SECOND UNITED STATES CAVALRY – A HISTORY
Compiled, edited and published by Historical Section, Second Cavalry Association
Maj. A. L. Lambert and Cpt. G. B. Layton, 2d Cavalry
by Sgt. Tom M. Griffin, H&S Troop, 42d Squadron
17 May, 1944
The big Camp at Bewdley (map CB) buzzed with tension. For the hundreds of eager ETO rookies, newly arrived from the States, it was a great day in their lives. This day marked their first taste of “the real thing”, for now they were not puppets in O.D. going through the motions of soldiering, with 3000 miles of water between them and English soil, but actually in the heart of Britain itself, awaiting the coming of that legendary figure, Lt. General George S. Patton Jr., “Old Blood and Guts” himself, about whom many a colorful chapter will be written for the school boys of tomorrow. Patton, of the brisk, purposeful stride, the harsh, compelling voice, the lurid vocabulary, the grim indomitable spirit that carried him and his Army to glory in Africa and Sicily, “America’s fightin’est General” they called him. He was not a “Desk Commando”, but the man who was sent for when the going got rough and a fighter was needed. The most hated and feared American of all on the part of the German Army. Patton was coming, and the stage was being set.
He would address the XII Corps of his own Third Army, of which he had only lately been in command – a move that was to have a far-reaching effect on the global war that was at the moment a secret in the files at Washington.
The new men saw the camp turn out en mass for the first time in full uniform. Today their marching was not lackadaisical. It was serious, and the men felt the difference, from the Officers in charge of the Companies and Troops on down. In long columns they marched down the hill from the barracks, counting cadence, turned left up the rise and so down into the roped-off field where the General was to speak. Brass and stripes were everywhere. Soon, by Company and Troop, the hillside was a solid mass of O.D. It was a beautiful, fresh English morning, the tall trees lining the road swaying gently in the breeze. Across a field a British farmer calmly tilled his soil. High upon a hill nearby a group of English huddled together awaiting the coming of the General. M.P.’s in white leggings, belts and helmets, where everywhere, brisk and grim.
Twitterings of birds could be heard above the dull murmur of the crowd, and soft white clouds floated lazily overhead as the men settled themselves and lit cigarettes. On the special platform near the speaker’s stand, Colonels and Majors were a dime a dozen. Behind the platform stood General Patton’s Guard of Honor, specially chosen men. At their right was the band, playing rousing marches while the crowd waited, and on the platform a nervous Sergeant repeatedly tested the loudspeaker. The moment drew nearer, and necks craned to view the tiny winding road that led to Stourport-on-Severn (map CB).
A Captain stepped to the microphone. “When the General arrives”, he said sonorously, “the band will play the General’s March and you will stand at attention”.
By now the rumor had gotten around that Lt. Gen. Simpson, commanding the Fourth Army, was to be with General Patton. The men stirred expectantly, two of the big boys in one day! At last the long black car, shining resplendently in the bright sun, roared up the road, proceeded by a jeep full of M.P.’s. A Captain near the road turned and waved frantically, and the men rose as one, as a dead hush fell over the hillside. There he came. Impeccably dressed, with high Cavalry boots and gleaming helmet, Patton strode down the incline and straight to the stiff-backed Guard of Honor. He looked them up and down, peered intently into their faces, surveyed their backs. He moved through the ranks of the statuesque band like an avenging wraith, and immediately mounted the platform, with Lt. Gen. Simpson and Major Gen. Cook, XII Corps Commander, at his side.
The Corps Chaplain gave the invocation, the men standing with bowed heads, asking divine guidance for the great Third Army that they might help speed Victory to an enslaved Europe. Major Gen. Cook then introduced Lt. Gen. Simpson, whose Army was still in America, preparing for their own part in the War.
“We are here”, said General Simpson, “to listen to the words of a great man. A man who will lead you all into whatever you may face with heroism, ability and foresight. A man who has proven himself amid shot and shell. My greatest hope is that someday soon I will have my own great Army fighting with him side by side.”
General Patton arose and strode swiftly to the microphone. The men snapped to their feet and stood silently. Patton surveyed them grimly. “Be seated!” The words were not a request, but a command. The General’s voice rose, high and clear!
“Men, this stuff we here about America wanting to stay out of the War, not wanting to fight, is a lot of crap! Americans love to fight – traditionally. All real Americans love the sting and clash of battle. When you were kids you all admired the champion marble player, the fastest runner, the big league ball players, the toughest boxers. Americans love a winner and will not tolerate a loser. Americans despise cowards. Americans play to win – all the time. I wouldn’t give a hoot in hell for a man who lost and laughed. That’s why Americans have never lost, nor ever will lose a War, for the very thought of losing is hateful to an American.”
He paused and looked over the silent crowd. “You are not all going to die. Only two percent of you here, in a major battle, would die. Death must not be feared. Every man is frightened at first in battle. If he says he isn’t, he’s a god damned liar. Some men are cowards, yes. But they fight just the same, or get the hell shamed out of them watching men who do fight who are just as scared. The real hero is the man who fights even though he is scared. Some get over their fright in a minute under fire, some take an hour. For some it takes days. But the real man never lets fear of death overpower his honor, his sense of duty to his country, and his innate manhood. All through your Army career you men have bitched about what you call ‘this chickenshit drilling’. That is all for a purpose. Drilling and discipline must be maintained in an Army, if only for one reason: Instant obedience to orders and to create constant alertness. I don’t give a damn for a man who is not always on his toes. You men are veterans, or you wouldn’t be here. You are ready. A man, to continue breathing, must be alert at all times. If not, sometime a German son-of-a-bitch will sneak up behind him and beat him to death with a sock full of shit!”
The men roared. Patton’s grim expression did not change. “There are 400 neatly marked graves somewhere in Sicily” he roared, “all because one man went to sleep on his job”. He paused and the men grew silent. “But they are German graves”, he said softly, “for we caught the fathead asleep before they did!”
The General clenched the microphone tightly, his jaw out-thrust. “An Army is a team. Lives, sleeps, eats and fights as a team. This individual heroic stuff is a lot of crap. The bilious fatheads who write that kind of stuff for the Saturday Evening Post don’t know any more about real battle than they do about sweating.”
The men slapped their legs and rolled in glee. This was the old boy as they imagined him and in rare form. He had it.
“We have the best food, the finest equipment, the best spirit, and the best men in the world!” Patton bellowed. He lowered his head and shook it pensively. Suddenly he snapped his head up, facing the men belligerently, “Why, By God!” he thundered, “I actually pity those poor sons-of bitches we’re going up against. By God, I do!” The men clapped and howled delightedly. There would be many a barracks tale about the old man’s choice phrases. This would become part and parcel of Third Army history.
“My men don’t surrender” Patton continued. “I don’t want to hear of any soldier under my command being captured unless he is hit. Even if you are hit you can still fight. That’s not just bologna either. The kind of a man I want under me is the Lieutenant in Libya, who, with one Luger against his chest, jerked off his helmet, swept the gun aside with one hand and busted hell out of the Boche with the helmet. Then he jumped on the gun and went out and killed another German! All that time this man has a bullet through a lung! That’s a man for you!”
He halted and the crowd waited. “All the real heroes are not storybook combat fighters, either”, he went on. “Every single man in the Army plays a vital part. Every little job is essential to the whole scheme. What if every truck driver suddenly decided that he didn’t like the whine of those shells and turned yellow and jumped headlong into the ditch? He could say to himself they won’t miss me – just one guy in thousands! What if every man said that? Where in hell would we be now? No, thank God, Americans don’t say that. Every man does his job. Every man serves the whole. Every department, every unit is important in the vast scheme of things. The Ordnance men are needed to supply the guns, the Quartermaster to bring up the food and clothe us – for where we’re going there isn’t a hell of a lot to steal! Every damn last man in the mess hall, even the one who heats the water to keep us from getting diarrhea, has a job to do. Even the Chaplain is important, for if we got killed and he was not there to bury us, we’d all go to hell! We don’ t want yellow cowards in the Army. They should be killed off like flies. If not, they will go back home after the War and breed more cowards. The brave man will breed more brave men. Kill off the god damned cowards and we’ll have a nation of brave men.”
“I saw on top of a telegraph pole in the midst of furious fire while we were in the Africa Campaign one of the bravest men whose courage was outstanding. I stopped and asked him what the hell he was doing up there at that time. He answered -‘Fixing the wire, Sir’. ‘Isn’t it a little unhealthy right now?’, I asked. ‘Yes, Sir, but this damn wire’s gotta be fixed!’ There was a man who devoted his all to his duty, no matter how great the odds, no matter how seemingly insignificant his duty may have seemed at the time. You should have seen those trucks on the road to Gabes. The drivers were magnificent! All day they crawled along those roads under fire, never deviating from their course, with shells bursting all round them. We got through on good old American guts. Many of the men drove over 40 consecutive hours.”
The General paused, staring challengingly out over the silent sea of faces. You could have heard a pin drop anywhere on that vast hillside. The only sound was the breeze stirring the leaves and the animated chirping of birds in the branches on the General’s left.
“Don’t forget”, Patton barked, “You don’t know I’m here at all. No word of that fact is to be mentioned in any letters. The world is not supposed to know what the hell they did with me. I’m not supposed to be commanding this god damned Army. I’m not even supposed to be in England. Let the first boneheads to find out be the god damned Germans! Some day I want them to raise up on their hind legs and howl – Judas Priest, it’s the god damned Third Army and that son-of-a-bitch Patton again!”
The men roared and cheered delightedly. This statement had real significance behind it – much more than met the eye, and the men instinctively sensed the fact, and the telling mark they themselves would play in world history because of it – and they were being told as much right now. Deep sincerity and seriousness lay behind the General’s colorful words, and well the men knew it, but they loved the way he put it and only he could do it.
“We want to get the hell over there”, Patton yelled. “We want to get over there and clean the damn thing up. And then we’ll have to take a little jaunt against the purple pussed Japanese and clean their nest out too, before the Marines get all the damn credit.”
The crowd laughed, and Patton continued more quietly, “Sure we all want to go home. We want this thing over with. But you can’t win a War lying down. The quickest way to get it over with is to go get the boneheads. The quicker they are whipped the quicker we go home. The shortest way home is through Berlin! When a man is lying in a shell hole, if he just stays there all day the Boche will get him eventually, and probably get him first. The hell with taking it! Give it to him first! There is no such thing as a -‘Foxhole War’ any more. Foxholes only slow up an offensive. Keep moving! We’ll win this War, but we’ll win it only by fighting and by showing our guts!” He paused and his eagle-like eyes swept over the hillside.
“There’s one great thing you men will be able to say when you go home. You may all thank God for it. Thank God that at least, thirty years from now when you are sitting around the fireside with your grandson on your knee and he asks you what you did in the great World War II, you won’t say, I shoveled shit in Louisiana!”
The Group was attached to Base Section, Service of Supply on May 15 and directed to form four groups to move to the marshalling area (map MA) on the south coast of England to assist in mounting troops for the invasion.
Both the 2d and 42d Squadrons formed forward echelons, each divided into two parts to accomplish this mission, and organized the remainder of the Squadron into rear echelons to continue drawing unit equipment and running the base camp.
All forward echelons departed Camp Bewdley by rail 18 May, the two from 2d Squadron going to Torquay (map E)(map MA) and Plymouth (map E)(map MA), and the two from 42d Squadron going to Dorchester (map E)(map SE) and Glen Eyre. On the 23rd of May, the Group Commander, the assistant S-3, Chaplain from Group Headquarters, and a 1st Lt. from the 2d Cav Sq. were sent on detached service to Southern Base Section, XVI District where the Group Commander assumed command of the marshalling area camps in the district. Orders were received on the same day from Hq Third Army to move the Group and Squadron rear echelons from Camp Bewdley (map E) to Camp Fargo, Larkhill, Wiltshire, England (map E)(map SE) for a permanent change of station.
Advance parties were sent down to Camp Fargo on May 24th to arrange for billeting areas. The following day when the Group (minus) arrived at Fargo they found hundreds of sagging pyramidal tents on irregular lines which they immediately attacked with a will and soon had fashioned into a neat, well ordered layout that was organized by Squadrons and Troops.
Supply officers continued to draw equipment from the different supply points located throughout England. As the various equipment was drawn, rear echelon crews performed the necessary maintenance to insure proper working condition. Modifications were made on the different vehicles. For example, the addition of a wire cutter on the front of all 1/4 ton trucks, racks to carry equipment and gas, and bags on the floors of all 1/4 ton trucks, and extra armor plate on the floor of armored cars.
In the meantime the forward echelons of both Squadrons were processing the troops for the Invasion.
The Group Commander relinquished command of marshalling area camps in XVI District Southern Base Section to the CO of 29th Inf. Regt. on 4 June and returned to assume command of the Second Cavalry Group.
On June 6th the long expected move to the continent started. The first indication that “D” day had arrived was the thousands of planes, bombers and fighters of all types, that passed over Camp Fargo and the south coast of England, starting in the early morning and heading towards France.
All during the day the sky appeared to be alive with aircraft making the England – France run.
In the marshalling area the Squadron forward echelons assisted in the debarkation of the returning wounded and German prisoners captured by the assault forces, as well as aiding the build up forces in their embarkation.
With the arrival of D-day, every member of the Group appeared to feel that the goal for which we had trained was near. Now we just waited to receive our mission.
On 9 June one Platoon from Troop B 2d Squadron was assigned duty at SHAEF as security guard.
The Group Commander ordered the construction of a model terrain relief map showing the invasion area. The Intelligence Officers of both Squadrons assisted by T/Sgt. John W. Pradka prepared a relief model from sand and concrete showing the principal towns, rivers, roads and various terrain features at a scale of 1:20,000 in plan and 1:2000 in elevation. Upon this map were placed the opposing forces by numbered divisions as they were identified in situation reports coming back from the beach head.
Each day the Group Commander held a discussion around this map as the progress of the invading troops was plotted. In order to assure the attention and interest of all, every officer had to draw a map from memory of the invaded area showing all main terrain features, and when Squadron forward echelons returned to Camp Fargo on 22 June a relief map was constructed in each Troop area.
Intensive training was resumed upon arrival of the men who had now been released from marshalling area duties in the XVII District of the Southern Base Section.
Weapons training was initiated, and on June 24 order of battle classes began, followed by exercises in the laying of mines and marking of mine fields. Assault gun drill and tank tactics were reviewed. Then on 27 June movement orders were received alerting the Group for movement to the continent. At the same time briefing instructions arrived giving the mission to be performed and the probable date of embarkation. The mission of the Second Cavalry Group was to function as line of communications troops under instructions of G-3 Adv Section Communications Zone for the protection of areas and installations in rear of Army rear boundary. The readiness date was anytime on or after 2 July 1944.
Training continued with the inclusion of French and German language classes, and on the last day of June the Group turned out for its first full scale parade for the first time since we left the U.S.A. Morale was very high and all Troops made an excellent showing.
The first few days of July increased the tempo of the training by the addition of further Officer and NCO classes in the use of slidex and authentication, with Capt. John S. Higgins, Capt. Jeremiah C. Ryan and Capt. Reynolds M. Steinbach providing expert instruction. Sand table classes were also added with each Troop discussing their respective roles in problems prepared by Group Headquarters. Tank and assault gun drill were strongly stressed in preparation for range firing, as the ammunition had been procured and the ranges arranged for during the preceding month.
In Recognition of the 4th of July a formal Group Parade was held on the grounds immediately in rear of the camp area. This was on the Salisbury Plains (map E)(map SE), once called the Field of the Cloth of Gold due to the lavish tournaments held there by early English kings. And it was within sight of the famed Stone Henge, ruins of a sacrificial temple from the days of the Druids. A fitting setting for the display of the pride and precision that the Second Cavalry Group put on that fair day for the many visitors, including the staffs of the 25th and 127th General Hospitals. Included among the British visitors present were Brigadier Snow, British Commander of the XVI District Southern Base Section, and his staff; Lt. Col. Ellison, Commander of the 6th Glider Training Regt. (British), and his staff; and many others. The parade was very successful and all visitors left very much impressed with the smartness of the men.
For the next few days weapons training was increasingly stressed in preparation for range firing from 8 – 15 July on the Tidworth Range (map SE).
An order was received on the 11th of July authorizing an advance party to proceed the Group on the voyage to the continent. Major T.B. Hargis, Group S-3, Capt. Stewart, Group assistant S-2, and Pvt. Gawrylik were sent by the Group Commander as the advance party with the mission to make the necessary arrangements to receive the Group when it arrived on the continent.
Range firing was completed on July 14th, and the next day and greater part of the night were spent in combat loading of vehicles. When dawn broke all Troops were loaded and the Group Hq. and Hq. Troop cleared Camp Fargo at 0715 for the marshalling area at Broadmayne (camp SE) forty-five miles to the south. The 2d Cav Sq. followed at 0741 and the 42d Cav Sq. at 0945. Upon reaching Broadmayne Troops camouflaged all vehicles and then moved to the billeting area for further processing and completing of reports and forms.
Here each man received 200 Francs in French currency, the equivalent of four Dollars, and were alerted for movement to the port of embarkation, Portland (map E)(map SE), on the southern coast of England.
Upon reaching Portland the Troops entered a temporary assembly area, then loaded on board the waiting LST’s (landing ship, tank). This was quickly and successfully completed and all vehicles were lashed down and men located in their cabins. After loading had been completed each LST immediately left its berth on the beach and anchored in its designated position off Portland to await the completion of the convoy which did not sail until 0500 19 July 1944. During the time the Troops were boarding the LST, and the forming of the convoy, strong air protection was afforded by the aircraft and AA units.
With the weather warm and clear the convoy cleared Portland as scheduled bound for Utah Beach <map UB) on the Cherbourg Peninsula in France.