The 11th Armored Division
REMEMBER WHAT THEY SAID
THE FOLLOWING CONGRATULATORY MESSAGES WERE RECEIVED AT THE 11TH ARMORED DIVISION ASSOCIATION'S 1947 REUNION IN CHICAGO, IL.
IT WAS YOUR SPLENDID FIGHTING QUALITIES WHICH CARRIED THE "THUNDERBOLT" THROUGH GERMANY AND AUSTRIA TO THE EASTERN-MOST POINT REACHED BY OUR GROUND UNITS DURING THE LATE WAR. I AM HAPPY TO NOTE THAT YOU ARE ATTACKING PRESENT PROBLEMS WITH THE SAME DETERMINATION AND ESPRIT THAT DISTINGUISHED YOUR ACCOMPLISHMENTS ON THE HISTORIC BATTLEFIELDS OF EUROPE.
DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER
THE ELEVENTH WILL LONG REMAIN VIVID IN MY MEMORY, BOTH BECAUSE OF ITS GALLANTRY UNDER FIRE AND BECAUSE OF THE FRIENDS I COUNT AMONG ITS MEMBERS.
OMAR N. BRADLEY
FEW EPISODES OF WORLD WAR II MATCH IN THE DRAMA THE DASH OF THE 11TH ARMORED DIVISION FROM THE ENGLISH CHANNEL TO NEUFCHATEAU AT THE TIME OF THE "BULGE", AND THE IMMEDIATE ATTACH, BARELY TWENTY-FOUR HOURS AFTER THE DIVISION LANDED, WHICH SAVED THE VITAL HIGHWAY LINKING NEUFCHATEAU AND BASTOGNE.
JACOB L. DEVERS
FROM THE TIME WHEN THE 11TH ARMORED DIVISION RECEIVED ITS COMBAT BAPTISM IN THE BATTLE OF THE ARDENNES UNTIL V-E DAY, WHEN THE OUTFIT WAS THE FARTHEST EAST GROUND FORCE OF THE ENTIRE AMERICAN ARMY IN EUROPE, THE 11TH MET AND DEFEATED THE BEST THE ENEMY COULD THROW AGAINST IT. I AM PROUD TO SALUTE THOSE MEMBERS OF THE 11TH ARMORED DIVISION WHO DIED IN THE SERVICE OF THEIR COUNTRY AND THOSE SURVIVORS TO UPHOLD THE TRADITIONS AND THE GLORIOUS RECORDS OF THEIR DIVISION.
MANTON S. EDDY
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THE THUNDERBOLT IN THE ETO
A CHRONOLOGICAL OUTLINE
OF THE ACTION OF THE 11TH ARMORED DIVISION
AN ALL-OUT GAMBLE
Von Rundstedt's mid-December counter-offensive drove a 50-mile long wedge into the Allied lines and isolated many American units in the Bastogne area. Allied forces were rusted with unprecedented speed to hold and contain the flanks of this mighty thrust.
On 30 December the Von Rundstedt spearhead, partially blunted at its western tip, threatened to break out again to the south. The success or failure of the German gamble hinged on the Neufchateau-Bastogne highway, lifeline to the "hole in the doughnut" where the 101st Airborne had made its gallant stand.
For a time completely surrounded the "Battered Bastards of Bastogne" had been relieved by a spearhead of the 4th Armored Division, but now two days later, the vital Neufchateau-Bastogne supply line was again threatened by strong German counterattacks.
The outlook was not good. The German breakthrough had proved to be one of the costliest engagements of World War II for the U.S, Army. Von Rundstedt had vowed to be in Paris by Christmas and although the drive had been slowed down to the west, it might yet break out past Bastogne toward the south.
THE THUNDERBOLT STRIKES
Then the Thunderbolt struck. The Division jumped off at 0730 on 30 December, the 41st Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron first making enemy contact at 0822 south of Remagne.
Enemy opposition in the sector consisted of the crack and veteran 3rd and 15th Panzer Grenadier Divisions and the Remer Brigade, part of the German power play to cut the lifeline. The 11th, untried in combat but seasoned from experience in the 3rd Army's Louisiana-Texas maneuvers of 1943 and the desert maneuvers of the 43-44 winter, advanced six miles in five days over rough, frost-bitten, bitterly contested terrain to clear thirty square miles of Belgium and retake over a dozen towns, including Chenogne, Lavaselle, Rechrival, and Mande-St. Etienne. The Division suffered heavy casualties from enemy action and the bitter cold, but the Germans paid with heavier losses. The vital supply line was saved, and Von Rundstedt lost his last bid for victory in the West.
GE T THERE
After brushing up on the Salisbury Plain in England for two months, the Thunderbolt Division had left England during the period of 10-16 December, originally scheduled to clean out the Lorient pocket, where Nazi die-hards prevented the use of a vitally needed port. As the last unit left the UK the Ardennes salient started to break. When the full gravity of the situation became apparent, orders came down to move the Division to the Ardennes as fast as possible to back up the holding forces.
Speed was the essence. After a 350-mile forced march across France, the Division Commander, Brigadier General Charles Kilburn, was given command of the forces guarding the Meuse River line from Givet to Verdun. The line was held from 23-27 December, at which time the Division made another 85-mile forced march, closing in the Neufchateau area on 29 December.
In a little over a week, after one of the longest, most grueling, and completely successful forced marches in the history of American armed might, the complete Division, tactically disposed and ready for its baptism of fire, had rumbled more than 400 miles from the beaches of France into the path of Von Rundstedt's hordes. And the men of the 11th Armored Division proved themselves in the days that followed.
CLEARING THE BULGE
The German had slowed down after its failure to break out on the Southern flank, and the Division jumped off again on 13 January in a two-pronged attack from the vicinity of Bastogne northeast through Bertogne, Nabompre, Foy, Noville, and Wicourt to the high ground south of Houffalize. Spearheading the VIII Corps attack against stiff resistance, the Division met the 2nd Armored Division of the 1st Army at Houffalize to close the Jaws of the pincers or, the withdrawing German forces. In this drive the Division took over twelve towns and liberated fifteen square miles of Belgium' capturing 800 POWs and destroying 50 tanks.
The Bulge, greatest challenge to American arms since the War of 1812 according to some military experts, was flattened out, and the war entered a new phase.
TO THE SIEGFRIED
The Division moved east, where the Germans still held part of Luxembourg. On 20 January the Division attacked through Boeur and Buret to the northeast, and by the 22nd had advanced twelve miles, attaining its objective north of Troisvierges.
Now the vaunted Siegfried Line was the goal, and the Reserve Command, commanded by Colonel Virgil Bell and composed primarily of the armored infantry battalions, attacked at 0400 on 6 February, gained complete surprise in the darkness, and by 0830 had captured the objective, the high ground overlooking the Siegfried Line north of Lutzkampen. Forced to stay there until 11 February due to its exposed flanks, the command encountered numerous mines and booby traps, but by 11 February, nearly 400 casualties had been inflicted on the enemy and 37 bunkers and pillboxes had been destroyed.
Resuming the attack with a predominantly infantry force, Reserve Command broke through the line near Reiff at 0545 on 18 February. After the line had been breached, the remainder was reduced by attacks from the rear. By the 22nd, Reiff had been taken, 154 pillboxes and bunkers had been cleared, 432 POWs had been taken, and approximately 400 Germans had been killed.
The month of March brought the Division some of its most bitter and spectacular fighting. Initially, the infantry elements of the Division were encountering particularly heavy, and in some cases fanatical, resistance from the crack 5th Parachute Division west of the Kyll River. However, the Division attack of 3 March was met with light to moderate resistance and forced the enemy to yield territory dominating the Prum River as well as the town of Fleringen by nightfall. In freezing weather and snow flurries, the towns of Wallersheim and Budesheim fell to the 11th on 4 March.
During the next two days the enemy used typical withdrawal tactics to impede the Division's relentless drive to the Kyll River, the last natural barrier before the Rhine. The towns of Schwerin, Kalenburn, Roth, Nieder Bettingen, Ober Bettingen, and Lohm were resistance centers which had to be smashed. Craters, roadblocks, minefields, and blown bridges, covered by fire, featured the enemy resistance.
Stubbornly, the enemy continued to resist the crossing of the Kyll River on 7 March but CCA commanded by Brigadier General Willard A. Holbrook, swung south and east caught the Germans by surprise after crossing the Kyll, and plunged into the outskirts of Kelberg. Despite small arms, mortar, nebelwerfer, and high velocity fire the town was cleared that night. The enemy had lost six tanks.
TO THE RHINE
With the fall of Kelberg, enemy resistance diminished swiftly. The Division began a large-scale breakthrough and exploitation of the completely confused Wehrmacht Thousands gathered along the muddy roads with hands overhead to surrender.
On 9 March Colonel Wesley Yale's CCB captured Brohl on the Rhine, CCA taking Andernach on the same day. This first dash to the Rhine netted 10,506 POWs including 172 officers, and liberated 4,552 displaced persons. Seven hospitals, one QM dump, and 100 artillery pieces also fell into the Thunderbolts bag. But more important to the big picture, the 11th had linked up with doughfoots of the 1st Army, closing the mouth of a huge pocket and cutting off six German divisions west of the Rhine.
FROM RHINE TO RHINE
On 16 March, the Division, under the command of Major General Holmes Dager, was assigned to the XII corps Swinging south from the VIII Corps zone, the Thunderbolt crossed the Moselle River east of Bullay, where it met scattered resistance. Similar opposition was encountered in the vicinity of Meisenheim, west of the Glan River. The Glan was crossed 18 March.
After pushing 70 miles, the Division took its objective, an airfield near historic Worms, with thousands of additional prisoners bringing the division total to more than 20,000, two POWs for each man in the 11th.
On 22 March the Division again changed Corps' this time going to the XX Corps to maintain a defense of the west bank of the Rhine, 125 miles of which were in the hands of the Allies, and also to support the 3rd Army's bridging operations.
On 28 March the Division initiated its crossing of the Rhine at the 3rd Army's Oppenheim bridgehead, with orders to cross the Main River and proceed to the east. In the meantime the Division had reverted to the XX Corps with orders to drive north and east into the heart of Germany.
On 30 March CCA became embroiled in a stubborn defensive fight in the vicinity of Gelnhausen CCB meanwhile was fighting its way to the north, opening a route to be employed later by the division as a whole. CCB met comparatively light resistance until it reached the key communication center of Fulda, which it contained by fire. Supporting infantry elements later moved into the town. The bag of POWs continued to mount and on 31 March, with Thunderbolt spearheads thrusting ever deeper into Germany, the prisoner total had exceeded 25,000.
On Easter Sunday the 11th was assigned the mission of driving swiftly to seize German communication and government centers in the vicinity of Arnstadt and Krafnichfield.
The chiefs of many Nazi governmental bureaus were reported to have moved to this area' fleeing the Red Army advance on Berlin. Hitler himself was reported to be among them.
The Thunderbolt drove on, blazing a fiery spearhead into Germany, often leaving its supporting infantry 50-70 miles behind. So swift was the advance that the enemy was completely disorganized. The action of 2 April brought the Division to the Werra River with the bridges still intact. The highlight of the day was the liberation of 400 Allied POWs in a hospital at Grimmenthal.
On 3 April considerable resistance was met by CCA at Suhl, and CCB at Oberhof. After artillery preparations the towns were taken and resistance reduced. With the capture of Zella Mehlis on 4 April came one of the largest single ordnance material hauls to fall into the hands of any outfit in the ETO. Thousands of pistols from the famed Walther plants small arms, automatic weapons, pistol parts, and an estimated million rounds of ammunition were seized
Between 6-10 April, as the column switched its axis of advance to the southeast toward Bayreuth, the Germans employed aviation in more strength than usual. As the head of the column swiftly advanced, again leaving its infantry support far behind, rear elements of the Division suffered casualties from by-passed pockets of SS men. On the morning of 7 April one cavalry platoon and two TDs were ambushed to the west of Schleusingen. A task force was sent after them' and all personnel and three vehicles were recaptured.
From 7-14 April the Division advanced 67 miles in a drive that ended with the surrender of Bayreuth, famed Wagnerian music center. Disregarding the surrender, fanatics fought on, and troops moved in to clean out the town. Elements of the 71st Division relieved the 11th in Bayreuth later the same day. Several thousand POWs had been taken, and many towns, including Themar, Oberlauter, Coburg, Kulmbach, and Rohr, had been cleared, thus ending another phase in the Battle of Germany.
On 10 April Grafenwohr with a replacement training center and an infantry school fell to the 11th. Grafenwohr had also been a supply base, and with its fall Germany lost its largest reported chemical warfare dump with more than ~ million rounds of chemically filled ammunition, in addition to large quantities of other ordnance material and food stores.
The Division renewed its attack to the southwest on 22 April, taking Weiden and releasing 1722 Allied POWs. During the advance to Cham, the 11th saw at first hand the results of German atrocities. The roads were littered with the bodies of political prisoners who had been the victims of SS brutality. An airfield with 50 aircraft and Field Marshal Kesselring's private train were also seized in the Cham area.
The Division was directed to advance to the southeast to the Austrian borderland and seize objectives in the vicinity of Regen. On 25 April Grafenau was taken and a Japanese legation of 37 men, women, and children was captured.
OVER THE BORDER
At 1810, 26 April a patrol from the 11th became the first Allied unit to enter Austria from the west. Patrolling to the Austrian and Czech borders was carried on from 27-29 April from the vicinity of Freyburg. Then the Division continued its march to the south to take Urfahr and meet the Red Army, CCB moving to contain Passau. The advance was made despite snow, muddy roads, strong resistance at Wegsheid and Gramastetten, and blown bridges at Neufelden and Rottenegg.
On 4 May, Linz and vicinity surrendered to CCA, and troops entered the town at 1130. CCB reached Gall Neukirchen and from there directed patrolling to the east in an effort to contact the Red Army, meantime discovering the concentration camp at Mauthausen.
A troop of the 41st Cavalry contacted Soviet forces at Amststten at 1550 on 8 May to make the 3rd Army's first link-up with the eastern ally. V-E Day, 9 May found the 11th Armored Division the eastern most of all Allied forces on the Western Front as the United States Army's European mission was completed.
In four months and ten days of combat, the Division averaged almost 20,000 POWs a month not including prisoners turned over to supporting infantry divisions for evacuation. A total of 76,229 prisoners had been taken. After cessation of hostilities, the Division processed 11,834 additional prisoners for the purpose of discharge and turned over to the Red Army a total of 34,125.
THE THUNDERBOLT DIVISION FELT JUSTLY PROUD OF ITS PART IN THE VICTORY IN EUROPE.
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