614th Tank Destroyer Battalion


614th Tank Destroyer Battalion

Infobox Military Unit
unit_name= 614th Tank Destroyer Battalion


caption=
dates= 1942-1945
country= United States
allegiance= Army
command_structure=Independent unit
nickname=
equipment=3" anti-tank guns
decorations=Presidential Unit Citation
(3rd Platoon, C Company)
disbanded=1945

The 614th Tank Destroyer Battalion was a tank destroyer battalion of the United States Army active during the Second World War. The 3rd Platoon, Company C, of the 614th was the first black unit to receive a Distinguished Unit Citation.

Early service

The battalion was activated in July 1942, one of several tank destroyer battalions manned almost entirely by African-American soldiers - the commander and four officers were white, whilst the remainder of the unit, including all company officers, was black. It was reorganised as a towed battalion, equipped with 3" anti-tank guns, in 1943, and moved to England in September 1944.

The battalion deployed into Normandy on 8th October, and moved south to Metz; it first saw action operating against the Siegfried Line on 28th November in support of the 3rd Cavalry Group. It was moved to VI Corps on December 5th and then attached to the 103rd Infantry Division, where its companies were split up. The 103rd moved into the line on December 8th, and began its attack on the 9th. As with most tank destroyer units by this stage of the war, it only rarely fought against enemy armour; more commonly, it provided fire support against strongpoints and observation posts, or indirect fire to support infantry units.

Engagement at Climbach

On December 14th, a task force of the 411th Infantry Regiment, consisting of a company of infantry, along with a platoon of tanks and a platoon of C Company's towed guns, was organised to attack Climbach, a town just before the German border with a commanding position.

The lead vehicle was an M20 scout car containing Lieutenant Charles L. Thomas, the commander of the tank destroyer platoon; as it travelled up the narrow road, it was hit by heavy fire and knocked out. Thomas was wounded when evacuating the vehicle, but stayed to organise the deployment of his tank destroyers, which were to fire on the town and provide a base from which the infantry and tanks could try to flank the enemy positions. They remained in action for four hours, with the gun crews sometimes reduced to two out of ten men; by nightfall, when the engagement ended, only sporadic small-arms fire came from the town and it was quickly seized. Two counterattacks were repulsed that night, and the enemy force retired to the Siegfried Line.

The platoon took heavy losses, with more than half its men listed as killed or wounded; three of the four guns were out of action, and two half-tracks and an armoured car were destroyed. The divisional report recorded that the "outstanding performance of mass heroism on the part of the officers and men of Company C, 614th Tank Destroyer Battalion, precluded a near catastrophic reverse for the task force". The 3rd Platoon received the Distinguished Unit Citation for this engagement - the first unit attached to the 103rd Division, but more notably, the first black unit to do so. Nine men were awarded Bronze Stars, four Silver Stars (two posthumously), and Lieutenant Thomas, who had been heavily wounded, was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.

In the 1990s, a study indicated severe racial discrimination in the process of awarding medals during the war, and it was recommended that seven Distinguished Service Crosses awarded to African Americans be upgraded to Medals of Honor, an award for which - whilst technically eligible - none would have been considered at the time. One of these seven was Lieutenant Thomas, and he was accordingly awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously on January 13, 1997

A winter on the defensive

The battalion remained attached to the 103rd Infantry throughout the winter, participating in a number of small engagements and, at one point, firing artillery missions on attachment to the 828th Field Artillery Battalion. Notable engagements included one on January 1 - where an isolated outpost killed nine and captured two of an enemy patrol in a small-arms firefight - or 12th January, when a two-gun section fired 143 rounds over forty minutes at an observation post, scoring 139 direct hits - a rate of a round every thirty-five seconds from each gun, with 97% accuracy.

When the 103rd Division moved back to prepared lines in the Hagenau Forest on January 20th, the battalion withdrew alongside them. Weather conditions, however, proved to be unfavorable to the towed guns, and several had to be abandoned and destroyed in situ. It remained on the defensive through February, helping fend off raiding parties and infiltrating patrols, and mounted a platoon-strength raid itself that month, with great success. The record of this engagement in the contemporary divisional history described the battalion as "the crack negro 614th", testifying to the high regard in which the unit was held by the 103rd.

Advance into Germany

Seventh Army's spring offensive began on March 15th, and the 614th moved forward alongside the 103rd. As before, its companies were split up, one to each infantry regiment; each also possessed a company of the 761st Tank Battalion, another all-black unit. Company A captured the town of Kindwiller with a group of dismounted soldiers, whilst the battalion reconnaissance company raided Bischoltz and took forty-one prisoners. The advance continued to the Rhine, where the division halted and began a period of military occupation.

The division - and the 614th - moved forward again on April 21st, in pursuit of a retreating enemy, seeing sporadic opposition. The battalion's last combat casualties were on May 2nd, losing seven men of a task force pushing towards Innsbruck. The next day, a platoon of Company C was attached to a force sent to seize the Brenner Pass, which they did on the 4th without any opposition, and push through to meet the lead elements of the 88th Infantry Division pushing up from Italy.

References

* [http://homepage.mac.com/yeide/TDBattalionHistories.htm TD Battalion Histories]
* [http://www.history.army.mil/books/wwii/11-4/index.htm "The Employment of Negro Troops"] , Ulysses Lee. US Army, 1966. Chapter XXI takes the 614th as one of three representative battalions, and gives a general history of its combat service along with a detailed discussion of the engagement on December 14th 1944.


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