The 69th Division Artillery Unit History
Brigadier General Robert V. Maraist
Division Artillery Commander
The 69th Division Artillery was activated under the
command of Brigadier General Julius E. Slack at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, on May
15, 1943. The cadre had arrived one
month before, from the 96th Infantry Division at Camp Adair, Oregon.
Fillers arrived daily in large numbers, and on June 1, 1943, basic
training officially commenced. Particular attention was given to the training of gun crews,
and also making each individual soldier have a thorough knowledge of the weapon
with which he was armed. The
climate during the 13 weeks of basic training was unusually hot, but the
transition from civilian to solider was accomplished very quickly.
At the conclusion of basic training, furloughs were
given, and training began to teach all soldiers how to work together as a team,
and how each depended on the other. Field
trips were taken regularly in the nearby DeSoto National Forest.
In the fall of 1943, Brigadier General Slack was transferred to the XX
Corps and was succeeded by Brigader General Robert V. Maraist.
In January 1944, three weeks of Division Maneuvers were
held in the De Soto National Forest. Actual
combat conditions were simulated. Teamwork between the infantry and artillery was stressed.
It was here that the division was given the temporary title of the
“BBBs” (Bolte’s Bivouacking Bastards).
From March through August 1944, more and more field
problems were held, including the “March to the Sea,” at which time the 69th
Division meaneuvered from Camp Shelby to the Gulf of Mexico at Biloxi,
In September 1944, preparations were made for the
division’s move to a combat area. Major
General Emil F. Reinhardt assumed commmand of the 69th Infantry Division,
replacing Major General Charles L. Bolte, who was given command of the 34th
Infantry Division in Italy.
On Thanksgiving Day, November 23, 1944, Headquarters and
Headquarters Battery of the 69th Division Artillery, along with the 569th Signal
Company, was the last unit from the division to depart from Camp Shelby by rail
for a staging area on the east coast.
Division Artillery left the New York Port of Embarkation
on a former German liner, renamed “LeJeune,” on December 1, 1944, and
arrived on December 12 at Southampton, England.
The units then proceeded by rail to Brook Barracks and Camp Ranikhet at
Reading, England. There, they
prepared for their move to the Continent
On January 24, 1945, Division Artillery landed in
France. After a few long moves, the
division entered combat at the Siegfried Line just across the Belgian-German
border. The division jumped off on
February 27, 1945, aided by numerous Division Artillery concentrations, plus the
fire of the 405th Field Artillery Group and the adjacent Second Division and
106th Division artilleries. The
division attack was successful. The
Siegfried Line was captured and crossed in the 69th’s sector.
Division Artillery continuously fired in support of the
division’s drive across Germany. It
fired across the Rhine in the vicinity of Cologne. A light battalion fired near Fortress Ehrenbreitstein during
the period when the First Army was holding is bridgehead across the River Rhine.
Firing was heavy at Kassel, Witzenhausen, Pegau, and Weissenfels
At Kitzen, Germany, the 742th Field Artiller Battalion
took fire from a battalion of 88mm guns. Under
the able leadership of Lieutenant Colonel Stacy W. Gooch, the 724th Field
Artillery Battalion of 155mm howizters waged an artillery duel with the 88mm
battalion, and succeeded in completely annihilating it.
This feat of the 724th was an important factor in breaking down the
defenses of the approaches to the key German metropolis ofLeipzig, the fift
largest city in Germany.
The Wehrmacht, fully conscious of the military and
economic importance of Leipzig, fought ferociously in and around it.
The Germans attrempted to hold the Battle of Nations Monument in Leipzig
after the city had fallen, but heavy and accurate Division Artillery
concentrations made their efforts futile. The
fall of Leipzig speeded Germany’s doom. The
joining of the Russian and American armies was imminent.
On 25 April 1945, two great Allied armies met at Torgau, Germany, 30
miles northeast of Leipzig. The
long-desired meeting was now a reality. Germany’s
doom was sealed.
Eilenburg, Germany, is also a city that will long be
remembered by artillerymen of The Fighting 69th. The Americans gave a force of about 3,500 fanatical Germans
the choice of surrendering or being destroyed by deadly artillery fire.
The Germans refused to srrender, saying they would hold to the last man.
For two days and nights, 24 105mm howitzers, 36 155mm howitzers, and four
8-inch guns blasted Eilenburg with devastating fire.
The artillery units that participated included Division Artillery (less
one light battalion), the 953rd and 955th FA Bns, and B Battery, 186th FA Bn.
More than 10,000 rounds of artillery ammunition landed in the city.
At the end of the two days, Eilenburg – formerly a
city of 40,000 peope, now a mass of death and destruction – was in U.S. hands.
Lieutenant Colonel Winn, Commanding Officer of the attached 955th Field
Artillery Battalion, which had landed shortly after D Day, said his battalion
fired more rounds into Eilenburg than on any other city or target in Europe.
After the junction of the U.S. 69th Infantry Division
and Marshal Koniev’s 68th Russian Guards Division, German resistance rapidly
deteriorated and then collapsed entirely. Germany,
whose armies had overrun almost the entire continent of Europe – who once
stood just 40 miles outside Moscow and a mere 20 miles from England’s White
Cliffs of Dover – was now a crushed nation.
The Wehrmacht was finished.