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Our First Close-up Encounter

Our First Close-up Encounter
 
I would like to share my small story with you and the rest of our Bulge veterans.  Hopefully I'll hear from other veterans who were there, and may know more about my battalion's history.  After more that 60 years my memory is no longer what it used to be, my son has researched as much as he could with some success but we believe there's more to the unit's history.  This much we do know, the 1st Battalion, 941st Field Artillery, was build from the 172nd Field Artillery Regiment and the 773rd Field Artillery Battalion was built of elements from both 172nd and the 941st.
 

It all started when our outfit was assigned to the 1st Army, V Corps Artillery, 406th Field Artillery Group, 30th Division Artillery serving in the 1st Battalion, Headquarters Battery, 941st Field Artillery (heavy), commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel John F. Ahern.

 

We were ordered out to advance on the German positions marshalling along the Belgium/German border, in direct support of the 38th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron (Mecz) and advanced units of the 30th Infantry Division from 16 to 21 December 1944.  We set up firing positions in the vicinity of towns called Venwegen, Monschau, Eupen, Hofen, Niveze, Longfaye, Hockai, and Cackaifagne.  Our Call-sign was "Vineyard," and I was assigned to Headquarters Battery as forward lineman and assistant switchboard operator on the wire detail.  From time to time we would set up Observation Post's and assist after-action artillery surveying teams.

 

G2 Hq had advised the battalion commander of the (186th, 941st and 955th) to take heed about enemy infiltrations.  We're told some specialized English-speaking Germans were dressed as American MP's and regular GI's disrupting communications and sabotaging roadways.  The Ardennes was so heavily rugged, it was not well suited for towing 155's and the new 4.5" guns.  Everywhere we went there were large fields of ice/snow, cold/freezing rain and thick sticking mud.  We all endured the cold--first it would snow then snow again it seemed never to stop for days on end.  To this day, cold weather does not set well with me.

 

We all hoped this campaign would be over by Christmas.  I had just spent my 24th birthday anniversary (December) with two buddies huddled underneath a burned out, destroyed truck in the freezing snow/rain hoping to win the war soon and go home.  It was not to be, the Germans launched their major offensive against the allies early 16 December 1944 and hit us hard.

 

There was a full scale assault against our own positions, temporarily repulsed by forward elements of the 38th Cavalry, some ack-ack guns, a few 105's.  It gave the rest of the battalion time to advance in the opposite direction, to regroup and return fire covering the retreat of the forward elements that were holding the line.  Not sure about the 186th and the 955th Field Artillery Battalions--where they were at this time I do not know.  In the Ardennes Forest of Belgium we learned the Germans broke through many thinly held American lines and drove toward the English Channel heading for the Town/Port of Antwerp nearly destroying two American divisions in their path.

 
The fighting was fierce; our battalion would constantly move out, set-up firing positions, discharge hundreds of rounds, move out, set-up and fire again.  This would go on day in day out for two-three weeks without a warm break.  The battalion commander would remind us from time to time to think about the infantry and armored units up on the front lines slugging it out with German tanks and elite well trained mechanized infantry.  Saying, "If you think you got it bad, think about the boys up front."  The colonel was a good man.We all liked him a lot.
 

Interesting enough, after reading the story about the 146th Engineer Combat Battalion in the August 2004 Bulge Bugle newsletter, we too were tasked with augmenting some men from the 941st Field Artillery to the 38th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron (Mecz).  It was a successful attempt to block and delay the advance of the ruthless Colonel Peiper's 1st SS Panzer Division and advanced elements of the 326th Volksgrenadiers.  Two of the 15 men who were out of Service Battery were from my hometown, Homer Hewitt and George Landry, of Manchester, New Hampshire.  We learned they all earned the "Distinguished Service Badge" for their actions.  Once again word came down that it was Colonel Peiper's forces that had intercepted and captured a large group of U.S. soldiers most of which were artillerymen driving south along with elements of the 7th Armored Division.  Under orders they were herded into a large snow covered meadow and gunned down with machine guns and automatic weapons and left to freeze in the snow.

 

The men of the wire details out of Headquarters were Henry Plante, Horace Abbercrombie, John Busse, Peter Olean, George Pasqual, Hank Henderson, John Busse, Knee-high and myself to name just a few who were under supportive vigilance of Camile Cevalier, Harvey Lessard, Lester Bloom and Ralph Hooper.  We were always under constant threat of German snipers, land mines and booby traps.  Each time we were sent out to lay or repair broken communications wire, we all had to keep a watchful eye for these personal hazards.  I later received the Purple Heart for wounds received when our weapons carrier hit a German AT land mine, killing one and wounding four.

 

Our first up close encounter with German armor scared the living daylights out of us all.  The wire detail was out running new lines up forward to a new Observation Post.  Headquarters had marked the roadway (if tracked snow and mud dug-out by heavy armor and trucks constitute a road) guiding us to the Observation Post.  All morning we would see our small truck and armor convoys passing us while we were working on the wire placement.  We later would hear an echoing sound coming from the thick dense forest just ahead and from both sides of us, metal clanking and squealing sounds muffled with low rumbling engine moving around just on the other side of the tree lines.  We believed it was our guys moving into defensive positions, perhaps digging in waiting for others from division, we just kept on working, it was snowing cold, wet and muddy.

 

We were taking a quick move break while heating up a couple of cans of beans (we would placed them on the exhaust manifold of our running truck).  Then, we heard heavy artillery and mortar barrages.  Next came machine gun and rifle fire.It got closer and closer--still, we were unaware of the danger we were in.  One of the guys said, "Armand, we should saddle-up and get out of here," good idea!  As we started to load our tools into the truck, we turned to the tree line and saw GI's running out from the forest slipping, tripping and falling--running as fast as they could go, howling at the top of their lungs, "Tanks, German Tanks"!

 

This was the first time we saw German tank in action.  What we saw earlier were burned and destroyed hulks of either Mark II and III Panzers but, here we would learn were the heavy Mark V 1panthers and Mark VI Tigers.  They were the biggest armored machines we had ever seen--cannons blasting, machine guns firing, crashing through the tree lines.  Armed only with sidearms and carbines we were no match for what was heading our way so we did the next and only best thing… "Bug the hell out!!"   No time to pick-up, dropped everything even left the truck running in place. (We had a utility trailer in place and extra spools of wire hanging off of it.)  We finally made Headquarters and reported what happen.  We then learned that the Germans had broken through our lines and were pushing us back.

 

The whole battalion started to bug-out, jeeps, weapons carriers, 6X6's, M3 Halftracks towing 105's and trailers, M5's (hs) tractor towing big boys, the 155's and the new 4.5" gums, Ack-Ack gun crews, ambulances, medics, maintenance and service personnel.  MP's directing traffic, secret teams setting up machine gun and motor emplacements (serving as a first line of defense) against the advancing Germans.  It didn't appear to be chaos, more like well "orchestrated" confusion, everybody had a job to do and that's what we were doing.  The battalion had trained for this State side while on field maneuvers in Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas and desert training in southern California at Camp Iron Mountain.

 

Once the battalion regrouped we set up new firing positions, posted heavy security, new Observation Post's and informed division we were ready for fire missions.  Orders to fire came, the 941st had three batteries four guns each, (12) gun total, and they let loose with such a tremendous explosion of fire and defending thunder it felt like the earth around us was coming apart at the seams.  The roar of these guns echoed for many miles around.  I can't say what damage we did but, this it is for sure (1) we blasted the Germans' advancement three times harder than what they dished-out to us (2) we made plenty of fox holes for our own GI's to fight out of.

 
An after action report from G2 revealed the 941st Field Artillery had expended over 15,300 rounds into the advancing Germans for the month of December 1944 with only (4) battle casualties.  No idea what the other two Battalions (186th and the 955th) had also fired but, it would be safe to say at least the same, if not more.  The German army had surely paid dearly for this mistake, and we set up headquarters and firing positions through towns known as Hemmeres, Courtil, Tillet, Venwegen, Mont, Vossenack, Raeren, Wiltzfeld, Rotgen, Honsfeld and Winterscheid.  If there were others I've long forgotten their names.
 
I wish to express my most sincere, humble appreciation for being able to serve with the men of the 941st Field Artillery.  If not for their courage and dedication, I feel I would not be here alive today writing this letter.  For all VBoB's its an honor to have served with you, it was a good fight and hopefully with God's grace not worth repeating.  A special thanks to Harry Plante (deceased) and Horace "Abbie" Abbercrombie of Headquarters Battery--two men who thought me well and became my good friends.
 

Source:Bulge Bugle, February 2006

T/5 Armand F BOISSEAU

Dead October 5, 2007

 

172nd / 941st Field

 

Artillery Battalions

 

V Corps

 

Campaigns

Battle of the Bulge,

Belgium