By Don R. Marsh 

August 10, 1944  

Gathemo, France  

On the 10th of August 1944, a Task Force consisting of the 2nd Battalion, 66th Armored Regiment, 14th Armored Field Artillery Battalion, 1 Platoon of Company “A” 17th Armored Engineer Battalion, 2nd Battalion of 41st Armored Infantry Regiment (-1Co.), 1 Company of the 702nd Tank Destroyer Battalion and a detachment from Company “A” 48th Armored Medical Battalion, attacked the town of Gathemo and east along a ridge line on the flank of the German counterattack towards Avranches. Very heavy resistance was encountered and the enemy massed heavy artillery and heavy weapons fire from anti-tank guns in a desperate effort to stop the attack of the Command. After heavy fighting, the balance of CC”A” joined the task Force on 13 August, took Ger and seized Hill 329 the next day.           

On 20 August 1944, CC”A” began an attack North and Northeast towards Elbeuf. We had taken Breteuil-Newburg and were approaching St. Andre in a nighttime march. We were enroute to a crossing at the Seine River at Mantes-Gassicourt in a double column that stretched for endless miles behind us. It was 23 August, near 2100 hours and pitch dark as we were trying to follow the vehicle in front, maintaining vehicle intervals without tailgating. It takes all of your concentration to focus on the two small taillights.  

Without warning, suddenly we heard an aircraft, a German JU88, circle over the top of us. He then climbed off in the distance. After circling, he dropped a magnesium flare. We knew at once that it was a Kraut plane and not one of ours. When I saw the flare drifting, with its brilliant light, I thought, “Somebody is going to catch hell now.” Little did I realize it would be us. 

As the flare drifted closer illuminating our miles of stalled columns, the plane passed overhead strafing us with guns blazing, but not before dropping his bomb. It landed directly in front of us about three vehicles forward almost on the road right next to the Executive Officer’s Command half-track. After the terrific explosion, 27 year old Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin Mart Bailey, Jr., West Point “M” Company Class of 1939, was mortally wounded and died within moments after calling out, “Help me. Somebody help me.”  Other members of the half-track crew were also severely wounded by the bomb blast and fragments. A Master Sergeant lost his arm; I assumed that he died from trauma and loss of blood. Others nearby were hit by bomb fragments and also suffered concussion. We bailed out of our vehicles and ran into the nearby fields. Some stayed on their .50 caliber ring mounted machines guns to fire at the plane, when he made another and final strafing run at the road lined with vehicles bumper to bumper. We had been sitting ducks. We recovered and the advance continued throughout the night. General Collier replaced Colonel Bailey with Lt. Colonel Wilson M. Hawkins from the 66th Armored Regiment as his Executive Officer. 

On 26 August 1944, the city of Elbeuf, France was seized despite heavy resistance. During this action, The Command advanced so rapidly that it ran off its maps and made the final assault without them. The resistance was so aggressive that one column attacking from the Southeast, consisting of primarily of the 2nd Battalion, 66th AR, was cut off for two days and nights. After the city fell, Elbeuf was turned over to the Canadian troops in return for a “receipt for the city” requested by Colonel John H. “Peewee” Collier, Commanding officer of CC”A.” We then moved to a new assembly area near Mantes-Gassicourt, crossing the Seine River on 28-29 August 1944 and continued attacking northeast. The advance of the division was so rapid that it moved with six columns abreast. What slowed us down the most were the huge throngs of the local populations that turned out enmasse to greet their liberators in every village and city. We witnessed young women from many of the villages being rounded up in the town square to have their heads shaved – payback time for having “associated” with the despised German soldiers during their occupation. 

The Command moved rapidly, crossing the Somme River near Arras and Cambrai. XIX Corps issued orders on the night of 31 August 1944, to the 2nd Armored Division to capture the city of Ghent (Tournai) within forty-eight hours. Earlier the XIX Corps had been relegated to lesser role in Belgium, the honors being reserved for the British under General Montgomery. The Corps directive to take the town by midnight was met by CCA with two hours to spare. BG Collier radioed his command had arrived at 2200 hours and was requesting new orders.  

After cutting and crossing the ARRAS-CAMBRAI road in the late afternoon of 1 September, the Combat Command coiled and outposted both columns for the night; prepared to proceed in the same direction the following day. During this drive, enemy units attempting to escape tried to break through from the west, while the CCA columns were heading for the Belgium border. These units, which included 2 Mark V tanks, 9 towed AT guns and approximately 170 vehicles were engaged by our tanks and artillery and destroyed. 450 prisoners were taken during this engagement. 

1 September 1944 at LaChapelle, France, an enemy artillery tree burst explodes wiping out friends on another wire team. Killed outright is Bob Rosenberg and later Lowell P. Dillard dies of wounds received. These two men and I sailed overseas together and traveled the pipeline to these wire team assignments. This full wire team had to be replaced; as the other men on the wire team—Joseph Harris, Edward Mickel, William G. Emerson, Maurice F. Hatfield and Julius V. Conn are severely wounded and evacuated. 

Entering Belgium 

On 2 September 1944, at 0930 hours, the 82nd Reconnaissance Battalion crossed the French-Belgian border astride the ORCHIES-TOURNAI road near Rumes in force, becoming the first of the Allied Ground Forces to enter Belgium. Eleven minutes later, CC”A” now commanded by now newly promoted, Brigadier General John H. “Peewee” Collier arrived with the full CC”A” command representing the largest force to enter at that hour. Major General Edward Brooks followed right behind the 82nd Recon Battalion. When Brooks came upon Lt. Col. Wheeler Merriam, 82nd Recon CO, stopped with his A and B Companies to refuel, he asked Merriam why he had stopped short with his advance, only to be told by Merriam that they were already ten miles inside the Belgium border. 

Afterwards we learned that late that same afternoon, 2 September, at 1630 hours, the 3rd Armored Division entered Belgium. MG Maurice Rose graciously permitted BG Doyle Hickey, one of his Combat Commanders, to be the first of that unit to cross the border; mistakenly under the impression that they were the first to cross the border. When the Belgium government recognized the 2nd Armored Division as the first to enter and liberate their country, they erected a monument on the spot and they awarded the full division the Belgian Fourragere on 22 May 1945, ending that sibling rivalry and dispute about being “first.” 

At 0230 hours, 3 September 1944, Division Headquarters received a message from the Commanding General of the British Guards Armoured Division “expressing hope that the 2AD understands Tournai to be totally within the British Zone.” 

4 September 1944. The entire command moved to an area southeast of the Orchies-Tournai road in a boundary agreement with the British Second Army and our American First Army.  This day was my 22nd birthday – resting in an apple orchard, eating “C” rations, no cake, no candles, just another day closer to going home. With the Krauts on the run, we speculated about being home by Christmas, but that wasn’t in the cards – far from it. We remained in this area for two days because we had run out of fuel. Refueled and rested, we moved to a bivouac area between Diest and Hasselt, Belgium on 8 September 1944. Hasselt later became the Division Rest Center. 12 September 1944 General Brooks turns over command of the 2nd Armored Division to Major General Ernest Harmon – “Old Gravel Voice” returns to once again take command. Buckle your chinstraps; we’re in for a ride! “Profane Ernie” likes to ride up front in armored cars and tanks with his troops!

Entering Holland 

Early on 13 September we crossed the Albert Canal north of Hasselt and attacked in an easterly direction through Maastricht, Holland crossing the Meuse River on 16 September. By personal request from the Catholic Archbishop of Maastricht, the city was placed “Off Limits” to all GIs, enforced and patrolled by Corps MPs. Not that the citizens had any valid reason to fear us, just that the “old boy” wanted to protect his young maidens who were eager to meet the wild and horny Americans!


Meeting Our Enemy 

Fifty-six years later, in the year 2000, in doing serious research to coauthor a book, I came in contact with a former German soldier, now active in American-German Veteran Friendship Associations, Herr Hubert Gees, residing in Salzkotten-Scharmede, Germany. In addition to providing me with extremely valuable World War Two German records and documents, Hubert related that he had personal experiences in Limburg Province, Holland with our 2nd Armored Division during September 1944. Gees was a seventeen-year-old infantryman in the 464th Infantry Battalion at Eschweiler, Germany, on September 4th when he was sent to Limburg. 

Gees was the second of a two-man Panzerschreck (anti-tank) team, along with Werner Bottcher.  Their mode of transportation was bicycles. They carried the Panzerfausts (stove pipe tubes) on their shoulders and tied two wooden boxes each containing 4 rockets (7.5 cm) to the bikes. They weren’t too confident going up against an American armored division. At the moment, their biggest fear was the American P-51 fighter planes, they called the “Jabos.” Their mission was to defend the Albert Canal. This same Canal CC”A” of the 2nd Armored was approaching.  

On September 16th1 mile from the east end of Bunde and the hamlet of Kasen, Gees was in his foxhole, accompanied by his friend Abelius, when the first tanks came into view, firing machine guns at his position. Artillery fire was landing in his field and fighter planes attacking targets on the ground. He decided to make a run for the nearby woods as bullets followed him. He said he literally dove through a thicket helmet first in desperation to escape. Hiding in the woods he escaped and on Sunday, September 17th met with other stragglers who were then collected in the village of Moorveld for transfer to defend Geilenkirchen. Two months later he was captured in the Hurtgen Forest and became a Prisoner of War. He wrote that he was thankful the tankers from the 66th Regiment didn’t kill him, as his friend Werner died in that action. Hubert Gees and I continue to exchange season greetings and correspondence – former enemies, now friends. 

Heavy fighting occurred near Valkenburg, Holland, which fell 17 September. The following day, 18 September, the Command crossed the border into Germany at Wehr and Hillensberg near Geilenkirchen. Until 30 September, CC”A” remained in a defensive position southwest of Geilenkirchen defeating, with heavy casualties, German counterattacks with armor and infantry. Total prisoners taken 67, killed 220, 22 vehicles destroyed and 12 assault guns. At that time the Command assembled in the rear of the front line to prepare for the breakthrough of the Siegfried Line. We were relieved by the 115th Infantry Regiment. The 2nd Armored Division crossed the German border on 18 September 1944 at Schimmert to take up defensive positions. 

Dutch Hospitality 

Every so often in a soldier’s life, you get a decent break. Our break was being assigned to the Dutch village of Brunsuum, Holland. If there ever was a “soldier’s dream spot” – this was it. The population could not have been more hospitable and openly friendly to their liberators, in every way. They showered us with food and beverages. Most spoke English as a second language. We were welcomed into their homes and made friendships that lasted for decades long after the war. Many of our troops returned to marry their Dutch girlfriends. One comes to mind, Charlie Boss and his Wilhelmina, who found true love. 

By this time, the original wire crew had lost two members, Fred Newland and here Joe Elfer. Elfer being the driver of the ton & ¼ wire truck, we requested a replacement from the Signal Company, but were told none was available. So Lt. Moll asked for and received a driver (TDY) from the Division Services Company – one Private Charles Boss. He was short in stature, about 5 foot 2inches and wiry, but boisterous and out-going. Charlie fit in immediately. His “I don’t give a damn” attitude was a great example of GIs who had reached the point after two years service where rank – their own (or lack thereof) or others – no longer made a difference. Charlie could be borderline insolent in dealing with officers as he came close to the line, but always spoke to them with a disarming smile on his face. He flourished in our circle as a hot dog, but never showed any fear as a driver. 

Nearby Brunsuum, was the city of Heerlen. We learned of hot showers available at the coalmine employee’s locker room with endless hot water, a luxury we had missed for months and we took full advantages of the premises. Besides, cleaning up improved your chances with the young local gals, of which there was no shortage at Café Juliana, eager to meet the Americans. As it turned out, it worked well for all concerned. Brunsuum was friendly, no doubt about it. To save you from asking or wondering – her name was Edith and she was a stunning nineteen-year-old redhead!  

Other nearby cities and places of interest included the small community of Vaals; the only location where three countries’ (Belgium, Holland and Germany), frontiers intersect at a common border. Vaals had been an important holiday resort. From Vaalsserberg, the highest hill in Holland, you could get a good view of Aachen, to our south. Just east of Aachen, the 3rd Armored Division had pierced the Siegfried Line and was in a stalemate at Stolberg, Germany.

Der Hubertuskreuz 

Forty years later Hans Kramp of Linnich, Germany, a German veteran contacted me. He was the author of the World War Two historical book “Rurfront 1944-45” -- inviting me to attend the site to commemorate the deaths of the fallen soldiers of both armies on this field of battle. Now every year on the first Sunday of October the local parish priest of St. Martin’s Church of Linnich conducts a field service at the site in honor of the men who fell in service of their countries. The site borders Lindern, Holland and Linnich, Germany. It is called the “Hubertuskreuz” (Hubert’s Cross) and was first erected in 1844 to commemorate the historical battle between the medieval legions of the Duke of Julich (Germany) and the Duke of Geldern (Holland) on November 3, 1444, called St. Hubert’s Day. Thirty-five years after the famous WWII battles for the Roer (Rur) River 1944-45, the local citizens of both countries decided to pay respects to the dead of all who died here by placing a huge stone at the same site. Actually, the two stone memorials are placed at the same site commemorating the significant land battles that took place on that spot 500 years apart – 1444-1944. American units on the stone memorial plaque are the 2nd Armored Division, 29th, 30th, 84th, 102nd and 104th US Infantry Divisions. 

After the end of the war, the U.S. Government constructed the only American Cemetery in The Netherlands. It lies in the village of Margraten, 6 miles east of Maastricht. It contains the remains of 10,023 men, including Major General Maurice Rose, Commanding Officer of the U.S. Third Armored Division, Killed In Action on 30 March 1945 at Hamborn, Germany. 

A special medal was awarded to the 2nd Armored Division on October 6, 1982, in Washington, DC, by the Netherlands Government; represented by Dr. J. H. Lubbers, the Netherlands Ambassador to the USA. In attendance was the Secretary of the Army, John O. Marsh, Jr. The medal, The Netherlands National Resistance Cross, was awarded to the 2nd Armored Division for its participation in the liberation of Holland from Nazi occupation. Only two other American Army divisions, the 82nd Airborne and the 101st Airborne were awarded this honor. 

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.