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41st Tank Battalion History

 

The Army activated the 41st Armored Regiment at Camp Polk, Louisiana, on August 15,1942. Commanding officer was Colonel Thomas N. Stark. The cadre included 53 officers and 382 enlisted men from the 32nd Armored Regiment of the 3rd Armored Division and the 36th Armored Regiment of the 8th Armored Division.

 

In October, 1942, the 41st Armored began to be filled out with draftees and enlistees. The last of the rookie soldiers arrived on December 5 and joined the Army veterans in a tough 13-week training program.

 

In mid-March 1943, the 41st Armored joined fellow soldiers of the 11th Armored Division in preparing for large-scale field exercises. Weekly divisional exercises got the men ready for the big show.

 

From June 23 through August 25, 1943, the regiment and the rest of the "Thunderbolt" division took part in the Third Army's massive Louisiana-Texas exercises. The men trained hard, sharpening skills in river crossings and operating in swampy and densely wooded terrain.

 

On September 1, 1943, the division left Camp Polk for Camp Barkeley, Texas, where 11th Armored headquarters created the 41st Tank Battalion from the 41st Regiment. The battalion was made up of the 2nd Battalion, plus company A of the Third Battalion of the old regiment. Major Wray F. Sagaser was commander; Major Richard R. Seibel was executive officer.

 

Another westward migration was in store for the Thunderbolts, who ended up in Camp Ibis, California, for desert maneuvers in the Mojave. The battalion got better acquainted with its squatty Sherman tanks and other vehicles in November and December. In January, the battalion was in mock combat against soldiers of the 95th Infantry Division in the Palen Pass. In Europe, the Thunderbolts and the 95th would team up to knock big holes in German armies on the western front.

 

On February 8, the battalion was in Camp Cooke, California, where training in weapons firing intensified The armored soldiers practiced tank gunnery buttoned up inside their olive drab painted Shermans. They also learned the principles of direct and indirect firing with all calibers of guns, from 37millimeter anti-tank guns to hard-hitting 105-millimeter howitzers.

 

After the battalion earned a superior rating from the brass, the men got busy for the trip overseas. Nobody knew where they were going; one day the scuttlebutt said the Pacific, next time it was Europe. Meanwhile, Camp Cooke attracted Army VlPís including General George C. Marshall, who gave the division an "A1 superior rating".

 

The Thunderbolt division was almost two years old when it got orders to go overseas in 1944. On August 12, the Army ordered a move to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey. So it would be Europe, Thunderbolts knew for sure now. The 41st Battalion climbed aboard two troop trains which chugged eastward. They arrived on September 16 and 17 for a short stay.

 

On September 28, the battalion trooped aboard the HMS Samaria for the Atlantic crossing. Nobody knew where the British troopship would dock. Everybody wondered about German U -boats, which prowled the huge ocean in wolfpacks. But the trip was uneventful; the Samaria docked at Liverpool on October 12. From that great seaport, the battalion boarded railroad cars for Longbridge Deverill in Wiltshire and arrived in a few hours.

 

On October 24, the battalion moved a short distance to Tilshead Barracks. Equipment was processed and sorted. The next stop would be the war zone across the English Channel. Sagaser, promoted to lieutenant colonel, went across to France to observe the fighting first-hand. Also in England, Seibel, another new lieutenant colonel, was transferred to headquarters of Combat Command B and Major John J. Hoffman became the battalion exec. Major. Robert B. Knight stepped up to replace Hoffman as battalion S-3. Both Hoffman and Knight were regular army.

 

It was cold and raining on December 17 when the Thunderbolts left Wiltshire for the port of Weymouth. Five LSTís carried the men across the channel to Cherbourg at the tip of the Cotenin Peninsula. By December 20, the 41st Battalion was ashore. From Cherbourg, the men went to Bameville, a resort town.

 

The 41st Battalion had orders to be ready to move on a moment's notice. News from the southeast was bad. In the Ardennes Forest, the Nazis had attacked on a 50-mile front. German panzer divisions overran several First Army positions in a desperate attack the enemy hoped would save the Third Reich or prolong the war. The attack drove a deep pocket in the Allied lines; the struggle would be called the Battle of the Bulge, the bloodiest fight in U.S. Army history.

 

On December 22, the battalion began a 500 mile trek across France. via Falaise, Damville, Mantes, and Paris. The tankers rolled into Soissons on December 24. There was more news: the Thunderbolts learned they were part of Lieutenant General George S. Patton's Third Army.

 

It was the holiday season, but there was little time to celebrate. Tank crews worked against the clock installing track extensions on most of the Sherman tanks. Christmas was a work day, with a break for religious services and Christmas dinner.

 

Shortly after midnight on December 25, the battalion moved on to Laon and Poix Terran. The Germans were using saboteurs dressed as Glís and French civilians, so all strangers entering battalion areas were checked closely.

 

On December 29, the battalion was on the move again, drawing closer to the battlefront at Longliers, Belgium. "Even at this late date some of us still couldn't conceive what was in store for us." a veteran Thunderbolt recalled. "That night comic books still held more fascination for us than strategic maps."

 

The 41st Battalion was pan of CCB of 11th Armored. The battalion, designated Task Force Poker on December 30, got its first combat assignment: destroy enemy positions at Lavaselle. The attack was a success. The Shermans and supporting infantry swarmed into the town, capturing 125 Nazi soldiers.

 

The Germans counterattacked with infantry and mortar and artillery fire, but the Thunderbolts held firm. Their baptism of fire had been costly: 4 killed, 15 wounded, 33 missing in action and 13 Shermans destroyed or disabled.

 

Fighting was hard around Lavaselle into the New Year as the battalion joined tank-infantry-artillery-air assaults on German positions. CCB blasted into Mande St. Etienne on January 2. There were German troops still holed up in the town, but the enemy shelled it anyway. Even so, German artillery failed to dislodge the Thunderbolts.

 

In mid-January, the battalion moved to Bercheaux for some rest and relaxation. All vehicles were whitewashed for better camouflage in the snow that blanketed the wintry terrain.

 

The weather was getting worse Roads were icy or sticky with mud. On January 12, the battalion was ordered to Villerous and Luzzery, just northeast of besieged Bastogne. If the 101st Airborne Division and other army units could somehow hold encircled Bastogne, the German drive in the Ardennes would fail.

 

Renamed Task Force Black-Jack, the 41st Battalion attacked Corbu. It fell, as did nearby Noville. The Thunderbolts pressed ahead toward Houffalize. Enemy resistance was strong, but not strong enough to stop the 11th Armored Division. On January 17, CCB and CCA closed on their objectives south of Houffalize. The 17th Airborne Division relieved the Thunderbolts and the 41st battalion moved to Hemouroulle, Belgium, for maintenance and rest.

 

On January 24, the battalion moved into Corps reserve at Bercheux, Belgium, and stayed until February 6 with other 11th Armored units. It was the first real break since the Thunderbolts went into battle in December.

 

It was also time to reward Thunderbolts for heroism. Brigadier General Charles S. Kilburn handed out battlefield commissions and medals, Silver Stars and Bronze Stars were pinned on the field jackets of many men.

 

In early February, the 41st Battalion resumed its drive eastward. The objective was the Nazi "Westwall," a supposedly impregnable belt of pillboxes, tank traps, minefields, barbed wire and bunkers, all well-covered by infantry, artillery and armor. At Binsfield, Belgium, the 41st Battalion stayed in Corps reserve until the infantry could breach the Nazi fortifications, American and British dubbed the "Siegfried Line."

 

On February 28, the Battalion was ordered to Sellerich, Germany, where it would assemble for a March 3 attack toward the Prum River in coordination with the 4th Infantry Division. The Thunderbolts took the city of Prum and roared on to Fleringer, Lissingen, Gerolstein, Budesheim, Oos, Scheurem and Ober-Bettingen. The Thunderbolts were well inside Germany, but the drive was picking up speed.

 

It was mid-March and some Thunderbolts began to wonder how much longer the Germans could hold out. Thousands of enemy soldiers were surrendering: the enemy countryside was littered with destroyed or abandoned tanks, trucks, halftracks and guns. "You can rightfully say that this period saw the breaking of the proverbial camel's back," a Thunderbolt veteran said. "The enemy never did recover from the blow dealt to it by the Allied troops on the Western Front."

 

On March 17, the Thunderbolts were at another key objective: the Moselle River, which the 41st Battalion crossed at Bullay. On March 21, the tankers swept toward historic Rhine River city of Worms, which the American and British air forces had blasted into dusty rubble. The Thunderbolts were especially fond of Worms, where they "liberated" a winery of several thousand gallons of fine Rhine Wine.

 

On March 24, the battalion moved to Framersheim, joined the XX Corps and went into reserve. Escape routes for the enemy were cut off. What few troops the Germans had west of the Rhine were surrendering by the thousands to infantry troops who were closely following the hard-charging armored units. At Framersheim, too, the men enjoyed a bounty of white Rhine wine.

 

Early on March 29, the battalion, back with XX corps, crossed the Rhine at Oppenheim and the next day sped through Budinger, Rinderburger, Woferbom, Kafenrod and Ndr. Seeman. Enemy resistance was light until the battalion reached Fulda, where the Germans were holed up and apparently ready to make a stand. But the battalion was ordered to bypass Fulda and make for Grossemuder; the 26th Infantry cleared Fulda a few days later.

 

On the 41st Tank rolled in April, past Amstadt, Schlitz, Kaltensundheim, Wallbach, Metzel, Spangstille. Steinbach, Hallenberg, Ober-Schonau, and Oberhof. The Germans fought back at Oberhof, an old resort high in the mountains the Nazis had turned into a medical center with several hospitals. "Of all the countries that we had gone through we saw nothing to emulate the scenic beauty of this land," a Thunderbolt wrote. "And the people, they didn't seem to be gullibleócouldn't they foresee the uselessness of all this bloodshed? That will always be an enigma to us."

 

Coburg was quite a site, too, with its ancient castle perched on a hill. The Germans seemed ready to fight for Coburg, but the town surrendered after an aerial bombing and a heavy tank artillery barrage. The spring weather was warm and sunny.

 

On April 17, the battalion reached Bayreuth, home of Richard Wagner, the famous German composer. Hundreds of Germans surrendered at Grafenwohr, southeast of Bayreuth. The Thunderbolts also found several enemy vehicles simply abandoned; in their haste to flee, the Germans did not even bother to destroy them.

 

On May 1, the battalion rolled across the border into Austria. On May 5, the Thunderbolts were in Gallneukirchen after cutting the main road running north and south from Linz. There was no more fighting; but the Americans stayed busy rounding up German prisoners, turning over about 18,000 to Soviet forces. They also dispatched several displaced persons to Mauthausen and Gusen, former Nazi concentration camps that had been converted to receive DPs. In addition, soldiers from the battalion rode as escorts on trains that took thousands of displaced persons back to Poland, Romania and other countries.

 

On May 8, the battalion got the word that the Germans had surrendered. The battalion, which was organized with 700 men, had lost 49 officers and men killed, 204 wounded in action and 148 injured in action.