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Operation Elephant

Until June 23, the whole group worked as an additional battery of the 980th F.A. in its support of the Cherbourg campaign. On this date, VIIth Corp. decided to send one half the men and equipment to the 981st F.A. which was also assaulting the port of Cherbourg.

Corp’s reasoning for splitting the group was that even with poor camouflage a battery would never have more than two rifles visible and, therefore, it was possible to have two deceptive batteries by dividing the party in two.

T/5 Thomas Haney and Pfc Nicholas Minutola stayed with Lt. Mason and the 980th, while Cpl. Campbell and Pfc Charles Gorman accompanied Sgt Amborski and his men to the 981st.

In all, the mission lasted twenty eight days during which the different battery sites were simulated. Some of the areas used had to be swept for mines, and shells landed in several of the sites. A strafing plane was driven off from one installation by “Thunderbolts.”

As there was always concentration of troops in their immediate vicinity, it is impossible to say whether or not the dummy installations were the subject of special attention by the Wehrmacht.

Corp artillery was enthusiastic about the phantom installations but always made sure that the dummy locations were well removed from their “Long Toms.” When the group was recalled to 23d Hq, Corp requested that the rubber items be left with the artillery battalions. This was done and, after the return, several additional dummies were given to other battalions that had requested them.

For their work in this mission Lt. Mason and two of his sergeants received Bronze Stars. While Cpl. Campbell, T/5 Thomas Haney, Pfc. Charles Gormon and Pfc. Nicholas Minutola received “Certificates of Merit” along with the other men who participated in the operation.

Upon recall, the men joined a task force of 23d Hq known as the “elephant” which was in France and had a story of its own for the record.

The saga of the elephant began with the Thetford problem in which the third platoon of the 466th participated. Soon after the problem, it became camp gossip that those groups which had worked together a Thetford would be the first to depart for the continent. Lt. Aliopoulos was jokingly referred to as the invasion party. However, “D” day passed without the invaders stirring.

The punch line for the jesting come on June 17th when the third platoon was alerted, along with the rest of the Thetford group, for a military mission somewhere in France.

Showdown inspections were immediately given the departing men and missing equipment was replaced. Issuance of tenclips of ball ammunition brought the inspections to an end. That night the alerted soldiers vacated their pyramidal tents for the more personalized pup tents.

That night the alerted soldiers vacated their pyramidal tents for the more personalized pup tents.

“Elephant” was the code name given to the battle bound group which consisted of Lt. Aliopoulos and his third platoon containing 48 enlisted men headed by S/Sgt. Wendle Tuttle, 14 officers, 1 W.0., and. 18 EMs came from 23d Hq.; the 603rd Eng. furnished 19 officers and 176 EMs while Signal Co. Sp. supplied 5 officers and 77 EMs. The medics sent along 1 officer and 7EMs. All the vehicles of the group had little white elephants stenciled on the bumpers.

For traveling purposes, Elephant was divided into march and motor parties. At 0700 hours June 18th, the motor party was told to be prepared to leave and later that morning Lt. Aliopoulos in his jeep departed with the third platoon’s portion of the motor party comprising the platoon truck, a four ton pulling its companion bulldozer and an air compressor. Assistant drivers accompanied these vehicles. The platoon’s squad trucks and their drivers were left behind with the company.

Much to the dismay of such chowhounds as Sgt. Perdue and Sgt. Martin Cogan, the march party did not depart until it had eaten a chicken dinner. After this ordeal, the march party mounted trucks and rode to Leamington Spa where a waiting train was boarded.

One hundred and twenty five miles later, they arrived at Exeter, Devonshire and were quartered in barracks in a nearby camp. A short distance away, the motor party found shelter and lodging at Bishop’s Court Camp. Motor and march batteries completely ignored each other during their stay in this vicinity.

The men devoted the next day, June 19, to cleaning the soot and the smoke from their person and resting their weary bodies. That evening, fifty percent of the men were allowed to visit the good town of Exeter which was within walking distance.  It was the last pass list for the Elephant in England.

The following morning, June 20, saw the men again load their gear and duffle bags on trucks and take off in a convoy in which only the lead jeep knew with destination. One hundred thirty miles of traveling brought the convoy to its secret goal, C-12 Hurley Camp, Remey. One truck containing third platoon men arrived four hours late because the negro Q.M. driver had forgotten to gas up before departing. By the time petrol was obtained from a passing vehicle, the convoy was out of sight. Considering the fact that the driver didn’t know where the others were heeded for, the time lost was small. Before taking leave of the truck, T/5 Lew Fowler asked the dusky driver, “Man! h‘aint you eber heared of a befo operatin check?”

Barracks, again, were the cover for the men of the Elephant. For the first time since leaving “Walton Hall” the men saw Lt. Aliopoulos when he came to visit them that evening. Forwarded mail was distributed. It was the last for weeks to come.

At 0700 hours, June 21st, Lt. Aliopoulos told his men that he, with the motor party, was going to board a different I.S.T. than the march party. He instructed them to be ready to leave in about hour for their own ship. The motor party took off at 0900 hours and the march party got ready to leave momentarily.

Six days later, June 25, the march party’s code finally was announced over the P.A. and the officer in charge went for their departure instructions.

The delay was caused by one of the worst storms ever to hit the channel. It lasted for nearly a week and wrecked many of the beachhead installations.

While the storm raged o’er the water, the men of the third platoon bested all corners with their soft ball team. When not playing ball, they kept in top combat form by attending the movies or grappling with tea and cake at the N.A.P.I. canteen on the camp grounds. This strenuous life was rounded out by the issuance of a pack of cigarettes and a chocolate bar each day.

However, despite this life of ease, the ten were much displeased with the camp because of the lack of sanitary facilities. There were no showers nor hot washing water and the debris of previous outfits was much in evidence.

So it was hardly with sad hearts that the 406th men heard the P. A. make its final announcement on June 26 concerning their departure. Trucks transported the march party to South Hampton where the L.S.T. was a boarded with the aid of coffee and doughnuts furnished by the Red Cross.

The vessel was English and none too clean. Sleep soon claimed the ten and the next morning they found themselves off the coast of France.

At 1900 hours, June 27th, the elephant lumbered off the L.S.T. and made its way to Ecrammeville (361.8-185.7) where the next three days were given to straightening up and constitutional hikes. Hardly had the men mastered the first few phrases of their French book when the “word” came.

The third platoon was alerted for a military mission at 1700 hours on June 30th. Elephant was about to perform 23d Hq.’s first large scale job deceiving the enemy.

The situation outlined was that the German was strong in armor to the left front of the 1st and 2nd U S. Infantry Divisions which were in the line next to the international boundary. The 1st was on the left and the 2nd U.S. Armored Division was behind the 1st and 2nd Divisions. The territory involved was the “Forest of Cerisy” area on the “St. Lo” map.

Corps wanted to place the 2nd Armored in the line on the left side of the 1st Division. The purpose of this move was to relieve the British toops and move the Anglo-American boundary to the east.

Elephant was assigned the task of simulating the 2nd Armored Division in its original area while the 2nd Armored slipped into the sector held by the British. Tanks, armored vehicles, artillery, trucks and an airport with liaison planes were to be portrayed.

2nd Armored positions were reconnoitered and the plan was set to have elephant set up its dummy installations as the advancing armor vacated the area.

To perform this mission, Hq divided its organization into four unites. Col. H. J. Reeder commanded Divisional C.P., combat command “A” was headed by Capt. Oscar M. Seale; Lt. Col. John W. Mayo was in charge of CCB and the commander of CCR was Lt. Col. E. W. Schroeder.

Orders to move arrived at 1010 hours July 1st. Movement of the 2nd Armored started at 1130 hours. By 2200 hours that night, all the deceptive installations had been completed.

The personnel of the Elephant was divided among the three combat commands. 603d Engineers installed and maintained the rubber installations in the selected areas while Signal Co. Special simulated whatever radio traffic was necessary to facilitate the deception besides providing communications for 23d Hq.

Security for the installations was supplied by the Third Platoon. All installations were located in typical Normandy fields surrounded by hedgerows. It was the duty of the guards to keep the civilians out of the fields and to prevent close observation of the rubber items.

This was an impossible task for a platoon of men guarding an area six by eight miles. The desirable “long view” drew the curious spectators into the fields for closer examination of what they thought was genuine equipment. Constant repelling of the inquisitive natives necessitated a change in the guard reliefs. The first night, the outpost system had two men to an outguard. These men remained awake all night with the expectation of being able to sleep in six hour shifts during the day. However, when Lt. Aliopoulos found there was no rest for his weary guards during the day, he manned the posts with three soldiers and some much needed shuteye was made up.

Lt. Aliopoulos controlled his outpost system from a C.P. located at Chantpie. It was here that four outguards, who failed to catch the last departing truck at the conclusion of the problem, were strafed by the then active Luftwaffe. These men, Pvt. Lionel Whiffin, Pvt. Francis Reuss, Pvt. Raymond Ethier and that most combat of medics, “Doc.” George Rudes were the only Elephant members who could boast of having come to grips with the “Hun” on the problem.

With the movement of the 2nd Armor competed, five deceptive battalions were faced or removed at 2400 hours, July 2nd. This coincided with the arrival of the initial elements of C.C.A. 3rd Armor Division which was to take the place of the 2nd Armor in backing up the line. By midnight, July 3rd, all the installations had been removed and the Elephant was ready to return to Ecrammeville.

The Forest of Cerisy mission demonstrated to 23rd Hq that its limited security personnel had its hands full in shooing off the curious and could not be expected to provide iron clad security from the enemy. The official operational report suggested that neighboring troops in the problem areas be informed of the situation. Perhaps, because neighbors gossip, the suggestion was not followed in later problems.

Did the Elephant fool the Wehrmacht? Although no enemy documentary evidence was captured to verify it, the mission was believed to have been successful. German Armored units were prevented from moving to the west by the appearance of the 2nd Armor in the line. Further, Special Plans Branch’s G3 stated that the enemy believed the U.S. Army was concentrating armor in the sector concerned and “he” expected an attack from there.

Fourth of July was celebrated by the seasoned third platoon at Ecrammeville. From here, they moved, on July 6th, to a bivouac near the little town of Mandeville (366.7-182.0) where the elephant settled down to await the arrival of the main body of 23d Hq.

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