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Unit Details

Strength
Battalion
 
Type
Anti-Tank Unit
 
Year
1941 - 1945
 

Description
Not Specified
 
Notable Persons
None
 
Reports To
Tank Destroyer Forces
 
Active Reporting Unit
None
 
Inactive Reporting Units
 
Unit Documents
 644th Tank Destroyer Battalion Unit Book


Unit Web Links

1 Member Who Served in This Unit


 
  • Lee, James, T/5, (1942-1945)
 
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  Unit History Detail
Date
Jul 07, 2020

Title
History of the 644th Tank Destroyer Battalion (Source is the 644th Tank Destroyer Battalion Unit Book Published 11July1945 printed by "Muster-Schmidt") LTD., Gottingen (Germany)

Content
(Text of pages 9 through 34 of the 644th Tank Destroyer Battalion Book)

FORTUNE AND THE BRAVE

The story of the 644th Tank Destroyer Battalion begins on July 2, 1941 in Fort Dix, New Jersey. The 44th Anti-Tank Battalion (Provisional) was formed from elements of the 69th Field Artillery Brigade, 44th Infantry Division. The new organization was commanded by Lt Col John Lemp.

G and H Batteries of the 157th Field Artillery Regiment comprised the nucleus of the battalion and became A and B batteries. The remainder of the personnel came into the new unit from the AT platoon of each battalion headquarters battery of the 157th FA, 165th FA, and the 156th FA Regiments. When the job was completed, this battalion had been formed with Hq, A, B, C, and D batteries. Several days later a fifth battery, E, was formed from the AT personnel of 71st Infantry Regiment. The �??shooting�?? material of the battalion consisted of sixteen 75mm M2A2 guns, drawn by 2-1/2 ton trucks, and thirty-six 37 mm guns drawn by 1/2 ton weapons carriers.

During the first three weeks of August, the battalion attended a school maneuver at A.P. Hill military reservation, near Fredericksburg, Virginia. The �??Grizzlies�??, the �??GI�??s�?? and the �??Screamers�?? surpassed in importance any of the more formal anti-tank training here.

Shortly after its return to Fort Dix, in late August, the battalion moved with the 44th Division to Wadesboro, in the North and South Carolina First Army Maneuver Area. During the latter part of the three month maneuver period the 44th Division, with the 44th AT Battalion, opposed the 8th Infantry Division. Thus it was, in 1941, that the first contact was made with the division of which the battalion was to be a part in the coming European Phase of World War II.

On December 15th, the unit was back from Fort Dix, and on that date was redesignated the 644th Tank Destroyer Battalion, Light (Towed). It was at this time that E Battery was detached from the unit and returned to the 71st Infantry Regiment. The weapons of the outfit were changed to include only 37 mm guns, towed by 1/2 ton weapons carriers, and the unit was compressed into Hq, A, B, and C Companies.

Change of station orders cut short well earned furloughs and moved the 44th Division to Camp Claiborne, Louisiana, where it arrived on January 16, 1942. During its stay at Claiborne, the 644th TD Bn underwent two substantial changes. The first was the separation of the unit from the 44th Division. Tank destroyer battalions had won their spurs and were now separate units and under War Department control. The second was the addition of a fifth company, called the pioneer company (forerunner of the present Reconnaissance Company). This was accomplished by transferring to the 644th TD Bn, the Regimental Headquarters Battery of the 157th FA Regiment. In addition, the strength of the battalion was gradually being built up by replacements from Ft Bragg and we became (on paper only, of course) self-propelled.

On February 25, 1942 the 44th Division with the 644th TD Bn again attached, moved by rail to Fort Lewis, Washington, where attachment to the Division terminated. While at Fort Lewis, we participated in defensive operations which included guarding the Pacific coastline at North Cove near Aberdeen, Washington, and evacuating Japanese from Portland and Hood River, Oregon. Training was profitable and continuous during our stay at Fort Lewis. Gradually the unit welded itself into a well trained fighting outfit. All this was accomplished in spite of many obstacles and involved what was then considered tough training. (For example, that 27 mile night hike -- everyone crawled home on his knees or staggered in on his bleeding ankle bones). Cadres were furnished to create new units. This period also had its pleasures. Members of the battalion enjoyed the scenic beauties of Portland (Mount Hood), Seattle (Puget Sound) and Tacoma (Happy Days, Mt. Rainier, and the Moose Club). On 12 September 1942 many sincere friends, sweethearts and wives were left behind on the west coast or accompanied the battalion (the wives, of course) when it went to Texas. By this time most of us considered ourselves seasoned travelers, having covered much of the United States. We made the move to Texas by rail under Major Ephraim F. Graham, Jr., who assumed command in August, 1942.

On September 18, 1942 the unit arrived in Texas and went into a bivouac area on Georgetown Road, a few miles outside of Camp Hood. To many of the new members of the battalion, this was the first taste of outdoor life, but we quickly acclimated ourselves and became used to the foul Texas weather, the bitter tasting alkaline water, chiggers, tarantulas, armadillos, the lack of beer, and outdoor showers in mid-December. Some of the personnel insist they �??sweated out�?? the full six months without a drop of water, having survived the Texas heat on Coca-Cola alone. We all tried to say something nice about Texas, but honestly triumphed over charity every time.

The battalion lived in tents and training was carried on with borrowed equipment. Much of the work, such as loading ammunition belts and cleaning weapons, was done during the dark, early morning. At this time the M3 half-track, mounting a self-propelled 75mm gun, was supposed to be our primary weapon (but we had 37mm guns blocked up on half tons) and the motto �??Seek, Stride, Destroy�?? was the basis for TD tactics.

There were those days at the machine gun and rifle ranges, where three-fourths of the battalion was behind the lines listening to lectures by bewildered second lieutenants or waving their arms to produce the appearance of calisthenics; and the rides to the range in the icy winter wind, without windshields, with the weather cold enough to cause a brass monkey considerable discomfort -- and don�??t fail to mention the commando course, with its �??Puke Hill�??, the water obstacle, that night tank-hunting problem, and the bloke who kept shooting at your heels with a cal.30 rifle in the village-fighting course. Or the big demonstration near Antelope School for all the generals, when, for three hours, we see-sawed back and forth only 400 yds from the tanks, showing how to fire and move, screaming to each other over a single battalion radio channel, and damning the Texas corn fields because their furrows always ran crosswise, no matter which side you entered on. Of course there was Gatesville -- two movies, count them, two -- and Waco.

During the stay in Texas, the battalion crest, designed entirely by the men of the 644th TD Bn, was approved by the War Department. The crest consists of a mailed fist superimposed on a red Norman shield with the motto: �??Fortune Favors The Brave�??. Each spike of the fist represents a company in the battalion, and the color of the shield represents the red of the artillery from which branch the Bn originated. The mailed fist symbolizes the might of TD armament and the motto indicates the spirit of the unit.

The battalion moved into barracks in Camp Hood on December 26th and received replacements totaling over one hundred men, who were given basic training and assimilated into the organization. We were issued six M-10�??s, and we lashed the tubes down with ropes (they forgot to build �??em with turret locks) and got our first driver and maintenance instruction.

During the latter part of January 1943, the battalion moved by three trains back to Fort Lewis. For the next three months, equipment was brought up to date, training continued, and old acquaintances (female, of course) were renewed.

Our commanding officer was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel. During the month of May 1943, still with only six destroyers, the battalion moved to Yakima, Washington, where it trained extensively in direct fire. We became accustomed to sagebrush and rattlesnakes, snarled a little at the 633rd T. D. Bn, and the 4th TD Group, established our Tacoma reputation in Yakima, and returned to Fort Lewis during the middle of June. Then preparations began for a move to the high desert of Oregon for large scale maneuvers to be held from July to November 1943. Prior to the move to Oregon the unit received its total complement of thirty-six M-10 Tank Destroyers.

After detraining at Redmond, Oregon, inexperienced drivers made a long march across country through the dust for over forty miles of difficult ground, to Sisters, a town named after the famous Three Sisters, Oregon mountain peaks.

Succeeding weeks saw the outfit lick its maintenance problems, become accustomed to heat and lack of water, give up wine, women and practically song, and put into application all the lessons it had learned through lectures, demonstrations, and garrison training (including �??How to Change a Bogie Wheel�??). A three week rest (?) period was utilized for direct and indirect fire training at Buffalo Crossing, Ore., and here the battalion became aware of the potency of its weapons. We moved cross country to Hole in the Ground, Oregon, and practiced combat plays and then entered the IV Corps maneuver at Glass Buttes.

The Corps maneuver was a wild operation. We were credited with 150 enemy tanks in the second problem during which, as �??Reds�??, we engaged a superior force of �??Blue�?? troops. The ending of maneuvers was premature for us, because the unit was alerted for overseas movement. An eventual move was made to Lapine, Oregon, where the tracks were moved by rail (we loaded them in an hour and fifty-five minutes) and the balance of the unit marched to Fort Lewis again by truck, arriving at our home station on September 29th.

The following weeks were filled with inspections and replacements of equipment, night infiltration courses, physical fitness tests, Army Ground Force tests (where we all lost our breakfasts), furloughs, and polishing up of training preparatory to the big moment. It came on the 22nd of December when the battalion boarded troop trains at the Fort Lewis Depot for an unknown destination. Our principal regret at this time (except that we had to say �??Goodbye�?? to the girls at PX26) was that we had to turn in all our equipment, which we had uncrated, issued, cleaned, oiled, and sweated over for weeks.

A short period of depression was felt by most members during the Christmas Holidays, in spite of the turkey dinner and a little liquid Christmas cheer, but by the time the unit arrived at Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, most of us were in the pink again. To many this was a homecoming!

A busy period. Rushing through physicals, abandoning ship drill, a hurried sorting of personal effects; (�??throw away your shaving lotion and shampoo, you�??ll need the room for cigarettes�??). What to do with the damn bedroll? Change of APO, a pass to get home and see the family once more, or a first visit to the �??Big City�??, dim-out or no dim-out. Last minute packing of TAT boxes, lettering of duffle bags and everything else. And finally, the move by train, the wrestle with the suspenders and field bag, the ferry boat and that long climb up the gangplank. The Date? January 1st, 1944. A fine way to start the New Year!

We found we were aboard the good ship H.M.T. Aquitania. The rats had deserted it two trips back, people said, and later we came to respect their judgment. After an overnight stay in New York harbor, we moved out the following day for a voyage filled with rumors, strange changes of course, blackout, seasickness, awful British chow and perhaps a little homesickness. In addition, the job of guarding the ship was given to the unit, and we got shots again. Popular opinion had us off the coast of Greenland and eventually, when the weather suddenly turned warm, close to the Azores. Finally, after ten days at sea [Jan12], we anchored in an inlet outside of the Scottish town of Gourick (near Glasgow) and transferred to the U.S. Troop Transport Henry T. Gibbons. We learned to eat again, American food being served. The following morning [Jan13] without touching land another move was made, and the new day found us docked in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

We got a hasty view of some of the bombed-out sections of the town, and had a short discussion with the �??Tommies�??. It was a little exciting to see that the war had been here. We moved by British trucks to the station, where we entrained for Enniskillen, Northern Ireland, and then proceeded to two bivouac areas, part of the battalion to Crom Castle and part to Belle Isle.

This was a new world! Nissen Huts, fog, powdered eggs, (and the screamers again), free cigarettes and PX rations, the additional twenty percent overseas pay, dehydrated food, Guiness and such mysteries as a �??Two and Six�??,�??a�??penny�??,florins and half crowns.

Another move by those dinky trains on January 23, 1944 for Larne, to our new area at Kilwaughter Castle, in Country Antrim. More problems to face: a motor park to build (�??hard standing�??). additional training in indirect fire, passes and dances in town, NAAFI pastry, organization of the battalion band, sleeping on boards and straw ticks, training and more training! But some of us got furloughs to visit all parts of the UK, which included London, which included Picadilly. The Larne townspeople always knew where the outfit was going two days before we did. All British sailors disliked us and vice versa. We fired at direct targets near Bushmills, and indirect at Collin Top and in the Sperrin Mountains. We hiked to Ballygalley, knocked down a house with bazookas and bangalores on the Creeve Mountain Range, and watched the gals shed tears when we packed up to leave.

May 10 found us off again, this time to Belfast, and aboard ship for two days across the Irish Sea to Newport, Wales [May12[, and another train ride to Hungerford, England, where we arrived on the 13th. Our tracked vehicles had gone before us and we were later assured by the personnel accompanying them that an LST is not a pleasure craft. s had gone before us and we were later assured by the personnel accompanying them that an LST is not a pleasure craft.

More problems in England. Modifications of equipment, more firing, camouflage nets to garnish, C47�??s and gliders overhead constantly, D-Day, and finally waterproofing of vehicles and the preparations to move once more. This time it was to Southampton, on the 6th of July.

Here the war was closer than ever before. Vehicles were camouflaged in the streets, we saw several buzz bombs, had a six day wait for orders and ships in a stinking tent camp in the woods. Finally there were the loadings on LST�??s and the movement across the Channel to the Normandy Peninsula (we landed on Utah Beach) on July 11 and 12. The battalion assembled and moved on July 12 to a point near St. Sauveur du Pierre Point. We saw our first dead Kraut, had an ammo dumb blow up near us, drove through desolate, ruined towns, and fired at everything that moved (including the OD) during our guard tricks at night.

This was it! All the sweating, training, hiking, moving, inspections, drilling, were paying off now, at last. We were here and we were ready, and even if we were a bit jumpy we were ready to account for ourselves. Two days later we were given the chance!

Assigned to the First United States Army and attached to the 8th Infantry Division, the 644 TD Bn was ordered to relieve the 803 TD Bn in the line on 15 July. We moved into positions about the three miles south of La Haye Du Puits. Company A was attached to the 121st Regiment, Company B to the 13th and Company C was held under battalion control to deliver indirect fire through division artillery. Later Company C was attached to the 28th Regt and these attachments continued intermittently throughout the war, with one company sometimes under battalion control on artillery missions and two usually in infantry close support and anti-tank roles under regimental control. Elements of Recon Co operated both as a company unit and with a platoon attached to each TD company. It also got some nasty division missions now and then.

We experienced our first association with Jerry and his methods. Battle sounds, more dead men in the ditches, burp guns, the whistle of 88�??s, new tactics, swelling rotting cows and horses, hedge-row cutters on the M-10�??s, ten-in-one rations, cooking our own meals, living in foxholes that got deeper and deeper, (duplex apartments, in some instances). Digging-in vehicles and getting so you could call the �??shorts�?? and �??overs�?? from the sound of the shells coming in. Souvenir hunting, the scramble for a P-38 or Luger. Finally, that competent feeling of having �??been there�?? -- -- the state of nerves and the ability to calculate chances that separates a veteran from a rookie.

No contact except by patrols and delivery of artillery fire was made by the battalion until 26 July, but all elements were subjected until that date to sporadic fire from 88mm guns and mortars. The Forward CP and Recon were pasted constantly. B�??s 3rd Plat was on a Heinie fire chart for sure. And then the infantry wanted C�??s 2d Plat to dig in on a forward slope. We got bombed by P47�??s and straffed by ME109�??s. We saw 500 beautiful Forts fly over one morning. The wire crews laid line after line, under fire. We won�??t ever forget Vesly, Laulne, Pissot, and Me de Claides.

All elements participated in Operation �??COBRA�?? beginning 260530 July 1944, with Company B firing prearranged missions for Division Artillery and Companies A and C in close support. We pushed forward in the advance of the division in pursuit of enemy forces and struck south of the Lessay-Periers line and beyond Coutances. (Operation �??COBRA�?? was the attack which developed into the famous Normandy breakthrough.)

After August 1st, we continued the advance to the south with the leading forces of the division, reaching RENNES on the 4th. During this movement, Co B and then Co A went ahead with CT 13, performing security missions in the forward areas of the division sector. Contact with the enemy was slight, although we were very nearly bombed off the road in one hair-raising night march. Scattered pockets of German troops constituted the only resistance encountered by any elements of the battalion. We saw our first Mark V abandoned in a courtyard south of Coutances. �??Bed-Check Charlie�?? tucked us into those slit-trenches a little deeper every evening.

From August 4th to August 13th, the battalion (less Co C after August 8th) held positions in the vicinity of Rennes, prepared to meet an attack by armor from the south. Northeast of us the Falaise pocket was being worked over. General Patton was shaking himself free for the race across France. On August 8th, Co C was attached to the 121st Infantry Regiment, and moved to the northwest for the bloody capture of Dinard. Recon Co patrolled the area within a ten-mile radius of Rennes and performed three division reconnaissance missions to the south and east.

From August 13th, to August 18th, the battalion accompanied the 8th Division from Rennes to a position southeast of Dinan where we stayed for a couple of days and were joined by weary Co C. Then in two days [Aug20] to an assembly area north of Brest through a shower of fruit, onions and flowers from the happy French. Co A was attached to one battalion of the 28th Infantry Regiment to form in a task force which reduced an enemy position on Cape Frehel and then moved into the vicinity of Brest. The Rear CP sat in a position ahead of the infantry for several days. The battalion, less Co A, established itself in an area southwest of Lesneven on August 18th and began preparations for attack on the German garrison at Brest. Co A went into assembly under enemy observation and absorbed quite a little German artillery.

Prior to the attack on Brest, Recon Company, operating under division orders, patrolled the right flank of the division, twice engaging enemy patrols in the vicinity of St. Renan. A recon section drove into and out of a German bivouac, we shot up a couple of trucks, jockeyed around to get at German patrols, and in general had quite a time.

The attack on Brest started noisily at 1300 hours on the 26th. Companies B and C performed close support missions for the infantry while Co A acted in close support of the main attack and also in operations against minor pockets of enemy in fortified positions along the coast to the west of Brest. Lt. Stevenson of C Co was captured while on a foot patrol on August 26, 1944. He escaped to the Daolas Peninsula and later rejoined the unit when it was moving to the Crozon Peninsula.

Co A remained attached to the 29th Infantry Division from the first part of September until September 21, 1944, performing close support missions with the infantry attacking Brest and with Task Force �??Sugar�??, in fighting along the coast west of Brest.

The operation was nastier than anyone had anticipated. We found that we were facing a combination of paratroopers, marines, sailors, and fortress troops, well armed, cocky, and beautifully dug in. Hill 88, Kergroas, Pontanezen Barracks, the fort on the river, and a dozen other tight sport will stand in the history of this war as some of the toughest in Europe. Co A had to pick up rations in M-10;s, the pioneers dug Co C�??s destroyers in on the outpost line at night, and B Co led the infantry from one critical point to the next. We watched the P47�??s drop gasoline bombs, we put out red panels and were bombed by our own P38�??s, watched a Fort go down when it collided with a Thunderbolt, began to take prisoners. Also the Krauts had a few coastal guns which shook us up at night.

We moved (less Co A) to the Crozon Peninsula south of Brest on September 11th to finish off the German garrison. A Co stayed with the 29th Division, while B worked with the 28th Regiment and C with the 121st and finally the 13th. Recon Co fired continuous harassing missions with its 37mm guns. The pioneers dug us in again on the outpost line at night under fire, we sneaked up on a 105 AA gun and knocked it out, we entered the town of Crozon and dug in again to attack the big fort to the north, fired several hundred rounds of direct fire, broke through the defenses and saw General Canham, 8th Division assistant commander, take General Ramcke prisoner. The Brest Campaign was over!

The battalion was assembled in a bivouac area in the vicinity of Treflevenez, France, on the 24th of September in preparation for movement to the east. This was our first real breathing spell, and the first time the battalion had been together since we hit the beach in July. Here we got hot showers, coffee and doughnuts, a dry pair of shoes out of the good old duffel bag and a look at the once glamorous class A service coat. A chance to clean up, get some sleep, and grease, weld, repair, and generally get things in shape. Here too we mixed a little pleasure with business. Passes to Landerneau if you were lucky, and it was a break even if you did have to carry a �??K�?? ration along to keep from starving.

But the rest didn�??t last long. We were off again on the 27th of September when the battalion wheels moved as part of a huge 8th Division column across France to Luxembourg, where we arrived at the end of the month. The tracks came by rail. September 30th found us in bivouac in the rain and fog near Eschdorf, Luxembourg, with visions of beer, ice cream, and a knockout victory through the Siegfried Line into the heart of Germany.

But we were given a long front and a holding mission. On October 1st, 1944, the battalion, without Co�??s A and B, was attached to the 28th Regiment. Recon Co took up duties patrolling a portion of Division sector between 13th Inf Reg�??t and 2nd Bn of the 28th. Contact with friendly units on both flanks was maintained. Recon Co CP moved to Ursplet. The Fwd CP moved to the vicinity of Holzthum, then to Clerf and finally to filthy little Boevange. Co C was assigned the mission of setting up defenses from Marnach to Diekirch. B Co was partly through the Siegfried line east of Leiler, and Co A established itself south of Ettlebruck. The infantry regimental fronts were from ten to twenty miles broad, and we had to have planned positions to cover every spot along them. In addition we had to fire daily direct missions and a lot of artillery targets. At first we could plainly see the Krauts sunbathing and answering the calls of nature in front of the pillboxes across the valley. We taught them to cover and concealment in short order.

Luxembourg wasn�??t really too bad. There were showers in Diekirch and Wiltz, a few buzzbombs, the red-ball highway from which you could look at the tonsils of the Siegfried guns, a lot of indirect fire (remember when Co C�??s 3d Pln shelled B Co?), a certain pitch-fork-welding female named Annie in Boevange, dull passes to quaint little Clerf, enemy patrols every night, dashes into Vianden under enemy fire, one or two movies (with the damn sound track kaput), and the eternal stench of cow manure in every little town. The Krauts kept everlastingly feeling us out, and we pulled away about one month before they decided that here was the thin spot, and Von Rundstedt sent his panzers through.

We got a rumor from the third stool that we�??d fight a winter campaign up north and in mid-November we took over west of Hurtgen, inside Germany, from the 630th TD Bn. That operation, a fight eastward toward the dams on the Roer River, was the �??dilly�?? of the war. From that dampish first night until the December snows we had rain, rain, rain, with indescribable seas of mud on every road. We were issued overshoes, and then sweaters, and slept in the destroyers, or in damp dugouts. Remember the road up to Germeter from the south, with the corduroy under six inches of chocolate slime, where B�??s 2d platoon sat for a long two weeks? And the cellars in Vossenack with C�??s 1st Platoon receiving thousands of rounds every day. Or A�??s 3d and C�??s 2d at the Germeter junction. And A�??s 1st at the little bridge where it burned up the Sherman the Jerries were firing. Then the 5th Armored�??s CCR fiasco, followed by the march into Hurtgen, after the Pioneers had dug all night up on the road that had �??S�?? mines all along it. C Co moving into Hurtgen with three TD�??s out of twelve operational, A Co grinding a road of its own through the minefields in the middle of the night. Those 120mm mortars, the 22 ME 109�??s over the town and then the P 38�??s taking over where the Luftwaffe left off. A Co in Brandenberg and Bergstein, Rcn setting up regimental communication in the infantry forward CP�??s, Echelon pulling M-10�??s out of minefields, and A�??s first platoon beating off the Heinies in some of the toughest stuff we saw (with everybody else in the cellars and our Cal. 50 AA�??s doing the real job). Kleinhau, on the hill, where they could see you from the Cologne plain, and laid in on you whenever they felt like it. Snow came to join the mud and we settled down to hold. A deep breath at last!

So, instead of letting us get stale in a nasty old holding action, they bustled us down to the 2d Division to attack. We set up in Sourbrodt, Belgium, in a snow storm, leaving Co B back in the Hurtgen Forest to sweat out German artillery, patrols, and mid-winter weather with the 8th. A and C moved through quiet little Butgenbach, quiet little Bullingen, and quiet little Krinkelt into the woods to the north and attacked the Westwall forts. The idea was to capture the Roer River dams from the south. For two days we went along wonderfully and we got ready to break thru the line for midwinter victory. It just happened that Von Rundstedt had the same idea, and on the 17th of December before daybreak, the world caved in. Co C�??s 1st platoon raced down south of town to meet and destroy the point of a column coming north from Bullingen while Lt Patterson�??s Recon platoons with one section went way ahead to hold off the Kraut infantry for a few precious hours before they were swallowed up. A Co set up a ridgeline defense south of Wirtzfeld with its 1st and 3d platoons, and the battalion was credited with saving the division CP from displacement to a German PW camp. The Wehremacht shelled our rear echelon at Sourbrodt and the Luftwaffe bombed it, V-1�??s were traveling overhead in platoon column and for three days Co C and A�??s 2d Plat fenced and feinted with the 12th Panzer Division among the ruins of Krinkelt. It will be some time before we forget the two Mark V�??s that knocked out the front of the AT Co CP at a range of 20 yards with Sgt Mount�??s TD sitting behind it, or the column of 12 Panthers coming down to the church, firing into every house, until Cpl McVeigh tore up the first one with HVAP at 75 yards and turned them around. Or the night of the withdrawal, with yellow tracers ricocheting into the sky and the Forward CP doing rear guard in Wirtzfeld in a nebelwerfer concentration. We found that a Panther tank gun had very little respect for the armor of an M8, but the panzers moved pretty quickly when Rcn got at them at short ranges with bazookas in a little contest which saved the skins of two infantry battalions and a regimental headquarters. Lt. Parker got the DSC for that one.

We dug in again on Elsenborn ridge, and things quieted down a bit for A and C. B Co joined us again, but went to the 1st Division south of Butgenback. The mission it got was in the best TD tradition -- the 3d Plat merely moved to the very corner of the bulge and took an ungodly shelling day in and day out until the Heinies retired. Our medics did some yeoman service here, as always.

We had turkey for Christmas, and a visit from the Luftwaffe. We had turkey for New Year�??s Day, and quite a little German artillery. The Forward CP was shelled out of Berg by rockets and moved to Elsenborn and the line companies fired those night indirect missions that dug us out from under the snow at 0300 for �??platoon 3 rounds, quadrant one two zero�??. Star shells and reduced charge. Watching the buzzbombs sputtering away toward Liege, and the Heinie night recon planes drop photo flares. Co C went to the 9th Division and set up in Mutzenich in early January. Co B and then A were attached to the 99th �??Battle Babies�?? Division and a new offensive began for the Roer River Dams. We had shoe pacs and fancy two layer gloves by this time.

The opposition here was not so fierce, and by the first part of February we had another look at Krinkelt, recounted the seventeen Kraut tanks and other equipment we had knocked out, and moved on to the east. Co C worked for a while with the 102d Cavalry Group and won�??t be remembering Rohren, Dedenbom, Imgenbroich or Ruhrberg with much pleasure. But it didn�??t last long. The battalion reassembled and returned to the 8th Division in a wet and miserable night march through Eupen, Aachen, and Stolberg for the Roer-to-Rhine Offensive.

From the 9th to the 24th of February we waited for the Roer to subside, read the Nazi leaflets assuring us that the Heinies were going to give us a warm reception, and watched the AA tracers trail a few jetpropelled planes by 1000 yards. B�??s 2d Plat was in behind houses along �??88 boulevard�?? in Rolsdorf, A Co got the bulk of the shelling in Gey, and C Co�??s 2d and 3d went to movies in Lendersdorf in a big barn under mortar fire.

The crossing was quite a formation. Three-quarters of an hour of artillery preparation, in the dead of night, then over the bailey bridge into Duren under some screaming artillery that nearly nailed us (our armor was the first over, and �??Yank�??s�?? cover photo is here to prove it) and those ghastly night bombings of the bridgeheads. There were also some minor classics in horror in Stepprath, Stockheim, the barracks on the hill above Duren, and Co A being sent to take Girbelsrath across flat treeless country in the broad daylight.

From then until the Rhine was reached, the warfare became a little more open. The battalion worked as a unit for division right flank defense and moved continuously day and night. The doughs looked pretty good in this operation, too. From the tag end of February through the first half of March we chased the Krauts from Blatzheim to Kerpen, exchanged a few rounds in a weird series of attacks on Moderath, (remember B Co sitting on the road in a smoke screen for 5 hours?), got into Frechen and took a little SP fire, and then fanned out to occupy the suburban villages west and south of Cologne. Some of us sneaked close enough to spit in the Rhine. -- And at least once, the battalion forward set up shop ahead of the infantry front lines. 120mm mortars mangled C Co�??s first platoon at bit in Gleuel, and A Co�??s second and third were given a peculiar daylight mission of rescuing two companies of infantry who didn�??t want to be rescued until the village cognac was fully sampled.

We occupied the west bank of the Rhine and fired reduced charge across the river, visited the ruins of Cologne, took pictures of the cathedral, washed up and did some maintenance while the Remagen bridgehead was being expanded. Co C went across at Bad Godesberg with the 104th Division and into the thick of it again. After the 3rd Armored Division punched a hole in the defenses and rumbled out into the Westerwald region in early April, Co C went to the 1st Infantry Division in a push northeast toward the Seig River, with the German SP�??s cutting up in a pretty annoying way. The battalion came over with the 8th, and C Co went to the 121 Regt, A to the 28th and B to the 13th.

By this time, the Ruhr and the Sauerland had become a huge pocket, the biggest prize of the war, with a reported 60,000 to 80,000 troops in it. The 8th was assigned as one of the mop-up units. A Co went over to the newly arrived 86th Division, and the offensive began. At first the going was as rough as any we�??ve had. The TD�??s operated as tanks, assault guns, personnel carriers, recon vehicles, and anything else that occurred to those minds at higher headquarters. Recon Co showed the division how a cavalry troop ought to do it, capturing towns, leading the infantry, poling up side roads to tell the doughs if there were enemy SP�??s waiting for them, operating 24 hours a day. Co C looked down the tube of a 128mm Jagtiger for several days in Netphen. Co B knocked out a paratroop counterattack and broke up the resistance around Siegen while A Co did a little education of the new outfits in the 86th Sector. The infantry performance was of the first order here, and the PW�??s began to come back in company-sized groups. We broke loose across the Sieg River and made up armored combat teams with the 740th Tank Bn to move north in big bites during mid-April. The 8th was traveling much faster than its flank divisions by this time, and reached the Ruhr River in time to make first contact with the 79th Division blasting down from the north. Remember Kierspe Bahnohof, where enemy burp guns nearly broke up the infantry attacking aboard B�??s TD�??s, and Olpe, Milspe, Wuppertal and �??flak-gun valley�??, and that mansion in Ludenscheid where A Co established its CP? Instead of the 80,000, we found 315,000 Krauts in the pocket, and getting them and the liberated PW�??s and the DP�??s and the wrecked German vehicles off the roads so we could get by became a problem.

In the middle of April we went through Wuppertal to the Dusseldorf-Cologne area and tried our hand at military government. We ferretted out a few SS men, picked up dozens of German soldiers with discharges dated April 16, and found that if you couldn�??t say that non-fraternization was rough, you had to admit it was awkward.

But the war wasn�??t over yet, and about the time we began to get shaken down, the division moved out again, and we followed, on a two day road march through the Ruhr, Paderborn, Hamlin and Braunschweig to the River Elbe. There we were attached on the 1st of May to the 82nd Airborne Division and when the paratroops had made their bridgehead and the engineers had put up a pontoon bridge, A Co went across in a shower of German light artillery, and was followed the next day by Rcn, B, C, and the Forward CP.

The war was fast fizzling out. We �??formed up�?? in two columns with the tanks, some armored artillery and the 121st Regt to go from the Elbe to the Baltic Sea to meet the Russians. The British paratroopers were doing the same thing to the west and we wanted to get there first. We marched up to the Schwerin area by 1400, took ten thousand prisoners, carloads of Lugers, P38�??s, and lesser models, shot ourselves for days afterward seeing how they worked, and were stopped (by order, not by the Krauts) before we could get to the Baltic.

This was a dramatic finish for the 644th. In four days the 8th Division took 245,000 PW�??s. We liberated a camp of British and American prisoners and got some first-hand accounts of the SS troops. We filled a huge field with thousands of surly, scared and evil smelling Kraut soldiers, looted their supply columns for cigars and assorted liquid refreshment, and then drove away to assembly areas past many more straggling, dirty and unguarded groups moving wearily in to give themselves up. For the next few days we occupied the area around Schwerin, and waited for General Eisenhower to announce V-E Day. For all practical purposes the war had ended. We had on our hands thousands upon thousands of prisoners, uncounted numbers of displaced persons of all nationalities, and several overcrowded military hospitals. Hitler was reported dead, the war lost, V-E day very near, and the civilians were terrified by the prospect of eventual Russian occupation.

We went to the Wobbelin concentration camp, and even in the excitement and elation of victory were sobered and sickened by the piles of wretched bony corpses and the dying skeletons of men. For three weeks we tried military government again, administering PW enclosures, trying to feed displaced persons and to teach them what latrines are for, watching them eat their horses, and shoot rifles, flare pistols and panzerfausts at the lake, the Heinie prisoners and each other. V-E day came as an anti-climax. We went swimming, motor boating and to the Schwerin Theater. We looked the young female population over critically, but of course there was that non-fraternization order. General Moore reviewed us and said he�??d give his shirt to take us to the Pacific. We all wanted him to keep his shirt on, for gosh sakes. And then the redeployment scores were announced. The proud fathers became even prouder of their bouncing 12-point babies, and battle participation credits acquired a new meaning.

It wasn�??t a nice war. We have left some of our best soldiers in France, Luxembourg, Belgium and Germany and enriched their lands with our blood. We shall never forget those men. But the enemy will never forget the 644th. We met, held and defeated their best troops in Normandy, and then broke through west of St Lo around Brest, we took forty thousand first quality troops to the PWE, in Vossenack, Hurtgen, and Bergstein we opened the route for the march to the Roer River dams, around Krinkelt, Bullingen and Elsenborn, we helped to smash the Ardennes counterattack, from the Roer to the Rhine, into the Remagen bridgehead, up through the Ruhr pocket, and finally from the Elbe to Schwerin, we dealt the death blow.

The price we exacted was many times the one we paid and we came through with a well-established reputation as the best TD battalion in the Army.

FORTUNE FAVORS THE BRAVE
   

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