748th Railway Operating Battalion

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748th Railway Operating Battalion Dave Kaufman As part of the U.S. Army Transportation Corps during World War II, the railway operating battalions (ROBs) were a necessary means of moving large numbers of personnel, equipment, and supplies during the war. Rails are the most efficient means of such transport and the only form that maintains it own rights-of-way, communications, construction, and complete repair facilities. ROBs were the smallest-sized active units of the U.S. Army Military Railwa
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  TRADING POST11As part of the U.S. Army Transporta-tion Corps during World War II, the railwayoperating battalions (ROBs) were a neces-sary means of moving large numbers of personnel, equipment, and supplies duringthe war. Rails are the most efficient meansof such transport and the only form thatmaintains it own rights-of-way, communi-cations, construction, and complete repairfacilities.ROBs were the smallest-sized activeunits of the U.S. Army Military RailwayService (MRS) in World War II. The 800-man battalions had four companies in theTO & E, and each battalion was consid-ered a self-sustaining “division” along therail lines upon which they operated. (1)Each company had its own specificduties. Company A, consisting of two track platoons and one bridge platoon, handledconstruction. Two of the three platoons inCompany B were responsible for keepingthe equipment in running shape, utilizingtheir own roundhouse; the third platoonshopped the rolling stock. Company C wasthe largest company, because it suppliedthe train crews. H & S Company supplieddispatchers (train controllers), telegraphers,and other support personnel. Four to fiveseparate ROBs, and usually one RailwayShop Battalion (RSB), were directed by aRailway Grand Division (RGD), which wasan administrative group consisting of ap-proximately 100 personnel.The 748th Railway Operating Battal-ion was activated at Camp Harrahan, (nearNew Orleans) LA, on 19 May 1943, with acadre from the 725th ROB. (2) A portion of Camp Harrahan was located under the eastend of the Huey P. Long Bridge in NewOrleans. The sponsoring railroad for the748th was the Texas and Pacific RR. Theonly commanding officer was Lt. Col. AlvaC. Ogg, who was a former Assistant Super-intendent of the Texas and Pacific RR.Training commenced immediately, in-cluding more than a week at the Slidell RifleRange. The men familiarized themselveswith the M-1 Garand, M-1 carbine, and .45pistol. Subsequent to the battalion’s moveto Camp Jesse Turner, near Van Buren, AR, SSI for 748th ROB - US made, redembroidery on orange wool. A largerversion, possibly intended for pocket wear,also exists. different sections trained on different rail-roads and in yards, within Arkansas, toimprove their section’s specific technicalskills. This included dispatching, signals(telegraph and wireless), engineering (rail-way maintenance operations), road andyard operation, crew dispatching (usingfirst-in and first-out basis), and repairs.There was limited cross-training in the re-pair shops to insure that training cadreshad technically trained specialists. Thebattalion subsequently provided trainingcadres for two other ROBs.T-4 Joseph Allison, who became anengineer, recalled, “I was working as a fire-man for the Chicago and Illinois-Midlandwhen I got drafted. I established my se-niority with them - you couldn’t be a fire-man until you were 21 years old. I don’tknow if that was law or policy. I also workedin the roundhouse and hostling.“I almost didn’t get in to the service. Ihad some bad burns on my body, and myfamily doctor told me I couldn’t get in tothe USO, let alone the U.S. Army. I was stillfiring engines, and was coming upon a pro-motion with the CIM. I was hoping that Icould get into the signal corps, because Ihad been fooling around with ham radios.Anyway, about three or four Army doctorspassed me.” (3)Capt. James Weatherby HQ Co, re-called, “I joined the 748th ROB when it wasactivated at Camp Harrahan. I worked forthe T & P as a signals supervisor beforethe war - I started with them in 1935. I wasin charge of the department which installsand maintains the signals that trains use tooperate. I was a circuit designer when Iwent in.“The officers for the 748th ROB, mostof whom had just completed basic trainingat Ft. Slocum, NY, were assigned to the en-listed personnel for basic training at CampHarrhan. I was commissioned as a 1st Lt.,with principal duties as a Signal Supervi-sor, the added responsibility of BattalionMess Officer, and later was designatedClass A Finance Officer with the responsi-bility of paying the battalion personnel.”(4)1st Sgt George Crow recalled his ser-vice with the 748th ROB, which began atCamp Jesse Turner. “I had several yearsexperience as a machinist and apprenticefor the Cincinnati Union Terminal, an all-passenger railroad terminal, before the war.We had seven railroads operating into theterminal. I thought I’d eventually be calledfor service, and tried volunteering for theNavy, Navy CB’s, and the Army Air Corps.I was turned down by all of them becauseof I’d lost sight in my left eye during sur-gery. It had been injured in an industrialaccident.“When I joined the 748th at Camp JesseTurner, I was on guard duty because of mydamaged eye. The rest of the battalion wassent down to the Missouri-Pacific RR fortechnical training. I wasn’t happy beingon guard duty, and with my pre-war experi-ence, I told the captain that I was reallyneeded in the shop where I belong. After Ishowed him what I could do, I got a shopassignment.“Lt. Sheehan told me to assign the GI’sto work locations. As new recruits came tocamp, the lieutenant told me to hold classesafter chow to teach them about steam loco-motives. I picked up a couple of promo-tions along the way.” (5) 748th Railway Operating Battalion Dave Kaufman  12OCTOBER-DECEMBER 1999By necessity, the ranks of ROBs wereusually filled by railroad personnel. Oneformer member of the battalion did not haverailroad experience. T-4 Robert Schultz said,“I was a fireman on an iron ore boat on theGreat Lakes when I was drafted. I endedup in the 748th. I thought it was unusualbecause I had no railroad experience. Oncewe got overseas, because of the shortageof engineers, I was promoted to engineerfrom fireman, and I was only 19 years old.“The ROBs manpower needs were metin various ways. There were both enlist-ees and draftees who had railroad experi-ence. Railroad men who were drafted intoROBs were known on the railroads as`boomers’. Boomers were transient typeswho moved around a lot because they wereheavy drinkers or had other problems.Those who were about 25, 26 years oldweren’t protected from the draft. They keptdrinking in the service, too.” (6)In late October 1943, the battalionmoved to Camp Barkley, Texas, for addi-tional railway operations training, whichsubsequently gave way to extensive mili-tary training during the month of Novem-ber. The unit left Texas at the end of No-vember enroute to the Los Angeles Port of Embarkation. On 10 December 1943, the748th ROB departed, along with four otherROBs and an RSB, on the S.S. Mariposa,destined for the China-Burma-India The-ater. All the battalions on board were as-signed to the 705th RGD. Traveling alonewithout escort ships, the S.S. Mariposa hadto zig-zag every few minutes. After a stop-over in Hobart, Tasmania, the men arrivedin Bombay, India, on 11 January 1944, hav-ing spent a total of 31 days at sea. (7)T-4 Allison said, “We shipped over onthe S.S. Mariposa, and the food was ter-rible. We were fed only twice a day, Aus-tralian mutton and frankfurters stamped`Made in Australia 1938'. We went throughthe food lines and dumped the food intobarrels. We almost had a mutiny over thefood. An armed Marine guard had to beposted for meals.” (8)T-4 Homer Cantrell, a former boiler-maker apprentice prior to the war, recalledthe ocean journey. “We got a chance atshore leave for a day in Hobart. At thattime none of us GIs knew where we weregoing, but all the people there knew we weregoing to Bombay, India. They had lookedfor us on Christmas day and when we ar-rived, they treated us royally. They hadbeen bombed twice by the Japanese.” (9)The battalion moved by both broadand meter gauge railroad, and by ferry upthe Brahmaputra River to their station of assignment at Tinsukia, in Assam Province.Tinsukia was a major railhead that servicednot only ground troops in China, but alsoseveral airbases. They were Chabua,Mohanberri, Ledo, and Dinjan. Chabua wasthe largest and busiest base, because mostof the supplies to China went out from there.The railroad division covered a total of 190miles, and included a 96-mile section of theBengal and Assam (B & A) from Mariani,Assam, to Tinsukia, Assam, and also in-cluded the Dibru-Sadiya (D-S) Railway fromDibrugarh to Lekhapani (Ledo) and MakumJunction to Sokoah Ghat.T-4 Cantrell recalled, “We started northfrom Calcutta and that was a nightmare. Wetraveled perhaps 1,000 miles by rail andthen the track made a big circle, and wewere unloaded. The train unloaded the GIsand headed back south. We were thentransported up the Brahmaputra River on aformer stock boat that had been previouslyused to haul cattle.“We then transferred to a steamer thathad plenty of room for walking around inthe daytime. The decks were prettycrowded at night. When you spread yourblanket, you were almost touching the fel-low next to you. We were on the steamerfor about five days and nights. About thesecond night, every one of had dysenteryand it was hell. There were only four johnson each side of the boat for 750 GIs.” (10)Upon the battalion’s arrival at Tinsukia,the battalion was greeted with an air raidalert, and the GIs had to take cover in slittrenches. A short time later, the Japanesewere threatening to cut Allied lines atImphal, only a few miles distant.Some tents were already prepared asliving quarters, and others had to beerected. Eventually, the men based atTinsukia lived in 4-6 man tents, built onconcrete slabs or wood floors. The men joked that the tents even came with air con-ditioning-they just rolled up the sides.Pfc. Arthur Kambury, HQ Co, said “Thefirst time we got hold of some beer, some of the boys got a little rowdy and fired off their weapons into the air, while inside theirtents. Command staff got annoyed at thatand disarmed us, locking our carbines andsidearms in supply. Here we were in a warzone and didn’t have weapons. Of course,when the Japanese were threatening to cutour lines at Imphal, we were armed again.After the threat subsided, our weaponswere locked up again.” (11)Another problem facing the men waspoor water potability. This was correctedby setting up a hot water system, treatingthe water by live steam in a tank, whichwas then drained and allowed to settle in achlorination tank before distribution.1st Sgt. Crow recalled that “The Indianwater also affected steam engines very, verymuch. For a while after we arrived, waterfor the locomotives was obtained from apond across the way and when the dry sea-son came along, there was as much mud aswater. The mud formed in the mud ring of the firebox, and caused the engines to foamreal bad. When you open the throttle, twowater glasses discharge water throughflues from the crown sheet - at the top of the firebox. The water circulates throughthe flues. The mud kept the water from cir-culating properly, and water would disap-pear completely from the water glasses. If you don’t know where your water level is -it could be below that crown sheet, and if you put cold water through the injectorsinto the boiler, and the water gets on thecrown sheet, it could cause the boiler toexplode.“That nearly happened one day. I sawone of our engines sitting on a side spur,and the GI engineer said it was foaming sobad, he was afraid to take it out. I askedhim if he had blown it down - there’s a blowoff cock on the side of the firebox, and youcan open it up and blow the steam andwater out to clean the engine. He said heblew it down three or four times alreadybut it was still foaming. The Indian firemanwere still on board, so they built it back upagain for me, and I blew it down a couple of more times, which didn’t help. When Iopened up the throttle, the water level wentdown out of sight. I called Capt. Albertsand got a clear rail line to bring the locomo-tive back to Tinsukia. I told the firemen`see the water coming down there? I wantwater coming out of there continuously.’ Ialso opened the bottom gauge cock, whichshows the level of the water in the boiler.We got the locomotive back to the Tinsukiayard, knocked the fire down, and washed itout. About this time, a civil engineer camein, drilled a 305 feet deep artesian well, andwe had good water. Didn’t have much moretrouble with foaming then. Of course, herein the states, we use water purification cap-sules or powder in the tenders to keep thewater from foaming and corroding.” (12)Also upon their arrival in Tinsukia, themen were witnesses to a strange develop-ment. T-4 Allision recalled, “When we got  TRADING POST13to Tinsukia, there was an English-speak-ing Japanese pilot who was flying a Zerocoming over every day. He told us his namewas `Photo Joe’ and what he taking pho-tos of each day. None of our planes couldget up there to him, because he had such ahigh ceiling. Well, the air corps stripped aP-38 Lightning of its armor, and sent it up,and that took care of Photo Joe. He crashedabout 2-3 miles from Ledo. Several of uswent and looked at the wreckage of hisplane.” (13)Another strange development, was thearrangement of the battalion in the Britishspan of control. T-4 Allison said, “We wereactually attached to the British Army, andhad the 1st Ghurka Rifle Battalion guardingour camp and our bridges. That’s probablywhy we didn’t have any sabotage. If theyweren’t the best soldiers in the world, theywere close to it. They became very friendlywith us, because we’d bring them M-1 clipsfor their Garands. I heard that Patton gavethem the Garands in North Africa.” (14)The British Army was not the sole pro-tector of the 748th ROB. Sgt. Fred Beene,assigned to the Signal Section, recalled,“For the first two months we were inTinsukia, we had machine-gun emplace-ments around all of our bridges. A ChineseArmy company of approximately 100 menguarded them. Some of the Chinese offic-ers were English-speaking. The EM wereall young. The Chinese Army didn’t draftlike we did - they just rounded up all theavailable men from a village like cowboysdid cattle, and brought them in. I got to befriends with some of the men who spoke alittle English, and they taught me few wordsof Chinese.” (15)Immediately following improvement inthe living conditions, inspections of thevarious companies’ responsibilities began.Inspections of the entire length of the metergauge rail lines in the 748th’s division wereconducted.On 1 March 1944, the 748th began ac-tual operation of the division. Capt.Weatherby said, “We engaged in no rail-road activity for about a month waiting fora contract with the government of India,under which the U.S. took responsibility tooperate the B & A and the D-S RR. Weused the existing India railroad personnelin these duties.” (16)Classes were set up to familiarize Com-pany C personnel with the rules of the In-dian railways. It was necessary to retainand retrain B & A RR civilians in their as-signments to augment U.S. military person-nel. The most serious difficulty that devel-oped was the language differences, but cre-ative signs and symbols overcame this. Itwas also necessary to assign train control-lers to the various block stations, includ-ing on the D-S RR. Other noted problemswere the shortage of locomotive parts andlack of storage facilities for them. The so-lution was obtaining them from the shopsof the neighboring 758th RSB, located atDibrugarh.The Signal Section also conducted in-spections to insure efficiency of operations,and noted numerous shortcomings. Theseincluded a lack of tools, unsatisfactory in-spection cars, incompatibilities betweenU.S. and Indian telephone lines resultingin splicing problems, poor western union joints, the wire itself was of poor quality,and spans (wire hung between poles) weretoo long and in need of resagging.Capt. Weatherby recalled, “The signalsection consisted of 21 enlisted personnel,most of whom had experience in installingor maintaining signal systems on U.S. rail-roads. On the portion of the railroad forwhich the battalion was responsible, therewas practically no modern signal system,so other than the repair of wire lines, theprevious experience was of little value.Those signal facilities that existed werevery rudimentary and had been outmodedand discontinued in the U.S. years earlier.We didn’t do any telephone pole repair orresagging. We left that to the signal unitsthat worked in our division. We did repairsto the conductors in the western union joints on our train telephone lines. Copperstarts out as a bar, and they draw it throughdies in the right diameter they’re lookingfor. A western union joint was a twist jointmade with a double barrel copper sleeve.One length of wire is on one side, and theother length of wire is on the other side,and they lie side by side inside the sleeve,with a conductor in between. The joint wasthen twisted and formed a connection.Actually, I think the Indians did a lot of thetelephone line repairs. We just supple-mented them. We completed some emer-gency telephone line repairs between sta-tions.“There really was no typical day. Wedidn’t have set hours; we just worked what-ever was necessary. Most of our jobs weresimple maintenance. They didn’t havemany train signals, for one thing.“The signal system in India was so el-ementary compared to what we had in theU.S. that we just left the Indians to do whatthey could do with them, and we operatedaround them. The authority for train move-ments was under control of the individualStationmasters, and extended only fromstation to station. Each station had sig-nals at each end of the station siding wheretrains could meet and pass. These werecontrolled by mechanical levers at the sta-tion, connected to the signals by galvanizediron wires through a system of pulleys. Thewire lines were double, allowing the sig-nals to be cleared or put to stop positionby a pulling action of the wire. The switchesat the ends of the station sidings were alsooperated from the station by double wirelines. The levers were operated by‘pointsmen’ under the direction of theStationmaster. Sometimes the signalswitches worked and sometimes theydidn’t, so the pointsmen would go out andwork the switches manually. Signalmenwere assigned to selected stations, andassisted or directed repairs on the mechani-cal systems.“The authority to move between sta-tions was granted by Stationmasters usingeither token machines, or if token machineswere not provided or were inoperative, bypaper ‘line clear’ authority. The token ma-chines were electro-mechanical devices in- Tinsukia Yard 1944-45 - courtesy 1st Sgt G. Crow  14OCTOBER-DECEMBER 1999terconnected between adjoining stations.To clear a train, the Stationmaster wouldcontact the Stationmaster at the adjoiningstation and request a `line clear’ authority.If the authority was granted, thatStationmaster would move his token ma-chine lever in the direction of the request-ing station, allowing the requestingStationmaster to in turn move the lever onhis token machine in the direction of theauthorizing station. That action locked thelever at the authorizing station and releasedthe lever and restored the system so that itcould be used for other movements. If thetoken system was not provided or was in-operative, a `paper line clear’ authorized themovements issued by the Stationmaster byarrangement with the Stationmaster at theadjoiningstation. The issuing Station-mas-ter communicated a ‘secret number’ to theadjoining Stationmaster to identify the ‘pa-per line clear’ when it was handed over tothe engine crew.“These systems depended on commu-nication by wire lines. The pole line struc-ture was owned and maintained by the In-dian Post and Telegraph organization. Be-cause of termite infestation and unreason-ably short life of wood, poles made of tu-bular galvanized iron set on cast iron baseswere used. The cross arms were also madeof galvanized iron. Porcelain insulators onmetal pins supported the wire lines.“The major causes of communicationsproblems was low resistance to ground orthe actual grounding of the conductorthrough the poles. Other problems werehigh resistance wire line splices and crossesor grounding due to improper conductorsagging. Not usually having the propersize repair sleeve to replace defectivesplices caused further problems. Indianrepaircrews used a loop rope arrangementto climb the metal poles. Our personnelcleared grounds and crosses, but relied onladders or more often, Indian personnel, toclimb the poles. As U.S. dispatchers su-pervised and expedited train movements,long distance communications (between thedispatchers and all stations) became moreimportant.” (17)The inspection by the engineering sec-tion noted low bridges and resulting highwater, earth slippage on several post loca-tions, a need to reballast almost half of themain line, and shortages in ballast materi-als, native laborers during spring and mon-soon season, and in track material for re-pairs and renewals.1st Sgt. Crow recalled, “I was in chargeof maintenance and repair of all the loco-motives. We performed daily inspectionsof all locomotives when they came into theshop. We would typically look for cracksin the side rod, play in the rod, play in thecross head, too much play in the front endor back end of the main rod, sharp flangeson the wheels, and steam leaks, includingin the brakes. There were no air compres-sors on brakes there, so braking was doneby steam. Sharp flanges on the wheels hada tendency to split the switch, where theswitch put you onto another track. Wecould handle almost any repair or mainte-nance in our shop- the only thing wecouldn’t handle would be a wreck. Wewould have to send that to Dibrugarh. Wehad one bad wreck where a locomotive raninto a flatcar full of rails, and the rails punc-tured the left cylinder of the locomotive.“The old locomotives we had back thenwere the 80 tons Mikado-class locomotive.After the war started, the locomotive classwas redesignated MacArthur class, afterthe general. A lot of Mikados, named aftera ruler, had been sold to Japan before thewar. The engines were a 2-8-2 configura-tion, meaning there was a pair of ponytrucks in the front, four pair of drivers, anda pair of trailer wheels. These locomotiveswere War Department built, and built onlyto last until the end of the war. The boilersweren’t as thick as those we had in the U.S.pre-war, and featured super-heated engines.“All the other repairs - like putting newbushings in the main rods or the side rods.The configuration was the steel rod, and abrass bushing pressed in, fitting on a pinthat in turn fits on the wheel - when there istoo much play in them, you had to take therods off, take the bushings out, and havenew ones made.“As far as general repairs on the cars,there were usually repairs to brake cylin-ders, the wheels, and wheel bearings. Typi-cal car problems were brake cylindersleaked, wheels got sharp flanges, journalsgot hot and burning the bearings. Theyhad friction bearings over there. There wasa one-inch flange on the end of each axle,and when you raised up the box, there wasa curved plate that was not brass, it wasbabbit. Waste oil went into the box - if itdidn’t, the axle would be running in thewaste. If the box ran dry, it could get hotand scorch the axle. Sometimes, you’d getflat spots on the drivers- flats spots hap-pen when the throttle gets opened too faston a heavy train, and the wheels slipped.Sand would be dropped for traction, but aflat spot would appear on the wheel. Some-times the flat spots could be ground out,but other times, the whole wheel had to bereplaced.” (18)1st Sgt. Crow recalled a difficult prob-lem. “We had an engine and tender thatcame down and split a switch on the thirdshift. The engine went down one track andthe tender went down the other track. Therewere two or three guys underneath jackingup the draw bar, which had been drawn tootight by the split. The drawbar connectsthe engine and tender, and is held togetherby a four inch pin and safety chains. Thereare also hoses that carry water from thetender to the engine next to the drawbar.Another lieutenant, who didn’t know any-thing about trains, was telling me `Whydon’t you try this? Why don’t you trythat?’ I told the captain to get the lieuten-ant away from me.“This was a tough job. The only Indians, carrying coal-laden baskets on their heads, loading coal tenders -courtesy First Sgt. G. Crow
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