American Soldiers in the European Theater of World War II faced a long, hard struggle as they fought their way from the beaches of Normandy to the heart of Germany. Among them were the G.I.’s of the 7th Armored Division of Patton’s famous Third Army. The 7th included Infantry units, trained and equipped to fight alongside tanks. Staff Sergeant Richard L. McBride was one of them. He served in the mortar squad for 2nd Platoon, A Company, of the 23rd Armored Infantry Battalion. The 23rd saw action in the Normandy Campaign, eastern France, at the crossing of the Moselle River in Holland, the Battle of the Bulge, and the push into Germany.
On the night of September 8, 1944, the 23rd suffered heavy casualties, attempting to cross the Moselle River. McBride arrived in a group of 60 replacements for A Company on September 13. New to combat, McBride’s mind raced with thoughts about what was to come, thoughts he later wrote down in his memoirs, which he entitled Grinding Through.
“The question in all our minds was “How will I be able to stand it; will I do as well as these fellows seem to have done?”
SSgt. McBride received his baptism by fire in battle near Metz, France, as the 7th Armored Division continued their drive towards Germany. He wrote about the hazards of the battlefield:
“Artillery and mortar fire were the greatest fears of the infantry, with such things as tanks and mines somewhat lesser evils, and with small-arms fire definitely last. Of course, it was uncomfortable to be pinned down by a machine gun, but what hit you was smaller, and that was some consolation. It seemed as though each shell coming over was the one that was going to come right own into your 2-by-6 foot hole to keep you company. That great fear was overcome in combat. But, after a time, you learned to judge the approaching shells by the pitch of their scream, soon becoming able to predict whether it would be an over or a short, right or left of your position. That gave you some comfort, – – until the next shell approached!”
The offensive near Metz stalled, and on September 24, the 7th Armored Division was relieved by the 5th Infantry Division. Sent to Holland, they were attached to the British 2nd Army to help expand the bulge created by Operation Market Garden, earlier that month. McBride describes the role of the 23rd in his memoir:
“The word “Armored” meant little, for it was just, plain, old-fashioned footslogging, with a few exceptions. These were: (1) we rode in armored “Half-tracks” (Personnel carriers) instead of G.I. trucks when going any great distance; (2) We fought with tanks in close support more often, and so had more firepower to hurl at the enemy, but usually drew more from him in return; (3) We were relieved from fighting more often than regular infantry divisions, usually because armored divisions were often saved during preparation by large groups of infantry with strong artillery support in order to be fresh and ready to put the killing punch in an assault and carry though if a real break in the enemy line seemed possible.
At least that is how we were told that it was to be. Theory and practice often disagree. Because an armored division could move so much more quickly and strike so much harder than an infantry division, it was often called in to meet situations that were different from normal assignments. For example, our mission in Holland with the British Second Army. We were to hold a long, extended, line protecting the British right flank, employing a sort of aggressive defense, relying upon scattered strong-points of armor and armored infantry.”
In Holland, the 7th Armor advanced to protect the right flank of the British 2nd Army as they penetrated deeper into the German occupied Holland. Their targets were the Atlantic ports, such as Antwerp. These ports were vital to the Allied effort to shorten their supply lines, which still stretched all the way back to the beaches at Normandy. Long supply lines consume time and fuel and are more vulnerable to attack.
Working with the British Army left quite an impression on McBride:
“After breaking away from encircled Meijel, we passed through Deurne and saw one of the most stirring scenes of the Holland campaign. Rounding a corner, the shrill screeching of bag-pipes drowned out the sound of the motor, and there before us strutted three platoons of Highlanders on their way to the front, each led by a piper in full dress uniform. We cheered as we roared past those magnificent Scotties, – a sight we wouldn’t forget! …we, — and I mean we – all of us who were “up there on the line” – had come to feel that we were lucky to have such a fine crowd of fellows with whom to work and fight. It was a gratifying experience to have fought alongside those British soldiers! And to dispel some of the rumors cast about on the home front, let me add that I saw or heard of not one instance of “bad feeling” among the troops of our two countries. Those that there were must have been reported only in the “rear echelon” or among the “high brass” of each army. With the G.I. and Tommy “up front”, it was a different story! Even the Irish-Americans among us had nothing by praise for our Allies from Britain!”
In November, the 7th Armor was pulled out of the line for a brief period to rest and refit, before commencing operations along the Dutch-German border.
The Battle of the Bulge began on December 16, 1944. Germany launched a surprise attack that threatened to change the course of the war. The 7th was sent to help hold the line near St. Vith, Belgium, which straddled a critical crossroads.
McBride and the 7th Armor arrived in St. Vith just in time to help stall the German advance. They managed to stall the German advance for
several days, throwing their timetable into disarray. But, the German forces were too strong, and 7th was forced to abandon the town.
McBride and the 23rd fell back to regroup and prepare a counter attack. McBride described how the Soldiers prepared for combat on the snowy battlefield, by making their own winter camouflage uniforms:
“[M]attress covers were cut to make holes for the head and arms, and then shortened to make a knee-length garment. The strips of white cloth left over from the arm slits were saved to be wrapped around the arms themselves. The material saved when the skirt was shortened was used to cover the steel helmet with hat-styles to suit individual tastes. Mine resembled that of the French Legionnaire, with enough hanging down behind to hide the neck and break up the outline of m head and helmet, and also to keep snow from getting down my neck.”
The fighting to retake St. Vith was intense, and the conditions were miserable. The multiple layers of clothes the G.I’s were wearing made it hard to run and fight. Many Soldiers suffered from frostbite and exhaustion.
Eventually, the 7th Division, with the help of the 82nd Airborne Division, retook the vital crossroads. The enemy retreated to Germany to prepare for the inevitable Allied onslaught.
In early 1945, the Allies broke through German defenses and crossed the Rhine. In April 1945, while assaulting a German village, McBride was wounded in the back by a bursting shell. This wound ended his war. He was evacuated to a hospital in England; then transferred to the United States. McBride was discharged at the end of the war and returned to New York. While he was recuperating, he wrote his 316 page recollection of the war.
“In conclusion, let me say that I hope all went well with the “Lucky Seventh” during those last days of the war, and that few additions were made to its long lists of casualties. I hope, also, that the friends we all have made during the fighting overseas will never be forgotten, and that our pride in our outfit will remain a strong bond, helping to unite us and make still firmer the ties of friendship.”
Research Intern: Jim Taub
Richard L. McBride papers, 1944-1990.
U. S. Army Heritage and Education Center
OCLC Number: 55028674