It is not easy to conjure up combat events. The vast majority of active combatants involved in the 'killing' fields have the God given gift to forget.
The 743rd was organized at Fort Ord, California. It was reactivated years later during the Vietnam conflict. As noted the 743rd landed at Omaha Beach. 6 Tanks were lost not from enemy fire but as they were designed to float, the turbulence of the English Channel resulted in 16 tanks sinking with a loss of 80 tankers. The unit consisting of 3 companies with a total of 45 Shermans. They fought through the hedge rows of France in the vicinity of Saint Lo and Mortain. The 743rd was credited with defeating the elite Erected Panzer units(The 1st Elite Hitler Panzers) in two encounters.
How can you forget t he 743rd Tank Battalion being part of the Omaha Beach 29th Infantry landing force. The tanks were outfitted for floating in. But the idea sounded good on a smooth lake but not the heavy surf they encountered in the English Channel. 16 tanks sank and with that 80 tankers drowned. The Battalion Colonel stepped on a mine and lost his leg.
How can you forget while at a front area in the vicinity of St.Vith at the junction of Petit Cou and Grand Cou. We were hidden in a barn. This kept our Sherman Tank from enemy eyes. Across a small brook, we spotted the antennae of a German tank camaflogued under a pile of hay. We notified the artillery as to its position, only to be advised there were no Germans there. That was crazy. Here we were well positioned way ahead of our buddies. To tell the truth we were not going to fire at that anymore than they at us. I am sure they had spotted our position. Some time during the night they left and we located them below us at a point some 100 feet below. We mutually left each other alone.
While at this point Army patrols of some eight white camaflogued clad soldiers quietly eerily past our point and hours later returned. I stood guard with my buddy Dominick with a German tank facing us at about 75 feet away. We stared at it and the following conversation took place. "Dom that tanks gun is moving, what do you think?" He responded, "You know Rosey, It damn well is." We bantered over and over that the gun was moving. In the morning, we approached it. It was an abandoned tank with its gun out of commission by a phosphorous grenade.
I watched German fighters committing suicide. There we were moving towards an objective and in front was a German officer regaled in a full dress non-combative uniform. Our gunner was firing away with the 30 caliber machine gun, I as assistant tank driver or machine gunner refrained from firing. I kept yelling but to no avail the sounds of the 75 mm gun firing and the clatter of the machine gun miffed my voice. The officer repeatedly went down and got up. I prayed that he stay down. He finally did, he was killed. Another time, the battalion was parked in Stoumont or perhaps if was Stavolot. Two German fighter plane kept criss-crossing the road. You could see the pilot faces. All the 30 caliber and 50 caliber some thirty or more guns were firing at their flying but the height of a very tall fir tree. Later we saw a bent Lugar, which let us know they got their wish and died for Germany.
What about the time, we captured a 20mm anti-tank gun. It was manned by Hitler Jugend and an elderly German well into his seventies. I recall grabbing the old man's 22 caliber rifle gently kicking him in the backside and shouting, "Gehen sie nach hause."
Our tanks were fitted with head lights. "Hey, the war is over we are going to Paris" We ended up in a convent where the Nuns were silent. I at first thought they were rude, only to realize they were an Order of Silence. The orders were for us to move out. We were to take up positions to contain advancing German Panzer columns. Moving down the road in front of us were a couple of GIs manning metal or mine detectors. We hit a mine, unlike states-side where a disabled tank was removed, we fixed the damaged track in under 10 minutes. As we moved along the hills ahead were being saturated by phosphorous exploding shell fire. It was an amazing sight. I was happy to be on the 'other side of the coin.'
We took up positions on a hill. Next to our Sherman was a 75 mm infantry anti-tank gun. Our officers advised us that at '0730 hundred' the German forces would attack our positions. And boy did they. Johnny Restad was firing at least 75mm rounds every 2-3 seconds. He knocked out at least two German Mark Fives, 3 half-tracks coming from different directions. We lost communication with our other 743rd tankers. Larry backed up the hill and quickly turned it to face the direction towards our lines. We pointed the 75mm so it could fire backward at the on coming enemy forces. He jump the tank off the raised road shoulder and we continued to the rear positions. Orders were to hit the tenth vehicle, which was our tank. Up ahead were a 90mm tank destroyer, 105 mm howitzer, two 743rd Shermans with their guns pointed toward where we were coming from. All of a sudden a large bright ball of fire screamed by missing us by a 'hair's bredth.' We were the tenth vehicle and only a shout, "Hey that's a Sherman" saved our lives as the 90mm gunner instantly moved the gun.
We were all standing about lin appropriately to fire at what ever approached. As for our tank its gun was bent due to the tremendous heat developed from the initial unceasing firing at the advancing enemy. Our antenna were blown away, hence our inability to communicate. Our back pack, which hung from the tanks turret were riddled wit holes from enemy fire. Needless to say all our articles there in were macerated. A German Konig (King Tiger) hove ino view it filled up the road. All our aforementioned guns hit it. It backed up and the the occupants 'bailed out.' Amazingly, all that was seen on its front armor were slight scratches. Not even the 90mm dented its 9-11 inch tempered steel. It was too large to manouver the narrow roads! The 75mm infantry guys were captured, but we were told a few days late that they were freed. I am not certain, but we were led to believe they were from the 79th Infantry Div.
For the rest of the encounters at the 'Battle of the Bulge,' we were broken up into 5 tank platoon units. As such we traveled to far-flung positions, which were designed to make the Germans think we were a division. In fact Axis Sally called out, "We know where you are the 743rd Division." It was a great moment when after weeks of continuous fighting we got to discard our combat fatigues enter a long tractor trailer get showered and given clean clothes at the other end! The best way to describe our efforts is the modern description of being a"24/7" bunch. Our 743rd motto is "Veritas."
We entered Malmady. Larry our tank driver had a flair for smelling out alcoholic beverages. We filled our Jerry cans with wine. I got inebriated and passed out. Apparently the entire 743rd Tank Battalion had indulged unwisely. I remember backing our tank over communicating lines and wondered why in the hell were we doing this. I saw a field ahead and we were made to see what it was all about some 150 American prisoners were slaughtered. Decades later it was officially determined that 87 were thus killed. I have a total loss of remembering what happened other than the backing of our tank and viewing the field on the other side of the road.
We were up high overlooking a Belgium farm. German soldiers were ducking into a large barn through a small door. Our tank gunners were firing at each occurrence. I'll always wonder as to how many beat the armor piercing projectiles. We maneuvered into another position. While there a German Tank Mounting an 88 mm struck our tank on the front. Oh, before going on I suggested we put sand bags over the front armor. The wet snow froze and with the sand bags were a life-saver. I recall our fellow tankers calling us Harpers yellow-bellies. The force of the 88 blew the sand backs into the top of the trees and made a bulge in our armor. I was knocked out. I heard my tank guys yelling that Rosie is dead. Normally when a tank gets hit it is common practice to get out and run. They didn't Larry got in and backed the tank out of the line of fire, thus salvaging my life.
Ten of us were chosen to go to liege to bring back 5 Sherman tanks. We came out of the damp, dismal combat zone into what one may consider Shangri La. There were rear echelon soldiers cavorting with happy extremely friendly females. In most cases on bicycles with baskets laden with picnic goodies. They were a happy lot out for fun on a mild sunny day. We left with our Shermans and abruptly with in a short period were in the Ardennes historically called 'The Battle of The Bulge. It was now enveloped in a thick blackened atmosphere. You could barely see a yard ahead. Larry Crandall had an uncanny gift of finding alcoholic beverages. We parked the tanks in what appeared to be a factory site. Larry taking 'point' escorted us into a saloon. We gulped down a few and than set out to where the tanks were parked. While traipsing along a jeep appeared with at least 4-5 soldiers. It stopped an with that a voice cried out," Hey Mac is this the road to Liege?" Hearing Mac, I became suspicious, but following protocol left the responses to Tank commander, sergeant Harper. What was my concern related to the fact Mac was a Navy term for buddy whilst Army phrase was GI or Joe or in some cases a slew of profanity. All I could think of was that these were German. Major Skerzeny was leading a large pack of infiltrators that wreaked havoc upon our security. They executed prisoners and armed as well as dressed up as American fighters.
Had I questioned the word Mac we would have been executed. A large truck with head lights brightly shining came up upon us. They were probably MPs(military police) who put us through the routine questioning as to verify our being Americans. We had to answer where we are from, who hit the most homeruns, names of politicians and actors. Once they we satisfied they revealed that a jeep with Germans was being sought. That explained my concern over the usage of'Mac.' We could have blasted the MPs had we not been satisfied as they being one of our own. A final note MajorSkorzeny was the German who flew small plane into Italy, where he freed Benito Mussolini from his captors the Italian insurgents. He was brought to Berlin. Skorzeny and his men were probably responsible for the Malmedy massacre.
We were compromised and headed to the rear. Our gun was bent. Going through a fire break in the woods while heading for battalion headquarters we came upon a slew of American strewn about from a half-track apparently immobilized by a German howitzer. Larry was going to ride over them, but I insisted to help. "What are you going to do take their watches," was retorted at me. Mind you I was knocked out earlier and still feeling my bruises. I held a GI in my arms. He softly spoke out ,"Thanks soldier," Than "Mama," and died. I must have did a lot to aid the injured for an officer asked me for my rank, serial number and name. I did not know until a decade ago that the 99th Infantry Division gave me a Bronze Star.
We busted through Aachen and ceased to advance between Duren an Julich. It was here that we were setting up to undertake the crossing of the Rhine River. A side thought while at the former two German cities a USO group of three entertainers showed up. They danced in a one room school house. Above were German fighter planes and American fighter planes, but for some reason they did not counter each other. What troubled me was these dedicated girls skimpily attired performing while exposed to chilly clammy weather in a virtual 'no man's land.' When ever I think of their dedication it brings tears to my eyes.
As you know we crossed the Rhine River. I was wounded at the Wessel Canal in the vicinity of Cologne. We witnessed the first jets. There were American P 51s diving at them. It was some what perplexing to see the jets out speeding the P 51s, which were diving at least at 450 miles per hour. We were fortunate to visit the huge gleaming white walled salt mine where they were being produced and assembled. These jets were good for about 100-150 miles, thus were relatively not ideal as fighters, but psychological disturbing. We rapidly traversed the German mainland.
Before entering Detmold, we went through an armored tank facility not much unlike our Fort Knox Armored School. Looking down on us was a massive Valkerian statue. We had deep concern as related to the fact all military facilities are gridded for fire-power. Meaning every inch was a predictable target for artillery fire-power. We passed through unscathed. Entering Detmold, I saw an apartment with my family name. "Hey Guys, thanks for the lift I'm home!" You know about the old man, now we approached Magdeburg Am Elbe. We expected to speed down the Autobahn into this major city. But our officers sent in one of our officers to negotiate a surrender. He was blindfolded and escorted by Wehrmacht officers. Upon return he had observed that the autobahn had a heavy concentration of 88mm anti-tank guns strategically placed all along the highway. Apparently, his blind fold was not tightly secured. I BELIEVE THAT THE GERMANS HAD DONE THIS BY DESIGN. After all the war was a futility a this point.
The 743rd took the back roads and headed towards Magdeburg. We were the second of the lead tanks to penetrate the area, in fact we were so secure that the battalion Colonel ironically driven by a private named Colonel headed us in their jeep. But an apparent resistance set the colonel to get out of there. The tank in front of us got hit by a Panzer Faust, which killed Lt.Fruwith and its 76mm gunner. The tank driver bailed out. It was earie hearing the motor running. The German's kept the medics from going to the tank. Despite a huge Red Cross Flag they relentlessly obstructed help. My tank was somewhat at an angle, which enabled me to fire my 30 cal. machine gun aimlessly into a factory bordering the shoulder of the road. I guess that did the trick. The Germans were either wounded or killed or got out of there.
The next day, we as C-10 moved down a broad road with a mass of destroyed buildings lining the way. As far as we could see the entire site was an endless rubble of twisted metal, splintered wood and bricks. We were headed to cross the Elbe at less than 300 yards when we were exposed to an enormous explosion. It was the destruction of the bridge and with that the war as far as the 743rd Tank Battalion was concerned was over. All that remained was Japan, but the atom bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki closed that!
We were playing baseball during a lull in the fight. A strange brown tinted fog hovered over the area close to the Rhine. The 110 mm long toms after days of sporadic firing fell silent. Our guys were crossing the Rhine. Among them was the 735th Tank Battalion. We were called to mount up. We were taken across the Rhine River on sections of floating pontoon bridges. The US Coast Guard manned the ferrying operation. I never saw Navy or Marines, but 'son of a gun' Coast Guarder were their. We moved ahead and stopped at a rail road trestle. What happened on the other side was a Wehrmacht 75 mm anti-tank gun, which apparently knocked out armored vehicles as the maneuvered under the rail road overpass. I remember Captain Thornell, a law school professor, who worked up from a second lieutenant, demanding that a few 50 caliber machine guns be set on the top and fired at the anti-tank position. A Pershing diesel engine tank, which was much lighter and lower than the Sherman scooted through.
We were standing about trying to figure our next attack. While there a German shell hit the frozen turf and slammed into Lt. Thornell's tank's transmission, thus immobilizing the tank. Lt. Thornell commandeered Sergeant Frank N Harpers Sherman and we its crew members! We went down the road to evaluate the German position and its threats.Just in front we encountered a mangled Jeep. Larry the tank driver maneuvered around the disabled vehicle, which led to our setting off a German Teller anti-tank mine. Boy did we bail out. I remember seeing a German soldier in a crater in the middle of the road. He was armed with a bazooka like anti-tank weapon. I jumped over the hole and it seemed that I could have reached the top of the Empire State Building. The German was dead. Now, I and Dominick Micelli were back in the rear feeling naked. We were with out our Tommy Guns. We observed two infantry GIs sleeping and each had a 45mm pistol. Dom deftly unhooked their Sam Brown belts, which gave us the pistols.
We went back down the road and retrieved our submachine guns and placed them on the two. They were still sleeping. While back at our tank, an army General was firing his pistol together with his attaché, a major who was firing a carbine at the now vanished Germans. The general ordered Johnny Restad, our gunner, to get in the Sherman and blast away at the Germans. Johnny never seemed to express vulgar words, but this time in no uncertain terms he let loose a selected tirade at the general. A month later the Stars and Stripes Newspaper revealed the general received a Silver Star for his phony up front venture. At least Dominick and myself were 'rewarded' with 45mm pistols.
We came to a point whereby a rest would be welcomed. We could hear the creaky sounds of a German's tank tracks. It was dark and moonless. An infantry captain approached our now Captain Thornell to under take a night attack, which meant the 743rd was to take point well in advance of the infantry. I declared to my tank commander Sgt. Frank Harper that we were in no position to go ahead. He and other tank commanders of our platoon conveyed the information to Captain Thornell who objected to the request.
The next morning at the break of day, I climbed a cliff. We were not aware of its existence. There I saw a German 75mm anti-tank gun. I delightfully removed its sight, thus adding it to my souvenirs. I was very engrossed in what I was doing and when I looked up I found myself surrounded by 21 armed German soldiers. Surprising they surrendered to me. Hell they could of killed me with the butts of their rifles. They spoke German and wanted to know what they should do with their rifles? I ordered them to hold the guns above their heads. I brought them down from the cliff and approached at about 50 yards my platoon. They shouted,"Hey Rosey what in the hell are you doing?" "Hey these are my buddies!" They were ordered to drop their weapons and my platoon shouted out," Hubba, hubba" and chased them off to the rear. This was customary as we were too busy advancing to care for prisoners. So much for my 'heroics' in capturing the washed out enemy.
I was standing at the back of my Sherman, which was parked at the side of a building. At this point there were rows of 7 or more dwellings standing side by side attached to each other. This was in a village on the Cologne Plain. A German Tank fired its 88, which anti-tank missile traversed the row of houses and left a streak of pulverized brick across our engine grating. It appeared as if it was a painted stripe. I was but inches from being cut in half. A few yards from my position a British crew from a Sherman flail tank took time to partake of their traditional custom of drinking tea. It was around 4 PM. By the way a flail was a heavy chained rotating apparatus designed to strike potential mines and exploding them. The tea partiers were killed by the German Tank.
Supply Sgt. Jensen, affectionately referred to as Swede, after dropping off bread loafs an other essentials parked his truck in a deflated position. The German Tankers destroyed his truck and in so doing killed him. He had an envious position, which seemingly was safe and secure.
This type tank was selected to beach the invasion of Japan. The 743rd scooted through unscathed. Rumor was that the other an unseasoned outfit was whipped out. For years, I had nightmares over the use of these guys while we were well seasoned. That night we were parked at the edge of a vast farm flattened field. German anti-tank guns were firing aimlessly at what-ever. It was an interesting spectacle of red illuminate traces zig zaging in our direction. It was a shot in a million that hit my machine gun and driving it into my 30 caliber machine gun. The gun hit my seat almost emasculating my position, but the projectile had lost most of it momentum. I after a few moments realized I was bleeding but not enough of a wound to put me or the tank out of commission. By the way the supply sergeant crazily stated I was derelict in damaging the gun. Would you believe I owed for the effects. This was sad a 'screw loosed jerk. At the end of the war we met up with the Russian soldiers at Magdeburg am the Elbe River.
The 743rd adopted the 30th Infantry Division(Old Hickory). Along the way we landed with the 29th, touched base with 78th, 82nd Air Borne, 79th, 3rd Armored, 28th, 99th and shouldered along side General Montgomery's units. I wound up with The Purple Heart, The Bronze Star and a slew of other medals. It is determined, that the 743rd had a 400% turnover. We went through five major campaigns and received 5 Presidential Unit Citations. WE WERE A TOUGH SEASONED BUNCH
Harold "Doc" Rosenberg