../top-page.bmp (70198 bytes)
Back to "Our History"

490th AFA History

 The 490th Armored Field Artillery Battalion was one of three self-propelled, 105MM howitzer battalions activated at Camp Polk, now Fort Polk Louisiana on 15 August 1942 to constitute the 11th Armored Division Artillery. The Battalion was composed of Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, three firing batteries of six M7AI howitzer sections each, and Service Battery. Its training an, preparation for combat paralleled that of its sister battalions, including basic individual and small unit training, maneuver experience in Louisiana and the, Mojave Desert, followed by final inspections and testing at Camp Cooke, now Vandenburg Air Force Base, California.

 The Battalion sailed from New York for the European Theatre of Operations (ETO) on 29 September 1944, and by the middle of October was concentrated in Southern England Wamminster on the Salisbury Plain. Upon arriving in the United Kingdom, the Battalion Commander, Lt. Col. Theodore G. Bilbo, Jr., was assigned as Executive Officer of Combat Command A (CCA), under Brig Gen. Willard A. Holbrook, Jr. Command of the Battalion was assumed by Major Harold H. Davitt Jr., who subsequently was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel.

 By the middle of December, the Battalion was again on the move to the English Channel for the short hop to Cherbourg, France, in direct support of Combat Command, B (CCB), which at the time, included the 21st and 55th Armored Infantry Battalion

The German attack in the Ardennes on 16 December changed the 11th Armored Division mission. To counter the potential threat, General Dwight D. Eisenhower established an ETO Reserve composed of the 11th Armored Division and the 17th Airborne Division, the latter still in England. Without delay, on orders of Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces, the 11th Armored Division moved from Normandy to occupy defensive positions along the Meuse River. Since Hitler had vowed to retake Paris by Christmas, the southern march route assigned to CCB, which included the Battalion, was diverted to pass by the Arc de Triumph in the center of the City. Thousands turned out to cheer the troops rushing to the forward assembly areas in the vicinity of Laon.

 On 30 December, the Battalion fired its first combat rounds at Remagne, Belgium in support of CCA's attack to destroy elements of two panzer grenadier divisions which were pressing the 101st Airborne Division, besieged at Bastogne.

 On 3 January, the 17th Airborne Division relieved the 11th Armored Division, but the Battalion remained in general support of the 1 7th. During this period, its first combat deaths were incurred in the vicinity of Rechrival. The Battalion Adjutant, 1st Lt. John H. Cunningham, who had not yet seen the orders promoting him from second lieutenant, was designated liaison officer to an airborne infantry regiment. Early in the morning following his first day with the regiment, he set out with replacement observer teams, not knowing friendly forces had been overrun during the night. He and a forward observer from Battery C left the main party in a covered position and went forward in their jeeps in an attempt to locate regimental headquarters. Finding themselves surrounded by the enemy, Lt. Cunningham and the two drivers were shot in the act of surrendering.

 On 16 January 1945, the Battalion supported the attack of CCA to the North from Bastogne which included the 42nd Tank and 63rd Armored Infantry Battalions. Its ultimate objective was the high ground south of Houffalize, where the Thin U.S. Army, with the 11th Armored Division in advance, was to link up with the 2nd Armored Division of the First U.S. Army attacking from the North. Just after dawn, a patrol of the 41st Armored Cavalry Squadron, commanded by Major Michael Greene joined elements of the 2nd Armored in Houffalize. Greene the day, the Battalion was unable to provide fire Support to CCA due to no-fire line restrictions imposed by the converging armies. Early in the afternoon, troops of the 63rd Armored Infantry Battalion, led by an artillery forward observer from the Battalion, 2nd Lt. Robert P. Kelsey, Jr., secured the Third U.S. Army objective south of Houffalize to complete the closing of the Battle of the Bulge. For gallantry, Lt. Kelsey was awarded a Silver Star. The next day the Battalion moved to reserve positions near Boeur for a period of rest and relaxation.

 For the upcoming assault on the Siegfried Line, guarding the German border, the 11th Armored Division was assigned a narrow sector between two infantry divisions to the east of Heckuscheid, Germany. The Reserve Command, (CCR), with the 21st and 55th Armored Infantry Battalions on foot, supported by the Division Artillery, jumped off before dawn on 6 of February to seize a prominent hill in the line of fortifications. No artillery preparation was fired, and complete surprise was achieved, but after daylight, fire from the Battalion was called down to repulse enemy reinforcements counterattacking to retake the objective. During this action, Corporal G. Donald Brey with one of the Battalion's forward observer team negotiated the surrender of seventeen enemy soldiers, who occupied a pillbox bypassed by the infantry. For his heroism, Corporal Brey was awarded the Bronze Star Medal.

 Early in March the 11th Armored Division supported by other divisions of VIII U.S. Army Corps, was directed to cross the Kyll River and seize Andernach on the west bank of the Rhine River. The 58th Armored Field Artillery Battalion was attached to the Battalion on 7 March to form group supporting the attack of CCA across the Kyll through Mayen to Andernach. In the next two days CCA advanced 40 miles in 51 hours to capture Andernach, which was just to the south of Remagen where a railroad bridge over the Rhine was seized intact by the 9th Armored Division of the First U.S Army. The speed and ferocity of this advance stranded many German rear area elements at the Rhine River, and during the evening, the objective was taken, a captain in the German Finance Corps surrendered to an officer of the Battalion in the City Square.

 On 16 March, the 11th Armored Division passed to the control of XII U.S. Army Corps in an attack to the south, with the 4th Armored Division to support the establishment of Rhine River crossings at Worms and Oppenheim. The Battalion crossed the river with CCA on 28 March and marched through Darmstadt to the vicinity of Hanau preparatory to an attack through the Fulda Gap into the heart of Germany. By the end of the month, CCA had by-passed Fulda leaving the mopping up to the following 26th Infantry Division. In support of the fast moving armored task forces, the Battalion or its individual batteries became accustomed to simply occupying firing positions adjacent to the roadways along which the column was advancing. East of Fulda when required to fire a mission, Battery A selected a position in a field surrounded by woods. A security detail was organized to reconnoiter the area, as the position was being occupied by the howitzer sections. Private First Class Eugene Caupp, in charge of the security detail, spotted by-passed German infantry near-by, and to protect the howitzers, took them under fire. In the ensuing skirmish, Pfc. Caupp was struck by an enemy bullet, which killed him instantly. For his gallantry and disregard of personal safety, Pfc. Caupp was awarded a Silver Star, posthumously.

For the remainder of the month, the 11th Armored Division was at the point of the Third U.S. Army in its drive through Bavaria and into Austria, north of the Danube River line. The Battalion remained in support of CCA until it reached its final objective. During the approach to Linz a battery of the Battalion knocked out a critical 90MM antiaircraft gun which was holding up the leading elements of CCA, and subsequently, a forward observation party with a volunteer squad from the 63rd Armored Infantry Battalion, located and attacked an enemy observation post, which was directing mortar and artillery fire. An infantry company commander, field artillery observer and twenty-two enemy soldiers were captured, stopping all mortar and artillery fire on the advancing troops. This contributed to saving many lives during the assault.

 Following the cessation of hostilities, the Battalion moved south of the Danube as pan of the Army of Occupation. Its assigned tasks included the guarding of Prisoner of War enclosures, protecting an treasures looted in the Nazi campaign and stored in salt caves at Alt Ausse, and ensuring that the German gold reserves which were reported to have been sunk in a "bottomless" lake near Bad Ausse were not recovered until U.S. Navy divers had explored the site.

 By 30 September 1945, when the 11th Armored Division was relieved by the 1st U.S. Infantry Division and deactivated, the Battalion had suffered eight officers and enlisted men killed in action and had received five Silver Stars, including one earned by the Battalion Commander, Lt. Col. Harold H. Davitt, Jr.

Back to "Our History"