Photos, Articles, & Research on the European Theater in World War II
This is one of a series of G.I. Stories of the Ground, Air and Service Forces in the European Theater, issued by the Orientation Branch, Information and Education Services, Hq., TSFET. Brigadier General Thomas L. Harrold, commanding the 9th Armored Division, lent his cooperation and basic material was supplied by his staff.
This is the story, told in broad outline, of a fighting division. The gallant exploits of individuals of the Ninth Armored Division cannot be treated adequately in the brief space allotted here. But in reading this little book you will identify yourself with the places and battles recorded.
The Ninth Armored Division's brilliant achievements were made possible by the actions of brave men fighting as a united team. This, then, is the story of that team. It is a team in which every member can justly feel the deepest pride.
Every man, I am sure, is aware of the personal sacrifices that were required to win the war. The deeds of our comrades who fell at Bastogne, Remagen and on the road to Leipzig will burn forever bright in our memories as we continue to uphold the principles in which we believe.
The Story of the 9th Armored Division
The Ludendorff bridge was still intact!
German vehicles were moving across the span—across the only Rhine bridge Nazis had failed to blow in their frantic withdrawal from the hammer-like blows of the mighty Allied war machine.
It was apparent that Americans—this task force from Combat
But even if the Germans had waited too long, there was no assurance they would make the capital mistake of failing to blow the bridge. Col. Engeman reasoned the enemy probably would wait until his tanks roared into Remagen and then would cheat them of the prize by setting off the charges.
He acted quickly. After summoning a platoon of the 14th's Pershing tanks—new tanks with 90mm guns that could handle anything the Germans had—Col. Engeman gave instructions to
Go down into the town. Get through it as quickly as possible and reach the bridge. The tanks will lead. The infantry will follow on foot. Their half-tracks will bring up the rear. Let's make it snappy.
With their long-barreled 90s pointed down into the valley, the Pershings clattered over the winding road toward Remagen. Infantrymen, accustomed to working with tanks, trotted along behind.
Tanks and doughs moved swiftly against spotty resistance, mostly from snipers. Prisoners were taken from houses on the outskirts of the town. Quizzed about the defenses in the town and at the bridge, one PW volunteered the information that the bridge was scheduled to be blown at 1600.
Early that afternoon, similar information was obtained by the 52nd Armd. Inf. Bn. at Sinzig, several miles away. Civilians there corroborated the report that the Germans were to set off the blasts at 1600.
These reports were relayed to Brig. Gen. William M. Hoge, Lexington, Mo.,
You've got 45 minutes to take the bridge.
Checking the progress of the task force immediately, Col. Engeman radioed Lt. John Grimball, Columbia,
Get to the bridge as quickly as possible.
The lieutenant reported:
Sir, I am already there.
The Pershings wheeled into firing position near the west end of the bridge, prepared to smash any opposition across the river. One of the first targets was a locomotive which pulled a string of freight cars along the east bank. Tanks knocked out the train.
Infantrymen, spurred on by Lt. Karl Timmermann, West Point, Nebr., dashed along the main street of Remagen toward the bridge.
Time was running out and German engineers at the bridge realized their peril. They set off a blast in the roadway leading to the west approach of the bridge, blowing a large crater which they hoped would slow down tanks and infantry.
As 9th Armd. troops forged ahead, machine gunners opened up from each tower and the tunnel on the east side of the bridge. Anti-aircraft guns blazed.
Ten Minutes To Save A Bridge
Lt. Timmermann gathered his forces near the bridge, gave them instructions. It was 1550. In the face of murderous fire, the 27th Armd. doughs had just
As the men started onto the bridge, a heavy blast rocked the span two-thirds of the way across. The attacking platoon halted momentarily, then took off again when it saw the three spans still standing.
Three members of the 9th Armd. Engr. Bn.—
All hands, especially the engineers, worked with a speed never attained before. As the doughs rushed ahead, engineers cut all the wires below the bridge deck, preventing the Nazis from touching off a
Next, engineers raced across to the far side of the bridge to cut the main cable. Sgt. Dorland squeezed the cable with a pair of small pliers but couldn't even dent it. Without hesitating, he fired three shots into the cable with his carbine, smashing the line completely.
Ninth Armd. men later learned how close they came to disaster. Engineers located one
While engineers were hard at work, doughs dashed across the bridge, firing as they went. Enemy fire didn't disturb them nearly as much as the thought that the bridge might be blown up at any minute. It was a long drop to the river.
The leader of the first platoon,
Now, infantrymen received covering fire from the towers. First across the Rhine was Sgt. Alexander A. Drabik, Holland, O., who was closely followed by Pfc Marvin Jensen, Slayton, Minn. On their heels were Samele, Delisio, Chinchar, Massie,
Reaching the east end of the bridge, Drabik and several others cut to the left. Some moved into the railroad tunnel while the remainder, led by Lt. Emmet Burrows, Jersey City,
A complicated command problem developed for Gen. Hoge at the time of the crossing. The III Corps had not yet received word that the Remagen bridge had been captured and sent down orders for the 9th to move south across the Ahr River.
By driving swiftly along the west bank of the Rhine, the 9th could link up with Third Army forces and prevent thousands of Germans from crossing the Rhine to the south.
But the division already had troops on the east bank of the Rhine and needed all its forces for the bridgehead operation. Gen. Hoge held those troops on the east bank while he contacted Maj. Gen. John W. Leonard, Toledo, O., division commander.
The decision to hold the bridgehead will live in military history. It brought highest praise from Allied commanders. Gen. Hoge had sensed every hazard. German forces across the river were an unknown quantity. This could well be a trap. Artillery might knock out the bridge after the division had crossed over.
The reward seemed worth all risks. An Allied bridge across the Rhine would be of immense strategic and tactical importance. It might be a blow from which the Germans never could recover.
Gen. Hoge, with full confidence in his troops, obtained authority from Gen. Leonard to stick with the bridgehead and to expand it. "A moment for history" was Time Magazine's comment later.
While awaiting III Corps confirmation of the decision,
Third Corps ordered an all-out fight to build up the bridgehead as soon as it was informed of the Rhine crossing.
Foot troops—doughs who could dig in and hold their positions—rushed across the bridge. A heavy fog cloaked the span that first night as the first tanks started across about midnight. They were Shermans of the 14th Tank Bn.; the roadway wasn't wide enough for the new Pershings. Sgt. William. J. Goodson, Rushville, Ind., commanded the first tank to span the river.
A serious threat to the over-all operation loomed when a tank destroyer from the 656th TD Bn. slipped into a hole in the bridge flooring, then balanced precariously on two beams. Because of the delicate balance, the vehicle was unable to use its own power to extricate itself. Meanwhile, armored reinforcements, sorely needed to repel the inevitable German counter-attacks, were prevented from crossing.
Commanders worked feverishly to remove this obstacle. For a time they considered dumping the tank destroyer into the river but decided against that move because it might further damage the bridge. Meanwhile, foot troops continued to make progress.
Moving with extreme caution, salvage crews finally towed the TD from the bridge, enabling men and vehicles again to pour across the bridge in an unending stream.
Speed and Daring Pay Off At Remagen
The whole Allied force is delighted to cheer the First Army whose speed and boldness have won the race to establish the first bridgehead over the Rhine. Please tell all ranks how proud I am of them.
Reported the New York Sun:
The Germans misjudged by a fateful ten minutes the speed at which the 9th Armored Division was moving... To all who utilized that ten minutes so advantageously goes the deepest gratitude this country can bestow.
Ninth Armd.'s movement to Remagen possessed a story book flavor. First Army's capture of Cologne was hailed as one of the major successes of the big Allied drive. But the Hindenburg bridge at Cologne went the way of all Rhine bridges. As the right flank of the Army, troops of the 9th Armd. struck swiftly towards the Rhine.
As its tanks roared through Euskirchen, the 9th gained speed. The closer the division got to the river, the faster the columns moved. Near the end of the historic dash, half-tracks crowded with infantrymen were streaking through town after town.
The speed of the advance so startled the enemy that he was caught off-balance. Pay-off of that speed and daring was the capture intact of the Ludendorff bridge—the bridge that became a dagger pointed at the heart of Germany. Before two months had passed, that dagger was plunged to the hilt in the German heart.
The German press and radio remained silent about the crossing for two days, but the full import of the disaster did not escape the Nazis. Field Marshal Kesselring, rebuking his troops for the costly failure at Remagen, said: "We have suffered unnecessary losses and our present military situation has become nearly catastrophic."
But while the United Nations cheered, the fight to hold and enlarge the area raged with intensity. The enemy quickly turned the bridgehead into a crucible of crashing bombs and bursting shells. Precious reserves of planes and self-propelled guns were expended with reckless abandon in the savage fight to knock out the bridge.
This was one of the war's hottest spots. German artillery shells whistled in from the Rhine hills. Nazi planes sneaked up to the sector from behind the hills, made fast runs for the bridge. Enemy pilots, ordered to "get the bridge" at any cost, paid a tremendous toll.
No sooner was the order given to exploit the bridgehead than Remagen became an MP's nightmare. All roads leading to the bridge were clogged for miles with vehicles and men. Amid magnificent confusion, traffic continued to flow across the Rhine under the direction of Col. Walter Burnside, Columbus, O., commander of Combat
Confusion was rampant on the east side of the river as well. Germans were in such a hurry that their convoys sped through the night with headlights blazing. The Americans had gambled and won a bridgehead. The Germans were gambling to erase an error.
The bridgehead was crowded. American flak wagons were banked bumper to bumper. Artillery of every caliber lined up in the hills west of the Rhine and fired over the river with telling effect.
Luftwaffe pilots who braved the murderous ground barrage to drop bombs on the bridge usually paid with their lives.
Enemy artillery was particularly accurate. When work was begun on a ponton bridge downstream from the railroad bridge, German guns zeroed in on it. One shell after another crashed into the target. But engineers continued their hazardous work.
Civilians were moved from Remagen to reduce the enemy's chances of getting reports on the effectiveness of the artillery fire.
Engineers toiled day and night on the railroad bridge to keep it in operation. Holes caused by air and artillery attacks were quickly sealed. Officers and men of the 9th Armd. Engr. Bn. sweated out heavy fire to keep traffic moving.
As soon as they could rally their forces and send reinforcements from the north, Germans counter-attacked savagely with tanks and infantry. The Nazis employed every stratagem and trick in the book to get at the bridge but were thwarted in every attempt.
They sent a barge carrying explosives down the river but the craft was captured. They filled the river with floating mines, but these were picked off by riflemen. Especially trained swimmers in rubber suits who towed floating explosives drowned or were captured.
Finally, the bridge which had stood for 10 days despite bombs and shells, toppled into the Rhine. The framework had been weakened by enemy fire and by the terrific loads carried across. But when the span gave way,
Ponton bridges already had been thrown across the Rhine and now were carrying the full load of men and materiel.
The Ludendorff bridge had served its purpose well. The men who had died to keep it in operation had performed a mighty task. A storm of annihilation was about to break over the Wehrmacht.
Heroes Step Forth In The Ardennes
The Ardennes gave the 9th its first opportunity to show what it could do in a major battle. Its baptism was a bitter defensive action fought under the most difficult conditions. After the Ardennes, combat came much easier.
Gen. Leonard sent his troops into the front lines for the first time along the Luxembourg-German frontier in October, 1944, soon after they had arrived in the little duchy. Although 9th Armd. technically was in VIII Corps reserve, the division commander wanted the men to get the feel of combat. Because it was a comparatively quiet sector, he obtained permission for the units to relieve other troops in the line for periods of conditioning.
The 9th underwent this battle training for nearly two months. Troops operated in an historic invasion area. The Eifel Hills had been selected by
Gen. Eisenhower and Gen. Bradley paid the division a visit at Mersch, Luxembourg, in November. Infantry outfits were strung out along a wide sector of the front. The 9th was backing them up.
Dec. 16, 1944: VIII Corps' sector came to life with a terrific roar. German artillery opened up all along the front. Infantry divisions in the line were the 106th, a new, untried outfit to the north, and the 28th and 4th, to the south, both of which nearly had been exhausted by recent action.
Von Rundstedt hardly could have picked a more propitious time and place to strike the blow that stunned the Allied world and carried the American forces close to disaster. He smashed his juggernaut into the weakest sector of the line and moved his panzer reserves behind the front with such cunning that the Nazis war machine was rolling at high speed before the Americans realized what was happening. Sheer guts saved the Allies in the Ardennes. Ninth Armd. men are quietly and deeply proud of their part in that heroic defense.
Widely spaced along the front, the 9th's three combat commands were forced to fight separately.
Clattering through St. Vith at dawn,
Without flank protection, CC B was forced to pull back from the Our that night. This was the first of a series of disappointments for the command in the St. Vith action.
Next morning, a task force was sent north of the city to beat back an enemy armored column. One medium tank company of the 14th Bn. knocked out six tanks.
German forces surged forth again in an effort to knock out the command's stronghold. In addition to the 1st SS Panzer and 62nd Volksgrenadier Divs., Nazi units included elements of the 116th Panzer and the 18th Volksgrenadier Divs.
Despite ammunition and food shortages, the lack of air support and the constant threat of being cut off completely,
When the 27th Armd. Inf. Bn.'s CP was captured, Gen. Hoge sent tanks and doughs to recapture it; they did. Although rumors spread among the troops that they were surrounded, men stuck to their guns. A BBC broadcast declared: "The brightest spot along the western front is at St. Vith."
"If this is a bright spot," remarked one GI, "what the hell is going on everywhere else?"
German artillery, which had been shelling
Considerable heavy fighting continued before
CC A, commanded by Brig. Gen. (then Col.) Thomas L. Harrold, Troy, N.Y., defended a front line sector near Beaufort, Luxembourg. The 60th Armd. Inf. Bn. controlled the front when the Germans unpacked their power punch and the entire combat command went into action when the magnitude of the attack was realized.
Four to five battalions of German artillery ranging from 88s to 240s pounded the sector. Telephone communications were knocked out immediately. Nazis then began infiltrating. A regiment of enemy infantry advancing southwest down Mullerthal Draw through the 4th Inf. Div. sector attempted to get behind the 60th's positions. Artillery, mortars and rockets pounded relentlessly.
Contact with the surrounded rifle companies was maintained only through a radio operated by Lt. Ira D. Cravens, Springfield, Ill., forward observer for the 3rd Armd. FA Bn.
When CC A took over, it had instructions to maintain its positions until they became untenable. The command led off with a counter-attack,
CC A now turned to aid its isolated rifle companies. The Stars and Stripes gave this account of the withdrawal:
Nobody told the doughs of the 60th Armd. Inf. Bn. to pull out, so they stayed and fought until word finally got through to them. A few days later they showed up in German helmets and with blankets draped over their shoulders, their rifles slung with bayonets fixed. They walked through German lines that way... They kept right on going until they reached the U.S. lines. After that, they fought some more.
Upsetting The German Timetable
When CC A was relieved Dec. 26 by
Without rest and lacking time for sufficient preparation, Gen. Harrold's troopers attacked the next morning. Hooking up with the 4th Armd. Div.,
Still the fight continued. New Year's Eve,
The third combat command,
Small CC R task forces of tanks from the 2nd Tank Bn. and doughs of the 52nd Armd. Inf. Bn. took up positions along the roads leading to Bastogne from the east. Their mission was to block the roads at all costs. They clung to their positions even when surrounded. Masses of German tanks rolled around them; enemy infantry infiltrated in the darkness.
There were no front lines in this melee. Artillerymen, tankers and engineers fought as doughs. The 2nd Tank Bn, encountered elements of nine German divisions. The 73rd Armd. FA Bn. fought its way out of a trap, kept its guns in action.
Although casualties were heavy and all three of its battalion commanders lost,
TF Snafu became a potent force in the ensuing battles. Organized chiefly as a trouble-shooter for the 101st, this unit operated on a 10-minute alert and sped to threatened areas as needed. Bolstered by armor, it proved to be an ace in the hole.
CC R received the Presidential Unit Citation for its action at Bastogne.
Because its forces were widely separated, 9th Armd.'s outstanding fight in the Ardennes didn't receive the attention it deserved until the battle was over. Then, military men pointed out the remarkable job the division had accomplished. Commendations came from two army commanders, Gen. Courtney H. Hodges and Gen. George S. Patton, Jr., from three corps and four divisions.
By training and background, 9th Armd. troops were well equipped for the furious Ardennes fighting and for succeeding roles.
Made up largely of former horse cavalrymen of the famous 2nd Cav. Div., the 9th was activated July 15, 1942, at Fort Riley (Camp Funston), Kan. One unit, the 3rd Armd. FA Bn., dates its battle record back to 1794. It fought in every major military campaign in American history.
The 9th trained for nearly a year at the Fort Riley reservation, then went to the Mojave desert near Needles, Calif., for additional hardening. Reorganized as a light armored division, the 9th participated in Louisiana maneuvers where its army commander was Gen. Hodges.
The 9th was well known before it saw combat. It put on two firing demonstrations in the spring of 1944 while stationed at Camp Polk, La. The first was for American press and radio representatives; the second for the press of Allied and neutral nations.
In August, 1944, the division sailed for England aboard the Queen Mary. After drawing equipment in the Tidworth area, the 9th crossed the Channel, then made a six-day march across France. Its units entered the lines in Luxembourg.
Gen. Eisenhower's Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Walter B. Smith, assaying the value of the Remagen bridge over the Rhine said: "It was worth its weight in gold."
The time had come for the Allies to cash in on the valuable property acquired in the Remagen deal. From that toe-hold, seized by the 27th Armd. Inf. Bn., had grown a military project of great dimensions.
The story is that when Gen. Bradley informed Gen. Eisenhower of the bridge seizure, the Supreme Commander said casually: "Why, hell, Brad, put a corps across."
When the time came for the Allies to capitalize on their advantage all along the Rhine River line, the Remagen springboard already had been built, exploited. Gen. Bradley didn't stop with just one corps across.
To the north, the long-scheduled "main event" was about to come off. This was the combined operation which had been in the making so long. Preparations by the British Second and the American Ninth Armies were hidden behind thick clouds of smoke. The Germans now were off balance. The threat from the north had been anticipated, but the Remagen bridgehead had thrown such an added burden on German defenses that Nazi confusion was multiplied.
With the Remagen bridgehead already well extended toward the north, Gen. Hodges began expanding it to the south.
While Gen. Hoge gave attack orders to
Col. Burnside, CC R commander, became Chief of Staff, and Col. (then Lt. Col.) Charles Wesner, Oshkosh, Wis., commanding the 16th Armd. FA Bn., took over
9th Armored In On The Kill
Racing over rugged terrain,
The tankmen were rescued when Co. C, 52nd Armd. Inf. Bn., threw a makeshift bridge across the river and infantrymen fought their way into Limburg.
Capture of the city was highly significant. Not only did it mark the complete breakout of the Remagen bridgehead, but it was the forerunner of swift armored advances across Central Germany that put American forces in position to help seal the industrial Ruhr.
The first German prison camp was captured at Limburg and its occupants liberated. Gen. Leonard visited a Limburg hospital and met patients who had been former members of the division. "You are in good hands now," he encouraged them.
Ninth Armd. combat commands next raced in two directions. While
CC B covered 67 miles one day during the drive to the north.
Considerable resistance was encountered at Fritzlar, site of a large German airport.
The 9th's advance to the north helped complete the encirclement of the Ruhr. German forces struck at the steel ring in the Warburg area, but few succeeded in escaping.
CC B sent reinforcements and a large number of the enemy was caught in the open by artillery fire and direct fire from tanks. The Nazis withdrew after suffering heavy casualties.
The number of prisoners ultimately taken from the Ruhr pocket far exceeded the total anticipated. Altogether, the Allies captured 327,000. This was the first great dividend of the Remagen bridgehead. Gen. Eisenhower commended all forces involved in the Ruhr operation:
This victory of Allied arms is a fitting prelude to the final battle to crush the ragged remnants of Hitler's armies of the west, now loitering on the threshold of defeat.
The 9th now assumed a spearheading role, leading the way for First Army's drive eastward. The race through Central Germany began April 10. Division tanks smashed so deeply into the enemy's rear that Nazis became hopelessly confused. Communications were slashed, vital supply points seized.
In their April operations, the 9th's combat commands advanced approximately 280 miles—from Warburg to the Mulde River—in carrying out the encirclement of Leipzig. Attacking abreast, the three combat commands captured hundreds of cities, thousands of prisoners, knocked out scores of German tanks, guns and vehicles.
Lt. Col. Wesner and his driver, Cpl. Sam Pernicci, East Point, La., captured a bridge intact over the Saale River near Naumburg. When they removed charges from the bridge, the 9th's column rolled on without stopping.
Rugged fighting developed through the thick defense belt around Leipzig. Germans used hundreds of ground-mounted anti-aircraft guns, 500 of which were either knocked out or found abandoned by
The same combat command captured a radio-radar station at Audgast, reputed to be the most powerful in Germany, as well as seizing an airfield at Polenz containing 250 planes.
The 2nd and 69th Inf. Divs. completed the capture of Leipzig, Germany's fifth largest city, after the 9th had completely encircled the area.
The division's drive to the Mulde, in the military sense, split Germany in two. Instead of rolling eastward to link up with Soviet forces, the division was taken out of the lines for a well deserved rest.
An additional assignment remained, however, before the Germans were thoroughly beaten. When the enemy threatened a prolonged fight in Czechoslovakia, the 9th was sent on a long march south to join Third Army and help administer the coup de grace.
CC A advanced into Czechoslovakia with the 1st Inf. Div. By the time the combat command linked up with the Red troops near Karlsbad, the Germans were completely kaput.
Being in the fight until the closing moments was more than an ordinary triumph for the gallant men of the 9th Armd. The Germans had reported them completely destroyed on three separate occasions. Yet, despite bitter fighting, sometimes against heavy odds, the men of the 9th held without yielding until their mission—the destruction of the enemy—was accomplished.
Germany surrendered unconditionally at Rheims, France, May 8, 1945, two months to the day from the time the 9th seized the Ludendorff railroad bridge at Remagen which sped victory for the Allied Nations.