05 September, 2011

05 September 1944


438th AAA AW BN
APO 230 % Postmaster, N.Y.
5 September, 1944        1700

Dearest sweetheart –

Things are certainly happening swiftly here and we’re getting around. Yesterday was a thrilling day and the Belgians make the French seem apathetic – in contrast to their emotional reaction. Tomorrow I expect to have more time and I’ll try to write you in more detail, dear. I’m still with the battery – but going back to battalion soon. Speaking of batteries, reminds me – my radio has gone on the blink – and apparently for good – one of the transformers is gone and that can’t be repaired. I had the set down to a signal company and got the sad news. I’m lost without it and I’m going to write my dad today to do his darndest to get me one. It will have to be small, though, because they won’t let a large one go through, I imagine. One of the officers got one through the mail – not long ago.

All else is well darling, except that I miss you awfully, these days. You are constantly in my mind and I just can’t wait until you’re closer to me that that. Gee, dear, I do love you more than I can tell you and this war better be over with mighty soon.

Have to close now – my love to the folks and my deepest sincerest love to you, sweetheart –



about The Red Ball Express

On the one-way street marked with a red ball, huge amounts of
supplies were sent to the front. Here on September 4, 1944,
11,000 tons were brought to a Central Distribution area behind the front.

The term "Red Ball Express" was used first by the railway freight business in the United States. It meant "Express Freight Delivered at Top Priority". The Army adopted the term and created the "Red Ball Highway" that stretched from the ports in France to the front lines in Germany. To make things easier, the route was marked with a red ball. Trucks were painted with red balls. The troops conducting traffic wore red balls to mark the way. Nearly 75 percent of all Red Ball Express drivers were African American. At the Red Ball's peak, 132 truck companies were strung out with a round trip taking 54 hours, as the route stretched nearly 400 miles to First Army and 350 to Patton's Third. At its height the Red Ball saga captured the media's attention, and had the effect of placing supply and service personnel in the spotlight for a change. Still, the job was hardly glamorous, involving as it did endless hours of dull, hard, and sometimes dangerous work.

Soldiers load trucks with rations bound for frontline troops.
(L to R) Pvt. Harold Hendricks, Staff Sgt. Carl Haines, Sgt. Theodore Cutright,
Pvt. Lawrence Buckhalter, Pfc. Horace Deahl and Pvt. David N. Hatcher
of the 4185th Quartermaster Service Company, Liege, Belgium.

Most of the following was excerpted from an excerpt of "POL on the Red Ball Express" by Dr. Steven E. Anders, Quartermaster Professional Bulletin, Spring 1989 as seen on the 102nd Infantry Division's "Men of the Ozarks" web site:
Mearl R. Guthrie, Red Ball Coordinator, B407

The Red Ball Express was one of World War II's most massive logistics operations, namely a fleet of over 6,000 trucks and trailers that delivered over 412,000 tons of ammunition, food, and fuel to the Allied armies in the ETO between August 25 and November 16, 1944. Quartermasters who for centuries gathered huge stockpiles of hay, barley, and oats to "fuel" past armies on the move, were now required to supply the petroleum, oil and lubricants (POL) that make up the U.S. Army's logistical lifeblood.

The Germans offered even lighter resistance than expected as success followed success in the Allied pursuit across France. As Patton's Third Army swept westward into Brittany and south to Le Mans, it burned up an average of more than 380,000 gallons of gasoline per day. By 7 August its reserves were completely exhausted. Patton had to rely on daily truck loads of packaged POL from the rear. Nevertheless, he managed to continue this highly mobile type of warfare, driving eastward for another three weeks, before being halted by critical shortages of gasoline.

Logistically speaking, the real turning point in the campaign came during the week of 20-26 August. At that time, elements of both the First and Third Armies were simultaneously engaged in rapid pursuit. They developed an insatiable thirst for gasoline, and consumed more during this one week than any time previously. Average consumption was well over 800,000 gallons per day. The First Army alone used 782,000 gallons of motor fuel on 24 August. The next day Allied forces closed in on the Seine and columns of U.S. and French troops entered Paris.

The decision to cross the Seine and immediately continue eastward, without waiting to more fully develop supply lines, posed serious difficulties for the theater logisticians but was a gamble senior commanders were willing to risk. "The armies," said General Bradley, on 27 August, "will go as far as practicable and then wait until the supply system in rear will permit further advance." Once across the Seine, forward divisions not only extended their lines, but fanned out in every direction creating a front twice as broad as previously. The strain on the supply system was immediately noticed as deliveries slowed to a trickle. The late-August into early-September operations were described by war correspondent Ernie Pyle as "a tactician's hell and a quartermaster's purgatory."

Believing victory to be firmly within their grasp, the fast-moving armies had outrun their supply lines and were forced to live hand-to-mouth for several days. 90-95% of all supplies on the continent still lay in base depots. First and Third Armies had in effect "leaped" more than 300 miles from Omaha beach in a month's time. In a desperate effort to bridge the gap between the front and mounting stockpiles back at Normandy a long-distance, one-way, "loop-run" highway system - dubbed the Red Ball Express - was born. Since circumstances allowed little time for advance planning or preparation, Red Ball was, as one observer noted, "largely an impromptu affair." It began on 25 August, with 67 truck companies running along a restricted route from St. Lo to Chartres, just south of Paris; and reached a peak four days later with 132 companies (nearly 6,000 vehicles) assigned to the project.

While the Engineers were busy maintaining roads and bridges, MPs were on hand at each of the major check points to direct traffic and record pertinent data. Colorful signs and markers along the way kept drivers from getting lost, and at the same time publicized daily goals and achievements. Quartermasters truck drivers, materiel handlers, and petroleum specialists were ever present both along the route and at the forward-area truck-heads. Disabled vehicles were moved to the side of the road, where they were either repaired on the spot by roving Ordnance units or evacuated to rear-area depots.

Round-the-clock movement of traffic required adherence to a strict set of rules. For instance, all vehicles had to travel in convoys and maintain 60-yard intervals. They were not to exceed the maximum speed of 25 mph and no passing was allowed. After dark, Red Ball drivers were permitted the luxury of using full headlights instead of "cat eyes" for safety reasons. At exactly ten minutes before the hour each vehicle stopped in place for a 10-minute break. Bivouac areas were set up midway on the roads so exhausted drivers could get some rest and a hot meal.

In late August, Eisenhower decided to forward most petroleum supplies to Hodges's First Army and Mongomery's 21st British Army Group. This action was to come at the expense of Patton's Third Army to the South. On 31 August, Patton's daily allotment of gasoline dropped off sharply from 400,000 to 31,000 gallons. This placed a virtual stranglehold on the fiery commander, who fumed, pleaded, begged, bellowed and cursed accordingly — but to no avail. "My men can eat their belts," he was overhead telling Ike at a meeting on 2 September, "but my tanks gotta have gas." The logistical crisis threatened to halt the Allies where the enemy could not.

Fortunately, that crisis proved to be short-lived. It would only be a slight exaggeration to say that Red Ball saved the day. The hastily conceived system served as a useful expedient for bringing Class III items, especially gasoline, quickly to the fuel-starved front. Even though First and Third Army supply officers would continue bemoaning the gas shortage, the situation got markedly better. By the end of the first week in September, forward area truck-heads were issuing POL as soon as it came in, and consumption rates were once again hitting the 800,000-gallon-a-day mark. Mid-September saw the two American Armies issuing in excess of one million gallons of gasoline daily — enough to meet the immediate needs and begin building slight reserves.

Red Ball was scheduled to run only until 5 September, but continued through mid-November, buying precious time for the rear echelon support team to complete its task of building up the railroads, port facilities, and pipelines needed to sustain the final drive into Germany. By this point the Red Ball Express had developed an inherent problem. As the route got longer and longer, the Red Ball required more gasoline — ultimately as much as 300,000 gallons per day — just to keep the Red Ball vehicles themselves moving.

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