12th Armored Division (United States)

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12th Armored Division
12th US Armored Division SSI.svg
12th AD shoulder sleeve insignia
Active 1942 – 45
Country  United States
Branch  United States Army
Type Armored Division
Nickname "Hellcat Division"
Motto Speed Is the Password
Engagements World War II
*Ardennes-Alsace
*Rhineland
*Central Europe
Commanders
Notable
commanders
Roderick R. Allen
U.S. Armored Divisions
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11th Armored Division (Inactive) 13th Armored Division (Inactive)


The 12th Armored Division was an armored division of the United States Army in World War II. It fought in the European Theater of Operations in France, Germany and Austria, between November 1944 and May 1945. The German Army called the 12th Armored Division the “Suicide Division” [1] for its fierce defensive actions during Operation Nordwind in France, and General George S. Patton, Jr. nicknamed them “The Mystery Division” [2] when they were temporarily transferred to his command under the Third Army to cross the Rhine River. The 12th Armored Division was one of only 10 U.S. Divisions (only one of two U.S. Tank Divisions) during World War II that had African-American combat soldiers, one of whom was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.[3][4]

History[edit]

The division was activated on 15 September 1942.[5]

Organization and initial training for the 12th Armored Division was at Camp Campbell, Kentucky and then continued at Camp Barkeley in Abilene, Texas. Consisting of approximately 11,000 soldiers, the division was composed of tank, field artillery, motorized infantry battalions and other support units.[6][7]

In early 1943, Private Francis Beckman (493rd Armored Field Artillery Battery C) won a division contest to come up with a nickname, earning a three-day weekend pass. His choice “The Hellcats” became the nickname for the 12th Armored Division, symbolized the 12th's toughness and readiness for combat.[8]

While at Camp Barkeley, the 44th Tank Battalion was sent to the Pacific Theater of Operations on a special mission and later distinguished itself as the first unit to enter Manila. The 44th was replaced by the 714th Tank battalion.[9]

Walt Disney himself designed a logo for the 714th Armored Tank Battalion.[10]

World War II[edit]

Main article: World War II

After completing training the Division left Abilene and departed from Camp Shanks, NY, on 20 September 1944. The 12th Armored Division landed at Liverpool, England on 2 October 1944. While awaiting replacement armor which had been borrowed by the U.S. Third Army, the 12th was sent to Tidworth Barracks[11] in Wiltshire, UK. It crossed the English Channel from Southampton, arrived at Le Havre, France, on 11 November 1944 and then traveled up the Seine River to Rouen to join the Seventh Army under Lieutenant General Alexander Patch. Advance elements met the enemy near Weisslingen in Alsace on 5 December, and the entire division moved against the Maginot Line fortifications 2 days later.

In its advance, Rohrbach-lès-Bitche and towns surrounding Bettviller were liberated by 12 December 1944, and Utweiler, Germany was seized on 21 December. After a short period of rehabilitation and maintenance, the 12th rolled against the Rhine bridgehead at Herrlisheim that the Germans had established as part of their Operation Nordwind offensive. In order to seal the Battle of the Bulge, units of the 7th Army were diverted north to assist the Third Army in capturing Bastogne. Due to this, the remainder of the 7th Army, including the 12th Armored Division, was stretched thin holding a 126-mile-long front line with only eight divisions.[12]

German defenders repulsed two division attacks in the most violent fighting in the history of the 12th, during 8 to 10 January and 16 to 17 January 1945. The division's attacks at Herrlisheim failed to use combined-arms tactics and were defeated in detail, resulting in two tank and two armored infantry battalions taking heavy losses. Poor tactics were compounded by terrain that was almost tabletop-flat, offering the German defenders excellent fields of fire. However, enemy counterattacks failed also, in part because of the firm leadership of the commander of Combat Command B, Colonel Charles Bromley, who declared his headquarters expendable and ordered all personnel in the headquarters to prepare a hasty defense.[13]

The division was subsequently relieved by the U.S. 36th Infantry Division. The Division suffered over 1700 battle casualties during the fighting in and around Herrlisheim. As a consequence, when African-American soldiers who were in non-combat positions were able to volunteer to become combat troops, Gen. Roderick R. Allen was one of only 10 Division commanders who allowed them to join the combat ranks.[3] After recovering from the bruising experience at Herrlisheim, the 12th went over to the offensive and attacked south from Colmar, after being assigned to the French First Army under General Jean de Lattre de Tassigny.[14][15] In a lightning drive, the 12th effected junction with French forces at Rouffach, on 5 February, sealing the Colmar Pocket and ending German resistance in the Vosges Mountains. Except for elements acting as a protective screen, the division withdrew to the St. Avold area for rest and rehabilitation. The Division was attached to the Third Army under Gen. George S. Patton on 17 March 1945 [11] until it crossed the Rhine. The soldiers were ordered to remove their identifying unit insignias and vehicle markings were painted over,[16] disguising the fact that Gen. Patton had an additional tank division under his command. Thus the 12th was given the nickname "The Mystery Division".[17] The attack resumed on 18 March 1945.

Campaign map showing the operations of the 12th Armored Division in Europe from 5 December 1944 to 5 May 1945

In a quick drive to the Rhine, Ludwigshafen fell on 21 March, and two other important river cities, Speyer and Germersheim, were secured on 24 March, clearing the Saar Palatinate. Maintaining the rapid pace, the 12th crossed the Rhine River at Worms on 28 March over pontoon bridges, advanced toward Würzburg against light resistance, and captured that city. After assisting in the seizure of Schweinfurt, the division continued toward Nuremberg on 13 April, taking Neustadt, then shifted south toward Munich on 17 April. Elements of the 12th raced from Dinkelsbühl to the Danube, where they found the bridge at Lauingen had been blown.[18] Moving quickly they captured the bridge at Dillingen intact before demolition men could wreck it. This bridge provided a vital artery for Allied troops flooding into southern Germany.

The division spearheaded the Seventh Army drive, securing Landsberg, 29 April, clearing the area between the Ammer and Wurm Lakes on the 30th, and moving deeper into the "National Redoubt". The 12th Armored Division is recognized as a liberating element of the Kaufering and Landsberg concentration camps, subsidiary camps of Dachau near Landsberg Prison, arriving at several of the camps on 27–28 April 1945.[19] The 12th Armored Division was recognized as a liberating unit by the United States Army Center of Military History and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 1988.[20]

Elements crossed the Inn River and the Austrian border on 3 May. The 12th was relieved by the 36th Infantry Division on 4 May. On 5 May, Lt. (later Capt.) John C. Lee, Jr., Co. B, 23rd Tank Bn.,under orders from Allied High Command, organized the rescue of VIP French prisoners from an Alpine castle in Bavaria during the Battle for Castle Itter. Among these were 14 French notables, including two former premiers, Édouard Daladier and Paul Reynaud; Gen.Maxime Weygand and Gen. Maurice Gamelin, both former commanders of the French Armies; Jean Borotra, international tennis star; Michael Clemenceau, son of the former French Prime Minister; Gen. Charles de Gaulle's sister Marie-Agnès Cailliau, right-wing leader François de La Rocque,and future Nobel Prize winner Léon Jouhaux. It is rumored that Heinrich Himmler was planning on using these VIPs as hostages to trade to secure his escape in the event that Germany lost the war.[21] Under Lt. Lee’s command were members of the German Wehrmacht, who combined forces with 2 tanks from the 12th Armored division to fight the SS Commander and soldiers guarding the prisoners. For leading the successful rescue of these prisoners, Lee was promoted to Captain and awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.[22]

The Division engaged in security duty around Ulm [23] until 22 November 1945, when it left Marseille, France, for home. Some members of the 12th AD attended the US Army University, in either Biarritz, France or Shrivenham, England during this time.

It was deactivated on 3 December 1945 at Camp Kilmer, New Jersey.

Notable Prisoners Captured[edit]

The 12th AD captured Adolf Eichmann (disguised as a Wehrmacht corporal, released before identity was discovered, personal Luger pistol displayed at the 12th Armored Division Memorial Museum) and Wernher von Braun.[24]

Total number of Prisoners of War taken by the 12th AD: 72,243 [11]

Order of battle[edit]

  • 23rd Tank Battalion
  • 43rd Tank Battalion
  • 714th Tank Battalion
  • 17th Armored Infantry Battalion
  • 56th Armored Infantry Battalion
  • 66th Armored Infantry Battalion
  • 493rd Armored Field Artillery Battalion
  • 494th Armored Field Artillery Battalion
  • 495th Armored Field Artillery Battalion
  • 92nd Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron, Mechanized
  • 119th Armored Engineer Battalion
  • 82nd Medical Battalion, Armored
  • 134th Armored Ordnance Maintenance Battalion
  • 152nd Armored Signal Company

Awards[edit]

•Division authorized by France to incorporate Arms of the city of Colmar in its division insignia for action in liberating the city.,[27][28]

Colmar Coat of Arms

Individual awards:

Commanders[edit]

  • Maj. Gen. Carlos Brewer (September 1942 – August 1944)
  • Maj. Gen. Douglass T. Greene (August–September 1944)
  • Maj. Gen. Roderick R. Allen (September 1944 – July 1945)
  • Brig. Gen. Willard Ames Holbrook, Jr. (July 1945 to inactivation)

Casualties[edit]

Total Division complement: 10,937 [29]

Wounded in Action: 2647 [29]

Killed in Action: 814 [29]

Prisoners of War: 427 [29]

Total Battle Casualties: 3888 [29]

Total Non-battle Casualties: 2,540 [11]

12th Armored Division Association[edit]

The 12th Armored Division Association was founded on September 15, 1945 at Heidenheim, Germany, on the occasion of the third anniversary of the Division's activation.

One purpose of the organization, as stated in its constitution, was to “commemorate the memories of fallen comrades and enjoy the companionship of those still with us.” The Association assumed responsibility for continued publication of the “Hellcat News”, the division newspaper started during the war. Today the paper continues to be published by the 12th Armored Association in conjunction with the 12th Armored Division Memorial Museum in Abilene, Texas.[6] In addition to veterans who were among the 11,000 soldiers who fought with the 12th Armored division, the Association has members who are spouses and family (Legacy members) of Division veterans. The Association elects a “Hellcat of the Year”, which has been awarded every year since the first meeting of the Association.

Col. Richard A Gordon, (CCR) was elected as the first president of the Association at its founding meeting. The first state-side reunion was held at the Hotel Commodore, New York City, NY September 13–24, 1947. Both annual national conventions and regional chapter meetings are announced in the “Hellcat News”.[30]

“Hellcat News”[edit]

See

Main article: ”Hellcat News”

“The Hellcat News” is a periodic newspaper of the 12th Armored Division of the United States Seventh Army. It was published periodically beginning in 1943 during the Division’s basic training at Camp Campbell, Kentucky and at Camp Barkeley, Abilene, Texas and then resumed publication on May 19, 1945 in Heidenheim, Germany following cessation of combat in Europe. Since 1947, the newsletter has been nearly continuously published monthly by the 12th Armored Division Association[31] through the 12th Armored Division Memorial Museum [32] in Abilene, Texas.

12th Armored Division Memorial Museum[edit]

The '"Twelfth Armored Division Memorial Museum'" is located in Abilene, Texas, near the site of the former Camp Barkeley where the Division trained prior to being sent into battle. The Museum holds collections of the 12th Armored Division World War II archives, memorabilia, and oral histories, along with selected equipment and material loaned or donated by others. The education plan focuses on expanding academic access to World War II historical materials, veterans, and their families; preserving the history of the 12th Armored Division for study, research, and investigations by future generations; providing training in public history professions, developing new education programs for students and establishing a technology bridge between the 12th Armored Division Historical Collection and the public.[33]

12th Armored Division Memorial Museum

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Speed is the Password: The Story of the 12th Armored Division", Stars and Stripes G.I. Series, Paris: printed by Desfosses-Neogravure, 1945. http://www.lonesentry.com/gi_stories_booklets/12tharmored/index.html
  2. ^ Driscoll, New York Herald-Tribune, March 22, 1945. http://www.12tharmoredmuseum.com/mystery-article.asp, accessed 2-2-2015
  3. ^ a b http://www.historynet.com/african-american-platoons-in-world-war-ii.htm
  4. ^ John C. Ferguson, Hellcats: The 12th Armored Division in World War II (Military History of Texas Series). State House Press (August 31, 2004)
  5. ^ http://www.unithistories.com/units/12th%20Arm.Div.asp
  6. ^ a b http://wtda.alc.org/handle/123456789/18214
  7. ^ James M. Myers, "Camp Barkeley," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/qbc02), accessed January 31, 2015. Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association
  8. ^ http://www.12tharmoredmuseum.com/timeline_02_04.asp
  9. ^ http://www.patriotfiles.com/index.php?name=Sections&req=viewarticle&artid=2957&page=1
  10. ^ “Walt Disney Draws, Copywrites Critter for 714th”. The Hellcat News vol.2. No. 26, page 2, Aug. 10, 1944. Accessed at the West Texas Digital Archives, http://wtda.alc.org/handle/123456789/18252
  11. ^ a b c d http://www.history.army.mil/documents/ETO-OB/12AD-ETO.htm
  12. ^ David T. Zabecki and Keith Wooster, "Death of an American Combat Command", http://www.12tharmoredmuseum.com/dacc.asp, accessed 2-2-2015
  13. ^ “[On 19 Jan 1945, at] about 5 p.m., 400 German infantrymen supported by 17 tanks almost succeeded in attacking across the Zorn from Landgraben River. North of Herrlisheim, the Germans pushed across the Zorn and almost overran CCB's command post in Rohrwiller. As clerks and other personnel started to panic and prepared to evacuate the area, Colonel Bromley shouted out: "Stop this goddamn panic. We're not retreating anywhere. We're defending this command post; we're holding this line. We're soldiers; we have weapons; we're expendable." David T. Zabecki and Keith Wooster, "Death of an American Combat Command", http://www.12tharmoredmuseum.com/dacc.asp, accessed 2-2-2015
  14. ^ http://www.history.army.mil/brochures/ardennes/aral.htm
  15. ^ http://www.12tharmoredmuseum.com/media/books/rice/Rice%20-%20Recollections%20Combat%20Medic.pdf, retrieved 31-Jan-2015
  16. ^ Dr. Max S. Eagelfeld, 82nd Armored Med Bn, Co. C, 12th AD, personal recollections and oral history video, http://www.12tharmoredmuseum.com/oral-history.asp?page=4&o=&a=, accessed 2-2-2015
  17. ^ Driscoll, http://www.12tharmoredmuseum.com/mystery-article.asp, accessed 1-25-2015
  18. ^ http://www.patriotfiles.com/index.php?name=Sections&req=viewarticle&artid=2957&page=1, accessed 2-2-2015
  19. ^ ushmm.org, "Honoring American Liberators", 10 April 2007, retrieved 15 July 2008
  20. ^ http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10006170
  21. ^ Harding, Stephen (2013). The Last Battle: When U.S. and German Soldiers Joined Forces in the Waning Hours of World War II in Europe. Da Capo Press. ISBN 978-0-306-82209-4
  22. ^ Mayer, John G. "12th Men Free French Big-Wigs". Hellcat News (12th Armored Division Newspaper), vol. 3, no. 2, p. 3, 26 May 1945. West Texas Digital Archive, http://wtda.alc.org/pdfpreview/bitstream/handle/123456789/18253/May_26_1945.pdf?sequence=3, accessed Feb. 2, 2015
  23. ^ Eagelfeld, personal recollection
  24. ^ Col. F.P. Field (ret) "The Capture of Werner Von Braun." http://www.12tharmoredmuseum.com/capture.asp, accessed January 25, 2015
  25. ^ http://www.wartimepress.com/archives.asp?TID=12%2012th%20Armored%20Division&MID=Armored%20Divisions&q=681&FID=419, accessed Jan 25, 2015
  26. ^ Speed is the Password, http://www.lonesentry.com/gi_stories_booklets/12tharmored/, accessed Jan 25, 2015
  27. ^ http://www.wartimepress.com/archives.asp?TID=12%2012th%20Armored%20Division&MID=Armored%20Divisions&q=681&FID=419
  28. ^ http://www.lonesentry.com/gi_stories_booklets/12tharmored/, accessed Jan 25, 2015
  29. ^ a b c d e http://www.12tharmoredmuseum.com/which_page.asp?whichBook=kia&whichPage=7&max=31
  30. ^ http://www.12tharmoreddivisionassociation.us/
  31. ^ "The 12th Armored Division Association". The 12th Armored Division Association. Retrieved 2015-02-01. 
  32. ^ "The 12th Armored Division Museum". The 12th Armored Division Memorial Museum. Retrieved 2015-02-01. 
  33. ^ http://www.12tharmoredmuseum.com/

External links[edit]

  • 12th Armored Division Oral History Project http://www.12tharmoredmuseum.com/oral-history.asp, accessed 1-20-2015.
  • Brendan Phibbs, M.D., Our War for the World (2002) (originally issued as The Other Side of Time, 1987), a combat surgeon in the 12th Armored Division, covers the division's experiences in Europe. The book has been called "one of the best five Allied memoirs of the World War II".
  • Mark D. Van Ells, ed., The Daily Life of an Ordinary American Soldier in World War II: The Letters of Wilbur C. Berget" Edwin Mellen Press, 2008.
  • Speed is the Password: The Story of the 12th Armored Division
  • 12th Armored Museum a museum celebrating the division
  • 12th Armored Division Association [1], accessed 1-20-2015
  • Roger Cirillo, U.S. Army Center of Military History, Campaigns of World War II: A World War II Commemorative Series - Ardennes-Alsace (CMH Pub 72-26). GPO S/N: 008-029-00511-5. [2];[3],accessed 2-1-2015
  • John C. Ferguson, Hellcats: The 12th Armored Division in World War II (Military History of Texas Series). State House Press (August 31, 2004)
  • Edward Monroe-Jones, Crossing the Zorn: The January 1945 Battle at Herrlisheim as Told by the American and German Soldiers Who Fought It. McFarland, 2010
  • Bernard L. Rice, Recollections of a World War II Combat Medic. Indiana Magazine of History, No. 93 (December, 1997). Pages 312- 344. retrieved 31-Jan-2015.
  • Joseph Driscoll. Mystery Division at Rhine: Patton’s Forces Chasing Germans on Road Back. New York Herald-Tribune, March 22, 1945. [4], accessed 1-30-2015.
  • David P. Colley. African American Platoons in World War II. Originally published by World War II magazine. Published Online: October 20, 2006 - [5], accessed 1-25-2014.