8. TO THE HARZ MOUNTAINS
Combat Command B, after having on April 11 supported by fire the attack on Unna, was placed in Division Reserve. On the 12th CCB was detached from the 8th Armored Division, put under operational control of XIX Corps, and rushed to the vicinity of Wolfenbuttel to protect the Corps' right flank which had been exposed by the drive of the 2nd Armored and Infantry Divisions to the Elbe River. This order was contained in Message Number 165 from CG, XVI Corps, which stated: "One CC 8 AD will move 12 1200 Apr 45 . . . to assg area vic Hildersheim." The last fanatical remnants of the 11th Panzer Army, grouping in the Harz Mountains, constituted a serious threat to the spearheading American forces. XIX Corps found itself with an exposed right flank and no reserve unit, so CCB was called upon to fill this gap.
CCB closed in Wolfenbuttel at 0900 on the 13th after travelling approximately 170 miles. Colonel Burba was assigned a sector 44 kilometers wide, all of which was in the Harz Mountain area. In order to accomplish the protection mission, it became necessary to spread CCB units over a wide area. At 1500 on the 13th the Combat Command was ordered to move to Halberstadt, but Task Force Roseborougb was to remain in Wolfenbuttel until relieved by other elements of the 8th Armored Division. CCB moved out at 1845 and closed in the vicinity of Halberstadt at 2400. Task Force Roseborough moved into the new sector at Halberstadt at 1300 on the 14th after being relieved by other Thundering Herd units.
Because the sector of responsibility assigned to CCB was so wide, additional artillery support was requested. On the 14th the 275th AFA
Battalion was attached, and the following day the 405th AFA was added to bolster CCB.
During the period from 14 t6 18 April the Combat Command conducted vigorous road reconnaissance, made small local attacks to clean out pockets of resistance, and screened all woods in the rear area. This latter task was carried out by Troop B, 88th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron (Mechanized). These activities tended to widen the Corps' flank and keep the Germans from organizing any large-scale opposition. Throughout this period CCB was constantly harassed by enemy patrols composed of three to fifty SS men armed with automatic weapons and panzerfausts. These raiding parties made diversionary attacks upon roadblocks and outposts and ambushed mounted and dismounted patrols moving through the area.
The enemy units in this area were remnants of some 18 to 20 odd battle groups under command of Lieutenant General Walter Lucht; they were composed of veterans of the Ruhr and lower Rhine pockets. There were also sizeable units from the 5th Para Division, the 9th Panzer Division and the 26th Volks Grenadier Division. Various other small units and individual stragglers had been incorporated into the newly formed Potsdam and Worgitsky Divisions.
Prior to 18 April the Germans held a strong pocket in the east edge of Forest Heimburg south of Derenburg. Colonel Burba realized the woods had to be cleared in order to protect the outpost line secure a suitable line of departure for an attack on Blankenburg. Task Force Roseborough was ordered to launch an infantry attack on this woods, and at 0800 on the 18th, with Company A, 49th AIB, leading the attack jumped off. For the dismounted infantrymen the going was rough; every foot of ground had to be covered. As the day wore on an of clearing the woods became more difficult, plans were made to I woods by incendiary bombing. With the CP of the Combat C, established south of Langerstein and communications installed, such an air attack could be controlled.
Weather prevented the air mission from commencing until 1400. Then the squadron of P-47's assigned to fly the mission appeared over the target area loaded with fragmentation bombs instead of incendiaries. Still the mission was not a total loss, as the P-47's advantageously dropped "eggs" on enemy positions spotted by the dismounted troops of Task Force Roseborough. The majority of the enemy troops withdrew from the woods and Company A, 49th AIB, consolidated positions along the Langenstein-Heimburg road late in the evening of the 18th. Snipers and stragglers remaining were finally cleaned out on the 20th by Troop C, 88th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron.
CCB reverted to control of the 8th AD on the 19th and was ordered to attack and reduce Blankenburg. While CCB was protecting the right flank of XIX Corps, the 8th Armored, as the reserve division of 9th Army, had moved from the vicinity of Unna to an assembly area in the vicinity of Braunschweig. CCA closed at Wolfenbuttel on the 14th, while CCR moved to Denstrof. As the Thundering Herd carried out this mission time was found for maintenance of equipment; the infantry units of CCA and CCR screened the rear area of the Division; and guards were placed on the Hermann Goering Plant and the Ruhrchemie Plant at Gebhardshagen.
On the night of 16 April XIX Corps launched an attack on Magdeburg which eventually required the use of all XIX Corps' divisions. 9th Army was requested to give XIX Corps operational control of a second combat command of the 8th Armored Division. Per VOCG, 9th Army, CCA was ordered to move to the vicinity of Seehausen as XIX Corps reserve. The Combat Command closed in Seehausen at 1920 on the 17th. From April 17 to 19 the unit commanders of CCA occupied themselves with route and terrain studies in preparation for future missions assigned by XIX Corps.
CCR moved from Denstrof to Braunschweig on the 17th and continued the mission of screening the rear area. On the 19th elements of the 66th Armored Regiment, 2nd Armored Division, relieved this Combat Command, and CCR moved to the vicinity of Strabeck as the Thundering Herd prepared to carry out the mission of reducing resistance in Blankenburg.
The task of taking Blankenburg, together with six other missions, was outlined in Top Secret Field Order Number 33, Headquarters, XIX Corps, dated 19 April 1945. This order, received by General Devine at 2100 on the 19th, brought both CCA and CCB once again under Division control. It read:
"8th AD reinf:
(1) Resume control of CCA and CCB eff 190100 Apr 45.
(2) Continue security mission in Braunschweig-Immerdorf-Wolfenbuttel area until relieved by 2 AD.
(3) Relieve 330 RCT Harz Mts at earliest possible time.
(4) Atk to reduce Blankenburg and clear Ln. N of temporary XIX-VII Corps Badry.
(5) Relieve Elms of lst U.S. Army in assgn area by 221200 Apr 45.
(6) Especial attention will be given to Harz Mts area.
(7) Occupy and govern assigned zone."
To carry out portions of the newly assigned missions, CCA moved immediately from Seehausen to Wernigerode and relieved elements of the 330th Infantry Regiment, 83rd Infantry Division. CCA was to move from Wernigerode and clear the enemy from the area north of the temporary Corps' boundary.
CCR moved from Braunschweig to Aspenstedt. On the 20th the 58th AIB was attached to CCB and moved to Westhausen in order to add infantry power to CCB and help clear the woods surrounding Blankenburg.
American units pressing in from three sides had reduced enemy resistance in the Blankenburg area. In an attempt to secure the town without sustaining heavy casualties, plans were made on the 19th to exert a maximum pressure on the town and employ propaganda methods to the fullest. General Devine's original plan was for a joint assault by CCA and CCB. General Colson's forces were to move from the west and Colonel Burba was to move from positions along the Langerstein-Heimburg Road, take the town of Heimburg, and move on Blankenburg from the east. However difficulties with terrain stymied this plan, and Colonel Burba was ordered to take Blankenburg.
This city is situated at the base of the Harz Mountains, whose heights rise almost perpendicularly above the town. Standing on the top of the rise one could throw stones into the middle of the town. Encirclement of the town, defended by a ring of outer defenses supported by an inner ring in the town itself, was thus impossible.
Colonel Burba's Combat Command began to move on Blankenburg the morning of 20 April. Company C, 49th AIB (TF Van Houten) relieved Company A, 49th, in positions along the Langenstein-Heimburg Road. Company A launched an attack on Heimburg and cleared the town of all resistance at 1200. Phase II of the operation started almost immediately. This called for Task Force Roseborough to move from Heimburg to assault positions on the high ground north of Blankenburg. Task Force Van Houten had already moved into assault positions along the WesterhausenBlankenburg Road at 0930. Task Force Van Houten had the mission of demonstrating great strength.
An air strike had been requested and exactly at 1000 on the 20th a 13-plane squadron appeared over the town. For 45 minutes the planes dive-bombed and strafed the city's defenses. At 1100 A Company of the 36th Tank moved into firing positions behind a low protective ridge approximately 2 1/2 kilometers west of Blankenburg. Moving forward into full view in a line formation on the ridge, the Company fired five rounds from each tank in order to impress the Germans with the strength of the American armor. Following this the tanks withdrew and a two battalion Time on Target was fired by the 275th AFA and the 399th AFA.
A loudspeaker from 9th Army Psychological Warfare Section moved into position to broadcast a demand for the town to surrender, telling the enemy defenders of the hopelessness of continued resistance. Colonel Burba followed this with what he termed the "Burgomeister Play." This stratagem consisted of first convincing the Burgomeister of a town just captured that it was futile for the next town to resist, then sending him forward to attempt to persuade the defenders of the next town to lay down their arms.
Shortly after the broadcast the Burgomeister of Westerhausen and his adjutant were dispatched to Blankenburg. They were to tell the commander of the town that another air attack had been ordered for 1330 and that the town was surrounded by 6000 troops and 200 tanks. While the Westerhausen Burgomeister was in Blankenburg Colonel Burba calmly ordered everyone to have lunch. K rations appeared and the men of CCB ate as they awaited the return of the German official. At 1300 the adjutant returned to report that the Burgomeister had gone into the hills beyond the town to talk to the commandant who had withdrawn there. He requested that the bombing attack be held up until the Burgomeister returned.
1330 the second squadron of planes began hovering over the city. The Burgomeister of Westerhausen did not return, but two surrender parties appeared from the town. The first party came from the woods southeast of the town. Representing Service Company and the wagon train of the 116th Panzer Division the chief of the party offered to surrender the train if some show of force were made and if an infantry platoon mounted on tanks were sent to a designated area to bring out the enemy troops and equipment.
The other surrender party consisted of only one man-a sergeant major who came from the enemy's outpost line directly in front of the town. He indicated that his commanding officer would like to talk with the ranking American commander. The sergeant was sent back with the information that Colonel Burba would meet the German commander half-way between the two forces. This meeting soon materialized and Colonel Burba demanded the surrender of the town. The German officer appeared insulted and declared that German military tradition prevented him from surrendering without a fight. Colonel Burba outlined briefly for the German commander just exactly what lay in store for the town. He contacted the air squadron by radio and instructed that it drop a few bombs on the edge of the woods in order to impress the Germans. Colonel Burba then suggested to the officer that, even though he felt he could not surrender, he might possibly agree to be overpowered by a sufficient show of force. The German commander replied that if 100 tanks appeared in front of the town he would consider himself overpowered.
With CCB spread in a semi-circular position around the town, Colonel Burba did not have access to 100 tanks, so he bargained with the German for some time and succeeded in cutting the demand in half. Since Colonel Burba did not have even 50 tanks to order into formation at that moment, the hour for the show of force was set at 1715 in order to give Task Force Roseborough sufficient time to move from its positions to the designated points.
Colonel Burba ordered M-7 artillery pieces and half-tracks to participate in the show of force attack. The attack jumped off at 1715, and resistance arose only from a few strong points which either had not received the order to surrender or had refused to obey it. Task Force Van Houten drew the mission of clearing the southern half of the town, while Lieutenant Colonel Roseborough was to secure the northern portion. The attack went off like clockwork, Colonel Burba's stratagem proved very successful, and no casualties were sustained in taking the town. As darkness settled Blankenburg remained light from the flames of burning buildings. Throughout the night bewildered Germans stumbled out of cellars, buildings, and emplacements, inquired as to the location of the PWE, and went their way unguarded to receiving points. The 58th AIB, which had been attached to CCB had the mission of clearing the woods south of Blankenburg and contacting elements of the 1st Infantry Division of the 1st Army. This mission was completed at 1200 on the 21st.
The Service Company trains of the 116th Panzer Division arrived had been agreed. 177 horses, 144 wagons, and two days food rations the troops in Blankenbtjrg surrendered to the 49tb AIB. These service troops were placed in a special PW enclosure and set to work caring for the horses. On the 21st Lieutenant General Simpson, CG, 9th Army, made a visit to Halberstadt (Division Headquarters) to see this hayburning convoy, all that remained of a once fully mechanized Panzer Division. The German lieutenant in charge formed the company, with equipment, to standa formal inspection by General Simpson, General McLain, General Devine, and Colonel Dodge. Although the lieutenant had been given only a few minutes notice of the appearance of the high ranking American officers, everything was ready for the "inspection." The wagons were lined up in three ranks in a long line stretching the length of a sizable pasture field, with a German prisoner standing stiffly at attention by each horse.
On the 21st Task Force Van Houten cleared Ottenstedt, making the last coordinated action against the enemy in Germany. On the 23rd Lieutenant General Walter Luebt, the commander of all enemy troops in the Harz Mountains, surrendered to Captain Henry I. Tragle, CO, Service Company, 36th Tank Battalion, through Private First Class Frank Fox, interpreter. General Lucht had been designated by Hitler to replace Kesselring, who had been given a command in Italy.
The fighting was practically over for men of CCB. They could now move to "occupy and govern in the assigned zone." On the 24th the Combat Command moved from Blankenburg to Braunlage to take up such occupation duties.
While CCB was talking the Germans out of fighting, CCA was scaring them out of the desire to fight. On the 20th Task Force Poinier had moved across an open plain in an old-fashioned cavalry charge on the town of Benzingerade. 870 prisoners were captured in the town as the units moved through. Two half-tracks of Troop A, 88th Reconnaissance, were knocked out by a high velocity gun on the edge of the town. Continuing to mop up all resistance on the 21st, Task Force Poinier moved in a two-pronged sweep to take Michaelstein. B Company, 7th AIB, captured Brigadier General Heinz Kokott, CG of the 26th Volks Grenadier Division, in Michaelstein. The 26th Volks Grenadier Division was the last enemy unit to offer organized resistance in the Harz Mountains. General Kokott, a brother-in-law of the infamous Gestapo chief Heinrich Himmler, told the IPW team of CCA that "neither the Nazi Party nor the German army would make peace."
The formal end of fighting had, in effect, come for the 8th Armored Division, as CCR did not engage in the final mopping up operations. On the 22nd, 23rd, and 24th, the Division moved to occupation areas in the Harz Mountains. CCA was assigned the area in the vicinity of Bad Latiterberg-Harz. CCB moved to Braunlage and CCR took over the area Clausthal-Zellerfeld.
While the Thundering Herd engaged in sweeping the area around Blankenburg, stories of a last ditch Nazi stand in the Harz Mountains came from every side. A train reportedly carrying Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels, Field Marshal Kesselring, and other high Nazi officials was supposed to have left Blankenburg just prior to the fall of the city. This train was never found, although dense woods were painstakingly cleared by dismounted infantry units. The PW roster began to take on the appearance of the guest list for a formal Nazi banquet. Among the ranking "guests" entertained by Captain Will Burger in the Division's PWE were the Duke of Brunzwick (son-in-law of Kaiser Wilhelm), Lieutenant General Hermann Floerke, Corps Commander, and Admiral Hermann Mootz, a life-long friend of Admiral Doenitz, Hitler's successor.
Captain Thomas Q. Donaldson, Division G-2 Section, discovered a valuable store of top secret German documents which had been dumped in an abandoned water-filled mine shaft at Reverhausen. These documents contained results of tests and experiments on airplanes, propelled missiles, submarines, and rockets. After four days of work by an egineer squad from Company B, 53rd AEB, all documents were recovered by air to Paris. Alert troops of CCA discovered important documents of the Political Culture Section, Office of Foreign Ministry, near Eland. These had previously been considered of such vast importance by the Nazis that two divisions had been risked to keep them from falling into Allied hands. A staff officer from Headquarters, 9th Army, declared them to be worth "a far greater expenditure of manpower."
The area which had been assigned to the Thundering Herd averaged 90 kilometers long and 30 kilometers wide. For the remainder of the month of April the Division carried out the mission of occupation government. A 24-hour guard, requiring 2,179 men, was maintained at 104 designated installations. To facilitate the smooth operation roadblocks in the area patrolled by Headquarters Company, 49th AIB tenant Harold L. Werner, assisted by Staff Sergeant Owen M. Bebb, constructed a model roadblock. Stop signs, two electric lights for vehicles and document inspection helped make the night inspections more thorough.
Although a tactical reserve of 3,118 men was prepared to move on an hour's notice if any signs of German strength reappeared, Special
Services found time to present such entertainment as "Frattin' at the Front," numerous movies, and sports events. The movie, "Two Down and One to Go" designed for entertainment as well as training, was seen by all members the Division. Some lucky members of the 8th left for a 45-day furlough in the United States. T/5 Horrell H. Grote, B Battery, 398th Artillery, was the first to leave, departing on 27 April 1945.
The presence of Hitler Jugend and numerous roving bands of enemy soldiers was a constant menace to the security of individuals and small units. Screening of the area brought in stragglers from various enemy units almost daily. On 23 April three German soldiers attacked an outpost of the 473rd AAA (AW) SP Battalion, killed two of the guards, stripped them of their clothes and weapons, stole a jeep, and headed into the night. All units were alerted, but the group was not apprehended. Service Company, 49th AIB, captured 15 Germans in the vicinity of Elbingrode by simply test firing their weapons on 30 April 1945. Hearing the firing, the Germans thought they had been discovered and came out with hands aloft.
A 9th Army VHF radio relay station located in the area patrolled by CCR on Mt. Brocken, home of the fabled Halloween witch was attacked on 30 April by a force of 25 uniformed men, divided into four small groups and carrying incendiary and concussion grenades in addition to small arms. The hotel was completely destroyed by our bombing, but luckily the cellar was able to produce 80 bottles of fine wine. Two of the enemy and two of the radio station personnel were wounded. Company B, 80th Tank Battalion, then screened the area surrounding the station and brought in several German soldiers. Following this attack the station was put under guard by B Company, 80th Tank. When G-4 sent trucks back for more wine, the cellar was bare. Co. B (80th Tk.) did a good job. (?)
At 0600 1 May a Pole came to B Company, 58th AIB, and said he knew where three German soldiers were sleeping in a barn. He guided a squad led by Lieutenant Russell J. Legried to the area. No one was found in the barn, but on a nearby road the squad discovered a German officer. Lieutenant Legried ordered him to call his men from the woods and surrender. Before the German officer could answer the squad was fired on from the woods. In the ensuing firefight one man from B Company was killed and one fatally wounded. The German officer and three German soldiers were killed. In response to the B Company squad's call for assistance, Captain Ralph J. Elias, Company Commander, and Lieutenant Calvin 0. Bishop hurried to the area with two platoons. A thorough search brought into custody five civilians who were carrying food to the soldiers in the area.
On 2 May 1945 the 58th AIB lost another officer and three enlisted men. Lieutenant John R. Rosselet was killed and three members of his patrol were seriously wounded when a powder plant in Munchshaf blew up. Sabotage was suspected by CIC detachment members of the Division. Throughout the remaining days of the war, and even until the Thundering Herd moved from the Harz Mountains area, sabotage and underground activity continued. On 21 May 1945 Lieutenant James H. MacDermid, 130th Ordnance Maintenance Battalion, was attacked in the vicinity of Osterode by a German civilian armed with a hand axe. Lieutenant MaeDermid suffered a skull fracture and was badly beaten in the attack.
Leaflets and posters intended to intimidate German officials in the area who cooperated with the occupation troops began to appear. These leaflets, written in crude scrawls or printed neatly on expensive paper, had this inscription:
"Keep your trap shut or you will be shot, you pigs, MG Police and Burgomeisters, vengeance shall come to you traitors."
At this time the Division was occupying an area split by the international boundary between the Americans and the Russians, who had met on the Elbe River. Displaced persons in the area had to be relocated by units of the Thundering Herd. Letter of Instructions Number 151, XIX Corps, dated 30 April 1945, directed that the 8th AD:
"(A) Move by rail approximately 12,000 Russian PWs and/or DP's from Div area to the 83 Inf Div area at the rate of 2,000 per day.
(B) Move by marching or by motor approximately 4,000 Russian PW's and/or DP's from Div area W of the international boundary to Div area E of the international boundary."
With minor changes in the assigned area, the Thundering Herd remained in the Harz Mountains during the month of May 1945. On 8 May Division was put under control of VII Corps commanded by Lieutenant General J. Lawton Collins, but the Thundering Herd was still to remain the same area, carrying out the same duties.
V-E Day, announced in a SHAEF communique on 8 May 1945, brought the war in Europe to an official end. To the men of the Thundering Herd it was a joyous day, yet one for reflection and remembrance. Here a long trek that had begun more than a year before in the Louisiana bayous. Three hundred and ten members of the Division had given their all for their country. 2,626 had sustained wounds, although many of these had already returned to duty. The majority of the members of the Thundering Herd that had been killed in action were interred in the American Military Cemetery at Margraten, Holland. On Memorial Day General Colson headed a delegation from the 8th Armored at services held there. Wreaths were placed on graves of all Division members killed in action.
In addition to carrying out occupation duties the members of the 8th followed training schedules which stressed jungle warfare, camouflage, map reading, and related subjects. The 78th Medical Battalion supervised the 100 German military hospitals and an unknown number of civilian institutions in the area which were in need of medical supplies. The artillery battalions were again grouped under control of Division Artillery. Other attachments to the three combat commands joined respective parent units.
The 809th Tank Destroyer was alerted for redeployment to the Pacific. By the authority of a TWX dated 12 May 1945 from the Commanding General, VII Corps, the Battalion was relieved from occupation duties and began preparations for movement. The area which had been occupied by the 809th was taken over by the 18th Tank Battalion. The 809th Tank Destroyer Battalion had been a part of the Thundering Herd since February. The officers and men of the Battalion had become effective, hard working members of the Tornado Team. Carrying out every assigned mission, the TD's had helped many a task force out of a hot spot and close friendships had formed between 809tb and 8th personnel.
On 18 May 1945 a Division review was held at Gottingen to honor General Devine who had on the day previous been promoted to the rank of Major General.
During the month of May, as the Division once more began to operate on a standard T/O and E, excess equipment was turned in through supply channels. Several new M-26 General Pershing medium tanks were received by the Tank Battalions. Company B, 53rd Engineer Battalion, constructed a rifle range to be used for small arms firing. All units participated in an intramural sports program. Furloughs to the "GI Paradise" on the French Riviera were allotted to various members of the Thundering Herd. CCA set up a rest camp in a former German Officer's Club high in the mountains where deei- hunting, fishing, and swimming were the main activities.
On 29 May the Division received orders attaching it to the V Corps, 3rd Army. Commanded by Major General Clarence R. Huebner, the V Corps was located in the vicinity of Pilsen, Czechoslovakia. (This Corps was later replaced by the XXII Corps under command of Lieutenant General Ernest N. Harmon.) The Harz Mountains area was to be taken over by British troops. The 8th Armored was to move at its own discretion upon relief by the British. The relief began on 1 June and was completed by 4 June.