Chapter 03: The Ocean Crossing.

On December 17th 1943 the Hq Det was preparing to go overseas.  Butcher mailed a notice of change of address home to his wife Fay back home in St. Marys West Virginia.

APO card back

APO card front

 

On 18 December 1943 the BN and attached companies departed Camp Butner by rail for Camp Kilmer, NJ, arriving the following day. Hq and Hq Det had 9 officers and 26 enlisted men. Each company had 4 officers and 31 enlisted men.  The BN and companies were first located in Area 9.  Following processing, the men were given passes to New York and vicinity, which enabled many of them to return to their homes in the vicinity and others to get to New York City for the first time.

Prior to Embarkation Lt. John G. Kroll, M.C., and Lt Albert H Kredo, D.C. was assigned to the Battalion.Jabcznski

Picture of Bob Butcher taken before shipping to England.

Robert S Butcher, taken at Bradley Beach NJ prior to shipping overseas.

Camp Kilmer is located 2 miles east of New Brunswick, near US Route 1. During the war Camp Kilmer was the main staging area for the main eastern ports. More than 20 Divisions were staged through Camp Kilmer on the way to Europe. (Camp Kilmer)

On 28 December the organizations departed from Camp Kilmer by rail and ferry heading to Pier 22, Staten Island.  Morning reports list the HQ and HQ Det at Camp Kilmer with no changes for 1-2 January.  The morning report for 7 January states that the Det. Left Camp Kilmer at 2000 and traveled by rail to NYPE, embarked on troop ship at 2330 enroute to secret destination.  The unit history reports that they boarded the United States Army Transport Frederick Lykes on 7 January. The quarters assigned were generally poor.  The troops were far in the bow of the ship and the company officers were in the “monkey cages” – wards used for mental patients when the transport served as a hospital ship. Lt McLain describes the officer’s room as “in the hold, furnished with only a bed, no mirror, no hooks for clothing, and door had to be propped open because it could only be opened from the outside, and outside was the massive machinery that moved the ship.”McLain Engine trouble prevented the Frederick Lykes from sailing that night with the convoy, and the following day the troops disembarked and returned to Camp Kilmer to Area 1.  Aboard the Lykes, in spite of the quarters assigned, morale was at a peak.  The debarkation brought a noticeable drop, but succeeding days did much to restore morale.  When the troops again embarked the morale was excellent.

The next day, the battalion again departed from Camp Kilmer traveling by rail and ferry to a North River dock where they boarded the Cunard White Star Liner Mauretania.  This was an English luxury ship that had been converted into a troop ship in 1939.

mauretania

Mauretania docks in Newport News w/2,036 German prisoners 9/16/42.

The four units this time were traveling separately and not as a battalion group.  Each was quartered in a different part of the huge ship.

The Mauretania sailed on 8 January 1944 –a Saturday – and was still well within the harbor when she was rammed in the bow by another ship, the American tanker “Hat Creek” wikipedia, Maurentania and compelled to return to dock. In “tying up” she struck the dock, causing further damage to the ship.  She sailed again about 1630, 9 January 1944.  William McLain describes the event:

The ship departed the dock in a clear day with blue sky from horizon to horizon. It cleared the harbor with the vast sea before it, only one other ship, heading in, on the entire ocean. He was curious to see how they would pass. As they closed in, they seemed to be playing a game of “chicken”. Then they hit, the other ship’s prow striking the Mauretania at the front port side. Both ships came to a stop, then the     Mauretania turned about and went back into the port for inspection. She was found to be dented but seaworthy. The fuel tanks were topped off and the eight-day voyage continued. (McLain)

The passage was uneventful, although the crew declared the trip was the slowest the Mauretania had ever taken and that the ship was forced far off course to escape suspected enemy submarines.  The crossing was made unescorted, except for a plane that flew overhead for the first two days. The ship also hit foul weather on the crossing. Bob once told me that the ocean crossing made his so sick that he swore to never go on a ship again. Since the trip hope also hit severe weather it is not know which crossing he was referring to.  William McLain recalls that the waves were so large that the huge ship seemed to flex and that the spray would freeze in the air before reaching the back of the Mauretania. McLain   Frank Baker also sailed on the Mauretania, but on a later passage. He met up with the battalion in England.

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