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Clay's War Pt. I (1 Viewer)

kinetickyle

Senior Member
This is an article I wrote about my great-uncle's involvement in the Battle of the Bulge.


Marvin Clay Chandler sits on the back porch of his home in McKinney, TX and watches the squirrels play in the trees. He spits tobacco into a plastic cup and wipes some dribble from his timeworn face. His back is permanently hunched, as if the weight of the world had once rested on his shoulders. He doesn’t move as quickly as he used to, but he still gets around much better than many men of his 80 years. His easygoing nature would suggest a peaceful life. However, in the winter of 1944 Clay Chandler and other tankers of the 748th tank battalion followed General George S. Patton on a mission to halt the last desperate advance of the Nazi war machine.

On December 16, 1944, the supposedly dying German army showed that it would not go quietly. In a desperate attempt to seize the Belgian port of Antwerp, the Nazis caught the Allied forces completely by surprise and by Dec. 25 had almost reached the Meuse River. After the initial shock, the Americans regrouped and successfully held the Germans, but members of the 101st Airborne Division were trapped in the small Belgium town of Bastogne, with no relief or rescue in sight. Gen. Patton and his 3rd Army raced to cut the German advance off at its source, severing supply lines and trapping the enemy between his forces and the rest of the advancing Allied armies. On the tip of the 3rd Army spear was the 4th Armor Division along with Clay Chandler and the rest of the 748th Tank Battalion.

On Dec. 20, the men of the 4th Armored Division headed north across the frozen countryside toward the Ardennes. The going was slow, as the saturated ground had become so frozen that the metal tracks of the tanks could not dig in. Whenever the road would become uneven, at least one tank almost always slid into a ditch or into the hedgerows. Once a tank became stuck, it was a colossal undertaking to get it underway again. Since the tanks could hardly get enough traction for themselves, towing a stranded tank was an absolute impossibility in most cases. As a result, the stranded crew would be forced to dig and loosen up the frozen ground enough to get back on the road again. Despite these setbacks, the men of the 748th Tank Bn. were determined to reach the Ardennes as soon as possible and do their part in stopping the German advance.

On Dec. 21, the 4th Armored Division assembled in the Leglise-Arlon area and learned that their mission would be to advance north and relieve the 101st Airborne Division holding Bastogne. Rumors began to circulate about the forces encircling Bastogne and the reactions were as varied as each individual soldier. Some were eager to show the Germans what American boys in American tanks could do. Others were fearful that they would never see home again. Regardless of their gut reactions to the mission, almost all of them wanted to even the odds at Bastogne and give the men of the 101st a fighting chance.

The soldiers of the 4th Armored Division were allowed to relax a bit on the night of the 21st. Most men sat talking with one another or writing letters home. Sam Rogers, the gun loader and assistant driver in Chandler’s tank crew, had scrounged some white paint from the supply trucks in the rear, but failed to acquire a brush. As a result, he dipped two fingers into the small can of paint and scrawled the words “Hun Hunters” on the barrel of the tank’s 75mm gun. By giving the crew and their tank a moniker, it seemed a little more likely that they would survive the coming battle.

The 3rd Army launched its counterattack to the north at the appointed hour on 22 Dec. The 4th Armored Division fanned its tanks out in a line 5 1/2 miles long and advanced toward the source of the German aggression along the Arlon-Bastogne road. Chandler pushed the fear back by constantly checking the esoteric gauges in front of him. After a year and a half of driving a Sherman tank, he knew all but three of the instruments had been put there to impress the army. Nevertheless, looking at the extraneous dials and gauges had always kept him from thinking about what would happen if a 88mm shell punctured the 2 1/2 inches of armor surrounding him and the rest of the crew.

As the 748th neared the German lines, the convoy stopped; there were 15 – 20 mounds of loose soil in the road, a possible indication of mines. The men sat and waited for mine sweepers to come from the rear to clear the mines. No one felt safe sitting still so near the advancing Nazi forces and every minute wasted was possibly another American life lost in Bastogne. After about 20 minutes, a black truck driver, whose name has been lost to memory, came up with a solution to the standstill. He offered to drive his supply truck in the grass just off the road to get around the apparent landmines.

“If I make it, you fellas follow me,” he said.

Captain Wright, in command of D company, agreed and the man took off through the grass. After a few tense moments, he emerged safely on the road past the mines. As soon as the truck was back on level ground, the driver opened his door and waved the OK to the tanks. One at a time, the tanks trudged over the trail blazed by the courageous truck driver. 59 years later, Chandler remembered the man “was so scared, he was the bravest one of us all”.

On that same day of Dec. 22, General Anthony McAuliffe gave his famous response of “Nuts” to the German request for his surrender of the town of Bastogne. When word of this colorful retort reached Gen. Patton, he made sure that the men of the 4th Armored Division knew about it to motivate them. Chandler had never heard of Anthony McAuliffe, but was nevertheless motivated by concerns for his brother Tommy, who was somewhere to the east of him with the 80th Infantry Division. He knew he would rather face the German army in the relative safety of his tank than have his brother take the risk.

The column of tanks trudged along as rapidly as they could over the frozen earth. Many of the newer men were afraid the fighting would be over before they got there, but the men who had seen heavy combat in North Africa or Sicily were praying for the opposite.

Late in the afternoon of the Dec. 22, the 4th Armored Division reached the Sure River to find that German troops had already demolished the bridges. The town of Martelange, on the opposite banks of the Sure, still contained an unknown number of German riflemen. The enemy would take occasional shots at exposed personnel from across the river and even shoot at the tanks, as if to ridicule the Americans for their inability to cross the river. However, the Germans’ assurance was brought to a crashing halt. Several tanks equipped with 13 million-candle power carbon arc lights lined up along the shore and pointed the intense beams into the city. As the powerful lights blinded the Germans, a company of American riflemen crossed the Sure via the broken span of one of the demolished bridges. The unmistakable bark of an M1 Garand is heard repeatedly from across the river. At 0300 on Dec. 23, the rifle company signaled the all clear and work began immediately to reconstruct one of the bridges and get the armor across the river.
 

Vixen

Senior Member
Very Historically Based. I would like to see even more of your main characters, It would help drive in the importance of the facts.
 
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