Posted in 276th AFA, WWII

An M-7 “Priest” in Tullahoma

IMG_1361My husband and I recently traveled to Tennessee for a sad event – a family funeral. While driving through Tullahoma, we passed the Tullahoma Army National Guard Armory and out front sat an M-7 track-mounted 105 mm artillery piece like my father-in-law’s gun from WWII. Of course, we stopped and looked it over and took pictures.IMG_1352

This was only the second time we have seen an M-7, also called the “Priest,” in person and needless-to-say we were excited. We never imagined seeing my father-in-law’s gun so close to home. We quickly spread the word among the family members so that they too could share the experience. My father-in-law, Paul Whitaker, trained on the M-7 at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, then shipped out to Europe where he was in combat from July 1944 until the end of the war in Europe in May 1945.

Finding the gun in Tullahoma was ironic because in early 1944 my father-in-law’s outfit was taking part in the “Tennessee Maneuvers” in the Tullahoma/Coffee County area near Camp Forrest, Tennessee. They were pulled out of the maneuvers and sent to Fort Campbell where they were converted from a standard field artillery battalion to a mobile field artillery battalion. As part of the 276th Armored Field Artillery Battalion my father-in-law fought his way across Europe for the most part under the command of Patton’s Third Army. IMG_1363

The M-7 is in front of the “old” Army National Guard Armory in Tullahoma. This facility is utilized by the 1176th Transportation Company of the Tennessee National Guard. Nearby stands the brand-new Tullahoma Readiness Center dedicated in August 2012. This new facility houses the 30th Troop Command of the Tennessee Army National Guard, the latest generation of the “Old Hickory” legacy, descendants of the WWII era 30th Infantry Division.IMG_1353

The plaque in front of the M-7 in Tullahoma describes the gun pretty well. It states – “The M7 “Priest” 105mm howitzer had a 7 man crew that fired artillery rounds to a range of 11,500 meters during WWII and the Korean War. It was powered by a 9 cylinder Continental engine and had a range of 200 miles. A total of 3,490 M7’s were built from 1942 to 1945.”

Several years ago we saw an M-7 at a VFW near Flint, Michigan. We were visiting my sister and brother-in-law when he told us about seeing the gun at the VFW. He wasn’t sure if the gun was the same as my father-in-law’s gun so he took us out to see it.  That time my husband climbed up on top just to get a feel for what it was like up there. He didn’t attempt to climb aboard the one in Tullahoma. I’m afraid we’ve gotten too old for such adventures. Never-the-less we were both thrilled to see the gun.IMG_1360

I have written about this gun and the 276th Armored Field Artillery Battalion several times before. If you are interested, check out my posts in the Category “276th AFA.”

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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 Historical Sites, History, WWII

Coastal Artillery’s Demise During WWII

The concept of coastal artillery has been around for a long time. With the invention of the cannon centuries ago, countries along the sea realized they could defend their shores from invasion by positioning guns at key locations. Important harbors and port cities became the primary location for defensive forts armed with artillery pieces.

Think about our early history. During the War of 1812 Fort McHenry defended Baltimore and we sing about it in our national anthem. At the tip of Manhattan in Battery Park the guns of Castle Clinton protected New York City during the same war. Even Fort Sumter’s guns were intended to defend Charleston from invaders, not fire on the Federal troops to start the Civil War.

Guns at Ft. McHenry

During the Civil War, locations like Fort Clinch on Amelia Island, Florida, and Fort Morgan in Mobile Bay, Alabama, controlled important shipping lanes. Confederates and Federals fought to occupy these key positions.

Fort Clinch, Amelia Island, Florida

Hitler’s Atlantic Wall was a classic and extensive example of coastal artillery used to defend a coastline. Fortifications built along occupied Europe’s Atlantic Coast created a defensive wall against the Allied invasion that both sides knew was inevitable.

German Gun Emplacement on French Coast

During WWII the Coastal Artillery was also a vital part of this America’s defense. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the US expected the Japanese to attack the west coast. And German U-Boats were expected to attack US ports on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. The Army updated the already existing forts and gun emplacements and added anti-aircraft guns.

Battery Davis 16 in gun at San Francisco

My father’s service in the coastal artillery from 1942 to 1943 spurred me to learn more about this now-defunct branch of the military.  Stationed at the entrance to San Francisco bay, he manned huge guns aimed at the surrounding ocean to protect the city and the bay.

The Presidio of San Francisco, a military post dating back to the Spanish and Mexican days, became the headquarters for defense of the west coast. Its location on the San Francisco side of the Golden Gate bridge oversaw the narrow entrance to the bay. An extensive network of fortifications, gun emplacements, anti-aircraft guns and observation posts located on the opposite side, in what is now part of Golden Gate National Recreation Area, also protected the critical passage.

6in_Rifled_Gun_No_9
Disappearing Rifle at Battery Chamberlin, Presidio, San Francisco

The American military expected the Japanese to attempt to get into San Francisco Bay and wreak havoc so they developed defenses to prevent intrusion. The Navy laid minefields and stretched a huge anti-submarine net across the inner harbor. Navy tug boats would open and close it for authorized vessels. In 1939 a German submarine penetrated Scapa Flow, the main British naval base, and sank a battleship, so it was no far-fetched idea.

During WWII San Francisco was the busiest port on the west coast. My father recalled looking out over the harbor and seeing thousands of ships, both military and civilian. He expressed pride in protecting this vital port. He told of manning the big guns, the blackouts along the coast and walking patrol on the beaches. The threat of saboteurs sneaking ashore was very real in those days.

As the war progressed US forces destroyed much of the Japanese and German navies, thus reducing the threat to our coast line. Recapturing islands such as Midway and Wake made airborne attacks less likely. By 1944 the military realized that neither the Japanese nor the Germans could mount an invasion or a serious attack on the US. With manpower needed elsewhere in Europe and the Pacific, coastal artillery units were stripped and soldiers were reassigned to the field artillery or the infantry. That usually meant overseas duty for the men. It also spelled the end of the Coastal Artillery.

My father was on the list to be transferred overseas when his request to join a newly formed medical rehabilitation unit was approved. While his brother fought in the Pacific under MacArthur recapturing the Philippines and other islands, my father remained stateside and helped wounded veterans regain their health and strength. (The story of this unique rehab unit will be the subject of another post.)

Advances in the technology of warfare, through airplanes and missiles, caused the demise of the coastal artillery. After WWII with the advent of the Cold War, the Strategic Air Command (SAC) and inter-continental ballistic missiles (ICBM’s) took over the nation’s defense. And coastal artillery faded into history. A few of the locations remain as local or national parks and historic sites. Visit some of these unique sites for a stroll into the past.

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.