Company D, 707 Tank Battalion
LTC John Anderson
Company D, 707 Tk Bn had it's beginning at Pine Camp, New York in the fall of 1943, when the 5th AD was reorganized to conform to the Three Combat Command structure rather than the Regimental Square Division mode in which it had been organized. Co D had been Co C, 1st Bn, 34th Armd Regt, while most of the 707 had been part of the 81st AR. Capt Herbert Ellison was CO from the 81st; 1Lt John Anderson, ExO & Maint O from Rcn Co, 34th AR; Lt Orville Nicholas, Lt Thomas Byerle, Lt Lyle Toepfer all of C Co, 34th AR.
The fall of '43 was a busy time of adjusting to the new status as a separate tank battalion with a mission of testing armor in subarctic operations. All troops were issued extensive cold weather gear, parkas, mukluks, and other cold equipment including skis and snow shoes. Unfortunately the weather at Pine Camp did not cooperate with the War Dept plans so in 25 degree F temperatures, the battalion was moved on flatcars to Camp McCoy, Wisconsin. This move was supposed to give colder test conditions, but again nature did not get the message and the thermometer never got down to zero. This caused cancellation of the testing, so the battalion turned in all equipment and took off for Boston POE (Point of Embarkation).
After staging at Camp Miles Standish, the Bn embarked on the SS Exchange, a converted United Fruit Lines banana boat, in Boston Harbor. Lt Anderson, D Co, was detailed as Officer of the Day for the initial day. This required posting guards at gangways and controlling traffic to and from Mess or other activities. However, even before the ship left the dock, the rails and heads were lined with pea-green troopers doing that which came naturally. It was virtually impossible to keep enough men healthy to man the posts - it's a good thing the first OD (Officer of the Day) was of Viking heritage and accustomed to motion aboard ship.Webmaster's Note: I believe the reference to the Exchange being owned by the United Fruit company is in error. The Exchange was built by the Fore River Shipyard in Quincy, Ma. on 23 February, 1940. It was a 473 foot, C3 Freighter with the hull designation 1476. It was actually built for American Export Lines.
The transport rendezvoused with ships from many other East coast ports to form the largest convoy to cross the North Atlantic during the war. A few days out the ship experienced engine trouble and we sadly watched the convoy sail away with only a tiny Destroyer escort circling around us to keep off the Nazi U-Boat "Wolfpacks", which had been having a turkey shoot on shipping to England and Russia. We kept busy with continuous chow lines, boat drills, with "Army sweepers, sweep down fore and aft", and getting to know the Navy Armed Guard who were to man the anti-aircraft guns in case of air or sea attack.
During the 15 day trip, Capt. Gallup, Bn Surg., performed an emergency Appendectomy using the then-new McBirney Technique, and the soldier carried his own barrack bag off the ship. The green hills of Ireland and the U.K. were a welcome sight after the anxiety of the cold grey midwinter crossing.
After disembarking in Cardiff, Wales, we proceeded by rail to a tin roof Quonset hut camp near Nun Eaton, heated with tiny, very dirty coal stoves. First night we all gawked at the spectacular show of the Nazi Luftwaffe making its nightly call on nearby Coventry. Most vivid recollections are the cold and the horror of Irish whiskey.
Soon the battalion moved down into Devon and Somerset, Co D going to the delightful cathedral town of Wells. Here on the beautiful grounds of an English country estate we set up a tent camp and housed hordes of replacements being readied for the coming invasion of Europe. During this period, training continued with frequent trips to the Royal Armour Moving Target Moving Tank Ranges near Minehead. Skills honed here paid off a few months later.
After cheering for the hordes of bombers and glider tows that filled the skies at D-Day, Co D moved down to a British barracks near Salisbury and then through one of the "Sausage Camps" to the channel and aboard LSTs to Omaha Beach. While still near the beach, Co D sustained our first casualties. Sgt Boyer, Otis L. and T4 Harley D. Larsen were killed by a "Bouncing Betty" landmine planted in an uncleared mine field adjacent to the orchard where the company was in bivouac. Several other soldiers were wounded and rejoined us later on.
After the Third Army breakout at St. Lo, we followed the tracks of our old buddies of the Fifth AD around Paris and through Belgium to the Aachen area and went into support of the 28th ID. The period in the Heurtgen Forest bloodied the battalion and inflicted heavy losses on the "Bloody Buckets" of the 28th. Co D mainly was concerned with keeping communications open and supporting forward observers for the artillery. Co D suffered some mortar fire damage and another death during the action. Sgt Nastase, Commo Sgt, did heroic duty in maintaining communications.
When relieved from the forest, Co D moved south into the Duchy of Luxembourgh to the village of Brachtenbach. This was a ruggedly hilly quiet sector where a number of divisions had been rested and allowed to lick their wounds. The other companies of the battalion were billeted in nearby villages and the 28th ID set up outposts and patrols along the eastern border of the Duchy, mainly the Our River in our sector and the border with Germany. German and American troops watched each other across to keep in touch with the situation.
The Germans had occupied Luxembourgh for about five years and had conscripted many of the young men for their army, and had taken other men and women into the Motherland for labor. This caused much bitterness toward the Nazis by most of the civilians. Being a small village, almost every home billeted a tank crew or Company section. During this time we celebrated Thanksgiving Day with turkey and all the fixings, baked in the village bakery and served in the school. All the local bigwigs, Burgermeister, school teacher, pub owner, and village priest were our guests for a glorious dinner. Lt Anderson, who was billeted with the priest, let him know that this was the wrong day for Thanksgiving Day because President Roosevelt had moved the celebration a week early that year. The following Thursday, Father Wagner had a special Thanksgiving Mass for the whole village, and hosted a dinner for ten priests - none of whom spoke English, and Lt. Anderson, who almost lost his cookies when a whole roast hare - eyes and all - was placed before him.
Being a quiet sector, several cities had been set up for "R & R". One was the city of Clervaux and another the Belgian city of Arlon. Three-day passes were issued to men and officers to these spas. Thus when the Germans launched a surprise offensive, there were many men away from their units - already sadly understrength from previous actions. Everywhere people were making preparations for the fast-approaching Christmas, and hopes were high that the war would soon be history. Upon the attack, all companies of the battalion went into close support of the 28th ID Regiments. Co D was sent to the north end of the Duchy and then sent south along the "Sky Line Drive" to relieve a unit which had been overrun.
In the vicinity of Marnach, hostile fire halted the column and though the crews took evasive action, the limited space for maneuver caused most of the tanks to be destroyed and many of the crewmen killed or captured. Several "Kraut" (German) vehicles were destroyed and prisoners taken and evacuated with wounded.
Meanwhile, back in Brachtenbach, the leave group from Arlon returned to find all but the maintenance and kitchen sections of the company gone. While Lt Anderson, among the leave returnees, was trying to make contact with Bn, Capt Ellison appeared and said "They're all gone" and then disappeared. Lt Anderson got through to Bn HQ and was told to join the Headquarters in Wiltz, which was also the 28th ID Division HQ. In attempting to follow orders, the small column of two Halftracks, a Peep, and the kitchen truck headed for Wiltz. Before reaching same, the Krauts blocked the road and the detachment slipped by back roads to Bastogne, where directions were given to continue to Neufchateau where the Headquarters were to have moved.
Upon reaching Neufchateau, Lt Anderson reported to the Corps Commander with two Halftracks, a kitchen truck, two Peeps, one Medium Tank with a damaged turret, and 37 men from D & Svc Co. General Middleton said, "Lt, you are my mobile reserve. Reform your battalion and establish roadblocks between here and Bastogne". After checking with the Operations Officer, a kitchen was set up in a rather modern schoolhouse. Roadblocks were then set up on two main roads, and a search was begun to round up armor people to man the "strong" points. There were people from several other line companies of the 707 as well as the Rcn Trp of the 28th ID and from the 6th AD.
Within days a sizeable number of troopers had been gathered up including officers from A, B, & Svc Co, and the replacement system began returning wounded to us. Among the new arrivals was Lt Col Streeter who had been a classmate of Col Ripple, to assume command.
During this period, on the first sunny day, we had the shock of being strafed by two Messerschmitt jets. They did no appreciable damage, but the sight of them leaving the P47s - flying air cover high above us - standing still was a little hair raising.
General Patton and his relief column for Bastogne passed through our roadblocks on their way to reversing the action.
Shortly after the first of the year, 1945, the battalion moved back to Epernay near Reims in France. This was also the Headquarters of the XIII Airborne Corps as well as the Champagne capital of the World. A number of incidents best forgotten took place in this "oil and water" mixture of airborne, tankers, and vino.
After drawing new equipment and being brought up to strength with young replacements - most barely 18 and with basic eight weeks training - an intensive program of training was begun. None of the replacements had ever been in the M5A1 Light Tank before, so they had to quickly learn the whole ball of wax. (Co D was a Light Tank Company, as opposed to the other companies having Medium Tanks. - Webmaster)
Lt Anderson was given command of D Co; Lt Wilbur Zastrow - formerly a Sgt in Svc Co became Maintenance Officer; Lts Roger Pratt, Nick Petrakis, and Charles Lamb became the Platoon Leaders. Fortunately, we had three experienced platoon sergeants, and at least one veteran in each tank as we regrouped.
As the unit resumed the offensive, Germany was entered near Trier, the Rhine was crossed near Koblenz and in support of several larger units proceeded in a north-easterly direction, axis Geissen, Fulda, Bad Hersfeld, Eisenach, Gotha, Erfurt, Weimar, Jena, Zwickau, Chemnitz. During this almost unopposed advance, Co D performed mainly scouting and liaison missions for the major units being supported by the 707 Tk Bn. with the rapid advance, there was little time for taking prisoners or the capability to handle them, so we frequently disarmed them and sent them walking back to our rear area and following troops. We did witness several labor and concentration camps - and the horror and stench of Buchenwald and other camps near Weimar made an unforgettable memory.
Lt Pratt's platoon, with the mission to seize one river crossing, made a wrong turn and barreled at full speed into a sizeable city on the river. Realizing that he was in the wrong place, he made a quick right down a side street - which led in a half circle into a town center. Suddenly, he was confronted with the rear end of a German Panzer. Slamming on the brakes, he took the enemy tank under fire and, even with canister load in the gun, the German tank burst into flames. Fortunately the Pz could not traverse his turret to the rear because of the narrow street that he had backed into to command the main road which the platoon had avoided. Pratt and his following infantry backed out and raced back to resume his mission - leaving another unit to accept the surrender of the city.
Another evening as the company coiled for the night, tracer fire came from a nearby wooded hilltop. Trigger-happy guard posted in outpost tanks returned the fire until Sgt Parish, driving Lt Anderson in a tank, went up the slope to check out the fire - which looked more like American. As the top of the hill was reached, through the trees could be seen huge black shapes coming up the reverse slope! Sure enough, Lt Anderson was able to identify the troops as belonging to a Self-propelled Artillery unit that was far from where it belonged.
Shortly, the unit reach the restraining line near the Czechoslovak border, and all forward movement stopped. German troops wanting to surrender were refused and told to turn around and surrender to the Russians. After a short time, the battalion was released from support of an Infantry Division and backtracked to Nurnberg. Initially, we set up in the courthouse where a few months later the War crimes trials took place.
A short time later each company was assigned to a nearby billage to function as government until the civil government could be established. Many months went by as attempts were made to complete records, establish combat losses, and attempt to find information on dead and missing.
In the early fall, most of the battalion moved to the "Cigarette Camps", ours being "Lucky Strike" near Le Havre. After a millennium of playing Hearts, a Victory ship took us to Boston and Camp Miles Standish, where the battalion was disbanded.