The 111th Field Artillery has been part of the 29th Division since the inception of the division in 1917.
The 1st Battalion, 111th Field Artillery, was originally constituted as the 1st Battalion Artillery, Virginia Volunteers and organized on 8 November 1877 from existing units to include the “Norfolk Light Artillery Blues” (organized on 22 February 1828), now Battery B, 1st Battalion 111th FA, and the “First Company Richmond Howitzers” (organized on 9 November 1859) , now Battery A, 1st Battalion 111th FA.
During the American Civil War those two units fought with distinction as elements of the Army of Northern Virginia in 8 major battles and 5 campaigns, from the Peninsula campaign at the war’s beginning to its end at Appomattox.
NORFOLK LIGHT ARTILLERY BLUES
From 1862 until April 1865 the unit was commanded by CPT Charles Grandy. During the Civil War most Confederate units were named after their current commander. Thus during most of the war they were known as Grandy’s battery. They were assigned to A.P. Hill’s corps in the Army of Northern Virginia. The battery had a mixture of light artillery pieces, 3 inch rifled guns and 12 pound Napoleon howitzers being the main weapons. (2 US Napoleon Howitzers are on display in front of the VaARNG Hampton Readiness Center.)
This battery took 106 effectives into the fight at Gettysburg. The battery fought during the first day and was held in reserve on the second day. On the final day the battery was to participate in Pickett’s Charge, moving forward on the Confederate left flank, ensuring that Federal troops would not move and fire into the side of the attacking columns. Unfortunately, through staff error they were ordered to stay on their position on Seminary Ridge.
Grandy’s battery remained largely intact throughout the remainder of the war, as such was one of the largest artillery units in the Army of Northern Virginia.
Circumstances changed in the 1st week of April 1865. Much of the unit was overrun and scattered while defending Petersburg against an overwhelming Union assault. The remainder of the unit went west along with the remnants of the ANV during General Robert E. Lee’s retreat, finally surrendering at Appomattox on April 9, 1865, with 1 Warrant-Officer and IS men.
The Richmond Howitzer Company of the 1st Regiment of Volunteers was founded on November 9, 1859, by George Wythe Randolph, a grandson of Thomas Jefferson, a U.S. Navy veteran, and a Richmond lawyer. They were organized in response to John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry. After electing Randolph its first captain, the company, which was recruited from elite Richmond circles, marched to Charles Town, Virginia (now West Virginia), to help provide security during Brown’s trial and subsequent execution.
In April 1861 after Virginia seceded from the United States, the unit was mustered into Confederate service. As enlistments increased, 3 companies were eventually organized from Richmond. The Richmond Howitzers were present at the 1st battle of Manassas (Bull Run to the North). They fought at Second Manassas, Sharpsburg, and Fredericksburg in 1862; Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, and Mine Run in 1863; and the Wilderness, Spotsylvania Court House, Cold Harbor, and Petersburg in 1864.
The Army of Northern Virginia, including the Howitzers, evacuated its lines in front of Richmond and Petersburg on the night of April 2, 1865, and marched westward. After participating in an engagement near Appomattox Court House on April 8, the men of the 1st Company separated from the army to march toward Lynchburg. They disbanded the following day near Red Oak Church and buried their cannons in a nearby ravine.
The battery had no active service during the short encounter between the United States and Spain in the Spanish-American War but was called up in September 1916, during the border crisis and Pancho Villa. The Blues returned from the Border of Mexico in March 1917. Within 90 days of returning, the Blues were shipped to Oglethorpe, Georgia for training.
WORLD WAR I
On December 15, 1917, the Blues departed for Camp McClellan, Alabama, where the blues became a regimental unit of the 111th Field Artillery of the 29th Division. It was hereafter known as Battery B.
In June 1918, the Division moved to France and it arrived on French soil in Cherbourg on July 16th. The next few months were spent in training. Just as the 111th arrived at the front, the Armistice was signed. The 111th landed back in Virginia in May of 1919.
WORLD WAR II
In 1942, upon the reorganization of the 29th Division into a “triangular” division, the 111th Field Artillery Regiment was reorganized as the 1st Battalion, 111th Field Artillery and the 2nd Battalion, 111th Field Artillery was equipped with 155mm howitzers and designated as the 227th Field Artillery of the 29th Division.
As soon as the men of the Blue and Gray arrive in Scotland they load on trains and move south to Tidworth Barracks, about 80 miles west of London. At first not all of the troops of the 29th can be quartered together. However, by the end of the year the whole division is assembled and busy training to play an as yet unknown role against the Germans.
All of the troops of the division start a rigorous seven-day-a-week training schedule which is only relieved by 48 hour passes one weekend a month. This regimen consist primarily of cross-country forced marches from 25 to 40-miles.
To test how well these exercises have toughen up the men General Gerow designs a test in which each man is to be tracked at different points along a series of fast marches. Those who fall out are transferred to other commands. Only the most capable will serve in the 29th. In fact, the best units prove not to be from the infantry but the ‘red legs’ of the 110th and 111th FA battalions. Both commands have 100% of their men complete the test, the only units to achieve this feat.
Members of the Blue and Gray spend their first Christmas overseas a bit homesick but not alone. They share gifts sent from home with the local children. In a early bit of public relations promotion these celebrations are covered by press photographers and newsreel films are made so that the event can be shown to the ‘folks back home’.
Marksmanship is added to the 29th’s training schedule with an emphasis on well-aimed fire, in part to conserve what in the field will always be a limited ammunition supply. The artillery too begins intensive fire missions using 75mm guns at first while awaiting the arrival of their heavier pieces from the US.
During this period the division is instructed to organize a battalion of troops to undergo the specialized training of the British “Commandos”. This unit, composed entirely of volunteers, is designated the “29th Ranger Battalion (Provisional)”. It’s story can be found elsewhere in this publication.
In May 1943, after seven months at Tidworth, the division is ordered to relocate to new quarters in the Devon-Cornwall peninsula. The infantry moves by a combination of foot and motor marches while the artillery and all other elements travel totally by truck. The 116th RCT is billeted in Plymouth while the 227th FA is based in Okehampton.
Upon its arrival the division has a change in commanders. General Gerow is assigned to command the newly organized V Corps and is replaced by Maj. Gen. Charles Gerhardt, a regular Army officer. His impact on. the .29th will be felt by every man in the division, from the lowest private up to regimental commanders. The Blue and Gray has a reputation for firm discipline, but nothing like that imposed by the new general.
An example of this increase in discipline under Gerhardt is the wearing of the helmet chinstrap. American soldiers routinely fail to hook the strap during non-dangerous training exercises. The general issues an order that any time the helmet is worn, no matter where or for what purpose, the strap will be fastened. Neglect results in a fine. After the division is committed to combat this type of discipline continues with no lessening of degree. To this day, veterans recall the effect Gerhardt had on the 29th but they all agree he prepared them as well for the trials which lay ahead.
By early July the units begin a year-long course of training to prepare them for a leading role in the invasion .of France. The major portion of their time is now devoted to amphibious assault practice. At first there’s a lack of real landing craft and improvised wooden mock ups are used to give the soldiers confidence and to reinforce in them the importance of teamwork. Men are taught to swim and they’re loaded with complete field gear, weighing up 100 pounds, and then walked into the surf so they can ‘wade’ ashore under a full load.
Besides these water-based sessions, the infantry are taught how to destroy pillboxes and entrenchments. The ‘weapons’ companies of the 116th (D, H & M) gain proficiency with equipment like flamethrowers, 81mm mortars and 30 cal. machine guns. All companies train with the new “bazooka” designed to knock out enemy tanks and fortifications. They also practice for the first time advancing under the cover of ‘rolling’ artillery fire. Forced marches continue through the damp moors and marshs of Cornwall.
All infantrymen are given instruction in the dismantling of ‘booby traps’ in a school created for the purpose. The men excelling in these tasks are put into expert teams to clear overrun buildings.
In September members of the 116th become “guinea pigs” as the first unit to conduct a three-week training period at the newly opened Assault Training Center (ATC) at Woolacombe, Devonshire. The companies are organized into 30-man boat teams which will fight as a platoon upon landing. They’re placed into “Landing Craft Infantry” (LCI) which sail out about a mile from the shore and then ‘run’ into the beach, dropping their ramps to disgorge the team.
The artillery later joins them in training at the ATC. It’s planned that they will load their howitzers in amphibious trucks called “DUKW’s” (pronounced “Duck’s”) but none are available so the 111th practices its landings from larger vessels known as “Landing Craft Tank” (LCT). They never have an opportunity to train on the DUWK’s before the invasion, which will contribute to the disaster that awaits them.
The men of the Blue and Gray spend 19-months in England before being committed to combat. Though most of their time is devoted to training for the invasion of France, they do get leave time in London and Plymouth. Sports are also an important outlets for the men’s energies. The division sets up teams among the different units for football, basketball, boxing and baseball. The USO and Red Cross set up dances and other forms of entertainment for the troops. As the men of the 29th prepare to celebrate a second Christmas in England, their suspicions about playing a key role in the invasion of France are confirmed. The division’s infantry is moved to Slapton Sands near Dartmouth. This coastal area is used to complete their assault training, including landings with ‘live’ naval gun fire in support.
The 29th Recon Troop experiments with rubber assault boats which prove unsatisfactory in the rough waters of the English Channel. While working with these boats the unit is visited by the General Dwight Eisenhower. During his visit he fires a machine gun ‘from the hip’, much to the delight of the surrounding troopers.
After 19-months of almost constant training the 29th is keen to get into action against the Germans. In mid-May the division moves to its embarkation ports of Plymouth, Weymouth and Dartmouth. Once the units are “locked in” for security reasons the men of the 116th RCT are finally told they’ll be the lead assault waves in the Allied invasion on the Normandy coast of France.
WORLD WAR II: D-DAY
They hear words which are new but will stay forever in the hearts and minds of the all those who serve. They learn they’re going to land on a beach codenamed “OMAHA”, which has been subdivided into sections known as “Dog White” and “Easy Green”. They also learn that the date for this operation, designated as “D-Day”, is set for the morning of 5 June 1944. As the troop transports move out into the Channel, the men feel a mixture of emotions but no one questions the need to get the job done.
The pre-dawn silence is broken only by the sound of muffled voices and ship noises as members of the 116th Infantry climb into “Landing Craft Vehicle/Personnel” (LCVP) hanging on the sides of the USS Thomas Jefferson. As each boat is filled with its 30-man team, it’s lowered into the raging waters of the Channel. The sky is overcast with a cold wind blowing sea spray into the men’s faces. The effects of very rough seas coupled with invasion anxiety cause many of the men to become nauseated.
The assault force has spent more than two days crammed into troop transports waiting to begin the operation. The weather is too bad to sail on the night of 4 June as planned, delaying their departure by 24-hours. The invasion is then set to move on the night of the 5th with the landing slated for early morning of the 6th.
The amphibious portion of the invasion plan, codenamed “NEPTUNE”, calls for the 29th and 1st Infantry division’s to land on a beach designated as OMAHA, northeast of a peaked cliff named “Pointe du Hoc”. The 1st Division’s 16th Infantry will land on the left of the 116th, which in turn will land on the left of the 2d Ranger Battalion assigned to capture du Hoc. (see chart of planned landing scheme)
The formation of the 116th for the landing is a column of companies of the 1st Battalion on the right, nearest the cliffs so they can support the rangers, with the 2d and 3d battalions in line of companies across the center and left of their assigned landing area. However, as often happens in war, fate changes these plans and causes considerable confusion and heavier losses than expected.
After the first LCVP’s are loaded, they ‘circle’ awaiting the others to join them as the navy begins a massive bombardment of the shore from battleships and other vessels. Their mission is to ‘crater’ the beach so the infantry have places to gather in some safety as they form their teams for the move inland.
The air force has already bombed many of these sites for the same purpose. Both attempts fail to do a good job and many of the men land with nothing but a flat beach between them and a seawall up to 500 yards away.
Once the boats containing the men of the first wave (Co’s A, E, F & G) are filled they start their ‘run’ to the beach. Their landing time is set for 0630. Troubles with the assault plan begin almost at once. Immediately one of Co A’s boats is swamped, causing it to sink very quickly. Sergeant Roy Stevens recalls dropping his gear in the boat just before hitting the water. He and the other men are picked up by a passing British boat. One member of this team drowns.
German artillery and mortar fire begins slowly but increases in its intensity as the boats get closer to the beach. Shells and flying metal are everywhere. Apparently a shell directly hits the craft carrying Co A’s commander, Captain Taylor Fellers. He, along with the 30 other men and crew of the craft just ‘disappear’ without a trace. They’re still listed as “missing in action”. The surviving boats of Co A come ashore close to their mark near the Vierville Draw. The ‘Draw’ is a natural cut in the cliff face and has a road running from the beach to the surrounding countryside. The capture of this landmark is a primary objective of the 1/116th. Once secured other troops will use the road to move inland.
However, the defensive fire is so intense that the companies of the 1st Battalion are devastated trying to get on the beach and up to the seawall. First Lieut. Ray Nance of Co A remembers “the air was full of flying metal which you could hear but not see as it ‘whizzed-by’, like bugs around your face in the summer…”.
Sergeant John (Bob) Slaughter of Co D recalls jumping from the LCVP into a high surf and staying at the water’s edge until he could determine where he wanted to go up the beach. He then ran in a low-crouch straight for the seawall, reaching it with no injury though his backpack was “full of holes!”. His M-1 rifle is clogged with sand and water so he stripes and cleans it before leaving the wall. These experiences are common to most of the men of this battalion this morning.
On the left of 1/116th events are also developing in an unplanned manner, as the boat’s of Co’s G and E drift to the left, toward the 1st Division sector. Most of Co E actually lands in the 16th Infantry area and days later its men are still finding their way back to the 116th. Of these companies only “F” lands near its assigned location.
The German fire in this sector is not as heavy as against the 1st Battalion but losses do mount up. Many of the casualties are caused by small arms fire from the bluff running parallel to the surf line. The primary mission of these companies is to secure a second natural cut in the ridge known as the “Les Moulins Draw”. As the supporting companies, many also suffering from the current pushing their craft to the left, join the men pinned down in this sector, they begin to move against the German entrenchments overlooking this ‘Draw’.
By late morning the 116th has established footholds in two locations flanking the Draw. One of these efforts is being directed by the 29th’s assistant commander, Brig. Gen. Norman “Dutch” Cota. He collects men huddled in groups by the seawall and gets them moving inland, often stating “Only two types of men will stay on this beach, the dead and those who will be!”. Soon members of Co’s F and H start to make headway and gain a foothold on the bluff. This will be exploited by nightfall to link up with the companies of 1/116th.
As the 116th struggles to gain its momentum its companion unit of the RCT, the 111th FA, is facing serious problems of its own. The battalion leaves England loaded into 13 DUKW’s which are then stored in a LCT. Each DUKW carries one gun (four per battery) and the last carries the headquarters. When the 111th’s time comes to disembark the DUKW’s are driven quite literally out of the LCT and straight into the Channel.
The first one off the ramp is hit by an upcoming wave and almost sinks on the spot. Since the battalion is dropped about 12-miles from shore at 0400 with a scheduled landing time of 0820, they circle, causing all of the craft to fill with sea water and begin sinking. Most of the men of these DUKW’s are rescued by other vessels so losses aren’t high.
When it’s time to ‘run’ for the beach only four boats remain afloat. As they near the shore two more are lost, one to the sea and the other to machine gun fire. The last two DUKW’s, commanded by captains Jack Wilson and Louis Shuford (Bty’s A & C respectively) spend more than an hour trying to find a place along the beach not blocked by disabled or burning landing craft. While in this process Wilson’s boat stalls, his gun is hit by a shell and the DUKW soon goes underwater. Shuford’s boat contains the last gun of the battalion and he and his men are determined to get it ashore. However, high waves are filling the craft faster then it can be pumped out. He pulls beside a special barge called a “rhino ferry” which has a crane and it lifts the gun out of the foundering DUKW. This gun is used by the 7th FA in support of the 16th Infantry.
While none of the 111th’s cannon make landfall under the battalion’s control men from the unit do make a contribution to the effort in getting off the beach. The Mtn commander, Lieut. Col. Thornton Mullins from Richmond, seeing his men crouch near the seawall yells out “To hell with our artillery mission, we’re infantrymen now!” With that he leads them into the fight in support of F/116th. Almost immediately he’s killed by enemy fire. Never-the-less his men keep moving off the beach, perhaps with more determination.
Col. Mullins is awarded the DSC for his inspired leadership on D-Day, the only member of the 111th ever so honored.
As darkness falls on the evening of 6 June the 116th RCT, though battered and exhausted, has managed to accomplish most of its primary missions, namely securing the Vierville and Les Moulins draws. Due to its high losses 1/116th fails to link up with the 2d Rangers. All through the night stragglers search in the darkness to locate their units. As headcounts are taken the toll in lives becomes more apparent.
Losses in the Virginia units on D-Day are high, in some companies almost crippling. Company A (Bedford), which had about 200 men at the start of the day suffers the worst with 91 men killed, 18 of whom are from the community.
In a town numbering 3,000 people everyone will come to grieve this loss. In fact, by evening the company can only muster about 15 men who aren’t hurt. Several other companies, while not having as many causalities, still loose more than 30% of their effective strength. The entire regiment suffers in killed, wounded and missing a total of 608 men, 341 of whom are listed as dead.
The 111th FA’s losses on D-Day are not as great as those suffered by the 116th but they still prove to be high. The most extreme case occurs in DUKW #2 (Bty A) which starts with 16 men, seven of whom are killed (including the battalion surgeon) and three wounded, making more than 50% casualties. Added to personnel losses are losses in equipment, including all their guns. They’ll not be resupplied and in action until 13 June.
The Army recognizes the 116th for its service on this day by awarding the regiment a Distinguished Unit Citation (DUC) for its actions in gaining the beachhead despite heavy losses. In addition, the French government awards both the 116th and 111th the Croix De Guerrie (Cross of War) with Palm for their conduct on D-Day. And both units earn the first of their four battle streamers for the war. Embroidered NORMANDY it also bears the bronze arrowhead indicating its men made an assault landing.
There’s no time to mourn the dead because the beachhead, still under German artillery fire must be quickly expanded to allow reinforcements and supplies to land. Starting in the pre-dawn hours of 7 June the 29th enters into offensive operations over the Norman countryside which last until 8 August along a river and village both named Vire.
After linking up with the rangers on the morning of 8 June the 2d and 3d battalions/116th move southwest toward the town of Grandcamp. The 3/116th encounters very stiff resistance from a German strong point outside of town. Repeated infantry attacks, supported by tanks, fail to knockout enemy machine guns still controlling the area.
As dusk approaches, Technical Sergeant Frank Peregory of Co K moves out alone and enters the enemy trench undetected. Using grenades and his rifle with bayonet, he kills at least eight of the enemy and captures a number of others.
Peregory, already a hero for saving a comrade’s life in North Carolina in 1942 (for which he is awarded a Soldier’s Medal), becomes the second member of the Virginia National Guard to be awarded the Medal of Honor. Unfortunately, he’s killed in action just six days later, before the presentation can be made.
The men of the Blue and Gray find themselves fighting in “hedgerow” country. They discover the hedgerows are really mounds of soil thickly overgrown with trees and scrubs. French farmers use them as a natural fence to divide their fields. The GI’s learn that you can’t go through one, you must go over or around. The Germans set up machine gun sites and kill anyone attempting to cross open ground. The fighting develops into a running battle from hedgerow to hedgerow and losses again mount up. Tanks are unsuccessful in opening breaches until someone attaches a steel ‘prowl’ on the front of one and it manages to punch through, creating a hole which troops can exploit. As more “rhino tanks” are put in use, the enemy loses his advantage of position and the assault picks up momentum.
The main objective of the Normandy campaign focuses on the capture of the city of St. Lo. Allied planners thought it would take about two weeks to secure but instead it takes 43 days. The fighting is fierce with attacks and counterattacks by each side. However, the Germans are slowly pushed back into the city. With its fall imminent Gen. Gerhardt instructs Gen. Cota to form a quick, mobile team to secure the center of the city.
“Task Force Cota” (“C”) includes the 29th Cavalry Recon Troop and artillery observers from the 227th FA. When alerted on 18 July that the Germans are pulling out, “C” dashes into the heart of the city, overcomes some resistance and manages to raise the division’s flag from the second story of a cafe in the center of town.
While the men of the 116th are glad the battle for the city is over they’re saddened by a loss inspirational leader. The commander of 3/116th, Major Thomas Howie from Staunton, is killed one day prior to the capture of the town. After meeting with his officers he departs saying “See you in St. Lo!” and is immediately struck by a mortar fragment. When Gerhardt learns of his death he orders the body be carried in with the task force and placed in the center of town. Howie’s remains, covered with an American flag are placed on the ruins of the city cathedral. A reporter from the New York Times, seeing this display of affection, wrote a story about “The Major of St. Lo”.
Censorship prevents him naming Howie or the division and so his story comes to represent to the folks at home the loss of many men and reinforces the need to see the war through to victory. Later a poem about Howie and the 29th’s fight for the city is published in Life magazine. In the 1950s a TV drama of the incident is aired on ABC with actor Peter Graves playing the role of the ‘Major’. Today’s Staunton Armory is named in Howie’s honor.
Though the fall of St. Lo is pivotal and marks the beginning of the Allied ‘run’ through France spearheaded by Gen. George Patton’s Third Army, the fighting in Normandy is not yet over. The 29th is engaged in an operation to capture the city of Vire, which falls on 8 August. After this fight the 1/116th is awarded a second DUC for “its gallant and heroic attack in the face of determined and strongly emplaced enemy…”.
WORLD WAR II
As the Normandy campaign closes the men of the 29th, having been engaged in combat almost every day since D-Day, hope to get a period of rest. However, there’s a demand for their service in the operation to capture the port city of Brest. The harbor facilities here include a large German submarine ‘pen’, from which the enemy raiders strike into the Atlantic looking for Allied ships to sink.
The Germans pull their troops back into a series of forts covering the approach to the city. The division moves by truck and takes position near the outer defenses on 31 August. On 14 September the 116th is tasked to capture a particularly stubborn post named Fort Montbarey. For C/116th this proves a hard fight but with fire support from the 111th and by working with engineers, they finally clear the ground west of the moat.
The 15th remains relatively quiet but at 0800 on the 16th the 116th, working with supportive armor, attacks the main fort and by days’ end succeeds in capturing it. With the fall of another fort to the 175th the city’s fate is sealed. Brest surrenders on the 18th. The 116th RCT is tasked to guard military installations in the city until they’re relieved and move to a rest area the next day. Their rest time will be short.
Next stop, Germany! The word passes through the ranks of the 29th like lighting. After a just a couple of days rest the division is loaded on trains and moved non-stop to the Dutch-German border near Maastricht, Holland. On 29 September they enter combat operations which includes support from the 2d Armored Division. The 29th’s artillery plays an important role in firing missions for the tankers. The 227th FA, with its long range 155mm pieces, covers the armor advance in the breakthru of the “Siegfried Line”, the German frontier defense positions.
The 116th RCT moves onto German soil on 2 October, less than four months after D-Day! Having grown used to fighting in hedgerow country of Normandy, the open, flat fields of “Rhineland”, Germany, seem more threatening since there’s little cover.
The Germans place most of their troops into defensive positions around the larger cities, leaving much of the countryside free of stiff resistance. They do set up scattered machine gun nests to cover roads and bridges to slow up the American advance. Some of these are quickly overcome by the 29th Recon’s light armored vehicles or with fire missions fired by the 111th FA on request from the infantry.
Over the next six weeks the 29th secures the frontier area and prepares itself for a more aggressive move deep into industrial center of Germany, known • as the “Ruhr”. Jumping off on 16 November they quickly capture the cities of Setterich, Aldenhoven, Koslar and the western portion of the major city of Julich. The division halts its offensive on 8 December due to heavy enemy resistance and increasingly cold weather. Julich is divided by the Roer River and the Germans will hold the eastern half until February because they launch their last big offensive of the war in the Ardenne Forest, known as the “Battle of the Bulge”.
While the 29th is not directly involved in repelling the German assault 50-miles south of their position, the division is effected by a reduction of supplies and replacements, with these materials going to the hard-pressed units trying to stop the Nazi attack. Though the enemy is stopped and then pushed back to his starting positions by mid-January, it’s not until mid-February that the 29th is prepared to resume its offensive.
On 22 February the 29th opens its push against the city. With all the bridges destroyed, the assault must be made by water. Fortunately, this time the 116th is not committed to boats again under enemy fire. The 115th and 175th regiments open the attack on 23 February and the “Citadel” (the city’s ancient fortress) falls by day’s end.
The 116th quickly moves through the city to capture the city of Munchen-Gladbach about 10-miles to the north. It falls on 1 March and the division receives the word its been waiting to hear. They’re done fighting! (at least for awhile).
The 29th is assigned to the Ninth Army and takes up occupation duty in the city. The men are housed in the unbombed homes of German civilians, which are the best accommodations any of them have experienced since they left the US. The various commands of the division are given missions to patrol the city, now under military government control.
This duty, which seems like a dream come true for these seasoned veterans, comes to an end on 1 April when the division is again loaded into trucks and moved over the newly secured Rhine River into central Germany. The 116th captures the industrial city of Dortmund after overcoming stiff opposition. This fight proves to be the last serious combat the regiment engages in during the war.
By the end of April the division is in positions along the Elbe River. The river is the boundary line which is as far east as American forces can advance under agreement with our Soviet allies. Soon the Red Army links up on their side of the river. The first high ranking member of the Ninth Army to meet with the Russians is the 29th DIVARTY commander, Gen. William Sands, who greets his visiting counterpart at an Elbe crossing on 3 May. The two generals drink toasts to the alliance.
Though the fighting has stopped along the 29th’s sector by the end of April the war doesn’t end until 8 May, “V-E Day”. Even before the peace is finalized, the division once again takes up occupation duties, now around the port city of Bremerhaven. This North Sea harbor is soon the point of entry for all US Army supplies and replacements coming into Germany. While the division stays on duty in and around this ancient city until December many of the men who landed on D-Day and fought through Normandy, including almost all of the Guardsmen, are sent home in increments through the summer and autumn.
The 116th Infantry sails on 24 December, spending Christmas at sea but the men don’t seem to mind missing the holiday. They’re followed by the division artillery on the 27th. All elements of the 29th arrive at Camp Kilmer, New Jersey (where the division sailed from for England in 1942) by the first week of January 1946. The men are out-processed as quickly as possible and then they’re released to go home. All of the units are released from federal service by the 17th, on the same day the division is disbanded. There’s no ceremony, parade or formal recognition of the record or sacrifice made by the members of the ‘Blue and Gray’.
For the record, the 29th Infantry Division and each of its component commands earns four campaign streamers and numerous medals and awards to honor its personnel. But there are other ways to mark the record. For instance, the 111th FA fired 7,906 missions, expending 108,056 rounds in support of the division. The battalion has 42 men killed and 83 wounded by enemy action. The 116th suffers a total of 7,113 casualties (killed, wounded and missing). Since an infantry regiment is organized to number about 1,700 men, this means the 116th turned over personnel more than three times. The division spends 335 days engaged in combat operations.
During World War lI the battalion earned 4 campaign ribbons in the European Theater of operations, including the initial Normandy landings. They were in federal service for nearly 5 years while serving in the 29th Infantry Division. The battalion was designated as the initial artillery unit to land at Omaha beach on 6 June 1944, but not a single howitzer made it to shore, as all but 1 was lost to enemy fire or swamped due to the extreme tidal conditions.
During the war the battalion suffered 39 battle deaths.
The 111th continued in support of the 116th Infantry through World War Two, and participated in the following campaigns/battles: Normandy Beach, St. Andre DeL’Epine, Vire, St. Renan, Zu Ubach, Roer River, Julich, Verdille-Sur-Mer, St. Lo, Brest, Sittard, Duroslar, Giesenkirches, Munchen Gladdack, Rhine River, Buldern and the Elbe River.
On VE Day, the 111th FA was on the Elbe River.
In January of 2003 elements of the battalion was yet again mustered into active federal service. This mobilization was in support of Operation Noble Eagle, the United States’ response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Since that time the battalion has provided Soldiers to various operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, with its most current mission deploying a platoon to Afghanistan in 2011-2012.
The battalion is currently assigned 387 personnel. Of these, 113 have been deployed. 22 Soldiers have been on multiple deployments.
Normandy (with arrowhead)
1. Listman, John W., Robert K. Wright, and Bruce D. Hardcastle. The Tradition Continues: A History of The Virginia National Guard, 1607-1985. Richmond: Taylor Pub., 1987. Print.
2. A Pictorial History of the 29th Division. S.l.: S.n., 1965. Print. 3. Ewing, Joseph H. 29, Let’s Go! A History of the 29th Infantry Division in World War II. Washington: Infantry Journal, 1948. Print.
4. Unknown. 111th Artillery Unit 1973 History. N.p., n.d. Web. 6 Oct. 2014.
5. Listman, John W., Jr. “Historical Account of 111th Field Artillery During World War II.” Virginia Guardpost (1993): 2-17. Web.