Pencil sketch by unknown artist, Paris, Sept 1945
Major Tom was my dad, a career Research Chemist for E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company, except for an extended vacation he took in the '40s to be a cannon-cocker in WWII with the 967th Field Artillery Battalion. He retired from the reserves as a Lt. Colonel. At DuPont he was part of the team that developed Cellophane (registered trademark of DuPont). Prior to the war, he was a Guardsman in the 111th Field Artillery, and his mentor in that outfit became one of the heros of D-Day. (570 kB PDF)
Based on accounts in their unit history, the 967th was equipped with a dozen 155 mm howitzers. The battalion's firepower was comparable to one of the Navy's light cruisers, but it was considerably harder to sink, and more easily transported on dry land. His unit in WWII landed at Normandy a few weeks after D-Day, and blasted their way across France and in to Germany with the Allies, participating in the battles of St. Lo, Aachen, and the Hürtgen forest, among others, frequently in support of the 29th Infantry Division.
December 1944 found them already in Germany, between Aachen and Duren, when The Battle of the Bulge broke out. That put them on the north fringe of the Bulge itself, but in a good position to blast away when the German offensive failed and the Allied counteroffensive started. On December 28, 1944, they made their first use of specially fused rounds they called "Firecrackers", introduced just a few days earlier. These were radar proximity fused shells (called POZIT) intended for an air burst above troop concentrations. This amazingly advanced weapon came as an especially nasty surprise to the Germans. One of my father's roles was timing the fire of their three batteries of four 155mm cannon so that all the shells hit virtually simultaneously, with no warning. Coupled with the POZIT fuses the result was devastating.
After the Allies regained momentum in early 1945, the unit advanced thru Germany, supporting the crossings of the Roer, Rhine (Operation Plunder), and Elbe rivers, finally meeting up with the Russians on 30 April, 1945. The Rhine crossing was a massive undertaking, requiring deception and coordinated bridge-building, amphibious crossings, and paratroop drops over a stretch of this large navigable river spanning the towns of Rees, Wesel, and Walsum. The American part of the amphibious effort was given to XVI Corp, to which the 30th Infantry Division and the 967th Field Artillery had been assigned only days before. It appears likely the 967th supported the 30th somewhere south of Wesel, probably near Walsum. The crossings in this area were lightly opposed as a result of heavy artillery and aerial bombardment "preparation", which battered and demoralized the defenders. The 967th expended 3162 rounds, a battalion record, on 24 March 1945.
The Unit History gives the following terse entries associated with Operation Plunder.
16 March 45 - Bn received the March Order to go to the new positions N of us. The Bn March Order was prepared and the Bn began getting itself ready to move. The movement is a Top Secret affair ....
17 March 45 - Bn closed positions - leaving dummy positions in their areas - and the Bn began to move to positions (CP-20732774) at 1800 and closed at 2220. The positions occupied are to support the XVI Corps crossing of the RHINE. We are looking forward to the largest preparation we have ever fired. We are not allowed to fire until the preparation begins - except for a registration - time to be announced later ....
22 March 45 - Bn CP area still receives an occasional enemy shell in its vicinity - otherwise nothing unusual to report. Still operation under a silence program as far as firing is concerned. All civilians have been removed from the vicinity. Four large bombs, buried and prepared for demolition, were removed from the bridge near the CP.
23 March 45 - Bn checked its massing by firing each Btry at a selected observed point. The fire plan was received today - and preparations were begun for the forth-coming operation. Bn expended 12 rounds of ammunition for the 24 hour period.
24 March 45 - The Bn began firing the preparation at 0100 and by 2200 had broken all it's previous records by expending 3162 rounds. Bn fired 61 Prep. missions, 3 CB, 24 support, 10 harassing, and 2 ass. area missions.
25 March 45 - Firing slacked off almost completely. Bn fired 2 harassing and 2 CB missions and expended 172 rounds of ammunition in the 24 hour period.
26 March 45 - Bn now completely out of range ....
30 March 45 - The first vehicle crossed the RHINE at 0155 and by 0250 the Bn closed in its assembly area - which was just across the river. The Bn CO and BC left for recon for a new assembly area.
(Ref: The encyclopedia of codenames of World War II By Christopher Chant, online at Google Books)
After hostilities ended, they supported the occupation of Germany for some months before coming home.
A history of the 967th Field Artillery Battalion by Dan Gise.
US Artillery Writeup
Dad was a shutter bug. As one of the top officers in the battalion, he was able to tote about a darkroom, and came home with quite a collection of black and white prints. We donated most of his wartime pictures, plus some souvenirs, to the Virginia Holocaust Museum, but retained the ones below to illustrate their main equipment.