8th Armored Division
The Thundering Herd
Personal Story of:
T/Sgt Fredrick W. Slater
Co. D, 36th Tank Bn
Compiled by Frederick W Slater
Cover by James Wingate Parr
Published by The 36th Tank Battalion Association
ACROSS THE ATLANTIC TO ENGLAND
THROUGH HOLLAND AND INTO GERMANY
ACROSS THE RHINE AND INTO GERMANY AGAIN
CLEANING OUT THE RUHR POCKET
IN THE HARZ MOUNTAINS
THE WAR IN EUROPE ENDS - NORTHEIM - CZECHOSLOVAKIA
ACROSS THE ATLANTIC TO ENGLAND
After eighteen months of intensive training in Louisiana at Camp Polk, which included routine maneuvers in the mud of the Pelican State and famed "D" Series in eastern Texas, the 8th Armored Division was finally alerted to move to a port of embarkation. Its days of "dry running" over now, the 36th "invincibles" prepared to move out. At long last, this was "it."
On the morning of 25 October 1944, the battalion mounted troop cars and Pullmans on the siding at Polk. Shortly thereafter, at 0900, with a band playing, we began the first lap of our journey. The train had left the camp twenty minutes ahead of schedule but made up for that quick departure by being delayed by a bent axle just outside of Leesville. So, from 0900 to 1200 we sat outside of "the Garden City of the Louisiana Highlands" while a detail under Lt. Robert W. Shaw shifted duffle bags to another car. By mid-afternoon, we were rolling steadily along again, passing through Shreveport and then going through Alexandria on the way to New Orleans.
We all knew that we were heading for the New York Port of Embarkation because the taxi drivers in Leesville had told us so, but for a moment we doubted their prophecies and envisioned ourselves as sailing from New Orleans, through the Panama Canal and heading for the Pacific. Any ideas such as that were quickly dispelled though as we continued through New Orleans on our way to the north.
By now we had become seasoned travelers, writing letters, playing poker, reading or "just plain sleeping." To the click of steel wheels against steel rails, we passed rapidly through time and space in luxurious idleness. On the 26th we poked along through Mobile, Montgomery and Atlanta and the next day proceeded through Washington and Philadelphia. On the morning of 28 October 1944, we arrived at Camp Kilmer, New Jersey. We dismounted into the crisp bright air and marched to the camouflaged barracks which were to be our home for a week.
Life at Kilmer was a series of inspections, last minute POM training and visits to New York City. We had usual physical inspection (if you could say "Ah" and didn't have leprosy you were fit for duty) and practiced abandoning ship on the good ship "Rock 'n Rye." Taking advantage of the passes, the men of the 36th, with characteristic gusto, invaded Times Square, appraised it, enjoyed it and --- too soon --- left it.
On the evening of 6 November, thoroughly laden with equipment, we marched (we'd marched so much that we thought we were in the ~foot infantry") to the train. With a blanket roll around our necks, duffle bags on our backs, weapons on our shoulders, entrenching tQols, wire. cutters and other equipment dangling from our belts, we boarded the train for the short ride to the ferry slip. Crossing the harbor, we disembarked at Staten Island where we had a ::;ip of coffee and a couple of doughnuts. Next, calling off our names to the Transportation Corps clerk who was checking the passenger list, we trudged up the gangplank of the Marine Devil and were jammed into berths deep in the hold of the converted "Banana Boat."
The next twelve days were a seemingly endless procession of meals (for those who could eat), sleep, poker, craps, seasickness, and water. Things we'll never forget about that ocean trip were the long steel alleyways to the mess hall which appropriately enough gained the name of "Puke Alley," the voice coming over the loudspeaker system "All fust saarjunts will repawt to the ship's aw-fice," and the waking up at night and hearing depth charges exploding. We never did learn whether submarines were around or if it was merely routine practice.
Eventually though, the blue waters of the Atlantic turned to the green of the Channel and on the 18th of November, we dropped anchor just outside Southampton harbor. The next day we pulled into the harbor, disembarked and boarded trains that were to take us further north. After a fleeting glimpse of some of the destruction wrought in the city by German bombing, we began our ride through the orderly, well-groomed countryside. Night fell and in inky darkness we left the train and climbed into trucks, bouncing along to Tidworth 8arracks on the Salisbury Plain.
Dismounting in the dank, dismal dark, we found we were in a sea of mud that almost made us homesick for the swamps of Louisiana. These barracks,. designed for Queen Victoria by. KaIser Wilhelm n of Germany, were to be .our homes for six weeks.
Despite the mud of Tidworth, our stay in Southern England was quite pleasant. The working day was devoted to drawing and processing equipment, training and guessing when we would cross the Channel. The surrounding towns, Andover, Salisbury, Amesbury and a host of others, received us nightly. Although English girls were different from our American girls, few of them were overlooked. The companies held dances and guests included not only civilian girls but also A TS girls from nearby Bulford Barracks.
Almost every man in the battalion received, a two-day pass to London where we had our first glimpse of systematic bombing and saw Londoners still going about their business nonchalantly as if a bombing were just a nuisance to be tolerated but not noticed. The most lasting impression of London was the persistent soliciting of the 'Commandos' in Piccadilly Circus.
In England, most of us were surprised at the lack of conveniences which are commonplace to Americans, such as central heating, showers, comfortable automobiles and well-lighted trains. English beer, we found was nothing like the American variety and their coffee was even worse. We admired the British though for the inconveniences and strict ration regulations they were forced to employ in order to devote every iota of national energy to winning the war. It was our first realization of the vast wealth of the United States as compared to the rest of the world.
Christmas rolled around and though we were far from American soil, we did have our "Turkey and Trimmings" and shared our feast with orphans from nearby Salisbury. Our stay in England was drawing to a close rapidly and we began last-minute preparations for moving to the continent.
- THROUGH HOLLAND AND INTO GERMANY
The train ride to Kilmer was very pleasant. Some of the boys passed their home towns but had to be content to stare out the windows. We were traveling under secret orders, therefore we were unable to communicate with anybody en route to our new station.
Finally, after three days traveling, we detrained at Kilmer. The first three days there we were disgusted with the place, for we were restricted, and were awakened from our sleep as early as one o'clock in the morning to issue us any equipment we were short of. After being fully equipped, we were given passes of twelve hour duration. Some of the boys had a chance to get home, and others went to N.Y.C. to see Broadway, Greenwich Village, Brooklyn, Radio City and other places of entertainment and interest.
No one will ever forget the rigid physical test given to qualify who was fit for overseas combat. We were ordered to strip completely and pass a doctor with a strong spotlight shining on our chests. That's all there was to it. I guess if the light penetrated our chest, we'd be considered unfit for combat. We must have had a very healthy company because everybody passed.
We left Camp Kilmer, New Jersey and went to Staten Island via ferry. Our unit was lined up in front of Pier 19,. Everybody was tired and hungry from being pushed around all day with heavy luggage. But as usual, the Red Cross was there to lighten our burden with coffee and doughnuts. The band on the pier started to play, and we were filing up the gang plank. Yes we were getting what we wanted, a chance to see for ourselves what the war was like. Naturally we couldn't help but wonder what was in store for us.
Our particular troopship, the "Marine Devil", was certainly no luxury liner. The food was bad, the sleeping quarters overcrowded and the ship was small, therefore bobbing up and down with every wave.
After being at sea for one day, some of the men became sea sick, which isn't a pleasant feeling. The next day we were informed that there is no such thing as sea sickness, so therefore we couldn't help wondering why the hell everyone looked so pale, and were unable to retain food or drink on their stomach.
Other than the experience of crossing the Atlantic Ocean, the trip was uneventful. Even though, rumors floated through the ship that our convoy was sinking enemy subs by the score. One anxious night was spent by most of us when we were forced to spend it away from our protective convoy due to the ship developing mechanical trouble. However, we made up our loss of distance and were back in our convoy position the next day. The three main occupations about ship were gambling, reading, and sleeping.
After fourteen days at sea, we landed at South Hampton, England. While waiting for the trains to take us to our new station, we had coffee and doughnuts, and received our first copy of the Stars and Stripes, which is the official newspaper for American troops overseas.
After our ride by train, we reached our new station, "Tidworth Barracks", on the Salisbury Plains of Southern England. Our first impression was unfavorable but eventually we grew to like our home. The most popular nearby city frequented by the men was Salisbury. The famous Salisbury Cathedral is located here, and is one of the most majestic and beautiful cathedrals in the world. There was also a large English women's A. T. S. Garrison a few miles away which got quite a play from soma of the men. We also invited them to the Company party held on the post.
Our time spent at Tjdworth was in getting our new equipment and bringing it up to combat readiness. Thanksgiving, as all holidays in the Army, was just a specially prepared dinner and another work day. Just before Christmas, the Germans launched a terrific counter attack through Belgium using' sixteen divisions in their drive. Their gains were impressive at the beginning and we were speculating on the fact being an Armored Division, we'd probably be used to help wipe out their gains. Christmas came and we were still here to enjoy Christmas dinner, even though we worked half that day.
- BLOODY RHEINBERG
The blood-red clouds in the sky that greeted the sun on the morning of 5 March 1945 were a forecast of the shedding of the blood of men of the Thirty-Sixth who were to die that day on German soil. The tankers were to meet an overwhelming force, yet in spite of great odds they were to emerge victorious from the ordeal.
On the morning of the 5th, the Invincibles, as a part of CC "B," 8th Armored Division, were attached to the 35th Infantry Division with the mission of moving forward, seizing Lintfort and Rheinberg and then, if ordered, to seize the bridge across the Rhine at Wese!. Our G-2 information was that there was only minor opposition to be expected; that there were only three self-propelled weapons, one anti-tank gun, no tanks and about 300 disorganized and demoralized soldiers on this side of the Rhine. That information, we were to learn soon, was "all wet."
Task Force Van Houten that fateful day was composed of the 36th Tank Battalion, minus "en Company and Service Company, and included "A" eompny of the 49th Armored Infantry Battalion, a platoon of "B" Company of the 809th Tank Destroyer Battalion and a platoon of "B" Company of the 53rd Armored Engineer Battalion. "C" Company of the 36th was attached to the 49th Infantry, and Service Company was moving with CC fiB" trains.
Task Force Van Houten moved out of Aldekirk at approximately 0800, following Task Force Roseborough (the 49th). When TF Roseborough reached Lintfort, it encountered minor resistance and TF Van Houten was ordered by the combat commander to double the combat command column and pass through TF Roseborough which was to remain behind to secure the east side of Lintfort, an important mining town.
When the 36th reached Lintfort, which was still being cleaned out, they learned that reconnaissance had been sent ahead to check on routes through the town but had not yet returned. The combat commander then decided not to wait for the reconnaissance report and ordered TF Van Houten to continue through Lintfort and to seize Rheinberg and destroy all the enemy in that zone. At this time the leader of the "recon" troop called in and reported that he had not yet heard from his platoon but that he would send a guide to lead us out of Lintfort.
This guide took us to Schmidt Brook where the "recon" platoon had been held up by small arms fire. Captain "Cowboy" Tucker, commanding officer of "A" Company of the 36th, at the head of our column, reported this condition over the radio and inquired, "Shall I by-pass and double the "recon" column and keep on going?" As only small arms fire had been encountered, he was ordered to keep moving. His tanks proceeded north into a patch of woods, where they drew fire and returned it, killing Germans both to their right and left. At this point, Captain Tucker, doomed to die that day himself, reported "I'm killing Germans left and right. lust got a Mark IV tank. Having a good time. I also got a truck and a half-track."
Leading "A" Company, he continued to a point along the Fossa Canal road which goes north to the canal bridge, which was blown as the tanks approached. At this time there was heavy fire from both sides of the road. as well as from fox-holes, houses and the woods. One of our tanks was knocked out by a mine while several others burned up after being hit by bazookas or anti-tank guns.
Meanwhile the infantry platoon which had been attached to "A" Company was pinned down by fire from the woods north of the canal and from southwest of Rheinberg. The rest of the infantry company, which was following Captain Tucker, was engaged in a fire fight near Retschenhof and Kereschenhof. Following orders, Captain Tucker got in front of his infantry with the tanks he had and headed toward Rheinberg, moving parallel with the canal, under a continual mortar and anti-tank fire, including shells from 150mm guns.
In the meantime, "B" Company of the 36th, commanded by Captain David B, "Irish" Kelly, moved to hit the main road to Rheinberg and ran into intense small arms fire. Destroying many of the enemy and knocking out a German tank in the vicinity of Winterswick, they ran into more anti tank and bazooka fire. Part of "A" Company of the 49th were sent to assist "B" Company in cleaning out this anti-tank fire so it could move forward.
Accompanied by this infantry now, "B" Company moved north to the outskirts of Rheinberg. Three tanks of the company, found the next day, actually penetrated into the town upder heavy fire before being knocked out. Two were found north of the town and the third was in the center of town. During this assault, "B" Company knocked out four 88s and six 20mm guns protecting the larger weapons. These guns were in addition to a half -track, a tank and a truck also knocked out by the company.
During this period, "D" Company, the light tank company of the 36th, commanded by Captain Arthur C. "Ace" Erdmrinn, moved over Kamperbruck to an attack position southeast of Alterspan Wood. Enemy guns engaged the company but were speedily knocked out. The combat commander then sent a platoon of infantry to "D" Company and ordered an attack on Rheinberg from the southwest. Receiving fire from anti-tank guns, small arms, mortars and artillery, the company nevertheless moved forward and after the third assault, three tanks, later knocked out, entered Rheinberg. The attack wa.s costly both in tanks and men. Captain Erdmann lost a foot as the result of stepping on a mine and platoon leaders, Lt. Frank Rich and Lt. Kenneth Robinson died heroes' deaths as they led their men forward.
After dark, the remaining tanks of the company withdrew to Lintfort. During the action "D" Company was credited with knocking out three 88s, one tank and one 150mm gun.
"C" Company, commanded by Captain Stanley "Big Ears" Bodin, which bad been attached to the 49th Infantry, was now returned to battalion control and was ordered to assist "B" Company of the 36th in the attack on Rheinberg from the south. They were held generally in reserve and knocked out one anti-tank gun.
All told, the battalion knocked out three Mark IV tanks, one truck, two 150mm guns, twelve anti-tank guns (six 88s and six 20mm guns), took 512 prisoners and killed at least' 350 of the enemy, crushing the last core of enemy resistance in the area and capturing Rheinberg.
The battle of Rheinberg was not a battle of one man or one tank or one company. It was a battalion fighting against great odds and despite great losses carrying on and refusing to quit. Tanks were knocked out but. other tanks moved on and continued the attack. Men who were not too seriously injured grabbed their weapons from their tanks and continued forward on foot. Even the seriously wounded waved on tanks which stopped to assist . them.
The next morning the battered but proud battalion reassembled in Rheinberg and took count of itself. We had lost 41 tanks and 131 men were either dead, missing, or wounded. Stories of heroism were then pIeced together by the men, still groggy from the shock of battle and close communion with death. Captain Tucker's final radio message, after his arm had been shot away, sent shortly before he was killed, was recalled. Typical of the men who refused to stop, it was "I am a one-armed Cowboy now --- let's go, Cowboys." The story of Lt. Erickson of Baker Company, who was last seen, wounded and armed with a carbine, a submachine gun, a pistol and hand grenades, advancing toward the German lines was also told.
Great credit was also given the medical detachment, the unarmed heroes, who, working under fire, went about their work of aiding and evacuating the wounded calmiy and skillfully. That day alone they proved their worth to the men of the battalion.
Rheinberg doesn't look like much of a place on a map but it is written indelibly on the hearts of the men of the Thirty-Sixth because it was there that they received their baptism of blood and proved themselves worthy of the title of "Soldier." Refusing to give up when things were darkest, they battled on forward against a fiercely resisting and well-dug-in enemy. Rheinberg, to tankers of the Thirty-Sixth recalls narrow escapes from death, the buddies who died there and who now lie beneath white crosses in some lonely Army Cemetery in Europe far from their homes and loved ones, and the day when the battalion was tested in the flame of battle and emerged seared but victorious.
The fighting wasn't over yet though. The next morning after the battle, 6 March, at 0230 the Invincibles were attached to the Third Battalion of the 137th Infantry Regiment of the 35th Infantry Division. The second platoon of "C" Company moved out with "I" Company of the 137th and secured a foothold in houses in Ossenberg, the next town north at 2100. This entire area between Rheinberg and Ossenberg was under heavy artillery fire and gained the name of "88 Lane." Rheinberg itseIf, though cleared of the enemy, also remained under heavy mortar, tank and artillery fire with the Germans concentrating their fire on the area near the town's church. This area soon was dubbed "Suicide Corner" and those who were wise went through it on the double, ready to hit the dirt as soon as they heard the ominous whistle of an "inbound" shell. The artillery, which ranged up to 170mm, took a toll of both dead and wounded in the newly-won city.
Meanwhile at Ossenberg, one Tiger tank was knocked out, though nine rounds were required to disable it. The next night, 7 March, another platoon of our "C" Company and the 3rd battalion of the 137th secured the crossroads and by 0500, 8 March, had taken the entire Solvay Factory area, in which they also captured a Mark n and a Mark IV tank. The second platoon of "A" Company of the 36th then relieved the weary "C" Company men and continued the attack with the infantry through Ossenberg, securing Borth, blowing up two ammunition dumps there and then continuing the attack to Wallach which was captured after an anti-tank gun there was knocked out.
In the meantime, the battalion was receiving new tanks and the battalion maintenance section was busily engaged in recovering disabled tanks, some of them under fire. Service Company, during this period, had not been idle and its trucks had been engaged in bringing up ammunition, gasoline and weapons to replace those lost on the field of battle. Some of the replacements we received were very green and one of them actually fell out of the assistant driver's seat on his first ride in a tank and was evacuated.
On March 11th, another division was sent into the area and we were ordered to move to Venlo, Holland, to prepare to cross the Rhine. We welcomed the well deserved rest and left shortly before noon for another visit to hospitable Holland.
- ACROSS THE RHINE AND INTO GERMANY AGAIN
On the afternoon of 11 March 1945, with the sun shining bright, we arrived in Venlo and passed along its flag-bedecked streets, where we were to be billeted, reorganized, secure the necessary tanks to bring us up to Table of Organization strength and to receive necessary personnel reinforcements. It was good to be out of Germany and back among friends again. The weather was ideal and we spent our time training, relaxing and remembering. A number of .men were sent on pass to Paris and Brussels and some to England. Large numbers were also sent to nearby Army rest centers, mainly the one at Valkenburgh, Holland. It was at Venlo that the battalion first encountered that ungodly concoction of a drink which bore the name of "Purple Death." Ranging somewhere between TNT and brandy, the liquor made momentary "Supermen" out of lowly PFCs.
Wasting not a minute, our training of reinforcements continued and we even went so far, when no other area could be obtained, to take our tanks up to the Rhine near Ossenberg and teach gunnery by having our new men fire across the river at the Germans. It was at Venlo, too, that we had the sad duty of collecting the property of the men we had lost and sending it back through Army channels to their relatives.
Pre-saging events to come, we made a black-out march on the night of 20 Mareh and a practice river crossing over a pontoon bridge at Grefrath. The march and the general atmosphere of tension was a hint that "big things" were in the offing. It appeared that the time was fast approaching for crossing the Rhine and entering Hitler's inner fortress.
Four days after the joint American Ninth and British Second Armies successful attack on the Rhine defenses and the deployment of two airborne and two infantry divisions on the east bank of the Rhine between Wesel and Duisberg, we moved out of Venlo at 0200 on 27 March and headed for the Rhine. Crossing that river on a pontoon bridge near Wallach, we touched the other side shortly before 0800, 27 March. Advancing to the vicinity of Vorde, Germany, we stopped there at 1000 and the next day, 28 March, we moved to an assembly position near Bruckhausen and a day later arrived in an area northwest of Kirchhellen, Germany, where we remained until 31 March. On 30 March, quite a flurry of excitement developed when Jerry planes came over the area to harass us. For a few minutes, every soldier who was near any kind of weapon was blazing away at German planes.
Late in the afternoon of 31 March, we received orders to march to the vicinity of Westerholt. That objective was reached at 0200, 1 April, and we pulled up to the north, crossed the Lippe canal at Dorsten and in inky darkness struck off to the east along the north flank of the enemy forces trapped in the heavy industrial area of the Ruhr. All during the march as we passed thrQugh the wrecked cities, the streets were lined with the twisted debris of the great plants which had once supplied the material, the weapons and the fuel for the Wehrmacht. Now, eerie light from the burning buildings cast a weird glow on our tanks as we rumbled through the ruined cities.
Throughout the march we could hear guns, first to our left and later to our rear, as our artillery took its toll of the stubbornly resisting but crumbling German Army. At 0700, 1 April, sleepy and dirty we reached Selm, Germany, where we "holed" up in comfortable German homes for some much-needed sleep. It was Easter Sunday and, following services, the men, still weary, went back to sleep, storing up strength for the long march ahead. At midnight we were on the move again and had advanced to the east, through Delbruck and on to Sande where we stopped for several days.
It was during this march to Sande that our battalion billeting party, along with similar parties from CC "B" was running about twenty miles ahead of our reconnaissance into hostile territory. Confident as could be, the small party, searching for a town where the battalion might bed down for the night, continued on, passing through as yet uncaptured towns where their appearance brought forth the customary white flags until they reached the town of Neuhaus. There the story was different and German troops opened fire. Our men cut loose also and hastily left the "hot spot." The result of the affair was several wounded men, one of whom was Lt. Edward Conklin, battalion adjutant, who had been the first enlisted man to be made an officer back at Venlo. "Conk," a favorite of the men of the battalion, was evacuated to the States with an arm injury.
We were getting close to the Elbe' and had thought that we might cross that river and romp in~o Berlin but the Ninth Army had other plans for us. After several days spent at Sande, we received orders on the 4th of April to proceed on another mission - - - to the Ruhr.
- CLEANING OUT THE RUHR POCKET
Our new mission was to help clean out the German troops trapped in the Ruhr pocket. Ordered to move south, we left Sande at 0500 on 4 April and moved to Salzkotten but at 1800 that night we continued on to the little village of Dedinghausen where the battalion was given the mission of setting up a defense and constituting a mobile reserve to be committed in case the enemy tried to break out of the Ruhr pocket. At 1000, 5 April, we received orders to move out and pass through Task Force Walker of the 8th in the vicinity of. Schmerlecke. This relief was effected at 1300 and a coordinated attack was launched against Schallen, which was captured and we then continued onward that same evening to take Lohne. The Germans, using anti-aircraft guns as artillery and also for ground defense, made things hot for a while but we overcame the resistance.
In the attack on Scballen, "C" Company got into support firing position from the northeast of town while "A" Company took the left flank position. The assault guns and mortars were placed at the southeast of town. "c" Company, moved into place by a covered route and the attack began at 1500. Against Lohne, "C" of the 36th formed the base of fire with the assault guns and mortars. As soon as "C" Company of the 49th entered the town, the tanks followed, a platoon at a time. The attack began at 1730 and by 2000 the town was ours. Air support had been requested but could not be used because the 95th Infantry Division, in the same general area, stated they would have been within the target area .
On 6 April, orders were received at 1000 to capture the town of Bad Sassendorf. Working again with "C". Company of the 49th, we had the town in our hands by 1230. Acting under orders from the division commander, Brigadier General John Devine, Task Force Van Houten pulled back and made a wide end-run, coming down and going along the edge of the lake south of Soest and then cutting up to our objective, Ost Onnen, two kilometers west of Soest. . .
Taking off to comply with these orders, TF Van Houten passed through TF Goodrich of the 8th at Ellingsen and took the town of Echtrop with a reconnaissance platoon and a platoon of light tanks from our "D" Company at 1430, 6 April. Our men chased out a tank, an armored car, a half-track and a motorcycle, taking 30 prisoners and encountering slight resistance. All along the route we continued to take prisoners and received scattered small arms fire. We also captured a four-truck medical.convey, four antitank guns, ten ammunition trucks, four ammunition half-tracks, four tanks and a railroad train loaded with ammunition.
During this movement, three German tanks played "possum," let most of the column pass by, and jumped out at our "thin-skinned" headquarters vehicles. Though the Germans knocked out and sent up in flames one of our attached engineer half-tracks, a platoon of "A" Company of the 36th was near enough to knock out the three German tanks which were already the target of bazookas fired by our headquarters men. Two more German half-tracks were captured and several German civilian automobiles carrying German officers, who tried, but failed to escape, were also taken.
This operation, one of the most unusual in which we were ever engaged, was in the enemy rear and succeeded in disrupting German communications. With Germans ahead of us, behind us for all we knew, and on both sides of us, we continued on in the surprise maneuver and pulled into Ost Onnen at 2000 and a haU an hour later had control of the city. Our prisoner of war "bag" that day exceeded five hundred, of which 350 were taken in the vicinity of Ost Onnen and we continued to add to the number the next day. They finally overflowed the building in which we housed them and it was necessary to use a large field to hold them until they could be turned over to the Military Police.
On 7 April, at 1400, we received orders again, this time to take Mawicke and West Onnen and establish a base of fire from the vicinity of West Onnen while Task Force Roseborough attacked Werl from the southeast. Accompanied by the burgomeister from Ost Onnen, Captain William E. Hensel, then Battalion 8-2, went into Mawicke and the mayor of that town, following a conference, agreed to surrender the town at 1500. We reached West Onnen at 1600 and though artillery fell into the town, probably from German guns in Werl, we remained there the rest of the day.
On 8 April, Major 10hn Pasco, Ir., Battalion 8-3, received permission to take Werl and the battalion moved out at 1400, taking Ostufflen despite heavy artinery fire from mortars and high velocity weapons. "Recon" platoon led the battalion into the town at 1600. Turning our attention to Werl, " A" Company, now commanded by Captain Robert W. Shaw, who had taken over the company after Rheinberg, acted as a base of fire from positions about two kilometers west of Werl and the attack was launched. The assault guns and mortars were furnishing fire from near Ostufflen and the 399th Armored Field Artillery of the 8th lent assistance with an artillery preparation.
The twin "C" companies of the 36th and 49th assaulted and took the town, the infantry dismounting and following the tanks. The heavy artillery and mortar fire which opposed their entrance gradually became worse as the resisting Germans were compressed. The infantry, working in close coordination with the tanks, mopped up each separate strong point, many of which fairly bristled with machine guns and automatic weapons. "D" Company, under the command of Captain lohn McLaughlin since Rheinberg, and "B" Company of the 49th also assisted in cleaning up the "last ditch" resistance. "B" Company of the 36th which was attached to the 49th, also joined in the task and continued with us in taking the next town. Werl was cleared by 1930 and we thought it would be a good chance to catch up on some of the sleep we had been missing out on lately. However, as it turned out, plans other than sleep were in the offing.
No sooner had Werl been cleared than we received orders to take the towns of Ost Buderich and West Buderich. Opposition was moderate and the mortar platoon was placed on the western edge of Werl to support the attack. Advancing through artillery and mortar fire, the Thirty-Sixth took the towns by 2100. Less than half an hour later, at 2130, we received word that TF Van Houten and TF Roseborough would join forces to take the next town, Unna.
Unna was located 16 kilometers to the west of us. Because our reconnaissance was delayed, General Devine ordered TF Van Houten to move out at 0615, 9 April, and we "tore off," continuing until we ran into tank fire at Hemmerde where the lead tank of the column was knocked out. The two "C" Companies teamed up again and after pouring artillery into Hemmerde for five minutes entered the city and cleared it by noon.
Reorganizing quickly, "A" Company of the 36th and "C" Company of the 49th, plus the assault guns and aided by the mortars, started an assault at 1230 to take West Hemmerde. With that town taken, the two companies continued on to Stockum, which they cleared by 1800.
After spending the night at Stockum, we received orders to take Ost Buren and Kesselburen. Ost Buren offered no resistance so we hopped off for Kesselburen. The twin "C" Companies, with assault guns and mortars furnishing supporting fire an~ smoking both flanks, cleaned out the objective by 2100 and we crawled into our sleeping bags after we were informed that CC "A" of the 8th was to pass through and take Unna. Our task of cleaning up the Ruhr was completed and we were soon to start, the next day in fact, on another mission.
Proven once more to be "tops" in armor, we were proud and justly so of our record in the Ruhr. We had aided in "chewing up" the remnants of several German Panzer divisions as well as infantry divisions attempting to reform in the region. Our total Of captured prisoners was some place in the thousands. We were too busy to count them and merely searched them for weapons and turned them over to the Military Police whenever they managed to catch up with us. Sleep was something we didn't get much of and we didn't miss it too much as the excitement of battle kept us awake. Long drives over blacked-out roads with nothing but a pair of blinking tail lights ahead of us made us sharp-eyed as owls. We were in our stride now and the more Germans they threw at us the harder they fell.
- IN THE HARZ MOUNTAINS
Apple trees, covered with pink and white blossoms, lined the roads as we moved out at 1200, 12 April, on one of our now-customary long marches across the Reich. Sleeping in our vehicles on the road that night we continued on to Wolfenbuttel where we arrived at 0815, 13 April. We were just getting nicely settled, having found beds for everyone when we received orders that afternoon to move at 1600 for Hedersleben, at the edge of the Harz Mountains, the mountainous summer resort region of Germany.
Our stay at Hedersleben, with "D" Company at Ditfurt and Service Company at Halberstadt, lasted from 13 April to 19 April at 1000 when we were ordered to proceed to Strobeck. That night, we received a mission to try a "day run" on Blankenburg, in the heart of the Harz Mountains. At 1000 the next morning, 20 April, we went in on a bluff. " A" Company of the 36th went into firing position and actually fired five rounds per gun. "C" Company was in position to assist and in the afternoon there was an air strike on the city. At 1530 the combat commander sent "B" Company of the 49th to TF Van Houten and ordered the battalion to move into Blankenburg, take it and clear out the southern half of the town. TF Roseborough was to take the northern half.
With two tank companies abreast, TF Van Houten attacked at 1720 and as soon as the outskirts of the city were cleared, the infantry moved in. Meanwhile "C" Company of the 36th attacked and dominated the high ground to the north of the town. The southern half of the city, our sector, was cl!aned out by 1530 hours and the battaUon moved in and found billets. Though we took over 700 prisoners and two large wagon trains of 300 horses in the operation, TF Van Houten set an unusual record by suffering no casualties in the capture of the city.
As the sun settled down behind the mountains, the city remained lighted up by the glow of the burning buildings lining the streets and the air echoed with the. report of ammunition blowing up in the flames and the crash of brick and stone walls to the ground. Prisoners unguarded and bewildered, continued to pour out of the city and wandered around looking for some GI to tell them were to find the PW cage. Service Company got a feather in their cap when they captured the German General of Artillery Lucht in the hills just northeast of Blankenburg. Our mission the next day, 21 April, was to move and contact elements of the First United States Army and to accomplish this the task force had to take the town of Gattenstedt. Task Force Moore, led by Major Frank Moore, battalion executive officer and composed of "Recon" platoon of the 36th, "C" Company of the 36th and "C" Company of the 49th, moved out at 0700 and took the objective at 1730, running into light resistance. Contact was established with the second battalion of the 18th Infantry Regiment of the First Infantry Division of the United States First Army in Weinrode at 0830 and we moved into Hasselfelde. As far as we were concerned, the war in Europe ended for us that day, 21 April 1945, and we took up the duties of military government, the handling of prisoners of war and the collection of Displaced Persons.
Deciding to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the region, the battalion set up a rest camp in the area which had been a favorite resort for German screen stars and actors and rich Nazi bigwigs from Berlin. A schedule was set up so men could spend three days in the camp and devote their time to eating, sleeping, horseback riding, "looking at but not touching" the frauleins and, in general, taking life easy.
- THE WAR IN EUROPE ENDS - NORTHEIM - CZECHOSLOVAKIA
Ordered to move north to relieve the Second Armored Division, who were to take over part of the American zone of occupation in Berlin, we left Hasselfelde on 4 May 1945 and moved to Northeim, in the province of Hannover, into some of the most comfortable billets we had ever bad. Battalion headquarters was established in a large orphanage (minus the orphans) outside the city and Service Company took over a spa which bad been famous as a "watering place" since 1422. "B" Company though topped all the companies by moving into a castle, formerly the home of the Kings of Hannover.
Here at Northeim, we again took over the military government set-up and also the control of several thousand Displaced Persons located in camps in the area.
On 9 May 1945, came the end of the war in Europe and the "lights came on again." Despite non-fraternization regulations, life settled into a pleasant routine and training was kept at the necessary minimum. We did, however, do some firing, using captured German vehicles as targets but on the whole the battalion devoted itself to maintenance of equipment and play. Wellsettled in the role of "occupation troops," we were rooted out once again and at 0545, 4 June 1945, we were on the road again with our destination this time the vicinity of Pilson, Czechoslovakia. We were now being transferred from the Ninth to the Third United States Army.
Moving at a leisurely pace of 12 miles per hour, we made the 300 mile trip, a great part of it along the autobahn, in three days. Along the way we saw thousands of Displaced Persons, hundreds of German refugees and many discharged German soldiers returning to the homes they hoped were still standing. We paused the first night near Weimar and the second night found us sleeping along the road near Neustadt.
Early on the morning of 6 June, we crossed the boundary into Czechoslovakia and moving through numerous small towns, we rumbled into Pilsen, passing along the way the famous Skoda munitions plant. Leaving behind us the crowds that watched our armored vehicles pass through the city, we moved to the east, setting up headquarters at Chrast. The battalion "fanned out" in the surrounding countryside, leaving headquarters and Service Company in Chrast. "A" Company set up housekeeping in Sedleckoj "B" Company in Busovice; "C" Company in Stupno and "D" .Company in Brezina.
Our major job in the area proved to be manning road blocks in the strip of land bordering on the Russian-held section of Czechoslovakia and guarding a large PW Camp which contained close to 10,000 German prisoners. Despite the language handicap, we got along on good terms with the Czechs and found enqugh to drink without having to resort to the Russian drink of beer spiked with gasoline. No sooner had we settled down to this routine of duty, plus the usual half day training schedule, than the Army began its Redeployment Plan and the 8th Armored Division was slated for. demobilization. Gradually as quota after quota of men were taken from the 36th and men ready for discharge filled in their places, the 36th was the 36th in name only.
Scattered to the various branches of service and different battalions and divisions, the men of the Invincible tank battalion, proud of their record, moved into other units but the days they spent in the 36th will long live in their memories.
So draws to an end the story of the Thirty-Sixth Tank Battalion and the men, living and dead, who wrote its story, in blood and steel in the annals of American Military History.
Links (outside Open Library)
History Created October 29, 2012 ·
|February 12, 2013||Edited by David Nance||Update photos|
|November 3, 2012||Edited by David Nance||Added new photo|
|October 29, 2012||Edited by David Nance||Update photos|
|October 29, 2012||Edited by 18.104.22.168||Added new photo|
|October 29, 2012||Edited by 22.214.171.124||Update photos|