Thursday, July 18, 2019

Nescit Cedere: The 118th FA in Normandy

By Maj. William Carraway
Historian, Georgia Army National Guard

Soldiers of the 118th Field Artillery train with a 75 mm gun at Fort Jackson, S.C. in 1941. Georgia Guard Archives

On June 13, 1944, the Georgia Army National Guard’s 118th Field Artillery Battalion landed on Omaha Beach. The 118th entered the Normandy Campaign three days after its sister battalion, the 230th FA Battalion arrived in support of the 29th Infantry Division. With the arrival of the 30th Infantry Division in Normandy the 230th returned to its former division assignment and was reunited with the 118th in division artillery. The two Savannah-based field artillery battalions had trained together in the lead up to European deployment and would soon fight together.

Elements of the 118th predate the American Revolution and served with distinction in the Revolution, War of 1812 and American Civil War before mobilizing for the World War I in 1917. In 1921 the Georgia National Guard was reorganized following the demobilization of federalized Guard units. As part of that reorganization, Savannah was allocated the 1st Field Artillery.[i] One year later the unit was redesignated as the 118th Field Artillery and assigned to the 30th Division.[ii]From 1921 to 1942, the 118th fielded the 75 mm artillery piece which was, until 1934, horse-drawn artillery.

Officers of the 1st Field Artillery in Savannah, Ga. in 1921. Georgia Guard Archives

The Regimental Headquarters Battery of the 118th, the Republican Blues, were formed in 1808 and had participated in every conflict since the War of 1812.[iii] The 1st Battalion, 118th FAR was comprised of batteries of the Savannah Guards under the command of Maj. Henry Mayer, who had served as a non-commissioned officer with the 118th FAR in World War I. The battalion commanders during the inter-war period were Maj. Henry Blunn, Maj. W. R. Gigilliat, Maj. Kingman White, Maj. Sheftall Coleman and Mayer.[iv] The batteries of the 1st Battalion were initially designated Battery B, D and F to match their designations in World War I. In 1942 these batteries were redesignated as A, B and C.

The 2nd Battalion, 118th FAR was initially comprised of Batteries A, C and E under the command of Maj. Charles Peterson and included the Irish Jasper Greens and Chatham Artillery. Following reorganization, the batteries of the 2nd Battalion were redesignated as A, B and C. Major Patrick Seawright, executive officer of 2nd Battalion served in the U.S. Navy during World War I and would command the 197th FA Battalion during the World War II. He subsequently commanded the division artillery of the 48th Infantry Division before accepting command of the 48th Armored Division from 1956-1957.

Major General Patrick Seawright (right) with Lt. Gen. Joe Fraser shortly after
assuming command of the 48th Armored Division in 1956. Georgia Guard Archives

Col. Sheftall Coleman in 1939. Georgia Guard
On September 16, 1940, the 118th was activated for federal service under the command of Col. Sheftall Coleman.[v] Coleman’s military career began in 1908 when he enlisted in the Republican Blues as a private. He served through the ranks as a corporal and sergeant before commissioning as a 2nd lieutenant in Company M, 1st Infantry Regiment, Georgia National Guard June 24, 1916. Exactly one month after commissioning, Coleman and the Georgia Guard were activated and dispatched to the Mexican Border. In September 1917, the 1st Georgia Infantry Regiment was redesignated the 118th FAR and Coleman deployed with the regiment to France in 1918. Following World War I, Coleman remained in the 118th rising to command the 1-118th in 1926. Upon receiving promotion to colonel in 1931 he assumed command of the regiment. By the time the regiment was activated in September 1940, Coleman had been in the unit for 32 years, nearly one third of which as its commander.[vi]

Training and Maneuvers
A gun crew of the 118th Field Artillery operates a 37 mm gun near Beech
Grove Tenn. in June 1941. Georgia Guard Archives
Upon activation, the 118th was dispatched to Fort Jackson, S.C., for initial training with other units of the 30th Infantry Division, including the 121st Infantry Regiment of the Ga. National Guard.[vii] In June, the 30th ID mobilized for the Tennessee Maneuvers which put the Soldiers of the 118th in the field training with 37 mm guns until August 1941 when they returned to Fort Jackson.[viii] The following month, Coleman retired from service as a brigadier general and was replaced by Col. Albert C. Stanford of the regular Army. Stanford had barely commanded for a month when the 118th departed for the Carolina Maneuvers, a massive training exercise conducted in North and South Carolina. During the maneuvers, the 30th Infantry Division was part of the I Corps, First Army.[ix] In November 1941 the 30th ID was charged with defending Cheraw, S.C. against attack from the 2nd Armored Division, commanded by Maj. Gen. George S. Patton. During a coordinated assault, Patton advanced part of his armored force to assault Cheraw from the west and fix the defenders in place while sending a force of more than 40 tanks and scout vehicles to strike the defenders on the flank. Patton’s flanking force overwhelmed antitank positions and rumbled into Cheraw to the chagrin of the 30th ID and its commander, Maj. Gen. Henry Russell.[x]

Soldiers of the 118th FA compute firing data at a firing direction
center during training at Fort Jackson, S.C. in 1941. Georgia
Guard Archives
Returning to Fort Jackson, the ranks of the 118th were thinned by Soldiers volunteering for Airborne and Air Corps positions and officer candidate school. Of more than 100 Soldiers sent to OCS, only one returned to the 118th.[xi]

In the summer of 1942 the 118th turned in its 75 mm guns and received 105 mm towed howitzers. In October, the 118th traveled to Camp Blanding Fla., where it conducted training with the new weapons systems through May 1943. A training stint at Camp Gordon followed after which the battalion mobilized to Camp Tick, Tenn., where the battalion tackled field problems and maneuvers. This training rotation ran through November 1943 when the 118th was dispatched to Camp Atterbury, Indiana. Here, the battalion honed its expertise with the howitzer in preparation for deployment to the European Theater. In February 1944 the battalion was transported by rail to Camp Miles Standish, Mass. From there, the 118th set sail for England on the John T. Erickson on February 12, 1944.[xii] The 118th was part of the same convoy that transported the 230th FA.

In the early hours of February 20, the convoy came within sight of the Irish coast and the ships began to make their way to various ports. Whereas the 230th FA proceeded to Scotland, the ship bearing the 118th arrived February 22, 1944 in Liverpool. Traveling by rail, the battalion arrived at Bucks Green and Five Oaks where the men were lodged in Nissen huts – British versions of the venerable Quonset hut. Over the next few months, the battalion would train for the coming invasion of Europe.
The 118th was in camp on June 6, 1944 when Operation Overlord was launched. As was the case with the 230th FA, Soldiers of the 118th recalled the increased air activity that heralded the start of a large operation. The rumors were proven correct later in the morning when a radio broadcast by Gen. Eisenhower confirmed the start of the Normandy Invasion.

Six days later, the 118th left camp just after 3:00 in the morning and arrived 12-hours later at a marshaling point near Dorchester.[xiii] Headquarters and Battery C loaded onto Landing Ship Tank (LST) 30 for transport to the continent and arrived the next day.

Omaha Beach
On June 13, 1944, the first elements of the 118th Field Artillery Battalion went ashore on Omaha Beach. The battalion assembled its vehicles and howitzers in the fading daylight and were guided from the beach under blackout conditions. Like the 230th before them, the men of the 118th FA had been trained to expect every inch of terrain to be mined or guarded by German Soldiers. Thus, as the column of vehicles slowly moved its way to the high ground overlooking the beach the tension was palpable.
Reaching a position near Neuilly, France, the Soldiers of the 118th established their first firing positions in an orchard outside of town. Three days later, an observation post overlooking the Vire Et Taute Canal called in a fire mission which was routed to one of the howitzers of Battery C. Thus, on the afternoon of June 16, 1944, with the pull of lanyard cord, the 118th sent its first combat round down range.
The next day the battalion displaced to Lison where they were joined by Batteries A and B. Over the coming weeks, the 118th supported the 30th ID’s drive to the Vire River. On June 22, having crossed the Vire and secured the Mont-Martin en Grainges, the 30th ID was ordered to hold a defensive line along the Vire while the 2nd and 29th Infantry Divisions pressed the attack towards St. Lo.[xiv]

The next chapter will follow the 121st Infantry Regiment from the sands of Utah Beach through the hedgerow battles of Normandy and end with them poised for the Normandy Breakout. Succeeding chapters will revisit the 230th and 118th and introduce the 179th and 945th Field Artillery Battalions as they arrive in France.

[i]Smith, Gordon Burns. History in Action: 118th Field Artillery, 30th Infantry Division 1942-1945, 2nd Edition. Washington, D.C.: Florida “Gator” Chapter, 1988, preface.
[ii] Center for Military History. Lineage and Honors Certificate, 118th Field Artillery
[iii] Pictorial Review of the National Guard of the State of Georgia, 1939, 160
[iv] Smith, preface.
[v] GO 13
[vi] 1939, 161
[vii] 121st Infantry Chapter 1
[viii] Smith, 7
[ix] Gabel, Christopher R. The U.S. Army GHQ Maneuvers of 1941. Washington, D.C: Center of Military History, U.S. Army, 1992, 200.
[x] Ibid, 139
[xi] Smith, 6
[xii] Smith, 19
[xiii] Smith, 33
[xiv] Harrison, Gordon A. Cross-Channel Attack. Washington, D.C.: Office of the Chief of Military History, Dept. of the Army, 1951, 377-379.

No comments:

Post a Comment