In "Spearhead," acclaimed military historian Adam Makos tells the story of the 3rd Armored (Spearhead) Division.
The Division landed in France in late June 1944, just weeks after D-Day, and advanced rapidly eastward, reaching the German border by mid-September.
During the German winter offensive into the Ardennes, known as the Battle of the Bulge, the division was redeployed to Belgium. In March, 1945, it captured the city of Cologne in an epic tank battle, and crossed the Rhine River. In April, it advanced into Thuringia and continued the push east until the unconditional surrender of Germany on May 6, 1945, ending the War in Europe.
The saga of the 3rd Armored Division was part the one of the most significant campaigns in military history and without doubt armored forces, i.e., tanks, played a significant role.
What makes "Spearhead" memorable is that the narrative is based on the testimony of surviving veterans, and not surprisingly, members of tank crews are prominently featured.
But the 3rd Armored Division also had one infantry regiment, and what I found very compelling was the account of an infantryman assigned to Company A of the 36th Armored Infantry.
He had grown up in Florence, Alabama and was voted the “Boy with the Best Personality” by his high school class before enlisting in the Army and being deployed to the Western Front in Belgium.
His name is Malcolm “Buck” Marsh, and he and wife, Wanda, are long-time residents of Auburn, and likely friends of many readers of The Auburn Villager.
When we meet him, it is almost midnight during a snowstorm, and he was one of 19 replacements. He and his foxhole buddy, Bob Janicki from Illinois, who had become accustomed to both the elements and combat, are about to relieve the shift manning his squad’s .30-caliber machine gun. Before the night is over Buck will have his first up-close and personal encounter with the enemy. In retrospect, what transpired was humorous, but definitely nerve-wracking at the time.
We will hear from Buck and Bob several more times as the 3rd Armored Division advances to the Ruhr River and links up with the 2nd Armored Division (Hell on Wheels) at Paterborn on April 9 where 325,000 Germans were captured and the defeat of the Third Reich became a foregone conclusion.
Then the Division would turn eastward and liberate the infamous Dora-Nordhausen concentration camp.
We continue to follow Buck and his comrades through the postwar years of staying in touch with each other, attending reunions and finally a visit to Cologne in 2013 where they met with old adversaries and a reunion of enemies became a gathering of friends,
There are several takeaways from this remarkable book.
For example, while the Division’s main battle tank, the M4 Sherman, performed well in the invasion and the Battle of the Bulge, it was overmatched in a face-off with the dreaded German Panther.
You will learn how the arrival of 20 Pershing Tanks reversed these odds and contributed to the decisive victory at Cologne and the advance into Thuringia.
Or that the Division never made it to the enemy capital, because it was stopped at the Elbe River, 66 miles away, leaving Berlin to the Russians.
But what the book reinforced in my mind was how members of the U.S. armed forces, including this intrepid group of tankers and infantrymen, won the war and came home to build the American Dream.
They were rightly known as the “Greatest Generation” and we will never see their like again.