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8th Division History

8th Division History

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TEAMED WITH BRITISH SECOND ARMY

Less than ten days after beginning on its mission of occupation and mili-
tary government in the Ruhr-Rhine area, the Division received orders for an-
other combat mission. Still under XVIII Corps control, the Division was to
travel north by motor to the Luneberg area. The XVIII Corps, which included
at this time also the 82nd Airborne Division and the 7th Armored Division,
was to attack across the Elbe, east of Hamburg, with the primary mission of
protecting the flank of the British Second Army. British units, after crossing
the Elbe northwest of the XVIII Corps, were to drive northeast to Wismar,
cutting off the Danish peninsula. Operations of the XVIII Corps were to be
under Second British Army control; administration and supply under Ninth
U.S. Army.

8th Crosses Elbe

Troops of the 13th Infantry began movement to the new area on April 26th,
completing the move before nightfall of the following day. On April 28th, the
13th was attached to the 82nd Airborne. On the day following, while troops of
the 82nd crossed the Elbe at Bleckede, troops of the 13th held the Walmsburg
sector of the Elbe River. By April 29th, remaining elements of the Division
and attachments had arrived in the Luneberg-Bleckede area. At 1800 on the
following day, the 121st Infantry was attached to the 82nd Airborne Division.
At 0100, May 1st, the 121st Infantry, with the 3rd Battalion of the 13th at-
tached, began crossing the Elbe over the pontoon bridge previously constructed
by 82nd Airborne Engineers.
Relieving elements of the 505th Parachute Regiment in the bridgehead
area during the night, troops of the 121st attacked northeast at 0800. The
enemy resisted with scattered small arms and light artillery fire. Chief opposi-
tion was encountered at Gulze, where 250 prisoners were taken after a brief
fight. Sixteen towns were taken during the day. In most of them, the enemy
offered only token resistance to the powerful force of 121st infantrymen, sup-
ported by the 644th Tank Destroyer Battalion and the 740th Tank Battalion.
Gains up to five miles were made, and 678 prisoners were captured.
During the afternoon, the 28th Infantry also crossed the Elbe to join the
attack. The 8th Reconnaissance Troop was attached to the 28th for this opera-
tion.

British troops, which had crossed the Elbe at 0200 on the previous day,
were advancing rapidly against light resistance. The enemy was believed in-
capable of anything more than token resistance to the Allied drive. Recon-

95

naissance flights detected a large-scale westward movement of German troops
and civilians north of the British and American advance, presumably fleeing
from the Russian armies.

Task Force Canham Rolls Forward

Task Force Canham, consisting principally of the 121st Infantry, 644th
Tank Destroyer and 740th Tank Battalion, and led by the assistant division
commander, swung into the attack at 0600, on May 2nd. The powerful mobile
force was further supported by the 56th Field and 83rd Armored Field Artil-
lery Battalions, a battery of the 445th Anti-aircraft Artillery Battalion, Com-
pany C of the 89th Chemical Battalion, Company C of the 12th Engineer Com-
bat Battalion and Company C of the 8th Medical Battalion.
With doughboys riding the tanks and tank destroyers, Task Force Canham
began rolling at 0600. Light initial resistance was brushed aside, and the pow-
erful 8th Division force swept northwestward virtually unopposed. Followed
closely as possible by the 28th Infantry and elements of the 13th, Task Force
Canham drove twenty-five miles before mid-day, halting only upon orders from
higher headquarters, when it reached Lake Schwerin. Here contact was made
with advance elements of the Russian armies of the north.

Schwerin Falls to 8th

More than a hundred cities, towns and villages, including the large air
base and city of Hagenow and the 1,000-year-old capital city of the province
of Mecklenburg, Schwerin, fell to Task Force Canham and other units of the
8th Division that day. All along the avenues of advance, large groups of enemy
troops awaited arrival of American units to which they could surrender.

German soldiers coming in to surrender as the 8th Infantry Division drives north
to meet the Russians beyond Schwerin, Germany.

96

Enemy Troops in Mass Surrenders

Roads were jammed with columns of prisoners. On foot, on bicycles and
horseback, in all types of horse-drawn and motor vehicles, troops of the de-
feated German armies were moving to the southwest. Men, with their women
and children, their animals and whatever worldly goods they could transport,
surrendered at the already over-crowded prisoner of war enclosures. The Sev-
enth Panzer Division drove into the 28th Infantry area in tanks to surrender.
Eight German generals were among the estimated 55,000 prisoners who sur-
rendered that day.

On the following day, all available troops were engaged in directing offic-
ers and men of the disintegrating wehrmacht into Division prisoner of war
enclosures. The convoys of motor vehicles, tractors and trailers, horse-drawn
carts and foot columns brought in more than 150,000 captives on May 3rd.
Among them were ten more generals, including the Third Panzer Army com-
mander and his subordinates. On the following day, another 39,500 prisoners
were counted, bringing the total number taken by the Division since crossing
the Elbe to slightly more than a quarter of a million.
Captured war material reached such huge proportions that much of it wasn’t
even counted. Panzer divisions obligingly delivered their tanks, armored ve-
hicles and ammunition to Division areas. At the Hagenow air base, a large
number of Luftwaffe places, some of them still crated, fell into the hands of
Division units. Vehicles of all kinds, both army and civilian, were picked up—
many of them to be later used in the transport of displaced persons and recap-
tured Russian prisoners of war from the Division area toward their homes. A
few officers and men of the 8th Signal Company received the surrender of five
German armored railroad trains.

German prisoners who surrendered to the 8th Infantry Division, Ninth U.S. Army,
near Schwerin, Germany.

97

Above: Scene in Schwerin, Germany, as German troops come in to surrender to
troops of the 8th Infantry Division.

German and Polish political prisoners freed from the Nazi concentration camp at
Wobbelin, Germany.

98

Concentration Camp

Near the town of Wobbelin, in the Division area, medical units uncovered
a concentration camp, where approximately 2,500 near-starved political pris-
oners still remained alive. These men were evacuated and cared for under
supervision of the 8th Medical Battalion, as were the patients in numerous
hospitals found in the Schwerin area. Several hundred emaciated bodies of
men who had been starved and beaten to death in the Wobbelin concentration
camp were unearthed and buried after funeral services in the town squares of
nearby communities. The civilian population was ordered to attend the buri-
als, and many German men and women were shown through the concentration
camp itself.

Final Victory

The 8th Division had fought its final battle in the European Theater of
Operations. In ten months of combat, the units of the Division had captured
316,187 prisoners of war and vast stores of enemy war material. The Division
had taken a major part in the Normandy, Northern France, Rhineland and
Central European campaigns. Enlisted men and officers of the Division killed,
wounded and captured during the ten-month period of combat totaled 13,293.
Non-battle casualties brought the total number of casualties above 18,000.
On May 4th, announcement was made of the final surrender of all German
troops in Holland, Denmark and northern Germany. At 0241 on May 7th, Colo-
nel General Jodl, a representative of the German High Command, signed the
unconditional surrender of all German land, sea and air forces in Europe, to
become effective at 0001, May 9th, 1945.

Brig. General Charles D.W. Canham and a party of 8th Division men link up with
the Russians east of Schwerin, Germany.

99

100

Typography, Engravings and Printing by

ARMY & NAVY PICTORIAL PUBLISHERS

Army & Navy Publishing Co., Bldg.
234 Main Street
Baton Rouge, Louisiana

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