(Always Vigilant, motto of the 895th)
895th AAA AW BATTALION
2nd BATTALION 68th CA (AA)
(Copied verbatim with misspelling, etc., my additions in italics)
NORTH AFRICAN CAMPAIGN
The 895th AAA AW Bn began its long and brilliant overseas service as the second Battalion of the famous 68th CA Regiment (AA) arriving at sun-soaked Casablanca on 19 Nov 1942 after a 16 day voyage with the D plus 5 convoy of the North Africa invasion force.
Our first taste of combat came on the morning of the last day of that jam-packed year 1942. The crash of bombs at three AM was our first warning of the attack which lasted till 0600. The AA defense of the port and airfield prevented damage to any military installations. It is a matter of pride among the members of this Battalion that the amount of damage to targets protected by us in more than 2 ½ years of combat has been extremely light.
We were handed a signal honor in Jan 1943 when the 40mm gun sections of Battery E were selected to set up in the vicinity of the Anfa Hotel as special protection to the history-making Casablanca Conference at which President Roosevelt, Churchill, De Gualle and other Allied leaders formulated the “unconditional Surrender” policy.
After having absorbed a fair share of African lore and becoming accustomed to the ways of the “Ay-rabs”, we journeyed across the Atlas Mountain Range and late in the afternoon of 19 Feb 1943 descended from the hills onto the great Mediterranean Port of Algiers.
Here it was that this Battalion, still part of the 68th, played a tremendously important part in keeping open North Africa’s greatest gateway so that our fighting comrades far to the east in the hell that was Kasserine, Hill 609, and Cap Bon could be supplied with the abundance of war materials necessary for the successful prosecution of the Tunisian Campaign.
We sited our 40s and 50s on the docks, beaches and hills around the harbor to prepare a proper welcome for the vaunted Luftwaffe. We weren’t disappointed. On some eight separate occasions they attacked usually in strength and always determinedly. Never were they allowed to succeed in their intentions for the splendid AA defense either destroyed them or forced them from their targets.
Units of the Battalion were involved in a number of the moves during the next two months to provide AA protection to other vital areas on the North Africa coast. In Mar Battery F moved to Jermaps Airport some 325 miles from Algiers. At the same time Battery H moved to Duvivior, 380 miles from Algiers to protect the railhead there. Early in April the two batteries moved to Philippville, Algieria to protect the Port area. Later that month Battery E also departed from Algiers and moved to Cherchell, Algieria and setup AA defense of the Cherchell harbor. All batteries, their missions successfully fulfilled, returned to Algiers in May taking up Battle positions around the harbor once again.
Sgt Ira Nain, a section leader of Battery A, was later awarded the coveted Legion of Merit for prompt and accurate recognition, in spite of contrary information from the GOR (Ground Operating Radar??) and action against a low flying sneak attack which came in over the sea out of the setting sun of Algiers on 26 Mar 1943. Sgt Nain opened fire on the aircraft alerting all the defenses and breaking up the attack. Four of the enemy were destroyed by this Battalion, and more by other AA units.
In Jun after the completion of the African campaign, we moved from Algiers to Cap Bon and the Bou Ficha area where we set up AA defense for the airfields and waited impatiently to play our part in the swift moving battle for Sicily. We’ll always remember the fleets of bombers taking off night and day to hit at Sicily, a sight of which we never tired.
Later in July we rejoined the Regiment bivouacked in a hellishly hot wheatfield near Mateur, where we sweated and sweltered through our preparations for the op to the land of the Black-Hand.
On 12 Aug 1943 the Second Battalion departed from Bizerti, Africa for Palermo, Sicily. The trip was made on LSTs making the second boat ride for the Battalion. We arrived in the beautiful harbor of Palermo later the following evening. The landscape covered with green grass and numerous trees presented a welcome relief from the hot barren landscape of Africa. Upon arrival in the bivouac area at Palermo the battalion was immediately assigned its new mission of protecting the harbor and the Bo Rizzo Airport at Palermo. A short time after the Battalion arrived in Sicily the Scillian campaign officially came to a close with the Germans being driven entirely out of Sicily. The Germans suffered great losses as they retreated across the straits of Messina onto the main land of Italy. Enemy attacks against the installation guarded by the Battalion at Palermo were few and far between. During our entire stay in Sicily the Battalion engaged the enemy only once in the wee hours of the morning when 20 enemy aircrafts attacked the port installations and shipping in the harbor. Several bombs fell in the harbor resulting in one PT boat damaged and several casualties.
A short time after the close of the Sicilian campaign we once again began preparations for a movement but this time a combined overland and water movement from Palermo, Sicily to the Naples Area in Italy. The long movement began on 30 Oct 1943 across Sicily to Messina and across the Straits of Messina by Ferry and LCTs and then up the Italian coast to Maddaloni, Italy a total of 571 miles. Upon arrival in Maddloni, the Battalion was attached to the II Corps commanded by Major General Keyes. It was shortly after that the II Corps attempted to lead an attack to split the German forces at Cassino and drive on to Rome, but only to fail. We all will remember our first tactical positions in the vicinity of Bellona, Italy on the 10th of Nov 1943. While accomplishing our mission consisting of providing protection for the II Corps CP (Command Post), lines of communication, dumps, etc, every man was subjected to a month and a half on constant moves through mud, rain and miserable living conditions. Even throughout this almost unbearable weather the Battalion carried on up through Presonzano, Vainano Caimello, Pietravairano, Capera, Pignatare, Toano and Mignano.
The second day of Jun 1944 (should be Jan not Jun) found all the batteries of the Battalion in an assembly area at Santa Maria, Italy undergoing a period of rest and rejuvenation which was to be followed by a period of vigorous training for an amphibious operation. But the rest and rejuvenation period was only a short one because on 6 Jan 1944 the unit again took up battle positions in defense of the Third Infantry Division and Ranger Force training area in the vicinity of Pozzouli.
While peacefully enjoying this new assignment at Pozzouli orders were received, on the 18 Jan, for the unit to return to Naples staging area. From here the forward echelon of the Battalion was soon loaded on the invasion fleet of LSTs that waited on loading docks of the great Naples Harbor.
A few days after the landing, the invasion fleet of LSTs set out from the Naples harbor up the coast of Italy. On the morning of 25 Jan 1944 the unloading on the beaches of Anzio and Nettuno for the Battalion began. Later in the day the sea became extremely rough and then night began to fall which caused a halt to the unloading of all invasion barges. Throughout the night and all the next day as the ships laid in the mine infested waters of the Anzio and Nettuno harbors, the German air corps relentlessly attached through dense Ack Ack fire from the Navy and land installations. But the next day as the sea became calm, loading once again began inspite of the hostile air attacks.
As the gun sections of the Battalion reached the shore they moved immediately to assigned positions around the Anzio and Nettuno harbor and the landing strip from which they were not relieved until 8 Jun 1944.
Although the German Army was surprised by the landing at Anzio, it was not long before thirteen divisions were assembled and a ring of steel was thrown around the Beachhead. The German ground forces attempted time and time again to drive the Allies back into the sea by relentless air and ground attacks but the spirit, courage, and desire to live of every man on the Beachhead was so great that every attack was repulsed. It was during this period of air attacks that men of the Battalion manned their guns continuously destroying the Luftwaffe attacks.
Will we ever be able to forget how the Anzio beachhead was completely shelled by the German Artillery, and how throughout the days and long night the 88s and 170mm shells would scream and then rain on the beachhead causing death with almost every blow. It was here too that that the Nebelwerfer rocket guns, the screaming “Mimi”, along with the enormous Anzio Express, the giant 280mm artillery piece that fired a 110 pound projectile more than thirty miles with considerable ease, made their appearance embedding memories in out minds never to be forgotten.
It will always be remembered ho during the darkest days of Feb and Mar the Infantry Provisional unit was formed from members of the command to assist the regular Infantry divisions against the German ground forces. Later, aiding the Engineers in building the defensive positions that enabled the Infantry regiments to with stand the vigorous and relentless attacks from the German ground forces.
Surviving the terrific German air and ground bombardment for four months we finally were released from the Anzio Beachhead on the 25 May 1944 when the main forces of the Fifth Army officialy joined with the Beachhead forces.
It was on 3 Jun 1944 that the 68th CA AA regiment was ordered to reorganize and redesignate it units. Complying with the above orders the second Battalion of the 68th now became the 895th AAA AW Battalion.
Five days after the unit was redesignated we were relieved by those “Bloody Limies” again and then moved up the coast of Italy to the Port of Civitevecchia just north of Rome.
After being relieved at Civitevecchia, the Battalion moved down the Italian Coast to Salerno. Here a special and vigorous training with the 36th Infantry Division began. It was not until the end of July that the Division and its attached units moved north again, but this time to the assigned staging area at Naples. It was here six months previous the unit had assembled for an amphibious operation against the no historic battle for the Anzio Beachhead. Then as now, rumors and stories as to our future disposition were the min topics of conversation.
The loading of the invasion barges, assault boats and supply ships, etc was accomplished according to proposed plans and as the ships were loaded the moved out into the Naples Harbor. Here in this beautiful harbor and in the shadow of the world famous Mt. Vosuvius, the invasion, Liberty and ships from the largest to the smallest were assembled.
The huge armada of modern ships slowly weighed anchor in the late afternoon of 12 Aug 1944, as the assault troops lounged on their respective ships and quietly made its way out of the harbor into the Vast Mediterranean Sea for a destination still unknown to most of the members of the Battalion. However when this gigantic fleet of ships was out to sea four hours, the complete details of the invasion on the coast of Southern France were made known to all troops participating in this enormous operation.
During the early morning hours of 15 Aug 1944 Heavy and Meduim bombers of the U.S. Army Air Force could be hear overhead. Soon the rumbling and thundering of crushing bombs landing on assigned targets could be heard and felt. The invasion was now officially on. With the approach of dawn a gigantic fleet of C47s and gliders carrying the airborne troops who were to be landed in rear of the assault beach appeared in the distance. In a short time swarms of those air trains darkened the sky.
As the air corps displayed this spectacle of might, the navy was determined not to be out done and as the air fleet was passing overhead the guns of the warships began its tremendous bombardment of the shore installations and emplacements. Everywhere one could see the assault boats dashing between the large transport vessels hustling to and from the shore to unload the troops and equipment as rapidly as possible on the landing beaches.
This vast scene demonstrated the great sea and air powers and fighting ability of the United Nations joint forces, a sight one will never forget. As the minutes ticked by the units of the Battalion were unloaded and proceded to a prearanged sites supplying the AA protection for the uploading beaches and supply depots in the general area. During the first day the German Aif Force failed to make an appearance however, at approximately 2100 hours the AA guns on the beaches began to speak in response to the drone of the long absented German Air Corps. It was during this air raid that a German glider bomb found its mark on a LST 232 on which 1st Platoon of D Battery were loaded. The unloading however was not hampered by the appearance of the Lutwaffe and so steady streams of troops and supplies continued to flow on the beaches.
The Battalion remained in the general area of St. Rapheal and provided AA protection for the unloading beaches and air strips for approximately a month. From here the A, B, and C Batteries redployed to give AA protection to gasoline dumps and the unloading port of Port De Bouc while D Battery enjoyed its relocation at Avignon. Before long the Battalion moved north to join the VI Corps and then the XV Corps in their drive into Vosges.
Leaving the sunny coast of Southern France and moving northward up the Rhone River valley through heavy rain, some of us looking upward, felt those grey – leaden skies belonged to us, we had bought them with our own blood and sweat, paid from them with the fallen buddies we’d sadly left behind to hold forever a bit of earth no one wanted in Central Itally, Anzio, the beaches of Southern France, the deep blue, beautiful, treacherous Mediterranean Sea. Somehow, we knew we’d continue to pay for them through the days, the battles, that were ahead, we were right, the blood of our men was soon to soak into the rich lam of the “Rhineland”, Hitler’s “Sacred Soil”.
It began when Batteries A and C preceeded the Battalion to Alsace, France, late in October, 1944. Attached to the 35th AA Brigade, VI Corps, Seventh Army, we took up missions in defense of bridges and airstrips in the vicinity of Epinal, France, then the front line of the U.S. Seventh Army. It was a rare day that saw even a glimmer of sunshine. Rain was almost constant, and roads fields were deep. Sucking mires, reminiscent of the Winter campaign n Italy in 1943. But here, in addition, factors of movement added to the burden. Besides providing AA protection for bridges over the Moselle River, and the AOP’s of the VI Corps Artillery, Battery A protected the bivouac area of the Newly arrived 103d infantry Division, and later the VI Corps’ CP at Fremifontaine. By 14 Nov 1944, Headquarters and Batteries B and D, arrived at Epinal, France. The entire Battalion was thereupon attached to the 14th Armored Division and given the mission of protecting the Division’s assembly area at the Bois de Charmes.
The drive of the U.S. Seventh Army to clear Alsace of the enemy began on 20 Nov. It was then that the Battalion became attached to the XV Corps’ 44th Infantry Division which was already committed to spearhead the advance across the Alsation plains, the northern Vosages, and through the defenses of the French Maginot line. The gun batteries and the Battalion forward CP began a series of rapid marches wit the Dividion’s Field Artillery and other Division installations in the drive that went from Luneville to Sarreburg, thou northeast through the thickly wooded and ominous Hangviller-Dossenheim Pass, north again to Durstel, Montbronn, and Enchenburg. Throughout this period, rain and mud still dogged the path of men and guns. Yet, the Battalion pushed on rapidly with the reserve of the Seventh Army. With the crossing of the Rhine, a hard winter campaign was ended, the final drive to victory was on.
Looking back over the moths of the Campaign we’d completed we know by reason of every tortuous aspect of war, by reason of every conceivable manner of opposition by the enemy and the elements, by the most miserable factors of rain and mud, of snow and ice, there would remain forever etched in our memories the campaign—“Rhineland” We fought to get there…we fought to stay there…and once again we won that fight, the Rhineland skies were ours.
The 895th AAA AW Battalion entered the campaign, “Central Europe”, when the first elements of the Battalion crossed the Rhine on 26 March 1945. The remainder of the Battalion was across the Rhine on 27 March and went into battle positions with the 44th Infantry Division north of Mannheim. The river crossing was made via the Seventh Army treadway bridge south of Worms, Germany and tho we remember tensely awaiting some defensive action on the part of the enemy during our crossing, the place was as quite as a church—our most vivid memory being our disappointment at the unassuming appearance of the Rhine itself, its non-too-pretty approaches, and the dense smoke screen that covered the bridges. Battery A however, did go across with the fresh memory of destroying a ME 110, the day before as the plans attempted to straff bridges and other installations in the Seventh Army bridgehead area. We remember there being very little left of the plane as it lay splattered against the ground at the Western approach to the treadway bridge— a fitting sign that the 895th had Crossed at that point.
Battery B, however, won’t forget the heavy enemy artillery and mortar fire that raked their area on the 29th of March when it went into position with the mission of protection the 44th Infantry Division’s intended bridgesite across the Neckar river during the attack on Mannheim. The men of Battery B proved they had what it takes when they went into those positions at a time when the Infantry and Combat Engineers thought it “too hot” to approach—another instance of the Battalion doing its job under any circustances.
Following the capture Mannheim, there came a short lull in activity. We still had to provide AA protection for the 44th Infantry Division but remained behind the front line until shifted down to the VI Corps area again 17 Apr 1945.
Before moving south, however, men of No. 5 Section, Battery D experienced the thrill of knocking out of the sun the first jet-propelled aircraft in the XV area. It happened on the evening of 1 Apr 1945—a day which until the hours of attack had proved to be a peaceful sunny Easter Sunday. Apparently the “Krauts” figured they’d present us with a few “Easter Eggs” of the HE variety (Possibly a Heinkel HE 162Volksjäger, “People’s Fighter”) , to mark the occasion. The Battalion’s guns spoiled the party though and accounted for one of the two ME 262s (another jet aircraft)—roasting the chicken that laid the egg.
A new type of after dark attack became a source of annoyance during these last months of the war. We’ll always remember al’ “Bed-check Charlie”—those lonely enemy aircraft bussing low over roadnets, straffing all vehicles moving with lights, making things exceedingly hellish for night driving—not to mention disturbing our dreams after we’d nit our sacks after a long day.
Rejoining the VI Corps in April, and moving south in the drive across the Danube and into Austria, we reached our peak of activity since arriving in the ETO. This was the time of the rapid disintegration of the German Arm and the days of the last wild flurry of activity by the German Luftwaffe.
A series of actions against the highly touted ME 262’s and our old friends the ME 109’s and FW 190’s began with our guns accounting for at least two destroyed and 5 probably destroyed.
Toward the end of the trail, Battalion guns were also given the opportunity of firing on ground targets in support of the Division against a battered, yet stubborn enemy. The Luftwaffe’s ME 109’s made few sorties due to the inclement weather, however heavy mine fields, and enemy artillery continued to harass men and gun positions.
Men of Batteries B, C, and D will not soon forget the thick woods and the pitchblack rainy nights in the Hangeviller-Dossenheim Pass. They went through it with the Infantry and set up their guns in the midst of the by-passed, lurking groups of the Wehrmacht. Always on the alert for any ground as well as air attack, men of all Batteries were successful in rounding up numerous prisoners without loss to themselves and in lending their support to holding this important road to the Rhine.
In the first weeks of December (1944), the Battalion was driving north through the Maginot Line in the Bitche sector when the German breakthrough in the Ardennes caused the U.S. Seventh Army to abandon its attack and to dig in and hold the longest front line on the western front for the rest of the winter.
The Battalion moved to the area southest of Sarreguemines giving AA protection to the 44th infantry Division throughout the winter against the fury of desperate enemy ground attacks that began as the clock was ticking off the last few minutes of 1944.
The rain had ceased by then but in its stead were snow, sleet, and miserable, penetrating cold that crept through the men’s heaviest clothing as they stood watch at their guns—always alert for attack by air or ground forces. Enemy aircraft continued to be cautious in their approach of the area defended and once the Wehrmacht learned it couldn’t penetrate the defenses of the 44th Division Sector the Luftwaffe also decided to give the area a wide berth.
The months spent in Alsace-Lorraine, with its French background and unfamiliar Alsacian language confused us a little at first, (or was it the storks on the chimneys) but many of us soon found the warm hearted personality of the Alsatian mademoiselles differed little from those of southern France. Corporal Vertefeuille of the BSO went so far as to lose his heart and bachelor’s status entirely to one of these maids, becoming the first member of the Battalion to marry on foreign soil.
It was also from Alsace, during this winter, that the first passes were obtained for those glorious few days in “Gay Paree”. The men who were lucky enough to make the trip will not forget the gayety of Paris in the midst of war, the excellent accommodations provided by the Red Cross and all the host of other charms with which the city was so generous.
On 15 Mar 1945, the Seventh Army began its powerful and Spectacular attack which broke through the Siegfried Line from the south, met the Third Army driving down in its encircling movement from the north and then moving rapidly eastward, established a bridgehead across the upper Rhine. On 16 Mar (1945), the 2nd Platoon of Battery C, moving through the Siegfried Lin in Protection of 44th Division Field Artillery, which was supporting the 3rd and 45th Infantry Division’s attack, moved across the France-German border and was the first element of the Battalion to go into battle positions on conquered German soil. Platoons of Batteries A and D (Note each battery was made of approx 8 guns and these guns and crews were broken down into platoons/sections) followed a few hours later and all guns remained with the 44th Division Field Artillery until 21 March, when the breakthrough was assured and what was left of the German Armies was in full retreat and scrambling as best it could toward the illusory safety of the Rhine.
After a few days of rest and rehabilitation, the Battalion moved again in a rapid dash across the German Saar Basin, with the 44th Infantry Division. The German 15th (?) Army had been cut to ribbons. Hitler’s hope that the Volksturm would come to his aid also was a dismal disappointment as witnessed by the white flags made of sheets, pillow cases, petticoats or what have you, hung from the windows of almost every German home not smashed to smithereens, along the Battalion’s line of march.
The battalion crossed the Rhine with the 44th Infantry Division over the treadway bridge, south of Worms on 27 Mar (1945), as part of the advancing Infantry. These missions were also successful causing great havoc to the enemy. Individual acts of heroism were not infrequent as we unlimbered our small arms in ferreting out diehard groups of SS troops and Wehrmacht members by-passed and left to us to deal with by the rapidly advancing tank columns. The Battalion accounted for an untold number of enemy dead and wounded and several hundred were taken prisoner.
During the advance, men and guns were subjected to the usual enemy artillery and small arms fire, and bombing and straffing attacks by enemy aircraft, but this was the “home stretch”—nothing could stop us.
In this memorable “sprint south to Austria”, new battle positions were taken almost daily. Guns were often moved into position only long enough to permit platoon leaders to reconnoiter new positions. Bridges, airfields, roads, dumps, troops and guns were among those given AA protection. The Danube (no one seems to remember anything beautifully blue about it) was crossed west of the flattened city of Ulm on 26 April and the first elements of the Battalion were in position in Austria itself, by 30 Apr 1945. Many of us began to believe, during this rapid push southward, that the German “Gasther” was built for the specific purpose of providing comfortable over night billets, and whatever refreshment there was available, for the “Amerikanischen Soldaten”, as they pursued the fleeing Wehrmacht through the lovely countryside of Southern Germany. In most instances we can say the German accommodations (tho mostly of the “Raus die Hous” variety) were truly elegant.
We were in battle positions in the vicinity of Imst, Austria, on 5 May 1945 when the German 19th (?) Army laid down its arms on the Seventh Army Front. The cease fire order went into effect at 1800B hours – signaling the end of the campaign “Central Europe”, for the 895th AAA AW Battalion. Realization that hostilities had come to an end came slowly to us that day. Those years of battle against the wily “Kraut”, had made us wary…we rather cynical about almost everything. The official VE day on 8th and 9th May, drove home the fact that the war was over for most of us and spirits reach a new high – we’d been through it all – from beginning to end and our record stood among the foremost.
Looking back we found that claims for enemy aircraft destroyed and probably destroyed by the Battalion from the beginning of operations to the cessation of hostilities were 13 ½ Category I (destroyed), and 14 ½ Category II (probably destroyed). These totals did not reflect 17 Category I, and one Category II officially credited to Port AA defenses and Casablanca and Algiers (Africa), Palermo (Sicily), and Anzio (Italy). The 895th AAA AW Battalion, then known as the 2nd Battalion, 68th CA (AA), held key AA defensive positions at each of these ports and saw action in all the engagements during which the enemy aircraft noted above were destroyed. During the Battalion’s participation in the campaigns of the North African Theatre of Operations, it was also credited with damaging 120 additional enemy aircraft.
A total of 226 separate AA engagements – totaling approximately 2,171 sorties, were counted over a two and one-half year period of action during which 95,684 round of 40mm and 135,776 rounds of 50 calibre ammunition were expended. Looking back we can say we fought the brunt of the German Luftwaffe and can safely rest in the belief that we’ve don our job well.