France – through November 1944

About the middle of July alert orders were received for the Group to move to marshalling areas, once again on its way into combat. The Group Headquarters and Headquarters Battery sailed from Southampton harbor on 20 July and the forward echelon disembarked at OMAHA Beach on the evening of the 24th. By the 29th the entire Group had closed into the assembly area in the vicinity of Bricquebec, Normandy.

On the 1st of August the Group with its battalions was relieved from the XX Corps, the Corps that had directed most or the training while in England, and attached to the VIII Corps for its attack to capture Brittany Peninsula. The Group was to support the spearheading 4th and 6th Armored Divisions, one battalion, the 83rd to be with the 6th and the Group, less the 93rd to be with the 4th.

Road priority through the Avranches Gap was at a premium but the Group received clearance to follow the 6th Armored through between 0200 and 0600 on, the 2nd, and closed in the Rennes area with the 695th and 696th later that day, after having been strafed and bombed early that morning. While here the Group Air Officer, Captain Davenport, was seriously wounded by flak on a reconnaissance flight with one of the pilots.

The Group was to be artillery component of Combat Command B and on the 3rd of August the march with that Combat Command began with bypassing of Rennes. The march, which changed direction periodically, was generally in the direction of Lorient. This was one of the daring armored thrusts behind the enemy’s lines that made the 4th Armored famous. On this operation the cubs were found to be the ideal “eyes” of the Combat Commander, flying at the head of the column, checking routes and enemy dispositions. By noon on the 7th the column had reached the Pont-Scorff-Lorient area where the Combat Command B headquarters was ambushed and suffered heavy losses. It became evident that Lorient was a fortress city that could not be taken by a small armored task force. The Group remained in this area with Combat Command B, out on a limb, reported annihilated by German radio, until relieved by the 6th Armored Division on the 14th. While in this area the enemy in Lorient used his 170mm high velocity gun extensively, augmenting it with his heavy ack-ack guns. The M-7s with their 105’s were no defense or counterbattery weapon against guns emplaced behind reinforced concrete of four to seven meter thickness. Since the enemy had closed in on our rear, supplies and ammunition were brought in by convoy with tank escort.

On the 14th Combat Command B was relieved and assembled near BAUD. Movement eastward began on the 15th and continued all night and the next day. Enroute, orders were received relieving the Group Headquarters and the 695th from the 4th Armored and attaching them to XX Corps Artillery. The Group received the 282nd (105mm howitzer, truck drawn) and the 943rd (155mm howitzer, tractor drawn) Field Artillery battalions and the entire Group went into positions in the vicinity of Chartres, closing before daylight on the 17th. On the 17th the 282nd fired on enemy strongpoints, bypassed by the armor, and that evening supported an infantry battalion of the 5th Division that was clearing up pockets southwest of Chartres. The woods yielded several field pieces and Anti-aircraft guns, beside numerous mortars arid machine guns.

On the 21st the Group with the 695th, 943rd, and 177th (155 howitzer, tractor drawn) began its march with the spearheading 7th Armored Division eastward. Movement continued against light resistance on the 22nd until blown bridges across the Seine at Melun held up the advance. The Group supported the establishing of the bridgehead at Melun, but crossed the bridge at Fontainebleau.

Map showing aprox. movement of the Fifth Field Artillery Group from Jul 29 through Aug 22, 1944

Aprox. movement of the Fifth Field Artillery Group from Jul 29 through Aug 22, 1944 during the campaign in France

Here the Group shifted Battalions, losing the 177th and 943rd Field Artillery Battalions and getting the 274th Armored Field Artillery Battalion, and the 558th Field Artillery Battalion (155 gun, self propelled). The direction of advance was changed to northward. and began on the 27th, continuing on the 28th.

While with the 7th Armored the Group Headquarters operated in two echelons in different columns. On the 28th the echelon referred to as “Rear” became separated from the column it was following and advanced along a road that had not been cleared by the armor. In the village of Regault a German tank appeared which attacked this echelon of the Group Headquarters. The vehicles were quickly dispersed, a fifty caliber machine gun set up on a ground mount, a Bazooka team began firing, and a gun of the 558th was called on to go into position adjusted by a cub. The tank was driven off but it had take its toll. One man was killed, the battery commander, Captain Petty, and two men seriously wounded, and several other men injured slightly.

The Marne was crossed on this date and on the 29th the armor drove on toward the Aisne. On the 30th the direction of advance was changed to the east with the bridges over the Meuse as the objective. The 558th was unable to advance because of fuel shortage. Verdun was taken late the next night where the division was halted until the 6th of September because all vehicles were out of gas.

When night marches were made the cubs remained at the last strip used prior to darkness, and closed on the column next morning. This they attempted on the morning of the 1st of September, but an enemy column had crossed the axis of advance behind the 7th Armored and spent the night in Clermont. When the unsuspecting “Grasshoppers” flew over they were clay pigeons for enemy small arms, As a result of this ambush the Group Air Officer, Lieutenant WICKER was killed and one Group plane totally destroyed.

While awaiting gas in Verdun area the Group Command Post was located in Fort St. Michel, where members of the Headquarters and Headquarters Battery saw their first movies since leaving England. During the show one evening German planes bombed the area in an attempt to get the Verdun bridge but the show continued uninterrupted in the comparative safety of the fort.

When the fuel shortage was alleviated on the 7th Division was ordered to continue eastward, but the Metz forts, about which much has been written, stopped the advance cold. While feeling out the German defenses in this area the impregnability of the forts to assault attack was soon learned. Eight inch howitzers of the 33rd Brigade were called upon for fire on one of the forts by a Group observer. After six direct hits with the 235 pound projectile it was given up – with no effect. During this period the 695th Armored Field Artillery Battalion, having reached the Moselle with a small armored column in the vicinity of Maizieres-les-Metz distinguished itself in manning the flanks of the positions while covering a .sector of 4800 mils.

The 5th Infantry Division had established a bridgehead at Pagny sur Moselle, through which the 7th Armored, supported by the Group, was to pass. However, because of effective antitank defense, mud arid rain which kept the armor roadbound, the attack was stopped and heavy losses sustained.

Upon relief of the 7th Armored by the 5th Infantry Division on the 25th the Group remained to support the Infantry. On the 26th the Group Headquarters moved to Champey where the Command Post was located in a cafe and the men were quartered in hay lofts, welcome relief from knee-deep mud and continuous rain.

On the 27th and 28th our counterbattery system of air, terrestrial, and flash Observation Post’ and an up-to-date chart began paying dividends with the destruction of several and neutralization of many enemy batteries, and by the middle of October enemy artillery fire in the Group area was negligible. The Group remained in Champey until the 31st of October.

The much publicized ammunition shortage became evident with orders which rationed ammunition strictly, (105mm was zero). However, the Group obtained two 88’s and two German 150’s with plenty ammunition These were manned by the idle 105mm gun crews. Also the three forward observer tanks in each armored battalion were used as batteries, since the 75mm ammunition was still available.

While in the Champey area the Group established a schedule of three movies per day in a large wall tent and the battalions were allotted quotas each day.

On the 31st of October the Group moved to an assembly area at Pierrepont in preparation for the crossing of the Moselle at Thionville by the 90th and the flanking of Metz by the 10th Armored. From the 8th to the l5th of November, the Group supported the 90th in establishing a bridgehead across the flooded Moselle and on the 15th crossed the Thionville bridge with Task Force CHAMBERLAIN of the 10th Armored.

The Group supported the 10th, slashing through fanatical resistance until the last escape route out of the fortress city had been cut and the Division was relieved by the 90th Infantry Division. The direction of attack of the 10th Armored was to be northeast with Saarburg as the objective. The Group Headquarters entered Germany for the first time on the 22nd of November 1944 with its Command Post in the village of Eft. On this date our forces were stopped by the dragons teeth and pillboxes of the Siegfried Switch Line between the Saar and Moselle Rivers.

The 3rd Cavalry Group relieved Combat Command A on the 28th and the Group received the additional mission of supporting the Cavalry. The 10th Armored was to drive on the Saar, take the bridge intact at Merzig and keep going. The Group moved its Command Post to Ritzing, France, and following the attack, advanced to Wehingen, Germany. Here heavy enemy artillery fire resulted in four casualties, two killed, two wounded, one truck destroyed, and the kitchen truck damaged.

Map showing aprox. movement of the Fifth Field Artillery Group from Aug 22 to Dec 16, 1944

Aprox. movement of the Fifth Field Artillery Group from Aug 22 to Dec 16, 1944

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