680th PFAB history
The 680th Glider Field Artillery Battalion (GFAB) was constituted on March 10, 1943 at Camp Mackall, North Carolina (NC).
The officer cadre was constituted with recent graduates of the Field Artillery School, the liaison officers came from the Infantry School while the enlisted men cadre was drawn mostly from transferred men from the 321st Glider Field Artillery Battalion of the 101st Airborne Division, then stationed at Fort Bragg, NC.
It was activated on April 15, 1943 at Camp Mackall, North Carolina under the command of Major Paul F Oswald (on left) and then assigned to the 17th Airborne Division. Two days later, Major Oswald was promoted Lt Colonel.
During the war, the commanding staff of the 680th Glider Field Artillery Battalion was composed (at least) with the following officers :
· Battalion Commander : Lt Colonel Paul F Oswald.
· Battalion Executive officer : Major Roland V Tiede (at least on April 1, 1945).
· Battalion Liaison Officer : Captain George C Wight (England, after August 1944).
· Battalion Surgeon : Captain Lewis Q Stewart.
· Battery HQ Commander : Captain Joe T Payne ?
- Battery A Commander : Captain George C Wight (he was promoted Liaison Officer in England and replaced by Captain John HJ Featherstone who was killed in action on March 24, 1945 and then replaced by Captain Edward H Geiger).
- Battery A Executive Officer : Lt Albert C Zimmerman.
- Battery B Commander : Captain Jacob I STAHL (ASN O-1165452). He was killed in action on March 24, 1945 and then replaced by Captain Thomas F Magner.
The men progressively arrived at Camp MacKall. In Battery A, the first Officers and Enlisted Men to arrive were :
Lt. Albert C ZIMMERMAN.
Lt. Emil J GEIMER.
Lt. John B MAXEY.
1/Sgt. Frank J KUDLA.
S/Sgt. Maurice F HICKEY.
S/Sgt. Joseph R MALECKAR.
S/Sgt. James C CATHEY.
S/Sgt. Walter L BLAKE.
Sgt. Sylvester F BOBOVNIK (ASN 35288493).
Sgt. Tom J SMITH.
Sgt. Joseph BLUME.
Sgt. William W BUCKWORTH Jr.
Sgt. Marion G BLANSETT Jr.
Sgt. Frank J KIRCHNER.
T/4 Harold S ROBINSON.
T/4 Arthur ELLIS.
T/4 Arthur J HURST.
T/4 John H SMITH.
Cpl. Charles J SCHOEPF (ASN 15101031).
Cpl. Alvin P HYMEL (ASN 34235979).
T/5 Rudolph H DAHL.
Pfc. Kenneth L BOOTH.
Pfc. James R BELL.
On this induction order dated March 30, 1943, you can see the name of two men who will served with the 680th GFAB : Pvt Weldon H Madouse (ASN 33621789) and Pvt Joseph J Rodriguez (ASN 33621817) (with courtesy of D.Canfield).
At this time, Camp MacKall was a new Airborne formation center not yet finished and the first task of the new draftees was to lay out their new home ground. The basic training started on May 6 for thirteen weeks. During this time the young draftees received a basic military education which consisted of dismounted drill, weapons, military courtesy, interior guard, care and cleaning of materiel, road marches, reveille, retreat. The men learned to walk under the hot summer of North Carolina ! This first step came to an end on August. New inductees joined the Battalion during the training. For example, on August 30, Battery A received several men from the ASTP :
Donald T CRAWFORD.
Pfc Rhinhardt L ROTH from Battery A while he was stationned at Camp MacKall, circa 1943.
After a little break, the new soldiers started their advanced training. After individual education, it is time now for unit education. Week after week, the 680th Glider Field Artillery Battalion became a highly skilled military unit and at the end of this year 1943, the 17th Airborne Division was considered in shape and fit for bigger things. During this time, the 680th GFAB trained with the 193th GIR and in early December the men had their first taste of manoeuvers when they went with the 193rd GIR to defend Knollwood Field up at Pinehurst against the 11th Airborne Division.
The new year 1944 signaled the end of the Camp MacKall period. At least one man died during this time : George SIEBERT from Battery A.
The end of January 1944 was spent preparing to leave for the 2nd Army Tennessee Maneuvers, the first divisional maneuvers for the 17th Airborne Division ! Other soldiers joined the Battery before leaving Camp MacKall. Battery A received :
2nd Lt Max E FREEMAN. 2nd Lt Allen McFARLAND (ASN O-1130364). Cpl James E TAYLOR and T/5 Willie B BOYKIN Jr.
The Battalion moved with the whole Division to the Tennessee Maneuver on February 3, 1944. One part of the Battalion travelled by train. For the first time men discovered winter combat condition with cold rain and mud. 26th, 78th and 106th Infantry Divisions also participated to the manoeuver. The manoeuver consisted of series of tactical problems of three to five days with a few days rest following in between. At this occasion, the men of the 17th Airborne Division learned to work with Armored and Air Force components.
Transfer of men continued and for exemple, sixteen GIs of Battery A were called to reassignment center at Camp Butner, NC :
Pfc Darwin Ashley. Pvt Oren Bamo. Pvt Kenneth Booth. Pvt Anderson Fuller. Pvt Steve Brodek. Pvt George Brown. Pvt Donald T Crawford. Pvt Raymond Haines. Pvt Glenn H Kelly. Pvt Earl Johnson. Pvt Horrome Kazorowsky. Pvt Martin Heinert. Pvt Browder Holland. Pvt Carl Harris. Pvt Edward Leonhart and Pvt William Yaegy.
At the end of the manoeuvers, the 680th GFAB was transferred to Camp Forrest, Tennessee (on March 24, 1944). The first few days were kept busy with cleaning, scrubbing, painting and repairing equipment. New men joined the unit, notably in Battery A :
Lt Frank Poole.
T/5 John M Van Neste.
Pfc James De Mars.
Pfc Daniel Goldberg.
Pfc John T Cox.
Pfc Oscar Frost.
Pfc George Meek.
Pfc Clayton Fogwell.
Pfc Thomas H Williams (ASN 37521479).
Men of rhe 680th GFAB during training at Camp Forrest, circa 1944 (TFH colletion).
Headquarters & Service Battery
The third man from the right, second row from the bottom is Charles E Booth (ASN 33676819).
Second row from the top, second man from the right is Joseph M Gudaitis (ASN 33621892).
Top row, four from the right is George P SANDISON.
It is during the stay at Camp Forrest General Miley, Divisional CO proposed at each man of the 17th Airborne Division to be qualified paratrooper. The proposal was saluted with enthusiasm and nearly one half of the unit started the specific four weeks training in late May 1944.
According to Stanley Lunalowicz (Btry A) testimony, a funny mistake took place during the Wings presentation ceremony. Someone had made a mistake and had been given sharpshooter medal’s instead Wings ! General Miley expressed his regret, took off his own Wings and pinned them on the chest of the nearest man, assuring them that they would all received their own Wings the same day !
1st Sgt James E Taylor.
S/Sgt Tom Smith.
Sgt Howard Childers.
Sgt Kenneth L Crisman.
Sgt Ralph Piosvig.
Sgt Dale Morris.
Cpl Lyle Buscher.
Cpl Frank Cotman.
Cpl William M Crocket.
Cpl Vernon Holle. Shamskin, PA. Battery A.
Cpl Arlan Long.
T/5 Lowell E Foster.
T/5 Carl Meyer.
T/5 Neil F Wolf.
Pfc Donald L Copp.
Pfc John T Cox.
Pfc Stanley Lunalowicz.
Pfc Rudolph Dahl.
Pfc Melvin Iwing.
Pfc Meril S Fisher.
Pfc James M Jones.
Pfc Clayton Kirby.
Pfc Peter A Miller.
Pfc Richard L Owens.
Pfc James A Rice.
Pfc Joseph J Rodriguez.
Pfc Rhinhardt L Roth.
Pfc Victor B Wansing.
Pfc Edmund J Wasielewski.
Pvt Roy E Brown Sr.
Pvt Walter W Chappell.
Pvt Alvin A Clausen.
During its stay at Camp Forrest, the 17th AB Division published a monthly journal. To the first page of the July 7, 1944 edition appeard the graduation of 2150 new paratroopers (TFH collection).
Due to injury during training the 680th GFAB suffered some losses. For example, T/5 Tino J Rockas, T/5 Romayne L Decker and Pfc Claude L Ward, all from Battery A never returned in unit after being injured.
Other troopers were once again transferred in other units during this time. among them :
1st Sgt Frank Rudla. S/Sgt Seth Watkins. T/4 Walter L Blake. Pfc Lawrence Torreyson. Pfc Max Leach. Pvt Nicholas A Colamio and Pvt Ernest D Betchy.
It is also at that time all the men were qualified as glidermen and received their glider certificates.
This glider certificate was awarded to T/5 Joseph W Silber (ASN 33720317), Medic in Battery A - 680th GFAB in July 17, 1944 while the unit was stationed at Camp Forrest (TFH collection).
These qualification badges (Glider, Airborne an reduction of the Comabt Medical Badge) belonged to Joseph W Silber. They illustrate an usual practice in the 17th Airborne Division : the double qualification for the glider troops (TFH collection).
On August 14, 1944, the battalion packed all equipment and boarded train for Camp Myles Standish, Massachusetts. It arrived on August 16, 1944 in great secret and departed the Boston port of embarkation on August 20, 1944 aboard the USS Wakefield for a eight days cruise that ended in Liverpool, England on August 28, 1944 at 08h20.
The men disembarked the following day and aboarded train at 18h45 to be immediately shuttled to Camp Chisledon, the 17th Airborne Division staging area. The 680th GFAB arrived before daybreak on August 30, 1944 in a drizzling rain. About two weeks later, Flight and tactical training continued and night maneuvers were added to the training schedule. It is at that time the men started to receive their glider pay. New recruits arrived also in the battalion including (in Battery A) :
Robert J Cullen. River Route, Michigan. Battery A. Robert H Krantz. David L Mayer. William Manteufel. Harry W Noyes (Dicksfield, Maine. Battery A). Harold A Richards. Curtis E Robertson. Warren O Thomas. Rufus Tubby. Billy J Vandomark. John Ventura (Scranton, PA. Battery A). Francis W Wallence. Arlin J Watson. Charles J Webber. Robert A Young and Gayle F Pichler.
When Operation Market Garden was initiated, the 17th Airborne Division was still in training and was held in strategic reserve.
This photo showing a gun crew of Battery A was probably realized (according to the landscape) in England, during training Albert C Zimmerman).
This is an exemplar of 1944 Thanksgiving menu (November 23) for the men of the 466th PFAB and 680th GFAB while they were stationned at Camp Chiseldon. On the third page, you can read "This is your first THANKSGIVING DINNER in the ETO. The folks back home would like to know that you will eat hearty today. Save this little menu CARD, and send it home in your next letter. Let the folks know you were thinking of them." (click to enlarged) This exemplar belonged to John A Little Hq Bty - Div Arty (ASN 33507120) (TFH collection).
Battle of the Bulge - The Ardennes Offensive
Following the outbreak of the german counter offensive in the Bulge, the entire 17th A/B was placed in alert on December 19, 1944. On December 21 at 03h30 the battalion joined Chalgrove Field, an airport located in the vicinity of Oxford, by bus while another part leaved England by sea. As soon as they arrived on the airfield, the men loaded their jeeps, trailers, ammunition, guns and all their battle equipment in the C-47 planes. It is approximately 08h00. In the morning of the next day, the Supreme Headquarters decided to organize an urgent air supply to save the 101st Airborne Division surrounded in Bastogne. All the available planes were so requisitioned and the men were obliged to unload the planes.
This photo realised on December 21, 1944 by William T White (ASN 14165646 - 439th Troop Carrier Group, 9th US Air Force) shows C47 planes ready to resupply the men trapped in Bastogne. It was not realised in Chalgrove Field but in France. The scene must be however very similar to the one experiences by the men of the 680th GFAB. Note that the same planes will carried men of the 17AB Division few month later, during Varsity (unpublished photo - TFH collection).
In the morning of December 24, in this day of Christmas Eve, the men received order to reload planes of the 91st Troop Carrier Squadron and finally the first planes took off at 15h30 (according to the Daily Report of the HQ Battalion). Arrived above France, the flight train was split in three part that landed on three different airports around 21h00 : Chateaudun (airport A-39), Orleans (airport A-50) and Laon (airport A-70) for Battery HQ. The battalion suffered its first casualties in the morning of the following day. In this Christmas day, while the flight transfer toward Laon, a plane piloted by Lt Warren L Shulman transported man of Battery A crashed on Highway 155 two miles southwest of the airfield of Dreux, soon after took off. The crew died in the crash (1st Lt Warren L Shulman, FO Harold L Boggs, Sgt Robert M Kelley and T/Sgt Roy L Harker) as well as six men of the battalion :
Sgt Alvin P Hymel (ASN 34235979).
Cpl Frederick B Cannon (ASN 33631864).
Pfc August C Teresi (ASN 33670351).
Pvt Doyal Kincaide (ASN 35140628).
Pvt Alph A Lafavers (ASN 35701289).
Pvt Thomas H Williams (ASN 37521479).
Dr Charles H Fees (439th Group Surgeon) was also on board and died.
This photo realized little after the crash shows remains of the C47 that transported men of Battery A (National Archive).
This tragic fact was related in the testimony of 1st Sgt James E Taylor (Battery A) and is related here with courtesy of Joe Quade : « It was December 1944 and my 17th Airborne Division had arrived at Chiseldon Barracks near Swindon, England shortly after “D” Day awaiting the mission for which we had been trained – establishing a beach head across the German Rhine by Parachute and Glider. Several days before Christmas 1944, we were alerted for deployment to what was later called “The Battle of the Bulge” where the Germans had surprised us with an offensive with several hundred thousand troops at Bastogne, Belgium in weather that was the coldest winter ever recorded in Belgium with several feet of snow which lasted for about six weeks. It was Christmas Eve 1944 and we were at an airport loading up several hundred C47 with our personnel and equipment. At that time I was a Buck Sergeant in charge of the 7th Section, “A” Battery, 680th, which was an ammunition detail. I had my section loading up the ammunition which we had been assigned but my section, thinking that their job was done, loaded up in the plane assigned to us leaving me with several planes to load. Fortunately, the English Personnel of the airport helped me load the remaining planes. The planes began taking off and the plane with my section had gone without me. I was pulled into one of the last planes with some of the infantry. In 1944, these transport planes did not have the capability to fly at night and with darkness approaching, the planes landed at many separate air strips in France. These air strips had hurriedly built and the personnel worked out of and lived in large tents. My plane and several others landed at one of these strips. It was a cold, clear night and the stars seemed as large as the Star of Bethlehem. It was Christmas Eve and we were divided into small groups and were to share a tent with some of the air strip personnel. They had evidently been there for several weeks and had received many “goodies” from home. In fact, I remember their Christmas “goodies” as being bountiful and for a while the tent seemed to be filled with thoughts of Christmas only. On Christmas morning it was determined that my plane needed some mechanical work before it could take off. All of the other planes left and we did not leave until after noon. I always thought that perhaps our pilot celebrated too much on Christmas Eve and his crew chief covered up for him until he was ready to go. Maybe not, but it could have been. Un-be-knowing to me at that time, my section in the plane I was supposed to be in had taken off from another air strip. I never learned the circumstances but their plane blew up in the air killing all on board including my 8 man section. I later received replacements for these eight. I don’t recall how I got from the group I was with back to my outfit but when I did later at dusk on Christmas Day, they thought I had been in the plane which blew up with my section. After this and another similar occasion on March 24th when we jumped the Rhine, I leave you with this ... I believe in MIRACLES otherwise I would not be here today and, yes, I was praying on both occasions ».
A similar accident occurred at Orleans Field wounding 6 men of Battery B. Another accident arrived also at the seaborn echelon that was strafed while motoring through France. T/Sgt Charles H Lankford (ASN 6967057) was killed, mess Sergeant Harry Noyes and another man was seriously wounded.
On December 25, the whole division was assigned to the 12th Army Group and attached to Patton's Third U.S. Army, ordered to immediately close in at Mourmelon. The first war mission of the unit was to defend the west bank of the Meuse River all around the little city of Charleville-Mézières in the Meuse department, France.
On Tuesday December 26 in early morning was organized the 193rd Combat Team that included :
- The Second Battalion of the 193rd GIR.
- The 680° Glider Field Artillery Battalion.
- Company A, 139th Engineer Battalion.
- First Platoon of the 224th Medical Battalion.
- The Second French Battalion (I have not found information on this unit).
Just after, around 11h00, the Battalion leaved Mourmelon by trucks to its first combat mission, approximately 50 miles to the east. The unit stays at this area without great modification untill January 2, 1945.
On January 2, 1945 around 18h10, the 680th GFAB moved to the front line toward an assembling area located in the NE, in the vicinity of the little village of Sibret, Belgium in a complete black-out due to intense german air activity.
On January 3, after a six hours travel, the Battalion arrived in the vicinity of the front line and made a stop under the cover of woods. Soon after, the men received order to move forward and took up combat positions in the outskirts of Sibret. It is in that positions the Battalion fired their first combat rounds first in an unobserved mission and just after in an observed mission, a base point registration by Lt Jack B Larson. In the following days the Battalion moved to the north, in a deep snow, close to the front line, in the vicinity of Chenogne, to cover the units involved in the fierce combats for Monty and “Dead man ridge”. Some days they fired their guns almost continuously for hours at a time. Especially on January 7, the 680th GFAB would gain its baptism of fire that would have tested the mettle of the most experienced airborne units. During this day a shell hit positions of Battery A, killing the Private Asa G Gannon (ASN 37520148) and wounding Frederick Swartz, Pvt Robert Krantz and Wendell Rickert. It is also during this battle the Battalion Liaison Officer Captain George C Wight (former Battery A Commander promoted Liaison Officer in England and replaced by Captain Featherstone) and Lt Edwin Loll, a forward observer, were wound. Captain Wight was wounded twice on the same day. He was first hit in the forearm by a fragment of a mortar shell. On the way to Aid Station he was caught in an artillery barrage and received a serious back wound. The work of the Medics (of whom T/5 Joseph Silber and Pfc Verheyen) was particularly appreciated by the men.
January 8, 1945 was very quiet but weather was awfull with heavy snowfalls during all the day . The next day, one of the forward Observational Post of the Battalion was shelled resulting in the death of the radio operator T/5 Matthew Bratek (ASN 33597087) and wounding of Lt Charles M Gervig.
By the end of that first week of combat the battalion had fired 5560 rounds of ammunitions (of which 2844 rounds on January 7). The total casualty count was two men killed and five wounded. The Battalion received one replacement.
On Januray 10, two new officers arrived in the unit. The Battery HQ moved into position in Mande-Saint-Etienne on January 13, 1945. There was little activity until January 14 when the whole Battalion moved to Gives by clear but cold weather. The remainder of the second week was quiet and “only” 725 rounds were fired. Three other officers arrived in replacement.
The 680th GFAB started its third combat week with a displacement to a position southwest of Houffalize. The men were shelled the first two days but no casualties were sustained.
On January 21, 1945, the unit moved twice. First to Alhoumont then to Château Linerin. During this week, the unit moved four times (notably to Limerlé on January 23, Hautbellain, Great Dutchy of Luxembourg, on January 25, Chetteru (?) on January 27 and Eschweiller on January 28 in the morning), fired 1132 rounds and suffered no casualties.
The Rhineland Campaign
January 25, 1945 is considered as the official date of the end of the Battle of the Bulge. The Battalion then entered in the Rhineland Campaign. This day, the battalion crossed the border and enterred in Great Dutchy of Luxembourg, in the vicinity of Hautbellain.
On January 27 or most probably 28, the battalion moved and took up positions in the area of Bockholz, Luxembourg. It was reinforced by a 155 mm howitzer Battalion. On January 29, two troops of Cavalry were attached to the 680th GFAB. The Battalion’s guns fired 1196 rounds during this fourth week of combat and T/4 Dmeter Yablonski was slightly wounded on January 30. The weather remained cold with occasional flurries.
From January 31 to February 6, the unit had quiet time. It fired 2427 rounds, half of this firing took place on February 6 in support of heavy patrolling activity by the 513th PIR. In these first days of February the weather become warmer. Melting snow caused slush and bad odors from dead animals. The work of the men consisted so also to move dead carcasses and general policed up.
On February 7, the 680th GFAB had more casualties when forward observers were taking it again. 1st Lt Francis E Holbrook, T/5 Clifford R Hallaway and Pfc Daniel C Patnode, all members of the Forward Observer party of Battery B, were wounded.
On February 8, Battery HQ was in a Rest Center located in the town of Saint-Mard, Belgium and the rear echelon leaved this place for Châlons-sur-Marne, France to prepare the transfer of the whole battalion.
On February 10, the 513th PIR was relieved by the 184th Combat Engineers. The 680th GFAB remained in support of them overnight.
At the end of the campaign, two Officers of the Battalion were awarded of the Silver Star Medal :
Captain George C Wight.
Lt Francis E Holbrook.
Eleven men received the Bronze Oak Leaf cluster to Bronze Star Medal :
Captain Robert L McDonald.
Captain Joe T Payne.
Sgt William M Breen.
Sgt Roger N Feese.
Sgt Thomas Pilch.
T/4 Dmeter Yablonsky.
Cpl James F Cox.
T/5 Clifford R Hallaway.
Pfc Herbert J Burstock.
Pfc William Harris.
Pfc Daniel C Patnode.
After the Bulge
On February 11, 1945 the 680th GFAB was relived by the 212th Armored Field Artillery Battalion and leaved the front line to Chalons-sur-Marne, France by trucks with the rest of the 17th Airborne Divison on February 12.
During this time the men established a tent camp about a half mile west of Soudron, took rest, cleaned and repaired their equipment and finally started in on another training schedule. It was at Châlons that the 680th GFAB was designated to receive the new M3 105 mm howitzers in place of the old 75 mm. These new 105 mm’s will be proved excellent weapons few weeks later.
The new M3 105mm howitzer in action ... This picture illustrated a page of the Liberty Magazine edited on December 18, 1943.
Letter send to Cpl Ralph Messner (ASN 32930128) from Hq & Serv. Battery just after the Bulge, while he was stationned at Châlons-sur-Marne, France (TFH collection).
The sector selected for the assault other the Rhine, the biggest airborne operation of the WW2 called Varsity, was in the vicinity of the city of Wesel, just north of the Ruhr, on March 24, 1945. Operation Varsity would be the last full scale airborne drop of World War II and the assignment went to the British 6th Airborne Division and the American 17th Airborne Division.
This would be the first combat glider landing for the 680th GFAB. The 680th's mission was to land north of Wesel in Landing Zone (LZ) S, a large flat area where the Issel River and the Issel Canal merge. Then to seize the crossing over the Issel and protect the division's right flank.
On March 21, the men of the 680th GFAB left Châlons by train for the marshaling area located at Châteaudun, France (airport A-39). One part of the Battery HQ was send, as overland echelon, by trucks to Sennis (?) Belgium. This overland echelon leaved Châlons at 12h00 and arrived in Belgium on March 22 at 02h30. On March 24, it leaved Sennis to Issum, Germany where it arrived at 14h00.
Two days after being arrived in Châteaudun the men were briefed and discover their mission : create a bridgehead on the east bank of the Rhine river while allied troops crossed the river. Final check of loads were made just before dark of the 23rd and practically everyone attended religious services that night.
This aerial view shows the C47 planes and CG4A gliders of the 439th Troop Carrier Group on Chateaudun airfield (A39 US airport) ready to take off with the 680th GFAB on board few times before March 24, 1945.
On March 24, up before daylight, breakfast, last minute personal check-up, burning of secret papers and by 07h00 the men were loaded up and set to go. The first C47 planes towing two gliders took off at 07h41 in a beautiful early spring morning. A total of 72 C-47 airplanes of the 439th Troop Carrier group and 144 WACO CG-4A gliders took off. HQ personnel of the 681st GFAB was also transported in the convoy. The flight was smooth until the Rhine.
Rhine river March 24, 1945 in the morning. These two gliders transporting 17th Airborne soldiers are towed by a C47 airplane and arrive above the Rhine river. In few minutes the German Flak will open an intense fire on the biggest airborne allied Armada of the World War 2 (TFH collection - National Archive).
As the convoy flew over the river, all Hell seemed to break loose. The Flak and smoke made such a solid wall around planes and gliders that it was almost impossible to see the drop and landing zone below them. Then the green lights flashed, the troopers rushed outside the planes and the gliders cut loose and floated earthward. The first members of the 680th GFAB to land in Germany were those in the Liaison Party led by Capt Joe T Payne who jumped with the 3rd Battalion of the 513th PIR. Some gliders being shot to pieces in the air but most of them landed miraculously on the ground where upon the men inside burst out, ran for cover and began to organize in a hell of a hurry. It was approximately 11h40. Only during landing Battery HQ sufferd following casualties : 1 man KIA, 2 men SWA, 6 men LWA, 5 men LIA and 3 men MIA. The German gun crews immediately repositioned their guns for direct fire. It was a fluid situations for a period but the glider troops prevailed and were able to overrun the German positions. Shortly after landing, Captain John H. J. Featherstone (ASN O-025691), Battery A Commander was killed while he led a patrol to neutralize some small arms fire that that came from a group of nearby houses. After clearing the houses, the men discovered the sniper : a twelve years old german boy ! He was replaced by Captain Edward H Geiger.
The loads were spread among 97 gliders with only 321 EM and Officers to handle them but in less than three hours the first howitzers were in position and ready to fire. By mid-afternoon on March 24, 1945 after sustaining high casualties, the 680th had secured its objective including the capture of 150 German prisoners, a battery of German 105-mm and a battery of 155-mm artillery. By 19h00 the most part of the Battalion was operational. For example, Battery A had five of its guns firing and three-fourths of the battery operating effectively. Battery B had four of its guns firing. 200 glider pilots were attached to the Battalion.
In this first day of invasion, before being gunner, the men of the 680th GFAB were obliged to fight as infantry men again heavy resistance to secure the perimeter. During these first hours of battle, the men fought in a highly efficient manner, with numerous individual heroic actions. This fact is largely related in after action reports as you can read below.
After Action Report, Dantes A. York, Maj., 680th FABN : I certify that the following is a true and accurate account of events I witnessed on 24 March 1945:
Crossing the Rhine we had no difficulty in locating ourselves, as we were familiar with the outline of the river from our map studies, but we were soon in a cloud of smoke which blotted out much of the detail on the ground below and kept us from being sure of our ground location.
The Germans cut loose with everything they had. On signal the pilot cut loose, stood the glider on its nose, and came in for a quick landing. We cleared the glider, and hearing nothing but small arms fire, started unloading our jeep. Then it happened. Our glider took a direct hit from a German field piece in the vicinity and both men with me were badly wounded. I got first aid to the men and proceeded to orient myself and collect men and material. We discovered we were over a mile from our predesignated landing area.
As additional gliders landed, enemy artillery took them under direct fire and systematically destroyed about eight of the 16 or more gliders which landed in the same field. With Lieutnant Zimmerman I located one of our howitzers, moved it to a point of vantage and took the German battery, now located, under direct fire. We had a muzzle burst on our fourth round which wounded all the crew but me. A direct hit from the German battery then destroyed our piece. I got the wounded under cover and taken care of, then started to gather personnel together to flank and capture the German battery.
En route we captured six enemy soldiers and gathered several glider loads of our material and personnel. Meanwhile Lieutnant Price was attacking the enemy battery from the flank and rear. By direct fire at 300 yards he neutralized the position, then personally led the charge which killed or captured all 25 of the cannoneers manning the guns. After putting the guns out of action we proceeded to the battalion position.
Wesel area, March 24, 1945. These glidermen have just landed and are unloading rapidly their jeep under the German fire (TFH collection - National Archive).
After Action Report, Edward H. Geiger, Capt., Btry A, 680th Glider FABN, Commanding : I, Captain Edward M. Geiger, certify the following is a true account of what happened to me on 24 March 1945.
My glider, #61 in our lift, landed completely outside the landing zone. Immediately upon landing, we were surrounded by Germans and only by the most devious means were we able to extricate ourselves.
We received small arms fire immediately and took cover in a ditch. After locating ourselves on the map, at 2275-4589 we proceeded to fight our way back to our unit. With me I had two pilots and three enlisted men. As we moved eastward from our cover we came upon three Germans searching for us. At point blank range we fought it out with them killing all three. However, we attracted attention. Fire on us increased in intensity, and the Germans began a systematic search for us.
By crawling away from the point and making a long circuitous manoeuver we were able to avoid the bulk of the estimated company in this area. Finally, making a dash at dusk, we evaded the trap, storming an outpost of the strong point; killing one German and capturing the other. By dark, we had made our way to the battalion CP with the prisoner.
After Action Report, Thomas F Magner, Capt., Btry B, 680th Glider FABN, Commanding : I certify that the following is a true and accurate account of events I witnessed on 24 March 1945.
At 11:45 hours Glider #11 in Serial A-14, in which T/5 Sheppard and I were riding, was cut loose over the town of Blumenkamp, Germany. The pilot manages to manoeuver through intensive anti-aircraft fire and landed in the field to the south of the town (Map: Germany, Sheet 43-5, Coordinates 22644-42). Immediately upon landing, we ran from the glider, took shelter in a shell hole, and surveyed the area.
The field was rapidly filling up with gliders, some crashing into the trees and telephone poles, some turning end over end. About 20 yards to the north-east, three gliders and their loads were disappearing in flames – direct hits of German artillery. The continuous crack of enemy small arms and the chatter of their automatic weapons from nearby strong points made the open field a death trap for standing personnel. Immediate assembling of units and orderly movements were rendered impossible because of the enemy’s excellent observation and fire power.
This glider CG4A crashed during landing on March 24, 1945. The photo was realised after the battle by Carl Arend (ASN 35174493) from the 681st GBAF (unpublished photo - TFH collection).
Two needs were uppermost in our minds : exact orientation, and neutralization of enemy fire so we could move to predesignated areas. Captain Greenfell reconnoitered to our west and determined the location of a single track railroad, one of our check points. All this while, glider crews were unloading howitzers and prime movers and attempting to move northward. I dispatched Sergeant Angetaed to clear the woods to the northeast corner of the field. His men concentrated their fire into this woods and upon charging the strong point found four German artillery pieces (of approximately 155mm caliber) camouflaged by the bushes, which the enemy has hastily abandoned. The pieces were loaded and pointed toward the field, and were probably the ones which had destroyed the three gliders described above; the German cannoneers for those pieces had been driven away by our fire and rapid closing on the position.
Houses along the railroad track sheltered German soldiers and hostile civilians; the battalion commander organized small detachments to storm these points and knocked out all resistance. Men seized whatever weapons were at hand, poured terrific and effective fire into enemy strong points and dugouts, and closed with the enemy rapidly to destroy him wherever he appeared. These actions were all simultaneous and in an incredibly short time elements to the battalion were moving rapidly toward their position areas.
My jeep towed the first howitzer into a position designated by the battalion commander. Fire was coming from a building to the rear which he desired to be used as a battalion CP. He directed me to take this building under direct fire. After my gun crew shelled it, Captain Davis with a squad of men charged the house, cleared it, and started organizing the CP and fire direction center.
Meanwhile, Captain Featherston, who was moving his battery into position to the west of the railroad track, was receiving a great deal of automatic weapons fire and small arms fire from his west flank, and especially from a strong point about 300 yards to his north. It consisted of a well dug-in position around a large house. We were being hit by this fire and it was impossible to serve the pieces without first raiding this strong point. Captain Featherston moved a howitzer up to point blank range, about 15 yards from the strong point, and started pouring direct fire into the trenches and dugout. He then led the group which closed with the enemy from the flank and captured 20 prisoners. He gave his life in this gallant deed.
Within an hour after landing Baker Battery had three howitzers in position, laid and ready to fire. Able Battery had a like number. In clearing a house less than 100 yards from our position, we captured 10 German paratroopers. Ammunition details composed of every man not engaged in furing the howitzers went to areas still in enemy hands and procured ammunition.
Enemy troops counter-attacking to our northeast penetrated to the position area. A force of platoon strength attempted to penetrate our perimeter defense shortly before dusk, but was driven off by an outpost under Sergeant Pilch, killing about seven Germans.
To my mind the most astonishing aspect of the actions of those first hours was the highly efficient manner in which the artillery battalion employed infantry tactics to clear and secure a strongly held enemy area, and then, despite the loss of key personnel, reverted to artillery functions. Performance of duty was at such a high level that day that it is still difficult to single out any man for being more gallant or heroic than his comrades.
After Action Report, L.Q. Stewart, Capt., Med Corps, Battalion Surgeon : I certify that the following is a true and accurate account of events happening 24 March 1945: At 1135 hours glider #59 in our serial landed in an area picked out by the pilot and co-pilot as being within our predesignated landing zone. On the outskirts of Wesel, Germany, we ran into flak and small arms fire, some hitting the glider, mostly in the tail position. This continued until we landed. There was much smoke and haze over this area, which, with the now plainty audible firing, made picking out a clear area extremely difficult. We all pied out immediately and spread out, taking cover as best we could. Mortar shells as well as small arms fire landed all about us. In a field just east of us, three gliders, one after the other, sustained direct artillery hits and caught fire.
This other photo came also from the scrapbook of Carl Arend (ASN 35174493) from the 681st GBAF. It was realised after the VE Day and shows the remnants of a CG4A glider destroyed in the area of Wesel by a direct german hit. Carl Arend had write : "Looking over where they died after coming back May 1945 for occupation what we had taken March 24, 1945". On the reverse side is also writing : "Some of the boys notice jeep in the glider was hit by an 88. Killing all the boys in it" (unpublished photo - TFH collection).
After about five minutes we unloaded the glider. One of my men had crossed a small road to take care of some casualties. Fortunately the glider carrying our trailer had landed about 150 yards north of us and as we moved north we came upon it and hooked it onto the jeep. The battalion commander helped unload and was collecting other personnel and directing them towards our assembly area. We took cover in the ploughed rows off and on when the firing got close and took advantage of what few hedgerows there were. I picked out a farmhouse near the gun positions and set up an aid station approximately 1,000 yards north of where we landed. Almost immediately the casualties began coming in, we soon filed the house and then we put them outside. Most were severely injuried but we treated many who were immediately returned to duty once their wounds were dressed. No contact was made with our clearing station until 1600, and between then and 1930 we transferred about 100 patients to them. We were about 400 yards north of the battalion CP. Throughout the afternoon we received sporadic fire around the aid station. By evening the snipers and strong points nearby had all been cleared out.
Many drivers and other personnel brought us portions of the medical resupplied dropped by B-24s. This was transferred to the clearing station as soon as we had available transportation, along with much captured German medical supplies. We took care of men from many units of the division, a number of glider pilots, and a few British. We evacuated over 100 cases and treated a great many more.
I feel that the important factor that enabled us to function that day was the outstanding, aggressive, and efficient way every man in the unit performed.
The 680th GFAB suffered heavy lost during this D-day :
Sgt Sylvester R Bobovnik (ASN 35288493).
Pvt Charles V Campbell (ASN 35140639).
Pfc Clifford E East (ASN 35140618 - Battery B).
Capt John HJ Featherstone (ASN O-25691 - Battery A).
Pvt Thomas P Gogal (ASN 33622882 - Battery B).
Pfc Randolph R Greco (ASN 32844753 - Battery B).
Pvt Carl H Hash (ASN 33720618).
Pvt Harry J Mancini (ASN 32135982).
Pfc Ruppert Minnear (ASN 34729081).
Pfc Lewis E Palmquist (ASN 37661574).
Pvt Harold L Propp (ASN 37344221).
Pvt Curtis E Robertson (ASN 38347493).
Sgt Charles J Schoepf (ASN 15101031).
Capt Jacob I Stahl (ASN O-1165452 - Battery B).
Pvt Gerald T Steckmyer (ASN 37478616).
Cpl Robert W Tappe (ASN 33677930).
Pfc Arthur H Westby (ASN 39211834).
56 additional men were wounded in action. Medics treated over a hundred casualties.
The material losses was also important : 2105 hows, 6 jeeps, 4 jeep trailers, 1 machine gun, 1 radio SCR 608, 1 radio SCR 193 and various minor other items. One howitzer was lost temporarily due to glider failure and one jeep was lost in a crash landing before reaching the Rhine.
This magazine entitled "The TALON crosses the Rhine" was published by the Division just after war and relates the actions of the 17th Airborne Division during the last and bigger Allied Airborne of the WW2. This particular exemplar belonged to Joseph Silber (TFH collection).
At D+1, the Battalion was organized and operating effectively in spite of losses in their initial positions near Heide. T/5 John V Crotty (ASN 32849380) died this day.
By March 26, FM Montgomery had sufficient forces on the German side of the river to move eastward. The 680th GFAB advanced so toward north east of the town of Obrighoven. In the first three days of combat the men fired only 154 rounds with their guns of coordinated fire as they utilized the heavy artillery concentrated west of the Rhine whenever possible in order to conserve ammunition. The unit moved twice on the 27th without incident. A first time around 13h30, in a field south of the Plankenbach forest and a second time around 22h45, approximately 3200 meters to the east. The next day as Battalion moved through Schermbeck, the german artillery shelled the city but there were no casualties. At midnight the Battalion was attached to the 513th PIR and prepared to move to Haltern.
On March 29, the Battalion moved once again toward the city of Haltern. The movement started at 03h00. Three prisoner of war were captured in the CP area. The guns of the 680th GFAB fired several missions upon enemy gun positions plainly visible. It was the first time the cannoneers had been able to see any but direct target. Cpl Gordon E Simmons (ASN 37478230 - Battery B) died on March 29, 1945. The unit remained in Haltern through the 30th and on the 31st moved to a farm located north east of Buldern.
Pvt Joseph C Brisach (ASN 33669807 - Battery B) died on April 1st after being fatally wounded in the morning while on outpost guard duty. In the evening (approximately 18h00), the Battalion moved to west of Albachten. About 02h00 the following morning a men was wounded by enemy machine gun fire.
On April 2, the battalion moved to a position south west of Munster, where on the following day the 680th GFAB stopped an enemy counterattack by shellfire, destroying several german self-propelled anti-aircraft guns. The following day, Pfc Glenn H Campbell (ASN 33632046 - Battery B) and Pfc Alva R Lay (ASN 35701306) from Observer Party were killed in action when their jeep hit a mine. Another soldier was wounded.
On the 5th the Battalion was pulled out and put in the line to help reduce the Rhur pocket. It leaved the area of Munster approximately at 15h45 by trucks toward the city of Sterkrade. At midnight it was ordered to move again, this time in the vicinity of Bottrop. In the morning of April 6, the unit was in position ready to fire. The next day, the men fired 907 rounds on the German positions in support of the 79th Infantry Division that crossed the Rhine – Herne canal. The 680th GFAB remained three days in the same place. It was a quite time and men saw their first movie since leaving France. After that the unit continued to moved and displaced twice on April 12, first through Essen then to Oberhausen. April 12, 1945 was the date of the death of President Roosevelt. This news came as a shock to men and is refered in official report. For exemple, you can find in the morning report of Battery HQ : "13 Apr 1945 Btry position same as at close of last report. Weather bright warm. News of the presidents death come as shock to men and there was a noticeable effect on morale." They stayed in Oberhausen until April 17, by then all resistance in the Rhur pocket had ended.
The battalion remained on the move until April 18, when they arrived in the vicinity of Heiden, Gross Reckon and Velden to take over the military government duties of that area. On April 21, the 680th GFAB went to Dinslaken to work in conjunction with the second battalion of the 513th PIR. It is at that time the combat ended for the 680th GFAB, 28 days after the D-day in Germany.
On May 30, 1945, a memorial service was held for men of Division who were lost.
Note another man, Pfc Edward J Fasko (ASN 35058330) was killed during European campaign but I haven’t found info about date and circumstance of his death.
The 680th GFAB served in the Army of Occupation of Germany from May 2 to June 14, 1945. On June 15, the Battalion leaved Germany (one part by train, another part by trucks) to Nancy, France.
By the 19th (or may be 26) the Battalion had reassembled in the Neufchateau area of France. By the 30th all the low point men had been transferred to the 82nd, 101st, 13th Airborne Divisions or to the XVIII Airborne Corps while the high point men from those units had been transferred to the 17th Airborne Division before returning to the United States via the Boston Port of Embarkation on September 14, 1945 and deactivated at Camp Myles Standish, Massachusetts on the same date.
"HQ & Service Battery - Medical Det. - 680 Gli F.A. Bn 17 A/B Div - 20 june 45 - Neufchâteau 40 miles S.W. from Nancy". This comment is write on the reverse side of this photo belonged to Joseph W Silber (ASN 33720317).
The fourth man on the top row (from the right) is Charles E Booth (ASN 33676819), 2nd row from the bottom 11th from the left is Joseph M Gudaitis (ASN 33621892) (click to enlarge) (original photo - TFH collection).
Battery B, same place and probably same day (20 june 45 ? Neufchâteau 40 miles S.W. from Nancy) (click to enlarge) (original photo - TFH collection).
After the war, the Battalion was cited for extraordinary heroism in action during operation Varsity and was awarded a Presidential Unit Citation through General Orders No. 350, Headquarters U.S. Forces, European Theater dated 27 Dec. 1945. On April 4, 1947, the following WD General Order No. 36 reads :
As authorized by Executive Order 9396 (Sec. I, WD Bul. 22, 1943) superseding Executive Order 9075 (Sec. III, WD Bul. II, 1942), citation to the following unit, as approved by the Commanding General, United States Forces, European Theater, is confirmed by the War Department in the name of the President of the United States as public evidence of deserved honor and distinction.
The citation reads as follow :
The 680th Glider Field Artillery Battalion is cited for extraordinary heroism, efficiency, and achievement in action against the enemy during the assault crossing of the Rhine River near Wesel, Germany, on 24 March 1945. Coming in by glider through the heaviest concentration of antiaircraft fire yet experienced in an airborne operation, the 680th Glider Field Artillery Battalion landed widely dispersed in open fields covered by enemy artillery, automatic weapons, and small arms fire, under direct observation from enemy strong points throughout the area. With complete disregard for their personal safety, the members of this field artillery battalion unloaded their gliders under a withering cross-fire, assembled in small groups, and fought their way through occupied enemy strong points and field fortifications to the assembly area, using howitzers, bazookas, grenades and carbines to reduce enemy position. During the assembly, this field artillery battalion captured and destroyed an enemy 105-mm. artillery battery and a 155-mm. artillery battery and captured 150 enemy soldiers. With 19 killed, including both howitzer battery commanders, and 56 wounded during the assembly, the aggressive action of all members of this battalion enabled both howitzer batteries to occupy position and the battalion to assume its artillery mission within 1 hour of the initial landing. One hour later, this battalion had completed its survey and had established complete wire communication within the battalion. Within 5 hours after the initial landing, 9 howitzers were in position and 900 rounds of ammunition had been assembled at the position area. The efficiency and aggressive action of the 680th Glider Field Artillery Battalion in the face of great odds and a defensively prepared enemy, cleared a large portion of the division area and resulted in the provision of adequate artillery support, which assisted materially in the ultimate success of the operation and subsequent exploitation of the gains achieved.
By Order of the Secretary of War
Dwight D. Eisenhower
Chief of Staff
The Commanding Officer Paul Oswald will declare later “these troops were the very best that I had the fortune and privilege to command” ...