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Fighting With The Filthy Thirteen

Fighting With The Filthy Thirteen

Jack Womer and Stephen C. Devito
Intrigued by a photograph of a group of American soldiers training with Thompson sub-machine guns at Achnacarry near Spean Bridge, Devito resolved to find out more about the men and why they were there. He was fortunate in that their names and birthplaces were written on the back of the photo. He was even more fortunate when the first person he contacted, Jack Womer, was very much alive and obviously had a story to tell.
Jack agreed to tell his story if Devito would write the book. As a result we have an authentic perspective of not only the build up to the invasion of Normandy and the subsequent fighting, but also a unique insight of Jack's early years, the poverty of his childhood and the struggle to find work during the Depression.

Due to poverty and his mother's poor health, Jack lived with his aunt during his early years; for this he never forgave his parents. Also his education was cut short due to the lack of parental funding, although he wryly observes that his father always had plenty of money for drink.

With family members working in the local steel mill he was able to find a job there although there was no security and frequent lay-offs. However, he did manage to have some money in his pocket and a steady girlfriend whom he would later marry.

On 25th April 1941 just before his 24th birthday he received his call-up papers, initially for 12 months; this would be extended to 18 months. Jack put his life on hold and went off to the Army.Despite his antipathy toward the Army, his high level of fitness and marksmanship plus his straightforward can do approach meant that he was regarded as a good soldier.

In July 1941 the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour and shortly after Germany declared war on America. Jack knew he was in for the duration and, being fully trained, could expect to be among the first to be sent to war. However, it was not until October, 1942, that he was sent overseas to the UK. His views on the cultural differences are illuminating and typical of the time. He was astonished by the poor quality and quantity of the food and this proved to be a major reason for him volunteering for Ranger training where, it was said, the food was so much better. Much of the training was carried out at Achnacarry under British Commando instuctors for whom Jack had an enduring respect and an abiding belief that their training was instrumental in his survival.

On completion of training the unit was disbanded and the men returned to their respective units to provide a cadre that could pass on their new found skills. He was terribly unhappy at his return to the ordinariness of normal army life.
A chance meeting with a paratrooper of the 101st Airborne Division plus a lot of luck and "brass neck" resulted in him transferring to the 101st. He became a member of the demolitions platoon, which is said to have been the inspiration for the film "The Dirty Dozen". He knew nothing about demolitions but soon learnt on the job.Finally, on 6th June,1944, he parachuted into Normandy. His vivid description of the struggle to survive, the brutal fighting, his feelings towards the enemy and the steady loss of friends pulls no punches. After some six weeks the 101st returned to the UK.

They were next committed in support of Operation Market Garden on 17th September to secure roads and bridges in the Eindhoven area. Once again his description of the fighting captures the visceral brutality and chaos of the battlefield.

They remained in Holland for the awful winter of 1944 and were thrown into the Battle Of The Bulge at Bastogne, where, despite the lack of equipment and ammunition, the German breakthrough was thwarted. Desperate weather conditions meant that wherever possible houses and outbuildings were used to accomodate the troops. Jack's robust approach to conflict resolution with a reluctant civilian population will come as no surprise. On the other hand he does reveal a softer side, especially where children are concerned and records his gratitude to those who shared their homes without complaint.

Finally, in early April,1945, the 101st arrived in Dusseldorf. The war was running down and most Germans knew that they had lost and harboured an enormous hatred for the victors. This was a period when there was much looting and wanton destruction by the troops and Jack was no exception.

Despite VE day being declared on 8th May, 1945, he did not return home until September. There was a need to maintain and provide a semblance of law and order and a few pockets of fanatic resistance also needed to be dealt with.

Jack Womer's story is entertaining, honest and forthright, just like the man. He does not shrink from describing what actually happened although occasionaly one suspects just a hint of artistic licence. However, there is nothing which is unbelievable given the chaotic and random nature of war.

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