824th Tank Destroyer Battalion

Combat History

The 824th Tank Destroyer Battalion (Heavy, Self-Propelled) was activated on 10 August 1942 at Camp Gruber, Oklahoma. Comprised of officers, NCOs, and junior enlisted men of the Regular Army and the Army of the United States, it was reorganized as a “Towed Anti-Tank Gun” tank destroyer unit in July 1943; organized as such, it departed the New York Port of Embarkation on 14 October 1944, and arrived in Marseilles 14 days later. The 824th Tank Destroyer Battalion entered combat on 28 November 1944, with Companies A and B attached to the 397th Infantry Regiment, which was in turn attached to the 45th Infantry Division. During this period, the mission of both of these Seventh Army divisions was pursuit of German 1st Army elements which were conducting a skillful delay on successive lines northward to the Franco-German frontier, from the Saar Valley region in the west to the Rhine in the east.

Crew of a 3" gun observe the primary armor avenue of approach through a nearby village, winter 1944-45. (US Army Military History Institute)

For the next three weeks, the 3-inch guns of the 824th were mainly used to provide anti-tank defense in the event of a German counterattack supported by armor, and as “bunker busters,” firing their powerful cannon at dug-in German positions in support of advancing 100th Division infantrymen. While a coordinated tank/infantry counterattack by the 21st Panzer Division did materialize in the 103rd Infantry Division’s zone near Climbach (where elements of the 614th Tank Destroyer Battalion [Colored] [Towed AT Gun] earned a Distinguished Unit Citation), none occurred in the 100th or 45th Infantry Divisions’ zones. The 824th’s missions continued as before. Even these proved deadly, however, as the Battalion sustained numerous casualties and damaged equipment from German indirect fire, the first of which were sustained in 3rd Platoon, Company A on 29 November when German mortar rounds killed one man and wounded three others from the same crew.

After the 397th Infantry Regiment was returned to 100th Infantry Division control, the entire battalion continued to provide anti-tank defense and support to the Division’s steady grind against German strongpoints in the Low Vosges. After the 100th’s assaults on dug-in German units at Lemberg and Mouterhouse, elements of the 824th continued to engage stationary targets and conduct mobile reconnaissance missions. One of the more spectacular achievements of the recon missions was the discovery and capture by a lieutenant in A/824th of a full set of German maps indicating the positions the enemy intended to occupy in the Maginot Line.

In mid-December, as the 100th Infantry Division began its assault against the formidable Maginot positions surrounding Bitche, the 824th took on three new missions in addition to providing anti-tank defense. By elevating their 3-inch guns to high angles, crews were able to fire illumination shells over enemy positions in support of infantry operations. Other guns were used against Maginot Line pillboxes; on 17 December, a crew commanded by a Sergeant Weingold fired 74 of the 15-pound projectiles and knocked out one of the steel-reinforced concrete fortifications.

The 3-inch pieces were also occasionally used as field artillery, with guns not emplaced for anti-tank defense firing interdictory missions on supply and communications routes well behind German lines.

On 21 December, the Seventh Army was forced to suspend offensive operations and cover part of Third Army’s sector while General Patton’s units attacked into the left shoulder of the Germans’ Ardennes salient. To bolster anti-tank defenses on the far left (western) flank of the Seventh Army front, A/824th was attached to the 106th Cavalry Group. The remainder of the Battalion remained attached to the 100th: On Christmas Eve, Company B arrayed its guns in anti-tank firing positions in depth in the vicinity of Rohrbach, Guising, and Bettviller (in the sector of the 397th Infantry Regiment); Company C did the same in Lemberg, Enchenberg, and Petit Réderching (in the 399th, 398th, and 397th sectors, respectively). According to the 100th Infantry Division’s plan for its defense in sector, Plan TENNESSEE, the guns emplaced in each sector were to reinforce regimental anti-tank plans as requested by the respective regimental commanders.

When the Germans’ NORDWIND offensive began, just before midnight on 31 December 1944, the 824th’s crews were waiting. Although some elements in the 399th’s sector were redeployed to cover the new flank created by the collapse of the 117th Cavalry Recon Squadron on the right (east), most of the crews and guns stood their ground and awaited action. Fortunately, no major German armor threat materialized on the right flank (the breakthrough having been made by the 257th and 559th Volks-Grenadier Divisions, with only their assault gun companies providing armored support), and the 397th Infantry held fast on the left (western) flank around Rimling.

On 8 and 9 January, the crews of B/824th duelled with German armor supporting the attack of the 17th SS-Panzer Grenadier Division in the vicinity of Rimling and to the south. The fortitude of men like Sergeant Frederick O’Connor of B/824th, who refused to withdraw in the face of heavy German attacks, helped shore up the line that had already been so tenaciously held for over a week. Several German halftracks and a tank were confirmed destroyed, with the loss of one 3” anti-tank gun. Two more guns were abandoned by their crews when German tanks advanced more quickly than the guns could be taken out of battery and withdrawn, but both were subsequently retrieved and put back into action after a gallant night patrol led by Sergeant Martin C. Ready penetrated German lines and recovered the frozen weapons.

A/824th was reassigned to the 44th Infantry Division on 11 January, but the remainder of the Battalion continued operations in support of the 100th Infantry Division. Throughout this time, selected crews fired illumination missions, but most were occupied with improving primary anti-tank firing positions and reconnoitering and improving alternate and secondary sites. On 16 January, crews began rotation to an orientation course provided by the 776th Tank Destroyer Battalion (in the 44th Infantry Division sector) designed to familiarize them with the different tactics and maintenance requirements of a self-propelled tank destroyer battalion.

By the end of January, A/824th had been returned to battalion control, and the entire battalion was again attached to the 100th Infantry Division. With the defeat of the Germans prosecuting Operation NORDWIND, the battalion resumed its indirect fire missions in reinforcement of DIVARTY, 100th Infantry Division, and crews continued to prepare for the upcoming organizational transition from a towed to a self-propelled T/O&E.

Throughout February and the first half of March, the crews of the 824th occupied anti-tank firing positions in depth throughout the 100th Infantry Division sector, and continued their highly effective indirect fire missions against enemy targets to the Division’s front. The main enemy activity encountered, therefore, was mortar and artillery fire, which inflicted several casualties on the 824th.

On 9 March, the first six M18 “Hellcat” tank destroyers arrived, but the 824th had to delay its conversion due to the requirements of the upcoming Seventh Army offensive through the Westwall (the “Siegfried Line”), Operation UNDERTONE. From 15 - 19 March, the 824th provided fire support to the 100th’s assault on and beyond Bitche, while simultaneously covering potential German armor avenues of approach.

From 23 March to 1 April, the Battalion completed its conversion to the self-propelled organization, just in time to provide critical support to the 100th’s assault crossing of the Neckar River at Heilbronn. Throughout the first half of April, C/824th supported Combat Team (CT) 397; B/824th CT 398, and A/824th CT 399th. During this time, B/824th provided direct fire support to 2d/398th in their bridgehead at Jagstfeld, and C/824th fired in support of the elements of the 397th Infantry Regiment engaged in vicious building-to-building combat in the center of Heilbronn.

M18 Hellcats of the 824th TD Battalion supporting the assault crossing of the Neckar, April 1945. (SOC)

After several days of frustration on the west bank of the Neckar—caused by continuous destruction of pontoon bridges across the Neckar by extremely accurate German artillery directed from the heights east of the city—most of C/824th crossed the river on the morning of 8 April. In concert with tanks of the 781st Tank Battalion, the newly-acquired M18s provided crucial fire support to the 397th that enabled them to make greater progress in the fighting in the ruined city center. By blasting the buildings that had been turned into block after block of fortresses by the remnants of several German regiments, Volkssturm battalions, and a citizenry still enraged by an earlier RAF raid against the population center of the city, C/824th contributed enormously to the final seizure of the city, completed on 12 April.

An 824th TD blasts German positions in support of the 100th's advance, April 1945. (SOC)

As the Division resumed offensive operations after clearing Heilbronn, A/824th supported CT 399’s successful attack at Beilstein, and the remainder of the Battalion continued supporting the other elements of the 100th Infantry Division. Over the next two weeks, as the 100th dashed across Swabia to the outskirts of Stuttgart, the exceptionally high speeds of which the M18s were capable became an important asset, not only for mobile fire support with their 3” (76mm) guns, but as transportation for infantry units advancing faster than the crumbling German defenders could react.

Infantrymen of the 100th Infantry Division speed forward on an 824th TD Battalion Hellcat, passing a Sherman tank recovery vehicle (probably from the 781st Tank Battalion), April 1945. (SOC)

As the 100th’s offensive activities came to an end east of Stuttgart, on 25 April the 824th was reassigned to the 103rd Infantry Division, headed through Bavaria toward Austria. The Battalion finished the war attached to the 103rd in the vicinity of Innsbruck.

Throughout its five more than months of combat, during which it was almost exclusively attached to the 100th Infantry Division, the 824th Tank Destroyer Battalion provided valuable firepower and, after its reorganization as a self-propelled battalion in late March, critical mobility as well. From late November through mid-March, its 36 3” (76mm) anti-tank guns not only greatly reinforced the anti-tank capabilities of the 100th’s infantry regiments (equipped only with the much-less capable 57mm pieces), but, more importanly, provided substantial, crucially important reinforcing fire support to the 36 105mm and 12 155mm howitzers of the 100th’s Division Artillery. At Jagstfeld, Heilbronn, Beilstein, and beyond, the heavy firepower and exceptional mobility of the new M18s—the fastest tracked armored vehicle of WWII—allowed Centurymen to bring the war to the Reich, and quickly and decisively end it.