696th Field Artillery Battalion August 1944
696th Field Artillery Battalion August 1944
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I have a copy of "Cockney: The Story of the 696th Armored Field Artillery Battalion in WWII" the post war history of the 696th AFAB. It is very detailed. Perhaps I can answer the question you have about August 1944. Was a relative of yours in the unit? The history also includes rosters for 1943 and 1945 which I can check for your relative. Best Regards TimeOnTarget
Thanks for the reply. I am doing this for my wife whose relative Corporal William K Heeler was in the 696th. He is listed as being killed on 9 August 1944 near Pont-Scorff in Brittany. We have some of his records from a number of sources but there are still some unanswered questions. We live in England and our US family was only recently discovered. A long story, but we visited Pont-Scorff at their invitation this August and I must say that we were very warmly greeted and looked after. I have looked for a copy of the Cockney but it would appear that none are available on the open market, and currently visiting a library in the US to view one is not possible. I am wondering if there is any direct reference to William in the book and specifically any detail on the casualties from the 696th as part of Combat Command B from 7 to 9 August 1944 in the Pont-Scorff area. If there was a source to buy a copy of the book that would be even better!!!! As an aside, in the last year we have found that another member of the Heeler family was killed in Normandy, this time from the British side of the family, and he was a cousin of William Heeler.
I am very grateful for your response and offer to answer the question. Your ToT name suggests you might have been in the military. I spent 30 years in the RAF and find helping research these subjects rather absorbing. Kind Regards Richard
Here is the relevant quotation from “Cockney.” As is always the case with narrow quotations much of the context is lost. Hopefully it is enough to answer your question.
if there is a way to connect privately, I will happily send you a pdf copy of Cockney for your personal use without charge. (If the moderators find this offer unacceptable, please let me know and I will delete it.)
At 2000 on 9 August the [battalion’s] forward echelon moved from south of Pont-Scorff to a position two kilometers north of Pont-Scorff. The rear echelon moved to the vicinity of Le Maustair. This forced march of 228 miles was accomplished in 30 hours. One man was killed (Cpl. William K. Heeler of “B” Battery) and one was severely wounded while the units were displacing. Another ten men were less severely wounded during this action. (McCormick, Cockney p. 58.)
Note: At this time the 696th was attached to CCB, 4th Armored Division which was part of Third Army. Given the number of casualties and the fact that both units had previously been suffering casualties from well-directed enemy artillery fire we can assume they were caused by German artillery. Armored Force doctrine called for elements of the armored field artillery (usually a battery) to move far forward with Point Force which consisted of the tanks, infantry, tank destroyers, etc. so they could quickly engage enemy forces by direct or indirect fire. The battalion’s three firing batteries generally took turns being “up on point.” Regardless of position in the column, firing batteries were at times subjected to enemy small arms fire and counter-battery fire.
Memorial stone dedicated to the men killed and wounded of the 695th and 696th AFA Bns. is on the ground in front of the M7. https://www.flickr.com/photos/sheenachi/173471858/
Unfortunately, I have not been able to locate an image of the memorial that legibly shows the men’s names. I plan to ask the New Jersey National Guard Museum for a better image. If they come through with it, I’ll let you know. In case you want to contact them directly, here is the link to the website. https://njmilitiamuseum.org/ Staff/ Sgt. Walker is the Museum Curator. I've found him to be very helpful.
In answer to your question, I have not served in the military. My area of interest is the US Army in WWII. I have a special interest in the US Field Artillery which explains my username. Currently I am writing an article about the 696th AFAB for submission to On Point: The Journal of Army History. On Point is a publication of the Army Historical Foundation which is closely associated with the National Museum of the US Army.
Please accept my respect for your service in the RAF. I have a special regard those men and women of Britain, the UK, and the Commonwealth who served in WWII. They fought bravely in all theaters of the war and deserve far more recognition for their sacrifices than they often receive from us here in the USA.
Best Regard, ToT
Greetings ToT. Firstly thank you for your prompt reply and helping out a limey!!!! Your offer of a PDF copy of Cockney is terrific but, by the rules the moderators will not let me post my email. We will have to find some other way, maybe via Facebook. The info about William ties in with a declassified document the we recently received from the National Archives, though clearly the official document didn’t give the deceased names. This now confirms his death as 9 August but we will still try and look into what hospital he was sent to, whether it was the Battalion Aid Station or a nearby Field Hospital. Looking at his skeletal injuries taken from his disinterment documents, I would suggest that he had three significant shrapnel wounds to his limbs. Not sure if I informed you, but Pont-Scorff unveiled a memorial last year to the 36 CCB members killed on 7 through 9 August 1944 and you would be amazed at the tributes paid to those who died for the freedom of France and Europe. They now have a Liberty Weekend every year, centering around the memorial with tributes paid by various dignitaries and then the various celebrations throughout the 2 days. It’s good to see that the men are gone but never forgotten. Do let me know if there is anything I can send you, though I expect you have already tapped all the resources your side of the Atlantic. Out of interest, my brother is a naturalised US citizen and lives in Pennsylvania, while I taught at the US Air Force Intelligence School in Denver and San Angelo, Texas, in the mid 1980s.
Kind regards Richard
It is not an overstatement to say the men who didn't come home from the war were the real heroes. My father once made a similar remark about the men of his unit that fell in battle. After the war the division commander paid homage to the fallen saying that each mile of the advance was bought and paid for by those lost.
I am delighted to hear the citizens of Pont-Scorff honor the men who were killed. The French, Belgians, Dutch have not forgotten the sacrifices of the Allied soldiers who died fighting for their freedom. Many of the towns and villages in France, for example, hold annual remembrance days to honor those who fought and died for their liberation. It is touching how well they remember.
As to making direct contact, I am not on any social media and at the moment cannot think of another way of doing so. Does the family have a photo/s of William in uniform? It might be something I could use in the article. If a way of making contact via a third party that would be acceptable to the mods comes to me I'll post it here.
Good luck with your search for William's medical records.
Thanks TOT. I guess having been invaded and then liberated makes a big difference to the feelings towards the liberators which seems to be passed down the generations. I have seen this particularly in Arnhem where young school children still tend the graves of the British paratroopers and treat not just the old soldiers but also current military with warmth and kindness. In terms of using a third party, in terms of contact, I don’t know how to approach the moderators to ascertain if they would agree to using a third party contact. I will look into it. We only have one photo of William and that was taken from his college year book. He has no direct relatives so sadly any wartime images will be long gone unless there are some with the descendants of other members of the 696th. I have attached the photo that has been revamped using photoshop.
I will be in touch when I have figured a way round the direct contact dilemma.
Kind regards Richard