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The 687th Field Artillery Battalion in the ETO.

Discussion in 'Western Europe 1943 - 1945' started by SKYLINEDRIVE, Jul 25, 2012.

  1. SKYLINEDRIVE

    SKYLINEDRIVE Member

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    The 687th Field Artillery Battalion


    A few months back I came across a grouping with documents and insignias that came from a Captain serving with the 687th Field Artillery Battalion during WWII. As the price was really good and the unit played quite an important part in the early days of the Bulge, fighting in the region my family originally comes from, I didn’t hesitate and bought the grouping! Since then I dug through my library, going through the many books I have on the subject and I’ve been doing some research on the web and in some local archives to fill in the gaps. I was lucky to get some After action reports as well as excerpts of the Battalion's Army Journal (Thanks to Mister Jeff Olson).

    So I thought I would do a little write up of what I found and post it in here! Every critique is welcome, please excuse my poor english, it's not my native tongue!




    Activation and the campaign in France



    The 687th Field Artillery Battalion was activated, respectively reorganized from the 2nd battalion of the 18th Field Artillery Regiment, at Fort Sill on the 8th of February 1943. At that time Fort Sill was home to the Field Artillery School and the Field Artillery Replacement Training Centre where the 18th FA Rgt had served as artillery demonstration and training regiment.

    The new Field Artillery Battalion was reorganized as a light FA Bn, and converted from 155mm truck drawn howitzers to 105mm truck drawn howitzers, with three four gun batteries and a service battery as well as a HQ battery.



    [​IMG]

    A DUI of the 18th Field Artillery Regiment coming from Captain Philip M.Turner.


    The battalion left the Zone of Interior through BPE (Boston Port of Embarkation) on the 11th of February 1944, to disembark in England on the 23rd of February 1944.

    The 687th entered the ETO on the 17th of July 1944 at Utah beach and was placed under the command of Middleton’s VIII Corps. It saw action in Normandy and Brittany. It was heavily engaged in the battle for Brest-Crozon where it was for a while under the command of the 174th FA Group, soon to be temporarily attached to the 2nd ID (from the 21st of August to the 11th of September), in order to support Task Force B on the Plougastel peninsula. This period was characterized by heavy fighting and acute shortage of artillery ammunition.

    On the 20th of September, after the fighting for Brest was concluded, the 687th FA Bn regrouped at Chateaulin to take quarters at a Rest Camp near Lesneven on the same day.

    There the men spent some days on well earned R&R, getting hot meals, trading rations for fresh food with the locals, taking hot showers. They also had time to check and do maintenance on their equipment and see some movies, as well in a theatre in town as in an outdoor theatre run by the 174th FA Grp. The soldiers and officers also described the souvenirs they bought from locals, mainly the crocheted scarves, gloves and jackets that are famous for the region. They also had the chance to visit USO shows and the customary Red Cross vans with donuts and hot coffee were omnipresent.

    On the 29th their time in “GI’s paradise” was up, the battalion started a 650 mile road march to Luxembourg via Paris.


    On the 29th of September they covered the stretch:

    • Morlaix
    • Guingamp
    • Saint-Brieuc
    • Dinan
    • Saint-Aubin-du-Cormier


    On the 30th of September their road took them through :

    • Fougères
    • Mayenne
    • Fresnay-sur-Sarthe
    • Alençon
    • Mortagne-au-Perche
    • Châteauneuf-en-Thymerais


    On the 1st of October they made it through:

    • Versailles
    • Le Bourget airfield
    • Compiègne
    • Noyon
    • Saint-Quentin
    • Guise


    On the 2nd of October they continued their road march crossing into Belgium and finally arriving in Luxembourg, in the vicinity of Wiltz:

    • La Capelle
    • Chimay
    • Givet
    • Dinant
    • Marche-en-Famenne
    • Bastogne
    • Schumann Crossroads



    The road march seems to have been rather uneventful, in the evenings the Battalion bivouacked in fields and meadows, it seems as there were quite many contacts with the local population, bartering food, playing with the kids, getting free drinks and food. One night they even took the village kids of Saint-Aubin-du-Cormier for Jeep rides, in Belgium the fresh and delightful local beer seems to have made quite an impression! The only noteworthy incident was the involuntary, or maybe not so involuntary, break up of the marching column and detour through the city-centre of Paris! As the Army Diary describes it: “…and were the women ever slickly dressed…”. Some evenings the march ended quite late and the pup tents had to be put up in the darkness before the chow truck served meals of a rather questionable quality. When they savoured a cool beer in the “Schumann’s Eck” Pub on the evening of the 2nd of October, after putting up their pup tents, none of the artillery men presaged, neither their own hard fighting nearby on the 19th of December 1944, nor any of the horrible slaughters that were to take place at the Schumann crossroads in January 1945!
     
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  2. SKYLINEDRIVE

    SKYLINEDRIVE Member

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    Autumn in Luxembourg​




    In Luxembourg the 687th FA Bn was still under the command of Troy Middleton’s VIII Corps, which was responsible for the 85 mile sector running from Losheim, Germany, on the northern flank, down to the village of Schengen, Luxembourg, where the Moselle River crosses the French-German border.

    The battaion's mission was to support the 8th ID, being attached to the division from the 4th of October till the 19th of November. The 8th ID covered a front running from Grosskampenberg in Germany down to the point where the borders of Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany meet, then following the river Our and the German-Luxembourg border to the confluent of the Our and Sûre rivers, following the Sûre to the town of Echternach.

    As this was a huge sector to be covered by one single division, the divisional artillery of the 8th ID had been substantially reinforced. The 8th ID's organic divisional artillery consisted of four FA battalions, the 43rd, the 45th, the 56th, all equipped with truck drawn 105 mm howitzers and the 28th FA battalion which was equipped with 155 mm tractor drawn howitzers. These were reinforced by two more Field Artillery Battalions on attachment. In addition to the 687th FA Bn, another tractor drawn, 155 mm howitzer FA Bn was attached to the 8th ID, the 969th FA Bn, located at Beiler, on the northern tip of Luxembourg.


    [​IMG]

    The 8th Infantry Division's artillery in Luxembourg.


    On the 3rd of October, in cold and foggy weather, the Battalion officers ran reconnaissance around the towns of Diekirch and Ettelbruck, the sector they had been assigned from Division. It was decided to move the unit to Brandenburg where the Battalion Headquarters would have been located in the schoolhouse. However at the end of the day, after Lt. Col. Billingsley had visited the HQ of the neighbouring 45th FA Bn, the orders were cancelled. The reconnaissance parties returned to the Schumann Crossroads, to spend another night in the bivouac.

    The next day the 687th finally settled down when the Battalion moved about 29 miles to their position area.

    HQ & HQ Battery went to the “Hotel zur Mühle”, the Mill Hotel, at Bourscheid-Moulin down in the Sûre river valley, a few miles to the north of Ettelbrück. (Coord. P 817-472).

    (N.B. the original name of the hotel was “Hôtel du Moulin”, but under the German occupation and annexation every French name had to be changed into German, this went as well for person’s names as for the names of shops of businesses. Apparently by the time the 687th took over, the owner did not have had the time to change the name back to the original French version).

    [​IMG]

    The locations of HQ, B and C batteries.


    “A” Battery went to the vicinity of Erpeldange (Coord. P 837-437)
    “A” OP was at the vicinity of Longsdorf (Coord. P 903-458)

    [​IMG]

    The location of A battery.


    “B” Battery was positioned near of Michelau (Coord. P 821-467)
    “B” OP was in a barn in Fouhren (Coord. P 894-468)

    [​IMG]

    A and B batteries Observation Posts.


    “C” Battery took up firing positions to the north-east of Lipperscheid (Coord. P 811-481)
    “C” OP was in the village of Weiler (Coord. P 843-528)

    [​IMG]

    C battery Observation Post.


    “Sv” Battery installed itself in the town of Diekirch (Coord. P 868-424)

    [​IMG]

    SV battery in the town of Diekirch.



    On the 16th of December the Battalion airstrip was in between the villages of Holzthum and Consthum (Coord. P 803-547) I don’t know if the Piper Cubs had been there since the Battalions arrival in early October or if the location was changed when the 687th came under the command of the 28th ID.

    [​IMG]

    The battalion airstrip was half way in between the two villages, to the south of the road.

    [​IMG]

    Overview of the battalions positions.

    On the 5th of October the men of the 687th went straight to work: preparing the firing positions, camouflaging the guns and surveying the new positions. The officers also were busy, on the 5th of October the CO and S3 had a first meeting with Divisional artillery at Wiltz, the liaison officer went to see the 8th Reconnaissance Troop Mecz. CP.

    In the afternoon the CO, together with Captain Turner, the battalion S2, left again this time it was their turn to drop in at the 8th Reconnaissance Troop’s CP located in Wiltz.

    The same day officers of the three batteries left for the first reconnaissance with patrols of the 8t RT, Lt Mueller from A-Battery with a patrol of the 1st platoon, Lt Nelson from C-Battery and Lt Haughney from B-Battery with a recce patrol from the 2nd platoon.

    The next day Brigadier General Pickering, the artillery commander of the 8th ID paid the Battalion CP a visit and soon the men of the 687th fell into a quiet and calm routine.

    [​IMG]

    An 8th ID patch that belonged to Captain Turner.


    The men of HQ and HQ Battery called the hotel “Fort zur Mühle”, as it seems their quarters were quite comfortable, the officers had rooms on the second floor, with running water, sinks, electricity and comfortable beds. The kitchen was installed in the hotel’s basement where Mr. Kremer, the owner of the hotel, helped the cooks prepare the meals! Apparently “Gebootschte Gromperen”, a traditional local recipe to prepare browned potatoes, left quite an impression on the 687th Staff. In the mess, that was located on the first floor, the owner’s wife and the hotel maid helped waiting on the officers. Lt. Eames, in charge of the 687th‘s Army Diary even emphasizes the fact that the officers mess had beer taps!

    The fire directing center had been installed in the hotel’s big dining room and the smaller room adjacent to it housed the battalion first aid post.

    Living conditions in the firing positions of the three batteries were in stark contrast to those HQ company’s quarters. The cold and wet autumn weather made the life of the artillerymen miserable, the more so as the unit had not been issued adequate winter uniforms. Food in the firing positions only consisted of cold rations. When the weather got even worse the men on duty in the firing positions were kept to a strict minimum crew, necessary to fire the guns. The rest of the personnel were quartered in houses in the villages of Erpeldange, Michelau and Lipperscheid.


    [​IMG]

    On the 30th of october Capt. Turner had his picture taken, to send it back home to his wife Emily. I was quite sure that the picture had either been taken in Diekirch or in the neighbouring town of Ettelbruck. A few days back when I visited the National Military History Museum in Diekirch I had my "guess" confirmed!!! There were at least thirty pictures of GIs all taken by Mister Jules Ferry, the local photographer in Diekirch during the forties. The tiles on the floor, that you can see in the picture, made it possible to identify the location with a 100% certainty.


    As, during these months, the allied suffered from acute logistical problems the amount of ammo allocated to each battery was extremely low. So all the 687th could do was fire a few rounds of observed fire onto the bunkers of the Siegfriedline during the daytime and some more rounds of harassing fire during the nights. The rest of the time was spent with training and lectures in order to keep the men busy.

    One of these was a “Non-Fraternization” lecture, held out by the guns in the battery positions.

    Another task at the hands of the officers was the preparation, as well as the voting operations themselves, of the upcoming presidential elections of the 7th of November.

    On the 19th of November 1944 the 8th and the 28th Infantry Divisions switched their front sectors, so the 687th came under the command of the 28th ID.
     
  3. Natman

    Natman Member

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    Very interesting thread. I'm currently reading "A Time for Trumpets" so this adds great detail to the trials of one of the units involved on the first day of the BOB. The detailed maps are great, they really help to visualize the terrain.

    Thanks for posting this, I'm looking forward to reading more.
     
  4. SKYLINEDRIVE

    SKYLINEDRIVE Member

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    Thank you Steve!

    If you need maps of Luxembourg you can find the contemporary ones online. Much has changed, but the lay of the land is still the same!

    map.geoportail.lu
     
  5. Earthican

    Earthican Member

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    Interesting thread. I was initially surprised to see the battery firing positions on the side of the valley. But it makes sense to avoid counter-battery fire -- no need to make things easy for the enemy. Still I wonder how they positioned the guns on a slope. Have you ever investigated and mapped a battery firing position in the Ardennes?
     
  6. SKYLINEDRIVE

    SKYLINEDRIVE Member

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    I put the positions, on the map according to the three digit coordinates from the unit journal so it is not the best precision, the more so aas the map is a 1:50000 scale. I visisted the positions and I have to say that they look worse on the map then in reality, alltough artillery is not my trade it did not occur as impossible to me! I will post pics of the firing positions as they are today in the next post!
     
  7. JebNY

    JebNY New Member

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    Ran across your very interesting posts while searching for info on the 687th. My Father passed last May and in sorting through papers my Mother found his discharge papers. As many of the Great Generation he said very little about his time in the service. From his discharge paper he served in the 687th as Staff Sergent and Communications Chief. What he did say was he was in charge of setting up communication gear when ever they moved into a new area. He mentioned some battles he was at, usually when it came up in a movie or TV show. My Mother has been going through a large album of pictures he took while serving and was wondering where all he was. I plan to print out your posts for her to read so she will know some of the places he saw.

    Thanks for doing so much research.

    Jim...
     
  8. LRusso216

    LRusso216 Graybeard Staff Member Patron  

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    Hi Jim. Glad you could join us. Would you consider posting copies of the discharge papers? We could be of help translating what you have. Some of the pictures could also give us clues about his journey.
     
  9. JebNY

    JebNY New Member

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    Stil figuring out the place, but I might. Photos are 400+ miles away but I plan to look more closely at them next trip, if I have time I will try to copy a few. I did make a copy of the discharge papers last trip. My Mother wonders how he got the photos printed, if he sent the film home undeveloped or if he some how had access to getting them developed while in Europe. One picture she is fascinated with is labeled Hitlers house.
     
  10. Sheldrake

    Sheldrake Member

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  11. TD-Tommy776

    TD-Tommy776 Man of Constant Sorrow

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    Indeed. An excellent thread, and I love the MAPS!! :D
     
  12. dajabro

    dajabro New Member

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    Very interesting! Researching the units my father's LST ferried across the Channel, July 1944 they had the HQ Company, 687th FA on board.
     
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  13. SKYLINEDRIVE

    SKYLINEDRIVE Member

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    I would be very pleased if you could give me all the details available on that LST!

    Cheers

    tom
     
  14. dajabro

    dajabro New Member

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    Tom,

    It was LST-325. www.lstmemorial.org.
     
  15. RyannataS

    RyannataS New Member

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    I know this thread is dead but I'm bringing it back to life!
    My grandfather, Forest C. Finicum passed away about 20 years ago, but over the years I have collected pictures of his time at war. My grandfather was drafted into the military as a private at 18, and was in the 687 F.A. Battalion battery A. This thread has brought me joy because it's rather hard to find information about his campaign.

    Thanks for the post, and to add to it...
    Here are all the pictures I have of my grandfather during, before, and right after the European campaign.

    FB_IMG_1528381711198.jpg FB_IMG_1528381707053.jpg FB_IMG_1528381715626.jpg FB_IMG_1528381693345.jpg FB_IMG_1528381697056.jpg FB_IMG_1528381685961.jpg FB_IMG_1528381681586.jpg FB_IMG_1528381677494.jpg FB_IMG_1528381673524.jpg
     
    Last edited: Jun 7, 2018
  16. LRusso216

    LRusso216 Graybeard Staff Member Patron  

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  17. TD-Tommy776

    TD-Tommy776 Man of Constant Sorrow

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    Thanks for breathing new life into this thread. Great photos!
     
  18. KimG

    KimG New Member

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    I just want to thank you all for the information, my grandfather was in the 687th and this thread has been the most information I have been able to find so far about his service. I wish he was still alive for me to talk to. I unfortunately was too young when he passed to be interested in such things, and he of course did not like to talk about his experiences. I don't know if anyone still reads these responses, but I joined the forum to thank you all so much.
     
  19. Mithril

    Mithril New Member

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    Very interresting. Tanks for sharing this knowledge.
     
  20. bronk7

    bronk7 Well-Known Member

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    .....if the FDC was in the hotel's dining room, I'm interested to know how far away they would locate from the guns if they set up in the field .....how far away were the guns?..that's a lot of wire/etc to lay to connect with the guns ......unless it was a very small built up area ....did each battery have an FDC or just the Battalion?
     

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