969th Artillery Battalion (United States)
|969th Artillery Battalion|
|Active||1942 - 1945|
|Branch||United States Army|
|Equipment||M1 155mm Howitzer|
|Engagements||D-Day (Utah Beach)
Battle for BrestBattle of Bastogne (Battle of the Bulge)
|Battle honours||Distinguished Unit Citation|
|Executive Officer||Maj. Einar Erickson|
|First Commander||Lt. Col. Hubert D. Barnes|
The 969th Artillery Battalion was an African American United States Army unit that saw combat during World War II. The battalion landed at Utah beach during Operation Neptune, and participated in the conquest of the western front of France and Belgium. Along with survivors of the 333rd Artillery Battalion, it gave fire support to the 101st Airborne Division during the siege of Bastogne. (Battle of the Bulge) The 969th did not suffer the same harrowing casualties as the 333rd but was in the thick of it nonetheless. As a result of the 333rd's high casualty rate, those soldiers fought the rest of the war with the 969th even though on paper the members were still designated as the 333rd.
The 969th was equipped primarily with the M1 155 mm howitzer, one of the heaviest artillery pieces in common usage by U.S. forces during World War Two. The gun crews of the 969th were known for singing in cadence as they loaded and fired their guns, and have been praised by many veterans who fought in and around Bastogne, including Donald R. Burgett, for their deadly accuracy and precision.
The 969th landed at Utah Beach on 9 July 1944 under its Commander Lt. Col. Hubert D. Barnes. Its primary mission here was to reinforce the 8th Infantry Division. It took its positions around Lattage du Pont in the vicinity of Le Haye du Puits. After Barnes was injured in battle on 10 July, it operated under its Executive Officer Maj. Einar Erickson. Their role was to support various armored, and infantry divisions, including the 8th Infantry Division, the 90th Infantry Division, and the 4th Armored Division.
After fighting around Le Haye du Puits, the 969th moved west towards Rennes, France. The full Battalion moved on 1 August, supporting the 4th Armored Division. The battalion served as suppression and support fire, as Rennes was surrounded by snipers, and was constantly strafed by planes. The Sergeant used a .50 caliber machine gun to suppress sniper fire, and the battalion took credit for 70 prisoners in Rennes.
The 969th, along with three other VIII Corps African American field artillery units, including the 3334 Field Artillery Group, the 333rd Field Artillery Battalion, and the 578th Field Artillery Battalion, moved to support infantry divisions, including the 106th Infantry Division. The Battalions were limited to 250 shots a day because of limited supplies. The Germans staged an attack on 16 December against the position of VIII Corp's 3334 Field Artillery Group in Bleialf. This ambush proved deadly to the 3334 Artillery Groups, and because of need of support in the 333rd Field Artillery Battalion, on 18 December the 969th was assigned to the 333rd by verbal order (Wereth 11 Massacre). After, the Axis again surrounded the VIII Corps and was penetrating American forces quickly. The 969th was among the first groups to receive small arms fire, forcing them to move positions. The 333rd's harrowing losses during this ambush pushed those remaining to support the 969th and 101st Airborne Division. The 333rd, 969th, and other artillery groups were commandeered by the 101st, and formed a temporary artillery group. The newly enlarged 969th continued to support the 101st Airborne Division until 12 January 1945, where it was relieved from the 101st and assigned back to the 3334 Field Artillery Group.
Beginning on 23 January 1945, it continued to support various divisions and groups, including the 1st French Division (DNII) and the 30th Field Artillery Group in Alsace, France during the Colmar Pocket. The 969th had fired 912 rounds on the first day of the attack. On the 25 January 1945, the 969th attached to the 5th French Armored Division, and later to the 75th Division and the 2d French Arglored Division. The 969th, joined by the African American 999th Artillery Division and the 686th Artillery Division fired support for XII Corp's run along the Saar River and the Rhine. By 28 April 1945, the battalion had fired its last shots of the war.
By the end of the war, the 969th Field Artillery Battalion had fought with all four American armies in the European theatre, and with the French in the Colmar Pocket. It had fired a total of 42,489 rounds from its howitzers in support of American and French allied divisions.
Distinguished Unit Citation
Because of its success and gallant support at Bastogne, the 969th received its Distinguished Unit Citation through Third Army on 7 February 1945, from Maj. Gen. Maxwell Taylor, commander of the 101st. This was the first Distinguished Unit Citation awarded to an African American combat unit.
- Burgett, Donald R. (2002). Beyond the Rhine: A Screaming Eagle in Germany. Dell. ISBN 9780440236368. Archived from the original on 6 July 2008. Retrieved 29 April 2013.
- "Chapter XXI: Artillery And Armored Units In the ETO". www.history.army.mil. Retrieved 2017-05-15.
- "Black Soldiers of the Ardennes :: World War II :: Ardennes :: Lest We Forget". lestweforget.hamptonu.edu. Retrieved 2017-05-16.
- "WERETH History". www.wereth.org. Retrieved 2017-05-17.
- "United States 969th Field Artillery fire a howitzer in Luxembourg, France during World War II" (video). YouTube: Critical Past, retrieved online, July 17, 2018.
- "United States 969th Field Artillery men fire a 155 mm howitzer in Luxembourg, France" (video). YouTube: Critical Past, retrieved online July 17, 2018.