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    V-E Day 75: the Big Red One in World War II—10 Things You Might Not know

    V-E Day 75: the Big Red One in World War II

    Courtesy Photo | Infantrymen on Co. C, 18th Infantry Regt. 1st Division move up into Frauwullesheim,...... read more read more



    Courtesy Story

    1st Infantry Division

    May 8, 2020—Seventy-five years ago today, Soldiers of the U.S. Army 1st Infantry Division learned that World War II had ended in Europe. A day prior, U.S. Army General Dwight D. Eisenhower had accepted the enemy’s unconditional surrender. The future President then issued a laconic message to his Combined Chiefs of Staff: “the mission of this allied force was fulfilled at 0241 local time, May 7, 1945.”

    When America’s First Division received word in Czechoslovakia that the war in Europe was finally over, over 43,700 Big Red One Soldiers had served through 443 days of battle. The First Division earned eight campaign streamers, 20 distinguished unit citations, and 20,752 medals and awards, including 17 Medals of Honor.

    The 1st Infantry Division’s story has been told in countless articles, books, and major motion pictures. Here are ten lesser known stories about the Big Red One in World War II.

    1. Lt. Gen. Walter C. Short (1880-1949) commanded the Hawaiian Department on the morning of December 7th, 1941. Ten days later, both he and Admiral Husband E. Kimmel were relieved of their commands as a result of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Short's previous assignment was as commanding general of the 1st Division at Fort Hamilton, New York from 1938 to 1940. He had also served with the 16th Infantry in the Punitive Expedition of 1916 and on division staff during the First World War. Jason Robards depicts Short in the 1970 film, "Tora! Tora! Tora!"

    2. As the Big Red One landed at Oran, Algeria on November 8th, 1942, it was uncertain whether or not Vichy French forces would resist. Unfortunately, the allies were obliged to secure a foothold by force from the French, costing hundreds of lives over the first few days of Operation Torch. The Vichy French defenders eventually capitulated and were soon rearmed to fight alongside allied forces advancing on Tunis. In the following months, the Big Red One saw action at Maktar, Medjez el Bab, Kasserine Pass, Gafsa, El Guettar, Beja, and Mateur. In early May of 1943, the remnants of Generalfeldmarschall Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Korps surrendered to the allies, trapped between Lt. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower's forces from the west and Field Marshall Sir Bernard L. Montgomery's Eighth Army penetration of the Mareth Line to the east.

    3. Maj. Gen. Terry de la Mesa Allen Sr. (1888-1969) commanded the division during its first actions of the war. While beloved by his men, several senior officers distrusted Allen, partly stemming from the division's misconduct when it returned to Oran. After the Sicily campaign, Allen was relieved of his command and replaced by Maj. Gen. Clarence R. Huebner. Allen’s son, Lt. Col. Terry de la Mesa Allen Jr., was killed in October of 1967 while commanding the 2nd Battalion, 26th Infantry in Vietnam.

    4. On July 10th, 1943, the Big Red One overcame moderate Italian resistance at Gela, Sicily in the first phase of Operation Husky. Following the disastrous jump by the 82d Airborne Division, the American beachhead was nearly thrust back into the Mediterranean by the Hermann Göring Panzer Division. U.S. naval gunfire successfully parried the enemy counterattack. At Troina, German forces launched at least 24 separate counterattacks in efforts to dislodge the Big Red One. Unfortunately, Generalfeldmarschall Albert Kesselring was able to evacuate much of his force intact across the Strait of Messina, screened by the Luftwaffe and assorted flak batteries.

    5. Lt. Gen. Clarence R. Huebner (1888-1972), a native of Bushton, Kansas, served in the 18th Infantry prior to earning his commission in the Regular Army in 1916. Huebner took command of 2d Battalion, 28th Infantry at Cantigny in 1918, the first American battle of the First World War and the first in the Division's history. A strict disciplinarian, he replaced Allen in 1943 and commanded the Division from Omaha Beach through the first half of the Battle of Bulge, taking command of V Corps in January of 1945. He retired a lieutenant general. Huebner Road on Fort Riley bears his name.

    6. Col. George A. Taylor (1899-1969) commanded the 16th Infantry through most of World War II, having previously served as the 1st Battalion S-2. After briefly commanding the 26th Infantry in early 1943, he assumed command of the 16th Infantry that April. Taylor is perhaps best remembered for his exhortation on Omaha Beach: "There are only two kinds of people who are staying on this beach—the dead and those who are going to die." In the 1962 film, the Longest Day, this quote is misattributed to Brig. Gen. Norman D. Cota of the 29th Infantry Division. For his actions on D-Day, Taylor was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and, in the final months of the war, served as the assistant division commander as a brigadier general.

    7. In the summer of 1944, the Third Reich lost approximately 50 of 60 divisions assigned to the western front, mostly in the destruction of the Seventh Army in the Falaise Pocket. Accordingly, Germany made good use of drachenzähne: anti-tank/vehicle square-pyramidal fortifications. These "dragon's teeth," as they were known to the Americans, were littered along what was known as the "Siegfried Line" to the Allies or the "Westwall" to Germans. They were primarily used to deny, delay, and/or canalize Allied vehicular movement, especially in open areas where the Germans were unable to properly man defensive formations. The Big Red One and other Allied formations overcame these obstacles by burying them with bulldozers and driving over them. Many still stand today in their original positions, repurposed as property lines for farmers.

    8. On October 21st, 1944, Col. Gerhard Wilck's 116th Panzer Division surrendered the ruins of Aachen to the Big Red One. Aachen was the first German city to fall to the Allies on any front in World War II. The battle had lasted the better part of October, involving elements of the 30th Infantry and 2d Armored Divisions from the north (XIX Corps) and the 1st Infantry Division from the south (VII Corps). Only about 20% of the city's original infrastructure remained intact by the end of the battle, as American 155mm M12 self-propelled howitzers often leveled entire blocks with direct fire. The Aachen Cathedral, which had witnessed 31 coronations, was heavily damaged but intact.

    9. In 1946, the 1st Infantry Division guarded leading Nazi war criminals. Most notably, the 26th Infantry (Blue Spaders) provided security for the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials. With the deactivation of the Division's third brigade in 2014, the 26th Infantry's colors were transferred to the 101st Airborne Division where they remain today. For nearly 100 years, the Regiment had served almost continuously with the Big Red One since 1917.

    10. On the morning of V-E Day, the Division executed forced entry operations into Zwodau and Falkenau an der Eger, two small concentration camps which were subsidiary to the notorious Flossenbürg camp. Samuel Fuller of the 16th Infantry was asked by his company commander to record the liberation and the atrocities at Falkenau with his 16-mm camera. Later in life, Fuller became a successful film director and eventually directed “The Big Red One” (1980) based on his own experiences in the war. Flossenbürg camp still stands today as a museum approximately 55 kilometers due east of Grafenwoehr Training Area.



    Date Taken: 05.07.2020
    Date Posted: 05.08.2020 16:27
    Story ID: 369591
    Location: FORT RILEY, KS, US 

    Web Views: 3,398
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