World War II History
of the 2nd Chemical Mortar Bn

This history was written at the end of WWII, when David W. Meyerson was Bn CO,
and is based largely on unit records compiled and edited by Bob Ladson, Bn S-3.


Foreword

This is the history of the Second Chemical Mortar Battalion in the European Theater during World War II. It has been taken from the unit journal and written especially for both the former and present members of the battalion. Though it would be impossible to cover each action completely or go into details of individual accomplishments, the reading of this history, names of towns and places, supported units, and battles will bring to mind individual experiences, gay times, hardships, and tragedies as well, that were shared with old friends and all sorts of events long forgotten in the maze of actions that took place during this period.

Herein lies the story of a fresh, inexperienced battalion seasoning into a battle-tested machine ready for nay task. It is the story of a new type unit and with no precedent working with such determination, ingenuity, and adaptability as to bring only praise for every assigned mission.

It is a record covering three invasions and operations under as many and as varied conditions as that of any Army unit. Serving under Seventh Army in Sicily, Fifth Army in Italy, the French First Army and Seventh Army in France, and then on through Germany and into Austria, the battalion has compiled an outstanding record that has earned for it six battle participation awards. Through this is reflected the sincerity of purpose of each individual in making a real contribution to the war effort. It is a record of which each member of the battalion may well be proud.

David W. Meyerson

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Early History

The Second Chemical Mortar Battalion was activated originally at Edgewood Arsenal, MD, on 16 April 1935, as the Second Chemical Battalion (Motorized). It consisted at that time of Hq & Hq Co and Co A, personnel for which were transferred from the First Chemical Regiment, inactivated at that time.

The Battalion had Edgewood Arsenal as its home station and remained there until early 1942 except for occasional maneuvers. In February of 1942, the Battalion, still just two companies, moved to Fort Bragg, NC.

1 April 1942 was the second activation day, at which time companies B, C and D, and the Medical Detachment were activated in a ceremony marked by a fanfare of trumpets and a noticeable lack of personnel in the rear ranks. The Battalion was on its way.

Cadres and practically a full complement of men had been received and trained in time for maneuvers in the Carolinas in July and August of 1942, so the Battalion under command of Robert W. Breaks participated whole-heartedly. The older men will remember the six weeks of "roughing it" there. It was a general confusion of enemy alerts, the reds and the blues, foxholes by the numbers, great clouds of dust, smoke pots and tear gas, the Pee Dee River battles, and warm beer.

Even before the maneuvers had ended, rumors of overseas shipment began to infiltrate into the conversations of these "rugged soldiers," a practice continued daily right up until the embarkation almost a year later.

Back to Fort Bragg for more training by the middle of August 1942, the Battalion underwent an intensive training period on company problems designed to develop and maintain superb physical condition. Late in the year, additional men were received to bring the unit up to T/O strength. At the same time, amphibious training was instituted at Camp Carabelle, FL, and each company spent approximately two weeks firing from landing craft in support of simulated assault landings. Here, for the first time, ammunition was made available in quantities large enough to permit adequate gunnery practice. Previously, an allotment of about 30 rounds per company per year was the total. But, at Carabelle, firing technique was developed. Onward!

Rumors of overseas still pervaded the atmosphere in the latrines, and sometime in January the Battalion received A-2 priority for supplies, so rumor had become almost a fact. On 20 Feb 1943, orders arrived attaching the Battalion to the 45th Inf Div and the move was made to Camp Pickett, VA, immediately. Here things were in the state of mad rush of final preparation and we joined right in. Privileges were limited and combined unit training conducted. Last minute small arms qualifying was carried through, and all personnel crawled on their stomachs through the mud of the infiltration course, experiencing for the first time the withering hail of lead laid down by a couple of chattering 30's. Were we soldiers at last?

Time out for a couple of shots at special training. Late in March, the Battalion was attached to the 180th Inf Rgmt for mountain maneuvers in the Blue Ridges near Natural Bridge, Virginia. The initial mountain conditioning about ruined the command, because on one afternoon the entire Battalion lugged carts over roads and trails in the rarefied atmosphere for more than 15 miles, and every step of it uphill. At some points the mortar carts had to be winched up perpendicular cliffs. The remainder of the mountain training was merely routine, except for the mud, snow and extreme cold. Was this war?

Early in April 1943, the Battalion reported to Newport News to fight the battle of Chesapeake Bay. A delightful cruise on the Barnett to the landing area hardly prepared the men for what followed. The first exercise, a daylight landing, was miserable. Boat team after boat team climbed over the side down the nets and into the small landing craft. The bay was very rough, the spray cold, and the run to the beach was not to be made until all boats were loaded and ready. The early boats circled in the high sea for as long as four hours. "Keep your heads down, boys, the Navy said. Fully 75% of the Battalion kept them hanging over the side but recovery was rapid on shore. Sailors all!

The night landing ran smoothly, and it was back to Pickett and the mockups. Dry landing practices, especially on Sunday, sort of increased the dissatisfaction of the men and absenteeism arrived unheralded one sunny Sunday. We pass now to the next phase.

The overall plan of the 45th Inf Div called for support of each assault battalion landing team by a platoon of mortars. The destination, of course, was not announced, but it was known that we would land fighting so attachments were made and plans for loading with the respective RCTs completed.

On May 23 and 24, 1943, the Battalion moved by train to Camp Patrick Henry, the staging area where it was understood last minute purchases of all necessary personal items could be made. That was a gross misstatement, as nothing was available. We were practically overseas while at Patrick Henry since high fences and alert MP indicated that the only way out of the camp was via the high seas.

June 3 and 4 found the men leaving these old revered shores for destination unknown. Red Cross girls with ice tea and ice water plus a brass band furnished a sendoff never to be forgotten. Our ships sailed into the bay and began assembling into convoy formation. Thus the start of the momentous occasion. But not so fast. Finally, at 1200 hrs on 8 Jun 1943, the convoy weighed anchor and set sail. This was it, a moment for which countless hours of preparation had been expended. Was it really true? As the outline of our beloved United States faded into the blue yonder, a feeling of lonesomeness and apprehension filled our thoughts. But before long the prospect of that 20% pay increase for overseas duty brought out the cards and dice.

The location of the sun showed us we were traveling generally southeast, but the zigging and zagging sort of confused the issue. One thing was certain, our port of call was not, definitely not, South Philly as one man kept insisting. The voyage itself was very calm and as enjoyable as possible under the conditions, which conditions are in no way to be confused with honeymoon cruises. The common joke, worn thin by constant usage, was that the destination was Sardinia since we were packed in so tightly.

On June 20, a beautiful day, the convoy formed into a double line of ships and passed through the Straits of Gibraltar under cover of some P38s. The Rock looked pretty strong and it was a safe feeling there as we entered the blue Mediterranean under the guns of the British. The convoy was not as safe it might be surmised as the German radio blared forth that very evening with the startling fact that several ships in our convoy had been "attacked and sunk while passing through the straits." Some ships were even mentioned by name and, while we knew they had not been injured, the Germans did have some definite knowledge of our whereabouts. Heartening, to say the least.

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Africa

By following the maps and charts, and at the same time nagging the Navy, the course could be followed. On 22 Jun 1943, the convoy anchored in the bay at Mers-El-Khaber near Oran, Algeria. Here was a beautiful looking town almost within reach, it seemed, but fortunately not within smelling distance. Maybe the wind was right. At any rate, we stepped no foot on land here but waited a couple of days before firmly planting our feet in the sands of Africa. Africa, the great land of the unknown, praise Allah, the dark continent.

The reason for the landing, Operation Camberwell, was to harden the soldiers after their three weeks aboard ship. Early on the morning of June 25, the troops staged a practice landing in the Gulf of Arzau and proceeded to assembly areas on foot, one foot in front of the other for 17 long miles in a blistering sun. At the end, joyous rest on the sand among the mosquitoes and sand flies.

An intensive program of training was conducted stressing physical conditioning through forced marches, obstacle courses and reduction of pillboxes. This 15-day schedule was completed in seven days and, by July 2, all personnel were back aboard ship. Staff conferences and previews of invasion plans occupied the rest of the time and, on 5 Jul 1943, the convoy set sail for Sicily.

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Sicily

Campaign of Sicily - click to enlarge "D" day for the southern coast of Sicily (see map at right - click to enlarge) was set for 10 Jul 1943, with "H" hour being at 0345. The convoy had sailed quite a distance out of its way in order to confuse the enemy regarding the place for the landing but during the night swung sharply back and headed for Sicily. For the first time in the long journey from the States, the weather became very rough. There was much speculation about postponing the landings but by midnight the seas had subsided somewhat, making landings possible.

As the convoy assembled that night, there was in the hearts of everyone a slight but perceptible bit of apprehension and some fear of the unknown. This moment, which had been prepared for by long and tedious hours of training, had no prospect of glory for the men. The last meals on shipboard were gulped down or shoved aside depending on the degree of excitement with the individual.

Just to start things off with the proper spirit, the Navy opened up with its preliminary bombardment which drew everyone to the decks to witness the mighty spectacle. And it was impressive to watch the bright flashes of the big guns and then the explosions on shore. A few searchlights played out from the shore and made the men on the ships feel like ducks on a pond. To make things more interesting, a couple of Jerry planes buzzed over, dropped a few bombs and strafed a little. Those few bombs made the war real for the first time and later reports indicated the bombs fell just off the stern of every ship in the convoy. Remarkable, indeed, but then all war stories are exaggerated.

By this time the shelter of a foxhole seemed attractive and all were ready for the comparative safety of terra firma. A flash over the ship's radio indicated that the first four waves had landed successfully - the war was on! The 45th Inf Div landed on several beaches between Scoglitti and Gela, and our men were right with them.

The general tactical setup at that time was that the 45th Inf Div was the right division of II Corps and was between the American 1st Div on the left and the 1st Canadian Div of the British Army on the right. The initial objectives were Comiso Airport, Biscari Airport and Vittoria, while securing Scoglitti for subsequent unloading of supplies. Resistance in the sectors of the 179th and 157th Inf Rgmts was fairly light and their objectives were reached and reduced rapidly. The 180th Inf Rgmt met fairly stubborn resistance north and east of Gela and Co D did quite a bit of firing in that sector.

At this stage of the war, the Battalion was equipped with mortar carts and all moves had to be made pulling these loads. It was a heartbreaking job to keep up with the infantry who, of course, traveled light and rapidly, but frequent missions on fleeting targets demanded that the 4.2" mortar, now called the "Goon Gun," be right up front. Even at this early stage of the war, the value of the mortar was well understood by infantry commanders.

By July 15, the 45th Div had reached the outskirts of Caltagirone where it reverted to corps reserve and made a quick motor movement to Caltanissetta. The attack was resumed from that point through S. Caterina, Vallelunga, Caltavuturo and Cerda to the northern coast. The delaying actions here were restricted generally to blown bridges, a few mines, and road blocks in the mountains, but night and day the infantry fought its way through. During those nights and days the mortars rolled along behind the men, sometimes as much as 25 miles in a single day.

As the division reached the north coast, it swung to the east along the main road skirting the coast. Mountains reaching nearly to the sea restricted maneuvers. Cefalu fell before the determined Thunderbird but east of that city resistance became pretty rugged. In the history of the 45th Div, "Bloody Ridge" holds an important place. This ridge was taken, lost and retaken at least three times. Mortars of Cos C and D furnished very close support in this series of actions. Three counterattacks were successfully broken up by our mortars and infantry 37mm AT guns. One counterattack was stopped only after the platoon executive at the mortar position fired direct fire on the attacking enemy.

Well over 1500 rounds had been fired and every round arrived at the position by cart. Enemy artillery fire fell pretty close throughout this period but good defilade in the mountain draws held casualties to a minimum.

By July 31, S. Stafano had been captured and preparations made for relief of the 45th Div by the 3rd Inf Div. Instead of the expected rest, the Battalion was attached to the 3rd Div for continuation of the attack towards Messina.

August 4 found the 3rd Div smack up against Hill 715 where very serious resistance was met. The hill itself overlooked the Furiano River and was by far the outstanding terrain feature. On August 6, an attack was launched across the Furiano river by the 15th Inf Rgmt with the Battalion less Co C attached. Co C was attached to the 30th Inf Rgmt moving inland to flank Hill 715.

The attack was fairly successful and two battalions crossed the river before being stopped cold. Here they were held up and subjected to intense small arms and artillery fire. By afternoon the position became untenable and the regimental commander called for a smoke screen to cover the withdrawal. The screen was held until darkness and allowed the trapped battalions to get back across the river.

The next morning, the attack was resumed with two companies firing screens close in front of the advancing infantry and one company firing HE in direct support. The attack moved along successfully due in large part to the screen which was held for 13 hours during the daytime. A 45-minute screen on the next morning aided the infantry in its final attack on Hill 715, which reduced all resistance there.

The advance moved rapidly toward Messina, but by this time no commander would commit his troops unless he had the support of the 4.2s. Consequently, numerous screens and HE missions were fired. At 1000 hrs on 17 Aug 1943, Messina fell and all resistance in Sicily ceased. At the end the Battalion was exhausted physically by the constant hauling of the carts over the mountain roads of Sicily. There was a general feeling that was wasn't so bad and we predicted an early end of the war. But first-rate German troops hadn't been met as yet.

At the conclusion of the campaign, the Battalion reassembled and moved to Agrigento in southern Sicily, presumably for movement with the 1st Inf Div to England. Somewhere these plans were changed and the Battalion was assigned to the Fifth Army and attached to the 45th Div again. Movement was made back to the north coast near Trabia in preparation for an amphibious landing in.

Following are remarks made by infantry commanders at the conclusion of the Sicilian campaign regarding the mortars and work of the platoons of the 2nd Chemical Bn.

"...The chemical mortar is simply grand. In this battalion we are completely sold on them. We think the attached chemical company did a marvelous job. These mortars proved to be tremendously effective for all sorts of missions, especially against machine gun nests, strong points of resistance, prepared strong points, pillboxes, and targets in defiladed positions beyond the range of our regular mortars. They are accurate as the devil up to 3000 yards and more, and the pack a punch worth two 81mm's. We dropped one round on the corner of a house and killed nine Germans who were taking cover behind it. We think these mortars are the finest weapons we have seen. A German prisoner we got referred to them as "automatic artillery." Our battalion CO and also the regimental commander have recommended that these mortars be made organic with the infantry. We think they are just tops..."
- Captain Putnam, 3rd Bn, 179th Infantry

"...Despite the weight and ammunition problem, it is a magnificent and extraordinarily effective weapon. The mortar is most effective with white phosphorus and HE. The Germans are very allergic to white phosphorus anyway and we would root them out of their holes with well-placed rounds of phosphorus and, when we had them above ground, we plastered them with HE. We killed large numbers of them that way, and they sure dreaded the mortars. They are the equivalent of real artillery. We also used them in the assault coming ashore. I have said we used them; I really mean the supporting chemical troops used them. They did such a good job with us, we got to regard them as our own people. The prize package was one day when a chemical officer actually dropped a round of HE from one of his mortars into the open turret of a German tank..."
- Lt. Col. Wiegand, CO, 2nd Bn, 179th Inf

"...The 4.2 chemical mortars are marvelous weapons. After we had a platoon attached to the battalion, I was scared to death they would take them away from us and attach them to some other outfit, the demand for them was so great. The Germans were deathly afraid of them and the prisoners told us that they thought they were some kind of new secret weapon like an automatic cannon, because they had such tremendous effect and could be fires so rapidly. I do not recommend that they be made organic to the infantry. I much prefer that we have attached chemical troops as we had in Sicily. Their cooperation and proficency was all anyone could ask for. We shall always want a platoon attached to us, and we think that the best results are obtained by cooperative, attached units like we had. Without exageration, I would say that the 4.2 is the most effective single weapon used in support of infantry I have ever seen. We have yet to see an enemy position that was tenable when we fired on it with WP and HE from this mortar. They can reach into almostly perfectly defiladed positions, and their effect is devastating..."
- Lt. Col. Patterson, CO, 3rd Bn, 180th Inf

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Italy

The Advance to Rome, map 2 - click to enlarge The Advance to Rome, map 1 - click to enlarge Preparation for the amphibious landings south of Salerno, Italy, were made near Trabia, Sicily, during the first days of September. The battalion was attached to the 45th Div which was initially scheduled to be in VI Corps reserve, to be committed when and where needed. Attachments were as follows:
Co A to the 179th RCT
Co B to the 157th RCT
Co C to the 157th RCT
Co D to the 180th RCT (Div reserve)

Replacements were received just prior to the operation.

The operation at Salerno has been widely discussed and publicized as being quite rough, and it was here that our companies met their first real test.

Cos A and B landed with their respective regimental combat teams near Paestum on Sep 10 and immediately went into the line. Co C landed on Sep 11.

In the German counterattacks on Sep 11, the battalion to which Co A was attached received a severe mauling from the superior force in the vicinity of Persano, Italy, and became cut off from the main body of troops. The company was placed in a holding position to await reinforcements which never arrived, so with the threat of being cut off and annihilated they withdrew only after serious casualties had been received. Results of this were 15 men missing in action and 7 wounded in action. Returning to its primary mission of firing the mortar, the company successfully broke up a counterattack with its accurate fire.

Co B ran into a hornets nest along the Sele River when a German penetration reached a point only a few yards across the river and fired direct fire into the positions. This company also occupied the line as infantry when mortar ammunition was exhausted. Meanwhile the positions along the entire beach were critical and firing was limited to repulsing counterattacks.

By Sep 17, in a magnificent stand, the German counter thrusts had been stopped, the beach was secure, and the pursuit began. The battalion was placed in support of the 180th Inf which was to swing to the east through Eboli and Olivetto, to Benevento. The enemy was fighting a determined delaying action taking advantage of every available terrain feature, and the mortars were kept well forward for quick employment against machine gun and infantry emplacements barring the advance. The mortars were ideal in these situations and were used constantly. The Germans held no great love for the mortar and rather hastily withdrew from positions brought under fire.

In the vicinity of Quadlietta, Italy, German resistance more or less fell apart and the 45th Div made a quick motor move on the heels of the retreating Germans and pulled up on the banks of the Volturno River where it went into temporary reserve. In this drive, Benevento, a fairly important town, fell to the division after a short fight involving air activity on the part of the Americans and tank-supported counterattacks by the Germans.

On Oct 8, Co A was detached from the battalion and placed in support of the 34th Inf Div to aid in crossing the Volturno River. Here, on the night of Oct 13, the company fired an unusual mission. The river crossing was to be made at night under a full moon which made visibility almost as good as on a sunny day. At 0200 hours, a WP smoke screen was fired to support the crossing of the 168th Inf Rgmt. This was our first night smoke screen, and very successful it was.

On Oct 18, the battalion was relieved from attachment to the 45th Div and attached to the 34th Div. Movement approximating 30 miles was made to the 34th Div area on Oct 20, where immediate attachments were made as follows:

Co A to the 135th Inf RCT
Co B to the 133rd Inf RCT
Co C to division reserve
Co D to the 168th Inf RCT

The division was attacking north and then east through San Angelo D'Aliefe and Prata preparatory to another crossing of the Volturno River. Numerous missions were fired by all companies in support of the attack which met serious resistance. The river crossing on the night of Nov 3 met very determined opposition but progressed satisfactorily.

On Oct 30, Cos C and D were attached to the 3rd Inf Div, moving then on the left of the 34th Division through Dragoni and Pietraoiara. Upon relief by elements of the 3rd Chemical Mortar Battalion, our battalion, less Cos C and D, went into II Corps reserve in the vicinity of Aliefe.

Meanwhile the 3rd Div was seriously hampered by mud, rain, and mountainous country. In order to maintain supplies in their front line positions, the two mortar companies were used to haul supplies and perform engineering work. By Nov 11, the advance had reached the slopes of Mt Rotundo and Mt Lungo after a very hard and difficult fight.

On Nov 15, Cos A and B replaced Cos C and D with the 3rd Div. The battle for the valley of Cassino was beginning. The 36th Inf Div relieved part of the 3rd Div, and on Nov 18 attachments were as follows:

Battalion less Cos A and B to the 3rd Div
Cos A and B to the 36th Div

At this time, the companies were firing mainly schedule and harassing fire for both divisions. Weather conditions were very miserable and it was only the beginning of a time in which living conditions reached their lowest ebb. There was absolutely no shelter except for caves and slit trenches - it rained or snowed constantly - and cold reigned over all. During the next three month period, an average of 90 to 100 men in the battalion were sick in the hospital. Fully 10% of the command was rendered inoperative by weather conditions and poor food.

To make the story complete, poorly packed ammunition rendered most of it faulty, and soft muddy ground rendered many mortars unfit for use after only a few rounds. It hardly seemed necessary that the battalion be there, but infantry commanders insisted that they have mortars available. Supplies of winter clothing went first to the infantry, which is as it should be, but no one in Fifth Army seemed to realize that our men suffered the same rigorous hardships in the miserable weather and without benefit of proper clothing. Many boys felt that they would be better off in the infantry where they could be issued parkas or combat jackets and overshoes. The latter item did not arrive for us until some time in February.

At one point in the fighting there, Co B had a gun position which was inaccessible by motor vehicles. Ammunition was hand carried about one-half mile, transported across a creek by home-made trolley and then carried by hand to the gun position.

On Dec 3, 1943, the super secret 1st Special Service Force came into action for an attack on Mt Defensa, part of the huge Camino hill mass. The force was attached to the 36th Div for the operation and Cos A and B fired in conjunction with the attack. After severe casualties, the SSF secured the mountain. Our firing was limited somewhat by the fact that there was a critical shortage of 4.2 ammunition. Only the most important missions could be fired.

On Dec 9 the entire battalion was attached to the 36th Div and shortly thereafter permission was granted to have Cos A and B relieved. However, before they could be moved, the entire battalion was ordered to stay in support for the attack on San Pietro and Mt Lungo.

The plan called for the 141st and 143rd Inf to assault San Pietro at 1200 on Dec 15, with the 142nd Inf jumping off in the afternoon to secure Mt Lungo. Cos C and D were attached to the 142nd Inf, but forward observers were placed with all the assault battalions. At 1200 on 15 Dec, Co A, with the aid of Co B, fired a smoke screen on the east slopes of Mt Lungo to cut down observation on the San Pietro attack, particularly on a tank company moving down the only road to the village. The other two companies fired on pre-designated targets and against the inevitable counterattacks. The attack on San Pietro was unsuccessful but, in a well executed night attack on Mt Lungo, the 142nd Inf secured that terrain feature. With Lungo in our hands, the German position in San Pietro was untenable and an attack the next day was successful.

On Dec 18, Cos A and B were relieved for a short rest and rehabilitation period. Cos C and D remained attached to the 143rd Inf in vicinity of San Pietro. On Dec 27, these two companies reverted to attachment to the 34th Div, which relieved the 36th around San Pietro.

Dec 31, 1943, found Cos A and B relieving C and D. This relief ended with Company A attached to Task Force Allen, a combat command of 1st Armd Div in the vicinity of Mt Lungo for an attack on Mt Portia, and Co B attached to the 135th Inf for attack on Mt La Chiaia. Both attacks were successful. Task Force Allen, after two days of rough going, secured Mt Portia but casualties were so high that the force could not exploit the evident breakthrough to Cassino. The 34th Div moved right along and ultimately captured Mt Trocchio.

Here now began the battle of Cassino. The German forces held a very strong line, by virtue of a well fortified position along the Rapido River and positions in and on the mountains surrounding Cassino. Opposing them, II Corps had the 34th Div on the right and the 36th Div on the left, flanked on the east by the French Expeditionary Corps, and on the west by the 10th British Corps. An attack all along the line was to be made, with the main effort in II Corps sector. Two mortar companies were initially attached to each division. At the same time the battalion ammunition section worked on a smoke pot detail to smoke the whole Rapido Valley so that undetected movements could be made in the rear areas in preparation for the assault on Cassino.

The plan for the attack up the Liri Valley called for a crossing of the Rapido River in two places - one north and one south of St Angelo. Troops involved were the 141st Inf with Co A attached, and the 143rd Inf with Cos B and C attached. On January 20, the attack began. Cos A and C fired mainly smoke screens to cover the crossings while Co B fired HE and WP against fortified positions. The most bloody fighting the battalion had seen ensued during the following three days. The German positions were practically impregnable, mines were everywhere, and enemy artillery had the crossing points covered thoroughly. Time after time the infantry crossed in the face of all this only to find themselves cut off and practically annihilated. Continuous screens were maintained during all the daylight hours, first to cover the crossing and then to screen the withdrawals.

By Jan 23, it seemed futile to attempt any further attacks at this point, so the last screens covered the withdrawal of remnants of the two regiments. History will record this engagement as one of the most costly of the war.

During the afternoon of Jan 23, Cos A and B moved into the 34th Div area to support their crossing of the Rapido north of Cassino. Missions generally consisted of screening enemy visibility in the vicinity of the Abbey de Monte Cassino and of Mt Cairo, both of which points overlooked the plains in front of Cassino. In the ensuing close-quarter fighting, the 34th Div crossed the Rapido, advanced to the edge of Cassino and secured some of the heights overlooking the city. The Germans held tenaciously to the commanding ground, forcing the situation into another stalemate. Consequently, mortar firing settled back into a routine of shooting at everything that moved while at the same time firing night harassing missions to forestall German counterattacks. No major attacks developed on the part of the American forces here, but limited attacks were made to secure certain important hills north and east of Cassino.

Co A was relieved from the 34th Div on Feb 22, and moved to the battalion assembly area in vicinity of Venafro. Co B was relieved on Feb 27. For the first time since Sep 10, 1943, the battalion was out of the line. This represented a total of 170 consecutive days in the line. Looking back on that period, it is felt that that time was the roughest the battalion has ever experienced. Enemy resistance, especially during the Cassino phase, was fanatical, and its artillery support was very effective. The main difficulty was extremely adverse weather conditions. Absolutely no shelter was available and the supply of suitable clothing was very slow. It was not a period of sitting in one place for long periods since the supply of chemical mortar battalions never approached the demand. The weapons companies were constantly on the move to the point at which every attack was made. Mentally and physically, the men suffered every minute of the time, suffered quietly and bravely practically beyond the point of human endurance. Such was our part of the battle of Cassino.

On Mar 11, Co D was attached to the 88th Div and moved to the vicinity of Minturno in the area of the 350th Inf Rgmt. The remainder of the battalion moved to the vicinity of Frasso, Italy, for rest, rehabilitation and training.

Co D remained with the 88th Div from Mar 11-28. The mission of the division was to defend the general line from a point east of Minturno to the sea. The firing of the company was directed at enemy gun emplacements and patrol activity throughout the period. Night harassing missions were fired extensively in this stabilized situation. The front was fairly quiet and it was a matter of shooting at any and all enemy activity.

The whole Fifth Army front was quiet during the month of April and the first ten days of May. Extensive preparations were under way for the big attack to reach Rome. For the first time in the campaign, sufficient troops were made available for a major push, and it took some time to regroup the troops. The battalion was attached to the 36th Div for training during this period, with particular stress placed on mountain training in the vicinity of Avellino in southern Italy. Italian pack mule companies were made available and special pack saddles for 4.2" mortars were improvised. Each company conducted at least one problem in the mountains in conjunction with regimental problems to determine the feasibility of packing the mortars and getting some estimate of logistics in mountain operations.

On May 6, it was back to the battle for the Second Chemical. An initial move was made to the 85th Inf Div sector in the vicinity of Mondragoni on the Italian west coast. On May 9 and 10, the battalion moved into positions close to Minturno and hauled ammunition in preparation for the big attack.

D-day was May 11, 1944, with H-hour being 2300. Initially two companies each were attached to the 85th and 88th Divs, but initial concentrations were fired under battalion control on schedule. The time between H-hour on the eleventh and the ultimate rupture of the line on May 14 was possibly the most rapid concentrated warfare the battalion has experienced. With the infantry, it was touch and go during those critical moments, and for the mortars it was constant shooting. Initial preparation fires amounted to 1267 rounds in the first 15 minutes with succeeding missions in the first 24 hours bringing the total to 5293 rounds, approximately one-fourth of which was white phosphorous.

Forward observers were out all along the front bringing the fire of their mortars to bear on all targets in a minimum of time. Success in the operation depended to a great extent on the work of communication sections during the constant enemy shelling. Wire was maintained to each division headquarters, each infantry regiment, II Corps headquarters, all gun positions, and eight FOs. Changes in missions and attachment were made practically on a moment's notice and fire control was superb.

It was a great satisfaction the battalion had during the period, as our HE paved the way for the infantry's success, and WP screened every little move. It was the best job we had done. Breakage of mortars during this attack was tremendous, a total of 17 being out of action during the first night. M-6 powder charges were hard to obtain and a direct hit on the ammunition dump destroyed 1148 charges in one wallop, which hurt. During the afternoon of May 14, following the fall of Santa Maria, three companies moved to mortar positions in vicinity of Tame over a road covered constantly by accurate enemy shellfire. This road wound along the top of a ridge for several miles past knocked out vehicles and tanks, but it was the only way in, and the infantry needed our mortars.

On the fifteenth, organized resistance in the valley before Spigno ceased and a slight respite was had for a day or two. The companies still remained attached to the 85th and 88th Divs, which by this time had consolidated positions and attacked again in the direction of Itri.

On May 17, Co A, attached to the 351st Inf, 88th Div, left Spigno for a mule-pack trip through the mountains. Three mortars for each platoon plus 240 rounds of ammunition were loaded along with two day's supply of rations, forage, and water. The mules were furnished and handled by the IV section of the First Italian mule pack company. The trip lasted three days, three days of intense physical activity but little enemy resistance. On the 19th, Highway 82 leading east from Itri was cut by the 351st, which immediately took to the hills again toward Leonola. Here the company did some excellent shooting, some of it in support of the French, and then moved through the mountains to the vicinity of Priverno where on May 29 the company was relieved from the 88th Div.

Meanwhile the rest of the battalion moved in direct support of the leading elements of the infantry along the main road Itri-Fondi-Terracina. Resistance was very slight during this push and very little mortar support was required. On the night of May 23, an enemy air raid on Fondi and surrounding territory furnished quite a bit of excitement, but casualties were slight. Ten men of Co B were wounded in this action.

On May 27, in the vicinity of Priverno, Italy, the battalion was attached to IV Corps upon relief of II Corps by IV Corps, but the desired rest, attending a relief, never materialized. On May 29, battalion was back with II Corps and moved to the vicinity of Cori, Italy. By this time the junction with the beachhead forces from Anzio had been made and the drive for Rome was on.

Immediate attachment was made to the 85th Div and companies moved into position to support the attack. The jump-off took place around Guilianello on the thirty-first and moved fairly rapidly against determined rear guard action. The terrain generally favored the attacking forces and everyone raced toward Rome.

On June 4, Rome fell without a fight and the first European capital had fallen to the Allies. There was still a war to fight and all assault units proceeded through the city and along Highway 2 leading north. Advance elements reached Lake Bracciano where, on June 8, the battalion was placed in Fifth Army reserve and moved back to a rest area two miles north of Rome.

Thus ended the 2nd Chemical Mortar Battalion's part of the Italian campaign. The allied victory was complete and decisive, and should be treated as such by historians. It has long been called the forgotten campaign - merely a side issue - but to those battle-tested and battle-weary soldiers it was the main battle, since they were in it. Victory had been achieved after overcoming many major difficulties and surviving untold hardship and danger. The part the 4.2" mortars played in the victory was very important but, sadly enough, is recognized only by ourselves and the infantrymen. Many days were spent in the line without relief because of a shortage of chemical mortar battalions. General Clark, Fifth Army CG, was quoted as saying he would never commit an infantry division without an attached chemical mortar battalion. Our version of that statement was that he would not commit a division without the 2nd Chemical Mortar Battalion.

From Jun 10 to Jul 2, the battalion occupied a rest area just north of Rome and, for the first time in a year, relaxed and rested without thoughts of things to come. We knew that something was bound to happen but for the moment there was nothing to worry about.

On Jul 2, the battalion moved by motor convoy to an area just north of Paestum, becoming attached to the Seventh Army and further attached to VI Corps and to the 36th Div for training. On Jul 5, the outfit was reorganized on a new T/O, No. 3-25, dated September 7, 1943. This called for a large decrease in number of men, so men who had been in the unit for a long time were transferred. During the period, extensive training on amphibious operations was conducted. On Jul 15, Co A was attached to the First Airborne Task Force and moved to the Airborne Training Center near Rome. They were to participate in an airborne landing operation in Southern France, the first time 4.2" mortars had been used in such operations.

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Southern France

Campaign of Southern France - click to enlarge For the amphibious and airborne assault on the southern coast of France, the elements of the battalion were attached as follows:
Co A to the 550th Inf Bn (Glider), 1st ABTF
Co B and C to the 143rd Inf Rgmt, 36th Div
Co D to the 141st Inf Rgmt, 36th Div

D-Day was set for August 15 and H-hour at 0800. By Aug 10, all assault elements had been loaded and the ships had anchored in Naples and Salerno bays prior to sailing - a stirring sight. Here, under the watchful eye of Mt Vesuvius, the Allied navies gathered on "Mare Nostrum" for another grand assault on the European mainland.

The mental attitude on this occasion, momentous as it was to become in the annals of history, was strikingly changed from that of the days before Sicily and Salerno. Possibly it was the similarity and monotony of such occasions, but in the hearts of our men there was no room for fear and anxiety. There existed merely a sense of duty and the belief, "We can do this easily, haven't we done it twice before?" We could be heros and liberators later when the time came, but now we settled down to selling souvenirs to the navy boys, spinning yarns of the rough life in the army, and providing ourselves with things that would make for greater comfort ashore.

The trip from Italy to the assembly area off the coast of southern France was pleasant, calm, and peaceful. The calm was broken early on Aug 15 by the air and naval bombardment preceding the landing, which we had learned to accept as a part of such amphibious landings. The assault waves landed practically unopposed since some of the mortar platoons which were to support the initial infantry waves did not arrive until some time after noon on D plus 1. One could see the battalion headquarters tramping up the road to assembly area at H plus 90 minutes, while some of the mortar platoons were somewhere off the coast of Sardinia, utterly unconcerned by the war. Co D and parts of B and C did land as scheduled on Green Beach east of St Raphael, but very little firing was required. No one will ever know what happened to the navy schedule, but by the afternoon of D plus 1 the battalion finally made it. So this was France.

Co A of the battalion was part of the Airborne Task Force which figured quite prominently in the invasion of Southern France. That operation presented something new in the way of mortar operations but, after landing, the mortar employment resolved itself into regular direct support of the Infantry.

Training for the operation was done in the vicinity of Rome, Italy, and the take-off was made from Orbatello and Canino airports. The men were not particularly apprehensive before the take-off, and they were anxious to have the thing begin. They had long ago learned to be business-like and to work successfully with a minimum of confusion. Very little thought was given to the possible dire circumstances - there was no time for that. The two platoons occupied fourteen gliders each and provisions were made for a follow-up ammunition supply on D plus 1. Flights consisted of forty-eight transports towing an equal number of gliders and presented quite an inspiring sight as they moved through the air to their eventual resting places on French soil.

All proceeded according to plan, and at 1855 hours on 15 Aug, H plus 1055, the gliders started landing. Generally, the landing of gliders was without serious mishap to our men, a tribute to the extensive pre-invasion planning and the skill of the glider pilots. One of the gliders was forced to make a crash landing during which one Co A jeep was thrown through the front of the glider for a distance of about 40 yards. Three men were sitting in the jeep at the time, all of whom were injured seriously.

Assembly of men and equipment was accomplished with a minimum of confusion and the mortars were ready for their mission, come what may. Direct support was given during the assault on LeMuy, France, a very important objective of the Airborne force. The company accomplished its mission in this operation with a high degree of success and now wears the Airborne patch as one of its most treasured possessions.

After the amphibious and airborne forces effected their junction in the vicinity of LeMuy, France, Co A remained attached to the Airborne Task Force when it took over the job of pushing east toward the Italian Border while protecting the right flank of the US Seventh Army.

The battalion less Co A continued with the 36th Div in pursuit of the enemy through Draguignon, Castellane, Sisteron, Aspres-s-Buech. This pursuit was so rapid, however, that the problems of supply over great distances were of almost of almost more concern than the enemy delaying actions. To help relieve the supply situation, the weapons companies were used to haul and handle supplies, while the battalion headquarters remained attached to and traveled close to the 36th Div Hq.

The first real battle the division engaged in occurred in the vicinity of Montelimar, France, on the Rhone River south of Lyon. The German 11th Panzer Div had been trapped in a pocket north of Marseilles and was attempting to fight its way north out of the trap. Contact was made in the narrow Rhone Valley and in a bloody three-day battle, the Germans were cut to ribbons, but not before inflicting serious casualties on the American Forces.

On 27 Aug 1944, the chemical mortar battalions in VI Corps lost practically all resemblance to their former selves. Instead of being merely supporting units they became infantry. Lt Col Bibo took command of the right flank of VI Corps on a front of 90 miles from Albertville, France, to Col de Larche, France. His command consisted of a group of units, among which were two companies each of the 2nd, 3rd and 83rd Chemical Mortar Bns, complete with mortars, carbines, and prayers. Before the group had fully consolidated its positions, the Germans launched a counterattack against Briancon, main strong point and CP of this force, and forced a withdrawal to Col du Lautaret. Another defensive line was established in the high mountains, but the enemy failed to follow up his initial successes.

On Sep 2, Task Force Bibo was relieved by elements of the French Army "B", and the battalion, still less Co A, returned to its attachment to the 36th Div. The mortar companies served in several capacities during the following days of rapid liberation of Lyon, Bourg, Besancon, and Vesoul. From Vesoul on Sep 18, the battalion moved by motor convoy to Nice, France, where it was attached to the 1st ABTF in its defense of the Franco-Italian border.

This situation was strictly a defensive position with the mission of protecting Seventh Army supply lines in the south of France. Here among the French Alps and looking over the blue Mediterranean, the battalion established itself. Attachments were as follows:

Co A to the 1st Special Service Force
Co B to the 517th Parachute Inf Rgmt
Co C to the 509th Glider Inf Bn
Co D initially in reserve (committed Sep 24 in support of 1st SSF and 550th Inf Bn)

Cos A and D occupied positions in the vicinity of Menton on the southern coast. Co B moved to vicinity of Peira Cava, and Co C went into position in vicinity of Lantosque-St. Martin Vesuble. The northern most element was the first platoon of Co D which occupied, by two-gun sections, positions near Col de Larche and Barcelonnette.

The front covered 120 miles and was held very thinly by road blocks on all important roads. An active defense was conducted by the use of extensive patrolling and mortar fire. Since there was very little artillery available to the ABTF, and since the mortars were ideally suited for mountain warfare of the type encountered here, the commanders concerned were very anxious for the mortar support and continually called for fire at enemy installations and personnel. The mortars were registered on numerous points so that heavy concentrations could be brought to bear on important targets in a very short time. Registration on targets which were unable to be observed from the ground was accomplished by use of artillery observation planes.

All types of missions were fired. On several occasions, enemy counterattacks were fired upon with such success that they were broken up and never reached serious proportions. Friendly patrols were supported often and extracted from serious positions by well placed fire, sometimes as close as 100 yards to our own troops. At night in practically all sections, harassing and interdictory fire were placed on bivouacs and supply routes giving the enemy no end of trouble. One enemy medical prisoner reported that he had personally treated 70 casualties from "heavy" mortar fire within a space of three days. From captured German documents in this sector, the 4.2 mortar was given A-1 priority by German artillery as its counter-battery target, attesting to the accuracy and casualty effect of our fire.

On Oct 19, 1944, the battalion was attached to the First French Army for operations, and moved from Nice to an assembly position in the vicinity of Vellevans, France. The First French Army was to attack in conjunction with the American Seventh Army to destroy the enemy resistance east of the Rhine between the German border on the North and the Swiss border on the South. Initially, the presence of the battalion in the French sector was kept secret, but preliminary reconnaissance and preparations were made for the big attack.

On Nov 11, Co B was placed at the disposition of the 1st French Forces of the Interior (FFI) brigade in the vicinity of Le Chenoley, France; this brigade was to operate as the left element of the I French Corps in the attack. Movement of the battalion, less Co B, into position for the attack was made on Nov 12 with attachment and locations as follows:

Co A to 6th Moroccan Rgmt at Villars les Blamont
Co C to 6th Zouave Rgmt at Pont de Roide
Co D to 6th Rgmt Inf Colonial at Mauchamp

Plans called for extensive preparation fire by all companies on the day of the attack - originally planned for Nov 13 but postponed until Nov 15 because of unfavorable weather - followed by general support on call of infantry commanders.

As the attack, progressing slowly at first, gained momentum all along the line, the battalion moved in direct support of the attacking infantry up to the general line Montbeliard - Audincourt - Vandoncourt. Only minor changes in attachments were made as infantry units were relieved and regrouped. Once the break-through was made, firing was fairly light as resistance was not too great. Co B supported the 1st FFI Brigade along the route Le Chenoley - Lamont - Chenebier - Evett.

On Nov 19, the entire battalion was placed at the disposal of 2nd Div Inf Moroccan in its attack on the environs of Belfort, which included numerous forts and dug-in strong points. During this operation the weapons companies changed attachments on various occasions, alternating from regular French Army units to FFI units. This necessitated much movement of platoons on the front, but numerous targets were engaged with good results. On Nov 23, Co B was relieved of their attachment to the FFI Brigade and attached to the 5th RIM in the vicinity of Grande Charmont. On Nov 25, resistance around Belfort ceased and a pursuit followed to the northeast against weak resistance.

The battalion was again placed at the disposal of the 9th Brigade DIC in the vicinity of Courtelevant - Saurce - Feche L'Eglise near the Swiss border to assist in mopping up the remnants of enemy troops who had cut the supply route to the French armored units fighting in the vicinity of Mulhouse.

On Nov 28, the battalion was alerted for movement to the sector of the 6th RIC which had the mission of cleaning out a pocket of resistance in Village Neuf on the Rhine River just north of the Swiss border. This presented a target suitable for a battalion concentration within a fairly confined area. During the evening and night of Nov 29, all companies moved into position in St Louis, France, prepared to fire a preparation on one area target 500 x 1,000 yards, and followed by concentrations on four other targets in support of the attack, as well as on targets of opportunity on call from forward observers. The attack was successful largely because of the power of the mortars.

It is worthy of note that the first rounds of 4.2 inch mortar ammunition from the guns of the 2nd Chemical Mortar Battalion fell onto Germany proper between the hours of 0650 and 0800 on Nov 30, 1944, at a point on the east bank of the Rhine River just north of the Swiss border.

On Dec 1, 1944, the entire battalion was in Belfort, France, having just been relieved from attachment to the First French Army. It moved on Dec 2, from Belfort to the vicinity of Sarrebourg preparatory to employment in support of XV Corps operations. On orders of CG, XV Corps, the organization moved to assembly positions in the areas indicated:

2nd CMB less Co A atchd 100th Inf Div at Frohumuhl
Co A atchd 106th Cav Grp at Ingwiller

The general plan of attack for the 100th Inf Div [Note: The website of 100th Inf Div Association is at www.100thww2.org] was to advance along a general line Petite Pierre, Wingen, Sarreinsberg, Goetzenbruck, Lemberg, to secure Bitche and breach the Maginot Line. The mission of the 106th Cavalry Group was to maintain contact between XV Corps and to screen XV Corps right flank in the general area of Mouterhouse - Baerenthal - Phillipsbourg. The terrain within the sectors ranged from rolling farmland to hills covered with heavy forests. By noon of Dec 5, 1944, attachments within the 100th Div were established as follows:

Co B atchd 398th RCT vicinity Wingen
Co C atchd 399th RCT vicinity Puberg
Co D atchd 397th RCT vicinity Weinbourg

Co A, in its attachment to the 106th Cav Grp, was required to decentralize control and operate separate platoons extended over a wide area. Inasmuch as no definite offensive action was undertaken by the cavalry group, the mission of the platoons was to furnish defensive and harassing fires to discourage any organized enemy attacks within the zone.

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Advance and Assault on the Maginot Line

The attack on Wingen by the 398th RCT with Co B attached, was practically unopposed, requiring no mortar support. After securing Wingen, the 398th moved to assembly positions in the vicinity of Meisenthal, Co B still attached, remaining there until Dec 10. The 397th RCT, attacking Wimmenau, called for preparation fire from Co D, after which the company moved successively to Melch and Mouterhouse in direct support. Mouterhouse and vicinity being in very difficult terrain, much mortar support was required. By Dec 9 the village was cleared and Co D established positions there for harassing and defensive fires.

The 399th RCT, with Co C attached, attacked to seize Sarreinsberg - Goetzenbruck - Lemberg, and on securing high ground north of Lemberg was placed in division reserve. During this action, Co C supported the assault elements as well as furnished harassing and interdictory fires. By Dec 10, Co C had been withdrawn to Sarreinsberg after having placed a platoon in Lemberg to support the advance of the 399th RCT.

On Dec 10, the 398th RCT, with Co B attached, passed through the 399th with its objective to seize Reyersviller and the high ground south and southwest of Bitche. Co B established successive mortar positions in Lemberg and Reyersviller, firing on numerous strong points and enemy troop concentrations in direct support of the advance. Just north of Reyersviller, the attack was checked by extensive enemy fortifications. During this phase, mortar fire was generally limited to small-scale smoke missions to cover troop movements and engineer demolition parties operating against the heavy fortifications.

By Dec 22, sectors were reassigned, and the 100th Inf Div took up defensive positions requiring some minor adjustments in Co B positions to cover the defensive zones.

Co C remained in division reserve with the 399th RCT until Dec 14, at which time the entire company moved to Reyersviller and fired in support of their attack, but on Dec 15 the company was attached to 71st RCT of 44th Inf Div and moved to mortar positions in vicinity of Siersthal. Firing here was mainly harassing fire on enemy activity and installations, although some local screens and counter-mortar missions were fired. On Dec 22, Co C moved to Sarreguemines with the 71st RCT in accordance with the complete regroupment plan of XV Corps. This regroupment was ordered so that additional troops could be rapidly shifted to the First Army sector to combat the German attack in that area.

Co D, from Dec 9-15, remained in mortar positions in the vicinity of Mouterhouse in support of 397th RCT in its attack on the high ground south of Camp des Bitche, firing many harassing missions. On Dec 15, Co D was withdrawn from the line and deactivated according to Par 1, General Orders 122, Hq Seventh Army, dated Dec 7, 1944. Men and officers of the company were reassigned among the other companies of the battalion.

Co A, attached to the 106th Cav Grp, supported the group on its fairly slow advance through the heavily wooded country. The group held what territory it gained by local outposts and roadblocks in the area. These outposts and roadblocks were generally reinforced by Co C platoons. No concerted attacks were made so that missions consisted of harassing enemy installations, road interdiction and some observed fire on enemy activity and possible counterattacks. By Dec 22, the company had reached positions in the vicinity of Philippsbourg. During this entire period the mortars of Co A were practically the only support the group had.

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Defense of the Saar River Line

On Dec 23, 1944, the entire battalion was attached to the 106th Cav Grp, which group was moving to the vicinity of Ludweiler, Germany, under orders to relieve Task Force Pickett, cover left (west) flank of XV Corps, maintain contact with XX Corps, and organize and defend the MLR along line Bous - Ludweiler - Grossrosseln - Morsbach. The companies assembled in the vicinity of St Avold the morning of Dec 24 and moved into position that afternoon as follows:
Bn Hq atchd 121st Cav Sqdn vicinity Grossrosseln
Co A atchd 108th Cav Sqdn vicinity Werbeln
Co B atchd 121st Cav Sqdn vicinity Ludweiler
Co C atchd 121st Cav Sqdn vicinity Grossrosseln

All companies registered and set up normal defensive fires. Coordination of sectors and general fire distribution was handled by Bn Hq in conjunction with the plans of the cavalry commanders concerned. Extensive harassing fires were maintained by all companies during each night while day-time firing was done on all enemy activity observed by our own observation posts or reported by cavalry outposts.

At 2330 on Dec 31, 1944, the enemy launched a coordinated attack from the vicinity of Volklingen with his objective Schaffhausen, Geislautern, and the bridgehead we held across the Roselle River. In this engagement, Co A, after firing against the attack, was forced to withdraw approximately 1000 yards when communications were interrupted. Enemy shelling in positions became intense, and the cavalry troops withdrew to an alternate position. Co B, from positions in Ludweiler, fired against the enemy attack until small arms fire necessitated their withdrawal approximately 1000 yards. Co C fired on the enemy attack and supported the cavalry troops in their sector, which was fairly quiet. All companies were credited with inflicting numerous casualties and helping stop the attack. During the two days following the attack, minor adjustments were made in platoon positions so that more effective support could be maintained.

After the short flare-up on the part of the enemy, the situation became stable, evolving into a sector of minor patrol activity, punctuated by sporadic artillery and mortar fire. During this period our mortar companies fired many night harassing and interdictory missions to restrict enemy activity and prevent concentration of any sizable enemy forces. Several withdrawal plans were prepared by the cavalry group to coordinate defensive deployment of the various units, and alternate mortar positions were selected to conform to these plans. Snow and overcast skies restricted observation to a large extent, but OP's were maintained and rapid support on observations from cavalry troops, as well as our own OP's kept enemy activity to a minimum. Weather conditions were severe with temperature reaching zero on occasions and the snow reaching eighteen inches in depth.

On 13 Jan, XXI Corps assumed control of the sector, and the battalion was attached to the Corps for operations, remaining attached to 106th Cav Grp. On 25 Jan, XV Corps again assumed command of XXI Corps sector with the same attachment for the battalion. On 16 Jan, orders were received from Seventh Army through XXI Corps directing that one company be attached to VI Corps, to move to vicinity of Surbourg. Co B departed from vicinity Carling and traveled to Surbourg, a distance of approximately 100 miles, where it was attached to the 315th Inf, of the 79th Div, which regiment was operating with the 14th Armd Div. Positions for two platoons were established in the vicinity of Kuhlendorf to support an attack on the enemy occupied portion of Rittershofen.

During this attack and subsequent operations in the town, the fighting was very intense. Extremely close support was necessary to aid in reducing strong points and to hold the part of the town already taken. One place in particular, a church used as a strong point by the enemy, was within 50 yards of our own infantry in houses. The Co B observer directed fire on the church and adjacent houses, scoring numerous hits on the church, setting it afire twice with WP, and on one occasion drove the enemy into the open where four of them were killed by our MG fire.

During the course of the fire on Rittershofen, the company knocked out one tank or SP gun, two half-tracks, removed a sniper by direct hits on a house within 30 yards of an outpost, and upon two occasions enabled patrols to extricate themselves by neutralizing MG and mortar fire that had them pinned down. During the entire three-day period, in which 1881 rounds were fired, mostly in very close support of the infantry, no damage or casualties were inflicted on our own troops. Air reconnaissance also credited Co B with destroying a battery of 120 mm mortars. The company returned to battalion control and arrived in Merlebach on 22 Jan.

After the return of Co B, a rotation system was initiated whereby two companies remained in direct support of operations in the line while one company remained on a semi-alert status in group reserve to take up delaying positions in case of an enemy attack. This company was also available for special missions in support of raids or small scale attacks. On Jan 29, the cavalry group staged a successful raid on Schaffhausen, during which Cos A and B fired smoke screens to prevent observation, and HE on known enemy locations and targets of opportunity.

On one occasion, Feb 5-9, one platoon of Co C was attached to the 2nd Bn, 276th Inf, to support that battalion in an attack. In this instance screens were fired, and HE concentrations were fired on enemy counterattacks with very good effect. The missions in support of the cavalry groups consisted mainly of harassing and interdictory fire to restrict enemy movements and prevent concentration of enemy forces of sizable strength.

Acting under orders of XV Corps, the 101st Cav Grp planned an attack to clear Schaffhausen in conjunction with the attack of the 70th Inf Div on Forbach. Elaborate plans were made calling for smoke screens and large preparation fires, but the 70th Div attack failed to achieve its final objectives and the attack of the 101st Cav was called off. The companies of the battalion moved into their previously prepared positions, however, and fired in support of a demonstration on the morning of 9 Mar 1945.

At the conclusion of this raid, the battalion reverted to XV Corps reserve for rest and rehabilitation, and moved by motor convoy from the vicinity of Lauterbach, Germany, to the vicinity of Berg, France.

During this rest period, one section of mortars (two guns) from Co C under the command of Lt Walter C. Norris was attached to division artillery of the 44th Inf Div for counter-mortar operations. The work was of an experimental nature using radar as a means of locating enemy gun positions and adjusting our counter fires. A Signal Corps officer who had experimented with the principle in England in conjunction with the British, was in charge of the work. On account of defects in the apparatus, satisfactory results were not obtained. Operations demanded that the mortar section return to the battalion before the defects could be corrected. However, the application of radar as described is of such importance as to demand immediate development.

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Breaching the Maginot Line

On 13 Mar, 1945, the entire battalion was attached to the 100th Inf Div for support during its attack to secure Bitche and breach the Maginot Line. Thus the battalion returned to a mission it had previously had during the week of Dec 20, 1944, but which was interrupted by a reshuffle of troops in Seventh Army to release units to combat the Ardennes breakthrough. The 100th Div was virtually in the same positions and jumped off on 15 Mar at 0500. Battalion moved into position on the 14th attached as follows:
Bn less Cos A & C atchd 398th Rgmt
Co A atchd 397th Rgmt
Co C atchd 399th Rgmt

The attack was made without artillery preparations so that firing was light. As the attack progressed fairly rapidly, the companies fired several local smoke screens of short duration and numerous missions on call from the infantry against machine guns and strong points.

By noon of 17 Mar, Bitche, Camp de Bitche and the number of forts surrounding the Maginot stronghold had been reduced and the 100th Div had advanced to the north against light resistance. At 1200 on the 17th, the battalion less Co A was relieved from attachment to the 100th Div and attached to the 45th Inf Div. Co A remained attached to the 397th Inf Rgmt, 100th Inf Div. The company continued in support of the 397th advancing north from Bitche to Walschbronn.

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Breaching the Siegfried Line

Rhineland Campaign - click to enlarge By 1000 on 18 Mar, the battalion assembled in the 45th Div area. The division was attacking the main Siegfried defenses with three regiments abreast, 157th on the right, 179th in the center, and 180th on the left. The main axis of the Division at this point was the road Blieskastel-Zweibruken-Homburg. The Siegfried Line was fairly lightly defended, but the infantry was badly in need of smoke to screen their maneuvers and allow tanks to approach the line.

Co B minus the 3rd platoon was attached immediately to the 180th Inf and went into position in the vicinity of Biesingen to fire screens on the high ground to the left of Blieskastel. On the afternoon of Mar 19, the company fired four screens in support of the 180th which allowed the infantry to clean out pillboxes along a small stream.

On the 20th the resistance began to crumble and very little firing was done by Co B. By 21 Mar, Homburg had been taken and the race to the Rhine began. The company moved from assembly area to assembly area with the 180th Infantry, since no fire support was necessary.

By 23 Mar, the Rhine River was reached north of Worms and the company reverted to 2nd Cml Mortar Bn control and moved to vicinity of Gauersheim before moving into position for the Rhine crossings.

Co C moved from Bitche to the 45th Div area on the morning of 18 Mar, and the company, less the third platoon, was attached to the 157th Rgmt. It established mortar positions in the vicinity of Blickweiler and fired a smoke screen for an infantry-tank advance during the afternoon. Several HE missions were fired also in support of that attack.

On 19 March, the company displaced forward to the vicinity of Hengstbach and fired five smoke screens to cover the infantry advance through the Siegfried Line. It also fired several missions on call against pillboxes and dug-in positions.

By the 20th, resistance had been practically reduced and Zweibruken had fallen. The company fired two screens plus some night harassing on enemy approach routes and then assembled in the vicinity of Zweibruken, preparatory to the dash to the Rhine. For the next two days, the company advanced with the 157th Inf to successive assembly positions along the general axis Homburg-Kaiserslautern-Grunstadt. No firing was required, and on 24 Mar, the company assembled under battalion control in vicinity of Gauersheim.

From 18-24 Mar, the third platoons of both Co B and Co C were attached to the 179th Inf. These platoons, in support of the leading battalions, fired several screening and preparation missions for the advance through the Siegfried Line. Their movements closely approximated those of the rest of the battalion, and on the 24th they were relieved from attachment to the 179th Inf and rejoined their companies in the vicinity of Gauersheim.

On 22 Mar, Co A was relieved from attachment to the 100th Div and joined the Battalion at Gauersheim. The 100th Div had the mission of defending the corps right flank and required very little support from the company.

Bn Hq moved in close conjunction with the 45th Div Hq, establishing CPs at Brietfurt-Homburg-Grundstadt-Gauersheim. At Grunstadt the night of 22 Mar, an enemy plane bombed and strafed the Bn CP, killing two men and wounding ten.

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Crossing the Rhine

Campaign of Central Europe - click to enlarge During the evening of 24 Mar, the battalion was attached to regimental combat teams for Rhine River crossings as follows:
Co A atchd 179th Inf
Co B atchd 180th Inf
Co C atchd 157th Inf

Co A moved into position on the evening of 25 Mar, in preparation for the Rhine crossing between Worms and Mainz. Two platoons were in the vicinity of Hamm, with one platoon in assembly position for immediate crossings. The crossing started at 0230 on 26 Mar, and one platoon fired into Gernsheim at H hour, starting several fires. During the night of 26-27 Mar, the company completed its crossing, by ferry, clearing at 0400 on 27 Mar and assembling in Gross Ruhrheim. As resistance was light, no firing was required and the company moved with the 179th to Gross Ostheim. On Mar 28-31, the company fired in support of the 179th advance, which moved rather slowly south of Aschaffenburg because of fanatical resistance in that city.

On 30 Mar, one man was killed and five men were seriously wounded in Co A by an enemy mortar tree-burst directly over one of our mortars which was firing at the time.

On 25 Mar, Co B moved into position for the Rhine crossings, one platoon attached to each battalion of the 180th Inf. No firing was required in support of the crossings. The company crossed on the 26th, two platoons in DUKWS and one by ferry. A few missions were fired to support the advance of the 180th which was meeting more resistance than the other regiments. On 29 Mar, the company fired very successfully on an enemy strong point in a factory on the east bank of the Main River, starting a large oil fire.

On 31 Mar, after Co B had crossed the Main river in support of the 180th Inf, the regiment was relieved by the 15th Inf of the 3rd Div, and the company was relieved from attachment to the 180th Inf and attached to the 3rd Div in the vicinity of Volkersbrunn.

On 25 Mar, Co C moved to positions in the vicinity of Ibersheim and Rheindurkheim in support of the 157th Inf which was initially in reserve. The company crossed the Rhine by pontoon bridge on the 27th and did no firing until Aschaffenburg was reached. Here fanatical resistance was encountered by the 157th, and the entire company fired many missions into the city starting numerous fires and destroying several buildings. For four days, the city held out against our constant mortar and artillery fire and continued daylight bombing. The company remained in position on the outskirts of town until the end of the month.

On 1 Apr 1945, the battalion, minus Co B was attached to XV Corps and further attached to the 45th Inf Div. Co B was attached to the 3rd Inf Div. Both divisions were operating adjacent to each other and spearheading the drive of the corps across Germany. At the beginning of the month, the Main river had just been crossed by both divisions south of Aschaffenburg, and they had advanced northeast toward Bruckenau and Gersfeld. Aschaffenburg held out for two days after it had been isolated and bypassed, but surrendered on 2 Apr. Attachments of companies to units within XV Corps during the month changed frequently and are listed below:

Bn Hq, Apr 1-30, 1945, 45th Inf Div
Co A: Apr 1-21, 1945, 179th Inf Div; Apr 21-30, 1945, 42nd Inf Div
Co B: Apr 1-21, 1945, 3rd Inf Div; Apr 21-30, 1945, 179th Inf, 45th Div
Co C: 45th Div: Apr 1-3, 157th Inf; Apr 3-14, 180th Inf; Apr 14-30, 157th Inf

In general, the war at this period had become a pursuit of the enemy. On most occasions, platoons were detached from their companies and attached to infantry regiments and battalions for rapid support in the fast moving situation. Resistance was light during the entire period except for defenses around Nurnberg and on the Danube River. Very little firing was done during the month, in fact, the lowest of any combat month since the battalion first saw action in Sicily.

During the fight for Nurnberg, defended by approximately 8,000 SS troops supported by dual purpose 88 mm guns, one incident is worthy of note. The third platoon of Co C, attached at the time to the 180th Inf, engaged in a close-up duel with a battery of six 88 mm guns at a range of 350 yards. Two mortars firing with two powder rings (minimum range table: 3 rings), completely neutralized the gun battery with 150 rounds of mixed WP and HE and enabled a squad of infantry to take 225 prisoners from dugouts surrounding the position.

April for the XV Corps found the resistance, except for a few isolated instances, practically negligible, and the fight was a fight of supply and rapid movement alone. Important cities captured during the month by units to which the battalion was attached were: Aschaffenburg, Gersfeld, Bad Bruckenau, Bad Kissingen, Bamberg, Erlangen, Nurnberg, Schwabach, Dachau, and Munchen. The Main, the Saale, the Pegnitz, the Altmuhl, and the Danube and Isar rivers were crossed.

On May 1, 1945, the battalion less Co A was attached to the 3rd Inf Div. Co A was attached to 42nd Inf Div. Practically all resistance had ceased and the infantry was traveling rapidly.

The Bn CP was in Munich with the companies moving generally on the axis Munich-Salzburg. Very little firing was done during the month.

On May 3, 1945, the Bn CP moved to Traunstein, a fairly large town north of the Munich-Salzburg autobahn. The city had not been entered previously, so the battalion accepted the surrender of the garrison there, approximately 1000 Wehrmacht soldiers and two hospitals. Credit for capture of the town was given by XV Corps to the battalion.

On May 4, 1945, Co C was given the detail of guarding and marching 25,000 prisoners to the Army POW cage in Bad Aibling.

As the war officially ended, the battalion was in the general area of Salzburg, Austria, under orders to be prepared to move southeast with the 42nd and 86th Divisions to enforce the terms of surrender in that area. This operation did not materialize and on May 10, 1945, the battalion took up occupation duties in the area of the 42nd Inf Div.

Thus ended a period of 670 days since the battalion landed in Sicily on D-Day, July 10, 1943, of which 511 days were actual combat time in the line.

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Assignments & Attachments

List of assignments

Seventh Army, Jul 10, 1943, to Sep 10, 1943
Fifth Army, Sep 10, 1943, to Jun 29, 1944
Seventh Army, Jun 29, 1944, to Jun 9, 1945

List of attachments

Jul 10, 1943, to Jul 31, 1943 - 45th Inf Div
Jul 31, 1943, to Aug 18, 1943 - 3rd Inf Div
Aug 18, 1943, to Sep 10, 1943 - II Corps
Sep 10, 1943, to Oct 8, 1943 - 45th Inf Div
Oct 8, 1943, to Oct 20, 1943 - 34th & 45th Inf Divs
Oct 20, 1943, to Oct 31, 1943 - 34th Inf Div
Oct 31, 1943, to Nov 5, 1943 - 3rd & 34th Inf Divs
Nov 5, 1943, to Nov 23, 1943 - VI Corps, 3rd Inf Div
Nov 24, 1943, to Dec 28, 1943 - II Corps, 36th Inf Div
Dec 28, 1943, to Jan 1, 1944 - II Corps, 34th Inf Div
Jan 2, 1944, to Jan 31, 1944 - II Corps, 34th & 36th Inf Divs, Combat Cmd A, 1st Armd Div
Feb 1, 1944, to Feb 29, 1944 - II Corps, 34th & 36th Inf Divs
Mar 1, 1944, to Mar 31, 1944 - II Corps, 88th Inf Div
Apr 1, 1944, to May 6, 1944 - II Corps Reserve
May 7, 1944, to May 10, 1944 - 85th Inf Div
May 11, 1944, to May 13, 1944 - 85th & 88th Inf Divs
May 14, 1944, to May 22, 1944 - 85th Inf Div
May 23, 1944, to May 31, 1944 -88th Inf Div
Jun 1, 1944, to Jun 10, 1944 - 85th Inf Div
Jun 11, 1944, to Jul 2, 1944, - Fifth Army
Jul 3, 1944, to Jul 14, 1944 - Seventh Army
Jul 15, 1944, to Jul 18, 1944 (Co A) - Airborne Training Cmd
Jul 19, 1944, to Jul 31, 1944 (Co A) - Seventh Army Airborne Div (Provisional)
Aug 1, 1944, to Sep 17, 1944 - 1st Airborne Task Force
Jul 17, 1944, to Jul 18, 1944 - VI Corps
Jul 19, 1944, to Aug 31, 1944 - 36th Inf Div
Aug 27, 1944, to Sep 3, 1944 - VI Corps Provisional Flank Protective Force
Sep 4, 1944, to Sep 17, 1944 - 36th Inf Div
Sep 1, 1944, to Sep 17, 1944 (Co C) - 36th Div Quartermaster
Sep 18, 1944, to Oct 19, 1944 - 1st Airborne Task Force
Oct 19, 1944, to Nov 18, 1944 - 9th DIC, 1st French Army
Nov 19, 1944, to Nov 25, 1944 - 2nd DIM, 1st French Army
Nov 26, 1944, to Nov 30, 1944 - 9th DIC, 1st French Army
Dec 1, 1944, to Dec 3, 1944 - XV Corps
Dec 4, 1944, to Dec 23, 1944 - 100th Inf Div
Dec 4, 1944, to Feb 10, 1945 (Co A) - 106th Cav Grp
Dec 15, 1944, to Dec 23, 1944 (Co C) - 44th Inf Div
Dec 24, 1944, to Feb 10, 1945 - 106th Cav Grp
Feb 11, 1945, to Mar 8, 1945 - 101st Cav Grp, 70th Div
Mar 9, 1945, to Mar 12, 1945 - XV Corps Reserve
Mar 13, 1945, to Mar 17, 1945 - 100th Inf Div
Mar 18, 1945, to Mar 30, 1945 - 45th Inf Div
Mar 13, 1945, to Mar 21, 1945 - 100th Inf Div
Mar 31, 1945, to Apr 30, 1945 - 45th Inf Div
Mar 31, 1945, to Apr 20, 1945 (Co B) - 3rd Inf Div
Apr 21, 1945, to Apr 30, 1945 - 42nd Inf Div
May 1, 1945, to May 5, 1945 - 3rd Inf Div
May 6, 1945, to May 8, 1945 (Co B) - 86th Inf Div
May 6, 1945, to Aug 30, 1945 - 42nd Inf Div

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Individual Decorations

Legion of Merit - 2
Silver Star - 16
Soldier's Medal - 6
Bronze Star - 94
Purple Heart - 248
Croix de Guerre with Silver Star - 3
Croix de Guerre with Bronze Star - 2

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Goon Gun Gal

(Sung to tune of Lili Marlene)
We have a Recon O, who finds you a place,
Then our S-3, who checks upon your pace.
Our Liaison will give "all clear"
And then it's up to you, my dear,
To sing your song of hate
Before it gets too late.

Inside a building, which is my OP
Trying to spot a Jerry, Oh! where can he be?
Hiding as always inside a house,
Afraid to come out, the dirty louse,
Afraid of you, my doll,
Afraid of Goon Gun Moll.

Oh! Mr. Exec, this is the OP,
Send over a volley on concentration three.
You are short and to the right;
Now make a change and check your sight,
And have her blast again,
That dear Old Goon Gun Jane.

Now, Mr. Exec, you're right on the spot,
So fire for effect, and we will kill the lot.
A few more less to fret about,
The further we get in the land of Kraut.
Mission complete, Old Pal,
Thanks a lot, Goon Gun Gal.

You've been through Sicily, Italy and then here,
And you've rode through France, just like Paul Revere.
Your work's admired by all we help.
You've made the Heinies holler and yelp,
For you, our stove pipe moll,
Tis you, the Goon Gun Doll.

There'll be a crowd, wondering who's the dame
With such a helluva title for a name;
So do your stuff - a blast from you -
And then they'll know the four point two.
For you're our Goon Gun Tess,
The pride of CWS.

Words by Lt Raymond Dale
Written near Lauterbach, Germany, December 1944


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