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Red Legs of the Bulge: Artillerymen in the Battle of the Bulge

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Red Legs of the Bulge

Artillerymen in the Battle of the Bulge

  • by C. J. Kelly
    • Merriam Press World War 2 History Series
      • First Edition 2014
      • 184 6x9-inch pages
      • 42 B&W photos
      • 2 illustrations
      • 3 maps
The Artillery Branch is one of the most complicated of military science. Like the Engineers, it was a technically demanding field. All of the enlisted complements were highly skilled as well.

During the war, recruits felt lucky to be assigned to the artillery. They figured it was safer than the infantry. With the exception of being a forward observer, they were correct. Although making up 16% of an infantry division’s strength, it only accounted for 3% of the casualties. the foot soldier thought anyone in the artillery lived a life of relative luxury.

That situation changed during the Bulge. It was no longer a safe billet. Battery personnel were some of the first to get hit by enemy shells. The front line came to them as never before. German infantry and tanks bypassed the infantry screen and rolled up on their positions. In an age of indirect fire and advanced observation techniques, direct fire on a target became commonplace. Others, fighting with carbines and bazookas, held off many a thrust by the enemy, some even fighting hand to hand. Desperate men had to call down fire on their own positions to help stave off oncoming Panzers.

Recognition has not always come. Other than Napoleon, can the average person name a famous artilleryman? The answer is probably not. Cannoneers, fire direction centers, and artillery observers bracketing fire on targets are usually not fodder for books or movies. Nevertheless, their contributions to the final victory were enormous. Patton, the tanker, often commented that our artillery won the war.

The use of artillery reached its zenith in World War II. It accounted for the majority of casualties on the battlefield. The U.S. Army led the way in both gun design and the development of advanced observation techniques taught at places like Fort Sill, Oklahoma. All this innovation came to fruition during the last year of the war with the ability to concentrate firepower on the enemy through the use of combined arms techniques honed in the hedgerows of Normandy. The weather in Northern Europe by December 1944 was atrocious, nullifying the Allies’ air superiority. So the artillery had to fill that void. During the first week of the Battle, the U.S. Army was able to amass almost 350 guns of all calibers, one of the largest concentrations in the history of warfare, to defend the Elsenborn Ridge in the northern sector of the Bulge. The Sixth SS Panzer Army literally ran into a wall of steel. Throughout the rest of the campaign, artillery continued to be penultimate battlefield weapon. At Bastogne, standing right alongside the 101st Airborne were Red Legs, many of them African-American. American dominance in field artillery would continue until the end of the war.

This work focuses on a small, but very important part of the larger battle in and around St. Vith, highlighting the artillery units from the 106th Infantry Division as well as the 333rd Field Artillery. It tells the story from the artillerymen’s point of view. It sheds light on some untold aspects of the war and it will lead to seeking out further information about the conflict and artillery's role in World War II.

From the Author

People often ask me why I have an ardent interest in World War II. Well, that answer is easy: I'm the son of a World War II veteran and the nephew of six others. These men were around me all the time growing up. My world view was formed from being in their company.  They were tough guys with a heart, and I got to know the real men who lived the lives depicted in the movies.  My Bronx neighborhood was filled with patriotic veterans from every war of the 20th century. We also had numerous Holocaust survivors. One day at the grocery store, I remember asking my mother why the three men who owned the place had tattooed numbers on their forearms. Every time they handed a patron change, you could not miss the fading black-inked numbers.
     So in a sense, I "grew up" with the War.  It was a living thing to me. Despite the age difference and lack of service, I could somehow relate to these veterans. I know what to ask and what not to ask, which is probably more important. They have to offer certain material. And if you engage with them, that will happen. The interview process is probably the most important issue when being a writer of non-fiction. Second, I would say it taking someone's memoir (in any form), and making it into a cohesive narrative. It took me years to get both of these skills down. After I'm done with my further work on WWII, I hope to do a book on the Korean War and give those guys the recognition they so sorely need.
     I'm asked just as often another question: why the fascination with the Battle of the Bulge?  I had an uncle who served in the battle. He was a decorated officer in the military police, but passed away before I knew him. So that was not a factor. Watching documentaries as a kid, particularly The World at War and seeing the newsreel footage of American Prisoners of War in Europe was rather shocking. This piqued my curiosity. My father's experiences had been horrible. He survived North Africa, Sicily and the campaign across France. Those campaigns all ended up being regarded as great victories. He was rotated off the line in September, and spared the Allies' stalled offensives throughout the fall of 1944, the nightmare of the Huertgen Forest and the physical ordeal of the winter campaign. So his stories tended to point out the positives. Near the end of his life, he finally began to speak about his friends who died, and some of the other horrors.
     I'm asked just as often another question: why the fascination with the Battle of the Bulge? And why the fascination with artillery? One is an easy answer and the other is more complicated.
     My interest in the Bulge started when I was young even though I had no real connection. I had an uncle who served in the battle. He was a decorated officer in the military police, but passed away before I knew him. So that was not a factor. Watching documentaries as a kid, particularly The World at War and seeing the newsreel footage of American Prisoners of War in Europe was rather shocking. This piqued my curiosity. My father's experiences had been horrible. He survived North Africa, Sicily and the campaign across France. Those campaigns all ended up being regarded as great victories. He was rotated off the line in September, and spared the Allies' stalled offensives throughout the fall of 1944, the nightmare of the Huertgen Forest and the physical ordeal of the winter campaign. So his stories tended to point out the positives. Near the end of his life, he finally began to speak about his friends who died, and some of the other horrors.
     In the late 1990s, I began seeking out the memoirs of the men who fought in the battle. This coincided with a flood of books that were published. These shed light on the soldiers' experiences on both sides of the conflict.  No less important was the World Wide Web in increasing access to veterans' stories. Through the web, I was able to find a variety of resources. I wanted to find the men who were in those newsreels. Most of those men in the famous German propaganda footage that I saw were from the 106th infantry division, who held out for four days in terrible conditions, and although suffering grievous losses, ultimately upset the Nazis' timetable for conquest. Upon reading Gerald Astor's A Blood Dimmed Tide and Michael Tolhurst's St. Vith, my obsession began anew, and I sought out those veterans in order to write a novel based on their experiences. It was nice to reconnect with members of that generation, so soon after the passing of my dad and uncles.
     But one of the things that struck me about Astor's book, is how many of the memoirs (and one in particular) dealt with artillerymen.  The story of Eric Wood was the tipping point for me towards the artillery. Lt. Eric Wood was the executive officer of A Battery, 589th Field Artillery Battalion (106th ID). He escaped capture at Schonberg, Belgium on the morning of December 17, 1944 in Hollywood-like fashion. It was the last time any of his men would see him and since that very day, controversy has surrounded his story.  It was reported by local Belgians that an American lieutenant, matching Wood's description, conducted a war of his own behind the German lines with the help of GI stragglers.  No one from this guerilla war apparently survived to confirm the tale. But for me, the evidence is strong enough to say it's true. But Wood's tale is not the only extraordinary escape that day.  It seemed like half the battalion had some kind of great escape from the Germans that day.   The same is true for its fellow artillery battalions, the 590th, 591st and 592nd.
     In fact the escape tales of all the men of the 106th Infantry Division could fill volumes. Sadly, they were mostly remembered d for one of the largest surrenders in US history. But I focus on the forgotten stories; tales of triumph, tragedy and occasionally, the funny. It is fair to say that after reading Wood's story, I became obsessed. And I needed to write about it.
     While I was piecing together their stories for my novel, which deals with the escape of two artillerymen from the Germans, I felt compelled to learn as much as I could about artillery operations during the war and the daily life of an artilleryman in Northwest Europe. It was not easy.
     My research led me in many directions. In the end I was left with a mountain of personal memoirs, books, after-action reports, photos, and 1940s artillery manuals. I had learned about the minutest details of artillery battalion operations: from being a gunner, a forward observer, or a technician at the fire direction center. After I completed The Lion's Path, my passion was not quenched. I still wanted to educate others. So I came upon the idea for a non-fiction work that would encapsulate my research and pay tribute to the veterans who inspired the novel's characters.  Through these efforts, I hope to play a small role in keeping this knowledge alive for future generations.

Contents
  • Chapter 1: Baptism of Fire
  • Chapter 2: The Ring Tightens
  • Chapter 3: The Ring Closes
  • Chapter 4: Parker’s Crossroads
  • Chapter 5: Captivity
  • Chapter 6: The Hammelburg Raid
  • Chapter 7: They Fought On
  • Postscript
  • Appendix 1: 106th Division
  • Appendix 2: 106th Artillery
  • Appendix 3 : Roster of KIA
  • Bibliography
Reviews

OK book about little known Artillery actions during the Battle of the Bulge
It was nice reading about very little known actions from big battles. It covers the battles fought by 106th ID Artillery Battalions. Has great info on the make up of the battalions and what went on those first days of the Battle of the Bulge. The down side of this book is it is very short. Of the 184 pages 40 are of photos, which are very good and 18 of post script, bibliography and unit make up. Maps are small. And like many books now about WWII more is written about the over all battle then the soldiers stories. Could have had more, but OK for a quick read.
—Douglas L. Beste

Redlegs Lead the Way!
An in-depth review of the Redlegs that served during the Battle of the Bulge. All too often we only hear of the 101st Airborne, 82nd Airborne, and Patton's drive to relieve them. With all due respect to all American Soldiers involved in this defining battle, it is refreshing to hear of the lesser known (but still important Infantry Divisions and artillery battalions) involved in this epic struggle. An informative and quick read for anyone interested in WWII and the Battle of the Bulge.

For military historians or former artillerymen this book is pretty good, the detail is good
For military historians or former artillerymen this book is pretty good. The detail is good, however, I think that a little more breadth beyond the 106th Infantry Division would have created a better feel for the overall contribution of the field artillery to this battle. One doesn't really get the desperation that the first few days of battle generated. A good read, I would love to see a follow-up with more information about other artillery units in the bulge.
—Joseph J. Fuller

A fascinating history of remarkable soldiers!
This book offers a fantastic history lesson and great insight to the difficulties the American artillery units faced during the Battle of the Bulge. The author has clearly invested countless hours in research and interviews. That effort gave me a real picture of what this group of dedicated soldiers went through during that pivotal period of WWII. Whether you're a history buff or not, you will find this book to be a real page turner.
—Jim Brophy

I enjoyed it
This book appealed to me because my father was in a Field Artillery unit throughout WWII. It doesn't provide much information about the day to day life of a soldier in the Field Artillery during war but it gives a good account of those poor souls in the 106th during the Battle of the Bulge.
—Dave M.

You will learn how the Artillery works and what a great small Battalion of the 106th Inf. Div. did in the Battle of the Bulge
If anyone wants to read a very interesting and basically True story. This is it. The field Artillery never gets any credit for the part that they play in a Battle. You will learn how the Artillery works and what a great small Battalion of the 106th Inf. Div. did in the Battle of the Bulge.
—John F. Gatens

Four Stars
Nice, succinct view of an artilleryman's view of combat.
—Roger Mangum

Five Stars
Very good book.
—Edwin G. Herrick

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