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

 

Heidelberg, Germany, September 2, 1960, (UPI) - 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.

Source: 3rd Armored Division History Web Site

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