By: Edgar A. Ferrier
My Memories of World War
Two and the 2nd Ranger Battalion
Robert P Gary, LTC USA, Retired.
memories of WWII certainly are still vivid, although names and dates
sometimes get lost, so if I misstate a time or misname a place please bear
memories of my Ranger experiences are of the rigorous training we got in
Camp Forest, Tennessee and the Tullahoma night life which was rivaled only
by a good night’s rest at camp.
From Camp Forest we were sent to Fort
Pierce, Florida where we under went extensive amphibious training and
annoying assaults by Florida Sand Fleas.
Then we moved up to western Maryland for
some mountain training and infiltration exercises.
We were fortunate to be sent to Fort Dix,
New Jersey where we received more weapons training and additional training
in moving through occupied civilian areas.
I will never forget the wonderful folks
of Trenton for their contributions to our morale.
Their efforts made us feel welcome and
there was always some sort of entertainment for all of us. Although we
didn’t know it, Fort Dix was to be our last stateside training and I
believe that we were simply there waiting in line for sufficient
Fort Drum, New York, turned out to be our
staging area for shipping over to England.
Again fortune shined on us as we were to
sail on the Queen Elizabeth and her speed was such that she didn’t have to
sail in a convoy.
However, her course took her up through
the north latitudes which are noted for rough seas and nasty weather.
The rough seas proved to be beneficial
for those of us who were not prone to sea sickness as the mess lines were
very short then.
For the others, it must have been a
The crossing only took five days and we
landed safely in Scotland.
Our stay with the Scots was very brief as
we entrained south to England.
Because of shortage of billets and
training areas, the Battalion was split up.
Our Company, Able, ended up in Bude,
Cornwall County and was billeted out by twos and threes with English
Their generosity and friendliness will
always be remembered.
Our training in England was conducted in
many different locations there, but one of my most vivid memories before
D-Day is on a night training exercise near Folkston, Kent County.
Company A was to go on a training patrol
through the country-side in which civilians lived.
It so happened that on this night the
Germans made one of their largest raids on London.
It was a last ditch effort by aircraft
since the RAF and the US Army Air Forces were gaining air superiority.
Search lights lit up the sky and when
they found an enemy bomber they held it in two or more beams until a night
fighter came in and shot the plane down in flames.
There was never a fireworks display as
dramatic as this show of air power.
The Germans apparently never recovered
their former air power as this was the last raid by aircraft on England.
From then on the Germans used “buzz
bombs” and V2 rockets.
Unfortunately, these weapons inflicted a
lot of damage as well.
With what can
you compare the D-Day landings?
Few invasions have been so forcefully
The Germans had built a formidable
fortress of beach obstacles, pill boxes, weapons emplacements, and mine
On Omaha beach the German troops were dug
in on high ground that was very steep, making it difficult to assault.
Many casualties to our side were taken in
the water and some even before leaving the landing craft.
Those who made it to the beach were
subject to enfilading fire from a pill box on our right flank.
the obstacles in the water, the landing
craft couldn’t get to the beach and were obliged to let us off in water up
to our chests
Enemy fire reigned down on us as the
bullets hit the water.
It was like experiencing heavy rainfall.
Only a few made it to the top of the hill
but those few routed the enemy from their advantageous positions and
forced them back from the beach area.
This was the beginning of the end for the
German war effort and the downfall of the Nazi madness.
I was wounded in the right leg on D-Day before reaching the beach.
The force of the bullet, exiting my calf
muscle, spun me over and my carbine went flying. However, I was able to
make it to the beach and up the steep hill behind the beach.
On the way up I picked up an M-1 rifle
from a fallen comrade along with a bandoleer of ammunition.
My intent was to join up with whoever had
made it to the top and continue on with them.
When I reached the top I sat down to
catch my breath and check my weapon.
After a few minutes I tried to get up and
continue but my wounded leg had frozen bent and I had a difficult time
Consequently, I was evacuated to England
and hospitalized until sometime in August.
I was offered an assignment with limited
duty, but requested I be returned to my Ranger unit.
I spent the next few weeks in the
Replacement Depot system in England and France where I met other Rangers
also on their way back to the Battalion.
Replacement Depot near Liege, Belgium one of our Rangers spotted a convoy
with Ranger Battalion bumper markings moving east.
One of the replacement Ranger officers
was able to commandeer a vehicle and
about 15 of 20 of us Rangers mounted up
and chased after the convoy.
We were able to trace them as far as
Bastogne, Belgium, where we decided to spend the night.
As we set up a bivouac in the town
square, many of the citizens came out and invited us into their homes
where they fed us with their meager rations and insisted on our sleeping
in their beds.
This was an unprecedented demonstration
of kindness by them to complete strangers.
Little did anyone of us realize that this
would be one of the major battlegrounds later in the “Battle of the
The next day, with grateful thanks, we
bid farewell to those fine people and caught up with the Battalion in
A short time later the Battalion was
moved to Esch, Luxemburg and allowed a few days of Rest and Relaxation
(R&R) before moving on into Germany.
The Battalion was assigned positions on
the edge of the Huertgen Forest.
Company A was posted in a town named
Able and Baker companies were established
patrols to Company K, 121st Infantry Regiment, 8th
Infantry Division who were in a forward exposed position.
This was the only contact they had with
On one contact with this unit0, I found
the morale of the entire unit was very low. They were collected in the
basement of a ruined house and there was no security posted.
Thanksgiving, Alfa Company was alerted to move to relieve Baker Company
that was on line in the forest protecting the flank of the 121st
Infantry Regiment, 8th Infantry Division.
Able Company took over Baker Company
positions in darkness.
Much artillery fire came in on us as we
were getting settled in.
Several Rangers were wounded or killed
from direct hits or from tree bursts.
I received my second wound by shrapnel,
but I was hit in the foot and was able to stay on line.
Others were not so lucky.
Company moved back to the Battalion Assembly Area where troops in that
area enjoyed a good, hot Thanksgiving dinner with turkey and all the
Able Company, on line in the forest had
to make do on C rations and D bars.
We weren’t happy about missing all those
goodies until, upon our return to the Assembly Area, we found out that the
other companies that had participated in the feast all came down with
dysentery. We were lucky to have missed that meal.
After a few
days of comparatively luxurious living in an area not continually under
fire from the enemy and in log covered holes with fires to warm us, we
received orders to pack up and prepare to move forward again.
This time we were to enter the town of
Bergstein and prepare to attack the major enemy artillery observation post
known as Hill 400.
That OP could direct artillery fire over
most of the Ruhr Valley which constituted a major threat to the American
We were trucked to within 2 miles of the
town where we left the trucks and proceeded on foot.
From the shell holes and destroyed
vehicles and equipment it was apparent that some heavy fighting had
Able Company was put on the right flank
of the town in a blocking position.
We found trenches the Germans had dug
that were perfect for our purpose.
and armored infantry units had attempted this mission but suffered heavy
casualties and had to be withdrawn. The town was now a Ranger
responsibility. D and F Companies were tagged to make the assault on Hill
At 0800 the next morning they crossed the
line of departure and climbed the hill.
In a very short time (approximately 45
minutes) they radioed that their mission was accomplished.
However, those brave men came under
relentless artillery and ground counter attacks.
Although their casualties mounted, they
were able to stave off the counter attacks and maintained the objective.
Able Company had very little contact with
the enemy ground troops but did receive heavy shelling carrying rations
and water forward through enemy artillery fire to supply those beleaguered
two and a half days of this hell the Battalion was withdrawn to an
assembly area where we received hot food and coffee.
At a Quartermaster shower point we were
able to take a hot shower, shave and were issued clean clothes; big boost
mid-December the Germans initiated the “Battle of the Bulge”.
The 2nd Ranger Battalion was
dispatched to defensive positions around the town of Simmerath.
Soon the Company received some
replacements of untested soldiers.
To add to their plight, as they were
waiting to be assigned to platoons, a barrage of German rockets referred
to as “Screaming Mimies” struck the area where they were, inflicting
casualties among them. That was a tough introduction to combat for them.
Some of those young lads went on to
become good Rangers.
During this time we were continually
probed by German patrols.
Since the weather was miserable the
Germans wore overcoats on their patrols, so we were advised not to leave
our foxholes in our overcoats for fear that we would be mistaken for the
One early morning after a night of heavy
shelling I discovered a hunk of shrapnel wedged in a box of “K” rations
that I had left on the berm of my foxhole.
While in that position, we received
support from an Engineer unit that laid anti-tank and anti-personnel mines
in front of our defensive positions. That was a welcome addition to our
Although we heard the rumble of German
tanks to our front none actually attacked us.
In the first
part of January we were moved to a town called Schmidthoff where we
received more replacements and intensive training was conducted.
The Battalion was alerted for a crossing
of the Ruhr River.
Part of the mission was to attack and
secure the Schwammanuel dam before the Germans could blow it and flood the
northern sector of the Allied advance.
Unfortunately, the Germans blew the dam
before we could move on it and we later crossed the Ruhr on foot.
We had just been issued “shoe pac” boots
and heavy socks to counter the cold and frost bite, but the crossing
negated that as everyone got wet feet.
On the other side of the river we
encountered extensive mine fields both on and off the roads.
I was to lead the platoon around a site
where engineers were clearing a road of anti-tank mines.
We intended to circle around that site in
the field next to the road.
I proceeded into the area some fifty
yards ahead of the rest of the platoon and noticed lumps of sod scattered
After going well into the area I examined
one of these lumps and found that the Germans had constructed a hasty mine
field consisting of “shoe” mines which if stepped on would blow your foot
I was able to stop the platoon before
they entered to mine field and another route was selected.
Shortly after crossing the river we were
attached to a mechanized Calvary Battalion and welcomed the prospect of
not having to walk everywhere.
The added supporting firepower was also
an added advantage.
Our mission was to screen to the front of
V Corps and eliminate any obstacles to our advance.
Sometimes we were out in front of the
main body 25-50 miles.
When we ran into resistance the Rangers
would dismount and attack on foot receiving
supporting fire from the Calvary troop’s
The Battalion made it to a town called
Mayschoss in the heart of German wine country.
This proved to be a rest-and-recreation
area for the Battalion before receiving our next mission which was to
marry up with the Calvary units once again, cross the Rhine River and
continue screening for V Corps.
While we were resting in Mayschoss our
forces had succeeded in crossing the Rhine and establishing a beach head
on the east side of the river.
Germans finally succeeded in destroying
the Remagen Bridge but our engineers had constructed a pontoon bridge next
to the ruins of the bridge and our crossing was not resisted.
During our short stay in this area we did
witness Germany’s first jet fighter plane flying by.
It was a strange sight to us who were not
aware of propeller-less planes at that time.
From the Rhine on into the heartland of
Germany the war for us was mostly rapid movement on Calvary vehicles and
light skirmishes at road blocks or German ambushes.
Many small towns capitulated without a
Most wanted to be left in peace, but some
die hard Nazi troops or officials made half-hearted attempts to resist our
On the outskirts of one town,
Sonderhausen, Able Company sent out a patrol to test the perimeter of the
town for organized defenses.
As the patrol approached the town they
were fired on and returned fire, but had to withdraw because they hadn’t
the fire power to overcome the obstacle.
Later that morning I was designated to
lead another patrol into the town generally along the same route.
We were able to enter the town without
Because of the action experienced by the
previous patrol, we moved with we moved with extreme caution keeping
weapons at the ready to meet any threat.
The patrol came across the local police
station and, anticipating some resistance, entered.
Fortunately, the Chief of Police was
anxious to cooperate with us when I told him that our patrol represented a
large unit that surrounded the town with infantry, tanks and artillery.
That impressed him to the point that,
through an interpreter, my demands was agreed to.
The demands were that all houses,
offices, and businesses display a white flag of some sort to signify that
they would not resist our occupation.
Further, all weapons such as pistols,
rifles, and swords would be turned in to the police station.
cameras and Nazi flags or
banners were verboten and must be turned in also. The patrol then left the
police station to further scout the town.
We soon discovered a major German
military hospital in the town and decided to check it out.
We were met at the entrance by the doctor
in charge to the hospital who agreed to let us in but we must leave our
There was no way we were going to leave
our weapons, but we decided not to push the issue because we could
understand his concern for his patients and we didn’t consider the
patients as a threat.
We decided to return to our unit and
report our findings.
our Platoon Leader, Lt Porubsky, back into the town and to the police
station where we were amazed to see the piles of weapons, flags, cameras
and other items that had been turned in by the citizens in such a short
A couple of our trucks arrived and soon
cleared out all the “loot”.
I’m not sure what happened to all of that
stuff, but I’m sure the boys in the rear filled up on the goodies.
As a result
of our report, it was decided to move troops on through the town, and
continue our mission.
Unfortunately, as one truck load of our
guys was passing through the town a ‘die-hard” Nazi official of the town
ran out on the street and fired shots at the truck.
His fore was returned killing him on the
No other incidents were reported, and so
our mission continued on beyond this and many other towns, most were
submissive to our operations.
we were separated from our Calvary companions and posted in Czechoslovakia
where we learned that the Germans had surrendered and the fighting was
Our stay in Europe ended when we departed
from Le Havre on board the USS West Point and sailed for home.
daughter Kim (Gary) Eskew; 29-Aug-2013