THE 750th TANK BATTALION
Lt. Col. John A. White, Commanding
The Seven-Five-Zero Tank Battalion, as it came to be called, spent over 180 days in combat in Europe during World War II. In this time the battalion destroyed enemy equipment equivalent to the size of a German panzer division. It also had the lowest percentage of vehicles abandoned in combat on the Western front. The 750th suffered 175 battle casualties: 40 killed in action or died of wounds and 135 wounded in action. In addition, the battalion suffered 182 non battle casualties requiring military hospital admission. These resulted from injuries caused by accidents, pneumonia, dysentery, trench foot, battle fatigue and other causes.
Campaigns participated in: Rhineland, Ardennes-Alsace, Central Europe
Siegfried Line to the Roer Encirclement of the Ruhr Pocket Battle of the Bulge Paterborn to Torgau The Drive for Cologne On to Berlin
The 750th Tank Battalion was activated on New Years Day 1943, at Fort Knox, Kentucky. The initial cadre of key officers and NCOs came from the 7th Tank Group at Camp Hood, Texas. Additional troops to bring the battalion up to authorized strength were transferred from the 8th Armored Division which at that time was being used to train troops to staff the many additional armored units then being formed.
For about six months the 750ths initial assignment was to conduct exhaustive field tests of various items of new equipment being evaluated by the Armored Force Board. This operation was carried on a 24-hour a day basis with the various companies of the battalion working twelve-hour shifts, eight days in succession with the ninth day off. Meals in the field consisted of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and water. Some of the participants still gag at the sight of peanut butter.
During this period, the battalion conducted extensive tests on the then new M-4 medium tank with a Ford V-8 engine, the M5A1 light tank, the 60-ton heavy tank, tank dozers, various trucks and other equipment. "Hot box" and "cold box" experiments were carried out to test clothing, men and equipment operating under extreme temperature conditions.
All of this provided excellent training in certain specialized areas for the individuals involved, but left practically no time for the training necessary for the 750th to be able to operate as an effective fighting unit. Once the battalion was relieved of its testing responsibilities, an accelerated program of physical conditioning and tactical training began.
On 15 November 1943, the 750th moved to the Tennessee Maneuver Area near Gallatin for ten weeks of testing under simulated battle conditions. This was the organizations first experience in joint operations with infantry troops, which was the 750ths principal role in Europe. In January 1944, the 750th moved to Fort Jackson, South Carolina, near Columbia, for the additional training needed for overseas duty.
On 16 September 1944, The 750th sailed from Boston on the U.S.S. Wakefield landing on Omaha beachhead on 25 September 1944. The next month was spent in the mud at Valogne, France awaiting its tanks and other equipment and then preparing these items for battle.
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Siegfried Line to the Roer
The 750th was an independent tank battalion. During World War II it was standard practice in combat operations to attach a tank battalion to each front-line division. Tanks provided support to the infantry in suppressing strong points and bunkers, providing close-in artillery fire and combating enemy tanks and other vehicles. On 1 November 1944, the 750th was attached to the 104th (Timberwolf) Infantry Division and was ordered to move to the vicinity of Aachen, Germany.
During the period 16 November to 15 December, companies and platoons of the 750th were attached to and supported individual regiments and battalions of the 104th during the hard-fought town-by-town drive beyond the Siegfried Line to the Roer River. In a commendation issued on 7 December 1944, the 104ths commander, Major General Terry Allen, stated: "The 750th Tank Battalion assisted materially in the capture of Lammersdorf and Inden, by their quick and timely support; in the organization of Lucherberg for defense against enemy counter attacks, elements of the 750th Tank Battalion were particularly effective." Other attacks in which the 750ths tanks provided material assistance to the Timberwolves included the capture of Eschweiler, Volkenrath, Durwiss, Putzlohn, Weisweiller, Pier, Merken and Schophoven.
In another commendation issued on 22 December 1944 at the conclusion of the drive to the Roer, General Allen stated, "The services of the 750th Tank Battalion with this division have been characterized by the highest degree of cheerful cooperation, of unselfish devotion to duty and by the greatest degree of élan and true combat efficiency. We consider the 750th Tank Battalion as being a tried and true Timber Wolf unit."
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Battle of the Bulge
On 16 December 1944, the Germans launched a surprise offensive in the Ardennes area of Belgium in what came to be known as the Battle of the Bulge. As a part of a massive redeployment of forces in response to this attack, Lieutenant General Lawton Collins, commander of the VII Corps, of which the 104th Division was then a part, moved his corps headquarters south to the Ardennes to establish a defense line along a major portion of the northern side of the bulge area. The 750th was detached from the 104th Division and accompanying other elements of VII Corps moved to Petit-Houmart, Belgium. From 22 December 1944 to 26 January 1945, the 750th supported elements of the 75th Infantry Division, newly arrived from the United States. During this same period, the 104th Division remained in place guarding an enlarged front along the Roer River prepared for an expected German assault to retake Aachen.
Bitter cold weather of the coldest winter in over 20 years, thick woods, narrow roads, rough terrain and knee-deep snow made tank operations in the Ardennes extremely difficult. During one attack, snow from trees fell into the open turrets of the tanks in such quantities that the crew members were unable to extract cannon ammunition from the floor racks. It was necessary to have the turrets open for visibility purposes. The steel tracks of the tanks made movement over the narrow icy road roads both difficult and dangerous. Tanks sliding off the road into ditches occurred frequently. As a field expedient, every 10th track guide on the tread of the tanks was turned over and the top cut off. This helped considerably. As a result of being restricted to the roads much of the time, a number of tanks were damaged by enemy mines.
Hitlers plan for the Ardennes offensive counted on achieving complete surprise and applying massive force against a lightly defended sector. Its success depended on the German armored columns being able to move swiftly through expected light resistance, refueling from captured Allied gasoline stocks. The plan failed primarily because the German advance was unexpectedly slowed at numerous points by valiant resistance from small groups of American troops often fighting alone without support. As a result, the Germans fuel usage was much greater than anticipated and in many cases the Allied fuel stores were not captured. In the end, the Germans literally "ran out of gas". Shortly after arriving in the Ardennes, one unit of the 750th was stationed in the midst of a storage dump some fifteen miles in front of the German advance. The dump contained 40,000 five-gallon cans of gasoline. The units tank cannon were loaded with white phosphorous shells. The tankers had orders to destroy the fuel dump if they received even one round of direct fire from a German armored vehicle.
Despite these difficult conditions, the 750th was able to be of material assistance to the 75th Division in taking the towns of Salmchateau, Bech, Petit-Thier, Neuville, Gommanster and Aldrinen. This concluded the 75th Divisions operations in the Ardennes.
From January 26 to February 5, 1945, the 750th was attached to and supported the 99th Infantry Division in the final mop-up efforts. The 99th had landed in France on November 3, 1944 and had seen only limited combat at the time of the Ardennes offensive. This division was directly in the path of the initial German assault and suffered heavy casualties. Nevertheless, the unit acquitted itself gallantly and provided the Allies with valuable time to respond to the attack. By the time the 750th served with them, the division had been substantially rehabilitated and was serving well. Action during the period the 750th was with the 99th centered in the Elsenbuchel Woods and Monschau Forest east of Elsenborn. This is same general area in which the 99th had taken such a hard blow during the initial German assault. Snow depths of three to four feet limited the usefulness of tanks in much of this operation. The 99th was principally interested in the 750ths tanks equipped with dozer blades. There was, however, only one of these in each tank company.
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The Drive for Cologne
On 6 February 1945, the 750th returned to Eschweiler, Germany and was once again attached to the 104th Division. The next two-and-a-half weeks were spent rehabilitating the men and equipment and in joint tank-infantry training in preparation for the crossing of the Roer River. The attack, which had been delayed by the German Ardennes offensive and the flood-swollen condition of the river, was made on 23 February. Along with the Division artillery, mortars, and other guns, the tank cannon of the 750th participated in an intense 45-minute bombardment of the enemy positions prior to the launching of the assault across the Roer. Once bridges were in place, the 750th once again assisted infantry units in the attacks on Arnoldsweiler, Ellen, HS Rath, Merzenich, Morschenich and Golzheim. The last mentioned was the battalions first mass night attack.
Following the wake of the 3rd Armored Divisions drive to and beyond the Erft Canal, the 750th assisted the 104th in mopping-up actions in Buir, Sindorf, Manheim and Heppendorf. Often here and at other times, the infantry rode on the 750ths tanks. Successful attacks were made against Komsdorf, Weiden, Widdersdorf, Lovenich and Jungersdorf getting ever closer to Cologne.
Accompanying Company L of the 414th Infantry Regiment on the morning of March 5, the first platoon of Company A of the 750th had the distinction of having the first American tanks in Cologne. This honor is also claimed by the 3rd Armored Division which entered the city from the north. Street to street mopping up actions continued and by March 7, the capture of the third largest city in Germany was compete. German dual-purpose 88mm antiaircraft emplaced throughout the city were the greatest threat to the 750ths tanks.
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Encirclement of the Ruhr Pocket
The fortuitous capture of the Ludendorff railway bridge at Remagen on 7 March 1945, permitted the Allied forces to establish their first bridgehead on the east side of the Rhine River. On March 21, accompanying the 104th Division, the 750th crossed the Rhine some fifty miles south of Cologne and assisted the Timberwolves in expanding the then still small bridgehead.
General Collins VII Corps was given the assignment of encircling the important Ruhr industrial area of Germany from the south. Early in the morning of 25 March, the 3rd Armored Division with the Timberwolves 414th Regiment attached began a lightning-like trust eastward bowling over all enemy opposition before it. The 3rd Armored advanced in four columns on more or less parallel roads. It was the job of the remainder of the 104th Division, mounted on trucks and accompanied by the 750th and other supporting troops, to mop up enemy forces bypassed by the 3rd Armored. In many cases these bypassed forces had recovered from the initial shock by the time the follow-up forces reached them and put up a strong defense.
Three days later on 28 March, the 3rd Armored reached Marburg, ninety miles east of the starting point, and turned toward Paderborn, some 110 miles to the north. On 1 April, a combat command of the 3rd Armored linked up with a corresponding unit of the 2nd Armored Division at Lippstadt, some 20 miles southwest of Paderborn. The 2nd Armored had made a similar drive east from the Rhine along the northern edge of the Ruhr area. Thus the encirclement of the Ruhr was completed, trapping some 374,000 German troops.
The rapid 3rd Armored advance created an ever-lengthening line for the Timberwolves to defend from both German troops on the west attempting to break out of the entrapment and from enemy forces on the east. There were many engagements all along the line. Supply vehicles carrying much needed fuel and other materials were frequently ambushed. General Collins placed additional divisions in the ever-lengthening line to contain the Germans. Ultimately there were five infantry divisions, plus a cavalry group, stretched over a 175-mile arc from Remagen to Paderborn. As the increasing seriousness of their situation became apparent to the Germans, larger and larger groups attempted to break through the American lines, but without success. It was a very fluid situation and uncertain as to when or where the enemy might be encountered.
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Paderborn to Torgau
The completion of the elimination of the Ruhr pocket was left to others. The rapid sustained advance had been particularly hard on the tanks, to say nothing of the troops. On 5 April, after a very brief pause for maintenance, General Collins VII Corps headed east for a prospective link-up with the Russians. Once again the 3rd Armored lead the way in parallel columns with the Timberwolves and the 1st Infantry Division doing the mop up operation.
The capture of Nordhausen on 10 April with its ghastly concentration camp and vast underground V-bomb factory was not the most important military objective during this drive, but the sights and sounds there will never be erased from the minds of those present at that time.
On 11 April, the joint operation between the 104th Division and the 3rd Armored ended and the 3rd Armored proceeded northeast with Dessau as its objective. The combined tank-infantry operation having been so successful up to this point, Gen. Allen created his own armored spearhead consisting of infantry troops mounted on the vehicles of the 750th Tank Battalion, the 817th Tank Destroyer Battalion and the 104th Reconnaissance Troop. The objective was the important city of Halle. Four days were required to eliminate the stubborn resistance of the German forces in this city.
The last significant battles were at Bitterfeld and Delitsch. On 21 April the Division was ordered to hold up its advance on the west side of the Mulde River and this essentially ended the combat operations of both the Timberwolves and the 750th Tank Battalion. While on patrol on the east side of the Mulde River on 24 April, elements of the 104th made their first contact was Russian forces at Torgau. While on a similar patrol on 1 May, a platoon from Company B of the 750th made the first contact with Russian tanks which were also patrolling the area.
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On to Berlin
Following V-E Day, the 750th was given responsibility for a large area around Bernberg, Germany in which to patrol, maintain order, process displaced persons and guard captured enemy materiel. The battalions attachment to the 104th Division ended on 22 May 1945, at which time it was assigned to the 7th Armored Division.
The agreement reached by the Allied leaders at Yalta in February 1945 provided that once Germany was defeated, the country would be divided into four sectors presided over respectively by the United States, Great Britain, France and the Soviet Union. The German capital Berlin would similarly be divided into four sectors with each of the four powers responsible for a sector. Overall coordination of the country was to be vested in a four-nation Control Council located in Berlin.
The 750th Tank Battalion was given the honor of being a part of the initial military forces representing the United States in Berlin. The effects of months of hard combat had to erased quickly to transform the 750th into a spit and polish show unit. Tanks and other vehicles were cleaned and repainted with the only paint available, a rather bilious green. Six inches of reinforced concrete placed on the front of the tanks during combat as added protection had to be removed with jackhammers. The troops were issued new uniforms including the then new ETO (Eisenhower) jackets and helmet liners were shellacked a la George Patton.
What was expected to be an easy 85-mile trip to Berlin on the autobahn superhighway turned out to be a long 200-mile trek over back country roads. The autobahn was impassable because of bombed out bridges and overpasses. In addition, a long detour was necessary because bridges over the Elbe had been damaged by floods.
The 750th arrived in Berlin on 5 July 1945. The battalion was housed in several fairly new block-square apartment buildings that had been only lightly damaged during hostilities. The contrast of big city life to the manure and flies of rural Germany was most welcome. The 750ths responsibilities consisted mostly of performing a great deal of guard duty at high level installations.
Its responsibilities in Berlin having been completed, the 750th left for the United States on 9 November 1945. The battalion was inactivated on 25 January 1946 at Camp Kilmer, New Jersey.
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This page last updated: 06 October, 2010
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