American unit serving with the 8th Army in North Africa

Discussion in 'North Africa & the Med' started by DaveB, Sep 23, 2017.

  1. DaveB

    DaveB Very Senior Member

    Has anyone seen mention of this American unit serving with the 8th Army in North Africa? All I know so far is based on mentions made in the book referred to below plus mentions of the unit I found via Google concerning their efforts in Italy.

    The veteran involved was already in the army when the US entered WW2, and was sent over to North Africa on board the Queen Mary. The family remembers him talking about serving under Montgomery as part of the British 8th Army. After the campaign in North Africa he participated in the invasion of Sicily and then the landings at Salerno. The family have photos showing the visit of King George VI to Africa.

    United States Army in World War II: The Technical Services: The Ordnance Department (On Beachhead and Battlefront) by Lida Mayo - Published by the Center of Military History, United States Army - Washington, D.C., 1991

    The first Ordnance unit sent to the Middle East, the 525th Heavy Maintenance Company (Tank), did not arrive until 22 June 1942, debarking from the Queen Mary along with 12,000 British reinforcements picked up in Scotland, after a long voyage around the Cape of Good Hope.

    Gruver reported that “all of us here in the Middle East were thrilled at their arrival,” but there was considerable disappointment when it was discovered that the company had arrived without its hand tools or any transportation, the latter a most serious lack since the company had been designed as a mobile maintenance unit to support the British in the desert operations. While waiting for its trucks to arrive, the company was sent to the British Tel-el-Kebir tank shop on the outskirts of Cairo, quartered in tents dug into the sand, with a mess hall described by the company historian as “a large, canvas-covered building addicted to tea, corn beef, and flies.”

    But the stay at the Tel-el-Kebir shop was short. Rommel, having taken Tobruk on 21 June and won a brilliant victory at Matruh a week later, was at El Alamein at the beginning of July, posing so serious a threat to Cairo that many units were evacuated from the city, including the American Ordnance company.

    On 2 July the company was sent by ship to Asmara Arsenal in Eritrea and remained there about two months. Then it was flown back to Cairo to open the Heliopolis tank shop. After the British breakthrough at El Alamein in November 1942, the 525th was sent out with Lt. Gen. Sir Bernard L. Montgomery’s Eighth Army in the pursuit of Rommel and helped the British considerably in advanced workshops at Benghazi and Tripoli. The 525th was the only American company attached to Eighth Army at the time. (page 21)
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  2. DaveB

    DaveB Very Senior Member

    Near Ferryville the 42nd Battalion was waterproofing its vehicles for its D plus 8 landing and drawing supplies from a large Ordnance depot installed by Eastern Base Section in the seaplane hangars at the French Navy Yard. In the shop section of the depot there was an Ordnance unit with an interesting history—the 525th Heavy Maintenance Company (Tank)), recently arrived from Tripoli. Having crossed the Western Desert with Montgomery’s Eighth Army and operated shops at Benghazi and Tripoli, repairing everything from English revolvers to captured German 88’s, the company had been brought to Tunisia in early June to prepare the tanks of the 2nd Armored Division for the invasion of Sicily. There it came under U.S. control for the first time in its year of overseas service. The men had gotten along well with the British, but never got used to tea. (page 159)

    As the infantry divisions pushed north from Salerno to Cassino along the edge of the Neapolitan plain—the Campania felix of green winter wheat, Lombardy poplars, and orchards—and into rocky hills and somber mountains blanketed with rain clouds and reverberating with the roar of guns, the Ordnance units followed close behind. By the end of October Colonel Rose’s 6694th Ordnance Group headquarters, which had landed with the D plus 12 convoy, had 7 battalions with 29 companies, a total of nearly 6,000 men. Most of the men were veterans of Sicily or Tunisia. They came from Palermo or Bizerte on LSTs and LCTs with their shop trucks, cargo trucks, vans, and jeeps, and found Italy a welcome change. The men of the 525th Heavy Maintenance Tank Company, the unit that had served with the British in the Libyan desert, had the first fresh fruit they had tasted since they left home in May of 1942. (page 182)

    An American Ordnance unit that could boast a battle history dating back to Tobruk blamed its presence at Anzio on its proclivity for always being in the worst place at the worst time. At Anzio and Nettuno, two neighboring resort towns on the coast south of Rome, the Allies were pinned down by the Germans for four months on a small beachhead about seven miles deep and fifteen miles wide. Every inch of it was under German artillery fire. Nobody was safe. Depot men, repairmen, truck drivers, clerks, all were as likely to be hit as a man in the front lines. The very sidewalks of Anzio had shell holes in them. Military police were occasionally killed while directing traffic. In the first two months Ordnance lost 14 men killed and 78 wounded. The total battle casualties for the whole period at Anzio, 22 January–24 May 1944, were about 5,000 killed in action and nearly 16,000 wounded. (page 191 - unit not mentioned by name)
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  3. DaveB

    DaveB Very Senior Member

    On 27 December 1943 Colonel Niblo informed the officers of the 45th Ordnance Battalion—the forward battalion supporting VI Corps—that they were going to handle Ordnance service at Anzio. Only the headquarters was nominated to go. The companies then under the battalion were relieved, and Maj. Marshall S. David, commanding officer of the battalion, was allowed to select the companies he wanted. He selected from the 42nd Battalion the 14th Medium Maintenance Company, which was already supporting the 3rd Division; from the 87th Battalion, the 45th Medium Maintenance Company, a good all-around company; from the 188th Battalion, the 3407th Medium Maintenance Company (Q), experienced in the maintenance of DUKW’s; from the r97th Ordnance Battalion, a detachment of the 525th Heavy Maintenance Company (Tank); and from the 62nd Ammunition Battalion, the 66th and 58th Ammunition Companies. In the assault wave, only the ammunition companies went in entire; the maintenance companies were represented by small advance detachments totaling a hundred men, nearly half of them for DUKW maintenance. The rear detachments were scheduled to proceed overland and join their units as the attack progressed toward Rome.

    When it became obvious that the operation was not going according to plan, the rear detachments were hastily loaded on LSTs and brought to the beachhead, arriving in the middle of a storm four days after D-day. The combat troop build-up a few days later of another infantry division, half an armored division, and additional field artillery, tank destroyer, and antiaircraft battalions made it necessary for Niblo to add to his Ordnance strength another medium maintenance company skilled in artillery maintenance, the 101st, an antiaircraft maintenance company, the 262nd, and a depot company, the 77th. He also sent in a detachment of the 476th Tank Evacuation Company and a platoon of the 2622nd Tank Transporter Company to provide wrecker service for tanks mired in muddy fields or immobilized by mines. Anzio by then had 1,886 Ordnance men, of whom 73 were officers.

    Major David, who landed on the evening of D-day, gave Maj. Madison Post, his maintenance officer, the job of supervising dewaterproofing, and set up the 45th Ordnance Battalion headquarters and the Ordnance depot in a group of buildings arranged in a quadrangle around a courtyard, a compound formerly used by an Italian Army elite corps. Parts were stored in the horse stalls of the stables. Profiting by his experience at Salerno, when he had to break crates open in order to find out what was in them, David had ordered an inventory in a waterproof envelope to be tacked onto each box of supplies; he carried with him a master packing list showing the part number, correct nomenclature, quantity, and box number of each item shipped. This master list was extremely useful in operating the depot.

    Across the field from the compound, the 45th Medium Maintenance Company was bivouacked around a villa with palm trees. The men of the 525th Tank Maintenance Company found some buildings at Nettuno with concrete floors that made them ideal for shops; and the 3407th Medium Maintenance Company (Q) set up its DUKW shop area on hard ground north of Nettuno. The 14th Maintenance Company, supporting the 3rd Division, was closer to the front than any other company, but nowhere was the front far away. From the roof of the compound Major David could see the front lines and the hills from which the German artillery was methodically shelling the beachhead. (page 194 / 195)
  4. idler

    idler GeneralList

    Not heard of the unit, but have seen a photo of US troops attached to a Grant-equipped(?) British tank unit at this sort of time. Can't find the photo at the moment. I'd always assumed that they were American tankies, but it's possible that they were from the maintenance company. Bully, brews and bluebottles in the open air would have made a nice change from having it in a tent.
  5. idler

    idler GeneralList

    PS. If I get the chance later, I will have s look to see if there's a mention in the RAOC and REME histories.
  6. Steve Mac

    Steve Mac Very Senior Member

    The USA supplied the British with a lot of Grant tanks around this time - 138 by the end of May 1942. On landing, they were delivered to the British by US tank crews (and I suggest, likely maintained by a US maintenance unit initially, until a skills transfer to the British REME).

    I know that some US tank delivery crews got caught up in the Gazala/Knightsbridge battles.

    From 'Together We Stand' (James Holland), Page 141:

    "...Rommel was on the warpath once more, sweeping northwards towards Knightsbridge during the afternoon of 11 June [1942]. At 6.30 pm, dust clouds were spotted from the south, and the Grants of both 1 and 6 RTR lined up, hull down, on the agreed battle line. Shortly after 7 O'clock, a few long-range shots whistled through the evening sky.

    ...Three more Grants reached 1 RTR during the night, all manned by American crews. Although the Americans were supposed to hand them over to British crews, not enough men could be found to man them, and so they stayed with them, becoming amongst the first American troops on the ground to fight against the Germans in the Second World War."

    Reminds me of the film Sahara (1943), starring Humphrey Bogart. He played an American Grant tank commander caught up in these battles. A great film.
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  7. DaveB

    DaveB Very Senior Member

    Thanks Idler, the photo sounds promising and it would be cool if something was in the RAOC / REME histories from that time.

    Steve - some great info there. The timeline just misses the arrival of the 525th in theatre, but it does otherwise match what the family remember about the bloke involved. Although he was Ordnance Corps he did apparently recount stories of being co-opted as a tank crewman. His unit arrived 22 June 1942 and the Knightsbridge action was 11 June 1942 - but it still would make sense as surely they would have needed replacement personnel after that action.

    Also, good advice on Sahara - I will pass that on too
  8. DaveB

    DaveB Very Senior Member

    Last edited: Oct 1, 2017
  9. DaveB

    DaveB Very Senior Member

    Armored Thunderbolt: The U.S. Army Sherman in World War II by Zaloga

    Attached Files:

  10. Orwell1984

    Orwell1984 Senior Member

  11. DaveB

    DaveB Very Senior Member

    Thanks Orwell - so he was an observer with the British before America had even entered WW2

    I wonder what the parent command was for 142nd Armored Signal Company and what other US Army personnel were with him at the time
  12. idler

    idler GeneralList

    I'd nearly given up! Nothing leapt out in the RAOC hisory, but the REME one says:
  13. Orwell1984

    Orwell1984 Senior Member

    142nd Armoured Signal Company was part of the US 2nd Armored Division.
    2nd Armored Division (United States) - Wikipedia

    In addition this book excerpt gives some more detail on early American advisors in North Africa.
    Preparing for Combat Overseas: Patton's Desert Training Center
    Last edited: Sep 26, 2017
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  14. Slipdigit

    Slipdigit Old Hickory Recon

    I dug out my copy of Unit Citation and Campaign Participation Credit Register, July 1961.

    The 525th Ordinance Heavy Maintenance Company earned a campaign star for the Egypt/Libya Campaign. The Egypt/Libya Campaign is how the US Army designated units that participated in the Western Desert Campaign, supporting the British efforts there.
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  15. DaveB

    DaveB Very Senior Member

    Thanks Idler - it appears that there are some details available on this small band of US Army personnel, but not much. Certainly surprising to find out that they were in the desert as early as 1940 as observers.

    Thanks Orwell - the book mentions the 66th Armored Regiment / 2nd Armored Division of which the 142nd Armored Signal Company was a part. The book also mentions the 3 American tank crews that saw action at Gazala under the command of Major Henry Cabot Lodge (but I don't think he was physically there).

    Good info Jeff - that campaign star can't have been handed out to many units.

    Here are a couple of relevant photos I found online:

    M3 Grant tank with an American sergeant instructor lecturing troops - 17 February 1942 (IWM E 8493)

    M3 Lee arrives in the Western Desert

    Attached Files:

  16. Osborne2

    Osborne2 Well-Known Member

    From June 1940 onwards, US officers, in what was then a very secret delegation, were in London and planning the eventual US campaigns in Europe and potentially the Far East. Plenty on this in Fold3 and US Official Histories. In the beginning these meetings were largely naval and then expanded to include air and ground. The Fall of France seems to me to have been the stimulus for this.
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  17. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron

    Not directly a comment on this US Army unit, rather a pointer to an American officer who had quite an impact in the Middle East. Thanks to a 2016 comment by an American contact.

    His story starts with: There was the potential tinderbox of surrendered Italian small arms in 1941. The piles of weaponry were slated to be sent to the rapidly expanding Indian Army, primarily as training sets.
    However, most of it was sitting barely secured at the port of Asmara and if it fell into the hands of Ethiopian bandits ('shifta'), that whole region would have dissolved into chaos.
    Colonel Jarrett (Ordnance Corps, USA) arrived with an Ordnance Company (armed only with pistols) at Asmara in late 1941. Jarrett assessed that the K98 Mausers left behind by interned German merchant sailors were 'close enough' to 1903 Springfields to warrant their issue to the unarmed technical workers, thereby preventing a complete fumble.

    Best of all for this thread he provided a link to a long article on Colonel Jarrett and his exploits: George Burling Jarrett: The Origins of Modern U.S. Ordnance Technical Intelligence- Part II
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