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St. Lo Breakout15629 Reads  Printer-friendly page

World War II It became known as the "Spearhead Division and I joined it, the Third Armored Division, at Camp Polk, Louisiana in early 1942, less than a year after it was formed. This account is of me telling of my day on the "Spearhead", how I got there, what happened, and how it ended.

I went through maneuvers in the semi-swamplands of Louisiana and East Texas; went to the Mohave Desert for training to possibly be used in North Africa: was moved with Division to Camp Pickett for shipment to Africa which was canceled: moved to Indiantown Gap Camp for further training before a planned shipment to England for the invasion of mainland Europe. That was almost 60 years ago, but many memories are still vivid in my mind.

The troopship voyage to England in September of 1943 was a memorable one. Our ship was a large former passenger liner and as part of a very large convoy, it carried several thousands of us on a 10 day voyage to England across what seemed like a rough Atlantic.

My company was luckily given duty as order-keeping-guards on stairs, deck doors, and passageways. This was a blessing as it led to us having permanent quarters above the waterline and resulted in a lot less seasickness. When not pulling duty we could go on deck or move about in an unrestricted parts of the ship. Without this duty we would have had to do as the remainder of the guys did, which was to take turns of 8 hours on deck and 8 hours deep in the below deck areas. One soldier grew so tired of moving his duffle bag gear with him, He threw it overboard when ordered to pick it up and go below deck again. He was court-martialed for destroying government property.

We landed in England and spent the months before the invasion. It is a very beautiful little country whose citizens made us as welcome as possible under the circumstances of the times. The English are fine people even in the most trying of times. We crowded them because of our great number and were said to be "over paid and over sexed". We enjoyed the people and their country but then came the invasion and changes occurred.

War is not a glorious happening such as pictured in movies and on TV. My introduction to war, as it really is, was to emerge from the dark hold of an LST (Landing-ship-tanks) and drive across Omaha beach about two weeks after D-Day. It was a very sobering sight. Wreckage of the landings was scattered about, but the stacks of our dead rolled in army blankets with feet sticking out were a very sobering sight indeed. We were no longer on the fringe of war, we were in it. Body bags of later wars would make the dead seem less personal, but at that time the sight drove home the fact that this war was real. It became more real as we moved in from the beach.

The stench of war and death hung over the land and it is a stench I think no one could ever forget. The piles of bodies got smaller as we moved away from the beach. As we neared the combat area we began to see the most horrible of sights, we were in armored vehicles moving down lane-like roads between hedgerows, and we passed bodies which had been run over by tanks and were just blobs of bloody flattened flesh and we had to drive over those spots. Some of the spots consisted of bodies only partly obliterated. In one such spot, four or five men must have been together when killed by an artillery or mortar shell.

War close up has many horrible sights.

In addition to the dead men there were many dead farm animals lying where they had fallen. The bloated carcasses added greatly to the stench of the battle field. I know it must be a stench smelled nowhere else. If you are a combat infantry soldier, you are not marching toward the enemy with your gun blazing, you are hiding behind anything which will give you protection from bullets being fired at you while seeking to shoot the other human being who is also trying to kill you. Or you may be crouched down in the foxhole you dug as shelter from an artillery or mortar barrage, praying that one of those shells doesn't hit your hole or a tree limb above you which would send down a hail of shrapnel into your shelter.

If you are a tanker shielded by all that armor, you are hoping that an enemy tank gunner or anti-tank gunner doesn't have you in his sights, and isn't about to hit your tank with a round which will make riddled corpses out of you and your crew and probably turn your tank into an exploding, burning hulk. Or a single German soldier armed with a panzerfaust (a one man rocket launcher), who is crouched down waiting for you to drive by before blowing you to hell. German soldiers would do this then wave the white flag of surrender. I recently read that General Omar Bradley (a very moral man) issued orders that such Germans were to be shot . Not for the act they had committed by knocking out the tank but for expecting mercy after such a brazen, callous act. I know not how many such Germans were shot as a result of Bradley's order, but armored crews would have applauded it.

Then came my day on the "Spearhead", I experienced the loss of my vehicle and two of my crew as a part of one of the first spearheads of the 3rd Armored Division which later became known as the "Spearhead Division."

It was on the St. Lo Breakout which resulted in the German armies being driven almost back into Germany. It was at the start of the Breakout and as part of Recon. Co. of the 33rd Armored Regiment my platoon was on the point of an armored column, with P47 planes strafing and bombing so closely overhead that metal ammo links from their guns fell, striking our vehicles.

We had just passed the horrible sight of a German soldier sitting in a small scout car with his hands gripping the steering wheel, but he had no head, probably blown off by one of those P47s. We had moved a little further on when my M8 armored scout car was ordered to go through a break in the hedgerow on the left. Once through the break I could see a stone barn at the end of the field with Germans in the barn yard behind a stone fence. I alerted my gunner on the 37 mm cannon and I cut loose firing the ring mounted 50 caliber.

We were hit almost immediately by an anti-tank round which killed my driver and the radioman-bow gunner who rode beside him in the front of the vehicle. All I remember was a very loud clang sound and a large flash of yellow fire. My gunner and I were unwounded but were sent back to the medics. That ended my short but eventful combat career.

The armies were moving so fast that I went to a replacement depot, and, because the armies were moving so fast, combat MPs (Military Police) were needed and I became one. I did not yearn for more combat. It has many times been said, "War is hell" and that says it all.

Note: by Ray Reeder, 3rd Armored Division, 33rd Armored Regiment, Recon Company


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