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The European Theatre of Operations – September 1944:


By September 1944, the German military high-command was faced with the harsh reality of fighting a two-front war in Europe.  The Western Allies were advancing quickly from their beachhead at Normandy and were closing in on the Rhine River from the west.  On the Eastern Front, the Soviets were firmly entrenched in Poland and were consolidating their gains for a crossing of the Oder River.  The end was growing near for Adolf Hitler’s 1,000 year Reich.

Realizing that the Germany Army could not win a two-front war, Hitler believed that he could effectively utilize his mobile reserves for one last major offensive.  He envisioned a heroic, last-ditch effort against the Western Allies which could achieve a military stalemate and a possible negotiated settlement.  Hitler’s thoughts of any possible total victory in the war had ended with the defeat of German Forces at Stalingrad in February 1943.  The Soviet Army gained needed momentum after the victory and had pushed the German Army westward toward Berlin. 

Hitler and his military advisors believed they could attack the Allied front lines through the Ardennes Forrest in an attempt to drive them back to the port of Antwerp, Netherlands.  He thought a successful attack through the Ardennes might force the Allies to negotiate a separate peace with Germany.  Hitler correctly realized that the alliance of Frank D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin was tenuous at best.  If a settlement with the Western Allies could be achieved, Germany could then consolidate its forces against the Soviets on the Eastern Front.  The Germans had committed untold atrocities during their occupation of the Soviet Union and realized that it would be in their best interest to keep the Red Army from entering Germany.

was also in the process of rapidly developing a series of advanced weaponry, including jet fighters (Me-262) and ballistic missiles (V-2).  Hitler also believed that prolonging the war would allow German factories adequate time to bring these new weapons into mass-production.  Also on the drawing board was an intercontinental ballistic missile that would posses the range needed to strike New York City.  His rocket engineers, along with captured V-2 missiles, would be brought to the United States after the war and become the basis for the NASA Apollo Moon program.

The advance from Normandy had proceeded quicker than anticipated, causing the Western forces to dangerously stretch their supply lines. The front line troops had also grown complacent as they had racked-up a string of rapid victories over the German Army.  Allied dominance over the skies of Western Europe had also played a pivotal role in allowing the advance on the ground to proceed quickly.  The American forces had established ground to air communications and were able to call in bomb-laden Republic P-47 Thunderbolts when needed.  Hitler believed that the winter cloud cover over Central Europe would eliminate the American air threat and help even the odds of his Ardennes offensive. 




The United States Army 11th Armored Division:


The 11th Armored Division, nicknamed “The Thunderbolt Division,” was activated at Camp Polk, Louisiana on August 13, 1942.  Armored division's were designated by the United States Army to provide high mobility, protected firepower and shock potential enhanced by an independent ability to conduct sustained operations. Each of the Army’s 16 armored division’s had an authorized personnel assignment of approximately 14,000 officers and enlisted men, 390 tanks and 450 Half-Tracks.


In October 1942, twenty year-old Albert Woodruff left his rural Hickman, Kentucky home to join the United States Army.  Corporal Woodruff was assigned to the 11th Armored Division’s 42nd Tank Battalion (Company B) as an M-3 Half-Track driver and .50 caliber machine gun operator.  The M-3 Half-Track was a nine-ton monster developed by Cleveland’s White Motor Company that was designed to carry ten fully-armed troops into battle.  Its main armament was a Browning M-2 .50 caliber machine gun, a weapon still currently in production.  The World War Two-era M-2 could fire approximately 600 rounds per minute at an effective range of 2,000 yards.


The combat-ready 11th Armored Division landed at Normandy, France on December 17, 1944.  The division was under the command of Brigadier General Charles S. Kilburn.









Corporal Albert F. Woodruff   Brigadier General Charles S. Kilburn.


The Battle of the Bulge and the Siege of Bastogne:


On the morning of December 16, 1944, German artillery fired a furious 90 minute-long barrage at American troops in Eastern Belgium as the Sixth Panzer Army, under SS General Sepp Dietrich, began an armored thrust toward the port of Antwerp.  The Nazi hierarchy correctly believed that the capture of the important sea port at Antwerp would materially reduce the flow of supplies to the Allied forces.  Further south, elements of the German Armed Forces under General Hasso von Manteuffel advanced towards Bastogne and St. Vith, both Belgian road junctions of great strategic importance. The unexpected thrust by Manteuffel’s Fifth Panzer Army shattered the American 28th and 106th Infantry Divisions and by December 21st, they had surrounded the 101st Airborne (along with elements of the 9th and 10th Armored Divisions) at Bastogne, Belgium.  The low cloud ceiling denied the American’s critical usage of P-47 fighter/bombers needed for aerial assistance to break the siege.

On December 19th, the 11th Armored Division was ordered to begin a four-day, 350 mile long trek toward Bastogne as part of General George S. Patton’s Third Army’s relief effort.  Upon completion of their almost impossible journey through bitter cold, rain and snow,  the 11th Armored Division deployed defensively along a 30 mile section of the Meuse River, extending from Sedan to Givet in eastern France.  To the east, the eight-day siege at Bastogne was broken on December 27th, as the Fourth Armored Division broke through to the surrounded city.  The relief of Bastogne is viewed by most historians as the critical turning point of the Battle of the Bulge. It marked the beginning of the German Army's long retreat back to the fatherland and the subsequent collapse of the war’s western front.


General George S. Patton

Woodruff was in the 42nd Battalion’s B Company, which consisted of a collection of M-4 Sherman tanks and M-3 Half-Tracks.  He was both the commander and gunner of an olive drab colored M-3 named “White Jug”. On December 29th, orders came for the 11th Armored Division to advance another 85 miles over snow-covered roads northeasterly into Belgium and assume attack formations in the vicinity of the historic city of Neufchâteau.  The division was tasked with keeping the important Bastogne-Neufchâteau highway open for Army supply convoys.  At this point in time, the highway represented the only line of communication for the garrison at Bastogne. 

An 11th Armored Division M-3 Half-Track passes a burned out German Panzer IV in Foy, Belgium in early January 1945




For two weeks, Woodruff’s unit was in constant contact with the enemy as they gallantly battled through the snow-covered Belgian terrain.  “We lost a whole lot of good people during that march” recalled Woodruff.  It wasn’t just the fighting that left an impression on the young Kentucky native; the aftermath of battle was at times just as horrifying. Woodruff and his men were often assigned the task of searching the dead Germans bodies for any possible relevant battlefield information. He states “we hooked a chain around their feet and pulled them along to make sure that they weren’t booby-trapped and didn’t blow us up.” While looking for information he remembers opening up one of the dead German’s billfold and immediately seeing a photo of the soldier’s young child.  “I remember one time watching one of the guys in my unit trying to get the wedding ring off the finger of a dead German soldier,” recalls a still disgusted Woodruff, “he pulled out a knife and started cutting off the soldier’s finger to get the ring, I just looked at him and said I quit.”

11th Armored Division's march from Neufchâteau to Longchamps

Woodruff reminisces about his accommodations in the Belgian countryside, “It was bitter cold but we were lucky. We got to sleep in a stable.”  The division encountered stiff resistance from the 5th and 15th Panzer Grenadier Divisions while holding the vital Neufchâteau-Bastogne highway but managed to emerge victorious and allow the road to remain open. By January 1st, 1945, the 11th Division had managed to liberate the Belgian town of Chenogne from its German occupiers.  “The snow was so deep that we had to attach chains (termed track extensions by the Army) to the treads of our tracks.  I’m not sure how good the chains were because they came off as soon as we put them on.  It was tough going out there fighting both the Germans and the snow. The Good Lord was defently with me.” The Thunderbolt’s continued to fight across Belgium for two weeks until receiving orders on January 12th, to advance to the city of Longchamps.

An M-4 Sherman tank on the road to Longchamps, Belgium on January 13, 1945



On the morning of January 14, Woodruff’s unit has just reached the crest of a hill near Longchamps when they came under attack by high explosive rounds fired by German artillery positioned in the adjacent forrest.  They immediately started taking heavy losses from mortar and artillery fire. Woodruff quickly manned his .50 caliber machine gun and started providing cover fire to his advancing fellow soldiers.  The Sherman tank to the left of Woodruff’s halftrack was hit by a .88 mm round which killed the entire crew.  “I remember watching the shell hit the tank,” sadly reminisced Woodruff some 70 years later, “the tank commander was able to get out of the burning tank but he was on fire and fell dead into the snow. Those were all my buddies. I can still recall the horrible smell of them burning up in that tank.”


Woodruff continued to pour deadly .50 caliber machine gun fire at the German forces, even as bullets from German machine guns impacted his Half-Track.  Woodruff was driven by the call of duty and loyalty to support his fellow soldiers as they advanced, “I don’t know how many men I killed that day. In fact, I don’t want to ever know.” Under cover of artillery fire, German infantry units closed within rifle range of the American armor.  “I could hear rifle shells hitting the armor of the Half-Track but I kept steadily firing away with my .50 caliber Browning.”  Unfortunately, an artillery shell soon grazed Woodruff’s halftrack, which produced an enormous amount of shrapnel which knocked the young Kentucky native unconscious. He recalled “I remember watching a 5 gallon gas can that was attached to the left front fly into the air when the shell impacted.” Woodruff was evacuated to a mobile field hospital and was paralyzed in both his left arm and leg.  By the end of the battle, German artillery and mortar fire killed three enlisted men and one officer while wounding eight other enlisted men. The single tank was knocked out of action due to a direct hit in the turret. 

The battlefield at Longchamps, Belgium





The Battle of the Bulge was the last major offensive conducted by the German Armed forces during World War II.  While the race across the Rhine would not be an easy task, it would be a lot less arduous due to the disastrous losses suffered by the Germans during the Battle of the Bulge.  According to the U.S. Department of Defense, American forces suffered 89,500 casualties including 19,000 killed, 47,500 wounded and 23,000 missing making The Battle of the Bulge the bloodiest battle for U.S. forces in World War II. The German High Command's official figure for the campaign was 84,834 German casualties, and other estimates range between 60,000 and 100,000. The German losses in the battle were critical in several respects: the last of the German reserves were now gone, the Luftwaffe had been shattered, and the remaining German forces in the West were being pushed back to the defenses of the Siegfried Line.

The 11th Armored Division would continue fighting across the heart of Germany.  On May 5th, a cavalry patrol unexpectedly encountered German forces guarding the concentration camp complexes of Gusen and Mauthausen. The patrol returned with over 1,800 prisoners that were liberated from these camps.  Humanitarian actions were taken to restore and maintain order in the camps, to provide medical assistance to the starving inmates, and to bury the thousands of victims of Nazi brutality.  Units of the 11th Division would link-up with Soviet Forces at Amstetten, Germany on May 8, 1945, thus ending the combat exploits of the Thunderbolt division.

In five months of combat, the 11th Division would suffer 432 killed in action and 2,394 wounded in action. They took a total of 76,229 prisoners, not including 10,000 who were turned over to supporting infantry units, and 34,125 who were returned to Soviet jurisdiction under the terms of surrender. Following termination of hostilities, the division engaged in occupation duties in the Munich vicinity until the division was disbanded in September 1945.

Corporal Albert Woodruff would be taken to a United States Army Field Hospital in France, where he would spend three months as a patient.  He eventually rejoined his unit and spent the post-war period in the Munich area.  Woodruff would arrive back in the states and take a job at the United States Defense Depot in Memphis, the city where he resides today.  He is active in his church and enjoys spending time with his family and friends.

Corporal Albert F. Woodruff






11th Armored Division - 42nd Tank Battalion - Company B

Fort Polk, Louisiana 1942
 The following members of the 11th Armored Division - 42nd Tank Battalion - Company B lost their lives in the service of their country during the Second World War:

Vance Byler

John Coyne

Arden Evans

Alfred Fermanian

Vincent Gorman

Alexander Horowitz

Alfred Jiricek

Homer Koenegstein

Lee Leonard

Cecil Lindsey

Kenneth McWilliams

Harold Oliver

Albert Sanderson

Joseph Sardeson

Virgil Shaw

Joseph Shull

Walter Weymer

The 11th Division Memorial at Bastogne, Belgium