Feature Index      NEXT

Andy Rooney visits the 3rd Armored in 1945
Captures a German soldier and meets Gen. Rose.


From Rooney's book My War, the excerpt below deals with the 3rd Armored and includes some interesting comments about Gen. Rose. The book, published in 1995, describes his reporting during WWII for The Stars & Stripes as an enlisted soldier in his mid-20's.

On March 28th, 1945, I made a long drive from Bad Wildungen up to where the Third Armored Division was approaching Paderborn. The name Paderborn had a special mystique about it because it's where Werner von Braun and his team of scientists and engineers had made the V-1 and V-2 self-propelled bombs that hit London. I was familiar with the Third Armored Division because of my experience with them at Cologne and I decided to go out there alone. It was good to have another reporter along sometimes, but there were journalistic advantages to being alone. If I felt like stopping and starting, I could stop and start. I found out where the Third Armored was and caught up with them on their move north, near the Netherlands. It was a long drive under difficult conditions. The roads were an obstacle course with the walls of stone homes falling into the streets of the small towns where they'd been hit by shells, overturned trucks, burned out tanks, and the dead bodies of men and animals everywhere.

By the time I had a story, it was late afternoon. The tank columns had moved so fast through the countryside and gone through so many tiny villages that they couldn't afford to leave behind detachments in all of them to secure the areas. I started back for the press camp and I knew it was going to be a rough, lonesome ride. I was careening along a narrow, unpaved road vaguely nervous about the lowering sky and concerned about whether I was going to make it back before dark. I knew there had to be small groups of German soldiers still roaming the countryside.

Suddenly I saw a uniformed figure a few hundred yards ahead of me running across the field toward the road. He had both hands over his head as he ran but he clutched a rifle in one of them. It was apparent that he was going to intercept me on the road but there was nothing for me to do but keep going. There was no place to turn, and by this time I was so close that my back and would have been an easy target for him if I'd tried to head in the other direction.

With my heart in my throat, I screeched to a stop in a cloud of dirt that covered the road. It was instantly apparent to me that he didn't want to kill me. He was as scared as I was and only wanted to surrender. I don't know why he hadn't dropped the rifle. With no German at all at my command, I indicated, in as stern and authoritative way as I could with nothing but gestures, that he should drop his rifle into the ditch. He did. I told him to climb into the jeep next to me. He did. As I shifted into low, I looked over at him and noticed he still had a pistol strapped to his side. This was going to be the final test of whether he wanted peace or war with me. Again, with all the authority I could fake, I indicated that he should hand me the pistol.

All he had to do to have a jeep of his own and an American uniform to wear - with a bullet hole in it - would have been to shoot me. My mother told me never to pick up hitchhikers.

He didn't shoot me. Without a pause he reached down, took the gun out of its holster, and handed it to me muzzle first. It was obvious and he'd never had much training on how to handle a gun safely. He could have hurt me. It was the first time I'd felt any sympathy for a German soldier. I thought of how many like him had been shot and left to turn green in the ditch. He seemed like a decent man and I knew that, while he might escape with his life now, he faced some unpleasant times ahead as a prisoner.

I took him to the nearest prison compound more than 10 miles from where I picked him up. He put his hands up and clasped them behind his head and then turned to me. He took one hand down, reached across the jeep, and extended it for a handshake. It seems unkind now that I didn't shake it.

The pistol, a handsome Walthour, had - still has, if you want honesty here - a beautiful, nut-brown walnut handle. My son Brian and I took it up in the woods behind the house years ago. We each fired it once. The German soldier I "captured" may never have fired it, so the gun hasn't had an active life. I know I ought to throw it out or turn it in before someone gets hurt with it, but how many pistols do have that were handed over in person by a German soldier surrendering to you?

Maj. Gen. Maurice Rose, who had been with the Second Armored Division at Saint-Lô, was now the commander of the Third Armored and he may have been the best tank commander of the war. He was a leader down where they fight.

Not all great generals were recognized. Maurice Rose was a great one and had a good reputation among the people who knew what was going on, but his name was not in the headlines as Patton's so often was. Rose led from the front of his armored division.

I was still alone when I joined Rose's Third Armored near Paderborn on March 29. My intention was to stay with the division until I had a story and then decide whether to go back or stay overnight. In view of the harrowing experience I'd had the day before, I was inclined to stay, the so I brought along a bedroll.

There were tanks in front of me and tanks behind me as we traveled at 10 to 15 miles an hour along a two-lane road through a heavily wooded area. In daylight it didn't seem dangerous. Occasionally the column would stop and I'd hear gunfire from up front, but it was never long before we started to move again. Nowhere all along the route of the war from the beaches to Berlin did German soldiers who had been overrun hide and continue firing on stragglers in the rear elements of our divisions. I never understood why. Once German soldiers were overrun, it was as if they considered that we had won and the game was over. They put down their guns, lifted their hands over their heads, and looked for someone they could surrender to. Snipers were rare so I felt relatively safe in the tank column during the day as we went through the narrow streets and small villages. I hadn't considered the night.

It got dark early in Germany in the last 10 days of March, and in the afternoon that day it became apparent to me that, with tanks occupying one lane of the two-lane road and supply trucks occupying the other, there was no way I was going to be able to return to the press camp against an ongoing tide. Toward the evening the tank column stopped and we got the order that we were not going any farther. When you're with the army, no one you're in touch with ever knows why you're moving or why you're stopping.

The most felicitous event of the Third Armored's advance that day was the two hours we stopped near the battered factory that had been the major producer of blowtorches in Germany. There were still thousands of torches in storage areas near the recently vacated production line, and every tank crew helped itself to several. For the rest of the war, they hopped out of their tanks every time there was a stop of more than 10 minutes and made coffee or heated food from their rations in their mess kits. Some crews even used them inside on the steel floors of their tanks. I laugh now when I think of air bags in relation to the danger those crews exposed themselves to.

To the crew, a tank was like a small apartment. They stuffed personal items in every empty corner of it. The interior of each tank reflected the personality of its crew. The housekeeping in some was better than in others. For me, being in one was more claustrophobic and then being fifty phantoms deep in a submarine.

The tank crews felt sorry for the infantry and the infantry felt sorry for the tankers. Inside the tank, the crew was immune to small-arms fire. Their worst enemy was the modified 88mm rifle mounted on the German Tiger tank. The Tiger was lumbering giant, well built, heavily armored, and armed with a great 88mm gun, but for all its virtues it often lost the tank-to-tank battles with the Shermans. The gun protruding from its turret had to be hand-cranked, on well-made gears, into position to fire, so aiming at anything took a minute. That was almost a minute longer than it took the U.S. gunner to aim with the 75mm gun with its push-button controls. The Sherman was quicker on its feet. The difference was the difference between a car with automatic steering, hydraulic shift, and push button window controls on one hand and a car with none of the modern conveniences on the other. The one thing the Tiger had where is that high-velocity, armor-piercing gun. When a Tiger and a Sherman came on each other unexpectedly, the U.S. tank could often zero in on the Tiger with its electronic controls and fire off five shots before the manually operated Tiger could bring its gun into position to aim and shoot. In those encounters, the Sherman won. If shots were exchanged at the same time, the German gun could do more damage.

In the evening of the second day I was hanging around with a tank crew along the side of the road near Paderborn when a major came up in a jeep and said General Rose would like to see me in his headquarters, a German house that he'd taken over for the night.

The general had a fine taste for command posts. He always chose a comfortable castle or mansion, and somewhere in it there was a good-sized room he used as an office. He put his desk in the center of the room, always facing the door, and laid out his maps on another desk. His situation map was mounted on the wall opposite his desk so all he had to do to review his situation was look up. It all looked that way the night I talked to him.

Here I was a sergeant reporting for the army newspaper and this tall, handsome, 45 year-old general was inviting me into his command post for an interview.

"When do you hope to reach your objective?" I ask General Rose, a little stiffly. We didn't talk about specific objectives because of censorship and I wouldn't have been allowed to name them in my story anyway.

"Tomorrow," he said.

"Wow," I said. "You think you'll be there tomorrow?"

"You said 'hope'" he said. I was amused by the play on words by the general. When a general is even a little funny it's an event.

"I sent Yeomans a message today," he said referring to another general, a friend of his. "I sent it in the clear so the Germans must have picked it up. I told him I'd give him a case of Scotch if he captured Rundstedt, Kesselring, or Guderian and one bottle of Scotch for Hitler, dead or alive. The message got garbled and someone put Goering in for Guderian. Now I suppose if he brings Goering in here I'll have to give him a case of Scotch." We both laughed.

"I take orders from the corps commander," he told me. "He just tells me where he wants the Third Armored to go. He doesn't tell me how to get there."

Maurice Rose was killed by machine-gun fire the next day and I felt as if I'd lost a friend. He wasn't a friend but he made me feel that way in our conversation. Niceness is not an attribute they instill in generals at West Point, but he and Leon W. Johnson, the Ploesti leader, were very nice generals. [Note from the webmaster: Rose did not attend West Point, if Rooney is implying that he did.]

The U.S. Third Armored Division, without General Rose now, and the 104th Infantry Division went into Paderborn with the British on our left flank. At some point the British crossed a bridge over the Rhine and, having heard that the Third Armored had already crossed at Cologne, fell into the Patton public-relations trap and named it "The George S. Patton Memorial Bridge." They made the mistake of thinking the Third Armored Division, which belonged to the First Army, was Patton's Third Army. He was more than a hundred miles to the south.

[END of excerpt]

Return to Top

 Feature Index      NEXT