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, issued by the Orientation Branch, Information and Education Division Hq., USFET. Major General John M. Devine, commanding the 8th Armored Division, lent his cooperation, and basic material was supplied by his staff.
I congratulate you all for a job well done and for the part you played in speeding the arrival of V-E Day.
For me it has been a pleasure and an honor to lead in battle such a body of men as the soldiers of the 8th Armored Division. Now as we march forward to new tasks together wish to each and every one of you, from the bottom of my heart: Good Luck.
THE STORY OF THE 8th ARMORED DIVISION
Kicking off under the command of Brig. Gen. Charles F. Colson, tankers, doughs and artillerymen who made up the combat command weren't long in receiving their baptism under fire.
In an initial action two 7th Armd. Inf. Bn. men, Pfc Wilfred L. Murray, Jr., Rockford, Ill., and Pfc Joseph L. Bisch, St. Louis, Mo., crawled behind enemy lines, dodged constant sniper fire, crept close to an enemy pillbox. Unable to open the ammunition box with cold-numbed fingers, they ripped off the cover with their teeth. Steadying their bazooka long enough to take careful aim, they fired, knocked out the pillbox, captured 15 prisoners, enabled their platoon to advance.
His own tank immobilized by a mine, Lt. Robert C. Cox, Las Cruces, N.M., 18th Tank Bn., knocked out two enemy tanks and an anti-aircraft gun. "After that," he said, "we didn't want to sit still and not do anything. The whole company was jammed up behind us, and we didn't like the idea of them shagging into the mines." Lt. Cox dismounted, guided the company safely through the mine field, earned a Silver Star.
For three days and nights, T/5 Robert A. Shapiro, Cleveland, 7th, made countless trips in his half-track to evacuate wounded, continued even after a shell had blasted him from his vehicle. "It was just one of those things," he commented. "I was most scared afterwards when I stopped to look at my half-track. Boy, was it banged up!"
By late afternoon, Jan. 24, Lt. Col. A. D. Poinier's 7th Armd. Inf. Bn., supported by Lt. Col. G. B. Goodrich's 18th Tank Bn. and Lt. Col. R. H. Dawson's 398th Armd. FA Bn., had taken Berg. Troop A, 88th Cav. Recon Sqdn., and batteries of 476th AAA (AW SP) Bn., also were in on the assault.
T/Sgt. Henry B. Schmidt, Chicago, 7th, won a Silver Star and the division's first battlefield commission in the action. With two bullet holes through his sleeve, Schmidt took command of two platoons. Maj. Gen. John M. Devine, 8th CG, in pinning the gold bars on Schmidt, said: "A man is a leader if he has the guts to step out in front when the going is the hardest."
Another Silver star went to T/5 Carl Hinton, Pelahatchie, Miss., who played a triple role—mechanic, driver, medic. Carried on the T/O of the 7th as a mechanic, Hinton made more than 50 trips to evacuate wounded in his peep. Four tires were shot from under him, but he didn't quit until the shrapnel-pocked peep did.
With Berg captured, CC A aimed for Sinz, defended by anti-tank ditch and fortifications manned by determined, battle-tried Nazis. Co. A, 53rd Armd. Engr. Bn., sloughed through the snow on the night of Jan. 25, threw a bridge across the ditch. Next day, the remainder of CC A lunged across the span, began a fierce, toe-to-toe slugging assault on Sinz.
Battle lines were formless. Once, 30 Tornado men dug in on the side of a hill with Krauts on the crest and on both flanks. Eight hours later 48 more Germans were flushed from a chateau to their rear.
Another platoon bedded down in a barn for the night. Five minutes after the men crawled out in the morning a sniper fired at them from the same barn.
Fighting in the outskirts of Sinz was bloody, bitter. Lt. Nathan Jaret, 18th surgeon, and his team evacuated more than 25 wounded when Yanks occupied only three houses in the town. Braving intense fire to bring out the wounded were Lt. Raymond R. St. Germain, Fall River, Mass.; T/5 James H. Morrison, Staten Island, N.Y.; T/5 Elbert Ackley, McFall, Mo.; T/5 Howard Propst, Monmouth, Ia.; Pvt. J. C. R. Miller, Jr., Dallas, Tex.; and Pfc John Hicks, Meadville, Mo.
Under heavy fire, Sgt. Vincent A. Troiana, Corona, N.Y., an 18th tank driver, dismounted to help a wounded gunner, later drove two disabled tanks off the road to let the rest of the company pass. He replaced an injured tank commander to join in the attack. "It was the luckiest day of my life," he said. "Five were in my tank—one was killed, three were wounded, and I escaped without a scratch." Troiana was awarded the Bronze Star.
With the tip of the Saar-Moselle salient blunted at Sinz, CC A was relieved on Jan. 28, rejoined the remainder of the division near Pont a Mousson. It had been a grueling 10 days but Tornado men had proved their mettle, had given warning to the beleaguered enemy that another well-trained armored division had arrived to crack the Wehrmacht wide open.
TRAINING PAYS DIVIDENDS IN BATTLE
Three months' maneuvers and a 21-day "D-Series"—which old-timers insist were tougher than subsequent battles—forged a smooth, confident fighting machine. The sweat-and-chill Louisiana climate hardened the men to withstand varying weather conditions.
First units of the 8th left chigger-choked bivouac sites and Louisiana's pine woods, Oct. 29, 1944, for Camp Kilmer, N.J. Time whipped by as men and equipment were processed and duffle bags were packed.
The division sailed Election Day, Nov. 7, 1944, following a short train and ferry ride to the Staten Island docks. A bend played in the Port of Embarkation shed as Red Cross girls dispensed coffee, doughnuts and candy bars. A roll call of last names was answered with first names as men labored up the gangplank, to be compressed into quarters for the two-week voyage.
The crossing was uneventful save for a submarine alert three days from Britain when a destroyer escort vessel picked up suspicious noises, dropped two depth charges. The soundings never were confirmed.
After disembarking Nov. 22 at Plymouth, Liverpool and Southampton, the division encamped at Tidworth Barracks, prepared equipment during the next six weeks for the great test to come. Soon after the new year, Thunderers piled ashore in France, stayed a few days near Bacqueville, made a night march over ice-covered roads in a blinding snowstorm to Rheims where the division was assigned to the then secret Fifteenth Army. While the 148th Sig. Co. still was aboard craft in Channel ports, the 8th Armd. Div. skidded across winter-bound France, arriving three days later, Jan. 12, at Pont a Mousson, launching point of its initial engagement.
Feb. 19, 1945: The Tornado rushed north secretly to join Ninth Army, relieving the famed "Desert Rats," British 7th Armd. Div., in a sector south of Roermond, Holland. The 8th was to make a feint, strike a body blow to distract the enemy from the main Roer crossing in the south.
CC B and CC R saw their first action on numerous patrols. Col. Robert J. Wallace's CC R lashed out Feb. 26 in a two-day battle south of Roermond, blasting its way yard by yard against mines, booby traps, small arms, machine gun and mortar fire. The enemy made a determined stand in his prepared defenses, calling down heavy mortar and artillery fire. By Feb. 27, enemy lines had been pushed back to a factory, then southeast to the north edge of Heide woods and east to the Roer River. The Germans opposing CC R were identified as a Para Lehr (Training) Regt., under control of the 8th Para Div.
Their platoon cut off all day, with both enemy and friendly artillery working them over, S/Sgt. William McClain, Pittsburgh, and Pfc Napoleon L. Bourget, Fitchburg, Mass., 58th Armd. Inf. Bn., made a tortuous 400-yard dash across a field erupting with all types of fire to get a radio with which to call American artillery and loose it on the Germans.
Plc Alex Urbanisk, Coleman, Mich.; Pfc Donald M. Gibson, Warsham, Mass., and Pfc Rocco Cuteri, Corapolis, Pa., Co. C, 58th, unknowingly walked a quarter of a mile into Nazi lines and back; later two platoons spent five hours clearing out the area through which they'd gone.
S/Sgt. Warren Samet, Freeport, N.Y., 58th, leading his mortar squad into its first action, knocked out an 88, captured five Germans. In the squad were Pfc John B. George, Beloit, Wisc.; Pfc John Ondeck, Duquesne, Pa.; Pvt. Clifford Ramsey, Eva, Okla.; Pvt. Rolland J. Messenheimer, Alliance, Ohio, and T/5 Harry G. Wible, Philadelphia.
Forty hellish minutes were spent entangled in concertina wire only 20 yards from a German machine gun by S/Sgt. Fred W. Hamel, Hollis, L.I., Co. C, 58th. Hamel's CO, Capt. Paul J. Malarkey, Cleveland, spotting him, called down fire from the 405th Armd. FA Bn. Some rounds landed only 75 yards from the trap, killed the enemy gunners, enabled Hamel to escape unscathed.
German oldsters were found by the 8th near Roermond manning dummy factories built to lure Allied aircraft away from important targets. They said they were alive because airmen had not been duped.
A bridge-laying tank, perfected by the 53rd Armd. Engr. Bn. and 130th Ord. Maint. Bn., made its maiden run successfully under fire. When a platoon from Co. C, 53rd, led by 2nd Lt. Richard J. Symonds, Melrose, Mass., was faced with spanning a 22-foot crater, S/Sgt. Dudley A. Gerry, Gardner, Mass., guided the T-32 tank-retriever under fire, dropped treadways into position. Medium tanks crossed the bridge the T-32 had laid, immediately took care of a pillbox which had held up the advance. An artillery observer with 105s zeroed in on the pillbox, had tried to call his battery but his line had been cut by the weird monster.
TORNADO WHIRLS FROM ROER TO RHINE
The 53rd learned how to clear road blocks from a town quickly. "We put an extra big charge on the first obstacle," explained the engineers, "big enough to shatter the windows of neighboring houses. Then the civilians all would rush out and remove the rest."
Carrying a message back for badly-needed artillery support to Co. A, 53rd, which was spearheading the attack at Merbeck, Pfc Michael Paparo, Philadelphia, and Pvt. John Diaz, Jr., Providence, R.I., ran into an 88 position. One grenade was enough to convince the Krauts to surrender.
Tetelrath was tough. An anti-tank ditch, covered by enemy artillery and a mine field limited maneuver while 15 pillboxes covered the only possible approach. Well dug-in German anti-tank guns and heavy mortars plagued the attackers. All available artillery went into position to support the northwesterly push. Under cover of both artillery and tank fire, the engineers, led by Lt. Col. E. T. Podufaly, paved the way for the advance. Lt. Warren H. Baker, Wilderville, Ore.; Sgt. Joseph F. O'Neill, Philadelphia, and Cpl. Peter T. Certo, Staten Island, N.Y., cleared mines, sometimes lifting them to one side and detonating them after the troops had passed. They returned sniper fire, using tracers to point out targets to tankers. Tanks poured through the gap, taking the pillboxes under direct fire. Tetelrath fell Feb. 28 at 0600.
CC B captured Arsbeck, by-passed small resistance, took Ober Kruchten Feb. 28. Roaring ahead on CC A's right flank, Maj. A. E. Walker's 80th Tank Bn. seized Grefrath March 2 without opposition.
Lt. Col. Tracy B. Harrington's 88th Cav. Recon Sqdn. (Mecz.) paved the way to the Niers Canal which Co. C, 53rd, bridged under cover of darkness. Maj. George Artman's 58th led off next morning, March 3, followed by the 80th, spurted eastward until the attack was halted south of Tonnisberg at 1500 by Corps order. The command had been pinched off by the 35th Inf. Div. on the north and the XIII Corps on the south. The division was ordered to assemble in Corps reserve, be prepared to move north and northeast.
Box score of the whirlwind Roer-to-Rhine drive was: 15 sizeable towns overrun; 1300 prisoners, including deaf mutes, epileptics, an OCS platoon and two old men resplendent in gold braid and shako caps who had charge of a railway station.
Add unique captures: Lt. Edward S. Klaniecki, Pittsburgh, and Lt. Col. Carl Colozzi, Cranston, R.I., artillery liaison pilots, circled low over 20 Krauts, signaled them toward an 8th Armd. unit. Pvt. Vincent Willan, Providence, R.I., Co. B, 7th, surprised three German noncoms sitting down to breakfast with their girl friends. A Kraut surrendered to Pvt. Richard Besoyan, Alameda, Calif., Special Service projectionist, who was on his way to show a movie, "The Uninvited."
The 8th Armd. claimed to be the first outfit to unveil the sinister Werewolf organization. Several underground hideaways were discovered, their entrances ingeniously concealed. Each cell was stocked with three months' provisions for two or three men.
Troopers from the 88th captured a German warehouse, made battlefield distribution of Wehrmacht sardines, cheese, cigarettes and candy as enemy shells fell nearby.
An armored car squad from
Lt. Mike P. Cokinos, Beaumont, Tex., was chagrined when several rounds from his 105 failed to knock out an enemy gun position and Germans added insult to injury by openly thumbing their noses at 398th artillerymen. ('pl. Thomas Colligan, Bradford, Pa., and Pfc Samuel Coleman, Brooklyn, N.Y., angered, scored a direct hit on the jeering Krauts.
A "traveling foxhole—safe, quiet and warm"—was invented by
Much credit for the speed of the Rhineward dash went to service company truck drivers who braved shells, snipers and mines to bring their highly inflammable and explosive loads to the front.
"We violated every supply rule in the book," said 1st/Sgt. Robert G. Marcum, Dayton, Ohio, Service Co., 18th Tank Bn. "As soon as a truck was empty it would hightail for another load instead of waiting for a convoy. It took a lot of nerve for two men to drive a single truck through territory infested with snipers, knowing one shell could send their load skyhigh."
M-25 tank transporters of the 130th Ord. Bn. were used as mobile gas dumps. Loaded with 8000 gallons in jerricans, a dozen of these vehicles could carry enough gasoline for the 8th to roll all day.
A traveling service station in a 130th peep reduced tire and maintenance troubles. S/Sgt. Virgil Crawford, Buena Vista, Va., salvaged American and enemy parts throughout France, Holland and Germany, built an air compressor on the peep.
The 53rd played a key role in the Rhine drive. Men from Co. C mopped up a mined road like a football team racing goalward on a series of pass plays. Sgt. Theodore J. J. Bielfeldt, Grand Island, Nebr., placed and set off the charges. T/5 Angelo J. Manzo, Bridgeport, Conn., covered him against snipers while Pvt. Edgar A. Shiring, Pittsburgh, carried a bucketful of TNT blocks. Setting one charge sputtering, Bielfeldt ran ahead, lit another, darted to light a third as the first one went off 60 yards behind him. Behind the three-man team came a half-track in which the charges were prepared. Within 15 minutes, this leapfrogging team cleaned out 200 yards of road. Tanks, crawling behind, spurted into the clear.
Engineers had to contend with tricky German booby traps. They found British and American dud bombs placed beneath bridges and culverts, rigged to be set off by pull igniters or primacord. There also were roadside ammo dumps wired to nets of primacord—in one case half a mile long—which could have wiped out part of a convoy.
Incidents of heroism were legion. With a painful shrapnel wound in his leg, Pfc Roy S. Doan, St. Joseph, Mo., 49th Armd. Inf. Bn., crawled forward under heavy artillery and mortar fire as an observer. Aided by Pfc William A. Gillchrist, Boston, he pulled two men from a burning half-track; later, two more from a burning tank, helped other wounded to the rear, then stayed up all night guarding prisoners. Eighteen hours after he was wounded, Doan went to an aid station.
T/5 Raymond Kurtz, Philadelphia, a 49th medic, suffered a compound fracture from shrapnel while rescuing an injured tanker. Despite intense pain, he treated the tanker and several others before dosing himself with morphine.
"IRRESISTABLE 8TH — A THUNDERING SERPENT"
A task force under command of Lt. Col. M. G. Roseborough, 49th Armd. Inf. Bn. CO, shoved off at 0830, quickly took Lintfort.
Doughs from the 35th Inf. Div. moved up, inched forward into Rheinberg.
"All we could do was sit there and sweat," remembers Tank Commander Sgt. Vernon McLean, Towson, Md., of the Rheinberg battle. "We were hemmed in. We couldn't turn." Despite their exposed position, Cpl. William Grote, Long Island, N.Y., gunner, knocked out four AT guns, a truck, a scout car and a
Pfc Edward Murray, Chicago, gun loader in the tank of Lt. Col. John H. Van Houten, Detroit, Mich., 36th CO, hopped out in the midst of cross fire to extinguish a blaze on the rear deck.
His tank knocked out, Lt. Wesley S. Buller, Brookshire, Tex., 36th, crawled out on the rear deck, blazed away with a .50 caliber machine gun to cover his crew's escape, sprayed houses concealing machine gun nests. He later entered a fortified house, killed 15 enemy snipers.
"There were men like the captain who died shortly after radioing: "I just got a Mark IV tank. Having a hell of a good time killing Krauts."
There was no rest for CC B, which at 0700, March 6, pushed toward the Wesel Bridge. Immediate resistance by small arms and artillery pinned down the advance all day. That night artillery softened enemy positions. Next day, CC B attacked in the vicinity of Grunthal where, on the 8th, the Solvoy Works was secured. Ossenberg, village of many church steeples offering perfect OPs for German observers, fell March 9. Weary doughs and tankers punched into Broth and Wallach.
Although wounded in the face, Lt. Herbert L. Erickson, Bruce, S.D., Co. B, 36th, single-handedly killed the six-man crew of an enemy gun which had knocked out his tank. When he was fired upon by six more Krauts, he threw away his empty carbine, grabbed a grease gun and killed them. He mounted another tank, continued the fight. The tank later was found burned out. Lt. Erickson was listed as missing.
Driving his ration truck to the front, Sgt. Wesley B. Barringer, Columbus, O., Service Co., 18th, saw white flags waving from a woods. He stopped the truck, captured 34 prisoners, marched them to the nearest MP.
After what seemed interminable fighting, the command was relieved at midnight, March 9, and sent to Venlo, Holland, for a rest. Battle-grimed veterans returned with a commendation from the 35th's CG.
While at Venlo, the 8th was host to Queen Wilhelmina of Holland, who paid a surprise visit to the war-torn town. She was greeted by Gen. Devine and Col. Kimball.
"D-For-Dog" was the first tank across the Rhine in the Ninth Army sector. Under command of a Pearl Harbor veteran, Lt. Tommie W. Yeargan, Colorado Springs, Colo., Co. D, 18th, the new M-24 was ferried across in a 30th Inf. Div. assault wave. Spellem, first town in the Ninth Army's zone east of the Rhine, fell to the light tankers.
Col. Henry W. Holt's forces—the 398th, 399th and 405th Armd. FA Bns.—joined the Ninth Army artillery preparation for the crossing. Following the barrage, the remainder of the Tornado crossed March 27 under the protective cover of the 473rd AAA (AW SP) Bn., first Ninth Army armored unit to hit the east bank.
In the misty dawn of March 28, Ninth Army attacked. Spearhead was, in the words of Newsweek, "the irresistible 8th—a giant ironclad snake—a thundering serpent more than 22 miles long."
A decisive battle was fought at Zweckel, eight miles north of Essen, where the Tornado pushed back the tough 116th Panzer Div., shook Lt. Gen. William H. Simpson's columns loose after overcoming an estimated 350 artillery batteries and hundreds of depressed 88mm
A 15-minute artillery barrage—1000 rounds a minute—preceded
The Show Horse Division met tough resistance. Wrote the Christian Science Monitor correspondent: "It has been a tantalizing experience for those of us with the Ninth Army to see on the briefing maps the big black arrows and darting salients which have marked the whirlwind progress of other American armies while our forward troops were being held down by the stiffest resistance encountered on the east bank of the Rhine."
The 8th was credited by The New York Times with "amphibious operations in reverse when its tanks overran U-boat pens at Ruhrort, near Duisburg, and captured three midget submarines brought up the Rhine for safety. No army has won this sort of victory over a navy since Napoleon's cavalry galloped across the ice to capture the ice-locked Dutch fleet."
Thunderers overran a concentration camp near Paderborn, discovered a huge pile of bodies and 1,000 living corpses. Surviving inmates told stories rivaling the terrors of Lublin.
ARMORED MIGHT BLASTS RUHR POCKET
The trapped Germans retreated west toward Soest with the intention of forcing a breakthrough near Bielefeld. Enemy forces were further whittled down by the 8th on April 4 at Enwitte, Berge, Stirpe, Vollinghausen, Nordorf and Ebbinhausen. In Erwitte, doughs overran a graduate school of Nazi ideological and political indoctrination. Continuous pressure and threatened encirclement of Soest from the south made the panzer division withdraw from the only suitable springboard for an escape attack. The Soest sector was cleaned out April 6 by
Six miles south of Soest, three German heavy tanks lay in ambush to smash the advance of
While the enemy was withdrawing,
The Schaller burgomeister tried to surrender but SS troopers rushed in to organize defenses which had to be overrun by tankers. Doughs, told by a PW that Mawicke was clear, were greeted by a hail of rifle and machine gun fire.
Sgt. Walter Anderson, Chandler, Okla., pitted his 473rd ack-ack half-track against a Tiger tank and won. Anderson depressed his 40mm gun, fired three rounds into the ground 50 yards ahead of his own thin-skinned vehicle. Behind the resulting screen of dust, he escaped, then dismounted with other ack-ack men and fired bazookas. The Tiger turned tail.
Pfc Leroy F. Stone drove Maj. Robert L. Wick, Philadelphia,
Acrobatics of a 23-man patrol from Troop A, 88th, prevented the enemy from blowing up the famed Mohne Talsperre Dam which would have flooded the Mohne Valley and delayed for weeks the job of clearing out the Ruhr Pocket. Led by Sgt. Roman H. Woods, St. Louis, Mo., and Sgt. Emil Dragosita, Allentown, Pa., the men reached the dam at 0100 April 7 under cover of a howitzer barrage from Troop E. Climbing out on an eight-inch ledge, they crept to the spillway and out on a plank 30 feet above the roaring water to another narrow ledge. They then lowered themselves on a 20-foot cable, leaped across a six-foot creek, overpowered the guards to capture the dam. Only once did they draw fire.
Communications Chief Sgt. Donald R. Hayes, Baltimore, Co. A, 80th, returning to the rear area after fighting all day and night, mounted a driverless tank without waiting for orders, drove back to battle, fought continuously for two days and a night.
His tank knocked out the first day by an 88, Hayes changed tanks, continued fighting. He automatically became platoon leader when his lieutenant, platoon sergeant and section leader were wounded by the same round while standing together. Still acting without orders, he reorganized the platoon and slashed five miles forward. Once a shell knocked him from the rear deck of his tank—a man inside was wounded—but Hayes escaped unhurt. After 10 days of fighting, his platoon was the first to reach the division's objective. Hayes was given a battlefield commission.
CC B telephoned the burgomeister of Werl to surrender the town. Capt. William E. Hensel, Buffalo, N.Y., and T/5 Frederick W. Deschermeier, Petosky, Mich., found the burgomeister willing but the military commandant not. To convince the latter, the 8th pressed the attack April 9 by shelling Werl, took it the same day. When the 8th marched in, a German hausfrau approached an MP crying, "The most important Nazi in town has committed suicide! What shall I do?" Replied the souvenir-conscious MP, "Bring me his gun." He got it.
The ghost of the 116th Panzer Div., which once had been one of Germany's proudest, continued to haunt the 8th with delaying detachments at all important road junctions. In its death throes, the 116th put up its last resistance at Unna which was taken April 11 by CC A.
Recovered from the enemy were four Tornado men, among whom was CC R CO, Col. Robert J. Wallace.
8th ARMORED HAS A PROUD RECORD
While in reserve the division captured at Halberstadt a 75-wagon, 150-horse train, all that remained of the 116th Panzer Div. The hayburning convoy was such a startling contrast to the mobility of the Americans that Lt. Gen. Simpson came to inspect it. Krauts lined up for a formal inspection by Gen. Simpson, Gen. Devine and Chief of Staff Col. Charles G. Dodge.
When the 8th freed 840 Allied soldiers near Halberstadt, men heard the story of an estimated 80,000 American and British captives who suffered treatment similar to that of the infamous Jap "death march." Released PWs were thin and worn after as long as three months on the road where food consisted of cattle fodder and winter beets.
Armored might of the 8th struck its last major blow at Blankenberg, nestling at the foot of the Harz Mountains. Aircraft hammered the city April 20, but officials failed to surrender. Artillery opened up in late afternoon, and the city was overpowered by dusk after a lightning assault by Lt. Col. E. H. Burba's CC B.
Col. Gen. Walter Lucht, supreme commander of German Armies in the west, who told his troops to "go home," surrendered the city to Capt. Henry I. Tragle, Richmond, Va., Service Co., 36th, and Pfc Frank Fox, Philadelphia,
Germanic legend has the Harz Mountains crowded with elves, fairies, gnomes, trolls. Thunderers found SS, Werewolves and Hitler Jugend. Between April 12-22, the 11th Panzer Army, which had defended the Harz Mountain redoubt, was smashed. Remnants of this force had fled to the wild Harz region for a last-ditch stand. They had been engaged there successively by the 1st, 9th and 83rd Inf. Divs.; now i it was the 8th Armd. Div. which took over the tree-to-tree clean-up. Crews from the 148th Signal Co. fought a winning battle against saboteurs to keep their lines intact.
The forests also were alive with rumors, chief of which concerned a phantom train which was said to have entered the woods from Blankenberg, never to emerge. It was ascertained, however, that a train with two luxury coaches and protected by flak cars did leave Blankenberg, presumably carrying von Kesselring and other tarnished Nazi brass. Some Germans, according to Capt. Carroll M. Wood, Roxbury, Mass., S-2, CC B, believed Hitler, Himmler and Goering were aboard.
Painstakingly sweeping the dense woods, the division uncovered several large caves, believed to be Werewolf hideouts. Discovered were six more generals, including Lt. Gen. Hermann Floerke, a corps commander; Brig. Gen. Heinz Kokott, a division commander who claimed the dubious honor of being a brother-in-law of Gestapo Chief Heinrich Himmler. Lt. John Sunman, Plainfield, N.J., and Sgt. Ray Westerdale, Irvington, N.J., bagged three-star Admiral Hermann Mootz, friend of Admiral Doenitz. Kaiser Wilhelm's son-in-law, the Duke of Brunswick, one-time provincial king of Hannover, was routed from a castle overlooking Blankenberg. The PW bag reached 32,000.
Alert troops seized German foreign office documents of such vast importance that the Nazis had previously risked two divisions in an attempt to keep them from falling into Allied hands. A Ninth Army staff officer declared them to be worth a "far greater expenditure of manpower."
The 8th found Wehrmacht hospitals and rest centers in the pleasant picturesque towns of the Harz. Despite their peaceful appearance, exploding mines and Hitler Jugend often reminded the division that the war wasn't over. Cpl. Frank Kolb, New York City, found a trio of Hitler youths, the oldest 17, armed with rifles, waiting for American soldiers to turn their backs.
Just before V-E Day came the order: "Occupy and govern." Dispersed in the Harz Mountains, the 8th now had time to take stock, recall the hard-working, unheralded units that had helped make the division's record a proud one. There were Lt. Col. P. D. Marx's 78th Medical Bn., the 130th Ordnance Bn., under Lt. Col. I. O. Drewry, Jr.; the QM truck companies, MPs, attached units such as the 809th TD Bn.
The 8th also could remember the long, tortuous trek from the Louisiana swamps through foggy England and blustery, freezing France; the din and confusion of battle; wide autobahns, blown bridges, rivers, pillboxes and narrow streets of Germany; streams of refugees and grateful, liberated prisoners. They remembered, too, their buddies, killed and wounded.
The 8th Armored Division—sometimes called Show Horse, sometimes Irresistible, Tornado, Thunderer—had earned the right to "occupy and govern," had earned it the hard way.