Lt. Walt Wrolson
'SECOND IN BASTOGNE'

THE 37TH TANKBATTALION,
C-COMP, CCR, 4TH AD
DEPART FOR BASTOGNE

The 80th and 26th Infantry divisions and the 4th Armored
Division (on the left flank) moved out on December 22, 1944
towards the now completely encircled Bastogne.

Major Albin F. Irzyk and, an after the war picture of, Lt.Col. Creighton Abrams

The main force that was to drive towards Bastogne was CCB, under command by the 21 year old Major Albin F. Irzyk. He would send his units and some 1000 men to Chaumont and further to Bastogne. But the Germans defended this region ferociously, and CCB lost eleven Sherman tanks. On the right flank CCA was also struggling from Martelange towards Warnach and lost five Sherman tanks. Combat Command R (Reserve) was also operating on the right flank, but went to the left flank on Monday, December 25, to strengthen this weak flank. Despite heavy opposition near Remoiville and man to man fighting the CCR took Remoiville, taking some 327 German prisoners in the process. General McAuliffe, the besieged commander of the 101st Airborne Division listened to the reports that were coming in and heard that the nearest units of the 4th Armored Division, the CCB, were stopped at Chaumont, just five miles south of Bastogne. McAuliffe remarked that it would take another 24 hours before the 4th Armored would reach Bastogne, maybe too late,... and told the only reporter with the 101st in Bastogne, Fred MacKenzie; 'We have been let down,...'. But as CCB and CCA were struggling, reports were coming in that CCR on the left flank moved north, and had reached Cobreville mid-afternoon.

Lt.Col. Creighton Abrams points to the art
on his Sherman M4A3(76) 'Thunderbolt VI'

Next morning, December 26, Lt.Col. Creighton Abrams, commander of CCR, was standing in his Sherman tank, 'Thunderbolt VI', an M4A3, and ordered that Baker Company, under command of Capt. James Leach would take Remichampagne, so the road to Sibret, the last town before Bastogne, could be taken. The artillery of the 4th Armored rained down in and around the town of Remichampagne and the woods Bois de Cohet. West of Baker Company, were two Charlie platoons under command of Lt. Charles Boggess, and he reported to Abrams, that 'Troops observed going into the woods'. Abrams concluded that these were German troops. They were mainly German Panzergrenadiers who thought they were safe in the woods. But sixteen P-47's Thunderbolts from 377th Fighter Squadron plastered the woods of Bois de Cohet with bombs, napalm and rockets. Around 10.00 hours, Baker Company tanks and infantry of the 53rd Armored Infantry, entered Remichampagne to clean it from Germans. At 11.20 hours, Boggess spotted six anti-tank guns that the Germans had brought into position to cover the road between Remichampagne and Cobreville, these could destroy all his tanks in a couple of minutes. So air support was called in to deal with these AT guns. Fighterbombers of 379th Fighter Squadron were given the order. Meanwhile Abrams drove towards Baker Company and met up with Leach in his 'Blockbuster'. He noticed a German gun a thousand meters away and asked Leach to deal with it. But Abrams became impatient and would not wait for a tank from Leach to take it out, he moved forward himself and shot the gun (an AA) to pieces with 'Thunderbolt VI'. Leach recommended Abrams the DSC for his action, because it was the colonel who was at the front knocking enemy out, and colonels were not known for operating that close at the action.

C-47 Skytrains bring supplies towards Bastogne

The men of the 4th Armored Division and their attached units looked up to the sky when large groups of C-47's moved overhead towards Bastogne and dropped the much needed supplies on parachutes over Bastogne. German Anti-Aircraft tried to pick the Dakota's from the air, with some succes. Abrams called Boggess over to his tank. The 32 year old commander of C Company was just a couple of days in charge of this unit, when his former commander was killed. Only nine tanks were left in C Company, and support would come from 45 men of the 53rd Armored Infantry, but Abrams urged Boggess to 'Get to those men in Bastogne'. Boggess went back to his tank commanders and pointed their position in the column and their duty towards Bastogne. Lieutenant Charles Boggess would lead the column in his M4A3E2 Jumbo, called 'Cobra King'. The Jumbo had extra armor welded onto the tank to withstand German shells. Boggess pointed Lt. Walter Wrolson as his next in line, and Milandro as third in line (both commanded M4A3 Sherman tanks).

The crew of 'Cobra King', the M4A3E2 Jumbo commanded by Boggess

At 16.20 hours, Abrams gave with his hand the signal to move out. With guns blazing, machine guns rattling, the tanks moved forward. Artillery was coming overhead, and smashed shells in front of the moving column. 'Cobra King' looked for targets in front, Walt Wrolson his tank fired to the right, and Milandro his tank fired to the left. Gunner of 'Cobra King', Corporal Milton Dickerman stated later he had used his 75mm gun as a machine gun, loader Murphy (Pvt James) smashed twenty-one rounds in the breech in just a couple of minutes. As soon as the little column moved through Clochimont, Boggess asked for artillery on Assenois. Shells were dropping everywhere, and it was even dangerous for the column. Shrapnel rattled on the tanks armor. The hatches had to be closed because of getting wounded by friendly fire. Periscopes of the drivers, obscured by dirt, could hardly be used, and the drivers 'guessed' their way on the exploding road.

When the left brake locked from 'Cobra King', the tank took a wrong road, but backed up, and up they went again towards Bastogne. Friendly fire and German shells prompted the infantry in their half tracks to dismount and seek shelter. Man to man fights started when German Volksgrenadiers came out of their hiding.

James Hendrix receives the MOH from President Truman

One of the infantrymen, the 19 year old James R. Hendrix, ran into two 8.8cm gun crews, and took them prisoner with only his M1 rifle. He silenced two machine gun positions and dragged a severly wounded GI from a burning wreck. Hendrix would later be granted the Medal of Honor.

When dusk fell, the head of the column were just the Shermans of Boggess, Wrolson en Milandro, and these three tanks cleared Assenois. In the gap behind them, the Germans were given the chance to throw 'Tellermine' on the road. A Half Track was blown up by one. Cpt. Bill Dwight, from S-3, in his tank 'Tonto' helped clear the wreckage from the road and toss the mines aside. A total of five Half Tracks were lost. In 'Cobra King' the smell of cordite, the haze of smoke made it almost impossible to work in it.

Left; the pillbox still stands guard

On the right side of the road a small concrete pillbox appeared. From within Germans were shooting at the column. But gunner Dickerman managed to put three rounds into the pillbox, and silenced it. A couple of German soldiers, standing under fir trees were cut down by bow gunner Harold Hafner (Hofner). Walt Wrolson remembered it well, years later he recollected; 'traveling along a road in the forest near Bastogne with the gunner firing the main gun of the M4 Sherman tank until we reached a clearing where the 101st was located'. When the treeline opened up, to open fields, Boggess slowed down, and spotted many foxholes. He called out to the helmed figures who were peering over the barrels of their rifles,...'Come on out, this is the 4th Armored'. It took some time before a soldier emerged who put his hand out towards Boggess,...'I'm Lieutenant Webster of the 326th Engineers, 101st Airborne Division,...glad to see you,...'. In the journal log of CCR the entry was scibbled; 'Hole opened to surrouned forces at Bastogne'.

After the first three Shermans reached Bastogne, the fourth Sherman was 'Tonto' with S-3 Captain Dwight, who reported to General McAuliffe. Not long after the first tanks of the CCR had rolled into town, 'Thunderbolt VI' with Lt.Col. Abrams aboard, drove into Bastogne. Even if the 101st Airborne troopers had declared that they were not to be liberated, they were relieved to see the 4th Armored. And what's more, they had great respect for the tankers, as each crew in front was led by an officer. The regular army had often no officer at the front line. The paratroopers felt a bond with these tankers, because their officers were also always at the front to be found. Even when the road from the south was cleared, it was far from safe. Armor from A and B Company were ordered to take up positions and defend the flanks. Supply trucks and ambulances rolled into Bastogne that same nght, escorted by the light tanks of D Company, 37th Tank Battalion.

In Assenois a German Battalion with Regimental CP's was stationed. During the fighting in and around Assenois some 428 Germans were taken prisoner.

The most famous picture of 'Cobra King', the first tank into Bastogne,...

The next day, December 27, the corridor was widened and Lt. Col. Creighton Abrams asked Boggess for a list who the first men were that drove their tanks into Bastogne. The first three are known for certain, Boggess, Wrolson and Milandro, but after that it becomes unsure. Some publications, such as 'WWII Journal #3, Battle of the Bulge', editor Ray Merriam, 2007, has as fourth Sherman the tank 'Tonto' from Captain Dwight, while the list of Boggess shows the Sherman from K.J. Smith as the fourth tank into Bastogne. But when Boggess has all the names of 1st and 2nd Platoon, he has only the commander his name, Ford, of the fifth tank. He even has no type or serial number of the tank commanded by Ford (could this be the tank of Captain Dwight, 'Tonto'?). The list Boggess produced in Bastogne was, in my opinion, the personal and equipment check in Bastogne which tanks of the two platoons from CCR made it into Bastogne. Even the tanks with mechanical problems are mentioned.

FIRST TANKS OF THE 37TH TANK BATTALION,
C-COMP, CCR, 4TH AD INTO BASTOGNE

TANKTYPE - NR. - NAME - 1 PLT
COMMANDER
DRIVER
GUNNER
LOADER
BOWGUNNER
M4A3E2 (3083084), 'Cobra King'
CH. BOGGESS
H. SMITH
DICKERMAN
MURPHY
HOFNER
M4A3 (3082371), 'Casey Jones'
W. WROLSON
THOMAS
PHENIX
HAYES
FESMIR
M4A3 (3081889), (unknown)
MILANDRO
NUNN
KLAMEK
INZINNA
(unknown)
M4A1 (3033546), (unknown)
K.J. SMITH
SWINEHART
WOODS
HEMBREE
BENNET
Unkown
FORD
(unknown)
(unknown)
(unknown)
(unknown)
(Captain Dwight his tank 'Tonto' came in as 4th tank into Bastogne)

TANKTYPE - NR. - NAME - 2 PLT
COMMANDER
DRIVER
GUNNER
LOADER
BOWGUNNER
M4A1 (3033887), (unknown)
DROBICK
POLCE
GLINKA
SAUSOL
WALKER
M4A3 (3082118), (unknown)
DUNN
GRICE
(unknown)
FURLANICH
SHLINSKY
M4A3 (3082084), (unknown)
LUSZENYK
LISCAVAGE
MALICOAT
FERARO
GELAZELA

TANKTYPE - NR. - NAME - Ukn.
COMMANDER
DRIVER
GUNNER
LOADER
BOWGUNNER
M4(105) (301036725), HQ
MYERS
HALL
ELKINS
O'SMITH
SHINER

The two tanks below were out of action before CCR reached Bastogne

TANKTYPE - NR. - NAME - Ukn.
COMMANDER
DRIVER
GUNNER
LOADER
BOWGUNNER
M4A3E2( 308058) - Unit ?
TOWLEY
?
?
?
?
(Noted on the list by Boggess: 'Needs new clutch')

TANKTYPE - NR. - NAME - Ukn.
COMMANDER
DRIVER
GUNNER
LOADER
BOWGUNNER
M4A1 (3033244) - Unit ?
JACKSON
?
?
?
?
(Noted by Boggess: 'Gyro & Power Tray out - Bazooka hole in left turret, thru star')

A clipping from 'Stars and Strips', Tuesday Januari 9, 1945
(signed by Chas P. Boggess Jr.: 'Walt was right behind me')
Click on the clipping for enlargement

In a correspondence back to the US Lt. Wrolson sent back a Stars and Stripes newspaper, which documented all this above happening. Lt. Boggess signed it and he added, "Walt was right behind me".

General Patton wrote to 4th Armored General Gaffey the following commendation: "The outstanding celerity of your movement and unremitting, vicious and skillful manner in which you pushed the attack, terminating at the end of four days and nights of incessant battle in the relief of Bastogne, constitute one of the finest chapters in the glorious history of the United States Army. You and the officers and men of your command are hereby commended for a superior performance". For its relief of Bastogne the 4th Armored was later awarded with the Presidential Unit Citation.

On 10 January the 37th Tank Battalion was attacking east of Bastogne when the order came to halt. The 37th got a position in the 3rd Army reserve, ready to answer any fire calls. It was around this point in time that Lt. Wrolson became the maintenance officer for Company C of the 37th Tank Battalion as the previous maintenance officer, Dick Lamison, was transferred to a divisional post. On 22 February 1945, General Patton ordered his tanks back in action and Outscheid, Mioderwinger, Baustert, Feilsdorf, and Koosbrisch quickly fell to the 37th. On 25 February, the 37th took Rittersdorf and shot a bridgehead over the Nimes River. In only four days the 37th had led the 3rd Army as it pierced the Siegfried Line. On March 5, 1945 the tanks of the 37th attacked over the Kull River. For the next few weeks the 37th was engaged in cleaning out the Palatinate, the triangle formed by the Saar, Rhine and Moselle Rivers.

An M4A3(76)W from the 37th TB, 4th Armored Division, in Germany

The 3rd Army was hoping to find a bridge intact that would take them across the Rhine river. The German retreating troops were so desperate to reach the other side of the river, and not to let the bridges fall into enemy hands, that they blew the bridge, even loaded with own troops and material still on it (as witnessed by Major Al Irzyk, who was horrified of this onslaught). But, on 25 March, 1945 the 37th Tank Battalion crossed the Rhine near Oppenheim.

Sometime in the first months of 1945 Lt.Col. Creighton Abrams, commander of the 37th, got a new Sherman, an M4A3E8 with a 76mm gun and Horizontal Volute Spring Suspension (HVSS). It was his seventh tank in succession (four during training in the U.S. en three in Europe) and named it therefor 'Thunderbolt VII'.

For the next chapter,...
Click below on the 4th A.D. Sherman,
Frankfurt, Germany, 28 March 1945