575th AAA Battalion History
The 575th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion was activated at Fort Bliss, Texas, on July 10, 1943. Lieutenant Colonel Willard L. Wright was commanding officer of the 700-man battalion, whose officer and enlisted cadre came from Camp Davis, North Carolina, and Camp Callan, California.
The battalion soon grew with fillers and the men got down to training at Fon Bliss, Camp Carson, Colorado, and in New Mexico. At Camp Carson, they trained with the 104th "Timberwolf' Division. After Wright was hospitalized, the battalion got a new C.O., Lieutenant Colonel Philip I. Baker.
On October 24, 1944, the 575th left Fort Bliss for Camp Shanks, New York. Four days later, the anti-aircraft artillerymen boarded the troopship Marine Wolf in New York harbor for the Atlantic crossing. Aboard were headquarters battery plus batteries A-D. The ship left on October 30 and docked at Liverpool, England on November 12.
The battalion was posted at Doddington Park near Nantwich in Cheshire. On November 25, the men received orders attaching them to the 11th Armored Division. On December I, the 575th AAA moved south to join the division at Codford, near Warminster in Wiltshire.
In early December, the 575th got acquainted with units of the "Thunderbolt" Division and prepared to move across the English Channel to the war zone. On December 16, the battalion sailed across the channel aboard LSTs and HMS Empire Lance, landing at Cherbourg.
On leaving England, the Thunderbolts were ordered to clear out the Lorient pocket in Normandy where the Germans were holding out with ample food and ammunition. The Battle of the Bulge changed that. The German surprise attack in the Ardennes Forest drove deeply into allied lines; the 11th Armored would be sent to help plug the gap.
Early on December 20, the last elements of the 575th battalion arrived in the assembly area near Bncquebec. On December 21, the men learned they were Belgium-bound to help win the Battle of the Bulge. Two days later, the 575th was in Soissons, having quickly passed Pans.
Early on December 26, gunners of the 575th fired the division's first combat rounds. They shot down a Focke Wulf 190 fighter while protecting a budge at Sedan, France, on the Meuse River. After leaving the 17th Airborne Division in control of the Meuse line, the Thunderbolts headed for Neufchateau, Belgium. The 575th Battalion closed into bivouac near Neufchateau on December 30.
The Americans had stopped the German drive and the 4th Armored Division had smashed through to relieve surrounded Bastogne, where troops of the 101st Airborne Division and other Army units had fought desperately to hold the town. The Thunderbolt Division was given the job of holding open the road between Neufchateau and Bastogne.
The Luftwaffe was not a major threat, so the 575th found itself in a new combat role: support for armored attacks. After five days of bitter fighting, the 11th Armored Division was relieved by the 17th Airborne, The battle and the cold had taken a toll among the 575th's men and machines. Battery B was the hardest hit; enemy action or frostbite put 2 officers and 14 men out of action. The battery also lost two half-tracks. But the 575th Battalion had been part of a drive that had shoved crack German troops back for six miles and had liberated more than a dozen Belgian towns including Chenogne Lavaselle, Flohamont, Rechrival, and Mande St Etienne.
During a reorganization of the 11th Armored, Battery B was relieved from attachment to CCB and was replaced by Battery D. Lost vehicles were replaced, too, and the men of the battalion rested as best they could. They would be back in battle soon.
On January 13, the Thunderbolt Division resumed the attack to help take the pressure off Bastogne. Two days later, the division joined up with the 2nd Armored Division of First Army at Houffalize. The bulge was gone and the Germans were streaming back toward the Westwall.
The 575th Battalion seemed to be charmed. Under heavy enemy fire, the anti-aircraft gunners suffered just one man killed. More Belgian towns were taken: Benogne, Recogne,. Mabompre, Foy, Cobru, and Noville among them.
The relief of the 101st and Bastogne was complete on January 17. That same day. Batteries C and D of the 575th were relieved from CCA and CCB respectively and attached to CCR as ground support for holding the division's line between Hardigny and Bourcy. The weather was bitterly cold, making operations even more difficult.
The Germans continued to harass the Thunderbolts with mortar and artillery fire. On January 21, batteries C and D went back to CCA and CCB respectively. Battery C found out later it had set up in a mine field, but in the cold and snow none of the mines exploded. The weather continued to plague the men: Battery D was short 21 men, most of them suffering frostbitten feet.
The division's next objective was the Westwall. Dubbed the "Siegfned Line" by Amencan and British troops, the Westwall was a deep defense line consisting of barbed wire, tank traps, "dragon's teeth" obstacles, bunkers, pillboxes and mine fields, all covered by infantry, artillery and tanks.
On February 4, Battery D moved to near Burg Reuland with CCR. Battery A was attached to CCB, which had the mission of protecting the south flank of VIII Corps. Battery C was with CCA in Corps reserve. Battery B had the job of protecting division headquarters.
From Burg Realand. Battery D moved into Germany with CCR. They faced one of the toughest sections of the Siegfried Line at Heckusheid. On February 11, Battery D reverted to division artillery; seven days later. CCR broke through the Siegfried Line.
Afterwards, the 11th Armored went into Corps reserve and began preparations for a new drive. At the end of' February, Battery A was resting in Leithu, Belgium, after being subjected to sporadic artillery fire. Battery B was at headquarters in Wilwerdange, Luxembourg. It had sounded the alarm among Thunderbolt brass when the gunners fired on a night attacking enemy plane. Battery C had moved with CCA to Manderfeld. Belgium, in Corps reserve. It was ready to help exploit a breakthrough there if or when it came. Battery D, with division artillery, was headquartered at Hascheid,. Germany.
On March 2, the Division began moving to the vicinity of Prum, Germany to cross the Prum River. Over the Prum, the division raced for the Kyll River, the last water barrier before the mighty Rhine. The Thunderbolts reached the Kyll on March 6, with Battery A playing the biggest part for the 575th Battalion in the drive. Moving with the 41st Tank Battalion, the second platoon opened fire and silenced enemy mortar and small arms fire at a critical juncture.
On March 7, CC A crossed the Kvll and was followed by the rest of the division which took of'f for the Rhine via Kelherg and Mayen. Two days later the Thunderbolts were on the Rhine at Bruhl and Andernach The 11th Armored had linked up with First Army and trapped thousands of German soldiers west of the Rhine.
To then men of the 575th Battalion, it was obvious the Germans were in deep trouble. They saw long lines of prisoners streaming to the rear, sometimes without guards. All along the roadsides and in nearby fields were abandoned tanks, halftracks. artillery pieces and other debris of war.
At the Rhine, the Thunderbolts mopped up. The 575th was spread from one side of the division to the other. Souvenir hunters reaped a bounty of German vehicles, cameras, pistols, clothing, telephones and other trophies which showed up in camp. The men also sampled the famous white Rhine wines. Even the threat of snipers failed to stay the souvenir seekers.
The battalion minus was in Niedermendig with division headquarters while the batteries settled in nearby. Battery A headquarters was in a Wassenach hotel with good wines. Battery B was headquartered in Niedermendig and Battery C at Kruft. Battery D headquarters was at Obermendig. On the Rhine, the battalion managed to fire a few rounds at stray German planes and accidentally shot down a crippled British bomber. 'The crew cleared the whole matter up for us when they appeared." a battalion veteran recalled.
On March 16, the division drove 70 miles north along the Rhine to Worms. Casualties in the 575th were light two men wounded, a half-track damaged and a jeep lost. The anti-aircraft artillerymen saw more Germans surrendering and more equipment left behind. Many hoped and prayed the war would be over soon.
Patton's Third Army was strung out on the Rhine from Worms to Coblenz.. Suddenly, on March 21, the 575th battalion got to put into practice what it had learned stateside. Ten German fighters appeared in the sky near Worms. Batteries A and D opened fire: Battery A claimed two enemy planes. The rest flew away without hamming the Thunderbolt Division. Later in the day, a sole ME-262 jet streaked overhead. Battery A opened fire, but the German got away unhurt. During the next few days, single airplanes appeared in the sky at odd hours, but stayed out of range of 575th gunners.
On March 25, the 11th Armored switched from the XII to the XX Corps. The Corps mission was to hold the river line on the south flank of Third Army and assist in preparation for a crossing. The Second Platoon of Battery A drew one of the oddest assignments imaginable for an anti-aircraft outfit. The men were told to train their guns on the Rhine near Worms and blast from the water any mines that might be floated down to disrupt bridging operations.
The 11th Armored was to go over the Rhine on a pontoon bridge at Oppenheim. German airplanes attacked at night, trying desperately to wipe out the badge. Gunners from the 575th and other units fired back and downed 12 enemy planes. The division crossed uneventfully on March 28.
The Thunderbolts pushed deeper into Germany, passing Darmstadt and Hanau before heading toward Fulda. On April 2, German planes reappeared. Most of the time they stayed out of range of the 575th's 37-millimeter and .50 caliber guns. Batteries A and D took on 50 FW- 190s and claimed to have damaged seven.
The division was in Thuringia and the loot continued to pile up in the fast moving 575th column. It seemed everybody had a souvenir pistol or camera. The Luftwaffe had made its presence known, so AA gunners kept eyes trained on the skies.
On April 7, the 11th Armored headed south and east into Bavaria. On April 13, four FW-190s swooped low and tried to shoot up division trains. Gunners from Batteries B and C opened up; Battery B hit one of the speedy fighters, which was tom to pieces. The next day, bomb-laden FWs returned and AA gunners near division headquarters put up a storm of fire. The Germans turned away: one plane dropped his bombs, which tell harmlessly in a nearby field.
The Thunderbolts rumbled on, capturing Coburg, Bayreuth and Grafenwohr. On April 23, the 11th Armored seized Cham and saw Nazi atrocities first hand. CCB overtook a column of prisoners from a concentration camp. Many had been shot by their SS guards.
The 575th had been joined by two batteries of the 128th AAA battalion, which would provide better protection against high flying enemy planes. On April 24th and 25th, the 575th claimed five planes destroyed and six damaged.
From Bavaria, the 11th Ammored crossed into Austria where on May 8 they got the official word that Germany had surrendered. The 575th Battalion had credit for 15 3/4 enemy planes destroyed, 3 probably destroyed and 8 damaged. Eight soldiers of the battalion were killed in action, 22 were wounded and 41 were injured.