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THE EARLY DAYS OF RADAR
Secrets and my Recollections of World War II

Gardner L. Friedlander 1990, 2000

ANVIL/DRAGOON

St. Tropez

It was known to us as Anvil, but the history books call it Dragoon, our landing in Southern France, August 15th, 1944. The Normandy landing had taken place six weeks earlier; the breakout, July 25th. The southern beaches were mined, but really there was not much resistance, as the Germans were afraid of being surrounded by the U.S. Third Army coming from the north. Our Sixth Army Group (which included 2 French and 10 American divisions) raced up the Rhone valley to meet Patton near Epinal and Sombernon about September 10th. The great holdup in advancing was supplies, principally gasoline.

Some of my men landed (and some were casualties) near St. Tropez on D Day. I arrived late, as befits a company commander, at a Marseille dock on the USS Dickman, a Coast Guard ship. My "observer" units' mission by this time was fully changed to being ground eyes for air support. They were now always attached to a division or spearhead unit, and a temporarily grounded pilot was attached to each to guide the fighter-bombers to targets. Each radar also had a pilot attached to the unit. The famous Norden bombsight mechanism was installed in each radar, so that by the time of the Ardennes German breakthrough near the end of the year, we could use our radar on the ground to bomb positions with fighter-bombers who otherwise would have been useless because of dense fog. The fighter-bombers carried neither radar nor the bombsight.

Our ops rooms became more of a message center than anything else. The routine task: Who needs help, and what fighter/bomber unit will provide it.

Scarcity of gas dictated that all non-operational troops stay put. All of our company headquarters staff as well as battalion headquarters took over the Gulf Hotel just east of St. Tropez, and I kept my headquarters there until about the middle of December. The other headquarters, company and battalion, moved north to Lunneville east of Nancy about a month earlier. We tried to see every one of our men at least twice a month, and this meant a lot of traveling. At one time I still had a radar unit on Corsica, and units in the Saar, almost in Luxembourg. One of the addenda shows that on March 3rd 1945 I had men stationed with 15 different army units. This meant a lot of time away from battalion headquarters, and I finally was relieved of my second job as battalion adjutant.

I did travel. I had a driver for the radio equipped jeep which also carried a mounted 50 caliber machine gun. We always had a trailer tailing us with all our possessions, because we never knew if  the headquarters would have moved before we got back. The other three radar companies each had only four radar units, but their company commanders helped "cover" my units when it was convenient.

Troop Movement in France
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(Click for image.)

The routine: possibly a week at company headquarters, pick up pay for the entire company, sort the mail, pick up "canteen" supplies, and head out. While each crew was "attached" to an army unit for food, clothing, and other necessities, the attachment was so temporary  that we had to provide the rest. Canteen goodies included candy bars, stationary, some watches or other permissible jewelry, cigars and cigarettes, lighters and lighter fluid...extras they would otherwise not get. And their mail!

Up the Rhone. First stop overnight at Avignon or Macon or Lyon, then Dijon and head east. One night while  my jeep was in  a "FFI" (free French Forces) guarded parking compound  at Macon all my spare gas in 5 gallon jerry cans was stolen, and I had to return to St. Tropez. I was mad, but all I got from the French in charge was shoulder shrugs.

I'd identify myself at an American army unit (usually a division headquarters) and talk my way into the intelligence room to see position maps. When the "front line" was fluid, I had to be especially careful. I'd call my unit on the radio when I was in their vicinity, and arrange a meeting by specifying a road crossing with map coordinates.

After one such meeting, I was following their jeep "home", when they took a turn that did not look right to me. I waited, and gunfire told me the pause was wise. I  got an infantry unit to go down the road, and they found the burned out jeep and body of my "guide".

Another time, there was a detour sign on the road, pointing down a lane. We had not gone a block when we were fired upon. One of our tires was blown, and there were bullet holes in the command car, which happened to be our battalion executive officer's, as mine was being overhauled. I sprayed around with the .50 caliber machine gun, and we got out with neither my driver nor me getting hurt. Our C.O. gave me a half hour lecture on my return without a spare, on how scarce tires were...and not a word of how lucky we weren't killed.

Coming with the mail and payroll and a few goodies made me very welcome at the units, whether radar or observer crews. I don't think I've mentioned before the intelligence of the men. My first sergeant, for instance, had a law degree as did my company clerk; my supply corporal was a Ph.D., and had taught college history before the war. Anyone not on duty at a unit was more apt to be playing chess or reading a serious book than to be playing craps or poker as ordinary soldiers were usually doing when not busy. I especially enjoyed visiting one radar unit, as they had a bunch of bridge players. I usually stayed overnight and had a bridge game. With two radar units and a dozen or more close air support crews, it took about ten days for a round trip, even with A, C, and D company commanders helping visit some units.

The headquarters company commander and I did get "lost" together one November day before he moved his headquarters up north to Nancy. We went sightseeing to Monte Carlo, which was strictly "off limits" because the country of Monte Carlo was not at war with anyone. We did not go into the casino, but I'm including a picture of myself taken in front of it. This was about the only break from routine I took in France and into Germany, a period of perhaps eight months. The only time I was in Paris was for one night, on my way home in April, 1945. The rest of the time was the same routine business. I did get one home cooked meal on a farm near St. Tropez, in return for my transporting their young daughter to a hospital. I brought my hosts a few cans of GI rations as a gift in kind. That adds up to 2 non-GI meals since leaving England.

Possibly two months after "Anvil", my Corsican radar came to France. That and better gas supplies made moving my company headquarters to battalion headquarters east of Nancy more feasible by the middle of December.

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Last Updated:
Wednesday, 30-Aug-2000 08:02:10 MDT

Gardner L. Friedlander 1990, 2000
Page created and maintained by Craig S. Buchanan. Email buchananc@acm.org.