Activation and Trainging

When in December of 1941, the Japanese staged their sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, and the German Reich together with the Italian Government, declared war on the United States, both the attack and the declaration found the armed forces far from ready, but it found them in such a process of preparedness that they would soon have in the field an, array of armed might the like of which the world had never seen. It was in the early stages of that process that the 391st Armored Field Artillery Battalion was activated on January 1, 1942, at Camp Polk, Louisiana, a part of the Third Armored Division.
Its parent organization, the 67th Field Artillery Regiment, activated with the division on April 15, 1941, contributed largely to the personnel, both officer and enlisted, of the new battalion. For a long time the name of the 391st was considered original within army ranks but, in the summer of 1943, it was discovered that the battalion possessed an antecedent in a unit of the New York State National Guard, organized in the city of Monroe and disbanded after the last war. From this unit the present 391st battalion adopted their insignia of three windmills and, about the same time, chose as their motto "Honor before Honors."
Under the leadership of its first commander, Lt. Col. Russel O. Smith, the battalion began training for its ultimate role in the European campaign.
In July of 1942 the battalion prepared to move to the California desert maneuver area and, on the twenty second of that month, began the four day trek westward. Arriving at Freda, California, in the Colorado Desert, the batteries detrained and proceeded to their new homes. Tents were pitched on the barren sand, the heat causing caustic comments from all concerned. After acclimation, during which tremendous quantities of beer and other cold drinks were consumed at the P. X., the battalion engaged in desert maneuvers, largely a test of communications.
During our stay on the desert many changes occurred in officer personnel. Col. Smith, the generally popular commanding officer, was transferred to the 12th Armored Division and was replaced by Major George G. Garton, under whose dynamic supervision the battalion compiled an enviable record in firing tests held in the states. Soon to become a Lieutenant Colonel, the "old man" remained at the helm through out the remainder of our training and combat history.
Many Officer Candidate School graduates were assigned to us in the desert. With desert maneuvers over, enlivened by frequent passes to the Mecca of California, Los Angeles, the battalion prepared for another move, this time to Camp Pickett, Virginia. On the twenty seventh of October, 1942, we began the long cross continental journey. Seven days later we arrived in Blackstone where we trained for two months.


The general opinion of the men was that we were "hot" and ready to embark for the African campaign. Instead, the battalion's next move was to Indiantown, Gap, Pennsylvania, began and culminated on the fourteenth of January, 1943. Here we remained for seven months. An intensive training program was followed and it was here that the battalion received the honor of being rated the best artillery unit in the division, as judged by Armored Force and Army firing tests. It was here that long months of communication and fire direction practice began at last to bear fruit. Every man in the battalion was proud that the old outfit had finally come out on top.
Headquarters Battery was further honored by its capture of the physical endurance contests held within the battalion, the award being two day passes to all who were eligible.
But more momentous portents were beckoning. "The Time" had come and on the twenty sixth of August, the batteries entrained for a staging area, Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, from whence we embarked for the European Theatre of Operations on the third of September. On the fifth, the S. S. Shawnee steamed out of New York harbor into the vast unknown Ocean of Possibilities. The statue of Liberty grew dim but not our memories of the home we loved and were leaving for a long time.
On the sixteenth of September, we arrived at Avonmouth, Port of Bristol, England, and journeyed by train to Warminster, Wiltshire, on the Salisbury plain, which was to be our home for the next nine months. Here we were polished in the final phases of our training.
On the lighter side, social activities were hugely enjoyed. In fact, some Anglo-American relationships were cemented. "Pubbing" was an art easily acquired by the Orlandoans, and they soon learned to enjoy "bitters", teas and cakes, and cheese sandwiches. Around the environs of Warminster some Yankee customs have been interspersed with old English customs.

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