The 406th Occupier
Embarkation and Boat Life (continued)
L ife aboard ship for the next fourteen days was a strange mixture. It was new to most and at first the cramped conditions below deck, English food and even the sporadic seasickness was tempered by watching the sea, counting the ships as they joined the convoy, and the seriousness of boat drill. This soon gave way to a boredom and disgust with the men's quarters together with a seemingly complete disorganization in shiplife. Before long Red Cross and Special Service Kits, organized recreation, and certain degree of acclimatization emerged from the confusion and the balance of the trip was enjoyed.
planes as the pilots taxied out to the runway.
The crossing was uneventful and marked both by unusually balmy weather in the Gulf Stream and a good "blow" or two as the Arctic Circle was approached. In the afternoon of 3, April 1944 the Stirling Castle dropped anchor in Liverpool and 1404N was the first to debark. Amid coffee, doughnuts, comments on "the small cars", and bomb damage we boarded the "funny little train" and started across England for Ashford, Kent. The regular green pattern of the countryside, the neatness of the towns and the "thousands of chimneys" caught and held all eyes. Most of the trip was made after dark and only the dim outline of wartime English cities and villages could be picked out through the carriage windows. The following morning at 0700 hours we arrived at Ashford to be met by Lt. Col. Leslie Bratton, Major William Merriam, Capt. Jeptha L. Larkin and Capt. Irvin Rome, who had preceded the Group by air as the advanced party. Our trip was completed. It had been successful, but its significance and importance faded away as we at once began to think about the job of setting ourselves up to operate.
Establishing the Base and Preparing for Operations
The first look at our ALG indicated we had a job ahead of us in establishing living quarters, setting up sections, getting equipment and planes and getting ready to operate. Thanks to the work of the advance party, the minimum initial equipment was on hand so the task could be begun at once. The next two weeks can not be chronologically or clearly described. They were a succession of "hammer and saw" days when tents were pitched, offices set up in trailers and farm houses, dispersal areas cleared away, equipment requisitioned, begged, borrowed and undoubtedly stolen. Little by little, day by day, progress was made - never very much at a time but all in all satisfactory. The Headquarters established its own mess, set up its communications systems, established its Administrative and Operations Headquarters, sent it's Officers off for school and orientation courses, its pilots to fly operational missions with other units, absorbed distribution higher headquarters, and acquired its various supporting and service organizations. Planes arrived by the middle of the month and with them the organization too on the aspect of an operating unit about ready for the big test. By month's end the basic organization was established, most preliminary theatre training done and we needed only planes in quantity and parts to go operational.
Looking back at the short interval of a month it is difficult to assess this period in the organizations history. The problems of establishing a Headquarters section under field conditions are great. Some time was undoubtedly lost because of organizational equipment brought on the transport was slow in coming from the Port of Debarkation. The ALG was probably put in use too soon although this was not a major problem because flying before April 15 was at a minimum. The Headquarters section was not entirely prepared to absorb the administrative burden of mass distribution from higher headquarters nor to making full use of the various service organizations. Maintaining itself on a large scale was something new for the Headquarters that the Squadrons probably did not experience. On the credit side very valuable help was received from higher echelons, particularly in orientation and learning the "channels" of the Theatre, personnel conditions, both in living and working. It is safe to say that practically all-major problems were attributable to a pressing lack of time and a scarcity of equipment that could not be materially remedied by anyone. By months end the Group was for all purposes ready and anxious to go operational. There was still reorganization under a new T. O. to be accomplished, more planes to be received, more parts to come in, camouflage and sanitation work to be done and many improvements and enlargements to be carried out, but the organization was adequately housed, maintaining itself, had its sections functioning properly, and had competed its pre-operational training. All personnel reacted accordingly. If a period of training, movement, and establishment had brought all these experiences, what would combat bring. They could hardly hold their anticipation.