Lt. Walt Wrolson

- Walter Woodrow Wrolson -
Serial No. 01013214

On August 1, 1941, Walter Wrolson enlisted in the US Army at Ft. Snelling, Minnesota. He wanted to get his military service completed and go back to college. He was sent to the Field Artillery Replacement Center at Fort Bragg, North Carolina for his three months of basic training. He was then sent to Fort Jackson in South Carolina and assigned to the 630 TD Battalion. And then all hell broke loose at Pearl Harbor when the Japanese navy attacked the US fleet on December 7, 1941. The planned year of military service was now out of the question for Walter. The only question that remained, would he see any action or not?

Walter saw a lot of the US between August 1941 and December 1943

On May 1 1942 Walter was promoted from Private to Corporal. He signed up for Officers Candidate School and went on June 30, 1942 to Fort Knox, Kentucky to complete his three months of officer's' school. On October 3, Walter graduated as a 2nd Lieutenant and was assigned to the 37th Armored Regiment of the 4th Armored Division as a platoon tank commander in charge of five M4 Sherman medium tanks. He joined the 37th Tank Regiment as they ran maneuvers in Tennessee. In mid-November, the 4th Armored Division was moved to the California Desert Training Center near Freida, California. In late 1942 he was sent to the Armored Force School at Fort Knox for 6 weeks of Gunnery School. On February 8 1943, he graduated and went back to desert training in the Mojave Desert of California and Nevada. In June of 1943 they moved to Camp Bowie near Brownwood, Texas for more training.

Training of tankcrew in the Californian Desert on an M4 Sherman
(not Walter his unit, this is the 7th AD, 31st Battalion)

In September 1943, the 4th Armored was reorganized as a light armored division meaning it would be smaller and more agile than a heavier armored division. The new organization consisted of three self-sustaining battalions each of armored infantry. Tank units became the 8th, 35th and 37th battalions. Walter was assigned to the 37th Tank Battalion. On December 11, 1943 the division was moved aboard 22 trains to Camp Miles Standish near Taunton, Massachusetts. On December 29, the division was aboard ship in Boston Harbor to sail for England. Eleven days later they were training again in England.

During an exercise in England, tankcommander Wrolson
in the turret behind the .50 machinegun

The 4th Armored Division camped in Wiltshire County, the heart of England's fertile west country. They trained and ran maneuvers throughout the late winter and spring of 1944. On February 1, 1944 the 4th Armored Division became part of General George Patton his Third Army. On July 12 (D-Day plus 36) the 4th Armored landed on Utah and Omaha Beaches. On July 28 the division received orders to participate in Operation COBRA, the Allied breakout through Periers and Coutances into the heart of France.

The 4th Armored Division moves through Coutances, July 29, 1944

The commander of 4th Armored was Major General John Shirley Wood, also known as 'P' to his men ('P' was West Point jargon for 'professor', because Wood was giving lessons when he was a cadet to less gifted students) and later on 'Tiger Jack' by the Germans. He was a commander who would lead his units from the front. He even went on foot into Coutances when its progress was too slow. While under fire, he found a way through a minefield, and did send a note to General Dager, 'Send the infantry through, after me'. When an 8.8cm gun held up the advances and destroyed several of his vehicles, he ran up to an M18 Hellcat, tankdestroyer, and directed it to the point where the 8.8cm was located and ordered it to be taken out. The crew obliged with two well placed shots. Woods shouted up to the men of the Hellcat; 'Thanks, those Heinies were holding up the war,...'.

A unit of the 25th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron (Mechanized), 4th AD
moves through the village of Le Repas (near Villiers-Fossard) on July 31, 1944.
Up front two M8 Greyhounds and behind them, a M3A1 Halftrack and Jeeps.
(The wreck left is an Opel Blitz from the 2.SS-Panzer-Division "Das Reich")

American war correspondents reported that the rest of the Army could never keep up with the 4th Armored and dubbed them "Patton's Panzers", The Breakthrough Boys", "Fabulous Fourth", "Patton's Best". The Germans called them among other things "Roosevelt's Butchers" (years after the war, it was unofficially named "Name Enough", as the story goes by commander, Gen. John Shirley Wood, who trained the 4th AD during the war, that "the Fourth Armored Division was name enough, they shall be known by their deeds alone").

General George Patton, insigna of 4th AD, and Gen. John Shirley Wood
(commander of the 4th Armored Division between June 18, 1942 and December 3, 1944)

After the capture of Avranches, the 4th Armored then continued west crossing the Brittany Peninsula of France, where they battled at the town of Rennes (taken on August 4), captured the Atlantic Port of Vannes (August 5) and seized the German submarine base at Lorient where they were slowed down by heavy German resistance and were outnumbered by about 5 to 1. CCB stayed behind and CCA turned east for Nantes on August 10. And so, the 4th Armored Division pushed east again, taking Nantes on the 12th, and driving 264 miles in 34 hours to near the town of Orleans south of Paris. The 37th Tank Battalion was protecting the southern flank of the 4th Armored Division. Soon CCB was relieved at Lorient, and followed CCA also eastwards. The 4th Armored Division was now virtually leading the Allied forces eastward.

A detail of an old map with the first month of combat for the 4th Armored Division

In late August, the 37th crossed the Seine and Marne Rivers. They battled at St. Dizier and captured the bridge across the Meuse at Commercy. Speed was the key to capture bridges. On August 31 D Troop of 25th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron led the way for CCA, 37th Battalion into Stainville, which they secured. Shortly afterwards CCA got a report that in the town of Ligny En Banois an enemy column was sighted. Instead of waiting for the tanks to arrive, D Troop sped forward. The bridge was mined, but the Troop drove on across and shot up every German defense position that came in view. With the bridge secure, D Troop moved on towards Commercy in a downpour of rain. The important bridge across the Meuse at Commercy was defended by four 8.8cm guns. But because of the heavy rain, the guns were under covers. Before the Germans could breach the guns, D Troop was across. Again all of the .30 machineguns were blazing, the Germans at the 8.8cm's had no chance and this bridge was also secured. CCA of 37th Battalion moved into town, up north to counter a German attack if necessary. When the tankers passed the station a German troop train was idle on the tracks, soldiers were having lunch in a courtyard. Under the command of Lt. Turner all of the tanks from CCA opened up with their weapons and wreaked havoc upon the German troops. At least 100 Germans were made prisoner, and countless were killed. Two 8.8cm were destroyed, just as three locomotives and seven trucks. But also gasoline was captured, something the tanks of Patton were constantly short of. The Third Army was burning 350,000 gallons of gasoline a day!

After the battle for Commercy, German prisoners are taken away

By the end of august 1944 and six week of offensive attacks, Third Army stood on the west bank of the Moselle. 4th Armored Division was to cross the river, capture Nancy, continue east and establish a bridgehead over the Saar river near Sarreguemines. Attack on Nancy should be done by CCA in the north, through the bridgehead of 80th Infantry Division towards Arracourt, and CCB in the south, followed by CCR (reserve) to assist CCB. Envelop the German troops at Nancy. Seize the high ground n the Chateau-Salins area to block the exits from the town of Nancy and advance towards Sarreguemines. Combat Command A was under command of Colonel Bruce C. Clarke, an aggressive leader but he compassionately led his men by instilling them with pride. He was responsible for the planning, execution and success of the Nancy Bridgehead and the Arracourt defensive battles.

For the next chapter,...
Click below on this Sherman in Nancy,
a city liberated by the 4th Armored Division