Crack negro artillery outfit praised for work in France
July 13, 1944
Editor's note: This article appears as it did in the July, 13 1944 London edition of the Stars and Stripes. We have left the text exactly as it appeared there in order to preserve Morrison's perspective on the war as it was seen through his eyes.
A U.S. ARTILLERY CP, France — Showing utter contempt for "master race" divisions facing them, U.S. Negro artillerymen, firing 155mm. howitzers, are blasting German installations and troop concentrations, pounding to pieces the Nazi theory of "inferior" and "superior" races.
First Negro combat artillery team to fight in this sector, this outfit is the howitzer member of a 4-unit artillery group that includes a battalion of 105s and two of 155 Long Toms.
They make music horrible to enemy ears, but to U.S. doughboys of the infantry division being directly supported by their fire it's the sweetest song this side of a taxi dance hall in Harlem.
A few short weeks ago these were the kids who enlivened English villages when they "swung" cadence drill on training hikes to the tune of "Whatcha Know Joe?" Now, when these cannoneers join in a group "serenade," the rhythm is not as regular, but Yanks in observation posts on the line report that the Jerries are dancing to it. Results: Shattered tanks, wrecked 88s, smashed fortifications, dead Nazis.
"It's a hell of a different tune," observed T/5 Joe Hodge, a survey section man from Detroit, "and we know those Germans up there don't like it a bit."
The battalion's uniqueness far transcends the fact that it's a Negro combat unit. Its firing record, accuracy and output are acclaimed from corps artillery headquarters to the foxhole-pitted ridges of Hill 122 where muddy, tired infantrymen fight.
Fabulous AmountA fabulous amount of intricate mathematics — plotting and computing — precedes the sending of fire directions to the individual batteries. It's a chain that runs from the forward OPs, consisting of an officer and a couple of EMs usually dug in with the infantry up on the lines, to divisional artillery CP, and down to the battalion CP, where the computers work. This CP is the hub of everything the battalion does. Teams of computers and horizontal and vertical control operators alternate every six hours under the gunnery officer and his assistant.
These men are considered the "brains trust" of the outfit, though they credit the other two departments, communications and gun sections, with more vital jobs.
When this reporter entered the CP dugout a fire mission was being prepared. The assistant gunnery officer, interpreting a telephoned request for help from the medium howitzers, called out the instructions: "Normal barrage. Shell: HE. Charge: 5. Fuze: quick. Continuous fire on call."
Armed with this data, Computers S/Sgt. Lawrence E. Innis, of New York; Pvt. Van Q. White, of East Orange, N.J.; Pvt. Otis B. Walker of Passaic, N.J., and T/5 Charles A. Petersen of Plainfield, N.J., went to work with their graphical firing tables (slide rules to non-artillery folk) and quickly made their calculations.
Speak Their PieceA little later the guns spoke their thunderous language, and the Germanans miles away caught its meaning. The end of the mission came when the No. 1 man of the ten-man gun crew pulled the lanyard and the battery computer at battalion called out: “Charlie on the way!”
So it all comes down to where 12 Joes in the unit, known as No. 1 men, pull down and out their lanyards, sending the projectiles screaming through space. Very important Joes, these No. 1 men. By yanking on their cords, primers set off the powder charges which force the shells on the long trip to the target. They receive the biggest part of the concussion.
To No. 1 man Pfc Arthur Broadnax, of Autaugaville, Ala., went the honor of pulling the lanyard for the first round fired by Negro artillery against the Nazis.
Usually He's PfcNo. 1 men seldom go beyond pfc, but look upon their jobs with immense pride. One No. 1 in Bakery battery, Pfc Robert Lee, from Montgomery, Ala., refused a chance to become a gunner and go up in rank.
"I want to pull that lanyard and watch the shells go off," was his explanation.
Other lanyard-pullers in the outfit: Pvt. Horace Jacob, Kaplin. La.; Pvt. T. J. Deramus, Montgomery, Ala.; Pvt. Grady Clay. Tatum. Tex.; Pvt. Eddie J. Lynn, Edwards. Miss.:; Pfc. Tom Thomas, Stamford, Conn.; Pfc. Willie Cannon, Columbus, Ga.; Pfc Adam Tinnell, Waxahachie. Tex.; Pfc. John Trim. Bateford. Miss.; Pfc. Jim Leatherwood, Tupelo. Miss., and Pfc. John Battle, Wadley. Ala. Lt. Col. Harmon S. Kelsey, the unit's commander, knows artillery, having been an artillery officer since 1918. Of his Negro cannoneers he says proudly: "I'll put them up against any artillery outfit over here."