|Country United States|
|Branch United States Army|
Role Armored warfare
|Active 15 September 1942 – 3 December 1945|
The 12th Armored Division was an armored division of the United States Army in World War II. It fought in the European Theater of Operations in France, Germany and Austria, between November 1944 and May 1945.
- Origin of Combat Units
- Tank Battalions
- Armored Infantry Battalions
- Combat chronicle
- POWs captured
- Order of battle
- Assignments in the European Theater of Operations
- Assignments of the 12th AD to Higher Commands
- Attachments Units officially attached to the 12th Armored Division
- Memorials Recognizing the 12th Armored Division
- 12th Armored Division Association
- The Hellcat News newspaper
- 12th Armored Division Memorial Museum
The German Army called the 12th Armored Division the "Suicide Division" for its fierce defensive actions during Operation Nordwind in France, and they were nicknamed the "The Mystery Division" when they were temporarily transferred to the command of the Third Army under General George S. Patton, Jr., to cross the Rhine River.
The 12th Armored Division was one of only ten U.S. Divisions (and only one of two U.S. armored Divisions) during World War II that had African-American combat companies integrated into the Division. One of the African American soldiers, Staff Sergeant Edward A. Carter, Jr. was awarded The Distinguished Service Cross for Gallantry in Combat during World War II, and was later awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously.
The 12th Armored Division was activated on 15 September 1942. Organization and initial training was at Camp Campbell, Kentucky, and continued at Camp Barkeley in Abilene, Texas. The division consisted of approximately 11,000 soldiers, and was composed of tank, field artillery, motorized infantry battalions and other support units.
In early 1943 the Division adopted the nickname "The Hellcats", symbolizing its toughness and readiness for combat.
While at Camp Barkeley, the 44th Tank Battalion was sent to the Pacific Theater of Operations on a special mission and later distinguished itself as the first unit to enter Manila. The 44th was replaced by the 714th Tank Battalion.
Walt Disney himself designed a logo for the 714th Tank Battalion, and the Disney organization also designed a logo with Mickey Mouse dressed in armor riding a unicycle for the 56th Armored Infantry Regiment of the 12th Armored Division.
Origin of Combat Units
The 12th was originally organized as a heavy armored division with two armored regiments, the 43rd and 44th, and one armored infantry regiment, the 56th Armored Infantry Regiment. In 1943, it was reorganized from a heavy division to a light division as part of a general streamlining of all armored divisions, except the 2nd Armored Division and the 3rd Armored Division.
The original 43rd and 44th Armored Regiments assigned to the 12th AD were re-designated to become the 23rd, 43rd, 44th, 714th and 779th Tank Battalions (TB) during the reorganization the 12th Armored Division underwent while at the Tennessee Maneuver Area in Watertown, Tennessee, in November 1943. The 714th TB was sent to Fort Jackson, SC and the 779th TB went to Fort Knox, KY as separate independent tank battalions. The 44th Tank Battalion was detached from the 12th AD and sent to the Pacific Theater of Operations, where it distinguished itself as the first tank battalion to enter the city of Manila and liberated American and Allied civilian prisoners interred in the Santo Tomas Internment Camp. It was replaced by the 714th TB which rejoined the 12th AD in November 1943. The 779th TB was sent to the Philippines late in the war in 1945 but did not see combat action.
Armored Infantry Battalions
The 56th Armored Infantry Regiment (AIR) traced its historical origin back to the 17th Infantry Regiment of Maj. Gen. George Sykes' 2nd Division of the 5th Army Corps, of the Army of the Potomac during the American Civil War. During World War I, soldiers from the reconstituted 17th Infantry Regiment were used to form the 56th Infantry Regiment on 15 May 1917, which was involved in the battle around Metz in Alsace-Lorraine. Ironically, when reconstituted as the 56th Armored Infantry Battalion during World War II, they were back in Alsace-Lorraine, fighting with the 12th Armored Division to liberate the same region of France from Nazi occupation in 1944-1945. On 7 July 1942, the unit was reconstituted as the 56th Armored Infantry Regiment and assigned to the 12th Armored Division, which was activated as a division at Camp Campbell, KY on 15 September 1942. On 11 November 1943 while at Watertown, Tennessee, the 12th Armored Division was reorganized and the 56th Armored Infantry Regiment was reorganized to form the 17th, 56th and 66th Armored Infantry Battalions (AIB). The 1st Battalion of the 56th AIR became the 66th AIB and the 2nd Battalion of the 56th AIR became the 17th AIB of the 12th Armored Division. The 3rd Battalion of the 56th AIR became the 56th AIB. Companies G, H and I of the 56th AIR became Companies A, B and C of the 56th AIB.
After completing training the Division left Abilene and departed from Camp Shanks, New York, for the European Theater of Operations on 20 September 1944. It landed at Liverpool, England on 2 October 1944. While awaiting replacement armor which had been borrowed by the U.S. Third Army, the 12th was sent to Tidworth Barracks in Wiltshire, UK. It crossed the English Channel from Southampton, arrived at Le Havre, France, on 11 November 1944 and then traveled up the Seine River to Rouen to join the Seventh Army under Lieutenant General Alexander Patch. Advance elements met the enemy near Weisslingen in Alsace on 5 December, and the entire division moved against the Maginot Line fortifications two days later.
In its advance, Rohrbach-lès-Bitche and towns surrounding Bettviller were liberated by 12 December 1944, and Utweiler, Germany was seized on 21 December. After a short period of rehabilitation and maintenance, the 12th rolled against the Rhine bridgehead at Herrlisheim that the Germans had established as part of their Operation Nordwind offensive. In order to seal the Battle of the Bulge, units of the Seventh Army were diverted north to assist the Third Army in capturing Bastogne. Due to this, the remainder of the Seventh Army, including the 12th Armored Division, was stretched thin holding a 126 miles (203 km) long front line with only eight divisions.
German defenders repulsed two division attacks in the most violent fighting in the history of the division, during 8 to 10 January and 16 to 17 January 1945. The division's attacks at Herrlisheim failed to use combined-arms tactics and were defeated in detail, resulting in two tank and two armored infantry battalions taking heavy losses. Poor tactics were compounded by terrain that was almost tabletop-flat, offering the German defenders excellent fields of fire. However, enemy counterattacks failed also, in part because of the firm leadership of the commander of Combat Command B, Colonel Charles Bromley, who declared his headquarters expendable and ordered all personnel in the headquarters to prepare a hasty defense.
The division was subsequently relieved by the U.S. 36th Infantry Division. The 12th Armored Division suffered over 1,700 battle casualties during the fighting in and around Herrlisheim. As a consequence, when African-American soldiers who were in non-combat positions were able to volunteer to become combat troops, Major General Roderick R. Allen was one of only ten Division commanders who allowed them to join the combat ranks.
After recovering from the bruising experience at Herrlisheim, the 12th went over to the offensive and attacked south from Colmar, after being assigned to the French First Army under General Jean de Lattre de Tassigny. In a lightning drive, the 12th effected junction with French forces at Rouffach, on 5 February, sealing the Colmar Pocket and ending German resistance in the Vosges Mountains. Except for elements acting as a protective screen, the division withdrew to the St. Avold area for rest and rehabilitation. The Division was attached to the Third Army under General George S. Patton, Jr., on 17 March 1945 through its crossing of the Rhine on 28 March. The soldiers were ordered to remove their identifying unit insignias and vehicle markings were painted over, disguising the fact that Patton had an additional tank division under his command. Thus the 12th was given the nickname "The Mystery Division". The attack resumed on 18 March 1945.
In a quick drive to the Rhine, Ludwigshafen fell on 21 March, and two other important river cities, Speyer and Germersheim, were secured on 24 March, clearing the Saar Palatinate. Maintaining the rapid pace, the 12th crossed the Rhine River at Worms on 28 March over pontoon bridges, advanced toward Würzburg, and captured that city along with elements of the famed 42nd Infantry Division (United States). After assisting in the seizure of Schweinfurt, the division continued toward Nuremberg on 13 April, taking Neustadt, then shifted south toward Munich on 17 April. Elements of the 12th raced from Dinkelsbühl to the Danube, where they found the bridge at Lauingen had been blown. Moving quickly they captured the bridge at Dillingen intact before demolition men could destroy it. This bridge provided a vital artery for Allied troops flooding into southern Bavaria.
The division spearheaded the Seventh Army drive, securing Landsberg, on 27 April and clearing the area between the Ammer and Würm Lakes by 30 April. The 12th Armored Division is recognized as a liberating unit of the Landsberg concentration camps near the Landsberg Prison, sub-camps of Dachau concentration camp on 27 April 1945. On 29 April 1945, the 12th AD liberated Oflag VII-A Murnau, a German Army POW camp for Polish Army officers interred north of the Bavarian town of Murnau am Staffelsee during World War II.
Elements crossed the Inn River and the Austrian border at Kufstein on 3 May. The 12th Armored Division was relieved by the 36th Infantry Division on 4 May. On 5 May, Lieutenant (later Captain) John C. Lee, Jr., Co. B, 23rd Tank Battalion, organized the rescue of VIP French prisoners from an Alpine castle in Bavaria during the Battle for Castle Itter. Under Lee's command were members of the German Wehrmacht, who combined forces with 2 tanks from the 12th to fight the SS Commander and soldiers guarding the prisoners. For leading the successful rescue of these prisoners, Lee was promoted to Captain and awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.
The 12th Armored Division engaged in security duty around Ulm until 22 November 1945, when it left Marseille, France, for home. Some members of the 12th attended the US Army University, in either Biarritz, France or Shrivenham, England during this time.
It was deactivated on 3 December 1945, and on 17 December 1945, its battle flags were turned in at Camp Kilmer, New Jersey.
During its deployment the 12th Armored Division captured 72,243 enemy prisoners of war. Among them were Adolf Eichmann and Wernher von Braun.
Nearly 8,500 Allied POWs, including 1,500 Americans, and an additional 20,000 non-military prisoners, were liberated by the 12th AD.
Total 12th Armored Division complement: 10,937 at end of 1944; 17,000 assigned to Division between activation and deactivation
Order of battle
Assignments in the European Theater of Operations
Assignments of the 12th AD to Higher Commands
Date Assigned to Corps Assigned to Army Attached to Army Assigned to Army Group Attached to Army Group
Attachments (Units officially attached to the 12th Armored Division)
Memorials Recognizing the 12th Armored Division
12th Armored Division Association
The 12th Armored Division Association was founded on 15 September 1945 at Heidenheim, Germany, on the occasion of the third anniversary of the Division's activation.
The Hellcat News (newspaper)
The Hellcat News, the newspaper of the 12th Armored Division, was first published in 1942 as an information sheet. Initial publication was part of the public relations duties of the Special Services unit of the 12th Armored Division while the division trained at Camp (later Fort) Campbell, Kentucky. In 1943, after the division was transferred to Camp Barkeley in Abilene, Texas, the division commander, Major General Carlos Brewer, assigned three men to Special Services to continue the newspaper. The first official issue of the newspaper was published at Camp Campbell, Kentucky, although the byline reads "Somewhere in Tennessee". This was because Camp Campbell was in the Tennessee Maneuver Area located on the Kentucky-Tennessee border between Hopkinsville, Kentucky, and Clarksville, Tennessee. Due to its close proximity to Clarksville, Tennessee, the War Department on 6 March 1942, designated Tennessee as the official address of the new camp. This caused a great deal of confusion, since the Headquarters was in Tennessee and the post office was in Kentucky. After many months of mail delivery problems, Colonel Guy W. Chipman requested that the address be changed to Camp Campbell, Kentucky. The U.S. War Department officially changed the address on 23 September 1942.
The newspaper continued to be published by the Division Special Services after transfer of the Division to Camp Barkeley in Abilene, TX from Feb. 1944 through the final issue published in the U.S during the war on 10 August 1944 (Vol. 2, No. 26) when the entire Division was shipped to Europe to join the 7th Army in France. Publication resumed with Volume 3, Issue 1 on 18 May 1945, in Heidenheim, Germany, following cessation of combat operations in the ETO. The Special Services of the Division published the first issues in Europe on a weekly basis when conditions permitted, until the deactivation of the Division in 1946. The Hellcat News is one of two U.S. military newspapers that has been continuously published since World War 2, the other being the older "Stars and "Stripes", which began publication on 9 November 1861 in Bloomfield, Missouri. The "Hellcat News" is the oldest U.S. Armed Forces divisional newspaper still being published since World War 2.
Wartime publications contained Division news stories, cartoons and photographs. The later editions of the 12th Armored Association contain information about former members of the Division, organizational news including information about the yearly reunion, original cartoons, and photographs both from the war years and afterwards. A series relating the history of the Division is also recounted in the newspaper. In addition, the president of the Association and the Secretary included messages of interest in most issues. These messages contain information about the Division's Medal of Honor recipient, Staff Sergeant Edward A. Carter, Jr. The Hellcat News is published by the 12th Armored Division Association. Archived copies of the Hellcat News from the first issue in 1943 through 2012 are available online through the West Texas Digital Archive.
12th Armored Division Memorial Museum
In October 2001 the 12th Armored Division Memorial Museum opened its doors to the public in Abilene, Texas, with the stated mission to serve as a display and teaching museum for the study of World War II and its impact on the American people. "The Twelfth Armored Division Memorial Museum is located in Abilene, Texas, near (9 miles south of) the site of the former Camp Barkeley where the Division trained prior to being sent overseas into the European Theater of Operations. The Museum holds collections of the 12th Armored Division, World War II archives, memorabilia, and oral histories, along with selected equipment and material loaned or donated by others. The education plan focuses on expanding academic access to World War II historical materials, veterans, and their families; preserving the history of the 12th Armored Division for study, research, and investigations by future generations; providing training in public history professions, developing new education programs for students and establishing a technology bridge between the 12th Armored Division Historical Collection and the public."
As part of an on-going venture to become a larger part of the West Texas community and the greater Abilene area, 12th Armored Division Memorial Museum has partnered with the West Texas Digital Archives, providing access to copies of the "Hellcat News" from first edition to 2012.