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Pfc Cecil Paul Smith


Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF)

Pfc Cecil Paul Smith

From the memoirs of C. Paul Smith

I shipped out on the USS Brazil for a fourteen-day zig-zag trip across the Atlantic Ocean and landed in Avonsmouth England on August 29,1942 and proceeded to a temporary station near Cheltenham - about eighty miles from London and there we spent about three weeks doing nothing but sloshing about in the mud as our equipment had not caught up with us yet. The Company was then sent to Shrivenham Barracks near Swindon, and we set up our shops at a British Military Post as our first permanent station overseas.

On November 10, 1942 I was attached to Allied Force Headquarters in London. It was while attached to AFHQ that I attended a school to learn to repair office machines - typewriters: adding machines, etc. It was the first time that I had an opportunity to learn a trade. When Africa was invaded by the Allies, my organization was shipped out on December 10,1942 - our destination being Algiers.

It was on that voyage, on December 21st as we neared the North African coast, the ship I was on - the British troop ship "SS Strathallen" caught a torpedo from a German Sub and was sunk about 60 miles off the coast of Oran. We were able to come off the ship and board British Destroyers and were taken to the Port of Oran, where we boarded another ship and we arrived in Algiers, our original destination on Christmas Eve. We landed just hours after French Admiral Darlan was ambushed and killed. As we proceeded to our assigned quarters, gunfire was crackling all about us. As we had lost our arms when our ship was sunk, we could not answer, but we managed to get to our quarters without suffering any casualties.

During the ensuing months the Port of Algiers became one of the most protected Ports in the world. There were literally hundreds of anti-aircraft weapons placed in and around the city of Algiers. The major land battles were being fought in and around Tunis, but the Germans sent their bombers over Algiers nearly every night and we were practically under siege. I can say with authority that bombs aimed at the town where you live - ain't funny.

We were in bed one night about 9 o'clock when the air raid warning was sounded, and as usual, most of us didn't run to the nearby air raid shelters. And I heard the plane diving, screaming as it got closer. I heard it pull out of a dive and heard the bomb as it came screaming toward us. There was no place to go, so we dived under the bed! The bomb landed just outside our window, about 20 feet from my bunk, and buried itself in the mud alley. It was a DUD! Needless to say, if it had been a live bomb someone else would have had to write these stories. We stayed in Algiers for about 13 months.

Upon the activation of Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) in Europe, I was chosen to return as a part of the cadre to activate that organization. My group left Algiers on February 14, 1944. We arrived in London right in the middle of the Little Blitz - a series of incendiary air raids which the Germans had aimed at the city of London. These raids were probably more aggravating than anything else and occurred every night. Due to the Home Guard who snuffed out the fires, the devotion of the British with sandbags almost as they started, the damage from these raids were not great. It was during these raids that I learned to have a lot of respect for the British people who really took a beating during this war, but just kept right on fighting back. Everyone was on the front lines. Headquarters was set up at Bushy Park near Hampton Court, and we set about the task of getting ready for the invasion of the European Continent - or D-Day. D-Day was June 6, 1944. And about a week later Germany unleashed the V-1 rocket against Britain, aimed mostly toward London and Supreme Headquarters. The V-1 was a jet-propelled rocket loaded with about a ton of explosives, and travelling at about 359 mph. They came in at low altitude and as long as the engine was running, we were safe. But the instant the engine stopped - or ran out of fuel - it immediately fell nose down and detonated upon impact. There were enough explosives to do quite a lot of damage, but not many landed on target. About mid-July 1944 my unit landed on Omaha Beach in northern France and made our way down the coast to the small town of Jullouville. We spent about a month gathering our supplies and equipment together and then Paris fell to the Allies and we were sent to Versailles to set up the main branch of SHAEF. It was there we spent Christmas of 1944 and New Year’s Day of 1945.

At this point in time, although the fighting as still fierce on some fronts, the war seemed to be winding down. Allied Forces seemed to be advancing almost at will. In early 1945 a select group from SHAEF was sent to Reims to set up SHAEF Forward Command. I was fortunate enough to selected for this cadre. It was at Reims where the Germans surrendered unconditionally at 2:41 a.m. on May 7, 1945.

The Potsdam Conference

One of the most memorable duties I performed during World War II was my selection to join a cadre to work at the Inter-Allied Conference in Potsdam, Germany in July 1945. We were flown from Frankfurt to Berlin along with our supplies and equipment for the purpose of installing and operating a Message Control Center which would connect the Conference with the War Department and other active Theaters of Operations throughout the world. The war in the Pacific was still going on.

The purpose of the Conference, which brought together President Harry S. Truman, Russian Premier Josef Stalin, and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (who was replaced by Clement Atlee midway through the Conference), was to designate the Occupation Forces, and the procedures to govern Germany and her allies.

The hours were long and the workload was particularly heavy during this two-week tour of duty. In essence, we had to activate an entire organization, carry out the duties prescribed to it, then de-activate it and move it, lock stock and barrel back to Supreme Headquarters in Frankfurt. We remained in Potsdam until about 2 Aug 1945. then returned to our permanent station in Frankfurt.

Group Photo - Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF), Headquarters Company -  1944

Thanks to Brad Smith, son of Pfc. Cecil Paul Smith, for this photo and information about his father.

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