Salerno and the Growth of Fifth Army Ordnance Service

A month before the invasion of Sicily, Prime Minister Churchill told the House of Commons that "the mellow light of victory" had begun to play upon the great expanse of World War II. In Tunisia the Axis forces had surrendered; fewer U-boats were harassing the Atlantic shipping lanes; on the Eastern Front the Russians had driven the Germans back to the Donetz River Basin; in the Pacific, operations against the Central Solomons and the Bismarcks Barrier were about to begin.

On the next move in Europe and the Mediterranean, the British and Americans were reaching agreement. At the British-American conference (TRIDENT) in Washington in May 1943 the Americans, who wanted to get on with the attack across the English Channel, had got the British to agree to a target date of 1 May 1944 and a force of 29 divisions, of which 4 American and 3 British would be withdrawn from the Mediterranean; the British, who wanted to invade Italy in order to pin down as many German divisions as possible and provide bases to bomb Germany from the south, had obtained the assent of the Americans to another landing in the Mediterranean after Sicily.

At first Italy was not specified—could not be, in the American view, until the outcome in Sicily was known—and plans made during the early summer encompassed several operations. By mid-July, however, the chances for a short campaign in Sicily looked so good that planning was centered on Italy. Toward the end of the month the prognosis looked better still. Benito Mussolini was ousted from the Italian Government, and negotiations with Marshal Pietro Badoglio, his successor, excited hopes that Italy would get out of the war. To take advantage of an Italian collapse, the Allies on 26 July agreed that General Eisenhower should plan to make an amphibious assault in the vicinity of Naples as soon as possible. The bay of Salerno was determined upon, and the operation, named AVALANCHE and set for 9 September, was assigned to General Clark's Fifth Army, consisting of the U.S. VI Corps and the British 10 Corps. As soon after Sicily as possible, General Montgomery's Eighth Army would cross the Strait of Messina in a diversionary operation. Both armies would come under General Sir Harold R. L. G. Alexander's 15th Army Group.1 (See Map 3.)


Between the fall of Mussolini and the invasion of Italy, begun by General Montgomery on 3 September, forty days of precious time were lost. In answering critics who ascribed the delay to unnecessarily prolonged negotiations with Marshal Badoglio, Prime Minister Churchill pointed out that landing craft could not be withdrawn from Sicily until the first week in August and then had to be taken back to Africa for repair and reloading. General Marshall, who was irritated by the slowness in mounting the operation, thought the logistical officers too cautious.2 Whatever the reason for the delay, in those forty days the Germans brought thirteen divisions into Italy, occupied Rome and Naples, and even held exercises to repel invaders at Salerno—the obvious spot for a landing, since it was as far north as the Allies could go and still have fighter cover.3

When the Fifth Army's first assault wave neared shore before dawn on 9 September, from the shore a loud speaker blared in English, "Come on in and give up. We have you covered!"4 Though this sounded like a Wild West movie, the Germans were not bluffing. Very nearly throwing the invaders back into the sea, the Germans pinned them down on the beaches for about ten days before withdrawing north to take up strong defensive positions that kept the Allies in Italy, storming mountain after mountain, until the end of the war in Europe.

Beyond Naples, which fell on 1 October, was the Volturno River and the strong German Winter Line. That penetrated— it took until mid-January 1944 in winter mud to do it—there was the even stronger Gustav Line anchored at Mount Cassino and further protected by the swift Rapido and Garigliano Rivers. To overcome the Gustav Line and break out into the Liri Valley leading to Rome, ninety miles away, took four months of grueling struggle through torrents of rain and snow and lakes of mud. An attempt to hasten the breakthrough by landing behind the German line at Anzio on the coast below Rome did not succeed. Rome did not fall until 4 June 1944, only two days before D-day in Normandy. After the capture of Rome, seven veteran divisions were drawn off for the invasion of southern France. The remainder, plus new divisions of varying nationalities, pushed forward in Italy, but were caught by winter at the final barrier in the high Apennines and could not break through until March 1945.

Whatever the merits of this slow, arduous, expensive, and much-criticized battering operation up the Italian peninsula, the campaigns required a heavy weight of Ordnance support. Fortunately General Clark had an Ordnance officer who was more than equal to the job. Veteran of TORCH and the Tunisia Campaign, Col. Urban Niblo had shown that he was inventive, vigorous, and resourceful. He had very definite opinions, especially as to the organization of Ordnance service, but he was always willing to profit by mistakes


and never hesitated to "throw away the book" when necessary. In this ill-starred theater, he was to need all the resourcefulness he could command.5

One problem in AVALANCHE plaguing other Fifth Army sections, the Engineers for example, did not trouble the Ordnance Section. That was the difficulty of meshing British and American logistical support of Fifth Army, which consisted of the U.S. VI Corps and the British 10 Corps. In the case of Ordnance, the differences in the connotation of the word ordnance and in the organizations that performed parallel functions in the British and U.S. Armies made separate services necessary. For that reason the British 1 o Corps had its own ordnance support, which was supplied from the same line of communications (known as Fortbase) that supplied Montgomery's Eighth Army; Fifth Army Ordnance Service, organized by Niblo, supported the American portion of Fifth Army—the portion soon to be predominant.6

Niblo's Group Organization

On 1 September 1943 Colonel Niblo sent General Campbell a handwritten V-mail note informing him that Colonel Rose was that day giving birth to a new provisional Ordnance group, and added "bastard as it is, I have confidence it will live and be even more successful than its predecessor." The unit was illegitimate because the War Department had not yet given final approval to a permanent organization of this kind. During the summer of 1943 the Army Ground Forces headquarters was working on a combat zone Ordnance group organization, and was even reported to favor an Ordnance brigade to control the work of the groups. But the War Department did not authorize group headquarters for AGF service units until mid-October of 1943, and there was no TOE for an Ordnance combat zone group until the appearance of TOE 9—12 on 15 April 1944.7

Colonel Niblo's reason for jumping the gun on the War Department was that he wanted a staff that would be adequate to "administer, operate, and command" Fifth Army Ordnance service. On the day he obtained his provisional group, 1 September 1943, a year had passed since Ordnance had received responsibility for supplying and repairing trucks and other vehicles. That task now accounted for about 80 percent of the total Ordnance work load, yet the War Department had done nothing to enlarge the army Ordnance officer's staff, which was (prior to the establishment of the Provisional Ordnance Group) limited to the 38 men (11 officers, 1 warrant officer, 26 enlisted men) provided in the table of organization for an army headquarters (T/O 200-1) dated 1


July 1942, a complement considerably less than half the strength of the Quartermaster Section of 84 men and far behind the Engineers with 72, and the Signal Corps with 66. Moreover, the Engineer and Signal Sections were organized according to their own service tables of organization, T/O 5-200-1 and T/O 11-200-1, respectively.8

In the fall of 1942 Ordnance planners in the United States had tried to strengthen the hand of the Ordnance officer at army level. In the campaigns to come he would have to carry a heavy burden of administration—from which corps was now freed; his responsibility for motor transport was certain to be enormous; and it seemed very likely that other duties would require efforts far beyond anything hitherto demanded of him. For example, the responsibility for recovering materiel from the battlefield, which required Ordnance troops to be present in the combat zone, was cited by General Campbell in November 1942 when he requested Army Service Forces to redesignate the Ordnance Department a supply arm, rather than a supply service. General Somervell turned down the request.9 Attempts to obtain War Department approval for an Army Ordnance Command at army headquarters, with an enlarged staff consisting of a headquarters and headquarters company organized under T/O 9-200-1, also came to nothing. General McNair's dislike of large army headquarters and his horror of excess paper work in the theaters made any sizable increase impossible during 1943.10

At Fifth Army—the first U.S. army activated overseas—Colonel Ford as Ordnance officer had tried to obtain an Army Ordnance Command organized on an operational basis, and Niblo had continued the effort, but they had failed. By late July, faced with the probability that Fifth Army combat operations would require as many as 36 Ordnance companies, Niblo was ready to welcome "any workable solution or plan . . . rather than further delay in search of a perfect T/O & T/E 9-200-1."11 Reports that came back from the Sicily Campaign showed clearly that an Ordnance officer with a weak staff was badly handicapped.12 In the end, Niblo's answer was the group organization.

There was one important difference between the new group, which was designated the 6694th Ordnance Group (Provisional), and its predecessor, the 1st Provisional Ordnance Group. Instead of commanding it himself, as he had the POG when he formed it as Ordnance officer of II Corps, Colonel Niblo placed his executive officer, Colonel Rose, at the head, delegating to


him all operation and command of army Ordnance battalions and envisaging the Ordnance Section of Fifth Army headquarters as a policy-forming, advisory, and planning unit only.13 Rose, after commanding two battalions in the early part of the Tunisia Campaign, had gone to Fifth Army with his old commander, and in April had been sent to the British Eighth Army to study its organization.14

For the important job of maintenance and supply officer of the Fifth Army Ordnance Section, Niblo had Colonel Moffitt, who also had come to North Africa with him. Moffitt had served as a battalion commander throughout the Tunisia Campaign and had gone to Sicily as commander of the 42d Ordnance Battalion. After the Sicily Campaign was over Colonel Medaris, on leaving for England to become Ordnance officer of First Army, recommended Moffitt to succeed him as Ordnance officer of II Corps. However, Niblo was able to obtain his services and Moffitt reported for duty in August 1943. With the 20 men in Rose's headquarters and the 31 planned for the advance and rear echelons of Niblo's staff, there were 51 experienced men for staff duties and command operations.15

Having succeeded in obtaining an adequate staff, Niblo went a step further in planning Fifth Army Ordnance Service. He wanted a second group headquarters to be used to control the composite battalions sent forward in direct support of VI Corps, but such a unit was not available in the theater and could not be obtained from the War Department. Some three months later, after the strength of the German resistance was evident to all, Niblo was able to organize three groups—one for forward third echelon work, one for ammunition supply, and one for operations in the rear.16 For the time being, however, he placed under the 66g4th Ordnance Group the four battalions planned for the campaign: one for ammunition; one for third echelon support of the VI Corps infantry divisions; one for repair of corps and army trucks, DUKW's, and other motor vehicles; and one to do fourth echelon work on tanks and other heavy maintenance.17

The group headquarters and most of the battalions were to land in Italy on D plus 12, 21 September, when the bulk of Fifth Army was scheduled to arrive. The American D-day combat forces were VI Corps headquarters, the 36th Infantry Division (fresh from the United States), one tank battalion, and a floating reserve consisting of a reinforced regimental combat team of the veteran 45th Division. The Americans were to land at Paestum, the British 10


Corps with two divisions a few miles farther north, near Salerno. The AVALANCHE plan of 26 August was based on the assumption that the Italian resistance would approximate that in HUSKY—which was very little—and that Germany's commitments in the USSR would continue to hold the bulk of the German ground and air force on the Soviet front.18

Optimism grew after Italy's surrender to the Allies on 3 September. Aboard ship just before sailing with the D-day convoy on 5 September, General Clark seemed to think there would not be much opposition. He even talked of the possibility that one of his follow-up divisions might land as far north as Rome. Some of the newspaper correspondents understood General Eisenhower to say that the Allied forces would be in Rome by mid-December or very soon thereafter. The British were optimistic too. On the evening of 7 September a member of Admiral Sir Andrew B. Cunningham's staff came aboard the Boise, one of the ships in the D-day convoy then steaming toward Italy, with the news that the landing in the harbor of Salerno would be unopposed.19

These miscalculations were not fatal to the Allied cause, although they came near being so to the American beachhead on the evening of 14-15 September, when General Clark was faced with the possibility of being driven back to the sea.20 Their main effect was to disarrange the schedule of the follow-up landings. The necessity for sending in fresh combat troops ahead of time, out of proportion to the service elements already landed, placed a great strain on the supporting units. Additional combat troops were landed in Italy while the Ordnance companies assigned to support them were still in North Africa and Sicily. Niblo's carefully worked out task assignments soon had to be revised. After II Corps was sent to the aid of VI Corps early in October, his whole organization had to be taken apart, reorganized, and considerably enlarged. By mid-November the 6694th Ordnance Group was comparable in size to a brigade. The Italian campaign was destined to be the first real test of Ordnance field service in direct support of ground forces; according to Colonel Coffey, "the first true large-scale proving ground."21

"Hell in the Dunes"

Colonel Niblo planned carefully for AVALANCHE. The report on Sicily by Maj. William H. Connerat, Jr., had shown clearly that more weapons and ammunition had been landed there than the men could


classify or segregate. For the Italian landing, Niblo scaled down the amount of supplies, arranging for the bulk to come in on the convoy due on D plus 12, and sent in more Ordnance troops. He also took along some experienced officers to direct beachhead operations. As commander of the AVALANCHE maintenance battalion, the 45th, he had Lt. Col. Henry L. McGrath, who was Colonel Crawford's executive at AFHQ Ordnance Section and had been an observer of the landing in Sicily. To direct ammunition operations Niblo was able to obtain Maj. Daniel F. Shepherd, Crawford's ammunition officer. The DUKW repair expert in the landing was Capt. Herbert A. Suddard of the Amphibian Vehicle School at Fifth Army's Invasion Training Center, who had made a study of DUKW maintenance in the invasion of Sicily. There was nothing wrong with Niblo's planning—but Salerno was to be quite different from Sicily.22

On the evening before D-day, as the attacking forces were sailing toward the Gulf of Salerno on a calm sea silvered by the moon, General Eisenhower's voice over the radios announced to the troops the surrender of Italy. Shouts from the whole fleet echoed over the Mediterranean. In his cabin on the Ancon General Clark was discussing with his staff "such pleasant possibilities as a direct move into Naples Harbor"; one Air Forces unit was so certain of landing at Naples that it dewaterproofed its vehicles aboard ship. Some infantrymen of the 36th Division proposed to go in with unloaded weapons, some complained that they would not have a chance to fight.23

What they got was "hell in the dunes."24 As the assault forces neared the beaches the Germans opened up with artillery, mortar, and machine gun fire. The machine gun fire came from the most seaward dunes, about 20 to 70 yards behind the shore line; artillery fire from farther back, where a flat plain extended inland three to five miles before giving way to a mountain range. Tanks roamed the plain and even came down to the beaches; two of them fired on small landing craft and had to be driven off by gunfire from an LST. Mine fields and heavy shellfire closed two of the southernmost beaches for several hours. The dodging, circling landing craft and DUKW's were forced to land wherever they could. But in spite of the German barrage, which increased with the first light, the cursing, sweating shore parties made roads, laid out beach dumps, and began to unload. By midmorning the situation was better. Naval guns (at first silent to gain surprise) had gone into action; the men on the beaches had driven back tanks with bazookas and the invaluable 105-mm. howitzer; and the infantry, recovering from the first shock, climbed out of foxholes and began to push out toward the hills. By midafternoon men, vehicles, and supplies were crossing the beaches at a fast pace.25


The Ordnance men began landing at 0900. There were detachments from seven companies: two ammunition, the 66th and the 2652d (provisional); two automotive maintenance, the 3485th and the 3486th, the latter primarily for DUKW's; two medium maintenance, the 46th and the 28th, the latter primarily for antiaircraft maintenance; and a depot, the 189th. All were ashore by 1900 and working in the Engineer dumps and motor pool. For the first three days they were attached to the 531st Engineer Shore Regiment; on 12 September they reverted to VI Corps and were placed under the newly arrived 45th Ordnance Battalion headquarters, all except the men of the DUKW repair company, who were left under the Engineers a few days longer to work at the beachheads.26

As a result of the disrupted landing plans and congested beaches, Ordnance shop trucks, tools, and other equipment were late getting ashore or were landed on the wrong beaches and could not be found. All the detachments except the 46th's were without proper tools and equipment for the first three or four days. This was especially serious for the truck and DUKW mechanics, who always bore most of the maintenance burden in beachhead operations. With only hand tools and almost no spare parts, the men did their best, cannibalizing wrecked vehicles and borrowing tools from the Engineers until D plus 3, when the technical vehicles of the 46th, the bulk of the company, and about 200 tons of supplies landed. The little 18-man detachment of the 189th Depot Company was perhaps worse off than any other unit. It had no jeeps to use in searching the beaches or any trucks or cranes to use in hauling and stacking the mountainous supplies piled haphazardly on the beaches. Without transportation, the men even had trouble getting rations and water.27

The ammunition men were better off than they had been in the invasion of Sicily, but the confusion that everyone had come to expect in amphibious operations was just as great. For example, a box containing most of the 155-mm. howitzer primers got lost among the piles of rations and other supplies and caused a dangerous shortage in 155-mm. howitzer ammunition in the first few days. Ammunition arrived at the dumps in nearly every combination conceivable; a single DUKW would bring in as many as 21 types. But unlike their predecessors in HUSKY, the ammunition detachments in AVALANCHE had 2 1/2-ton trucks to use in arranging their dumps and could thus segregate types and make issues without errors. This time, there was no over-supply to burden transportation, and Ordnance, not the Engineers, was in control. Major Shepherd got ashore shortly after noon on D-day to supervise the beach dumps, unofficially; on D plus 2 he was officially attached to the Engineer shore regiment to control all ammunition and saw to it that there were no shortages. For being able to anticipate the combat troops' requirements and thus get critical ammunition unloaded on time, for "unselfish devotion to duty, coolness under fire, and capable


leadership," he was given a commendation by General Clark.28

Colonel McGrath, who arrived with the headquarters of the 45th Ordnance Battalion on the evening of D plus 2, and Major Shepherd ran the show very competently for the first twelve days. Niblo's invasion staff paid off handsomely. Captain Suddard, sent to Maiori with an Ordnance detachment of 4 officers and 50 enlisted men to support Colonel Darby's Ranger Task Force, worked hard and long under enemy shellfire and bombing. For this he received a promotion to major—the first battlefield promotion of an Ordnance officer or of any service branch officer.29

McGrath rounded up the Ordnance detachments scattered along the beaches and assembled them at his battalion bivouac area two miles north of Paestum, the ruins of an ancient town just behind the American beaches, distinguished by a conical stone watchtower and the Doric columns of two temples. On the morning of the 13th, the day the Germans counterattacked, he set off in his jeep to make contact with the combat troops and the next day sent out contact parties from the 46th Ordnance Company to service and resupply the weapons of the infantry and tank battalions that had staved off the German advance at the danger point near the Sele River.30

The first job tackled by the 45th Battalion as a whole was dewaterproofing. By mid-September, areas for this important work had been set aside behind the beaches; until then only the air intake pipes and a little of the grease had been removed from the vehicles. Many vehicles were operating without air cleaners, or without oil in air cleaners, in the clouds of dust that were everywhere; batteries and gear cases had not been given proper attention. McGrath sent details from his companies to the dewaterproofing areas to make certain that the vehicles were properly checked and to be sure that air cleaners were installed and filled. Trucks became even more immediately important when it was discovered that because of a favorable beach gradient and good weather—there were only small waves, no surf—they could be backed up to landing craft to be loaded and then driven to inland dumps.31

Supplies and reinforcements were pouring in. By 20 September the 82d Airborne Division was ashore, the 3d Infantry Division and the rest of the 45th had been brought forward from Sicily, and the 34th Infantry Division was on the way from North Africa. By then the beachhead was secure, the enemy was withdrawing, and the 3d and 45th Divisions were beginning


the advance northward toward the next objective, the Volturno River. The advance, slow in getting under way because of the unexpected resistance on the beaches, was further impeded by the Germans' skillful delaying tactics in blowing bridges and planting land mines in the path of the invaders. It was 1 October before the British 10 Corps, advancing up the coast, entered Naples. The wrecked port, by "a miracle of reconstruction"32 was placed in operation by 15 October but until then, as the U.S. VI Corps continued to press north of Naples in pursuit of the enemy and the first elements of II Corps headquarters began to arrive from Sicily, supplies had to come from the Salerno dumps.33

The inland dumps were managed better than they had been at Sicily, for at Salerno, because of the insistence of General Clark's G-4, Col. Ralph H. Tate, the service chiefs, not the Engineer beach group, had control after 12 September; and fortunately plans had called for an abnormally large buildup of twenty days' supply over the beaches. These supplies helped tremendously when more combat troops had to be brought in than originally planned. Even so, Colonel Tate "sweated blood" in attempting to get supplies to the front in the fifteen days before the port opened.34 For Colonel Niblo there was a stroke of bad luck early in the game.

The greatest blow for Ordnance in AVALANCHE came on 21 September after the ordeal of the dunes was over. It took place not on land, but at sea where fifteen Liberty ships of the D plus 12 convoy were waiting to come in. One of them, the S.S. William W. Gherard, carried the depot stocks and organic equipment of the 189th Ordnance Depot Company—16 vans and other vehicles loaded with weapons and spare parts. Also aboard were the supplies of three other companies—all the organic equipment of the 529th Heavy Maintenance Company (Tank), as well as 30 days supply of replacement vehicles and spare parts; three tank recovery units belonging to the 477th Evacuation Company; and 183 boxes of bulk-stored spare parts destined for the 46th Medium Maintenance Company.35

The danger from the guided bombs that sank one merchant ship and badly damaged another in an earlier convoy seemed to have abated, but submarines were beginning to worry the Navy. Three U-boats were reported in the southeast Tyrrhenian Sea in the late afternoon of 20 September. The next morning the Gherard was torpedoed near Point Licosa. The tug Moreno tried to beach her, but fire broke out in holds containing gasoline and ammunition, making salvage impossible. By dark all the men aboard except one had been saved, but the ship was a total loss.36 So went down "all," reported Colonel Niblo, "repeat all, Ordnance Class II supplies to support operation AVALANCHE." The worst effect was the loss of all the spare parts that had been counted on for maintenance to D plus 17.37

Niblo requested replacements immediate-


ly, but they did not arrive until 1 December, when the second big convoy came in. In the meantime there was the problem of resupplying small arms lost in battle— carbines, rifles, pistols, and bayonets—and supplying the newly landed combat troops, of which some 4,000 arrived without hand weapons. These items were short in North Africa: SOS NATOUSA had advised that it could not arm replacements and maintain the reserve as well. "There must be an explanation," commented Colonel McGrath, "but 1 wonder if it would be convincing to a doughboy short something he needs to fight with."38

Watches and binoculars were in very short supply. Some of the antiaircraft units who shot down friendly planes in the first ten days complained that many of their observers could not identify Allied markings in time because they had no field glasses. Field artillery and tank destroyer units also suffered from the shortage. Pilferage accounted for some of the watch and binocular losses, but it was also true that more were needed for mountain fighting, which required a great number of patrols and observation posts, than had been called for in tables of equipment.39

"Uninterrupted" Ordnance Service

As the infantry divisions pushed north from Salerno to Cassino along the edge of the Neapolitan plain—the Campania felix of green winter wheat, Lombardy poplars, and orchards—and into rocky hills and somber mountains blanketed with rain clouds and reverberating with the roar of guns, the Ordnance units followed close behind. By the end of October Colonel Rose's 6694th Ordnance Group headquarters, which had landed with the D plus 12 convoy, had 7 battalions with 29 companies, a total of nearly 6,000 men. Most of the men were veterans of Sicily or Tunisia. They came from Palermo or Bizerte on LST's and LCT's with their shop trucks, cargo trucks, vans, and jeeps, and found Italy a welcome change. The men of the 525th Heavy Maintenance Tank Company, the unit that had served with the British in the Libyan desert, had the first fresh fruit they had tasted since they left home in May of 1942.40

On arrival, the battalion commanding officers were given their task assignments. The 42d and 45th Ordnance Battalions were to provide third echelon maintenance and supply support to II Corps and VI Corps, respectively; the 62d Ammunition Battalion was to operate army forward ASP's and rear dumps; the 87th Battalion was to repair corps and army trucks, DUKW's and other motor vehicles; the 188th was to furnish third echelon maintenance to all tank and tank destroyer groups; the 197th was responsible for evacuation and fourth echelon work; and the 2630th, a new unit organized in North Africa, was to provide third echelon maintenance and supply to all the antiaircraft units in Fifth Army.41

The third echelon companies were given


definite assignments to support a specified infantry division or artillery, tank, tank destroyer, antiaircraft or other unit. Colonel Niblo was convinced from a study of the Tunisia and Sicily Campaigns that it was inefficient to place Ordnance troops geographically in certain areas with the general task of supporting all combat units that might be passing through. Therefore he gave firm instructions that when the line units moved the Ordnance units moved too, as closely behind as logistics would permit, sending out contact parties daily to combat units. He ordered the group commander, the battalion commander, or the company commander to make periodic calls on the commanding officer of the combat unit being supported to keep him informed of the mission and location of his Ordnance troops and the condition of his Ordnance materiel, and to offer and request co-operation in solving communications and other problems. Niblo did everything he could to instill in his men the conviction that every major combat unit was entitled to support at all times. His slogan throughout the Italian campaign was "UNINTERRUPTED Ordnance Service."42

In placing Ordnance units close behind the combat troops, with definite assignments, Colonel Niblo had the enthusiastic support of Colonel Tate, the Fifth Army G-4, who wanted to keep supply service troops under army control for greater flexibility and at the same time give no cause for complaints that support was too far to the rear, a complaint often heard about the Sicily Campaign. Another advantage in Tate's eyes was that the men in the division or corps and the Ordnance men "would get to know each other and the ordnance outfit would take great pride in repairing and servicing the equipment of the outfit it worked with."43 This feeling was fostered when Niblo sent the 42d Battalion to the vicinity of Avellino to act as "host" or "welcoming committee" to the units of II Corps that were ferried from Sicily in October, and drove up the Italian coast. The 42d selected bivouac areas, provided guides and signs, and, after organizing the staging area, repaired and conditioned all weapons and vehicles so that they were ready for action when the corps moved into the combat zone.44

The policy of moving Ordnance companies when their combat units moved had to be modified in late January 1944 when the War Department was reorganizing and regrouping certain combat units, such as nondivisional artillery, tank, and tank destroyer battalions, so that they would be more sensitive to the surge of battle. The constant regrouping and shifting made it too difficult for the Ordnance maintenance companies, limited in number, to keep up. Therefore, as a general policy, maintenance and supply responsibility was transferred from one Ordnance company to another as required. The old company forwarded to the new company within twenty-four hours an envelope containing complete, up-to-date records of the status of Ordnance support to the combat unit involved, a process described by Niblo as the "simple transfer of the record of business with a customer from one branch office to another." The Envelope System, as it was called, made it possible for one company


to pick up quickly where another left off, and gave excellent results.45

Poop Sheets and Purple Blurbs

In the interest of UNINTERRUPTED Ordnance Service, Colonel Niblo believed in keeping his Ordnance units as well informed as possible. He expanded the usual Army Ordnance Administrative Instructions, prescribed in the Ordnance field manual, to include revised task assignments and policies, useful technical information, and items of interest. He also took steps to keep his Ordnance commanders informed on the movement and equipment of the combat forces. He knew from his own experience how vital such information was. For example, learning for the first time at a conference that a unit was coming in with different weapons than those he had planned for, he had to leave the conference in order to stop some trucks that had already started and get them to return to base and pick up the proper ammunition and spares.46

Beginning early in November 1943 he issued Ordnance commanding officers down to battalion level a daily top secret Ordnance Operations Bulletin giving the tactical situation, including the location of the combat units, and the Ordnance situation. Copies went also to Ordnance officers at AFHQ, SOS Peninsular Base Section (PBS), and corps and divisions, more than thirty copies in all. Because purple ink was the only kind available in Naples for multicopy, the bulletins got the name of purple blurbs. The cover sheet bore the insignia of Fifth Army Ordnance Service, which was a robot holding up a flaming bomb superimposed on the Fifth Army sleeve insignia.47

The number and frequency of the mimeographed bulletins and instructions that poured out of the Fifth Army Ordnance office during the fall of 1943 earned for Colonel Rose the title of Poop Sheet Pappy; and one battalion commander complained that "the makeup of my battalion keeps shifting with the ebb and flow of poop-sheets from Nib."48 Nevertheless, the publications were undoubtedly helpful. General Coffey, Ordnance officer of SOS NATOUSA, considered the Fifth Army Ordnance Administrative Instructions "the finest thing in their line" he had ever seen, and the Operations Bulletins were considered by Headquarters, Fifth Army, one of the outstanding contributions by Ordnance to the Italian campaign.49

Ammo Joe

Ammunition was the subject of Army Ordnance Administrative Instruction 1. Colonel Niblo gave ammunition supply, always of the first importance, particular attention because in several respects it was a pioneering operation. For the first time there existed an ammunition battalion able to operate tactical ammunition supply points. In North Africa such battalions


Image:  Ammo Joe


had been used only at large depots; in Sicily, the ammunition battalion sent forward at the end of the campaign did not have enough transportation to furnish adequate support. In Italy the 62d Ammunition Battalion, commanded by an exceptionally capable officer, Lt. Col. William H. Jaynes, and closely controlled by Colonel Niblo (since the 6694th Group had no ammunition officer), operated forward and rear ASP's stocking all Class V supplies, Engineer and Chemical Warfare as well as Ordnance.

During the first few months of the Italian campaign the ammunition battalion effected several innovations. One, a new requirement of Fifth Army, was the submission to higher headquarters at 1800 every day of a report giving the amount of ammunition (by types) expended in the previous twenty-four hours, and the amount on hand at the end of the period. Another was the first effective segregation of artillery ammunition by lot number. A third was a guide service that prepared maps and made signs showing the way to the ASP's. For the signs, two men at battalion headquarters, Sergeant Offenbacher and Pfc. Arko, made a sketch of "Ammo Joe," a striding soldier carrying aloft a huge shell. This figure, appearing on signs, ammunition maps, and messenger vehicles, became the symbol, and Ammo Joe the nickname, of Fifth Army ammunition supply.50

The segregation of artillery ammunition by lot number, successful for the first time in the war, promised to be a great step forward in ammunition supply. Experience in Tunisia and Sicily had convinced artillerymen that the best results in barrage fire could be obtained only by the use of one lot of ammunition, that is, ammunition manufactured by one manufacturer under the same conditions and thus uniform. Mixed lots produced shot dispersion that made it unsafe for infantrymen to approach closer than fifty yards to their own artillery fire.51 Early in the Italian campaign, the artillerymen asked Ordnance for a considerable amount of one lot of ammunition to fire close-support missions. The request was not unreasonable, for every lot of ammunition had a code number, given to it at the time of manufacture,


but it brought groans from the Ordnance ammunition men. They had tried sorting by lot number in North Africa but had had to give up; the effort not only took more labor than could be spared but gave discouraging results. For example, at Bou Ghebka the 53d Ammunition Company had found 112 different lots in 150 bundles of 105-mm. ammunition. There were no more than three bundles of any one lot, and the average lot size was 1 1/3 bundles.

After the request in Italy, Ordnance resumed the attempt, and Niblo tried a new method of sorting. Instead of physical labor at one stage of the process, he used paper work. The ammunition handlers tore down a stack of ammunition and recorded the lot numbers on paper. Then the depot office men tabulated the results of the sorting. If there were more than 17 bundles for any lot, they were collected at one point, marked Specially Segregated Ammunition, and shipped under this designation to forward ASP's. Lots of 5 to 17 bundles were left separated and were not consolidated and moved until more ammunition of the lot showed up.52

Ammo Joe was congratulated by Brig. Gen. Thomas E. Lewis, Fifth Army Artillery officer. Colonel McGrath reported to Colonel Crawford, "Niblo is definitely the darling of the Artillery boys since he made effective the segregation of ammunition by lot number. This is accomplished and it's working. Tom Lewis and Joe Burrill get lyric every time they speak of it. Seriously it is undoubtedly a tremendous help to the Artillery man and represents the solution of what seemed to be an insoluble problem." In the United States, the War Department, beginning in late January 1944, stopped the shipment overseas of lots in small quantities.53

Lot sorting, the submission of new reports, the layout and operation of forward ASP's in difficult terrain and rainy weather, all placed a heavy drain on ammunition manpower and equipment. More clerks, carpenters, sign painters, truck-drivers, and laborers, and more trucks, water trailers, stoves, and other necessities were required than were provided by TOE's, which had not, as late as March 1944, even begun to catch up with the lessons learned in the Mediterranean theater. All the companies had more than twice as many trucks and trailers as their T/E called for, having taken them from maintenance stocks, and they needed still more, for most companies operated two or more ASP's. Ordnance often had to draw additional trucks from a pool set up by Fifth Army's Transportation Section, and it took careful planning and coordination with Transportation to make possible the daily shipment of enough ammunition to forward ASP's.54

The ammunition labor problem was solved by hiring Italian civilians. At the end of November, Fifth Army Ordnance was using a thousand-man Italian work battalion, broken down into five "Italian companies," with one each attached to the


five companies of the 62d Ordnance Ammunition Battalion. The Italians were paid 87 cents a day, with 30 cents deducted for their food, and received their clothing, mostly from captured Italian Army stores. Their discipline was semimilitary, for most of them were ex-soldiers, and on the whole they were good workers. The greatest advantage was that they were attached to the ammunition companies and could be taken wherever the company moved, so that labor was a more or less constant factor instead of a variable one.55

Forward ASP's normally stocked two units of fire of artillery ammunition and one unit of fire for all other weapons. Reserve ASP's doubled that amount, but this target was raised or lowered whenever availability of transportation, capability of resupply, or previous battle experience dictated a change. Issues were made to the combat forces according to the system used in North Africa, that is, upon the presentation of a transportation order signed by the division ammunition officer or special unit ammunition officer certifying that the ammunition was required to replace a like amount expended in combat and was not in excess of the unit's basic load.56

By 9 November 1943, two months after the landing at Salerno, theater stocks of Ordnance Class V supplies, built up on the basis of ten units of fire at the base section for all weapons, reached the astronomical figure of 320,500 long tons. Though shortages in certain types of artillery ammunition, especially for the 105-mm. howitzer, were already causing some anxiety, there was hope at Fifth Army headquarters that better transportation, the ironing out of difficulties in setting up the Peninsular Base Section, and the substitution of actual theater experience on daily expenditures of artillery ammunition (1/3 of a unit of fire) for the War Department's estimate (1/4 of a unit of fire) would soon solve the problem of resupply.57

The Search for Better Organization

The Allied advance was stopped temporarily in mid-November by mountainous terrain, the stubborn resistance of the enemy, and the rains, which, increasing since October, had swelled the Volturno River, deepened the mud, and made life miserable for the weary troops. General Alexander ordered Fifth Army to halt its attack for two weeks. Colonel Niblo took advantage of the lull to reorganize his Fifth Army Ordnance Service. He had never given up the idea of a forward group headquarters to control all army third echelon maintenance and supply support of combat troops, and the arrival of the newly organized 2630 Ordnance Battalion gave him a headquarters to use for this purpose. Obtaining approval from NATOUSA to reorganize the battalion under TOE 9-312 as a group headquarters commanded by a full colonel, he placed under the 2630th the 42d, 45th, 188th, and 87th Battalions, and also the French third echelon battalion, the 651st Maintenance Battalion, which had been organized to operate Ordnance support for French troops. To com-


mand the forward group headquarters he selected Lt. Col. George L. Artamonoff, who had for most of the past year been working with the French Rearmament Commission in Algiers.58

Another and more sweeping reorganization took place a few weeks later. Colonel Niblo again brought Colonel Rose into his main command headquarters as executive and converted the 6694th Group, now commanded by Lt. Col. William H. Jaynes, into a field headquarters charged with all fourth echelon maintenance, supply, evacuation, distribution, and salvage within Fifth Army. The change brought the command of all Ordnance groups and battalions directly into Niblo's hand; it was now plain that delegating authority to the commander of the 6694th Group had been a mistake. The introduction of the group headquarters between the Ordnance officer and the battalion commanders had resulted in the multiplication of paper work and in conflicting orders to battalions. It had also slowed the reaction time of Ordnance supply service. Often weaknesses in the service had attained formidable proportions before Niblo was aware of them.59

Part of the trouble in the earlier organization had been caused by dissension between Colonel Rose as commander of the 6694th Group, and Colonel Moffitt, Niblo's staff officer for maintenance and supply. One lesson learned in these early campaigns was that "the military art is a most personal one."60 Rose worked hard, but was considered un-co-operative by several of his closest colleagues; Moffitt was able, but was described by a fellow officer as having "a genius for irritating people." On one occasion the Fifth Army G-2 reported Rose and Moffitt for their language to each other over the telephone. In January 1944 both men were forced to leave Fifth Army Ordnance office because of illness. Moffitt, suffering from jaundice and overwork, came down with pneumonia and was taken to the hospital in Naples, where he died in March. Rose contracted dysentery and was transferred to an easier job as Ordnance officer of Northern Base Section in Corsica, which had been captured by the Allies in October and was being developed as an air base.61

Personalities aside, it was no easy matter to evolve an efficient Ordnance command organization in Italy at that stage of the war. The best Niblo could do during the first winter of the Italian campaign was to obtain from NATOUSA authority to activate a new group to use as headquarters— the 2660th Ordnance Group (Provisional), organized on 7 January 1944 at Caserta, in the baroque royal palace (the Versailles of Naples) occupied by Fifth Army headquarters. The group provided an adjutant and better organization, though it did not increase the size of Niblo's staff. The Ordnance Section was simply transferred to the 2660th on temporary duty, while remaining assigned to the Headquarters and


Headquarters Company, Fifth Army (T/O 200-1). It was far from an ideal solution. Niblo came to feel that an army Ordnance brigade was the answer, with the brigade commander to administer a small staff section at army headquarters as well as to command all Ordnance groups. But brigade organization, early advocated by Maj. Gen. James K. Grain, had been disapproved by the General Staff and was not achieved during World War II.62

With the few men allotted in T/O 200-1, the 2660th Group operated through four office divisions: one for maintenance and general supply, one for ammunition and bomb disposal,63 one for administration, and one for operations and inspection. It controlled three large field headquarters, furnishing ammunition, third echelon maintenance and supply, and fourth echelon support to Fifth Army. The whole organization contained nearly seven thousand men, including some of the French units that had been coming into Italy from North Africa since mid-December. The field headquarters were also using thousands of Italian civilian laborers for maintenance work as well as for Class II and IV and ammunition supply.64

Niblo announced in a bulletin that the January reorganization was to be the last one. This announcement was received with joy by officers in the field who had found it hard to adjust to the many changes that had taken place since October. One of them commented, "This is a historic moment, and I think long overdue—so hope it sticks."65 It did stick, in essentials, though some changes were later made. The most important took place in May 1944, when the 2630th Ordnance Battalion (Provisional) became the 53d Ordnance Base Group, the 6694th Ordnance Group (Provisional) became the 55th Ordnance Base Group, and the 56th Ordnance Base Group was activated to control the army ammunition battalions, relieving the 62d Ordnance Ammunition Battalion of the dual function of group and battalion.66

Later changes were made necessary by the departure of units to the European Theater of Operations, but the pattern of organization remained the same—that of having one field headquarters to operate third echelon service, another, fourth echelon supply and evacuation, and a third, ammunition. The 2660th Ordnance Group (Provisional) remained the command headquarters through the rest of the Italian campaign, twenty long months, including two winters.67


In November 1943 General Coffey criticized the Fifth Army Ordnance organization for having too much fourth echelon service. Army then had eleven heavy maintenance and four depot companies located not very far from Naples, where the Peninsular Base Section was being organized; theoretically army would not need so much heavy maintenance, and the situation created the danger of undue dispersion of spare parts, already a "serious headache."68 Nevertheless, Niblo, bolstered by the recommendations of Fifth Army ground force Ordnance officers that he retain full control of such service, went ahead with plans to establish a large base shop and depot in the army area. By late January Colonel Jaynes's 6694th base group had three strong battalions: a supply battalion, the 5th; a battalion for evacuation and salvage, the 8yth; and a heavy maintenance battalion, the 197th.69

It was fortunate that Niblo established his big army rear area, for Peninsular Base Section was not able to furnish adequate support for several months. Locating and establishing working space in crowded and rubble-strewn Naples took time. Base section Ordnance units and equipment were slow in arriving. In January the Peninsular Base Section in Naples had only three heavy maintenance companies, and one of them was on loan from Fifth Army. The most urgent job of PBS Ordnance units in the early months was not fourth echelon work but vehicle assembly and third echelon repair of the thousands of trucks used in rehabilitating the port and the city. Effective Ordnance fourth echelon maintenance support of the army was not available in the PBS until the middle of February 1944; there was no fifth echelon support until the following July.70

Near Capua, an old fortress town on Highway 7 on the Volturno River, Colonel Jaynes operated a large field arsenal housed in Italian Army buildings and manned by men who were veterans by now of several campaigns, men who, according to General Clark, "had discovered the hard way that necessity is the mother of invention." Jaynes's mechanics, helped by hundreds of Italian civilians and by the concentration of machine tool equipment, rebuilt weapons and vehicles and manufactured parts and special equipment on a mass-production basis. One example of a big industrial operation was the brake repair work done in the shop on trucks and jeeps whose brakes had been damaged by the mud that piled up on highways after the torrential rains of late 1943. In early 1944, the Capua Arsenal handled many more crises on the Cassino front in the grueling months of mountain fighting, which General Clark called "the most difficult months of the entire campaign."71 Beginning in late January the arsenal also had to help solve some of the unprecedented problems of the Anzio beachhead.


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