Yes, I know: it should be a 48-star flag... The 115th A.A.A. Gun Battalion, 1943 to 1945

France (Part 9)

SARREGUEMINES

December is not a pleasant month anywhere, but in France it's positively fiendish. It rains, it snows, it's cold and clammy. It paints the world in tones of gray. Add war and you've got something to contend with.

...perhaps our strangest and most trying combat experience. We did not fire a single round against an enemy plane. Only C Battery saw action. Yet we lost three men, the gun batteries lived in the most miserable conditions they had ever known, and we felt closer to the war than we had ever felt before.

Our destination was Sarreguemines, a small city near the German border. It was a long trip, more than 70 miles over a combination of dirt and tar roads, all in miserable condition. The cold was penetrating and it rained. Huddling together in our trucks we wrapped blankets around ourselves and resignedly studied the country about us. It seemed as if somebody had planted all the damning evidence against war along our route. The land was laid bare. No home was untouched, most were levelled. In the fields, cattle lay dead, bodies bloated, their feet pointing grotesquely at the sky. Stumps of trees, shorn of bark, added to the desolation of the scene. There were burnt, black tanks and vehicles tossed violently to the roadsides. Equipment of every description was strewn everywhere. It was a gloomy, depressing sight and once you felt it there was no shaking it loose. And it was raining.

We rode far into the night but finally stopped at Château Salines (Chateau Salines) where we took over a few wrecked barns. Though wet and fatigued nobody suffered from insomnia that night -- except the guards.

At daybreak on December 8th we were off again. The weather had not improved. The rain had stopped but it was colder. The roads had become impossible. Our vehicles were constantly bogging down and the wrecker was kept very busy. We had to creep at a snailspace. It was congested, with convoys packing a two lane highway as far as you could see.

Towards evening we arrived at Puttelange where we were ordered to stay over night (Sarreguemines had not yet been captured). A few batteries occupied a battered building which once served Germans as an Infantry school. The others billeted in houses at a nearby village. Behind this building was a garage. At the time it was being used by a Quartermaster morgue outfit. The war became a very personal thing for us here. For each day, trucks loaded with our dead and German dead would back up to the open garage and the bodies would be placed in neat rows on the dirt floor. It was strange to see Germans lying side by side with our boys and it made you hate the whole damn mess.

The following morning the gun batteries were ordered to occupy temporary positions, to supply AA protection for supply routes, etc. In this particular sector the lines were very fluid. Constantly places would be captured by our troops, only to be retaken and then the process would be repeated. While A Battery was moving into position they found themselves under direct enemy observation. Three shells lobbed into the battery area wounding three men, one seriously. Some of the boys claimed that they saw the flash of the gun that did the firing. A Battery requested a change of position. It was granted and they moved to a more suitable site. The other Batteries reported sporadic shelling. It was tough, perhaps the toughest we had known.

Four days later we moved to Sarreguemines. Headquarters Battery, strangely enough, was the closest to the front lines. They occupied some buildings in the town suburbs. Just as they arrived and were unloading, a field less than two hundred yards away was shelled and an automatic weapons man was brought dying to the CP. He died in the kitchen of what once was a beautiful home.

Finally all batteries were in action and we were ready for whatever the Krauts would throw at us. When you think about it, there's something slightly crazy about those days in Sarreguemines. The Headquarters men lived in fine houses and less than a mile away the Infantry was slugging it out. At night you could see tracers arching across the land -- both ways. The racket was deafening. Machine guns, small arms, artillery, and yet in the midst of all this, the boys would sit at tables writing V-mails or listening to radios or playing guitars. (We found guitars in almost every house.) Occasionally a whole battery of 155's in the next field would open up and the houses would tremble, the windows would crack. Enemy shells would come whistling over our heads -- still that guy would pluck his guitar. Bravery? Hell no! There was nothing else to do.

Enemy air activity was nil, so one of the batteries was given an FA mission. Battery C fired over a thousand rounds into enemy positions while we were there. The reports that we received from observers were very flattering testimonies of C Battery's accuracy.

On December 16th the Germans counterattacked in strength and the Ardennes campaign began. Within a short time, Third Army was relieved by the 7th and on December 22th we were given a "March Order" -- to a place called Luxembourg.

Thus ended perhaps our strangest and most trying combat experience. We did not fire a single round against an enemy plane. Only C Battery saw action. Yet we lost three men, the gun batteries lived in the most miserable conditions they had ever known, and we felt closer to the war than we had ever felt before. The business of war is full of such paradoxes; it makes no attempt to be logical.

  OUR FRENCH JUNKET  
OMAHA BEACH ALENCON CHARMS
3 June, 1944 13 August, 1944 14 September, 1944
ISIGNY CHATEAUDUN LUNEVILLE
14 June, 1944 20 August, 1944 21 September, 1944
CHERBOURG ORLEANS COMMERCY-NANCY
25 June, 1944 23 August, 1944 15 October, 1944
VIERVILLE SENS PUTTELANGE
28 June, 1944 24 August, 1941 6 December, 1944
CARENTAN VITRY-LE-FRANCOIS SARREGUEMINES
12 July, 1944 30 August, 1944 13 December, 1944
ST. HILAIRE JOINVILLE-NEUFCHATEAU  
2 August, 1944 12 September, 1944  

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leaves Commercy for Sarreguemines, near the German border, on the 6th of December 1944. Though only 70 miles, the miserable conditions make it a two day trip. "It seemed as if somebody had planted all the damning evidence against war along our route." Stopping at Château Salines (Chateau Salines) and then at Puttelange, since Sarreguemines was still in German hands. These positions of the 115th were shelled.

Positions at Sarreguemines were finally occupied on 13 December and Battery C fired 1000 rounds as Field Artillery. The German counterattack in the Ardennes, known today as the "Battle of the Bulge" began on 16 December, and soon the entire Third Army was on the move north and west to plug the gap.
 
Updated Tuesday June 07, 2005 09:10:42 PDT
The original text of The Story of the 115th A.A.A. Gun Battalion, published by the unit in 1945, is in the public domain. So how, you may ask, can I claim that the contents of these web pages are protected by copyright?

The answer is that it is my own transcription of the text and images into electronic format, and compilation into these web pages that is copyrighted. In addition, the web design, art, and annotations, plus all material from my father's personal albums are copyrighted original works. I reserve all rights to how all these materials are used. You may not copy them or store them in any retrieval system without permission.