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US Army

951st Field Artillery Battalion, Unit History - Battle of the Bulge

951st Field Artillery Battalion,

 

Unit History - Battle of the Bulge

By

 

Rebecca Kelch-Bennett

 

With Assistance From

 

Captain Ernest Chamberlain (UT), Lt. Russell Kelch (KS), Lt. Leo McCollum (OK), Lt. Earl Spendlove (NE), T/Sgt. Ole Haaland (IA), Sgt. John Renner (MO), T/Sgt Trygve Strand (MN)

 
Having survived the Battle of the Hürtgen Forest, the 951st Field Artillery Battalion, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Carl L. Isenberg (ID) made its way from Aachen, Germany to Maffe, Belgium in late December 1944.  The entire VII Corps was on the move, and the 951st was attached to the 188th Field Artillery Group.  On Christmas Eve, the 951st (a towed 155-mm howitzer unit) was in position about 1/2 mile south of Noiseux.  Headquarters Battery was sitting on a hillside, and the three firing batteries were further down the slope.
 
The Stars and Stripes had printed that all soldiers would have turkey for Christmas, so Captain Robert Moore (ID) requested that T/Sergeant Trygve Strand (MN) and S/Sergeant Cecil Dunham (IA) travel to Liege to get supplies.  It was a long, cold drive, and when they got there, a lieutenant at the supply depot turned them away insisting only divisions received supplies.  Because of T/Sergeant Strand’s persistence, the two sergeants were able to get ten-in-one meals.  Although a poor substitute for turkey, the 951st had peaches, pears, coffee, juice, hard biscuits, sweet jelly, dried eggs, and bacon for Christmas.
 
The Bulge was a cannoneer's “picnic” as round after round was fired on the enemy.  On 24 December, the unit fired 878 rounds, and on Christmas Day, 1262 rounds were fired.  During one of the fire missions, a formation of B-17's passed overhead.  Suddenly, a bomb fell through the air.  Seven 500-pound bombs and two clusters of incendiaries came in; one of the incendiary clusters landed in Baker Battery.  Luckily, nobody was hurt although one man did split his chin open diving in a foxhole.
 
On Christmas Day, Lieutenant Stephen Oder (MI) left with two enlisted men to set up an observation post in a hayloft.  Two days later they went forward to Verdenne, a hotly contested town which the Germans defended tenaciously.
 
At Noiseux, the unit lost three cannoneers.  The first was leading a howitzer into position when his feet slipped on the ice, and the prime mover crushed his foot.  A second gunner was caught by the breech block of one of the guns and broke both bones in his right forearm.  In the third accident, a shell had been rammed, and the gun was being elevated when the 95-pound projectile began to slide out the breech because of the ice on it.  The cannoneer tried to catch it, and the projectile turned over and went fuse first through his foot.  Luckily, it was a bore-safe fuse!
 
On Christmas Eve, Lieutenant Colonel Isenberg requested that Lieutenant Earl Spendlove (NE) find the ammo dump where a supply of POZIT fuses was stored.  Lieutenant Spendlove, his driver, and radio operator travelled the ice- and snow-covered roads to the dump.  The three stacked as many boxes as possible in the command car and headed back to the unit.  It was 10°F. The battalion fired the POZIT fuse for the first time on the night of 27 December.  This proximity fuse enhanced the lethality of timed fire, and the forward observer, Lieutenant Odor reported it very effective.  The unit had hit 10 tanks which were burning.
 
On 31 December at Somme Leuze, a liaison plane made an imperfect take off from a nearby air strip at the same time, Lieutenant Morris White (CA) and Lieutenant Marlin Stopfel (PA) were taking off from the unit's field.  The two planes were so close that Lieutenant White made a sharp turn in an effort to prevent a collision, but in doing so, he crashed.  Lieutenant White was killed, and Lieutenant Stopfel was seriously burned.  Lieutenant Leo McCollum (OK) volunteered to be an aerial observer and started flying with Lieutenant Walter Gerving (OR) who piloted one of the L4 observation planes.
 
On 1 January, the battalion moved into position at Erezee.  The weather was raw.  The M-5 prime mover had the most trouble on the hilly, ice-covered roads and skidded as if on ice skates.  There were no ice grossers available for prime movers.  Diamond Ts were finally used, but due to the lack of one for each howitzer, the guns had to be shuttled into position.
 
One of Baker Battery's "cats" slid into a necklace of 18 US Army anti-tank mines and detonated them.  The explosion threw the massive hunk of metal on its side, and gasoline spilled out.  The cat was blasted and burned beyond use; the howitzer was slightly damaged.  Two enlisted men were killed; five others were seriously injured and evacuated to hospitals.  Nine disastrous hours had been spent to travel 17 miles.
 
On the third day of 1945, a large-scale attack ensued.  The weather was horrendous as the blinding snow made visibility difficult.  On 4 January, Lieutenant Colonel Isenberg and Captain Ernest Chamberlain (UT) went to an observation post southwest of Erezee.  The Germans fired Nebelwerfer rockets (aka Screaming Meemies) and artillery into the small village.
 
The weather got worse.  Snow blinded the drivers, and the assistant drivers either had to keep their heads out the window or ride on the fenders to aid the driver in moving through the fresh snow which blended the road, shoulders, and ditches together.  A blizzard developed, and it took 10 hours to travel 8 miles. The column finally reached Le Batty and La Fosse about a mile southwest of Grandmenil.
 
The unit occupied Le Batty at night, and the men in Able Battery nearly froze while getting the guns laid.  Two gun sergeants' howitzers (John Renner [MO] and John Phillips [CA]) were located in an anti-personal mine field.  Tape had been laid to mark a path.  Lieutenant Russell Kelch (KS) was walking through the foot-deep snow to check the laying of the howitzers when he fell in a bomb crater which seemed to swallow him as it was 12' deep.  He was, however, unhurt.
 
The unit fired 1258 rounds on the 8th with another 1446 on the 9th.  On 10 January 1945, the unit was assigned a liaison pilot, Lieutenant Francis McClure (OH) from the 106th Infantry Division to replace the pilot lost on 31 December.
 
From the unit's position at La Fosse, the objective was Houffalize, an important road junction which had to be cut.  Although the 951st never moved as far south as Houffalize, the unit fired over 6000 rounds in the area where the enemy was entrenched.  During the battle, 99% of Houffalize was destroyed.  There were many civilian causalities because villagers could not evacuate.
 
On 14 January 1945. The battalion left positions near Grandmenil and moved to positions four miles east of Samree.  The weather continued cold and cloudy, and more snow fell.  Destroyed Tigers and Shermans dotted the snow-covered battlefields.  The fresh snow covering them made them look like eerie ghosts.
 
On 21 January, the mission of the battalion was changed to reinforce the fires of the 326th Field Artillery Battalion of the 84th Infantry Division.  On 24 January, the 951st took a brief rest. Headquarters Battery, Service Battery, and the Medical Detachment moved into a large chateau at Emptinne.  Batteries Able and Baker were billeted in private homes in Hamois, and Charlie Battery went to Natoye.  During this time, the battalion refitted equipment to meet the grueling task of moving forward to reoccupy the Rhineland and meet the enemy on their own territory.
 
From 16 December 1944 through 23 January, 1945, the unit fired 127 Time-on-Target (TOT) missions expending 2543 rounds.  Most of the results of these missions were unknown. In a TOT barrage, by calculation, the shells from all artillery arrive simultaneously irrespective of each gun's distance from the target, the gun's caliber, muzzle velocity, or range.  The result is usually devastating.  From 16 December through 24 January, the 951st fired 675 missions expending 16,953 rounds.  The 951st Field Artillery Battalion was awarded the Belgian Croix de Guerre for its action in the Ardennes Campaign.
 
The insignia of the 951st Field Artillery Battalion is gold with a blue fess wavy and a gliding gold snake.  This is surrounded by a red band.  The inside of the shield is gold 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.  In 1943, the 183rd Field Artillery Regiment was reorganized and became the 183rd FA Bn and the 951st FA Bn.  The crest for the 951st Field Artillery Battalion was approved 29 August, 1944.
 

By Rebecca KELCH-BENNETT

951st Field Artillery

Battalion

Campaigns

Battle of the Bulge,

Belgium