CBIVA Sound-off, Fall 1993 Issue|
By Edwin R. Burgess
The 497th Port Bn (TC) was activated at Fort Lawton, at Seattle, WA, on March 25, 1943. The unit received its basic training from April 19 to August 28, 1943, and simultaneously received its specialized training mostly at the Seattle port facilities (SPOE). Some of the men were also engaged in port activities at Chemainus and Nanaima, B.C. The 252nd Port Co. (TC) departed from Fort Lawton by troop train on September 11, 1943, arriving at Camp Patrick Henry, VA on September 15, 1943. After staging for overseas at Camp Patrick Henry, the 252nd Port Co. embarked at Hampton Roads port of embarkation aboard the USAT "Robert H. Harrison" on September 22, 1943, and headed across the Atlantic for North Africa. On October 16, 1943, the "Robert H. Harrison" arrived at Bizerte, Tunisia. On October 18, the units of the 497th Port Bn. (TC) traveled by truck to the railyard at Lapercherie and boarded a train at approximately 2100 hours. The troop cars were formerly used for carrying sheep. French wording on the outside of the cars indicated that they were intended to carry "40 homes and eight chevaux." The train traveled slow and made frequent stops to take on water and so the troops could be fed. In addition to potable water, we procured quite a bit of veno along the way. On October 23, 1943, the train arrived at Oran, Algeria, and we proceeded by truck to Control Point #2 where we camped with the 250th Port Co. (TC) which had arrived on the 14th of October. From 23 October, 1943, to November 23, 1943, the 252nd worked at the harbor facilities at Oran as part of the 497th Port Bn (TC) loading the equipment of the 1st Armoured Division destined for Italy. On November 1943, the 252nd Port Co. (TC) proceeded to the docks at Oran, Algeria, and boarded the SS "Karoa," operating under the flag of British India Steam Navigation Co. Destination: Bombay, India. We left Oran Harbor at 12:30 hours on November 25, 1943 and entered the Mediterranean. On November 26, 1943, the convoy of which the 252nd Port Co. (TC) and SS "Karoa" was a part was off the coast of Phillipville, Algeria. At 16:30 hours was attacked by a force of 30 German aircraft, including their latest type, Long-Range ME-118s. The attack was about two hours in duration. During this time, a constant (high level) bombing was delivered by the enemy. Glider bombs were used in this operation. During the attack, members of Hq. Det. 497th Port Bn (TC) aboard the SS "Egra" felt a giant rush of air coming from the starboard side of the ship, and it was later learned that the concussion was caused by a glider bomb striking the ship HMT "Rhona" which was another ship in the convoy directly ahead of the "Egra" and directly behind the "Karoa." The Rhona sank in approximately 30 minutes, and more than 1,000 men were drowned or killed as a result of the enemy action. During the attack, all anti-aircraft guns on the ships fired at the attacking aircraft, and one aircraft was shot down by this anti-aircraft fire. Seven enemy aircraft were shot down by defending spitfires. No casualties were suffered by either Hq. & Hq. Det. 497th Port Bn (TC) or by 252nd Port Co. (TC). News reports about the sinking of the "Rhona" after the war was over indicated that this sinking caused the greatest loss of life of any single incident involving the transport of troops during World War II. On November 27 and 29, 1943, the aircraft returned to the convoy again. On the 27th, at 9200 hours, the enemy dropped flares in an attempt to locate the convoy but were too far away to reveal the location of the convoy. On the 29th, directly south of Sicily, at 1700 hours, 20 German aircraft attacked the convoy by dive bombing. The "Egra" was the first ship to fire its guns. The attack was of short duration, and the enemy was driven off without any loss to the convoy. On December 2, 1943, the convoy arrived at Port Said, Egypt. On December 4, 1943, the SS "Karoa" and 252nd Port Co. (TC) passed through the Suez Canal, as part of the first such convoy to use the Canal since early 1941, when the Germans occupied the Island of Crete, near the Canal. On December 11, we arrived at Port of Aden. On December 13, 1943, the SS "Karoa" departed Port of Aden after taking on coal. On December 19, 1943, the "Karoa," with the 252nd Port Co. (TC) aboard, arrived at Bombay, India. On December 22, 1943, the 252nd Port Co. (TC) boarded a train in Bombay, bound for Calcutta. We arrived in Calcutta, December 26, 1943. Upon arrival at Calcutta, we proceeded by truck to Camp Tollygunge. Even though the 252nd Port Co. (TC) made provisions for an entirely separate unit, capable of functioning independently, it actually operated as a part of the 497th Port Bn. In performance of its mission, the unit became a part of Base Section #2, CBI Theater, with headquarters at the Hindustan building in Calcutta. The mission of the 252nd Port Co. (TC) from its arrival in Calcutta to V-J Day was the supply of American and Chinese Forces in the CBI Theater. Operations consisted mainly of supplying American Forces in Burma and Chinese Nationalist Forces in China. Supplies were shipped by railroad and truck to airheads in North India, principally at Ledo, then over the "Hump" into China, or by pack mule into Burma. The unit performed Its mission over a 20-month period from its arrival at Camp Tollygunge till August 1945. In a superior manner as exemplified by a Letter of Commendation. This Letter of Commendation came because of the record-breaking unloading the ship "Judah P. Benjamin," at King George Docks, Shed 3. This record was established for discharge time in Port of Calcutta, and quite possible a world record in turnaround time. The following is data pertinent to the discharge of the "Judah Benjamin" (NY-887) at 3 Shed King George Docks. The vessel berthed 3 KGD 2030 hours, February 19, 1945. Commenced discharge 2230 hours, February 19, 1945. Finished discharge 2200 hours, February 21, 1945. Sailed for sea 1200 hours, February 22, 1945. Gross discharge time 47-1/2 hours. Net discharge time 44-1/2 hours. Turn around time two days, 5-1/2 hours. Arrival tonnage 3283 long tons. "The above was made possible by excellent planning and coordination of activities by Capt. O'Neill, officer in charge, and his staff consisting of Lts. Farren, Schenkel, and Weist, all of the 497th Port Bn. Would like to add that this record-breaking was without premeditation and was a normal operation in all respects." Signed, R. M. Glessner, Capt., TC, Asst. PTO I/C Operations. The unit, with the help of the 251st Port Co. (TC), broke a world's record when they unloaded 2157 long tons of cargo from the "Alden Beese" in 30 hours. Forty men, on two different occasions, boarded the "Florence Martus" and dumped ammunition in the Bay of Bengal. This organization was awarded the Meritorious Service Unit Plaque under authority contained in Circular No. 345, WarDept. 1944, by the Commanding General, Services of Supply, India Burma Theater, for meritorious service during the period 1 June 1944 to 31 August 1944. Auth: Par 1, General Order No. 21. Hq. SOS, CBI, APO 885, 25 January 1945. This organization was awarded a Star to the Meritorious Service Unit Plaque under authority contained in Circular No. 345, War Dept. 1944, by the Commanding General, Services of Supply, India Burma Theater, for meritorious service during the period 1 September 1944 to 28 February 1945. Auth: Par 2, General Order No. 70, Hq. SOS, CBI, APO 885, 11 April 1945. Men from the unit were members of the Camp baseball, basketball and softball teams. Both the baseball and basketball teams won their leagues and went on to take second honors in the CBI Base Section tournaments. The softball team was a big contender in the CBI Base Section, Class A, Round Robin playoff. Softball, basketball and volley-ball teams were entered in Camp competition and proved themselves to be always contenders. The unit had one man on the Calcutta touch football team. The team played games in different parts of India and played a 6 to 6 tie at the Calcutta football grounds on Thanksgiving Day. On VJ Day, the task of unloading ships was changed to that of loading them. All the men who came overseas with the unit were on their way home by the end of the year.
CBI History of 252nd Port Co. (TC)
The foregoing is the official history of the 252nd Port Co. (TC) as recorded in the archives of the United States Army, subject to some small amount of editing. However, most of us could add quite a few spicy chapters to this rather mundane account from our experiences on the streets of Calcutta, 1943-1945, after hours on Chowringee, Chrior Road and Acre Lane, as well as many other streets and places, but these stories are better left unrecorded, even though the statute of limitations has run out. These records were kept by one of the officers in our company, Edwin R. Burgess.