125th Field Artillery History
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The Origins of the 125th. The 125th Field Artillery is one of the most visible local Army units. It has its roots in the military developments of 1893. Companies A, C, and G were created in Duluth as part of the Minnesota 3rd Infantry Regiment. At the time of the Spanish American War (1898), the 3rd Infantry Regiment was redesignated the 14th Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment. Many residents of northeastern Minnesota served in the Spanish American War in the 14th Regiment, which was mobilized to Camp Chickamauga, Georgia. They remained in reserve and did not see combat action; most of the regiment's casualties came from illness, particularly typhoid fever. Companies A and C were sent from Georgia back to Minnesota to help prevent possible Indian uprisings in Brainerd, Bemidji, and Farris (near Cass Lake). They were not needed, however, and later returned to Duluth. Following the Spanish American War, the 14th Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment was again named the 3rd Minnesota Regiment.
World War I. During World War I, the Duluth-based 3rd Minnesota Regiment was reorganized and designated the 125th Field Artillery Regiment, part of the 34th Infantry Division. The division was composed of National Guard units from Minnesota, Iowa, and South Dakota. The 34th Division was sent to train in Camp Cody, New Mexico, and was nicknamed the "Sandstorm Division." The division's insignia was a red steer skull imposed on the silhouette of a Mexican water jar, recalling the division's desert home.
The approximately 700 members of 125th Field Artillery Regiment were mobilized for active duty in Europe under the command of Col. Hubert V. Eva. The unit shipped out to Castres, France, in September 1918. It served as a replacement division and did not see combat.
World War II. On February 10, 1941, with World War II raging but nine months before the United States had entered it, the 34th Infantry Division was inducted into federal service.
December 7, 1941, was a grim day in American history: the U.S. naval base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, was attacked by the Japanese. Four U.S. Navy battleships were sunk , with a significant loss of life. After this surprise assault, many men answered the call and enlisted to fight, but it was the men of the 34th Division, of which the 125th was a part, who were prepared to respond.
Immediately following the Pearl Harbor attack, the men of 125th were mobilized across the southern coast of the United States to defend against a possible mainland invasion. Some were stationed in Pensacola, Florida, others in New Orleans, Louisiana, and others along the vast Texas coast. After several weeks they returned to camp, and in January, 1942, they were sent to Fort Dix, New Jersey, in preparation to head overseas. Also, in January 1942, the Regimental Headquarters was disbanded and the 1st Battalion was redesignated the 125th Field Artillery Battalion.
At that time, the 34th Division was reorganized and streamlined, changing from a square to a triangular division. The 1st Battalion was redesignated the 125th Field Artillery Battalion. The new 125th Field Artillery Battalion boarded ships for Northern Ireland, arriving in May 1942. There, the 125th spent seven months preparing for a joint U.S.-United Kingdom amphibious assault on French North Africa. Then they headed to England. In late December, they boarded boats in Liverpool, bound for North Africa. They participated in the first major operation in North Africa, Operation Torch.
Operation Torch. The aim of Operation Torch was to clear Axis miltary power from the Mediterranean, cutting off Axis supply lines to North Africa and opening up the free movement of Allied ships and planes to North Africa and Southern Europe.
The 125th landed in Oran, Algeria, and began pushing toward Tunisia to end German and Italian dominance in North Africa. Moving thousands of men across the desert wasn’t an easy task, and convoys could stretch for miles. There was only a single two-lane road to follow. Landmines were common and potentially lethal obstacles on the road to Tunisia. In order to incur minimal damage to convoys, trucks were ordered to move in single file. Convoys were organized into batteries, and the batteries were separated from one another by the space of more than half a mile.
When not in transit, the men were required to dig themselves into the ground to avoid enemy fire. Their trenches varied in depth and thickness. The men and their artillery were usually hidden under camouflage. The trenches were the only thing between the men of the 125th and surrounding enemy fire.
Soldiers in the trenches sometimes sang to pass the time when not in combat. One of the more popular songs in the trenches of the 125th was “Pennies from Heaven.”
By April 1943, the effectiveness of Operation Torch was evident: Axis powers had been reduced to sending supplies and troops across the Mediterranean by air only, and Axis planes were targeted for attack. In early May 1943, the German and Italian troops in North Africa surrendered. Operation Torch had proven successful.
The Italian Campaign. Like most other U.S. artillery units who fought in Italy during WWII, the 125th was equipped with the newest American artillery guns, 105 Howitzers. Seven men were needed to operate the 105 Howitzer. The 125th spent the summer of 1943 training at the 5th Army Center south of the Port of Oran, Africa, in anticipation of serving in Italy.
The 105 Howitzer had a range of 11,720 meters (7.26 miles); a barrage of artillery could level a small town. By the end of the war, the U.S. would produce more than 8,000 of these guns; the 125th, with the help of the 135th, would have fired more than 250,000 rounds in 480 days of combat.
In the fall, the 125th went to Italy, landing on the beaches of Salerno. They pushed north through Italy for the next two years. German soldiers in Italy referred to the American soldiers in the 34th Division, who wore the familiar red steer skull division patch, as "Red Devils" or "Red Bulls." The latter name stuck, and the division soon adopted this nickname, replacing its WWI name of "Sandstorm Division."
The Devastation of Friendly Fire. On February 7, 1944, the men of the A Battery were being served food at the kitchen truck when an American plane flying overhead accidentally dropped a bomb on the truck, killing twenty-five men. Had it been a German plane, the Americans would have run for cover. Sadly, more than half of all casualties of the 125th occurred on this day.
"Anzio Annie" and "Anzio Express." One of the most feared and famous weapons in the German artillery was the Krupps K-5 railway artillery, a massive gun with a barrel length of 21.5 m (70.7 feet) on a box mounting and designed to move on rails. Two of these guns, named "Robert" and "Leopold" by the Germans and nicknamed “Anzio Annie" and "Anzio Express" by the Allies, shelled the beachhead in Anzio, Italy, destroying Allied boats landing in the harbor and units in the Allies’ rear echelon.
The distinct sound of “Anzio Annie" and "Anzio Express" being fired was frightening to the Americans entering the harbor. The Germans would fire three or four rounds, then roll these artillery pieces into a railroad tunnel to secure them from Allied bombers and artillery. After surrendering, the Germans abandoned the K-5s. The Allies were amazed at the sheer size and power of the weapons.
For the 125th, combat ended on May 2, 1945, with the surrendering of the German 34th Division to the American 34th Division in Biella, Italy. Six days later, on May 8, 1945, Germany surrendered, and the war in Europe ended. By that point, the 125th had driven up the entire length of the boot of Italy.
All told, forty-one members of the 125th had lost their lives in the war. Of these, ten men are buried at the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery in Nettuno, Italy; two are buried at North African American Cemetery in Carthage, Tunisia; and two are buried in the American Cemetery in Florence, Italy.
After the war, 125th service member Ernie Jaap suggested organizing a 125th Field Artillery Association. The Association was founded, and it was decided that they would meet every second Tuesday of the month at the Pickwick restaurant in Duluth, Minnesota.
The 125th Today. After its service in World War II, members of the 125th Field Artillery became part of the Minnesota National Guard’s 47th Division. Some units of the 47th were activated during the Korean War, but it was designated as a replacement division. Many of its members saw combat action as members of other units. In 1991, the 125th again was made part of the 34th Division. The 125th Battalion is now headquartered in New Ulm, Minnesota, and its members served a tour in Iraq from 2006 to 2007.