The Birth of a Great Division
"SPEARHEAD!" The very name is magic to those who
recall the beach at Isigny and the jungle-like hedgerows of St.
Jean de Daye; the crackling hell of Argentan-Falatse; the long
drives and the bitter marches, the death and the flame and the
watch in the night. Liege and the Siegfried Line! The terrible
Ardennes, and Cologne; Altenkirchen, Marburg to Paderborn for
victory, and the final drive to Dessau.
You wouldn't call it romance. Your combat tanker curses the word,
romance; and yet he has a heart lifting memory of flaunted power
when the great armored division ground relentlessly forward in
those grim days, devouring the miles and destroying the enemy.
"We seemed to be stunned by the ferocity of the German small
arms and mortar fire, but - pushed on to our objective. I am
sure that these men will give great accounts of themselves in
future battles." Colonel Nathaniel 0. Whitlaw, describing
the baptism of fire at Villiers Fossard, Normandy.
"Made contact with British armor on road to Putanges."
Sgt. Donald Ekdahl, laconically reporting the momentous closing
of the Argentan-Falaise gap, the action which was later described
as the end of the battle for France.
"Reconnaissance on objective - where's division?" Colonel
Prentice E. Yeomans, heckling his commanding general at Paderborn
in the culmination of the greatest armored drive in history.
Men of the "Spearhead!" The brave, hardhitting people
you'll never forget. The officers and GI's who didn't look like
heroes, but who were heroes all the same. They were lean and
tired, hard as spring steel, red-eyed from the swirling dust,
their faces lined and stubbled with whiskers. No time to clean
up - no time to do anything but fight and go forward. The men
of the "Spearhead" had a job to do and they did that
job well. The bitter, dusty road from Normandy to Dessau was
littered with the flame gutted wrecks of a once arrogant Nazi
war machine. German soldiers fought to the end, but the "Spearhead"
ground them into the very dust that they had stolen; routed them,
captured them in thousands. And, because battle is a give and
take proposition, the 3rd suffered too. There were constantly
changing faces in the gun crews, new officers to replace those
who had been killed or wounded. The division rumbled ahead and,
from the old men of the outfit, the new replacements drew a necessary
know-how, a pride of organization, a knowledge of the background
which made such teamwork possible.
The old men knew, of course. The majority of them recalled Camp
Polk, Louisiana, which was the division's first permanent station.
Many recalled Fort Benning, Georgia, and that day in mid-April,
1941, when 600 officers and 3,000 enlisted men of the 2nd Armored
Division entrained for Camp Beauregard, Louisiana, to activate
the yet unborn 3rd. They were the genuine old timers, and yet
- it wasn't so long ago.
The 3rd Armored Division traces its immediate history back to
those men who left General George S. Patton's 2nd Armored Division
on April 14, 1941. Through them the "Spearhead" may
further trace its lineage back to the old GHQ tank regiments
of World War I, and to some of the toniest of early American
cavalry regiments. The armored force was an extremely new branch
of service in 1941, but its background was good and its very
youth promised a strength unsapped by outmoded theory and prejudice.
Those men of the division, selectees included, who were part
of the 2nd Armored Division, are actually the charter members
of the "Spearhead." So are the reserve officers who
arc graduates of Major J. L. Billo's "Academy," more
officially termed the Officer's Training Center. It was these
men, developed around a core of trained regular officers, who
went on to command units of the 3rd Armored Division in the baptism
of fire at Villiers Fossard, Normandy, and in the long drives
which culminated in the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany.
Centering the core of regular officers, and designated commanding
general of the new division, was Brigadier General Alvan C. Gillem,
Jr., non West Point, but a Sewanee graduate who had come up through
the ranks. A notable quarterback of his day, he was a former
commander of the 2nd Armored Brigade, a tanker of old, and known
to be a shrewd tactician. Later, on the western front, General
Gillem led the XIII Corps of the 9th Army.
As Chief of Staff to General Gillem, went Lt. Colonel Roland
P. Shugg, former CO of the 14th Field Artillery, who was recognized
as a "motor man." For the various G's were Major A.
C. Blain, G-1; Lt. Colonel John A. Smith, Jr., G-2; Lt. Colonel
W. S. Jones, Jr., G-3; and Lt. Colonel John L. Pierce, G-4.
Activation meant but one thing to the officers and men of the
new 3rd Armored Division; rigid training of the cadre to act
as instructors for the schooling of selectees to come. There
was a signal communications class under Major F. G. Trew, CWS
under Captain J. C. Lowery, and tank maintenance supervised by
Captain Joseph L. Cowhey and Captain Noel M. Cox.
Colonel G. H. Harvey, of the 15th Quartermaster Battalion, conducted
a clerical and administrative course, and Major Fremont S. Tandy,
of the 23rd Armored Engineer Battalion, started a motorcycle
driver and repair school. There were various courses of instruction,
all designed to provide the necessary background for the success
of a great armored division.
An important part of the training program was an athletic set-up
under the direction of Major A. G. Cameron, Jr., Division Morale
Officer, and Lt. L. C. Mclntyre, Athletic Officer. The general
desired that his men be fit in body as well as mind. That combination
of virtues was a constant aim of the 3rd Armored Division.
CAMP BEAUREGARD, LOUISIANA
Camp Beauregard, where the division first set into motion
the machinery of organization, was a Louisiana National Guard
station. It was hot and dusty, well populated by insects, and
subject to a quickly changing climate of sunshine and showers.
The old 3rd Armored Brigade set up headquarters in the dust bowl
where Esler Field was later laid out, and the separate units
were quartered in pyramidal tents on the post proper. There,
all personnel cursed the dust, the mud, and the soft ground.
On a perfectly dry day vehicles were known to sink hub-deep in
the spongy soil of unit motor parks. Truly, Beauregard was the
original of that spot where a man could walk in the mud and have
dust blowing in his eyes!
The American armored force of May, 1941, was a far cry from that
powerful steel striking force which went charging across the
plains of Germany in 1945. The United States was still at peace,
although Europe was blazing after the first great application
of motorized blitz warfare. Back in the states, a few M-1 rifles
were being issued to the doughboys, while armored troopers learned
the fine points of a pitifully few light "Mac West"
tanks. At Beauregard, Captain Noel Cox, Motor Officer, farmed
out 20 of these early models to the various units.
Still, there was progress. On May 12, 1941, several of the units
which made up the 3rd Armored Division changed their number designations
and adopted new T/O's. The 2nd Armored Regiment (Light) became
the 32nd Armored Regiment (Light); the 3rd Armored Regiment (Light)
became the 33rd Armored Regiment (Light); the 4th Armored Regiment
(Medium) became the 40th Armored Regiment (Medium); and the 3rd
Reconnaissance Battalion had its name changed to the 83rd Armored
Reconnaissance Battalion. Later, the 46th Signal Company was
redesignated the 143rd Armored Signal Company.
The entire American army was in a state of flux. New designs
were coming off the drafting boards. New regulations were going
into effect. There was the usual "chicken" and the
usual mistakes. The color of piping on a tanker's cap was announced
to be henceforth infantry blue, a recommendation for a distinctive
green and white piping having been turned down by the war department.
(And later adopted.) Lieutenant, later Major, Haynes W. Dugan,
Public Relations Officer, picked a nickname for the new division.
It was: the "Bayou Blitz."
Army life during early 1941, wasn't especially rigorous. Off
duty, troops were allowed to wear civilian clothing. Passes were
frequent, and rationing was not yet in effect. The social aspect
of the service was not forgotten. Enlisted men attended dances
in nearby Alexandria, and the 40th Armored Regiment fostered
the first officer's club in the division. Governor Sam Jones,
of Louisiana; Thomas E. Dewey, then of the United Service Organization;
Walter Hoving, USO president; and Marshall Field III, of Chicago,
were some of the distinguished visitors who inspected the camp.
There was drama in the ranks of the new division too. Pvt.
James M. King, of the 83rd Armored Reconnaissance Battalion,
leaped into the turbulent waters of the Red River at Alexandria
to rescue a struggling national guardsman. Pvt. A. G. Short,
of Americus, Georgia, died at Charity Hospital, Alexandria, after
a motorcycle accident. His was the first death within the division.
CAMP POLK, LOUISIANA
On June 2, 1941, an advance detachment proceeded to Camp Polk,
which was rapidly nearing completion and, on the 11th, the mass
movement of troops began, to be completed by June 14. The light
tanks proceeded to the new area under their own power, a miraculous
At Camp Polk, the division was joined by the 36th Infantry
Band, led by Warrant Officer Frank A. Reed. The band came from
Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and was formerly a part of the 20th
Infantry. Later, a second band was to be organized and activated,
this one for the 32nd Armored Regiment, and led by Lt. Edwin
Hickson, composer of the "General Gillem March."
Just before the move to Camp Polk, the general was notified
that 28 applications had been made for Armored Force Officer's
Candidate School, at Fort Knox, Kentucky. With his approval,
it became increasingly clear that, in the 3rd Armored Division,
ambition would not go unheeded. Among those who were offered
the opportunities of a growing armored force, were the 7,000
selectees who arrived in June. The first man off the train on
June 18, was Pvt. John J. Tartol, of Chicago, a former stock
clerk. Tartol was the first of many to come from the windy city.
The procedure on selectee reception was standard; they were met
at the train, usually with a band, relieved of their luggage,
given a hot meal and a bath and assigned to bunks. Then came
a hasty medical inspection and the remainder of the day to rest.
On the second day in camp, these men visited the classification
center and were assigned to units. Captain John N. Scoville,
who ran the classification and tried to fit square pegs in square
holes, was an extremely busy officer.
Basic training, 13 weeks of it, was the order of the day. New
recruits to the armored force found that hitting a target was
no miracle and that road marches became easier with practice.
There was plenty of the latter. The song was " I'll Be Back
In A Year, Little Darlin'," and OHIO was a watchword which
meant Over the Hill In October!
Polk was 97 percent complete on June 30. The 3rd was growing
up. New selectees were pouring in; new items of equipment, including
half-tracks were issued. The firing ranges were completed and
used for the first time under the jurisdiction of a special staff
section which later became Division Trains. Truck convoys carried
off-duty troops to neighboring cities. Beaumont, Texas, and Lake
Charles, Louisiana, were favorite playgrounds.
Closer to camp were the boom towns: Sandy Hill, and Leesville.
They were raw and loud but as much a part of "Spearhead"
history as the army itself. The old soldiers of Camp Polk will
never forget the Red Dog Saloon, Tip Top Inn, and the Roof Garden.
Here, a sufficiency of liquor and an over abundance of esprit
de corps led to a number of wild, free-for-all fights which,
in the Roof Garden especially, were wont to reach a climax in
a flurry of slats jerked out of the railing which enclosed the
dance floor of that venerable institution. New Iberia, Alexandria,
DeRidder, and Shreveport, Louisiana, as well as the nearby Texas
cities, also became favorite 3rd Armored Division haunts as the
influx of selectees continued.
Selectees from Texas began arriving during the first week in
July. At that time Major Fremont S. Tandy's engineers were engaged
in whittling down a hill in front of division headquarters. The
flag staff was raised here, and work begun on five chapels. Organization
Day, July 10, first anniversary of the Armored Force, was celebrated
at Polk with a mass gathering of troops and an intent General
Gillem saying: "The same cause that made necessary an Armored
Force, made necessary your being called into service."
Soldiers of the command listened thoughtfully, but America was
still at peace, and most of the men were counting each month
toward eventual discharge.
On July 18, General Gillem received his second star, and Colonel
Walton H. Walker, who had commanded the 36th Armored Infantry
Regiment, became a brigadier general. Present for the ceremony
of pinning on the stars, were Major General Irving Fish, commander
of the 32nd Infantry Division, then at Camp Livingston, Louisiana,
and Senator Allen J. Ellender, of Louisiana. General Walker,
who later assumed command of the 3rd Armored Division when General
Gillem left to command the II Armored Corps, himself stepped
up to lead Patton's famous XX "Ghost Corps" in the
1944-45 dash across Europe.
By July 25, the 3rd had received the bulk of its selectees.
G-1 announced that the best represented states were: Illinois,
with 2,675 men; Michigan, with 1,053; and Texas, with 924. Other
figures were: Wisconsin, 777 men; Missouri, 451; Georgia, 432;
Minnesota, 419; Iowa, 407; Louisiana, 404; New York, 373; Alabama,
283; Kansas, 234; and Florida, 218. Every state had at least
one representative, and division GI's came from outside the continental
limits of the republic. Later, in February and March, 1942, recruits
arrived in numbers from the New England states, New York, Pennsylvania,
Ohio, Texas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico.
On August 5, it was announced that the 54th Armored Field
Artillery Battalion and the 67th Armored Field Artillery Regiment
would go to Camp Shelby, Mississippi, to conduct firing problems,
an activity prohibited at Polk because of the Louisiana maneuvers
then going on. The trip was the first of many such training expeditions
made by 3rd Armored Division units during their long battle preparation
in the states and later in England.
Major General Jacob L. Devers, new Chief of the Armored Force,
visited Polk on August 20. Addressing division officers, he said:
"You are going to have to be top-flight to play in the major
league - the 3rd Armored Division is well conceived, and the
spirit is here."
Meanwhile, new light and medium tanks were delivered to unit
motor parks. To early tankers of the then "Bayou Blitz,"
General Lee and General Grant battlewagons represented the last
word in armored might. It was unthinkable to these men that Germany,
winding up a whirlwind campaign in France and the low countries,
actually possessed more advanced machines for the waging of total
war. This, however, was the case. American medium tanks of 1941
were already obsolete when they rumbled off the production line
at Detroit. It was a failing which lost lives in the western
desert of Libia and which was never fully remedied in the European
campaigns. The later Sherman and Pershing tanks were a vast improvement
over earlier models but, aside from greater maneuverability and
mechanical endurance, never approached the excellent armor and
ordnance of the German Panther and Tiger tanks.
Early in September, 900 men left Polk to form part of a cadre
for the 5th Armored Division at Fort Knox, Kentucky. Later, the
3rd was to provide nuclei of trained tankers for the 5th, the
8th, and the 11th Armored Divisions, as well as numerous smaller
cadres to Armored Center, Tank Destroyer Command, and the various
On September 18, nearly 2,000 men were lost to the division when
the first selectees over 28 years of age were released. With
the attack on Pearl Harbor shortly afterward, many of these men
returned to their units after requesting such assignment. Thanks
to General Gillem, esprit de corps was already molding the 3rd
into a crack organization.
Forward Echelon of Division Headquarters took to the field during
the third week of September, and on October 3, all elements engaged
in an exercise which was intended to acquaint the various units
with their relation to each other and to the division. Hollywood
photographers filmed the first bridge-building attempt of the
23rd Armored Engineer Battalion, a highly successful pontoon
structure across the Sabine River. Earlier, Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer
had filmed background material at Camp Polk, for a "Wallace
Berry picture, "The Bugle Sounds." There was no lack
of publicity for the 3rd.
Six months after activation, the "Bayou Blitz" had
become a power in American Armored Force history. Competing with
the older 1st Armored Division on a field problem late in October,
the 3rd flashed ahead to secure objectives on the Calcascau River
in Louisiana. From the very beginning of its recorded history,
the 3rd has been bucking for first place. That was the spirit
on the Calcaseau, and it was the same ride-to-win attitude which
gave the old " Bayou Blitz" a new soubriquet in the
great 1944 drive across France. It became, simply, the "Spearhead."
While field problems were a major part of the gradually accelerated
schedule at Camp Polk, schooling was not forgotten. A spot check
on October 14 showed that 274 enlisted men and 40 officers were
attending army instruction courses, studying subjects which ranged
from gunnery and tank mechanics to medical laboratory techniques.
A great percentage of the enlisted men later attended officer's
candidate school and finally led the might of America's armor
On November 1, Company "I" of the 32nd Armored Regiment
was sent to MacDill Field, Florida, to take part in the training
of a provisional air base defense, and on that day the division
gave yet another general officer to the nation when Colonel Vincent
Meyer received his star. Brigadier General Meyer was subsequently
given command of the 18th Field Artillery Brigade at Fort Sill,
Armistice Day found the 3rd parading in Port Arthur, Texas, and
at New Iberia and Lake Charles, Louisiana. General Gillem and
Governor Jones of Louisiana, were at the head of the Lake Charles
spectacle. For the troops who swung down that wide thoroughfare,
to the brass and drums of their regimental bands, little guessed
that they were observing the last peacetime armistice day for
many bitter years.
Back at Polk, the army wives banded together to form the "
Service League," an organization which operated and maintained
thrift shops in Leesville and DeRidder for the benefit of post
GI's. Five new chapels had been dedicated by Chaplain, Lt. Colonel
Oscar Reynolds. Major Harvie Matthews had assumed the duties
of G-3, after Colonel John J. Bohn was designated chief umpire
to the 2nd Armored Division in the Carolina maneuvers.
Fall weather at Polk was delightfully like Indian summer. There
was plenty of cold beer and coca-cola at the PX. Gas rationing
was somewhere in the dim future. Juke boxes were hammering out
various arrangements of "Give Me One Dozen Roses,"
and GI's of the command still counted each day toward the required
18-month duration of selective service. Half a world away the
grim air fleets of Nippon were bombing up for an attack that
would alter the world's history.
Sunday, December 7, 1941. Camp Polk, Louisiana.
It was a crisp, cool day. Men of the command slept late after
their Saturday night dates in town. Artillery units were in the
field on a gunnery problem. Brigadier General Brehon Somervell,
War Department G-4, was at Camp Polk to check on maintenance
and supply. The first announcement came in the early afternoon:
"Unidentified aircraft are attacking Pearl Harbor!"
That was all; the slightly excited, suave voice of the radio
announcer, the nervous interlude of chamber music, and then a
hurriedly prepared statement by a famous news analyst. Japan
was attacking America.
War came to the U. S. on a crisp Sabbath, and its coming was
an unreal thing. The attitude of America was - it can't happen
here. But it could, and had happened. The United States of America
was at war! Men and officers began coming back to the post. There
was a feeling of supercharged suspense in the air. The fact of
the attack was so enormous that personnel found it hard to digest.
Acting almost simultaneously, Brigade and Division G-2 staffs
raced for the post library to corner data on the Pacific theater.
Lt. Colonel John A. Smith's division staff got there moments
ahead of Major Andrew Barr's Brigade 2-section.
Discipline tightened after war was declared on Japan and Germany.
Furloughs and leaves were cut drastically. Civilian clothing
was packed in mothballs for the duration. New selectees, to replace
those lost under the over-age ruling, poured in from Des Moines,
Iowa; Fort Leavenworth, Kansas; and Fort Knox, Kentucky. In a
shakeup of officer personnel, Colonel Roland P. Shugg went to
the general staff at Washington, D. C., and subsequently became
head of the automotive center at Detroit. The army's modern mechanization
owes much of its rapid growth to Colonel, later General Shugg.
At Division, Colonel John J. Bohn became Chief of Staff.
One week after Pearl Harbor, the 703rd Tank Destroyer Battalion
was activated at Camp Polk. Although a GHQ outfit, the TD's drew
cadres from practically every integral unit of the 3rd, and remained
under division control. Regarded as" 8-balls," a common
appellation applied to new branches of service, the tank-busters
were led by Major John Meade, a far-sighted professional soldier.
His faith in the worth of TD elements in armored command was
amply demonstrated in Africa, and on the shell wracked roads
of Europe in 1944-45.
The new year of 1942 brought a real change to the 3rd Armored
Division. Under armored force organization, the brigade command
was abolished. Two combat commands were established to replace
the more unwieldy brigade set-up. The 40th Armored Regiment (Medium),
was deactivated; its tanks going to the 32nd and 33rd Armored
Regiments. This was a change which led to greater versatility
in tank tactics. The old 40th was disbanded sorrowfully; it had
the record of a crack unit and had supplied well trained cadres
for many of the new armored elements then springing into being.
The 67th Field Artillery Regiment, was also split up; its component
parts emerging as the 6/th Armored Field Artillery Battalion,
and the 391st Armored Field Artillery Battalion. The 15th Quartermaster
Battalion was redesignated the 3rd Armored Division Supply Battalion
and was authorized to drop all motor maintenance duties, these
to be taken over by the Maintenance Battalion, formerly called
In addition to these changes, the division headquarters received
a service company and the 23rd Armored Engineer Battalion was
enlarged. A Train Headquarters, made up of former staff sections,
was also added to the division. With these far reaching regroupments
came the knock of opportunity for officers and men of the 3rd.
There were lots of promotions in the offing.
The first practice blackout of the war was observed at Polk on
January 7. No one took the event seriously, although there was
no breach of discipline. Theater crowds sang; motorists halted
on the road; and for twenty minutes all activity ceased. The
blackout was a huge success.
The advent of war placed no restrictions on ambition or ability.
More men were sent to officer's candidate schools and there were
the usual technical courses for enlisted men and officers who
wished to better their position in the division. Neither was
athletic competition curbed. Over at DePour Field House, Lt.
Glenn Morris was busily working out a string of boxers to represent
the organization in golden gloves competition at Chicago. One
of his stars was tanker Lafayette Pool, a Texas slugger who declined
to make the Chicago trip because his company was due to receive
an allotment of the new General Grant tanks! Pool became one
of the "Spearhead" Division's legendary heroes when,
after leading 21 separate drives in Europe, he was wounded while
blasting his way through the Siegfried Line.
One of the disheartening aspects of Camp Polk training was the
frequency with which key men were transferred to higher headquarters.
The 32nd Armored Regiment lost Colonel Roderick R. Allen, a crack
commander who left to become Chief of Staff of the 6th Armored
Division and later to command the 12th Armored Division. Colonel
W.H. Jones,, former G-3, replaced Colonel Allen.
On January 16, Brigadier General Geoffrey Keyes, former Chief
of Staff of the 2nd Armored Division, arrived to take command
of the 2nd Combat Group, the forerunner of Combat Command "B".
Colonel Leroy H. Watson commanded the 1st.
On the following day, Major General Gillem was named to command
the II Corps. He was replaced as division commander by Brigadier
General Walton H. Walker, Texas born West Pointer, and former
executive to General Marshall. Colonel Bohn moved up to Corps
Chief of Staff and was replaced by Colonel John A. Smith, Jr.,
former G-2. Colonel Craig Alderman, General Gillem's aide, became
G-2, and Colonel John L. Pierce was made Corps ,G-4, being replaced
at Division by Lt. Colonel Dorrance S. Roysden, formerly of the
2nd Armored Division. Lt. Colonel B. H. Coiner, former Division
G-1, became Corps G-1, and was replaced by Lt. Colonel Charles
G. Hutchinson. Lt. Colonel John Meade was relieved of command
of the 703rd Tank Destroyer Battalion to become Corps G-2, and
the old 40th Armored Regiment Headquarters became Corps Headquarters
Company. Lt. Colonel Prentice E. Yeomans assumed command of the
703rd Tank Destroyer Battalion.
Probably more than any other branch of service, the history of
Armored Force is all interwoven. Just as the 3rd Armored Division
sprang from a 2nd "Hell On Wheels" cadre, the 3rd was
destined to supply trained personnel to many of the new organizations,
some of which were the 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 11th, 12th, and 20th
Armored Divisions, the II, III, and IV Armored Corps. During
the spring of 1942, the 7th Armored Division was brought into
existence at Camp Polk, a direct offspring of the 3rd. Major
General Lindsay McD. Sylvester commanded the new division, headquarters
for which was set up in tents behind the 3rd's quarters. The
older 3rd not only provided the cadre for the 7th, but also trained
the entire group of selectees, largely through the efforts of
the division's G-3, Lt. Colonel Harvie R. Matthews.
Late in the spring of 1942, the 54th Armored Field Artillery
Battalion under the command of Lt. Colonel Frederic J. Brown,
was sent to the desert wastes of California, to be the first
unit of the division and one of the premier units at the Desert
Training Center, then commanded by Major General "Old Blood
& Guts" Patton.
At this time the division was ablaze with rumors, a condition
which was chronic throughout training - and through and beyond
the European war. Chief of Staff, Colonel Smith, and General
Walker made flying trips to the Mojave desert and brought back
elaborate tales of its wonders. The 703rd Tank Destroyer Battalion
was suddenly whisked off to Camp Hood, Texas, for a month-long
study of TD tactics and commando warfare. Yellow jaundice swept
the division - along with the rest of the U. S. Army. Everyone
had it, even the general, who was never hospitalized, and Colonel
Smith, who was. At Camp Hood the men of the 703rd were also stricken
with dysentery. June and early July were dark months for 3rd
Armored Division personnel.
MOJAVE DESERT, CALIFORNIA
In mid-July the orders came down. More than 30 trains were
used to transport the "Bayou Blitz" to California.
No vehicle went overland because rubber was too precious to waste
in the undertaking. After a four-day journey, during which troops
were given periods of rest in small towns of west Texas, New
Mexico, and Arizona, the caravan reached Rice, California, and
a whistle-stop called Freda. From the relatively cool interior
of day coaches, the men of the 3rd Armored Division stepped out
into a brilliant expanse of sun and sand and jagged rock. The
thermometer squirmed at 130 degrees, and the wind was furnace-hot!
The Mojave Desert was no vacationland, but men who trained over
its sandy expanse, through the dry salt lake beds and around
the well-remembered Turtle and Old Woman mountains, grew to have
a certain affection for the wasteland they had entered. The climate
was healthy, albeit uncomfortable. There were the compensations
of frequent passes to Banning, Palm Springs, Riverside, Los Angeles,
and Hollywood. One was forced to live rough in the desert, but
not miserably as had been the case in some of the more inaccessible
Doggedly, troops worked through the day and sought the shelter
of their tents during a short siesta period at noon. A great
deal of water was consumed at first, but later a small amount
was found to suffice. Salt tablets were issued and eaten by the
dozens. Burlap water bags, which looked rugged, actually yielded
a delightfully cool drink. The burning wind tanned soldiers to
a saddle leather color and, although lips chapped painfully in
the early days of the maneuvers, a cure was soon found for the
ailment: it was crimson lipstick, definitely not GI!
Hot! The desert was hot at dawn when a red sun blasted up out
of the thin mist, and it was hot at night when a sultry wind
went breathing through the pyramidal tents. Mid-day was impossible
with heat; and yet, gradually, the men of the division disregarded
siesta periods and began to hike the desert for adventure in
their off duty hours. Before an official ban outlawed hunting,
some of the men shot jackrabbits with their issue pistols or
with the new carbine. There was always a strong desire to scale
the jagged peaks too; perhaps an unconscious desire to demonstrate
that the awe-inspiring desert had been licked. We weren't bothered
by sun and sand and jagged rock. Not us. "We were the masters!"
The cockiness was premature. One day the desert showed the men
of the 3rd that they had much to learn. At noon the eastern horizon
showed a mounting cloud of coffee colored dust. Slowly the wind
sprang up. The cloud towered higher, became ominous in its murky
billows and poisonous rose tints. The wind lagged, then freshened
steadily and suddenly rose to a whistling shriek! The air was
immediately full of dust and sand particles. Latrine tents went
flapping off through the murk like great, broad winged bats and
almost everything that wasn't staked down went cartwheeling before
the enormous sweep of the gale.
Slowly the sand storm abated. Presently a yellow sunset emerged
to light the wrecked camps of the future "Spearhead."
The entire division shook the sand out of its blankets and went
to bed with a new respect for the vast powers of the desert.
The 3rd was bivouacked 1.3 miles west of Freda, and Freda was
a name on a weathered board. There was no actual camp, just an
area of sand and runty greasewood brush. The various units threw
up pyramidal tents, dug latrines and erected kitchens. The 23rd
Armored Engineer Battalion, direct descendant of the famous old
World War I "Road Builders Of The AEF," maintained
its tradition by constructing more than 40 miles of roads through
the wastelands, a number of firing ranges in the lee of the Granite
Mountains, and a showerbath arrangement adjacent to the aqueduct
which supplied Los Angeles with water. Here, troops of the division
laundered their clothing and bathed each afternoon.
Before the desert maneuvers were fairly launched, General George
S. Patton was mysteriously relieved of command and ordered to
Washington. Unbeknownst to the world, the North African campaign
was then in its final stages of preparation. The 3rd's own beloved
General Alvan C. Gillem assumed command of the Desert Training
Center. Shortly afterward, all units were alerted, for division
and corps problems.
Desert maneuvers of 1942 probably did more to toughen the 3rd
and prepare it for ultimate combat than had all previous training.
Stripped of essentials, the tankers and supporting arms took
to the wide open spaces in mock battle. Pitted against superior
forces, the division never failed to turn in a creditable performance
even though individual soldiers were often baffled by the exigencies
of strategy. Tank Destroyer Corporal Paul Keller provided an
example of the humor American selectees found in the most serious
of situations. Lost during a night movement, Keller radioed his
section leader, Sgt. Manry, for directions. Manry tried to help.
"What is your location in regard to the milky way?"
"Right under it!" Keller snapped, "and I think
its's the same one I was under in Texas!"
It was no joke to be lost in the fastness of the great, arid
Mojave, but the civilian-soldiers of the new Armored Force were
still able to find grim humor in their most trying experiences.
Usually the division was fighting superior numbers of "enemy
forces" during the maneuvers. Several times, therefore,
supply columns were cut by opposing combat teams. On these occasions
water and rations were spread thin. Sardines, of course, were
a staff of life. No man of the 3rd will ever forget the constant
diet of "goldfish." It was sardines with tomato sauce
in camp, sardines right out of the can while moving. Sardines
and more sardines ! Along with these despised " desert trout,"
tomatoes, fruit salad and canned turkey were issued often enough
to become tiresome. There was no bread; rusk substituted for
that, and the rusk issued on the Mojave was blood-brother to
the enamel-chipping "dog-biscuits" of the western front,
two years later.
While in base camp, rations were usually good, with plenty of
fresh fruit from the nearby Imperial Valley of California.
On the desert, the 3rd Armored Division first became part of
the VII Corps, an association which was resumed and continued
throughout the European campaigns, and which paid off in wrecked
enemy armor from Normandy to the Elbe. Commanded in action by
Major General J. Lawton "Lightning Joe" Collins, the
VII Corps was then led by Major General Robert C. Richardson.
Newspaper accounts of the California Desert maneuvers gave a
great deal of space to "Gage's Gangsters," a group
which was never fully identified at the time due to censorship
regulations. The "Gangsters" were a company of the
83rd Armored Reconnaissance Battalion and their job was the reconnoitering
of "enemy" lines, sudden raids and will-o-the-whisp
disappearances, leaving destruction in their wake.
The leader of this reckless, hell-for-leather outfit, was Captain
John Gage. He and his lieutenants, his non-coms and his troopers,
stole the show in those realistic sham battles of 1942. Later,
on the bloody western front, the recon men lived up to advance
billing. Gage was wounded in the St. Lo-Perriers breakthrough.
Lt. John Patrick Reilly was killed in action while leading a
tank force into Belgium. Lieutenants Dave Evanson, Walter E.
Grimme, and Marion J. Stimson, were also evacuated after suffering
severe wounds in the early fighting. Less than 100 of the original
202 officers and men of "Gage's Gangsters" were left
on VE day, but the men of the company had exacted a terrible
toll from the Boche during 10 months of flaming battle. The training
John Gage gave to his men on the hot, sandy wasteland of California,
paid off magnificently.
During periods of maneuver, the army wives of the 3rd Armored
Division settled in Palm Springs and Indio. Here they kept the
gossip factory running at peak capacity, went " Hollywood
" with slacks and sunsuits. The swimming pool at the Desert
Inn was a popular playground on occasional weekends, while many
visited the film capital itself.
General Walker left the division in mid-August. He assumed command
of the new IV Armored Corps. Brigadier General Leroy H. Watson
assumed command of the 3rd, which General Gillem had re-christened
the "Always Dependable" Division.
General John J. Bohn, former chief of staff, returned to lead
Combat Command "B", and General Doyle O. Hickey, then
a colonel, arrived to assume command of the fighting force he
was to manage so long and successfully. General Hickey's CC "A"
became almost a legendary force in " Spearhead" combat.
After a concluding two-week maneuver in late September and early
October, the rumor factories began to grind out a story that
the 3rd was about to move again. The 6th Armored Division had
arrived in the desert and the trains which brought them were
"This is it!" said the army wives sorrowfully. "Africa,
here we come," chuckled the tank drivers.
CAMP PICKETT, VIRGINIA
And, sure enough, the division was alerted, packed up and
boarded trains for the east coast. The destination was Camp Pickett,
After the wide, cloudless desert, Camp Pickett presented an almost
ominous appearance. The barracks were crowded and damp, splotchy
with camouflage war paint, and hard to keep clean. Along with
other inconveniences, the area was short on firing ranges. There
was an abundance of rain, however, and no shortage of old fashioned
A strange feeling of hurry-hurry finality pervaded Camp Pickett.
The men who went home on furlough or leave decided that "this
one" had to be good, because it would be the last before
overseas shipment. Army wives, who settled in Blackstone, a sleepy
little southern town that not even the army could awaken, were
constantly agog with rumors of troop movement. The division was
alternately "hot" and "cold". Originally,
plans called for embarkation early in January, but the German
submarine campaign, then at the height of efficiency, resulted
in a postponement of orders.
In spite of inadequate facilities, the men of the 3rd Armored
Division shook Mojave sand out of their equipment and began a
vigorous schedule of work and instruction. The latest of ordnance
items were issued to units; command post exercises, road hikes,
and range firing were stressed. Everyone caught cold, for late
fall in Virginia was wet and raw. Desert tanned soldiers found
themselves constantly shivering in the east coast wind which
swept over Pickett.
Meanwhile, radio reports told of alarming new successes by German
Admiral Doenitz's submarine wolf packs. America wasn't yet out
of the woods. Gas rationing had begun to pinch and blackout regulations
didn't bring the chuckles they had engendered in the beginning.
There was a nasty little story going the rounds about German
tanks. They were, said the wise guys, raising hell with our inferior
armor in Tunisia. This observation, in the light of subsequent
experience, proved only partially correct. Both sides were committing
advanced weapons in the desert campaign.
Back in Virginia, "Take It Off" was the juke box favorite
of the season, and railway service to Washington and points north
reached a new low in cleanliness and efficiency.
INDIANTOWN GAP, PENNSYLVANIA
The move to Indiantown Gap Military Reservation, a former
Pennsylvania National Guard camp, surprised all of the armchair
strategists. The division arrived at the beautifully laid out
reservation in mid-January, and found - to its immense satisfaction,
that the barracks were clean and modern.
The Gap proved to be a far colder place than Pickett. It was
situated in a rolling hill country 28 miles from Pennsylvania's
capitol city of Harrisburg. Here at Indiantown, the firing ranges
between Blue and Center Mountains were adequate. The nearby towns
of Lebanon, Hershey, and Pottsville, most of them populated by
prosperous farmers of Dutch descent, were - along with Harrisburg
- immediately "taken over" by the 3rd Armored Division.
There was no slacking off at the new camp. Rather, an accelerated
training program was put into effect. In spite of winter weather,
deep snow and cold; gunnery, maintenance, and physical conditioning
were the touchstones of progress. Road marches and command post
exercises went on as usual, while the new infiltration course
which necessitated crawling through an area deep in mud and barbed
wire, sown with small charges of dynamite, and covered with machine-gun
fire, was required of each officer and enlisted man.
Although training at Indiantown Gap was extremely hard and comprehensive,
troops of the division found their seven months sojourn in Pennsylvania
the happiest of all army periods. This, more than any other station,
was civilization. Transportation was better than it had been
in Louisiana, California, or Virginia, and personnel were able
to spend weekends in New York and Philadelphia, as well as in
the hospitable Pennsylvania towns nearby. There was always a
concerted dash for seats on the gigantic "40 & 8"
busses which plied the roads between the "Gap" and
Harrisburg each evening at 6 and at 11 A. M. on Saturdays. In
the capitol city, soldiers often lined up for five hundred yards
at dawn on Sunday morning, waiting for transportation back to
camp. For all of the crowded conditions, bus lines functioned
At Indiantown Gap, the artillery, under Colonel Frederic J, Brown,
trained seriously for the job ahead. Tanks and tank-destroyers
also learned the fine points of indirect fire. The pine-clad
slopes of Blue and Center mountains echoed to a continuous crash
and rumble of big guns.
Intensive training was no idle phrase at the "Gap".
The War Department prescribed a 25 mile road march with full
equipment to be taken by all personnel under 40 years of age.
The battalions went out, complete to staff officers and cooks,
to make the hike over snow banked, icy roads. Command Post Exercises
went on, in spite of bitter cold, and division personnel added
winter weather know-how to the knowledge which was to stand them
in such good stead during the hard Ardennes struggle almost two
In February of 1943, Americans were beginning to realize that
the war had entered a critical stage. German Field Marshal von
Paulus had surrendered at Stalingrad after a bloody stand, and
the cornered Afrika Korps was lashing out viciously from a narrowing
sector in Tunisia. The newspapers screamed KASSERINE PASS, and
suddenly, with heavy casualty reports, the stark reality of total
war began to pervade the strange, provincial naiveté of
America. While civilians labored, or thought they did, under
the new rationing of gasoline, foodstuff's, and other necessities,
the army cut down too. Placards urging conservation of food appeared
on mess hall doors, and supply sergeants began to dole out rations
carefully. The various PX branches still sold cigarettes, chocolate
and beer, and, although porterhouse steaks had begun to assume
the qualities of legend, a soldier could still order and receive
one in the Penn Harris Hotel, or at any restaurant in Harrisburg.
Peanut Joe's place did a rushing business, and "Spearhead"
soldiers spent many pleasant evenings in the K-Bar and English
Tavern. "Pennsylvania Polka" and "Take It Off"
were juke box favorites, and the 1120 train for New York invariably
left at 1320 or later!
Discipline was strictly enforced on Harrisburg streets. Woe to
the GI who failed to salute an officer or was observed to be
disgracing the uniform in any way; he was promptly packed aboard
a bus and sent back to camp.
Along with the battle inoculation course early in the spring
of 1943, which was supervised by the 36th Armored Infantry Regiment,
the 23rd Armored Engineer Battalion conducted a vehicle camouflage
experiment which resulted in some of the most monstrously painted
tanks and scout cars ever seen on American roads. At this time,
too, the supervision of training was revised in that General
Hickey assumed full responsibility for the progress of the 32nd
Armored Regiment, the 36th Armored Infantry Regiment, the 54th
Armored Field Artillery Battalion, the 143rd Armored Signal Company,
Division Headquarters and Service Company, while General Bohn
supervised the 33rd Armored Regiment, the 23rd Armored Engineer
Battalion, the 391st and the 6/th Armored Field Artillery Battalions.
The Division Trains was commanded by Colonel James O. Taylor.
In April, engineer units engaged in a minefield demonstration
for the division. The carefully prepared program showed that
buried explosives might only be cleared by the most painstaking
of methods. During the demonstration, one mine blew the track
off an M-4 tank. It was a graphic illustration to support the
Various courses of instruction were prescribed in rapid fire
order. Lt. Alfred Krebs, of the G-2 office, conducted a class
in French. Lt. Colonel Marion E. Whitten began a CWS study of
poison gas warfare. All troops were given the opportunity to
smell mustard in the open field, and, with masks, to pass through
gas chambers in which lethal concentrations of chlorine had been
On April 15, 1943, the division was two years old. The following
day a review was held at Muir Field. On the stand with General
Watson were Governor Martin of Pennsylvania and Brigadier General
Howard McC. Snyder, father of Division G-3. In spite of a cold,
whipping snowstorm, troops paraded smartly.
Qualification firing for record was announced on April 22. In
the ensuing weeks many men of the division who had never before
successfully completed a normal course gained badges for putting
bullets right where they were supposed to be, in the bullseye.
Platoon combat firing and tactical proficiency tests followed.
These combined arms problems had been prescribed by Army Ground
Forces as spring came to the Pennsylvania hills.
The reinforced tank battalion tests were conducted from May
11 to 16, armored infantry tests from May 19 to 24, and tank-destroyer
tests from May 25 to June 1. Reconnaissance elements received
a separate examination. During all of these exercises, the division
came as close to combat firing as was possible without having
the enemy fire back. Lead was thrown freely throughout, and artillery
used on call. Overhead firing by both artillery and small arms
was frequent and effective. No one was hurt, but enlisted men
found glee in the several times repeated sight of high brass
leaping desperately for foxholes when rounds landed short.
Following the combined arms problems, division artillery conducted
a course in fire control and indirect firing which was intended
to increase the effectiveness of combined strength in fire power.
Another phase of training, street fighting, was inaugurated with
the construction of a "Nazi village" by the reconnaissance
battalion. The course consisted of an approach to the village,
each man taking advantage of cover and firing at suddenly exposed
targets. Small charges of TNT were set off in the . proximity
of attacking troops, and men were trained to advance by individual
dashes while covered by the guns of those behind.
Physical fitness tests were prescribed for all personnel in the
spring of 1943. Officers and men grunted and groaned through
33 push-ups, a 300-yard dash, and a five mile hike with full
field equipment, to be completed in 60 minutes. Obstacle courses,
complete with scaling walls, rope climbs, and tunnels, were a
major point of interest in the program.
During the summer months, the division continued to follow a
hard training schedule. The engineers announced a course on booby
traps and land mines which proved so successful that half of
the division kept the other half on its toes with booby-trapped
mess kits, gas masks, and everything else which lent itself to
the application of firing devices and thunderflash practice explosives.
During one demonstration of technique, the engineers did so well
that their commanding officer, Lt. Colonel Robert Erlenkotter,
walked into a hidden explosive and received a minor leg wound.
To the further delight of GI's mingled with some apprehension,
General Hickey also touched off one of the booby traps and left
the area with his face scratched by flying gravel.
Undersecretary of War Patterson, wearing a floppy panama hat,
inspected the division on July 8. The Undersecretary, who was
called "Judge", fired a number of armored force weapons,
observed a Red Cross swimming and lifesaving demonstration at
the post lake, and was feted at the general's dwelling house
before he left.
Another aspect of modern warfare was emphasized in the attack
on a fortified position, conducted on July 14. The attack opened
with an aerial bombardment, followed by an artillery concentration.
Infantry and engineers then advanced, surmounted barbed wire
entanglements and tank traps to assault the pillboxes with flame-throwers,
dynamite and grenades, all under the heavy fire of small arms.
Tanks followed the doughs, blasting at their targets with withering
accuracy. It was an awe-inspiring demonstration of the firepower
potential of an integrated armored force combat team, and one
which was to be repeated nearly act for act on the Siegfried
Line of Germany, a year later. One week previous to this demonstration,
the division had watched tank destroyers steal the show at another
combined arms demonstration. The first team seemed to be shaping
On August 8, Major General Gatehouse, of the Royal Armored Corps,
arrived at Indiantown Gap. The general, who had served in the
western desert under Wavell, Auchinleck and Montgomery, said
that American equipment gave a commander a feeling of confidence.
He didn't think much of the German "Desert Fox."
"Rommel," said the general, "time and again
did the wrong thing at the right time for us."
General Gillem, returning from action in Sicily, visited his
old command on the following day. In his honor a review was held
at Muir Field. The general was well pleased with the noticeable
progress made by his "Always Dependable" division.
On August 10, Lt. General Leslie McNair, commanding general of
the Army Ground Forces, spoke to officers and non-coms after
a tour of ranges and training areas. "This division,"
he said, "is ready to fight as soon as it gets off the boat."
At this time the 3rd was alerted for overseas service.
The division's advance party, led by Brigadier General John J.
Bohn, left Indiantown Gap on August 9, and proceeded to Fort
Hamilton, New York, enroute overseas. Their destination was a
closely guarded secret.
Activity pending movement to the staging area at Camp Kilmer,
New Jersey, was feverish. Showdown inspections were a daily occurrence;
hardening exercises and physical conditioning intensified. Hikes
were made under full field equipment and various methods of packing
and carrying the blanket roll were investigated, mulled over,
and finally decided. There was a great deal of last minute policing
of the "Gap," and, although the move was supposed to
be top-secret, Harrisburg hummed with rumors. Wives and sweethearts
mysteriously turned up to spend the last few days in Pennsylvania
with their soldiers. In camp, guards redoubled their vigilance
and were warned to be on the lookout for saboteurs, fire, and
CAMP KILMER, NEW JERSEY
Sadly, but with shrugs of resignation, the beautifully laid
out green and white barracks of Indiantown Gap were left behind.
Soldiers of the 3rd Armored Division left the keystone state
on August 26 and 27 - their destination, Camp Kilmer, New Jersey,
and the. overseas port of embarkation at New York.
Kilmer was an efficiently organized camp headed by ASF officers
and men who were able and willing to provide needed assistance
to outgoing units. Messing was at huge central halls within each
area, and the post cooks were experts at their trade.
Processing included the usual injections, talks on censorship
and security, battle indoctrination films, and final physical
examinations of the type: "He's warm - He's in!"
Quartermaster and ordnance inspections were routine affairs;
the division had checked its weapons and equipment so often that
the process was automatic.
The 3rd Armored Division remained at Kilmer for eight days, during
which time the men were given 12 hour passes for a last whack
at the night spots of New York. At 8 P.M. on September 1 the
"blackout" went into effect. This was the alert which
preceded movement to the port, usually coming within 48 hours
of the actual move. During the interim, no one was allowed off
the post proper, visitors were forbidden, and no wire or telephone
calls might be made. Mail went out as usual, but for the first
time each address bore the censor's stamp and was made out "In
Care Of Postmaster."
CROSSING THE ATLANTIC
Early on September 4, the units moved out of Kilmer and boarded
trains for New York harbor. On the pier, a few hours later, the
long lines of soldiers waited patiently. Each man carried the
bulk of his equipment in a barracks bag and each had his helmet
numbered with white chalk.
The line moved slowly, each GI waiting until his last name was
called, answered with his first, and then struggled up the gangplank
into the ship.
By September 5, 1943, the division was on the high seas. Over
the stern the Statue of Liberty grew indistinct in blue mist.
GI's of the future first American "Spearhead" were,
for once, speechless. They tried to make conversation, failed
and just stood there by the railing and watched Liberty until
she was a. shadow - until she was a dream in the distance.
The Atlantic crossing was the end of one epoch and the beginning
of another. Behind the great, zigzagging convoy, peaceful, complacent
America faded into blue distance. Ahead was the wide, contested
no-man's-land of the sea. Hitler's wolf packs were there, and
his Luftwaffe raiders. Neither had been beaten into submission.
The war was far from won. Fortresses and Liberators, flying out
of Britain, hit their targets deep in Germany, but at a terrible
cost. The Red Army ground ahead slowly after the pyrrhic victory
at Stalingrad. Allied forces in Italy hammered steadily forward,
but reported that progress was hindered by "extensive demolitions."
Beyond the far horizon Europe was flaming. To 3rd Armored Division
troops aboard three ships, the John Errickson, the Capetown
Castle, and the Shawnee, it was still "destination
unknown." Later, they were to be issued booklets on behavior
in Great Britain. Part of the riddle was then solved.
The convoy consisted of some two dozen ships. There were former
luxury liners, and specimens from Henry Kaiser's assembly line.
There were nimble little destroyers whipping back and forth,
a battleship plowing steadily through the swells and, at intervals,
the sight of an escorting Liberator overhead. The transports
were painted grey and looked old and toil worn as they heeled
periodically to change direction.
Troops aboard were fed twice daily, the long chow lines winding
for hundreds of yards through ships' passageways. At first the
GI's suffered from motion sickness, but gradually they found
sea legs and even began to enjoy the trip. On the second day
out, the convoy ran into rough weather, but thereafter the ocean
was gentle. Boat drills were a daily occurrence, and poker became
the premier occupation of all hands aboard.
The crossing was uneventful. That is to say, no submarine or
surface raider put in an appearance. Twice during the trip, subs
were "contacted" at night, and depth charges dropped.
Soldiers, hearing the far-off detonations, drew their life belts
close and shivered a little as they lay in triple decked bunks
down in "torpedo junction", the hold.
On September 8, the ships radio announced that Italy had surrendered
unconditionally to allied forces. There was a short lived celebration
until GI's recalled that Nazi armies still held most of the continent
and that this first victory was only another stepping stone on
the long, hard road toward peace.
Although the eleven day trip was uneventful insofar as enemy
action was concerned, off duty Joes found a great deal to occupy
their attention. The sea itself, constantly changing in color,
was an attraction. Men counted the ships of the convoy and suddenly
discovered that there was one more - or
less - than had been visible the day before! There were countless
discussions on the science of navigation, the seabirds that followed
in mid-ocean, and open amazement to find that a number of sparrows
were stowaways. At night, soldiers on guard looked into the pregnant
darkness of the Atlantic and wondered at the blue-green phosphorescence
which boiled out from under the bow and marked the ships passage
for hundreds of yards astern.
There was the constant reminder of peril. At dusk there would
be the usual admonition over a hoarse-voiced amplifier: "Blackout
is now in effect. There will be no smoking on deck. All garbage
will be thrown overboard. These orders will be strictly enforced."
Long afterward, in the great river crossings of the 1944 summer
offensive through France, some gagster was always on hand to
croak sorrowfully: "Blackout is now in effect. There will
be no smoking," etc., while bullets and shells whined nearby.
All was not sweetness and light on the boats. General opinion
was that the officers messed better than enlisted men. Latrines
were limited and shower baths yielded salt water. Shaving in
brine was agony, but everyone managed to present a neat appearance.
Next Chapter: Training in England