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,
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
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"