Wednesday, November 9, 2016

A Salute to Vincent Cerlenko

World War II Memorial
Vincent J. CerlenkoTech Sgt., 693rd "ADSEC"  Heavy Equipment Engineers.

Vincent J. Cerlenko, landed at Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944, assisted in taking of St. Lo, France, and took part n “Falaise Pocket Action and the Battle of the Bulge. 
Overview 693rd Combat Engineers – Invasion D-Day
After embarking from New York Citthe 693rd "ADSEC" EngineersCOM Z along with thousands oother support and combat contingents were shipped overseas to Great BritainThe companypart of the 1st ArmyCOM Zwas billeted primarilin south-central England. 

There theprepared heavy equipmenand logistical support for forwarding combat units in anticipation of the impending invasion of Europe. Before the actual invasionthis group was moved into southern England to board their invasion transportsThey embarked with the invasion convoys out of Plymouth England on June 4th1944.

D-ayJune 6th1944the 693rd was part of the invasion armadalying off the NormandCoast and Omaha Beach. In the beginning"BloodOmahawas almost a disasteruntil the Combat Engineers removed massive machine gun emplacements covering the beach areathus allowing thInfantry to advance inlandPlatoons of the 693rd landed in the fifth waveto begin the preparation for landing equipment and suppliesFierce fighting was still underway while this action was taking placePreparations for the "Mulberryfloating docks were also in full swing, within hours ships were unloading and a direct pipeline installed across the channel providing an unending supplof fuel and oil.  

The 693rd remained at the beachhead for several weeks assisting in the consolidation of a forward base for logistical supportAll too soon they were ordered to help the Infantry in the taking of St. Lo France. St. Lo had been traded back and forth between the German's and the allied forces. Heavy carpet-bombing was called upon to neutralize the area. In doing so the inner city was entirely obliterated to the point that the armor could not move within the citlimitsEngineers were ordered to make a path for the armorThe 693rd entered the cityplacing steel plates around the cabs of their D-9 Catson top, thefixed machine guns or ha"gunnersriding shotgun to protect the operators from sniper and other direct fire.

When StLo was securedthe 693rd moved south through Vire and into Avranches where heavy fighting was still ongoingthen turning northwest towards the Port of Cherbourg arriving onlhours before the final surrender of the port city. Cherbourg was utterly devastated as ordered by Hitler. The Germans had systematicalldestroyed everkeport facility, including the sinking of evership in port. 

Downtown St Lo, France

Germans sappers (engineers) then "booby-trappedall operational equipment, destroying them and making all of it useless to the Allies. The reconstruction of Cherbourg Harbor was one of the miracles of the war. Along with other allied Engineer Units, thport was made operational in record timea matter of dayand remained open throughout the balance of the war as a major port of entry. The Germans were astounded!  

The Communications Zone, European Theater of Operations

COM Z ETOUSA was organized after the redesignation of HQ ETOUSA and wore the second designed insignia of the command the services of supplyETOUSA. It was established as an authority in Europe on Ma241942with the mission of providing support for the U.SArmed Forces in the United Kingdomand of preparing a stockpile of supplies, equipmenttransportation and weapons for the invasion of France. "Operation Bolero," was the code name applied to this project which amassed over 21/2 million tons of supplies in England (not counting load units) before "Operation Overlord."
In addition to suppliesCOM Z had operational control and responsibilitfor all of the technical and administrative branches and services in the United Kingdom and the theater of operations.
On June 6th1944 (D-Day) over 381,500 personnel were assigned to COM Z with the mission of supporting the allied operationsArtificial harbors were constructed in absolute secrecy and transported to the continent to provide ports to off-load the massive quantities of material needed bthe combat troops. COM Z operations were so broad and complex in scope tha20 special staff sections and 11 base sections were required in the command structure.  

The Advanced Section of COM Z was organized to providclose support to the field armiesand elements of this section landed with the First Army on D-Day and continued to give support for the First and Third Armies after the NormandBreakout. Engineer Battalions landed on the beaches on D-Dato make obstacles and then assist as fighting Infantry.  Personnel from each of the support branches were assigned to the Advanced Section, the braverand contribution that these men made to the success of the allied mission were extraordinary. The multitude otasks performed by COM Z personnel in support of combat operations is trulstaggering! Over 60 different types of Engineering units constructed and operated portsrailwayspipelinesroads, airfields and even lumber yards. Special Engineer units built 62 bridges of all kinds across the Rhine River aloneand manof these structures have been constructed under direct enemfire.

During the Battle of the Bulge, an ordnance supply base was in the path of the German 6th SS PanzeArmy advance, outfitted a tank battalion, evacuated 7,000 tons of vital supplies and then joined forces with other units to bold this critical sector of front for 36 hours until relieved by other combat elements(See Army Times Action Report).

German wreckage Falaize Pocket
The unit moved east this time catching up with the First Army's progressive elements just in time for the "Falaize Pocket" action. Immediately, they were attached to General Patton's Third Army as they swept around the German 15th Army in attempts to entrap it. Though some of the foot troops managed to sneak out of the pocket, none of the heavy equipment of the German Army managed to break out. The 15th Army ceased to exist as an operational unit.
While chasing the withdrawing Germans, Patton's armor ran out of gasoline. The Third Army not only ran off the map, but it was at a virtual standstill. Before the German's could react all available personnel was ordered into action. Consequently, the 693rd had just arrived at a rear area to be rested and refitted when the "Red Ball Express" began its drive across France to bring fuel to the tanks of the Third Army. During the next month, the 693rd supported the Red Ball Express in a variety of ways. Many of the unit's personnel volunteered to drive supply vehicles behind and through the enemy-held territory. The German's were in a major state of confusion due to their withdrawal. On S0111G occasions, German units attempted to surrender to units of the Red Ball detachments, only to be ignored and left in the dust by the roadside.  Patton's tanks were the priority, no stopping for prisoners. Seeing groups of Germans with arms stacked and hands above their heads was a bit unnerving. No fired a shot, they just kept moving

Mark IV Jadgpanzer

On to Paris! Though the 693rd did not participate in the victory parade as shown in the newsreels, they did spend some time enjoying the sites, but only briefly. Up to the front again with the lead elements with their old friends the First Army. Marching east they took time to look over the Battlefield at Chateau Thierry, a then moved on to Reims France

From the Stephen Ambrose book, “The Victors”

“The battle raged, the Germans fell back to the center of the city, charging a price for every building abandoned.  Rubble in the street grew to monstrous proportions. In the center, the old buildings, made of masonry and stone, were almost impervious to tank cannon fire, so Col. Derrill Daniels brought a self-propelled 155 MM (howitzer) artillery piece into the city, and using a Heavy Equipment team’s bulldozers they cleared a path.”

My father related this story to me; The engineer’s welded two-inch steel plates with small viewing slots around their D-9 cabs to afford a bit of protection from small arms fire. In some cases they would extend the top of the Dozer blade to ward off anti-tank rounds and if one should penetrate hopefully hit the large diesel engine in front of the driver rather than the cab. At times if available they would mount a 30 or 50 Cal machine gun to the roof. They would cut a hole in the roof so a gunner could sit behind the shoulders of the driver to give offensive covering fire as they worked.  The curve in the blade would usually make a larger round careen off into the air rather than penetrate, it worked sometimes well.  When it didn’t it was called a “Bad Day”. They developed this technique while clearing the streets in St. Lo France where nothing was left standing.

It was recorded the effects were “quite spectacular and satisfying.” The Bulldozers would clear a path right up to the building where the fire was coming from and the 75mm anti-tank gun. The gun would be placed just inside a window and it would find a target and fire from that position. The results were the most devastating. The Cats would go at it with a vengeance and cover up the gun while it was still firing enough to block its view. Once that was done they would satchel charge it or burn them out and then move to the next hot spot.

Aachen was destroyed but taken the only thing standing was the medieval church which still stands today. The Germans who later surrendered said, “Using the 155 mm and dozers were barbarous and should be outlawed”. The business of war continued. 3,473 German survivors surrendered, 5,000 casualties and 5,600 POW’s in total were taken. The US Army sustained 5,000 casualties.

The 693rd Engineers participated in the battle of the Hurtgen Forest east of Aachen for several weeks primarily clearing and building roads for equipment to move up onto the front line in the hills. The weather was wet, foggy, muddy and just plain lousy. The unit did not participate in the front line fighting it was strictly infantry based and a close in the affair. Eventually, they were pulled back for a refit, repair and some rest around Aachen.


The new offensive was now well underway elements of the 693rd were attached to the spearhead that attacked into Belgium and Luxembourg. Driving north into the Ardennes and crossing into Germany west of the Rhine. The action took them through St. Vith, Malmedy and Aachen. Aachen on the Rhine became a forward supply base just north of a small insignificant village known as Bastogne! It was December, wet and freezing cold. It was rumored that the war would be over before spring, maybe by Christmas? However, the German's had other ideas on the subject. A massive offensive erupted across the Rhine through the Ardennes forest pushing fifty miles into the allied lines creating a "Bulge". 

The Battle of the Bulge was on! The German SS panzer spearhead skirted south of Aachen towards Liege isolating the troops outside Aachen. Several crucial actions holding the perimeter took place. Non-combat support troops were thrown into the line as a stopgap measure against the German 6th SS Panzer ArmyOrders from Tactical Command were given to hold the sector and its vital supplies at all costs. Operating in conjunction with Combat Infantry Teams they held their sectors until relieved.  This action caused the beginning of a massive retreat of the German units.  
Soon after the 693rd moved into Bonn Germany and built a bridge spanning the Rhine. They moved on to Cologne and Coblenz to build more bridges. Crossing the Rhine they moved south into Wiesbaden to help build one of the longest spans erected across the Rhine River over to Mainz Germany. This bridge was the first operational rail link to be completed into Germany.

The 693rd finished their active participation in the war in Frankfurt, Germany, acting as part of the temporary occupational forces, until the full-time occupational units arrived. Much of their time was spent building public works to assist the homeless civilian population in Frankfurt.
The unit was then transported back into France at Reims for disbanding. Half of the unit was convoyed south through Dijon and Lyon passing through the Rhone River valley into the south of France and the city of Marseilles. There they were encamped pending final embarkation back to the Sates

The shoulder patch worn by the COM Z personnel assigned to the European Theater of Operations was based on design changes of the HeadquartersETOUSA insignia that was approveon Februar25th1944 and redesignated for the COM Z on March 211944The shoulder patch has the same meaning as thService and Supply (Army Service Forces)) and HQ European Theater of Operations patch, as it combined both designsThe patch with black and gold letters above "ADSEC" designates those support units in close support of combat units at the front. The COM Z was discontinued as a separate command on Februar281946.

The 693rd "ADSEC" Heavy Equipment EngineersCOM Z ETOUSA was formally disbanded as an operating unit in November of 1945completing their tour with four Combat Battle Stars after liberating siEuropean countries and crossing the Rhine into GermanyPersonnel was shipped out of the Port of Marseilles via troop transport direct to NeYork City and home

Compiled, researched, and photos bGreg V. CerlenkoSon oVincent J. Cerlenko.

Greg and Kris Cerlenko 50th Wedding Anniversary
February 2015

I met Greg not long after posting November 11, 2015 Veterans Day blog entitled "Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory." He noticed a picture in the post of the railroad bridge at Mainz that was similar to his picture below and decided to send me an email.  Here's a short correspondence from Greg V. Cerlenko, USNI, OMSA. 
Wow, thank you so much.  Looking at the maps you're dad and mine crossed paths on several occasions, but looks as if he stayed there longer than my dad did and went further into Germany as part of the occupation forces. My dad stopped in Frankfurt and never went any further into Germany (officially that is).  I will be sending to you my Dad's write up which is still in progress.  
What you gave me did shed some light on some of his activities and it is deeply appreciated. When I asked him if he'd ever wanted to go back to see Europe again he told me that "he crawled on his belly from Omaha Beach all the way into Germany and once was enough for him". He never went back and died at age 50 in 1964 far too young. When he passed so did the library and it was lost to me.  I hope we can stay in touch well into the future and thank you again for sharing. 
Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial Bridge 

Thank you, Greg and Kris, for sharing your story!  We salute your father, Vincent Cerlenko, a comrade in arms as well as building bridges.

Happy Veterans Day... 3rd Dog     

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