Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Following the 10th Armored (6): Into Germany

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.

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.

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