Hubert Stewart – World War II

]he following material is taken from various Internet sites, including the Regimental History of the 320th Field Artillery, by Ed A.  Asbury, military records, and interviews with Hubert’s sister, Jean Marie.  The section on the Battle of the Bulge is based on division historical information written by Lucien Cailloux.
by Robert Stewart

The 82nd Airborne Division, commanded by Maj. Gen. Matthew B. Ridgeway, set sail for North Africa in April, 1943.  Among those on the troop ship was Capt. Hubert C. Stewart of Eagle, Neb., a combat medic in the 320th Glider Field Artillery Battalion.

The 82nd Division had been formed in 1917, and was the first U.S. Army unit to include men from all 48 states.  It took the name “All American,” and memorialized the nationwide heritage on its shoulder patch.  On August 15, 1942, it became the first airborne division in the U.S. Army.  The 320th Field Artillery was activated as a unit of the 82nd in March, 1942.  When the 82nd went Airborne, the 320th was reorganized and redesignated as the 320th Glider Field Artillery Battalion, with two firing batteries of six 105 mm howitzers.  Lt. Col. Paul E. Wright commanded the battalion throughout the war.

From Africa, Ridgeway launched the 82nd’s first two combat operations of World War II on July 9 and September 13; parachute and glider assaults into Sicily and Salerno, Italy.

The 320th was held in reserve during the Sicilian Campaign.  It then landed –  on the beach near Paestum, Italy on Sept. 23, and remained in division reserve until October 15.  Reinforcing the 3rd Infantry Division Artillery, it first engaged the German Army in the vicinity of the Volturino River.  It remained in action there for two weeks.

Troops of 325th Glider Infantry of US 82nd Airborne Division in a Horsa glider, training or preparing for Normandy, France invasion, England, United Kingdom, May-Jun 1944

 

 

 

 

 

In early November the entire division moved to the United Kingdom, to begin preparations for the invasion of Europe.  In the dark of the night, on June 5, Cart. Stewart was among those boarding gliders and beginning the journey across the Channel to Normandy.

The sixth of June, 1944, dawned with poor visibility and low ceilings in France.  Air navigation was extremely difficult.  The gliders lacked air brakes and other safety features.  These would be added during the coming months.  On this assault, lacking those features, the gliders were scattered for miles along the drop zone.  Many crashed into trees, hedgerows and other obstructions.

 

 

 

Among the gliders which crashed was the one bearing Cart. Stewart.  Surviving without serious injury, Cart. Stewart immediately established an aid station to care for the injured and wounded.  When two men were seriously wounded in an open field which was covered by enemy machine gun fire, and with complete disregard for his own personal safety, Capt. Stewart moved across the open field to reach the two men.  He administered medical aid and personally evacuated both men to safety.  On numerous other occasions he went through enemy lines to evacuate wounded parachutists and “gliderists.”

In awarding him the Bronze Star Medal for Meritorious Service for that 72 hours, Maj. Gen. James M. Gavin, nowthe commanding general, said:  “Capt. Stewart’s tireless and diligent work for seventy-two hours without rest or relief and his care and evacuation of two hundred casualties was in keeping with the great tradition of the Medical Corps.  His outstanding actions reflect the highest credit on the Airborne Forces.”

The equipment of the 320th was badly damaged during the landing.  Only two of the unit’s 12 howitzers could be put into action during the first 24 hours.  During the next 48 hours, six more were put to work in a coordinated offensive action undertaken by the 325th Glider Infantry Regiment.  A ninth howitzer was constituted from three damaged weapons on the fourth day.

The gunners of the 320th and infantry of the 325th were to continue working together through the European campaign.  On June 13 the 320th reinforced the 319th Glider Field Artillery in support of the crossing of the Douve River.  Then on July 11, the 320th returned to base camp in England.  There the Battalion was awarded a Presidential Unit Citation and the French Croix do Guerre with Palm.

The unit remained in England through the summer.  On September 19 the Allies launched “Operation Market Garden.” The 320th Field Artillery and 325th Infantry landed by glider in the vicinity of Groesbeck, Holland.  They cleared the area of German forces and held the division sector for the advancing Guards Armored Force of His Majesty’s Forces.

Their landing was behind German lines.  During the landing Hubert’s surgical assistant, a Jewish man named Angel, was captured.  Angel spent ten days in a boxcar before being liberated.

The 320th supported the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment during heavy combat in the successful effort to establish the first bridgehead across the Waal River at Nijmegen.  For its action in Operation Market Garden, the 320th was awarded the Military Order of William.

On October 8 the howitzers of the 320th were involved in a firefight “near Holland” and Cart. Stewart was called to render aid to an ammunition carrier seriously wounded by the incoming German artillery counter-fire.  “Upon arrival in the area, he went directly to the wounded man, ordering his own aid men to stay under cover because of heavy artillery fire still falling on the position.  For 20 minutes, Cart. Stewart ignored the shelling and remained with his patient in the open administering aid, until the man could be safely moved.” For this action he received an Oak Leaf Cluster on his Bronze Star Medal for Heroic Conduct.  His citation was given because his “outstanding courage, his high degree of skill under trying conditions, and his utter devotion to duty were an inspiration to the men and officers of his unit.”

From Nijmegen the 320th moved eastward with the front, toward the Champagne area of France.

In December, 1944 the 320th was at Camp Suippes, in the Champagne area of France.  Sunday the 17th began as a typical day.  The ground was covered with snow.   A religious service was held in the morning, followed in the afternoon by a movie and a performance of Russian ballet.

At 8 p.m.  the commanders were abruptly summoned to Division Headquarters.  Maj. Gen.  Gavin informed them of a sudden German offensive in the Ardennes area.  The “Battle of the Bulge” – called Das Wacht am Rhein by the Germans-had begun some miles away early on Saturday morning.  Information was sketchy, but the seriousness of the German offensive was now becoming apparent.  The 82nd would go into action.

There was no sleep that night.  Monday morning dawned damp and cold, under a cloudy sky.  The lead units of the division began moving at 10:30 a.m.  The 320th Field Artillery and 325th Infantry departed Camp Suippes at 11:17 a.m.  By early evening the advance elements were moving through Houffalize.  There they heard the first muffled sounds of distant artillery.

At 7:30 p.m.  the first convoys arrived in the vicinity of Werbomont.  It was 6 a.m.  Tuesday before the 320th arrived with its dozen 105 mm howitzers.  The men could hear the sounds of distant battle.  Brig.  Gen.  Francis A.  March, divisional artillery commander, settled his battalions under cover of the trees.  The dense Ardennes forest, with few roads-none of them wide-caused constant traffic jams.

The battle sounds were from Stoumont, where the advance panzers of the 1st SS Panzer Division were hammering the U.S.30th Infantry Division-“Old Hickory.”  On Wednesday Gen.  Gavin deployed his four infantry battalions in a long line approximating the line of the German assauLt. That afternoon the 320th was sent to Brux, near Lierneux, ip support of the 325th Infantry.

On Friday the weather remained unsettled, with cold fog obscuring vision.  A major movement of vehicles was detected from the side of the plateau “des Tailles.”  The 320th began firing on that area to harass the enemy columns.

Saturday dawned as the first clear day since the German breakthrough had begun.  With the clear skies came the welcome sight of American fighter planes in the sky.  American troops began withdrawing from the St. Vith area, passing through the 320thnear Lierneux.  Many of the wounded among the retreating forces would have received aid from medics of the 320th, including Cart. Stewart.

St. Vith had been a key rail center needed to resupply the German tank forces.  The Panzer division’s failure to take the city until late on Thursday, four days behind schedule, contributed to the ultimate failure of Hitler’s overall attack plan.

The decision to withdraw the 82nd Division to new defensive positions was made on Sunday, Christmas Eve day. Gen.  March set up his new artillery command post not far from the crossroads of My as his artillery battalions drew back.  The main delays they faced in movement were caused by obstructions erected by American engineers on the withdrawal route.  At 3 a.m. Christmas morning the 320th, which moved out from Brux at 6 p.m., were in a new location, ready to fire.

During the Christmas Eve withdrawal, the 2nd SS Panzer Division had secured the towns of Manhay and Grandmenil.  Concentrated fire from U.S. artillery and infantry pinned the German division in Manhay.

Christmas Day brought heavy snowfall, and deep snow which would impair traffic of both armies for several days.  Renewed fog and snowfall frustrated observers through the end of the year.  The German advance stalled as supply lines broke down.  The men of the 320th dug in, responding with artillery fire as the German troops probed the town of Erria and other points along the front.

On January 3, 1945, the Allies began their counteroffensive.  During the coming cold winter weeks the 320th was often engaged, supporting the continuous attack of the infantrymen.  On January 16, a month after launching of the German attack, troops from the First Army on the north met the Third Army troops from the south at Houffalize.  St. Vith was recaptured on January 23.

During the Battalion’s successful effort to halt the German thrust through Its sector, more than 18,900 rounds were fired.  The success of the 82nd Division in helping repulse the Battle of the Bulge was honored by the King of Belgium, who awarded the division the Fourragere 1940.

The final sweep of the 82nd Airborne through Germany and across the Rhine River near Cologne began on April first. Once the Ruhr Pocket was cleared the 320th, together with other units of the 82nd Airborne, moved to the vicinity of Blekede and the Elbe River with the mission of forcing a crossing of the river and driving east to contact units of the Russian Army.  The battalion moved into Ludwigslust, Germany, where it made that contact.

In the preceding 12 years, the Nazis had built more than 10,000 camps for political prisoners.  Many of these were located throughout Germany.  Dachau, the first camp, had been opened in March 1933.  The last camp was closed with the liberation of Stutthof in May, 1945.  There were many types of camp: collection camps (sammellager), where prisoners were kept before transport; labor-education camps (arbeitserziehungslager); transit camps (durchgangslager); collection camps for the dying (sterbelager); large concentration camps (konzentrationslager) like Ravensbriick; subcamps administered by main camps (aussenlager) like Gusen; and extermination camps (vernichtungslager) like Treblinka.

One of these many camps was liberated by the 320th, alongside the 325th.  Cart. Stewart – Dr. Stewart in this case -was stricken by what he saw.  After working with the starving prisoners, he poured out his thoughts and feelings in a long, descriptive letter to his mother.  Unfortunately, Hallie was overwhelmed by the content of the letter.  Asked some years later what had happened to it, she told her daughter “Oh, it was so sad that I burned it.”

During its combat action in World War II, the 320th Glider Field Artillery Battalion expended more than 68,562 rounds of ammunition.  The Battalion fired 171 tons of ammunition delivering 2.46 million pounds of high explosive projectiles upon the enemy.

Having made contact with the Russian forces, the 82nd began occupation duties on May 1, 1945.  On August 15 the 320th Battalion moved to Berlin as part of the Occupation Forces in that divided city.  Hubert said the building they were quartered in was not undamaged, but was less damaged than most of the city’s buildings.

 

My uncle, Capt. Hubert C. Stewart, M.D., was battalion surgeon for the 320th GFA during through WWII. He kept a journal through the North Africa and Italian days, then on Jan 1, 1944, he changed to a new book. I have the first book. The second has not been located, and probably never will be located. In the journal I find the following entry which may be of interest to the 504th PIR:Oct 10th, 1943
The decontamination squad had commenced the 9th and was spraying the quarters with a lime slurry which was later washed off. At 0900 there was a terrific blast which turned out to be in the 504th P. Inf. Area. Either a time bomb or booby trap had exploded destroying over 1/3 of a huge barracks building. A call was sent out for all available Medical Personnel to report for duty. Lt. Angel and myself were the first outside M.O.s on the scene and we went to work. The damage was terrific and some of the bodies were horribly mangled. There were between 45 and 50 wounded and some 27 known dead with over 30 missing. Digging out survivors was a ticklish hair-raising job watching to be certain that a fresh cave in wouldn’t catch you too. The victims were mostly engineers. All those working were really to be commended for they worked hard and seemed to be without fear. A gasoline dump adjacent to the building also caught fire which added to the hazards.
This page was provided by Robert Stewart.