522nd Field Artillery Battalion


The artillery unit of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion, provided support fire from 105mm howitzers for the 442nd RCT and 100th Infantry Battalion. Regarded as one of the fastest artillery units in Europe, about 650 men served in the 522nd. In March 1945, the 522nd was separated from the 442nd. The 522nd is perhaps best known for liberating some of the sub-camps of the Dachau Nazi death camp in the last months of the war in Europe.

Organization

The 522nd Field Artillery Battalion (FAB) was activated February 1, 1943, at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, as part of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team (RCT). The unit was comprised of both mainland and Hawai'i Japanese Americans who composed the Headquarters Battery, A, B, and C Gun Batteries, a Service Battery, and a Medical Detachment. Each gun battery operated four 105mm howitzers, each of which was manned by seven artillerymen. When operating on the battlefield, a forward observer group including an officer, wireman, instrument man, and telephone operator from one of the gun batteries would proceed first to spot targets, make firing calculations, and relay the results of their gun's trajectory. Once the forward observers reported a successful firing solution, the command of "fire for effect" would be passed to the other three gun batteries calling all sixteen howitzers into action.

The men of the 522nd, many of whom had science and engineering backgrounds and a good understanding of mathematics, were known as one of the fastest and most efficient artillery units in Europe reaching speeds of three rounds in less than one minute from each of the guns. According to one member of the unit, Katsugo Miho, the men of the 522nd FAB were acutely aware of the importance of effectiveness in battlefield settings. In regards to the large casualty lists suffered by the men of the 442nd Infantry, Miho explained, "We were always mindful of the fact they were people we knew, who depended on our ability to be consistent ... it was difficult to feel we were so fortunate. We never marched. We always rode..."[1] Despite the feeling that the artillery men had certain advantages, there is no question that their service was still dangerous and a critical part of the overall success of the 100th Infantry and 442nd RCT as well as the Allies as a whole.

Unit History

The 522nd FAB began their experience in Europe attached to the 442nd RCT in Italy and France participating in all of their major engagements in their efforts to liberate the nations of Western Europe from German control. In October 1944, eight forward observers from the artillery were even among those involved in the Rescue of the Lost Battalion in the Vosges region of eastern France. According to reports of their service during the rescue efforts, the artillerymen initially received incorrect coordinates and noticed the error, correcting the range before any shells were fired. It was later discovered that had the men of the 522nd FAB not noticed the mistake, the howitzers would likely have fired directly at the Texans of the Lost Battalion that they were trying to rescue.[2]

As the Allies had increasing success through France, the 522nd FAB was separated from their parent unit to assist in the push towards Berlin, Germany in March 1945. For the next two months, the unit was attached to four different divisions and moved as many as four times a day to best assist the American offensive.[3] They became a "roving battalion" firing more than 11,000 shells while completing over 50 different assignments in their service of the US 7th Army.[4] The men became the only Japanese Americans to fight in Germany when they fired their first rounds in country on March 13, 1945.

While the 522nd FAB covered 1,100 miles in their movement through Germany, their single most infamous engagement occurred in southern Germany around Munich when the men stumbled upon roughly 5,000 prisoners marching through the countryside. Their initial encounter with these thousands of emaciated and mistreated victims of Nazi concentration camps was followed by the discovery and assisted liberation of the Kaufering and Landsberg sub-camps of Dachau. For these men whose artillery service had often kept them behind the front lines and away from the harshest experiences of combat, the site of such suffering had a lasting impact. Though as was the case at all camp liberations, the Nisei were prevented from offering food and water to the prisoners as it might cause them harm rather than help, this was difficult for the American soldiers. 522nd member Don Shimazu remembered, "Our hearts were saying, 'Yes, feed them, help them,' but our heads were saying, 'No, don't feed them, those are orders!' What those freed inmates must have suffered and endured is beyond imagination—they were like walking skeletons."[5]

The irony of the liberation of German concentration camps by Japanese Americans, many of whom had families who were persecuted and imprisoned in the United States, was not lost on the men of the 552nd. As artilleryman Hideo Nakamine put it, "It is ironic that members of one persecuted minority were liberating those of another minority."[6] Perhaps in part because of the discrimination that the Nisei faced at home, many of the soldiers reported that they were far friendlier with the enemy soldiers than they should have been. Members of the artillery reported that after the liberation of the camps, the 522nd was used for "mopping up" operations and as prisoner guards during which time they commonly fraternized with both the prisoners and the locals of Germany. Through all of their service the men established a positive reputation, which helped with the ultimate acceptance of Japanese Americans in the postwar period, even though the specific service of the 522nd FAB remains far less familiar to most Americans than the service of their parent unit, the 100th Infantry/442nd RCT. In recognition of their contributions, the U.S. Army awarded the unit a Presidential Unit Citation, adding to the already impressive decorations of the 442nd RCT.[7]

For More Information

Asahina, Robert. Just Americans: How Japanese Americans Won a War at Home and Abroad. New York: Gotham, 2006.

"522nd Field Artillery Battalion." On Go for Broke National Education Center website, http://www.goforbroke.org/history/history_historical_veterans_522nd.asp.

From Hawaii to the Holocaust. Direct Cinema Linited. Directed by Judy Weightman and Wayne Weightman. 1993. 53 minutes.

McCaffrey, James M. Going for Broke: Japanese American Soldiers in the War against Nazi Germany. Volume 36 in the Campaigns and Commanders Series. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2013.

Sterner, C. Douglas. Go For Broke: The Nisei Warriors of World War II who Conquered Germany, Japan and American Bigotry. Clearfield, Utah: American Legacy Press, 2008.

United States Army, Field Artillery Battalion, 522nd, Historical Album Committee. Fire for Effect: A Unit History of the 522 Field Artillery Battalion. Honolulu: 522nd Field Artillery Battalion Historical Album Committee, 1998.

Yenne, Bill. Rising Sons: The Japanese American GIs Who Fought for the United States in World War II. New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2007.

Footnotes

  1. Wayne Muromoto, "The 522nd and Dachau: The Men of the 522nd Encounter the Horrors of War," Hawaii Herald, March 19, 1993, A-19.
  2. Muromoto, "The 522nd and Dachau."
  3. Hawaii Herald, February 20, 1987, 13.
  4. Bill Yenne, Rising Sons: The Japanese American GIs Who Fought for the United States in World War II. (New York: St. Martin's Press, 2007), 202; Hawaii Herald, May 16, 1986, 1.
  5. Hawaii Herald, July 4, 1986, 8.
  6. Hawaii Herald, May 16, 1986, 7.
  7. C. Douglas Sterner, Go For Broke: The Nisei Warriors of World War II who Conquered Germany, Japan and American Bigotry (Clearfield, Utah: American Legacy Press, 2008), 139.