On the 10th of August 1944, a Task Force consisting of the
2nd Battalion, 66th Armored Regiment, 14th Armored Field Artillery
Battalion, 1 Platoon of Company "A" 17th Armored Engineer
Battalion, 2nd Battalion of 41st Armored Infantry Regiment (-1Co.),
1 Company of the 702nd Tank Destroyer Battalion and a detachment
from Company "A" 48th Armored Medical Battalion, attacked
the town of Gathemo and east along a ridge line on the flank
of the German counterattack towards Avranches. Very heavy resistance
was encountered and the enemy massed heavy artillery and heavy
weapons fire from anti-tank guns in a desperate effort to stop
the attack of the Command. After heavy fighting, the balance
of CC"A" joined the task Force on 13 August, took Ger
and seized Hill 329 the next day.
On 20 August 1944, CC"A" began an attack North and
Northeast towards Elbeuf. We had taken Breteuil-Newburg and were
approaching St. Andre in a nighttime march. We were enroute to
a crossing at the Seine River at Mantes-Gassicourt in a double
column that stretched for endless miles behind us. It was 23
August, near 2100 hours and pitch dark as we were trying to follow
the vehicle in front, maintaining vehicle intervals without tailgating.
It takes all of your concentration to focus on the two small
Without warning, suddenly we heard an aircraft, a German JU88,
circle over the top of us. He then climbed off in the distance.
After circling, he dropped a magnesium flare. We knew at once
that it was a Kraut plane and not one of ours. When I saw the
flare drifting, with its brilliant light, I thought, "Somebody
is going to catch hell now." Little did I realize it would
As the flare drifted closer illuminating our miles of stalled
columns, the plane passed overhead strafing us with guns blazing,
but not before dropping his bomb. It landed directly in front
of us about three vehicles forward almost on the road right next
to the Executive Officer's Command half-track. After the terrific
explosion, 27 year old Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin Mart Bailey,
Jr., West Point "M" Company Class of 1939, was mortally
wounded and died within moments after calling out, "Help
me. Somebody help me." Other members of the half-track
crew were also severely wounded by the bomb blast and fragments.
A Master Sergeant lost his arm; I assumed that he died from trauma
and loss of blood. Others nearby were hit by bomb fragments and
also suffered concussion. We bailed out of our vehicles and ran
into the nearby fields. Some stayed on their .50 caliber ring
mounted machines guns to fire at the plane, when he made another
and final strafing run at the road lined with vehicles bumper
to bumper. We had been sitting ducks. We recovered and the advance
continued throughout the night. General Collier replaced Colonel
Bailey with Lt. Colonel Wilson M. Hawkins from the 66th Armored
Regiment as his Executive Officer.
On 26 August 1944, the city of Elbeuf, France was seized despite
heavy resistance. During this action, The Command advanced so
rapidly that it ran off its maps and made the final assault without
them. The resistance was so aggressive that one column attacking
from the Southeast, consisting of primarily of the 2nd Battalion,
66th AR, was cut off for two days and nights. After the city
fell, Elbeuf was turned over to the Canadian troops in return
for a "receipt for the city" requested by Colonel John
H. "Peewee" Collier, Commanding officer of CC"A."
We then moved to a new assembly area near Mantes-Gassicourt,
crossing the Seine River on 28-29 August 1944 and continued attacking
northeast. The advance of the division was so rapid that it moved
with six columns abreast. What slowed us down the most were the
huge throngs of the local populations that turned out enmasse
to greet their liberators in every village and city. We witnessed
young women from many of the villages being rounded up in the
town square to have their heads shaved - payback time for having
"associated" with the despised German soldiers during
The Command moved rapidly, crossing the Somme River near Arras
and Cambrai. XIX Corps issued orders on the night of 31 August
1944, to the 2nd Armored Division to capture the city of Ghent
(Tournai) within forty-eight hours. Earlier the XIX Corps had
been relegated to lesser role in Belgium, the honors being reserved
for the British under General Montgomery. The Corps directive
to take the town by midnight was met by CCA with two hours to
spare. BG Collier radioed his command had arrived at 2200 hours
and was requesting new orders.
After cutting and crossing the ARRAS-CAMBRAI road in the late
afternoon of 1 September, the Combat Command coiled and outposted
both columns for the night; prepared to proceed in the same direction
the following day. During this drive, enemy units attempting
to escape tried to break through from the west, while the CCA
columns were heading for the Belgium border. These units, which
included 2 Mark V tanks, 9 towed AT guns and approximately 170
vehicles were engaged by our tanks and artillery and destroyed.
450 prisoners were taken during this engagement.
1 September 1944 at LaChapelle, France, an enemy artillery
tree burst explodes wiping out friends on another wire team.
Killed outright is Bob Rosenberg and later Lowell P. Dillard
dies of wounds received. These two men and I sailed overseas
together and traveled the pipeline to these wire team assignments.
This full wire team had to be replaced; as the other men on the
wire team-Joseph Harris, Edward Mickel, William G. Emerson, Maurice
F. Hatfield and Julius V. Conn are severely wounded and evacuated.
On 2 September 1944, at 0930 hours, the 82nd Reconnaissance
Battalion crossed the French-Belgian border astride the ORCHIES-TOURNAI
road near Rumes in force, becoming the first of the Allied Ground
Forces to enter Belgium. Eleven minutes later, CC"A"
now commanded by now newly promoted, Brigadier General John H.
"Peewee" Collier arrived with the full CC"A"
command representing the largest force to enter at that hour.
Major General Edward Brooks followed right behind the 82nd Recon
Battalion. When Brooks came upon Lt. Col. Wheeler Merriam, 82nd
Recon CO, stopped with his A and B Companies to refuel, he asked
Merriam why he had stopped short with his advance, only to be
told by Merriam that they were already ten miles inside the Belgium
Afterwards we learned that late that same afternoon, 2 September,
at 1630 hours, the 3rd Armored Division entered Belgium. MG Maurice
Rose graciously permitted BG Doyle Hickey, one of his Combat
Commanders, to be the first of that unit to cross the border;
mistakenly under the impression that they were the first to cross
the border. When the Belgium government recognized the 2nd Armored
Division as the first to enter and liberate their country, they
erected a monument on the spot and they awarded the full division
the Belgian Fourragere on 22 May 1945, ending that sibling rivalry
and dispute about being "first."
At 0230 hours, 3 September 1944, Division Headquarters received
a message from the Commanding General of the British Guards Armoured
Division "expressing hope that the 2AD understands Tournai
to be totally within the British Zone."
4 September 1944. The entire command moved to an area southeast
of the Orchies-Tournai road in a boundary agreement with the
British Second Army and our American First Army. This day
was my 22nd birthday - resting in an apple orchard, eating "C"
rations, no cake, no candles, just another day closer to going
home. With the Krauts on the run, we speculated about being home
by Christmas, but that wasn't in the cards - far from it. We
remained in this area for two days because we had run out of
fuel. Refueled and rested, we moved to a bivouac area between
Diest and Hasselt, Belgium on 8 September 1944. Hasselt later
became the Division Rest Center. 12 September 1944 General Brooks
turns over command of the 2nd Armored Division to Major General
Ernest Harmon - "Old Gravel Voice" returns to once
again take command. Buckle your chinstraps; we're in for a ride!
"Profane Ernie" likes to ride up front in armored cars
and tanks with his troops!
Early on 13 September we crossed the Albert Canal north of
Hasselt and attacked in an easterly direction through Maastricht,
Holland crossing the Meuse River on 16 September. By personal
request from the Catholic Archbishop of Maastricht, the city
was placed "Off Limits" to all GIs, enforced and patrolled
by Corps MPs. Not that the citizens had any valid reason to fear
us, just that the "old boy" wanted to protect his young
maidens who were eager to meet the wild and horny Americans!
Meeting Our Enemy
Fifty-six years later, in the year 2000, in doing serious
research to coauthor a book, I came in contact with a former
German soldier, now active in American-German Veteran Friendship
Associations, Herr Hubert Gees, residing in Salzkotten-Scharmede,
Germany. In addition to providing me with extremely valuable
World War Two German records and documents, Hubert related that
he had personal experiences in Limburg Province, Holland with
our 2nd Armored Division during September 1944. Gees was a seventeen-year-old
infantryman in the 464th Infantry Battalion at Eschweiler, Germany,
on September 4th when he was sent to Limburg.
Gees was the second of a two-man Panzerschreck (anti-tank)
team, along with Werner Bottcher. Their mode of transportation
was bicycles. They carried the Panzerfausts (stove pipe tubes)
on their shoulders and tied two wooden boxes each containing
4 rockets (7.5 cm) to the bikes. They weren't too confident going
up against an American armored division. At the moment, their
biggest fear was the American P-51 fighter planes, they called
the "Jabos." Their mission was to defend the Albert
Canal. This same Canal CC"A" of the 2nd Armored was
On September 16th one mile from the east end of Bunde and
the hamlet of Kasen, Gees was in his foxhole, accompanied by
his friend Abelius, when the first tanks came into view, firing
machine guns at his position. Artillery fire was landing in his
field and fighter planes attacking targets on the ground. He
decided to make a run for the nearby woods as bullets followed
him. He said he literally dove through a thicket helmet first
in desperation to escape. Hiding in the woods he escaped and
on Sunday, September 17th met with other stragglers who were
then collected in the village of Moorveld for transfer to defend
Geilenkirchen. Two months later he was captured in the Hurtgen
Forest and became a Prisoner of War. He wrote that he was thankful
the tankers from the 66th Regiment didn't kill him, as his friend
Werner died in that action. Hubert Gees and I continue to exchange
season greetings and correspondence - former enemies, now friends.
Heavy fighting occurred near Valkenburg, Holland, which fell
17 September. The following day, 18 September, the Command crossed
the border into Germany at Wehr and Hillensberg near Geilenkirchen.
Until 30 September, CC"A" remained in a defensive position
southwest of Geilenkirchen defeating, with heavy casualties,
German counterattacks with armor and infantry. Total prisoners
taken 67, killed 220, 22 vehicles destroyed and 12 assault guns.
At that time the Command assembled in the rear of the front line
to prepare for the breakthrough of the Siegfried Line. We were
relieved by the 115th Infantry Regiment. The 2nd Armored Division
crossed the German border on 18 September 1944 at Schimmert to
take up defensive positions.
Every so often in a soldier's life, you get a decent break.
Our break was being assigned to the Dutch village of Brunsuum,
Holland. If there ever was a "soldier's dream spot"
- this was it. The population could not have been more hospitable
and openly friendly to their liberators, in every way. They showered
us with food and beverages. Most spoke English as a second language.
We were welcomed into their homes and made friendships that lasted
for decades long after the war. Many of our troops returned to
marry their Dutch girlfriends. One comes to mind, Charlie Boss
and his Wilhelmina, who found true love.
By this time, the original wire crew had lost two members,
Fred Newland and here Joe Elfer. Elfer being the driver of the
ton & 14 wire truck, we requested a replacement from the
Signal Company, but were told none was available. So Lt. Moll
asked for and received a driver (TDY) from the Division Services
Company - one Private Charles Boss. He was short in stature,
about 5 foot 2inches and wiry, but boisterous and out-going.
Charlie fit in immediately. His "I don't give a damn"
attitude was a great example of GIs who had reached the point
after two years service where rank - their own (or lack thereof)
or others - no longer made a difference. Charlie could be borderline
insolent in dealing with officers as he came close to the line,
but always spoke to them with a disarming smile on his face.
He flourished in our circle as a hot dog, but never showed any
fear as a driver.
Nearby Brunsuum, was the city of Heerlen. We learned of hot
showers available at the coalmine employee's locker room with
endless hot water, a luxury we had missed for months and we took
full advantages of the premises. Besides, cleaning up improved
your chances with the young local gals, of which there was no
shortage at Café Juliana, eager to meet the Americans.
As it turned out, it worked well for all concerned. Brunsuum
was friendly, no doubt about it. To save you from asking or wondering
- her name was Edith and she was a stunning nineteen-year-old
Other nearby cities and places of interest included the small
community of Vaals; the only location where three countries'
(Belgium, Holland and Germany), frontiers intersect at a common
border. Vaals had been an important holiday resort. From Vaalsserberg,
the highest hill in Holland, you could get a good view of Aachen,
to our south. Just east of Aachen, the 3rd Armored Division had
pierced the Siegfried Line and was in a stalemate at Stolberg,
Forty years later Hans Kramp of Linnich, Germany, a German
veteran contacted me. He was the author of the World War Two
historical book "Rurfront 1944-45" -- inviting me to
attend the site to commemorate the deaths of the fallen soldiers
of both armies on this field of battle. Now every year on the
first Sunday of October the local parish priest of St. Martin's
Church of Linnich conducts a field service at the site in honor
of the men who fell in service of their countries. The site borders
Lindern, Holland and Linnich, Germany. It is called the "Hubertuskreuz"
(Hubert's Cross) and was first erected in 1844 to commemorate
the historical battle between the medieval legions of the Duke
of Julich (Germany) and the Duke of Geldern (Holland) on November
3, 1444, called St. Hubert's Day. Thirty-five years after the
famous WWII battles for the Roer (Rur) River 1944-45, the local
citizens of both countries decided to pay respects to the dead
of all who died here by placing a huge stone at the same site.
Actually, the two stone memorials are placed at the same site
commemorating the significant land battles that took place on
that spot 500 years apart - 1444-1944. American units on the
stone memorial plaque are the 2nd Armored Division, 29th, 30th,
84th, 102nd and 104th US Infantry Divisions.
After the end of the war, the U.S. Government constructed
the only American Cemetery in The Netherlands. It lies in the
village of Margraten, 6 miles east of Maastricht. It contains
the remains of 10,023 men, including Major General Maurice Rose,
Commanding Officer of the U.S. Third Armored Division, Killed
In Action on 30 March 1945 at Hamborn, Germany.
A special medal was awarded to the 2nd Armored Division on
October 6, 1982, in Washington, DC, by the Netherlands Government;
represented by Dr. J. H. Lubbers, the Netherlands Ambassador
to the USA. In attendance was the Secretary of the Army, John
O. Marsh, Jr. The medal, The Netherlands National Resistance
Cross, was awarded to the 2nd Armored Division for its participation
in the liberation of Holland from Nazi occupation. Only two other
American Army divisions, the 82nd Airborne and the 101st Airborne
were awarded this honor.
Publication or reproduction, in part or whole,
is prohibited without written permission from the author, Don
R. Marsh. All rights remain the sole property of The Marsh Family