DIARY ENTRY #4
By Don R. Marsh
enigma: a person of puzzling or contradictory character.
13 June 1944
My initial encounter with Pyramid Six,
the Command Code Name for Brigadier General Maurice Rose happened near Auville
in Normandy, France, on 13 June 1944, after I had been assigned to his
Headquarters Command of Combat Command “A” of the 2nd Armored
Division. The Army Code Name for the division was Powerhouse. Each unit of the
division was assigned a Code Name beginning with the letter “P” – CCA Hqs
Code name was Pyramid. Others were: 66th Armored Regiment – Python;
17th Engineers – Pioneer; 41st Infantry – Princess;
142nd Signal – Pyrotechnic; 82nd Recon –Prowler, etc.
Placed on alert and on short notice, our
full strength Combat Command “A” had been detached from the division, along
with additional support units, and had been sent to augment the light infantry
fire power of the 101st Airborne Division in their desperate fight to
retain control of the city of Carentan; then under attack by the German 6th
Paratroop Regiment and the 17th SS Panzer Grenadier Division.
A week after landing on D-Day, the
American 101st Airborne Division Regiments, including the 501st,
502nd, 506th and the 327th Glider Infantry
Regiments with depleted numbers from casualties in all ranks, running low on
ammunition and supplies, were fighting the enemy and exhaustion as their
adrenaline was spent. In this precarious situation they were in danger of being
over-run by superior forces, including enemy tanks, which would have resulted in
the loss of the critical corridor connecting First Army’s V and VII Corps;
thereby placing Lt. General Omar Bradley’s entire beachhead force in extreme
jeopardy had this happened.
On June 12th, after being
alerted by Ultra, the secret code breaker, General Omar Bradley learned of the
German High Command’s plan to launch a counter-attack to divide the V and VII
Corps boundaries. Bradley immediately directed V Corps Commander, Major General
Leonard T. Gerow, to order Major General Edward H. Brook’s 2nd
Armored Division’s Combat Command “A” under BG Maurice Rose to move to
Carentan without delay. The Corps orders were issued for an “Infantry led
counter-attack, supported by armor.” in hedgerow terrain of the countryside bocage
totally unsuited for tank warfare. Advancing over the hedgerow was suicidal
for the infantry and the tanks had to run up the steep bank with their soft
undercarriage exposed to the anti-tank guns lying in wait. Crossing the trail
intersections meant risking machine gun fire from the Germans who had zeroed in
on these keys points, not to mention the snipers.
The 327th was to attack from
the north, the 501st from the northeast and the 506th from
the southwest, followed by the 502nd that would pass through the
506th. After the scheduled hour for the counter-attack to jump off had passed,
the weary 101st troopers still held fast to their foxholes at the IP
start line, without attempting to move out as had been ordered. The absence of a
key Airborne Battalion Commander, who was not at the line of departure, where he
should have been taking charge, only added to the confusion.
Unlike their sibling 82nd
Airborne Division, not all of 101st Airborne Division soldiers were
volunteers; many were non-volunteer draftees lacking the famed 82nd
“All American” Airborne Division’s esprite de corps. As such, they were
not (volunteer) airborne jump-qualified; instead, one regiment was infantry
glider borne troops who were referred to as “legs” by the airborne jumpers
who landed in the D-Day drop zone via parachutes. One week after landing, it no
longer made any difference how you got there, via chute or glider, it was a
fight for survival and every man counted on the man next to him – with or
without jump wings.
GENERAL TAKES COMMAND
CCA Headquarters was already in place, waiting for the General to arrive. We
didn’t have long to wait as he appeared in his jeep with the red plate on the
bumper with his one silver star, accompanied by a lone motorcycle driver. Hardly
much fanfare for the gladiator’s arrival. He appeared to be a tall person as
he stepped down to be saluted and greeted by his XO (Executive Officer), Lt.
Col. Benjamin Mart Bailey, Jr. Maps were spread on the canvas covered hood of
the jeep as his key staff members stood by during the brief discussion. Orders
were given to “Mount Up” and move out.
We watched as Brigadier General Maurice
Rose, growing impatient by the minute, unable to locate a 101st field
grade officer and with the airborne troopers continued failure to move out,
began walking up the road alone. Ignoring any possible danger, he walked past
the stunned troopers remaining in their foxholes on the side of the road. They
looked on with utter amazement as he strode by them as though on parade.
Compared to all the rest of us dressed in military issue clothing, he stood out
in his distinctive dove gray Cavalry jodhpurs (trousers), tank jacket and highly
polished riding boots; a general’s personal dress code was a privilege and
prerogative. His penchant for Cavalry garb was acquired during his early days
with the horse Cavalry at Fort Riley, Kansas and the Panama Canal Zone.
Army issue .45 Colt pistol was worn in his web waist belt holster, with the
companion eight-inch knife blade sheathe inserted into the leather seam behind
the flap. They were his inseparable pair of personal side arms in battle, a
habit formed in North Africa and Sicily. While in his jeep, as the situation
dictated, he often cradled a Thompson sub-machine gun when on the move with one
of his task forces, using it on more than one occasion. His Aide seated in the
rear jump seat was armed in a similar fashion with a Thompson as well; in
addition to his driver carrying a Thompson in the boot.
seeing a company grade officer from the “Screaming Eagles,” in a clear voice
heard by all within range, he said in a firm voice, “Captain, let’s get your
men out of their holes and moving forward. We are going on the attack and I mean
… right now!” The firmness and tone is all that the order required. Whether
it was the awe inspiring scenario of a general personally leading an attack or
the long line of tanks and armored field artillery pieces formed in two columns
abreast behind him and his staff, it was all that was needed. The troops lining
the sides of the road started coming out of their foxholes. Hesitantly at first,
the troops led by their Captain, began to move forward to commence the attack to
retake that section of the City of Carentan. They had lost it in the last
skirmish when they were forced to fall back under superior forces and heavy
DEATH DUEL IN
At the same moment, unknown to either
field commander, the German or the American, the German forces began their
attack at exactly the same hour against what they thought were the thinly
defended and lightly equipped paratroopers. Now out of their foxholes and out in
the open, having left their defensive positions, the Germans were vulnerable to
the firepower unleashed by the heavy tank guns of the 2nd Armored 66th
Armored Regiment and the 14th Field Artillery howitzer batteries,
backed by members of the 41st Armored Infantry Regiment attached. The
battle was joined.
One Task Force attacked west along the
Carentan-Baupte Road at 1400 and followed by the 502nd Parachute
Infantry, passed through the 506th Parachute Infantry, driving
westward. A second Task Force attacked along the Carentan-Periers highway. Both
columns receiving close support from the 14th Field Artillery
Germans were totally caught off guard by surprise. Despite their determined
assaults and with armored support, they were repulsed each time, suffering a
high number of casualties, including 500 men killed and over 1,000 wounded. CCA
suffered eight men KIA, including two officers. Conversely, only six of the
enemy were taken prisoner, indicating the fanatic fierceness of the close combat
fighting that ensued.
While in the city of Carentan, we came under some heavy shelling so I took cover in the first convenient place I could find, a bookstore. A soldier from the 101st Airborne had the same idea at the same time and we collided in the doorway. He turned out to be a friend of mine I had met on the Liberty ship that had brought us overseas together … Jim Magruder. In one on my letters I wrote home to my folks, I wrote that Magruder and I had met in “Some where in France”. By mentioning that he was in the airborne, I was able to slip that by the censors and by doing so, they would know of my location in Normandy, as the presence of our division in combat had not yet been released for publication.
BAND OF BROTHERS
Carentan was saved and the danger of
splitting the two Corps areas was passed. Fifty years later, men of 506’s Easy
Company in Stephen Ambrose’s book “Band of Brothers” would
express their gratitude for Combat Command “A” of the 2nd Armored
arriving in a timely fashion, without whom their fate might well of have had a
far different outcome.
does not have the stomach for this fight, let him depart. Give him money to
speed his departure since we wish not to die in that man’s Company. Whoever
lives past today and comes home safely will rouse himself every year and on this
day, show his neighbors his scars, and tell embellished stories of all their
great feats of battle. These stories will teach his son and from this day until
the end of the world, we shall be remembered. We few, we happy few, we band of
brothers; for whoever shed his blood with me shall be my brother. And those men
afraid to go will think themselves lesser men as they hear of how we fought and
died together. --- William Shakespeare wrote in Henry V, the words of the King on the day
of the great battle.
did not learn until long after the war was over just how close we came to losing
the Omaha Beachhead, had the Panzers been able to drive the wedge between the
thinly defended V and VII Corps boundaries at Carentan and the Vire River. If
Hitler had released the full armor reserves in France to Rommel, the Allies
would have been over whelmed and thrown back into the sea.
As the only American armored division
then on the Beachhead, the 2nd Armored alone would not have had
sufficient firepower to stop them. We had nothing in our arsenal to compete with
heavier German King Tiger’s sloped frontal armor plate, equipped with the
famed dual purpose 88, nor the Mark IV and Mark V with the 75mm cannon --
against our thin-shelled light Stuarts (37mm) and Sherman (74mm) tanks with
inferior weapons. We were out-numbered and out-gunned.
GENERAL KEEPS HIS WORD
the early days in the Carentan area as Veno, Hull and I, were repairing a line
from the Command Post, we saw a jeep rapidly approaching with the red metal
plate attached to the front bumper with two silver stars – meaning a two star
general. We stopped repairing and testing the splice in the line, stood at
attention and gave him the required hand salute. Standing upright in the jeep,
holding onto the grab bar attached to the jeep dashboard, (Standard Operating
Procedure for our 2AD generals) he returned our salute. His driver stopped the
jeep and backed up to where we standing – it was our Division Commander, Major
General Edward H. Brooks.
he knew we were wiremen, but he asked what unit we were in and when was the last
time we had a hot meal. We said CCA Hqs and that we had been eating K and C
rations for over a week. He mentioned the critical importance of his wire
communications – to that extent, his Aide carried a EE8A Field Telephone with
needle-nose alligator clips attached to a short lead that he could use to clip
on to any telephone line to connect to his headquarters for an up to the minute
situation report. With that he said he would send someone up with a hot meal.
Another salute and he was gone. The pat-on-the-back from the CG was nice, but
the promise of a hot meal was better. In less than an hour, a Mess Sergeant from
some outfit brought us two marmite containers with breaded pork steaks, among
others things. The Sergeant wasn’t hanging around so we ate what we could,
gave him back his cans and stuffed the leftover pork steaks in the glove
compartment to eat later. We forgot about them and all too late we had to throw
After being relieved, CCA was returned to the division assembly area to prepare for movement to an area Northeast of Caumont to take a position on the line to relieve the British Seventh Armoured Division, known as the “Desert Rats” from their North Africa combat experiences. We remained here until 17 July 1944 when we were relieved by the British. The Combat Command “A” then assembled in the area of La Catherine, France, to await movement orders for the St. Lo Breakout.
MAN BEHIND THE MASK
incident regarding General Rose’s character that I recall also happened in
Normandy in early July 1944. We had taken over defensive holding positions on
the Caumont Line, south of Livry, and placed in a static situation; punctuated
only by artillery duels. Infantry patrols were sent out nightly to capture
prisoners for information. In the
meantime, the beachhead continued to rapidly expand, unloading troops and
supplies behind us in preparation for the expected St. Lo Offensive and
Headquarters Command Post was dug in behind the cursed and damned hedgerows with
camouflage nets hung over all vehicles and equipment; hopefully to escape
detection from our nightly German visitor from the air, named Bed Check Charlie,
photographing our “hidden” locations. This in turn would result in frequent
and heavy artillery barrages that would rain down on us the next day.
Lt. Colonel Jesse M. Hawkins, Division
G-2, ordered the Wire Section of the 142nd Signal Company to install
a public address system located at an advanced point in the woods, half way
between our front line and the enemy positions. Our 142nd Signal Wire
Section Chief, Technical Sergeant Thomas McFarland, was awarded the Silver Star
(2AD G.O. 30, dated 23 May 1945) for bravery by volunteering to make the wire
installation of the P.A. system. Messages were then broadcast in several
languages, encouraging defections by the Polish, Russian and German troops
facing us. The first night it had a modicum of success with three deserters who
came in, willing to speak over the public address system to their fellow
Wehrmacht soldiers to validate the American promises of their safe passage of
On this day both of our wire vehicles received damage from shell fragments from tree-burst shellfire that landed in the crab apple orchard, although we had painstakingly covered the jeep and truck with camouflage nets to avoid detection. My field-pack, out in the open, was destroyed when ripped with shell fragments. Fortunately for me, it was not on my back at the time.
on the receiving end of an artillery barrage, when suddenly the cry “medic”
was heard from one of our men who was wounded.
Disregarding the continuous in-coming harassment fire we were taking, XO
Lt. Col. Bailey, Jr., searching for our Medical Officer, Captain John Ryan,
M.D., found him hunkered-down in his foxhole. After an exchange of heated words,
Col. Bailey gave him a direct order (ultimatum), which Ryan “reluctantly”
obeyed, to immediately go to the man’s aid. Our 27-year-old West Point Colonel
(Class of 1939) earned a lot of our respect at that moment and in the days and
nights that followed. Times like this motivated us to dig our hole deeper as
soon as the incoming shellfire let up. It was not an uncommon early morning
occurrence to see the dirt flying out of holes presumed to having been thought
adequate the night before.
To compound matters, Lt. Col. Carl I.
Hutton’s 14th Field Artillery Battalion 105 mm Howitzer Batteries
were located immediately to our rear, less than half a mile, firing
counter-battery fire around the clock. In return, the 14th (and us) drew
counter-battery answering fire and we received the short rounds from the German
88s in retaliation, also around the clock. The well-positioned enemy forward
observers called for random firing at all hours. Movement was kept to a minimum
by day and only at night outside of our foxholes by necessity. Answering the
call of nature was done quickly and with some personal peril.
frequent rains that fell intermittently daily didn’t help matters much in our
cramped and often-muddy foxholes we dug in the ground at the base of the 10-foot
high hedgerows. We had the choice of attempting to cover the entrance to our
hole in the ground with our raincoats or wearing them to try to keep our smelly
gas impregnated clothing from becoming more caked with mud – neither option
worked well. Even the damn mud was unfriendly. We had given up on the porous tent shelter-half as a cover
during the first few nights of rain. My foxhole buddy, Larry Hull and I would
continually chop away at the decades old tangled roots from the hedges above us,
enabling us to dig deeper into the damp soil beneath – after one week it soon
appeared to have the beginnings of a tunnel!
spite of the present danger of sporadic incoming shellfire, General Rose had a
small olive drab field tent erected behind one of the earthen hedgerow banks in
the command post area nearby. He would be seen seated on his folding canvas
chair, using his EE8A field phone, studying maps on the table, issuing orders;
disregarding and seemingly oblivious to the danger of the incoming rounds.
On another occasion, I witnessed two of
his top tank commanders, Colonel John “Peewee” Howell Collier, 66th Armored
Regiment CO and LTC Lindsay Herkness, 66th 2nd Bn CO,
standing at attention directly in front of the tent as he sat facing
them, tapping the side of his boot with his riding crop (another old habit from
his Cavalry days). He was briefing them in detail on their respective
assignments and what he expected from their tank units. I was amazed by the
rigid code of formalities while periodically incoming shellfire was landing
close by in the fields in front and behind us. At this time, I could only think
of the old cliché, “Discretion is a more important value than valor.”-- but
not the General, regardless of what the two colonels and I might have been
military courtesy was constantly observed in his presence and that included all
of his field grade officers, including his Executive Officer Lt. Colonel
Benjamin Mart Bailey, Jr. (KIA 23 AUG 44 near St. Andre, France). Needless to
say, the same standards held true for all enlisted men, of course. The
motivational factor was respect and fear! His icy stare from those cold dark
eyes was more than enough to make a junior grade officer duck for cover. He was
never known to rebuke a subordinate in the presence of others, but capable of
rendering a biting tongue lashing in private when circumstances warranted. A
strict disciplinarian, he conducted himself in a manner that earned the respect
of his staff – with one notable exception. A junior grade staff officer,
Captain Shadrack Turner, said privately to Lieutenants Louis Bifano and Philip
B. Reisler, “That son-of-a-bitch (Rose) is going to get us all killed!”
Captain Turner requested to be relieved from his staff position and the request
granted at Tidworth Barracks, England.
His battalion and task force commanders
knew from past experiences that he would never give them an order that he would
hesitate to carry out himself. That is not to say that he did not push men to
their limits, and sometimes beyond, to achieve his success on the
battlefield, regardless of the calculated costs of men and equipment.
Nevertheless, when given an assignment and objective by a superior, he expected
casualties and issued the orders that knowingly sent men to face death without
hesitancy on his part.
At times, he could be rightfully accused of micromanaging by constantly prodding the task force commanders to “Keep pushing. Keep moving.” as he monitored their radio nets and conversations. Not only did he insist upon maintaining radio contact with them, but also he always positioned himself, along with his staff at or near the point of attack as he constantly tempted fate by riding the razor’s edge to command at the front line.
the Breakout at St. Lo, BG Maurice Rose’s demonstrated sang-froid demeanor as
a hard driving relentless taskmaster were recognized by both the VII Corps
Commander, Lt. General J. Lawton Collins and First Army CO, General Omar
Bradley, as the leader needed to take command of the faltering Third Armored
Division; then under the command of Major General Leroy Watson; who was
relieved, reduced in grade to Colonel and reassigned, to be replaced by
Brigadier General Maurice Rose on 7 August 1944.
Maurice Rose, a man without many
intimate and close friends, after more than two decades spent climbing the
solitary ladder of success in military service, departed the 2nd
Armored Division exactly in the same manner he arrived – alone. When he
received the promotional transfer he failed to keep with tradition and did not
request joint transfer orders to retain his Aide de Camp, his personal Orderly
nor his jeep driver to accompany him -- all who had served him faithfully and
shared his dangers. They were left behind, returned to the personnel pool and
quickly forgotten. The loner was moving on.
was the Old Soldier’s unwritten creed that when the Army cuts your PCS
(Permanent Change of Station) transfer orders, all old debts are cancelled, IOUs
forgotten and once close friendships end. Maurice Rose had acquired this custom
early in his career as a soldier. He steadfastly focused solely on the present
and his future, obviously not concerned with the past or the obligations of
conscience. The philosophy being when one door in life closes, another opens.
This self-serving role of an egocentric would occur in his private life as well.
this questionable psyche that of a man driven by un-bridled ambition to rise to
the top or simply one more of the numerous heretofore-unknown quirks and flaws
in his character? At the young age
of 19, while recovering in an Army hospital he claimed his religious preference
was Protestant, so did he truly convert
to Christianity, as falsely rumored after his death? There is no record of his
baptism or confirmation to the Christian faith. Or had he become an apostate and
renounced his faith as a Jew? Others suspect he remained a closet Jew who”went
along to get along”? No one knew him intimately and his reputation as an
enigma grew with the myths surrounding his life. His personal religious
preferences/beliefs and two marriages, the first to a Mormon and the second to
an Episcopalian, remained a closed subject with which no one had knowledge until
fifty odd years after his death.
This saga of the man, who enlisted as an
Infantry Private at age 17 in World War One, was wounded in action, received a
commission as a Second Lieutenant and rose through the ranks to where he was
promoted to Major General and placed in command of one of the three existing
full heavy (1st, 2nd and 3rd) armored divisions
of 14,500 men whose destiny he controlled, was about to begin.
History would now commence to record his
specific military achievements beginning with the Battle For Mons, Belgium, with
his soon to become famous “Spearhead” 3rd Armored Division, the
tip of the spear of the VII Corps, in the remaining months of the war. He had
finally reached the pinnacle he had sought all his life – his own division.
He came well prepared for the challenge to mold the command to his
strident demands in very short order. The early years spent under Generals
Patton, Harmon and Brooks served as his informal textbooks making him the ideal
staff officer. Generals Collins and Bradley could not have made a wiser choice.
They could not have chosen a more qualified and dedicated warrior needed for the
task. The “Spearhead” Division had their decision-making problems at the
command level and not down at battalion and company levels. This time the Army
had for once put the square peg in the square hole.
MUSTANG EARNS HIS SPURS
While lacking a commission from West
Point or one of the other accredited military academies, and without a basic
college degree; this promotion to a combat division commander was heralded by
his troops as their “Mustang Officer” who rose from a rear
rank buck Private to the top. That he had paid his dues is an understatement.
His tactical reputation and respect would become legendary with his men
of the 3rd Armored Division as well as others of the famed VII Corps
and the First Army.
Less than eight months later in the
spring of 1945, just before the close of hostilities, while leading this
decorated unit in the last campaign, he would lose his life on the battle field;
leaving behind to mourn his loss, his elderly parents and two women, each with a
son – both women having named their only child after the father, Maurice Rose.
That is the abbreviated life story of Maurice Rose, the son of a Rabbi, who was
a Jew by birth and Christian by choice, The Mustang General -- The
Man From Colorado.
article first appeared in the 2nd Armored Division Association
Bulletin in the June issue 1987 and in the 3rd Armored Division
Association Newsletter dated June 1987; it has been edited and revised.
Publication or reproduction, in part or whole, is prohibited without written permission from the author, Don R. Marsh. All rights remain the sole property of The Marsh Family Trust.