460th Parachute Field Artillery Battalion
Condensed from Paratroopers' Odyssey: A History of the 517th Parachute Combat Team (1985, Military Narrative by LTC Charles E. LaChaussee, AUS Ret.) and Chronicle of the 517th PRCT (1985, Compiled by Clark Archer)
This version was printed as a feature article in Airborne Quarterly magazine in the winter of 1998.
Winter '98 -The Airborne Quarterly - 47
(Ed Footnote: Throughout modern history it has almost always been the lament of the infantryman that he envied his artilleryman cohorts because they had "cushy" positions behind the lines with "dry socks and hot meals"! Those in the "know" however "knew" the fallacy of the lament. And, it is particularly true for the airborne artilleryman! He hits the same DZ at the same time and for him there are no "rear areas"! As well, I would venture to add that the prospect of knowing you're a primary target for counter-battery fire by enemy artillery, is as disconcerting for the artilleryman as it is for the infantryman when he wonders where the next "in-coming" Is going to hit! In ancient time, the artillery was positioned on the battlefield "in front" of the infantry - as weaponry evolved they moved to the immediate rear and later, to defilade positions to protect the pieces, not the crews! The advent of airborne and the limitations of aerial delivery during WWII made the 75 mm pack howitzer with its limited range, the artillery of airborne. That, put the artilleryman back up close to the front lines and the airborne artilleryman In the circle of the frontline combat zone. I never met an infantryman (and I was one for almost 38 years), who ever complained about the comfort he derived from hearing the "out-going" rounds over his head! In the "airborne", the difference between an artilleryman and an Infantryman Is that one pulls a lanyard, and the other a trigger! War has changed and will change even more - but, I'll bet there will never come a day when the "Queen of Battle" isn't happy that the "King of the Battlefield'. is side by side !)
The 460th Parachute Field Artillery Battalion was activated March 15, 1943, as an element of the 17th Airborne Division. The authorized strength of the 460th was 39 officers and 534 enlisted men. The battalion commander was LTC James C. Anderson. The executive officer was MAJ Bert Nash and MAJ Cleo V. Hadley was the S-3.
March 2, 1943: 84 enlisted men of the 377th Parachute Field Artillery Battalion were assigned as cadre to the 460th. April 10, 1943: Captain William Ennis, 1st Lieutenant Louis Vogel and eight enlisted men: 1st Sergeant Joseph Koch. Staff Sergeant Edward Johnson, Staff Sergeant Donald Kirk, Tech Sergeant George Hubbard, Corporal John Fuller, Sergeant Daniel Bellonio, Sergeant Jack Luddy and Sergeant Joseph Verbosky, were ordered to Camp Toccoa, GA for temporary duty in connection with reception, screening and assignment of recruits for the 460th Parachute Field Artillery Battalion. Men selected were shipped to Camp Mackall, NC where the 17th Airborne Division was being formed.
After training at Camp Mackall and nearby Ft. Bragg, the men of the 460th were ready for Fort Benning, GA and parachute training. Arriving at Fort Benning in late August 1943, the battalion was ready for whatever the Jump School Cadre had to offer and they offered an abundance. Push-ups almost around the clock, running under the hot Georgia sun, calisthenics, shock harness, tower mock-up and the nervousness of packing your parachute. These were the A-B-C-stages. The supreme test was the dreaded D Stage, where your mettle was certain to be tested -- your first parachute jump.
Monday, September 13: The artillery men of the 460th were ready and waiting for the first of five parachute jumps that were required to win the coveted Silver Wings that recognizes one as an Army paratrooper. The men of the 460th were unique due to the fact that they went through Jump School as a unit. They didn't let the battalion down; they passed with flying colors.
Saturday, September 19: Some proud and happy young men with shiny wings on their chests, boarded a train and the United States Army's newest parachute artillery battalion was on the way back to Camp Mackall. For the next four and a half months, it was more training, but this time parachute jumps were an intricate part of the program. Furloughs and weekend passes were granted and everyone was looking forward to the holiday season, for most their first away from home.
Soon it was winter in North Carolina and many of the troops saw snow for the first time. The snow was exciting until it fell while the battalion was bivouacked in a rural area. But worse conditions were ahead for the men of the 460th. February 5, 1944: The battalion left Camp Mackall and traveled to Tennessee to take part in maneuvers conducted by Headquarters, Second Army. "Tennessee Maneuvers" simulated combat conditions as realistically as possible. Participation in such trial was to substantiate a unit's fitness for combat duty.
On a miserably cold, wet day, it was announced that the parachute elements of the 17th Airborne Division were being pulled out for overseas shipment, as the 517th Parachute Regimental Combat Team. This was welcome news for men of the 460th and on Saturday, March 4, 1944, the battalion was on its way back to Camp Mackall.
During the next two months, all efforts were concentrated on preparation for overseas movement. Wills and powers of attorneys were made out, leaves were granted, and shots taken for communicable diseases. Crew-served weapons, artillery and vehicles were cosmolined, crated and readied for shipment. With personal obligations taken care of and goodbyes said, and with little or no apprehension apparent, the troops were eagerly waiting for further orders.
Two weeks before embarkation, the battalion commander and staff of the 460th were relived. Lieutenant Colonel Raymond L. Cato, USMA '36, and eight officers from the 466th Parachute Field Artillery Battalion were assigned in their places. Two of these new officers, Captains Edward C. Frank and John M. Kinzer, were promoted to the rank of major. Frank would be the XO officer and Kinzer the S-3.
The 460th was ready and prepared for combat. The Fire Direction Center would be manned by troopers who were well trained to perform their assigned tasks. Gun crews had proven themselves on the artillery ranges of Fort Bragg. The officers were an exceptional group that had graduated from the Artillery school at Fort Sill, OK. All troopers of the 460th were selected and trained to excel in their assigned duties.
Then LTC Cato, as he is today
D Battery, originally an antiaircraft tank battery with 37mm cannons and 50 caliber machine guns was converted by Colonel Cato to 75mm pack howitzers and they retained their eight 50 caliber weapons. The 460th, now with four gun batteries, was unique among artillery battalions.
In early May 1944, the 460th staged through Camp Patrick Henry, near Newport News, Va. On May 17, the battalion and the 596th Airborne Engineer Company loaded onto the Panama Canal Ship Cristobal and sailed down the James river. At Hampton Road, the Cristobal and the grace liner, Santa Rosa. with the 517th Parachute Infantry Regiment aboard, were joined by a Navy destroyer and the little convoy headed out into the open Atlantic. The odyssey of the 517th Parachute Regimental Team had begun. (The Cristobal would survive the war and return to U.S. Army service, moving supplies and personnel between the United states and the Panama Canal Zone until she was retired in the late 1980s. )
The 14-day trip across the Atlantic Ocean and through the Mediterranean Sea to the port of Naples. Italy. was relatively uneventful, except for one grievous incident. Staff Sergeant Leo Degrenier. a cadre member and T-4 Franceco Soto had on-ship assignments that allowed close contact with the ship's crew. This association led to the drinking of "Torpedo Juice". resulting in their deaths. The battalion had suffered two previous deaths. One when a recruit died while running Mount Currahee at Toccoa. GA; another at Camp Mackall. when Thomas Loggins of Pensacola, FL was killed when a supposedly unarmed bazooka rocket exploded in a Headquarters Battery barracks. Several others were seriously injured. including loss of limbs.
After the Cristobal and Santa Rosa docked at Naples on May 31, the troopers filed down the gangplanks into waiting railroad cars and were carried to a staging area in the Neapolitan suburb of Bagnoli. The Regimental Combat Team (RCT) was scheduled to take part in the attack from Valmontone to Rome the next day. This was canceled after it was made known that crew-served weapons, artillery and vehicles were not yet available.
From the staging area of Bagnoli, the RCT moved on to "The Crater." The Crater was the bed of a long-extinct volcano that was rumored to have been the private hunting reserve of Neapolitan royalty. It was a flat, circular area surrounded by the volcano's rime. The troopers set up a tent camp and settled down to wait for weapons and vehicles to arrive. While the troopers waited in the Crater, the 460th's "Air Force," 1st Lieutenants, Fred L. Fadely and George F. Morris, and Staff Sergeant Victoria Miskimins were busy reassembling the two Piper Cub liaison places that were partly disassembled for shipment on the Cristobal. Fadely and Morris were aviators, and Fort Sill-trained artillery officers. Miskimins was the aircraft mechanic.
Shortly after the aircraft were ready to fly, Fadely was ordered by the 5th Army to fly over the Anzio area to search for targets to be fired upon by artillery battalions in that sector. He saw nothing worthy of artillery fire, but he may have been the first member of the combat team to go on a combat mission.
After two weeks in the Crater, the RCT finally received their equipment and on June 14, the outfit struck tents, stowed away extra gear, and moved to a beach at Naples to wait for LSTs to carry them to Anzio. The RCT loaded three ships per , battalion. The LSTs headed north toward Anzio but during the night, the RCT's destination was changed by the SIb Army Command. The ships continued north and at midday, the LSTs put in at bomb-wrecked Civittavecchia, dropped ramps and the troops marched off to bivouac several miles inland.
The RCT was attached to the 36th Infantry Division which was under IV Corps and operating on the left of 5th Amy. On June 17, the 460th was trucked to near Grosseto where they moved into firing positions, after contacting 36th Division Artillery.
On June 18, the 517th Infantry filed through Grosseto heading northeast on Highway 223. The 1st Battalion ran into a storm of machine gun fire as it entered the Moscona Hills. The 460th saw their first action when their 75mm howitzers opened fire. The Germans retreated, leaving behind over 100 prisoners and a large number of dead and wounded.
On or about June 24, 2nd Battalion Commander, Lieutenant Colonel Richard Sietz and Battalion S-2/S-3 Sergeant, Staff Sergeant Bill Lewis were on reconnaissance in the area along Highway 1 near Folloncia where the battalion was moving through. From their hillside position, they observed German tanks headed in their direction so 460th Forward Observe W.J. "Tommy" Thompson was alerted and he positioned himself on a hilltop and called in artillery fire that repelled the tank attack. The 460th "Air Force" got into the action in this sector of Italy when Lieutenant Fadely, flying his liaison plane over German-held territory, spotted a large enclosure with tanks and other vehicles. He called for artillery and the guns of the 46om answered. Much equipment was destroyed and Fadely continued on in search of other targets. In the RCT's brief engagement in Italy, 4,746 rounds were fired from the 16 howitzers of the 460th. Another 559 rounds were directed for a 105mm Battery.
The RCT was relieved June 26 and pulled back to the area of Frascati, southwest of Rome, to make preparations for the "Big show," the parachute assault into Southern France. Bivouacked in an olive grove near Frascati, the troopers of the 460th welcomed the opportunity to relax and enjoy USO shows, PX rations and swimming in a nearby lake. Rome, only 11 miles away, was a special treat and passes were liberal.
On July 18, the 517th RCT was formally assigned by 7th Army to the 1st Airborne Task Force. August 11, the 460th was trucked to a bivouac area near Montalto de Castro west of Rome. Other units of the RCT were scattered about in the Rome area. The 460th was sealed off on August 10. Movement in and out of the bivouac area was banned and no further contact with military or civilian personnel was allowed. About 1:00 a.m., August 15, 1944, the 460th minus C Battery, loaded into C-47 aircraft from the 437th Group, 53 Wing of the USAAF Troop Carrier Command. One by one the planes roared down the dirt runway and lifted off into the dark sky to join other planes of the "Albatross Mission, " the "Spearhead" to drop 5,628 paratroopers into Southern France. C Battery, assigned to the lst Battalion, took off from a dirt runway near Canino.
Some troopers of the 460th landed on or near their designated drop zone while others landed as much as 20 miles away. Either through error or a faulty jump light system, 20 planes dropped artillery men early and they landed in the vicinity of Frejus, France. These men had great difficulty finding each other. Sometime after daylight, about 18-20 Headquarters troopers with much equipment were headed into the direction they hoped would lead them to the battalion. About mid- morning, they met up with Major Frank and about 30 others from Headquarters Battery. By noon, a force near 100 460th troopers with four 75mm howitzers and other equipment, under the command of the major, was headed west.
After halting for the night. the major was made aware of a nearby German 88mm artillery battery. At daybreak. seven German guns were put out of action by artillery fire from the 75mm howitzers of "Task Force 100". Satisfied with their first fire mission. the "Force." along with their German prisoners captured the previous day. continued their trek westward. After some friendly persuasion while looking down the barrel of a machine gun. the prisoners helped to pull the howitzers. After another scrimmage with the enemy in the afternoon. the artillery men's journey of some 20 miles ended when Colonel Cato greeted his lost mini-battalion as they arrived with 1/4 of his battalion's fire power.
On D+2, Lieutenants Fadely and Morris flew their liaison planes from Italy to Corsica where the two aircrafts were loaded onto takeoff ramps attached overhead on LSTs. Off the coast of France, the ships headed into the wind and with the lieutenants gunning the planes' engines to full throttle, they headed up the ramps and with the help of the wind, the aircrafts lifted up into the sky to become the airborne eyes for the RCT.
1st Gun Section. 460th, Aug 44 In southern France. Photo: Bucher
The next two weeks saw the RCT headed in a NE direction. Towns and villages fell like dominoes, one after the other as the fast-moving combat team pushed toward the Maritime Alps. September found the RCT in the Alps. The 460th was firing 300-400 rounds daily during the battle for Col De Braus. Continuous enemy counter battery fire came upon the battalion's position a mile north of L'Escarene. On September 5, a five-round concentration killed one man and wounded nine and forced the battalion's CP to set up in a railroad tunnel. It wasn't like starting from scratch, although lots of scratching took place because the tunnel was loaded with fleas.
A group of Headquarters men had taken up positions nearby and claimed foxholes left by the Germans. Providence was with one trooper who had abandoned his first foxhole for another: his first choice took a direct artillery hit. Lieutenant Fadely. not to be left out of the action in the Alps. flew his small plane over one of the maintain fortresses near Sospel to direct fire from the large guns of a British cruiser in the Nice harbor. He scored several hits only to discover later than no damage was done to the mighty citadel that showed no respect for repeated hits from 7Smm, 105mm, and 155mm shells.
The RCT continued to fight in the Alps for the next two and a half months pushing the Germans into northern Italy. During this period, the guns of the 460th played havoc with the German troops: 75mm pack howitzer were spread over a considerable area from L 'Escarene to some of the highest peaks. Form the large amount of rounds fired into Col de Braus to single round direct fire, the battalion was always ready when artillery fire was requested. After liberating Sospel, the Germans' last stronghold in the Alps, and after more than 90 days in combat, the RCT was relieved by the newly arrived 14th Armored Infantry. During this tree-month span, the 460th fired 9,130 rounds of 75mm shells.
The 460th' s performance was superb during this period. Under adverse weather conditions and frequent movement of gun batteries, their precision fire never disintegrated. Under the leadership of Lieutenant Colonel Cato, a brilliant commander and an artillery genius, the battalion was always in firing position, due to the leapfrog maneuvers of the gun batteries. On December 22, the RCT, minus the 1st Battalion, was assigned to support the 3Qth Infantry Division near Malmedy. The 460th fired 400 rounds in missions south and east of Malmedy. On Christmas Day, the RCT was released from attachment to the 30. and returned to XVIII Corps control and moved to Ferrieres. From positions near Ferrieres, the 460, reinforced the fires of the l' Armored Division Artillery.
3rd Gun Section. C-460. southern France. Aug 44. Photo: Bucher
On November 18, the 460th set up camp at La Colle, six miles west of Nice. On December 1, the RCT was assigned to XVIII Airborne Corps and directed to proceed to Soissons in northern France. On December 6, three trains pulling the infamous WWI 40 and 8 (a small boxcar designed to haul 40 men and 8 horses) were loaded at Antibes, France, for the 500- mile trip to Soissons. The first two trains arrived at Soissons on December 9 and the third came in the next day. Billeted in barracks for the first time overseas, the troopers were looking forward to Christmas with turkey and all the trimmings. The scuttlebutt was that the war was all but over and the RCT would soon be on the way home. The scuttlebutt was wrong. On the morning of December 18, the RCT was alerted to be prepared to move on two-hours notice.
The fall of Manhay on Christmas Eve to the 2nd SS Panzer Division sent shock waves throughout the Allied Command. High-level demands for its recapture at all cost were given to General Ridgway, who assigned the 517th RCT to spearhead the Manhay attack. On December 27th, the 460th coordinated an eight-battalion TOT (Time Over Target, an artillery technique in which all shells arrive on target at the same time, regardless of gun target distance), over 5,000 rounds were fired (one researcher states 8,600 rounds) in four concentrations, one directly upon Manhay and three on its southern approaches. The Germans were stunned by the artillery fire and caught off balance by the speed and violence of the attack. In less than an hour, Manhay was recaptured.
Movement orders came December 21, and the RCT loaded onto trucks for a long night's journey through sleet, snow and freezing rain. Destination -Belgium. The German army had launched a massive offensive against weak American positions in the Ardennes region of Belgium and Luxembourg. The RCT had been rushed into action to face the best German troops. During the next 37 days, the RCT would clash with units from SS, Panzer and Airborne Armies.
On New Year's Day, the RCT was attached to the 82Dd Airborne and alerted to go on attack in the Salm River sector of the Ardennes. Across the Salm River were elements of the 1st SS Panzer Corps and German paratroopers. As the attack began on January 3. the 460th fired concentrations of artillery fire. Later in the day, the battalion was told it would be limited to 500 rounds per day due to shortages of 75mm ammunition. This allotment was extended before darkness, and it is fortunate it was because a strong force of Germans counterattacked across the Salm River. The 460th hit them with repeated 75mm concentrations of fire that stalled their advance.
In Saint Jacques, 460th FO Lieutenant Tommy Thompson and his team had established their outpost in a large building with a clear view of their concentration point. Later, B Company settled in with the artillery men for the night. After dark, a column of German tanks entered town and began firing point-blank at their sanctuary. Lieutenant Thompson contacted a 155mm artillery battalion and firing by sound called in fire on the constantly moving tanks. To the relief of the troopers in the building, the tanks retreated. B Company Commander Captain Robbins told Thompson that he had saved his company. Thompson agreed, adding that the FO team's skins were also spared. Several hours later, about a company of enemy troops came up within a few hundred yards of Thompson's concentration point. He called for Battalion 10 rounds. Later, 60 bodies were found in the field.
At nearby Bergeval, C Company was engaged in a big fight on a ridge that continued throughout the night, becoming steadily more violent. Ranging in by sound, 460tb Artillery Observer Lieutenant Henry Covington brought artillery fire within 50 yards of C Company's position. The Germans, outnumbering C Company by about 200, retreated, leaving behind about 50 dead and many prisoners. Gallant C Company lost 24 men, including the company commander.
On January 7, the 3rd Battalion was given responsibility for what remained of the front along the Salm River. While the 460th remained in support of the 3rd Battalion, the rest of the RCT moved into the 82nd Airborne Division reserve near Arbrefontaine.
1st Army's next major effort was to be the recapture of the important road junction of St. Vith. The job was given to General Ridgway's XVII Airborne Corps. Colonel Graves received his orders on January II, and on January 13, the 460th moved into firing position north of Stavelot and the drive to recapture St. Vith began. Ten days later, the XVIII Airborne Corps had taken its final objective in the Ardennes, closing out the only major route of withdrawal left to the German forces. The 517th RCT's role in this drive was paramount. The 460 furnished pinpoint concentrations of artillery fire for the RCT and other units. The RCT had been in continuous action along the 30-mile XVIII Airborne Corps front from the Ourthe River to St. Vith for 37 consecutive days. From December 22 to January 27, not a day had passed in which part or all of the RCT was not in contact with the enemy.
Although the Battle of the Bulge had ended, the war was far from over. After a 10-day stay in Stavelot, resting and re-grouping, the 460th , along with the rest of the RCT, was ordered to Hansfeld, Germany, to join the 82nd Airborne Division. A few days later, February 3, the RCT was attached to the 78th Infantry Division.
During the next few days, the RCT would encounter some of the most violent fighting of the war, under the severest of weather conditions. During this period in the Bergstein- Schmidt area of the Huertgen Forest, the 460th Fire Direction Center coordinated their heaviest concentration of artillery fire of the war. 14 battalions of division and corps artillery, FO Captain Robert Woodhull was killed while directing fire and FO team member, Battalion Operations Sergeant, Tech Sergeant George Hubbard was seriously wounded.
After being relieved by the 508th Parachute Infantry, the RCT was trucked to the railhead at Aachen, Germany. After a two-day train trip, the RCT arrived at Laon, France, where they settled in for a two-day stay. On February 15, Colonel Graves was notified by the XVIII Airborne Corps that the RCT was assigned to the newly arrived 13th Airborne Division and was to proceed to Joigny, France, 70 miles southeast of Paris.
As the RCT closed in at Joigny on February 21st, the RCT was dissolved the 460th became part of the 13th Airborne Division Artillery and the 596th Engineers were merged with Company B, 129th Airborne Engineer Battalion.
On March 12, the 13th Airborne was assigned by 1st Allied Airborne Army to participate in "Operation VARSITY". Montgomery's crossing of the Rhine River. The 13th's participation in VARSITY was called off. It was the first of several aborted missions. The war in Europe ended and the 17th Airborne Division was scheduled for shipment to the Pacific where they were to participate in "Operation Cornet", a jump into the Japanese home islands, with take off from the Aleutians. (Ed. Note: The planned jumps were part of the deception plans for the invasion of the Japanese home island of Kyushu. Although the Joint Chiefs of Staff urged MacArthur to use the airborne capability possessed by U.S. Forces, he declined claiming inadequate airfields were available for departure points. This was not really correct as there were numerous fields throughout the area within round trip distance for Troop Carrier aircraft. Throughout the war, MacArthur's headquarters rarely showed any interest in using" airborne" in its' intended role. See the article in the Fall 98 issue of The Airborne Quarterly, for a more complete story.)
Some 460th troopers had optioned to join the 82nd Airborne in Berlin, other with enough points were offered discharges, most wanted to remain with the 460th and visit Japan. The war ended in the Pacific while the 460th was at sea headed for New York. Too bad, because once the 460th reached Japan, Tokyo Rose would have lost her petals.
The 460th's performance during the Battle of the Bulge was so extraordinary and complicated that it's difficult to comprehend. Their primary responsibility as the artillery arm of the RCT was to support the 517th Infantry. This they did exceptionally well. But many other units received the same quality of artillery fire from the 460th as did the 517th. Just how many others, it's difficult to say, but it's likely to have been 20 or more. During the nine days in Belgium in December, the 460th fired 4,759 rounds of 75mm shells and 30 TOTs, not counting the massive Manhay barrage. The 460th, in its five major campaigns during WWII, not only supported other units with 75mm fire, they also furnished fire direction center and forward observer assistance. The 16 howitzers of the 460th fired more than 19,000 rounds of the 75mm shells, again not counting the Manhay fire. The 460th certainly added credence to the old military adage that "artillery is never in reserve." (Ed. Note: How true!)
On February 25, 1946, at a deactivation ceremony held at Fort Bragg, NC, the 460th, a proud and courageous artillery battalion passed into history.
(Ed. Footnote: Those of us who are infantrymen sometimes lose sight of the indispensable value to us of the artillery. We tend to adopt a mindset that we are the on/y element bearing the brunt of the battle. And, while that idea has some justification from the viewpoint of the frontline "dogface" who sees on/y that which encompasses his fie/d of view, it lacks credibility in the "big picture ". It is not by accident that the rifle company commander demands that his artillery to be by his side when the battle wages on! For me, thank you C Btry, 674th!)