443rd Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion in World War II



When part of the 443rd was ordered to reassemble and move to Algeria the men were ready to say "good-bye" to Morocco and look forward to what lay ahead. On 4 January 1943, travel orders from Western Task Force Headquarters directed the 443rd to constitute a Provisional Battalion under command of Major Werner L. Larson and move without delay to Constantine, Algeria. Some of the platoons that had been attached to the 3rd and 9th Divisions were re-attached to the provisional Battalion and the unit was assigned to control of the US II Corps at Tlemcen, Algeria, and then to control of the British 1st Army at Orleansville.

Movement began at once with train #1 departing from Rabat and train #2 departing from Fedala while a motor convoy formed up from Casablanca, Fedala and Port Lyautey. Platoon A-l was detached from Battery A and attached to the 9th Division’s 39th Regiment, to provide protection for that unit’s move from Souk Ahres to Tebessa, Algeria. On 5 January the Provisional Battalion was detached from the parent 443rd Battalion and came under the command of Major Larson. It was on the way to a mission of protecting a mobile armored division against the mighty German Air Force in Tunisia. The parent 443rd Battalion was expected to provide static antiaircraft defense in the Casablanca and Algiers areas and it retained the commanders of Headquarters, A, C and D Batteries.

The Provisional Battalion left Casablanca for Fedala at 7am on 5 January. It carried a bird cage with four carrier pigeons, with instructions for their release on Western Task Force missions. Battery B joined the convoy at Fedala and Battery D at Rabat. The convoy moved through Fez to Tecurvit, releasing two pigeons at each point. As the convoy pushed on over the Atlas Mountains, it experienced the hot, blistering African sun, mirages on the road and nights of bitter cold. In spite of the miles and miles of barren desert wastes of shifting sand and rocks, interspersed with scraggly desert plants, every time the convoy stopped for a break, Arab youngsters seemed to appear out of nowhere. Running in their dirty gray garments with loosely hanging hoods, they would beg for "caramel" and "chocolat". Most of these kids were in the desert tending to small herds of goats and sheep. In one village, a small boy ran, or was pushed, under one of the convoy’s 2 ton trucks and was killed - a sad but not infrequent occurrence in wartime. A French lieutenant and a French nurse, who had hitched a ride with the convoy, helped to reconcile the incident. The 443rd men also discovered that the inexpensive, Moroccan oranges and tangerines were unusually sweet and juicy and, along with eggs that could be purchased from the Arabs, were a great supplement to K and C rations.

On 10 January the convoy passed Algiers and began to observe strict blackout security. By 11 January Major Larson had reported in to II Corps Headquarters and to the 1st Armored Division in Constantine. Here the unit was placed under control of the 1st Armored Division Artillery Commander, Colonel Maraist (Uncle Bob). On the following day the two trains arrived with gun-tracks, ammunition and baggage. Without delay, work began. Intensive training in aircraft recognition was begun and the Provisional Battalion "stripped down" for action, leaving non-essentials in "A" bag storage at the Division warehouse in Constantine, a city named for Constantine the Great who once ruled the Roman Empire which included North Africa. He built the city on the site of a previous Roman Colony. On a flat mountain top it was surrounded on three sides by steep, precipitous ravines and had a unique beauty in its ancient architecture, gardens and fountains.

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