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 deactivated 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 retreating 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 men 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 do so. When they reached the hamlet of Wereth, Belgium, farmer Mathias Langer, offered them shelter.[4] The area they were in had been part of Germany for hundreds of years, until it was annexed by Belgium after World War I, and three of the nine families in the village were known to be still loyal to Germany. The wife of a German soldier who lived in Wereth told members of the notorious 1st SS Division that black American soldiers were hiding in her village. The SS troops quickly moved to capture the Americans, who surrendered without resistance. The SS men then marched their prisoners to a nearby field, where they were beaten, tortured, and finally shot.[4]

The frozen bodies of the victims were discovered six weeks later, when the Allies re-captured the area. The SS troops had battered the black soldiers' faces, broken their legs with rifle butts, cut off fingers, stabbed some with bayonets, and had shot at least one soldier while he was bandaging a comrade's wounds.[3]

The survivors of the 333rd Field Artillery Battalion were ordered to Bastogne, where they were incorporated into the 969th Field Artillery Battalion. Both battalions had provided fire support for the 101st Airborne Division during the Siege of Bastogne, for which they received the Presidential Unit Citation, the Army's highest unit award.

Because it had been overrun, 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 commander) and 222 enlisted men had been either killed or become prisoners of war. The 333rd Field Artillery Group subsequently served in the Central Europe campaign to the end of the war, while the 333rd Field Artillery Battalion took part in the Rhineland Campaign.

Names[edit]

The troops killed were:

Rank Name From Service number Buried Awards
Staff Sergeant (Mess sergeant) Forte, Thomas J. Jackson, Mississippi 34046992 Henri-Chapelle plot C, row 11, grave 55. Purple Heart
Technician Fourth Grade Pritchett, William Edward Camden, Alabama 34552760 McCaskill Cemetery, Wilcox County, Alabama Purple Heart
Technician Fourth Grade Stewart, James A. Piedmont, West Virginia 35744547 Henri-Chapelle, plot C, row 11, grave 2 Purple Heart
Corporal Bradley, Mager Bolivar County, Mississippi 34046336 Fort Gibson National Cemetery, Fort Gibson, Oklahoma, plot 6, 0, 2698-E Purple Heart
Private First Class Davis, George Jefferson County, Alabama 34553436 Henri-Chapelle, plot D, row 10, grave 61 Purple Heart
Private First Class Leatherwood, James L. Pontotoc, Mississippi 34481753 College Hill Cemetery, Pontotoc County, Mississippi, Plot C Row 9 Grave 57 Purple Heart
Private First Class Moten, George W. Hopkins County, Texas 38304695 Henri-Chapelle, plot E, row 10, grave 29 Purple Heart
Private First Class Turner, Due W. Emerson, Arkansas 38383369 Henri-Chapelle, plot F, row 5, grave 9 Purple Heart
Private (medic) Adams, Curtis South Carolina 34511454 Henri-Chapelle, plot C, row 11, grave 41 Purple Heart
Private Green, Robert Leroy Upson County, Georgia 34552457 Highland Park Cemetery, Highland Hills, Ohio, Section 3, Lot 3, Tier 24, Grave 22 Purple Heart
Private Moss, Nathaniel Longview, Texas 38040062 Henri-Chapelle, plot F, row 10, grave 8 Purple Heart

Memorials[edit]

On Sep 11, 1994, Hermann Langer, son of farmer Mattias Langer who had attempted to help the soldiers, erected a small stone cross to remember the 11 murdered men. On May 23, 2004, a new memorial was built on the site of the executions and was dedicated to the 11 troops as well as all the African-American soldiers who had 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.[5]

In 2006, members of the Worcester, Massachusetts chapter of Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge dedicated what is probably the first memorial to the Wereth 11 on United States soil. It was dedicated at the Winchendon Veterans' Memorial Cemetery on 20 August.[citation needed]

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.[6] 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.[7] Today, there is only one target acquisition battery in the Army which still bears the number of the 333rd Field Artillery; F TAB, 333rd FAR is stationed at Camp Casey, Korea as part of the 210th Fires Brigade.

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. ^ "WERETH Home". Retrieved 2016-03-18. 
  6. ^ Shelby Stanton, World War II Order of Battle, New York: Galahad Books, 1991
  7. ^ "333rd Field Artillery Regiment", desertstorm1991.com, archived from the original on 2014-07-19 

External links[edit]