Saturday, August 24, 2019

Historic Georgia Guard Units Join the Fight in France: The 179th and 945th FA Battalions Enter the ETO August 12, 1944

By Maj. William Carraway
Historian, Georgia Army National Guard

Collar discs and unit insignia of the 179th Field Artillery Battalion and its
predecessor, the 122nd Infantry Regiment are flanked by source
books used in the writing of this chapter. Photo by Maj. William Carraway
Once More unto The Breach
In the late hours of August 12, 1944 while German armor was withdrawing from Mortain, the Georgia National Guard’s 179th and 945th Field Artillery Battalions arrived off the coast of Utah Beach. They were the last of seven Georgia National Guard battalions to arrive for service in France, and although their landing occurred more than two months after the D-Day Landings of June 6, 1944, the night sky was alive with tracer fire and artillery. From the landing ships, the Soldiers could observe a U.S. Navy destroyer engaging some inland target which was illumined only by the impact of rounds against the black mass of the French countryside. The Artillerymen would soon send their own rounds against German targets in the effort to liberate the continent.

Prelude: 1857-1890
Soldiers of the 1st Georgia (Ramsey's) Volunteers in April 1861. 
Georgia Guard Archives.
The 179th Field Artillery traced its lineage to the founding of the Gate City Guards in 1857. The Guards were the premier antebellum unit of Georgia and served as the honor guard for the governor. [i] With the coming of the American Civil War, the Gate City Guards replaced their fine dress uniforms with the sack coats and brogans that marked a unit of the line. The Guards served from Florida to Virginia as Company F, 1st Regiment (Ramsey’s), Georgia Volunteers.[ii] By the time the unit surrendered at Appomattox Court House, only a shattered remnant remained.

 Such was the reputation of the Gate City Guard that Margaret Mitchell’s character Charles Hamilton in Gone With the Wind is uncertain whether to enlist in the Cavalry of Wade Hampton or the Gate City Guards.[iii]

On July 24, 1874, The Atlanta Battalion, Georgia Volunteers was organized. The Gate City Guards was reauthorized as part of the battalion along with the Atlanta Zouaves, Atlanta Rifles, Fulton Blues and the Governor’s Guards. The Atlanta Battalion was redesignated the 4th Battalion, Georgia Volunteers April 16, 1890. Three years later, the battalion was expanded and redesignated the 5th Infantry Regiment.[iv]

Soldiers of the 5th Georgia Infantry Regiment in 1896
on the eve of the Spanish American War.
Georgia Guard Archives
Glory Denied
During the Spanish American War, Georgia organized three volunteer regiments. Elements of the 5th Infantry Regiment were consolidated with other Georgia Guard units to form the 2nd Georgia Volunteer Infantry Regiment. The 2nd GVI was mustered into federal service In May 1898 at Griffin, Ga. The regiment advanced to Tampa, Fla. May 21, 1898.[v] Less than a week later, the 2nd was assigned to the Seventh Army Corps commanded by former Confederate Maj. Gen. Fitzhugh Lee. The 2nd initially received orders to deploy to Cuba then Puerto Rico, but ultimately, transportation was not available by the time the war ended. The volunteers of the 2nd GVI returned to Georgia and were mustered out of federal service in November along with the 1st GVI and Georgia Light Artillery.[vi]

Georgia Infantry Regiments formed for inspection at Camp Cotton, El Paso, Texas in 1916. Georgia Guard Archives.
The Mexican Border Mission
On July 31, 1916, the Georgia Guard was brought into federal service and mobilized for the Mexican Border in response to cross border incursions by Pancho Villa. While Guard units, including the 5th Infantry, returned to Georgia in March 1917, they were not mustered out of service. Instead, most of the units were dispatched to Camp Wheeler near Macon, Ga. to begin the training for World War I deployment. On October 31, 1917, the regiment was redesignated as the 122nd Infantry Regiment.

Glory Denied Once Again
The 122nd sailed for France October 7, 1918 with other units of the 31st Division. Shortly after arriving in France, the 31st Division was skeletonized, and its Soldiers used to provide replacements to units all along the Western Front. What remained of the 122nd returned to Georgia and was mustered out of federal service at Camp Gordon January 14, 1919.

After the war, the 122nd went through a series of reorganizations before was once again redesignated the 122nd Infantry Regiment June 9, 1924.

Prelude to World War II
On July 1, 1939, the battalions of the 122nd were converted and redesignated. The 3rd Battalion with units based in Elberton, Cedartown and Calhoun became the 2nd Battalion, 214th Field Artillery Regiment. This battalion would see service in the Pacific Theater as the 950th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Automatic Weapons Battalion. The lineage of the 950th AA AWB is perpetuated by the 1st Squadron 108th Cavalry Regiment.[vii]

Battery F, 179th FA at Camp Blanding in 1941. Georgia
Guard Archives
The 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 122nd converted to form the 179th Field Artillery Regiment. The 179th entered federal service February 24, 1941. After one week at home station, the 179th was sent to Camp Blanding near Jacksonville, Fla. along with their newly issued 155 Schneider Howitzers to begin initial training.[viii]

One of the Soldiers who accompanied the 179th to Camp Blanding was 26-year-old Staff Sgt. Charles R. Turner of Atlanta. Turner was employed as a custodian for the Atlanta Public School System when he enlisted as a private in Company A, 122nd Infantry in 1933. By the time he reached Camp Blanding, Turner was a staff sergeant assigned to Service Company, 2nd Battalion 179th FA. Also arriving at Camp Blanding was Sgt. Corbett Ward Clark of Battery E, 179th FA. In a 2003 interview with the Atlanta History Center, Clark recounted the atmosphere of tension and inevitability that filled the ranks at Blanding.

“The government mobilized the National Guards before Pearl Harbor. We knew that the war was coming, and we knew…everybody knew that the United States would be involved in it before it was over.”[ix]

The U.S. Enters World War II
Upon arrival at Camp Blanding, the 179th, under the command of Col. Thomas Alexander, was assigned to the 74th Field Artillery Brigade, IV Corps.[x] Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the 179th was employed as part of the coastal defenses near Jacksonville.

In mid-December, six officers and 160 enlisted men of the 179th were reassigned to form the core of the newly formed 774th Tank Destroyer Battalion. It was the first of many such reassignments as Soldiers volunteered for service in the Airborne and Air Corps.

Training and Transformation
Technical manual that belonged to Staff Sgt.
Charles Turner, 179th FA. Georgia Guard Archives
 The 179th remained at Camp Blanding through the winter of 1941 and in March 1942 moved by truck to Camp Shelby, Miss. The trip took the battalion three days to complete.[xi] During their stay at Camp Shelby, the 179th participated in the Louisiana Maneuvers and conducted firing drills.

On February 8, 1943, the 179th Field Artillery Regiment underwent its most dramatic transformation since its conversion from the 122nd Infantry four years previous. The second battalion was designated the 945th Field Artillery Battalion while the 1st Battalion was designated the 179th FA Battalion. The former regimental headquarters constituted the 179th FA Group.[xii] Sergeant Clark recalled this time of change.

“They’d call in and say, ‘We need people who’d formerly worked for the railroad’ and they’d form railroad battalions and they went to North Africa and then sometimes they formed military police units and they’d call for people who’d been policemen and all that type duty. And they’d break out from the unit. Then we’d keep getting replacements into the unit to make for them. And then finally, they split our (regiment), the whole field artillery into two units.”[xiii]

Shortly after the reorganization, Turner and Clark were reassigned to the 694th FA Battalion. Rather than serving in France, the men would deploy to the Pacific Theater. 

On March 7, 1943 the 179th FA relocated to Fort Sill, Okla. With the 945th FA arriving the next month. Shortly after arrival, the battalions participated in the Tennessee Maneuvers. At the conclusion of the maneuvers in March 1944, the battalions returned to Camp Gruber where their howitzers were upgraded to the M1 155 mm Howitzer.[xiv] Shortly thereafter, the units received their mobilization alert.

Headquarters Battery, 179th FA. Georgia Guard Archives
After a four-day train ride, the battalions reached Camp Myles Standish, Mass. In the last days of June. [xv] On July 2, the battalions boarded the USS Brazil, a converted luxury liner, and set sail for Scotland the next day.[xvi]

After ten days sailing over rough seas, enduring cramped quarters, the Soldiers arrived in Gourock Scotland, the same port in which the 230th FA Battalion had arrived nearly five months earlier.[xvii] The next day the battalions travelled by train to Warwickshire, England. Here, the battalions received their full complement of combat equipment and vehicles and calibrated their howitzers for accurate fire. In preparation for movement to France, the battalions were assigned to the Third Army, 182nd Field Artillery Group.

Battery A, 179th FA. Georgia Guard Archives
Entering Combat
In the early morning hours of August 9, the battalions left camp and arrived at their marshalling area under drizzly, misty conditions.[xviii] The men crowded onto landing craft and endured hours of waiting before the craft slipped their moorings and embarked from Plymouth Harbor. The convoy was escorted by the HMS Rodney and a cluster of destroyers which, upon approaching Normandy, unleashed a bombardment on inland targets.[xix]

Battery B, 179th FA. Georgia Guard Archives
The landing craft were directed to a narrow patch of land marked by engineer tape that indicated the section of beach that had been cleared of mines and obstacles by engineers.[xx] The two battalions landed from 8:00 p.m. to midnight and proceeded to offload gear and equipment.[xxi]  Each battalion was armed with 12 M1 155 mm howitzers, 21 M2 50 caliber machine guns and 40 anti-tank rockets. In addition, the battalions were equipped with more than 60 vehicles including tractors, trucks, weapons carriers and reconnaissance vehicles.[xxii]

Battery C, 179th FA. Georgia Guard Archives
The battalions moved off the beach and encamped near St. Mere Eglise on August 13 where they spent a jittery first night in a war zone. The battalions continued on to Le Mans where they rendezvoused with XII Corps. Having linked up with Patton’s Army, the battalions were poised to participate in the campaigns of the Third Army crossing France, participating in the Battle of the Bulge and proceeding on to Germany.

Service Battery, 179th FA. Georgia Guard Archives
The next chapter of the History Blog will follow the 121st Infantry in the attack on Dinard, France and the origin of the 3rd Battalion's nickname as The Lost Battalion.

[i] History and Battle Record of 179 F.A. Bn., 1857-1945. Regensburg, Germany: Frederich Putset, 1945, 1. 1857-1945
[ii] 122nd Infantry Regiment. Foote and Davies, Inc. Atlanta, 1958, 63.
[iii]Mitchell, Margaret, Gone with the Wind. Simon and Schuster, 2007, 176
[iv] 122nd, 63.
[v] Carraway, William. “The Georgia Volunteers in the Spanish American War.” April 25, 2018
[vi] Ibid
[vii] Center for Military History. Lineage and Honors Certificate, 108th Cavalry Regiment. N.D
[viii] Historical and Pictorial Review 179th Field Artillery. The Army and Navy Publishing Company, Nashville 1941, 18
[ix] Pace, Hayden. "Oral history interview of Corbett Ward Clark." 2003-09-10. August 20, 2019.
[x] 74th Field Artillery Brigade, U.S. Army, Camp Blanding, Fla., 1941
[xi] 179th, 2
[xii] War Department, General Order #1, March 3, 1943
[xiii] Pace.
[xiv] Cosgrove, William M. Time on Target: the 945th Field Artillery Battalion in World War II. W. M. Cosrove III, 1997, 39. 
[xv] 179, 4
[xvi] Ibid
[xvii] Carraway, William. “First to Fire: The Georgia National Guard’s 230th Field Artillery in Normandy” June 27, 2019
[xviii] Cosgrove, 52
[xix] 179th, 11.
[xx] Cosgrove, 53.
[xxi] 170th, 11.
[xxii] Cosgrove, 50.


  1. Found this in some stuff at the house, have no idea who it belonged to. It looks like the early 122nd Infantry. I have looked on the internet but can't find any info on what's on the crest. it looks like a robot on the left and some kind of cross on the right, and a red circle on top with like a D facing backward and forward? Any body have any ideas, it's just like the one in the picture above.

    1. Sorry for the de;ayed response. The robot-looking symbol on the left is a castle that represents the regiment's service during the Spanish American War. The red circle with two D symbols is the insignia of the 31st Division and denotes the 122nd Infantry Regiment's WWI service. the symbol on the right is a prickly pear cactus which symbolizes the regiment's service on the Mexican Border in 1916.


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