THE SAGA OF THE
732ND RAILWAY OPERATING BATTALION
SUBJECT: SUMMARY ACTIVITY REPORT. FEB. 1945 - APRIL 19.
Ever since the 732nd Railway Oerating Battalion (ROB) which was sponsored by the Great Northern Railway,
arrived on the continent 8 months ago, it has rehabilitated, operated and
maintained the railway all the way up to the front lines and was one of two spearhead Railway Operating Battalions supplying Gen. Patton's 3rd Army.
Since actual conditions which may confront a Railway Operating Battalion
vary widely, cooperation is most essential between members of the Battalion and the military service in general The Battalion Commander, Major Thomas J. Brennan, former Great Northern Trainmaster at Havre, Montana has instilled this spirit of cooperation in this Battalion and so organized the French Railroader& that their cooperation in the already increased capacity of the railway was a leading factor in efficient operation. With the Engineering Units reconstructing miles of track and bridges of various descriptions close behind the fast advancing armies, the 732nd followed on the heels of the Engineers' assisting them in their every target dated reconstruction program. Rehabilitation -and operation was pretty much routine in the average day's work of the 732nd. In being assisted assigned additional railways in the early part of Feb. 1945, in the forward area .and parallel to the battle line, the 732nd operations had become a distinct strategic valve for the rapid movement of troops and supplies from one part of the front to another. This railway, being in territory very recently abandoned by the enemy, bridges, water facilities and track had been destroyed by the fast retreating enemy and was rapidly being reconstructed by Engineering Units. The 732nd couldn't wait for complete facilities of a railroad system - communications, sidings, fuel and water points, bridges to be restored before beginning operations, and the lack of these essential brought plenty of headaches. Hurrying to open forward lines for operation - a reconnaissance was made by Bridge and Building Platoon Commander 1st Lt. Raymond Anderson, of Alexandria, Minnesota Great Northern Assistant Master Carpenter at Missabi, Minnesota, of bridges reconstructed by U. S. Army Engineers. These bridges were by necessity hastily constructed and considerable "touching up" work was found necessary for safe operation of trains. The 3 bridge sections were immediately moved to these bridges to reline approaches, adjust spacers, tighten bolts, and do other necessary work. Air compressors being vital to bridge and building work, Platoon Leader Lt. Raymond Anderson improvised a mobile unit out of a dump truck by placing an air compressor on the truck and placing boom on front end of truck which if used in conjunction with power winch. The water section finding water facilities completely destroyed by the Germans and not rehabilitated by Engineer Units immediately set to work repairing strafed and shelled water tanks. Using British and French -fire and centrifugal pumps .they zapped rivers, .small streams, springs and wells to furnish water for trains.
Having cut plates, patched electric welded bullet and shell holes in water
tanks, and mailing necessary -pipe connections, water facilities were made available once again. Facilities for watering hospital trains were also installed.
Practically all personnel under Commander 1st Lt. Edward Billingsley of
Pateros, Washington, Great Northern Track Inspector at Wenatchee, Washington, were utilized in assisting adjoining Engineering Units in reconstruction and rehabilitation of a second track which was removed by the Germans. Six bulldozers, 2 air compressors and 3/4 yard crane were utilized in this work. This equipment forms an invaluable part of the vast amount of equipment necessary for the operation of a Railway Operating Battalion One of the outstanding platoons of the Battalion is the Signal Platoon, under the command of 1st Lt. Delbert W. McGuiness of Blackfoot, Montana, Great Northern Signal Maintainer at Whitefish, Montana. They have worked day and night since Jan. 8,' 45 installing a communications system that has been woven into a powerful telephone network to insure expeditious movement of trains. At this time cold weather and enemy activity bad caused many breaks in line thus necessitating signal men to be on the alert 24 hours per day. At times lineman were assigned to train crews to tap lines to call for help when trains found themselves in difficulty Jin running over new lines. Operating in an unstabilized sector in advance of Headquarters, the train movement section has been capable of operating many miles of track under all possible conditions.
The length of the railway having been rapidly increased, additional specialist such as telegraph operators, clerks, etc., were needed by .Headquarters Company. These men were drawn from Company "C" personnel With communications being constantly bombed and sabotaged, operators at times had to use couriers in motor cars for communications between dispatch points. If such communications were not used trains would have been tied up for hours awaiting order to move. Putting continental railways back into operation was as much a problem of engines and rolling stock as of tracks and marshaling yards. During the early days in Normandy, the Battalion depended largely on captured enemy equipment. ln Argentan, France, Capt. George Ziipperian, Commanding Officer of Co. . "B", maintenance of equipment, of Great Falls, Montana, Great Northern Master Mechanic at Great Falls, Montana, went out on a forward reconnaissance to find equipment. He found many locomotives which had been abandoned bv the Germans. Enemy locomotives were of every make and age. There were Austrian small switch 0-6-0' s, vintage 1865, and others which had rolled off the German assembly line in 1944. Although the 732nd started operating railroad with a few Gl locomotives, as they moved forward more and more French locomotives and cars were liberated and more and more German rolling stock captured. This was immediately repaired and utilized to supplement Gl equipment. The Car-Repair Platoon, under Commander 1st Lt. Clifford Vance of Breckenridge, Minnesota, Great Northern Assistant Car Foreman at this point was busily engaged in removing the many destroyed cars from yards and track while salvaging and repairing equipment. At the same time service crews were inspecting cars, wheels, brakes and servicing locomotive engines. The Locomotive Platoon under the able supervision of 1st L. Robert F. Newton, of Shelby, Montana, Great Northern Traveling Engineer, have overhauled and reconditioned demolitioned locomotives and mechanical appliances for immediate use, and maintained a running repair shop. The versatility of the train crew has been their greatest asset in being able to perform in the various phases of railroading. The utilization of Diesel Power was necessitated due to lack of water facilities and the tactical situation. Being trained in the operation of steam locomotives, the initiative of train crews in adapting themselves to the operation of Diesels has proven them typical of Gl ingenuity.
The men who run the trains and yard crews, now operating in the forward
area have problems galore, such as operating without head lights at night, cars
lacking 50% to 60% brake power, significant difference in the coupling-system to
French and American railroads, lack of proper cars to be used for hauling supplies and rations, bad track, damaged interlocking facilities, lack of stable
communications due to sabotage, making test runs over track heretofore not used by pushing 3 or 4 loaded sand cars ahead of engine in order to explode-all mines that were undetected by demolition squads, and the supervision of French
operation by Company "C" train crews without being able to communicate with
them except by sign language. However, due to operating for the most part in the
actual combat zone, the greater part of the Battalion's operation was carried out
completely with its own forces. With the Army having advanced at a fast pace a
high priority was placed on 732nd territory for reconstruction by the engineers so
as to open the right of way. In being assigned additional Railway Battalion Commander, Major Thomas J. Brennan reconnoitered the line far in advance of the -already open line. The recon report showed tunnel, bridge, culvert switch point, cross-over, frog and yard signal bridge demolitioned. The 732nd couldn't wait for engineering units to be called on to reconstruct the line. Immediately under the able supervision of Capt. William H. Codworth, former Great Northern District Roadmaster at Wenatchee, Washington the bridge and building track and signal platoons of Company "A" went to work day and night. With every rail, frog and switch point on German soil blown to pieces, all acetylene and electric welding equipment they were able to beg, borrow or steal was utilized. Replacement frogs of German rail frogline being unobtainable, the welders accomplished marvels in reconstructing the frogs by patching a reinforcing. While this method would not pass AAR standards, it got the line open. As a final demand. Army requested opening 9 kilometers of railroad over
where 4 bridges were blown out. Due to the high priority of this line, the engineers
were called in to reconstruct the bridges, but before the engineers had arrived the
Bridge and Building Platoon had one of 4 bridges in and the track gangs had made
necessary track repairs. The line was opened 2 days ahead of schedule which was
an important factor in the success of the big drive which started Feb. 14, '45. By
long hours and hard work on track bridge signal and water facilities, Co. "A"
without the assistance of any engineering unit, has since Jan. 1st, opened and
rehabilitated 9 railheads on or before date demanded by higher authority.
With hundreds of wrecked cars and locomotives clogging the yards and
mainline, the Car Repair Platoon under the Command of 1st-Lt. Clifford Vance, v
busily engaged in removing the many cars and locomotives and salvaging
repairable equipment. Due to the condition of the equipment a continuous
inspection of all marshaling yards in the 732nd assigned territory was made for tl
sole purpose of classifying all repairs and salvaging all usable equipment and
material. During the month of Feb. , the Car Repair Platoon made 367 running
repair pickups, 5 derailments and salvaged-50 German and French freight cars.
interesting anecdote occurred when a load of ammunition was delivered to a 240
long tom which was busily engaged in firing-at the enemy, A new railroad having
been opened by Company "A" practically at the enemy lines, the first train
proceeded with a load of ammunition consigned to that point. Perceiving-a battery
of 240's next to the track the engineer stopped and asked if they wanted any
ammunition. The officer at the battery was dumfounded to the extent of asking the
train crew "how far up to the front do you Railway Operating Battalions run the
trains"? "Front line delivery is pretty much routine work in the average day for I
732nd." said the conductor. "We are known as the front door delivery Battalion”
After the rapid advance of armies, which commenced on Feb. 17, '45, this
Battalion's territory became more important in strategic value on account of the
necessity of moving supplies from one part of the front lo another. It was .necessary
at the time to open a new line to Trier, Germany. All available engineering units
were called in from various other construction jobs to rehabilitate this line. This
newly designated railhead was through enemy territory which was heavily mined
and booby trapped. The 389th-Engineers, an all “Negro” unit was placed at
Wellen , Germany, to rehabilitate yard facilities. The 389th was previously
employed on highway construction so it was necessary to assign 6 track non-coms to supervise and direct their efforts on rehabilitation on this line.
During the latter part of March, '45, this Battalion's maintenance of way
company, under the able supervision of Commanding Officer Capt. William H.
Cudworth, opened lines as close to Merzig, Germany, as possible opening 4
railheads at points which were in an angle of enemy fire from high points above
Merzig. Members of the Bridge and Building Platoon attempted to construct a
bridge which was under enemy observation and near American Infantry Platoons,
but were halted by infantry officers who claimed the bringing Jip of heavy
equipment would draw fire. By the time the line was opened to Trier, the front t
lines advanced to the other side of the Rhine River thus the Battalion assigned
territory lost its strategic value. On the first of April , territory operating by this
Battalion was placed on Phase II operating French Operations under Gl
supervision and the 716th ROB. took over the territory. On this day the bridge
across the Saar River was completed thus opening the line from Hartgarten-FaIck
to Mainz, Germany; also this Battalion was assigned the territory from
Hartgarten-FaIck to Bad Krevznach, Germany. With the armies rapidly advancing deep into Germany proper, higher authorities demanded the rapid movement of supply trains to the forward most railhead which was located at Mainz, Germany. On the first of April, '45, Commanding Officer, Major Thomas J. Brennan, departed From Hartgarten-FaIck with the first train of cargo consisting of 50 cars loaded with rations and arrived at Mainz, Germany, a distance of 121 miles, the same day. This train was the first to cross the newly constructed Saar River bridge.
Trains containing gasoline , ammo and additional subsistence, together with
trains of personnel, followed in rapid order so that by April 7, '45, a total of 21
trains had cleared east of Saarbrucken on this line. Trains were backed up from
Thionville to Paris, France, awaiting movement. Train crews gave their all and
more in running these fire trains over a new line which were in far from good
condition. In fact, the first trains went through without any communications
whatsoever. The Battalion was handicapped due to the fact that movement of
personnel was prohibited before movement of essential Army supplies. By the use of trucks, motor cars and other forms of transportation sufficient personnel was soon disbursed along the line so as to soon provide efficient operation.
Numerous difficulties were encountered by lack of water facilities and
communications and rough track, caused by new bridges and fills. The entire
personnel of Company "A" , maintenance of way, were quickly dispatched along the
line to complete the rehabilitation of these lines by the use of many experienced
railroad officers an non-corns. The line was soon placed in such a condition that
trains could operate efficiently. The cranes of Company "A" for coaling
locomotives were placed at various coaling points. The train movement section of
Headquarters Company placed operators at advantageous locations for the
dispatching of trains. In the meantime due to the vast number of trains, train
crews of Company "C" were working continuously without rest in the endeavor to
get essential supplies to advance railheads at the Rhine. Working up to 60 hours
without rest, 18 locomotives, more or less dilapidated by constant hard use, the train
crews should be credited with every possible commendation as their jobs WAS really
"rough". The men of this Battalion operating for many a mile with poor
communications, insufficient rest and food, have opened a life line for the 3rd Army.
Thus each and every officer and enlisted man should be commended even more
strongly than a previous commendation recently received for their excellent work
during the "Bulge". This Battalion is now responsible for 102.3 miles of railway, the
train movement section of Headquarters' Company consisting of dispatchers,
operators, tower men, and station agents, are located at the 19 principal outlying
stations on the Battalion's territory. This staff of operators are working & full 12
per day, 7 days per week. Track, bridge, and communication men of Company "A"
were likewise placed at advantageous locations along the line in order to cope with
the never ending maintenance problems caused by heavy traffic. To Company "B"
maintenance of equipment, the servicing and maintenance of the 732nd's hard used
equipment was as much a problem as were the other phases of railroading. The
great demand for engines, which were being put through hard use made it
necessary to establish running repair shops at the various coaling and watering
points to insure emergency servicing facilities. Company "C", transportation
company, with the ever increasing volume of traffic over this Battalion's assigned
territory can overcome most any difficulty but the-shortage of personnel in making
up train crews has proven to be one that continues to linger. The 25 train crews have worked on occasions continuously through 60 and 70 hours with no sleep. The train movements having increased greatly beyond what they were in the early days; the constant work has played great hardships on the men. It is hardly possible, however, that there could be a unit more highly devoted
to duty than these train crews. On the 15th of April, 1945, the track facilities were
beginning to shape up and some 500 German and Italian civilian railroaders were
employed to rehabilitate the greatly needed yard facilities as train crews and car and locomotive technicians, all of these under the supervision of 732nd men. To date this Battalion has utilized German, Italian and Russian technicians, as well as
laborers in just about every phase of railroading and are employing more and more
Germans each day with the ultimate view of turning the railroads back to their
former owners and as each man hopes, go back home. The 732nd will continue to
progress the tremendous technical knowledge of the Battalion Commander, Major
Thomas J. Brennan, points the way to a future still more defendable and efficient
in military railroading. After moving the first train across the Saar River on the 1st of April, '45, the 732nd has been doing business in a big way. In the period between the 3rd and 30th of April, 1945, this Battalion moved 709 trains over the 102.3 miles, British territory, combating the many difficulties which are encountered in a newly
opened line, 357,096 net tons of supplies were delivered to the Rhine River. Let
these figures-speak for themselves; 709 trains totaling 24,781 loads and 10,961
empties - a total of 717,058 gross tons. Of these trains 6 were troop trains in which
107,840 men were moved forward. Fifty eight westbound trains were refugee trains
in which 89,760 French were returned to their homeland after 5 years of captivity,
who were-POW trains in which 27~320 "supermen" were transported to POW
enclosures. In the period between the 1st and 30th of April, '45, this Battalion's Car
Repair Platoon serviced and inspected 1200 trains between Hartgarten-FaIck and
Bad Krevznach, approximately 180 repairs, 75% being released for service. With
all the trains handled by the 732nd "CO. B" is proud of the fact that not one delay
was chalked up to mechanical defection their end and no mechanical defect on their
end, and no mechanical defect on their end and no mechanical failures occurred on
The 732nd has many "firsts" to its credit one of which it is especially proud
is that of taking the first train across the .Rhine River on April 14, '45; the 347th
Engineers having completed a remarkably speedy job of bridges on the Rhine, this
opening the vital supply line to the interior of Germany. General George S.
Patton, Jr., Majors Gen. Mohr, Brigadier General Plah and Col. Hulen, Commanding
Officer of the 347th Engineers were aboard when this Battalion train crew took a
work train of the 347th as the first train across the Rhine River. Since early in
December, 1944, the 732nd and the 347th have worked closely together keeping the
3rd Army supplied with the vital materials which are necessary for such success as
this Army has had. High commendation has been given both these organizations
for their work in opening and operating railheads right under the nose of the enemy.
This was another "first" for the 732nd, "the front line route to be added to the
record of pioneer railroading they have done to serving the combat troops of the 3rd
Army. Other "firsts" were; running first train into Germany, moving wounded
from front lines to receiving hospitals by rail when muddy roads prohibited use of
ambulances, and running the first train over the Saar River.
On May 2,1945, the following commendation was received by Maj. Thomas
Brennan from Lt. Col. Thomas G. Bourke, Assistant General Advance Section,
Office of the Inspector General. In the course of inspection of the 732nd Railway
Operating Battalion, U.S. Army, Feb 28, 1945, Lt. Col. Bourke witnessed an
extremely meritorious exhibition of initiative ingenuity and extraordinary devotion
to duty on the part of Maj. Thomas J. Brennan, former Great Northern
Trainmaster at Havre, Montana, Commanding Officer of the 7322nd which resulted
in expediting by 24 hours .an .important .improvement of vital supply facilities for
units then in combat. The 732nd did such an outstanding job in Eastern France
and Germany that they received the following commendation from Brig. Gen.
Walter J. Muller, Assistant Chief of Staff, G-4 3rd Army, in a letter addressed to
Brig. Gen Carl R. Gray, Jr., Director General of Military Railway Service.
Particularly I would like to mention the work of the 732nd, which operated
magnificently prior and subsequent to the town of Bastogne, Belgium in the Battle of the Bulge these troops have developed a flexibility which enables them to meet the ever changing situations in most efficient manner. Their ready understanding and prompt action has insured
the uninterrupted flow of supplies to the Army and has contributed immeasurably to the success of the 3rd U. S. Army. At the time referred to the 732nd was
operating railroads literally up-to the frontline. On occasions the artillery
ammunition was delivered by rail right to the guns without the necessity of trucking
on up from railheads. At the nearest point to Bastogne being operated, the troops
and trains of the 732nd were frequently under bombing and strafing attacks from
the enemy but they kept the trains moving with the vital supplies under the most
The 732nd is proud of these commendations and thankful for the part it ha
been allowed to play in the successful termination of hostilities in this theater.
What the future holds forth is as yet undetermined but should this Battalion stay as
an occupation force, go to the Pacific, or go back to civilian railroading, each and
every officer and enlisted man can feel that he has done a good job.