Sunday, November 30, 2014

8. Ending November

This is part of a series following my father's 10th Armored Division in World War II seventy years ago. He was a medic with the 80th Medical Battalion assigned to the 10th Armored, part of General Patton's Third Army.

20 - 30 Nov 1944
In the Saar-Moselle Triangle

Saar-Moselle Triangle area (2014 map)

As November ended, the 10th was fully engaged in the activities in what was known as the Saar-Moselle Triangle, an area in NW Germany/NE France bordered on the east by the Saar River, on the west by the Moselle, which formed the top of the triangle where they met. In the south it was bordered by the Siegfried defense line from Metz in the west to Saarbrucken in the east. This area will be the site of most of the 10th's action now and again following the Battle of the Bulge.

Patton's Third Army had been in the area since the 10th had landed at Cherbourg. They were then assigned to the Third Army to be part of the activity in this area.

The first of the 10th Armored had crossed into Germany on 19 Nov. Here, from a research report written after the war, is the past week's actions.


20 Nov- all three columns of CCB had crossed the German border. Some minor streams cut across the American front, and, with their bridges destroyed, were potential sources of delay and it was necessary for some elements of the Combat Command to assume defensive positions.

[Note: Co. B of the 80th Medical was pulled back to reserve at HQ then located at the town of Apach, about 11 miles west of Merzig.]

21 Nov- the north column of CCB received a heavy counterattack just west of BUDINGEN but it was repulsed with heavy loss to the enemy.

22 and 23 Nov- CCB was patrolling to the front to determine exact location of enemy positions.

26 Nov- CCB cleared the woods east of WALDWISSE and then entered the town of BETHINGEN. Although the town was taken by surprise, heavy enemy artillery concentrations soon necessitated a withdrawal. General PIBURN now had three columns within four miles of his objective, the bridge of MERZIG. The head of the northern column was just east of BUDINGEN with a good road leading into the city of LERZIG.

27 – 28 Nov- The Germans had realized the importance of the city of MERZIG, the key to the SAAR Valley, and had taken extreme care to block all avenues of approach. The terrain along with the soft subsoil afforded the defender an excellent position. The roads, the only avenues of approach for armor, were covered with numerous roadblocks, which made going extremely slow.

[Note: Co. B of the 80th Medical was returned to CCB on the 28th]

29 Nov- Both the northern and the center columns of CCB pushed to the built-up area of HILBRINGEN, only one mile west of the bridge in the afternoon

30 Nov- As the elements of CCB were preparing to complete their mission of seizing the bridge intact over the SAAR River at MERZIG, a terrific explosion shook the area. The Germans had blown the bridge just as the engineers reached it.


After Action Report
80th Medical Battalion
10th Armored Division
1 Nov – 30 Nov 1944

There were 33 officers and 364 enlisted men. During the month one of the battalion was killed and five wounded. Five replacements were assigned.

Company B, my Dad’s company, was assigned to Combat Command B from 1 – 20 Nov and 28 – 30 Nov. They were in Combat Command Reserve from 21 – 27 Nov.

At all three clearing stations of the battalion in November 1944 there were:
  • 1962 admissions
  • 319 were returned to duty
  • 7 died in the stations
  • 1581 were transferred and
  • 55 remained in station on 30 Nov
The battalion commander had the following recommendations:

a. In some operations dissemination of information in regard to the tactical employment of the combat units did not reach this headquarters. Direct distribution of field orders and G-3 reports to the medical battalion would aid in the future employment of the supporting medical companies.

b. That all medical companies be employed in each action. ­ There is no useful purpose served by holding one entire company in reserve.

Fredrick D. Loomis
Captain, MAC.,
Battalion S-3

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

7. Into Germany

19 Nov 1944

The 10th Armored Division became the first division to cross into Germany

All maps: from Impact by Lester M. Nichols

A few days before the historic moment of the 19th, the 10th’s armor was well inside German positions. It had happened so swiftly and easily they had already taken 250 prisoners. The division was in two Combat Commands, A and B.

Above: General, wide-area map of 10th Armored's units
as part of encirclement of Metz. Crossing into Germany
is at the upper right of the map.

Below: Movement of Combat Command A (CC A)
on southern flank of movement

CC A started one flank of the attack southeast from Kerling to Laumesfeld. Their job was to be draw fire and find the positions of the German heavy guns. It worked. The positions were located and the Tigers started hitting back. The Germans fought hard and the Tigers lost three tanks and 12 men were wounded.

But the position of the German guns was clear and an infantry attack could be launched. Along with the support of P-47s with napalm bombs the German positions were wiped out.

On the 17th and 18th, CC A continued its drive toward Bouzonville. The Germans had lost a great deal of organization and had little success in stopping CC A and its Task Forces. The weather was often more of a factor. It finally cleared on the 18th allowing P-47 support to push at the retreating enemy troops. They reached the Nied River at Bouzonville where the bridges had been destroyed. They found one near Filstroff that was usable and crossed.

Below: Movement of Combat Command B (CC B)
on northern flank of movement

Meanwhile CC B was to head on a direct 11-mile line to seize a bridge over the Saar at Merzig. Smaller bridges along the way had been destroyed. CC B was slowed down waiting for the rebuilding of those bridges by the engineers. By November 17 the rebuilding was accomplished and they were ready to move. One task force entered Launstroff; another, against heavy pressure, reached Schwerdorf.

Then, at 1032 on 19 November, TF Cherry of CC B was near Eft. Lieutenant William Brown checked his maps. He dismounted from his Sherman and walked across the German border. He was the first man of Patton’s army to step onto German soil.


Following my Dad’s 10th Armored Division in the last year of World War II has given me a new perspective on the planning and execution of war. I have never been in the military; I have read many books (novels as well as non-fiction); I have watched many movies; I have never studied the tactics of warfare. It is intriguing and educational to look at war from a tactical perspective, even if it is with the 20/20 vision of looking back.

In addition, as I have said a number of times already, the staggering number of troops involved is far more than my mind can handle. As I look through the books I have been using for research I stare at the maps and realize that each map is but a small slice of a huge story, even within the area covered by the maps. I remember that the whole 10th Armored Division would have been between 10 and 15,000 troops.

A total of 16 armored divisions were eventually organized (1st-14th, 16th, and 20th). Of these, only two, the 2nd and the 3rd retained the "heavy" organization throughout the war. All of the other divisions were reorganized as light divisions prior to leaving the. All of the armored divisions served in the ETO or in Italy.

The light armor division organization included
  • a Division Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 
  • two Combat Command Headquarters (CC A and CC B), 
  • a Reserve Combat Command Headquarters (CC R), 
  • three tank battalions (of three medium and one light tank companies), 
  • three armored infantry battalions, 
  • three eighteen-gun artillery battalions, 
  • a cavalry reconnaissance squadron (battalion), 
  • an engineer battalion, and 
  • division services. 

The division was commanded by a major general, the combat commands by a brigadier general (who was also assistant division commander) and two colonels. The division included
  • 77 light tanks,
  • 168 medium tanks,
  • 18 M4 105mm assault guns,
  • 54 M7 105mm SP artillery pieces,
  • 54 M8 armored cars,
  • 450 halftracks,
  • 1,031 motor vehicles, and
  • 8 light observation aircraft.
(Military History Online)

All of these were in a section of eastern France along with several other divisions, armored and infantry. It was a city in the mud and rain that November seventy years ago. The exact numbers are irrelevant. It was a lot of people and material. To organize, direct and carry out the maneuvers to win must have been incredibly complex and, of course, based on the fact that the German troops weren’t just going to fall over and quit.

So I look at the maps and read the descriptions and find that it is not easy to put together a chronology that I can make sense of.

First there’s the work of Combat Command A or B (CC A, CC B). CC A went one way with one job, CC B went another.

Then there are the different Task Forces sent out from the Combat Commands. One might come in from the rear and another from a flanking maneuver.

On top of all that this had to be coordinated with other divisions, Combat Commands, Task Forces, air support, medical support.

The movies make it look like all the tanks did was just barrel on forward crushing everything in their path. That is obviously not what happened. There were the days or weeks when a particular group might be less involved than at other times. There were the times after a battle when they could (sort of) relax.

How much could the medics relax? What could the soldiers do in the “down time?” It must have been nothing short of maddening on some level of awareness that they must have had to sublimate, push away, forget.


19 Nov 1944

It was also my Dad's 39th birthday.

 It was one of only a handful of times in his life that he hadn't been home for his birthday.

Instead he may very well have been around the area of CC B as they made a first symbolic step onto German soil.

Meanwhile, his wife of only six months was spending the time with her new in-laws, both trying to get to know and understand each other who had come from such different worlds.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

6. Encirclement of Metz

9 November 1944 - 15 November 1944
The Encirclement of Metz

Route of 10th Armored in Encirclement of Metz
A) Mars-la-tour
B and C) Molvange and Rumelange
D) Thionville
E) Bouzonville

On 9 November the 10th Armored Division assembled around Molvange and Rumelange (B and C), which were far enough west of the Moselle to be safe from enemy observation. There it waited for General Walker to give the order committing the division east of the river. On receipt of the order from the corps it was supposed to cross the Moselle in two columns, pass through the 90th Division bridgehead wrested from the Germans north of Thionville (D), and strike quickly to effect a deep penetration. Once the division sliced through the enemy crust the 10th Armored plan of maneuver called for the left column to advance to the east and win a bridgehead over the Saar River, somewhere near Merzig.(Upper right corner) …

The second column, advancing on the right of the first column and at the same time protecting the left flank of the 90th Infantry Division, was given the task of taking the division objective. This objective included Bouzonville (E)--the center of arterial highway and railroad traffic running northeast out of Metz (arrow)--and a stretch of high ground extending for about six miles north of Bouzonville on both sides of the Nied River valley. Capture of the sector would give the Americans command over one of the main corridors through which German reinforcements might be sent to Metz, or through which a retreat from that city might be made.

The terrain in the zone assigned for the 10th Armored Division drive had little to recommend it to an armored force. The road net was limited. … Any cross-country movement would be most difficult, particularly after the autumn rains had beaten into the clay soil characteristic of this country.

For five days … the 10th Armored, waited for the word to cross the Moselle. The five days were marked by orders and counter-orders, new plans and estimates--all contingent on the caprices of the flooded river and the degree of success achieved by the enemy gunners shelling the American bridge sites. At this point the flood waters of the Moselle were constricted by two relatively high retaining walls, and the stone piers of an earlier bridge still stood.

The 1306th Engineer General Service Regiment set to the task of building a Bailey bridge (at D) on 12 November, under orders to continue on the job regardless of enemy fire. German mortars and field guns threw in one concentration after another. Once, during the late afternoon of the 12th, work had to be suspended for a couple of hours.

On the morning of the 13th the wind shifted, blowing away the covering smoke. German gunners laid their shells within a hundred yards of the bridge but could not get a direct hit. This time work on the Bailey continued, the engineers climbing into the superstructure clad in flak suits.

Finally, at 0930 on 14 November, the Thionville (D) bridge was ready--the largest Bailey bridge in the European Theater of Operations. On the afternoon of that day CCB (Combat Command B) began the move across the Moselle, the head of the column winding along the east bank northward to the 90th Division sector. Before daylight on 15 November, the whole combat command had assembled near Kerling (about 10miles NE of Thionville) behind the screen formed by the 359th Infantry.

From US Army in World War II, The Lorraine Campaign by Hugh Cole

So what's a Bailey Bridge? According to Wikipedia:
The Bailey bridge is a type of portable, pre-fabricated, truss bridge. It was developed by the British during World War II for military use and saw extensive use by both British and the American military engineering units.

A Bailey bridge had the advantages of requiring no special tools or heavy equipment to construct. The wood and steel bridge elements were small and light enough to be carried in trucks and lifted into place by hand, without requiring the use of a crane. The bridges were strong enough to carry tanks.

What's a Combat Command? Again, according to Wikipedia:
A Combat Command was a combined-arms military organization of comparable size to a brigade or regiment employed by armored forces of the U.S. Army from 1942 until 1963. The structure of combat commands was task-organized and so the forces assigned to a combat command often varied from mission to mission.

The combat command was a flexible organization that did not have dedicated battalions. Instead, tank, armored infantry, and armored field artillery battalions, as well as smaller units of tank destroyers, engineers, and mechanized cavalry were assigned as needed in order to accomplish any given mission.
This Combat Command organization would become very helpful to all concerned within the next six weeks when the Germans made their last push in what is known as the Battle of the Bulge.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

5. Remembering Veterans' Day

It began as a way of remembering the end of World War I. That was supposed to be the "war to end all wars." I remember my aunt saying every year about the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. It was still Armistice Day in her mind. 

As bad as WW I was, it did not end all wars. The politics and reactions to the Germans and the war only set up the conditions for the next, and far worse, one. World War II was the epitome of total war across 90% of the world's population- and many of us as we became the children of that war's veterans.

If you have been following along with my posts on my Dad and the 10th Armored Division in 1944 you know I have been digging around in the war that was raging unmercifully 70 years ago. I realized I knew very little about many things connected to the war. For most of my generation World War II was both reality and fantasy. The reality was seen in the people we loved, even if we couldn't name it.

The fantasy was in some of the war movies that made it look "easy" in a difficult way. John Wayne was the quintessential war hero. Then there was The Guns of Navarone that pictured the ingenuity of Americans or Bridge on the River Kwai that began to show the awful ambiguities of  that war and any war. Two World War II heroes were elected president in a row- Eisenhower who led the troops and John F. Kennedy who was nearly lost in it.

The Longest Day, still with the somewhat easier picture of the war, did come along and change that view as we saw the re-enactment of D-Day. Saving Private Ryan turned our minds to the trauma our soldiers experienced in that invasion.

The current movie, Fury, is an extraordinary film that does not in any way, shape, or form sugar coat the experience of the armored divisions in WW II. It is intense, bloody, and frightening- as I am sure war is. It is also poignant. I am sure the movie is not anywhere near as intense, frightening and moving as the real experience was.

But reading about and following along with the 10th Armored and Tec 5 (Corporal) Harold Lehman, has given it more depth, more horror, more truth. Especially the truth of the need to be a "band of brothers" and the incredible fortitude that last year of the war must have needed. I am not  yet to the winter of 1944-45 when things got worse, very much worse for awhile.

So this year, even more than usual, I remember my Dad and his band of brothers, especially the medics like him who were "non-combatants" but were just as heavily involved in the horror as anyone else. I will never know my Dad's specific stories, the things he saw that kept him awake at night and perhaps ate away at him in ways that I can't imagine.

I remember him as well as the veterans of the wars since from Korea through Vietnam and the Gulf Wars into Afghanistan. I pray for their comfort, relief if needed from the traumas they faced, and a sense of having done what they were called to do.

And above all else, I pray that we can stop learning war and learn ways of peace as a world-wide experience.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

4. Ready To Go

02 Nov 1944 
The 10th Armored entered their first combat at Mars-la-Tour.

In the previous week the Division had arrived at Mars-la-Tour having traveled across France from its start at Cherbourg. They had spent some time near Cherbourg at Theurteville getting acclimated to the war zone, putting things together and, I would guess, wondering what the future looked like.

They bivouacked near Mars la Tour that was unfortunately an area too small for movement. Then it rained and rained providing a very muddy, but relatively quiet few days. Nichols in Impact says that it was perhaps the worst bivouac area of war for them. Their purpose was to assist XX Corps in the containment of enemy troops in preparation for the attack on Metz.They were to move around behind the forts and cut off the retreating enemy.

Metz was an ancient 1500 year fortress town on Moselle River. It had been virtually indestructible over the previous millennium. The 10th was to fall into line, one-by-one behind the 90th Infantry then move through providing support and cover. From all that was reported it was not a particularly good geography (or weather) for the tanks, but the 10th managed and found its place.

When November and time for the battle around Metz came, the XX Corps under General Walton H. Walker had a total of 30 infantry battalions, 500 tanks and more than 700 guns. Their plan had two phases. One was to destroy all German forces around Metz and then to switch the advance to the northeast to catch the enemy as they pulled out of Metz.

On November 2, 1944, they were pulled into place and had their first combat. It was a generally quiet area and not much else was to happen for the next two weeks, but the enemy had been engaged for the first time. War was now a reality.