Wednesday, February 26, 2020

February 1942: Georgia Guard Soldiers Sail for the Pacific

By Maj. William Carraway
Historian, Ga. Army National Guard

The Savannah-based Battery A, 101st Separate Battalion Coast Artillery (Antiaircraft), formerly Troop A, 108th Cavalry at Camp Stewart June 10, 1941. Georgia Guard Archives.

At 12:30 on the afternoon of Feb. 18, 1942, The Queen Mary weighed anchor and sailed out of Boston Harbor accompanied by a constellation of destroyers and a fighter plane escort. The sky was clear and the seas calm as the former luxury passenger liner turned troop transport passed the anti-submarine nets that protected the harbor. Where once her decks were adorned with passengers enjoying the sea air, now they bristled with anti-aircraft guns. Manning the guns on that voyage of the Queen Mary were the Soldiers of the Georgia Army National Guard’s 101st Antiaircraft Artillery Automatic Weapons Battalion. Eighteen months earlier, these Soldiers were members of the historic 108th Cavalry Regiment. But this day, they were bound for action in the South Pacific to defend Allied forces from air attack.[1]

From Cavalry to Coast Artillery

The unit insignia of the 108th Cavalry and 101st AAA. Georgia Archives.
In September 1940, the Hinesville-based 108th Cavalry Regiment returned to Georgia with the 30th Division following the 3rd Army Maneuvers in Louisiana. The cavalrymen, proud heirs to the heritage of the Georgia Hussars of Savannah, Hinesville’s Liberty Independent Troop and the Governor’s Horse Guards of Atlanta had grown accustomed to the hard duty required of life in the saddle. Whether enduring 12 to 18-hour missions in the saddle before breakfast or freezing in a pre-dawn screening operation, the Soldiers of the 108th were fiercely proud of their history and yearned to add another page to the book of past glories written by their forefathers.

On the eve of war, the 108th Cavalry was commanded by Col. Joseph Fraser of Hinesville, Ga. The headquarters staff of the 108th was split between Georgia and Louisiana with the regimental headquarters located in Hinesville. The headquarters of the 108th was formed July 16, 1916 as Headquarters, 2nd Squadron of Cavalry. The unit was mobilized to the Mexican Border in 1916 and remained in federal service until redesignated as the 106th Train and Headquarters and Military Police Company of the 31st Division October 23, 1917. Following World War I, the unit was reorganized as Headquarters, 1st Squadron, 108th Cavalry.[2]

The Machine Gun Troop of the 108th Cavalry, the Governor’s Horse Guards, was organized March 31, 1883. It’s first captain was John Milledge who had served in the Civil War. [3]

Troop A of the 108th Cavalry descended from the Georgia Hussars, which was organized February 13, 1736 by General James Oglethorpe, Governor of Georgia.[4] The Hussars served as Company A, 5th Georgia Cavalry during the American Civil War and surrendered with Gen. Joseph Johnston at Greensboro, N.C. April 26, 1865.[5]

The Liberty Independent Troop which constituted Company B, 108th Cavalry, was organized September 12, 1786. During the American Civil War, the troop served as Troop G, 5th Regiment, Georgia Cavalry.[6]

On Oct. 15, 1940, the Soldiers of the 108th learned that they would not mobilize for war as cavalrymen but would instead guard the skies from enemy aircraft. The 108th was converted to form the 101st Separate Coast Artillery Battalion, Antiaircraft. The unit entered active federal service Feb. 10, 1941 and reported to Camp Stewart for initial training. In addition to the Hussars, Independent Troop and Horse Guards that constituted Batteries A, B and C, the battalion organized Battery D in Bainbridge, Ga.

By June, the 101st had completed the 13-week mobilization program which consisted of maneuvers, inspections and classroom instructions. At Fernandina, Fla., the Soldiers trained on AA-mounted .30 machine guns. Gas filled balloons, released over the ocean, provided targets for the men to practice gunnery. The men also honed their skills on the 37 mm antiaircraft gun and learned how to place it in direct-fire mode to serve as an anti-mechanized gun.[7]

Before the sun rose on September 20, the 101st was on the road from Camp Stewart bound for the Carolina Maneuvers. Reaching Augusta, Ga. by 4:00 that afternoon, the men set up a camp at the fairgrounds. The Guardsmen received passes to go to the town for a welcome break from the military training. Those who stayed out late likely didn’t get less sleep than those who remained in the camp where temperatures plunged. The grumbling that accompanied the 4:00 a.m. reveille was soon slaked by gallons of hot, black coffee that took the edge of the night’s chill. The convoy moved out after chow and, late in the afternoon of September 21, the Soldiers reached their permanent camp near Chester, S.C. In contrast to the previous night spent shivering in hastily erected tents, the Soldiers passed a comfortable night on straw filled mattresses. It would be the last good night’s sleep for most as the field problems began in earnest and continued for the next seven weeks. The highlight of the maneuvers for the 101st occurred in late October, when as part of the advance element of Brig. Gen. George Patton’s 1st Armored Division, the men of the 101st captured a convoy of the enemy red troops that included a regimental commander and staff and more than 100 infantrymen.

As the Carolina Maneuvers continued, the 101st gained experience in communication and coordination that would serve them well in the years to come. They had maneuvered their 37 mm antiaircraft guns, or in many cases, wood substitutes which they nicknamed “woodimeters” and listened eagerly to intelligence reports about the progress of the war in Europe and the Pacific.
Georgia Guardsmen man a 37 mm anti-tank gun in 1941. Georgia Guard Archives.

The maneuvers wrapped up the last day of November, and by Dec. 2, 1941, the men of the 101st had returned to Camp Stewart. For the next several days, the Ga. Guard Soldiers cleaned and inventoried equipment with lightning speed in anticipation of weekend passes. Liberty was granted at noon Dec. 6, 1941. The attack on Pearl Harbor brough a premature end to the weekend passes. Men streamed back to Camp Stewart which was on high alert. The days passed at a rapid pace. On February 1, the Soldiers of the 101st loaded their equipment onto trains bound for an unknown destination.[8]

Departing Camp Stewart, the train stopped briefly in Savannah where the men of the 101st had one last view of the city that had been the home of the Georgia Hussars. Many wondered when or if they would see it again.

The next day, the train stopped, and the men detrained into the frigid air of Camp Dix, N.J. That night, the men huddled in freezing tents as the temperature plunged below zero and the meager camp stoves shed little heat. The misery of that cold night gave way to early morning calisthenics, the men breathing geysers of steam into the frozen air as frost clung to their uniforms. Every morning would begin with exercises and be followed variously by bayonet and rifle drill. [9]

Within two weeks of arriving at Fort Dix, the men had received their new M-1 Garand Rifles that replaced their 1903 Springfields. Against a cold rainy backdrop, the men received their mobilization orders February 16. The Soldiers were hustled into coaches and driven out into the dark night; their destination unknown. The dawn light of February 17 was greeted by a thick fog that obscured the landscape as the 101st approached the port of Boston. The men spent the rest of the 17th loading equipment and personnel for a February 18 departure. As the Queen Mary steamed out of Boston Harbor, few of the men knew their ultimate destination, and none could have foretold the events that would add luster to the history of the famed 108th Cavalry.[10]

The 101st AAA sailed from Boston on the Queen Mary Feb. 18, 1942. In this 1945 image,
the Queen Mary delivers U.S. Troops to New York Harbor. US Navy Photo 80-GK-5645

[1] Henderson, Lindsey P. Come What Will: A Military History of the 101st AAA Automatic Weapons Battalion, 15 October 1940 to VJ Day 1945. Berlin: U.S. Army, 1966,13
[2] General Order No. 4 June 6, 1924
[3] Pictorial Review of the National Guard of the State of Georgia, 1939,199
[4] Ibid, 203
[5] Ibid
[6] Ibid, 207
[7] Henderson, 6
[8] Henderson, 11
[9] Henderson, 12
[10] Henderson, 13

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