Thursday, April 16, 2015

Following the 10th Armored (25): Battle for Crailsheim

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.

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.

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