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Article about the 3rd Armored Division
The Saturday Evening Post - Oct. 19, 1946
Cover by Norman Rockwell

Enlarge above double-page spread

  Above sub-headline: "Although Maj. Gen. Maurice Rose's body reached Paderborn on a litter atop the hood of a jeep, his spirit and brain had enabled his 3rd Armored Division to accomplish one of the greatest surprise dashes in all military history."


Text of Article:

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 dawn.

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 armored tactics.

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 jeep.

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 Rose asked.

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 frontier.

"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 midnight tomorrow."

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. Marsh.]

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 battles.

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 countryside.

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 roofs.

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 and sympathy.

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.


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