A Brief History of the Thunderbolt Division (2024)

A Brief History of the Thunderbolt Division (1)Back to Our History

A Brief History of the ThunderboltDivision

The 11th Armored Division was activated on August 15, 1942 at Camp Polk, Louisiana. Fromthat date until June, 1944, the Division underwent combat training at Polk and CampBarkeley Texas, desert maneuvers at Camp Ibis, California, and combat readiness trainingat Camp Cooke, California.

In July 1944, preparations began for overseas deployment. On September 27th, the divisionembarked from Staten Island, New York, aboard the troop ships HMS Samaria and USSHermitage to join the largest Atlantic convoy of WWII. On October 12th the troopsdisembarked on English soil, moving into training quarters on and near the Salisbury Plainin Wiltshire.

In early December, the Division was deployed to continental Europe, landing in Normandy,and moving south to a marshaling area at Rennes. The intended mission was to reduceremaining pockets of enemy resistance along the French coast at Lorient and SaintNazaire.

The German attack through the Ardennes caused an abrupt change of orders. The Divisionembarked on one of the most grueling forced marches in American military history, coveringover 350 miles across France in four days. By December 23rd, the division had joined General George S.Patton’s US Third Army, and was deployed defensively along a 30 mile reach of theMeuse River, extending from Sedan to Givet. Shortly afterward, orders came to advanceanother 85 miles northeasterly into Belgium, assuming attack positions in the vicinity ofNeufchateau.

The first combat occurred on December 30th, when the Division engaged head-on thefanatical Füher Begleit Brigade and the Panzer Lehr Division south of Remagne. Over thenext several days, a furious battle raged, as these enemy forces along with the 3rdPanzergrenadier Division and the 26th Volksgrenadier Division sought to close the relief corridor into Bastogne from thesouth. The 11th Armored and adjacent units fought them to a standstill. During thisperiod, the Division suffered heavy casualties from enemy action, as well as from thebitter cold. However, the enemy paid a heavier price, and the vital supply line intoBastogne remained open.

On January 13th, the Division mounted a two pronged spearhead attack from the Bastogneenclave,
moving from Longchamps northwesterly through Bertogne, and northeasterly through Foy andNoville to high ground south of Houffalize. Contact was made with the 2nd Armored Divisionof the First Army on January 16th, ending the Nazi ill fated attempt to reach Antwerp, todivide the allied forces, and to retake Luxembourg and Belgium. The enemy suffered hugelosses in men and materiel, and the way was opened for an all out assault on the vauntedSiegfried line, and on Germany itself.

On January 20th, the Division attacked northeasterly through Bourcy and Buret, and by the22nd had reached its objective north of Troisvierges. Moving on across northernLuxembourg, the Siegfried line was assaulted in force on February 6th. Intensive attackscontinued until February 18th, by which time the line had been breached, and the wayopened for armor led attacks on the Rhineland.

As the Division advanced into Germany in early March, fanatical resistance was put up bythe elite German 5th Parachute Division . In freezing weather with snow flurries, thetowns of Fleringen, Wallersheim and Budesheim were captured, as the Division relentlesslyadvanced on the Kyll River, the last major barrier west of the Rhine River. On March 7th,a surprise attack was made across the Kyll, and by nightfall the town of Kelberg wascaptured, with heavy enemy losses.

With the fall of Kelberg, major enemy resistance was shattered, and the Division made aquick dash to the Rhine. On March 9th, the west bank of the river was reached at Brohl andAndernach. The drive netted thousands of prisoners, vital enemy ordnance and supplies.From a strategic standpoint, it effected a link up with the US First Army, closing themouth of a huge pocket, and isolating six German divisions west of the Rhine.

On March 16th, the Division withdrew to the west, and attacked southeasterly , crossingthe Moselle River in the vicinity of Bullay. After pushing 70 miles against scatteredresistance, the Rhine was again reached in the vicinity of Worms. This drive netted morethan 20,000 prisoners from disorganized and demoralized German units.

After spending several days in defensive positions along the west bank, the Divisioncrossed the Rhine on the Third Army’s pontoon bridge at Nierstein on March 28th, andimmediately attacked northeasterly toward Hanau and Fulda. On March 30th, a stubbornbattle developed in the vicinity of Gelnhausen. The key communications center of Fulda wascontained by artillery fire, and left for supporting infantry units to clear out.

Leaving Fulda, the Thunderbolt drove on, blazing a fiery spearhead deep into the veryheart of Germany. So swift was the advance that the enemy was completely disorganized.Supporting infantry units were often left 50 to 70 miles behind. On April 2nd, bridgesacross the Werra River were captured intact, and hundreds of allied captives, military andpolitical prisoners, were freed from a prison compound and hospital atGrimmenthal.

Moving into Thuringia, on April 3rd considerable resistance was encountered at Suhl andOberhof. The towns were overwhelmed after preparatory artillery attacks. On April 4th oneof the largest ordnance materiel hauls was made at Zella Mehlis, where four Walther Armsplants were captured

Between April 6th and April 10th, the Division’s axis of attack shiftedsoutheasterly, paralleling the Czechoslovak border, and driving into Bavaria, leavingsupporting infantry units far behind. Some elements of the Division suffered casualtiesfrom bypassed pockets of SS troops. On April 7th, at Schleusingen, cavalry and engineerunits were ambushed, with resulting casualties and equipment loss. A counterattack crushedenemy resistance and recaptured some of the men and equipment.

In rapid succession, many towns, including Themar, Oberlauter, Coburg, Kronach, Kulmbachand Bayreuth fell to the 11th, in spite of increased presence of German military aircraft.Continuing the attack, the 11th captured Grafenwohr, with military facilities includingthe largest reported German chemical warfare dump in existence. Over 3,000,000 rounds ofchemical filled ammunition was taken, along with enormous quantities of other ordnancemateriel and food stores.
On April 22nd, 1722 allied prisoners were released from captivity at Weiden. Further on,approaching Cham, roadsides were littered with bodies of political prisoners who had beenexecuted by their SS guards in order to prevent their release. An airdrome, source of muchrecent harassment by enemy aircraft, as well as Marshall Kesselring’s private train,were also seized in the Cham area.

Proceeding on toward the Austrian border, enemy pockets of resistance were overcome insharp engagements at Regen and Wegesheid. On April 26th Thunderbolt patrols crossed theborder into Austria, and some task force units patrolled northeasterly intoCzechoslovakia. Overcoming resistance, blown bridges, and roadblocks at Neufelden andRottenegg, the Division forced surrender of Linz on May 4th. The heavily mined AdolphHitler Bridge across the Danube River at Linz was captured intact. Engineer units promptlydefused and removed tons of explosives from that bridge and the adjacent railroad bridge.

On May 5th, a cavalry patrol unexpectedly encountered German forces guarding the deathcamp complexes of Gusen and Mauthausen. The patrol returned with 1800 prisoners, to thegreat surprise of their commanders. Action was immediately taken to restore and maintainorder in the camps, to provide medical assistance to the starving inmates, and to providefor burial of thousands of victims of Nazi brutality.

Cavalry patrols linked up with Russian forces advancing from the east at Amstetten on May8th,
the day following the German surrender. Thus ended the combat record of the ThunderboltDivision
In 5 months of combat, the Division took a total of 76,229 prisoners, not including 10,000who were turned over to supporting infantry units, and 34,125 who were returned to Sovietjurisdiction under the terms of surrender.

Following termination of hostilities, and until it was disbanded in September 1945, theDivision engaged in occupation duties. These included providing medical and other aid tofreed prisoners from the death camps, processing and returning displaced persons,processing and returning prisoners of war, and supporting local authorities in maintainingorder in the civilian population.

Back to Our History
A Brief History of the Thunderbolt Division (2024)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Kareem Mueller DO

Last Updated:

Views: 5676

Rating: 4.6 / 5 (66 voted)

Reviews: 89% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Kareem Mueller DO

Birthday: 1997-01-04

Address: Apt. 156 12935 Runolfsdottir Mission, Greenfort, MN 74384-6749

Phone: +16704982844747

Job: Corporate Administration Planner

Hobby: Mountain biking, Jewelry making, Stone skipping, Lacemaking, Knife making, Scrapbooking, Letterboxing

Introduction: My name is Kareem Mueller DO, I am a vivacious, super, thoughtful, excited, handsome, beautiful, combative person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.