scores of ships plying between the coasts of Britain and Normandy. Debarkation (by landing craft) at the beach - the beach called "Omaha," much to the satisfaction and nostalgic sentiments of the members of "Nebraska's Own" 134th - proceeded during 5 July (the 3rd Battalion had to wait till the next day to go ashore).
Omaha beach was a busy place. Ships were anchored everywhere, with lighters, and rafts, and landing craft, and DUKW's (2 1/2-ton amphibious trucks) carrying cargo to shore (an audible sigh swept over the Liberty ship when the men saw a mail pouch dropped into the water from a neighboring vessel as it was being unloaded). Silver barrage balloons floated over the beach and C-47 transport planes took off every few minutes from the air strip. All this activity was striking commentary on the relative impotence of the Luftwaffe.
The 134th Infantry, first element of the 35th Division, had landed in Normandy on D + 30. As the soldiers of the Regiment marched up that familiar path, up the hill past the knocked-out German pill box, and later, as they passed a new American cemetery near Colleville-sur-Mer, everyone seemed to sense the deep debt which he owed to the men who had hit the beach to prepare the way.
|"Omaha Beach on D + 30"|
|"Command Performance: Col. Miltonberger, Lt. Col. Sheppard, Lt. Col. Wilson (2nd Bn), Lt. Col. Thomsen (3rd Bn), Maj. Boatsman (1st Bn)"|
|"Assembled regimental regular and special staffs at Camp Butner - P.O.M. Qualified!"|
|"C. O., Ex., and Capt. Abbott, Capt. Craig, Maj. Morton"|
|"Capt. Melcher supervises the beach-combing activities of K Company at Marazion"|
|"The 2nd Battalion . . . "|
|". . . went to St. Ives"|
|"Gen. Eisenhower, Gen. Baade, Col. Miltonberger, Gen. Patton, Col. Solomon: they were favorably impressed"|
|"General Ike watched the retreat parade at Penzance . . . and promised a party on the Rhine"|
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