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4th Armored Division US 4th Armored Division in Normandy and Brittany

By Merle Delinger

While the US 1st Armored Division (Old Ironsides) was slugging it’s way through Italy, five other US armoured divisions were fighting their way onto the beaches at Normandy and then through the bocage country. Two of these divisions have become the most well known over the course of time, that being 2nd Armored Division (Hell On Wheels) and 3rd Armored Division (Spearhead) as featured in Cobra. However, three other divisions played an integral role as well. Let’s take a brief look at the 4th Armored Division.
D-Day American
It started with an Airborne assault, hitting vital defences behind the enemy lines. It was followed by a full scale amphibious invasion on the beaches of Normandy. Operation Overlord was in full swing, with about 160,000 men crossing the English Channel to land on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day alone. The German defensive positions proved to be a tough nut to crack. The day would be hard fought, ending with the Allies securing a tenuous foothold on the beachheads, but it was enough to withstand the following German Counter-attacks and eventually break out of Normandy. The war for Europe was now being fought in earnest, as the allies raced to liberate France and bring the war to Hitler’s front door.

4th Armored Division was activated 15 April 1941 at Pine Camp, New York. The 4th Armored Division trained in New York for 16 months before reaching the Tennessee manoeuvres in the Cumberland Mountains. In mid-November 1942 the division moved to the Mojave Desert Training Center. After six months of rugged desert training, The 4th Armored Division arrived at Camp Bowie, Texas in June 1943, and manoeuvred during a broiling summer and fall until alerted for overseas duty in November. The main body of troops sailed for England from Boston harbour in December 1943 and finally landed in Normandy on Utah Beach on 11 July 1944.

4th Armored Division Normandy and Cobra

On the morning of 25 July 1944, the German forces opposing the US 12th Army Group in and around St. Lô surely felt that Armageddon was upon them.

Opening Operation Cobra

The Allied Air Forces sent over 1800 bombers and fighter-bombers to wreak havoc on the Germans and punch a hole in their lines. Although there were some serious losses from “friendly bombs” (an oxymoron if there ever was one!), the bombing worked. The infantry formations then drove a wedge through resulting the hole that allowed the armoured divisions poured through like water though a sieve. The US 12th Army Group finally had its breakthrough and the five armoured divisions rolled through the German positions like thunder.

The 4th Armored Division was commanded by Major General John S. Wood. Wood steadfastly refused any sort of nickname for his division, insisting the division’s actions and combat record would be plenty name enough for the men of his division.

Bogged down Sherman

He was absolutely correct, the 4th was enough. Nonetheless, the 4th Armored Division’s exploits as one of General Patton’s Third Army’s lead divisions would earn the division the unofficial nickname as the Breakthrough division.

Once all the division’s assets were off loaded on the beach and organized, the units of 4th Armored Division moved into the line and were bloodied in battle on 18 July. 

As plans for Operation Cobra solidified, the division was pulled back out of the line in anticipation. 

Once Cobra began and the 83rd and 90th Infantry divisions had driven a wedge in the German lines to the front of the tanks, the 4th Armored Division was off and running!

The division moved out at 0500, 28 July. Combat Command B (CCB) was the point for the combat command columns. Despite mines and road blocks, the tanks lurched through the rubble of Periers and swarmed into Coutances, first city to fall to CCB and the division. From Coutances, the 4th Armored Division swept southward in three columns, overrunning La Haye Pesnel and approaching Avranches. CCB's headquarters, bivouacked just north of Avranches and 200 yards from the main road, was almost run down during the night by a long German column withdrawing south.

As the German retreating forces attempted to pull out, men like machine gunner Pvt. William "Red" Whitson of B Company, 53rd Armored Infantry Battalion, made them pay dearly. 

Whitson had his M1 57mm anti-tank gun set up at a bend in the road. As a retreating column pulled up before him, he fired and knocked out 25 vehicles and left 50 Germans sprawling on the road in a tangle of plunging horses. With the column confused and in total disarray by the deadly fire, more than 500 Germans eventually surrendered to B Company. Sherman tanks advance

The Distinguished Service Cross awarded to Whitson was the first to an enlisted man in the division. Disorganized and terrified by 4th Armored Division ’s relentless advances, the Huns began a wholesale flight. The race was on!

Slashing armoured columns littered roads with burning vehicles and German casualties. More than 2000 prisoners were taken at Avranches alone. Parts of the Wehrmacht escaped the tankers, cavalry and armoured infantry, only to surrender to following artillery battalions, or to medics—-or anyone —just to get safely out of the way. Column after column of disarmed prisoners, led by their own NCOs, marched back without guards to POW enclosures. By 31 July, all dams and bridges across the Selune River to the southeast as far as Ducey were secured. The division's prisoners of war numbered more than 3000. 

The move into Brittany

In just five days, the 4th had smashed the German 77., 91. and 243. Infanterie divisions, wiped out the 6. Fallschirmjäger Regiment and dealt severe losses to the 5. Fallschirmjäger Division. This last unit, rebuilt from the ground up, was to confront the 4th Armored Division again at Bastogne. Elements of the 2. SS-Panzerdivision also took a beating.

"Who are you guys?” recon men of another armoured division shouted as a company of the 4th's M4 Sherman tanks swept along in the swirling dust. “Georgie's boys!" the tank commanders yelled back. And they were. On 1 August, General Patton's Third Army, classified top secret to that point, became operational. VIII Corps and 4th Armored Division became part of Third Army as the division roared into Brittany.

With Combat Command A (CCA) leading, the division plunged 54 miles to Rennes, the ancient Breton capital. Smashing nests of emplaced anti-tank and aircraft guns north of the city, tanks wheeled wide to the west and south. CCA raced through Bain de Bretagne while CCB struck Redon. Roads and communications from the Rennes nerve centre were cut and the enemy thrown into panic. The German feld-grau hordes withdrew. A combat team including 8th Infantry Division doughboys occupied the city on 3 August.

The next thrust severed the Brittany peninsula. At 1400, 5 August, CCA moved from Bain de Bretagne. Seven hours and 70 miles later, the 4th Armored Division had routed the enemy's 56th Security Regiment guarding Vannes and had taken the city and the airfield to the northeast. From this port, the tankers glimpsed the ocean.

The Brittany peninsula was cut through and was teaming with thousands of armour-stunned enemy. The division, which had outraced the infantry support, was an armoured island in a sea of enemy. Tanks and armoured cars shepherded supply columns over long, empty stretches of road.

Remnants of a French paratrooper battalion, which had dropped in Brittany with jeeps on D-Day, joined the tankers. The FFI (Forces Françaises de l'Intérieur) enthusiastically offered its support. Then, both combat commands moved on the U-boat base of Lorient, 30 miles west. After a race for the bridges across the Blavet, tanks contained the big port on 7 Aug. On the way, they wiped out a horse cavalry outfit, the 281. Ost Cavalry Battalion.

German army and navy forces in the heavily fortified city outnumbered tankers four to one, so the 4th Armored Division tried to bluff them into surrender. Although unsuccessful in this, the division did take 4653 prisoners in 12 days and nailed down the escape door. In March, 1945, nine months later, dwindling German troops still held on, hopelessly surrounded.

From here the tankers of 4th Armored Division wheeled east. Nantes, on the Loire, was taken 10 August by CCA after an 80-mile march from Lorient. Four days later CCA had pushed 153 miles to St. Calais, refuelled, and six hours later stood before Orleans. By nightfall CCA had reached Ormes and captured the airport. The next morning the combat command pushed into Orleans and then turned it over to the 35th Infantry Division. When the 4th Armored Division came under XII Corps control on 15 August, Lorient was left to the 6th Armored Division. CCB began its longest continuous march, driving east 264 miles in 34 hours before halting at Prunay, south of Vendome.

4th Armored Division, as south flank and spearhead of Third Army, was now far east and south of Paris. Tankers had outflanked the French capital and sealed off German forces south of the Loire.

Sherman tank

Historic river barriers, the moats of France, were falling quickly to the armoured forces. CCB captured Courtenay, and then moved on Montargis from the east. Evacuation of the city was forced on 23 August. Without pausing, the division secured a bridgehead across the Seine at Troyes three days later after a savage fight. Armoured vehicles spread in open desert formation and charged down a three and a half mile slope under heavy fire. A Waffen-SS brigade and supporting troops, totalling 3000 Germans, were routed and a Nazi general captured.

Three days later, CCA stormed across the Marne River to capture Vitry Le Francois. Chalons-sur-Marne, St. Dizier and Ligny fell soon after. Light tanks racing through torrential rain led an attack into Commercy, captured the bridge across the Meuse and the high ground opposite the river. This country meant more trouble for engineers. The 24th Armored Engineer Battalion fought hard to keep the columns rolling.

Dismounted .50cal and gunner

The 4th Armored Division finally stopped—not for blown bridges or 88’s—but for gasoline. The Third Army was burning 350,000 gallons of gasoline a day and the division had been burning captured fuel and gasoline delivered by transport planes. Maps and ammunition also had to be flown in. When the overall gasoline supply problem became critical, higher headquarters halted the drive. The division had run a marathon at sprint speed. In the seven weeks since Normandy, the 4th Armored Division had thrown a 700-mile right hook across the heart of France.

The 4th Armored Division went on to play an important role in the Lorraine campaign (September-December 1944) and an even greater publicized role in the relief of Bastogne.

At Bastogne, Lieutenant-Colonel Creighton Abrams (namesake of today’s modern M1A1 Main Battle Tank) and his 37th Tank Battalion relieved the siege of Bastogne and the 101st Airborne. From Bastogne, the 4th Armored Division drove through the Siegfried line, on to the Rhine and Main rivers south of Frankfurt and finally into Czechoslovakia. Some of the division’s units remained in Germany and change to constabulary duties, while the remainder of the 4th Armored Division returned to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey where it was deactivated on 26 April 1946.

Order of battle

4th Armoured Division

Headquarters Company (Major-General John Wood)
Reserve Command (Chief of Staff: Colonel Walter A Bigby)
Combat Command A (Colonel B C Clarke)
Combat Command B (Brigadier-General Holmes E Dager)

8th Tank Battalion
35th Tank Battalion
37th Tank Battalion

10th Armored Infantry Battalion
51st Armored Infantry Battalion
53rd Armored Infantry Battalion

25th Cavalry Recon Squadron (Mechanized)

24th Armored Engineer Battalion

4th Armored Division Artillery (Colonel Ernest Bixby)
22nd Armored Field Artillery Battalion
66th Armored Field Artillery Battalion
94th Armored Field Artillery Battalion

Attachments during Operation Cobra

Antiaircraft Artillery
489th AAA AW Battalion (SP)

995th Engineer Treadway Bridging Company

Field Artillery
28th Field Artillery Battalion (8th Division) (155mm Howitzers)
177th Field Artillery Battalion (155mm Howitzers)
696th Armored Field Artillery Battalion
5th Field Artillery Group
695th Armored Field Artillery Battalion
219th Field Artillery Battalion (35th Division) (105mm Howitzers)
177th Field Artillery Group
191st Field Artillery Battalion (155mm Howitzers)
253rd Armored Field Artillery Battalion
179th Field Artillery Battalion (155mm Howitzers)

13th Infantry Regiment (8th Division)
137th Infantry Regiment (35th Division)

Tank Destroyer
704th Tank Destroyer Battalion

In Flames Of War

You can field  the 4th Armored Divisions from D-Day: American.

4th Armored Division Equipment

The 4th Armoured Division was one of the first units to receive the M18 ‘Hellcat’ GMC tank destroyer. The Tank Destroyer Platoons of a 4th Armored Division company must be armed with M18 Hellcat GMC Tank destroyers. The M18 Hellcat will be featured in a future American book.

The Tank battalions didn't have any M4 Sherman (76mm) tanks.

6th Armored Division in Operation Cobra...

Operation Cobra...  


D-Day: American

Last Updated On Thursday, January 23, 2020 by Luke at Battlefront