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papajoad
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The 474th Infantry Regiment (Separate)

From: The First Special Service Force, A War History of the North Americans 1942-1944

By Lieutenant Colonel Robert D Burhans

 

Two squealing French trains moved slowly from Antibes station on the frosty morning of December 28, 1944, bound with the U.S. contingent of the Force for Normandy in the opposite corner of France. The four-day rail ride marked the transition from an elite assault force to a standard infantry regiment.

 

European Theater of Operations issued orders setting up the 474rh Infantry

Regiment (Separate) –not part of any division- to be under the command of Colonel Edwin A Walker with initial station at Barneville-sur-Mer, France. Normandy Base Section, to which the Regiment was assigned, was ordered to administer the Regiment while at Barneville. Two objectives were set up: to re-form and train as a regiment while in preparation for an operation in Norway, and to act as a coastal security force between La-Haye-du-Puits and Cherbourg against possible raids by the German garrison of some 2,000 men still confined to the Channel Islands. The by-passed enemy, complete with weapons, ammunition, and a small navy, had been left unconsolidated on the islands of Guernsey, Jersey, Alderney and Sark.

 

On January 6, 1945, the Regiment became an entity in fact with the order closing out the First Special Service Force and activating the 474th. Three days later 345 enlisted men and 8 officers who had both volunteered and been selected to fill a draft from ETO for parachutists, left La-Haye-du-Puits railhead for the 82nd and 101st Airborne divisions as parachute replacements. More than three-quarters of the remaining jump personnel departed with that draft.

 

To the small cadre of Forcemen remaining were added the same day 483 officer and enlisted replacements fresh from the United States. On January 19 the 99th Infantry Battalion, comprising Norwegian-American personnel formed early in the war, arrived from attachment to First Army in the Bulge area to become the 474th Regiment’s third battalion. Force Service Battalion personnel were broken down to man Headquarters and Service company positions. The Cannon Platoon was enlarged to become the regimental Cannon Company. The 52nd Antitank Company, former 1st Airborne Task Force unit, had joined in Southern France on ETO assignment as the regimental Antitank Company.

 

Thus the Regiment was formed out of scattered pieces. Its final makeup bore this complexion: First SSF personnel: 74 officers, 612 enlisted men; Rangers (who had joined the Force between Anzio and Rome): 7 officers, 427 enlisted men; 99th Battalion: 43 officers, 857 enlisted men; 552d AT Company: 6 officers, 150 enlisted men; infantry replacements to SSF: 9 officers, 572 enlisted men; and new replacements to 474th Infantry Regiment: 21 officers, 462 enlisted men.

 

 

Colonel Edwin A. Walker commanded the Regiment. Battalion commanders were: 1st Battalion, Lieutenant Colonel Richard Whitney; 2nd Battalion, Lieutenant Colonel Robert S. Moore; and 99th Battalion, Lieutenant Colonel Harold D. Hanson.

 

Heavy mortars and heavy machine guns were the main change in new ordnance from the old organization which had a heavy surplus of light machine guns and mortars. The Cannon Company acquired 105mm howitzers in place of the old half-tracked 75’s. Otherwise armament was about the same.

 

Nor was training as a regiment greatly different from old Force training. A regimental squad was a Force section. Tables of equipment did add, at least for the heavy-weapons companies, a greater measure of mobility, with 12 jeeps assigned the company to haul weapons and ammunition. The training as a regiment continued through January and half of February.

 

Only the most meager facts were known concerning Norway. The presence of the 99th Battalion (which designation it retained in the Regiment) made the Norwegian venture appear certain. It was known in a general way that SHAEF had three sets of plans for a Scandinavian operation: Attack against a hostile shore which would involve a major seaborne invasion; attack against token resistance, and an unopposed landing to occupy the country in event of general Nazi collapse.

 

Training continued. The Ardennes bulge was slowly being straightened out. The Rhine crossings wee imminent. As order reached Barneville from Paris on February 22 instructing Colonel Walker to reorganize the Regiment as a “security and screening force to work in the rear of armies in as anti-sabotage and anti-espionage role.” This puzzler was cleared up on February 28 when colonel Fred de Rohan, Assistant G-3 of SHAEF, arrived at Barneville to inform the Regiment it was to prepare immediately for a roving mission behind the 12th Army Group, one battalion behind each of the First, third, and Ninth Armies, keeping a lookout for hostile Germans in the armies rear areas.

 

Organization alteration to fit this task was primarily one of communications and mobility. M-8 armored cars and light tanks were requisitioned for Antitank Company which was broken down to the three battalions. Canon Company received M-7 armored 105mm howitzers, self-propelled, and regimental and battalion signal sections were equipped with long-range SCR-399 radios receivers and transmitters. Further, the Regiment was made completely mobile by the addition of sufficient cargo-carrying trucks to haul all foot elements.

 

Under its new shape the regiment was crystallizing into a fast moving force when orders came in latter March to move to Aachen on April 1 and there be ready for action behind 12th Army Group. The tents on the cold, wet, wind-swept dunes of Barneville-sur-Mer came down and the freshly bloomed apple blossoms were left behind. The convoys were on their way. All vehicles ordered had not arrived by departure time and each battalion put three companies on trains for the move eastward.

 

Colonel Walker had chafed from the start against the scattering of his Regiment across Germany on a security mission. From Aachen he drove down to newly captured Frankfurt and sold Third Army on taking the Regiment whole. Neither 12th Army Group nor Third Army had had advance orders of the 474th’s arrival in the Army zone. SHAEF had been late in informing.

 

It was a long day’s movement from Aachen across the Rhine the Regiment took on April 5 to reach the flying Third Army then at Hersfeld in Hesse. Army headquarters assigned the Regiment three large areas circling Hersfeld in which battalions were to com out Wehrmacht and party personnel who had been by-passed. The mission was essentially a rear-area security job. On April 12 Army ordered the Regiment to move the German gold bullion and art treasure, captured a few days previously by the 99th Division, from a Merkers salt mine to the Reichsbank in Frankfurt. The 1st Battalion supplied armored car guards to the twenty-four 10-ton truck convoy up the Autobahn to Frankfurt. Two days later the 99th Battalion moved the second gold load. The Merkers find was estimated to total roughly one-third of the German gold reserves.

 

In late April, when the Supreme commander ordered third and Seventh Armies to swing southward into Bavaria and Austria, Regiment followed General Patton’s headquarters from Hersfeld to Nurnberg were followed a week of security screening in the area around Erlangen, Nurnberg, and Furth. Once more third Army moved- advance elements were nearing Austria and the German nation appeared close to capitulation – this time to Regensberg, on May 1. Regiment followed, Colonel Walker leaving the three battalions to move up from Nurnberg by easy stages in a thorough, searching manner, cleaning out all Germans who might threaten the Army’s rear security. Battalion movements accounted for the general “neutralization” of Schwandorf, Amberg, Neumarket, and Parsberg and the dozens of surrounding villages. Numerous party officials, SS men, and soldiers were ferreted out of hiding and the “wanted” personnel turned over to Counterintelligence.

 

The end came on the bright spring day of May 7. Fighting ceased generally after noon of the 7th except for some third Army elements still mopping up remnants of armies in Czechoslovakia and Austria. In the midst of VE-Day celebration at regimental headquarters out-side Regensberg on May9 came an order from third Army that the Regiment would move immediately to the port of Le Havre for embarkation to Norway. All battalions were assembled, plans were made, and on May 11 at dawn the Regiment started back for France and the long awaited operation in Norway.

 

From May 12 to June 3 preparations for a spit-and polish occupation of Norway went forward. A German garrison of some 3000,000 had capitulated to Scottish command on May12, a surrender the Germans considered as a separate move from the general Nazi collapse on the continent. Four days later a small British detachment of airborne troops was flown to Oslo to start disarming the Germans in Norway.

 

Operation Nightlight had a troop list of one British division, an American regiment and a small American headquarters force – the total U.S. contingent being about 5,000 strong. The Regiment sailed from Le Havre on June 4, all units save 2d Battalion moving by LST on a water move. Second Battalion moved from an airfield near Le Havre in C-47’s and reached Norway on June 8, one day after the sea convoy arrived.

 

U.S. Task force A under Brigadier General Owen Summers was arrayed in and around Oslo charged with disarming and repatriating the German army from Oslo Zone. This included all of Southern Norway excluding Berger and Mandal areas. The British division - the 6th Airborne – took charge of disarmament in the rest of Norway excepting the far north. The Narvik-Kirkenes area came under Norwegian Army control.

 

The 1st and 2nd Battalions moved into evacuated German installations at Drammen 27 miles southwest of Oslo on Drammen Fjord. The 99th Battalion moved into Smestad Camp on the edge of Oslo and Regimental headquarters took over the old Rosa Hotel in Westside Oslo.

 

It was not until late July that screening camps had been readied and shopping make available in the process of sending the enemy to Germany. The first Germans were repatriated early in August and thereafter the Regiment sent from Oslo Zone nearly 100,000 – disarmed, deloused, segregated according to home residence and according to country – put them aboard German ships fro return to Bremen, kiel and other northern ports. That was the sum and substance of the Regiment’s task.

 

As an occupying force to a liberated friendly country the Regiment fulfilled certain ambassadorial functions. When King Haakon returned to Oslo on June 10, 1945, he was met by an Allied guard of honor make up in part of a 99th Battalion detachment. On July 4 Task force A paraded through Oslo in celebration of a traditional American holiday, and event that gave a Norwegian throng ample opportunity to observe U.S. fighting power. The Air Force sent up a large flight of planes for the day.

 

Orders arrived from Frankfurt early in October withdrawing all U.S. troops from Norway. A few days before sailing one final parade of American forces moved from the Oslo city hall to the place. On that spacious ground the regimental colors of the 474th Infantry were presented to King Haakon as a parting gift and as a gesture of the good will between Norway and the United States. For old Forcemen it was nearing two years overseas. While Norway had been more that pleasant the prospect of a return home was the end of a dream. On October 15 the Victory ship Dominican Victory sailed from Oslo’s port. On October 25, after a rough crossing, the port of New York marked the end of the Regiment’s road. Disbandment came on October 27, 1945

November 1, 2009 at 1:08 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Bob Schober
Member
Posts: 3

This is a very nice history Gary. I always wondered what happened to my Dad after the Force break-up. This provides me with a little more about what he did. I have a giant Nazi flag that my Dad supposedly got off a bank in Frankfurt (maybe the Reichsbank!). He also met his brother Ted in Cherbough. Ted was a merchant marine. My Mom was from Drammen. I still have an uncle there and went to visit him last year. He showed me where the barracks used to be. Its a shopping mall now.

November 2, 2009 at 2:08 PM Flag Quote & Reply

papajoad
Site Owner
Posts: 178

Bob,

 

Good story about your Dad, that is the stuff we like to hear about the Forcemen!

 

papajoad

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papajoad

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"see you out there" 8)

"Ne Obliviscuris"

November 2, 2009 at 6:16 PM Flag Quote & Reply

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