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, Mississippi. 

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.  

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