Lt. Col. John F. Bonner
461st AAA Battalion
The 461st Anti-Aircraft Artillery Automatic Weapons Battalion had a brilliant
battle record. Landing on Omaha Beach, France, on D-Day plus 7 – June 13, 1944
– it moved all the way to the Elbe River by April 25, 1945, distinguishing
itself in many historic battles. Only that period when the battalion was
attached to and supporting the Fighting 69th Infantry Division is chronicled
On 11 March, 1945, at Blankenheim, Germany, the 461st was attached to and
spent the rest of the war with the 69th Infantry Division, and was assigned the
mission of protecting the Divisional Field Artillery Battalions.
From the time we left Paris until the end of the war, all batteries furnished
up to 40 percent of their vehicles to form a provisional trucking detail, as
needed, to carry infantrymen to the front, to carry them as tank support during
armored action and with infantrymen on the tail of the retreating Krauts. Much
action, narrow escapes, some injuries, and a number of Silver and Bronze Stars
for heroic achievement were received.
Now came the breakout across the Rhine and into Central Germany, our forces
were covering ground like a turpentined cat. Very seldom a battery was to remain
in the same area for more than a few days, and more often than not, only for a
day or two at most. Generally, movements were from five to 50 miles at a time.
Each move also meant new gun pits, complete with camouflage, in addition to
Battery A was now relieved of the defense of Eupen, Belgium and attached to
the 879th Field Artillery Battalion. They were to remain with the 879th until
contact with the Russian Army.
Battery B was relieved of attachment to the 186th and the 955th Field
Artillery and attached to the 880th Field Artillery Battalion.
At Schmidtheim, Battery C was attached to the 881st Field Artillery Battalion
on the 11th of April until May 9th at Bolen, where they were relieved and took
over security patrol in the area of Schkeuditz to Torgau, Germany.
Battery D at Schmidtheim was attached to the 724th Field Artillery Battalion
until the meeting with the Russians at Torgau.
Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, during their period with the 69th
Infantry Division, were busier than a cat on a hot tin roof, with all units
moving forward to within one to four days, including themselves.
Although the 69th Infantry Division was new in the European Theater of
Operations, and though admittedly, the war was winding down, the term really
never fits the fighting men, for much stiff fighting was still to come in the
final weeks, and though in battles not as large, yet just as intense, men would
die horribly. All for a nation gone completely insane.
The 69th had all units blooded in short order, and soon proved to be a
top-notch Division. We were happy to be with them.
Now that we were on German ground, there was no more sleeping on the ground
in the rain. We moved civilians out and took over their houses and/or
apartments, whenever available. I remember how easy it was to do, no more than
turning animals out of a barn. Facing primarily the Nazi SS from the beaches to
the Rhine, we had lost any respect or feelings for anything German. In ways we
were becoming as bad as the damned enemy.
Nearly all German homes had at least a small library, and almost without
exception, I found atrocity pictures taken in their concentration and death
camps, which of course, no one would ever admit a knowledge of.
Some of our guns and halftracks were sit up in the Remagen Bridge defense.
This was our first defense against the new jet and rocket ships of the Nazis.
There was no way our tracking mechanism could keep up with them, so each gun was
given an azimuth and elevation setting and the guns were locked on and hosed
lead into the sky. It was hoped that the enemy would just run into it, and some
of them did.
Fortunately for us, Hitler was not a General, nor a corporal either. Sometime
before this he had nixed putting these aircraft into production, so all they had
to use were the prototypes. Had they gone into production early enough, we would
have lost our air force along with its air superiority and possibly even the
war. In any event, it would have lasted much longer than it did.
It was at this time that all Batteries were spearheading and would often find
themselves on the wrong side of the "light line." We were often among
the first troops or were the first troops into many villages. This was also the
period when I began using German military maps scrounged from the offices of the
local Burgermeister. They were the most wonderful maps I had ever seen, and I
knew immediately why "Jerry" was able to drop an 88 into a rain barrel
anywhere on the continent. They were just fantastic.
This was certainly not the end of action for us. Battery "A" had
Kraut ack-ack guns pour direct fire into their area at Vallenday not far across
the Rhine. At Fritzlar, they were strafed and dive-bombed while on convoy, and
all their guns went into action in less than 15 seconds. Prisoners were captured
by the hundreds, and around Kassel, every gun claimed definite hits when some Me
190s came over. By the 21st of April, "A" was clear up into the town
of Pehritech. Along with the 879th Artillery, they were going at a mighty fast
"B" Battery crossed the Rhine with the 880th Field Artillery and
were taking prisoners nearly every day.
One kept wondering where Jerry was basing his planes, as they were over so
often and kept the men in Baker Battery busy cleaning their guns.
Charlie Battery with the 881st Field Artillery cut across the Rhine going
like a streak. We passed through Kassel, one of the most bombed and burned
cities we had yet seen. After witnessing the destruction from northern England
to this point, we could not help but smile grimly while thinking, finally these
bastards are getting what they deserve.
The 9th of April was a very pleasant day. Pausing in the city of Hedemunden,
we came across a German warehouse stacked to the ceilings with fresh oranges and
foil-wrapped, small, choice cheeses looted from Norway and Denmark. We couldn't
give them back to the original owners, so we liberated them to give our
"K" rations a rest. They were a welcome relief and kept us going for
several days. We were easy to follow by the trail we left behind.
Dog Battery and the 724th hit the road on the east side of the Rhine and were
moving as though they had the itch. Movement was so fast that even the change in
season was missed and very often with the front fluid, our men were the first
ones into many of the towns. At least it made for good shopping at the local
Burgomaster’s office. The stuff had not been picked over yet.
After a series of sharp, nasty fights, the 69th Infantry regiments were
knocking at the doors of Leipzig, one of Germany's largest and a very important
city. We were elated, as the fall of this city would signal the end was near for
the Nazi resistance.
Approaching from the southeast, we liberated a brewery in Lieberwolkwitz with
what seemed miles of tunnels beneath, just stacked with every brand of choice
liquor, again all stolen from the occupied countries. Again, we couldn't give it
back, so we picked out what was wanted and loaded a couple of trucks along with
a pair of jeeps. Thereafter each crew off duty was issued a couple of bottles of
their choice to relax with. We had no problems with over-imbibing nor with
hung-over gunners. I thought it worked out real well.
Now we were hearing Russian voices over our command net and knew the end was
near for us.
Next stop was Polenz for an overnight and on to Altenhain, where we
appropriated a wheeled German electric generator, and from then on we had the
luxury of electric lights. The same evening we arrived, so did 4,000 Allied
prisoners of war turned loose by the Germans, among them, our Major Jacobs. We
had a gala celebration.
By now the 69th had come together with the Russian 58th Guards Division on
the Elbe River at Torgau, Germany. The date was 25 April 1945. Germany was
now cut in two, 75 miles south of Berlin. On the 26th of April, the battalion
had the road linking the two forces under guard.
Our battalion was quartered in and around the town of Schkeuditz near
Leipzig. Charlie Battery's men were quartered in a large apartment building and
our C.P. was in the center of town in a lumberman's house looking over an
intersection of some five streets. We tossed him out but kept his housekeeper
MAY 8, 1945, AT 2400 HOURS, WE RECEIVED THE "CEASE FIRE ORDER."
The Shield of the 461st AAA Bn.
The 461st AAA AW Bn in the rush of training and combat has never taken
the time to develop a Battalion shield (as stated in its official history; and
what follows is the story of the development of their shield which is unlike the
one on our Units link which was taken from "History of
the Fighting 69th Infantry Division," the origin of which is
With the cessations of hostilities , several members of the outfit started
fooling around with heraldry and
developed the shield you see on the front cover (referring to the printed
history.) The originators of the
shield remain anonymous and do not
claim that the shield is exactly correct as far as heraldry is concerned but
they do claim it is at least modern and that it catches some of the background
of our Battalion. At least it makes
for a colorful and different cover.
The shield is made up of three principal figures or insignia; our combat
marking; our branch insignia; and that old historical Coast Artillery bird, the
The combat marking is familiar to all of us.
Developed in September, when we first hit Germany, it always gave you a
good feeling to run into it during those uncertain hours of combat, especially
when you saw it along a lonely road on a directional sign or on the bumper of a
long overdue “deuce and a half”.* In
the traditional red and yellow colors of the Coast Artillery this geometrical
design combines the V of the famous Fifth (Victory) Corps with whom we went
through most of the campaign and an A on each side of the V representing the
The crossed cannons of our branch of the Coast Artillery Corps, is
reproduced in the center of the shield and needs no explanation.
As the Battalion is but three years old, the designers of the shield
believed that age and tradition
should be incorporated in the design to give it maturity and so that venerable
old bird, the Oozlefinch, was included. The
Oozlefinch has long been the favorite and mascot of the Coast Artillery Corps
and much has been written about this rare bird by old Seacoast Artillerymen.
With the advent of AA, the winsome, friendly and helpful old fellow as
soon adopted by Anti-Aircraftmen and this legend was enriched by many tales of
his efforts in our behalf. Old
Oozlefinch is a wise and crafty creature who, as one of the commonest stories
about him goes, flies backwards for several reasons.
Reason one is to keep the dust out of his eyes and reason two is the he
doesn’t give a damn where he’s going, he just wants to see where he’s
been. Oozlefinch has been reported
to have added a third reason during the past campaign.
Oozlefinch says: “It makes a very tender spot invulnerable on the
receding leg. Besides when some AA
gunner gets playful or mistakes me for an ME 210,***I can watch the shells come up
and dodge them or knock them away with my feet.
Several changes have been reported in the Oozlefinch’s appearance since
he joined up with the AA in this war. Old
Seacoast men used to say he developed his big feet from standing watch in
concrete gun emplacements hour after hour.
During the past campaign, however, his foot size has changed from 14EE to
16GG, from jumping up and down on top of damaged ME109’s**** trying to change them
from a Cat II to a Cat I.***** Other
changes noted are that his none too generous wings have grown about and inch
longer and his eyes are moving toward the top of his so-called head as a result
of prolonged cruising around and looking for the Luftwaffe for our AAAIS men.
Even though he has been more airborne of late, no improvement has been
noted in the old bird’s ignominious tail because he insists on steering with
From the above it is evident that the Oozlefinch is a very interesting
and helpful old guy and thus deserves to be on our shield….
Excerpted from articles written by Pete Bovis, Colonel, U.S.A., retired, and
Francis H. Brette.
* "deuce and a half" (2 1/2 ton truck)
ME 210 (German airplane)
ME 109's (German airplanes)
Cat II to Cat I (Category II to Category I)