by Paul Leopold
Website Staff
Formerly, 3AD PIO Staff, Frankfurt

[Note: "This account is based on information available to me in 1966 at 3AD headquarters in Frankfurt, plus details I later found in books and on the Internet. The biography of General Rose by Don Marsh and Steve Ossad, first published in 2003, greatly amplifies what I've written below. -- Paul Leopold]

On 30 March 1945, the 3rd Armored Division lost its Commanding Officer, Maj. Gen. Maurice Rose, one of the highest ranking American servicemen killed in World War II. Military historians argue whether a general's proper place is normally at the front or the rear of his troops. If action reflects opinion, there can be no doubt what General Rose thought. He led from the front so consistently that his troops used to call him "the Division point."

Biologists have a chemical explanation for why some men (more rarely women) thrive on putting their life at risk. Rose's soldiers would, I'm sure, have explained it as sheer guts. But they knew where that kind of guts could get you. They would wonder how many cat's lives Rose had left after each brush with death.

They also knew Rose was a shrewd and careful strategist. Said to have a photographic memory, his grasp of situations was instantaneous, his responses as shrewd as they were bold. Though a strict disciplinarian, Rose rarely provoked resentment in his men, for they knew he was as hard on himself as he was on them.

Once, approaching a bridge which might have been mined by the enemy, Rose insisted on being the first to drive across it. This was pure theater, but it had an effect on morale -- an effect which he had no doubt rapidly (and accurately) calculated. The risk must have appeared just small enough to justify going for the payoff in morale. But risk there was -- and nobody said Rose had to take it.

If soldiers love a leader the more for not worrying too much about his own safety, they also respect one the more for not standing on his dignity. Rose never pulled rank. Once during the drive on Paderborn, he and his aide, Maj. Robert Bellinger, caught sight of some Germans in uniform running from the road. He told his driver, T-5 Glen Shaunce, to stop the jeep, and all three men jumped out and chased the fugitives into a nearby cemetery. Division Artillery commander, Col. Frederic J. Brown, and his driver, Pfc. A.C. Brazeal, pulled up and joined the pursuit.

Wielding tommy guns and pistols, the five -- enlisted men, field officers, and a general -- captured twelve of the Germans. When Cpl. James Omand, the messenger, arrived on his motorcycle he saw a sight he would never forget: the Division Commander herding a bunch of prisoners at pistol-point!

It was this sort of "gallant carelessness" and the habit of establishing his command post within small-arms range of the enemy, that allegedly earned Rose the nickname among the Germans of "the American Rommel". And after he died, Chicago Sun correspondent Thomas R. Henry, compared him to Stonewall Jackson, declaring in his eulogy that "in Maurice Rose's death [the U.S. Army in Europe] has suffered its greatest single loss."

The circumstances of Gen. Rose's death are not -- and perhaps never will be -- perfectly clear. The accounts of the two men who were with him are substantially consistent, but perforce obscure, as the shooting occurred on a dark country road, suddenly, and while both witnesses were diving for cover. The identity of the third witness, the German who shot Rose, was never discovered.

This is how it happened.

With his aide Bellinger, and driver Shaunce, Rose was in a jeep accompanying Task Force Welborn along a dirt road heading for Paderborn. Ahead of them in another jeep was DivArty commander, Col. Brown; behind them in an armored car, the Division G-3, Lt. Col. Wesley Sweat. Their motorcycle messenger followed behind.

Suddenly Welborn's column was raked by intense small-arms and direct tank and anti-tank fire from both sides of the road. Cradling a tommy gun, Rose leapt into a roadside ditch. Shaunce and Bellinger dove for cover beside him. Just then one of the Task Force's tanks in front of them was destroyed by direct fire.

Unaware of their commander's predicament, Division officers in the rear tried to contact Rose by radio. When Division Chief of Staff, Col. John A. Smith Jr., learned that the column had been cut he knew the situation was grave; the more so when a radio message from Rose arrived ordering Col. Liander L. Doan's Task Force to move in and close the gap. It was Rose's last order. Minutes later he and his party became aware of German tanks closing in on them from the rear. Caught in a vise of enemy armor, their only hope was to make a dash across-country and attempt to join forward elements of the Task Force.

Under a hail of bright tracers, the command vehicles cut sharply to the right off the road and into an adjacent field. The messenger left his motorcycle and joined the G-3 personnel in the armored car. It was dusk now, and the Germans were sending up flares to silhouette the American vehicles.

Further ahead, Rose's party turned back onto the road, heading for what looked to them like the silhouettes of Pershing tanks. But when they'd driven past the first of these one of the men noticed that it had two exhaust pipes. Pershings had only one. They were among German Tigers.

Turning back was out of the question. Safety lay up ahead with the main body of T. F. Welborn. DivArty commander Brown gunned his jeep past three of the tanks, ripping off a fender as he squeezed past a fourth. By now the Germans realized they were in contact with the enemy. The fourth tank clanged to a halt and swung sideways, in an attempt to block the American vehicles. Brown barely got his jeep through. Rose's driver floored the gas in a desperate bid to follow him, but was caught in a wedge, his jeep pinned between the huge panzer and a tree.

As Brown looked back to see if Rose had managed to get through, he caught sight of another Tiger bearing down on him. Swerving sharply to the right, he gunned his vehicle over a ditch and cleared the road. Abandoning the jeep in the middle of a field, Brown ran for cover. "Everybody scrambled out and headed for the woods," he later recalled, "as by now the Germans had sent up flares and their tanks were firing."

Before Rose and his companions could scramble to safety, the top-hatch of the Tiger opened and a German soldier appeared flourishing a machine pistol. Perhaps he was one of the half-trained recruits the Wehrmacht were rushing into service in the last months of the war. He seemed excited, even panicky -- possibly trigger-happy. He shouted something unintelligible.

Rose reached toward his pistol belt. The tanker shouted again, seemingly gesturing at the general's side-arm. Can he have thought Rose was about to draw it? It seems incredible that Rose, his .45 still in its holster, would have tried to shoot it out with a man who already had him covered with an automatic weapon. Yet that must be how it looked to the other, for he suddenly fired a volley of bullets at Rose. At least one struck him in the head and killed him. Meanwhile Shaunce and Bellinger threw themselves under the tank and managed to crawl to safety in a nearby ditch.

Shaunce was lightly wounded and, after a series of narrow escapes, reached another Task Force; Bellinger spent four days behind enemy lines before being liberated. Several others got away clean; though Lt. Col. Sweat and his G-3 staff were captured and held for a month in Stalag XI-B in Fallingbostel before they were liberated by British forces.

The next day two 3rd Armored sergeants recovered General Rose's body. It now rests in the U.S. military cemetery at Margraten, the Netherlands, where honors at the grave-site have been regularly paid by 3rd Armored Divisional commanders.

In an attempt to explain Gen Rose's extraordinary death in combat, some have later speculated that the soldier who shot him knew he was a Jew and wanted to do his bit for the Final Solution. The Germans,of course, were well trained in race-consciousness and doubtless word had gotten around that there was a Jewish general in the forces against them. But if the tanker could identify Rose's "race", he must surely have noticed his rank (like Nelson at Trafalgar, Rose would have scorned to go into battle not wearing the stars he had "won in honor"). Yet the maps and codes in Rose's jeep were found intact when his body was recovered the next day. The Germans apparently never realized they had accounted for a Division commander.

A simpler explanation seems more likely. As even a sketchy acquaintance with military history makes clear, getting shot while trying to surrender is a common occurrence in war. Panic, confusion, fatigue and inexperience probably suffice to explain the jerking of the trigger-finger.

At 1700 on April 1st (Easter Sunday), the guns of Paderborn were silenced. Before daybreak, orders came from VII Corps HQ directing a Spearhead detachment westward against the town of Lippstadt. Rose's successor, Brig. Gen. Hickey, sent Task Force Kane on the mission. At 1530 Kane made physical contact with elements of the 41st Armored Infantry, 2nd Armored Division, Ninth U.S. Army, and thus, one and a half hours before the fall of Paderborn, the Ruhr District was encircled.

Twenty-one German divisions and several non-divisional military units were trapped in the ring of Allied forces. Between 325,000 and 350,000 POWs were taken, including 30 general officers; Hitler's Ruhr Commander in Chief, Field Marshal Walther Model, committed suicide; and vast quantities of enemy resources were captured or destroyed. The war in the west of Germany was effectively over.


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