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522nd Field Artillery Battalion

M101, 105mm (4.2 inch) light field Howitzer.

The 522nd Field Artillery Battalion had a reputation as one of the most accomplished artillery units in the European Theater of Operations, known for its speed and efficiency.1 The 522nd supported the 100th Infantry Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team infantry by providing artillery fire from its M101, 105mm (4.2 inch) light field Howitzers.

About 650 men served in the 522nd, which consisted of the Headquarters Company, three firing batteries (A, B, and C), Service Company, and a medical detachment.2 HQ Battery was in charge of the administration of the battalion, fire control, communication, and the medical team. The Service Battery maintained the motor pool, the mess hall, and supplies and equipment, including ammunition. The gun batteries each had four Howitzers pulled by a 6x6 truck.3 All worked together as a team.

The 522nd was activated on February 1, 1943, at Camp Shelby, Mississippi. At that time the unit consisted of nine Caucasian officers and 96 enlisted men of Japanese descent.

From February through April 18, they engaged in an intense training course. Then the 522nd had basic training alongside the 442nd from May to November 1943.4 Orville C. Shirey, the 442nd unit historian, notes that "the redlegs [a nickname for artillerymen] spent long, weary hours with their 105mm howitzers going into action and out of action till they were blue in the face; learning to serve the piece; learning the fundamentals of fuze and trajectory, observation and range."5 In late November, after a successful platoon and company training, the unit then headed to Louisiana to practice war maneuvers. It rejoined the 442nd on February 7, 1944.

Each forward observer team had an officer who made decisions on the targets, a radio operator or wireman who communicated information to headquarters, and an instrument man who calculated the target coordinates. The Headquarters Battery coordinated the artillery attack. The battalion's survey team provided accurate gun-position information, and the fire detection team determined how the guns were to be fired. Each battery's instrument section oriented the horizontal and vertical controls on the guns. There was also an air observation group working two Piper Cub airplanes, determining the positions of the enemy and their artillery from above.

The seven members of each gun crew worked in unison, each performing a specific job with careful accuracy. They positioned the gun with the proper horizontal and vertical settings, packaged the powder charge, cut the fuse setting, put together the shells and casing, loaded the shells into the gun, and fired the gun. Everything had to be done with speed and precision.

At first, if the target was large, usually only one gun was fired to register the target. Forward observers would then determine the accuracy of the shot. The fire detection center then made any needed mathematical adjustments. If the gun was on target, then headquarters called, "Fire for effect!" Then all four guns would fire until ordered to stop by headquarters.6

In fact, in July 1944, during the taking of Hill 140 near Castellina in the Rome-Arno campaign, the unit earned the moniker of "air burst experts" because of their rapid time-fire, the precisely timed explosion of a shell so that it would burst above the enemy, sending shrapnel over a wide area.7 At Cecina, the 522nd with other artillery units of the 34th Division took part in a Time on Target, or TOT, where guns of all sizes and ranges would be fired in such a way that they would hit the target simultaneously.

Fighting in the artillery unit was less dangerous than the infantry. However, many men had close calls. In October 1944, during the rescue of the "Lost Battalion" in France's Vosges Mountains, eight forward observers from C Battery fought alongside the 442nd's I and K Companies. Along with the infantrymen, the C Battery men were pinned down by machine gun fire. They ran up the ridge in the "banzai" charge. They saw men fall, wounded or dead, one after another, until only 17 riflemen from K Company and eight riflemen from I Company remained.8 They finally reached the besieged "Lost Battalion." Incredibly, all eight artillerymen survived unscathed.

On the fourth day that the 442nd was battling to reach the "Lost Battalion," the 522nd had another close call. The 36th (Texas) Division Commander, Major General John Dahlquist, ordered an immediate artillery strike on a particular set of coordinates. But these coordinates would have targeted the members of the "Lost Battalion." The fire detection team and a forward observer from the 522nd quickly made adjustments to the coordinates, saving them from harm.

Many of the 522nd's key men had backgrounds in science and engineering.9 The men needed strong mathematical skills to make the necessary calculations for firing the guns and hitting their targets. They used tools like protractors, straight edges and special slide rules to determine target distance, site angles, and time-fire fuse settings.10

In March 1945, the 522nd separated from the 442nd and was sent out as a roving battalion to help other units. The 442nd and the 34th Division as a whole had come to depend on the 522nd for its accurate shooting and its brave and skillful forward observers, and their separation was deeply felt on both sides.

The 522nd crossed the Rhine River with the 45th Division. Then, it provided the 44th Division with supporting fire in its attack on Mannheim.11 It joined the 63rd for the Neckar River crossing and capture of Heidelberg. On April 1, it joined the 4th Division in its drive on Aub. On April 26, it crossed the Danube River with the 12th Infantry.

As April ended and as the unit made its way through the German countryside with the 4th Division, the 522nd met with what was likely the men's most harrowing experience: Jewish survivors of the Dachau concentration camps. On April 29, they came across one of the many subcamps of Dachau, most likely Kaufering IV.12 In early May, they helped to liberate survivors of a death march near Waakirchen.

A few days later, although greatly disturbed by what the men had witnessed in the countryside, the 522nd joined the 101st Airborne Division near the "Eagle's Nest," Hitler's rest and recreation hideout at Berchtesgaden.13 Soon after, Germany surrendered, and the war in Europe was over.

The 522nd was an integral component of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Yet the unit itself also stood alone for its remarkable accomplishments. The 522nd successfully completed every one of its 52 assignments, supporting more than seven different army divisions and units.14 The men traveled 1,100 miles in pursuit of the retreating Germans, from the Saar and Rhine Rivers to the Austrian border.15

For more information on the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion, see:

Members of the 522nd working in the fire direction center. Castellina Sector, Italy. July 12, 1944. Courtesy of the United States Army Signal Corps.
Members of the 522nd in action in the Bruyères sector of France. October 18, 1944. Courtesy of the United States Army Signal Corps.

Footnotes

1For a complete unit history, see 522nd Field Artillery Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team, Fire for Effect (Honolulu, HI: Fisher Printing Co., 1998).

2Ibid, p. 61.

3Ibid, p. 81.

4Ibid, p. 13.

5Orville C. Shirey, Americans: The Story of the 442nd Combat Team (Washington, DC: Infantry Journal Press, 1946), pp. 20-21.

6Dorothy Matsuo, Boyhood to War: History and Anecdotes of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team (Honolulu, HI: Mutual Publishing, 1992), p. 203.

7522nd Field Artillery Battalion, p. 35.

8See James M. McCaffrey, Going for Broke: Japanese American Soldiers in the War Against Nazi Germany (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2013), p. 274, and Lyn Crost, Honor by Fire: Japanese Americans at War in Europe and the Pacific (Novato, CA: Presidio, 1994), p. 197.

9Matsuo, p. 202.

10522nd Field Artillery Battalion, p. 119.

11Jimmy Sakamoto, Company History, AntiTank Company, 442nd Regimental Combat Team (1945), p. 8.

12Credit for the liberation of Kaufering IV has been disputed. See, for example, "The 101st Airborne Division," Holocaust Encyclopedia, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, retrieved from http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10006152 on December 3, 2014; and Pierre Moulin, Dachau, Holocaust, and US Samurais: Nisei Soldiers First in Dachau? (Author House: 2007), p. 125. Many of the 522nd soldiers were shocked and traumatized by what they witnessed and did not record specific names, dates, places or other such details, but instead referred to the "Dachau camps" in general, casting some doubt as to exactly what they had encountered and where. The 522nd was in range of at least six subcamps on April 29 and 14 others on April 30. For a list of the subcamps that the 522nd was near on April 29-30, see the unit's history, 522nd Field Artillery Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team, Fire for Effect (Honolulu, HI: Fisher Printing Co., 1998), p. 75.

13Thelma Chang, I Can Never Forget: Men of the 100th/442nd (Honolulu, HI: Sigi Productions, 1991), p. 176; 442nd Veterans Club, Go for Broke, 1943-1993, (Unknown, Honolulu, HI), p. 2.

14Lyn Crost, Honor by Fire: Japanese Americans at War in Europe and the Pacific (Novato, CA: Presidio, 1994), p. 239.

15Matsuo, p. 131.


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