Of The 347th Ordnance Depot Company
Chapter 3: England
After four hours on one of the "toy trains" that later seemed natural, the destination of Sudbury was reached. Located in the Midlands, 18 miles from the town of Derby, the small village on Lady Vernon's estate was quaint and picturesque. The rolling countryside was bright green and the hedge rows that cut it into small plots enhanced its natural beauty. As the men marched the short mile to their new post, they caught a glimpse of the dogs, horses, and the red coats of a fox hunt in full progress. The war seemed far away at that time.
Yes, it was beautiful country -- until the heavy traffic cut through its surface, then it became mud. That was the first mission of the 347th -- digging irrigation ditches, hauling planks and gravel, shoveling off the streets, and all other thought-of attempts to prevent the depot from sinking into its sea of mud. In addition to this, the men helped unload endless trains of the Engineering & Ordnance equipment. All of these were necessary duties but not exactly the type enjoyed by men trained to receive, classify, bin, and issue parts.
All efforts failed to convince the authorities of the need for an operating field depot in the area and so other localities were investigated. Lt. Col. Earl Zwingle, commanding officer of Depot 0616 in New Brighton, Wallasey, expressed the need for a depot company and so the transfer was requested. Orders to move were refused, but since both locations were in Western Base Section, permission to put a supply detachment at 0616 was granted. This detachment grew in size until finally more men were in New Brighton than in Sudbury. Throwing up their hands, Base Section finally cut orders and the 347th officially moved into Wallasey December 15, 1943.
This was a happy stop for the company. New Brighton, the resort section of Wallasey, was located along the Mersey River, across from Liverpool. The homes were comfortably built and with well kept lawns. There were many pubs and eating places, with one of the largest dance halls located there. However, many gutted buildings and stacks of bricks were grim evidence that the war had not passed New Brighton untouched.
The men were billeted in two large homes about a mile from the shop, a large converted amusement hall on the promenade. The mission was to supply all ordnance units located in the vicinity, including four companies in our own shop. Unable to get authority to requisition a base load, it was obtained over a period of time by increasing needed quantities ordered from G-25, the huge supply base at Ashchurch. The depot was built up so that by the time of its departure, the depot was able to fill 84% of all parts requested.
On the 28th of January orders were received assigning the 347th to the First Army but with instructions to remain at New Brighton. Orders to move, and parts bins, which were hard to get at that time, were both received at the same time. The company installed the bins in vans, built shelves for additional storage space, constructed working desks, rigged up lighting systems, painted the interiors white to aid visibility and then transferred parts from 0616's stock, all in five days. Col. Zwingle had given the depot permission to take half the stock of parts available leaving the other half to the 983rd Ordnance Depot Company who had come to relieve us. And so the 347th was able to move into Devizes, England on March 10, 1944 with a good stockage of parts.
Assigned to the 71st Ordnance Battalion under the command of Lt. Col. L. I. Richeson, the company had the mission of supplying all army troops in the area and preparing itself for the coming invasion of France. With a high priority established, parts started flowing in so that by the middle of May, 87% of a heavy base load had been received. The last minute job of re-equipping three tank battalions put a sudden drain on it, but replacement was received after rushing trucks all over England to get the parts. When loading time came, the base load weighed in at 650 tons. This filled up all basic transportation, plus the pool of 109 vehicles (replacement major items, part of depot stock) plus 75 jeeps and 3/4-tons belonging to miscellaneous units who did not need the transportation to move their own equipment. All of these latter vehicles returned to their own organizations and the 347th had only a tally of what was on them and a prayer that they could find them after crossing the channel.
On the first of June the company closed the depot for the last time in England and moved into bivouac in the woods at Great Ridge, Wylye, not far from Salisbury. After the vehicles had the water-proofing completed up to the last stage, the company rested and waited. Also instructions were given to the men manning the tanks of the replacement pool. Many of these men had never been inside of a tank before and now they had to take them onto the continent.
Movement Orders finally arrived and on the 21st of June the long convoy pulled up on the sidewalks of Southhampton to await loading time. Instructions were received upon arrival to take off all waterproofing, that it was no longer needed, and then at two o'clock in the morning that was changed and all water proofing had to go back on immediately. As it turned out there was plenty of time for the company lived there on the sidewalks of Southhampton until June 24th. Then the column rolled down to the hardstand and the difficult job of fitting 10 ton vans into LCTs with assorted vehicles so that a minimum of space would be occupied and so that all the vehicles could roll right off upon arrival at the destination. Nine LCTs were required to transport the company and then they pulled out into the harbor and weighed anchor with the countless boats waiting shipping time.
The only excitement in the harbor that night was that two buzz bombs landed in the water and shook the boats, otherwise it was just a cold, wet, miserable night spent on the open decks. Early in the morning of June 25, 1944, the LCTs carrying the 347th fell into the endless chain of vessels headed for France.