Text of Article:
By Bruce Jacobs
Cover illustration by Stanley Borack
In a bivouac area at Fort Benning, Georgia, Major General
George S. Patton, Jr., stood by the roadside conversing with
a lean man in civilian clothing. The pair watched as a convoy
formed, and then Patton turned toward his companion.
"Well," he remarked. "I've just given you an
His associate in civilian clothing, Major General Alvan C.
Gillem, shook hands with Patton and waved his convoy commander
down the road that led to Camp Beauregard, Louisiana.
This was the birth of the powerful battering ram which led
the attack of the VII Corps, First Army, in its eastward march
from Normandy into the heart of Germany during World War II.
This was the aptly-named "Spearhead" Armored Division.
In 221 days of combat in the ETO, the Division killed and
wounded more enemy troops than can accurately be tallied; it
destroyed nearly 7,000 enemy combat vehicles; it took more than
The iron that ran in the veins of the 3rd Armored Division
was forged April 15, 1941, from a cadre supplied by General Patton's
2nd Armored Division.
Like the 2nd Armored, it fought as a "heavily" armored
division, and in the crucial stage of the final campaign in Germany
it was the 2nd and 3rd Armored Divisions that met head on to
seal off the Ruhr pocket and thus complete the encirclement of
the German forces east of the Rhine.
The cadre of regulars from the 2nd Armored Division was supplemented
first by a crop of reserve officers and then by the arrival of
Selective Service soldiers. General Gillem and his staff put
the new armored division together at Camp Polk, Louisiana, after
a brief period at Camp Beauregard.
By the fall of 1941, when the Division was scarcely six months
old, it was called upon to furnish the cadre's for new armored
divisions. Green replacements had to be trained to take their
places in the tank and infantry regiments, the artillery battalions,
and the support elements of the Division.
After hard field work in the rugged Louisiana bayou country,
December was supposed to provide a breather. Camp Polk was fairly
quiet on Sunday, December 7, 1941. But by mid-afternoon, fusses
from nearby towns were crowded with returning 3rd Armored soldiers,
as the Division went on a wartime footing.
General Gillem left to take command of the II Armored Corps
and Brigadier General Walton H. Walker became Division commander.
The Combat Command concept was introduced. Colonel Leroy H. Watson
was appointed to head Combat Command 1 (later A), and Brigadier
General Geoffrey Keyes was placed in command of Combat Command
2 (later B). This reorganization left the Division with three
regiments: the 32nd Armored (tanks), 33rd Armored (tanks), and
36th Armored (infantry).
After 15 months in Louisiana the Division headed west to the
Desert Training Center in California. General Walker, meanwhile,
had been tapped for higher command. Brigadier General Leroy H.
Watson was named his successor. Watson commanded the Division
for two years and led it into combat.
In the fall of 1942 the Division headed back east. Already
the 1st and 2nd Armored Divisions had undergone their baptism
of fire in the North African landings; the 3rd Armored Division
was certain its turn had come.
It shipped out in September, 1943. From September 15 to June
23, 1944, the 3rd Armored was stationed in England. By D-plus-14
the entire Division had crossed the English Channel to assemble
on French soil. It rolled across Omaha Beach and was soon in
the hedgerows of Normandy. This was hardly tank warfare terrain,
and in the initial stages it was rough going for the 3rd Armored.
At Villiers-Fossard a German counterattack had driven a salient
into the lines of the 29th Infantry Division. It was stormed
by Combat Command A, led by Brigadier General Doyle O. Hickey.
Task Force Boudinot and Task Force Parks then slugged their way
through the hedgerows to overcome the enemy force.
Next came orders for the 3rd Armored to launch a power drive
through a 30th Infantry Division bridgehead across the Vire River
to seize the high ground southwest of Saint-Lô.
General Watson moved the Division into the shallow bridgehead
and swung into action although, once again, there was scarcely
any room for armor to maneuver. This time CCA was in reserve,
and Combat Command B, attached to the 30th Division for the operation,
hurled itself toward Les Hauts Vents, or Hill 91.
One of the highest points between Cherbourg and Caen, it afforded
a bird's-eye view of the enemy around Saint-Lô. The Germans
were determined to hold at all costs.
The task force at Les Hauls Vents took terrible punishment.
Although the troops did not know it, they were up against the
Panzer Lehr Division, one of the crack outfits of the Wehrmacht;
Panzer Lehr never recovered from the meeting.
With only six tanks remaining in action, a task force under
Lieutenant Colonel Rosewell H. King stormed up the hill on July
10. They were subjected to fierce counterattacks and were finally
driven off the hill the following day. The battered tankers,
with their armored infantry, gathered themselves for a last try,
and regained the heights. They managed to cling to their toehold
for five more days until reinforcements from the 30th Division
During a brief rest period, the Division welcomed replacements
of men (Villiers-Fossard and Les Hauls Vents cost the Division
1,000 men) and vehicles. As it turned out, this was the last
rest the Division would have for many months.
The Division, now assigned to VII Corps of the First Army,
bolted through a breach in the enemy lines at Marigny as the
great Saint-Lô breakthrough began. Racing columns of armor
hurtled south through war-torn French hamlets, moving day and
night, rolling back the German armies.
Colonel Truman E. Boudinot assumed command of CCB. As the
Division blasted its way south it learned of the plight of the
4th Division at Mortain. Combat Command Boudinot branched out
and sped for Mortain in early August, 1944, to help break the
back of a determined Panzer thrust. The CCB troops fought a grim
five-day battle. When they were pulled out for a respite, orders
sent them back into action east of Mortain where a German attack
was on the verge of a breakthrough to Avranches on the seacoast.
If it were successful, this German move would cut the supply
lines of Patton's Third Army.
The 33rd Armored roared into high gear. It smashed forward
under heavy artillery fire and plugged the gap. Wave upon wave
of enemy troops and vehicles were sent at them, but CCB held
fast; by August 12 the Germans at Mortain were beaten and the
threatened breakthrough to Avranches was averted. The battered
CCB then rolled south to rejoin the Division.
In August the Division came under the command of Major General
Maurice Rose, one of the most brilliant armor officers in the
Army. No armchair tactician, General Rose rode with the lead
elements of his tank columns as they thrust deeply into enemy
territory in the vanguard of the First Army drive from Normandy
The high command saw an opportunity to trap the German Seventh
Army, so the 3rd Armored made a U-turn and hurtled north to link
up with British troops driving south from Caen.
Combat Command A (Hickey) swept forward in two columns and
got off to a good start. Then the fast-moving tankers were hit
by counterattacking Germans near Ranes. The enemy closed on all
sides and surrounded the combat command, isolating it from the
Division. This was not unusual for the front-running tankers,
and CCA coolly fought its way forward. At this point the Division
Reserve (also called CCR) went into action. In the 3rd Armored
the Division Reserve consisted of the detached battalions not
with CCA or CCB.
While CCA fought at Ranes, the Division Reserve slashed at
Joue-du-Bois, southwest of Ranes, and CCB seized La Motte Fouquet.
This concentrated the Division in a tight circle around Ranes,
and on the morning of August 16 General Rose launched a coordinated
attack toward Fromental. The town was taken and the Division
continued to push northward on the road leading to Putanges.
On the afternoon of August 18, Sergeant Don Ekdahl, a 33rd Armored
Regiment tanker, met the point of the British armored column
to put the finishing touch on the closing of the Falaise Gap.
After this, the 3rd Armored was known as the Spearhead Division.
From Fromental the Division sped to the Seine and went into the
attack below Paris. In a brilliant 18-day operation the Spearhead
vaulted from the Seine to the Siegfried Line.
During this drive, the Division learned that a large enemy
force was operating west of the Laon-Mons line near the Belgian
border. General Rose took the Division due north, hoping to trap
the Germans and deny them access to the roads leading east back
He sent CCB and CCA toward the objective by divergent routes.
CCB bolted from Meaux through Villers-Cotterêts to Soissons;
recon elements of CCA slashed through Château-Thierry en
route to the Division's rendezvous at the Belgian border.
Moving forward in six columns, the Spearhead, by September
2-3, closed on Mons, Belgium. For several days before the clash
of arms at Mons, the Germans had been moving north on a route
parallel to the U. S. VII Corps' route of march. On the morning
of September 3 the Germans wheeled eastward to pass through Mons,
confident it would be an easy march to the safety of the Siegfried
Line. But Mons was already held by Rose and his Spearhead Division;
3rd Armored task forces manned strong roadblocks guarding every
road leading out of the city. The Germans marched right into
the 3rd Armored tanks, and the result was one of the most decisive
setbacks suffered by the German Army.
Some of the Germans fought to the death, but in many an instance
they gave in and marched off to the PW cages. A CCA Military
Policeman mistakenly motioned an attacking German Mark V Panther
tank into a 3rd Armored bivouac area in the dark. The German
tank lumbered in among the idle U. S. tanks, and was in an excellent
position to wreak havoc. Instead, the driver shut off his engines,
and the crew came out of the tank with their hands in the air.
More than 40,000 German troops were trapped by the speed of
the Spearhead action at Mons. The 3rd Armored took more than
Leaving the 1st Division to mop up the Mons sector, the 3rd
Armored raced forward again on September 4, heading for Namur.
Combat Command A (Hickey) was on the left with Combat Command
B (Boudinot) on the right, to the south. Lieutenant Colonel Herbert
Mills led his task force into Namur late that same day; the rest
of CCB slipped across the Meuse, and CCA fought its way through
stiffened enemy resistance to reach Namur and push forward in
a bold attack toward Liége.
After Namur, the Spearhead thundered down the Meuse Valley
into the outskirts of Liége. The armored advance was checked
by the concentrated fire of German antiaircraft guns originally
emplaced to protect the city from air attack. General Rose halted
his tanks, and Division artillery roared into action. Then patrols
from CCA poked into the city. Combat Command B, meanwhile, seized
the high ground south of the Meuse, taking the enemy forces completely
by surprise. A smartly executed pincers movement by the two combat
commands doomed the defenders of Liége.
The tankers waited for a pair of infantry divisions to move
into the area; then the rat race to the German border was resumed.
The Division seized Verviers, then Eupen, less than ten miles
from the Belgian-German border; and for the first time the 3rd
Armored encountered a hostile populace.
Tanks from the Recon Company slashed into German soil first,
followed closely by Task Force Lovelady of CCB - the 2nd Battalion
- both of Colonel Welborn's 33rd Armored. Task Force Lovelady
captured the German village of Roetgen; the 3rd Armored men were
the first invaders since the days of the Napoleonic wars to seize
German soil by battle action. The Task Force pushed through Roetgen
and moved into the shadow of the Siegfried Line on September
12; it was less than three weeks since the 3rd Armored drive
had been launched at the Seine. Now the Division was ready to
hack its way through the tank barriers which guarded the path
into the heart of Germany.
Combat Command A dispatched Task Force X under Lieutenant
Colonel L. L. Doan against the Siegfried Line early on September
13. It sliced across the Eupen-Eynatten-Aachen road where it
was confronted with the West Wall studded with tank barriers
and covered by large pillboxes every 100 yards. The enemy's defenses
were organized in depth, and included mutually supporting trenches
out of which mortar and machine gun fire poured.
Doan's task force included the 2nd Battalion of his own 32rd
Armored Regiment, the 1st Battalion, 36th Armored Infantry, plus
a platoon of engineers and tank destroyers. As the infantrymen
slugged forward, the engineers followed closely behind with demolitions
gear. The Tank Destroyers fired in support of the infantrymen
and engineers who swarmed through the tank barriers and pushed
up to the crest of the first ridge. After a bitter exchange of
shots, they were forced back to the dragon's teeth where they
were raked by fire from a pillbox that was supposed to have been
Colonel Doan decided he could move through the dragon's teeth
on a sort of roadway which apparently had been filled in as a
convenience for local travel. Lieutenant Colonel Sydney T. Telford
got 20 of his battalion's tanks through the gap in a hurry.
German tanks and 88's pounded the attacking Allied forces.
One by one the tanks of the 2nd Battalion, 32nd Armored, were
hit and set afire. The next day, September 14, the depleted 2nd
Battalion was relieved by the 3rd Battalion, whose tanks were
pounded by heavy fire as they attempted to advance. A direct
hit cost the 3rd Armored one of its greatest tankers. Staff Sergeant
Lafayette Pool, who suffered serious leg injuries. Sergeant Pool,
a Division legend, had had five tanks shot out from under him.
The battalion, under Lieutenant Colonel Walter Richardson,
bulled its way toward Eilendorf as the infantrymen took Nutheim.
By evening Task Force X had closed into the outskirts of Eilendorf,
a village due east of Aachen. Task Force Y moved abreast of Doan's
force as CCA concentrated its effort on Stolberg, and half the
city was taken by September 23. The Germans, however, were holed
up in the other half of the city and the campaign took on the
aspect of a siege.
By this time the Division had less than 100 tanks in satisfactory
operating condition, about 30 of the Shermans could run in low
gear only. As it held the line (Stolberg to Mausbach) and rebuilt
its strength, General Rose got orders for the Division to swing
into action toward the Germans' Roer River line.
Mid-December brought the Germans' Ardennes counteroffensive
and the Battle of the Bulge. The 3rd Armored was swiftly moved
from Germany back to a strategic spot in Belgium from which it
could intercept German armor columns streaming west. CCA's armored
infantrymen dismounted to grapple with German paratroopers attempting
to cut the Eupen-Malmedy road. CCB raced to the La Glieze-Stavelot
area to team with elements of the 30th Division battling the
crack Adolph Hitler Panzer Division.
With his two principal Combat Commands in action at widespread
points, General Rose found himself almost without troops; nonetheless,
he was ordered to secure the road from Manhay to Houffalize.
The 3rd Armored without CCA and CCB consisted only of the Division
Headquarters Forward Echelon, a small CCR, and the 83rd Recon
Battalion. With this force General Rose set out in bitter cold
and fog determined to attack. Three columns were formed by Lieutenant
Colonels Matthew W. Kane, William R. Orr and Sam Hogan, and the
attack was launched.
At one point in the battle the Germans appeared to have won;
and they dispatched a surrender ultimatum which was delivered
to Colonel Hogan in the town of Beffe.
"If you want this town," said Hogan, "come
right in and take it."
By Christmas night Task Force Hogan was still surrounded and
out of ammunition, food and gasoline. General Rose radioed orders
for all vehicles and equipment to be destroyed. Then TF Hogan
set out on foot to infiltrate enemy lines and rejoin the Division.
They made it after a 14-hour march through a bitterly cold night.
On January 3 the Division jumped off in an attack designed
to wipe out the enemy salient and bring First Army's line abreast
of Third Army's at Houffalize. Six days later the Division reached
Lierneux, Belgium, where it halted to refit and catch its breath
for the first time in many weeks.
February 26 the Spearhead rolled back inside Germany as both
Combat Commands bolted across the Roer River and seized Elsdorf,
Blatzheim, Kerpen, and Sindorf in short order. As the Division
blasted its way across the plains from the Roer toward Cologne,
the last major obstacle in its path was the Erft Canal.
While his Division thundered toward this inland waterway,
General Rose brought up his reserve and sent Combat Command Howze
toward the canal. In a short time the Division was in the new
bridgehead on the east bank of the Erft, marshaling itself for
the all-out drive against Cologne. A day later the 3rd Armored
had come to within four miles of the great German city; and by
March 7 the Division had flushed the last enemy troops out of
the city. On the same day, further south, the 9th Armored Division
seized the railroad bridge across the Rhine - the Ludendorf Bridge
First Army decided its principal objective was the expansion
of the bridgehead; consequently General Rose was ordered to divert
the 3rd Armored from Cologne at top speed. The columns of the
Spearhead raced south and moved across to the east bank of the
Rhine via a pontoon bridge.
The Division coiled behind the 1st and 104th Infantry Divisions.
When the signal was flashed to them on March 25, the 3rd Armored
bolted through the lines of the infantry divisions to launch
another Spearhead special.
General Rose noted the resemblance to the action at Mons.
He thereupon turned north to begin the sweep that resulted in
the encirclement of the Ruhr and the sealing off of German Army
Group B under Field Marshal Model. Ahead of Rose and the 3rd
Armored Division lay the greatest one-day advance in Spearhead
history - and a tragedy the Division would long remember.
The Division thundered across the Westphalian plain, knifing
deeply into enemy country, heading toward a link-up with the
2nd Armored Division. Lieutenant General J. Lawton Collins, the
VII Corps Commander, conferred with General Rose and asked how
soon the 3rd Armored would reach the city of Paderborn, 120 miles
"I'll be in Paderborn at midnight tomorrow," General
By midnight the next day the 3rd Armored had actually sprinted
90 miles in a brilliantly executed attack; and within another
24 hours the Division sped into Paderborn. But General Rose by
then lay in a grave at Ittenbach.
[Webmaster's Note: The following brief description
of events surrounding Gen. Rose's death is an extreme over-simplication,
according to newer research results presented in the Rose biography
published in 2003 and authored by Steven L. Ossad and Don R.
Leading one of the 3rd Armored task forces in the cross-country
race, Rose was ambushed by a heavy enemy armored patrol. The
uneven fight lasted only a few moments, and then the Germans
closed in around the general's jeep. Rose stood there helplessly
as an enemy soldier spouted a torrent of German at him.
The general reached for his pistol as a gesture of surrender;
the German misunderstood, and a machine gun opened up.
The Spearhead resumed its advance under the command of Brigadier
General Doyle O. Hickey; Colonel Doan took over CCA.
At Paderborn the Division blasted its way in ruthlessly. Company
C, 36th Armored Infantry, smashed through to the city's airfield.
The 1st Battalion of the 36th moved in so swiftly it seized a
total of 136 cannon.
On April 1 the sprint from the Rhine came to an end as patrols
of the 3rd Armored linked up with leading elements of the 2nd
Armored Division in the Paderborn-Lippstadt area. The reunion
of the two divisions didn't last very long, as the 3rd Armored
was soon racing toward another river obstacle, the Weser. The
Division slugged through three hastily-formed enemy divisions.
Task Force Richardson sped north to Bernburg, where it cut off
the possible escape route for some 80,000 enemy troops bottled
up in the Harz Mountains. Other elements of the Division grappled
with fanatic bands of German die-hards, many of them using captured
U. S. vehicles and equipment.
The last major offensive was mounted April 21 as the battle
for Dessau commenced. The tankers blasted their way through strongly
fortified roadblocks, and the armored infantrymen and engineers
had to work their way from house to house.
In the waning days of the war the weary Spearhead was relieved
by the 9th Infantry Division. The 3rd Armored pulled back to
Sangerhausen for a rest, and was there when the German high command
In November, 1945, the Spearhead passed quietly into history
in a simple ceremony in Germany. Two years later it was reactivated
as a training division at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and in 1955 it
was once again organized as a combat division. In 1956, the Spearhead
again crossed the Atlantic to Germany and duty with the U. S.