History of the 515th Field Artillery Battalion

(As taken from official and unofficial unit records along with personal interviews.)

According to official documents, “the 515th Field Artillery Battalion was activated on November 6, 1943 at Fort Lewis, Washington, by General Order No. 4, Headquarters IV Corp, APO 304, Bend, Oregon. Upon activation, the unit was assigned to the IV Army, with permanent station at Fort Lewis, Washington. Lt. Col. Lylburne Howell was designated as the Commanding Officer.” Composed of officers and enlisted men from various units around the United States, the 515th was trained to operate the 155mm “Long Tom” Guns. Following basic training at Fort Lewis in the winter and early spring of 1944, the battalion was sent to Fort Bragg, North Carolina for advanced training. According to Mr. Ewing B. Pollock, former captain of Battery C of the 515th, the unit was sent to Fort Bragg in order to increase its range for firing the 155mm guns. The unit traveled from Fort Lewis to Fort Bragg by train in early May, taking nearly a week.

Following several months of advanced training at Fort Bragg, the 515th was notified for movement to the European Theatre of Operations (ETO). In late October, 1944 the unit moved by train to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey and readied for the transatlantic voyage. It was during this movement that, according to Mr. Pollock, the unit experienced its only desertion. On October 29, the battalion embarked on the troopship USS Argentina at Pier 13, Staten Island, New York. The unit disembarked at Liverpool, England on November 13. The transport saw no evidence of the enemy during the crossing, and according to Mr. Earl Bage, former sergeant of Battery B, “all you could see in every direction was nothing but the deep blue sea.” The unit’s destination in England was Camp Greystone, one of the many temporary American military camps in Britain constructed during the war. Camp Greystone was located at Dalton-in-Furness, Lancashire, in northwest England near the Scottish border. According to Mr. Pollock, but unbeknownst to the enlisted men of the unit, the original destination was Cherbourg, France, but orders came during the crossing to head to England. Had the unit landed in Cherbourg, their experience may have been quite different. When the unit became stationed at Camp Greystone, it was transferred from under the auspices of the US 3rd Army to the US 7th Army. The battalion was never permanently attached to any specific division, but was always an unattached unit under the 7th Army. Members of the unit wore the 7th Army patch.

The 515th remained at Camp Greystone from mid-November, 1944 to the end of January, 1945. At one point during this time the battalion was put on alert to possibly take part in quelling potential POW revolts in the Glasgow area. Apparently no members of the unit were called upon to do this, however. Although the training continued during this time, the GIs were frequent visitors to Dalton and were well received by the residents. Finally, at the end of January, 1945, the unit was notified that it would move to the continent. Most of the unit was transported from the port of Southampton to LeHavre, France on January 30-31on the HMS Monowai. The entire motorized column consisting of trucks, tractors and other equipment had left Weymouth, England on January 29, being transported on two LSTs. The 155mm guns, along with those men left behind to guard and take care of them, caught up with the battalion at Rouen, France on February 9.

Following the unit’s arrival at LeHavre, France the battalion moved to Camp Twenty Grand, one of the so-called “Cigarette Camps” in northern France used as staging areas for the front. It was here that the 515th remained – in the mud, until early March when it was notified that it would be moving forward for combat duty. Following a side-trip to Dieppe, France to pick up supplies, the unit moved across northern France to bolster the 7th Army action in penetrating the Siegfried Line in the Saar River Basin.

The 515th fired its first rounds in combat on March 13, 1945 from its position at Sarreinsming, France into Bliecastle, Germany. Over the next couple of days, the battalion supported the XV Corps and assisted the 100th Division in the attack on the Maginot Forts. On the 15th of March, the 515th was one of five battalions attached to the 194th FA Grp. in general support of the 45th Division Artillery as the XV Corps launched its attack on the Siegfried Line. From the time that it fired its first rounds in combat until nearly the end of the war, the unit was constantly on the move and involved in combat, supporting various units. Moving steadily northward, the unit finally crossed the Rhine River on a heavy pontoon bridge at Worms, Germany on March 27. From here the battalion moved south to the area of Heidelberg and then north again toward the area of Birkenfeld. It was reported that during the month of March the battalion traveled a distance of 557 miles, 153 miles of which were during combat. The 515th fired 3122 rounds of ammunition during this time.

The 515th rarely stayed in any one place for more than a day or two. Movement was not fast and generally cumbersome since the tractors pulling the “Long Toms” moved at only about 30 miles per hour. Once an area was designated it would sometimes take as much as a day to set up all three gun batteries, coordinate their positions and lay communication lines between the individual guns and battery commands, and then from the battery commands to HQ. Once the firing was finished and new orders were received all communication lines had to be re-gathered, everything readied to move and then it was off to the next location. This process continued for weeks until nearly the end of the war. According to Mr. Pollock, as captain of a battery, he and another soldier would generally be the first ones to the new gun emplacement site. He and the other soldier would dig holes exactly where the fins of the guns were to be placed, marking the exact location for the drivers and gunners to set up. Once the guns were in place a forward observer along with the reconnaissance officer for the battery were sent forward to site the accuracy of the firing. Most of the shells fired by the batteries were high-explosive; however it was not always very easy to get a good read on the accuracy or damage due to terrain or weather. Sometimes phosphorous shells were used, however. The smoke from the fires created would provide better readings for the observers. Being a forward observer could be a dangerous job since one was ahead of the unit a distance without much support from the rest of the personnel. According to Mr. Ken Prose, a member of Battery C, the Germans would send out observation planes each evening to check on American positions and gun emplacements. These German planes and pilots were referred to as “Bedcheck Charlie.” The battalion also had two observation planes of its own which it made good use of during its days in combat. Once in a while a battery could get a good fix on a target. Mr. Pollock mentioned that at one point they were ordered to fire on a horse-drawn supply train on a mountainside. With clear visibility, the battery was able to mark the firing on the side of the mountain. After following a procedure known as bracketing, firing above and then below the intended target, the guns were then able to zero in with devastating effect.

It should be noted that the 515th was made up of three gun batteries, with four guns in each battery. Each gun was pulled by an M-4 High Speed Tractor, which was referred to as a prime mover. Each battery had around 100 men assigned to it with varying jobs and responsibilities. Generally, those men not specifically assigned to the guns when being fired would be assigned the duty of setting up a defensive perimeter around the gun emplacements. Usually the four guns of the battery would set up within about 100 yards from one end to the other. All three batteries, A,B and C, depending on the location, terrain and mission, would be set up within a couple miles of each other. Along with the three gun batteries were the HQ Battery and the Service Battery. (For a list of titles and jobs for the different batteries one can refer to the unit rosters in the archived documents for March and June of 1945 under the Archives link.) In total there were about 500 men in the battalion. The 155mm Long Tom gun fired shells weighing close to 100 pounds. The guns could fire up to 15 miles with pretty good accuracy. Shells were lifted by a small crane off the back of the prime mover. As mentioned earlier, most shells were high explosive, but phosphorous shells were fired as well.

In the beginning of the month of April the 515th moved in a generally northern direction toward the town of Birkenfeld. During the month of April, the battalion offered general support to the 42nd, 63rd and 36th Infantry Divisions. On April 1st advance parties of the battalion entered the town of Ebenheid. The rapidly advancing units of the U.S. infantry and armored columns had by-passed the town. When the personnel of the 515th entered the town they captured 98 German soldiers. Although half of the German soldiers had been armed, none showed any willingness to fight. By April 3 the battalion had reached Birkenfeld. From here the battalion fired many rounds into Estenfeld and Karlstadt where there was heavy enemy resistance. From this location the 515th moved generally in a southeast direction in general support of the 42nd Division Artillery. Between the 3rd and the 28th, the battalion established locations at Madelhofen (4/5), Bergtheim( 4/7), Unter Eisenheim (4/12), Mainbernheim (4/14), Markt Bibart (4/15), Lagenfeld (4/16), Hagenbuchach (4/17), Langenburg (4/19), Elzhausen (4/20), Hausen (4/22), Mogglingen (4/24), Seitzingen (4/25), Offingen (4/27) and finally Schwabmunchen on April 28.

From April 1 through the end of the month a distance of approximately 380 miles was covered. At a number of locations following its time in Birkenfeld, the battalion participated in heavy combat operations – first at Bergtheim from which 1884 rounds were fired into strong enemy positions near Schweinfurt and then from Hagenbuchach from which 520 rounds were fired into Furth, mostly being counterbattery and harassing missions. During the firing into Schweinfurt, ammunition shortage for the 155mm guns became acute. Some of the battalion’s ammunition train had to return to the vicinity of Sarreguimes, across the Rhine, in order to resupply. During its position in Bergtheim, the battalion fell under counterbattery fire from German 88mm guns. Also, on April 8, four German ME 109s attacked the battalion on a strafing mission. One of the planes was brought down by combined fire of the 572nd AAA Gun Bn and a .50 caliber machine gun from the 515th Battery B. (It should be noted that in the official report, the .50 caliber machine gun is associated with Battery B, while in the unofficial unit history, the machine gun is listed as being part of Battery A.) On the 19th of April, the 515th was relieved of its support mission to the 42nd Infantry Division and assigned to the 63rd Infantry Division, which was heading south toward Munich. On the 26th, the battalion was massed with four other battalions which fired into, and “completely neutralized an area in the vicinity of Gunzburg in which enemy planes and Infantry were dispersed.” At 1515, on April 27th, the 515th crossed the Danube River near Gunzburg and came into bivouac at Offingen. The next day, the battalion traveled to Schwabmunchen where it remained in general support of the XXI Corps providing reinforcing fire for the 36th Infantry Division. It was at Schwabmunchen that the battalion would remain through VE Day until May 16. Following that date, the 515th would travel north to Oehringen.

During the month of April, the 515th FA Bn was in active combat 21 days. During that time, 4591 rounds were fired. It will also be noted from the unit history archives that during this time, the different batteries of the battalion were attached to different outfits in general support. At times other units were attached to the 515th, including batteries of AAA gun battalions and least one battery of the 8" Howitzer 630th FA Bn. (For a more complete record of the battalion’s combat experiences, the official history under the Archives link should be consulted.)

At some point during its time in Schwabmunchen, many of the troops in the 515th were taken to the area of Landsberg, west of Munich. At Landsberg there was a series of concentration camps built around the city. (Landsberg is well known as the location where Adolph Hitler was imprisoned in the early 1920’s following the Munich uprising.). The Landsberg camps were actually satellite camps of Dachau, not far away near Munich. At the camps, members of the 515th along with many other 7th Army personnel were able to witness the horrors of the Nazi regime. The Jewish camps in the area were very much like those that are better known – mass starvation, degradation and corpses everywhere. One 515th veteran described the dead as being stacked up like cordwood. Many of the 515th members took pictures to record the atrocities that they witnessed. (Some of these photos are available on the Photos link on the main menu of the website. Warning: many are quite graphic.) For many US troops, it is sure, the things witnessed at Landsberg provided a reason as to why they were fighting and endured so much along the way.

From May 1 to May 5 the 515th remained ready to support the 36th Infantry and XXI Corps in their advance to the Brenner Pass. On the 5th, however, the battalion received orders that there would be no further advance made. Consequently, from May 5th through the 10th, the 515th “assisted the Military Government at Schwabmunchen in policing the surrounding area.” (On May 8, the war was over – VE Day!) From May 16 onward the battalion was stationed to the north at Oehringen where it primarily performed as a Security Police unit for the Kreis. The unit was responsible for rounding up curfew violators and overseeing the reprocessing of returning German soldiers. One interesting situation was that approximately 3000 horses were brought into the Kreis during the 515th’s time in Oehringen. These horses were sold to area farmers by the Allied Military Government. The strange thing however, was that the horses were delivered by German soldiers, 20% of whom were allowed to carry pistols, machine-pistols and rifles! No one knew for sure who had authorized this. It was in Oehringen that the members of the original 515th Field Artillery Battalion began to be split up.

On June 15th the 515th was placed in category IV of the redeployment and readjustment program. By the 18th, some of the officers and enlisted men began to be transferred out with replacements being brought in. On June 27th, Lt. Colonel Lylburne M. Howell was replaced in command by Lt. Colonel Marion W. Gooding. A couple of weeks earlier, a letter dated June 14, 1945, was received by Lt. Colonel Howell from Brigadier General Edward S. Ott commending the unit for its support during the offensive from March 12 through March 26. (The letter can be read under the archives section of the website.) By the end of June, the 515th had received orders to move back to La Havre on the coast of France. Some members of the unit have mentioned that they participated in redeployment processing for soldiers getting ready to be shipped to the Pacific. By late in the summer of 1945, the 515th was stationed near Tidsworth, England, although Battery C spent some time in September guarding a “closed Army Air Base at Langford Lodge, Ireland.” Later, Battery C was rejoined with the rest of the unit. Its primary mission at Tidsworth Reception Area was the assisting of troops and units in redeployment processing. One interesting assignment during its stint in Tidsworth came in January, 1946, when, according to the official record, the 515th “was engaged in preparing the Tidsworth Reception Area for the incoming G.I. Brides. At the date of the first arrivals, the members of the Battalion, all on Special Duty with the various sections of the Reception Area, assisted in processing the G.I. Brides before they embarked for the United States.” Unit records end with the official report for January, 1946.

In the unofficial unit history distributed to 515th personnel, the following summary highlights the battalion’s experiences during its existence.

Dates to Remember:

6 November, 1943 – Activated

30 October, 1944 – Left U.S.A.

13 November, 1944 – Arrived in England

31 January, 1945 – Arrived in France

13 March, 1945 – Entered Combat

17 March, 1945 – Entered Germany

27 March, 1945 – Crossed the Rhine River

Units Which Attached:

a. Armies – 3rd, 4th, 15th and 7th (in combat)

b. Corps – 3rd, 15th, 21st and 23rd

Divisions Supported:

3rd, 36th, 42nd, 44th, 45th, 63rd, 100th and 12th Armored


a. Two (2) Battle Stars

1. Central Europe

2. Battle of the Rhineland

b. Twenty Four (24) Bronze Stars

c. Four (4) Air Medals

Number of Days in Combat:

Fifty Seven (57)

Miles Traveled:

a. 700 in combat

b. 7000 overall total

Number of Rounds Expended:


Number of Casualties:

0 - although the unit history mentions that both Lt. Jones and Lt. Davis of Battery A few were wounded on March 16 at 2100 when the two set off a trip wire of an enemy mine while attempting to set up the aiming circle on the orienteering line to lay the battery.

It can be seen by the record of its service, that the 515th Field Artillery Battalion did its part in not only participating in the “big show,” but also did its part in helping to win the war against Nazi Germany. Although not entering combat until close to the end of war, it, like many other units, was indispensable to bringing to a close one of the most momentous chapters in world history. By the record, each man of the battalion did his part. Without the component parts of this effort, success would not have been realized, either by the 515th or any of the other American units involved in the war.

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