Posted in 30th Infantry Division, History, WWII

30th Infantry Division – Battle of the Bulge

During the months of December 1944 and January 1945, an enormous battle raged in Europe – the well-known German offensive called the Battle of the Bulge. On December 16, 1944, with the Allies believing that the Germans were beat and the war would soon be over, Hitler’s massed armies attacked through the thinly defended Ardennes. The attack caught the Americans manning the eighty-mile stretch of border between Belgium and Germany by surprise. The Germans smashed through the American lines and pushed deep into Belgium and Luxemburg creating a “bulge” in the lines, thus the name given to the battle.

When the Battle of the Bulge is mentioned, many people think of the battle for Bastogne where the Germans had the 101st Airborne surrounded. But the battle was much bigger than that. It involved many divisions across a wide front. On the northern portion of the bulge the 30th Infantry Division stopped the German advance blocking a critical path to Liege and Antwerp.

After Aachen, the 30th Division came off the line and moved back to Holland for a much-needed rest. Then the Germans attacked on December 16th. When the Allied command realized that they were facing a major offensive, the 30th was called back into action. Loaded on trucks the 30th’s three combat regiments reached the front in Belgium on December 18th. The 117th Regiment encountered the enemy first near Stoumont in route to their assignment of Stavelot. The 120th proceeded to Malmedy while the 119th took up positions near Spa, where First Army Headquarters was being hastily dismantled and moved to the rear.

Spa, Malmedy and Stavelot form a rough triangle of roads suitable for an armored force to use in a winter offensive. Stoumont lies further west along the road running through Malmedy and Stavelot. Von Rundstedt planned to use these roads for the main German thrust to Liege where the Allies had huge stores of fuel, ammo and essential supplies. Thus the Germans would split the Allied forces and push on to recapture the port of Antwerp.

During their drive to the front lines, the men of Old Hickory first heard Axis Sally call them the “fanatical 30th Division, Roosevelt’s SS troops.” She also told them they would once again face the 1st SS Panzer Division spearheaded by Lt. Colonel Joachim Peiper. This was the same division they had stopped at Mortain months before.

Knowing roads were essential to the German tanks and trucks in the hilly, forested area, the 30th focused on blocking roads and destroying bridges across the many streams. The 291st Engineers blew up several key bridges early in the offensive essentially stopping Peiper’s advance. Two huge fuel dumps, one close to Stavelot and the other between Stoumont and Spa, could have provided the Germans with much-needed gasoline if captured. While the 30th fought to halt the German advance, supply units began moving the gasoline back out of danger. When elements of Peiper’s force neared the fuel dump near Stavelot, portions of the fuel were set ablaze to prevent their capture.

From December 18th through Christmas eve intense fighting ensued throughout the area assigned to the 30th. They fought bravely with Congressional Medals of Honor earned by Sgt. Frances S. Currey and Staff Sgt. Paul L. Bolden, both of the 120th Regiment. A Presidential Citation was awarded to the 119th Regiment and the attached Company C 740th Tank Battalion and 2nd Platoon Company A 823rd Tank Destroyer Battalion for their battle with the 1st SS at Lorce-Chevron and Stoumont, Belgium.

Despite heavy losses on both sides, the Americans stopped the German advance. The strong resistance along the German’s preferred route to Liege and its supply depots forces Von Rundstedt to shift his focus further south toward the area around Bastogne where resistance was less – except for the stubborn 101st. The unmovable “Old Hickory” Division had blocked their path once again.

Reading accounts of the 30th’s action in those early days of the battle brought to mind scenes from the movie “The Battle of the Bulge” starring Henry Fonda. Although much of the movie is fictional and lacks historical accuracy, it is clear that the action portrayed is mainly in  the 30th’s area, including the fuel dumps, the Malmedy massacre, and the intense fighting to block the roadways. The movie might have been better if the makers had included more of the real events. They avoided topics like the Army Air Force bombing our own troops in Malmedy, several times, because the communications was so bad. Another dramatic episode revolved around Americans captured by the Germans, including a major who gathered intelligence before escaping. Some of these prisoners were released when Peiper’s men abandoned their tanks and vehicles. Another dramatic episode would have been the tale of the 740th tank battalion with no tanks who raided a repair depot for anything that would run, taking a hodgepodge of equipment to valiantly fight the enemy.

The end of “The Battle of the Bulge” movie implies that the battle was over when the Germans retreated. This was far from the truth. Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge say that the fighting after Christmas and into January to recapture the ground lost was rougher and the weather worse than those first days stopping the German advance.

I’ve never understood why Hollywood hasn’t made a movie about the 30th. Either the fighting around Mortain or the action in the Malmedy-Stavelot-Stoumont area of Belgium would have made great movies.

Old Hickory played a key role in halting the last great German offensive. Many months of bitter fighting remained before the final surrender in May. The battle hardened troops of the 30th division would go on to take the fight onto German soil once again. Many proudly repeated the nickname given to them by their enemy – “Roosevelt’s SS.” Knowing that the most elite German forces were the SS, it was the highest compliment the enemy could give.

Advertisements
Posted in History, WWII

Patton’s Prayer

Until the movie “Patton” came out in 1970, my husband refused to tell anyone his full name – unless it was absolutely necessary. His grandmother named her first grandson for General George S. Patton, Jr. who she credited for bringing her son home safe. But her grandson was never called George. Instead his middle name was shortened to “Pat.” And that’s the only name most people knew. All that changed when he saw the movie about his namesake. George C. Scott’s portrayal of the famous General George S. Patton, Jr. gave my husband a vivid image of the man whose name he shared. Now my husband proudly tells his full name and the story of how he came to be named for the General.

The movie was also the first we had heard of the famous prayer for good weather that General Patton ordered his chaplain to write. We thought it was a bit of Hollywood embellishment until later when my husband’s grandmother gave us the scrapbook she kept during the war. A little piece of paper was tucked in among the newspaper clippings, maps and ration books. Her son had mailed his copy of the prayer to her and she had kept it all those years.

From my research on the web, Hollywood did use some literary license in how they presented the prayer in the movie. It was actually written before the Battle of the Bulge, not during the battle, and it was sent out to the men in Third Army as a Christmas greeting. Msgr. James H. O’Neill was Chaplain for Third Army and wrote the prayer at the direction of General Patton. The prayer, images of the card sent out and the story behind it can be found at more than one website, including the Official General Patton website.

The Prayer
The Prayer

As the prayer indicates, the weather was an important factor in the outcome of the war in Europe. Bad weather almost cancelled the D-Day invasion and added to the surprise of the Germans. Later a storm in the English Channel destroyed the Mulberry Harbour off Omaha Beach, yet the Allies continued to land men and supplies on the beaches for months after the initial landings. Rain stalled the Allies advance in the fall when they initially reached the German border. Rain and snow hid the build-up of German troops leading up to their counter-offensive known as the Battle of the Bulge. The winter of 1944-45 in Europe was colder than they had experienced for many years. Casualties from frostbite and trench foot were common. The ordeal that all the men in all the armies suffered that winter from exposure to the terrible weather added to the misery and desperation of the fighting and prolonged the war.  For the remainder of his life, my father-in-law kept the heat turned up and said he had promised himself he would never be cold again. It is hard for us to even imagine what they went through.

Patton's Christmas Greeting
Patton’s Christmas Greeting

My husband and I treasure his father’s copy of the prayer as a keepsake of his father’s service during World War II. It is a powerful prayer written in desperate times reflecting strong religious beliefs. I, for one, believe it was answered.

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.