The column, with three medium tanks in the lead, started down the road which rapidly became a narrow, deeply rutted, stoney cart trail over which even the tanks could not make more than a few miles per hour. The way, instead of improving, became rougher and more difficult to negotiate until finally, further progress became impossible. The head of the column doubled back a mile or so until it encountered a trail to the west that had been overlooked on the way in. Faint marks on the rocky surface indicated that the light tanks had made this turn and so the task force headed in the new direction toward another road which ran generally parallel to the cart trail. As the first tank reached the new road it encountered the light tanks returning from their reconnaissance. The platoon leader made a report concerning the road which ran almost to the town of Hessdorf, and the main highway, and could be reached by a short cross-country trip through the woods.

With a light tank in the lead, the task force turned left arid headed in the direction of Hessdorf and the highway. Progress was more rapid than it had been on the previous road in spite of frequent stops at road junctions and crossings to let the vehicles close up. At about 0130 hours, the leading vehicles pulled out of the woods and proceeded into Hessdorf. They were stopped just short of the town square by two German trucks which apparently had been hastily abandoned in the street. The column delayed only long enough for some of the escapees to jump down, move the trucks and resume their places. The noise of the tanks and half-tracks, which might easily have been mistaken for an entire division, awoke the townsfolks with the immediate results that white sheets, towels, and pillowcases appeared fluttering from the windows and doors of most of the houses. The fact that the first three tanks took the wrong turn and had to back, roaring and clanking, out of an alley added to the impression that the entire American Army had overrun Hessdorf in force.

German April 1945 - Jeep and .50 Cal

After much maneuvering and backing, the tanks headed in the right direction and moved on through town to the highway. Upon reaching the highway the column turned right and the three medium tanks in the lead headed toward Gäfendorf by way of Höllrich and Weyersfeld. The effect of the armored vehicles on the populace of Hessdorf had been quite reassuring and though eventual contact with German forces was a foregone conclusion, it was not expected for some time. This, plus the steady even rumble of the tanks and half-tracks, over the fine road surface, had a lulling effect, even on those who had determined to remain alert.

Just as the column was about to enter the town of Höllrich, the lead tank jerked to a halt in front of a stout roadblock. A series of blinding flashes and a salvo of explosions was the first indication to the rest of the column that the force had encountered an enemy trap. This, a Panzerfaust attack, disabled the lead tank, killing the tank commander, one of the escapees, and wounding several others. The tank gunner, although dazed by the concussion and completely at a loss as to where the grenades had come from, jumped behind the 50 caliber AA gun and sprayed the area. The second and third tanks were also fired upon with Panzerfaust, but the rounds fell short and neither tank suffered serious damage. It was a different matter however to the men clinging to the decks with no protection. An escapee sitting against the turret of the second tank was killed by a grenade fired in the second volley, and several others were slightly wounded. The assault was such a surprise that a second series of explosions went off before anyone had moved. While escapees jumped for the ditches alongside the highway, the crew members of the tanks raimed the .30 and .50 caliber machine guns and fired into the roadblock and the fields on either side.

Due to the fact that the vehicles had jammed up on the damaged tank, none of the heavy caliber guns could be brought to bear. In the confusion and turmoil that followed it was impossible to determine exactly what was taking place. Red and yellow tracers streaking through the night, chattering of machine guns and yells and shouts of men jumping from the decks of the tanks combined to create a bedlam that can only be described as bewildering, Suddenly all firing ceased and all that could be heard was the noise of idling tank motors and the cries of wounded men. The narrow highway would not permit turning around, so the tanks and half-tracks, still facing the roadblock, backed off until they could turn without danger of further attack. Liberated prisoners and the survivors from the lead tank crawled along the ditches helping those who had been hurt. The medical Jeep pulled off to the side of the road and the doctor and his corpsmen were able to give hasty first aid to those in immediate need. In the meantime, the column was getting itself turned around preparing to retrace its route to Hessdorf.

Task Force Baum on the return way to Aschaffenburg

It was hoped that a bypass could be found around Höllrich and the journey toward Gräfendorf resumed. By the time the remnants of the column returned to Hessdorf, everyone accounted for had remounted a tank or half-track and was hanging on. Although most of the escapees were alert for any new trouble, the men of the task force were not. The action of the last two nights and a day without rest was too much for them and many, standing or sitting, slept even as the column moved. As the tail of the column passed out of Hessdorf the last half dozen vehicles were stopped when a light tank in the column was fired on and hit by another Panzerfaust. Once again all machine guns that could be brought into action opened up and fired in the general direction of the attack, though it was impossible to spot positions in the darkness. Another Panzerfaust was fired at the halted vehicles and although the fragmentation cut up some ex-PWs who had dismounted, the vehicle was undamaged and the flash disclosed the location of the launcher. It was speedily neutralized.

Upon rejoining the column, those temporarily separated learned that Capt Baum had decided to halt at a likely place to reconstitute his force, redistribute gasoline and ammunition, and then fight west as far as possible. Hill 427, a short distance from Höllrich, looked like the best spot on the map and so the remnants of the force made their way to that point where they halted to reorganize. There were so many escapees getting in the way with their futile attempts to help that they were advised, with some profanity, ‘to take off’. Many followed this advice. Upon assembling on Hill 427 it was found that only a little over a hundred men remained as an effective fighting force, the rest having been wounded, captured, killed, or cut off during the previous skirmishes. There were three light tanks, four medium, and three assault guns left plus fifteen half-tracks. It was decided to sacrifice as many half-tracks as possible for their gasoline, keeping only enough to carry the wounded. The tanks of eight half-tracks were emptied and an M-14 thermite grenade was tossed into each motor.

Patton's Secret Strike toward Hammelburg using Task Force Baum in March 1945

It was while the last of the empty half-tracks were being drained that the sound of German tanks and armored vehicles could be heard along the road running between Bonnland and Höllrich. All possible haste was made to load and get underway before the Germans could cause any more trouble, but it was too late. The light from the burning vehicles and the noise of the half-track and tank engines began to draw small arms fire from enemy foot troops advancing from the road to the south. The assault guns fired smoke in a vain attempt to lessen the observation of the American force afforded the enemy by the burning vehicles. The tanks open fire with HE and canister into the dark in the hope of stopping what was apparently an infantry attack. The small arms fire slackened and then stopped, but continued again in a few minutes, this time accompanied by cannon fire from SP guns along the road. It was still very dark and despite the noise and turmoil none of the vehicles were hit. Nevertheless, their vulnerability to the German fire made it necessary to abandon the remaining half-tracks. The wounded were taken to a large brick barn on the reverse side of the hill where the doctor had set up a hasty aide station.

Several infantrymen hurt by the SP gunfire were patched up in the aide station and sent back out to help in the fight. However, by this time shellfire from the southeast began to fall in the vicinity and it was obvious that the position was becoming untenable. Two assault guns, a light tank, and a couple of half-tracks were hit and set afire, and the flames attracted more accurate fire on the hill from the Germans. Any hopes of saving the remaining tanks by further withdrawal were completely dashed when high-velocity fire began to smash through the woods from the north. The barn was hit four or five times by this fire, wounding, among others, several men already being treated for previous wounds. It was at this time, that word was passed to scatter and head for the west, every man for himself. Most of the men, salvaging what personal equipment they could, headed into the woods and disappeared leaving only the wounded and medics in the barn. A short time later the Germans moved onto the hill and immediately started clearing the area. They shipped the wounded back to the prison hospital at Stalag XIII in Hammelburg and drove off all vehicles that could still be moved, leaving the rest to burn.

Blown off Sherman Tank

Daylight found Hill 427, littered with smashed and burned vehicles, shell-scarred trees, and a badly damaged barn. Nothing else was left to indicate the existence of Task Force Baum. The report of this action would not be complete without mention of the dismay and confusion created by the short but meteoric existence of Task Force Baum. The German populace along the route from Schweimheim, Gemünden, Gräfendorf, and Hammelburg were in a confused and almost hysterical state. Troops in Gemünden, due to moving to Aschaffenburg and Hanau were retained in the area for a least four days. Daylight also disclosed a large number of front-line German troops in the vicinity and the thoroughness with which the area from Gemünden to Hammelburg was being organized for defense. Machine gun positions and anti-tank defenses were at every strategic location. Bridges were prepared for demolition, and trench systems and foxholes were under construction. The civilian populace was rounded up, and with the military, formed into long skirmish lines that with the aid of hounds from the Prison Camp Kennel, combed the area for survivors and escapees. Although it is reported that a few actually succeeded in making good their escape nearly all were recaptured within three or four days. The reported casualties sustained by Task Force Baum were thirty-two wounded, nine killed, and sixteen missing. There are no figures covering the casualties suffered by the PWs.


This operation was unusual even in the annals of armored exploitation. It illustrates very forcibly certain principles of tactics and techniques worthy of attention from military students. Probably the most obvious criticism is of the operation itself. Undoubtedly the ruse, which tricked the Germans into holding reserves vitally needed to the front, in the Aschaffenburg Area, is worth considerable recognition. However, as Gen Patton himself remarked, never send a boy on a man’s job, the larger the force and the more violence you use in the attack — the smaller will be your proportionate losses. The size and composition of Task Force Baum should have dictated its use to exploit a local success only, or since depth and distance were prime considerations, to exploit as part of a larger force.

As the secondary mission was to effect the release of a large number of PWs, it stands to reason that consideration of additional transportation was definitely in order. As it was the expedition had to travel much too far with far too little. The haste with which the task force was dispatched was the reason for giving only minimum attention to details of supply and plan of operation. It did not permit men and officers, already tired from past actions, to sleep or rest in preparation for the new move. Since all-night marches are necessarily conducted at the close interval and demand close and concentrated attention by all personnel, especially when in enemy territory, they are unusually fatiguing with a resultant decline in capability. It is probable that with the proper rest prior to departure, the staying power and the combat efficiency of all would have been retained over a longer period of time.

Capt Baum took advantage of the speed and violence of the attack to carry him through many towns and villages between Schweinheim and Gemünden. The enemy, usually caught completely by surprise, was able to do little more than offer token resistive before the fast-moving column had smashed through and disappeared in the night. The Information concerning the marshalling yard in Gemünden was relayed to Division Headquarters by a liaison plane flying out to pick up messages. The results of the air strike following receipt of the message graphically illustrated the value of using planes to maintain contact with a unit operating deep in enemy territory when no other means of communicating exists. Although the task force would not have benefited to any decree by continued radio contact with its headquarters in this particular instance, it might, on some future occasion, result in the success or failure of a complete operation.

When the column reached Gemünden, the important element of surprise was lacking and it became obvious that audacity and speed alone would not carry it through the town. The infantry was deployed from the march column in order to launch the attack in close support of the tanks. Although three of the tanks were lost during the battle, the number of losses would surely have been greater without the assistance and protection furnished by the infantry. In spite of a supply of naps and the ability to read them, there are occasions when directions or guidance from people who are familiar with the area are of great assistance. Such was the case when the column was forced to seek crossings of the Sinn River and Saale River. The maps showed the bridges but did not indicate whether or not they would support the weight of the tanks. Prisoners who talked furnished the desired information. The Task Force Commander did not use the reconnaissance section as frontal security at any time during the entire operation. Either medium or light tanks were always in front where their armor and firepower could be utilized to the fullest.

Proper use of the lightly armored reconnaissance sections was illustrated when they were utilized as a rear covering force for the main body in the withdrawal from Gemünden. They were again properly employed when light patrols were sent out to gain observation on the two enemy tanks that were sighted near Obereschenbach. In this, the power of the forward thrust of the column was retained by the medium tanks, and at the time measures were taken to prevent surprise and possible defeat from an attack on the flank. The simple plan to use the medium tanks as a holding force while the lighter vehicles continued on toward the objective saved valuable time when the German tanks were encountered near Pfaffenhausen. The time saved increased the surprise effect upon the enemy and assisted in his defeat.

Although the morale of the prisoners in the camp was low, the senior officer in the camp did not relax his standards of discipline. This did much in sustaining some men who would otherwise have been unable to carry on. When the light tanks began to register on the located German troops in the vicinity of the camp, no consideration was given to the possibility of there being unlocated enemy gun positions. It was due to this oversight that two vehicles were destroyed by the Flak Bofors guns located south of the camp. The reorganization of Task Force Baum after reaching its objective is a good example of the problem a unit commander encounters after a violent and strength-dissipating attack. The fact that the enemy did not immediately counterattack was no indication that he was doing nothing. If the task force had been able to get underway within an hour after the release of the prisoners, it is possible that the column might have gotten to Gräfendorf before being stopped, thus enhancing the chances of eventual escape for all concerned.

Radio communication between elements of the force was of value throughout the entire operation. The reconnaissance patrols protecting the flank of the column near Obereschenbach could not have kept contact by any other means, and radio was necessary for the prompt deployment of the medium tanks when they ran into the German Mark IIIs near Pfaffenhausen. It was used continually to maintain control during all moves in the darkness. It was necessary for the proper conduct of the expedition. On the move from the Prison Camp to Hessdorf, the leading light tank commander stopped at every critical point along the route to enable the column to close up and prevent any vehicles from making wrong turns and becoming lost. The task force moved through Hessdorf and started down the highway with three medium tanks in the lead. It should be noted that these tanks were traveling as an integral part of the column with close intervals between vehicles and no security, as such, was provided. When the foremost tank hit the roadblock there was no time for the surprised column to stop before all vehicles became jammed.

The heavier weapons of the tanks could not be used and there was no room in which to maneuver. It was fortunate for the people near the head of the column that the enemy defenses were no stronger than they were. When the column was stopped, the crews of the tanks and half-tracks despite the darkness immediately manned machine guns and placed heavy fire on the roadblock and into the fields along the road. Although the results in enemy casualties were unknown, the shooting did keep the enemy in his holes so that he could not return the fire. The leadership and courage of Capt Baum and his immediate subordinates were unquestionable. However, although the force was able to reach its objective, and although it certainly created confusion in the enemy rear, it is felt that the operation was only partly successful. In analyzing the judgment, of the commander ordering the mission it is seen that he ignored the important principles of time and organization to such a degree that the results of the effort were obvious before it began. The leader of the lower unit is obligated, among other things, to show leadership and courage in accomplishing assigned missions. The higher commander is even more responsible for seeing that these qualities are given a fair chance of success by proper judgment and planning.

Capt Shelden L. Thompson
and Doc Snafu

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