22nd Tank Battalion
The 22nd Tank Battalion, originally the 3rd Battalion, 42nd Armored Regiment was activated on August 15, 1942, with the 11th Armored Division at Camp Polk, Louisiana. The officer and enlisted cadres were drawn from other armored divisions. Draftees and enlistments brought the battalion up to its full strength of 700 officers and men. The tank battalion was the main offensive striking force of an armored division.
Like the 11th, the 22nd Battalion consisted of a headquarters and Headquarters Company, three medium tank companies, a light tank company and a service company. The battalion trained with the division at Camp Polk and participated in Third Army maneuvers in Louisiana and Texas in June-August, 1943. In September, the division moved to Camp Barkeley Texas.
In October the 11th Armored shifted west again, to Camp Ibis, California, in the Mojave Desert. After desert warfare training, the 11th Armored, nicknamed the "Thunderbolt" Division, headed farther west to Camp Cooke, California on the Pacific coast.
In September 1944, the division moved back east to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey to await overseas shipment. The division boarded a troopship for England, landing at Southampton The men moved inland to camps on the Salisbury Plain and awaited orders for France.
On December 16, the Thunderbolts sailed across the English Channel to France. The division was needed; on December 16, the Germans launched a surprise attack on a 50-mile front in the Ardennes Forest of Belgium. The American lines were shoved back for several miles in what would be called the Battle of the Bulge.
The Thunderbolts were ordered to hold the Meuse River between Sedan and Givet. The 22nd Tank Battalion and the rest of the division raced 50 miles across France to help plug the gap in the Bulge. On the Meuse, the Thunderbolts got new orders. The 4th Armored Division had broken through to relieve beleaguered Bastogne, where troops of the 101st Airborne Division and other Army units had been surrounded. The 11th Armored was ordered forward to protect Bastogne's thin lifeline the Bastogne-Neufchateau Highway. Commanded by Lieutenant Colonel John Wingard of Lexington, South Carolina the 22nd Battalion was split into companies and platoons in the Battle of the Bulge.
At various times, its soldier and armor were attached to the division's three combat commands: A, B and Reserve. Battalion elements also fought with the 17th Airborne Division and the 87th Infantry Division.
On December 30, the Thunderbolts attacked. Company A of the 22nd Battalion hit the line at Magerot and Acut where it suffered heavy casualties from mines, anti-tank guns and 120 millimeter mortar fire. The weather was cold and snowy: it seemed a question of who would freeze first, the men of Company A or the enemy. Company A and the rest of the Thunderbolt Division hung tough. The Germans would lose the Battle of the Bulge.
On January 2, Company B of the 22nd Battalion was attached to the 194th Airborne Infantry while Company C of the 22nd was assigned to the 513th Glider Infantry, which was ordered to attack toward Flamierge. Company C was ordered to follow the infantry in a supporting role and be available as tank destroyers in the event of a German counterattack. It was cold and snowy and enemy fire was hot. Six Shermans of Company C were hit; three were destroyed. Hubemmont was the objective of Company B and the paratroopers. The attack was delayed four days while the 513th got its forces in place. The delay was unnecessary, according to the men of Company B.
The German drive slowed, then stopped, then was pushed back. The enemy had no choice but to retreat eastward toward the Westwall, a wide belt of German pillboxes and other defensive strong points the Americans and British dubbed the "Siegfried Line." It would be the job of Combat Command R, including men of the 22nd Battalion, to attack the line.
CCR struck before dawn on February 6 and by 8:30 a.m. had seized the objective high ground overlooking the Siegfried Line near Lutzkampten. With flanks exposed, the command had to stay put until February 11. The men of the 22nd Battalion and other Thunderbolts had to watch out for mines and booby traps, but by February 11, they had inflicted almost 400 casualties on the enemy and destroyed 37 bunkers and pillboxes.
CCR resumed the attack with mainly an infantry force and on February 18 broke through the Siegfried Line at Reiff. By February 22, Reiff had been taken and 154 bunkers and pillboxes had been cleared. The Thunderbolts killed approximately 400 enemy soldiers and took 432 prisoners.
March brought spring and some of the 22nd Battalion's hardest fighting in World War II. The Thunderbolts, including tanks and men of the 22nd Battalion attacked across the Prum River. On snowy March 4, the Thunderbolts took Wallersheim and Budesheim. For the next two days, the Germans used standard retreating tactics to slow up the 11th Armored Drive to the Kyll River, the last water barrier before the Rhine. Schwenn, Kalenbom, Roth, Nieder Bettingen, Ober Bettingen and Dohm were centers of resistance that had to be eliminated. The Germans tried desperately to hold the Thunderbolts at the Kyll, but there was no stopping the 11th Armored Division.
On March 7, CCA, including tanks and troops of the 22nd Battalion, swung south and east, caught the Germans by surprise and drove into the outskirts of Kelberg. The Germans fought back with small arms, mortar, nebelwerfer and artillery, but the town was cleared that night. The enemy lost eight tanks.
After Kelberg fell, enemy resistance diminished swiftly. The division began a large-scale breakthrough. Again, the 22nd Battalion was divided among CCA, CCB and CCR. The only question was when the Thunderbolts would hit the Rhine, not if. On March 9, CCB captured Brohl and CCA seized Andemach, both cities on the Rhine. The quick strike netted more than 10,500 prisoners; the Thunderbolts also liberated more than 4,500 war refugees. Seven hospitals, a supply dump and 100 artillery pieces fell into 11th Armored hands. More importantly, the 11th Armored had linked up with the First Army, closing the mouth of a huge pocket and cutting off six German divisions west of the Rhine.
Among the prisoners were a German lieutenant, sergeant and a private who surrendered to B Company of the 22nd Battalion. The Germans, carrying a white tablecloth for a surrender flag, said they were not armed. The sergeant said he would "rather be eating a steak sandwich in Philadelphia than be doing this sort of thing." The lieutenant apologized for his captain's absence, but explained his commander and about 130 German troops were holed up in a nearby town. Almost all of them had trench foot or other foot disorders that had all but immobilized them. They were ready to give up, the lieutenant said.
The lieutenant promised the Americans they were safe because he had collected all the weapons and ammunition and locked them in a building. He handed over the key to his captors. First Lieutenant William L. Harris Jr. led two platoons of tanks into the town; the men and their weapons were captured without a hitch
Tech Five Roben D. Coon of the Service Company, 22nd Battalion, also got a prisoner. He had gone after water for the battalion. He filled up his truck and was on the way back when he saw a man apparently trying to hitch a ride. It was a pistol armed German soldier. Coon feared the worst, but the enemy soldier handed over the pistol and hopped on the hood of the truck in the approved prisoner of war fashion.
First Sergeant Clarence Bowman of Company A 22nd Battalion ended up a prisoner himself. He was driving a wounded GI and five captured enemy medics to the rear when he saw some German infantry scramble off the road ahead. Bowman stopped his truck, grabbed a machine gun and yelled, "Halt."
The Germans were from a column of troops that included 15 vehicles and two tank destroyers Bowman had no choice but to surrender. The German medics were told to take care of the wounded Gl and all left with the column, which was soon under attack from Bowman's outfit.
The Germans retreated, ultimately abandoning their vehicles in the mud then fleeing on foot. They walked all night and at daybreak ran into another American force. He was ordered to hurry but lagged behind in hopes of making a break for it. When his guard's vision was blocked by some brush, Bowman ran for the Americans and made it. He was with the Germans for 20 hours.
On March 16, the division was assigned to XII Corps. Swinging south from VIII Corps zone, the 11th Armored crossed the Moselle east of Bullay, where it met scattered resistance. After pushing 70 miles, the division took its objective, an airfield near historic Worms where thousands more prisoners were taken.
The speed of the drive was apparent in records kept by Ray Buch, a soldier in A Company, 56th Engineer Battalion. There was little time to rest for weary men or machines.
Buch wrote that on March 16, the company left Weibom at 2:30 a.m. and rolled with the battalion to an assembly area near Alfen. The trip took seven hours and covered 45 miles.
At 8 p.m., the tankers were on the move again, arriving around Hahn at 3 a.m. on March 17. They were 27 miles from Alfen. The tankers left Hahn at 2:45 p.m. and reached Laufersweiler, 7 miles away at 4 p.m.
On March 22, the 11th Armored changed to XX Corps control to help maintain a defense line on the Rhine's west bank. The Thunderbolts also were to help support Third Army's bridging operations. Six days later, the division crossed the Rhine at Oppenheim. Units of the 22nd battalion remained attached to the combat commands. On March 30, CCA was defending Gelnhausen against German attacks. CCB was fighting its way north to open a road that would be used by the division on its speedy drive deep into the German heartland.
Next, the division was ordered to seize Oberhof and Suhl. Reportedly, Hitler and the Nazi hierarchy were in the area, having fled Berlin from advancing Soviet troops. The 22nd Battalion tankers surged forward, hoping to capture Hitler and his entourage.
The Nazi brass was not there, but the Thunderbolts reached the Werra on April 2 and found bridges still intact. The men were happy to liberate 400 allied prisoners of war at Grimmenthal Hospital.
On April 3, CCA ran into stiff enemy resistance at Suhl while CCB had a hard time at Oberhof. Thunderbolt artillery, however, softened up the towns which fell to the Thunderbolts, whose final drive of the war would take them through Bavaria into Austria. As the division sped toward Bayreuth, German planes showed up occasionally to challenge the armored spearheads. But there was no stopping the 22nd Battalion and the rest of the Thunderbolts.
The 11th Armored seized Bayreuth and Grafenwohr, home to a huge supply dump and training center. Enroute to Cham, 22nd Battalion tankers saw first-hand evidence of Nazi atrocities. Roads were strewn with the bodies of prisoners murdered by SS men. The division liberated more than 1,700 prisoners, many of them weak and half-dead from malnutrition and mistreatment.
German resistance was crumbling. Cham fell. Next stop for the 22nd Battalion and the rest of the Thunderbolt Division was Austria. On May 5, Linz surrendered to CCA, which included 22nd Battalion men and machines. CCB, also with 22nd Battalion troops, reached Galneukirchen. Contact was made with Soviet troops just before the war ended. For the men of the 22nd Battalion it had been a long, fast haul from Cherbourg through France, Belgium, Luxembourg and Austria. Victory had come, but at a price. The battalion lost 35 men killed in action and 181 wounded in action. Another 113 men were injured, one fatally.Back to "Our History"