Monday, April 27, 2015

34. A Liberating Unit

According to the US Holocaust Museum:
 As it [The Tenth Armored] drove into the heartland of Bavaria, the "Tiger" division overran one of the many subcamps of Dachau in the Landsberg area on April 27, 1945.

The 10th Armored Division was recognized as a liberating unit by the US Army's Center of Military History and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 1985.
It seems there were six camps in the Landsberg area. First, some of what  is reported at Wikipedia:
The American forces allowed news media to record the atrocities, and ordered local German civilians and guards to reflect upon the dead and bury them bare-handed. After the liberation of the camp it became a displaced person camp. Consisting primarily of Jewish refugees from the Soviet Union and the Baltic states, it developed into one of the most influential DP camps in the Sh'erit ha-Pletah. It housed a Yiddish newspaper (the Yiddishe Zeitung), religious schools, and organizations to promote Jewish religious observance. Tony Bennett was one of the soldiers who liberated the camp.
U.S. Soldier at Gate of Landsberg. USHM
I gather that the 103rd Infantry Division was one of the major units. Here's some of their report:
From REPORT AFTER ACTION: The Story of the 103D Infantry Division, pp. 131-135

At Landsberg the men of the 103d Infantry Division discovered what they had been fighting against. They found six concentration camps where victims of the super race had died by the thousands of atrocities, starvation, and exposure. The grounds of the camp were littered with the skeletonized bodies of Jews, Poles, Russians, French, and un-Nazified Germans. Every evidence was that they were only the latest of untold thousands who had suffered and died in these six concentration camps, a few among the hundreds which dotted Grossdeutschland. German civilians who were forced by the 411th guards to pick up these wasted bodies for decent burial sniveled that they had not known such things existed. They had not known, yet they had spent their lives in this town of 30,000 which was ringed by six horror camps.
The 103rd, it should be noted, was, along with the 44th Infantry and the Tenth Armored, working together on a combined spearhead, the Tenth's armor leading the way.

Some videos are archived at the US Holocaust Museum. Here's a link to one of them.

From all I can find, it would appear that my Dad's company was most likely with CC B during this time and in all probability was not part of the liberation of the camp. I wouldn't be surprised, however, that when the Division was reunited all kinds of stories were shared. It is possible however that he was with CC R, the reserve command, which was near Landsberg during this time.

Nichols, interestingly, does not appear to discuss the concentration camp liberation in Impact. He does relate a story of liberating a POW camp where some former Tigers were held following Bastogne. I may continue to explore this. With my Dad married to a Jewish woman from Brooklyn, I would venture a guess that he may have had some interest in this.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

33. To the Danube

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 Patton’s Third Army.

The Tenth processed their 2,000 prisoners from Crailsheim and sent them to the rear. They were given a new battle assignment. They were to shift their attention and combat power toward Heilbronn where the fighting was continuing.

CC A was directed to seize Oehringen while CC B was placed in "reserve" on a two-hour alert.

12 - 15 April
When forces entered Oehringen they were met with fierce resistance. As Nichols reports it,
Nazi fanaticism was slow to die as Wehrmacht and civilians alike resisted with renewed determination.
Heavy and timed artillery bursts were ordered and the efforts prevailed with the town captured on 13 April. When all the units met with the infantry units east of Heilbronn that mission was ended.

Heilbronn, April 1945
16 - 24 April
It was now time to make the move south toward the Danube and Austria. For several days there were obstacles that acted as hidden allies of the enemy. The minefields, roadblocks and blown bridges, says Nichols, "strained the already overworked Tiger engineers' efforts to clear a path for continued advance." By April 18, things began to move and all three Combat Commands became a formidable array of six armored columns. Town after town was captured. On April 19 the terrain of steep hills and deep valleys slowed the advance but later in the day the Tigers again triumphed and forged ahead 17 miles to the Rems River.

The plateau could have been easily defended by the enemy. But the Germans were sure that the Americans would attack from the west and were thus unable to halt the advance from the north.

CC B crossed the river after seizing two bridges while, to the west CC A hit a 40 MPH pace as a result of Tigers who carried a power saw to rip through roadblocks. At Lorch they scared of an enemy plane about to land and an enemy train. The train got up steam and raced away surprised by the Tigers in the town. Movement of all Combat Commands quickly captured more territory. By April 22 all were closing in on the same target of Kircheim and burst ahead to the Danube at Ehingen.

Stuttgart was virtually surrounded. Harassment of the enemy continued. The capture of Kircheim marked the end of German resistance in the area as more than 400 prisoners were taken and, more importantly, the Stuttgart-Munich autobahn was cut. Nichols writes then,
One of the most important days in the Tenth's memorable history was April 22, the day Chamberlain's forces steamrolled to the Danube. By midnight they succeeded in capturing a bridge at Ehingen. Then on April 23 [they] destroyed a German supply column.... On April 24 the Reserve Command sped across the [Danube] and headed for Ulm. At this point the Tigers were further south than any other American unit.... The Third Reich was almost a dead government now, as allied armies to the north were inflicting terrible punishment on the beaten enemy. The Tenth Armored was no poised above the great National Redoubt, an area which the Germans claimed could never be captured by the Americans. However, this claim, along with their hopes for a "thousand Year Reich" died when the Tiger's mailed fist hit them again and for the last time to end the war in the first week of May 1945

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

32. The Last Days of Berlin

April 20: Adolf Hitler's 56th and last birthday is a subdued celebration in his underground headquarters: The celebration in his underground headquarters, the F├╝hrerbunker, in the Reich Chancellery Park was very subdued. The Soviet Union Army was advancing toward Berlin, and Adolf Hitler knew that the end of his Third Reich was near. Later that day, Adolf Hitler left the bunker to decorate 20 Hitler Youth, most 12 to 15 years old, for bravery in combat. He then returned to the bunker in which he had lived since January 16, 1945. Protected by 16 feet of concrete and six feet of earth, Adolf Hitler's sanctuary protected him but did not mask the sounds of Soviet shells falling closer each day.

April 21: The Soviets reach Berlin with overwhelming military power and encircled the city: With 2.5 million men, the Soviets faced one million German troops, including about 45,000 male youth and elderly. The Germans were also greatly outnumbered in artillery, tanks, and planes. "The amount of equipment deployed for the Berlin operation," a Soviet Union soldier remarked, "was so huge I simply cannot describe it and I was there." Enormous firepower was brought to bear, but the Soviets discovered that many forward German positions had been abandoned before the bombardment. The German command pulled troops tightly around Berlin for a final, doomed defense of the city.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

31. On the Home and Battlefront

From my grandmother's diary in 1945:
April 12: Ruth (her daughter) called at 6 o’clock and said that President Roosevelt had died at 4:30. It was an awful shock
April 14: Listened to train bringing FDR to Washington

Sunday, April 15: Roosevelt was buried in Hyde Park, NY.

Meanwhile in the war during those four days:

April 14: The Allies march through the center of encircled German troops in the Ruhr Pocket, taking prisoners and splitting the German ranks.

The Allies launch Operation Teardrop in an effort to locate German U-boats in the North Atlantic rumored to be carrying V-2 rockets to be used against New York City.

April 14-15: Japanese imperial loyalists crush an attempted coup by hard-line military officers who, convinced that Emperor Hirohito was on the brink of surrender, had decided to seize control.

April 15: The Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, with a survivor population of 40,000, is liberated by the British Army.  

April 16: Adolf Hitler announces that he expects his officers to fight to the death. He orders summary execution for any officer who orders a retreat.

The Allied air force announces that future operations over Germany will focus on cleanup rather than strategic targets, effectively ending the air war.

30. Battle for Crailsheim

I found a book recently online that I had not seen before on the 10th Armored's months at the end of the war. Written by Dwayne Engle, son of an infantryman, Pfc. Melvin Engle it is called 162 Days and a Bronze Star. (Link to PDF) Pfc. Engle was called up in late 1944 and eventually became one of the replacements in the 10th after the Bulge. Engle was with CC B, most likely, at times, where my Dad's battalion was also assigned. The book is more concise about the days in early 1945 than Nichols and has given me some easier ways of understanding what was happening. It is clear that Engle uses Nichols and has spent considerable time putting this all together. I am grateful for his work.

Here is Engle's account of the first part of the Battle for Crailsheim:
Crailsheim was an important city to the Allies. Along with Bad Mergantheim (6 miles north of Assamstadt) and Heilbronn, it created a strong point and gateway into Bavaria. Crailsheim lay just forty miles southwest of Nurnberg and only 100 miles from Munich. CC B moved about forty miles from Assamstadt overnight to Crailsheim on muddy, pot-holed roads in order to arrive at Crailsheim evening of Sunday, April 8. They were now thirty-five miles behind actual German lines, which theoretically began at the Rhine River. On the move from Assamstadt CC B had managed to capture over 300 German soldiers, including some Hitler Youth. They killed at least that many more enemy and destroyed as much of the enemy artillery and equipment as time would allow.

In Crailsheim, the German army mounted the largest display of strength since the Battle of the Bulge the previous December. The 10th Armored cut a major German supply route known as the “Bowling Alley” to both the Germans and Allies. The supply route extended from
Crailsheim to Hollenbach, about twenty miles north. Once cut, the supply route began being used exclusively by the Allies and 10th Armored Division to supply troops already at Crailsheim. Still heavily and aggressively defended by the 17th German Panzer Division, this route was guarded by many U.S. roadblocks along its entirety.

The Battle for Crailsheim had actually begun a couple of days before when advanced divisions of the 10th Armored, including CC A, were ordered to advance on Crailsheim while CC B fought its way to Assamstadt. But recognizing its value, the Germans were desperately attempting to hold onto this city. At that point, Crailsheim was a last stand, and the German command realized that fact.

Adolph Hitler by this time had ordered that the Geneva Convention be laid aside and that every Allied prisoner of war be executed in at attempt to set an example for the German army that German soldiers would be dealt with accordingly, should they fail to turn back the advancing armies. To their credit, his orders were largely, if not wholly, ignored by the German High Command. However, Crailsheim would be defended from the 10th Armored Tigers at all costs. General Piburn would comment later that at no other time during the war in Europe had he seen so many German Messerschmitts in the air as there were over Crailsheim.

CC B continued to patrol the “Bowling Alley” between Blaufelden and Bartenstein until Tuesday, April 10. They would later realize that the German army had been concealed by the forest and was never more than one mile on either side of the road that they had been patrolling for the past several days. On Wednesday, April 11, at 7:30 a.m., CC B was ordered to assemble at Blaufelden and move directly to Kirchberg located about eight miles south.

At 3:00 p.m. in Kirchberg, CC B was told that it would lend support to the withdrawal of CC A from Crailsheim. Additional reinforcements for CC A were not available, and the current divisions were not strong enough to hold their position and counter the German offensive.
An all night movement from Kirchberg to Bartenstein positioned CC B to carry out its order of covering CC A for the withdrawal. German infantry and artillery nagged at the column during the entire night’s travel.

When CC A had retreated from Crailsheim by early morning of April 11, the Battle of Crailsheim officially ended. At dusk that day, the remaining squadrons moved safely from Crailsheim to Blaufelden.

For the 10th Armored Division this had been a frustrating and disappointing battle ending in a stalemate, with the Germans ultimately claiming the city of Crailsheim. The frustration was due to the feeling that, with the help of additional infantry, the U.S. Seventh Army and the 10th Armored Division could almost certainly have captured and held Crailsheim.

Even though the city had been relinquished to the Germans and the 10th Armored losses were heavy, the 10th Armored had managed to capture 2000 German soldiers, kill more than 1000 others, shoot down 50 valuable German aircraft, and divert large numbers of German troops, which were needed and engaged elsewhere, to defend Crailsheim.
(162 Days, Dwayne Engle)
About the Medics
9 April - 10 April

Nichols gives high praise to the medics at Crailsheim. It was not my Dad's company that he mentions in his book, Impact, But it reminds us of the tireless work of all the medics. Here's some of what he had to say:
The supporting medical company for the attack had been cut off and medical aid was badly needed, so Section A, Company A, of the 80th Med. Bn. received orders to leave for Crailsheim at once.... Sniper and small arms fire harassed the column continuously, finally forcing it off the road onto an overland route. Air activity was also heavy and the column was forced to dig in several times. But despite these difficulties [they] reached Crailsheim safely at 0500, April 9.

[They] selected the local theater as the treatment station and were greeted with broad smiles [by the Tigers since] their own medics [were] on the scene.
The post office was used for billeting the wounded; those needing surgery were put in the lobby and later transferred to the basement of the theater. Nichols reports that great quantities of whole blood and plasma were flown in along with other medical supplies by C-47s landing under constant enemy mortar fire.
Surgery was continuous from 0530, April 9, until the last case came off the table at 1500, April 10. With each passing hour the town became hotter and hotter, ... but true to medical training, the patient came first and their safety last.

On the morning of April 10, a convoy of ambulances was formed to evacuate the casualties to a zone of safety, and medium tanks were offered as an escort but Capt. Curbo decided to run the gauntlet of enemy fire without them. The order to evacuate came at 1600 April 10... [the medics were] happy in the knowledge that every last case had been treated.
CC A led the column with CC B protecting the rear. Nichols names the 26 medics and says that
[t]o the ever adventurous medics, Crailsheim was a little Bastogne.
This was arguably one of the most frustrating of the Tigers' battle operations since entering combat the previous October. It had a hope of another big victory but ended in a deadlock. By April 12 Crailsheim was, by default, in German hands again.

And yet, Nichols reports, the 10th captued 2000 prisoners, disrupted enemy rear communications, killed more than 1,000 enemies, diverted large enemy forces from main efforts elsewhere and shot down 50 of the Luftwaffe's fe remaining fighter planes. Many considered it successful for those reasons and a breakthrough was made that would, in short order, lead the Tenth Armored to the Alps and on to Austria.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

29. Beyond the Rhine

If it's possible to say that a war campaign has become very straightforward, perhaps I could say that about what the Tigers of the 10th Armored and their 80th Medical Battalion were experiencing in late March and Early April. For all practical purposes the force of the German army had been blunted and the Allies were moving at a steady, if not also quick, pace. Nichols describes this period in Chapter 10, "Rhine to the Neckar River" lest one get too overly confident.

In the last days of the Saar-Palatinate fight in which the German 1st and 7th Armies were badly mauled, the Tenth Armored overran Seventh Army boundaries and was traded to General Patch for the latter's Sixth Armored, which was sent to General Patton's United States Third Army. By March 28, the Seventh Army engineers had completed two bridges across the Rhine at Worms and on that date, the Tigers rolled over the pontoons in anticipation of the final clean-up drive that was to carry them to the Austrian and Bavarian Alps in late April of 1945.  Though on the run, the German was machine still packed a lethal punch... In the next, and final six weeks of battle, the enemy was to extract a heavy toll.
April 1 was the completion of six months of rugged combat for the Tenth. They were below par, Nichols says, and was 50% below strength. The 80th Medical, it should be noted, had continued to receive replacements, perhaps an indication of the importance of medical care and, I am sure, other factors.

By 2 April the Tenth had made its HQ in the historic city of Heidelberg. It was a free city and the armored rode in without a problem. The entire populace turned out to cheer the Tigers and laid flowers in their path. It was the day after Easter, 1945.

As can be seen above and at left, Combat Command B (CC B) went around to the south of Heidelberg and by April 3 had met their objective about 23 miles south of Mannheim. They had taken 300 prisoners and continued eastward to the Neckar. They faced more stubborn resistance but by April 4, with CC B mopping up small enemy groups west of the Neckar and south of Heilbronn, the success was clear.

The overall campaign, shown at left, ended with CC B remaining at Heilbronn supporting the 100th Infantry working toward a breakthrough there. Reconnaissance units from CC A ran ahead of the Tenth as it crossed the Neckar brushing aside resistance. They were helping set the stage for the next set of exploits of the Tenth, taking Crailsheim, 70 miles east of Heilbronn.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

28. End of March

After Action Report
80th Medical Battalion
10th Armored Division
1 March - 31 March 1945

There were 32 officers and 367 enlisted men. During the month none of the battalion was killed and three were wounded while one was reported missing. Thirty-five reinforcements were assigned.

At all three clearing stations of the battalion in March 1945 there were:

2741 admissions
355 were returned to duty
23 died in the stations
2381 were transferred and
5 remained in station on 31 March

These numbers were significantly higher than February. Since we don't have After Action Reports for December and January, the months of the Battle of the Bulge, we can't compare to that period, but the high activity in March including the final capture of Trier, clearing the Wittlich corridor and the Race to the Rhine caused significant more activity on certain days. Overall, they had over 1300 admissions from 1 March to 9 March (145/day)and 357 on 21 - 22 March. These 11 days accounted for more than 60% of all admissions for the month.

Than an Army Ambulance Company be attached to each Armored Division to insure constant, continuous and efficient third echelon evacuation at all times. An Armored Division such as this one can expect to be transferred between Corps of an Army and between Armies such as we have been during the past six months. Each such transfer has resulted in a confused third echelon evacuation system for several days after the transfer.

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

This recommendation, of course, was based on the several changes between the Third and Seventh Armies by the 10th Armored Division as well as working with other corps within the Armies. That old problem of the "fog of war" is one that is hard to overcome. In the heat of action and quickly changing situations, the ability to be efficient is obviously seriously impacted.

For me, as a lifelong civilian, that is part of what we seldom see in the movies or on TV. I keep referring back to last year's excellent WW 2 Movie, Fury, which was set in these late months of World War II with an Armored Division like the Tigers. The other great WW 2 movies such as Saving Private Ryan, The Longest Day, The Guns of Navarone and Clint Eastwood's two-parter, Flags of Our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima also do a very good job of showing the agony and horrors of war. But with my Dad's involvement with the 10th Armored, Fury had an immediate reality for these days for me.

While April would have its share of fighting, as we will see, on 31 March 1945 there were only 45 days left on the official days of World War II. There were six-months behind them and now, just a little less than six-months left until the Tigers would return home. But that is, as I have said before, our hindsight. I would assume the daily grind of war, the wear and tear of facing casualties, attacks and counter-attacks along with the uncertainties of what was going on beyond them had exacted a toll.29. The E