Company B 42nd Tank Battalion, 11th Armored Division
Report of Action March 29, 1945
By William G. Culver
During the latter part of March 1945 Company B 42nd Tank Battalion was down to 9 tanks and 36 crewmen. There had been a slow, steady drain of lost tanks and men for some time. Captain John Meggesin, the Company Commander, was granted a short leave to Paris with the promise that his Company would not be put into action while he was gone. The Gods of War decided otherwise.
On March 29, 1945 the 42nd Tank Battalion was driving eastward with Company B at the end of the column. The lead element of the Battalion came to a river and found that the bridge had been blown. The only other way to continue the advance was to take a different road which had already been passed. It just so happened that Company B was at that road junction. Rather than turn the entire column around and bring the lead element into the front. Company B was ordered to take the lead with the rest of the 42nd to follow. 2nd Lt Fermanian was in the lead tank with one other behind and then my tank with the remaining 6 tanks of Company B following. The road we were traveling along curved to the left around some small hills. Lt Fermanian's tank disappeared around a small hill. Suddenly, the second tank stopped, backed up rapidly, ran into a ditch and then burst into flames. Somehow all of the crewmen got out. They came back to my tank and told us that Lt Fermanian's tank had been hit. Turning around, I saw that the tank behind me was alright but behind it were 3 burning tanks. The Germans had 2 antitank guns. One started at the head of the column and the other in the middle. The surviving tanks had been protected by the hills. Lt Fermanian and one other man with him were killed. 1st Lt Gorman, acting Company Commander, and 2 other men were also killed in the tanks behind me. There were 5 other men wounded who had to be evacuated. In a matter of seconds our Company had been reduced from 9 tanks and 36 crewmen to 4 tanks and 26 crewmen. I spent the rest of the day watching the tank in front of me burn. When the shells inside the tank exploded, they made perfect smoke rings that rose high into the sky. Infantry latter came up and took out the two German guns.
The History of the 11th Armored Division makes no mention of this action on March 29, 1945. Instead, on page 105, it mentions Task Force Ahee losing 5 tanks to anti-tank fire in an unsuccessful attack on Themar sometime around April 7, 1945. This date does not coincide with the Morning Reports of Company B which has the men being killed on March 29, 1945. These Morning Reports were obtained by John Weeks whose father joined Company B in early April.
The Morning Reports of Company B of April 2, 1945 lists the following men as killed in action:
Gorman, Vincent C. 1st Lt. KIA 29 March 1945, Germany
The Company Report of March 30, 1945 lists the following men as being evacuated to unknown Army hospitals:
Pileggi, Frank Tec. 4 LWA,
Captain John Meggesin, upon his return from leave, was devastated to learn what happened to his Company. I don't think he ever really forgave his superiors.
I joined Company B in early or middle January, 1945. I was originally assigned to Lt Fermanian's tank but he wanted someone with experience instead of a green replacement so he traded me to a Sgt. The man who took my place was killed along with Lt Fermanian during the action described above. I cannot recall his name but I think he was a young Italian fellow from New York. The only enlisted man killed that day that seems to fit this description is Pfc. Ralph De Prisco. I was 19 at the time. Today I am 77. Whoever that young man was that died that day instead of me, I owe him 58 years.
Anyone who served with Company B during this time or his descendants please feel free to contact me. I would also like to recall the name of the Sgt. who was my tank commander and took such good care of me.
William Glenn Culver e-mail: wgcLakewood@aol.com