Lt. Walt Wrolson
'SECOND IN BASTOGNE'

Lt. Wrolson and his Silver Star Medal (for his action on Sept. 20, 1944)

General George Patton was furious on Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery his slow progress and the claim he laid on the supplies. General Bradley was willing to cut Patton some slack. But the supreme commander, Eisenhower, was torn between the northern attack by Montgomery, and the eastern attack by Patton's Third Army. Eisenhower wanted as fast as Montgommery could to move up to Berlin and Hamburg and further to Danmark. But a broad front was also a strategic good plan, it would keep the Germans spread over a large area. So, Montgomery would have the first say over supplies, and Patton got the order on September 12, 1944 to go over the Moselle river by the end of Thursday September 14. If he would not manage this, then he had to take up defensive positions from Nancy towards Luxembourg. Eisenhower trusted Patton that if he would cross the Moselle, Patton would make bridgeheads and wait for orders, until US First Army and British Second Army in the north broke out towards the Rhine, than Eisenhower would unleash Third Army.

Left, Patton, and the man in the middle of it; General Bradley, and Montgomery

Eisenhower was not only busy with strategics, but also politics were of his main concerns, if he would not cut Montgomery some slack, Churchill would be on his neck, just as President Roosevelt. He didn't get along, just as Patton did, with the stubborn Montgomery who thought of himself a great leader and strategist. So a letter was written by Eisenhower to explain why Monty was given priority over Patton, the harbors, such as Antwerp and Rotterdam had to be taken to bring in supplies. And the V1 and V2 weapons, launched from Holland had to be destroyed. But if these subjectives were taken, then Patton could carry on with offensive actions. Eisenhower had not only Patton, Montgomery and Bradley to please, there was also a southern offensive going on, he had the French army to consider, etc. In total, Eisenhower had 2.2 million soldiers in Europe, divided in 50 divisions, 23 American divisions, 17 British divsions, and Canadian, Polish and French divisions.

Hitler was aware of Patton’s army, and knew his reputation. Field Marshal Gert von Rundstedt, Commander in Chief West, had two army groups, Army Group B under command of Field Marshal Model, and Army Group G under command by General Blaskowitz (and later General Balck). Von Rundstedt could bring just 750.000 men together for the defense in the West. But they would operate in familiar terrain and they would defend there 'Heimat' (home country).

Patton organized his Third Army into two Corps. IIth Corps in the north with the 5th, 83rd and 90th Infantry Divisions, and IIIth Corps in the south commanded by Major General Manton S. Eddy. IIIth Corps consisted of the 80th Mechanized Infantry Division, 35th Infantry Division, the 4th and 6th Armored Divisions and the 2nd Cavalry Group. And so Patton’s 4th Armored Division stood across elements of the First German Army, two divisions and three Panzer Brigades, of the Fifth Panzer Army (with some 75 PzKpfw IV and 107 PzKpfw V, Panther tanks, 126 2cm guns and 190 artillery guns and 13.700 men).

An US armored divsion consisted, on paper, of three tank battalions, with a total of 2,187 men, (729 men per battalion), 186 Medium tanks, and 77 Light tanks in a division. Each battalion had three Medium tank companies with 17 tanks and one Light tank company. As support, the divison had three armored infantry battalions (over 3000 men), three self propelled field artillery battalions (1,623 men and 54 guns) and a cavalry reconnaissance squadron. Attachments could consist of anti-aircraft machineguns, tankdestroyers, and engineers and even more tank battalions. A total of 15.700 men were attached to the 4th Armored Division. And to keep this division moving, it had to have fuel. Because Monty his army was given the most of the fuel, Patton used all his imagination. Most vehicles not neccesary for battle would be given no fuel. Captured German fuel was used and even officers from Patton’s army went to the fuel dumps of Hodges First Army and posted themself as officers of the First Army to get to the fuel. Combat Command Alfa spearheading the attack across the Moselle towards Sarreguemines would benefit the most of the extra fuel distribution.

The global routes of the CCA, CCB and CCR of the 4th AD. around Nancy

General Woods was not happy with the plans on how to capture Nancy, and decided that just CCB would attack from the south, and to held CCA in reserve. But CCA would eventualy go over the north of Nancy, so the two Combat Command teams would meet east of the city. To back up the CCB, CCR would be close behind for support. On September 13, 1944, the M4 tanks of the 37th knifed across the Moselle River and, on the 14th overran the rear command post of the German 15th Panzer Grenadier Division at Arracourt and, in Valhey, caught the same division's forward echelon command post before it could displace rearward. And so, Nancy was encircled on the same day and the city fell the next day, september 15.

This M4A1(76)W Sherman can be found in Nancy,
dedicated to the 4th Armored Division
(Avenue De Résistance, near the Novotel hotel)

The fiercest fight came on the four days of September 19-22. The Germans counterattacked in heavy fog and rain with 56 Mark V Panther tanks and attempted to overrun HQ of the 37th Tank Battalion defended by C Company's tanks near the town of Lezey. On September 20, some of Lt. Wrolson's tanks were bogged down in the muddy fields and under German attack. He personally went out under heavy fire and with the help of chains and his tank, freed the stuck tanks. For this action he was awarded the Silver Star for gallantry in action against the enemy and on October 9 1944 Walter was promoted to 1st Leutenant.

In such a way, Lt. Wrolson pulled out, under heavy enemy fire, bogged down tanks
(those are 6th Armored Division tanks in the same area)

In this region the largest tank battles were fought by the US Army during World War II. The 4th Armored Division was thrown into battle as a virgin fighting unit, but came up trumps. It was tops in attack, but also in defending and pursue the fleeing enemy. 37th Tank Battalion destroyed during the four days of fighting, between September 19 and 22, 55 Panther tanks, many factory fresh, and lost 14 tanks itself.

After their vehicle was put out of action during the battle at Arracourt,
this crew seeks shelter. One member is getting treatment by a US Army medic

On November 6, General Patton visited the division. He was quoted as saying "The accomplishments of this division have never been equaled. And by that statement, I do not mean in this war, I mean in the entire history of warfare. There has never been such a superb fighting organization as the 4th Armored Division".

An M4 Sherman of 37th Tank Battalion, 4th Armored Division
ready for the night after a day of fighting near Chateau Salinas

On November 9, the 37th Battalion moved out of Arracourt and attacked in a column as wide as the road they drove on. It was cold, wet and slow going. On November 11, 1944, the 37th was caught on the road and lost a number of tanks because it could not deploy in the bottomless mud. In late November, the battalion crossed the Saar River. On December 3, General John Shirley Wood, commander of the 4th Armored Division, was replaced by Major General Hugh J. Gaffey. General Manton S. Eddy, a general who could not get along with Wood, complained with Patton, who relieved Wood from his duties. On December 8 the 37th smashed through the old French Maginot Line and took Singling. On December 16 the battalion's vehicles were the first 4th Armored Division vehicles to enter Germany when they chased several German tanks into the woods near Rimling.


These American GI's surrendered to the overwhelming power of the German troops

DECEMBER 16, START OF THE 'BATTLE OF THE BULGE'

But December 16, 1944 was also another memorable day, for both sides, when the Germans came into action for Operation ‘Wacht am Rhein’, the beginning of ‘The Battle of the Bulge’. When Patton was notified he was sure this was not just some small German attack, but a serious attempt to drive a wedge into the Allied armies. Eisenhower went to Verdun on December 19 to have a meeting with Air Marshall Tedder, General Bradley, Lt. Gen. Jacob Devers, General Patton, and deputy of Montgomery, Freddie de Guingand (Monty would not bother to sit round a table with ranks lowers than his). Patton thought that letting the ‘Sons of Bitches getting all the way to Paris, then they would really cut them up and chew’em up’. There was laughter around the table, but Eisenhower cut Patton short by saying that he refused the Germans across the Meuse. He wanted that Patton move six divisions as soon as possible to the north. Patton told that he had only three, the other were only on paper, the losses at the Hürtgen Forrest were still not refitted, and only the 4th Armored, the 26th and 80th Infantry Divisions were available. But he promised he could move out at any day, just a call to Nancy where Maj. Gen. Hobart Gay was waiting orders with three plans Patton had suggested, and the show would be on the road. The other men around the table were skeptical and raised worries. Tens of thousands of men and vehicles and equipment had to reverse from the east and move north, to Bastogne.

The 'prayer for good weather'

Just 125 miles from Bastogne, but it was very far, the weather was terrible, snow and slippery roads, bridges were destroyed, roads mined. Patton asked army chaplain Col. James O’Neil to write a prayer for good weather. The prayer was printed on 250.000 small cards and distributed under his men. And low and behold, the weather turned, the sky cleared and planes could fly, and vehicles found firmer ground (chaplain O'Neil was later granted by Patton himself the Bronze Star).

A LITTLE KNOWN FACT,...

The first troops from the 4th Armored Division to reach Bastogne were tanks from 8th Battalion, CCB. At 10:45 a.m. on December 18, CCB was placed on a one-hour alert. This was canceled, but at 11.00 p.m. a new order came in,… not moving east but to change course to the north! The 8th Tank Battalion crossed the IP at 12:50 a.m. on December 19. They had no information about the situation up ahead or about the enemy. CCB’s orders were to move to an area in the vicinity of Longwy, France. Leading the column was Lt. Col. Albin F. Irzyk, who was totaly in the dark, he had no map, the only map was with his commanding officer, Brig. Gen. Holmes E. Dager, who radioed the directions. Nine hours after CCB was CCA to follow the same route. When they reached Longwy they were sent through, passed Arlon, into Belgium, towards Neufchâteau. At Vaux-les-Rosières the column halted at 11.00 p.m. for the night. The tanks had made a journey 161 miles in 22 hours, most at night.

On the map the route of CCB on December 19 and the Task Force Ezell on Dec. 20

Next morning, December 20, General Dager called Lt. Col. Albin F. Irzyk and gave him the order to send a task force into Bastogne. Irzik protested because he did not know how the situation was up the road. Dager agreed and had himself protested against this order by Maj. Gen. Troy H. Middleton of the VIII Corps (who wanted the whole of CCB). Dager wanted to wait for the whole of 4th AD. But instead of sending CCB into Bastogne, a task force would go instead. And so, A Company, 8th Tank Battalion; C Company, 10th Armored Infantry Battalion; and C Battery, 22nd Armored Field Artillery Battalion, all under command of Captain Bert P. Ezell. And thus, “Task Force Ezell” moved out, towards Bastogne. In Bastogne, Ezell should make contact with Brig. Gen. Anthony C. McAuliffe, commander of the 101st Airborne Division, who could give instructions and to give him support if so ordered. But when the task force arrived in Bastogne, Colonel William Roberts, commander of Combat Command B of the 10th Armored Division was waiting for Ezell. When Col. Roberts was given instructions, the order came from divisional headquarters that Ezell was immediately to return his force back to Nives. A disappointed Roberts saw the task force mount up again and turn back the way they just had come of. Seven hours after they left, the task force returned. They had more vehicles with them than when they left the bivouac. On the way back, they came across many abandoned US vehicles and artillery in good condition, but no GI in sight. On the way in the vehicles were not there. So, in the few hours Ezell was in Bastogne, other troops of US army had crossed the same road, but so were German troops. And they had apparently overrun the American troops, but had not stopped to check the American vehicles. So, some of these vehicles were now brought back to there own lines. The 8th Tank Battalion was ordered to retrace its steps of the previous night and move southwest to Neufchâteau, then southeast to Léglise. Here they learned that the remanining of the 4th Armorde Division were still around Arlon. After some rest, the 80th and 26th Infantry divisions and the 4th Armored Division (on the left flank) moved out on December 22, towards the now completely encircled Bastogne.


Casey Jones, a Legend,...

We reach now the action where Walt Wrolson would enter history. But before we drive with him towards Bastogne, I like to give some more details on the unit he was in and the tank he was commanding. Walt entered the war in a M4 Sherman tank, which was named after a legendary railway man, Casey Jones. Jonathon Luther 'Casey' Jones, born in 1863 in Jackson, Tennessee, and was working for the Illinois Central Railroad in 1900. On April 30, 1900, he was driving locomotive No. 1 together with Sim Webb, the fireman. Despite the train departed 75 minutes behind schedule from Memphis, No. 1 was a fast engine, and with speeds up to 80 miles per hour, they had won 55 minutes from the 75 minute delay when they reached Grenada, Mississippi. Another 15 minutes were made up towards Winona, Mississppi, and they were almost back on schedule when the train reached Durant, Mississippi. With new orders to move the train to Goodman, Mississippi, they departed Durant. Unknown to Casey, three trains were at the station of Vaughan. No. 38 and No. 72 were on the passing track, with some cars, because of the length, standing still on the main track. Also on the track was No. 26. To rearrange all these trains it took some time to make the maneuvers. Railway workers moved some of the cars of the No.83 with No. 72 on the main track, the same track Jones was on. Suddenly an airhose broke from No. 72 and locked the brakes. With four cars of No. 83 on the main track a disaster was in the making. Sim Webb was the first who saw the red glow of a light from the last car. He yelled a warning to Casey Jones, who screamed back at Web to jump the train. Web jumped, and Jones slammed the airbrakes and throttled back. But to no avail, the train crashed into the parked cars, and Jones was killed instantly. There were no other casualties, only some slight wounded, thanks to the heroic deed by Jones, to stay with his train and trying to slow it down. And the legend was born. A song, The Ballad of Casey Jones, was made popular by singer Bill Murray, Pete Seeger, and Johnny Cash among others. Many other songs and artists have recorded songs with Casey Jones as a motive, sometimes by name, sometimes with a reference to Jones, as in Ridin with the driver by Motorhead. In 1927 a movie was released staring Ralph Lewis as Casey Jones. And also a television series, loosely based on the Jones legend, was running during the late fifties.

An unknown artist made the cartoon on Walt his M4 Sherman

But Casey Jones was also remembered by the crew of the Sherman tank Walt Wrolson was commanding. Who suggested the name is lost in history. Tanks were named beginning with the first letter of the company they were serving in. For instance, the M4A3(76)W Sherman tank driven by Captain James H. Leach during the Bastogne siege lifting was called 'Block Buster', because he was in Company B, of 37th Battalion. In Company C, of 37th Battalion, was one tank that would probably become one of the most famous tanks of the Second World War, 'Cobra King', the M4A3E2 Jumbo tank, commanded by Lt. Charles Boggess.

Ballade of Casey Jones
  

Come all you rounders if you want to hear
  A story 'bout a brave engineer,
  Casey Jones was the rounder's name
  'Twas on the Illinois Central that he won his fame.   

Casey Jones, he loved a locomotive.
  Casey Jones, a mighty man was he.
  Casey Jones run his final locomotive
  With the Cannonball Special on the old I.C.   

Casey pulled into Memphis on Number Four,
  The engine foreman met him at the roundhouse door;
  Said, "Joe Lewis won't be able to make his run
  So you'll have to double out on Number One."   

If I can have Sim Webb, my fireman, my engine 382,
  Although I'm tired and weary, I'll take her through.
  Put on my whistle that come in today
  Cause I mean to keep her wailing as we ride and pray.   

Casey Jones, mounted the cabin,
  Casey Jones, with the orders in his hand.
  Casey Jones, he mounted the cabin,
  Started on his farewell Journey to the Promised Land.   

They pulled out of Memphis nearly two hours late,
  Soon they were speeding at a terrible rate.
  And the people knew by the whistle's moan.
  That the man at the throttle was Casey Jones.

Need more coal there, fireman Sim,   
Open that door and heave it in.  
Give that shovel all you got   
And we'll reach Canton on the dot   

On April 30, 1900, that rainy morn,  
Down in Mississippi near the town of Vaughan,  
Sped the Cannonball Special only two minutes late  
Traveling 70 miles an hour when they saw a freight.  

The caboose number 83 was on the main line,  
Casey's last words were "Jump, Sim, while you have the time."   
At 3:52 that morning came the fareful end,  
Casey took his farewell trip to the promised land.  

Casey Jones, he died at the throttle,  
With the whistle in his hand.   
Casey Jones, he died at the throttle,   
But we'll all see Casey in the promised land.  

His wife and three children were left to mourn  
The tragic death of Casey on that April morn.   
May God through His goodness keep them by His grace   
Till they all meet together in that heavenly place.  

Casey's body lies buried in Jackson, Tennessee  
Close beside the tracks of the old I.C.  
May his spirit live forever throughout the land  
As the greatest of all heroes of a railroad man.  

Casey Jones, he died at the throttle,  
With the whistle in his hand.   
Casey Jones, he died at the throttle,   
But we'll all see Casey in the promised land.  

Written by Wallace Saunders

Lyrics Provided by http://www.trainweb.org/caseyjones/song.html:

For the next chapter,...
Click on the model of Walt his Sherman
(notice how 'Casey Jones' was placed, he is driving backwards)