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Military History/names of battalions, batteries, etc.


QUESTION: My uncle, William Rhew, died in France due to something other than battle. I have his IDPF and the information is confusing. One of the first things I want to know is why, on his Report of Burial, 408th Repl. 33rd Repl. Bn. is marked out and Battery B is hand-printed twice, both marked out, and heavily underscored is 106AAA AW Bn. What's more, on inventories for effects, both dated 1945, one has 408th written in and the other has 106AAA due to a mother w/ a good memory, I can tell you My uncle's serial number: 35101348. I have other questions but if this is answered it might answer those, too. Thank you very much.

ANSWER: Becky:

As you probably know, the 408th Repl and 33rd Repl. Bn stand for 408 Replacement Company, and 33rd Replacement Battalion.

These were simply Adninistrative and Organizatonal units that were assigned to senior headquarters at the Army or Corps level.

A bit of organizational background.  An army is comprised of one or more Corps.  A Corps (not like the Marine Corps) is made up of two or more Divisions.  Each Division consisting of 9000 plus men is divided into combat teams or regiments.  This varied throughout the war.  At first, each division was made up of two regiments of infantry, and one of artillery.  Later they consisted of three infantry, and the artillery was broken up and assigned to each of the infantry regiments.  The system to threes was called a triangular division.  In WWI they were made up of four and were called square divisions.

Each regiment was divided up into 3 battallions of about 900 men each, and were assigned a battalion of artillery.

The division was the smallest unit capable of independent action, by that I mean a divison had the organization and equipment to supply all its smaller parts.  The regiments and battalions, companies and platoons relied on the next higher headquarters to supply its needs: food, supply, transportation and equipment.

Teh battalion is he smallest unit of maneuver, being made up of companies, platoons and squads.

Now, having totally confused you, I will back up.  Look at an army as a corporation.  The Army is the part of the corporation responsible for a region.  The Corps headquarters overseas the operations in part of the region, and its part is subdivided into smaller areas, run by the divisional headquarters, and then even smaller areas are run by the regimental headquarters, and finally the battalion headquarters run the individual plants and company HQs run the produciton lines within the plants and so on.

So the Army had what was called the ARmy Service Forces that over saw the supplys, replacements, mail, movement overseasm, medical services, equipment and transportation to move all the necessary stuff to the war zone.  The army also decided they would create a maximum of 100 divisions and keep them supplied.  Unlike our enemies and our friends who had a regimental system, we decided to do it our way.  In the regimental system, each regiment had three battalions in the field, and one at home, a replacement battalion.  This battalion was responsible for recruiting and training men for the other battalions of the regiment.  The benefit of this was they belonged to the same organization from start to finish.

This led to an esprit de corps that was handed down from one generation to the next.  The down side was the regiment recruited from the same are of the country or city or state.  If the regiment had a bad day, it could mean that a large number of the men and boys from that city, town or county died in a single day.  The up side is you tended to fight harder if surrounded by your friends and neighbors.

Anyway, we looked at human replacements just like we did replacement parts.  We trained them en masse, and then sent them overseas to be plugged in where needed.

Remember, you cannot have tens of thousands of men wandering over the landscape, because they would tend to get "lost" or misplaced.  They had to have an organizational infrastructure to track and control them.  So they had the replacement Battalions and companies. These units were attached to headquarters at Area, Army and Divisional level. A soldier leaving his training unit was issued orders to report to a given replacement unit.  That unit had an Army Post Office number or APO number which ensured the soldier got his mail, and when he finally go to the unit he was to serve in, his mail would follow him there.

The Replacement units would operate a Replacement Depot, which were maligned as a "Repple Depple" and much has been written about how detrimental to morale of the replacements this system was.  The were and felt like replacement parts, being plugged in to fill the holes left by the dead and wounded with little time to become familiar or acclimatized to their new units before going into combat.

So this should explain the changes in the unit designations on your Uncle' record. He eventually found his way to the 106th Anti Aircraft Artillery Battalion
Here is some info on the same unit posted here:

This stands for 106th Anti-aircraft artillery Automatic Weapons Battalion. It was in liaison to the 45th Inf Div Aug 44 thru May 45 starting with the invasion of southern France in Aug 44. There were 4 batteries that provided anti-aircraft protection to HW 45th and the 3 field artillery battalions (one supporting each of the 3 infantry regiments in the 45th Div.  157 Rgt, 179Rgt, 180th Rgt). My father was assigned to C Battery and I have a picture of the unit crest.
Please contact me if you have any details about the 106th.
I have the monthly journals for the 106th from Jul 44 - May 45.

Now you should have a bit more info on the unit in which he served.

A note, on or around the Battle of the Bulge, Eisenhower had most of the AAA battalions disbanded since the German Air force was virtually non-existent and replacements were in short supply.  So he had the soldiers in these battalions redesignated as infantry replacements and put in front line duty.  A lot of them were killed since they didn not have the advanced infantry training or time to make the adjustments to their new job.

The heavy underscore of the AAA unit might have been to indicate his parent unit where his personal effects were to be sent or might have still resided, after his death in combat.  I doubt that the Army had time to actually process the paperwork to reassign him to a combat unit, and just used him as a replacement for a divisional unit, retaining his 106AAA unit for adminstrative reasons.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Wow! What an incredibly thorough answer. Actually, the company headquarters explanation was more confusing than the military explanations of divisions, etc. I've been delving into the military histories of two of my uncles for several years so the military hierarchy  was pretty familiar. but you did clear up a few questions I had about the level of command at some of these levels, especially during the Battle of the Bulge, when my Uncle Raymond was taken prisoner.
  I wish I had more information for you about the 106th but information about the time between June'44 and Oct.'44 is very sketchy where my Uncle William is concerned. Let me explain.
  In June of 1944, William was in Rome; he wrote a glowing description of the inside of St. Peter's Basilica in a letter home (we know he had been in South Africa, at Salerno and at Anzio). Then the family got a
letter from him saying that he was recuperating from wounds: three knife stabs in the back, specifically. I thought my mother said he had been stabbed in Italy, but if so, he wouldn't have gone with the 106th into southern France, would he? They didn't move field hospitals along with the rest of the battalions, did they?
  The last letter they got was from Epinal, France, where he was still in hospital and recuperating well, he said. Then he had a cerebral hemorrhage and died while still in the hospital, we THINK. Come to think of it, just because he died in the same field hospital he had been recuperating in doesn't mean he didn't go back to the 106th before the hemorrhage. His death is listed as a non-battle casualty, but that would perhaps explain why his Report of Death is marked In the Line of Duty and
his duty status marked On Duty.
  If you can help us learn what happened to him, it would be miraculous for my mother and his remaining brother (of four). William's last letter was to my mother.
  One more tiny question: Uncle William had been in the Army since somewhere in the vicinity of mid-1941, enlisting for a year in a peace-time army and getting caught up in war before the year was over. By 1944, he should have been well out of the Replacement stage, shouldn't he?
  You did an amazing job answering my previous questions--hope I didn't
stump you this time.

To use your word...Wow.

That is confusing.

Do you mean North Africa?  That was the progression of the first US Army combat, Landings in Morroco, advance on Tunisia, the Sicily, then the landings at Salerno Italy, then another landing farther up the coast at Anzio.

The 45th Division, an Oklahoma National Guard division, has a nice museum on the interstate between Tulsa and OK City, been there, used to live in Tulsa.

The 45th participated in landings on Sicily, Salerno, and Anzio.  So all that fits, since the 106th AAA was attached to that division.  The Landings at Anzio were designed to do an end run around the German defensive line across the Italian penninsula that had held up the Allied advance, the Gustav Line.  It got bottled up in a beachhead and did not achieve its purpose.  Churchill was an advocate of the landing, just as he was in WWI with the landings at Gallopolli with much the same result, for the same reason: timid generalship on the part of those in command.  Churchill later said of the Anzio landings: "I expected to see a wild cat roaring into the mountains - and what do I find? A whale wallowing on the beaches!"   The landing while it did not race on to Rome or cut off the German lines of communication, did tie up additional German forces and may have allowed Gen. Clarks forces to breach the Gustav line and race on to Rome.

The 45th broke out of the Anzio beachhead in June 4 of 44.  The 45th was the first Division to enter the Vatican on entry into Rome.  On June 16th it was withdrawn from Rome for another operation Anvil, the invasion of Southern France.

So, if he was wounded in Italy, you are right it does not make sense that he would be taken, wounded from Italy to France on an invasion.  Maybe he got injured on route.  Not to be indelicate, but maybe he ran afoul of one of his fellow soldiers, was knifed and was then sent to a hospital on shore.  Or he was wounded in Italy, was ambulatory and once his unit was landed and a field hospital set up, was went from Italy to France where once his recovery was completed, he could rejoin his outfit.  Then as you surmised, he might have rejoined his outfit, been reinjured, hospitalized and then died.

Sadly, in a war, accidents are a big killer.  Jeep accidents, trucks you name it, all claim an incredible number of soldiers.  More aircraft were lost in the war due to nonbattle causes than all the aircraft lost to hostile fire. Training accidents, weather, collisions, equipment failure, hot rodding, you name it.

Casualties were usually treated as soon as possible, and were moved through a series of casualty clearing stations at company and battalion level on to a field hospital platoon, at division level and then on to a field hospital and if the wounds rendered the soldier no longer fit for duty, to an evacuation hospital.

The remarks about his death would indicate he probably died in the line of duty but due to an accidental cause.

Yes and no to your last question.  If he was assigned to some stateside post, say, the Coastal Artillery, he might have been reassigned to the AA artillery.  I mentioned the manpower shortage.  Once the initial fear of foreign invasion subsided in 1941, and the realization that aircaft were a bigger defensive weapon than the costly coastal artillery installations, they were phased out and personnel reassigned.  He might have been classified as a replacement at that point once his parent organization was disbanded.  Or if he was enlisted in 41 and got out and then was called back up, he would have just gone into the replacement pool.

One other avenue you might try, is digging into the army unit records.  Like any organization the army required daily reports, morning reports, after action reports, musters etc so the commanders would know exactly how many men they had fit for duty. The 45th Div was part of the V Corp part of the 6th US Army.  

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Keith H. Patton


I can answer questions pertaining to weapons and tactics, personalities, battles, and strategies in european and U.S. history.


I was a history major, and had done extensive research in the subject area. I have designed and tested numerous computer games for various
historical periods.

B.A History M.S. Science
I have had the opportunity to live abroad and walk numerous battlefields both in the United States, Europe, and the Pacific.

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