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Destination Unknown and the Replacements

February 25, 2012

Each post entry on this blog builds chronologically on the ones before. Journal entries are written in italics. Comments are written in bold print. I gratefully acknowledge the sources I used to follow and understand Al’s journal and have listed them on the page, “Where to Learn More”

U.S. Navy Photo

Jan. 28.
Start of ten day delay en route from Camp Davis, N.C. to Fort George G. Meade, Md., Army Ground Forces Replacement Depot.

Feb.7.
Reported to AGFRD #1, Fort Geo. G. Meade, Md

Feb. 22.
Departed for Camp Patrick Henry, Va., Port of Embarkation

Feb. 27.
Went to Newport News, Va., via train, and boarded (1500) transport, U.S.S. Anderson

Feb. 28.
Left United States for destination unknown(Monday, 1000)

Feb. 29.
Far out in Atlantic Ocean

Mar. 4.
Passed Rock of Gibraltar, near southern Spain

Mar. 8.
Sighted Land, North Africa.

Mar. 9.
Landed Oran, Algeria in North Africa at 1300.

Truth time, here.  As I read through this part of Al’s journal, I had to wonder why he always seems to be a “replacement”.  Had I taken on this project only to learn that he was a misfit, a screw-up who kept getting moved around?  Was this to be a comedy, after all?

Then I started researching locations, phrases and terms that I found in the journal and learned about replacements.  The U.S. government, in preparation for the war, had developed troop replacement plans that turned out to be inadequate. They underestimated the replacement needs for the artillery and so, faced a shortage in that area.  At the same time, fear of the German blitzkrieg (surprise, fast attacks combining tanks with massive air attacks) led to an over-expansion of anti-aircraft and tank destroyer arms.  It is this group of anti-aircraft artillery in which Al found himself.

The general replacement policy made things worse for the individual soldier.  If he were separated from his unit due to injury or illness, it was likely he’d never return to that unit, but instead be sent to a replacement depot (or repple depple as Al refers to them later in his journal).  MilitaryHistoryonline explains the impact on morale well. Soldiers could train with their units and form bonds only to be separated during the first day of combat and never see them again.  Al will comment on this later.

But for now, Al is heading to war.  He has reported to Fort Meade in Maryland (the Army Ground Forces Replacement Depot) and then sent to Camp Patrick Henry, where most replacements passed through on their way overseas.  Al doesn’t mention it but I read elsewhere that the 4 days or so you were there were spent on “mental training”, including a video  you can find on YouTube entitled “Kill or Be Killed”. Soldiers were also encouraged to prepare wills and arrange for life insurance.  I read that the government provided $10,000 policies for each soldiers, not a small sum at the time.  Al’s policy is only for $5,000 so I don’t know if that amount was changed over time. From Fort Patrick Henry, it was off to the U.S.S. Anderson and off to North Africa. The U.S.S. Anderson could  transport up to 5, 289 plus a crew of 507. Between October 25, 1943 and March 21, 1944, it made 4 round-trip transport voyages out of Norfolk, Virginia.  Among Al’s memorabilia was a printed copy of the sermon from a Roman Catholic Mass said just days before they landed.  Look for it in the next post.

By the time Al reached land, the Allied assault on Italy was underway.  The U.S. had preferred a direct and earlier attack by way of the English channel but European allies strongly favored creating another front.  The Salernos landings had occurred the previous fall and Naples was occupied on October 1. Just the month before he reaches Africa, the Anzio beachhead had been established.

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