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December 2020
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US Army

On our Way to the Bulge

 

On our Way to the Bulge
No information concerning Russell WALKER
 
About 17 hours it started to snow, not heavily but steadily, and it stuck.  We were ordered to be ready to leave about 2230 hours.  The Seventh Army, on the right of the Third Army, was widening its front to the left to take over area now being manned by the Third Army, taking over a few of the troops that were there in the process, but almost all of the Third Army was to go north. 
 
The Third Army was to pull back slightly, turn 90 degrees to its left and move 100 miles to the north, where it would then attack the south side of the German penetration.  We could not leave until the Seventh Army troops were in position.  There was a lot of troop movement going on.  There were reports of Germans and American uniforms and speaking perfect English having been parachuted behind our lines somewhere.  It was a long, cold, tense, and memorable night for all of us.  All went well, and it began to get light about 0800 hours.  The battalion arrived in Leudelange, Luxembourg about 0900 hours.  It was a job well done all around. 160 road miles, 15 hours, with 90 vehicles, one or two inches of snow on the roads, most of the trip in the dark under blackout conditions on the shortest day of the year, and all on two lane blacktop roads. 
 
On the 25th (Christmas Day) we fired 42 missions totaling 1201 rounds, our high to that time.  The Germans were attacking rather than retreating and accordingly offered themselves as targets.  The fighting was very fierce and bitter.  The weather stayed clear and cold, never getting above freezing, much better for us than the previous weeks.  It was here we experienced for the first time the German rocket launcher.  It launched six rockets at one loading, with about one or two seconds between rockets.  The rockets made a weird and frightening sound passing through the air. 
 
The projectile packed more of an explosive punch than a normal artillery shell, and was made of plate steel rather than cast iron.  It fractured into a few large pieces rather than many smaller ones, as did an artillery shell.  They were a scary thing and fortunately there were not many of them.  They were known as the “Screaming Meamies” and the launcher as the six-fluted organ that played the “Purple Heart Blues”.  It seemed that other U.S. troops had run into this rocket before, but we had not heard of it. 
 
On the 28th there was a slight realignment between the 5th Infantry Division and the 4th Infantry Division and we were then supporting the 4th Infantry, from our same positions, as of 1600 hours. 
 
The 802nd Field Artillery Battalion was originally a part of the 4th Infantry Division at Fort Benning, and was spun-off when the division was transformed from a square division to a triangular division.  All of the old divisions went through this.  This changed the division from four infantry regiments and artillery battalions to three of each.  This happened in January 1942.  Some of the “Oldtimers” in the 802nd visited friends in the nearby 42nd Field Artillery Battalion of the 4th Infantry Division. 
 
The 17th Airborne Division arrived by truck all day long.  Airborne troops were armed to the teeth, with machine pistols, hand grenades, daggers in their boots, and so forth.  They are trained to be over-self-confident, as they needed that for their normal function of jumping out of a plane into enemy territory, often at night.  It did not increase our confidence to hear what they were going to do to the Germans, they would take no prisoners, and other unrealistically boastfully statements.  And it certainly did not help when Colonel Head returned from a briefing and meeting with the Division Artillery Commander and his artillery battalion commanders.  At the discussion of the next day’s attack the Division Artillery Commander said in effect “I want that town leveled – each gun will if ire one round”.  That amount of fire would have done little more than break a few roof tiles.  The airborne artillery gun was a 75mm “pack” howitzer, so named as it was originally designed for use by mountain troops where it was dissembled into several pieces and transported by “pack” animals.  It was a fairly light artillery. 
 
On the morning of the 4th January 1945 the 17th Airborne’s infantry attacked at 0815 hours, after a ten-minute artillery preparation, during which we fired 225 rounds.  Lieutenant “Woody” Wood and Jim Teehan were out as Forward Observers with the 192nd Parachute Infantry.  The inexperienced Airborne troops lived up to our expectations.  They test fired their weapons just prior to attacking, and had a very rough day against determined, seasoned, enemy troops.  That evening the Germans counter-attacked and the Airborne infantry started pell-mell out of the town they had fought all day to capture.  The Germans used several tanks in the night attack, and even though tanks were not very effective in night fighting, they terrified the inexperienced Airborne troops.  Woody and Teehan were in the town with them and were largely if not completely responsible for halting their flight and convincing them they could hold the town with heavy artillery fire.  Both had gained the confidence of the infantry during the day’s fighting with heavy and accurate artillery fire against the Germans, and proceeded to destroy the German night counter-attack with artillery fire from our battalion and others.
 
Several people were in the CP that evening, listening on the radio to Woody and Teehan conducting fire and describing what the paratroopers were doing.  It was touch and go for a while, and the outcome was in doubt.  For a while there was talk of alerting the batteries of the possibility of an infantry attack.  Altogether, the Battalion fired 1538 rounds that day, a new high.
 
On January 17, at 1500 hours, the 802nd Field Artillery Battalion was relieved from assignment to the U.S. Third Army in the U.S. 12th Army Group, and assigned to the U.S. Seventh Army in the U.S. 6th Army Group.  We had been forewarned of this change and advance parties had departed early in the morning.  It was a long, cold, motor march, south to the Vosges Mountain, area.  We were sandwiched in between elements of the 10th Armored Division CCB.   Major Sparks decided we would spend the night in the town of Messancy, Belgium.  Except for one person per truck, everyone found some place to sleep, mostly in civilian homes at the homeowner’s invitation or at least willingness, some in a confortable hayloft. 
 
Information taken from History of the 802nd F.A.Bn by Marvin Gwin and William Whiting.
 
Source: Bulge Bugle February 2011

By Capt William B WHITING

& Russell WALKER

Photo: Capt William B WHITING 

802nd Field Artillery Bn

3rd Army

Campaigns

Battle of the Bulge,

Belgium