Photos, Articles, & Research on the European Theater in World War II
This is one of a series of G.I. Stories of the Ground, Air and Service Forces in the European Theater of Operations, to be issued by the Stars and Stripes, a publication of the Information and Education Division, Special and Information Services, ETOUSA... Major General R. W. Grow, commanding the 6th Armored Division, lent his cooperation to the preparation of the pamphlet, and basic material was supplied to the editors by his staff.
The Story of the 6th Armored Division
This was the end of the first six months of combat for the 6th Armd. Div. Withdrawn from the Saar River area Dec. 24, 1944, and put in Corps reserve, the men under Maj. Gen. Robert W. Grow were rushed to the Third Army front on the south of the Ardennes salient, relieving the 10th Armd. Div. north of Mersch, Luxembourg.
Five days later, Super Sixth was shifted to positions northeast of the now-famous city. The pocket in which the 101st Airborne and armored units had made such a gallant stand had become a bulge. Facing that bulge was one of the greatest enemy concentrations since the Ardennes Forest offensive began.
Still trying desperately to capture Bastogne, the Germans threw everything in the book at the 6th—tanks, infantry, artillery, rockets, bombs. For 23 snowbound, freezing days, 6th and Nazis fought a see-saw battle. Yanks took towns, lost them to numerically superior forces, later recaptured them.
Slowly, the Germans relinquished their grip on the east shoulder of the bulge. Waging strong rear-guard action, they completed their
For the enemy, Bastogne marks the stumbling block in its Ardennes offensive. For the 6th Armd. Div., Bastogne, where it faced the most formidable force of SS and Wehrmacht troops since going operational, stands as the supreme test. Primed for the thrust, Hitler's troops were the elite of his army, possessing the best equipment, vehicles and supplies. The 6th was greatly outnumbered ht elements of six enemy divisions which constantly applied pressure against its entire front.
Bastogne brought a new experience. Snow, ice and sub-freezing weather provided the setting for one of the most severe campaigns ever fought by American troops. Tank turrets froze, had to be chipped free to regain traversing action. Iced breach blocks had to be manually operated.
That was Bastogne!
Germans held the upper hand for five days, directing tank-infantry teams against the entire front. The tide shifted
It was a grueling ordeal. Nine long, bitter-cold days were used to push back the enemy four miles, taking the ground astride the Longvilly-Bourcy highway and the by-now familiar towns of Wardin, Mageret, Benonchamps, Arloncourt, Oubourcy, Longvilly and Michamps.
Germans pulled back from the western-most tip of the salient, and the 6th ploughed forward. Troine, Crendal, Lullange, Hoffelt and Hachiville fell quickly to tank-infantry teams making five-mile dashes through heavy snow. Strong rear-guard action was encountered, but Asselborn, Weiler, Basbellain, Biwisch and Troisvierges were retaken in two days. The enemy's Ardennes salient was wiped out completely during the next three days. Wilwerdange, Briedfeld and the high ground astride the Skyline Drive were captured.
By Jan. 26, the enemy, with losses of 2298 prisoners, 87 tanks, 33 big guns, 17 vehicles and one JU-88, had withdrawn across the Our River, more than
Campaigns Made to Order
Two weeks later, the Super Sixth pulled up at the gates of Brest, creating complete disorganization enroute and bottling up 40,000 Germans for eventual capture. How the division, operating in vitally important territory defended by 80,000 Nazis (about six times the division's strength) made the
Confident but never cocky, each member of the division always felt the Super Sixth was destined for greatness. The 6th had received the best unit and maneuver training AGF could dish out at Camp Chaffee, Ark., in Louisiana, the California desert and at Camp Cooke, Calif. After arriving in the United Kingdom, the division sharpened up for the big show with five months of dress rehearsal.
This potent feeling was amplified further on the eve of the 6th's jump-off through Lessay when Gen. Grow said:
I don't care if we do get so far out in front we are completely surrounded. We've enough fire-power and mobility to punch out of anything the Krauts have to offer.
The 50-mile end run down the Normandy coast to the mouth of Brittany and the drive on to Brest paid tribute to the soundness of training and tactical principles. It demonstrated to infantrymen that their rugged operations in establishing beachheads and setting the stage for the breakthrough were not in vain.
The entire campaign was a series of engagements made to order for effective armored operations. Dashing into enemy territory without infantry support for mopping-up purposes, the division found its zone allowed sufficient latitude for by-passing, enveloping, feinting and cutting Nazi communication lines, despite numerically superior enemy forces.
Speed of its advance permitted the division to fight on ground of its own choosing. Bold marches and bypassing enemy strongpoints kept losses of men and equipment to a minimum. Because of the rapid advance, the enemy could not establish a solid defense line. Through a country laced with rivers, the Germans had time to destroy only two bridges, each involving no more than a
Tactics permitted racing columns to average 25 miles a day. The greatest distance—48 miles—was swallowed on
CC B was commanded by Col. George W. Read, Santa Barbara, Calif., Reserve Command by Col. Harry F. Hanson, Elgin, Ill. In support was Division Artillery, under Lt. Col. William J. Jesse, Mexico, Mo. Other separate commands were the 86th Recon, under Col. Albert E. Harris, Reno, Nev.; and Division Trains, commanded by Col. Elmer H. Droste, Mt. Olive, Ill.
Jump-off day found Super Sixth under Maj. Gen. Troy H. Middleton's VIII Corps, then a unit of First Army. Operations with First Army were short but sweet. With
The Nazis, cornered in the Avranches area by the 4th and 6th Armd. Divs., lacked gas. Their horse-drawn vehicles were cut to ribbons by tank and artillery fire and fighter planes.
On Aug. 1, when Lt. Gen. George S. Patton, Jr., commander of Third Army, was disclosed as being on the warpath in the ETO, VIII Corps and the 6th Armd. Div., among other units, came under his command.
This change brought together Generals Patton and Grow for the first time since they were members of the 2nd Armd. Div. at Ft. Benning, Ga. Then, Gen. Patton was Division Commander of the
Task Force Hanson moved out July 31 to enter the mouth of the peninsula and secure bridges northwest of Avranches and at Pontaubault. Next day, elements of the division ran into their first real engagement when Task Force Hanson encountered a roadside ambush near Bree where Germans were ready with 88s, mortars, bazookas and small arms. Initial fire was directed at
That action made veterans. Topping the list was "One-Man Army" Sgt. John L. Morton, Btry. A, 231st FA. When the enemy put three of his M-7s out of action that didn't daunt this Boonville, Mo., GI. He bagged 26 Germans with a carbine before his ammunition ran out. Then he picked up a sub-machine gun and dropped three more trying to escape on a truck. He received the division's first Distinguished Service Cross.
Courage and initiative displayed against enemy fire was outstanding up and down the line. Many tankers, including S/Sgt. Vernard T. Brock-Jones, 68th Tank Bn., Westfield, Ill.; Sgt. Paschal S. Mathison, 69th Tank Bn.; New Rochelle, N.Y., both battlefield lieutenants now; and S/Sgt. Peter Turko, 15th Tank Bn., New Hyde Park, N.Y., demonstrated their coolness and gallantry, received Silver Stars.
Armored infantrymen like Pvt. Jack Phillips, 9th Bn., Heflin, Ala.; M/Sgt. Albert Blumberg, 44th Bn., Philadelphia; and T/5 Thomas R. Sills, a medic with the 50th Bn., from Model, Tenn., also covered themselves with glory. T/Sgt. John H. Watson, 128th Ord., Pittsburgh, a volunteer ammunition trucker, showed fortitude when he drove much-needed ammunition to tankers through enemy fire.
In the Avranches bottleneck, Super Sixth men got their first glimpse of the Luftwaffe—many with a foxhole perspective. For several days, German airmen strafed 6th Armd. columns and bombed bridges that had been captured too swiftly for demolition crews to destroy. But the division passed into Brittany with negligible losses.
Carrying precious gasoline, ammunition and food, Division Trains, the last unit to pass through the only available highway into Brittany at Avranches, found the triple 7s exceptionally lucky numbers to have around. German bombers made an all-out effort on the moon-bathed night of
Super Sixth Poised for Kayo!
"These maps are too small. Give me a map large enough so that I won't run off it today." Gen. Grow's statement was prompted by the speed of the advance which had put maps on the critical supplies list. Columns raced across sections of maps almost before navigators could fix them to boards.
"You're doing pretty good, Bob!" Gen. Patton told Gen. Grow at the division CP near Merdrignac,
The Division Commander learned definitely that the 6th was to make the run for Brest without any direct infantry support. The 4th Armd. Div. was on the left (southern) flank with the mission of taking Lorient and Rennes. Gen. Grow realized the Germans in that sector were a ragged, disorganized army with disrupted communications. To give them any quarter was to invite them to dig in on the 6th's march into Brittany.
CC A and Reserve Command hacked away at Huelgoat, the next enemy strongpoint. Reserve Command ran into enemy forces at Poullaquen and after a two hour fight smashed the Germans back into Huelgoat.
The first posthumous DSC was earned by 2nd Lt. James L. Durden, Mt. Vernon, Ga., reconnaissance platoon leader with the 15th Tank Bn. in the Huelgoat action. Lt. Durden was greatly responsible for the success of the attack when he went forward on foot to clear a mine field and direct tank drivers along a safe path.
During this same two day period, the division advanced 47 miles, killed or wounded an undetermined number of the enemy, destroyed seven big guns and three vehicles.
That final day's operation set the stage for a concerted attack on the Nazi stronghold.
But first, on Aug. 8, Gen. Grow issued an ultimatum to the German Commander of Brest. Delivered by Lt. Col. Ernest W. Mitchell, Arlington, Mass., and
1. The United States Army, Naval and Air Forces troops are in a position to destroy the garrison of Brest.
2. This memorandum constitutes an opportunity for you to surrender in the face of these overwhelming forces to representatives of the United States government and avoid the unnecessary sacrifice of lives.
3. I shall be very glad to receive your formal surrender and make the detailed arrangements any time prior to 1500 this date. The officer who brings this memorandum will be glad to guide you and necessary members of your staff, not exceeding six, to my headquarters.
But history already has recorded how the Germans rejected the ultimatum, blew the docks sky-high and caused the city to be shattered by Allied ground, air and naval forces before surrendering to VIII Corps.
"Brassiere Boys" Make Good
The 266th ran head-on into the 86th Recon as well as other covering units as it threatened to over-run the PW enclosure (with General Spang as the choice prize) and Div. Hq. The Germans completely surrounded the division. Towering hedgerows prevented identification of friendly or enemy forces. Small arms fire spattered over the bivouacs.
But the battle was really one-sided.
Reserve Command sharpened its sights on the left flank. Encountering a heavy weapons company, doughs of the 50th Inf. killed 19, captured 47, destroyed one 88mm, six mortars, four machine guns, several vehicles.
Contributing to the success of combat troops was Trains Command, truck companies, medics and ordnance personnel who performed their duties in superior style. At no time during the long and arduous fighting march did any unit find itself unable to move for lack of supplies, equipment or maintenance. Trains units assumed a definite combat complexion by taking more than 1000 prisoners.
Some runs made by supply trains totalled 400 miles round trip, many times through towns and country reoccupied by Germans. Tank and other combat units protected the long line of communications and local installations.
A serious problem developed when Nazi paratroops attempted to destroy the division gas dump near Poullaquen. Only a small portion of the supply was burned before band members, appropriately named the "Attackers" and led by "Music Maestro" Carroll W. Thompson, Enid, Okla., left to guard the dump, drove them off.
The 76th Medical Bn., under Lt. Col. James W. Branch, Hope, Ark., the 128th Ordnance Maintenance Bn., commanded by Lt. Col. Raymond B. Graeves, Jr., Silver Spring, Md., and the MP platoon all encountered evacuation troubles because of distances and German reoccupation. Wounded and prisoners had to be transported deep into the peninsula for lack of close-up support. Disabled vehicles were towed until they could be repaired or evacuated.
On Aug. 12, infantry troops of the 50th and the 1st Bn. of the 28th Inf., 8th Div., attached to the 6th, pushed within 200 yards of the Gouesnou-Guipavas highway, the closest point to Brest yet reached. This was the last day on which the division operated with all units intact for more than six weeks. While a task force was left to contain Brest, the remainder of the division whipped
With a force of 4000,
The month-long Lorient mission was used in giving personnel experience in patrolling, handling booby traps and forward observation. Veterans were born overnight. They had to learn fast. They were facing an experienced foe who knew all the tricks.
"I know of no other new division that has accomplished the things we have done in so short a period," Gen. Grow said in praise of his men and officers.
Lt. Donald C. Peake,
Bonjour, Brooklyn! Hello, France!
While in the Lorris area,
To a platoon from Troop B, 86th Cav., under 2nd Lt. Vernon Hill, Clinton, Okla., fell the honors. The link-up was established with the Second Dragoons, 2nd French Armd. Div., at Autun, near Dijon, Sept. 12, when Cpl. Carl Newman, Brooklyn
Before the division assembled in the Seille River area,
Most of the damage was inflicted on the 1000 Germans defending Armaucourt. The town was contested only until Capt. Walter G. "Snuffy" Smith, Ada, Okla., with his 69th Light Tank Co., supported by TDs, delivered a "one-two" punch. TDs stood back and blasted away with delayed-fuse shells at buildings. When Germans sprang out to escape,
A key man in the attack was S/Sgt. George D. Vinyard, 69th Tanker from Rock Island, Okla., whose bold action from his light tank's turret knocked out seven bazooka teams and accounted for 26 more Germans.
The remainder of the division closed near Nancy,
CC A, commanded by Col. Hanson, attacked north of the forest through the 35th Inf. Div. at 0620. Despite heavy enemy resistance by artillery, infantry and mines, the high-ground objective belonged to the 6th three hours later.
Reserve Command, under Lt. Col. Harris, swung east, north of Chambrey in the face of severe artillery and small arms fire. After gaining its first objective, the task force continued mopping up to aid the 35th Div. establish a main line of resistance.
Putting the tank-infantry team across the goal in this action were veterans like 2nd Lt. Harry C. Linebaugh, Schenectady, N.Y.;
Hitler Loses 80 Towns
CC B jumped off in heavy fog at 0615 and swept through Moivron, Jeandelincourt, Arraye-Et-Han and Ajoncourt in a brilliantly executed attack that bewildered the Germans. Task Force Wall captured Moivron by 0800; Task Force LaGrew surrounded Jeandelincourt by 1100 and took the town several hours later following an action called the "Turkey Shoot;" Task Force under Lt. Col. Bedford H. Forrest, Saluda, S.C., swarmed into Ajoncourt at 1400, after taking control of Arraye-Et-Han. The 80th and 35th Inf. Divs., on both flanks, occupied these towns on the heels of the swift 6th.
CC A picked up the baton the next day with assault forces splitting three ways. Task Forces under Col. Davall, Lt. Col. Lewis E. McCorison, Marshfield Wis., and Lt. Col. Thomas B. Godfrey, Louisville, Ky., cleared woods and consolidated high ground positions south of Letricourt. The division's mission was complete. During the Seille River campaign from Sept. 17 to Nov. 7, the 6th killed an estimated 1500, destroyed 500 guns and vehicles.
From OPs, these unit operations looked like well-executed sand-table maneuvers taking place at Ft. Knox, Ky. which, on Feb. 15, 1942, had been the birthplace of the Super Sixth. But the "picture" was stern reality to fighters like T/Sgt. George Donald, 44th Inf., Philadelphia; T/Sgt. William Z. Fralish, 15th Tanker, Ariton, Ala., and Cpl. Myron H. Berger, 50th Inf., Springfield, Ill.
Although twice wounded in the same attack and his platoon leader killed, Donald rallied his platoon, led them forward, summoned TDs for cover while the men took new positions.
A maintenance sergeant, Fralish organized his crews and blasted Germans from foxholes with grenades so tanks could be evacuated from a stream crossing.
Critically wounded, Berger, still under enemy fire, warned his squad of snipers, located positions and continued firing until he died.
Super Sixth never was stronger than when it launched the Saar River campaign. It had lost valuable men in hard fighting, but experience had created battle-wise veterans.
These time-tested troops still had to rely on all the skill and cunning they had absorbed to crack stubborn German defenses. Mud, rain, knowledge of the Lorraine area and limited air support because of weather—all were the enemy's aids.
The Saar was reached in 26 days after the 6th had captured 80 towns and villages spreading over 400 square miles. The push was bitterly contested. But now the enemy had his back to the wall. It meant the fight would be waged on the Fatherland. When the last square foot of France in the division zone was cleared Dec. 5, the count showed 1216 Nazis prisoners, 202 guns and 143 vehicles captured or destroyed, 73 of which were tanks or self-propelled assault guns.
Passing through the 80th Div., which had established bridgeheads at Nomeny and Port-sur-Seille,
Knifing Toward Berlin
CC A successfully forced the bridgehead at Han-sur-Nied by capturing the bridge before Germans could destroy it.
Lt. Daniel L. Nutter, Waukesha, Wis., and T/5 Charles Cunningham, Columbus, O., both of the 25th Armd. Engr. Bn., raced across the Han-sur-Nied bridge in the first tank and cut wires leading to demolitions. Lt. Nutter was killed after completing his task.
Tanks of the 68th rumbling across the span were commanded by 1st Lt. Vernon L. Edwards, Collinsville, Ill., who braved artillery fire, tank and flak guns to help save the bridge by neutralizing two rocket-launcher teams with his machine gun. He was killed by a sniper, leaving the responsibility of tank defense to S/Sgt. Everett H. Tourjee, Catskill, N.Y.
Germans used every conceivable weapon to rain hellish fire on the bridge, inflicting heavy casualties on the 80th Inf. Div. and 9th Inf. Bn. After smoke was laid to screen operations, Col. Hines, son of the former U.S. Army Chief of Staff, went forward and organized GIs for the hazardous crossing.
Lt. Col. Donald G. Williams, Kansas City, Mo., Div. Engr., rushed tanks to exploit the bridgehead. By nightfall, elements were across and in one of the hottest artillery spots in the Metz area. For their action, Hines, Nutter, Titterington, Edwards and Cunningham were awarded the DSC.
Another DSC was won by Capt. Clarence E. Prenevost, Red Lake Falls, Minn., commander of
Tank-infantry forces had taken Landroff after much resistance. That night Nazis counter-attacked four times. The final attack, made in battalion strength, succeeded in getting Krauts into the town, and the ensuing hand-to-hand battle lasted until daylight.
This was the action anywhere along the Nied River. It meant men like Cpl. Robert R. Newman, 69th Tanker, Waterfall, Pa., who destroyed four bazooka teams with his tank machine gun, extinguished a turret fire, evacuated wounded, then pumped more lead into the enemy.
T/5 Roberto M. Martinez, 76th Medics, Brownsville, Tex., saved three seriously wounded men and five other casualties by evacuating them from a burning ammunition truck just before it exploded.
Second Lt. Edward B. Ledford, 212th FA, Lomax, Ill., when a fellow officer was mortally wounded, advanced to reach a radio, directed fire that silenced enemy guns.
S/Sgt. Walter R. Fick, Vergas, Minn., and Pvt. Clarence M. Smith, Pasadena, Calif., of the 603rd TD, knocked out a mortar crew with carbines, captured 37 prisoners.
The division assisted in taking Bertring, Gros-Tenquin, Hellimer, Diffembach, Fremestroff, Hemering, Leyviller and St. Jean Rohrbach within the next eight days, but there was no letup in the Nazis' tenacity. The 9th Inf., under Col. Britton, did a superior job in cleaning the woods of Krauts north of Leyviller.
The division outpost line extended through Puttelange and Henriville when Remering, Morsbronn, Hilsprich, Barst-Marienthal, Cappel, Hoste-Bas and Hoste-Haut fell. Capture of that area prepared the way for the final ten miles between Henriville and the Saar River.
CC A with task forces under Lt. Col. Charles E. Brown, Tacoma, Wash., 44th Inf., and Col. Wall, 50th Inf., advanced to positions overlooking the Saar, giving GIs their first view of Germany.
More heroic acts came to light. First Sgt. George P. Rimmer, 50th Inf., Cincinnati, ordered his platoon to lay low when artillery zeroed in, rescued four wounded men from drowning in the water where they were lying. Pvt. Thomas E. Clark, 15th Tanker medic, Silver City, N.C., braved withering fire in crossing a bridge five times to evacuate wounded. Driving to an aid station, his ambulance struck a mine. Clark was killed, the wounded were saved.
S/Sgt. Irvin C. Shoemaker, 86th Recon, Hyde Park, Pa., ran
T/Sgt. Frederick L. Thek, 9th Inf., Greentown, Pa., and his eight-man squad held a shallow bridgehead across the Nied for 12 hours against overwhelming odds until reinforced.
There was much more than appeared on the record. Never to be forgotten, for instance, was the day in the Han-Sur-Nied area when the 603rd TD Bn., commanded by Lt. Col. Clarence D. McCurry, Memphis, Tenn., ran into enemy tanks. The platoon of 1st Lt. Edward Snyder, Bentleville, Pa., kayoed ten and touched off a battalion spree that boosted the total to over 30 in two weeks.
Artillery enjoyed praise from its severest critics—doughfeet and tankers. Col. Riley's battalions, the 128th of Lt. Col. Thomas R. Bruce, Mexico, Mo.; the 212th of Lt. Col. Phillip H. Pope, Washington, D.C.; and the 231st of Lt. Col. Thomas M. Crawford, Salisbury, N.C., who replaced Lt. Col. Robert S. Perkins, Maryville, Mo., injured on the Brest run.
Playing a major role in the success of every attack was the 146th Armd. Signal Co., which strung an average of 350 miles of wire a month and maintained a high standard of communications in all signal channels under difficult tactical and climatic conditions.
The roll call of the gallant is long. It must be or the Super Sixth never could have carved out its remarkable record. When the division passed its third anniversary on Feb. 15, 1945 in its sixth month of combat, 141 men had received Silver Stars; 737, Bronze Stars; 15, direct battlefield commissions. Three had earned an oak leaf cluster to their Silver Stars: Capt. George W. Fry, 44th Inf., Columbus, Ga.; T/Sgt. John A. LaQuinta, 44th Inf., McKees Rock, Pa.; Lt. Peake,
The road had been long with many obstacles. But in every case pitfalls like the meeting engagements of Brittany, battles around Nancy, mud of the Saar, and cold and snow of Bastogne were overcome.
During all this concentrated action, one common thread ran through the variety of missions: complete success. Success that helped open a liberation path from Brest to Bastogne on a road aimed for Berlin!