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[12th Armored Division Patch]   Speed is the Password: The Story of the 12th Armored Division
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[Speed is the Password: The Story of the 12th Armored Division]
"Speed is the Password: The Story of the 12th Armored Division" is a small booklet covering the history of the 12th Armored Division. This booklet is one of the series of G.I. Stories published by the Stars & Stripes in Paris in 1944-1945.

This is one of a series of G.I. Stories of the Ground, Air, and Service Forces in the European Theater, issued by the Orientation Branch, Information and Education Division, Hq, USFET... Major General Roderick R. Allen, commanding the 12th Armored Division lent his cooperation, and basic material was supplied by his staff.

T would be impossible to tell the full story of the deeds and heroism of men of the 12th Armored Division during their five months of unflagging combat against the Germans. Every officer and enlisted man in the division performed heroically in forming a combat team feared by our enemies and respected by our allies.

Many of our comrades were left along the way, from the Maginot Line to Austria. To the memory of those who gave their lives that the enemy in Europe might be defeated, let us dedicate these pages. May those gallant dead live here as they will live forever in the hearts of those who fought beside them.

We know not what we shall be called upon to do in the future, but we do know that, whatever our mission may be, it will be accomplished with the same magnificent fighting spirit which has given this division a record of achievement equalled by few. Nothing can stop us; little can delay us.

Roderick R. Allen
Major General, Commanding


The defeat of Germany was quickened by the speed of the American armor.

PEED was the 12th Armored Division's password in five months of constant combat against Germany—speed coupled with deft, devastating striking power.

In lightning thrusts, the Hellcat Division roared across the Saar Palatinate to the Rhine in less than three days; ripped from the Rhine to the Austrian border in 37 days. Swiftness, adroitness enabled the, 12th to snap the steel trap on the Colmar pocket. Speed made possible the division's seizure of the bridge at Dillingen where the first American troops crossed the Danube. This same killing pace sent the spearheading 12th winging 59 miles through enemy territory in less than nine hours!

Early May 3, 1945, the 23rd Tank Bn. crossed the Austrian border, the division's objective, at Kufstein. There the mad drive halted—halted because a disorganized and defeated enemy no longer opposed it.

The war in Italy was over; American troops effected a juncture at the Brenner Pass. Germany's unconditional surrender followed on May 8. The combat job in Europe was complete.

Only then did the grimy, weary tankers and armored doughs commanded by Maj. Gen. Roderick R. Allen stop to reflect their achievements—blazing a path from the jump-off at Luneville, France, through the heart of Germany's Redoubt to the Austrian Alps.

When the war ended in the ETO, the 12th had but two battle stars to its credit, small acknowledgement when compared to the combat decorations of the veteran Seventh Army infantry divisions which teamed with the 12th from time to time—the 3rd, 45th, 79th, 36th and other veteran outfits.

But the Hellcat's stars represented the blue chip battles, the battles of the Rhineland and Central Europe. Men of the 12th had earned those stars the hard way.

From the time the division first went into the line, Dec. 7, 1944, until the end came—151 rugged days later—elements of the division were in action continuously. One day's rest was all that the three armored field artillery battalions—the 493rd, 494th and 495th—received.

Much of the going was tough. Besides piercing the Maginot and Siegfried Lines, "Bloody Herrlisheim," a little town north of Strasbourg, where the inexperienced Hellcats paid a terrific price for combat seasoning, never will be forgotten.

The 12th waged its only actual defensive battle of the war at Herrlisheim when it smacked into a numerically superior and well entrenched enemy. But while sustaining many casualties, the Hellcats thwarted repeated German attempts to break out of the riverhead pocket and strike south toward the political prize of Strasbourg. It was here that the 12th was dubbed the "Suicide Division" by the Germans, who eventually withdrew still puzzled by American tenacity. Later, according to Nazi PWs, Hellcats became one of the two most feared divisions on the Western Front. The other outfit was the fabulous 4th Armored.

The Hellcat Division came of age at Herrlisheim. After that battle, it never was stopped. Its strokes were swift, sure. Loaned to Gen. George S. Patton, Jr., to close the Colmar pocket, the 12th became the "Mystery Division" spearhead for Third Army's sensational dash from Trier to the Rhine. On its return to Seventh Army, the division blazed a route through the Redoubt into Austria.

During its five months of combat, 12th Armored captured 70,166 German prisoners, seven times its own strength. Hellcat columns blasted through 3000 cities and towns. Airfields, factories, ammunition and supply dumps fell before the armor as it pierced deep into Germany. Many railroad supply trains were shot up or captured; thousands of enemy vehicles and weapons were destroyed.

The 12th was a blue chip division!

Sept. 15, 1942: The governors of Kentucky and Tennessee met at the newly-constructed Camp Campbell for the activation of the 12th Armd. Div. Although its postal address was Kentucky, the camp overlapped into both states between Hopkinsville, Ky., and Clarksville, Tenn.

A Kentuckian, Maj. Gen. Carlos Brewer, was the division's first commander, supervising its training until a few weeks before the Hellcats shipped to England two years later.

Recruits arrived from every state in the Union as reception centers responded to the call for more armor men. Training began Nov. 9, 1942, and continued at Camp Campbell until September, 1943, when the division went on maneuvers in Tennessee for three months.

Reorganization and streamlining followed maneuvers. Regiments were replaced by battalions to provide smaller, faster task forces as the 12th moved to Camp Barkeley, Tex., for additional training.

While at Camp Barkeley, the 44th Tank Bn. shipped to the Pacific Theater on a special mission, later distinguished itself as the first unit to enter Manila. Lt. Col. Tom Ross, battalion commander, was killed during the action. The 44th was replaced by the 714th Tank Bn., a former division unit.

The 12th staged at Camp Shanks, N.Y., and sailed for England Sept. 20, 1944, as Gen. Allen assumed command. Maj. Gen. Douglass Greene, formerly with the 16th Armd. Div., commanded the division a few weeks prior to shipping.

Landing at Liverpool, Oct. 2, the division proceeded to Tidworth Barracks in southeastern England. Five weeks later, the 12th crossed the Channel, landed at Le Havre and went to an assembly area near Auffay, France. Originally it was assigned to Ninth Army, but orders were switched after advance parties departed and the 12th became part of Gen. Alexander M. Patch's Seventh U.S. Army.

Moving across France, Hellcats paused at Luneville to reassemble. The 572nd AAA (AW) Bn., which was to remain with the division throughout its combat operations, joined forces as did the 827th TD Bn., a Negro outfit which was relieved at the conclusion of the campaign in Alsace and Lorraine, Feb. 13, 1945.

Hellcats Sharpen Claws at Herrlisheim

EC. 5, 1944; The 12th Armd. signalled its readiness when the No. 2 gun section of Btry. A, 493rd Armd. FA Bn., fired the first round near Weisslingen. The battery, commanded by Capt. William P. Wilson, Knoxville, Tenn., and the battalion supported the 44th Inf. Div.

The same day, the 12th was assigned to XV Corps and ordered to relieve the 4th Armd. Div. Under Brig. Gen. Riley F. Ennis, Combat Command A shoved off for Kirrberg and underwent a strafing attack for the first time but sustained no casualties. The entire division moved into the line Dec. 7 and launched its initial attack the next day.

Until the Germans were driven from Alsace and Lorraine, the 12th battled a bitter winter as well as a stubborn Nazi foe. Actually, the cold, icy weather and the resultant trench foot put more men out of action than did enemy bullets. A new chief of staff, Col. Wallace H. Barnes, joined the division Dec. 14.

Among the first casualties was Lt. Col. Montgomery C. Meigs, Annapolis, Md., 23rd Tank Bn. CO, who was killed while leading his attacking task force. Col. Meigs was awarded the Silver Star as were Capt. Carl J. Adams, Springfield, Mass., 23rd, also posthumously; Sgt. Edward M. Madrack, Wilkes-Barre, Pa., 43rd Tank Bn.; Pfc Dave Hake, Kent, Wash., 23rd Tank Bn. Med. Det.

First/Sgt. Billy D. Hanover, Bryan, Tex., Hq Co., 43rd Tank Bn., won the division's first battlefield commission. The first Purple Heart awards went to S/Sgt. William C. Gaines, 43rd; Sgt. John C. Maulden, Cpl. Frank L. Csenosits and Pfc Alert D. McElroy, 23rd; Pfc Floyd E. DuBois, Pfc Edward H. Roberts and Pvt. Mortimer Scharf, 17th Armd. Inf. Bn.

Throughout December, the 12th took every assigned objective as it cracked Maginot Line defenses. Rohrbach and Bettviller were among the many small towns liberated. Gen. Ennis was awarded the Bronze Star for his leadership in the initial attack while Lt. Col. Paul H. Wood's 134th Ord. Maint. Bn. received the Meritorious Service Unit Plaque.

The division captured its first German town Dec. 21 when Utweiler fell to the 56th Armd. Inf. Bn. and Troop C, 92nd Cav. Recon Sqdn., operating as part of Col. Charles V. Bromley's Combat Command B. Christmas Day, Hellcats ate turkey and opened packages from home, but with this the resemblance to the Yuletide ceased.

The new year, 1945, produced the bloodiest chapter in the 12th's combat story. The scene was Herrlisheim from Jan. 8 to Jan. 20. After the failure of von Rundstedt's offensive in the north, the Germans centered their attacks in the Alsatian sector, hoping to crack the American line and bolster their sagging morale by the capture of Strasbourg.

There were four such offensive efforts: (1) near the fortress Bitche, (2) in the Hardt Mountains near Reippertswiller, (3) on the Alsace plain near Hatten and Rittershoffen, (4) in the Rhine riverhead near Herrlisheim and Gambsheim.

Two factors weighed heavily against the 12th as it rolled toward the riverhead at Herrlisheim. This definitely was not tank country; the enemy's strength was underrated. What was thought to be a small force of inferior quality actually consisted of two divisions, the 10th SS Panzer and the 553rd Volksgrenadier, skillfully organized for defense.

CC B, with the 714th Tank Bn. and the 56th Armd. Inf. Bn. as basic elements, was first to test the enemy's strength. Supported by the 714th, men of the 56th fought their way into Herrlisheim Jan. 9 and held one-third of the town until the next night when heavy fire and mounting casualties forced their withdrawal.

When the Germans' actual power was determined, the entire division was committed. CC B shifted to the vicinity of Rohrwiller to establish a bridgehead over the Zorn River, while CC A drove on Herrlisheim from the south.

Tankers of the 43rd Bn. and doughs of the 17th Bn. entered Herrlisheim from many directions, planning to hook up in the town's center. They never met. The well-placed enemy captured large groups of both battalions, including both COs, Lt. Col. Nicholas Novosel, Gary, Ind., 43rd, and Maj. James W. Logan, Centralia, Wash., 17th. Many men were killed. "Things are plenty hot," was the last report over Col. Novosel's radio.

Gen. Allen issued orders to attack the next day, Jan. 18. Cos. B of both the 23rd Tank Bn. and 66th Armd. Inf. Bn. attempted to relieve elements of the 17th still fighting in the town but were unable to crack German defenses.

Withdrawing to defensive positions, the 12th made preparations to repulse anticipated Nazi counter-thrusts as the enemy had shifted more crack troops to the riverhead area. The attacks came; wave after wave of infantry and tank combinations were flung at the Hellcats. But the assaults were hurled back. There was no breakthrough at Herrlisheim.

This was the Hellcat Division's toughest and costliest fight. Approximately 1700 reinforcements were required to bring the division back to normal strength. The 12th acquired its combat seasoning in that battle. Never was it to be stopped, seldom slowed down.

Cpl. James G. Leitheiser, Humboldt, S.D., 66th Armd. Inf. Bn. assault gun driver, and Sgt. Howard Gumm, New York City, gun commander, won the division's first Distinguished Service Crosses in the Herrlisheim-Weyersheim action.

The two men, along with Cpl. Peter Sulli and Pfc Albert Chayt both from Brooklyn and 66th Hq. Co., left a sheltered position to fire their howitzer on three German Tiger tanks which held up Co. B's withdrawal. By distracting the Nazi armor, these armored doughs allowed the beleaguered company to pull back from positions it had held against relentless attacks for six days.

Two direct hits silenced the assault gun, mortally wounded Gumm, Sulli and Chayt. Leitheiser made his way to safety after determining his buddies were beyond help. The crew was credited with saving the entire company from annihilation or capture. Sulli and Chayt were awarded the Silver Star posthumously.

The 12th Buttons Up Colmar Pocket

OLLOWING Herrlisheim, the 12th Armd. played a major role in routing the Germans from their last stronghold in French territory—the Colmar pocket.

Aside from its political and economic significance to France, this pocket of resistance east of the Vosges Mountains was a strategic military stronghold. Heinrich Himmler had promised Strasbourg to Hitler and the German people as a Nazi party birthday gift. The attempt to take the city from the north had been frustrated. Now the enemy was making his final bid for the prize from the south.

Despite desperate Nazi resistance, Colmar was liberated by Allied troops Feb. 2. Next day, the 12th, operating under XXI Corps, was ordered to continue the attack south and east and effect a junction with French forces moving up from the south so that remaining Nazis in the Vosges Mountains could be sealed off.

With combat commands abreast, the division raced along the axis between the Ill River and the Vosges Mountains, coordinating their advance with the 28th Inf. Div. Against sporadic resistance, the 12th whipped southward. When a task force commanded by Lt. Col. (then Maj.) Scott W. Hall, Hopkinsville, Ky., roared into Rouffach Feb. 5 and made contact with the French, a band of steel was snapped around the Colmar pocket.

In the lightning, three-day drive, the 12th killed an estimated 300 Germans, wounded 850, captured 548. The division lost 23 killed. Represented in the PW cage were remnants of the 19th German Army's LXIII and LXIV Corps.

For its part in sealing the Colmar pocket, the 12th Armd. Div. was authorized to wear the Colmar Coat of Arms. The French presented Gen. Allen with the Legion of Honor and the Croix de Guerre with Palm. The Croix de Guerre was awarded to a dozen other officers and men of the division. Co. C, 66th Armd. Inf. Bn., represented the division in a victory parade at Colmar Feb. 8.

Among the awards within the division was a Bronze Star to Chaplain Robert E. Klewin, Sheboygan, Wis., (Capt.), 92nd Cav. Recon Sqdn., who exposed himself to enemy fire to comfort wounded at forward aid stations.

After the Colmar operation, the division withdrew to the St. Avold area for a well deserved rest. With the exception of the reconnaissance and artillery elements, which maintained a protective screen and furnished fire support to Seventh Army infantry divisions, battalions began rehabilitation of men and vehicles.

Division strength was augmented by the arrival of three Negro infantry companies, one assigned to each of the three armored infantry battalions as provisional companies. New medium tanks—Easy 8s—featuring 76mm guns arrived and weapons received maintenance. By mid-March, the 12th was ready to move.

Armor Blazes Path to the Rhine

The "Mystery Division" of Gen. Patton's Third Army took the spotlight today by reaching the Upper Rhine, entering the important chemical city of Ludwigshafen and penetrating to within seven miles of the ancient cathedral city of Speyer, the chief community of the Bavarian Palatinate. It was a good day's work...

HE "Mystery Division" was the 12th Armd. Veiled in secrecy following transfer from Seventh to Third Army, the Hellcats were "another unnamed armored division" in press releases.

The order attaching 12th Armd. Div. to XX Corps, Third Army, was received March 17. The following morning the division jumped off near Trier, beginning a six-day operation that rivaled any mission in the ETO for speed and accomplishment. Germans threw everything they had into the battle in an effort to save their precious Rhineland, but the spearheading Hellcat Division couldn't be stopped. In less than three days, the 12th reached the Rhine; in three more, it occupied the important river cities of Ludwigshafen, Speyer and Germersheim.

Originally, the division was assigned the mission of passing through the 94th Inf. Div. and advancing towards the Rhine to secure crossings near Worms. At noon, March 19, the axis of advance was shifted southeast; the drive now pointed toward Ludwigshafen. Orders from XX Corps were: "Keep going. When you hit the Rhine, turn south and look for a bridge which is still intact in Ludwigshafen." If there were no bridges, the division was to proceed south as far as Germersheim.

En route to their objectives that first day, Hellcats captured an estimated 2500 prisoners, three ammunition dumps, a regimental supply train, 400 horses, 700 trucks and wagons in addition to an enemy hospital, equipment and German patients. The bulk of prisoners and materiel was taken near Birkenfeld and Baumholder.

March 20 was another field day for the "Mystery Division." Shoving ahead from Birkenfeld to Ramsen, the 12th scooped up another 2200 PWs, killed an estimated 1000 Nazis, destroyed a six-car train and blasted 20 tanks, 20 anti-aircraft guns, 15 artillery pieces and 50 wagons. Next day, 1000 more prisoners were taken, two enemy planes knocked down and 21 rocket guns captured.

Forward elements of the division reached the Rhine at 2330, March 20. First to approach the river was a platoon from Co. B, 56th Armd. Inf. Bn., led by Lt. Charles Peischl, Nazareth, Pa.

The following day CC A entered Ludwigshafen and, with a portion of the 94th Inf. Div. which had been mopping up in the Hellcats' wake, cleared the city. Climax of the drive came March 24 when CC B took Speyer, and CC R, commanded by Col. Richard A. Gordon, Fort Smith, Ark., entered Germersheim. Simultaneously, the 92nd Cav., which had led the Hellcat thrust much of the way, contacted the 14th Armd. Div. driving up from Seventh Army territory to the south.

Efforts to secure a bridge over the Rhine were unsuccessful—all spans between Ludwigshafen and Germersheim had been blown—but all other phases of the operation were outstanding achievements. The enemy was cleared from the Saar Palatinate, losing more than 75 per cent of infantry elements in the 23 divisions which comprised the First and Seventh German Armies. A total of 7211 PWs went into the cages.

When Troop D, 92nd Cav. Recon, raced into one German town, all streets were blocked by enemy vehicles. Ordered not to fire unless fired upon, Lt. Roane C. Figg, Disputanta, Va., entered cafes and restaurants and ordered the beer drinking drivers to move their vehicles. Assuming their force had been captured, the surprised Germans obeyed. Troop D rolled through the town, leaving a bewildered enemy behind.

On another occasion, this same troop by-passed a retreating enemy column, which had been holding up its advance. The Germans waved gaily until they recognized the swift unit as American. Nazis crashed their vehicles into ditches in an effort to get out of the way.

Maintaining a blistering pace, the 12th caught the Krauts flat-footed all the way across the basin.

Hellcats crossed the Rhine early March 28, 1945. Four days previously the division had reverted to Seventh Army and now was to spearhead Gen. Patch's forces across southern Germany into the heart of the Nazis' vaunted National Redoubt. After reorganizing near Diedesheim, the 12th spanned Germany's principal river on two bridges erected at Worms. Operating under XV Corps and later under XXI Corps, the Hellcat Division pointed its guns towards Wurzburg and began another swift drive that swept aside all resistance.

Amorbach, Beerfelden, Tauberbischofsheim, Hettstadt, Oschenfurt were buttoned up. CC A, with the 222nd Regt., 42nd Inf. Div., attached, moved into Marienburg, across the Main River from the much-bombed Wurzburg.

Stoutly defended by infantry forces concealed in the ruined buildings, Wurzburg, presented a formidable obstacle. Led by 1st Lt. Thomas F. Johnson, New York City, a platoon of light tanks from Co. D, 43rd Tank Bn., moved against the positions, shifting from one section of the city to another as needed. Tankers left piles of enemy dead throughout the city. One of the strongly defended areas was the Wurzburg cemetery.

Also aiding Rainbow Division doughs was Capt. Ivan D. Wood's medium tank company, 43rd Bn. The city was cleared after two days of fighting.

After CC A slipped through the city and swung north to clear the way for the 42nd Div., it assisted in the capture of Schweinfurt, German ball bearing manufacturing center. Meanwhile, other combat commands of the 12th moved south and east of Wurzburg, taking a bridge and airport at Kitzingen. Large enemy areas were surrounded and cleared by the fast moving task forces, supported by the 101st Cav. Group, now attached to the division.

The 12th's advance turned southeast towards historic Nuremberg, gateway to Bavaria, April 13. Enemy resistance stiffened as the division approached the Redoubt, although many towns surrendered without a fight to save their buildings from destruction by Hellcat guns. The city of Neustadt surrendered to CC A's Task Force Scott only a few moments before the tanks were to open fire.

Because of a shift in Army boundaries, the 12th's mission was changed again April 17, and the division turned south toward Munich, birthplace of the Nazi party.

CC B entered Ansbach against moderate resistance while CC R cleared 16 towns to the south. CC A occupied Schwabach and Buchschwabach, south of Nuremberg, until relieved by XV Corps elements. Then it joined the other commands on the drive towards Munich.

Gen. Ennis' command trailed CC B and CC R to Feuchtwangen, passing through them at this point and shoving ahead to Dinkelsbuhl. The stage was now set for this combat command's famous dash to the Danube to seize intact the bridge at Dillingen.

For the many American troops who later sped across the Dillingen Bridge there was this sign at the northern approach:

You are crossing the beautiful blue Danube through the courtesy of the 12th Armored Division.

Speed Pays Off at Dillingen

PRIL 22, 1945: Within 24 hours, CC A's Task Force 1 whipped 40 miles from Dinkelsbuhl to the Danube only to find the bridge at Lauingen destroyed. Meanwhile, Task Force 2, slightly to the east, streaked along a parallel route towards Dillingen.

Led by 1st Lt. Charles J. Ippolito's light tank platoon, the force swept into the town with guns blazing, routing more than 1000 disorganized defenders and shooting up a retreating mechanized column. Surging on to the bridge, the unit captured a handful of demolition men and drove other Nazis away with tank fire before the span could be blown.

First men on the bridge were Capt. William W. Riddell, Jr., Liberty, Mo., Co. C CO, 43rd Tank Bn.; S/Sgt. Robert E. Welch, Crosby, Tex., and Sgt. J. O. Huston, Spokane, Wash., Co. A, 66th Armd. Inf. Bn.; Pvt. Robert L. Strothers, Wilkinsburg, Pa., Co. D, 43rd. They found the span wired for demolition. Strothers, with the forced aid of a German, cut the wires to the six 500-pound aerial bombs secured to the bridge.

While tanks of the 43rd held off the enemy, a squad from Co. A, 66th, raced across the bridge, dug in on the southern side. These doughs were Sgt. Lester R. Porter, Dublin, Ga.; Pfc Frank E. Zendell, Indianapolis; Pfc William W. Moore, Norfolk, Va.; Pfc Robert H. Compton, Chicago; Pvt. John D. Horn, Fair Water, Wis., and Pvt. Edward J. McGarr, Oyster Bay, N.Y.

So swiftly was the bridge taken that Krauts on the Danube's southern side weren't aware it no longer was theirs. Approaching German vehicles were easy targets for tanks. No sooner was the two-lane concrete span taken than other 12th Armd. Div. units poured across to secure the bridgehead. Task Force Hall, first to reach the river at Lauingen, and TF Fields were responsible for driving the enemy beyond easy artillery range of the prize target. But the heroes of Dillingen were the men who snared the coveted bridge, men in the task force of Lt. Col. Clayton W. Wells, Abilene, Tex., comprised of Hqs, Service, Cos. A and B, 66th Armd Inf.; Co. C and a platoon of Co. D, 43rd Tank Bn.

Nevertheless, the drive to the Danube was not one to give men of CC A a comfortable feeling. So swift was their march that all support trailed far behind. Enemy troops were on either flank; more Nazis remained to their rear.

The night after the bridgehead was secured, a blacked-out infantry column crept through Feuchtwangen, nearly 50 miles behind the CC A spearhead. Alert for enemy resistance, the officer leading the column halted a 12th Armd. man emerging from a building. After each had identified himself, the infantry officer asked:

"Where are the Krauts? Any in town?"

"I wouldn't think so," replied the Hellcat. "This is the 12th Armored Division's rear echelon!"

"Hell's bells!" exclaimed the infantryman, and led his column from the town.

The 12th held the concrete span across the Danube against repeated enemy attempts to destroy it with artillery and aircraft. One day alone, the 572nd's anti-aircraft guns blasted six German planes from the sky. After the veteran 3rd Inf. Div. arrived to take over the area south of the bridgehead, the Hellcat Division once more became Seventh Army's spearhead.

Nazis were on the run as the 12th slashed south and east. PW cages were swollen with a daily intake numbering thousands. Airfields, planes, war factories and huge warehouses bulging with war materiel were captured, left behind as the armor sliced ahead.

Elements of the 101st Cav. Group seized three bridges over the Wertach River and advanced to the Lech River. By-passing Augsburg, the division swung south, paused briefly while the 119th Engrs. built a treadway bridge across the Lech and constructed runways on a railroad span for armor to cross.

Shoving on to Landberg April 28, the division liberated 2800 Allied PWs from the prison where Adolf Hitler reputedly wrote Mein Kampf. At nearby Hurlach concentration camp, the men saw the bodies of 300 inmates, mostly Jews, who had been slain when their guards fled before the plunging Hellcat columns. Other prisoners were freed; 4000 others were herded deeper into the Redoubt by their Nazi captors in advance of the 12th's arrival.

Although the division's mission was to by-pass Munich and to help bottle up the German forces in Italy by moving into Innsbruck, Austria, cavalry elements of the 12th were met at Diesen, at the lower end of the Ammer Sea, by a committee of Munich citizens. This group offered to surrender the city to the 12th, reporting the withdrawal of all German troops. A small task force was sent toward Munich but returned to the division zone after encountering road blocks and artillery fire near the city.

The division hooked up with the 10th Armd. Div. along a narrow pass in the Bavarian Alps at Oberau. The movement to the south halted and the job of clearing the Nazis from the National Redoubt began.

More than 5000 Polish officers were freed at a large camp in Murnau, among them Gen. Juliusz Rommel, Warsaw's defender in 1939 and senior soldier of the Polish Army. Twenty-two other generals were in the group.

The division's 17th Armd. Inf. Bn. established what is believed to be a ground force record for movement through enemy territory when it traveled 59 miles in eight hours and 45 minutes May 2. The 17th was operating under CC R, whose mission was to proceed from Starnberg on the Wurm Sea to the Inn and clear the river valley on the south into Austria.

Supported by tanks from Co. C, 23rd Tank Bn., the 17th hopped off at 0645, trailed by the remainder of the combat command. At 1530, armored doughs whose half-tracks raced two abreast along the Salzburg autobahn, halted their column near Pfraundorf, 59 miles from the starting point.

The 17th Armd. Inf. Bn. was alone in its spearhead position. Other elements of the combat command had been held up when SS engineers blew a bridge on the autobahn in the wake of the flying 17th. Later, the 23rd caught up with its companion task force, by-passed it, and crossed the Austrian border at Kufstein early May 3.

The division forward CP was set up at Redenfelden on the Inn River when the 12th was pulled out of the line two days later and transferred to the area the 12th was to police at the war's end.

The Hellcats — Ready for All Comers!

OOKING back over their rapid thrust across Germany—it took only 37 days to clear a path from the Rhine to Austria—men of the 12th could trace a trail of victory over which they had stormed against a mixture of weary Wehrmacht soldiers and fight-to-the-death SS troopers. In the short space of five months, they had seen their division transformed from a green, untested outfit into one of the most feared fighting machines on the Western Front.

The prisoner take was impressive during the final stages. Of the 70,166 PWs credited to the division, 63,013 were grabbed after the Rhine crossing. The count was 30,651 for the final week alone. Biggest one-day haul came May 3 when 12,035 Germans, including nine generals, passed into PW cages.

Nearly 8500 Allied PWs, including 1500 Americans, were liberated by the 12th Armd. In addition, approximately 20,000 non-military prisoners gained freedom when the division routed the Germans from the Redoubt stronghold.

Among these were 14 French notables, including two former premiers, Edouard Daladier and Paul Reynaud; Gen. Maxim Weygand and Gen. Maurice Gamelin, both former commanders of the French Armies; Jean Borotra, international tennis star; Michael Clemenceau, son of the World War I statesman; Gen. Charles de Gaulle's sister.

Held in an Alpine castle in Bavaria, they were snatched from death at the hands of SS troops by a group of tankers and armored doughs under Capt. John C. Lee, Jr., Co. B CO, 23rd Tank Bn., and turned over to the 36th Inf. Div., which assisted in the rescue.

There was little time to rest during the long march from the Maginot Line to Austria; the pace was too fast.

Combat engineers of the 119th Armd. Engr. Bn. did more than their customary job of building bridges for the tanks, removing demolition charges and clearing mine fields. Often they laid aside their tools for weapons and fought as infantrymen.

The 82nd Armd. Med. Bn. won the Meritorious Service Unit Plaque for its outstanding job. Every combat man had a word of praise for the medics—the men who walked the front lines unarmed.

Problems of supply—in April alone division vehicles required more than 1,000,000 gallons of gasoline to keep moving—were solved smoothly by supply personnel operating under G-4. Not once were tanks stopped for lack of fuel.

The 134th Ord. Maint. Bn., which was awarded a star to its Meritorious Service Unit Plaque, leap-frogged its heavy equipment forward to make it accessible when tanks and guns needed repairs. The military police platoon, augmented in combat by the division band, had a full-time job handling prisoners. Yet, this was only one of its duties.

One of the most difficult jobs, the task of keeping constant communications for the far-flung combat commands with higher headquarters, was efficiently performed by the 152nd Armd. Sig. Co., which also was awarded the Meritorious Service Unit Plaque.

It was a good team, from the armored doughs, tankers and artillerymen at the front to the furthest rear echelon unit—which usually wasn't so far back. By the war's end, more than 500 battle decorations had been awarded to men of the division and an additional number of awards were pending.

HE 12th Armd. was singled out for commendation from every Corps under which it operated, VI, XV, XX, XXI and II French. Typical of these commendations came from Maj. Gen. F. W. Milburn, XXI Corps commander, who wrote:

I with to express commendation and appreciation for the spirit, aggressiveness and valor with which the 12th Armored Division so successfully performed its every combat mission while operationally attached to this headquarters from March 31, 1945, to May 5, 1945.

From your initial action in Forbach and Styring Wendel through the attack and capture of Wurzburg and Schweinfurt where you gave magnificent assistance to the 42nd Infantry Division, the turn south, the capture of Feuchtwangen, to the seizure of the bridge over the Danube at Dillingen, all tasks were accomplished with a dash and expertness that bespoke superlative leadership and initiative on the part of all. There qualities continued to be outstanding as you continued on to the east, effecting the crossings of the rivers Wertach, Lech, Isar and Inn.

These are accomplishments in which the entire 12th Armored Division may take deep pride and that always will reflect great honor upon the organization.

There was little celebration among the men of the Hellcat Division with the official announcement of Germany's unconditional surrender, May 8, 1945. Perhaps the division had seen the end approaching; perhaps the men were too tired. More likely, it was because they knew the job still was unfinished. Occupation of Germany and the defeat of Japan remained.

Men of the division didn't know what the future held for them, but it hardly mattered. The Hellcats were battle-tested, ready for all comers!

Printed by Desfosses-Neogravure, Paris
Photos: U.S. Army Signal Corps

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