From Normandy to the Elbe
30th Infantry Division
Veterans of the 30th Infantry Division and welcome newcomers sail for the United States in August with a just pride in Old Hickory’s brilliant action against the Germans in five campaigns from Normandy to the Russian link-up along the Elbe.
The Division’s enviable record began in World War I when it participated in three victorious Allied drives in France – the Ypres-Lys and some offensives and the smashing of the Hindenburg Line. When its bombers returned to the United States for demolition in May, 1919, they had earned more than half of the British decorations given to American troops and 12 of the 78 Medals of Honor awarded by the United States Congress.
With this background of effectiveness in combat, the 30th retained its identity as a National Guard Unit during peace years and recalled into federal service September 16, 1940 at Fort Jackson, S.C. As activated for World War I at Camp Sevier, Greenville, S.C., July 18, 1917, the division was again manned by Southerners from the Carolinas, Tennessee and Georgia.
Following the preliminary training at Fort Jackson, the Division participated in Second Army maneuvers in Tennessee in June, 1941, and in October and November of that year took part in the First Army’s maneuvers – the largest peace-time maneuvers held in the United States.
Losing its trained personnel to newly formed units, the 30th started its struggle of rebuilding in Octover, 1942, at Camp Blanding, Fla. with personnel from all parts of the nation. At the same time, Major General Leland S. Hobbs, who now commands Old Hickory and commanded it throughout its European campaigns, took command.
Completely trained in fundamentals and discipline during the next 11 months, the 30th performed exceptionally well in the Second Arm maneuvers in Tennessee in September-October 1943. It was selected for early action in combat and was transferred to Camp Atterburry, Indiana, to prepare for overseas shipment.
The Division arrived in the United Kingdom in February, 1944, after staging at Camp Myles Standish, Mass., and sailing from the Boston Port of Embarkation on February 12.
Putting finishing touches to combat training with the First U.S. Army in England, the 30th launched its first attack in World War II in Normandy on June 15, 1944 – D plus 9 – after its first unit had come ashore at Omaha Beach on D plus 4.
In sniper-infested hedgerow country, the 30th’s baptisim of fire came in the Isigny area where it drove a stubborn German enemy beyond the Vire River and Vire et Taute Canal. Then in dangerous nightly patrols, it probed his positions in preparation for the assault crossing of the Vire River where on July 7 it started the push south out of the Cherbourg peninsula.
Crossing of the Vire at dawn and the Vire et Tauto Canal at 1300 the same day were masterfully executed. The preparatory artillery barrage left the Germans stunned in their foxholes and made the initial advance possible. However, panzer troops were brought in to plug the gap this created and in the succeeding days other elite panzer and parachute troops counter=attacked with the mission of seizing Isigny. Nevertheless, Old Hickorymen ground their way steadily ahead.
The hedgerow to hedgerow “slugging match” against dug-in German infantrymen and tanks continued until the 30th captured high ground overlooking St. Lo, France, while the 29th Infantry Division went into that important railroad center to complete destruction of this strongpoint.
Having proved itself among the veteran divisions of the First U.S. Army, the 30th, with the 4th and 9th Infantry Divisions, was selected to spearhead the great operation designated as “Cobra”. This is now known as the St. Lo Breakthrough which opened the gate for the armored divisions and permitted them to fan out on their drive up through Northern France.
Heavy and medium bombers, attempting to pulverize the German position in front of the 30th, dropped some of their bombs short and many casualties occurred among the assaulting units. Despite this great difficulty, reorganization was effected and the attack pushed on successfully.
The armor having driven through, the 30th continued south to Tessy sur Vire to secure the gateway and then on August 6, speeded by truck south to the Mortain-St. Barthelmy area.
Taking over positions that had been manned by the reinforced First Infantry Division, the 30th found itself, without warning, engaged in a struggle for existence against four German panzer divisions.
During three days and three nights of vicious fighting the 30th not only fought the German attack to a standstill but beat it back after knocking out many of the German tanks and killing hundreds of attackers.
The 30th’s losses were heavy too.
Commenting on the action immediately afterward, General Hobbs said: “We won’t ever be in a tighter spot and survive as a division”.
This action, the Germans later admitted, was their main effort to speed through the Mortain-St. Barthelmy road network to the sea at Avranches and thereby cut communication between the First U.S. Army and the newly committed Third U.S. Army. The failure of their attack, the Germans said, marked the turning point in the Western war.
It was during this struggle that a reinforced battalion was isolated on a rugged hilltop, meagerly supplied with food dropped by airplane and medicine fired by artillery. The battalion was rescued after holding out for six days against observed German fire and surrender demands.
Compared with the exhaustive fighting it had engaged in to that date, the 30th’s pursuit of the Germans eastward and northward through Northern France into Belgium and Holland was something of a “breather”.
There were fights all along the way as Germans made skillful use of delaying tactics, but the misery of the fighting was relieved by the joyful demonstrations of the newly liberated in such French towns as Evreux and Louviers, Pontoise (just across the Seine River), Peronne and Cambrai.
The 30th, the first Allied infantry division to enter Belgium, September 2, after a precedent-breaking motor march, continued into Holland, liberating Maastricht, and then prepared to reduce the Siegfried Line.
The attack on the Siegfried Line started October 2, and continued for two weeks, to establish the brigde-head in what was claimed by the Germans to be their “impenetrable West Wall”.
There the 30th troops, through the greatest concentration of artillery and mortar fire they had met in their six months of combat, stormed the bunkers and established a foothold in Germany.
Among the tougher assignments for 30th Infantrymen was the smashing of the Siegfried Line in this heavily manned sector and then linking up with the 1st Infantry Division to force the collapse of Aachen, first great German city to fall.
Strengthening its positions, the 30th prepared for further penetration of the German industrial sector and on November 16, participated in what XIX Corps officers described as “the perfect infantry attack”.
This drive to the Roer river was characterized by magnificent teamwork, with one Roer Valley town after another falling to the Old Hickorymen and the defenders completely baffled by the expert and surprise tactics.
That drive continued until the 30th troops were emplaced along the Roer river, south of Julich, awaiting and preparing for their next big task, that of crossing the river and advancing into the Rhineland.
The German drive into Belgium on December 16 gave the 30th a new and unexpected mission.
Alerted for action in a new sector shortly before noon on December 17, the Division was en route a few hours later and, after a 48-mile march, advance elements were reducing the German spearhead at Stavelot, Belgium.
At Stavelot, Stoumont, La Gleize and Malmedy, the 30th skillfully halted the northern expansion of the Belgian salient, thwarted the plan for storming Liege, and doomed the ambitious scheme to regain much of the territory the Allies had taken in a half year of bitter fighting.
Old Hickory troops gained control along their wide sector of the bulge with sensational speed and, in the savage fighting against the 1st SS Panzer Division (Adolf Hitler) that raged from December 18 until December 24, destroyed the fighting ability of that elite portion of the German army.
Taking a defensive stand at Stavelot after driving the Germans out, Old Hickorymen slaughtered thousands of soldiers and knocked out scores of tanks and vehicles advanced by the Germans in determined attempts to reopen the Stavelot road network for their use.
Other troops of the 30th fought and beat SS men into retreat near Malmedy and Stoumont, again taking heavy toll of their personnel and armor.
At La Gleize on December 24, the division closed in to capture 170 German vehicles including 39 tanks, six of them Tigers, 70 halftracks, 33 self-propelled guns and 30 other vehicles.
The German radio and captured German prisoners nick-named the 30th, “Roosevelt’s SS troops”, explaining, “the 30th is always thrown in where the going is the roughest”.
Having materially aided in stopping the German offensive, the 30th stood by in the Malmedy-Stavelot sector to await stabilization of the situation.
On January 13, it started the task of retaking from the Germans that portion of Belgium they had mastered in their holiday grab.
Through snow sometimes up to their armpits and over rugged terrain – wooded hills that gave the dig-in defenders great advantages – the 30th troops inched forward, and after 10 days during which they suffered alarming battle and non-battle casualties, took the high ground overlooking St. Vith and drove the remnants of the German attackers into their homeland.
For the fight in the Ardennes the 30th had been transferred to the First U.S. Army from the Ninth U.S. Army with which it had been serving since October 22.
With its job in the bulge completed in a commendable manner, the 30th returned on February 3 to the Ninth U.S. Army and secretly prepared for the job that had been interrupted a month and a half earlier.
In what loomed as its most difficult river crossing operation, the 30th stormed across the flooded Roer River south of Julich, Germany, early the morning of February 23, capitalized upon the almost complete surprise it had effected, made the utmost use of “manufactured fog” and fought northeastward almost to Dusseldorf on the Rhine.
During this drive to the Rhine the German resistance varied with the spirit of the individual commanders. Some garrisons fought frantically until they were killed, others yielded, showing little fight. The veteran 30th Infantrymen, as always, took advantage of the breaks where they occurred.
When the 30th was secretly pulled out of the line and moved back to the vicinity of Echt, Holland, where troops started practicing on the Maas River, it didn’t take expert guessers to figure out what was to come next.
Training with the Navy and the Engineers, the doughboys confidently contemplated the job they had – spearheading, three regiments a-breast, the assault of the awe-inspiring Rhine River.
Then on March 24, the 30th famous battle veterans stormed across the impressive Rhine barrier in the greatest amphibious operation since the assault of the Normandy beaches.
Smashing across the river in storm and assault boats, the Old Hickorymen fought through the strongest defenses Germany could prepare and opened the way for the rapid advance to the Elbe river. It was a decisive blow in ending the European war.
The 30th crossed the 1146 feet of Rhine water in three places south of Wesel, executing the gigantic maneuver so expertly that there were very few casualties.
For five days the 30th fought against organized defenses, and its old enemy, the 116th Panzer Division which was rushed from Holland, across the front of the British Second Army and committed on a narrow front before the Old Hickorymen.
Notorized April 1 as part of an infantry-armor team, composed of the 2nd Armored Division on the north and later the 83rd Infantry Division on the south, the 30th, taking the center sector, started a speedy advance toward its objective, believed at that time to be Berlin.
Meeting varying degrees of resistance, ranging from occasional sniper fire to stubborn fighting at scattered strong points, the Old Hickorymen often racing past thousands of houses flying white flags captured more than 24,000 prisoners and four large German cities before halting on the Elbe river and linking up there with the Russians who were attacking from the east.
The 30th’s last great fight west of the Elbe river was in the battered city of Magdeburg, home of Major General Kurt Dittmar, official German military spokesman who surrendered to riflemen out-posting the river bank.
Speeding and fighting to Magdeburg, the Infantrymen had captured the historic Detmold, scene of battles with the Romans in the year 9 AD, invaded Hameln, the fairy tale town made world famous by the Pied Piper legend, and forced the fall of Braunschweig, the great manufacturing city.
Braunschweig was stormed by the 30th Division troops after a dramatic conference between Major General Hobbs and Major General Karl Voith, German commander of the troops defending that city, failed to produce and unconditional surrender.
Linkup with the Russians was finally made on May 5 by Old Hickorymen.
Announcement May 7 that Germany had signed complete surrender terms was accepted calmly by the 30th personnel who already had turned from fighting to duties associated with military government.
The heroic accomplishments of the 30th reviewed here are the deeds of not one, but of all components, assigned and attached to the Division.
The 30th takes its nick-name, “Old Hickory” from President Andrew Jackson, who in the war of 1812 successfully led troops from Tennessee and the Carolinas.
The red and blue shoulder patch is a combination of the initial letters of Old Hickory, the H encircled by the O. The triple X on the cross bar of the H is the Roman numeral for 30.
Wearers of the Old Hickory patch, those who had a part in building the prestige it enjoys and those battle tested newcomers who have already made illustrious their former units, are determined that the traditions inspiring the 30th’s progress shall be maintained.