Mort pour la France

The hedgerow fighting began later in June. Putting their tank dozers in the lead the tank companies went through hedgerows and across the open fields instead of staying on the roads as the enemy expected them to. Thus, the Jerries were fooled but not for long. They shifted their anti-tank guns to cover the open ground rather than road intersections and also dug in many of their own tanks to serve as traversable pi1lboxes. These new defense tactics slowed down our advance and resulted in considerable losses of men and tanks. The big breakthrough began on July 25 and was preceded by a mass-aerial assault that lasted for fully an hour. Bombs rained down by the ton on the helpless enemy. It must have been a frightful experience for the Germans. There were a few bad moments on our side too when some ‘shorts’ fell among our own troop, due to a change in wind direction. Fortunately, the error was corrected before much harm was done. Tanks that had been hit were quickly repaired and were able to join the others in the jump-off immediately following the air attack. The 70th bypassed St Lo and kept on rolling eastward. Those German troops that survived the bombing were too stunned to fight back – the tankers gained four miles the first day of the breakthrough and eight the next.

Hedgerow fighting continued into August. Resistance tightened as the enemy tried to establish a line on which to hold the Americans. But still, the push continued. The tanks often outdistanced their means of supply and were obliged to halt until gasoline and ammunition could be brought up. Late in August, Dog Co advanced 27 miles from St Yon to the outskirts of Paris. After allowing the Free French Forces the privi1ege of liberating their own capital city, Dog Co moved in and rendered assistance in securing the city. A tumultuous welcome awaited the tankmen on that day of liberation. The joyous Parisian crowded around the tanks, showering flowers and kisses on the amazed but receptive tankmen. Arter Paris, the serious job of fighting was resumed. Charlie and Baker Co had already been engaged in subduing resistance on the northeast edge of the city. On August 29, the 70th launched a battalion attack, four companies abreast, and rolled forward five miles over-running many enemy gun positions. The Germans were obviously disorganized but they always had plenty of artillery and they used it skillfully. Almost without let-up artillery and mortar shells poured in on the advancing tanks, throwing up great geysers of dirt and razor-sharp steel. Whenever a close one landed, the crewmen could hear the shrapnel splatter against their tank. The Nebelwerfer, or Screaming Meemies, was a menace too from out of nowhere they came swooshing in six on eight at a time making an increasingly loud and terrifying shriek, ending in an earthshaking explosion. It was hard on nerves. Perhaps the most serious dangers, however, were Panzerfausts and Panzerschrecks anti-tank guns.

Fallschirmjäger using a 75-MM PAK 40 in France 1944

The 70th lost six tanks in August but had advanced well into northeastern France. On August 30, Maj Henry E. Davidson, the battalion executive officer, assumed command of the 70th, replacing Maj John C. Welborn who was transferred to a higher headquarters. The first half of September was a breather. The outfit had most certainly earned itself a rest and furthermore, the tanks were in dire need of maintenance.

Baker Co was the first element of the 70-TB to cross into Germany – that was on September 13, 1944, and by nightfall of the same day, the other line companies were also across the border. The first 70th Battalion operation on German soil was to set up in a forest a mile and a half northwest of Winterscheid. Baler Co was the first to come face-to-face with the Siegfried Line. Supporting the 1/22-IR (4-ID) the Charlie Co negats moved in close to the pillboxes and fired at them point-blank. Firing AT and HE shells alternately, and also using the flamethrower tank, they completely destroyed several key emplacements, thus enabling the Infantrymen to go in and mop up. This in-fighting among the pillboxes continued for four days until the first belt of the Siegfried Line had been penetrated. The 70th Tankers, supporting the doughs of the 4-ID, had also accomplished the unpleasant task of cleaning out countless machine gun nests hidden in the Schnee Eifel and the Schlausenbacher Forest. The battalion suffered many casualties, although not nearly as many as the infantry. It was really nasty fighting. The assault gun platoon commanded by Lt Edward F. Oates was attached to the 38th Cavalry Squadron during the last days of September and was highly commended for the accurate and devastating fire it laid down on the Jerries.

Through October and November the 70th, still with the 4-ID continued operations in Belgium and western Germany. As winter arrived, the weather became miserable. The tanks were painted white to blend with the snow. More and more forests were encountered and everyone was full of mines and dug-in Krauts. It was a tough and costly job clearing out those forests. But the worst was yet to come. No soldier who was there will ever forget the Hürtgen Forest – it was simply hell. The 70th moved into the Hürtgen Forest in mid-November. The air was damp and bitter cold, especially inside a moving tank. Snow covered, most of the ground but underneath was soft, slippery mud that hampered a tank’s every move. There was danger everywhere: danger of bogging down, the danger of ambush in the dense woods, and danger of moving along the mined roads. Enemy artillery and mortar fires were almost incessant. Great tall trees were stripped and chewed to shreds by the continuous pounding of artillery from both sides. Every time a shell burst among the trees the explosion sent a deafening roar echoing throughout the forest. Tanks entering the thick woods were road-bound and extremely vulnerable to AT mines and AT gun fire. Often times infantrymen were not available to lead them through so the tankers had to advance alone sweating it out every inch of the way.

Mud Paradise - Hürtgen Forest - 1944

The 70-TB fought twenty-four separate engagements with the enemy in the Hürtgen Dead Trap from November 16 to December 12, 1944. The tanks were used both offensively and defensively, depending on the situation which at that time was most unpredictable The Jerries counterattacked every night in an attempt to regain the ground they had lost during the day. Charlie Co broke up an early morning counterattack of battalion strength on December 2 and lost two tanks to Panzerfaust fire during the wild skirmish. The entire Hürtgen fighting cost the 70-TB a total of 90 battle casualties and 24 tanks (12 of which were later repaired). Despite these losses, however, the battalion had maintained continuous aggressive action throughout the campaign and had unquestionably dealt the enemy a severe setback. The commanding general of the 4-ID paid tribute to the gallant tankmen with the following words:

The 70th Tank Battalion can be proud of its achievement from the beginning to the very end of the Hürtgen Forest operation. It is with extreme approbation that I commend your officers and men for their distinctive contribution to the cause of the Allied Armies.

Right on the heels of the Hürtgen campaign came the Battle of Luxembourg, which might be considered the climatic battle of the war. The German High Command had made a last desperate gamble – and lost. From that point on the Allied forces became engaged in a series of breakthroughs and large-scale mopping operations. The Nazi army still possessed the same fanaticism, if not more, but it had lost organization. From January 1, 1945, through February, the Germans were pushed further and further back into their homeland. On March 1, Campus Red was located near Prüm. In this sector, our forces were poised to break through the final belt of pillboxes and reach the open plains beyond. The blow was struck at approximately 0040 the following morning, and after four 4 days of fierce fighting, the mission was accomplished. Early on March 7, Task Force Rhino led by Col Davidson jumped off from Gondelsheim and drove all the way to Adenau, a German city within 2 miles of the Rhine River.

[Illustration] Fox Co 2-Bn, 9-IR, 2-ID trooper in Durpelfeld, Germany, March 1945

After a very brief rest, the 70-TB was called upon to move south and assist the 63rd Infantry Division in cracking the Siegfried Line Wall near Saarbrücken. The 70-TB was living up to its reputation of being a trouble shooting outfit. The battalion moved northward again and made a night crossing of the Rhine Riber at Worms on March 29. East of the Rhine River the Allied advance gained momentum and pressed forward in hot pursuit of the retreating enemy. It had now become a colossal manhunt. The 70-TB, still attached to the 4-ID, was in on the kill. Our forces fanned out and hit the confused enemy from every direction. Hundreds of prisoners were being rounded up every day. Pockets of resistance were compressed and destroyed. The tanks swept across open fields from village to village blasting relentlessly at every sign of resistance. Any town or city that tried to delay the advance soon became a raging inferno. The German landscape was dotted with burning villages. More and more white flags began to appear.

Task Forces were formed to make deep cuts into the enemy’s remaining defense system. Task Force Leeny led by Col Leeny of the 8-IR (4-ID) and Capt Gordon R. Brodie of the 70-TB, gained twenty-two miles in one day’s advance and succeeded in taking the city of Ansbach which was the Headquarters for several battalions of the Wehrmacht and Waffen SS troops. Task Force Rodwell made a long 4-day advance from Volkerhausen to Gundelfingen smashing enemy defenses all the way and forcefully cleared the Nazi-infested city of Aalen. The 70-TB then turned southward and drove into Bavaria, continuing its long spearhead attacks and mopping-up operations. Sometimes the tanks took to the wide, smooth autobahns and rolled along at full speed. Whenever resistance was enconntered or anticipated the tanks quickly turned off of the road and deployed into attack formation. There was spotty resistance all through April, causing casualties and lost tanks, but the end was now in sight. Everyone wondered how much longer hostilities could continue.

The end came officially on May 8, 1945. News of cessation of hostilities was announced by SHAEF at 1400 while the 70-TB was en route to Ingolstadt, having left Munich that morning. Soon after the termination of the war, the battalion assembled at Rothenburg and began its duties in the occupation of Germany.

Downtown Munchen-Munich 1945

[Illustration] Fischbach 1945

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