Ranger Robert P. Gary
Army Serial Number:
My Memories of World War Two and the 2nd Ranger Battalion
- Robert P Gary, LTC USA, Retired.
My memories of WWII certainly are still vivid, although names and dates sometimes get lost, so if I misstate a time or misname a place please bear with me.
My earliest memories of my Ranger experiences are of the rigorous training we got in Camp Forest, Tennessee and the Tullahoma night life which was rivaled only by a good night’s rest at camp. From Camp Forest we were sent to Fort Pierce, Florida where we under went extensive amphibious training and annoying assaults by Florida Sand Fleas. Then we moved up to western Maryland for some mountain training and infiltration exercises. We were fortunate to be sent to Fort Dix, New Jersey where we received more weapons training and additional training in moving through occupied civilian areas. I will never forget the wonderful folks of Trenton for their contributions to our morale. Their efforts made us feel welcome and there was always some sort of entertainment for all of us. Although we didn’t know it, Fort Dix was to be our last stateside training and I believe that we were simply there waiting in line for sufficient transportation overseas. Fort Drum, New York, turned out to be our staging area for shipping over to England. Again fortune shined on us as we were to sail on the Queen Elizabeth and her speed was such that she didn’t have to sail in a convoy. However, her course took her up through the north latitudes which are noted for rough seas and nasty weather. The rough seas proved to be beneficial for those of us who were not prone to sea sickness as the mess lines were very short then. For the others, it must have been a miserable voyage. The crossing only took five days and we landed safely in Scotland. Our stay with the Scots was very brief as we entrained south to England. Because of shortage of billets and training areas, the Battalion was split up. Our Company, Able, ended up in Bude, Cornwall County and was billeted out by twos and threes with English families. Their generosity and friendliness will always be remembered. Our training in England was conducted in many different locations there, but one of my most vivid memories before D-Day is on a night training exercise near Folkston, Kent County. Company A was to go on a training patrol through the country-side in which civilians lived. It so happened that on this night the Germans made one of their largest raids on London. It was a last ditch effort by aircraft since the RAF and the US Army Air Forces were gaining air superiority. Search lights lit up the sky and when they found an enemy bomber they held it in two or more beams until a night fighter came in and shot the plane down in flames. There was never a fireworks display as dramatic as this show of air power. The Germans apparently never recovered their former air power as this was the last raid by aircraft on England. From then on the Germans used “buzz bombs” and V2 rockets. Unfortunately, these weapons inflicted a lot of damage as well.
With what can you compare the D-Day landings? Few invasions have been so forcefully resisted. The Germans had built a formidable fortress of beach obstacles, pill boxes, weapons emplacements, and mine fields. On Omaha beach the German troops were dug in on high ground that was very steep, making it difficult to assault. Many casualties to our side were taken in the water and some even before leaving the landing craft. Those who made it to the beach were subject to enfilading fire from a pill box on our right flank. Because of the obstacles in the water, the landing craft couldn’t get to the beach and were obliged to let us off in water up to our chests or higher. Enemy fire reigned down on us as the bullets hit the water. It was like experiencing heavy rainfall. Only a few made it to the top of the hill but those few routed the enemy from their advantageous positions and forced them back from the beach area. This was the beginning of the end for the German war effort and the downfall of the Nazi madness.
Unfortunately, I was wounded in the right leg on D-Day before reaching the beach. The force of the bullet, exiting my calf muscle, spun me over and my carbine went flying. However, I was able to make it to the beach and up the steep hill behind the beach. On the way up I picked up an M-1 rifle from a fallen comrade along with a bandoleer of ammunition. My intent was to join up with whoever had made it to the top and continue on with them. When I reached the top I sat down to catch my breath and check my weapon. After a few minutes I tried to get up and continue but my wounded leg had frozen bent and I had a difficult time moving. Consequently, I was evacuated to England and hospitalized until sometime in August. I was offered an assignment with limited duty, but requested I be returned to my Ranger unit. I spent the next few weeks in the Replacement Depot system in England and France where I met other Rangers also on their way back to the Battalion.
At a Replacement Depot near Liege, Belgium one of our Rangers spotted a convoy with Ranger Battalion bumper markings moving east. One of the replacement Ranger officers was able to commandeer a vehicle and about 15 of 20 of us Rangers mounted up and chased after the convoy. We were able to trace them as far as Bastogne, Belgium, where we decided to spend the night. As we set up a bivouac in the town square, many of the citizens came out and invited us into their homes where they fed us with their meager rations and insisted on our sleeping in their beds. This was an unprecedented demonstration of kindness by them to complete strangers. Little did anyone of us realize that this would be one of the major battlegrounds later in the “Battle of the Bulge”. The next day, with grateful thanks, we bid farewell to those fine people and caught up with the Battalion in Arlon, Belgium. A short time later the Battalion was moved to Esch, Luxemburg and allowed a few days of Rest and Relaxation (R&R) before moving on into Germany. The Battalion was assigned positions on the edge of the Huertgen Forest. Company A was posted in a town named Germeter. Able and Baker companies were established patrols to Company K, 121st Infantry Regiment, 8th Infantry Division who were in a forward exposed position. This was the only contact they had with friendly units. On one contact with this unit0, I found the morale of the entire unit was very low. They were collected in the basement of a ruined house and there was no security posted.
Just before Thanksgiving, Alfa Company was alerted to move to relieve Baker Company that was on line in the forest protecting the flank of the 121st Infantry Regiment, 8th Infantry Division. Able Company took over Baker Company positions in darkness. Much artillery fire came in on us as we were getting settled in. Several Rangers were wounded or killed from direct hits or from tree bursts. I received my second wound by shrapnel, but I was hit in the foot and was able to stay on line. Others were not so lucky.
Baker Company moved back to the Battalion Assembly Area where troops in that area enjoyed a good, hot Thanksgiving dinner with turkey and all the trimmings. Able Company, on line in the forest had to make do on C rations and D bars. We weren’t happy about missing all those goodies until, upon our return to the Assembly Area, we found out that the other companies that had participated in the feast all came down with dysentery. We were lucky to have missed that meal.
After a few days of comparatively luxurious living in an area not continually under fire from the enemy and in log covered holes with fires to warm us, we received orders to pack up and prepare to move forward again. This time we were to enter the town of Bergstein and prepare to attack the major enemy artillery observation post known as Hill 400. That OP could direct artillery fire over most of the Ruhr Valley which constituted a major threat to the American force’s advance. We were trucked to within 2 miles of the town where we left the trucks and proceeded on foot. From the shell holes and destroyed vehicles and equipment it was apparent that some heavy fighting had occurred there. Able Company was put on the right flank of the town in a blocking position. We found trenches the Germans had dug that were perfect for our purpose.
Armor and armored infantry units had attempted this mission but suffered heavy casualties and had to be withdrawn. The town was now a Ranger responsibility. D and F Companies were tagged to make the assault on Hill 400. At 0800 the next morning they crossed the line of departure and climbed the hill. In a very short time (approximately 45 minutes) they radioed that their mission was accomplished. However, those brave men came under relentless artillery and ground counter attacks. Although their casualties mounted, they were able to stave off the counter attacks and maintained the objective. Able Company had very little contact with the enemy ground troops but did receive heavy shelling carrying rations and water forward through enemy artillery fire to supply those beleaguered troops. After two and a half days of this hell the Battalion was withdrawn to an assembly area where we received hot food and coffee. At a Quartermaster shower point we were able to take a hot shower, shave and were issued clean clothes; big boost to morale.
In mid-December the Germans initiated the “Battle of the Bulge”. The 2nd Ranger Battalion was dispatched to defensive positions around the town of Simmerath. Soon the Company received some replacements of untested soldiers. To add to their plight, as they were waiting to be assigned to platoons, a barrage of German rockets referred to as “Screaming Mimies” struck the area where they were, inflicting casualties among them. That was a tough introduction to combat for them. Some of those young lads went on to become good Rangers. During this time we were continually probed by German patrols. Since the weather was miserable the Germans wore overcoats on their patrols, so we were advised not to leave our foxholes in our overcoats for fear that we would be mistaken for the enemy. One early morning after a night of heavy shelling I discovered a hunk of shrapnel wedged in a box of “K” rations that I had left on the berm of my foxhole. While in that position, we received support from an Engineer unit that laid anti-tank and anti-personnel mines in front of our defensive positions. That was a welcome addition to our defenses. Although we heard the rumble of German tanks to our front none actually attacked us.
In the first part of January we were moved to a town called Schmidthoff where we received more replacements and intensive training was conducted. The Battalion was alerted for a crossing of the Ruhr River. Part of the mission was to attack and secure the Schwammanuel dam before the Germans could blow it and flood the northern sector of the Allied advance. Unfortunately, the Germans blew the dam before we could move on it and we later crossed the Ruhr on foot. We had just been issued “shoe pac” boots and heavy socks to counter the cold and frost bite, but the crossing negated that as everyone got wet feet. On the other side of the river we encountered extensive mine fields both on and off the roads. I was to lead the platoon around a site where engineers were clearing a road of anti-tank mines. We intended to circle around that site in the field next to the road. I proceeded into the area some fifty yards ahead of the rest of the platoon and noticed lumps of sod scattered around. After going well into the area I examined one of these lumps and found that the Germans had constructed a hasty mine field consisting of “shoe” mines which if stepped on would blow your foot off. I was able to stop the platoon before they entered to mine field and another route was selected. Shortly after crossing the river we were attached to a mechanized Calvary Battalion and welcomed the prospect of not having to walk everywhere. The added supporting firepower was also an added advantage. Our mission was to screen to the front of V Corps and eliminate any obstacles to our advance. Sometimes we were out in front of the main body 25-50 miles. When we ran into resistance the Rangers would dismount and attack on foot receiving supporting fire from the Calvary troop’s vehicle-mounted weapons. The Battalion made it to a town called Mayschoss in the heart of German wine country. This proved to be a rest-and-recreation area for the Battalion before receiving our next mission which was to marry up with the Calvary units once again, cross the Rhine River and continue screening for V Corps. While we were resting in Mayschoss our forces had succeeded in crossing the Rhine and establishing a beach head on the east side of the river. Germans finally succeeded in destroying the Remagen Bridge but our engineers had constructed a pontoon bridge next to the ruins of the bridge and our crossing was not resisted. During our short stay in this area we did witness Germany’s first jet fighter plane flying by. It was a strange sight to us who were not aware of propeller-less planes at that time.
From the Rhine on into the heartland of Germany the war for us was mostly rapid movement on Calvary vehicles and light skirmishes at road blocks or German ambushes. Many small towns capitulated without a fight. Most wanted to be left in peace, but some die hard Nazi troops or officials made half-hearted attempts to resist our progress. On the outskirts of one town, Sonderhausen, Able Company sent out a patrol to test the perimeter of the town for organized defenses. As the patrol approached the town they were fired on and returned fire, but had to withdraw because they hadn’t the fire power to overcome the obstacle. Later that morning I was designated to lead another patrol into the town generally along the same route. We were able to enter the town without any resistance. Because of the action experienced by the previous patrol, we moved with we moved with extreme caution keeping weapons at the ready to meet any threat. The patrol came across the local police station and, anticipating some resistance, entered. Fortunately, the Chief of Police was anxious to cooperate with us when I told him that our patrol represented a large unit that surrounded the town with infantry, tanks and artillery. That impressed him to the point that, through an interpreter, my demands was agreed to. The demands were that all houses, offices, and businesses display a white flag of some sort to signify that they would not resist our occupation. Further, all weapons such as pistols, rifles, and swords would be turned in to the police station. Additionally, cameras and Nazi flags or banners were verboten and must be turned in also. The patrol then left the police station to further scout the town. We soon discovered a major German military hospital in the town and decided to check it out. We were met at the entrance by the doctor in charge to the hospital who agreed to let us in but we must leave our weapons outside. There was no way we were going to leave our weapons, but we decided not to push the issue because we could understand his concern for his patients and we didn’t consider the patients as a threat. We decided to return to our unit and report our findings.
I escorted our Platoon Leader, Lt Porubsky, back into the town and to the police station where we were amazed to see the piles of weapons, flags, cameras and other items that had been turned in by the citizens in such a short time. A couple of our trucks arrived and soon cleared out all the “loot”. I’m not sure what happened to all of that stuff, but I’m sure the boys in the rear filled up on the goodies.
As a result of our report, it was decided to move troops on through the town, and continue our mission. Unfortunately, as one truck load of our guys was passing through the town a ‘die-hard” Nazi official of the town ran out on the street and fired shots at the truck. His fore was returned killing him on the spot. No other incidents were reported, and so our mission continued on beyond this and many other towns, most were submissive to our operations.
Eventually, we were separated from our Calvary companions and posted in Czechoslovakia where we learned that the Germans had surrendered and the fighting was over. Our stay in Europe ended when we departed from Le Havre on board the USS West Point and sailed for home.
Approved by daughter Kim (Gary) Eskew; 29-Aug-2013