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Burning villages made a gigantic circle of torches in the
wet March night, lighting the way of the tanks as they tossed,
like destroyers on a rough sea, by cart paths and over muddy
fields, across the Westphalian plain toward Paderborn. The 3rd
Armored Division had been plunging and fighting northward since
Its mission was to mow a swath twenty miles wide and 100 miles
long through hostile Germany, and thereby block the line of retreat
eastward for the confused and shattered enemy army in the Ruhr
Valley. Maj. Gen. Maurice Rose, commander of the American 1st
Army's spearhead armor, had allowed himself twenty-four hours
to execute the move, which was outstanding in the history of
The bold operation had been planned late the previous afternoon
at a conference between Rose, Maj. Gen. "Pete" Quesada,
of the fighter air force, and Lt. Gen. J. Lawton Collins, commander
of the 1st Army's 7th Corps.
As soon as Quesada and Collins had left, four correspondents
who were traveling with the 3rd Armored had pushed their way
into General Rose's overnight headquarters. It was in the parlor
of a German home in a crossroads village just north of Marburg.
We found the former cavalry officer, who was the son of a
Denver rabbi, a tired man. His face was pillowed in his arms
on the mahogany parlor table. For two weeks, since crossing the
Rhine at Bad Godesburg, his division had been constantly on the
roads and under fire. Only the day before, with two aides and
two privates, he had fought a close-up battle in a cemetery against
twenty German soldiers who were firing from behind gravestones.
They had killed ten of the enemy and captured the others, and
had brought their prisoners back to headquarters on the general's
Up to this time the division had been moving almost straight
eastward from the Rhine. We asked General Rose if any change
in plans had resulted from the conference that afternoon. Rising
wearily, he pointed to a map on the wall. From this village where
we had halted earlier that day, the projected line of advance
turned north almost at a right angle. There was something vaguely
familiar about the picture.
"Did you ever see anything like that before?" General
The reporters looked puzzled.
"Of course you have," he went on. "It's precisely
Mons all over again - the same movement and the same object."
He referred to the brilliant campaign of the 3rd Armored seven
months before, when he had chopped off a retreating army, liberated
all of Eastern Belgium after a phenomenal dash across Northern
France, and smashed through the Siegfried Line to plant the American
flag for the first time in this war on German soil. That had
been a twelve-day drive.
The Westphalian country into which the 3rd Armored was to
plunge that next morning was territory unexplored by Military
Intelligence. No Allied troops had yet penetrated its dark forests
and rolling hills. There were rumors of a "Westphalian line,"
of dragon's teeth and pillboxes built on the same general plan
as the already cracked West Wall which had protected the Reich
"When do you expect to reach Paderborn?" we asked.
This city was the northern objective, approximately 120 miles
away by road.
Rose's answer surprised us. "I have just told General
Collins," he said, "that I would be in Paderborn at
The 3rd Armored commander fell a little short of making good
this promise. By the next midnight he had pushed a little more
than ninety miles across country and through burning towns -
one of the longest fighting armored movements in history.
Twenty-four hours later, General Rose reached Paderborn. They
brought in his body on a litter carried on the hood of a jeep.
Possibly there was some vague presentiment of approaching
death in the tired man's melancholy tones the night we talked
to him, as it was apparent that he did not want to be left alone.
We remained with him until well beyond midnight. He talked of
his hope that the war would soon be over and that he could again
become a lieutenant colonel commanding a cavalry squadron at
some obscure Army post in the United States. He was eager for
that day to come when he could play with his four-year-old son,
whom he had left as an infant. But, as he told of his hopes,
his voice seemed to lack conviction.
The tanks started rolling at first light. They coiled northward
in four snake-like black columns. All through the morning they
rolled mile after mile through dank woodlands. Stately spruce
and leafless beeches were light purple in the rain. Miles of
silence were broken only by the rumble of tanks and the howling
of dogs. The tanks rolled through villages of children - scowling,
silent children. The elders were all hidden away in cellars,
with white flags in their windows.
In every village, groups of Russian, French and Italian slave
workers came out of hiding. The French still wore blue poilu
uniforms. They saluted snappily, smiled with pathetic happiness
over their long-delayed liberation.
The ninety-degree turn of the American tanks north from Marburg
took the Germans completely by surprise. Hitherto, Westphalia
had been untouched by war. The fields were emerald with sprouting
wheat. Cattle grazed in the pastures. There was only sporadic
fighting during the morning as surprised garrisons, mostly of
convalescents, tried to man guns at crossroads. For the most
part, tanks crushed over these roadblocks with no casualties.
But by early afternoon the whole countryside was up in arms.
The tank columns writhed around villages with gun turrets whirling.
Most towns were by-passed to be cleared later by Maj. Gen. Terry
Alien's 104th (Timberwolf) Infantry Division, which was following
the 3rd Armored.
Only from the rear could the tanks expect any help. They were
entirely on their own in a vast expanse of armed hostility. Fifty
miles to the west was the 9th American Army, pushing the Germans
ahead of it across the Ruhr. Between the forward elements of
Lt. Gen. William H. Simpson's forces and the 3rd Armored was
a German army of close to 250,000. Far to the east were the Russians,
then encircling Berlin.
The division slashed on, with low-flying planes supplied by
General Quesada surveying the terrain a few miles ahead. Perhaps
the nearest parallel to this march is a covered-wagon caravan
of the Old West, moving through territory infested by hostile
Indians. At every halt during the day, the tanks "coiled"
that is, formed great concentric circles around the supply trucks
while the soldiers heated C rations at scores of campfires.
Resistance in the villages was crushed without mercy. Much
of it was due to suicidal bazooka, or panzerfaust, teams
from a panzer training battalion billeted in Western Westphalia.
When there was sniper fire from a red-roofed village, the tank
guns would knock the tops off houses from the nearest high ground
and start conflagrations with white phosphorus shells. It was
seldom more than a few moments before white sheets and pillowcases
were waved from windows.
Miles of road were cluttered with debris as the defenders
fled into the woods. Many green-uniformed bodies lay in the ditches.
Scores of prisoners were taken every few miles. In one village,
a platoon of German women soldiers was captured. Their uniforms
were scanty, but they wore high black army boots. They howled
hysterically when they were thrown in the same crowded truck
with the men prisoners. The redheaded girl sergeant protested
vigorously when her nail polish and nail file were confiscated.
All afternoon a sleet-barbed rain lashed the faces of the
troops. After dusk, a weird night descended as the tanks rolled
on through burning villages, crashing across flaming timbers
amidst showers of sparks. Within a radius of ten miles, titanic
red torches lit the sky as the villages went up in flames.
For miles the rolling columns followed a strange astronomical
phenomenon - a bright bluish star climbing the horizon in the
center of a luminous white circle. The forests were full of the
roar of falling waters and the songs of night birds. Seldom was
the morale of American soldiers so high, despite days and nights
without sleep. They talked only of turning eastward from Paderborn
and meeting the Russians. Some radio operators claimed they had
picked up signals from Russian tanks 200 miles to the east.
By midnight, the 3rd Armored was within twenty miles of Paderborn,
but resistance had stiffened all along the front. The city itself
was not only one of the most important road and railroad junctions
through which the hard-pressed German forces might extricate
themselves from the Ruhr; it was also a panzer-division training
center. The cadet troops were deployed in front of the American
tanks. Flashes from either 9th Army or British artillery were
seen against the overcast western horizon, but it was obvious
that it would be impossible to take Paderborn that night. At
about three o'clock, the tank columns coiled until dawn and the
tired soldiers bivouacked in muddy fields.
[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.
At dawn came the news, at first a vague and uncredited rumor,
that General Rose had been killed. A few hours later his body
was recovered from the ditch where he had fallen. Apparently
he had suddenly come face to face with an enemy tank after turning
a road comer in his jeep. The general's aid, Major Bellinger,
and his driver escaped by flying leaps into the bushes, but the
general was shot down.
The 3rd Armored's tanks crashed into Paderborn that day. Later,
they were linked with the 2nd Armored Division, of the 9th Army,
which had cut around the northern flank of the retreating enemy.
The German forces which had fought in the Ruhr were caught in
jaws of steel, to surrender or die. This was the Reich's
last effective army in the north and it was crushed between
the 9th Army and the British, on the west, and the American infantry
which had followed the tanks, on the east. The way of Gen. Courtney
H. Hodges' 1st American Army was practically clear to the Elbe
and to juncture with the red legions sweeping westward out of
Brandenburg. It was the most brilliant maneuver not only of the
division itself but of the army for which it had slashed a path
from St. Lô to the Rhine through a constant series of tough
The exploits of Task Force Boudinot, Task Force Hickey, Task
Force Lovelady, and so on - named for colonels commanding the
various armored columns - long had been legendary throughout
the 1st Army since that early July day when the division had
taken the fateful hill of Les Hauts Vents - The High Winds -
a few miles west of St. Lô. This had opened the way for
the capture of that pulverized little city upon which hinged
the German defenses against the penetration of Normandy. A few
weeks before, it had come from England under command of Maj.
Gen. Leroy Watson and plunged immediately into the difficult
hedgerow warfare, in which armor operated under great disadvantages.
Naturally, the 3rd Armored had fumbled for a few days. This was
the story of all divisions - especially armored divisions - when
they first came under fire.
A single panzerfaust team of four men, the equivalent
of an American bazooka team, could hide behind one of the high
earth walls topped with a hedge and disable two or three approaching
tanks unless these were preceded by a few squads of infantry.
General Watson and his staff soon provided a brilliant improvisation
which solved part of the difficulty of the hedgerows and made
armored maneuvers in Normandy possible to a limited extent. They
equipped their tanks with great steel teeth, forged of any scrap
steel which could be found, with which they could cut gaps through
the six-foot-thick earth walls which made a checkerboard of the
But armor proved of relatively little use to the infantry
divisions until the battle of Les Hauts Vents. There, in a limited
terrain reasonably free of hedgerows, the 3rd Armored sensationally
justified the existence not only of itself but of the other tank
divisions which then were being brought into Normandy.
Les Hauts Vents was a little hill, barely 400 feet high, but
it was one of the highest spots between Caen and Cherbourg. As
long as it was held by the enemy, it afforded excellent observation
and gun positions. The German defenders already had beaten off
four infantry attacks when the tanks were ordered into action.
Their ascent of the hill was preceded by a deafening artillery
barrage. The armored vehicles were attended by riflemen on foot,
acting as eyes and ears for the blind and deaf steel dinosaurs.
They advanced in the face of bitter opposition from German infantrymen
armed with panzerfausts and grenades and in the face of
150mm guns pouring shells from high ground to the south. Each
farm house along the road was a German stronghold.
They were reduced by a technique ordered by Col. Truman E.
Boudinot, commander of the combat-command team making the attack,
which was peculiar to the 3rd Armored at that time. A tank first
would shoot an armor-piercing 75-mm. shell through the wall of
the house. It would follow with a round of high explosive fired
through the breach. Then a round of incendiary white phosphorus
would set it on fire.
The tanks succeeded where the infantry had failed, but once
on the hilltop, they were isolated from other American troops.
The enemy turned on them all their artillery fire for miles around.
There were at least ten counterattacks by a crack German panzer
division, for it was realized that the loss of Les Hauts Vents
meant the loss of St. Lô.
Colonel Boudinot coiled his tanks into a gigantic horseshoe
and held his ground. He was demonstrating one of the textbook
defenses of an armored division - that of a mobile fortress which
could be pushed far into enemy territory and maintain itself
for days until it could be relieved by infantry. This fort on
tractors was held for four days. The soldiers dug deep foxholes
in the hilltop and drove the tanks over them to form armored
A few days later, with St. Lô captured and the Germans
shoved miles southward, the Hill of the High Winds was the vantage
point from which a dozen American generals and their staffs witnessed
the greatest air bombardment of ground forces in history, which
preceded the 1st Army's great Normandy breakthrough. Some bombs
fell short. Among the victims on the hilltop was Lt. Gen. Lesley
J. McNair, commander of Army Ground Forces, then on a tour of
inspection in Normandy.
The 3rd Armored led the way in the breakthrough itself and,
after the fall of Paris, was the vanguard of the 1st Army in
its lightning sweep across France, through St. Quentin, to the
Belgian border south of Mons. It pushed northward and, almost
without opposition, took over the Belgian city which had been
the center of so much fighting in the first World War. Then,
deploying along the Mons-Maubeuge road, it closed a trap on a
German army attempting to escape northeastward.
The Germans were completely unaware that anything stood in
their way. They walked like sheep into a slaughter pen. I watched
from the window of a Belgian chateau, where General Rose had
set up his temporary headquarters, as groups of Germans emerged
from patches of woods, where they had hidden all day, and tried
to make their way across a pasture in bright moonlight. They
were in the middle of the pasture, perfect marks, when the tanks
opened fire. This was continued mercilessly unless the few survivors
came slowly forward with hands over their heads.
Half-tracks were carrying men came across the fields. A single
shot would send one of them up in flames. In most cases, the
occupants were cremated. Over the pasture would come a few nerve-tearing
screams from the burning men, then silence, ashes and twisted
metal. In modem warfare there is probably nothing else quite
so terrible as armored combat - for the losers.
With this enemy army slaughtered or captured. General Rose,
who had taken over the 3rd Armored several weeks before, made
a quick turn northeastward and during the next eight days helped
to liberate Belgium. Enemy opposition was negligible.
There had been wild welcomes in some parts of France as the
liberating troops appeared. But even the reception of the first
American troops to enter Paris was only mildly enthusiastic compared
with that given the 3rd Armored all the way from Mons to Verviers
by the ragged, hungry Belgian miners and factory workers.
At Verviers the welcome ended. The next town was Eupen. It
had been a part of Germany in 1914. After that war, a plebiscite
had been held and it had voted, by a narrow margin, to accept
Belgian rule. It had been re-incorporated in the Reich in 1940.
Approximately 50 per cent of the citizens were of German blood
The 3rd Armored entered the city at dusk, with the chill of
its reception rivaling the chill of the autumn evening. Nobody
spoke French. All street names were in German. There were no
cheers, no green apples, no bouquets of hydrangeas, along Horst
Wessel Platz and Adolph Hitler Strasse. A few among the crowds
which lined the streets cautiously made the v sign, at the same
time looking around to make sure none of their neighbors had
observed what would have been a capital offense the day before.
At one street corner lay a dead German soldier, covered with
a blanket. Weeping women were gathered about the body, glaring
hatred at the Americans.
The next day an armored-infantry battalion had crossed the
German border and taken over the little city of Roetgen. General
Rose was the first army commander since Napoleon to invade the
Reich from the west. Before dusk, a big gap had been broken in
the Siegfried Line itself and the 3rd Armored was poised to move
forward to the Rhine.
But the tanks had been almost constantly on the move and in
action for more than two months. The big steel machine was running
on nerve and mechanical miracles. Tanks were tied together with
baling wire. The 1st Army was short of gasoline. The men had
been pushed to the limit of human endurance.
After a partially successful assault on Stolberg, southeast
of Aachen, which had an important part in the 1st Army's capture
of Charlemagne's ancient capital, the division rested until it
was called on to hold part of the line in the Bulge. With the
melting snows of February, it advanced over the Roer and swept
across the black, rain-soaked Cologne plain in mid-March to capture
the Rhineland's biggest city. Almost simultaneously with this
victory came the seizure of the Remagen bridgehead. The 3rd Armored
was rushed across the Rhine, and again was the spearhead of the
1st Army in the breakthrough from the bridgehead area.
The division pushed far in front of the infantry, to take
the old university city of Marburg one moonlit night. Then came
the ninety-degree turn northward and the apotheosis of the 3rd
Armored in the remarkable dash to Paderborn. This is recognized
as one of the most critical actions of the war. It is referred
to in War Department reports as "the battle of the Rose
pocket," in memory of the leader who fell there. After that,
everything was anticlimax. The 3rd Armored continued westward
to the Mulde River, the 1st Army's stop line west of the Elbe.
It liberated the terrible prison camp of Nordhausen, in the center
of the Thuringian countryside haunted by the spirit of Frederick
Barbarossa. The country folks said that the old hero had lain
for ten centuries in an enchanted sleep in a cave near Nordhausen
which was guarded by great flocks of ravens. In the city itself,
the men of the 3rd Armored found 1500 bodies of slave workers
in piles like cordwood.
Thus, at the end of the war, they came to understand better
than ever before the reason they had traveled the long road from
Omaha Beach in Normandy - the reason they had followed, perhaps
more than any other troops in the 1st Army, the hard roads and
the high roads.