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US Army

183rd Field Artillery Battalion, Unit history - Battle of the Bulge

183rd Field Artillery Battalion,

 

Unit History - Battle of the Bulge

As Told To

 

Rebecca Kelch-Bennett

 

By

 

Captain Richard Clemens (ID), Erwin Burrow (Svc Bty, ID), Vic Snyder (HQ Bty, WI)

 
When Field Marshall Von Rundstedt launched his winter offensive in the Ardennes in mid December, the 183rd Field Artillery Battalion was in position at Jungersdorf, Germany, not far from the Roer River.  At Jungersdorf, the unit encountered one of the Germans' more effective weapons: the Nebelwerfer.  Available in three calibers the largest of which was a 300mm with a 277-pound projectile, the weapon was dubbed the Screaming Meemie because of the moan it made in flight.  In the forest, the weapon was effective because it rained down shrapnel from tree bursts.
 
The 183rd was a 155-mm howitzer (towed) unit which was part of the VII Corps under the command of General Joseph L. Collins.  The unit, which consisted of three firing batteries of four howitzers each, was immediately redeployed to meet the emergency.  On December 23, the 183rd went into position at Somme-Leuze, Belgium.  The unit had made a 48-hour forced march to reach this town.  One man was lost when his foot got caught in a tractor sprocket.
 
Since the majority of the VII Corps was still in the process of redeploying, the 183rd faced heavy resistance upon arrival.  The Germans had split 1st Army, and the 183rd supported the 18th Airborne Corps.  The advanced party on reconnaissance for new positions was accidentally silhouetted on a ridgeline and was taken under heavy fire by machine guns.  "The tracers looked like fireflies until they started bouncing off the vehicles. The bullets made a sharp crack when they went by."
 
The ground was covered with about 18" of snow.  When 1st Sergeant Louis Arambarri and Captain Clemens were positioning the guns, Clemens fell through an ice bridge and completely disappeared.  Luckily, he was not injured (only bruised), nor did the gun fall through.  At first light, the Battery Exec determined he had made a potentially fatal error in choosing a gun position.  The field was crossed by 200-foot tall high-tension power lines.  It had been snowing so hard and it was so dark, the men never saw them while positioning the guns.
 
On 24 December, the 183rd under the command of Lieutenant Colonel William C George went into position at Aisne, Belgium (about 15 miles to the west of its sister battalion, the 951st Field Artillery Battalion).  During the Battle of the Bulge, the 183rd supported the 3rd Armored Division.  In the first few days of the German offensive, the Battalion was chiefly instrumental in checking enemy tank and infantry assaults on Manhay and Grandmenil.  Contingents from the 2nd SS Panzer Division commanded by SS Lt General Heinz Lammerding were in the area near Grandmenil. (The 183rd had previously met this enemy at Pont Brocard, France and suffered serious casualties.)  Both towns were taken under fire by the battalion's guns on Christmas Eve.  The unit sent a continuous volume of fire for several hours until friendly armor and infantry arrived in sufficient strength to hold the two Belgian towns.
 

On Christmas Day, Service Battery was able to provide the unit with a turkey dinner.  It was bitterly cold and 12" of new snow had fallen.  The battlefields looked eerie in the moonlight. Battery "A" had dinner in a partially destroyed resort hotel.  There was even a little roof left for cover!

 
The Battalion used the POZIT fuses for the first time with devastating effect on Christmas night.  The POZIT (commonly known as the proximity fuse) detonated when close to its target inflicting heavy damage on the enemy.  Sergeant Vic Snyder (WI), chief of Fire Direction Center thought these new fuses were great because previously quite a bit of calculating had to be done for the target to be hit.
 
On 27 December, the 183rd went into position at Oppagne.  Visibility was practically zero.  Fire Direction Center was set up in a small store on the main street.  It was a tense time because nobody knew the location of the German advance.  Colonel George sent the S-3 to bed around midnight.  About 0200, Sergeant Vic Snyder (HQ Battery, WI) heard a light tank roll to a stop in front of the CP.  A young lieutenant from the 3rd Armored rushed into the CP and pleaded with the colonel to get everyone out quickly.  The 3rd Armored had been on a roadblock at an intersection over the hill from the unit's position.  They had left because a column of German tanks were getting close and nothing was between them and the tanks.  Colonel George calmly told the lieutenant that he could continue on but that the 183rd would stay put.Battery "C" had two guns on each side of the road a good view of what would come over the hill.  The Colonel called Battery "C" Commander.  He told him to "bore sight" each gun on the top of the hill and have plenty of ammo at the guns.  Then he gave the Battery Commander the authority to "fire at will."  When the first enemy tank appeared, "C" Battery let him have it, and they continued to fire on that hill throughout the night.
 

On 2 January, 1945, at Monchenoulle, the narrow roads were slick and hazardous, and the unit had a difficult time keeping the steel track prime movers on the icy roads.  On the first hill, "A" Battery really hit the skids.  The whole battery fishtailed down and around a curve finally sliding into a big field.  The wheeled vehicles had to speed up and get out of the way of the tractors pulling the guns to keep from getting run over.  Finally, they got back on the road, and as they approached the improved road, the MPs waved them through (probably thinking they were part of the division assigned to use the road).  The battery did fine until they met another ice-covered hill.  The steel-cleated tractors just spun in their tracks.  Everyone had to dismount and push, which was hard as even the men had a difficult time standing on the ice.

 

Another mission fired in January by the 183rd was a 1000-round smoke mission.  One of the 3rd Armored Division's Task Forces had been completely cut off from the rest of the division by a German armored spearhead.  The 183rd smokescreen was effective and accurate as the whole task force was able to regain our lines with only negligible losses in men and materiel.
 
On 12 January, 1945 at Hebronval, Belgium, the 183rd fired a total of 1866 rounds (almost 90 tons of ammunition) in a 24-hour period.
 
On the 15th as the Germans were withdrawing from the bulge pocket all three firing batteries were in position in a wide valley.  They were exposed except they were in defilade from German observers.  There was a nearly destroyed two-story house behind "A" Battery which was used as the CP.  Camouflage nets were not erected as the whole area was under a blanket of knee-deep snow.  After lunch, "A" Battery was surprised by enemy counter-battery artillery fire.  A volley landed about 500 meters in front of the battery, then a second four-round volley about 100 meters closer, then another 32 rounds.  One round hit the remains of the roof of the house where the CP was.  Luckily no one was injured. Baker Battery was not so fortunate.  They were in position near a well-used road intersection.  Intersections were used frequently by both sides as targets for irregular unobserved interdiction fire.  One of the enemy shells fell between the split rails of the battery's #2 gun killing one gunner, others were wounded, and a shell splinter hit Lieutenant Leland Daly (WA).  He was evacuated, but he did return later.
 
Lieutenant William P. Smith, the forward observer, shared an observation post with the 67th Armored Field Artillery and the 83rd Armored Field Artillery.  Twenty-five enemy tanks were observed withdrawing.  The tanks were slipping and sliding on the icy road and could not avoid the fire barrage.  Lieutenant Smith said it was like "shooting ducks in a rain barrel."  Thirteen enemy tanks were destroyed.  The 183rd was called upon often for support, and a hit by the unit's 155mm howitzers was very effective.  Even the mighty Tigers were laid to waste on the snow-covered battlefields of the Ardennes.
 

By the end of the Bulge, the 183rd had expended a great amount of firepower.  The unit fought in the snow-clad Belgium hills during the whole of the battle.  Freezing temperatures and open country made it difficult to combat both the enemy and the elements.  The GIs of the 183rd learned winter warfare in the school of the Battle of the Bulge.

 

The 183rd Field Artillery Battalion was cited in the Order of the Day of the Belgian Army for its action in the Ardennes Campaign.  After the Bulge, the 183rd took a rehabilitation and refitting period at Mohiville for 10 days after which it moved to firing positions in the Hürtgen Forest in Germany to meet the enemy on its own land.

 

The insignia of the 183rd Field Artillery Battalion is yellow gold with an azure fess wavy and a gliding yellow snake.  The shield is yellow to indicate the original organization as a Cavalry unit.  The fess wavy and the snake represent the Snake River in Idaho, the original allocation of the Battalion.  The motto of the 183rd is Sine mora (without delay).  The motto and insignia were approved 16 January, 1928.

 

By Rebecca KELCH-BENNETT

183rd Field Artillery

Battalion

Campaigns

Battle of the Bulge,

Belgium