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12th Armored Division, "The Hellcats"

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The 12th Armored Division was activated on 15 September1942 at Camp Campbell, Kentucky. Following training and maneuvers in Kentucky and Tennessee, the Division moved to Camp Barkeley,Texas, near Abilene in December 1943. While at Camp Barkeley, the 44th Tank Battalion was

shipped to the Pacific Theater on a special mission and later distinguished itself as the first unit to enter Manila. The 44th was replaced by the 714th Tank battalion, a former Division unit.
The 12th Armored Division staged at Camp Shanks, New York and sailed for England on 20 September 1944, under the command of Maj. Gen. Roderick R. Allen. After landing at Liverpool on 2 October 1944, the Division proceeded to Tidworth Barracks on the Salisbury Plain at Wiltshire. Five weeks later, the 12th crossed the English Channel, landed at Le Havre, France and went on to assembly near Auffay,France.

Moving across France, the Hellcats paused at Luneville, France. They were joined by the 572nd AAA battalion which was to remain with them throughout the combat operations and by the 827th TD Battalion which was relieved at the conclusion of the campaign in Alsace and Lorraine, France on 13 February 1945.

The 493rd Armored Field Artillery Battalion fired the first combat round on 5 December 1944 near Weislingen. It was a bitter winter in France, and trench foot put more men out of action than enemy bullets. The Division captured its first German town at Utweiler on 21 December 1944. On Christmas Day, Hellcats ate turkey and opened packages from home.
The New Year, 1945, produced the bloodiest chapter in the 12th's combat history. At Herrlisheim, France ("Bloody Herrlisheim") the Hellcats paid a terrific price for combat seasoning. The 12th was pitted against a numerically superior and well-entrenched enemy at the Gambsheim Bridgehead. The Division waged its only defensive battle of the war at Herrlisheim. The Hellcats thwarted repeated attempt of the Germans to break out of the Bridgehead and strike south toward Strasbourg. The Germans dubbed the 12th the "Suicide Division".

The Colmar Pocket was the last German stronghold on the west side of the Rhine River. Despite desperate Nazi resistance, the swiftness and adroitness of the 12th snapped the iron ring and joined with French forces moving up from the South.

On 17 March 1945, the 12th Armored Division was secretly transferred from the Seventh Army to Gen. George Patton's Third Army. They were dubbed "The Mystery Division". Within three days, the Division had streaked from Trier, Germany, across the Saar Palatinate to the Rhine River. During that period over 7,000 Nazis were taken prisoner and numerous horses, wagons, supply trains, tanks, anti-aircraft guns, artillery pieces, rocket guns and trucks were seized or destroyed. The Division reached the Rhine River between 20 and 24 March 1945, first at Ludwigshafen. Finding all bridges blown in the Nazis retreat, two pontoon bridges were erected near Worms and the 12th crossed the Rhine on 28 March 1945.

Once across the Rhine, combat commands of the 12th split in several directions. The cities of Wurzburg, Schweifurt, Kitzingen, Neustadt, Ansbach and numerous others were captured under the 12th's relentless attack through Southern Germany. After capturing Dinkensbuhl, the 12th sped the last forty miles to the Danube River. After finding a blown bridge at Lauingen, the bridge at Dillingen to the east was captured intact.

The Nazis were on the run as the 12th slashed south and east. P.O.W. cages were swollen with a daily intake numbering thousands. Airfields,planes, war factories bulging with war material were captured, and left behind as the 12th Armored sliced ahead.

Near the end of April 1945, the 12th began the daunting task of liberating Nazi death camps. The members of the Division saw the horror of the Nazi atrocities up close as they liberated camp after camp, including Hurlag, Landsberg and Dachau. A survivor at Dachau reported if the 12th had not liberated the camp so quickly, all the prisoners would have been killed and the camp demolished. If this had happened to Dachau and many of the camps south of the Danube, there would be no evidence of the atrocities practiced in this part of Germany. The full extent of the Holocaust would not have been known to the outside world.

After liberating the death camps the 12th pushed south and crossed the Austrian border at Kufstein, Austria on 3 May 1945. The 12th was pulled from the front lines on 5 May 1945. In the short space of five months, the 12th had seen their Division transformed from a green, untested outfit into one of the most feared fighting machines on the Western front. 72,243 prisoners were credited to the Division. Nearly 8,500 Allied P.O.W.s, including 1,500 Americans, and an additional 20,000 non-military prisoners were liberated by the 12th. The 12th Armored Division was singled out for commendation from 7th Army, 3rd Army, French First Army , and every Corps under which it operated.

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