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Reflections by Sammy Way: 178th Field Artillery had long record overseas with Fifth Army

By SAMMY WAY
Sumter Item archivist and historian
Posted 7/18/20

Reflections remembers the achievements of the 178th Field Artillery, a National Guard unit activated during World War II serving in North Africa, Sicily and the Italian peninsula. This company was noted for its skills in battle and commitment to …

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Reflections by Sammy Way: 178th Field Artillery had long record overseas with Fifth Army

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Reflections remembers the achievements of the 178th Field Artillery, a National Guard unit activated during World War II serving in North Africa, Sicily and the Italian peninsula. This company was noted for its skills in battle and commitment to defeating the Axis forces in Italy. It is important that we remember their sacrifice and achievements during their extended stay in the European theater of operation. There is a special display honoring this combat unit at the Sumter County Military Display, and the public is invited to view it.

The author used the Sumter Daily Item archives and photos donated by the families of John Thomas and W. C. Jones in preparing this article. Also used was information obtained from The Historical and Pictorial Review book provided to members of the 178th Field Artillery.

History of the 178th Field Artillery

"The 178th Field Artillery was organized as a regiment on March 31, 1938. The units composing the regiment had been in the National Guard for some years. The organization was dictated by a desire on the part of Army and state officials to have complete regiments within the state boundaries, thus facilitating administration and instruction. Under order of Fourth Corps Area dated March 2, 1938, the Second Battalion, 115th Field Artillery, was redesignated Second Battalion, 178th Field Artillery. The Medical Detachment, 105th Engineers, was redesignated Medical Detachment, 178th Field Artillery. Regimental Headquarters was established at Andrews, South Carolina. The regiment was commanded by Col. Philip F. Wiehrs. Thus the regiment came into being composed of two battalions."

"An article published in the Sumter Daily Item in 1945 reported that 'there is nothing in the snowy, storm-lashed peaks of the Apennines to remind a person of South Carolina except, of course, a lot of soldiers from that state.'"

"They were members of the 178th Field Artillery Battalion, a 155 mm howitzer unit that participated in six campaigns and 630 days of combat. Most soldiers in the organization acquired five gold stripes for 30 months' overseas service. The Germans have grimmer evidence of their stay in the Mediterranean theater.

"The 178th Battalion left tell-tale marks in North Africa, Sicily and a good part of Italy, a trail of destruction by artillery shells put where they did the most good. The enemy's line came in for a pounding by the 178th, and many a smashed pillbox, gun emplacement and fortification in that once-formidable defensive barrier was chargeable to its fires.

"Originally a South Carolina National Guard unit, the 178th landed in Scotland in August 1942. It was in North Africa four months later, and there it saw continuous action at such historic places as Gafsa, El Guettar, Fondouk, Hill 609, Mateur, and finally, Bizerte.

"On July 17, 1943, the 178th landed in Sicily and fought up to Messina. It later supported the British Eighth Army in its crossing of the Messina Straits, thus becoming one of the first American artillery units to have shells explode in Europe proper.

"Prior to landing at Salerno to join the Fifth Army on Sept. 5, 1943, the battalion traded its 1918 model "Long Toms" for the new 155 mm howitzer. Immediately after coming ashore, the unit engaged the enemy near Avellino and started a continuous stretch of combat duty that was to last from September 1944 until late in the winter of 1944 at Cassino.

"It saw a lot of fighting in between. It supported Fifth Army units in attacks against Venafro, the Liri Valley and Cassino. San Elia was a place the artillerymen would long remember. It was while in position there that they were under direct view from German observation posts in the high ground adjacent to Cassino.

"The enemy shelled their firing positions regularly. During one such episode, a truckload of small arms ammunition near the gun position was set ablaze. Capt. Dan E. Riggs of Statesboro, Georgia, S-3 of the battalion, extinguished the fire despite hostile shelling. He received a Silver Star and a Purple Heart for this action.

"The 178th Field Artillery fired incessantly during the assault on the Gustav and Hitler Lines. It was supporting the French Expeditionary Corps, then with Fifth Army, and it continued to support it all the way from the jump-off position on May 11, through Rome, Sienna, Poggibonsi and Certaldo. The French commander later awarded the unit a Croix de Guerre with a special citation.

"During the attacks which shattered the German line, the 178th Field Artillery occupied seven different positions, and all of them were subjected to heavy counter-battery fire. No matter what the enemy did, however, the battalion continued to render the type of support which made it as popular with our troops as it was hated by the enemy.

"Its severest dose of counter-battery came during an action near Belvedere. Hostile shells hit powder pits and a house in which some TNT was stored. On top of the action, 30 infantrymen, moving along a nearby road, were wounded by the shelling.

"While the barrage was at its height, two officers and three enlisted men from the 178th crawled to the road, evacuated the wounded to tents, applied first aid and had the wounded moved to safety in ambulances.

"A report issued in early 1945 noted that the personnel of the battalion received: 25 Silver Stars, 2 Legions of Merit, 26 Bronze Stars, 5 Air Medals with 233 Clusters and 105 Purple Hearts.

"The battalion, commanded by Maj. Hugh F. Knight of Sumter, was originally activated as a regiment on Jan. 27, 1941. Its personnel came chiefly from Spartanburg, Greer, Lyman and Sumter, but replacements gave the organization a more national character."