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A Brief History of the Path Taken by the 927th Signal Battalion In World War II
  By Dale Skelton
September 20, 2003

In memory of James E. "Red" Skelton, Jr.
And Norman "Chink" Pockrus

With special acknowledgement and honor to W. A. "Bill" Ringener 


 
 
Picture of Dad drawn by Melody, my oldest daughter.
Photo taken by my youngest daughter, Mandy
(click to enlarge)


Invasion of North Africa (November 1942):
The invasion of North Africa was designated “Operation Torch”. Red and Bill’s signal company B were with the 3rd Infantry Division. On November 8, 1942, they landed ashore at night at Fedala, which is close to Casablanca. There were no LSTs, LCIs or “ducks” at the landing of Fedala, only big gray transports and their small transport-born landing craft. They climbed down the side of the transport to the landing craft on a rope net. Bill said that it was a bit tricky getting onto the landing craft with it bobbing up and down with the waves; it was easy to misjudge distances; just as you were ready to step onto the craft, it could go up or down a foot or more without warning. Red wrote the following on the back of his armband with a blue marksalot  

 JE Skelton  N. Africa   Nov 8, 1942

The fighting in Fedala and Casablanca lasted for 3 days, until the Vichy French, which had originally pledged allegiance to Germany, asked for a cease-fire and surrendered to the allies.
Bill and Red left Casablanca in early February, 1943, and went into Tunisia, where the 1st infantry division (The Big Red One) was fighting; they were close to the Kasserine Pass when the German 10th Panzer division, which had made an undetected move north, attacked United States units deployed on and between isolated hills west of Faid Pass. During this time, Bill said that they were very concerned that they may not make it out of the area, and had to retreat back past Tebessa, which had been the location of the II US Corps headquarters.
During the Tunisian campaign, food supplies were hard to come by, and they had to eat British rations during part of this time; “the biscuits were hard and dry”. At one point, they were so hungry that they decided to take matters into their own hands when they saw a supply truck pass by their area. They chased after the supply truck with their truck, with Red standing on the hood. Red jumped into the back of the supply truck and began throwing off cans of food, then jumped out. Bill wondered how the driver didn’t see them, or if he just didn’t care.  They discovered that all the cans contained powdered potatoes, which none of them liked. Red was ribbed from then on about not being able to steal anything worth eating.
At the end of the African campaign, the 927th Signal Battalion received a letter of appreciation from the Brigadier General of the 12th Air Support Command:
“You have met many obstacles and overcome them with determination and confidence. You have installed, operated and maintained the various channels of signal communications throughout the campaign, under battle conditions over a wide and mobile front, in a highly efficient and most gratifying manner. Without these communications the successful conclusion of the entire operation would have been exceedingly difficult if not impossible. I am assured that the knowledge and experience gained during the past few months will be used advantageously in the support of our troops and in the ultimate defeat of our enemies”
Red and Bill left North Africa in June 1943.
The following newspaper clipping was in Grandma’s scrapbook:
Corporal James Skelton Lands in North Africa
  Mr. and Mrs. J. E. Skelton, this week received three letters from their son, Cpl. James Skelton, telling them of his safe arrival at an unnamed port in Africa. This was the first news they had had of him for over two months.  

 skeltonj10.jpg (73841 bytes)
Norman "Chink" Pockrus and Red.
Picture probably taken in Palermo
(click to enlarge)

Invasion of Sicily (July 1943):
HISTORY: The planned invasion of Sicily, code named Operation Husky, would begin the Allie’s re-entry into Europe. There were several goals for the invasion, which included persuading the Italians to surrender, to maintain a second front that would aid the Russians, and to capture as many German forces as possible before they could withdraw back to Southern Italy. The invasion force was the largest amphibious assault to
ever be attempted at that time, and consisted of 3,000 ships that were mainly American and British, but there were also Belgian, Dutch, Greek, Norwegian and Polish ships. The number of men exceeded 160,000. The invasion took place on the planned date of July 10, 1943, when the moon would be at first quarter, and thus there would be very little moonlight. During the initialize phase of the operation, as the fleet was sailing to Sicily, the weather became very rough, with high winds and large swells. The weather died down prior to the landings. The British troops landed on the Southeast side of Sicily while the American troops landed on the South side. The 3rd division landed close to Licata, the 1st division landed close to Gela, and the 45th division landed close to Scoglitti.

Bill and Red sailed from Tunisia to Sicily on an LST, and landed on Gela Beach on July 10. They ended up in Palermo at the end of the Sicilian campaign, which ended on August 16 when US forces entered Messina. During the Sicilian campaign, Bill received orders to go to a Command Post with a couple of men and install some communication systems. When he got to the room on the second floor, he noticed several generals, one being George Patton. At the end of the campaign, the area around Mount Etna and Catania were off-limits to Americans; they were being held by the British. Bill noticed a couple of Americans walking back to camp in British uniforms, and decided that they must have gone off on a sightseeing tour.
In general, the Sicilians treated the Allies as liberators, rather than conquerors of their land. Bill said that Sicilians were always coming up to him claiming to have relatives living in the States. Bill ran into a cousin while in Sicily.
At some point during the war, Red was on a pole working on communication lines when a German plane began to strafe the area. Red jumped off the pole to get under a truck; when he landed on the ground, one of his pole climbing spikes dug into his leg, leaving a permanent scar. I’m not sure where this happened, but it probably was either North Africa or Sicily when the German Luftwaffe was still a major threat.


Invasion of Italy (late 1943):
HISTORY: The first amphibious assault of Italy was named Operation Avalanche, and took place on the beaches of Salerno. British divisions and the 36th division landed on September 9, 1943, with the 45th division in reserve. The plan was to land, move inland swiftly, take Naples, and drive on to Rome from the South, sweeping any and all opposition from its path. But the Germans were prepared to fight bitterly if a withdrawal from Italy were necessary. Some of the most difficult battles and bitter fights in WWII occurred as the Allies attempted to drive toward Rome. The Germans had established several heavily defended defensive lines, as they had to slowly pull back to the North. By mid-November, the Allies were able to advance to the Gustav line, which is located just South of Cassino. Cracking the Gustav line was virtually impossible, and it was decided that a second amphibious assault to the North of the Gustav line, on the beaches close to Anzio, was necessary to divert some German divisions away from the Gustav line. This second assault was named Operation Shingle, which occurred on January 22, 1944 with the landing of 354 vessels. The ships were carrying 5,200 vehicles and 40,000 British and American soldiers, from the 45th and 3rd divisions. Overhead were aircraft from the XII Air Support Command and elements of the British Desert Air Force. The 3rd division landed close to Nettuno while the 45th landed close to Anzio. The resistance during the landing was light, and the commander decided to take time to unload all supplies and establish a firm beach-head instead of aggressively moving inland as soon as possible, which allowed the Germans time to regroup and amass a large counterattack. During the next month, the Germans were almost successful in pushing the 45th division off the beach; but the 45th division was able to hold onto the beachhead, and thus earned the nickname “Rock of Anzio”. The 36th division landed on Anzio to help push the Germans North, while other Allied divisions were able to crack the Gustav line and drive towards Rome. Rome was freed from German occupation on June 5, 1944.

Bill and Red left Sicily in late 1943, and landed in Italy close to Pompeii, which is close to Naples. They were at different locations through the winter and summer of 1944, winding up in Rome. One thing Bill remembered about Italy was the constant working in “mud up to your knees”; it rained continuously throughout the winter months. During this time, they were located close to the Rapido River, about 10 miles from Cassino. The battle at the Rapido was very costly for the 36th division; that attempt to cross the Rapido River was not successful and should have never been attempted. Many brave men were lost during that battle. The path that Bill and Red took to Rome was probably through the Liri Valley, located South of Cassino.
Bill and Red were close to Mount Vesuvius while it was erupting; they each brought back a chunk of lava rock with an Italian coin in it, which they dropped into the flowing lava. Mount Vesuvius is located close to Pompeii.

       
Red, Bill and Norman "Chink" Pockrus.
Picture taken in Naples. 
The dog was adopted by their Signal Co. B. 
and was nicknamed "Nape"
V-mail sent by Red to his parents
while somewhere in Italy
(click Photos to enlarge)

Invasion of Southern France (August, 1944):

HISTORY: After Rome was liberated by the Allies in late May 1944, the 3rd, 45th and 36th divisions began planning for the invasion of Southern France, known as Operation Dragoon. The Allied command felt that invading Southern France, at the French Riviera area, would divert German troops from Normandy. The Allies could then form a complete line of advance across France. Capture of several major ports, particularly Marseille (the largest port in France), would help supply the Allied advance. The Germans expected an Allied invasion of Southern France, but an early-August German counterattack in Northern France had failed, and the Germans were desperately trying to get as many men as possible out of the so-called Falaise pocket. The Germans had switched commanders in Northern France twice, plus were suffering from the confusion caused by the July 20 plot to kill Hitler. Their basic plan in the French Riviera would eventually be the same as in Italy - delaying the Allies as much as possible while withdrawing to stronger, mountain-based defense positions. The French Riviera invasion took place on August 15, 1944, around 8:00 in the morning. Daylight was required for accurate bombardment, and the landing forces needed as much daylight as possible to get sufficient troops and supplies ashore, secure the landing - and, having learned the lessons of Salerno and Anzio, capture nearby hills. The landings were very successful. The 3rd division landed at St. Tropez, the 36th landed at Cannes and the 45th landed at St. Maxime. The 3rd division pushed on to the port city of Marseille, while the 45th and the 36th pushed north to Grenoble. The Allies were able to advance up to Besancon, about 300 miles from the invasion landings, in about 1 month. The French resistance fighters aided in the rapid advancement by cutting the German communication lines and disrupting troop movements. Bill and Red left Naples on August 13 on an LCI, passed through the Sardinia-Corsica Straits and arrived offshore of the Riviera beaches, close to the town of Marseille, on August 15. Red and Bill received Bronze Arrowheads for participating in the Amphibious assault in Southern France.

While in France, Red met his brother, Charles. Charles was a T/5 medic in the 142nd regiment, 42nd (Rainbow) division. Charles had just arrived from London, and had set out to find his brother. I don’t know the date or the location where they met. Grandma had a newspaper clipping that told about the reunion:

“Mr. And Mrs. J. E. Skelton were made very happy Sunday when they received letters from each of their sons, Cpl. James E. Skelton of the Signal Corps, and Cpl. Charles E. Skelton of the Medical Corps, telling them of an accidental meeting in France. James has been overseas 28 months having seen service in Africa, Sicily, Italy and France. He wrote “if everyone at home has changed as much as my kid brother, Charles has I will be a stranger in my own home.” Charles has been overseas one year and just recently was transferred from England to France hoping that he might be able to contact his brother. He wrote they really celebrated Texas Independence and were assisted by the officers and men of the Signal Corp Co. C at whose headquarters they met.”


Red and his younger brother Charles.
Somewhere in France.
(click to enlarge)

Invasion of Germany (late 1944):

HISTORY: The French had built a defensive line between France and Germany, called the Maginot line, in the 1930’s to keep the Germans out of the Alsace-Lorraine area, but the line had been in German hands since 1940. In the Alsace region of France, most of the towns have German names from when this area was under German control in the late 1800’s. This area was stripped from Germany following WWI. Hitler re-annexed the Alsace-Lorraine area in 1940. Most of the residents spoke German as well as French and were subject to conscription into the 3rd Reich’s armed forces. The enemy forces holed up in this area fought back with a fury as if Germany herself were being attacked. Beyond the Maginot line was the Siegfried line, which stretched from the Swiss border, past France, Luxembourg, and Belgium, to terminate in Holland. The Siegfried line was to Germany what the Maginot line was to France - a daunting defensive line that only the most daring would try to penetrate. By late December, the Maginot and Siegfried lines had been cracked and the Allies were in Germany, but the bitter combat along these lines had taken their toll, and the mid-December weather was miserable. Christmas 1944 was spent in frozen foxholes under intense fire.
Meanwhile, farther north, Hitler had launched his last-gasp offensive through the Ardennes forest - a counteroffensive that later became known as the “Battle of the Bulge”. Eisenhower ordered all Allied offensive actions to temporarily cease until the crisis of the “Bulge” could be dealt with. After the “Bulge” had been contained, the 3rd, 36th, 45th, 42nd, 4th, 100th and 63rd divisions had fought their way through Frankfurt, Darmstadt, Nuremberg, Munich, Augsburg and Dachau by the end of April. Germany surrendered on May 8, 1945.

Red and Bill were in Germany during the Battle of the Bulge. Bill remembers the bitter cold of that winter. They were at Augsburg (about 30 miles from Munich) when the war ended. Bill said that after Germany’s surrender, the German people were kinder to them than the French or Italians had been.

At the end of the German campaign, the 927th Signal Battalion received a letter of appreciation from the Brigadier General of the 12th Tactical Air Command on June 7, 1945:

“In a period of 5 weeks, this Command moved a distance of more than 500 miles and operated from 6 different command posts. This necessitated the laying of more than 1,500 miles of spiral-four cable. Despite the long distance traveled and the rapidity of movement, wire facilities were built and dependable circuits were available at each command post location.”

 
Red, center, with unidentified army buddies.
Location unknown
(click to enlarge)

WHAT KEPT THEM GOING:
Bill told me some of the funny things that happened during the war; they tried to see the humor in things, which helped to keep them going:

“When we were in Casablanca, Africa, the fighting was over. But we still had air raids at night. We were camped in a large tin building. We had an older man from Texas and when we would have an air raid, he would put on his helmet without the liner then the helmet would set down on his head. And when he would turn his head the helmet would sit still. And as you can imagine, there was quite a bit of noise during an air raid in a tin building.”

“Also while we were in Tunisia North Africa after the war was over there, we were close to a farmhouse that had a large tin building. One day we wanted to see what was in that building. When we went up there and got in the building, there were several wooden vats in it. Some were open and inside there were old German guns and helmets in them. One vat was closed and one of the boys that were with us, his name was Folly, wanted to know what was in it. He was red headed and we called him Red. So he opened the sealed lid. And out came about 500 gallons of red wine. It had so much force it knocked him down. So about 500 gallons of wine went out in the barnyard. For weeks you could tell who let the wine out. I don’t know if he ever got all the wine off of him and his clothes.”

POST-WAR:
After the European war was over, Bill and Red were sent back to Darmstadt, where they were preparing to be sent to the Pacific. They had already received all the inoculations when they heard that Japan had surrendered. They were then sent back to France, where they waited for their turn to be transported back to the states. They arrived at Camp Shanks, NY on September 27, 1945, and were discharged from the Army on October 3, 1945, at Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio, TX.
Aunt Louise told me the story of Dad’s homecoming: “Ocie and I were living in Big Springs at the time. James had taken a bus from San Antonio to Big Springs, and had walked from the bus terminal to our house; he didn’t call us to pick him up. It was late in the evening when he knocked on our door. We had a difficult time understanding him because he had picked up a European “brogue” accent. We visited a while, and I asked him if he wanted us to drive him to Westbrook that evening. He said no, that he didn’t want to put them out. After talking a while longer, I asked him again if he didn’t want to go on home, and he said yes, that he did. So I called Mom and Dad and told them that we would bring James on out to Westbrook. When we arrived and they saw James, it was the most emotional sight I had ever seen. Both Mom and Dad were in tears.”


Red and Bill used their skills they developed from WWII by having long careers at Public Utility Companies: Red was at Texas Electric Service Co., Midland, for 26 years, and Bill was at Caprock Electric, Stanton, for 36 years.

A MEMORIAL DAY SERVICE WAS HELD BY THE 927th SIGNAL BATTALION  

A MEMORIAL SERVICE In Honor of
All the men who have died that
America might live, especially those
Of the 927th Signal Battalion
- - -

Germany
30, May 1945

- - -
ORDER OF SERVICE

1: Playing of National Anthem

2: Invocation - Chaplain

3: Reading of names of men who have died from 927th Signal Battalion

4: God Bless America - Congregation

5: My Country, ‘Tis of Thee - Congregation

6: Memorial Message - Chaplain

7: Address: - Col. Montague

8: America the Beautiful - Congregation

9: Benediction

- - - - - -

SLEEP, COMRADES, SLEEP!

Sleep, comrades, sleep, sleep and rest!
On this field of the grounded arms.
Where foes no more molest,
Nor sentry’s shot alarms!
Sleep, comrades, sleep! Sleep, comrades, sleep!

 


Article from the TESCO ROUNDUP February 1976,
When Dad received his 25 year service award and
became a "TESCO Quarter Century Member"
(click to enlarge)
 
 


J. E. "Red" Skelton
(click to enlarge)

REFERENCES:
 1. “The Rock of Anzio from Sicily to Dachau: A History of the 45th Infantry Division”, Flint Whitlock, Westview Press
2. “The Battle for North Africa”, John Strawson, Charles Scribners Sons
3. “They Called It ‘Purple Heart Valley’”, Margaret Bourke-White, Simon & Schuster
4. “Operation Husky - The Allied Invasion of Sicily”, SWC Pack, Hippocrene Books
5. “History of the 3rd Infantry Division”, Taggart, The Battery Press
6. “The War in The Desert, WWII”, Time Life Books
7. “Across the Rhine, WWII”, Time Life Books
8. “The Italian Campaign, WWII”, Time Life Books
9. “The Texas 36th Division”, Bruce Brager, Eakin Press
10.  “Sicily - Whose Victory?” Martin Blumenson, Ballantine Press
11. Radio News Magazine, February 1944, Special Signal Corps Issue
12. Life Magazine, August 2, 1943
13. National Geographic, July 1944
14. National Geographic, October 1944
15. “The Fighting 36th - A Pictorial History of the Texas Division in Combat”, 1995 reprint by Turner Publishing Company
16. “US Army in World War II - The Technical Services - The Signal Corps: The Outcome”, 1970 reprint, George Thompson and Dixie Harris.
17.  “Reader’s Digest Illustrated History of World II 
 
 
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