Fletcher B. Cox
"Anti-Tank", 377th Infantry Regiment
In late March of 1945, when the Allies had almost total
control of the skies in the European Theater of Operations,
the Supreme Command, Allied Expeditionary Forces, (SHAEF)
sent armored spearheads east from the Rhine River toward
the heart of Germany.
has learned of the Blitzkrieg knows that columns of
vehicles led by tanks and supported by Stuka dive bombers
blasted their way through French resistance and France
fell very quickly.
Now we were using the same tactic, and I -- a Private First
Class and one of the expendables -- had a very small role
in Task Force Baker of Combat Command A, 2nd Armored
Division, driving across the north side of the Ruhr Valley.
The assignment was to break through any resistance and
keep going. Other troops would be coming along behind to
keep the corridor open and clean up any pockets of German
troops we bypassed.
Our column was led by three tanks. Right behind them came at
least six -- and maybe more (I don’t recall) --
anti-tank crews riding in 1½-ton trucks towing 57-mm
anti-tank rifles. These were followed by many riflemen of
our 95th Infantry Division, riding in 2½-ton trucks. Then
came self-propelled artillery -- tracked vehicles with
open tops, each carrying a howitzer. Then more trucks
bearing riflemen, some combat engineers, and more tanks.
Our column crossed the Rhine on a pontoon bridge and on March 30,
at 6 a.m., opened its drive near Peddenburg.
The anti-tank squad that I served in was right behind the
lead tanks as we passed through riflemen dug in on either
side of the road at what was then the Western Front in our
forget the look of delighted astonishment on the face of
one of our GI riflemen as he climbed out of his foxhole
and watched us head east. I believe he began at that
moment to believe he could surely live through the end of
the war in Europe.
So, we were now in enemy
territory. Where were they?
The role of our anti-tank gun crews was this. As required,
one or two squads would drop out of the column at each
intersection and protect the flanks until the last element
had passed. Then the guns would be hitched back up to
their prime movers, crews would climb aboard, and each
returned to the front of the column to be dropped off
again in turn.
Our ten-man anti-tank gun
crew, after being committed to active combat in early
November, 1944, had been extremely fortunate. We were
shelled and mortared frequently in indirect attempts to
kill or wound us but none of us was hit. I don’t
think anyone had shot at me directly until now, on that
spearhead about noon on a bright Easter Sunday.
I had a
ringside seat when the lead tanks blew a troop train off
of the tracks and the German soldiers ran away. Our squad
was somewhere else when the tanks shot up a German
motorized convoy. Later, while the spearhead paused,
riflemen cleared out Germans holding high ground near
: Picture of the team Anti-Tank taken in
Metz, November 1944. Fletcher is on the right of
We had been dropped at a "T" intersection of
two-lane paved roads. We were to guard the right flank of
the column, which turned left at that point.
We set up our 57-mm rifled
cannon between the road and the side of a square brick
building, pointing down the intersecting road to the
right. Then Driver Walt Hunt parked the truck beside the
building. We unloaded a few rounds of anti-tank ammunition,
put them behind the gun, and sat there to wait.
The convoy flowed behind us, turning left following the tanks
farther into Germany.
Soon, about half a mile away on
the road we were guarding, a low, camouflaged vehicle
appeared, coming very slowly toward us. Then a young,
well-dressed German couple with a baby carriage walked
past us, moving toward the approaching vehicle. Apparently
they were walking home from a church service because bells
were ringing behind us.
Our squad sergeant, Al Arndt, stood immediately behind our gun,
looking through binoculars at the vehicle. One of ours or
theirs? Tank or what?
He dispatched Bob Trial across the street to lie down in the
ditch with our air-cooled .30-cal. machine gun. Jimmy
Powers and I assembled the squad’s bazooka and prepared
to run out on the right flank and attack if our gun were
We watched and waited.
When the vehicle and the German pedestrians came together,
the vehicle stopped and a man popped up out of the turret,
apparently to ask what they had seen at the intersection.
At that moment, able at last to see a German army uniform,
Al shouted "Fire."
All hell broke loose for a short time. Our gunner,
Earl Honeycutt, hit the vehicle, which proved to be a
German armored reconnaissance car, with three shots.
Trial, across the street, used up one belt of machinegun
ammunition and signaled for more.
Meanwhile the guy in the turret was firing machine gun and
20-mm cannon shells at us. The 2½-ton trucks stopped and
riflemen came running up to support us.
Arndt shouted, "Cox, take this (can of ammunition) over
to Trial!" I deserted the safety of the building, ran
across the street without being hit, flopped down beside
Trial, and fed a new belt of ammunition into the machine
gun. Then, suddenly, the shooting stopped.
squad and our supporting riflemen escaped injury.
They climbed back in the trucks and the spearhead started
tail of the spearhead column reached us, we packed up our
weapons, hitched our anti-tank rifle to the back of our
truck, and went roaring off to overtake the head of the
column and be dropped off to guard the flank again
somewhere farther on. The German recon car was left there
in the road, dead and unexplored.
Later we learned that one of Earl’s three shots, the
one that hit the middle of the armored car’s front, took
off the leg of the car's driver and he bled to death
sitting there. I don't know what happened to the other
Germans -- the couple and the guy who was firing from the
But I do know what happened to me. An epiphany.
: Picture made in Brussells in 1945 as the
division was returning to the U.S.A.
For the rest of my life I have treasured that moment when,
told by Al Arndt to go across that street, I went! That's
something to remember!
Also I have remembered that hundreds of thousands of riflemen
and other infantrymen faced such moments thousands of
times and they went, too, into the killing zone. Many
thousands were killed and many, many more were wounded
Front-line infantrymen are my heroes every one of them.
Now for a bit of irony. One of the guys in our squad at the
very beginning of our combat, when we attacked the Germans
holding Metz, France, asked to be -- and was --
transferred to our kitchen crew, which was always farther
back from the killing zone than we were. He had a wife and
children at home.
Now, on this spearhead, shortly before VE Day, our crew was
set up beside a building, brewing a pot of coffee while we
protected that armored column's flank. Within a blink of
time, the column was strafed by a German fighter jet, one
of the very, very few operable aircraft left to the
Luftwaffe. Our former squad member, riding in one of the
kitchen trucks, was hit by a 20-mm cannon shell and died
The rest of us came home
want to thank Fletcher B. Cox for his great testimony and