National Guard October 2012 : Page 38
G UARD R OOTS : 30 TH I NFANTRY D IVISION IN W ORLD W AR II Still Shocking By Capt. Darrin Haas ‘Old Hickory’ struck fear in the Germans and won high praise from senior Allied commanders, but for 68 years it’s been denied the top honor for an Army unit S WORLD WAR II came to a close and units began inactivating, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, found himself inundated with award recom-mendations, especially those for division-level Presidential Unit Citations (PUCs). He asked Col. S.L.A. Marshall, the chief historian for the European Theater of Operations, to rate the divisions based on their combat performance. A | Marshall and his team of approximately 35 historical offi cers analyzed battleﬁ eld reports and other informa-tion to determine which divisions “had performed the most effi cient and consistent battle services.” After much consideration, they decided the 30th Infantry Division, a National Guard outﬁ t often refered to as “Old Hickory,” was the best infantry division in the ETO. The chief historian wrote a letter in early 1946 to Maj. Gen. Leland Hobbs, the division commander, saying the 30th “had been outstanding in three operations and that we could consistently recommend it for citation on any one of these three occasions.” Marshall made his recommendation, and Eisenhower concurred, placing it ﬁ fth in a list of eight divisions he would push for the PUC, primarily for breaching the Sieg-fried Line during the Aachen Campaign. However, the 30th never received the PUC, which is awarded for “extraordinary heroism in action against an armed enemy,” and is the highest unit recognition in the U.S. military. 38 Na tional Guard
'Old Hickory' struck fear in the Germans and won high praise from senior Allied commanders, but for 68 years it's been denied the top honor for an Army unit<br /> <br /> As WORLD WAR II came to a close and units began inactivating, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, found himself inundated with award recommendations, especially those for division-level Presidential Unit Citations (PUCs).<br /> <br /> He asked Col. S.L.A. Marshall, the chief historian for the European Theater of Operations, to rate the divisions based on their combat performance.<br /> <br /> Marshall and his team of approximately 35 historical officers analyzed battlefield reports and other information to determine which divisions "had performed the most efficient and consistent battle services." After much consideration, they decided the 30th Infantry Division, a National Guard outfit often referred to as "Old Hickory," was the best infantry division in the ETO.<br /> <br /> The chief historian wrote a letter in early 1946 to Maj. Gen. Leland Hobbs, the division commander, saying the 30th "had been outstanding in three operations and that we could consistently recommend it for citation on any one of these three occasions."<br /> <br /> Marshall made his recommendation, and Eisenhower concurred, placing it fifth in a list of eight divisions he would push for the PUC, primarily for breaching the Siegfried Line during the Aachen Campaign.<br /> <br /> However, the 30th never received the PUC, which is awarded for "extraordinary heroism in action against an armed enemy," and is the highest unit recognition in the U. S. military.<br /> <br /> There were other divisions on Marshall's list that did not get the citation. In fact, only four entire divisions (box, page 41) received the PUC in World War II. Nevertheless, the lack of a presidential citation for the 30th still chafes division veterans, who have repeatedly petitioned the Pentagon for the honor.<br /> <br /> They recently enlisted some more help. Several members of Congress wrote President Barack Obama last year to solicit his support for the award. Also, Lew Adams, an independent filmmaker from Austin, Texas, is in the final stages of producing Heroes of Old Hickory, a documentary that will chronicle the 30th in World War II.<br /> <br /> Why the division never received the citation is a mystery, but they were, by every account, one of the finest divisions in World War II. The 30th fought in all major battle campaigns in Central Europe, earning five battle stars. Its subordinate units received eight PUCs. Six soldiers earned the Medal of Honor and the division captured more than 53,000 prisoners.<br /> <br /> But the highest testament to the division may have come from the enemy. Invoking the name of the then-commander in chief, the German High Command referred to the 30th as "Roosevelt's Shock Troops."<br /> <br /> A DIVISION IS BORN<br /> <br /> Like many Guard divisions, the 30th was created during the run-up to World War I. Units from North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee federalized and reported to Camp Sevier, S.C., in August 1917, where they were renamed and reorganized into the 30th.<br /> <br /> Proud of their southern heritage, the soldiers gave themselves the nickname Old Hickory in honor of Andrew Jackson, the seventh U.S. president. He was born along the North and South Carolina border, but rose to fame as a major general in Tennessee militia and Regular Army. His men referred to him as Old Hickory because they thought he was tough as hickory, a trait the Soldiers of the 30th, many of them farm boys and avid outdoorsmen, wanted to personify.<br /> <br /> As it turned out, they would need to be. The division fought in some of the fiercest fighting in France. In September 1918, while assigned to the British, they sliced through the supposedly impregnable Hindenburg Line, which was considered the strongest point in the German defenses.<br /> <br /> During the battle, the 30th captured 1,500 enemy soldiers and massive amounts of equipment. One captured German army officer, after realizing the Hindenburg line was broken, said, "All is lost. There is nothing between you and the Rhine."<br /> <br /> The 30th also participated in the battles of La Selle, St. Mihiel and the Meuse-Argonne. Division members received 12 Medals of Honor and earned more than half of all British decorations given to American soldiers.<br /> <br /> After the war, the 30th demobilized and the units returned to their respective states. For the next 20 years, the soldiers fulfilled their state roles as the 30th modernized and reorganized, adding units from the Georgia.<br /> <br /> BACK TO EUROPE<br /> <br /> As one of the first four Guard divisions mobilized for federal service, the 30th reported to Fort Jackson, S.C., in September 1940, originally for just one year of training.<br /> <br /> It participated in the Second Army maneuvers in Tennessee in June 1941 and, in October and November, took part in First Army maneuvers in the Carolinas, the largest-ever peacetime military maneuvers in the United States.<br /> <br /> By 1943, the division was reconstituted, retrained and, in October, was complimented for its excellent performance during the Second Army maneuvers. It was now ready for combat.<br /> <br /> In February 1944, the division sailed for Great Britain as part of the buildup for the coming Normandy invasion.<br /> <br /> On the afternoon of June 10, the 30th's first elements came ashore at Omaha Beach, just four days after D-Day. The division's main body would arrive the night of June 13 and 14 and go on the attack less than 24 hours after arriving in France and before more than half its forces had arrived.<br /> <br /> It assaulted the Vire-et-Taute Canal 10 miles north of St. Lo and Marigny with an improvised combat team. The attack lasted a few days and ended in success after heated fighting through the thick earthen embankments-called "hedgerows"-that divide farm fields in Normandy and provided the defenders with excellent concealment and cover.<br /> <br /> On July 7, the 30th launched its first full-scale divisional offensive, crossing the Vire River and canal. After seven days of combat in a hedgerow-to-hedgerow slugging match against dug-in German infantrymen and tanks, the 30th captured key ground overlooking St. Lo. The division had suffered 3,200 casualties, but was in a great position and ready for Operation Cobra.<br /> <br /> During this next phase in the Allied advance, the 30th was one of three divisions assigned to open a hole in the enemy line so motorized divisions could move through.<br /> <br /> The attack began July 24, but was met with one of the most devastating friendly fire incidents of the war. On both July 24 and 25, American bombers intent on destroying German targets in preparation of the attack accidently bombed their own troops.<br /> <br /> The 30th suffered 814 casualties in two days. Despite the setback, the division attacked on July 25. Old Hickory met stiff resistance, but destroyed the German defenses and opened up their sector for the 2nd Armored Division to pass through.<br /> <br /> SURVIVING A TIGHT SPOT<br /> <br /> After a few days of rest, the 30th was sent to relieve the 1st Infantry Division around Mortain, France. It was a relatively quiet point on the line, but it wouldn't remain so for long.<br /> <br /> Hitler himself had ordered a massive counterattack aimed at splitting the American advance, and its starting point was Mortain.<br /> <br /> The German plan called for four German divisions- including the elite 1st and 2nd SS Panzer divisions- heading directly for Hill 314, a key piece of high ground overlooking the city. A battalion from the 120th Infantry Regiment had taken position on the hill, while other units from the division dug in around the city and in nearby St. Barthelmy.<br /> <br /> On Aug. 7, the German counterattack hit all along the 30th's front. The fighting was especially fierce on and around Hill 314. Surrounded and low on ammunition, food, water and medical supplies, the roughly 700 defenders held their ground for six days.<br /> <br /> The toll, however, was high: Nearly half of the soldiers were killed or wounded. One company arrived on the hill with 190 men. When relief came, only 24 were not among the casualties. For their actions on Hill 314, the 120th received a Presidential Unit Citation.<br /> <br /> Action elsewhere around Mortain was only slightly less savage. Outnumbered and outgunned at the point of attack, the 30th-often fighting in isolated small units- used stubborn tenacity, artillery fire and air strikes to absorb and, ultimately, turn back the enemy.<br /> <br /> The division lost 1,800 soldiers in the battle. Six units received Distinguished Unit Citations. Hobbs, the division commander, said, "We won't ever be in a tighter spot and survive as a division."<br /> <br /> But the 30th did more than just survive. Its defense of Mortain, enabled the Gen. George S. Patton's armored forces of the U.S. Third Army to race across France, thereby shortening the war.<br /> <br /> EAST INTO GERMANY<br /> <br /> After the liberation of Paris, the 30th became the first Allied infantry division to enter Belgium. It then moved into the Netherlands, liberating the city Maastricht on Sept. 11, an event the locals commemorate annually.<br /> <br /> The 30th then attacked the Siegfried Line, a supposedly impenetrable string of gun emplacements and tank traps that protected Germany's western frontier. The attack lasted two weeks. Old Hickory faced the largest concentration of artillery and mortar fire it had seen before breaching the line.<br /> <br /> Next, the division teamed with the 1st Infantry Division to attack Aachen, the historic capitol of Charlemagne and the first German city threatened by the Allies. In two weeks of close combat, both divisions fought fiercely, encircling and taking over Aachen and capturing more than 5,600 German prisoners.<br /> <br /> Following another brief rest, the division destroyed an enemy salient northeast of Aachen. It then rushed to the Malmedy-Stavelot area of Belgium on Dec. 17 to block an enemy attack.<br /> <br /> Most division members didn't know where they were headed. But while en route, some of them were listening to Axis Sally, a German propaganda broadcaster, on their jeep-mounted radios and heard her say, "The fanatical 30th Division, Roosevelt's SS troops, is going to try to rescue the American First Army."<br /> <br /> The soldiers now knew their mission and heard the new nickname they were given by the German High Command for the "consistent vigor and terrific pressure" the 30th brought to the 1st SS Panzer Division at St. Lo and Mortain.<br /> <br /> Old Hickory again fought the 1st SS Panzer Division, Stopping its assault and forcing its retreat during what would be called the Battle of the Bulge. The 30th launched a counterattack Jan. 13, 1945, and reached a point two miles south of St. Vith before receiving relief.<br /> <br /> While spearheading the drive across the Rhine River in February, the division earned another of its many nicknames, "Workhorse of the Western Front," from a column written by an AP reporter traveling with the unit.<br /> <br /> For the next few weeks, the division pursued the German army in their homeland, capturing the towns of Hamelin and Braunschweig, and helping to defeat enemy forces in Magdeburg.<br /> <br /> On May 4, soldiers from the 117th Infantry Regiment, deployed around Magdeburg, linked up with Russian soldiers roughly 10 days after the first Russian troops made contact with U.S. forces along the River Elbe.<br /> <br /> The main mission now was to collect and care for former Allied prisoners of war and displaced persons. By May 8, Victory in Europe day, the 30th had found 15,926 former Allied POWs and 47,690 displaced persons. Many of the latter group had rushed across Eastern Europe to surrender to Americans instead of the Russians.<br /> <br /> After VE Day, the division spent two months in occupation duty on the German border with Czechoslovakia before returning home and inactivating at Ft. Jackson, S. C., Nov. 1945.<br /> <br /> The 30th Infantry Division spent nearly five years on active duty. In 282 days of combat, it suffered more than 16,000 casualties. Many of the Guardsmen who compromised the division in 1940 were among the dead and wounded, replaced by draftees from around the country.<br /> <br /> But the division never lost is original character. It was as tough as Old Hickory and one the Army's best divisions to the end.<br /> <br /> Capt. Darrin Haas is deputy director of the Tennessee National Guard's joint public affairs office.<br /> <br /> BREAKOUT Members of the 120th Infantry Rement, 30th Infantry Division, push through a village in Normandy, France, July 25, 1944, during Operation Cobra, which punched through German lines, enabling Allied motorized units to advance beyond the French coastal region.