For the first ten days of July, the battalion was engaged largely with the routine tasks of preparing for the day they would receive a fire mission. The firing batteries were busy improving their gun positions; Headquarters Battery, especially the wire section, was rapidly realizing that theirs was quite an important role in this mans' war; and some of the tales that the linemen and wire crews brought back from the forward areas gave their comrades a few things to think about.
Frequent were the visits by officers from higher headquarters these days; reconnaissance parties were sent out every day; wire route reconnaissance parties were being kept busy at all hours; and Lt. TAUGES and the Bn Survey Section were receiving their first combat survey missions as well., All this indicated that 'prepare fcr action' orders might not be very far away.
Captain WILSON and Lt. ENBODY, our aerial observers, were making daily reconnaissance flights with our Liaison Pilots, Lts. BRENEMAN and FENNAR, over the enemy lines. Very little enemy activity was being oberved, however. On 3 July one EM was trfd from Hq Btry to Btry C per Adm Memo #29, Hq 997th FA Bn, SD, Rnd two replacements were received from l8th Repl Depot, per par 11, SC #129, Hq 18th Repl Depot, APO 872, US Army, dtd 1 Jun 44, and asgd to Btry C. One EM received on same order as two abcve mentioned was asgd to Btry A.
The Fourth of July brought the sun for the first time in many days and it was the hope of the entire battalion that it might also bring orders to begin fire. What better time to launch a big drive than on the anniversary of American Independence? But no such orders were forthcoming and it was left to the allied artillery in the Cherbourg sector to do our celebrating for us. Next days' issue of the Stars and Stripes gave us a picture of General BRADLEY at the lanyard of an 8" howitzer, and immediately a rumor circulated that the 195th FA Bn, our rival of long standing, was in that area and that it had already experienced its trial by fire. Things had come to a sad pass when the 195th out did the 997th in any respect.
On the 6th of July a new site was selected for the battalion CP and Fire Direction Center and excavations wore begun under the personal supervision of Bn Fire Direction Chief, T/Sgt Melbourne J. Coffey, the Montana Sheepherder. With the aid and assitance of his very able cohort, which included the several battery recorde and computers, Sgt Coffey in two days time completed a job that, to quote him, "would equal any WPA job he had ever handled." The satisfaction gained from a job weli done together with the arrival of his new "Store Teeth" boosted Sgt Coffey's morale to a new high. However, after two days of discomfort, the new teeth were relegated to a position of practical obscurity -- they were last seen reposing in their original container beneath the battalion situation map board.
On 8 July orders were received to draw ammunition (100 rounds per battery) and an ammunition train under the direction of Captain EUGENE M. MILLER, Bn. S-4, was organized and the rounds were in the battery positions in record time.. This looked more like the real thing and the battalion to a man was on its toes. Next day Lt. Cal. BITTNER, Ex Officrer from 190th FA Op, arrived at the CP with firing data and Cols. BACON and CAMPBELL from V Corps Artillery were down to inspect the gun positions.
July 10 was the first day that the battalion sent an observer to the forward CP, and this questionable honor went to 2nd Lt. CHARLES A. GLASSER, JR., the pride of btry B. General HELMICK was in the area on this date and he held a brief conference with the Field Officers and Battery Commanders in the headquarters area. At 0520 hours on the morning of 11 July, after fire for registration and adjustment had been completed, the battalion laid down its first barrage. Their fire was directed at enemy troops and installations in the vicinity of Hill 192 end judging from the fact that advancing infantry occupied the hill shortly thereafter it was quite effective. Our lines had now begun to move closer to the rail and communication center of St. Lo. During the days' firing, Bltry A was credited with knocking out two German 88mm guns while Btrys B and C were credited with one each, all successes being confirmed. Over 800 rounds were expended during firing, including pre-arranged fires, for registratioin and adjustment and the barrage.
Just to illustrate that Dame Fortune or Lady Luck often takes a hand even in the game of war, an interesting incident is related as told by Major ROMIG. On 12 July, the 507th 0rdinance Company were making a calibration test on one of our guns and Major ROMIG had selected at random a certain crossroads for a target. Between 1150 hours and 1300 Hours, 12 rounds were expended and as a result a large fire was started in the vicinity of the target. Later reports indicated that direct hit had been made on either an enemy supply or ammunition dump.
The same day aerial observers reported the location of several enemy gun positions. The battalion was given orders to prepare for action and with 3 rounds Btry A scored a direct hit on an enemy 88 mm. gun position and with an additional 6 rounds knocked out another nearby. Then so as not to show any partiality, B and C batteries were given fire mission and came in for their share of the glory, B battery completing their mission, the destruction of a third 88 mm. gun with 5 rounds and C battery knocking out a fourth with 12 rounds. It was later reported that two enemy ammunition dumps had also been destroyed in the course of the fire on the gun positions. Interdictory fire was laid down that night and continued into the early hours of the following morning and was directed at roads and bridge heads south and east of St. Lo, our next objective.
On 13 July, an enemy OP was reported in a stone tower several kilometers to the south and during the next three days nearly 200 rounds were intermittently directed at same. At the last report the surrounding buildings had been completely demolished and the enemy undoubtedly routed from the installation but the tower was still standing. Fire Direction Center is still trying to figure it out and to save face, successfully directed fire the next day which destroyed an enemy OP in a house near the same tower.
Activity in the battalion had been comparatvely static for several days when on 21 July aerial observers reported the location of six 88 mm. gun positions, that had been throwing counter battery into our sector for several days. At 2110 hours the battalion fired two volleys and when no counter battery resulted, destruction or disabling of the entire battery was indicated. However, it was during this firing that the battalion was to sustain its first casualties. On the first volley, B Btrys No. l gun had a muzzle burst about 10 or 15 yards in front of the gun which resulted in the death of two men and the serious wounding of four others. Cpl. Clarence V. Cook. Ammunition Corporal in the 4th section and Pfc Roy E. Doolin, cannoneer in the 3rd section, gave their lives in the service of their country and Pfcs Ozell F Clark and Willie S. Tolson and Pvts Matthew D. Caposic and Daniel Hrabovecky were hospitalized as the result of wounds received. The wounded men were well on their way to recovery at the last report and the Medical Detachment under the able command of Captain LOUIS A. BREFFEILH was highly commended for its very efficient handling of the situation prior to the evacuation of the wounded to a nearrby hospital. The following day, 22 July, the four wounded men from Btry B were dropped from asgmt.to the battalion, per Section II, Circular #69, Hq ETOUSA, dtd 13 June 1944.
The week-end of 22-23 July was comparatively quiet in our area, only routine duties being performed. However, on Sunday the 23rd, Col. BITTNER came down from V Corps Artillery and all officers in the battalion were given an examination on Conduct of Fire; and the same day Generals GEROW, from V Corps and HELMICK, from V Corps Artillery, were in the area land expressed their pleasure at the fine camouflage discipline throughout the battalion. On 23 July also, four men were trfd to 190th FA Gp. Three of them, two from C Btry and one from A btry, were already on DS with that orgn and the fourth was trfd from Sv Btry. Meanwhile, our spiritual needs were being taken care of by Chaplains MC SWEEN (Catholic) and MC CRORY (Protestant) arid a week didn't pass that all units were not afforded at least one opportunity to attend religious services. These brief gatherings were looked forward to and greatly appreciated by the entire battalion; not only because of the fact that the chaplain had a radio on his jeep with which he usually prefaced each service, but because of the downright satisfaction and spiritual strength each man individually gained from the brief but to the point messages these soldiers of God were bringing. Theirs was indeed a man size job and it would be impossible to over emphasize the praiseworthy manner in which they were getting it done.
On the morning of 24 July our outfit, as well as many another, witnessed a large scale bombing mission on its way to raid Germany. While the actual bombing took place far in advance of our positions, we watched groups of bombers and escort fighters go over our area for nearly two hours. It was later reported that 3000 planes took part in the raid. This aerial blitzkreig was the initial step in the big allied push that began advancing in all sectors.
About 1000 hours this date a rumor that had been circulating for days was finally confirmed and Lt. TAUI'GES, our Special Services Officer, succedded in producing an American Red Cross Clubmobile, complete with doughnuts, coffee, portable phonograph and last but not least three belles from the deep South. Doughnuts and coffee were enjoyed by all the batteries and in some instances the girls were let in for a little plain and fancy dancing with the boys.
The next day word was received from V Corps Artillery that an enemy headquarters had been identified in an old French chateau some distance to the south of us, and fire missions were sent down to the batteries. After completion of battalion one volley the objective was reported demolished. Additional fire was directed upon reported enemy gun positions. The guns were silenced whether destroyed or forced to evacuate was not reported, but mission had been accomplished.
For the next few days there was very little activity in the battalion. The lines were moving forward and we were not being used to any great extent. A forward OP had been established on Hill 192 and the junior officers were getting plenty of experience as forward observers. On 26 July Pvt. Jose J. Miller Btry B, was awarded the Purple Heart for wounds received as a result of the muzz.le burst in his organization on 21 July, per par 1, GO #6, Hq 997th PA En, dtd 26 July 1944. One man was trfd from C Btry to190th FA gp and five men were asgd to Btry A from 18th Replacemet Depot on this date. Captain JOHN W. DICKEY, JR was asgd to the battalion from V Corps Artillery per par 6 SO #116, Hq V Corps.
July 27th the battalion received a report on the interrogation of a German prisoner and several interesting facts were learned. It was found that many of the enemy units were composite groups of German and troops from several of the German occupied countries. It was also learned that our artillery fire was keeping the enemy communication units plenty busy and that their radio communications had been reduced to a bare minimum because of our excellent interception. The interrogation also brought to light the fact that Italian guns drawn by Italian tractors were being used against us and that in many instances inability to efficiently operate these pieces practically neutralized their effectiveness.
About 2300 hours on the 28th of July, the battalion was subjected to a bombing raid from the enemy. The raid was short in duration and was executed by Dornier bombers dropping anti-personnel bombs. Battery C was the hardest hit organization in the battalion. Nine enlisted men were either injured or wounded. Pvt August P. Mancuso, seriously wounded, S/Sgt Ira H. Lear, Tec 5, Charlie W. King, Tec 5, Irvin S. Turner, Pfc Ellsworth F. Warmouth, and Pvt Wilbur D. Tipton, all slightly wounded, were evacuated to the 5th Evacuation Hospital. Tec 4 Isaac Bull, Tec 5 James D. Hendricks and Pfc Frank E. Mc Intyre were also slightly wounded but not evacuated. One of the enemy planes was shot down and crashed near the A Btry area, On 29 July, the six men evacuated to the hospital were dropped from asgmt to the battalion.
By this time the allied lines had advanced so far that our guns were practically
out of range and on 30 July orders were received to move the battalion
forward. The entire battalion, less the Service Battery and Personnel Section,
advanced about seven miles to the vicinity of the village of Perron. The
firing batterues were in position to fire by the early hours of the 31
July but no firing was done.