333rd Field Artillery Battalion (United States)

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Memorial to the Wereth 11

The 333rd Field Artillery Battalion was a racially segregated United States Army unit of African-American troops during World War II. The unit was organized during World War I but never saw combat. In World War II, they landed at Normandy in early July 1944 and saw continuous combat as corps artillery throughout the summer. Beginning in October 1944 it was located in Schoenberg, Belgium as part of the U.S. VIII Corps.

The unit was partially overrun by Germans during the onset of the Battle of the Bulge on 17 December 1944. While most of the 333rd FA Battalion withdrew west towards Bastogne, in advance of the German assault, Service and C Batteries remained behind to cover the advance of the 106th Infantry Division. The unit suffered heavy casualties, and eleven men of the 333rd were massacred near the Belgian hamlet of Wereth. After the war, the battalion was inactivated and reactivated during various Army reorganizations.

Unit formation and history[edit]

Organized as the 333rd Field Artillery (FA) Regiment on 5 August 1917 and subordinated to the 161st Field Artillery Brigade, 86th Infantry Division. The regiment subsequently served in France during World War I, but did not see action. The regiment was demobilized in January 1919 at Camp Grant, Illinois.

The regiment was part of the Organized Reserves in Chicago from 1930 through 1937, at which time it was inactivated until World War II.[1]

On 5 August 1942, the 333rd FA Regiment was activated at Camp Gruber, Oklahoma. As part of an army-wide artillery reorganization, the 1st Battalion was retitled the 333rd FA Battalion and the 2nd Battalion became the 969th FA Battalion. Regimental Headquarters became Headquarters and Headquarters Battery of the 333rd FA Group[2] on 12 February 1943. The group subsequently served in Normandy, Brittany, participated in the siege of Brest and battled across Northern France before arriving in the Ardennes sector as part of the corps artillery of the U.S. VIII Corps.

Ardennes Offensive[edit]

Honor guard for the Wereth 11 in 2007.

The 333rd Field Artillery Group and the 969th were equipped with 155mm howitzers, and the 771st Field Artillery Battalions was equipped with 4.5-inch guns. They initially supported the 2nd Infantry Division and its replacement, the 106th Infantry Division. At the onset of the Battle of the Bulge they were 11 miles (18 km) behind the front lines. With the rapid advance of the Germans, the 333rd FA Battalion, except for C and Service Batteries, was ordered to withdraw west. C and Service Batteries stayed behind to give covering fire to the advancing 106th Division.

As was typical of segregated units in World War II, white officers commanded black enlisted men. The unit arrived in the small village of Schonberg, near St. Vith, Belgium, in October, 1944. The Service battery was situated west of the Our River while howitzer Batteries A, B, and C were located on the east side of the river to support Army VII Corps.[3] In the early morning hours of December 16, German artillery began shelling the Schonberg area. By the afternoon, there were reports of rapid German infantry and armored progress. The 333rd FAB was ordered to displace further west but the 106th Division artillery commander requested that 'C' Battery and Service Battery remain in position to support the 14th Cavalry Regiment and 106th Division.[3]

By the morning of December 17, the Germans had captured Schonberg and controlled the bridge across the river that connected to St. Vith. The Service Battery tried to displace to St. Vith through the village and were hit by heavy German armored and small arms fire. Many were killed and those that remained were captured. As the men were being herded to the rear, the column was attacked by an American aircraft. During the ensuing confusion, eleven men escaped into the woods. They were by this time on the east side of the river and forced to sneak their way overland in a northwest direction, hoping they would reach American lines. At about 3 pm, they approached the first house in the nine-house hamlet of Wereth, Belgium, owned by Mathias Langer. A friend of the Langer's was also present.[3]

Wereth 11 Massacre[edit]

On 17 December Battery C was flanked and overrun. Most of the troops were killed or captured. Eleven soldiers became separated from the unit after it was overrun early on the second day of the battle. They tried to find the American lines but were unable to and when they reached the hamlet of Wereth, Belgium, farmer Mathias Langer, offered them shelter.[4] The portion of Belgium they were in had been German territory prior to World War I and three of the nine homes in the village were loyal to Germany. The wife of a German soldier who lived in the town told members of the 1st SS Division about the black American GIs hiding in the town. The Germans captured the troops and took them to a nearby field, where they tortured, maimed, and shot all 11 soldiers.[4]

The remains of the 11 troops were found by Allied soldiers six weeks later, in mid-February, after the Allies re-captured the area. The Germans had battered the soldiers' faces, cut their fingers off, broken their legs, used bayonetts to stab them in the eye,[citation needed] and shot at least one soldier while he was bandaging a comrade's wounds.[3]

The remnants of the 333rd FAB were ordered to Bastogne and incorporated into its sister unit the 969th Field Artillery Battalion. Both units provided fire support for the 101st Airborne Division in the Siege of Bastogne, subsequently being awarded the Presidential Unit Citation.

The 333rd Field Artillery Battalion suffered more casualties during the Battle of the Bulge than any other artillery unit in the VIII Corps. Six officers (including the commanding officer) and 222 enlisted men were casualties or became prisoners of war. The 333rd FA Group subsequently served in the Central Europe campaign until the end of the war, while the 333rd FA Battalion subsequently served in the Rhineland Campaign.

Names of the Wereth 11[edit]

The troops killed were:

  • Staff Sergeant Thomas J. Forte, service #34036992. Buried Henri-Chapelle plot C, row 11, grave 55. Awards: Purple Heart
  • T/4 William Edward Pritchett of Alabama
  • T/4 James A. Stewart of West Virginia, Service number 35744547. Buried Henri-Chapelle, plot C, row 11, grave 2. Awards: Purple Heart
  • Cpl Mager Bradley of Mississippi
  • PFC George Davis of Alabama, service #34553436. Buried Henri-Chapelle, plot D, row 10, grave 61. Awards: Purple Heart
  • PFC James L. Leatherwood of Pontotoc, Mississippi
  • PFC George W. Moten of Texas, service #38304695. Buried Henri-Chapelle, plot E, row 10, grave 29. Awards: Purple Heart
  • PFC Due W. Turner of Arkansas, service #38383369. Buried Henri-Chapelle, plot F, row 5, grave 9. Awards: Purple Heart
  • Pvt Curtis Adams of South Carolina, service #34511454. Buried Henri-Chapelle, plot C, row 11, grave 41. Awards: Purple Heart
  • Pvt Robert Green
  • Pvt Nathanial Moss of Texas, service #38040062. Buried Henri-Chapelle, plot F, row 10, grave 8. Awards: Purple Heart

Curtis Adams was a medic. Thomas J. Forte was a mess sergeant.

Post World War II[edit]

The 333rd FA Battalion was inactivated 10 June 1945 in Germany, while the 333rd FA Group was inactivated at Camp Patrick Henry, Virginia on 30 December 1945.[5] Both the 333rd and 969th FA Battalions were later reactivated, although further reorganizations ensued, with the 333rd FA Battalion renumbered as the 446th FA Battalion. On 1 July 1959 the 333rd FA Group was reactivated as the 333rd Artillery Regiment with the 446th and 969th FA Battalions subordinated to it. On 1 September 1971, the regiment was retitled the 333rd Field Artillery Regiment. Four target acquisition batteries of the 333rd Field Artillery served in Operation Desert Storm in 1991.[6] Today, there is only one target acquisition battery in the Army which still bear the number of the 333rd Field Artillery.

Memorials[edit]

On Sep 11, 1994, Hermann Langer, the son of farmer Mattias Langer who attempted to help the soldiers, erected a small stone cross to remember the 11 black GIs. On May 23, 1994, a new memorial was built on the site of the murders and dedicated to the 11 troops and all African-American soldiers who fought in the European theater. It is believed to be the only memorial specifically dedicated to African-American soldiers of World War II in Europe.[7]

In 2006, veterans with the Worcester, Massachusetts chapter of Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge dedicated what is presumed to be the first memorial to the Wereth 11 on U.S. soil. It was dedicated at the Winchendon Veterans' Memorial Cemetery on 20 August.[citation needed]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Steven E. Clay, U.S. Army Order of Battle 1919 - 1941, Volume 2, p. 860. Fort Leavenworth: Combat Studies Institute Press, 2010.
  2. ^ "4th Battalion, 333rd Field Artillery". 
  3. ^ a b c d "Wereth 11 History". U.S. Memorial WERETH. Retrieved 2016-03-18. 
  4. ^ a b Jim Michaels (8 November 2013). "Emerging from history: Massacre of 11 black soldiers. USA Today.". Retrieved 2016-03-18. 
  5. ^ Shelby Stanton, World War II Order of Battle, New York: Galahad Books, 1991
  6. ^ "333rd Field Artillery Regiment", desertstorm1991.com, archived from the original on 2014-07-19 
  7. ^ "WERETH Home". Retrieved 2016-03-18. 

External links[edit]