The Saturday Evening Post
August 17, 1946
Nothing Stopped the Timberwolves
By Kenneth T. Downs
When they learned that Maj. Gen. Terry Allen was coming to take over command, the men of the brand-new 104th (Timberwolf) Infantry Division were impressed. They had heard a lot about “Terrible Terry”: that he was tough on discipline, but would go to bat for his men with anybody. That he was a cagey fighter and wouldn’t get you killed. That he’d never lost a battle in two wars. But mainly they were impressed because he was just back from the front—he’d blooded the great 1st Infantry Division; he knew the score.
Only two months before, General Allen was standing on the battlefield of Troina, Sicily, and the tears were rolling down his craggy cheeks as he took leave of the 1st Division, which he had led across the beaches at Arzew and through the bitter campaigns of Tunisia and Sicily. Now, as he assumed his new command at Bend, Oregon, on October 15, 1943, he said, “Someday the 104th must follow in the footsteps of the Fighting First, and the Timberwolves may be the division to score the winning play in Europe.” He told this to every unit as he stepped up the pace of training. And, sure enough, when the Timberwolves went into the line in the Rhineland, a year and three weeks later, it was the 1st Division they relieved. And when, just before V-E Day, orders came to cease all forward movement, the 104th was in the forefront of the armor-infantry spearhead thrusting at Berlin.
The story of Terry Allen and the Timberwolves is one of the most spectacular of the war. Allen was the only general in the war to coach two divisions, take them overseas and quarterback them through a series of unbroken victories to brilliant records. He was in England, getting ready to load the 1st Division into ships for the invasion of North Africa, when the 104th was being activated, September 15, 1942, at Camp Adair, Oregon. Made up almost entirely of civilians drawn from all parts of the country—there were not more than twenty West Pointers in it—the 104th received its basic training under Maj. Gen. Gilbert R. Cook. It was still a green outfit when Allen came home to take over command, but despite its late start, the 104th, in less than a year of combat, won the reputation of being one of the cleverest night-fighting divisions in the entire Army.
The day he arrived, General Allen raised hell with the officers because he had seen some sloppy, unshaven soldiers on the way to headquarters. The division learned early that saluting and discipline were a fetish with him. When the controversy popped later over the Mauldin cartoons in Stars and Stripes, the general proclaimed, “There are no Mauldins in the Timberwolf Division, and there won’t be any.” He was fiercely against “Mauldinism”. He felt that Mauldin, good intentions notwithstanding, tended to encourage slovenliness, self-pity and surliness, none of which qualities ever hastened the end of a war.
Soldiers under Allen’s command did not resent discipline. He had a way of making them feel that his demands were in their best interests. They liked the way he made sense when he talked. He didn’t scold or harangue. Allen was the third generation of his family to serve as a career officer in the Army. He was raised among the soldiers of his father’s commands and he understood soldiers as few officers do.
The division went to the California-Arizona maneuvers in November, and Allen hammered away at discipline, weapons, training and physical fitness, and stessed the combat principles of “find ‘em, fix ‘em and fight ‘em.” He ordered intensive schedules of night training and had his men working thirty to thirty-five hours a week at night, as against the required eight to twelve hours. He had found in Tunisia that against massed automatic weapons, night attacks were usually effective and almost always less costly in casualties, so he determined to make the 104th an expert in this difficult type of operation. He rigorously culled out those who couldn’t come up to the mark physically and had them replaced by more than 3000 college students from the Army Student Training Program. The general believed battlefield courage depended about 50 per cent on good physical condition, then on training, breeding and inherent qualities, in that order.
By the time the division sailed from New York, on August 27, 1944, it was cheerful, cocky, well-trained and disciplined. There was a relationship between officers and men that was wonderful even for an Allen outfit. I stress this because it was Allen’s flair for leadership, plus his battle wisdom, more than any other single factor, that lifted the 104th from the level of a good division to that of a great one.
As General Allen’s aide in the 1st Division, I heard many officers speculate on the qualities of leadership which won such remarkable devotion from his commands, and which led British Field Marshal Sir Harold R.L.G. Alexander to call him the finest divisional commander he had seen in two wars. There were many theories. But those who knew him best would agree with blunt “Dutch” Cota, the general’s chief of staff in North Africa—later Maj. Gen. Norman D. Cota, a hero of Omaha Beach in Normandy, and commander of the 28th Infantry Division—who was asked one day if he could explain Allen’s extraordinary hold on his men. “Sure,” said Cota, “it’s just because he’s so damned honest.”
Allen’s affection for his troops under his command was honest. He was always doing his best for them. Allen’s utter horror of casualties was honest, and he bent all his abilities to keep them down. Few people realize, even in the Army, the terrible ordeal of the combat infantryman—official War Department figures show that the infantry represented ony 20.5 per cent of the total strength overseas, yet suffered 70 per cent of the total casualties—but this was always very real to Allen, and he had a feeling of deep humility in the face of his responsibilites to his troops. It was this feeling which caused his hypersensitivity to personal publicity and made him wince every time the war correspondents hung the tag of “Terrible Terry” on him. He never wanted his men to get the feeling they were fighting to make his reputation, yet he did his utmost to see that their own deeds received merited commendation.
Soldiers know these things and respond. No soldier wants to die, but it is surprising how many will take their chances cheerfully if they believe in the man calling the signals. The soldier’s greatest nightmare is to think he is being sent up to death foolishly—men didn’t feel that way under Allen.
The general’s indiosyncrasies tickled his men. He had a fine disdain for all foreign names and rarely got anything less well known than Paris or Berlin straight. So the staffs learned early they would have to keep up with his private glossary for name places as well as the official code names. They had to know that “Weisenheimer-or-whatever-the-hell-they-call-it” meant Weisweiler, and that the “Irk” was the Erft, just as the 1st Division staff had to learn that “Boozy-Bar-or-whatever-the-hell-they-call-it” was an unpronounceable Arab town in Algeria, and “Nicodemus” was Nicosia, Sicily.
Sometimes the general became obsessed with something he especially wanted done. Then, like as not, he gave the same job to everybody he ran across. It was dry socks in the bitter cold days in the Rhineland. Those soldiers must have dry socks, he said, and in addition to instructing his G-4 to do everything up to and including grand larceny to get them, he variously and separately told everybody else on the staff to do likewise until the whole place was sock-conscious. The staffs learned to co-ordinate privately, so that the jobs were done, but without duplicate effort.
The staff’s biggest source of secret amusement was Allen’s stutter. As a young man, he had stuttered badly, but a German bullet through his jaw in 1918 cured him, except for occasional relapses. When he picked up a phone he usually had trouble getting out his “Ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-terry Allen speaking.” His worst times were with a young aide, Lt. Pat Collins. Pat stuttered when he got excited, and then he’d get the general started. When the general caught himself, he’d stop abruptly and glare around angrily at the other members of his staff.
A Catholic, the general was devoutly religious and prayed strenuously for his troops before every battle. At work he was tirelessly energetic. But he loved convivial fun and he played as hard as he worked. He liked people, and his friendliness went rushing out to meet them more than halfway. His special mark of affection upon meeting an old friend was a playful clip on the chin. Sometimes he bestowed this mark of regard on a newly met acquaintance and, without always realizing the muzzle velocity of his left hand, he left them groggy as well as startled. A French officer, tenderly rubbing his chin, once said to Capt. James Eastman, the general’s aide in the 104th, “I like your general, but ma foi, he has a wicked left.”
“Oh, you don’t want to mind that,” said Eastman. “That’s a sign he likes you. You have to learn to roll with his punches.” The Frenchman’s bewilderment deepened.
The 104th landed at Cherbourg, France, on September 7, 1944. At the first opportunity, the general and Col. Gerald C. Kelleher and two or three other old 1st Division men who had come to the 104th went to the cemetary at Ste. Mere Eglise to lay flowers on the grave of Brig. Gen. Teddy Roosevelt, Jr. The fifty-seven-year-old Roosevelt had been Allen’s second in command in the 1st. His great heart had finally played out about six weeks before, after his fourth assault landing in this war, and he was buried there in Normandy.
On October fifteenth, the division joined British 1st Corps, of the Canadian 1st Army in Holland, to take part in the ciritcal operation to secure the port of Antwerp, and on October twenty-third the Timberwolves received their baptism of fire in the Battle of the Dykes. They clicked from the start. In two weeks of bloody fighting, they spearheaded the crossing of the Mark River and the drive to the Maas River. In a glowing commendation, endorsed by Field Marshal Montgonery, Lt. Gen. G. G. Simonds, commanding the 1st Canadian Army, wrote:
“…once the Timberwolves got their teeth into the Boche, they showed great dash, and the British and Canadian troops on their flanks expressed great admiration for their courage and enthusiasm…when they again met the Boche, all hell cannot stop the Timberwolves…”
There were great individual performances. When his company, attacking across a canal in a night attack, was pinned flat by murderous artillery and machine-gun fire, Capt. Cecil H. Bolton, of Huntsville, Alabama, waded the icy canal with two volunteer bazooka men. Bolton crept up alone to one machine-gun nest and snuffed it out with grenades, brought up his two men and eliminated two more machine guns, then worked around to where two troublesome 88’s were operating, and knocked them both out with the bazookas. He was wounded twice during the operation, but kept going until he collapsed. He was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
On November eighth, the division was ordered from Holland to the Aachen sector of Germany to join Lt. Gen. J. Lawton—Lightning Joe—Collins’ elite 7th Corps, of the American 1st Army. The division was moving into about the fastest company of the American Army, as the 7th Corps was then composed of the crack 3rd Armored and the 1st, 4th and 9th Infantry divisions. But these outfits were showing signs of strain after months of the hardest kind of fighting. It was, in fact, a critical time. General Eisenhower and Gen. Omar Bradley came up to tell General Allen it was imperative, for reasons of morale, that the 104th score with all possible drive and dash in its first operation. They explained that a quick success by this new division would have a heartening effect on the other units, some of which had been in the line since D-Day in Normandy, and would be evidence of the kind of help promised them.
By a dramatic coincidence, the Timberwolves went into the sector held by the old Fighting 1st. The veteran division, like an All-American welcoming the kid brother into his first big game, outdid itself to make the relief smooth. The first man wearing “the Red 1” to spot General Allen was big, egg-shaped Sergeant Ferry, of the MP’s, who was directing traffic at a sensitive crossroads when Allen’s jeep approached.
“Jeest, there’s Terry Allen!” he yelled.
Ferry, a former semipro football player from Pennsylvania, and a crack shot, had been the general’s bodyguard in the ticklish early days in Tunisia. They had not seen each other since Sicily. If any playwrights or scenario writers would like to know how the script really goes at such a dramatic, emotion-charged moment, it is like this: The general asks how the hell Ferry is, and Ferry says he is fine. A short pause.
Then Ferry says, “Well, general, I see you’re still wearing those same boots, sir.”
The drive to the Roer River, involving some of the bitterest fighting of the war, began November sixteenth. The Wehrmacht was fighting with supreme desperation among its most highly developed defenses. The divison was given the limited objectives of the industrial city of Stolberg and Hill 287. Stolberg, which looked like a section of Pittsburgh planked down among the slag heaps, was taken on schedule. This involved the reduction of pillboxes, highly organized defensive areas and a succession of fortified industrial factories, all viciously defended.
Hill 287, with steep inclines and massive steel-and-concrete bunkers at base and flanks, all wired in and planted with shoe mines, fell after two and one half days of bitter assaults.
General Eisenhower’s demand for quick success was fulfilled—and, as he had anticipated, it had an immediate heartening effect all along the line. But the cocky freshman division had only started. Now it began to open up with the special brand of fighting for which it had trained so intensively—night attacks. These were used with miraculous success over open fields of fire agaist heavily defended, “impossible” objectives and to secure footholds on the edge of cities. House-to-house slugging was usually reserved for daylight hours, but the enemy could not count on that. Sometimes, as at Eschweiler, cities were penetrated at night. On November twentieth, two companies from Col. John H. Cochran’s 415th Regiment ghosted into Eschweiler during pitch darkness. At dawn they were in the heart of the city, raising almighty hell with the startled Nazis, while the rest of the regiment was smashing in from the outside. Before noon the city fell.
The climactic phase of the Roer drive came with the crossing of the Inde River and the seizure of Lamersdorf, Frenz, Inden and Lucherberg. At times enemy artillery came down at the rate of fifty shells a minute, but the combat teams punched ahead. In the attack on Lucherberg, I Company of the 415th turned in a performance to rank with the most gallant in the histoy of the Army. Lucherberg, perched on a 500-foot height with a steep, cliff-like northern approach, dominated the Roer and was heavily defended. Led by Lt. John J. Olson, I Company crossed the Inde just before midnight on December third, and began the advance, electing to go up the steep approach for surprise. The artillery lifted and the doughs had advanced about fifty yards when rifle and automatic weapons fire opened on them.
Surprise was lost, so Lieutenant Olson took a snap decision, shouting, “I’m going to Lucherberg!” To a man, his two lead platoons followed him through the sheet of fire and blazed their way to the rim of the town, seizing four houses in a savage, hand-to-hand fight. A cascade of enemy artillery cut off all approaches to the town, isolating Lieutenant Olson’s little band, which was then ferociously counterattacked by 600 paratroopers. Olson saw he would be overwhelmed, so unhesitatingly radioed for artillery on his own position. The German counterattack wilted under the crashing bombardment of the 104th and 7th Corps artillery. They reformed and came on again, and again Olson called his own guns on his position. Olson was mortally wounded and Lt. John D. Shipley, who had managed to get through with the third platoon, took over. The Germans brought up tanks at daylight. But Shipley beat them off with bazookas and artillery, which he continued to call on the position. At noon, Shipley, at his basement window, cheerfully radioed, “Everything all right, except the dead are piled up so high outside it’s hard to get observation.”
They held on for sixteen hours until, at 1630 hours, L and F companies, in a co-ordinated attack, broke into the town and reached the survivors of gallant I Company. Two more heavy counterattacks with infantry and armor were repulsed and the fight for Lucherberg was over. The American losses were twenty-five killed, eighty-nine wounded, and twenty-one missing. There were 204 enemy dead, 209 prisoners, two Tiger and Panther tanks, one self-propelled gun, five anti-tank guns and vast stores.
By December fourteenth, the division was buttoned up along the west bank of the Roer, and General Collins issued the following commendation:
“The mission of seizing the great industrial area Eschweiler-Weisweiler-Stolberg, which was assigned to the 104th Division in the first phase of our operations, was a difficult, nasty task. The division cleared this important area in much shorter time than I had expected, and with the minimum of loss. The speed with which this was accomplished is a tribute to the leadership, dash and sound training of the division.
“The second phase, involving the crossing of the Inde River and the advance to the Roer, was even more difficult, but with characteristic skill and dash, in a series of brilliant night attacks, the 104th Division forced a crossing of the Inde, and in a few days had cleared its entire sector to the Roer River. I regard the operation which involved the seizure of Lamersdorf-Inden-Luchererg as one of the finest single pieces of work accomplished by any unit of the 7th Corps since D Day.”
When Von Rundstedt opened the big German counteroffensive on December sixteenth, the division was transferred to 19th Corps of the 9th Army, and occupied a wide defensive sector along the Roer opposite Duren during the Battle of the Bulge. The divisional battle school to train infantry replacements began to function during this period. This innovation was smart and humane. The infantry replacement is the most tragic figure in modern war. Even if he has been well trained, he is seldom battle-experienced when he arrives, lonely and frightened, to go right into the line to take the place of someone who he knows has been killed or wounded.
At the 104th, forlorn replacements took a new lease on life when, upon arrival, they were told they could have two weeks of school under divisional officers and NCO’s just out of action, before going into the line.
Among the proudest graduates of the battle school were the “Black Timberwolves,” three platoons of Negro combat troops sent to the division in February. As he doled out their shoulder insignia, General Allen told them, “You are Black Timberwolves now, and we expect big things from you.” In an attack on a difficult hill objective in the Hardahausen forest, one of these platoons went in singing a ribald song about the Fuhrer, and killed or captured eighty-seven SS troops for a loss of eight of their own. Pride of the Black Timberwolves, who were all volunteers, was Sgt. Howard Williams of Detroit, former Golden Gloves champion, who had been in Germany once before—with the Olympic team in 1936. Williams didn’t drink or smoke and carried five toothbrushes—he said he brushed his teeth four times a day.
In February, the division reverted to the 7th Corps for the drive to the Rhine. After a tremendous artillery preparation, at 0330 on February twenty-third, under cover of darkness the 413th and 415th regiments, with skillful assistance from the 329th Engineer Battalion and closely supported by artillery, antiaircraft, tanks, tank destroyers, and 4.2 mortars, forced a crossing of the flooded Roer River, seizing Huchem-Stammeln, Birkesdorf and North Duren in stride.
I had come up to the division on temporary duty at this time, and found everybody in tremendous spirits. The general said, “These kids can do anything. They are incredible. They’ve got the professional touch now.”
On the night of February 24-25, the Timberwolves uncorked the hipper-dipper play of them all. Four separate night attacks were launched by battalions of the three regiments to seize corps objectives at Ellen, Arnoldsweiler, Merzenich and Rath Castle, on the high ground five miles east of the Roer. The audacity and boldness of these night attacks, with highly co-ordinated artillery and infantry weapons support, completely bewildered the enemy. One battalion of the 9th Panzer Division was captured intact while going into position east of Arnoldsweiler. Enemy casualties were heavy and the prisoner bag exceeded 2000.
The hard-hitting 3rd Armored Division passed through the division bridgehead February twenty-sixth, and the stage was set for the drive on Cologne, the armor to circle down from the north, the 104th to cross the Erft Canal and smash straight for the city.
On the eve of the Erft crossing, Col. Anthony Touart was host at a little dinner at an old German farmhouse, the rear CP of his 414th Regiment. General Allen and Brig. Gen. George A. Smith, Jr., who had just come over from the 1st Division to replace Brig. Gen. Bryant E. Moore as assistant division commander, were guests of honor. Handsome, debonair Tony Touart, the idol of his regiment, was a delightful host. The roast liberated chicken was excellent, and when the party broke up, about 2030 hours, the officers were in fine spirits.
At 0330 the attack went off. General Allen was at the forward CP of the 414th, in a factory building on the edge of Sindorf. General Smith and Colonel Touart were at a battalion CP in the center of town. There had been a Gargantuan artillery preparation with all the guns of 1st and 9th Armies shooting for miles around. A few German shells had come in, but had hardly seemed noticable in the din of our own.
Then there was a phone call and Maj. Fred J. Flette, the S-3, came in and said, “There has been a direct hit on White Battalion CP. General Smith and Colonel Touart and several others have been hurt.”
“How bad is it?” the general said.
“Pretty bad, sir, I’m afraid” said the major in his flat voice. “They are digging them out.”
Another call added that two battalion commanders and the executive officer of the supporting artillery battalion were among the victims. It was a catastrophe—the doughs were just coming to grips with the enemy in the darkness a few hundred yards ahead, with virtually the entire regimental command knocked out. But the general gave nobody time to think of catastrophe. With angry agressiveness, he put everybody to work. There were calls to Division. Kelleher was ordered up from the 415th to take over the regiment. A message was sent to Col. Welcome P. Waltz, of the 413th: “There has been an accident over here. Impel your attack with all possible agressiveness, and be prepared to help on your right, if necessary.”
The outside door opened and Lt. Manfred Schnier, dazed and covered with brick dust and blood, stood framed there for a moment like a figure from Journey’s End. He staggered and blurted, “General Smith and Colonel Touart are dead.” He burst into racking sobs. General Allen was at his side in a flash and, with an arm about his shoulders, got him gently but quickly out of the room. This gallant young officer, whose father flew with the Richthofen Circus in 1914, was killed later by a sniper while leading a patrol.
The general sent his aide, Captain Eastman, up to battalion to help out. I tagged along. In the smashed-up battalion CP, we found Lieutenant Golub in charge in the littered cellar, and just hanging up a field phone. He said the attack was progressing, communications were okay, and everything was under control. A monstrous shell lay half-buried in one end of the cellar. Fired from a distant railroad gun behind the Rhine, it had crashed in during the bombardment, but had not exploded. It wasn’t certain yet that it was a dud. Reports had warned that some of these giant shells were being used with time fuses. Golub asked if we knew anything about such matters, and when we said no, he turned back to his phone. When we left, the lieutenant said. “Thanks for coming over. Be sure to tell the general not to worry; we are all right now.”
We got back to the factory CP just as Kelleher was arriving. The general, who seemed to be everywhere at once, caught him before he went in, and briefed him. “Now, go in there cheerful,” he said, punching him fiercly in the shoulder for emphasis. “God help you if I catch you with long face today, Jerry. Go in there smiling now.”
I was awe-struck. I knew so well how the death of soldiers he didn’t even know tore the general to pieces inside, and here he was, after losing some very dear personal friends, counseling cheer. But it worked. For in this heavy hour, the 414th went smoothly ahead, hardly missing a beat in the rhythm of its attack. And that’s the way Tony Touart would have wanted it.
Teamed with the 3rd Armored Division, the Timberwolves stormed over the Vorgebirge hills guarding Cologne and seized the southern half of that key city on March 7, 1945. General Collins issued another glowing commendation.
On March twenty-second, the Timberwolves crossed the Rhine and went into the Remagen bridgehead, once again teamed up with the 1st Infantry and 3rd Armored divisions. In a series of night attacks, the star trio broke out of the heavily defended bridgehead and then began the slashing advance across Germany. General Collins’ accolade tells the story: “…The great advance of the 3rd Armored Divison to Paderborn was thus made possible largely through the splendid blocking and mopping-up operations of the Timberwolves.”
The division smashed on ahead, advancing as much as 140 miles in a single week. Timberwolf patrols made contact with the Russian 118th Division on the Elbe River on April twenty-seventh, and the division was ordered by higher headquarters to halt on the Mulde River. That ended combat operations for the Timberwolves for World War II. They had been engaged in six months and eighteen days of unceasing front-line combat, during which they had spearheaded five major offensive operations. They never failed to attain an objective on schedule. Their rapidity of maneuver and bold night attacks and teamwork were outstanding and held casualties down to 1445 killed, 4801 wounded, 111 missing in action, for a total of 6357.
The division came home in July of 1945, and was at San Luis Obispo, California, to begin intensive training for the invasion of Japan, when V-J Day came. Just before inactivation on last December twentieth, the National Timberwolves Association was formed, with Lt. Col. Leo Hoegh, the tireless G-3, now a lawyer in Chariton, Iowa, as president. At the final review, General Allen said, “You have lived up to your battle slogan of ‘Nothing in hell can stop the Timberwolves,’ and nothing in hell did stop the Timberwolves.”
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