June of 2013 we took you on a typical tour
of duty that a WWII Signaleer might have lived. In that article we
followed an EM and a Signal Officer from the
56th Signal Battalion through their training and
then on to their tour in Europe (more
accurately, the European Theater of Operations
or ETO). The article was
Part II of a three part
series we penned on how a nation’s determination
to win a war can often be seen in how the
military structures a fighting soldier’s tour of
duty. Even though the article was written to
look at how war is fought, it was still fun to
follow a typical soldier through his tour of
duty, seeing what he encountered along the way
and what his life was like.
In this article we want to look again at what it was
like to be a Signal soldier in WWII, but this
time we’ll look less at the philosophy behind
war and more at the personal side of what a
typical Signaleer’s life was really like. This
time we will look at what the Officers and men
of the 583rd Signal Depot Company did as they
prepared for war and then embraced it.
Most of us have heard of Signal Depot Companies,
without having any idea what they were or what
they did. For most Signal Depot units of WWII their
1. To receive, store, issue and provide company,
battalion or echelon level maintenance for
signal equipment issued to the forces they
supported. For the 583rd that meant supplying
the fighting and occupation forces of the
European Command, including the equipment
required to carry out special missions that
might be charged to the Chief Signal Officer of
the Army they served with… such as Patton’s 3rd.
2. To operate signal field procurement teams for
the Office of the Chief Signal Officer, and to
procure along the route of battle signal equipment
that might be useful to the fighting and, later,
3. To rehabilitate all equipment and items
retaining at least 35% of their original value.
Efforts like this typically required the troops
to rebuild, repair, clean, preserve, package,
properly mark, identify, and classify every
item they ran across, in order to assure that
all items were ready for reuse as either a Class
"A" and "B" status item.
In the 583rd’s case their specialty was RADAR,
SCR-584, including the trucks that carried
them. But their work was not just limited to
depot maintenance on these units, it also
included setting up and operating RADAR matrix
in the field, in support of combat
conditions. That is, in addition to performing
depot duties on field RADAR systems, the 583rd
also set up and operated typical three truck
RADAR arrays in support of the units they
To prepare for the battles they were headed
towards, the 583rd Signal Depot Company
trained at Camp
Crowder, Missouri, before, as with many Signal
Companies they trained with at Crowder, heading
off to Europe. Like the rest, their route took
them via boat to Scotland and then overland to
England, where they expected that they would
settle in to prepare for war. However, when they
arrived in England what they found was that
rather than practicing their communicating
skills prior to the invasion of the continent,
they instead became part of the support effort
aimed at preparing for that invasion.
More particularly, what many Signal Corps men
today fail to appreciate was that back in WWII
the Signal Corps served several masters, which
caused units like the 583rd Signal Depot Company
to do double duty.
First, the Signal Corps as a
branch was a supply service provider to its
sister services. Second, it provided technical
services in support of command and
communication, as well as the communication and
other technical services themselves, and third,
the Signal Corps was a combat arm. The net
result of this was that the duties a particular
Company within the Signal Corps performed
frequently differed based on where you ran
across it and at what stage the war was in at
that location. That was the case for the 583rd.
While it started out training to provide radar
services, by the time its men arrived in England
they were heading towards providing support
services. Part of the reason had to do with bad
timing. The U.S. and its British and other
allies had been building up men and equipment to
invade the European continent from day one, when
the U.S. joined the war on December 7, 1941.
Unfortunately, because of Churchill’s demands
that North Africa be invaded first, before
France, in late 1942, all of these efforts were
for naught… as far as Europe was concerned.
This made it necessary for the Allies to start
all over again to build up a continental
fighting force; and of course this in turn meant
that it was necessary to reestablish the depot
and supply systems required to support the new
buildup—a Signal Corps function. Add to this the
need to rebuild the communication systems that
had previously been used to support the North
Africa invasion force while it was training in
England (which for the most part was dismantled
and taken with the troops when they departed for
Africa), and one can see that units like the
583rd found themselves needing to do double
duty: keep their war skills sharp while tackling
all sorts of support work when they first
But we get ahead of ourselves. Let us first look
at how most men ended up in the 583rd.
World War II the Signal Corps did all it could to recruit technically
inclined men, preferably with some college experience if not an actual
college degree. Men with Bachelors of Science in Business Administration,
science, mathematics, engineering or any other school of thought that
required discipline and an ability to process thoughts based on logic were
in great demand. If a college
degree wasn’t available, being able to show
that one was technically inclined might do too. Those who practiced amateur
radio (HAMS), liked flying or gliding, or otherwise showed that they were
part of the elite world of advancing technology fit in well with what the
U.S. Army Signal Corps was looking for. Once inducted or incented to join
the Signal Corps such men were often sent off to the Army Signal Corps Radio
School. Several of these were set up around the country, with one of the
more prominent being in Boston, Massachusetts.
Many of the men who ended up being assigned to the 583rd Signal Depot
Company followed this exact route. After induction and basic was over they
were sent off to Boston, where they sat through six months of training. From
there they went on to Camp Crowder, in Neosho, Missouri, for the final phase
of their basic training.
Crowder was constructed in 1941 to serve as a training center for the Army
Signal Corps. It was one of the largest Army installations in the Midwest
and was named for Enoch Crowder, a Missouri general who as provost marshal
implemented and administrated the Selective Service Act during World War I.
As early as 1942 men began arriving at Crowder for training where, as the
war progressed, they underwent schooling in one or more of over forty
different military communication specialties involving everything from
radio, RADAR and telephone operation to plain old maintenance. Aside from
the Signal-Corps training, the post also trained medical-corps soldiers and
ground-force troops. It also operated an Officer Candidate Preparatory
School, the first school of its kind in any Army installation. The graduates
of this preparatory school were sent on to the OCS program at Fort Monmouth.
At its peak just short of 47,000 troops were stationed at Camp Crowder. Then
later, as these men went on to war and their barracks became empty (between
December 1942 and May of 1946) their bunks were filled with more than 10,000
German and Italian POWs. In part because the Camp had a training mentality,
and in part because that’s how Americans were back then, the POWs held at
Crowder were given the option of learning trade skills such as butchering,
auto mechanics, baking, and laundering. It’s kind of strange to think in
terms of the U.S. military training its enemy, in the middle of a war, to be
better civilians, but that’s the way America was in those days. The enemy
was the enemy for only as long as he was on the field of battle. Once he
surrendered we did all we could to instill in him the values we treasured
most, hoping that he would bring those values back to his own country and
change the way his countrymen saw the world.
Shortly after the war ended, Crowder was closed as a basic training site and
eventually, in 1958, it was completely deactivated.
At the time our typical Signaleer went through Camp Crowder the most
advanced schools dealt with radio devices and RADAR. If our Signaleer was a
college graduate when he arrived at Crowder it was likely that he ended up
being assigned to the tougher of the two: RADAR training. Depending on when
he arrived he was likely to be assigned to the 583rd Signal Depot Company, a
newly constituted unit.
Interestingly, if at the time he was assigned to the 583rd it was found that
he had more than one degree, or was exceptionally experienced in advanced
technologies, he might also find himself being sent on to Camp Murphy, in
Florida, for 6 months of specialized training in RADAR, rather than the more
fundamental training that was being offered at Crowder. If so, when his
training was over in Florida he would be returned to his unit at Crowder
for unit posting to a theater of war. And of course, if he showed leadership
skills, he might be lucky enough to be pulled from the RADAR training
program completely and sent through Crowder’s OCS Preparatory School before
being dispatched off to Fort Monmouth. From there, there was no telling
where he might end up… but wherever it would be, unless he washed out, it would be in
as an Officer in the Signal
As for the 583rd itself, it was activated at Camp Crowder on January 12,
1944. As originally constituted the Company consisted of 1 Officer and 20
Enlisted Men. By March 30, 1944, it had expanded to 9 Officers and 182
Enlisted Men, its intended complement. Reading many of the personal memoirs
and stories written by 583rd men it is clear that the unit took pride in
itself. Comments abound about the men being proud to be in an actual
fighting unit, versus a support unit, as well as the quality of the
equipment they were assigned to work with… equipment whose technology
exceeded that found in the civilian sphere of life.
our readers will remember from an earlier article we penned on RADAR [Part
4: America Between The Wars – RADAR Blooms], development of RADAR
was headed by Colonel William Blair, director of the Signal Corps
laboratories at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. Signal Corps RADAR research began
in the 1930s with the production of two RADAR sets: the (Signal Corps
Radio) SCR-268 and the SCR-270. The SCR-268 was a short-range fixed base
radar system principally used to control searchlights and antiaircraft guns.
The SCR-270 was mobile and had a range of 120 miles. Because of this it
tended to be used to look for incoming aircraft. Later, the SCR-271 was
invented. Fixed like the SCR-270, it tended to be used for coastal defense.
Training for these devices took place in two locations, Crowder and Murphy,
with, as said earlier, Murphy offering more advanced instruction. As to what
Camp Murphy was like, it was activated in 1942, just shortly after Crowder
was up and running. A stand alone facility named after Lieutenant Colonel
William Herbert Murphy, who in turn was instrumental in the development of
radio beams and military aircraft equipment, it served as the Southern
Signal Corps School for RADAR operation.
Located on 11,364 acres, the Camp was considered far enough away from
prying eyes to be secure. One wonders however if the 854 officers and
5,752 enlisted men that populated it didn’t make enough noise on their
own to, if not the enemy, at least let every girl in Florida know that
they were there. A huge facility, the Camp held nearly 1,000 buildings,
as well as a bank, movie theatre, church and bowling alley. Like
Crowder, it was decommissioned when the war was over (1944). Later the
land was returned to the State of Florida, where in 1950 it
eventually ended up being designated as Jonathan Dickinson State Park.
keep with our story and add color to it, we must recognize that while our
Signaleer was now a member of the 583rd, he still had a personal life of his
own. If he was anything like the millions of other soldiers passing through
the Army at that time he had a girl. Being headed for war, more likely than
not our man and his lady used his time in training as an opportunity to get
married. Wartime marriages were more than common in the U. S. at that time.
In fact, they were hot, with more than a million (20% above pre-war levels)
taking place between 1940 and 1943. And if our Signaleer couldn't find a
girl at home before he left, he was sure to find one when he arrived in
Still, while love might be blooming, the call to war was never ending in
1943–1944, and so it was just a matter of time before our man was finished
with his training and headed for a transport ship to take him to the ETO.
For the 583rd Signal Depot Company that ship was the
HMT Arundel Castle
(aka HMT F1). It set sail for the European Theater on April 5, 1944.
Full of new troops nervous about what
they would find when they arrived in Europe, the ship’s company attempted to
quiet their nerves by piping music and news through the loud speakers.
Having barely cleared New York harbor the ship's Captain broadcast
Gabriel Heatter, an American radio commentator whose World War
II-era sign-on, "There's good news tonight", became both his catchphrase and
his caricature. Known across the country, his news broadcasts were eagerly
awaited. However, on this fateful night, as the men of the 583rd set sail
for the ETO, Heatter adjusted his normal sign on and instead began with the
phrase “There’s bad news tonight.” From there he went on to talk of how a
German U-boat sank an Allied supply ship off the Irish coast. Up and down
the decks white faces could be seen… many wondering for the first time since
joining the Army what they had got themselves into. Few of the 583rd slept
soundly that night.
While the Arundel Castle was a converted steamship liner, the conversion
process didn’t make it any too comfortable. Most of the 583rd found
themselves bunked on A-Deck. Having been told while on their way to board
the vessel that they would be on A-Deck, most believed that they would be at
the top of the ship, sunning themselves all the way to England.
Not so. As it turns out, on most steam ships, deck numbering begins at the
bottom and moves up as the decks get closer to the top of the ship. And so
the boys of the 583rd found themselves several levels below the water line,
where not only was it damp and chilly, but they could hear the sea streaming
past as they slept. For a unit so newly introduced to the reality of
submarine warfare, this proved more than many could handle.
To make matters worse, the ship being as small as it was, there simply
wasn’t enough space for bunks for everyone. To solve this problem men were
assigned two to a bunk, with one sleeping in the bunk one night while the
other slept on the deck beside the bunk; this routine being reversed the
next night. With the fear of being torpedoed and a cold hard deck to sleep
on half of the time it was to be expected that during the day many made
their way topside in search of a niche where they could sleep above the
Eventually the troops made it to Scotland where they docked at Glasgow on
April 17. From Glasgow the 583rd made its way by convoy to a holding
depot in Herefordshire. There, along with other U.S. fighting men that were
arriving at the same time, units were reassembled and dispatched throughout
southern England in something that was called Operation Bolero.
At the time “Bolero" was the code name used in official communications to
stand for the "United Kingdom," especially when describing activities within
the U.K. theater of operations, or troop movements around the country.
Because of this, at the time of the 583rd’s troop movements the term was
applied to the effort to beef up forces and materials for an as yet
unspecified invasion of Europe. To be more accurate, the term Operation
Bolero represented those plans relating to the first stage of the troop and
material buildup in Great Britain, in preparation for what was planned as
the initial cross-channel invasion plan. This plan was known as
Operation Roundup, and it was scheduled to be implemented in
mid-1943 if all was ready and things progressed smoothly. However, if
progress was slow in building up for a full invasion, then instead of
Operation Roundup another lesser contingency known as Operation
Sledgehammer would go forward. And if so, then this would happen
sometime in the fall of 1942, but only in the event of German setbacks
and/or to ease Axis pressure on the Eastern Front.
And if that is not confusing enough, as plans for the invasion moved forward
the term Operation Bolero was redefined to refer more exclusively not to the
early stage general effort to bring troops and materials to England, but
solely to Hap Arnold’s program to buildup a strategic air force in Great
Britain (again in preparation for Operation Roundup). The change in
designation of the purpose of Operation Bolero from being related to a
general buildup to only that associated with Commanding General of the U.S.
Army Air Forces’ Henry H. Arnold came about because when General George C.
Marshall approved Hap Arnold’s request for a buildup of his own (April 12,
1942) he also set in motion an even bigger program to bring men and material
to England for an even more expanded effort that would presage the actual
invasion of continental Europe. And so with that decision all of the other
Operation Bolero (which now referred solely to General Arnold’s
buildup of planes and pilots) became history, with the new one General
Marshall approved receiving the name Operation Overlord.
Regardless of all of this, as far as our men from the 583rd Signal Depot
Company were concerned, they were part of Operation Bolero. As to what they
were really thinking, the only thing that mattered was that they had arrived
safely and had not been torpedoed en route. Now, at last, finally in
England, they could add their effort to the increase in strength that was taking
place, from approximately 774,000 troops at the beginning of 1944 to
1,537,000 that were there for the D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944.
Thinking they would be set to work either building RADAR sites or preparing
for the invasion, the men of the 583rd were surprised when they found
themselves assigned to supply duties. A core responsibility of the Signal
Corps, while playing with RADARS might be nice, the truth was that hundreds
of thousands of American soldiers were arriving in England and someone had
to supply, support and assist them. And so the 583rd found itself accepting
a first mission to operate the Signal Supply Section General Depot (G-22),
There the 583rd was ordered to unload signal wire from freight cars shipped
over by civilian U.S. companies. According to the official history of the
583rd, “The mission at G-22 proved to be one of the most difficult the
company was to encounter. The volume of receipts and shipments, moderate at
first, reached a peak just prior to the invasion of France which was almost
beyond the physical endurance of the personnel involved.” The truth be told,
the men of the 583rd were often required to work 24 to 30 hours a day.
Reflecting back on how proud they were in training to think of themselves as
combat men, or at least the guys that played around each day with the
world’s most advanced technology—RADAR—now they were just glad to get some
sleep... never mind that the vaunted 583rd didn’t even make it to the level
of basic Signal Corps cable pullers. Tired, bedraggled cable un-loaders,
that's what they were.
The strenuous duty the men of the 583rd were assigned played a part in how
things unrolled for the unit as momentum gathered towards the D-Day
invasion. What actually happened was that by the time the invasion was ready
to proceed the men of the 583rd were exhausted and needed both a break and a
quick retraining to ready them for their more normal duties of either
working RADARS or repairing them. Many actually ended up being hospitalized
with breathing infections from working inside the cargo ships they unloaded,
which in turn took them out of retraining, forcing them to take up positions
as RADAR truck drivers instead of radar operators. Strangely, those that
were sent down this road had to, in addition to taking a U.S. Army test to
obtain a military vehicle driver’s license, take a British government
drivers test too.
For the others, retraining afforded a chance to observe how British RADAR
techniques differed from those of the U.S. Army Signal Corps. Comments in
memoirs indicate that most felt that British RADAR operations were not as
sophisticated as those of the U.S. Some commented that the British attached
their RADAR to search lights, to improve their precision. This of course
worked two ways. It also allowed German aircraft to quickly figure out that
if they took out the searchlights they saw on the ground, British RADARs
would cease operating. And of course, without either searchlights or RADAR
British anti-air craft guns became... how shall we say... less accurate.
Picking up on this, the 583rd put out directives that all RADAR units be
moved considerable distances away from search lights… especially British
While a few small squads from the 583rd made it into the initial D-Day
invasion as advanced observers for the unit as a whole, most of the Company
stayed behind for additional training. On July 8, a few days after D-Day,
the 583rd moved 145 miles south from its Signal Supply Section General Depot
(G-22) at Herefordshire to Frampton Court. There it received a refresher
course in basic training, where two key subjects were taught. The first
involved those topics long ago covered that were intended to keep a man
alive in combat and the second consisted of a quick update on the lessons
the 583rd’s observer squads that were part of the D-Day invasion had learned
about German tactics and capabilities. Most importantly, these lessons
included information on the best way to deploy RADAR in the French
countryside... in pursuit of the Germans.
refresher course completed, the 583rd was ready to join the Allied advance.
On August 16, 1944, the 583rd Signal Depot Company landed on Utah beach and
proceeded by truck to a bivouac in Transit Area 'B', near
Sainte-Mere-Eglise. When it hit the beach the 583rd had exactly 9 Officers
and 172 Enlisted Men standing on French soil.
As a newcomer to the battle, the 583rd was destined to travel... if only to
catch up with the advancing front. For the most part the men moved in small
units composed of one RADAR truck and the men associated with it, plus the
material and additional vehicles needed to support that truck. Even so,
because RADAR at that time tended to be deployed in clusters, one RADAR
truck group was rarely far from another. Sleeping by the side of their
trucks, the groups did all they could to implement the camouflage training
they had received from the day they first joined the Army. Being new to the
sound of war, most didn’t sleep well the first week or two after arrival.
Eventually though, like all soldiers, the novelty of war wore off, routine
set in and the men returned to feeling that they just might make it through
this thing called war.
In the early stages of the war traveling through Europe made maps an
absolute necessity Without them the men were sure to get lost along the way.
To help the 583rd navigate through the terrain they traversed the unit was
given special maps that helped them not only assess how to get where they
were going but also how to lay out an array of RADAR and make best use of
the equipment they carried with them.
This additional need to be able to correlate their RADAR installations to
achieve best practical effect meant that in addition to the normal
topographic information a map contained the men of the 583rd needed to have
information that would allow them to correlate their equipment with
known landmarks, whose geographic coordinates could in turn be pinpointed.
Information of this type was not contained on standard maps. To overcome
this problem the Signal Corps sought out maps prepared by the Standard Oil
Company, a U.S. business that had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars
prior to the war to chart their own gas lines as they transited Europe. With
excruciating detail, these maps not only told the 583rd what was going on
around them in terms of landmarks and the like, but also underground…
something they didn’t need to know, but made them feel more secure anyway.
However you looked at it, thanks to Standard Oil the maps got the men where
they needed to go, and helped them group their RADARs for best effect.
From Transit Area “B” the 583rd traveled to LeMans,
France. There (on August 18, 1944), while preparing to lay out their RADAR
truck matrix, they were approached by a member of the Force Française
d’Interior (FFI), also known as “Fee Fees.”
As was to be expected, as American units advanced across France towards
Germany, and the Germans slowly retreated, some German units found
themselves cut off from their main body, holed up in a pocket or simply left
behind. The French resistance, not one to leave an opportunity unfilled,
sought these units out and brought them under fire, pinning them down until
the Americans arrived. On August 18 the men of the 583rd found themselves in
just such a situation. As they advanced they learned that a local FFI
resistance group had cornered a group of German soldiers in a farm house.
The FFI believed that with the “softening up” they had already given the
Germans, if they caught site of American troops they would convince
themselves to surrender rather than carry on fighting.
With a smile on their faces some of the 583rd’s men
headed off towards the farmhouse, where just as planned fifteen enemy
soldiers surrendered. The Signaleers returned to their RADAR trucks grinning
from ear to ear, saying that the Germans “… thought Patton’s Third Army was
right behind [us]…”.
to their normal duties, a week later, on August 25, 1944, a detachment made
up of 1 Officer and 11 Enlisted Men were dispatched to find a way to
increase the flow of signal supplies to the U.S. units coming up behind
them. One of these was in fact Patton’s Third Army, also known as “Hell on
For some reason it seemed that Patton’s Army used more signal supplies than
any other Army marching through Europe. Because of this they were always
calling for more cable, more telephones and more of just about everything.
As the Third Army moved into the area the 583rd was in, the 583rd was
assigned the task of keeping them supplied. When the squad that was sent to
meet up with Patton’s Army moved to link up with it, they were told to find
out what the problem was that was causing Patton to go through so many
Sure enough, when they arrived they saw firsthand that the Third Army was
nearly out of light weight "assault wire." Because of the speed with which
Patton advanced, the wire his people used tended to be types like W-130.
W-130 weighed 30 pounds per mile, and allowed field phones to have a talking
range of about 5 miles. Heavier cable pairs allowed longer talking
distances, obviously because the resistance along the line decreased with
the diameter of the copper wire.
cable like W-130 was laid, the reels mounted on the backpacks that were in
turn mounted on the back of trucks and jeeps were simply tossed aside and
left along the road. Regulations said they were to be collected and sent to
the rear, but again, with the speed with which Patton’s Army moved it took
more time to police the reels, load them and find where the rear actually
was (since it was advancing along with the rest of the Army) than simply
leaving them where they lay. And as to the worry that cable reels along the
roadside signaled where Patton’s boys were, if the cable being laid was
being used to support a current encampment then it didn’t matter, since
Patton's men were there looking for Jerry anyway and would be happy if he
stumbled upon a 3rd Army encampment, even if he found it by following a
trail of empty cable reels. And if the Army had moved on, then it really
didn't matter as far as Patton was concerned, since all the empty reels told
the enemy was where they used to be.
Because of this both the cable, the reels they came on, the telephones that
were connected to them, and nearly everything else associated with field
communications was frequently simply abandoned when Patton’s tank engines
roared to life and the beasts headed off to their next gun fight. Not every
time, mind you, but often enough… especially when Patton’s scouts spotted
Germans within engagement distance. In that case it was balls-to-the-wall to
crank it up and head off to fix and finish the bastards before they knew
what hit them. In those cases the signal support men that traveled with
Patton grabbed what they could themselves and headed off in the direction
of the thick pall of black smoke that signaled the rear of Patton’s
gunfighters as they moved forward, in hot pursuit of the enemy.
When the 583rd caught up with the Third Army they learned about this
tendency to simply abandon the signal equipment and move on, but found that
there was nothing they could do about it. The reason was that to General
Patton, fighting and winning the war was much more important than worrying
about how many field telephones were operable or how many cable reels got
left behind. If America wanted him to win the war, then it needed to supply
him with what he needed. It was just as simple as that. And if it couldn’t,
damned, he was going to win the war anyway.
Surprised as the 583rd was to find out what was driving Patton’s constant
calls for more wire and phones, they were even more surprised to find out
that the amount of cable Patton’s Army had gone through was far greater than
that which it had abandoned when it left one encampment for another. Trying
to calculate how much cable he had to be supplied with, and when, on the
basis of what he had gone through as he advanced through Europe to date,
left a shortfall of nearly 3 times the amount of cable being left behind
each time General Patton’s troops packed up and moved on. What could be
than just an academic question, the 583rd had to figure this out if they
were to keep the 3rd Army supplied with the cable and phones they needed.
After much searching one other fact came to light that explained it all. It
seems that General Patton didn’t trust radio communications. He felt that
while it worked well, the radio waves emitted by his transmitters left a
signature that the enemy could pick up. Not wanting the Germans to know when
he was sneaking up behind them—especially as his Army was advancing—he
ordered near total radio silence. Not having radio as a means of
communication, he ordered that even while his units were on the move that
they be supplied with cable based field telephone service. The net result
was that not only was wire strung when the units were in camp, but also
along the roadways that they followed as they advanced. Since it was normal
for there to be a forward contingent up close to the enemy, Patton ordered
that field cable be strung from this forward location back to those who
would be coming along over the next few days to reinforce the action on the
front. And since he feared that cables too gave off radio waves, he further
ordered that the cable strung along the route be buried in ditches. And
further, that whenever possible these ditches be located on secondary,
unmarked roads and trails, so that if the enemy stumbled across them they
wouldn’t be able to immediately discern where his troops were.
All together these factors combined to cause Patton to go through nearly
three times as much field cable as any other Army at the time. It also meant
that the number of signal support men he needed was greater than anyone
else’s, and the same too for the equipment needed to underwrite his orders.
Thus Patton’s Army had more plows to bury lines than any other units,
greater stocks of field telephones, and on, and on. Keeping Patton’s Army
advancing on the enemy was difficult enough by itself. Supplying it with the
type of communications it needed proved near impossible. It was because of
this that as Patton’s Army approached the area the 583rd was in, the 583rd
was dispatched to provide as much help as it could. What they found was that
like everyone else striving to keep up with Patton, they too ended up
getting lost on unmapped secondary roads, failing to find the ditches where
cable had been buried, and generally seeing their own squads badly scattered
in areas far from secure.
The reader might be interested to know that it was the
difficulty Patton placed on the Signal Corps to supply him with everything
from signal equipment to food and armament that eventually caused the Red
Ball Express to be formed in August 1944. As all know today, the Red Ball
Express was more than a trucking company. It was a supply system where
soldiers would drive trucks carrying supplies to keep advancing armies, like
Patton’s Third, fighting and on the move.
Having strung itself out trying to support Patton, things began to get back
to normal for the 583rd when on September 5, 1944, they moved to Reims,
France. There they set up what was known as Signal Depot S-855-A. Sticking
to its dual role of providing field RADAR support as well as depot
communication repair and supply services, the 583rd set about inventorying
spare parts and repairing equipment sent back to it from forward areas. More
than a nicety, repairing equipment on the battlefield greatly increased the
ability of the Allied army to fight the war, as while the number of actual
devices being repaired was relatively small, they filled in the gaps in the
supply system so that front line units were not as dependent on supplies
coming over from America.
For the 583rd Reims proved to be a blessing, as it both brought them into
close contact with the people of France and gave them the time to get to
know them. Recently set free from German occupation, many French families
reached out to local U.S. units like the 583rd to invite them into their
homes… for a bottle of France’s world renowned, unexcelled but simple table
wines, talks and even dinner. It was in this environment that many
G.I.s—having so recently left the farm—not only first fell in love but had
their first encounter with a sweet young girl. The result: more War Brides.
October 9, 1944, the Company picked up and moved on again. This time 121
miles further from Reims to Steinfort (Stengefort), Luxembourg, Belgium, to
organize yet another repair depot for radios. Having lived on the road from
the time they first arrived on Utah Beach in mid-August until now, some two
months had passed since the men of the 583rd had taken a shower or properly
washed their clothes. When they got to Steinfort this blessing fell upon
Interestingly, it fell upon them because of another blessing they
received with their new posting to Steinfort… the ability to go on leave to
Paris. As far as the commanders were concerned, if 3 day passes were going
to be issued to the men of the 583rd for a little R&R in Paris, then the men
were at the very least going to be clean when they arrived in Paris. As to
getting from Steinfort to Paris, arrangements were made with a few local
pilots such that men were shuttled between Steinfort and Paris for short but
much needed three-day furloughs.
Not to be discounted, at that stage of the war a three-day pass to Paris was
a big, big deal. The stories men told when they returned from Paris were
amazing… the girls, the champagne, the wine, the supper clubs, the dancing,
the lights, the raucous merriment of a city only recently released from
bondage, the devil may care thirst and quest to live life to the fullest… to
live life to its ever so fullest, since all knew that more than a cliché it
was absolutely true... tomorrow might never come.
released for a few days of freedom most of the men of the 583rd with a
liberty pass headed straight for the Place Pigalle. At that time Place
Pigalle was where the party was… prostitution was rampant... and every bar
and club in the area offered more than a man could consume… in wine, women
A story by itself, the entry of Americans into Paris transformed sexual
commerce on the continent, making Paris the brothel of Europe. There being a
war going on, it was only natural that the ability of the Paris city
government to police the public and enforce French law and legal regulations
suffered, and so previously underground activities like prostitution bubbled
to the surface, then took command of the entire scene. The breakdown of
normal law and order meant prostitution flourished. To be fair to the French
government of the time, this was so not just because of the breakdown in
French law, but also and more importantly because of the sharp increase in
demand for… let’s call it… sexual labor. It was the old story of supply and
demand. The demand was there and the French girls met it.
from this distance removed from World War II, we can see that while at the
time all of this might have been fine, the consequences of American soldiers
trampling across France seeking sex had an impact that has carried down to
today. As the legal system broke down under the weight of the demand for
prostitution, and the profession flourished, the practice became chaotic.
What up until then had been a reserved calling lying just below the surface
of French society, as the war progressed became instead a point of focus for
every man alive, and worse, unprofessional in the extreme. The normal
travails of war left many French women penniless, poor, without a place to
live or sleep, and without regular food to eat. It was only natural then
that many girls who found themselves in that situation turned to
The ones along the Place Pigalle, while above the rest, were still poor and
unprotected from the dangers of life on the street. Even so, because in part
American G.I.s had morals and ethics, while they might engage in sex and
even cheat on their wives back home, few were as brutal to the girls as were
the German soldiers that had just been chased out of town. As a result,
prostitution in Paris, which American G.I.s called the Silver Foxhole, began
to take on a veneer of respectability. The girls made more money, less
physical violence ensued, and the industry flourished even more… if such can
be said about this sad occupation.
was not envisioned however was the impact this trade between American men
and French women would have on the psyche of the rest of the French people.
By its nature, this new culture of public prostitution aimed at American
soldiers brought with it its own language, geography and protective customs.
This separated it from the rest of society… a society that, even in spite of
its tendency to collaborate with its German occupiers, saw itself as above
those other national societies that surrounded it: the British, Germans,
people of the low countries, and certainly Spain.
The suppression that America brought to France via its overpowering the
morals of so many French women caused the rest of French society to slowly
begin to turn its nose up at all things American. For them, what America
brought to France was not so much freedom from German oppression as a
glaring light shined on a seedy sub culture... one that caused many French
to feel that they had lost their respectability and honor as a high culture.
The result was that as more and more French women took to the streets the
French prostitute came to symbolize for the French a domination of their own
culture by American wealth and power. And so it began… with wartime
prostitution… and has continued down until today: resentment on the part of
the French towards America… for the denigration of their culture.
- - - - -
Having had a brief respite from war, the 583rd soon found itself acting as a
picket around Steinfort, looking for German units that might be enroute to
join in the Battle of the Bulge (December 1944). The Battle of the Bulge
began in earnest when on December 16, 1944, several German divisions
launched a counter offensive against Allied forces in the Ardennes region.
As this was taking place, the 583rd was scurrying to lay mine fields around
Steinfort. The plan was that if Germans approached or tried to pass through
the area the 583rd would engage them. If they were not able to hold their
own or stop the advance, then the 583rd would fall back, southward, and
regroup with Patton’s Third Army located in Metz, Luxembourg. The concern
was that as a Signal Company with little actual combat experience, the front
line was no place for the 583rd.
The Commanding Officer of the 583rd took an informal poll among his men as
to whether they should stay and fight or fall back now. The consensus was
that they ought to fall back and meet up with Patton’s Army. The C.O. however
thought otherwise. He is reported to have given his men a stern talking to,
saying that the 583rd was staying in Steinfort. His words have been captured
in various memoirs as “We have come this far and nobody will back us up from
here. If we start retreating now, who knows when we will stop
And with that the 583rd found itself opting to take a position on the front
lines of the Battle of the Bulge.
While this was happening, on December 19, “Eisenhower met with his senior
commanders in a cold, damp squad room…” as German tanks prepared to surround
“Eisenhower walked in, looked disapprovingly at the downcast and boldly
declared, ‘The present situation is to be regarded as one of opportunity for
us and not disaster. There will be only cheerful faces at this conference
table.’” As discussions about a counterattack began, General Patton quickly
spoke up and offered a plan where his Third Army would attack the southern
shoulder of the German advance. Patton said he would cut off the enemy
supply lines and essentially destroy the enemy. “When Eisenhower asked him
how long it would take for the Third Army to turn north and attack the
German southern flank, Patton boldly replied, ‘Two days.’”
His peers openly laughed, but in fact Patton was
already halfway into the movement as he was speaking. No fool, Patton knew
what the meeting was about even before he left for it. And so as he was
climbing into his jeep in Metz he ordered his staff to begin switching the
attack line to the north. While we might think of Patton as brilliant for
this, for the 583rd it was pure luck that they had stayed to fight; because
if the 583rd had retreated to Metz as they had all wanted, they would have found
only empty ground where Patton had once been, themselves
outnumbered and surrounded by Germans, and on the very front lines that they
had so desperately hoped to avoid.
Back at Steinfort it didn’t take long for the Germans to realize that the
resistance the 583rd offered was not as strong as it looked. And so on December 23, 1944, the
repair depot at Steinfort found itself being strafed and bombed. The
Signaleers inside jumped to it and manned the one anti-air craft gun they
had at their disposal, but did little harm to the advancing German
Luftwaffe. One can only surmise that it's one thing to operate a RADAR
platform to track and shoot down incoming aircraft, and another to operate
the gun doing the shooting, such that it hits them.
As one inexperienced anti-aircraft Signal man said after the fight, “…it was
so hard to shoot down those planes because they moved so fast”.
Yeah… really… that’s what they were supposed to be doing.
Overall the Christmas of 1944 proved to be one of the scariest and most
serious of the unit’s entire campaign. Cold beyond measure, most men thought
they would freeze to death. In fact it is rumored that it was a small fire
that one of the men had lit to keep warm that was spotted by German aircraft
that led to their being strafed and bombed. Finally, to add insult to
injury, the Christmas packages that the men expected to receive any day…
from home… never showed up. It turned out that concerns that the Germans
might break through their encirclement in the Battle of the Bulge caused
orders to be sent to Liege, Belgium, requiring that all 1944 Christmas
packages being held in the post office at Liege be destroyed so that no
benefit would go to the Germans if they made it that far.
By early January things had settled down again and on January 9, 1945, the
583rd was taken off alert after the Allies turned back the German advance.
Yet while their security improved the winter did its best to dog them. Cold
weather made the early portion of 1945 miserable for the men of the 583rd.
To keep their moral up, the Company’s Officers piled more and more work on
the men. To begin with, they assigned even more patrol duty to the men, as
well as more work preparing defenses in case the Germans regrouped and tried
another counteroffensive. To add to this the unit was ordered to maintain
high efficiency repairing radios and RADAR equipment. Efficiency in this
case meant fixing radios and RADAR equipment and returning it to the field
in increasingly shorter times. This was needed, they were told, to keep the
Allied advance going at full speed… pushing the Germans back more and more
each day, closer to Berlin. Adding to this drive to repair things faster
came a new onslaught of higher volumes of broken gear. Intense front line
fighting caused higher levels of material to be sent rearward for repair.
handle this increased volume and the need for an increased throughput, the
repair depot was expanded. This was done by constructing a series of railway
spurs and loading platforms to the central railroad terminal in Steinfort (Gare
de Steinfort). These were then coupled with more storage and warehouse space
acquired from various buildings in town.
Work continued along these lines until late April, 1945, when the men of
583rd were sent to Nuremberg, Germany. While they expected to soon be
setting up another depot maintenance facility, the truth was that they were
being prepositioned in readiness for the end of the war in the ETO.
When the war ended in early May 1945, the 583rd Signal Depot Company held
its celebration in the war-torn city of Nuremberg. Finding nothing in
Nuremberg resembling a Silver Foxhole, the men were left to their own
devices to find a way to let off steam and enjoy the fact that they had made
it through the war.
A few took it upon themselves to set off a bunch of hand grenades to
celebrate. But this was quickly nipped in the bud when the C.O. grimly
reminded them that they would soon be wishing they had those hand grenades
back when they hit the beaches of Japan in a month or so. It didn’t take
long for the rumor to circulate around the Company that the 583rd was
heading for the Pacific Theater. What they didn’t know of course was that
the war against Japan would end in mid August 1945, sparing them the task of
being one of the many Signal Corps Depot Companies slated to be part of the
planned invasion of Japan.
In bits and pieces the men of the 583rd returned home from late 1945 to
early 1946, and resumed their lives. To help the men get home sooner the
C.O. of the Company slowly transferred his men out, to the numerous Signal
Service Battalions and Companies then coming in-country to mop up after the
war. Units like the 3187th Signal Service Battalion, recently arrived,
readily accepted men from the 583rd, 215th and other Signal Depot Companies.
As the highest “point” people in these new units, the men were quickly
rotated home. Thus the men of the 583rd found themselves being broken up,
friends and buddies being left behind or sent off to units they had never
heard of... all on their way home.
Most shipped out around the third week in October, enroute to America.
The crossing usually took 11 days, after which the ships that brought
them back would dock in
New York. A quick train to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, would find the men
either being discharged there or sent off to be discharged closer to
home. By the time November 1945 rolled around almost all of the 583rd’s
men were home… lost and disoriented in this peaceful new environment
called America, nearly 3 years and 5 months from the time they had left.
In August 1946 all of the remaining Signal Depots in Europe were inactivated
with the remaining equipment and supplies being shipped to the
Signal Corps Depot at Hanau... at a rate of 200 tons per day.
With that, the depot and repair facilities the 583rd had set up across
Germany were shut down, and the Signal Depot Company 583rd’s trip to war
 Force Française d'Interior (French Forces of the Interior, a.k.a. "FFI")
Organized Resistance network throughout France, amalgamating MUR, ORA
and FTP; under the command of Général Koenig, formed after February 1944.
For more information and a fascinating historical treatise on French freedom
fighters click here:
–To return to your place in the text, click here:
 From the memoirs of Howard Peach, an Enlisted Man in the 583rd Signal
Depot Company. –
To return to your place in the text, click here:
 Seventy-five percent of the men who ran the Red Ball Express were
African-Americans. – To
return to your place in the text, click here:
 Stephen Ambose, Citizen Soldiers: The U.S. Army from the Normandy
Beaches to the Bulge to the Surrender of Germany; New York: Simon &
Schuster, 1997, page 199. –
To return to your place in the text, click here:
Mary Louise Roberts; The Silver Foxhole: The GIs and Prostitution in
Mary Louise Roberts; What Soldiers Do: Sex and the American GI in World
War II France.
Jillian Emma, Kurt Spear; Yours for Victory: The Wartime Story of Howard
Peach; HIS 497, Professor Judy Barrett, Bryant University, Spring 2009.
R. J. Meiser; 583rd Signal Depot Co. History: Cp. Crowder-England,
France-Belg., Lux.-Germany: Mo. 12 Jan. 44: C-22, C-25, C-40, C-16.
Private collection, Walter Elkins; Hanau Signal Depot Map, 1949
John Ellis, Brute Force: Allied Strategy and Tactics in the Second
World War, New York: Penguin Group, 1990.
Kathy Rae Coker, Signal Corps History, US Army Signal Center
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