Uncategorized

Liberation of Ohrdruf

On 4 April 1945, members of the 4th Armored Division, supported by an attachment from the 89th Infantry Division, liberated the Nazi forced labor camp known as Ohrdruf.

Most Americans first learned of the atrocities of the Nazi camps in 1942, but it was not until April 1945 that US soldiers witnessed what happened firsthand when they liberated Ohrdruf.

914th Unit History p6 web[1]

I never thought I’d write about the documentation of a tragedy while living in the midst of another. It is hard to write about concentration camps at any time, and it’s harder now with the world currently facing Covid-19. This post continues the series on researching World War II service, recalling the efforts and sacrifices of the past, and presenting the evidence that tells us what happened. The past must be documented, and we, and succeeding generations, must learn and remember.

The 89th Infantry Division, of which the 914th Field Artillery Battalion was a part, has been commemorated by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and the US Army Center of Military History as a Liberating Unit. Their guidelines define a Liberating Unit as

  • Recognize units only at the divisional level;
  • Accord the honor of liberator status on the basis of unit records housed at the National Archives and Records Administration, not oral testimony; and
  • Accord liberator status to those divisions arriving at the site within 48 hours of the initial division’s encounter.[2]

I knew from reading the history of the 89th that some units were attached to the 4th Armored Division during a couple key dates, specifically 3 – 6 April 1945. These units were

  • 355th Combat Team[3]
  • 914th Field Artillery Battalion
  • 314th Engineers Combat Battalion, Company C[4]

The 4th Armored Division, like the 89th, was recognized as a Liberating Unit of Ohrdruf. It seemed from the general history of the 89th that my great uncle Irv Carl would have been a witness to the atrocities of the Ohrdruf camp. The unit histories of both the 4th and the 89th also document their presence at Ohrdruf, as does the history of the 914th. To learn the daily movements of each company of the 914th Field Artillery Battalion, and access every possible record available, I needed to review Morning Reports.

Morning Reports are the most granular of the documents available to WWII military researchers – they were created the morning after events took place. The reports are omission-based, meaning that if nothing happened to a soldier that day, his name would not appear, just some descriptive details of what the company did and experienced. Reports only show the names of men wounded, sick or who arrived/departed the unit on a particular date, meaning that the vast majority of soldiers’ names were not in Morning Reports.

Morning Reports vary in detail, and in preservation quality. Morning Reports were microfilmed by the National Archives and are housed in St. Louis. Some reels have fared better than others. The 914th Field Artillery Battalion reports have some gaps – days when the “buck slips,” the small slips of paper on which the reports were filed, were not received. The data was input on later dates.

The Morning reports for the 914th Field Artillery Battalion – for all Batteries – are missing buck slips for many days of the first two weeks of April. Even so, the Morning Reports for Battery C – the Battery to which Irv Carl belonged – provide details on exactly where and when. On 4 April 1945, after traveling more than 200 miles in less than three days, Battery C arrived 2 miles southeast of Meteback, Germany[5] at 1130. The next morning, 5 April, it was onward to take Gotha. Battery C arrived at Ohrdruf in the rain, at 1600 on 6 April 1945. They remained at Ohrdruf for several days, departing at 0630 on 10 April 1945.

A few days after the 914th Field Artillery Battalion departed Ohrdruf, General Dwight D. Eisenhower arrived, along with General George C. Patton. In a letter to George C. Marshall written on 15 April 1945, Eisenhower described the experience[6]

6995916_042_Page_2 Eisenhower ltr to Marshall crop

Resources

First person accounts of Ohrdruf:

[1] Record Group 407: Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1905 – 1981, World War II Operations Reports, 1940 – 1948. Entry (NM3) 427, File 389 – FA(914) – 0.1 History 914th FA BN, 89th Inf. Div 2 Feb 1942 – 30 Oct 45.

[2] USHMM, https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/us-army-units?parent=en%2F7836, accessed 30 March 2020.

[3] A Combat Team is a temporal fighting force, depending on the tactical situation. In the case of a Regimental Combat Team, it stays in the base unit (Infantry Regiment), allowing the Commanding Officer (Regimental Commander) to add heavy weapons, antitank assets etc. as needed for the situation. Many thanks to Patrick Brion, Förderverein “Mahn- und Gedenkstätte Walpersberg“ e.V., Sitz Kahla for assistance with the abbreviations and definition of a Combat Team.

[4] US Army Center of Military History, https://history.army.mil/documents/ETO-OB/89ID-ETO.htm, accessed 30 March 2020.

[5] There is more than one Meteback. The one mentioned here is located at 50.9698, 10.6091

[6] Eisenhower, Dwight D: Papers, Pre-Presidential, 1916 – 1952. Principal Files, 1916 – 1952. File Unit: Marshall, George C. (6), Letter, Dwight D. Eisenhower to George C. Marshall, 4/15/1945. Dwight D. Eisenhower Library, Abilene, Kansas. To view the entire letter, see here: https://catalog.archives.gov/id/12005711.

After Action Reports

On 26 March 1945, at 0200 hours, the 89th Infantry Division began crossing the Rhine on its march eastward. Imagine the coordination between the divisions, brigades, battalions, batteries to make this happen. As the crossing began, the 914th Field Artillery Battalion provided support to the 355th Infantry Regiment. The crossings were made near St. Goar and Oberwesel. My great uncle Irwin Carl, a corporal in the 914th Field Artillery Battalion, was there. He was one of 88 men in Battery C, positioned 1500 yards east of Niederburg. 12th Army map web[1]

How do I have such detail, down to his exact position? After Action Reports.[2]

After Action Reports typically comprise a narrative, plus S-3 and S-2 Reports and a Unit Journal. The “S” stands for “Staff.” The “3” refers to “Operations,” and the “2” to “Intelligence.” The After Action report is a high-level narrative, written in the weeks after events. It does not give names. For the 914th Field Artillery Battalion, the 10 – 31 March 1945 report was submitted on 1 April 1945.

Reading through the After Action report for 24 – 29 March provides much detail on the Battalion, and each Battery within the Battalion. It details the locations, and exact timing of movements of troops – even the type and amount of ammunition expended.

From reading the primary source material, I know that the Rhine crossing took days – the 914th Field Artillery Battalion, Battery C started crossing at 0130 hours on 28 March 1945 – 48 hours after the first troops headed across – and they finished at 0400 hours on 28 March 1945.

Primary source materials, and drilling down into the details, tells the soldiers’ stories. These documents helped inform this blog post:

914 FA Bn After Action Rpt WWII cropped web    914 FA Bn After Action S3 Rpt WWII cropped web

914 FA Bn After Action Rpt WWII Unit Journal web

Many thanks to Eric S. Van Slander, Archivist at National Archives, College Park, for his assistance locating a mislabeled box, without which this research would not be possible. See also:

Next in the series… Liberation of Ohrdruf

[1] Allied Forces. Army Group, 1. E. S. & United States Army. Army Group, 1. H. (1944) HQ Twelfth Army Group situation map: Battle of the Bulge–France, Belgium, Netherlands, and Germany. 26 March 1945. [England?: Twelfth Army Group, to 1945] [Map] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/2001628569/, 26 March 2020.

[2] After Action reports are located in Record Group 407: Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1905 – 1981, World War II Operations Reports, 1940 – 1948. The 914th FA Bn: Entry (NM3) 427, File 389 – FA(914) – 0.3.

Soldiers’ Stories

914 FABn Unit History CoverHow do you tell a soldier’s story? By telling the soldiers’ stories.

Most documents available rarely provide more than a name on a list, and many don’t even have that. The majority of the documents available focus on a soldier’s unit, and once that is determined, the story can be traced.

My great uncle Irwin “Irv” Carl was a member of the 89th Infantry Division. During WWII, the size of an infantry division was about 15,000 men.[1] Within an infantry division, there are infantry regiments, artillery battalions, medics, reconnaissance and other special troops.[2] I could research and understand the story of the 89th Infantry Division, but learning what a soldier did? For that I needed a name on a unit list.

The 89th Infantry Division Historical Board published a history in 1947,[3] and the book included Rosters of Personnel. The 89th Infantry Division of WWII website alphabetized the lists, making it easier to find soldiers’ names: Carl I.; Cpl; 914th Field Artillery Battalion; Battery C. Telling the story of the 914th Field Artillery Battalion tells the story of 520 soldiers, 88 of whom were in Battery C.

The National Archives at College Park stores Unit Histories and After Action Reports. Morning Reports are at the National Archives in St Louis. Reviewing these resources, plus photographs from the Army Signal Corps collection, tells the soldiers’ stories – where they fought, slept, celebrated and wept.

In March 1945, the 914th Field Artillery Battalion entered combat. The Unit History, page 3:[4]

III. GERMANY. It was on 10 March 1945 that a long awaited event occurred. Underfoot was enemy soil. The town of Wilschbillig was the first German town to be occupied by the battalion. It has already been captured in the previous fighting by the Third Army. Patenburg was the next stepping stone toward the enemy. It was about 35 miles travel from Welschbillig, being occupied on 11 March 1945. The next day was one of rapid movement. 3rd Bn 355th Inf was assigned the mission of capturing the towns of Litzerath and Driesch. The 914th F.A. Bn. displaced to positions in the vicinity of Gillenfeld to support this action.

Next in the series… After Action Reports

[1] Schilling, Warner R. “Weapons, Strategy and War,” Units in WWII illustration. http://ccnmtl.columbia.edu/services/dropoff/schilling/mil_org/milorgan_99.html, accessed 8 March 2020.

[2] Order of Battle of the US Army, World War II, European Theater of Operations, 89th INFANTRY DIVISION. Office of the Theater Historian, Paris, France, 1945. Placed online by U.S. Army Center of Military History, https://history.army.mil/documents/ETO-OB/89ID-ETO.htm accessed 8 March 2020.

[3] 89th Infantry Division Historical Board, The 89th Infantry Division, 1942-1945. Washington, DC: Infantry Journal, Inc. 1947. Original at the National Archives, College Park. Scanned online, available at HathiTrust, https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=mdp.39015049794889&view=image&seq=7 accessed 8 March 2020

[4] Record Group 407: Records of the Adjutant General’s Office. Series: WWII Operations Reports, 1940-1948, Entry (NM3) 427, 389-FA(914), History 914 FABn.

75 Years On

Understanding the past through the lives of our ancestors helps give a personal look at history. Documents of all sorts can explain the politics, the employment opportunities, the weather, even what’s on sale at the grocery store, but rarely, if at all, do we learn what our ancestors and relatives thought. Those lucky enough to have letters, diaries or oral history gain a different perspective, but this is uncommon. Most of us have to hold back on the “did he think; did she know” type ponderings, and focus on what story can be told from the records that do exist.

My great-uncle Irwin “Irv” Carl, the youngest of his siblings and one of two children born after the family arrived in the United States, enlisted and served in World War II. At the time of his enlistment in May 1942, he had a wildly successful nightclub, the Empire Ca-BAR-et, and according to the St. Louis Star and Times, had a III-A Draft rating,[1] so the choice to serve came from another reason lost to time.[2]

Researching Irv’s war-time experience taught me a lot about the military, and preparation for war. Irv trained. And trained, and trained. Mostly at Camp Carson in Colorado, and there are some great photos he took out there. Then Louisiana, California, and Camp Butner in North Carolina. It wasn’t until 1944 that it seemed he would end up in the war theatre, and it wasn’t until the Spring of 1945 that he did.

In the coming weeks, I’ll present the research I conducted on the 89th Infantry Division, and specifically the 914th Field Artillery Battalion, as they marched across France, Luxembourg and Germany. The 89th, the 914th (and others) were part of the liberation of Ohrdruf, and they witnessed the aftermath of the atrocities committed there.

Rolling Ahead Publication Map[3]

Irv served more than three years in the Army, and returned to St. Louis in time to celebrate the Japanese surrender while at a “lock in” at his brother’s bar – Carl’s Cocktail Lounge.[4] Irv returned to the nightclub scene himself, operating the Orchid Lounge, and died in 1955.

I interviewed those who knew Irv when he was alive, and no one recalled him ever speaking of his Army experience. I have the documents, I have the photos, and in all of that, I only have these words written by Irv: “No sleep for 3 days & nites.  Mighty tired.  Leichenstein [sic] Germany

Next in the series: Researching the soldier’s story.

Looking for information on

[1] “Kid Regan’s Column,” The St. Louis Star and Times, Thursday, 21 May 1942, p23.

[2] Men with dependents, not engaged in work essential to national defense. This refers, most likely, to Irv’s aged mother, with whom he lived and supported. https://www.swarthmore.edu/library/peace/conscientiousobjection/MilitaryClassifications.htm accessed 24 Feb 2020.

[3] Map insert, Rolling AHEAD! The Story of the 89th Infantry Division.  Major General Thomas D. Finley and staff, Orientation Branch, Information and Education Division, Hq., USFET, no date. Collection of the Carl Family.

[4] The story of the lock in to celebrate the Japanese surrender was relayed to me by Jack Carl, who occasionally worked for his Uncle Max at Carl’s Cocktail Lounge. Jack was 19 years old in 1945.

Bottle Recycling

Today, 16 January 2020, marks the 100th anniversary of the start of Prohibition, a 13-year experiment in honing the skills of bathtub brewers, bootleggers, counterfeiters, and illicit supply chains.

Max-on-right-bottle-wagon~1920s edited

A year after its ratification, the 18th Amendment went into force. It changed the trajectory of the Carl family business, bottle recycling. Bottle recycling was a good gig in St. Louis. The city was full of breweries and other businesses that relied on glass bottles. Wagons collected the empty bottles, which were sorted in a warehouse, and then sold back to the manufacturers. The Carl’s were green way before it was cool.

Prohibition took a big bite out of the bottle recycling business, so the family added distribution of “intoxicating liquors” to the portfolio, eventually leading to a stay in Leavenworth for one of the brothers, and a family rift that never fully healed.

Researching this part of my family history involved newspapers, St. Louis Police Archives, records of the FBI, records of the U.S. Circuit Court for the Eastern Division of the Eastern District of Missouri, and Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary, the latter two record sets via the National Archives in Kansas City.

Image: Carl Bottle Company horse-drawn wagon. Date unknown, likely late 19teens, early 1920s. Max Carl on the far right.

I Heard It on NPR

Renee at NPR sized

https://www.npr.org/player/embed/791414961/791414962

Access to historical records is essential to any researcher, family historian or genealogist. Looking at records gives us information, but some records also give us the little details that bring personality and character to someone we might only know on paper.

The USCIS Genealogy Program maintains records on our immigrant ancestors – millions of people, millions of stories – trapped behind a paywall that might skyrocket if their proposed fees are put into place.

I joined David Greene, host of NPR’s Morning Edition, to talk about the USCIS Genealogy Program and why we must fight the fee hike and work to have these historic records transferred to the National Archives.

The deadline to post a comment to USCIS is 30 December 2019. Learn more and take action at RecordsNotRevenue.com.

Records, Not Revenue

In a past career life, I coordinated diverse groups of non-profits and ran advocacy campaigns, harnessing their collective voice for positive change. When I departed the political sphere, I never thought that I’d return to those roots in order to help keep historical records accessible.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Genealogy Program, keeper of some of the most essential records on 20th century immigrants, has proposed a 492 percent increase in the fees required to search their index and obtain historical records held under their purview. Many of these records should already be publicly accessible. USCIS is essentially holding them hostage, demanding individuals pay exorbitant fees to access documents of our immigrant ancestors.USCIS Genealogy Program Fee Hikes final v4

If approved, fees to access records will start at $240 and could cost up to $625 for a single file.  The fees are even more inexplicable when USCIS refers the majority of genealogy record requests to their Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) program for processing.  If these requests are FOIA requests, researchers should not be paying any fees other than standard FOIA fees.

Everyone should care about the issues involved, even if your research does not include these records. What can be done to one type of records can be done to others. You do not need to be a US resident nor citizen to submit a public comment. Any interested party can make their voice heard.

You can make a difference. Make your voice heard in 3 easy steps:

Step 1: Review the proposed rule here, and jump to the Genealogy Program section here. There’s a summary available at RecordsNotRevenue.com

Step 2: Write your comments, addressing the issues listed here or any issue you think is important. Be sure to mention the Genealogy Program. See these conversation starters for thoughts on how to begin. 

Step 3: Send your comments BEFORE 30 DECEMBER 2019 to

    • Federal Rulemaking Portal and refer to DHS Docket No. USCIS-2019-0010 and follow instructions for submitting comments on the Genealogy Program; and
    • Send a copy of your comments to your US Senators and Representative, and refer to DHS Docket No. USCIS-2019-0010. Tell them you care about preserving access to federal records!

Sign up to stay informed on this effort and learn more at RecordsNotRevenue.com

Amplify your voice! Please share this with genealogical societies, historical societies, and every family historian and researcher you know!