History Of The 29th Infantry Division

History of the 29th Infantry Division

"Stonewall's Boys"

"Blue and Gray"

World War Two

"As we got in to one thousand yards offshore, we started taking some mortar shells and some artillery. They were just over our bow and exploding off to our side, and we could also hear the small arms as we got in a little closer--the small arms were firing at us."

Sgt. Bob Slaughter

The War

The 29th was inducted into Federal service on February 3, 1941, as part of the mobilization of the National Guard for one year's training. They had only ten days of preparation at their home armories in Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia, for on February 13th , Major General Milton A Reckord, Division Commander, ordered them to convene at Fort George G. Meade in Maryland where his newly established headquarters were located.

As the battalions and regiments moved into Fort Meade, they found, to their dismay, that while their Army home was new, it was far from established. The mud in the company streets was ankle deep and the uncompleted buildings, some without windows and doors, stood naked in the winter wind. It was an inauspicious beginning. An additional ten thousand selectees arrived during March and April as the training progressed, often with dummy equipment, at a surprisingly rapid pace under adverse conditions.

A short spring passed quickly and the men soon found that Fort Meade could be as scorching hot and dusty in the summer as it was cold in the winter. Throughout the heat of August the training at Forte Meade continued and on September 13th, the 29th left by convoy for division training at Camp A. P. Hill, Virginia, the final preparation for the First Army maneuvers in North Carolina later in the fall. Upon completion of the Camp A. P. Hill training, the division continued on to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where the war games were to be held, reaching the post on September 27th and going into bivouac on the military range there. After almost six weeks of "warfare" between the "Blue Army" and the "Red Army" these maneuvers were terminated.

The Division's pride in its traditions drew command emphasis since General Reckord and many of the other senior officers were veterans of service with it in World War I. These traditions were rapidly absorbed by the first influx of Selective Service personnel who came from the same states. December 7, 1941, found the 29th engaged in another field exercise at A. P. Hill and the units were ordered back to Washington, DC to secure the city.

The Division's first wartime assignment was the security of vital areas and coastal defenses under the headquarters of the Chesapeake Bay Frontier Defense Command at Fort Monroe, Virginia. Later, in February 1942, the 29th was designated the mobile reserve for the New York - Philadelphia coastal sector and its units were scattered from Pittsburgh and Harrisburg in Pennsylvania, south to Norfolk and Richmond, Virginia.

In February 1942, General Reckord was promoted and replaced as Division Commander by Major General Leonard Gerow, the man who later led V Corps through Europe. On March 12th of that year, the division reorganized under the new "triangular" structure and officially changed its designation to the 29th Infantry Division. The reorganization streamlined the division base and transferred out of the division, Virginia's 176th Infantry, the regiment used for garrison duty in Washington and later as school troops at the Infantry School at Fort Benning, Georgia. Training under the new formation took place during the year at A. P. Hill, Virginia, Camp Blanding, Florida, and in the Carolina Maneuver Area. In late September and early October the newly formed division departed from New York for the war zone on the liners Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth.

Aboard Queen Elizabeth the concern over possible attack by German submarines proved needless and her crossing was uneventful, while events took a tragic turn for her sister ship. Only one day from land, the apprehension aboard Queen Mary lessened as her voyage neared completion. Suddenly, a zigzagging English cruiser, one of a group sent out by the Royal Navy to escort the giant ship to port, was caught in her course directly in front of the Mary. Under the horrified eyes of the 29th Division men on her decks, the speeding liner knifed completely through the cruiser, cutting her squarely amidships. In minutes the two sections of the severed ship had sunk, at a cost of 332 British lives, while the Queen Mary, unable to jeopardize her own men by pausing, sped on toward Scotland, entering the Firth of Clyde the next day. Though the details of this disaster were smothered under the heavy blanket of censorship, it was an incident never to be forgotten by those of the Blue and Gray who had helplessly watched the tragedy unfold.

Additional training of the division took place in southern England where the units moved after landing in Scotland. The division suffered its first casualties in an air raid on May 23rd. Also, preparations for an amphibious attack on France commenced in July 1943. During this period the division additionally formed a provisional ranger battalion which sent men on three commando raids conducted by the British. That unit however, was broken up in October 1943. General Gerow was replaced as Division Commander in July 1943 by Major General Charles Gerhardt, who would retain command until the end of the war. It was General Gerhardt who added the division's battle cry to the men's lexicon : "29 Let's Go!"

In late December, the British civilians were evacuated from the area around Slapton Sands, on the southern coast of Devonshire, and the final rehearsals for the D-Day operation began. Ideally suited for this mock invasion, Slapton Sands had the same characteristics of beach and tide as those in Normandy. Under the close scrutiny of the highest military officials, this final training program progressed at a rapid pace. Field Marshall Montgomery inspected the 29th in January 1944 and Generals Bradley, Eisenhower, and Gerow made repeated inspections before the invasion began.

In May 1944, concentrations of troops began to form near the port cities along the southern coast of England. Separated into boat groups the men boarded their ships which then moved to an anchorage until the loading of the assault force was completed. On July 5th, the entire convoy, with heavy air and naval protection, steamed eastward along the southern coast of England until, enveloped in the protective darkness of evening, they turned for the south and headed across the channel for the French coast.

The 116th Infantry and the 111th Field Artillery Battalion formed the heart of the first element to enter combat from the division. These units went ashore on Omaha Beach, Normandy, in the first waves on June 6, 1944, D-Day. Casualties were extremely heavy as the Regimental Combat Team faced some of the fiercest fighting of the day. The 116th Infantry lost over 300 men killed, while the 111th lost eleven of its twelve howitzers before even reaching the beach. Its commander, Lieutenant Colonel Thornton Mullins, gained immortality by informing his troops, "To hell with our artillery mission, we're infantrymen now." He was killed later in the day. Among the members of Company A of the 116th Infantry, one of the first units to hit the beach, were 35 men from the small town of Bedford, Virginia. Within the first fifteen minutes of the initial attack, 19 of those 35 men lost their lives. Two more died later that day. As additional units landed, the 29th was able to fight its way to the top of the bluffs and secure its sector of the beachhead. Gallantry in action led to Presidential Unit Citations for the 115th and 116th Infantry Regiments and the 121st Engineer Combat Battalion, and the French Croix de Guerre with Palm for the entire division for the day's action.

During the next two months, the 29th fought in the hedgerow country of Normandy, facing stiff opposition. On July 18th, a special task force of the division liberated St. Lo, the highlight of its post D-Day operations in Normandy. During the course of the long battle, Major Tom Howie, commander of the 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry, had been killed in action. His men, with the division commander's blessing, carried his body into the city and laid it in state in front of the ruined church on the town square. The dedication and esprit de corps revealed in this incident earned the division fame, inspired poems and editorials in newspapers back home, and turned Howie, whose name was withheld for security reasons, into the "Major of St. Lo."

In late August the 29th was withdrawn from the pursuit of the retreating Germans and sent into Brittany to assist in the reduction of the stronghold of Brest. The city surrendered on September 18th, freeing the division to rejoin the action further east. On the last day of that month, following a 650 mile motor march, elements of the division entered the heavy fighting around Aachen,

Julich, and Koslar. By the end of November they had penetrated the Siegfried Line and reached the Roer River, where positions stabilized. On February 23, 1945, the 29th attacked again at Julich, crossing the Roer and reaching Munchen-Gladback on March 1st. The remainder of that month saw the division engaged in mopping-up activities, while most of April was spent in similar activities east of the Rhine. The Elbe River was reached on April 19th.

Following V-E Day, the division served primarily as garrison for the Bremen enclave, processing prisoners of war and helping to establish military government. Lead elements sailed for home in the middle of December, and the division formally inactivated on January 17, 1946, at Camp Kilmer, New Jersey. During the course of its service, the division sustained just under 20,000 casualties. By the same token, units of the division received five Presidential Unit Citations and five French Croix de Guerre. Two Medal of Honor winners highlighted an equally impressive array of individual decorations.

Some Material Courtesy of "Grunts. Net" a very well done and informative site. You are highly encouraged to visit them for a complete history of the U. S. Army.

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