701st Railway Grand Division

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701st Railway Grand Division Dave Kaufman With the outbreak of WW II, the War Department was faced with the serious problem of moving vast amounts of personnel, supplies, equipment and vehicles over great distances in the shortest time possible. The solution was to utilize the American railroad system. The strength of America’s railroads lay in its management, corporate direction, personnel, and equipment. The US Army Military Railway Service (MRS) was formed, from a nucleus of several reserve
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  TRADING POST43With the outbreak of WW II, the WarDepartment was faced with the serious prob-lem of moving vast amounts of personnel,supplies, equipment and vehicles overgreat distances in the shortest time pos-sible. The solution was to utilize the Ameri-can railroad system. The strength of America’s railroads lay in its management,corporate direction, personnel, and equip-ment. The US Army Military Railway Ser-vice (MRS) was formed, from a nucleus of several reserve railway units. While some25,000 railroad personnel ended up in theMRS, more than 351,000 railroad personnelserved in all branches of the armed forcesduring the war. 1 Railroads “sponsored” MRS units,putting their railroad personnel into thesame MRS unit. Former railway employeesin civilian life became military engineers,military brakemen, military yardmen, andmilitary office workers. Sponsored unitsincluded railway operating battalions(ROBs), railway shop battalions (RSBs),and railway grand divisions (RGDs). TheROBs were the engineers, firemen andbrakemen; the RSBs conducted major over-hauls ands repairs to equipment; and theRGDs performed administrative duties simi The 701st RGD wore a scroll of blue wool,red broder, and white lettering over theAFHQ SSI. lar to that of the administrative office of arailroad. The RGDs had personnel with pre-vious civilian railroad experience, from cleri-cal to stationmaster, those with specific civilengineering skills, and coordinated thefunctions of two or more ROBs and RSBs.Each RGD had a HQ & HQ Co, commandedby a “General Superintendent” (lieutenantcolonel) and his staff (25 officers, 56 EM).There were five subordinate units in eachdivision; an administrative section, andfour technical sections: Equipment, Engi-neering, Stores, and Transportation. Even-tually, a new technical section was added:Finance.   2 The 701st Railway Grand Division wasactivated at Ft. Snelling, MN January 11,1943, under Col J. E. Guilfoyle. The spon-soring railroad was the NY Central. Sev-eral other RGDs were activated in the sametime frame and trained there simultaneously.According to former T-3 Gunther Holpp,“We had new men transferred in who hadnot had basic infantry training prior to theirassignment to us. They had a choice – theycould take an abbreviated basic with us, orbe transferred to another unit”.   3 As with the other RGDs that trained atFt. Snelling, the 701st had a one month pe-riod of technical training, using some of the offices of the Commerce Building indowntown St. Paul, MN. RGD personnelalso worked in and around the Twin CityTerminals, monitoring troop trains and stud-ied car records and other documents. Themain office, some of the properties and work crews of the Great Northern RR also pro-vided “on the job training” for the RGDs.T-3 Gilbert Malm recalled, “I joined theMRS in Dec 1942 and had no previous rail- 701st Railway Grand Division Dave Kaufman 1. Ziel, Ron “Steel Rails to Victory” HawthornBooks, Inc., NY 1970 pg 762. Kaufman, Dave “709th Railway Grand Divi-sion”, The Trading Post J-M 2002 ASMIC 2002pg 173. Interview with author 701st RGD, taken at Ft. Snelling, MN in 1943.  44JULY-SEPTEMBER 2004road experience. I was assigned to theTransportation Section of the 701st RGDas a stenographer in early 1943. My sec-tion had some technical training in the Com-merce Building in St. Paul.” 4 Holpp recalled, “In April `43, we hadorders to move out. Because of the secrecy,we were given the title of TF (Task Force)1254L We left Ft. Snelling by train on April20th, arriving at Union Station in Chicago,IL, where we transferred to another line,this one the Pennsylvania RR to CampKilmer, NJ by April 22nd. Four days later,we were at NYPOE, and departed in a multi-ship convoy. We were on the USS Orizaba,formerly a passenger ship, used as a troopcarrier in WW I. There were approximately1700 GIs on board, and we didn’t knowwhere we were going. We zigzagged acrossthe Atlantic. About halfway to our intendedlocation, half the ships went one way andthe other half went a different way. We wentthrough the Straits of Gibraltar, and disem-barked at Oran, Algeria on May 11, 1943.We learned that the other ships in our con-voy went to Casablanca, Morocco.‘We were jammed onto a French-runpassenger train and four days later foundourselves in Casablanca. We had a goodlaugh over that. We didn’t know if we goton the wrong boat, or what. We were“housed” in tents at Camp Don B. Pas-sage, named after whom we thought waspossibly the first casualty in N. Africa.”   5 In addition to diverting the German wareffort in Russia, and Africa being a jump-ing off point against the so-called “soft un-derbelly of Europe”, another reason was toshorten up the Allied supply route. Sup-plies had to come around the Cape of GoodHope (a 6,000 mile trip of usual 50 daysduration), and then on to Egypt (for theBritish 8th Army) or the Persian Gulf Com-mand (for Russia).Malm said. “When we went overseas,we had a Canadian Navy escort of de-stroyer class ships. About halfway to N.Africa, the convoy split up. Yes, we had agood laugh when landed in Oran and thentook a train down to Casablanca, where theother half of our convoy had landed.” 6 Casablanca and Oran were two major,modern ports (Algiers was too, and wasused by the British), separated by a 1,500mile standard gauge track that followed thecoast an average of 45 miles south of theMediterranean coast. Initial planning fortransportation in N. Africa had begun inAugust 1942. There were more than 5,000miles of track, under French stewardship.The main railway was only single track lineuntil war’s end; some of it was electrified,and some of it was steam; most of it wasnarrow. While the French locomotives, vary-ing from vintage 1899 to just pre-war, werebarely sufficient to handle peacetime needs,the war demonstrated the shortfalls of theN. African rail transportation system.Holpp recalled, “Upon our arrival,there were no ROBs in our division in Mo-rocco at the time, so we set about buildingtent platforms to get us off the sand, a messhall, and set up pyramidal tents. Fightinghad ceased in N. Africa, so it was quiet asfar as enemy action. The French were op-erating all the railroads in Morocco andAlgeria, but under military direction – wehad priority.” Subsequently, the ROBsshowed up and the 701st went to work asrailroaders.Malm said, “It took us about twoweeks to build the tent platforms, mess halland erect the pyramidal tents. By then, ourROBs had arrived and we could get towork. We usually didn’t have weaponswith us while we were in our offices. Ourbarracks were tents. I don’t recall any sand-storms affecting our railway operations.We directed the rail traffic from Casablancato Oujda.” 7 The chief concern of planning for U.S.involvement was the transportation of sup-plies from three POE: Oran, Algiers, andCasablanca. In many instances, there wasno readily available rolling stock to handlethe needs. i.e., a scarcity of flatcars tohandle U.S. medium tanks. Some possiblestock was located, and the railroaders up- 4. ibid5. ibid6., 7. ibid Office and “home” of the 701st RGD in Constantine, AlgeriaSummer, 1943. The first “home” of the 701st RGD, at Casablnaca, French Morocco.The mess hall, built by the 701st, is on the left.  TRADING POST45graded them. It was a mission of the RGDsto search and locate needed stock, tools,and heavy duty timber in these early days.Once the American locomotives and roll-ing stock began arriving, it was the mis-sion of the RGD to get them out to the RSBs.The railroads continued to be run by theFrench (except near the front), who werepaid by Allied Forces Headquarters(AFHQ), in accordance with French mili-tary law. The Finance Sections of the RGDsreviewed the bills submitted by the Frenchto ensure accuracy. The TransportationSections set up training classes so that U.S.train crews could be taught the French sys-tem, which differed greatly. For example, theU.S. hand signal for “Go”, or “Highball it”in railroad parlance, was what the Frenchused for “Stop!” The Engineering Sectionswere charged with managing the water treat-ment. It was determined that soda ash andthe use of ball compounds negated the ex-tremely high mineral salts of the Africanwater supplies (the previous lack of theseitems had directly led to the high failurerate of French equipment). 8 The Store Sec-tions had the responsibility of getting thenecessary parts to the RSBs for their suc-cessful alterations of U.S. locomotives androlling stock, as well as repairs (convertingto the metric system) for French equipment.It was a long list of French parts that hadbeen cut off from Europe for a lengthy pe-riod. A major overhaul involved brakes; theFrench used Arab brakemen who appliedhand brakes on signal from the engine,which worked well as long as the brakemenwere attentive. The Stores maintained afirm grip on the supply of necessary partsto convert the cars to the standard US airbrake systems.The 701st RGD directed the activitiesof the 715th , 719th, and the 759th ROBs,all assigned to railways west of Chemin deFer du Maroc (CFM) to Oujda. Holpp said,“On September 30 1943, we left Casablancain 40 and 8 cars, but being such a smallunit, we weren’t too crowded. We went toConstantine, Algeria in approximately fivedays, and set up operations, succeedingthe 703rd RGD. We were in a schoolhousethat was not being used for education. Wehad offices there, and the HQ of the 701stwas visited by Charles De Gaulle in Decem-ber 43. During this time, the 753rd RSB wasunder our jurisdiction, and they maintainedoperations at the Ridi Mabrouk car and lo-comotive shops of the Algerian Railways(Chemin de Fer du Algerie - CFA) just out-side Constantine.” 9 Holpp also recalled, “In February 1944we were moved to Bizerte, Italy, travelingon a Liberty ship, the Calvin Coolidge. ByFebruary 29th, we were headquartered inthe Hotel Cavour in Naples. We were neversubjected to real enemy fire there; therewere three minor nighttime air raids, andwe donned our helmets, ran across the Holpp at wheel of a 6 x 6 at Pistoia; unfortu-nately, he does not recall the identity of the doorinsigneHolpp, center in front row, with friends from his division. 8.Truesdell,Stephen R., Maj., “War Railroadingin Africa, Italy” Railway Age-Vol 117, No. 2, July8, 19449. Interview with author  46JULY-SEPTEMBER 2004street to the railroad station and went down-stairs to safety underground. We neverhad any battle casualties in the 701st”. 10 Malm recalled, “We then went toConstantine, Algeria where we had our of-fices in some type of building. We thenwent to Bizerte, and then to Naples in Feb44. We had a Leap Year’s party in Naples. Iremember that there were many sunkenships in Naples Harbor. We had a few airraids in Naples; a building only 2-3 blocksaway was bombed. This time period of ouroverseas service was probably the busiestthat we faced. On the drive to Rome, wewere working seven days a week for sixweeks straight.”   11 The 701st now had jurisdiction overthe following MRS units: the 719th (lessCompany A), 727th (less Company A) and759th ROB (only Company A) ROBs andthe 2682nd Base Depot Company. Thetracks in the division’s jurisdiction extendedfrom the main terminal in Naples, to vari-ous points north, including Lamezia andSant’ Eufamia. Mt. Vesuvius erupted, andHolpp recalled “It affected our rail opera-tions by clogging the tracks, switches andfrogs with ash and rock. Of course, therock and ash were removed, and the rock was used for repairs to the track ballast,damaged by bombing”. 12 In April 1944, Holpp and two officerswere ordered on a six days track inspectiontour in the Porenza area. While in the vi-cinity of Salerno, they were informed of aUS Army freight train that had derailed.Holpp recalled, “It had happened approxi-mately the day prior to our arrival. Therewere cranes trying to right the train, andthey did so in our presence. We saw thebody of an Italian civilian killed when thetrain derailed right on top of him.” 13 Following capture of Rome June 4,1944 the jurisdiction of the 701st extendednorth from Caserta to end of the lines, anda change of MRS elements. The 701st nowhad the 715th ROB at Rome, 719th ROB atNaples, the 761st Railway TransportationCompany and 788th Base Depot Company(redesignated from the 2682nd) at Naples.There was a German-caused major explo-sion of an ammunition train at Roccasecca(Line 90, one of the two main Rome lines)that left widespread destruction. This wascompounded by their use of a scarifier – alarge hook device dragged behind a train -to rip up the ties, and simultaneouslydropped explosives down chutes to blowthe tracks. Most major bridges were alsoblown. The 701st coordinated the cleanupoperations and restored service on Line 90.Due to the planning for OPERATION DRA-GOON (the invasion of Southern France),by August 15, 1944, the following jurisdic-tional changes to the 701st were made: fullcomplements of the 715th and 719th ROBs,and the addition of the 753rd RSB and760th RSB (Diesel). The division alsomoved from the hotel to a Naples officebuilding located in the Piazza Nicola Amore.Most of their jurisdictional duties were as-sumed by the 774th RGD beginning withOPERATION DRAGOON.In December 1944, the Engineers Sec-tion of the 701st participated in a rare andunusual recovery operation. A US Armylocomotive was operating on Line 90, be-tween Rome and Naples, north of Caserta,when the tracks gave way due to rain-caused erosion of a large fill. The locomo-tive and its tender slid down to the bottomof the fill some 60 feet (the engineer jumpedout, escaping injury). Once it stopped rain-ing and the fill was reinforced, and then 10. ibid11. ibid12., 13. ibid Gioia Tauro Bridge, Reggio Calabria Line 1944, Palmi, ItalyAnother view of Gioia Tauro Bridge
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