My name is Allen Knisley. In 1944-5 I was a 1st. Lieutenant, Battalion Air Officer. I served in the Third Armored Division, better known as the Spearhead Division. It was one of America's largest tank outfits. There were two armored tank regiments, an armored infantry regiment, three battalions of armored artillery using 105 mm howitzers mounted on tank chassis, an armored reconnaissance battalion, an armored engineer battalion, a tank destroyer battalion, an anti-aircraft battalion, a maintenance battalion, a supply battalion, a medical battalion, a signal battalion, and division trains. Usually there was also an attached battalion of artillery (not a part of the division) composed of 155 mm howitzers on tank chassis.
The entire division consisted of roughly 18,000 men, commanded by Major General Maurice Rose. Usually the division split into two combat commands, A and B.
Since I was an artillery battalion air officer, I'll outline the composition of an armored field artillery battalion. It consisted of a headquarters detachment, a medical detachment, a headquarters battery, three howitzer batteries (A, B, and C), each having six howitzers, and a service battery. A battery consisted of around 800 men, about 65 of them officers.
My own little air section, which was a part of headquarters battery, consisted of two pilots, namely, me and a sergeant, a sergeant crew chief, a radio operator, a half-track driver, a jeep driver, and two mechanic helpers. The equipment for which I was responsible included the two airplanes, a jeep, a half-track, a motorcycle (which we didn't use and which we finally left in a ditch in France), four FM radios and one AM radio. We had machine guns mounted on both the jeep and the half-track. In addition, we had a two-wheeled trailer, pulled by the half-track.
In combat I also had a lieutenant-observer assigned to me who did the actual firing orders to the gun batteries. This person was sometimes rotated between the air section and the position of forward observer with one of the tank battalions, but I usually had some choice as to who my observer would be. The original concept was to have the plot also do the fire missions, but this soon proved impractical. The pilot had enough to do to keep the plane in position and to watch for enemy aircraft. Thus, as a battalion air officer, I actually commanded a crew of only eight. As a result, we became a close-knit little group, usually off to ourselves, someplace away from the rest of headquarters battery We usually sent the jeep to the headquarters kitchen daily to haul back our food in large thermal containers called marmite cans.
Because I was a rated pilot, I had the luxury of drawing clothing supplies from both the ground forces and the Air Corps. The heavy bomber jackets and boots came in mighty handy during the cold winters; I often slept in my fleece-lined flying suit and boots. I was especially fond of my leather bomber jacket with the grasshopper insignia on it. Unfortunately, it was stolen from my footlocker on the flight home.
It was my responsibility to pick out our landing strips and move my section to them. We needed to be near the battalion, but usually a bit to the rear of it. This was sometimes difficult when the battalion was moving or the division was spearheading down the highways, by-passing the resistance. This was a common deployment of an armored division, leaving the infantry the job of clearing up the enemy pockets which the armored division had by-passed. We always tried to keep in the range of our FM radios with battalion headquarters, but at times we had to go up in the air to make radio contact
Combat (June 25, 1944 to April 24 1945
On June 25th. 1944, when we arrived at Omaha White Beach just below the village of Isigny, the scene was mass confusion, a lot of broken equipment, smashed tanks, twisted landing craft, and much half-submerged wreckage. Corpses floated by, one of which became entangled in the propeller of the LST I was on. Strips of barbed wire lay helter-skelter on the sandy beach. Many large ships, part of the invasion armada, sat offshore, still firing big guns over our heads and inland. I remember that Sgt. Scholtz, who was somewhat of a comedian, remarking, with eyes as big as saucers, "Hey, guys, that's read stuff out there."
The first day we spent de-waterproofing our vehicles, but we didn't take our planes off the 6x6 trucks until later, when we were inland and could find a pasture big enough from which to take off. There had been some debate prior to the crossing as to why we couldn't just fly the planes across the channel. The division artillery commander thought that there would be so much air activity and so many barrage balloons around the beach that it wouldn't be practical, and, of course, he was right. Thus we removed the wings and placed our two Cubs on 6x6 trucks and loaded them aboard the LST.