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Tragedy at Grafenwoehr in September, 1960

Sixteen Division Soldiers Die in Artillery Accident
- V Corps Unit Faulted -

Accident involved 8-inch howitzer of the type shown above. - PIO file photo


Accidents in an actual shooting war, as well as a Cold War, are inevitable. This one, however, stands out as apparently the worst U.S. ground training accident of the entire Cold War. Just after roll-call, on a rainy Friday morning on September 2, 1960, sixteen solders were killed and 27 were wounded when a 200-pound artillery shell landed amongst them at Camp Kasserine, Grafenwoehr. All of the men were from the 3rd Reconnaissance Squadron, 12th Calvary, 3rd Armored Division. The shell, which had an incorrect charge due to human error, was fired by a V Corps Artillery unit -- Battery A, 3rd Battalion, 18th Field Artillery.


From various news services, with the original headlines
and in chronological order:


Howitzer, Fired in Training, Hits Bavaria Tent Area

The New York Times (front-page story on Sept. 3, 1960)

Bonn, Germany, Sept. 2 , 1960 - Fifteen United States soldiers were killed and twenty-eight were injured this morning when an eight-inch artillery shell exploded at the Grafenwoehr training ground in Bavaria.

The headquarters of the United States Army in Europe announced in Heidelberg that a howitzer shell, fired during a training exercise of the Third Armored Division, had veered from the planned target area. It exploded in the tent camp of a reconnaissance squadron, the announcement said.

Maj. Gen. Frederic J. Brown, commander of the division, stationed in Frankfurt, ordered an immediate investigation. The seriously wounded victims were flown to Army hospitals by helicopter.

The training ground, about ninety miles square, is near the Czech border north of Nuremberg. It is used for maneuvers and firing practice by West German and American soldiers.

"Human Error" Cited in Deaths
of U.S. Soldiers in West Germany
United Press International

Heidelberg, Germany, September 2, 1960 - The shell that killed fifteen United States soldiers overshot its target by a mile because the powder charge was heavy, the Army said today.

Maj. General Frederic J. Brown, Third Armored Division commander, attributed the accident to an overfire from "human error" by Battery A of the Eighteenth Artillery under control of the Fifth Corps, stationed at Darmstadt.

The shell struck just after roll-call on a rainy morning. It tore into three tents occupied by soldiers of the division's Third Reconnaissance Squadron, Twelfth Cavalry. It ripped through one tent, exploded in the second and shredded in the third with steel fragments.

The Army said two of the injured remained on the critical list, while three had returned to duty.

The incident was the worst ground-training accident involving United States forces in Germany since World War II. In August, 1955, two C-119's on an air exercise collided, killing more than sixty soldiers.

The eight-inch howitzer can fire nuclear warheads. A conventional shell, the type that went awry today, and weighs 200 pounds, of which about 36.75 pounds is high explosive. The weapon weighs 94,000 pounds. It has a maximum range of 18,510 yards, just over ten miles.

Howitzer shells follow a high trajectory from a weapon to target, as contrasted with the flatter flight from a gun, which has a rifled barrel.


The Associated Press

Grafenwoehr, Germany, Sept. 4, 1960 - Three thousand United States soldiers paid homage today at a simple memorial ceremony to sixteen comrades, victims of a training accident Friday.

Soldiers of the Third Armored Division assembled in a hollow -- with 16 gaps in the ranks -- before an altar between two fir trees.

Sixteen steel helmets on tables near the altar bore testimony to the accident that killed fifteen men outright and wounded twenty-seven when an overcharged 8-inch howitzer shell overshot an artillery range and landed in a tent camp. One of the injured soldiers died yesterday. The army is investigating the accident.

The Associated Press

Washington, Sept. 4, 1960 - Following is the list of sixteen U.S. soldiers killed when a howitzer shell exploded on impact in Grafenwoehr, Germany, as released hy the Pentagon. All were from the 3rd Reconnaissance Squadron, 12th Calvary, 3rd Armored Division.


BAROFALDI, Pfc. Robert E.,
Rio Vista, Calif.

BECKWORTH, Specialist 4/c James B.,
Hope, Ark.

COCHRAN, Sgt. Charles,
Wheelersburg. Ohio.

EASTHAM, Specialist 5/c Jack L.,
Blair, W. Va.

HARRIS, Pfc. Norman D.
Hometown not reported

HIGMAN, Pfc. Michael J.,
Frankfort, Mich.

JOHNSON, Specialist 4/c Earl,
Brooklyn, N.Y.

LOVE, Pfc. David L.,
Spring Hill, Tenn.

LUCAS, Pfc. Eimo M., Jr.,
Leestburg, Fla.

MAPPIN, Sgt. 1/c Jack W., Jr.,
Fort Clayton, Canal Zone, Panama.

MERRILL, Specialist 4/c William A.,
Hamburg, N. Y.

NELSON, Pfc. Charles L.,
Taylorville, Ill.

PARKER, Pfc. J. C.,
Roswell, N.M.

PLESHAKOV, Pfc. George,
Palo Alto, Calif.

ROGERS, Sgt. 1/c Edward V.,
Dlllon, S. C.

SAURINO, Pfc. Augustus J.,
New York, N.Y.

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