709th Railway Grand Division

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709th Railway Grand Division Dave Kaufman With the outbreak of WW II, the War Department was faced with the serious problem of moving vast amounts of personnel, equipment, supplies, and vehicles over great distances in the shortest time possible. Their solution was to utilize the U.S. railroad system. The strength of America’s railroad system lay in its management, corporate direction, personnel, and equipment. The U.S. Army Military Railway Service (MRS) was formed. Over 351,000 railroad person
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  TRADING POST17 With the outbreak of WW II, the WarDepartment was faced with the seriousproblem of moving vast amounts of per-sonnel, equipment, supplies, and vehiclesover great distances in the shortest timepossible. Their solution was to utilize theU.S. railroad system. The strength of America’s railroad system lay in its man-agement, corporate direction, personnel,and equipment. The U.S. Army MilitaryRailway Service (MRS) was formed. Over351,000 railroad personnel eventuallyserved in the armed forces during the war,and some 25,000 ended up in the MRS.Railroads “sponsored” MRS units,putting railroad personnel into the samemilitary railway unit. Former railway em-ployees in civilian life became military en-gineers, military brakemen, military yard-men, and military office workers. Sponsoredunits included railway operating battalions(ROBs), railway shop battalions (RSBs),and railway grand divisions (RGDs). TheROBs actually were the engineers, firemenand brakemen; the RSBs conducted majoroverhauls and repairs to equipment, andthe RGDs performed administrative dutiessimilar to that of the administrative officesof a railroad. The RGDs were to coordinatethe functions of two or more ROBs andRSBs. They too had personnel with previ-ous civilian railway experience, from cleri-cal to stationmaster, and those with spe-cific railway civil engineering skills. Inmany cases, each RGD had 25% to 35% of its personnel with railroad experience.Each RGD had an HQ & HQ Co, com-manded by a “General Superintendent” (alieutenant colonel) and his staff (25 offic-ers; 56 EM). The HQ & HQ Co had anadministrative section, and four technicalsections: Equipment, Engineering, Stores,and Transportation.The Equipment Section was respon-sible for supervision over all RSBs, forproper maintenance of locomotives andcars, for maintenance of shop machinery,and related reports. Proper maintenance of locomotives and cars increased dramaticallywith the recapture of civilian track and re-lated rolling stock.The Engineering Section was respon-sible for the physical aspect of railroad op-eration, including track repair and mainte-nance, coaling and watering stations, in-cluding the quality of water, and mainte-nance of all signals. They also submittedreports related to these duties. This sec-tion worked closely with engineer construc-tion battalions in the rehabilitation of bridges, track, rail beds, and culverts.Again, these duties expanded dramaticallywith the recapture of civilian railways.These sections also had EM water chem-ists to ensure the clarity and purity of localwater supplies to ensure proper operationof locomotives.The Stores Sections was responsiblefor coordination of all supply requirementsto the ROBs and local civilian railroad com-panies, when necessary. Fuel reserveswere the main concerns. As the railroadsin Europe expanded in various directionswith the success of Allied operations, truck traffic was reduced.The Transportation Section was re-sponsible for the duties related to handlingcars (assembling and classifying), tracingof car movements related to supplies andreturn of empty cars, and supervision overtelegraph and telephone lines. This becameeven more important as civilian railwayscame back on line. It should be noted thatFrench civilian railroads subsequently be-came responsible for the transportation of U.S. and Allied troops as the war pro-gressed eastward into Germany. Casual-ties who had been recuperating receivedfree rail travel while on the mend.Near the end of the war, two new sec-tions were activated, but not all RGDs em-ployed them. The first new section wasProvost Marshal. Their duties were relatedto coordinating the railway MP battalionsand companies, establishing railwayguards to combat theft, handling theft re-ports, and conducting court martials. Thetheft rate was reduced remarkably follow-ing the activation of these new sections.The second new section was the FiscalSection, which essentially functioned as anon-the-spot accounting section. It hadbeen learned (the hard way) that the U.S.government had been overcharged or evenbilked for payments in foreign countries.Manifests and bills of lading were soon“true”.The 709th RGD was activated at CampMillard at Bucyrus, OH on March 15, 1944,under the leadership of Lt. Col. Frank E.Cheshire. The American Association of Railroads “sponsored” the division. Theinitial cadre was subsequently transferredto the Specialized Training Center locatednearby at Mifflin, OH. After this trainingwas completed, they rejoined the divisionand the entire unit underwent infantry train-ing. Upon completion of the infantry train-ing, several men were transferred out ascadre for the 774th RGD.The unit left the NY POE on Septem-ber 20, 1944 and arrived in Liverpool, En-gland eleven days later. For some unusualreason, the 709th RGD spent only four daysin England on directed hikes before beingshipped to France. The division was anorganic element of the 2nd Military Rail-way Service. On Oct 14, they finally re-ceived their first assignment - damaged anddormant Port of Le Havre. The divisionalso began directing traffic that includedprocessing tremendous numbers of GermanPOWs. There were no intact rail lines orstanding bridges within the immediate area,and the transshipment of supplies washopelessly bottlenecked.Coordinating activities with engineerconstruction battalions and engineer gen-eral service regiments, the 709th RGD be-gan improving the flow of supplies overlocal non-rail corridors. Supplies wereoffloaded from ships onto trucks, truckedacross town on specifically designatedroads, offloaded from the trucks to DUKWsto cross the multitude of waterways in theimmediate area, and then transferred tofreight cars on good existing tracks. Fromthere, the supplies moved with rapidityacross France. What was once a tricklebecame a flood. The 709th RGD controlled 709th RGD insigneOn a white cloth disc, it has a standard USshield with blue stripes and a red border tothe shield; the unit designation “709 RGD”in red at the top of the shield, with a smallSOS insigne in proper colors at the base of the shield. An attached tab with red lettersand a blue border reads “Military RailwayService”. The unit was authorized theCOM-Z and Services of Supply SSIs. 709th Railway Grand Division Dave Kaufman  18JANUARY-MARCH 2002 the 722nd ROB, 724th ROB and 743rd ROBat this time.However, on November 9, the divisionwas transferred to Malines, Belgium, nearthe Port of Antwerp. There arrival wastimed with the unleashing of the V-1 rock-ets into Antwerp. Occasionally, the V-1sfell short and struck Malines. The 709thdid not suffer any casualties, but many menof the unit spent hours rescuing injuredand removing bodies from the debris of what had once been a structure.While the 709th was stationed inMalines, a liaison team consisting of twoofficers and three EM was assigned toAntwerp to coordinate railway traffic. Vari-ous other liaison teams were sent out todifferent locations within the operating areato inspect and direct the activities of theROBs and RSB in the division’s chain of command.Not quite a month later, the 709thmoved up to Brussels and had a change of COs. Lt. Col. Cheshire was replaced by Lt.Col. Merle M. Shappell. With the Germanbreakout leading to the Bulge and the goalof recapturing Antwerp, the 709th fell back on its infantry training and posted guardsand checkpoints in the vicinity of Brussels.New Year’s day brought an attack by theLuftwaffe on nearby airfields. In the hit-and-run attack, two British planes weredowned and AA fire knocked down twoattackers.Infantry replacements were taken fromthe 709th, leaving the division shorthandedduring the crisis of the Bulge. Lines of trans-portation and communication belonging tothe 709th were being cut by the Germanoffensive. Evacuated equipment was jam-ming traffic ways of supplies coming downfrom Antwerp. The under strength divi-sion managed to correct the traffic wayproblems before the Bulge salient waspushed back. The 709th had the responsi-bility of maintaining all the rail lines, bothmilitary and civilian, in Belgium during theoffensive, and ensuring that supplies metthe increasing demand. For their efforts,the 709th was awarded a Meritorius UnitCommendation, the highest award for aservice unit. The 709th was the first RGDto do so.The risk of enemy attack was not theonly danger faced by this administrativeunit. In February 1945, a major fire eruptedamong more than 75 cars, some containingwhite phosphorus, in the switching yardsat Soissons, France. The fires caused nu-merous explosions, and two officers of the709th managed to clear the yard at greatpersonal risk, with a loss of only four cars.Replacements for those men sent tothe infantry eventually arrived, and the709th was given new operating territory -Holland and Germany. As it moved in newlyacquired territory, the mission was sub- jected to the vagaries of destruction. Somerailroad facilities were not damaged at all,others were completely destroyed, and theremainder were somewhere in between. The709th successfully directed the repair andrehabilitation of the rail tracks, culverts andbridges as needed in their new territory.By the end of the war, the 709th RGDhad the largest span of control in the ETO.It supervised the 734th, 741st, 743rd, 744th752nd ROBs, and the 755th and 763rd RSB.The demobilization of ground forces rap-idly occurred in the 709th’s span of con-trol, such that only the 722nd, 744th and752nd ROBs were under its command inJune 1945. The 709th was soon transferredto Calais, France, in anticipation of a trans-fer to the SWPTO, but the end of the warwith Japan caused a change in deploy-ment. The administrative unit insteaddocked at Boston POE and personnel fur-loughed or otherwise discharged. A smallcadre (nine officers, one EM) was trans-ferred to Ft. Eustice, VA in January 1946and inactivated in 1950.BibliographyGray, Carl R., Jr.,  Railroading in EighteenCountries , Schribner and Sons, NY 1955Gregory, A.G. Maj, TC Saga of the 708th Railway Grand Division , The B & O Rail-road Co, Baltimore, MD 1947Spratley, Albert W., 1st Sgt,  Highlights of  History of the 709th Railway Grand Divi-sion , Brussels, Belgium 1945 The 709th RGD poses in Brussles in 1945. SOS SSIs can plainly be seen on several of the men.
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