5th US Armored Division
The Story Of The 5th Armored Division
The half-track was quiet as the message ticked in-"Patrols entered Germany at 1815." The date was Sept. 11, 1944.
Word flashed from Col. John T. Cole's CC B (Combat Command B) to division, to army, to the world. The Reich border had been cracked. Initial patrols to cross the Our River into Germany were units from the 81st Tank Bn. and 85th Cavalry Recon. Sqdn.
Other patrols followed to prepare for the grinding armored thrust of Col. Glenn H. Anderson's CC R which was later to drive completely through the German's western defense line. Brig. Gen. Eugene A. Regnier's CC A was in ready reserve.
The Victory Division lays claim to being the first able to send the historic message—Americans were fighting on German soil. The Victory Division had crashed into Germany after an 800-mile fast-fighting drive through France, Belgium and Luxembourg.
When the 5th Armored plunged into the fight in August 1944 stakes were high. Le Mans was the goal.
A XV Corps field order read: "This advance is to be pursued with the utmost energy inasmuch as on its success may hinge the success of the whole campaign in western France."
Fifth Armored tanks already were rolling swiftly southward through the newly-made gap between Coutances and St. Lo, across the Selune River and down to Vitre—a hundred miles of congested narrow roads and familiar Normandy hedgerows. The approach march began Aug. 2, after the division stripped for action during a hectic week at its assembly area near St. Sauveur le Vicomte.
Lt. Col. Kent Fay's 85th Cavalry Recon. Sqdn. streaked south to reconnoiter routes and search out possible enemy positions. Although resistance was light, the squadron encountered strong delaying action at Cosse le Vivien. After several fire fights Aug. 6, the enemy withdrew. Next day the highway from Laval to Le Mans was clear.
Thus began the 5th Armored's spectacular 300-mile exploitation behind the German Seventh Army. Thus ended Gen. Gunther Von Kluge's hopes of stopping the Allied onrush.
In the second week of action, 5th Armored's hard-riding tankers and mounted infantrymen encircled and captured Le Mans. Tough German rear guards and scattered units were pushed north to the main body of the German Army fighting a losing battle against British and Canadians below Caen.
As the division pushed through to Argentan and Gace, Canadians from above broke through to Falaise. The now-famous Falaise trap was sprung. Artillery and fighter bombers pulverized the Germans in their wild eastward flight through the narrow gap. Result: one badly squeezed German Army was written off within a few days. Higher authorities acclaimed the action as the first large scale exploitation made behind enemy lines by a full armored division.
To men of the Victory Division the thrust to Argentan was 15 days and nights of long marches, of increasingly tough battles. It was refueling on the run, eating on the run, sleeping little. It meant communications almost to the breaking point.
In the first half of the operation, all three combat commands catapulted through Coutances, Gavray, Ducey and Fougeres. At Vitre they swung east toward Le Mans. CC A raced to cut the Paris highway northeast of the city, CC R blocked the roads south. Germans fled as CC B entered Le Mans Aug. 9. The 79th Inf. Div. followed to mop up.
When CC A swung around Le Mans, Lt. Marvin W. Orgill of Co. B, 34th Tank Bn., changed tanks three times rather than stop for ammunition.
At Chemire sur Sarthe, Lt. Col. William Hamburg's task force routed the enemy, captured a warehouse laden with supplies intended for the 2nd SS Panzer Div. An 81st Tank Bn. platoon led by S/Sgt. Field Morrow Kling, later commissioned a second lieutenant, left six burning Germans tanks in Meslay du Maine. Battle was at such close quarters a German tank rammed Kling's M-4 from the rear.
When CC A paused in Savigne l'Évêque, six German personnel carriers and a volkswagen rode headlong into the column. Engineers riddled surprised enemy from half-tracks.
Steel-tipped forces of the 5th Armored now pointed north to Argentan. Two combat commands sped to the Orne River, started bridging that night. Next morning CC A forces crossed near Ballon and CC R at Marolles. Now Sees was the objective.
Resistance stiffened. Both task forces of CC A ran into German tanks, artillery and anti-tank guns north of the river. Lt. Col. Thomas B. Bartel's task force pushed through the Germans at Dangeul. Lt. Col. William H. Burton's task force was heavily engaged at Nonans, its advance guard cut off by three 88s and infantry. Quick, accurate fire from the 47th Armd. FA, the 46th Armd. Inf.'s assault guns and 81mm. mortars ended the threat. When the Burton force reassembled that evening, it struck a German motor pool and destroyed 30 vehicles.
CCA resumed its march on Sees next morning and contacted a large German tank force at St. Remy du Plain. Tank destroyers, the 47th FA and supporting fighter planes smashed away at the enemy armor. Then Co. C of the 46th mopped up. From there the combat command by-passed the Perseigne Forest to cross the Sarthe River. Sees was liberated by mid-morning on Aug. 12.
At Mortree, Lt. Richard J. Monihan of the 46th dashed to rescue a wounded man from a knocked-out tank. While Lt. Monihan stood on the tank pulling him out, a second direct hit threw both to the ground. But the lieutenant carried the tanker 300 yards through machine gun fire to safety, firing his carbine with one hand, killing two Germans on the way. Rushing for medical aid he captured 13 more. Lt. Monihan became the first 5th Armored man to be awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.
Co. A, 34th Tank Bn., commanded by Capt. Richard E. Biederman, pushed the point of the column to Argentan and by midnight Aug. 12 was in the outskirts, its artillery shells thundering into the city.
Meanwhile, CC R overpowered stubborn enemy forces to cut a path to the north at CC A's right. At the Orne, artillery and infiltrating enemy threatened Col. Anderson's headquarters. Counterattacks threatened the CC R crossings. All were repulsed. CC B came up to take the river line, CC R headed north for Sees.
With the help of fighter-bombers and artillery, Lt. Col. Howard E. Boyer's task force dispersed German armor at Essai to win its first decisive battle.
CC R by-passed Sees Aug. 12, fought German rear guards to the northeast. CC A was similarly engaged northwest of Sees. Despite heavy anti-tank and artillery resistance and the first minefield encountered, by nightfall two task forces of CC R blocked main highway junctions south of Le Pin au Haras and Gace.
The lower jaw of the Falaise trap snapped shut Aug. 13. CC A was ordered to establish defensive positions south of Argentan. CC R stood off counterattacks below Gace. Forces of the 85th outposted Courtomer and Moulins le Marche, patrolled northeast to Laigle. CC R blocked the roadnet east of Argentan. The 2nd French Armd. Div. cut the highway from the west.
Lt. Col. Thomas R. Bartel was wounded outside Argentan and Maj. Glenn Foote took over the 34th Tank Bn.
Artillery and planes had a field day breaking the spine of the German Seventh Army as it streamed backward through the trap.
The Eure-Seine Campaigns
V SPRINGS A TRAP FOR NAZIS
On to the Seine" became the 5th Armored's battle cry Aug. 15 when the division turned over its Argentan-Gace positions to the 90th Inf. Div. and rolled east. The plan: capitalize again on speed and power of tank-infantry teams to cut off German units still west of the Seine. The division would strike at Dreux, cross the Eure River and push north to the narrow corridor between the Eure and the Seine.
CC B drew the assignment of capturing Dreux. CC R was to cut off the city from the north and protect the division's exposed flank. CC A was in reserve.
Col. Cole's tanks and infantry, Maj. Tony Giorlando's task forces leading, raced toward Dreux Aug. 16. They came under a hail of fire from dug-in German infantry, supported by anti-tank guns, as they reached wooded approaches to the city. Lt. Sam Isaacs' rifle platoon was thrown back, reorganized, and in the wake of artillery fire from CC B's column again stormed into the woods.
As Task Force Giorlando reorganized, a German medic brought word from the city that the 500 Germans still there were ready to surrender. Col. Cole gave him a half hour to bring back the garrison—that was the last seen of the medic. When the time expired the task force pushed down a main street to find the enemy had retired to a cemetery and was shelling the city. Shells burst among the stone buildings as the first Tricolor fluttered from a church tower.
With Dreux liberated, the Victory Division turned north to batter Seventh Army remnants streaming toward the Seine. Paris lay only 50 miles to the east.
But all hopes of Paris were laid aside as the division pursued its objective—the high ground at Heudebouville near the junction of the Eure and Seine Rivers. CC A and CC B marched abreast up the narrow corridor between the two rivers. CC R and the 85th protected the Eure flank and the rear. Artillery pounded all possible Seine crossings.
It was as though the division crunched a giant nutcracker on the enemy as he fought to escape the trap and cross the Seine before Paris and all northern France fell to the Allies.
CC R seized the heights west of Anet Aug. 19, bloodily smashed an attacking German infantry battalion supported by artillery, counterattacked at Ivry. The enemy suffered heavy losses there and at Pacy where massed artillery fire shattered a tank concentration.
CC A engineer patrols reconnoitered for Seine crossings on the 20th and next day CC B patrols found Vernon vacated by its German garrison. These and bridgehead forces of the 79th Inf. Div. were among the first Allied troops to reach the Seine. River operations were nothing new to old running mates like the 5th Armored and 79th Inf. They had fought many knotty problems along the Cumberland River during Tennessee maneuvers the year before. They were teamed, too, under XV Corps, for the Normandy operations that first put their Tennessee training to practical use.
Heaviest fighting in the Eure-Seine pocket was a battle that CC A started at Douains and La Heuniere Aug. 20 and carried 25 miles north to Heudebouville in five days. TDs, artillery and planes blasted through enemy armor near Douains. La Heuniere was strongly held by German tanks, AT guns and machine guns trained on a sharp turn in the road and the open slope beyond.
Capt. James W. Ray's advance guard by-passed the village and reached St. Vincent des Bois. During the night Germans slipped into the two-mile gap separating Capt. Ray's force and the main body. Lt. Col. Burton was wounded the next morning while leading a strong reconnaissance in an attempt to rejoin the two elements. However, the 46th Armd Inf. Bn. CO refused medical attention and exposed himself again to enemy fire to radio instructions to his forces. Then the advance guard and main body attacked simultaneously from north and south, wiping out all resistance at La Heuniere.
The 46th had four commanders before the day was out. Lt. Col. Scott M. Case, CC A executive officer, who took over when Lt. Col. Burton was evacuated, was wounded at Mercey in the afternoon. Then Maj. Jack B. Day took charge until Lt. Col. Kenneth P. Gilson assumed command that night. When Lt. Col. Burton returned on the 28th, Lt. Col. Gilson was given command of the 15th Armd. Inf.
CC A and CC B combined to smash a strong defensive force in wheat fields north of Champenard Aug. 22. Task Force Day attacked from the village, at the head of CC A. Lt. Col. LeRoy H. Andercon's task force of CC B cut across from the right. Artillery flushed two tank from the area and P-47s swooped down to destroy them. Tanks of Co. C, 81st, sprayed grain shocks with murderous fire and infantrymen of Co. C, 15th, dropped grenades in foxholes and mopped up with rifles and bayonets. Bodies of 200 SS infantrymen were counted later.
The battle raged north as CC A approached Heudebouville. Artillery and planes hammered German tank forces, supply trains, and other columns heading for the Seine. CC A's engineers and "married" B Cos.—tank and infantry companies working together—under Capt. Robert T. Bland on the night of the 23rd drove a strong enemy force off the hill at Fontaine Bellanger, only a mile below the objective.
Three forces closed in on Heudebouville next day. Maj. Giorlando's task force, attached to CC B, attacked from the left, captured Ingremare. Maj. Joseph W. Boxley's tanks and infantry drove in from the south. Capt. Bland's force completed the liberation of Fontaine Bellanger and eased into Heudebouville without opposition at 1830 hours.
The reconnaissance squadron took over in the Heudebouville-Vernon area on the 25th, and CC A and CC B moved to an area near Mantes for intensive maintenance work and rest. For them, it was the first lull in operations.
However, CC R was still in action after crossing the Mauldre River at Beynes, 12 miles west of Versailles. There Col. Anderson assembled his force on the night of Aug. 24 without a loss despite German interdicting fire and at least 100 rounds of armor piercing shells. Next day the command closed in to the south bank of the Seine to outpost the area between Les Mureaux and Poissy.
The Eure-Seine campaign was at an end. Once again 5th Armored had struck a mighty blow at the enemy. From Mantes down the Seine to Louviers and from there up to the Eure to Dreux lay the charred wreckage of German armor and the grave of many a German soldier.
Success of this campaign was proclaimed by Lt. Gen. George S. Patton, Jr., Third Army Commander, who issued a commendation to XV Corps for securing a bridgehead east of the Seine at Mantes and preventing the Germans' escape between Mantes and Louviers.
Corps Commander Maj. Gen. Wade H. Haislip, in turn, commended the 5th Armd. Div. in these words addressed to Gen. Oliver: "I desire personally to thank you and every member of your command for the splendid accomplishment of every task assigned. Your achievement as a first class fighting division is playing a large part in the liquidation of the German Army which is our eventual goal. My best wishes to you and your command for continued success."
While 5th Armored men changed tank motors and reconditioned equipment as they paused near Mantes, the 4th Inf. Div. and the 2nd French Armored completed the liberation of Paris that civilian patriots had started a few days before.
A hard first month of combat had paid big rewards for the three years of training in the U.S. and England.
The 5th Armd. Div. was born Oct. 1, 1941, at Fort Knox, Ky., home of the Armored Command. Maj. Gen. Jack W. Heard was its first commander.
Officers and men who were the cadre of the division trained at Knox until Feb. 16, 1942, and then moved to newly completed Camp Cooke, Calif. Inductees who arrived during March and April brought the division to full strength.
The division left Camp Cooke Aug. 8 for eastern California where it trained in open tank tactics on the vast Mojave desert. Desert maneuvers over, the division returned to garrison training at Cooke Nov. 23.
Gen. Heard was transferred from the division, and Maj. Gen. Lansford E. Oliver took command March 2, 1943. Gen. Oliver came as an officer experienced in armored warfare as fought in World War II. Shortly before he had returned from North Africa where he led Combat Command B of the 1st Armd. Div. in the initial invasion of Oran and the drive east into Tunisia.
For his successful campaign in Tunisia, Gen. Oliver was promoted to major general, awarded the Distinguished Service Medal, and returned home to command a division.
Two weeks after Gen. Oliver assumed command the division went east for maneuvers in Tennessee. In July 1943 it moved to Pine Camp in northern New York.
Dec. 6 the division made another move—to Indiantown Gap Military Reservation. Here the men completed unit combat tests, received pre-overseas furloughs and on receipt of movement orders moved to a staging camp.
Men of the 5th Armd. Div. walked up the gangplank in New York Feb. 10, 1944, and Feb. 24 they walked down the gangplank in England. They went immediately into training at Camps Chiseldon, Ogbourne-St. George and Tidworth-Perham Downes, all in Wiltshire.
In April there came a new job for the division. Its men were called on to operate hundreds of camps and hotels in Cornwall and Devonshire. There they serviced First Army troops as they embarked for the invasion of France.
When their charges left England's shores for the invasion of the continent, 5th Armored men returned to their tanks and guns and bivouacked in Wiltshire. There they made their own final preparations for combat. On July 22 the division moved to its assigned marshalling points and the following day embarked for France and the job for which it had been preparing nearly three years.
Belgium, Luxembourg Liberated
ACROSS THE MEUSE, PAST SEDAN
With Paris liberated and its short rest and maintenance period over, the Victory Division pushed north to the fight. The men, who had fought within striking distance of Paris for so long, were not to be denied at least a glimpse of the famous capital. The city fell in the line of the division's next advance, and on Aug. 30 its world-renowned boulevards and avenues were lined by throngs of jubilant civilians cheering the marching men. Crowds strained against 5th Armored MPs and local gendarmes in a wild demonstration along the division's three routes. When CC A halted in the Bois de Vincennes for the newly-attached 629th TD Bn., it was mobbed and delayed for several hours by a rejoicing populace.
The march through Paris was no sightseeing tour—it was the start of an incredibly swift drive to the Belgian border, 130 miles north.
Smashing through enemy rear guards and attempted ambushes, the push overtook many German forces that had fled Paris. Resistance was strong from the very outskirts of the city, where 5th Armored forces pushed through the 4th and 28th Divs. Lt. Col. Fay was killed at Rully while leading one of his reconnaissance troops in an armored car.
Led by CC R, the division cut through historic Compiegne Forest, crossed the Oise and Aisne Rivers, then the Somme. Columns sped forward toward Belgium so rapidly that most of the reconnaissance was done by artillery liaison planes.
Gen. Oliver led one armored column in his unarmored peep, reconnoitering roads and bridges. With his aide, Capt. Maurice E. Davidson, his driver, and his guard, he was point for the column. Once, crossing a high bridge over a canal, he spotted a German anti-tank gun trained on a bridge only 100 yards away. The driver swung the peep behind the wall of a roadside house. Gen. Oliver ran back over the bridge, halted the first tank and directed its fire from a defilade position until the enemy gun was destroyed.
For leading that column more than 70 miles Sept. 2, Gen. Oliver was decorated with the Silver Star by Maj. Gen. L. T. Gerow, commander of First Army's V Corps, to which 5th Armored was attached.
By midnight the division was at Conde on the Belgian border. More than 500 prisoners, 70 two-horse teams and several saddle horses were captured. Most of the enemy's vehicles already had been destroyed by the division in its three-day drive.
On Sept. 4 new orders sent the Victory Division racing another 100 miles to the Meuse River, advancing southeast below the Belgian border. Its mission: to cross the Meuse at Sedan and Charleville.
The Meuse River and Sedan, names already familiar to war and its history, now stood for a new delaying defense line as the Wehrmacht hastily retraced its once-victorious steps of four years before. The 100 miles between the 5th and the Meuse were defended only by road blocks and blown bridges. The biggest threat was the first gasoline shortage to confront the division after its long, fast marches and extended supply lines. Fuel soon caught up with the columns and the division raced on.
CC R dashed 96 miles to the edge of Charleville in one day, Sept. 5, and with barely a pause for breath began to locate river crossing sites that night. For the first bridgehead, Cos. B and C, 47th Inf., crossed a partly destroyed dam. Covering the crossing were Hq. Co. mortars and assault guns, tank guns of the 10th Tank Bn. and 105s. of the attached 196th FA.
From protected positions on a 50-foot cliff overlooking the far bank, the enemy continued to pour heavy rifle and machine gun fire and grenades, but infantrymen forged ahead. Before noon on the 5th they won the cliff and five hours later, CC R's engineers had laid a temporary 192-foot treadway bridge across the Meuse.
Turning south, CC R ripped through to Sedan to liberate the city. CC A established a bridgehead at Pont Maugin south of Sedan where a flat river plain offered no protection against intense enemy fire from high ground around Bazeilles. The battle raged through the night of Sept. 5. Next day CC A captured the heights and completed the bridge. On the 7th, the 28th Inf. Div. started clearing the way eastward.
The Meuse behind, 5th Armored now lashed out toward Germany. Nearest border of the Reich was along the Moselle-Saur-Our Rivers 100 miles east of Sedan across a corner of Belgium and the small Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. Routes traversed wooded hills with many dangerous defiles, roads that had been made treacherous by enemy blocks and demolitions.
A combat team of the 28th Div. passed through CC A and advanced to the south and east from Sedan to the Belgian border near Thonne-le-Thil. From there CC A again took the lead on Sept. 9, plunging through 20 miles of Belgium to Aubange and Athus to enter Luxembourg at the village of Petange and fight to within five miles of the City of Luxembourg.
On a parallel route to the north, CC R was lancing through Florenville, Tintigny and Flabay la Neuve into central Luxembourg at Useldange. Supporting fighter planes viciously attacked the enemy, sometimes as close as 100 yards in front of CC R forces. Planes left 40 German vehicles burning near Illy.
CC A met stubborn resistance that day from Germans concentrated in Luxembourg for a last delaying defense before the Siegfried Line. Near Virton, CC A troops overtook a German supply train, destroyed 10 trucks, 25 horse carts and many horses. At Athus they overran a German bicycle force, nabbed 50 prisoners. Just inside Luxembourg they pushed through a hail of small arms fire from behind a railroad train and from houses along the road.
On another main road just north of CC A's route, an enemy armored column entering the City of Luxembourg lost two tanks and 30 vehicles to CC A's artillery and air support. Elsewhere fighter planes destroyed 10 Kraut tanks and 40 vehicles.
On the open country just west of the city, CC A was halted by a strong force of German tanks and anti-tank guns that opened fire from well-protected positions. TDs, artillery and planes slowly forced the German armor into the open and destroyed five Panther tanks. The enemy withdrew into Luxembourg. CC A regrouped in front of the city, preparing to enter the next morning.
During the fighting march through Belgium and Luxembourg that day, Prince Felix of Luxembourg accompanied the division, most of the time up front with the fighting elements of CC A's column. Having been an exile for four years and four months with the reigning Grand Duchess Charlotte, the Prince was seeing his realm for the first time since the Nazi occupation. In his British brigadier's field uniform, he passed through Luxembourg in a peep and was given a rousing welcome home by villagers near the division CP.
The city was entered with little opposition on Sept. 10. Maj. Foote commanded the advance guard, which included Cos. A and D, 34th, and a platoon each of TDs and engineers. Teller mines had been laid at the big highway bridge over the railroad at the city's entrance but were tossed aside by Lt. Leonard Hamer, a 22nd Armd. Engr. Bn. officer, and Lt. Thomas Grose, aide to Gen. Regnier.
Liberation of all Luxembourg was completed the next two days as 5th Armored tankers, infantry and supporting artillery cleaned out German rear guards and fanned out along the border just across the river from the Siegfried Line. CC A drove east from the capital through heavy resistance. An artillery concentration cleared the eastern heights of enemy troops, but as they withdrew they replied with a few shells aimed at towers of the city. The celebrating populace scurried to shelter.
A second concentration from guns of the 47th and 400th FA Bns. cleared the woods north of Hamm as CC A continued east. At Neudorf Airport, the leading task force took a hard blow from the enemy. Well concealed anti-tank guns knocked out the first four tanks of Co. A, 34th, advance guard and a Tiger tank opened fire on dismounted infantry.
Gen. Regnier, Maj. Foote and Lt. Grose, who had been with the lead tank, and two infantry squads under Lt. Donald H. Coulter were cut off from the column. While their own forces strafed, bombed and shelled the area, they found shelter in nearby buildings.
Lt. Coulter, Sgt. Alfred M. Maffei and Pvt. Arthur H. Gibble advanced, routing the German tanks with a bazooka. Gen. Regnier's column reformed and stopped for the night while artillery continued to blast the enemy.
On Sept. 11 and 12, CC A pushed east in two columns to Hemstal, 10 miles from the border. On the left a combat team of the 28th Div. came up behind Task Force Burton and the latter dashed up to Junglister to capture the powerful five-towered Radio Luxembourg transmitter by night on the 11th.
Undefended by retreating Germans, the station was taken intact. T/Sgt. Mitchell S. Janowicz of the 46th was the first to enter the station, second only to Radio Moscow among the most powerful European stations.
CC A now embarked on the mission of defending the Grand Duchy on a wide front from Bollendorf on the Saur River south along the Saur and Moselle Rivers. Strong German forces maintained bridgeheads on the west bank. To counter infiltrating enemy patrols, CC A outposted and patrolled the area, later was joined by two battalions of the 28th's Combat Team 112 and by the 85th Recon. Sqdn.
Meanwhile, CC R and CC B had advanced against lighter resistance through central and northern Luxembourg to the German border along the Our River. CC B shot to the north of Diekirch and sent patrols to the border Sept. 10.
At Mersch, midway between the capital and Diekirch, the 47th Inf. of CC R pursued a fleeing German force. A patrol arrived at the Mersch bridge over the Alzette just as it was blown, but forced back the Germans before they could demolish the nearby railroad bridge. It was there that Capt. Charles Perlman and his engineers removed two truckloads of explosives under enemy fire, then laid planking across the tracks so the force could continue its smashing drive to the border. At about the same time the "married" Cos. C crossed the Alzette at Pettingen, north of Mersch, and overtook a large German column just after an attack by fighter planes. Eighty-seven German vehicles were captured or destroyed in a hour.
The Victory Division's hard-hitting forces had overrun the entire Grand Duchy in short order. Facing them now was the pillbox-studded Siegfried Line on steep heights just across Luxembourg's river boundaries.
Germany and the Siegfried Line
THE "OUR" IS A RIVER TO CROSS
In Belgium to the north and France to the south other American divisions were closing in all along the Reich's western border, but the 5th Armd. Div. sent the first force into Germany. A strong dismounted patrol of a light tank company crossed the Our near Stalzembourg at 1815 hours Sept. 11. Tanks of that company and other patrols of CC B crossed the next day and continued patrolling the frontier 25 miles northwest of Trier the next three days.
Although the line of pillboxes was not penetrated by these patrols, they learned the defenses were manned by light forces, armed only with machine guns and small caliber anti-tank weapons. Strong German counter patrols put up fight and the enemy began building his strength in mortar and light artillery fire. Steep hills, mud and defiles hampered medium tanks.
CC R reassembled opposite Wallendorf, prepared to force a crossing and plough through the Siegfried Line toward Bitburg and Trier. This would be more than a test of the enemy's strength; it was planned as a large-scale diversion aimed at drawing a big German force into the fight while the main penetration was made near Aachen.
In the two days preceding CC R's assault on Sept. 14, practically all artillery of the division, including the 628th TD and 387th AA Bns., fired across the river into pillboxes. At 1400 hours Sept. 12 a concentration of direct fire was delivered by tanks of the 10th Tank Bn. and assault guns of the 47th Inf. No fire was returned from Germany.
At 1100 on the 14th, CC R, strengthened by the 400th and 95th FA Bns., started crossing the Our at Wallendorf. Picked 155mm. gun crews of the 987th FA fired in direct support against opposing pillboxes and enemy forces.
Engineer-infantry assault teams forded the Saur River at Reisdorf and advanced to the Our junction at Wallendorf. Small arms fire pinned them down before they could seize the high ground above the village. CC R tanks forded the river, sheltering the infantry and spraying the village with machine gun fire.
At noon Sept. 14 the two CC R task forces lashed out toward the heights beyond the Siegfried Line; 28 hours later they stood on Hill 407, the last of the pillboxes behind them. Increasing artillery and aggressive tank resistance from the German defenders had barely slowed CC R tanks and infantry.
Assault teams worked up the hill, cleaning out heavy concrete pillboxes to make way for oncoming tanks. Although glare from the burning village below dangerously illuminated CC R's exposed position, that first night Col. Anderson's men captured 250 Germans and killed many others in their advance.
Krauts were blasted out of fortifications, but the pillboxes withstood the heaviest fire from CC R's guns. Until engineers could demolish the "boxes" with 400-pound explosive charges, Germans frequently infiltrated back into them and had to be routed out by renewed assaults. Lt. Col. Boyer's battalion staff bedded down briefly near a pillbox, only to find at daybreak that Germans had drifted back to the pillbox and the immediate area. Thirty Germans were taken.
At the Niedersgegen ford, Lt. Col. Boyer's troops turned deadly fire on a force of German armor, dispersing it after destroying two Mark IV tanks, a half-track and an anti-tank gun. Only one of his tanks was hit and its crew was untouched.
Down at Wallendorf on the night of the 14th, Co. C engineers started laying a 72-foot treadway bridge under heavy enemy fire. Completed the next day, the bridge remained under fire during the entire operation.
Hill 407, the objective near Mettendorf, soon was dubbed "Purple Heart Hill" by GIs. The day after they gained it they had their hands full. Artillery fell on all sides, patrols constantly filtered to the rear to cut supply lines. To safeguard the supply line the next three days meant continuous mopping up in their own rear. The enemy, meanwhile, built up strength in front. One wood had to be cleared by tanks three times in a day.
Lt. Col. Hamburg's forces, now including a battalion of the 112th Inf., also had dashed through German tanks and heavy artillery fire to attain Hill 407 and the high ground beyond. Defensive positions were established around the all but deserted villages of Halsdorf, Stocken and Wettlingen. By dark on the 16th, three strong counterattacks were thrown back by the 112th at Wettlingen. Heavy artillery fell throughout the night. After an hour-long artillery barrage in early morning, four Mark IV tanks opened fire at long range, knocking out two of Co. D's tanks, but nearby Co. C destroyed all four attacking tanks. Now the tables were turned and the "married" A's counterattacked the German armor from the left, eliminating five more tanks and a 20mm. self-propelled gun.
Sept. 19 brought two heavily armored counterattacks, both of them smashed by heavy fire from CC R's tanks, TDs and artillery. Ten Panther and Tiger tanks and four vehicles were burned before the enemy fled. Tank destroyers bagged four other tanks nearby. Ten German tanks were destroyed at Nusbam.
Despite heavy losses, troops and armor were poured in, threatening to cut off CC R's forces. Artillery fell incessantly.
CC R was ordered to recross the Our, passing through CC B forces which had entered Germany Sept. 16 and occupied the Wallendorf area as CC R pushed on. CC R's crossing was accomplished without a loss during darkness on the 19th.
Intensified enemy activity continued next day. A CC B task force commanded by Lt. Col. Gilson was withdrawn across the Our successfully. Task Force Anderson and Col. Cole's headquarters, remaining on German soil, dug in on Hill 375, between Niedersgegen and Ammeldingen, prepared a tight defensive ring under heavy artillery and mortar fire. No Heinies appeared that night for an anticipated assault, but next morning they attacked through heavy fog. Prepared to shoot anything in sight, GIs blasted away, killing 40 and breaking the attack.
The engineer bridge at Wallendorf, captured by the Germans and then regained on the 19th by Lt. Col. Elmer I. Kennedy's 387th AA Bn., fell into German hands again before it was destroyed on the 21st.
As enemy forces kept closing in, CC B sent out tank-infantry patrols to clear a few hundred yards around the tightly-ringed defenses. So close was the enemy that an 81st medical aid man searching for wounded walked into German headquarters in a concealed pillbox on the very hill CC B was occupying—a three-minute walk from Col. Cole's CP.
On the 21st, Task Force Boyer infiltrated back into Germany to help cover CC B's withdrawal that night. Before dark, a tank patrol cleared a corridor from Hill 375 to the Wallendorf ford and by darkness the forces withdrew in order under small arms and artillery fire.
Col. Cole, standing knee deep in the ford guiding the entire command across, was the last man to cross. For his leadership he was decorated with the Silver Star by Gen. Oliver.
This last hazardous operation was not without a touch of humor. As Col. Cole, unrecognizable in the dark, waved on the vehicles, one tanker came to a halt. Previously warned of a deep spot in the ford, he called out: "Say, buddy, where's that hole?" "Don't know," the Colonel called back. "Well, you're a hell of a road guide," retorted the tanker as he started his tank across.
The Story's End Is Victory
V BITES INTO THE HURTGEN
The 5th Armored left Germany—for the time being. But those eight days under fire in the Reich had not been fought in vain. The troops had accomplished their diversionary mission, and as they pieced together the whole picture in the brief rest period that followed they came to realize the significance of their hard-won success.
They had drawn into their sector and contained German forces greatly outnumbering them—forces powerful and mobile enough that they might otherwise have resisted the main assault by other First Army divisions at Aachen.
German forces opposing CC B and CC R included, a GAF infantry division, a separate infantry regiment a machine gun battalion, several medium and heavy artillery battalions, a Panzer Brigade, and elements of a Panzer Lehr Division, and the less effective border defense troops first encountered.
Nearly 100 German tanks were committed to action. Of these 44 were destroyed by the division and 19 others knocked out by supporting fighter planes. In addition, pilots reported 14 tanks hit but not definitely destroyed.
The enemy suffered extremely heavy casualties and his prepared defenses in the sector were permanently weakened with the demolition of 103 pillboxes by Cos. B and C of the 22nd Armd. Engrs.
The action in Germany brought to a climax 50 days of almost continuous action during which the 5th Armd. Div. captured 7243 Germans, killed 4637, destroyed 250 tanks, 808 other vehicles, 218 artillery pieces and 180 anti-tank and infantry guns.
In the battle of Hurtgen Forest, CC R took the fanatically held towns of Kleinhau, Brandenburg and Bergstein, killing and wounding 1200 German infantrymen, taking 400 prisoners, destroying 20 tanks and anti-tank guns.
The assault on Kufferath by CC A was termed by observers as one of the most perfectly executed tank and infantry attacks. One tank company was used in the initial assault and was stopped just short of the town by anti-tank fire. A second company immediately was thrown through the gap created and drove into the town before surprised defenders could reorganize. Infantry quickly followed the tanks and mopped up.
Dangerous pockets of resistance to the First Army front were wiped out by CC B with a pile-driving armored thrust around the towns of Untermaubach and Overmaubach, clearing a salient to the Roer.
Many of the soldiers who fought in Germany with the 5th were decorated for individual achievement and gallant acts. Both combat commanders, Col. Anderson and Col. Cole, were awarded the Bronze Star for inspiring leadership and their full accomplishment of the mission on German soil.
Losses were heavier than in previous battles, and gains were not all of a direct nature. Fighting in Germany left an added stamp of experience on already battle-tested soldiers. Out of Germany came a new fighting spirit for the 5th Armd. Div.
This spirit, infused into the whole division, might well be described in the words of two battalion commanders as set down in official reports of the action:
"It was proven that even in an adverse situation the battalion could overcome fanatical resistance. The unit is now a well-disciplined, experienced and confident fighting force." (Lt. Col. Anderson, commanding 81st Tank Bn.)
"The heavy action has welded together our organization and has given the officers and men confidence in their ability to stand up under severe strain when necessary, while continuing their mission." (Lt. Col. John R. McLean, commanding 400th FA Bn.)
Through Normandy and northern France, through a corner of Belgium and the entire Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, thousands of happy, newly liberated people waved on the 5th Armd. "Victory" Div. with the familiar two-fingered "V" for Victory symbol.
This sign has been more than a good-luck greeting to the 5th Armored; it has been a challenge and a spur to a division with a name to fulfill.
The name "Victory Division" was adopted upon the division's formation three years ago, at a time when the only defiance of Hitler's occupation in western Europe was that V-symbol of hope among conquered peoples. Since the significant V was also the Roman numeral for the division's number, the division became known as the Victory Division.
The division has borne its name with honor. It closed the Falaise trap that meant victory over the German Seventh Army in Normandy. Then, after pursuing and hammering the Wehrmacht across half a continent, it forced an entry into Hitler's Reich.
But the final victory is still to come, and now, more than ever before, the 5th Armd. Div. rallies to the victory sign, confident that in whatever battles lie ahead it will live up to its name—the Victory Division.
5TH ARMORED DIVISION
KILLED AND MISSING IN ACTION [221 KB]