Skip to main content

Camp Howze and the U.S. 334th Infantry: A Railsplitting Story of World War 2

Ronald Bachner has 30 years experience in building inspection, safety, and real estate experience. He enjoys local theater for relaxation.

Camp Howze and "The Railsplitters" in the Rhineland, Ardennnes, and Central Europe Campaigns in World War 2

This story is written as a result of the research I did for my long time friend regarding his father and his service in World War 2. That story is entitled "James L. Bowman and Crew 914 of the 492nd Bomb Group During World War 2." While I wanted to write more about my father the story of Camp Howze and the men who went through Camp Howze is a telling story of the war effort which many do not know. I hope you enjoy it. Thanks for reading.

As I was growing up my father Aloysius A. Bachner talked about Camp Howze and GainesvilleTexas when he was in the Army. There were no details that I could remember but after a little research I learned that Camp Howze was one of the largest training bases during World War 2. It could house 30-40 thousand troops during their training.

I learned after my fathers death on February 10, 1989 that he was assigned to Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 334th Infantry Regiment, and the 84th Division. It was my understanding he was drafted at the age of 43. He was eventually honorably discharged in 1943 likely due to his age and went on to raise six children with my mother Ruth Dorthea Waechter Bachner. However, the story of Camp Howze, the 334th Infantry Regiment, and the 84th Division is another compelling story of World War 2 and its history deserves telling to those who may not know including myself before I researched it.

The history of the 84th Division developed from World War 1 and was referred to as the "Lincoln" division. The lineage traces its roots to the Illinois militia in which Captain Abraham Lincoln served during the Black Hawk War of 1832. The unit was originally made up of National Guard units from Illinois, Kentucky, and Indiana. The present day insignia consists of a white ax splitting a white rail on a red background recalling President Abraham Lincoln's youthful use of the ax. When the split white rail was added to the insignia the new division nickname became known as the "Railsplitters". The patch overall was designed to honor the Lincoln legacy during World War 1. The later surviving components of the 84th Division went on and served in Operation Desert Storm and continue to this day.

The 334th Infantry Regiment was re-activated and ordered to active duty on October 15, 1942. This was ten months after the attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii by the Japanese. The Regiment was re-organized at Camp Howze which was located in GainesvilleTexas.

As the country was preparing for war the Army realized their current active posts were inadequate for training the numbers of soldiers necessary to fight a war. The Army began constructing several training centers in Texas and Camp Howze was one of them at an estimated cost of $20 million. The size of Camp Howze required the surrounding land owners to voluntary and involuntarily provide the land required for Camp Howze to become one of the largest training centers in the United States. The size of Camp Howze allowed for up to 40,000 personnel at one time on the base. It covered 59,000 acres in Cooke County or approximately 92 square miles. The establishment of Camp Howze required the displacement of 300 families through eminent domain.

Camp Howze became the training home for the 84th (nick name Railsplitters), 86th (nick name Black Hawks), and the 103rd (nick name Cactus) Divisions of the United States Army. It was named after West Point graduate Major Robert Lee Howze who was a recipient of the Medal of Honor. Major Howze had served in the Indian Campaigns, the Philippine Insurrection, and World War 1. In 1942 trainees from all over the country began arriving at Camp Howze by train and bus swelling its ranks. Many participated in its construction. The Camp trained 10,000 soldiers each month for the divisions and as replacement troops for other units. The families of many moved to Gainesville to be near love ones and to find employment. The training for the men of the 84th Division began on January 4, 1943.

According to research the war was now nine months old and very few men were volunteering for the Army much less for the infantry. The Air Corps was also searching for men and they attracted the gentlemen, the educated, and the adventurers. This was the perception at the time by many but it is not true. It is true that the Selective Service System was attempting to fill the ranks until such time as a reservoir of infantry was developed. Many in the 334th from what I read believed the outfit would only be a replacement outfit or an occupation force. While that may have been the belief the 334th Infantry Regiment wrote some history of their own in their contribution to defeat Nazi Germany.

In summary, Camp Howze trained several thousand men for the war effort. In time Camp Howze later became a Prisoner of War Camp where they held German soldiers and others like Alberto Burri, an Italian artist. It is estimated that 2700 to 4000 German prisoners were held at Camp Howze depending on the source of information. The POW's were held in three separate compounds and many worked on nearby farms.

In the United States there were an estimated 425,000 prisoners of war in an estimated 511 Camps. The State of Pennsylvania had a minimum of three camps known as Camp Huntsdale, Camp New Cumberland, and Camp Reynolds. In a camp in New Mexico known as Camp Deming a German prisoner known as Georg Gartner escaped on September 21, 1945. He surrendered in 1985 having remained at large for 40 years in the United States. There was another escape from Camp Bastrop in Texas where Kurt R. Westphal escaped in August of 1945 and was recaptured in Hamburg Germany in 1954. The story of the prisoner of war camps in the United States is another fascinating story of the war.

After Camp Howze the 84th Division's 16,000 men went to the Louisiana Maneuver Area for eight weeks of large scale war games. The war games began on September 19, 1943. They trained in combined operations with the infantry, artillery, tank destroyers, and other units and other service branches.

The 84th Division after these maneuvers moved to Camp Claiborne in Louisiana which was the home of the 164th Infantry Regiment, 34th Infantry Division, and the 82nd Airborne Division.

During their time at Camp Claiborne the 84th Division continued to train in the surrounding hills and swamps to test individual platoon leaders, to get accustom to battle conditions and learn map reading, patrolling, security measures, learning to swim, parachute, and how to live in the field for a couple of months. They also learned how to use certain equipment. They learned how to function as a team with fellow units. After their training they left for their staging area at Camp Kilmer in New Jersey where they would depart for England and the United Kingdom.

The 84th Division, including the 334th Infantry Regiment as well as other components of the Division continued to train until it embarked on September 20, 1944 for the United Kingdom.

The Division arrived October 1,1944 in England for additional training in mines and military police. They were there an additional month.

The 84th Division landed on Omaha Beach November 1-4, 1944 where they quickly moved to Gulpen in the Netherlands through France and Belgium. The Division entered combat on November 18 with an attack on Geilenkirchen Germany, a mining and transportation center with a population of 20,000. This was part of a larger offensive in the Roer Valley, north of Aachen known as Operation Clipper. Within a week of after the division set up their command post the Railsplitters were attacking the Siegfried Line at its strongest point. The German Wehrmacht were prepared to fight to the death as there were pill boxes, fire trenches, mine fields, tank ditches, dragons teeth, and studded concrete shelters and bunkers around this part of the Siegfried line.

In one action two platoons from the 334th Infantry Division, 2nd Battalion was deployed in action against the Siegfried Line near Linden Germany south of Brachelen. They were seeking higher grounds. They woke up the following morning and found themselves behind enemy lines. They were confronted by heavy Panzer forces. Six soldiers made it back to their lines and the remaining soldiers were killed including PFC. Frank L. Walters on December 3, 1944.

During this battle (Siegfried Line) a German Officer said "We knew we were facing new troops and expected it to be easy, but these men (Railsplitters) fight better than any troops I saw in Africa, Russia, and France."

The Railsplitters continued to fight and in a few hours had crushed the German forces and captured the second largest town to fall to the Allies in the war up to that time. They had faced the above plus machine guns, mortars, 88's, and harden troops. The 334th Infantry captured 330 Germans and killed at least 450 Germans in this battle.

A veteran Associated Press correspondent named Wes Gallagher wrote "It was the 84th Division Railsplitters which was the American Unit which teamed with the British to capture the German stronghold of Geilenkirchen in a perfect operation.

The division eventually took the towns of Prummern, Beeck, Lindern, Wurm and Mullendorf. The 84th Division ended its original mission and had captured 1549 prisoners and knocked out 112 German pillboxes. In the battle for Prummern Germany Sgt. Milton K. Rabel of Crawford County Pennsylvania of the 334th Infantry Regiment was killed in action on Sunday, November 18, 1944. He was awarded the Purple Heart.

After doing battle with the 84th Division and it's components the Germans nick named the Division "The Terror Division" and the men "Hatchet Men."

It was now late December and the Division was assigned to Belgium to help stop the German winter offensive. According to research they battled snow, sleet, and rain. The Division repelled German attacks recapturing Verdenne and many other towns including Beffe, Devantave, and Laroche.

During the Battle of the Bulge on January 10, 1945 near the Vielsalm-Laroche Road a soldier named Robert E. Young with the 333rd Infantry Division was with his Captain and a fellow soldier. They were Captain Grantham and Dick Owens. They were ordered to scout a hill and as they approached the top of the hill they were hit with machine gun and rifle fire. They were all killed. Private Young was from Pittsburgh Pennsylvania.

Other towns were taken in the next two to three months including the city of Hannover on April 10, 1945.

As the Railsplitters and the 334th Infantry advanced in to Germany they uncovered the concentration camps of Hannover-Ahlem and Salzwedel. This was April 10, 1945 and April 14, 1945. These were satellite camps of the Neuengamme concentration camp. These prisoners were forced to work in the asphalt tunnels and for a ammunition factory. They were to clear the asphalt tunnels to allow for the production of aircraft and Panzer parts for the German war effort. Overall, the Nazi's established more than 15,000 concentration camps in the occupied countries.

In short, the 84th Infantry Division was recognized as a liberating unit by the U.S. Army Center of Military History and the Holocaust Memorial Museum in 1993.

The history of the 334th includes grinding its way through the Siegfried Line, disrupted three of Germanys finest divisions in the Ardennes, and spearheaded the Ninth Army's drive across the Roer and in to the German heartland. The engagements of the Division and the 334th Infantry Regiment during World War 2 include the Rhineland Campaign (15 Sep 44 to 21 Mar 45), the Battle of the Bulge or the Ardennes Campaign (16 Dec 44 to 25 Jan 45), and the Central Europe Campaign (22 Mar 45 to 11May 45).

If you want to learn more of the history of the 84th Division and the Railsplitters please click on the link in this Hub. There is more information and detail than can be expressed in this short hub. I can tell you that it is so exciting of a story that not to read it would be a disservice to any history enthusiast. Once you start you will not be able to stop.

The 84th Division remained on occupation duty in Germany after VE-Day, returning to the United States in January 1946 for deactivation. The 84th Division was designated a reserve unit after deactivation.

The 84th Division was in combat for 170 days. They participated in three major campaigns and smaller ones. They received 7 Distinguished Unit Citations and the members were awarded 3,620 awards or medals not including any Purple Hearts. The 84th Division total battle casualties was 7,260. The total deaths in battle were 1, 468.

After the war Camp Howze was deactivated. The buildings were sold as scrap with the cement foundations, chimneys, and water towers remaining in various degrees of decay. You can still see some remnants today. The former owners of the property were given the opportunity to repurchase the land if they wanted. Some did but many did not.

The German prisoner of war Wolfgang Weber pictured with this Hub story immigrated to the United States in the mid fifties. After he left the camp he was sent to England and forced to help for years to rebuild England. Wolfgang Weber revisited the remnants of the Camp in the 1970s. One of the farmers commented that he was the only German prisoner he knew of that came back to visit Camp Howze.

During my research I learned of a local man who served with the Railsplitters in the 333rd Infantry Regiment of the 84th Division. I thank Private Charles E. Casper of Mount Lebanon, Pennsylvania. Private Casper died on April 9, 1945 during the Central Europe Campaign. He is buried at the American Cemetery at Margraten, Netherlands. Private Casper was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, Bronze Star, and the Purple Heart.

In addition I learned that Henry Kissinger who was Secretary of State under President Richard Nixon was eventually assigned to the 84th Infantry and was assigned to the intelligence section for his ability to speak and interpret the German language. He is reported to have participated in the Battle of the Bulge.

I thank all who have served and give a special thanks to those identified in this hub story. I thank my father for many things but I thank him for his brief service for without him and looking at the Railsplitter emblem on his uniform there would have been no interest in this story. The story of Camp Howze, the 334th Infantry Regiment, the 84th Division, its war time service and sacrifices, and the learning about the number of prisoner of war camps in the United States and Pennsylvania has been enjoyable and eye opening. I hope the reader has enjoyed it also.

If you want to read more about the 84th Infantry Division please obtain the book "The 84th Infantry in the Battle of Germany" by Lt. Theodore Draper.

Review of troops at Camp Howze in Gainesville Texas during World War 2.

Review of troops at Camp Howze in Gainesville Texas during World War 2.

Camp Howze - A Hero's Welcome 2009

84th Division at Hannover Concentration Camp

Related Articles