Training a Thunderbolt

Life for the 83d Infantry Division began anew on August 15,1942, when it was re-activated at Camp Atterbury, Indiana, under command of Major General Frank W. Milburn. The cadre, officers and noncommissioned officers who had received army basic training at least once and who were assigned to the newly activated division to assist in their organization and training, was on hand in camp a month ahead of activation day.

But army life was something still very new to those of us who flocked to Atterbury during the autumn of 1942 to become Thunderbolts. Fresh from civilian occupations of all types, From high schools and colleges, and representing all of the forty-eight states, we joined the 83d still wondering what was in store for us. At the reception center we had heard all the rumors, had taken the ribbing of the Service Command “veterans”, had withstood the jibes of the sometimes overbearing Pfc’s (who might just as well have been five-star generals so for as their influence over us was concerned), and had even survived inoculation after inoculation. Now we, ourselves, were going to become soldiers, part of an outfit. No longer a “Joe” with a number and no unit, but members of a division. From now on we would be distinguished from reception and training center recruits by the shoulder patch we would wear.

Gold letters superimposed on a black triangle comprise the shoulder patch of the 83d Division. The letters spell “OHIO”, for when the division was originally activated in World War 1, the majority of its members hailed from the Buckeye State. This was no longer true, because the modern Thunderbolts came from all parts of the country.

During the cold winter months that followed our arrival at Camp Atterbury we started to become soldiers. From November 9th, 1942, when the division first reached full strength, to February 9th, 1943, we were engaged in the Mobilization Training Program (Basic Training). We learned to drill, to run, to climb, to fall. In snow, in rain, in mud, we learned to creep and to crawl, to shoot and to bayonet. We dug foxholes, only to fill them in again; we erected tents, only to take them down again; we learned to lay mines, only to pick them up again. And we marched. Boy, how we marched! “Hut, wup, hep, four!” “Whyinell can’t they call one, two, three, four, in plain English, “we wondered. We didn’t realize that in a couple of months we would be the guys murdering the King’s English. It was rough at times, very rough on the older fellows. We all accomplished physical feats that we would have considered impossible a few months ago. When we thought we had reached the limit, we found we had hardly started, and we went on and on, but we stayed with it and we finished it. We finished Basic Training, still alive, indeed, in tip-top physical condition. We were learning how to soldier.

Completion of Basic Training by no means meant the end of our training. We were to learn that training was a continuous process in the Army, war or no war. The things we did and learned the next few weeks came under the official heading. “Combined Training”. This time we trained in groups instead of individually. We learned to fight in squads, platoons, companies, battalions and regiments. Collectively we were taught to advance, to defend, to withdraw. We “captured” hills, “demolished” pillboxes, “seized” bridges and crossroads, and trapped or cut off the “enemy”. We did these things in the daytime, in the evenings, and in complete blackout. At times the entire division left their comfortable barracks , PXs, and service clubs to bivouac in the fields of Atterbury and sleep in “pup” tents, to eat out of messkits, and to wash out of helmets. And always we marched. Now it wasn’t so much drilling and parading but honest foot-slogging. Although it seemed that we hiked around the world more than once, actually we limited ourselves to 25 miles at a crack. We Found our way by maps, by compass, and by stars. Now we knew the full significance of the song, “What do we do in the Infantry? – we march, we march, we marched

In May, something new was added to our program. Going through the Ranger Course became the main topic for discussion among members of the 83d, and it also became the division’s pet gripe. To become “Rangers”, we had to cross numerous creeks on rope bridges, while playful Engineers detonated dynamite in the water beneath us. If we fell we got wet, of course; but if we made the crossing successfully, we got wet anyway because of the spray tossed by the exploding dynamite. We crawled and wiggled through and under barbed wire entanglements of various types, then crossed a human bridge, in which one man spans the divide by use of his body and the others crawl over him. We lived through that too, and we got over it, but we never forgot it.

Then came maneuvers. Maneuvers! We had heard that term kicked around the way we had heard “Basic Training” at the Reception Centers. Early in June, the Division was alerted to participate in Tennessee Maneuvers. Although none of us knew much, if anything of what actually took place during trip south. Butan Army maneuver, we all secretly dreaded that we went south. The division set up its command post in Horn Springs, and for a couple of weeks we brushed up on our training by repeating battalion and regimental combat problems. On July 5th, we started real maneuvers and found again that it wasn’t much like what we had expected. During the first four problems but we found that the division thought that the best defense was to attack. It was hot and dusty, and we were thirsty and tired, damn tired some nights. But we followed orders and “fought” the “enemy”.

Apparently we didn’t “snafu” things, because the division was later commended for its performance in Tennessee, something unusual for the youngest outfit to participate in maneuvers. (“Snafu” is a word we learned at Atterbury and means “situation normal, all fouled up”.) We learned lots of army and infantry terms those first couple months. We were “veterans” now so we used this peculiar jargon like veterans. There was “tarfu”, “susafu”, “T. S.” and many others. It was all part of the great change that takes place when a peace loving man sheds civvies and dons ODs.

Our maneuver problems were interspersed with short rest periods, during which we rode into the nearest town (if we could catch a ride). There we quenched our thirst with cokes and beer, but that was about all. We found these small towns, the names of which are now forgotten, to be overcrowded with soldiers and with little to offer in the form of entertainment or recreation. Still, it was better than lugging an M-1 across a dusty field. On August 15th, we celebrated the Division’s first anniversary. It wasn’t quite the type of celebration that might have taken place had we been in a regular camp, but we enjoyed ourselves and observed the date in a manner which befitted the occasion.

Finally we “licked” the “enemy” and shoved off for Springfield, Tennessee to await orders to move to camp. Later we moved by “shuttling” to Camp Breckenridge, Kentucky, that is, we marched fifteen miles each day and rode thirty-five miles in trucks. We were all glad to be there once we arrived, and our appreciation of such conveniences as barracks, indoor latrines, service clubs and post exchanges, was far keener than ever before.

With half of the division taking off at one time, we all enjoyed an earned fifteen days furlough during the month that followed. For many of us it was our first visit home since induction. It was our first opportunity to give our wives, sweethearts, and families first-hand me Army. But we didn’t spend too much time at home spinning training yarns and passing on the latest latrine rumors. (Most consistent rumor among Thunderbolts while in the States was that the 83d would “never leave the U. S.”) We went out and had fun, visited old, familiar haunts, looked up old friends-that is, those who were still around. We played, we danced, we drank, we enjoyed ourselves. We availed ourselves of the special privileges afforded “servicemen in uniform” by our home town civic and business organizations. The time raced by and it seemed as though we were saying “Goodbye” before the echo of our “Hello” had faded out.

Back at camp, the division swung right back into the training routine, but now we were striving for proficiency. It was more marksmanship, unit problems, tactics, bivouacs and marches. All of us spent half the months of October and November in the field, but we were spared a more rugged winter existence when the division was alerted to move to California for desert training. The latter was eventually cancelled, but we did not return to pup tents.

It was December now, and General Milburn departed to take command of the XXI Corps. For a few days, Brigadier General Robert Montague assumed command of the Division. Brigadier General Robert C. Macon, a veteran of the landings in Africa and then Assistant to the Division Commander, was directed to lead the 83d, which he has done ever since. About this time, too, Colonel Claude V. Ferenbaugh, formerly a member of General Fredendall’s staff in Africa, left his position with the War Department to assume the duties of Assistant to the Division Commander.

Added interesting training was shown when we reached the stage where we were getting close to “the real thing”. Scores of planes swooped over our heads during training, and we tried to identify their type by their silhouettes, their overall design, their engines. Then we were treated to a demonstration of dive bombing, skip bombing and strafing. The Intelligence and Reconnaissance Platoons and the Cavalry Reconnaissance Troop were engaged in Corps combat intelligence tests. The infantry and the artillery were training together. Doughboys of the rifle companies advanced under the continuous cover of an artillery barrage, “Rolling Barrage” was G-3’s name for it, and it was the closest thing to actual combat that we had experienced since going through the Infiltration Course.

We were getting close to the pay-off.


“The Thunderbolts Across Europe

A History of the 83rd Infantry Division, 1942 – 1945”

Compiled, Edited & Published by 83rd Division I & E Section

  1. D. Philos, Major, Infantry

Narrative by Sgt. Ernie Hayhow

Illustrations by Laszlo Bod, Budapest, Hungary

Printed by F. Bruckmann KG., Munich, Germany

Donated by Mr. Robert E. Derickson

83rd Infantry Division Association

Mr. Robert E. Derickson (deceased 2000)

3749 Stahlheber Road

Hamilton, Ohio 45013-8907

Information on the Presidential Unit Citation for the Intelligence and Reconnaissance Platoon, 329th Infantry Regiment

Mr. Michael North, son of 83rd Vet.

All Rights Reserved 2018 Archbury Foundation