A SHORT HISTORY OF THE
This Battalion was constituted on paper 25 February, 1943 as the 462nd Field Artillery Battalion. (Note the absence of the Parachute designation.) This commission was carried on throughout the battalion’s existence when referred to by higher headquarters in official orders, as in the award of the Presidential Unit Citation by General Orders no. 53, War Department, 8 July 1945.
The Battalion was activated on 15 June 1943 by G.O. #44 Hq. Airborne Command at Camp Mackall, NC, still without the parachute designation but under TO&E was essentially the same as the one developed by experimentation in the Parachute Test Battery under the Airborne Command and remained with one small change in 1945, the same for all PFA battalions throughout WWII.
The 462nd was the fifth unit formed under this TO&E. (The others were 456th-82 ABN Div, 457th-11th ABN Div and 460th-17th ABN Div.) It was the first non-divisional Parachute Field Artillery Battalion and although seven additional units were activated it was the only one that was not assigned to an airborne division during the war.
The cadre for the 462nd, including the original Commander, LT Col Forrest R. Armstrong, came from the 458th PFA which had been activated at Fort Bragg only four months previously. Special Orders No. 143, Hq Airborne Command, 16 June 1943, assigned 55 officers (only 35 were required for the new battalion) and 285 enlisted men to the 462 Prcht FA Bn. The same date 24 officers and all of the EM were assigned to individual batteries. The surplus officers were formed into a “pool” of parachute qualified Artillery officers who subsequently were used in the activation of several new Battalions. The pool (and later an enlisted counterpart) was attached to the 462nd for administration purposes.So for a period of over 4 months, Armstrong and his personnel officers (a bright, conniving, (bless him) warrant officer named Pape) screened the records and chose those Armstrong wanted from over 200 officers and several hundred enlisted men. Armstrong placed heavy emphasis on experience and attitude and, as a result, we went overseas with a disproportionate number of “old soldiers”, regular army enlisted men, not only as the top level NCO’s but professional privates as well-not so hot in garrison but top-notch field soldiers. He also snagged over 30 of the original test battery who in the context of the time were old paratroopers with a year and a half of jump and heavy drop experience.
Among his choice of officers the emphasis was the same; experience above all. Of the original officers assigned, 16 of the 24 were “mustangs”, Regular Army NCO’s who had either held a reserve commission or who had attended OCS (90 day wonders). There were a few Reserve officers called to active duty from civilian life (including the 2 Medical officers), a scattering of National Guards and one (count’um) West Pointer.
Armstrong himself got caught up in his “pick and choose” operation when, in October 43, he was relieved by an eager young Major; Donald F. Madigan.
Armstrong was assigned to a Fort Bragg organization and subsequently relieved from jump status due to a physical problem. As Armstrong was responsible for the type of men assigned to the battalion, Major (soon LTC) Madigan was responsible for the Gung-Ho spirit it displayed. A young Patton type, he was either loved or hated by the members of his command. He was fiercely competitive, a perfectionist, a hell-bent for glory leader and above all a showman. At his first officers call, his pep talk reflected his belief that “leadership was 90 percent Showmanship” and this became the standard comment by men and officers in response to many of his seemingly rash, egotistical and audacious actions. Most of these unconventional acts were a source of amusement among the majority of his admirers in the battalion but horrified the “by-the-book” types. Like Patton, he was constantly in hot water with higher headquarters, but he heavily relied on results as his justification for out-of-channels activities, and managed to retain command until the unit moved overseas.
His approach to disciplinary problem were unique: Two men who got drunk stole a locomotive and derailed it in Hoffman, NC was dismissed with “boys will be boys”. Several members stranded in Washington, DC while trying to make a flying weekend to places way outside pass limits were not marked AWOL because “weather is an act of God.” There is no doubt in the minds of many, that this little “Mick” was responsible for the espirit de corps, unit above self, and pride in the battalion that is reflected during its entire remaining life.
The battalion trained, worked out technical and tactical problems, developed standard operating procedures, and conducted demonstration jumps for the Airborne Command until it came under the 407th Artillery Group the 464th Prcht FA Bns two Glider FA Bns). An artillery group has no responsibility for administration or logistics support (as that found in a Brigade or Regiment), but is strictly a training and operations command. Since there were no combined arms operations to be conducted, viz, no ground gaining arms to support and, since the group was staffed by over-aged officers who were neither Parachute nor Glider qualified, this unit was a farce. The Commander and staff, all straight legs, simply didn’t understand the limitation and problems of Airborne Artillery. After several rhubarbs including throwing group staff “inspecting officers” out of parachute packing shed (on at least one occasion by physical force), threats of insubordination, courts martial, and much hell-raising by Battalion Commanders (primarily by the Parachute Unit Commanders; Madigan, Brannigan-464,and Elkins-446) Group capitulated, and allowed the units to define their own training requirements.
In effect we said what we wanted to do, published a field order or training schedule, sent a copy to Group who predated it and published it as a training directive from that Headquarters.
Filler personnel came from many sources including recruiting/ induction stations. These were given basic in the Battalion then escorted through jump school by our officers. As a sidelight, among the officers originally assigned to form the battalion from the 458th was a 1st Lt. Wm. E. Colby. In September ’43 he was recruited by OSS and subsequently made history in the jump into Norway to destroy the German “heavy water” plant which Hitler was using in an attempt to develop an atomic bomb. He stayed with OSS throughout the war and later joined the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and became its director under two Presidents.
In mid-February 1944, eight months after it was organized, the 462nd was alerted for overseas. There followed a frantic three weeks of packing and crating of materials. Through one of “Madigans Shenanigans” we in the Parachute Maintenance Section had on hand 300% of our authorized allowance of airborne equipment including 3 complete T-5 personnel parachutes for each jumper in the unit, hundreds of extra G-1 cargo ‘chutes, extra aerial delivery containers and bags, sewing machines and stocks of C-7 webbing, canvas, silk and nylon cloth by the bolt, B-4 and A-2 bags, thousands of feet of jump rope, tape, needles, packing tables, etc. We couldn’t beg, borrow or steal enough packing crates and material to take it all. We gave the 464th and the 466th what we couldn’t pack, but we did ship overseas with some three battalions’ authorized Air Corps-issued equipment and supplies after much blustering by Madigan to transportation officers. These actions were unauthorized, unethical and illegal but proved to be wise because we never received a single item of re-supply of this type during the remainder of the war.
The 503rd Parachute Maintenance experienced something of the same shortages and Buzz Campbell made a trip back to Australia from Mindoro to try to obtain critically short supplies.
During this period of preparation for shipment overseas, the outdoor plumbing rumors flew fast and thick. As usual, the more improbable ones received the most acceptance. Among the more memorable were: Item: there was a shipment of Arctic clothing and equipment in the battalion (more than likely our extra parachutes, etc.) and that we were to be shipped to:-
(b) Norway to support OSS and Partisans;
(c) to Italy to support the 1st Special Forces (The Devil’s Brigade). (This one was not too far out; the 463rd PFA had been formed in February 1944 with just such a mission.
Item: The 509 Parachute Infantry Battalion (formerly 2nd Battalion 503) was to be expanded into a regiment and we were to join it in Scotland to form a RCT for a very top secret mission. There were dozens of others which also proved false.
On Monday, 28 February 1944 the battalion, with equipment, loaded abroad a troop train on the siding of Camp Mackall. After a long, circuitous but uneventful trip (Chicago, Denver etc.) it arrived at Camp Stoneman CA (outside San Francisco) on Sunday, 5 March, six days and nights even with troop train priority. PT, running and final paper work occupied the next few days and although we were restricted to camp, a number of individuals went over the fence and smuggled in cases of joy juice. (I’ll take the fifth, fifth amendment that is, on this one).
On Saturday, 11 March, we boarded the ferry boat at Camp Stoneman and proceeded to the ferry building at the Port San Francisco. There we boarded the SEACAT, a fast (?) C-4 type, victory cargo ship just recently converted to a troop transport. Two other separate battalions were already aboard; an all black Motor Transport unit and a white Air Corps Engineer Construction battalion. We got underway in the late afternoon and sailed out of the Golden Gate into a setting sun. Most of us were started to find that we were to sail alone - no naval escort, no convoy. Our apprehension was somewhat allayed by the “now hear this” we were too fast for an enemy submarine to catch—Good Show! But most of us had at least heard of radio and realized that if we were spotted we could be intercepted. Some of us (again I’ll take the fifth) never did put all of our weight down.
We zig-zagged across the pacific, with the appropriate ceremonies at the International Date Line and the Equator, for 22 days with only life boat drills, two submarine scares and the detonation of a floating mine with the ship’s 20 mm Bofors AA guns to break the monotony. Poker and crap games occupied the time between the daily calisthenics. The sighting of schools of flying fish and porpoises, with an occasional shark (all new to most of us) provided additional diversion.
The cessation of the ship’s throbbing awakened almost everyone in the pre-dawn hours of Sunday, 2 April. We had arrived in the harbor of Brisbane, Australia. Land, any land would have been welcome but the sight of Brisbane in the early morning light was a sight never to be forgotten.
We were met by members of the 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment, the unit we were to support for rest of the war, and escorted to Camp Cable. The infantry was not with us for long. Over a period of the next two weeks the SEACAT was replenished and loaded with paratroopers of the 503rd , for return to New Guinea. A small rear echelon introduced us to Camp Cable and logistic support facilities. Then over a period of the next few weeks, they flew to the regiment at Dobodura, New Guinea.
The next three months at Camp Cable were wrong among the most pleasant in the lives of most of the battalion. Spring by our calendar, but early fall down under, and ideal weather in semi-tropical Queensland. Very friendly Aussies, rodeo days in Toowoomba, swimming at Coolangatta, weekend passes to Brisbane with its American center and top notch Aussie beer, excellent meals in fine restaurant’s where price controls kept the best of meals down to “two and six” (about 65¢ at the existing rate of exchange), “stike & iggs” and “Smoke-O” ( that wonderful Aussie custom of a hardy bet-time snack.) This was one of the Aussie customs that the unit adopted and was observed any time makings were available thereafter.
For most it was the first tropical experience, as well as the first time to live in a foreign country with its strange monetary system, viz., pounds, shillings, pence, “hay-penny” and fathings, with guinea and florins thrown in to add to the confusion. The price of everything seemed extremely low to the “overpaid yank” and purchases of the strange and extraordinary was commonplace, ranging from exotic birds (Macaws, Parrots and Cockatoos) to horses with saddles and bridles for less than twenty dollars. After some time Madigan mentioned this in a staff meeting; “if they don’t need us as paratroopers, maybe we could fight as a squadron of Calvary.”
A great number of personal weapons appeared in the battalion; The Aussie .455 Webly, which with half moon clips could use .45 automatic ammunition, the .38 Smith & Wesson bought (or taken from) military police and even the 50-round drums for Tommy guns from the U.S. Aircraft survival packs were also common. Even some M-1918, Knuckle duster trench knives appeared from somewhere.
Much of this period was devoted to recreation, but training was not neglected. There was much emphasis on physical training with afternoons devoted to no-rules volleyball and rough house softball that usually looked more like a gang war. After a key battalion staff officer had a leg broken, the mandatory uniforms for all P.T. included jump boots. A five day, 100 mile foot march with all combat equipment including howitzers ended up in a 107-mile march due to a slight error in map reading.
Aircraft were difficult to obtain but we managed to obtain two or three, several times and after loading at Archerfield near Brisbane, jumping on a sheep pasture adjacent to, appropriately enough, an army field hospital near Camp Cable. Unusually high jump injuries and no prospects of replacements caused the C.O. to ground all key officers and NCO’s and finally terminated training jumps for the entire battalion.
Service practice was an almost weekly event to the extent that howitzer ammunition was available. Artillery ranges available limited the number of batteries that could both maneuver (RSOP) and fire on the same day. On those few occasions the unit had the ranges to themselves, they were used for battalion-size exercises. The knowledge that the battalion would soon be going on to New Guinea and combat with a fanatical enemy, coupled with youthfully exuberant good health and the heady atmosphere of a tropical foreign land created the setting for unusual disciplinary problems. There were a few short term AWOL’s but most problems were generated by the exuberant troopers tangling with “straight leg” soldiers, both US and Aussie, and civilians (primarily pub owners.)
The battalion had been given both summary and special courts martial jurisdiction and both were kept busy. One young trooper was accused of urination in a public place, to wit; a main street in Brisbane and charged, due to a clerical error with violation of Article of War 95 instead of Article 96 “Conduct bringing discredit upon the Military Service.” The special court heard the trial Judge Advocate read the indictment; charge and specification, then the defense Counsel, a young lieutenant from Boston rose and in the best Clarence Darrow style, demanded that the court dismiss the charge against the accused because he had been charged with violation of Article of War 95-Conduct Unbecoming an Officer and a Gentleman “and obviously this man is neither.” The laughter following this resulted in the President of the court declaring a short recess until the court could repair its decorum and the charge sheet corrected.
The court sometimes imposed sentence involving short periods of confinement and since the CO didn’t want to take chances of losing control of his troopers, a small stockade was established. Initially it was under the supervision of the regular Officer of the Day and the internal guard detail, but an incident later provided a permanent “Provost Marshall” for the battalion stockade.
One of the pilots of our two tiny cub liaison airplanes, tired of the battalion’s officer’s slurs about “straight legs,” “Maytag Messerschmitts,” and “grasshopper pilots,” badgered the CO to permit him to jump with the battalion. Madigan repeatedly refused and knowing the pilot’s determination gave him a direct order to not try to slip in a jump. Not to be deterred by this, the pilot made arrangements with the parachute riggers to modify a B-8 free fall backpack parachute to accommodate a reserve ‘chute (again I’ll take the fifth). He wore this unauthorized, untested, and possibly unsafe rig to do a 3,000 ft. free fall on the battalion landing strip. His fellow pilot, knowing of the direct order, refused to fly the mission. His crew chief went with him and safely landed the cub. Madigan was waiting for the new paratrooper when he landed. The violation of the direct order could have resulted in a General Court Martial but Madigan didn’t want to lose half of his “Air Corps,” and most likely with a feeling of admiration, grounded our free-fall expert and made him permanent Provost Marshall for the camp. These duties involved running the stockade, acting as continuous officer the guard and any special security details.
Our hero took all this responsibility to heart and with ten enlisted men who had also narrowly missed being court martialled, formed the “462 SS unit.” The uniform he specified would make Patton’s dress uniform look like a conservative minister; khaki with bleached white pistol belt (eyelets shined of course), white parachute suspension lines for boot laces and pistol lanyard, white nylon scarf and a white painted helmet liner with MP stencilled on the front (his had PM for Provost Marshall.)
Due to the number of reserve parachutes stolen on training jumps, the old man decided to search the trucks transporting the jumpers back to the battalion area after a jump. Our provost marshal was given the task and was on hand at the rear of one of the trucks with several of the M.P.’s when the whole group heard a loud stage whisper from inside the truck; “Look at that silly s.o.b., he can’t even spell M.P.” Our provost marshal had to be restrained from climbing into the truck.
In early July the 462 loaded out of the Brisbane on a small Dutch Inter-Island Trader for Noemfoor. We were forced to lay over several day several times during the month long voyage due to enemy submarine scares, rerouting, waiting for convoys, etc. Most of the trip was unescorted, usually within sight of the North Coast of the New Guinea. Some of the trip was pleasant, but when we hove to that close to the equator, it was extremely hot -unbearable below decks. Almost everyone slept on deck on individually procured Australian camp mattresses. This created a problem with the crew and midway we were ordered to heave the mattresses overboard. What a clue for any trailing Jap submarines!
The officers were Dutch and the crew was Javanese. All small arms were kept under lock and key to thwart any mutiny. The Dutch officers were not sure where the loyalty of the crew would lie in a confrontation with the Japs.
The Javanese crew were of the Moslem faith and many of us were amazed to see them squat on the toilet seat, wipe with their fingers then wash their fingers in the toilet bowl.
The battalion arrived off Noemfoor on 7 August, 1944, lightered men and cargo by LCM’s during the next two days to join the 503rd PIR and the newly arrived Company A, 161st Parachute Engineers. At last we were a Parachute Combat Team. One that would make combat history for the remainder of WWII.
We were too late to lend much support to the reduction of enemy forces on the island but we did support patrols and conduct some training. During this training we lost our CO, Lt. Col. Donald Madigan. Gung-ho as usual, he was with an Infantry Patrol acting as a forward observer. While trying to adjust fire into a canyon and changing range in 25 yard increments, (the normal minimum is 50 yards) a round hit in a palm tree directly over him, exploded and with the effect of an air burst put a large fragment into his left chest. He survived and with the fragment lodged next to his heart was evacuated to Hollandia, then Walter Reed in Washington, D.C. None of those with him were wounded, recalled Major Kline.
Major Arlis Kline assumed command and continued until he too was injured on the Corregidor Jump.
Major Kline recalls of that instance:-
"Contrary to what you might read in the books on Corregidor, I did not hit a roof and take a dive off it to the ground. If somebody did, well it wasn't me. I was dropping towards Landing Zone A when I was hit by an unidentified piece of flying steel. My arm was so badly wounded, I could not control my 'chute as I passed towards the last few houses along Officer's Row. Barely missing becoming impaled on a jagged tree trunk, and with serious leg injuries, I ended up hanging in a tree, with my feet touching the ground, unable to stand up and release my chute harness. For an indefinable time, I lapsed in and out of consciousness. Pfc Joe Vela, my orderly, who had followed me out of our aircraft, cut me down. After the second drop, Melvin Knudson, my Deputy Commander helped me to the 462d Command Post in Mile Long Barracks. I spent the next few days there, talking on the field phones, in between coughing up blood."
Further Reading: "A Synoptic History of the 462d"
This copy was typed and edited by Pvt. Frank J. Romano, Retired, and copied by his son-in-law, Ted Bilinski, an F.B.V. Veteran. (Forgotten Bastards of Vietnam). We take the fifth on any errors, as the transcription is from an aborted copy sourced from Mr. Samuel Porter. (The history was probably written by Lt. Plemmons, the unit’s Parachute Maintenance Officer ( due to the detailed recall of the Air Force equipment in the unit. The article comes to this website courtesy of “Hoot” Gibson.)
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