492nd Armored Field Artillery History
The 492nd Armored Field Artillery Battalion was activated on August 15, 1942, at Camp Polk Louisiana. It was part of the 11th Armored Division. The officer and enlisted cadres were drawn from other armored units. Draftees and enlistment brought the battalion up to strength.
The men underwent armor training and field maneuvers at Camp Polk. They participated in the Third Army's Louisiana-Texas Maneuvers, they moved to Camp Barkeley, Texas, in the summer of 1943. During the battalion's short stay at the posts near Abilene, Texas, vehicles were overhauled and painted.
The men moved west again in the fall of 1949 to join the most realistic of battle training: desert maneuvers. In October, the Thunderbolts boarded trains for the Mojave Desert of California and Camp Ibis.
In early 1944, the division moved farther west to Camp Cooke, California, on the Pacific Coast. Life was easier in barracks than desert tents. But the Thunderbolts were not destined to stay long.
In September 1944, the Thunderbolts were on the way to war. The men boarded troop trains and headed east to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, and they sailed for Europe from New York harbor. The Atlantic crossing was uneventful and the 492nd Battalion wound up in southern England along with thousands of other American troops about to cross onto the continent.
At Sutton-Veny, England, the 492nd Battalion was re-equipped, having drawn its entire complement of combat vehicles. Vehicles were prepared for war, new guns were calibrated and the battalion participated in a short field exercise with the British 6th Airborne Division, a veteran D-Day outfit. But it was not all work-no play for the battalion; passes were issued for Trowbridge, Warminster, London, Salisbury and Bath.
The battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel L.M. Alt, took a long trip himself to France to observe other armored artillery units in action. He visited the 3rd and 5th Armored Divisions and reported what he saw to 11th Armored officers and NCO's when he returned on December 8. His report was timely; the battalion had orders to be ready to move to a marshaling area by December 14.
On December 15, the battalion left Sutton-Veny for Camp Hursley, about 10 miles from the English Channel seaport of Southampton. The next day, the battalion clambered aboard four LSTs and the liberty ship U.S.S. Nicholas Herkimer, for the short trip across to France.
The crossing was stormy; several men in the battalion succumbed to seasickness. But the 492nd arrived safely at Cherbourg on the evening of December 17. First vehicle on shore was the half-track of the battalion executive officer. Major Hayden Estey. Quickly forming up, the battalion headed through Cherbourg and Bricquebec to near Bameville and on to Le Mesnil, where it took up roadside positions. They were 36 miles inland and bound for the war zone.
The 492nd Battalion had been ordered to St. Nazaire to relieve the 94th Infantry Division and contain Nazi diehards who were holding out in that crucial weapon. But German activity elsewhere changed the orders. Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt had launched a massive surprise attack in the Ardennes Forest. Sweeping ahead on a 50-mile front, the Germans drove deeply into the American line historians would call it the Battle of the Bulge.
Early reports from the battlefront were not encouraging. Troops of the VIII Corps were thinly spread in the Ardennes; it looked like the German juggernaut might split the Allied lines. Troops were desperately needed to plug the gap. Army brass turned to the 11th Armored for help. The Thunderbolt Division was assigned the mission of defending the Meuse River line from Givet to Verdun.
On December 20, the battalion moved 9 miles to near Falaise. The next day, they covered another 71 miles before stopping at Darnville. Th 492nd roared even farther on December 22, reaching Soissons, 127 miles east of Damville. There was no rest for weary soldiers; the battalion was back in the saddle on December 23 when it arrived in Laor.
On Christmas Eve, the battalion rolled north to Rozol where Battery C was detached from the battalion and assigned to support Task Force Blue of Combat Command B. The battery took up positions around Aubigny. The rest of the battalion proceeded on to Givet and went into position near Vireux-Wallerandat.
Meanwhile, the German drive had encircled the strategic town of Bastogne, held by the 101s Airborne Division and other army troops. Even though the German drive continued westward Bastogne was the key to the Battle of the Bulge. As long as it was in American hands, the enemy drive was threatened.
The battalion tangled with the Germans for the first time on Christmas Day. Several enemy planes were spotted and were fired on; none were hit. The next day, Battery C rejoined the battalion.
News from the battlefront was better. The 4th Armored Division broke through and relieved Bastogne. The 11th Armored got new orders: defend the vital Neufchateau-Bastogne Road. The Thunderbolts were in their new positions on December 29. The division would attack the German the next day, with the 492nd Battalion in support of CCA.
Battery C fired the battalion's first round in combat on December 30. The target was a moving Tiger tank in the town of Remagne. It was hit after 36 rounds.
Late in the afternoon, the battalion moved to support CCR, which took Magerette and high ground beyond. From January 1 to January 3, the battalion continued to support CCR; firing was heavy and made even more accurate by the use of aerial artillery spotters.
On January 3, the 11th Armored was relieved by the 17th Airborne Division. However, division artillery stayed on the line in support of the parachute troops. On January 4, the battalion fired 4,000 rounds in support of the advancing 17th Airborne.
By January 12, the entire Rechival Valley had been cleared of enemy troops and the battalion reverted to 11th Armored control. In 13 days, the 492nd Battalion had fired more than 25,000 rounds of ammunition at the Germans, more than in any other single period of subsequent operations.
All along the Ardennes front, the Germans were in trouble. Their drive had failed; the enemy was fighting desperately to escape. The 11th Armored was assigned the task of spearheading Third Army’s drive to the northeast to link up with the First Army, thereby closing the jaws of a pincer on the Germans.
The battalion moved out from Bastogne on January 12 and reached Hemroulle, Belgium. In the division plan of attack, the 492nd would support CCA. The attack was successful: Cobru was occupied by January 17. The Thunderbolts rolled on to Houffalize where units of the First Army were contacted. The trap was closed, but the enemy had succeeded in withdrawing most of his troops although tons of ammunition and equipment were left behind.
The Germans were racing for the Westwall, the massive defense barrier Allied troops nicknamed the Siegfried Line. The 11th Armored was ordered to attack the line. The 492nd battalion got ready to support the attack, which would be made east of the Belgian border town of Steffeshausen.
The 492nd supported the 55th Armored Infantry Battalion of CCR in the attack against the German pillboxes, bunkers and other Siegfried Line strong points. As the infantry probed the outer defenses, the 492nd pulverized the inner defenses with heavy barrages. On February 11, the 492nd began firing in support of the 90th Infantry Division. Eight days later, the 492nd battalion was on German soil in the border town of Heckhuschied. The cannoneers moved up to Berg to keep pace with the assault.
On February 22, the Thunderbolts had reached their objective by smashing through the Westwall. The 90th Infantry relieved the division, which pulled back to regroup and rest. The 492nd, however, stayed in position.
The next objectives were the Prum and Kyll Rivers and the Rhine River. The Prum was already being crossed by the 4th Armored Division. As the 492nd battalion moved into its third month of combat, battle strength stood at 34 officers, 2 warrant officers and 486 enlisted men.
On March 1, the 492nd Battalion was designated as direct support artillery for Task Force Chico. The mission of the combat team was to attack through the 4th Infantry Division and secure bridgeheads over the Kyll. Task Force Chico attacked on March 3, with the battalion laying down a rolling barrage. The Germans fell back.
On March 7, the 492nd moved forward with CCB, crossing the Kyll and heading through Lissingen, Gorelsteim, Kirschweiler, Dockweiler and Obemmisson. The next day, CCB attacked Brohl and ran into heavy German resistance. The battalion blasted Brohl with every round available including white phosphorus.
Some men in the battalion began to wonder how long the Germans could hold out. The Thunderbolts seemed unstoppable; thousands of German prisoners streamed toward the rear of the fast-moving American columns.
It took the 11th Armored Division just two days and two nights to reach the Rhine. While enemy resistance on the river's west bank was being mopped up, the 492nd was sent to Obemmendig for a brief rest.
The Germans still held a triangular area between the Moselle and Saar and Rhine rivers. The Thunderbolt division was ordered across the Moselle and through the triangle to historic Worms on the Rhine. The 492nd moved out on March 17 in support of CCB. Elements of the 4th Armored Division reached the outskirts of Worms ahead of the 11th Armored and the Thunderbolts relieved their fellow tank soldiers.
On March 21 and 22, German airplanes at tacked CCB but did no damage. On March 28, the 492nd received orders to cross the Rhine, which it did the next day on a pontoon bridge at Oppenheim. The Thunderbolts had orders to take Kassel, but their objective was changed to Fulda. Again, the 492nd would support CCB. It was cold and rainy but the 11th Armored pushed ahead.
March operations had been just what the Thunderbolts had trained for stateside. There had been forced marches, quick selection and occupation of positions and then moving on again to catch up with the column.
On April 1, CCB began moving toward Amstadt. Again, the 492nd Battalion was in general support. Fanatical SS and Wehmmacht troops bitterly resisted in the Thuringerwald around Oberhof. The battalion fired several rounds into the enemy positions.
The famed Thuringer Spa proved a more hospitable place than any of the Thunderbolts figured. An enterprising GI in the 492nd found a cache of sparking burgundy and champagne. Before the "off limits" sign went up, the battalion had a more than adequate supply tucked away. To the south, German troops were flooding into Bavaria and Austria where the Americans suspected they planned to make a last-ditch stand in an Alpine 'National Redoubt." As it turned out, there was no such strongpoint, but Third Army swung south toward Bavaria.
On April 7, CCB and the 492nd Battalion moved out of Oberhof. The Thunderbolts rolled past Coburg, Bayreuth, and Grafenwohr. The division then pushed on in columns parallel to the Czech border. On May 1, the 492nd Battalion found itself in Austria, where it was switched to CCA briefly. On May 3 and 4, the 492nd was shelled; five men were wounded, one fatally.
The Thunderbolts moved on, capturing Linz. The 492nd Battalion was in Obemeukirchen when the war ended on May 8. In World War II, the battalion suffered 6 killed, 30 wounded and 40 injured.
On the 15 Aug 1945 the 11th Armored Division celebrated its third anniversary on the same day the war with Japan was ended. The 492nd Armored Field Artillery Battalion bowed out of history on a note of triumph.
The 492nd was awarded two Silver Stars and 15 Bronze Star medals. Service Battery was awarded a Meritorious Service Unit Plaque.
In World War II, the 492nd artillery men had fired a total of 44,835 rounds of 105 ammunition. They suffered the loss of five men killed in action, 41 wounded and 30 injured.Back to "Our History"