Posted in History, Research, WWII

June 6 – D-Day 70th Anniversary, But what else was happening?

The 70th anniversary of D-Day is approaching and many of us will commemorate that history-making event, but the invasion of Europe was not the only thing happening in the days leading up to and right after June 6, 1944. A world-wide war did not come to a stand-still for one event regardless of its momentous implications. So I decided to research and find out what else was going on.

Where was my father-in-law and the others in the 276th Armored Field Artillery Battalion? They were at Camp Campbell, Kentucky, training on their M-7 track-mounted 105 mm guns and on small arms. After May 1 all furloughs had been discontinued in anticipation of orders to ship out. Fortunately for me, those orders were delayed and local passes continued. Had they not been my father-in-law and mother-in-law would never have met. They were married on June 20, 1944, after knowing each other only twelve days. Orders to leave Camp Campbell for a secret destination finally came on June 23. The battalion traveled by train to Camp Shanks, N. Y., for shipment overseas. They sailed for England on July 1, 1944.Paul and Earlene Whitaker

Despite the build up of troops in England prior to D-Day, many remained in the U.S. awaiting overseas orders. Once the invading forces established a beachhead, additional soldiers and equipment would be needed to retake Europe.

In June 1944, the 97th Infantry Division was training at Ft. Leonard Wood, Mo. As a soldier in the 97th, my uncle Roland Roby would not sail for Europe until February, 1945. He later went to Japan as part of the occupation forces.

Meanwhile, my uncle, D. T. (Boots) Knight, was on the other side of the world fighting the Japanese. The 947th Field Artillery Battalion in support of the 41st Infantry Division landed on Biak Island, just north of western New Guinea, on May 27, 1944. Approximately 11,000 Japanese troops defended the island and its airfields. Prior to the landing, intelligence indicated only 4,400 Japanese were on the island so the campaign proved more difficult than anticipated. The island was not fully taken until August. The 947th received a commendation for their firing on Biak. Prior to the Biak campaign the 947th had been part of the Hollandia campaign on New Guinea in April and May.  They would help to retake the Philippines beginning in October.New%20Guinea%20Map2[1]

Today many think of the war against the Japanese as a naval war. Naval battles did take place throughout the Pacific. Ships of the U.S. Navy also delivered the men and equipment to the far-flung islands. Once on land the U.S. Army did as much of the fighting as the Marines. The war against the Japanese was divided into two separate commands. The Pacific Ocean Area Command under Admiral Chester Nimitz included most of the Pacific Ocean and its islands. In the Southwest Pacific Theater General Douglas McArthur commanded an area that included the Philippines, Dutch East Indies, Australia, New Guinea, Borneo and the western portion of the Solomon Islands.

In looking at the map I am amazed at how close the Japanese came to invading Australia. In June, 1944, the Japanese still controlled vast reaches of the Pacific as well as territory on the Asian mainland. The U. S. had pushed them off Guadalcanal in 1942-43 and in joint operations with the British fought for control of New Guinea throughout 1944 allowing McArthur to return to the Philippines in October 1944.

While the Allies were battling to hold the beachhead in Normandy, the U. S. Navy took on the Japanese in the battle of Saipan on June 15, 1944. Then from June 19-21 the Battle of the Philippine Sea raged.

In Italy, the liberation of Rome came on June 5, 1944, after a long, drawn out fight up the boot of Italy. Despite the surrender by the Italians in 1943, the Germans would not relinquish their hold on Italy. After the initial Allied landings on the Italian peninsula at Salerno in September 9, 1943 the Allies fought their way north. With a second landing further north at Anzio in January 22, 1944, the Allies hoped to cut off the Germans. Instead they dug in to the mountainous terrain. The battle around Monte Cassino raged from January until mid-May. When it finally fell the road to Rome opened to the allied advance with its liberation on June 5, 1944. But capturing the Italian capital did not mean the Germans would surrender. The fight in Italy raged on as the Germans pulled back into the mountains. They fought ferociously and did not surrender to the Allies until April, 1945.

On June 9 Stalin launched an attack on Finland. On June 10 in Oradour-sur-Glane the Germans locked 642 French men, women and children in a church and burned it to the ground in retaliation for resistance activities in the area. On the same day in Distomo, Greece, members of the Waffen-SS killed 214 civilians for the same reason. On June 20 in India the three-month siege of Imphal is lifted forcing the Japanese to retreat into Burma. The heavy losses of this defeat marked the turning point of the Burma campaign.

As you can see, in June 1944 war raged around the world. It would take another year of hard fighting before the Germans and the Japanese were defeated and peace returned to our planet.

 

Posted in Historical Sites, History, Research, WWII

Nashville and Middle Tennessee During the War Years

I grew up in Middle Tennessee and heard stories about the Second World War all my life. I thought I knew a lot about what went on the area. I have been using places in Tennessee as settings in my books or as background for my characters. To ensure that I was accurate and to add depth to the novels,  I researched numerous aspects – from the military presence to industrial plants to medical facilities. Here are a few things I learned, some of which I had not known before I started my research.

Historically Nashville wasn’t as industrial as Memphis or Chattanooga so it’s not often though of in terms of World War II  defense industries. Yet Nashville did produce war materials. The AVCO plant has produced aviation equipment for years. In my research I learned that the Consolidated Vultee Aircraft Corporation constructed the Nashville Plant to produce aircraft for the war. The Vultee A-31 Vengeance dive bomber and the P-38 Lightning fighters were the main output. And a third of the employees were women. Another example of how women filled critical roles in industry while the men were in uniform.

This woman is working inside a wheel well, at Vultee-Nashville. She is working on a "Vengeance" diver bomber. From the Library of Congress WWII Color Photograph collection.Photographer: Alfred T. Palmer
This woman is working inside a wheel well, at Vultee-Nashville. She is working on a “Vengeance” diver bomber.
From the Library of Congress WWII Color Photograph collection.Photographer: Alfred T. Palmer

Other Nashville industries were involved in production of war materials. Nashville Bridge Company built minesweepers for the Navy. Dupont supplied synthetic fibers for parachutes; General Shoe made combat boots and Werthan Bag manufactured sandbags.

South of Nashville, in the Columbia area, Monsanto Chemical Company produced phosphorous and Union Carbide produced whetlerite charcoal for gas masks and amorphous carbon electrodes for steel production.

Although I knew about military bases in Middle Tennessee, I never knew much about Camp Forrest or what an important role it played during the war. Situated near Tullahoma, the Army expanded the Tennessee National Guard’s training center in 1940 when the National Guard units were federalized.  After the attack on Pearl Harbor Camp Forrest became home to the Eighth and Eightieth Infantry Divisions as well as a training and induction center for men entering the Army. Numerous infantry, artillery, engineering and signal corps units trained at Camp Forrest.

Ethnic German and Italians, as well as Japanese civilians, were interred at the beginning of the war. In 1942 800 civilians were interred at Camp Forrest. In 1943 German prisoners of war arrived. Approximately 24,000 prisoners were held there during the war and as many as 68,000 were processed through the camp before internment at other facilities. With wounded POW’s in need of medical care, Camp Forrest was chosen for one of three POW Hospitals across the country.

Second Army Tennessee Maneuvers. The Layout. Company F, 347th Inf Reg., 87th Inf. Division, stands by for inspection by the Commanding General, Major General Percy Clarkson. (8 May 43) Signal Corps Photo: 164-007-43-989 (Sgt. J. A. Grant)
Second Army Tennessee Maneuvers. The Layout. Company F, 347th Inf Reg., 87th Inf. Division, stands by for inspection by the Commanding General, Major General Percy Clarkson. (8 May 43) Signal Corps Photo: 164-007-43-989 (Sgt. J. A. Grant)

Since the terrain of Middle Tennessee closely resembled that of Europe, the area became the site of what were known as Tennessee Maneuvers. Camp Forrest provided logistical support for these simulated combat exercises. Spread over twenty counties, the headquarters for the maneuvers was at Cumberland College in Lebanon. Between 1942 and 1944 hundreds of thousands of troops honed their combat skills in Tennessee – including General Patton’s 2nd Armor “Hell on Wheels” and the 2nd Rangers famous for their assault on Pont-du-Hoc on D-Day. I found a book by Woody McMillin “In the Presence of Soldiers” about the Tennessee maneuvers. It looks like it would be an interesting read. Click here for a good article about the maneuvers and the book.

After the war the Army surplussed Camp Forrest. The Air Force created the new Air Engineering Development Center, later renamed Arnold Engineering Development Center for Air Force General “Hap” Arnold, on the site. Since the war this facility has become the most advanced and largest complex of flight simulation test facilities in the world.

Another WWII military site in Middle Tennessee was Smyrna Army Airfield. Designated a specialized four-engine (heavy bomber) pilot training airfield, cadets practiced flying both B-17’s and B-24’s while stationed in Smyrna. After the war, the Air Force took over the site and renamed it Sewart Air Force Base for Tennessean Allan J. Sewart Jr. who died in a bombing mission over the Solomon Islands in 1942.

Berry Field, better known today as Nashville International Airport, became an Army Airfield prior to WWII with the 105th Observation Squadron. Later the B-25 Mitchell, a medium bomber, flew out of Berry Field. The Berry Field Air National Guard Base still occupies the site.

The best known military base in Middle Tennessee is Fort Campbell, home of the 101st Airborne Screaming Eagles.  Camp Campbell was established in 1941 on land that straddles the Tennessee-Kentucky line near Clarksville, Tn. and Hopkinsville, Ky. During WWII this newly established base trained the 12th, 14th and 20th Armored Divisions and the 26th Infantry Division. And on a personal note, the 276th Armored Field Artillery Battalion and their sister units trained at Camp Campbell. My father-in-law was in the 276th AFA and during his training at Camp Campbell he met and married my mother-in-law.

Camp Campbell also housed German prisoners during World War II. Many of these men were utilized by farmers in the area to alleviate the labor shortage. For more information about German POW’s in Kentucky, read “German Jackboots in Kentucky Bluegrass.”

I also researched the medical facilities in Middle Tennessee related to the war effort. Thayer General Hospital in Nashville was one of the Army’s General Hospitals established across the country to treat wounded military personnel. Hospitals in the “Zone of the Interior” were named while those that served overseas were given numerical designations.  After the war the Veterans Administration took over the facility.

Dr. Oliver Carmichael, President of Vanderbilt University, was actively involved in establishing the U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps which trained nurses across the country to alleviate the nationwide shortage of nurses. Other Nashville hospitals participating in the Cadet Nurse training program were Meharry Medical, Nashville General, Protestant and St. Thomas Hospitals.

Men and women from Middle Tennessee who were not in the military during the Second World War worked to win the war, too. Farmers stayed behind to raise the much-needed food. Women went to work in various capacities to fill the vacancies the men left behind. Men who for various reasons were unable to serve in the military worked on the homefront. Production ramped up. Belts were tightened. Everyone contributed in some way. Had they not, the Allies might not have defeated the Germans and the Japanese and our world would be very different today.

 

 

Posted in 276th AFA, Friends, History, Research, WWII

The 276th Armored Field Artillery’s Last Reunion

After leaving I-40 we wound our way along the Foothills Parkway, a crooked, two-lane roadway through heavily wooded mountainous terrain. The quiet beauty calmed us after the nerve-wracking drive crushed between semi’s and the concrete wall dividing the interstate as it snaked its way over the mountains. Our destination awaited only a few miles away in Gatlinburg. We soon reached the congested streets of the vacation mecca atop the mountains. Turning left, we climbed, passing motels and restaurants, until we reached the narrow, steep, winding driveway up to the top where our hotel, the Park Vista, stood overlooking the narrow valley that is Gatlinburg.old friends talk at reunion

This was where the 276th Armored Field Artillery chose to hold their final reunion. The destination for five aging WWII veterans to reunite once more. Time may have reduced their numbers but not their spirits. The dwindling group of veterans and their families were joined by sons, daughters and wives of other, already deceased veterans – all coming together to remember and celebrate their service so many years ago.Mr and Mrs Cross at reunion

My husband was one of those sons of deceased 276th veterans. We were newcomers to the reunions yet we were welcomed into the fold like long-lost relatives. The people who gathered at the Park Vista, related only by the service of a group of young men almost seventy years ago, were the most gracious, most friendly and warmest group of people we have ever encountered.Mr Tyson talks to Pat at reunion

Organized in 1943, the 276th AFA Battalion was one of several artillery units converted to mobile, track-mounted 105 mm Howitzers  (M-7’s) to provide mobile artillery support to infantry and armored divisions. In the summer of 1944, after the D-Day invasion at Normandy, the 276th crossed the Atlantic, landed in England, then crossed the channel to France. The Battalion fired its first combat round in September, 1944. From that point they were in continuous combat, battling their way across Europe, until the Germans surrendered in May, 1945. By July, they were again crossing the Atlantic, but this time their destination was home, not for good, but for additional training before being sent to the Pacific. The war with Japan still raged. Fortunately for these combat weary young men, the Japanese surrendered before their unit was redeployed.

The veterans of the 276th fascinated us with their positive, even joyful, attitudes as they answered questions, re-told old stories and remembered their fellow soldiers who had passed away in the intervening years. Sons and daughters shared stories their fathers had told to them.  None of the five were officers. Their military jobs ranged from clerk to radio man to mechanic to driver yet they told stories of bullets that came within inches, artillery shells bursting nearby, encounters with enemy soldiers and freezing weather.

Of the five Batteries in the Battalion, four were represented at the reunion – Headquarters Battery, Battery A, Battery C, and Service Battery. Pictures of earlier reunions, with the participants all decked out in their finery, relayed the history of these events. A map detailed the Battalion’s journey as it fought its way across France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany and Czechoslovakia. Old pictures were perused for familiar faces. Watching a taped interview with one veteran brought a lump to my throat and tears to my eyes. Such amazing men who went off to war at such a young age leaving their families and loved ones behind.

Mr TysonMr ThomasMr NarushofThey journeyed from various locales to reunite with old friends. For these elderly men and their wives the trip could not have been easy nor possible without help from their families. The devoted son of one veteran organized the event and, despite his father’s failing health, drove from Indiana so there could be one last reunion. The eldest veteran, at ninety-seven, flew in from Massachusetts accompanied by his daughter and son-in-law. Another man from Georgia brought his wife, children, grand-children and great-grandchildren. And a former Tennessean and his wife were transported from Cincinnati by their son and daughter-in-law.Mr CrossMr Clevenger

The son of a deceased veteran drove down from Milwaukee. This faithful son told of his trip to Europe to retrace the route of the 276th. He and his father, both devoted history buffs, had attended previous reunions and the son had known many of the 276th veterans. They planned to take the European trip together but his father did not live to make it so the son went alone in honor of his father.

Another son, daughter and son-in-law journeyed across the mountains from North Carolina for the reunion. Like my husband’s father, their father never came to any of the reunions. He talked of his service but would never contact any of the men he served with. After his death his son decided to meet some of the men his father fought with so many years ago and participate in the reunions. Knowledgable and friendly, these North Carolinians shared stories from former reunions, of other veterans now gone and reenactments. They generously shared their photos, too.Mr Tyson and James at reunion

The reunion was a special time for the aging men to reconnect and remember their youth. As Tom Brokaw said of the WWII veterans in his book “The Greatest Generation,” these men did not brag about their service. They quietly spoke of events but always expressed that they were just doing their job, doing what they had been trained to do, doing what they had to do. It was touching to watch them talk, and laugh and reminisce about those times.

In their young, formative years these men forged a bond like no other – the bond of combat. And they became our heroes. By doing their jobs, they enabled us, their children and grandchildren, to live the lives in a free, democratic society. They freed the world from the tyranny and dictatorship that threatened to engulf the globe. We so often forget that in 1943 when these young men first came together, the Allies were losing the war and it looked like it would take many years of fighting to defeat Germany and Japan. They had a big job ahead of them but they knew they would win – eventually. That faith in themselves, in this country, was remarkable. And we saw that same positive attitude in the remaining veterans that we met in Gatlinburg.

Too soon it was time to leave. Each of us going  back to our own part of American. I hope we can stay in touch with these wonderful people, each fascinating in their own way. As we drove down out of the mountains and south toward Florida, we agreed that it had been a wonderful experience, a chance to touch the past, to talk with those who had lived it. Too soon they will all be gone, but they will never be forgotten.

Posted in 276th AFA, History, WWII

276th Armored Field Artillery Battalion – Part 3

The Love Story

The story of the 276th Armored Field Artillery Battalion would not be complete without telling the story of two Tennessee boys and a wartime love story.

My father-in-law, Paul, had asthma as a small child so he was still in high school when he was drafted into the Army at age 19. His parents tried to get their only child out of the Army but their efforts only caused problems during his early months in the service. While training in Kansas, Paul made friends with another Tennessee boy, Luther, who grew up in a small town a few miles south of Camp Campbell, Ky.

When the 276th received orders for retraining on the M-7 to become a mobile artillery unit, Luther must have been delighted to be stationed so close to home. With a car at his disposal Luther would take his friend to his home town on weekends where they spent time with the local girls. They probably met other girls in Clarksville, the town closest to their camp. Months passed and both boys knew they would soon receive orders for overseas. One weekend when Luther had a date with a girl who lived near Clarksville, he asked her to find a date for his friend, Paul.

While in school, Earlene went with a boy who lived near her family’s farm. He joined the Army after the war broke out and became a gunner on a B-17 bomber. His plane went down during training and he was killed sometime in 1943.

Earlene’s father rented out their farm and went to Detroit to work in the defense industry.  While waiting for him to send for them, Earlene, her mother and sister lived with her grandmother near Clarksville. Earlene’s grandmother had remarried years before and her youngest daughter was only a little older than Earlene. This “aunt” agreed to find a date for Luther’s friend, and that’s how Earlene and Paul met.

It must have been love at first sight because Paul came back to see Earlene several times in the next two weeks.  Confined to camp awaiting orders to ship out, Paul and Luther sneaked out of camp so Paul could go see his girl. That night Paul asked Earlene to marry him. She hesitated at first. She knew what could happen. But he told her that he knew she wouldn’t be there when he came back. Somehow he convinced her. Luther drove them to Hopkinsville, Ky., where they were married.  It was June 20th, 1944, and they had known each other for twelve days.

The couple agreed to keep their marriage a secret from their parents, at least for a while. The 276th shipped out three days later, on June 23rd, for the war in Europe.

Months later, but before going to Detroit, Earlene told her mother about her marriage. Upset, her mother wrote to her father. Both parents were not happy about the marriage, but they accepted it. Paul wrote to his parents and his unexpected marriage must have shocked them.

Earlene tells of meeting her in-laws for the first time. She took a bus to West Tennessee where Paul’s parents lived. The bus driver misplaced her suitcase so when she arrived in Selmer, Tennessee, she had nothing but the clothes she wore. This made an already anxious situation worse. Paul’s parents recognized her in the bus station. They drove the only vehicle they owned, a logging truck. The three of them rode in the cab for the long drive to their house. Earlene said it was so far back in the sticks that she began to wonder what she had gotten herself into.

Paul’s grandmother waited at the house. When the old woman met Earlene she exclaimed “I knew Paul wouldn’t marry trash.” From that Earlene knew what her in-law’s had expected.

The young couple stayed in touch through letters. Earlene sent Paul a picture that she had made especially for him.

Both Paul and Luther survived the war in Europe. Before leaving Germany they were told they would be shipped to the United States, then would be reassigned for shipment to the Pacific Theater. When the men reached the states, in July 1945, they received a 30 day furlough to visit their families. Paul found his bride on her father’s farm and met her family for the first time.

Paul did not intend to go back to combat. He’d been through too much, seen too much. He vowed he would get lost in the swamp where no one could find him. Unfortunately his father was ill so Paul had to help his mother. He couldn’t hide. Instead, he gained permission to extend his leave. Before he had to report back, the Japanese surrendered.

Paul reported to Ft. Bragg, N. C. and was discharged in November, 1945. Paul and Earlene’s marriage lasted until his death in 1999. They raised five children. Paul’s friend Luther lived nearby. When Luther visited his stories revealed much of what Paul’s children knew of their father’s service because he rarely talked about it.

There were many of these love stories during World War II. Young men and women traveled all over the country and overseas. Workers left their homes for defense plants. The couples met in many ways and places – on the military bases, in USO canteens, through friends, while in transit, etc. Soldiers even developed serious relationships with girls they met overseas where they were stationed or fighting. War brought an urgency to their courtships. Many were short and some of the relationships did not survive after the war. What’s amazing is how many of these marriages not only survived but flourished. They are wonderful stories and I never tire hearing them.

Posted in 276th AFA, History, WWII

276th Armored Field Artillery Battalion – Part 2

When we last left our hero’s of the 276th Armored Field Artillery Battalion, it was February, 1945, and they had just crossed into Germany from Luxembourg.

I’m a map person. Several years ago I purchased a coffee-table book “US Army Atlas of the European Theater in World War II.” Researching this post I scoured the maps for locations mentioned in the 276th Battalion history and that exercise put some of the distances in perspective. In a straight line from Bastogne, Luxembourg, to Bitburg, Germany, it’s about 30 miles through hilly, heavily wooded terrain with crooked, narrow roads. The defenses of the Siegfried line ran along the German border between the two points. Bitter cold winter weather hindered progress as the Germans retreated behind their “west wall” line of defense. Can you imagine life for the men? Living outdoors, eating when they could, following orders, doing their jobs, fearing the next attack and struggling to survive. The 276th was a few miles southeast of Bastogne at the beginning of January. They did not reach Bitburg until Feb. 28, 1945. Eight long weeks.

From the southern shoulder of the “bulge” in the line, due to the German counter-offensive later known as the Battle of the Bulge, the 276th moved toward the northeast in support of the 80th Infantry Division. On Feb. 7, 1945, the Battalion fired 1,702 rounds in preparation for the 80th attack across the Our River into Germany and against the Siegfried Line. The 276th fired a total of 2,610 rounds that day, more than 325 rounds per gun. After that firing continued at a rate of approximately 1,000 rounds per day as they continued to pound the German fortifications. On Feb. 19-20 the 276th again fired heavily in preparation for another attack by the 80th Division. This time the 276th AFA Battalion crossed the Sauer river into Germany near Cruchten.

During these attacks the 276th for the first time fired a mixture of rounds that consisted of 40% fuze delay, 50% fuze quick and 10% white phosphorus, a chemical that burned through anything and could not be extinguished with water. The combination proved effective against enemy troops and would be used again.

In early March they moved rapidly northward to Koblenz on the Rhine. My father-in-law told of sitting on high ground overlooking the Rhine river and seeing the Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen, north of Koblenz. Although not mentioned in the history, he remembered seeing the bridge and firing across the river to protect the crossing troops. Since it was the only bridge left intact across the Rhine, it had to be the bridge at Remagen. For years he had a print of the bridge hanging in his room.

His buddy in the 276th told a funny story on him years later. While near the Rhine, a young man, drunk on liberated cognac, sat astride the gun barrel when German artillery began firing rockets on their position. He couldn’t get down so he rode out the barrage on the tube. Shells landed so close that the water cans hanging on the gun were shot off, but he didn’t get a scratch. According to my husband, his father didn’t want the story told and tried his best to stop his buddy from telling it in front of his sons. 

At Koblenz the north-east flowing Moselle joins the Rhine. On March 15 the 276th crossed the Moselle with elements of the 4th Armored Division. They continued toward the south-east against stubborn resistance from rear-guard troops and defiant towns. Although the men rarely knew what was going on overall in the war, they knew moving forward meant they were winning and that was always good news.

While the 4th Armored Division diverted south to take Worms, the 276th remained at Oppenheim to support a bridgehead operation by the 5th Division. They crossed the Rhine on a pontoon bridge above Oppenheim on March 24, then reverted back to supporting the 4th Armored Division on their swift advance east to encircle the city of Frankfort. Within days they advanced across northern Bavaria, heading northeast. On April 3 they ended a long road march near the city of Gotha with enemy aircraft and artillery firing on their advance. After an ultimatum Gotha surrendered the next day and the 276th moved south on the road to Ohrdruf.

On April 5th the battalion fired on the city of Ohrdruf against stubborn resistance by the Germans. When the enemy surrendered, the Americans learned why they defended it so stubbornly. Ohrdruf was a sub-camp of Buchenwald – the concentration camp and ‘death factory’ – and the first such camp discovered by the Americans. Although my father-in-law never spoke of it directly, Patton visited the camp and ordered that as many of his men as possible tour the camp as witnesses to the atrocities committed there. More than likely the men of the 276th saw the camp at Ohrdruf and, possibly Buchenwald, since they were in the area when it was discovered. The only time I ever heard my father-in-law say anything about the concentration camps was in the 1990’s when a TV program mentioned that there were people claiming the holocaust never happened. He adamantly insisted that it did happen, but he would say no more.

Reassigned to the 11th Armored Division, the 276th drove southeast from near Suhl  to near Kulmbach by April 12, battling not only Germans but also heavy rains. As part of Task Force Hearn another road march began near Grafenwohr, “site of the largest barracks and training area in central Germany,” and within a week they traveled 150 miles to Grafenau. Their objective was Linz, Austria on the Danube. The German army offered little resistance during this advance.

But, on April 30, the enemy made a stand at Wegscheld. After an all day assault, including heavy fire from the 276th, the 11th Armored Division occupied the demolished town. The battalion fired approximately 1,600 rounds that day, including a 90 round white phosphorous concentration. May 1st the 276 crossed into Austria with the 11th.

On May 2, the 276th received orders to return to supporting the 4th Armored Division near Lalling, Germany. They marched back to the northwest, then on May 3 moved to a ‘rest’ bivouac area near Saldenberg for three days. On the 5th they joined the 4th Armored Division moving east and north into Czechoslovakia toward the city of Strakonice. The Czech’s lined the roads welcoming their liberators.  They were still moving toward Prague when they received word that the German armed forces had surrendered. The war in Europe was over.

Surrendering German troops streamed through the battalion’s camp toward designated assembly areas. On May 10 the 276th motored to Bogen, Germany, where they became part of the military government and oversaw the flow of prisoners into fenced areas for processing to prisoner of war camps.

The joy and relief of victory in Europe was short-lived for the 276th. On May 13 they learned they would be deployed within 30 days to the Pacific Theater, traveling through the United States. On May 16 they participated in a ‘ceremony shoot’ for a group of Russian generals. On June 2 they received orders to move out. The heavy vehicle column traveled across Germany and France by train while the light motor column traveled by road meeting up at Camp Lucky Strike, near Le Havre, France. Here, due to the points system for discharge, members of the battalion with more than 85 points were transferred to the 341st FA Battalion of the 89th Infantry for transport home and discharge.

The remainder of the 276th embarked for the US from Le Havre, France, on July 2, 1945. It was one year to the day from their departure from New York.   By July 11 all had departed Camp Shanks, NY, for home on furloughs. Thankfully, by the time they were to reassemble for redeployment training, the Japanese had surrendered and the war was over.

Posted in 276th AFA, History, WWII

The 276th Armored Field Artillery Battalion – Part 1

Due to the interest generated by my post about the M7 Priest, I decided to write about  my father-in-law’s unit and their experiences during the war.

The Battalion

The 276th Armored Field Artillery Battalion was in the European Theatre of Operation combat zone for 241 days, from September 1944 until the Germans surrendered in May 1945. They fought in the Battle of Northern France, the Battle of the Rhineland, the Battle of the Bulge, and the Battle for Central Europe. From the first round fired at Andelot, France, (near Nancy) they moved across Europe to near Strakonice, Czechoslovakia, at the war’s end. The battalion’s eighteen guns fired approximately 90,000 rounds in combat and provided support to whoever needed their guns. Thus they supported numerous groups including the French Second Armored Division, the Third Army, the 80th Infantry Division, the 6th Armored Division, the 12th Armored Division, the 9th Armored Division, the 4th Armored Division, the 90th Infantry Division, the 5th Infantry Division, the 26th Infantry Division, and the 11th Armored Division.


The 276th started out in Kansas where they trained as a field artillery battalion. While on maneuvers in Tennessee orders came to reorganize the battalion into an armored field artillery battalion. In January, 1944, they reported to Camp Campbell, Ky., for retraining on M7 track-mounted 105 howitzers.

On June 23 they left for Camp Shanks, New York, where they boarded the SS John Ericsson, set sail on July 1, 1944, and crossed the Atlantic to England. After arriving at Liverpool, they proceeded by train to Lianmartin, Monmouthshire, South Wales, for a thirty-day readying period.

The Campaign in Lorraine

On August 20th the battalion moved to Weymouth, on the south coast, and loaded on LST’s to cross the channel. After landing on Utah Beach in Normandy, the 276th began the motor march across France. By September 10 they reached Joinville, in eastern France near Nancy, where they were assigned to the French Second Armored Division. Here they fired their first combat rounds in the war.

Over the next few days the 276th crossed the Moselle and Meurthe rivers still in support of the French. During September and into October the account of engagements and movements reads like a tour guide of villages in Lorraine. Members of the battalion were killed, wounded and a few were captured. During a short rest the men stayed in French villages where the citizens welcomed them as liberators. From late October through mid-November,  the 276th supported the 6th Armored Division defending Landroff from a strong enemy counter-attack.  Steady rain in November caused muddy roads, traffic jams, hampered operations and generally made life miserable for the men. On December 5 they fired into Germany for the first time.

In early December orders came transferring 10% of the enlisted men, or 48 men, to the infantry.  Assigned to support the 80th Infantry Division, the 276th continued to fight along the German border. But on December 20th orders changed.

Battle of the Bulge

As part of Patton’s Third Army, the 276th journeyed from near Bettviller in easternmost France to the City of Luxembourg in four days, enduring snow, extreme cold, and icy, mountainous roads. This was the famous march in the dead of winter that Third Army made to relieve the US troops surrounded at Bastogne. In Luxembourg the 276th moved further north to engage the enemy along the southern shoulder of the bulge where they spent Christmas of 1944. During this time the weather was extremely cold. They were not allowed to build fires and they had no hot food. My father-in-law said that one night he fell asleep under the gun and when awakened by gunfire he was numb and stiff. Had he not awakened, he would have frozen to death, as many did that winter.

In the movie “Patton” there is a scene where General George S. Patton ordered a chaplain to write a prayer for good weather so that they could attack. This actually happened. The successful results of this prayer impressed Patton so much that he had a copy of it sent to all the men in Third Army. My father-in-law sent it to his mother who gave it to my husband. The prayer is printed on both front and back of a small, thin piece of paper about the size of a baseball card.

In January the 276th still supported the 80th Infantry Division as they fought northward helping the 319th Inf. Regiment repel a strong counter-thrust near Nocher. The battle remained near Heiderscheid until Jan. 18.  when the battalion supported attacks on Dahl and Kaulenbach, Luxembourg. By the end of January the Allies had crushed German offensive and had pushed back the battle lines to roughly where they had been in early December.

In February the battalion hammered the Siegfried Line along the Luxembourg-German border. They established liaison with the 4th Armored Division protecting the flanks of the 80th. Targets for the thousands of rounds fired included German defensive positions with nebelwerfers (rockets called screaming meme’s), mortars, tanks, pill boxes, snipers, infantry, vehicles and gun batteries. They crossed the Sauer river near Cruchten into Germany on February 20. Five days later the 276th received orders transferring them to support of the 4th Armored Division and continued to move further into German territory.

In Part 2 I will continue to recount the experiences of the 276th in the last months of the war in Europe.

Thanks to Teresa Williams for allowing me to use her father’s photos. Her father is Morris I. Grayson, Battery “B”, 276th Armored Field Artillery Battalion. Details were taken from the history of the 276th Armored Field Artillery Battalion compiled by Sgt. Bruce B. Palmer.

Posted in 276th AFA, History, Research, WWII

It’s Not A Tank – M7 Priest

To the average person, this vehicle looks like a tank, but it’s not. It’s an artillery piece. One key difference is the main gun, a 105 mm Howitzer. Compare this to a 75 mm gun on a Sherman tank. Also on the M7 the crew is riding on top of the vehicle in the open unlike a tank crew tucked away safely inside the tank. So the men on the M7 had no armor plating protecting them in combat. But the track gave this gun the mobility to advance alongside tanks and infantry into the thick of battle.

My father-in-law served on an M7 in the 276th Armored Field Artillery Battalion. When his son asked him what he did in WWII, the veteran told him he was on a tank, rather than trying to explain to him about the track-mounted artillery piece.  So as a boy my husband proudly proclaimed to his friends that his father served on a tank with Patton. As he grew older my husband learned more about the war and he continued to ask his father questions. Although reluctant to talk about his WWII experiences, the ex-GI explained that the vehicle he manned was actually an M7 105 mm Self Propelled Gun, also called an M7 Priest. (The British dubbed it “Priest” due to the .50 caliber machine gun mounted in a drum-like ring on the front that resembled a priest’s pulpit.)

The former soldier rarely relayed stories about the war. When he did, he told of experiences during the Battle of the Bulge, Remagen Bridge and the invasion of Germany as part of Patton’s Third Army. GI’s on the front didn’t know the big picture. He said that as long as they were moving, they figured things were going good.

Reading the history of the 276th AFA BN put their role in the war in perspective. I learned that these artillery pieces were assigned to whatever front or division needed their support. So, like other artillery units, the 276th was not included in the combat records of any particular division, which makes research for specific details much more difficult. Fortunately we have a copy of the official account printed immediately after the war and given to each soldier in the unit.

M7 Priest in Michigan

Last summer while visiting relatives in Michigan, my brother-in-law took us to a VFW outside Flint where an M7 Priest is on display. For the first time my husband saw, in person, a gun like his father’s. Having served in an armored unit himself, my husband has been around many tanks, but seeing and touching this vehicle thrilled him. He even climbed up on top in the rain to gain perspective on his Dad’s experience riding atop the powerful gun. That day we both made a connection to his Dad and his experiences during the war, experiences that changed a 19-year-old forever.

Dad’s Gun

If you are interested in the history of action aboard the M7 during the second world war, read “Longneck, A History of the 274th AFA BN” by Jack K. Morrison or “Payoff Artillery – WWII” by Frank H. Armstrong. Both these veterans give fascinating accounts of their service in these unique units.