Military in Blount County Between the World Wars
 

This abbreviated history is written from the perspective of soldiers of the 191st Field Artillery Regiment mustered into Federal Service for World War II. The 191st Field Artillery Regiment is a descendant of the First Tennessee Infantry dating to 1774. The First Tennessee was mustered into Federal Service for World War I and converted to the 115th Field Artillery Regiment (155 Howitzers) on September 8, 1917, and mustered out of Federal Service on April 15, 1919, at Fort Oglothorpe, Georgia. On May 26, 1924, the 115th Field Artillery Regiment was reorganized as part of the Tennessee National Guard, and has been in continuous service since. The 115th Field Artillery Regiment served throughout World War I, participating in France in the engagements: St. Mihiel, Melise-Argonne, and in the Troyon Sector. While numerous Tennesseans served in other wars and military operations, including the War of 1812 and claimed the name of “Volunteer State,” those Blount Countians who served did so as individual volunteers or draftees. To appreciate these early Tennesseans, you have only to visit the Alamo and read the names of those who died with David Crockett, “Senator from Tennessee.”

In the period between the Armistice in 1918 and 1921, there were no military organizations in the county. In 1921, due to the efforts of Raymond O. Smith, who was the Superintendent of Schools; Judge Pat Quinn, who was the Circuit Court Judge; and M.B. Crum, the owner and originator of M.B. Crum Insurance – all of whom had artillery experience during World War I, and with the help of the Adjutant General of Tennessee, the National Guard bureau authorized the activities of Battery C and Battery D of the 178th Field Artillery Battalion (Sep) in Maryville. These units were equipped with 155mm Schneider Howitzers. The French had built these weapons with enormous wooden wheels with steel rims and box trail. The tube alone weighed over 4,000 pounds. They were pulled by Velie tractors much like the caterpillar tractor of today. Their top speed was about 15 m.p.h. In order to shift gears, the tractor had to be brought to a complete halt and then continue.

All the optical equipment including gun sights, survey and range finders were also French made and calibrated in the metric system. Ammunition was carried in caissons pulled by Velie tractors. Only the communication equipment, such as telephones and wire, was American made. All this equipment and even clothing issued was of World War I vintage.

The battalion was organized with Major M.B. Crum as battalion commander and Dr. Delozier as battalion surgeon. “C” Battery was commanded by Captain R.O. Smith and “D” Battery by Captain Pat Quinn. Ex-officers from World War I, ROTC, and the Reserves were recruited to form the battalion. Recruits, as far as enlisted personnel are concerned, came from the population of the county. In all, approximately 200 men in both batteries were involved.

Training was done in the Armory on Ellis Avenue, and on the school grounds of Fort Craig School, which was nearby. Summer camp of two weeks each year was conducted at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and Fort Knox, Kentucky. Transportation to these camps was done by railroad taking only personnel and optical equipment. All other equipment, including guns and tractors, was furnished by the Fort Knox and Fort Bragg facilities.

In the early thirties, the heavy material, including Howitzers and vehicles, were modernized. The guns were equipped with large pneumatic tires. The tractors, other vehicles and caissons were replaced with modern trucks. The White and Indiana heavy trucks were prime movers for the Howitzers and ammunition. This conversion gave the unit not only more, but also faster, mobility. Convoys could not proceed at 40-45 miles per hour and could also be used to move to and from the summer camps, giving training in convoy operations and control.

In 1937, the battalion was honored by having Captain R.O. Smith made Adjutant General of the State of Tennessee. In his efforts to improve the National Guard of Tennessee, and since we already had the 1st Battalion of the 115th Field Artillery in middle Tennessee, he traded the 178th Field Artillery Battalion (Sep) to South Carolina for the 2nd Battalion of the 115th Field Artillery, thus giving the State of Tennessee a complete regiment of artillery within our boundaries. So the 2nd Battalion 115th replaced the 178th in Blount County. This exchange took place April 1, 1938.

Basic organization and training did not change with the conversion except in the gun squads, which were smaller than previously. Having worked with the heavier guns, our cannoneers could wheel the 75mm gun around like a wheelbarrow.

The 75mm gun at the time of its original manufacture was the finest gun ever designed. The French had developed a hydro-pneumatic recoil with a floating piston that was the best in the world and forerunner of all modern artillery weapons today, which use similar recoil mechanisms.

In the summer of 1937, the battalion went to Camp Shelby, Mississippi, for training. The movement to and from camp was with organic transportation of the unit. When war was declared in Europe in 1939, the War Department began bringing the regular Army up to the strength authorized by Congress, and considering the National Guard a part of the “First Line of Defense,” asked the Guard Bureau to expand its forces throughout the United States. The Bureau could do this only with the agreement and acceptance of the individual states. Tennessee was asked to accept an entire Field Artillery Regiment, and agreed to accept it provided they could get a 155mm Howitzer regiment. This was agreed to by the Bureau. Since the Blount County unit was the only one with 155mm experience, the new 191st Field Artillery Regiment was formed around the Blount County batteries. “C” Battery, going to the 1st Battalion, and “D” Battery going to the 2nd Battalion. The Regimental Headquarters Battery was formed out of the 117th Infantry Regiment in Knoxville. New batteries were activated in the Kingsport area. This reorganization left the 191st with a cadre in Blount County, and multitude officers in place who had no artillery experience and no knowledge of artillery gunnery whatsoever.

One of the unique features of the Blount County units was their gunnery school held each Monday night for two hours after drill. This school had been operation for several years. Each year, one of the officers would go to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, to the Associate Officers Artillery Course. Upon his return, he would become the gunnery instructor for the next year. All officers in the battalion and many non-commissioned officers attended these classes, where they learned the latest in gunnery techniques. This group also furnished the new officers for the battalions as vacancies occurred. Those applicants for new commissions were given competitive examinations, which were considered when appointing new officers. This school also provided instructors for the infantry and other non-artillery officers acquired by activation of the 191st Artillery Regiment. This gunnery school was continued four nights a week after the 191st Regiment went on active duty at Camp Forrest, Tennessee.

On February 24, 1941, almost a year before Pearl Harbor, the two National Guard Batteries, “C” and “D,” were mobilized into the Army, at the National Guard Armory on Ellis Avenue. Medical exams started that day and continued through the 25th. Several doctors had to be transported here from surrounding towns to help give physicals. After medical exams and other administrative requirements were completed, “C” Battery had four officers and 76 enlisted men: Battery “D”, two officers and 75 enlisted men. Soon after, an advanced party was sent to Camp Forrest, Tennessee, to get barracks, other buildings and grounds ready to receive the main body, which followed about a week later. After entering Camp Forrest, we joined the rest of the 191st Field Regiment commanded by Colonel Berry. Advanced individual unit training continued through the Louisiana maneuvers.

Upon declaration of war, following Pearl Harbor, the regiment was transferred to Camp Roberts, California, where, with further training, the regiment participated in the desert maneuvers. While at Camp Roberts, the regiment was equipped with new 155mm Howitzers of American design and manufacture. While in California, the regiment was reorganized along new U.S. Army organizational lines into groups: Headquarters designated as the 191st Field Artillery Group, the 191st Field Battalion, and the 959th Field Artillery Battalion. The group Headquarters was sent to the Pacific Theater, while the battalions were sent to Europe; the 191st Field Artillery Battalion assigned to Patton’s Third Army. The 959th Field Artillery was re-equipped with British 4.5 inch guns.

After the end of the operations in Europe, the 191st Field Artillery Battalion was retuned to the control of the State of Tennessee. Here it should be noted that while in the active service, the Blount County units of the 191st Field Artillery Regiment furnished 115 of its enlisted men to the Artillery School at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, where they became artillery officers in other units of the Army of the United States.

In 1947, in the reorganization of the National Guard, the 191st Field Artillery was combined with infantry and an engineering company to form the 278th Regimental Combat Team. Only Headquarters and Headquarters Battery and Battery “C” remained in Maryville. Summer camps in 1948 and 1949 were held in Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and Fort Jackson, South Carolina. In 1950, with the advent of the Korean War, the 278th Regimental Combat Team was placed on active duty in September and ordered to Fort Devens, Massachusetts. After arrival to Fort Devens, the combat team was utilized as a training cadre for draftees of New England. This training included both basic and individual. In January, 1951, the 191st Field Artillery moved temporarily to Camp Edwards on Cape Cod for service practice. In February of the same year, the entire combat team participated in winter maneuvers in the vicinity of Pine Camp, New York. The combat team was returned to state control in August, 1952. The period of 1954 to the present is characterized by a series of changes. Initially, there was a build up of National Guard units throughout the states. These changes were dictated by the world situation. The National Guard Bureau had to place a new armored division and asked Tennessee to accept it. The state agreed to accept the division provided it was designated the 30th Armored Division, which was the traditional and historic unit in the state. In 1956, with the organization of the 30th Armored Division Tennessee, the 191st Field Artillery Battalion became the 191st Field Artillery (Armored) and was still part of the 278th Combat Group. Again, due to the reorganization in 1960, the 191st Field Artillery reverted to the 2nd Battalion, 115th Field Artillery (Armored). In still another reorganization, the 2nd Battalion, 115th Field Artillery (Armored), was eliminated, and the artillery battery of Maryville became the gun battery of the 278th Armored Calvary, which it remains today.

 

 

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