More Q and A with Col. Biggio
Dear Mr. Grace,
It is always a real pleasure to hear from the son of a member of the 99th Division. You asked several questions about your father's old artillery unit, the924th FA Bn. I think I can answer most of your questions.
1. Is there a history of the 924th FA Bn?
To my knowledge there is no single history of the battalion. Probably the best you can do is to settle for the monthly reports of the battalion's activities in combat from November 1944 to May 1945, at the National Archives. These reports are historical in nature — though quite brief. Unfortunately there was no After Action Report for December 1944 — probably because the battalion was under duress at the end of that month and possibly did not submit one.
2. What was the size of a 105m m howitzer battalion in September 1944? And what were the grades (ranks) of the staff officers?
The Table of Organization and Equipment (TO&E) of Sept. 27, 1944 for a 105 How Bn was 6-25. This TO&E shows a total strength of 509 which included 34 officers, two WOs, and 473 enlisted men (EM). The ranks of the officers on the battalion staff were: battalion commander (a lieutenant colonel), battalion exec, and S-3 were majors. The S-2, three liaison officers, and the assistant S-3 were captains. The assistant S-2 was a first lieutenant — for a total of nine.
3. What was the size of the headquarters battery? Was the liaison officer assigned to the headquarters battery?
The headquarters battery consisted of five officers, 1 WO, and 111 EM. The function was to provide the battalion commander and his staff with support in the areas of fire direction, survey, wire/radio communications (commo), drivers and maintenance, liaison, and administration. As a liaison officer your father would have been assigned to the Bn. Hq. And not to the Hq. Btry. The rational for having three liaison officers was that one would perform the liaison with the supported regimental commander (the 395th), while the other two would perform liaison with the commanders of the two front-line battalions.
4. What was the size and function of the service battery?
The service battery consisted of four officers, one WO, and 69 EM. The service battery commander wore two hats. He was the commander of service battery and he was the battalion S-4 or supply officer. The function of the service battery was to provide the battalion with food, fuels, ammunition, clothing, supplies, and second echelon maintenance. Assigned to service battery was the battalion maintenance officer and the battalion ammunitions officer. There also were ammunition sections in each of the firing batteries. When making a "run" to the ammo dump for ammo resupply, the battalion ammo officer would assemble the firing battery ammo sections and his service battery section and form a "battalion train" which would proceed to the dump under his supervision — and he would arrange for the resupply with the ordnance officer at the dump. (Note: I am very much aware of the experience of the 924th Service Battery in Bullingen on Dec. 17, 1944.)
5. You asked about the five officers assigned to the "105 battery." I assume you refer to the firing battery of a 105 Bn. You asked about the assignment of the five battery officers.
TO&E 6-27, 27 Sep 44 lists the following: Battery commander was a captain, the battery exec officer was a first lieutenant, the forward observer was a first lieutenant, the assistant exec was a first or second lieutenant, the reconnaissance officer was a first or second lieutenant (also acted as OF). There was no fire direction officer in the firing battery because in WWII fire control was exercised at the battalion level. Hence, the fire direction center (FDC) was at the battalion headquarters.
6. You asked about the "battery detail" and the "fifth section" of the firing battery.
The battery detail included the battery surveyors, wiremen, wire/radio/switchboard operators, drivers, and a machine gunner. The fifth section was mostly ammo handlers and ammo truck drivers and one machine gunner.
7. Was there a battalion fire direction officer?
Yes. The S-3, as the battalion operations officer, had overall responsibility for the functioning of the fire detection center. However, it was the assistant S-3 (a captain) who actually ran the FDC operation.
In WWII, fire control was exercised at the battalion level to enhance our ability to mass fires on a given target. All requests for fire from the FOs and air observers were sent directly to the battalion FDC — where the data was processed and fire commands sent directly to the guns (battery execs) usually by a direct wire line. The battery FOs were assigned to a firing battery — but all of their requests for fire were sent directly to the battalion FDC. There was no battery FDC — although a few battery execs sometimes incorrectly referred to their exec post as the battery FDC.
Re: the forward observers — The men assigned to TO&E to the job of forward observer were not the only ones who got to perform that duty. Often the battery recon officers and the assistant execs and a few of the more daring battery commanders took turns acting as FOs. During the early days of the German counteroffensive when many FOs were lost, the 924th even used qualified enlisted men to head up the FO teams. As a matter of act, on Dec. 19, the 99th Division Artillery borrowed an officer with party from the medium battalion (372nd) to send to the 924th for temporary duty as forward observer on Elsenborn Ridge. I know because that officer was me. (Note: I plan to write an article for the Checkerboard shortly on my experiences at that time.)
8. How many forward observers were there?
The TO&E authorized a 105 Bn. only one forward observer per firing battery. However, as pointed out above, they were not the only ones who performed the duty of FO. After the losses incurred in the early stages of the Bulge, the battalions were authorized to give several battlefield commissions. Hence, the shortage of FOs was alleviated.
9. Why were there only two pilots in the battalion when there were three firing batteries?
Each artillery battalion had two cub planes for air observation and a pilot for each plane. These were assigned to the headquarters battery and operated usually under battalion control though not always. During our first month in the line, all planes of the 99th Division Artillery were assembled at an air strip at Bullingen and operated under division artillery control to avoid duplication of missions and to conserve manpower. These pilots had no connection with the firing batteries.
Charles P. Biggio Jr. C/372