“89th Infantry Division”

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:

[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 and Morning 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.

Researching World War II Service: Beware the Unknown Unknowns

Irv Carl in WWII uniformMy great uncle Irwin “Irv” Carl served in the Army during World War II but that’s about all any family members knew. My search began with his enlistment data, and then I found a copy of his Application for a Headstone or Marker for a Military Veteran. That application matched the enlistment data, plus gave me a lot of new information. On most applications, you will find:

• Enlistment date
• Discharge date
• Service number
• Grade (rank)
• Medals
• Branch of Service, Company, Regiment and Division.

While these two documents were useful, I wanted to try and learn more, and placed a request for Irv’s military service record.

The service record request signaled challenges ahead: the 1973 fire at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis destroyed approximately 16-18 million Official Military Personnel Files, and 80 percent of Army records for personnel discharged between 1912 -1960. I was not surprised when I received a letter explaining that there were no records available for Irv, other than his final payment document. Something is always better than nothing!

The final payment roll confirmed the company, regiment and division. Or so I thought. I started to put together a report on Irv’s war experience based on the headstone application and final payment document, both of which placed him in “Headquarters Battery, 8th Infantry Division Artillery.” The 8th Infantry’s members wore a shoulder patch featuring an upward pointing gold arrow piercing a silver figure “8,” all on a blue shield.

I looked at dates, maps and locations, plotting where Irv might have gone or seen action. But then I received a box of photos from a relative. In that box were photos Irv had taken while in training and then in the European Theatre of Operations. A few images had information written on the back, some had identifiable landmarks, and others showed enough of Irv’s shoulder patch that the questions started.

If Irv was a member of the 8th Infantry Division, what was he doing wearing a patch for the 89th Infantry Division? The 89th Infantry Division patch is a distinct, stylized “W” inside a circle, black on khaki, nothing like the gold arrow of the 8th. There was no mixing up the two. Was he really a member of the 89th? If so, it would explain a few things: photos of Irv training in Colorado (the 89th trained at Camp Carson, Colorado), and some of the locations the 89th fought in Germany matched place names on the photos.

Why did the US military have the “wrong” information for the final payment roll and the headstone application? Actually, the information obtained in the two documents was accurate because at the end of World War II, Irv was briefly part of the 8th Infantry Division. Here’s why: when the war was over, the U.S. military in Europe needed to relocate more than 3 million service members, and get them back to a separation center close to the soldier’s final destination. It was a giant logistics puzzle. Attaching Irv to the 8th Infantry Division got him to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, a separation center about 130 miles southwest of St. Louis, Missouri.

Irv Carl with 89th Inf Div Patch

Irv Carl with 89th Inf Div Patch

Without the photos of Irv, and examining the shoulder patch, I would have identified his WWII service incorrectly. But at the same time, I would have been working with the documents and the evidence available to me. When researching the veteran in your family, beware the unknown unknowns.

On this Veteran’s Day, I’m doubling down on my effort to identify any of the people in the photos my great-uncle took, as well as share the photos in the collection of the Signal Corps at the National Archives. Follow this link and take a look.

There are more photos from the National Archives to scan and add to the collection, and the next step for the family photos is to geo-locate them. I also need to start digging through World War II Operations Reports to see if I can determine the company and regiment to which Irv was attached. Much more research ahead!