Thursday, June 27, 2019

First to Fire: The Georgia National Guard’s 230th Field Artillery in Normandy

By Maj. William Carraway
Historian, Georgia Army National Guard

General Dwight D. Eisenhower inspects the 230th Field Artillery Battalion in the days leading up to the D-Day invasion (Jacobs)
The Call to Arms
On June 8, 1944, the 230th Field Artillery Battalion was stationed in Wycombe England. While they were aware that the D-Day landings had commenced two days previous, the men had no idea how soon they would be employed as part of the continental invasion. That afternoon, blaring sirens heralded the beginning of movement. The men were given 45 minutes to load up in vehicles bound for Southampton. Many of the Soldiers must have imagined that this was yet another in a series of drills. These rumors were quickly crushed as the men learned they were being rushed to France to replace a field artillery battalion of the 29th Infantry Division which had lost its field howitzers during the assault on Omaha Beach. These former Georgia Guardsmen turned 30th Infantry Division artilleryman were now part of the 29th Division, and within hours, the 230th would become the first Georgia Guard unit to enter combat in France.

Coat of Arms of the 230th FA BN.  (Jacobs)
Prelude: From Savannah to Southern England
On September 16, 1940, the Georgia National Guard and its 5,200 Soldiers were accepted into federal service. [i] Among the Guard units swept up in the pre-war fervor were the two Savannah-based battalions of the 118th Field Artillery Regiment. Shortly after activation, the field artillery batteries were sent to Fort Jackson, S.C. for initial training as part of the 30th Division. The 118th FAR participated in the Tennessee Maneuvers in from June to August 1941 and the Carolina Maneuvers, which took place in October and November 1941.[ii]

On February 16, 1942, the 118th Field Artillery Regiment was reorganized as the 118th Field Artillery Battalion and 230th Field Artillery Battalion[iii]. The 230th was comprised of The Chatham Artillery, who formed Batteries A and C; the Irish Jasper Greens which comprised Battery B, and the German Volunteers, who formed the Service Battery.[iv] The reorganization was initiated after the 30th Division was reorganized and redesignated as the 30th Infantry Division. Another result of this reorganization was the reassignment of the 121st Infantry Regiment to the 8th Infantry Division.[v]

Following the reorganization, the 230th participated in the second Carolina Maneuvers in the spring of 1942 before stationing at Camp Blanding, Fla. in September. At Camp Blanding, the ranks of the 230th were bolstered by recruits from 44 of the 48 states, the majority of which coming from Georgia and Pennsylvania.[vi] Additional training followed at Camp Gordon, Ga. and Camp Forrest, Tenn. Arriving in Tennessee in June 1943, the 230th formed a combat team with the 120th Infantry Regiment. The two units trained together for five months before moving north by rail through Fort Knox to Camp Atterbury, Ind. Training continued through the winter of 1944 and culminated with the 230th passing the Army Ground Forces Test and being proclaimed combat ready.[vii]

On February 1, 1944, the Soldiers of the 230th boarded a train bound for Camp Myles Standish, a mobilization and debarkation camp located near Taunton, Mass. Over the next ten days the men received passes to visit Boston or New York and shivered around camp stoves against the effects of the Massachusetts winter. The long wait ended February 11, as the men boarded trains bound for Boston and embarkation.

Arriving at Boston Harbor, the men milled about the docks enjoying hot coffee and donuts while equipment and men were loaded aboard the S.S. Argentina, a former passenger liner that had been converted to haul troops in bulk rather than passengers in luxury. The Argentina’s convoy sailed out of Boston Harbor February 12 - Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. The men took this as an auspicious start to what would prove to be an uneventful voyage. The 230th shared the Argentina with the 120th Infantry, the former being crammed into the stern of the ship with headquarters so far down that “only the bilge separated the boys from the keel.”[viii]

On February 22, the S.S. Argentina sailed up the Clyde River and anchored at Gourock, Scotland, 25 miles east of Glasgow. From there, the Soldiers were crammed onto trains which puttered their way through London eventually depositing the batteries of the 230th in southern England. The men were lodged in damp cold huts made the more inhospitable by the rationing of coal. Lying in their cots at night the men could hear the sound of bombs exploding in London fifty miles away.

On April 4, the 230th was moved to Wycombe to make room for the staging of troops that would go ashore on D-Day. In Wycombe, training and preparation for the invasion continued. The men fastidiously waterproofed their vehicles and howitzers until the trucks could be driven through test wading pools with only the drivers and windshield exposed. As these trials and training events continued the drone of Allied bombers steadily increased as did the frequency of visitors to the training camps. General Bernard Montgomery, who would command all ground forces during the initial phase of Operation Overlord, addressed units of the 30th Division in May. That same month, General Courtney Hodges, deputy commander of 1st Army, inspected the 30th Division Artillery and spoke with the men. May concluded with a visit from General Dwight Eisenhower, who moved among the men of the 230th inspecting equipment and talking with individual Soldiers. [ix]

On June 5,  Maj. Gen. Leland Hobbs, commander of the 30th Infantry Division, addressed the Soldiers of the 230th FA telling them “This is a day (you) will never forget.”[x] Thus, as airborne troops assembled to board transport aircraft and Soldiers of the assaulting divisions waited tensely aboard countless naval vessels, the men of the 230th made final equipment preparations uncertain of the outcome of future operations, or when they would be employed. The sirens of June 8 relieved that uncertainty.

Soldiers of the 230th FA await transport from Southampton to Normandy (Jacobs)

Omaha Beach
The convoy carrying the 230th left Southampton the evening of June 9, crossing relatively calm seas and arrived off the coast of France by dawn the next day. As the sun rose, the artillerymen were confronted with an unparalleled spectacle of military might. Ships were anchored from one end of the horizon to the other while the sounds of combat emanated from Allied forces fighting throughout the hedgerows of France. Amphibious ships scuttled about bearing their cargo from anchored ships to the shore. 

The 230th arrived on Omaha Beach on two LSTs but grounded in ten feet of water and
Lieutenant Colonel Lewis Vieman, commander
230th Field Artillery Battalion.  (Jacobs)
had to wait hours for the tides to shift. After fitfully pacing the deck of his LST, Lt. Col. Lewis Vieman, commander of the 230th, could contain himself no longer. He climbed from the deck of the LST onto an adjacent barge and waded ashore thus becoming the first member of the 230th on French soil.[xi]

Eventually, the tide rose and the 230th was able to disembark beginning with Battery A. By 3:30 pm all men and equipment had unloaded onto Omaha Beach. The Soldiers made their way via a winding road about one-half mile inland past fields bordered by rows of trees to Colleville sur Mer.

The route to Colleville sur Mer brought the full panoply of war home for the men of the 230th. The frames of ruined houses smoldered in the fading light. Dead German Soldiers and dead cows alike littered the landscape. A cross by the side of the road marked the fresh graves of four American Soldiers, their final resting place decorated with flowers by an unknown French citizen. Every tree, every bend in the road held the promise of danger and death from a burst of German machine gun fire. Nervous Soldiers fired into the night at the sounds of rustling. One Soldier shot fifteen holes in a towel that was snapping in the breeze on a clothesline while a wandering mule generated enough noise to create a veritable crossfire near battalion headquarters. Soldiers had to duck fire from a nearby tank that had mistaken their movements for those of the enemy. Diving into a ditch, Cpl. Ralph Hyder, of Battery A, discovered a hidden German sniper who quickly became a prisoner, the first for the 30th Division and the first of 229 to be captured by the 230th. It was an eventful and fortunately bloodless first day in France.[xii]

On the Way
Staff Sgt. Edward Smith. Georgia Guard Archives
The 230th fired its first round the next morning to reinforce the fires of the 110th Field Artillery Battalion. On June 12, the battalion lost its first Soldier, Staff Sgt. Edward Smith. The 22-year-old Georgia National Guard Soldier had served in the 118th FA before the war. He was moving in advance of friendly lines with a forward observer party when he was killed by German machine gun fire.

The battalion displaced forward to St. Clair On June 12. The next day, the 230th was reassigned to the 30th Division and ordered to move to Catz, southeast of Carentan. That evening, after crossing the Vire River and setting up firing positions, the battalion was strafed by Luftwaffe aircraft. As a result, a battery of the 531st Anti-Aircraft Battalion was attached to the 230th and would provide air cover for them until they reached the Elbe River.

Allied units including the 30th ID continued to expand the D-Day lodgement pressing ever closer towards the German-held city of St. Lo. During the advance to the Vire River, the 230th provided fire support for the 120th Infantry Regiment.[xiii] From their position on the high ground overlooking the river, the howitzers of the 230th were tempting targets for German artillery. Shells rained onto the artillery positions. Shrapnel from a bursting artillery shell struck Cpl. Robert McClanahan of Battery A, but the lucky Soldier was spared serious injury when the shrapnel was stopped by a roll of Life Savers candy he had in his uniform pocket.[xiv] After crossing the Vire, the 120th occupied the town of Mont-Martin en Grainges.[xv] By the time the 230th entered the town on June 22,  the 30th ID had received orders to hold a defensive line along the Vire while the 2nd and 29th Infantry pressed the attack towards St. Lo.


This work owes a great debt to the historians of the 230th FA who recorded the history as it happened:

First Lieutenant John W. Jacobs, 230th FA
Sergeant Harold Burney, Headquarters Battery
Corporal Francis X. Hennessy, Able Battery
Corporal Louis A. Cesario, Baker Battery
Sergeant Zane G. Hunter, Charlie Battery
Sergeant Lloyd B. Ellington, Dog Battery
Corporal William E. Fitz Gerald Service Battery

[i] Carraway, William. "The Georgia Guard on the Eve of War: May 1939." May 23, 2019. Accessed June 20, 2019.
[ii] History in Action: 118th Field Artillery, 30th Infantry Division 1942-1945, 2nd Edition. Washington, D.C.: Florida “Gator” Chapter, 1988, 6.
[iii] Ibid, 7.
[iv] Jacobs, John et al. On the Way: A Historical Narrative of the Two-Thirtieth Field Artillery Battalion Thirtieth Infantry Division. Poessneck, Germany: F. Gerold Verlag, 1945, 1.
[v] 121st Infantry Regiment. The Gray Bonnet; Combat History of the 121st Infantry Regiment. Baton Rouge, LA: Army & Navy Publishing Co., 1946, 4.
[vi] Ibid, 2.
[vii] Ibid, 3.
[viii] Ibid, 4.
[ix] Ibid, 10.
[x] Ibid.
[xi] Ibid, 13.
[xii] Ibid, 14-15.
[xiii] Ibid, 18.
[xiv] Ibid, 19.
[xv] Harrison, Gordon A. Cross-Channel Attack. Washington, D.C.: Office of the Chief of Military History, Dept. of the Army, 1951, 377-379.