Updated: Nov 21, 2019
The 155mm Howitzer in Europe
Sixty years ago--January 3, 1945--as the American armies opened their counteroffensive in the "Battle of the Bulge," the 666th Field Artillery Battalion, a non-divisional 155mm howitzer unit specially trained to change mission on short notice wherever needed, was dug into the snow along a tree line near Chêne-al-Pierre. At 0830 hours, our battalion "jumped off" in support of units of the 83rd Infantry Division trying to recapture the village of Regné. I was in a Jeep with three other members of C Battery's forward observation team, slowly going down the Liège-to-Bastogne highway toward Manhay, where a massive tank and infantry battle had left behind scores of dead Germans frozen in positions. For this 22-year-old soldier, who had never seen a dead human body, it was an appalling sight. It was my introduction to the largest land battle in the history of the United States Army. The Triple Sixes, bearing the most fearsome number in the American Army, was officially listed as entering combat on both December 31, 1944, and January 1, 1945. We had narrowly escaped our first casualties when we were strafed shortly after dawn on New Year's Day by five Messerschmitt 109 planes of the Luftwaffe. In sub-zero weather we had moved from Andrimont to Aywaille and then traveled eleven miles in pitch darkness at the pace of our tractors hauling our 155s to our first wartime firing position. As forward observers, we reconnoitered roads left and right day after day through Belgium's "Siberian Winter" of 1944-1945, often uncertain whether the Germans were waiting for us around the next curve. We frequently were up with the infantry calling down fire on the desperately resisting enemy. For many days we were surrounded on three sides, with Germans retreating from the point of the Bulge on our right flank. I can still vividly visualize the towns and villages through which we passed: Aywaille, Liège, Spa, Manhay, Vaux-Chavanne, Bra, Malempré, La Fosse, Freyneux, Odeigne, Dochamps, Grand-Sart, Baraque de Fraiture ("Parker's Crossroads"), Regné, Vielsalm, Langlire and Petite Langlire, Houffalize, St.-Vith, Meyerode, Wereth and many others. I have a special niche in my memory for Lierneux, where I amazingly lived through my most intense, kaleidoscopic, surreal six days of the war and where for five nights I slept with a roof over my head for the first time since leaving the LST that had taken the 666th across the channel to Le Havre sixteen days earlier. The 666th Field Artillery Battalion was established as a corps non-divisional battalion, not assigned to any larger unit. As a result, at one time or another we were assigned to five different Field Artillery Groups and the VII Corps, XVI Corps, XVIII Airborne Corps and XIX Corps. We served in direct support of several infantry, airborne and armored divisions of the First and Ninth Armies, and for seventeen days during the Battle of the Bulge the Triple Sixes fought on the north shoulder of the Bulge in the most decisive battles under the command of British Field Marshal Sir Bernard L. Montgomery. I will never forget the month spent in the Ardennes helping to push the Germans back out of Belgium. It was by far the most difficult, dangerous, exciting and memorable month of my life. To tell the full story, I made three trips back to Belgium and Germany to gather material for my World War II memoir, "Charlie of 666," and enjoyed happy reunions with my Belgian friends. God willing, we will rejoice once again in commemoration of a shared time in our lives.
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