Moving out on Aug 19, now attached to the 333-FA Group, for the march to Brest, B Btry turned over a gun and had to leave it behind. The column, however, boasted two additional vehicles, a German ambulance badly needed by the Medics, and a bus later converted into a kitchen for our Headquarters. Two nights later, the battalion moved to Landerneau and began firing counter-battery missions on the Daoulas Peninsula and Brest the following morning. Lt Charles R. Turner, S/Sgt Wilbur Bolton, and Pvt Albert Sawyer of the Survey crew were wounded when their jeep was hit by a mortar shell as they were surveying for an advanced Observation Post. The main attack on Brest was pushed off on Aug 25. An estimated 30.000 enemy troops were strongly entrenched in the city. At 2245 on the night of the jump-off, one of A Btry’s guns blew up, killing Cpl George Smith and wounding nine other members of the crew. An 8-inch gun battery from the 243rd Field Artillery Battalion was attached to the 561 on Aug 27 as C Btry displaced forward approximately 3000 yards. Three days later, the Daoulas Peninsula was kaput and the remainder of the outfit shoved forward to positions near C Btry. By Sept 4, the 561-FAB was pouring fire on the Crozon Peninsula and Brest with counter-battery missions. Occasionally an enemy boat popped up to give observers practice in firing at moving targets. One boat was sunk by a direct hit.
The VIII Corps, to which the 561-FAB was still attached, was taken over by the 9-A on Sept 5. Meanwhile, the battalion continued to fire on Brest and the peninsula. Brest finally surrendered on Sept 18, while Crozon collapsed the following day. The campaign had been rugged.
The 30-FAB and four infantry divisions, the 2-ID, the 8-ID, the 29-ID, and the 83-ID, had participated in the battle. The 561 had fired 8757 rounds to boost its total to 16.976 and 933 missions. From Gen Van Fleet, Task Force B Commander came the following commendation to the 174-FAG: The 174-FAG has performed in a highly commendable manner, executing innumerable fire missions for the corps and in support of the Task Force.
The close support, counter-battery, and harassing fires were very effective and constituted large factors in the rapid capture of the peninsula. Col H. W. Kruger, CO 174-FAG, forwarded the commendation to the battalion with the following endorsement: The excellent performance of your battalion contributed greatly to the effectiveness of artillery fire during this action. I desire to express my sincere appreciation to the officers and men of your battalion for their share in the excellent work which has earned this commendation for the 174-FAG.
While in the rest area near Landerneau, the Battalion calibrated its guns, visited the submarine pens at Brest and relaxed. When the outfit shoved off Sept 28, B Btry ran into trouble as the column passed through Dinan. The muffler on one of the prime movers became overheated and set the powder on fire. The heat from the powder and the gasoline tanks which exploded caused projectiles to explode. Fifteen men were burned, some seriously, along with the prime mover and gun. Picking up the Red Ball highway, the 561-FAB skirted Paris on Sept 30, bivouacked at Saint Quentin, and crossed the Belgian border the next day. Settling down just east of St Vith, the battalion once more was getting set to contact the enemy. A Btry fired the first round into Germany on Oct 3, as the outfit took up positions near Schlierbach, east of St Vith. The men hoped this was the beginning of the big push to Berlin, but other plans were evident when orders were received to dig in for the winter. The Battalion CP, the Fire Direction Center, the Aid Station, the Personnel Section, and Service Btry took over buildings as the remainder of the battalion began constructing log cabins. Headquarters, C and A Btries went in for section cabins, B Btry settled for small huts. Col Robert C. White assumed command of the battalion on Oct 10, replacing Col Nealy who was suffering from eye trouble. Firing now was limited to less than 50 rounds per day. Two Observation Posts located on the Schnee Eifel ridge in Germany were surveyed and bilateral charts were set up for daily registration. Two alternate retrograde positions were selected and surveyed. Training schedules, inspections, tests, and police once again were the routine.
Quotas for passes to Paris and to the rest center at Arlon were received occasionally. Trips to Bastogne were frequent and the battalion eventually set up its own rest area, modeling it after Duffy’s Tavern. The hunting season officially opened early in the month when C Btry bagged a couple of deer. Cpl John Bratton, C Btry, was wounded in the elbow when he sprang a booby trap while going to an Observation Post in the woods.
The 561 was reassigned to the 1-A in mid-October, about the same time it began sweating out heavy day and night buzz bomb traffic. Although several bombs fell in the area when the jet-propelled mechanism failed, no casualties were incurred. B Btry displaced forward about 3000 yards on Oct 26 and again dug in for the winter at Log Cabin Hill near Amelscheid. Cpl Charles B. Garey, B Btry, stepped on a teller mine, escaping with minor wounds. One shell fired by the battalion on Nov 3 sailed through the window of a school building and killed 35 Nazi officers attending a gunnery class. A German who was taken prisoner three days later told of the incident. The VIII Corps Artillery then checked the time, coordinates, the concentration number, eventually determining that the shell was fired by the 561-FAB. As the daily ammunition allocation was increased to 75 rounds, two new guns were received to replace those damaged in France and were calibrated by a Photo Electric Calibration Team.
The first of many falls of snow began falling on Nov 8. The lack of overshoes resulted in a constant fight against trench foot. In addition to the V-1s, which were constant companions by this time, V-2s were introduced. Although none exploded in the area, men watched the flying bombs head for the stratosphere whenever the projectiles were launched east of the Siegfried Line.
At 1100 on Nov 11, all guns fired a volley directed at the enemy in celebration of the WW-1 Armistice Day. The next four weeks were spent trying to keep warm and in the routine of static warfare. During this period, Lt Robert J. Nielsen, an observer, had a microphone shot out of his hand while talking over the radio during a routine flight near what we now called the Schnee Eifel Ridge. Early December, high headquarters learned the Germans were bringing additional troops to the Corps front. In an effort to divert some of these reinforcements to the south near Luxembourg, a ghost force composed of small detachments from several Corps units made preparations for a simulated attack to the east. The 561’s detachment moved to a wooded section near Arlon on Dec 9 where it removed unit designations from the bumpers and added false ones. False gun pits were dug at Bach, wire lines laid, surveying accomplished and traffic circulated. A registering gun was borrowed from the 559-FAB and with the fuses set on safe, several rounds were fired into a German-held town.
The strategy was to inform the enemy of the presence of the Long Toms (155-MM HOW) in the vicinity. The ghost force pulled out after dark on Dec 14, blacked out the false numbers, and returned to Schlierbach. The 2-ID, to the 561 front, was replaced by the 106-ID at this time. The Germans began firing considerable artillery on Dec 16 at 0530 in the morning. Pfc Jerome La Casse, B Btry aid man, was injured when a Nebelwehrfer rocket and heavy artillery concentration centered on the area. Pvt Henry W. Krause was killed and T/4 James T. Russel wounded by a 15-CM (150-MM) shell concentration in the Service Battery’s section. B Btry withdrew to retrograde position #1 at Crombach after dark. Ammunition quotas were now forgotten and previously planned defensive fires were put into effect. Zone fire on main inroads followed by Clam Brown Normal Barrage started the series. Next came Albany Series, Tiger #1, and Cynthia Barrages, Robin, and Duck series.
All hell broke loose on Dec 17 and the succeeding week was packed with harrowing experiences as the battalion pulled all the way back to Ospern, Luxembourg, in an attempt to keep ahead of the onrushing panzers. It was snowy and cold as the 561-FAB began heading north again on Dec 24. Divisions to the front were the 26-ID, the 80-ID, and the 4-AD.
Total rounds expended for the day totaled 612. Enemy planes strafed that night but no casualties were sustained. Except for turkey, Christmas was just another day. Within the next 24 hours, the outfit had shoved onto Perle, located near the highway to Bastogne. At this time, elements of the 10-AD and 101-A/B were surrounded inside the Bastogne perimeter. Meanwhile, the 561 supported the 4-AD and the 35-ID whose troops hit the towns after the battalion’s guns had softened up the opposition. A and B Btries each gave a gun to C, all batteries then having three apiece. Enemy planes swooped down to strafe positions twice on Dec 29. The ground still was covered with snow and the temperature was nine degrees above zero as the move to Tournay (Neufchâteau), Belgium got underway. A brilliant moon made the blackout drive comparatively easy, but it also enabled the enemy to spot the column. After passing through Arlon and Neufchateau, and undergoing two strafing attacks, the battalion watched a P-61 shoot down a German plane near the area. After riddling the German aircraft, the Black Widow thundered on, majestically silhouetted against the moon. A salute to the New Year was fired on Dec 31 as the snow and cold continued.
The 561-FAB began 1945 with a roar – 806 rounds were fired on Jan 1, 803 on the second day, and 1008 on the third. The ammunition sections, as always, were turning in an excellent performance. By now, six months of combat were behind the battalion and more than 25000 rounds had been fired. In bitter cold, the 561 supported the attack of the 17-A/B as well as the 87-ID which pounded northeast on Jan 4. Vehicles were white-washed for camouflage. Unless evacuated immediately, wounded men froze to death. While on roving Observation Post duty, Lt Charles B. Stegner picked up a 17-A/B soldier who was crawling along on his elbows and knees. The dough’s hands and feet were frozen. Patrols and local security guards were rotated more frequently. A little later, the battalion’s guns stopped an enemy tank attack near Bonnerue on Jan 7 by smacking the armor with plenty of ammunition. The tanks turned tail and fled. As the skies cleared on Jan 12, American planes zoomed to the attack in large numbers. The outfit moved to Morhet and Jodenville and continued the Battle of the Billets. Gun positions were easy to pick as the ground was frozen solid and almost any field was suitable. Most positions were spotted at the edge of the towns in order that as many troops as possible could find houses for shelter. The TOE now included a highly important party, the Billeting Party. The snow was so deep that the road was barely discernible as the battalion pushed on to Senonchamps. Both, A and B Btries turned over a gun en route.
One gun was recovered, but the other one had to be abandoned, and this Phantom Gun, so named because no one ever did discover its location, popped up to plague all Corps Artillery units for several days. The 561 mission consisted mainly of long-range interdiction, harassing fires, and pulverizing towns. Houffalize, a town thoroughly destroyed by the Long Toms to prevent its use to the enemy, was one of the principal targets. Bastogne had been relieved and the Germans were slowly pulling back as A, B, and part of HQs Btry’s went ahead to Compagnie. Once a general requested that some distant unit handle the nightly harassing fire assignment; the 561 guns were disturbing his sleep. B Btry succeeded in obtaining an additional billet when the occupants vacated a house after a gun had been parked next to the building and several rounds fired. Fires during the day were mainly TOTs (Time on Target) on towns and counter-battery missions. Wire communications continued to be excellent, but freezing weather hampered radio reception.
Ice formed on the antenna insulators and mikes constantly froze. B Btry’s registering gun was set up between two 17-A/B pack howitzers on Jan 25, which maintained the battalion’s claim that it either was out in front of the infantry or breathing on the dough’s neck.
The first quota to send five men to the States on furlough was received as the 87-ID relieved the Airborne troopers. The Germans were pulling out fast as the battalion displaced to Huldange, then on to Thommen. Buzz bombs appeared for the first time in several weeks. Finally, on Feb 4, the 561 reached the positions it had vacated at the time of the breakthrough, but, although the Ardennes Campaign officially ended on Jan 25, the battalion has always considered its return to Schlierbach as marking the end of the Battle of the Bulge. The second phase of the Rhineland campaign followed. Three guns were received and the complement once more was complete. Although the Nazis were now out of range of the 155s, the battalion stayed in position until Feb 7, when it pulled out at 0345 for Freialdenhoven, Germany, and assignment with 202-FAG, XIII Corps, 9-A.
Rising temperatures had melted the snow and rainy weather prevailed as the 561 went into the support of the 5-AD, the 84-ID, and the 102-ID. The large-scale offensive across the Roer was next on the agenda.
The firing was limited for the next two weeks as ammunition, more than 3000 rounds were set aside for H-Hour, was conserved. Buzz bombs, shells, rockets and planes came over frequently. Pfc Paul Martin was killed when enemy shells landed in C Btry’s gun position. The Fire Direction Center moved into a cellar the day T/4 Robert Climer and T/5 Frederick L. Goldman established a speed record for coming down steps after a shell exploded on the roof of the building.
On Feb 23 at 0245, the earth reverberated as approximately 2000 guns unleashed one of the war’s mightiest barrages. Forty-five minutes later, infantrymen charged ahead and crossed the Roer River. Two hours after the 561 fired its first round, 524 more projectiles were tossed in the Germans’ laps. The next day, Observation Post details crossed the river and the entire battalion spanned the Roer at Linnich to occupy positions at Koffern on Feb 25.
For the first days of the operation, the outfit fired 832 rounds per day as it shoved forward to Rath after the 5-AD cleared the way. Winkeln and Anrath were other stopovers as the Germans hurriedly pulled back to the Rhine River. Following positions at Feldar and Kapellen, the battalion prepared to fire across the Rhine into Duisburg on Mar 4 from positions at Moers. Gen A. C. Gillem (XIII Corps Commander) pulled the lanyard on Sgt Keadle’s section’s gun for the 150.000 rounds fired by Corps Artillery. This lanyard, later presented to the general, was made from the braid of German officers’ caps. Factories, railroads, oil dumps, warehouses, and enemy batteries in the industrial sections east of the Rhine now were the targets. The observation was good and OPs were frequently used. Considerable enemy casualties were incurred on Mar 8 when battalion guns plastered a German troop train as it pulled into the station at Duisburg. With a change in Corps boundaries three days later, the 561 jumped ahead to Uerdingen on the west bank of the Rhine.
The Nazis frequently threw some heavy stuff over and Bedcheck Charlie appeared nearly every night. Once, a friendly 90-MM self-propelled gun battery to the rear miscalculated and hit a few rooftops in the town. P-47s adjusted Artillery Registering missions, which were fired whenever weather permitted. This part of the month was spent preparing for the Rhine crossing. Total missions were 2760 and total rounds were 48.712 as the Central Germany Campaign began.