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03-07-2009, 07:58 PM
General Patton’s “Mystery Division”


12th AD "Mystery Divsion" moving fast towards the Rhine

The US Third Army had been given permission to cross the Rhine River by General Omar Bradley in March 1945 and Gen. Geroge Patton was determined that the first successful assault crossing should be carried out by his troops. On March 17, 1945, the 12th Armored Division after being reinforced was transferred or “loaned” from Gen. Alexander M. Patch’s Seventh Army to Gen. George A. Patton’s Third Army. The “Hellcats” as the 12th were known, were commanded by Maj. Gen. Roderick R. Allen and were going to join Gen. Patton and his “Blood and Guts” Third Army. Thus on March 17, 1945 the “Mystery Division” was being born as all shoulder patches and unit vehicle markings were ordered removed by Gen. Patton and thereafter the 12th Armored Division became known only as the his “Mystery Division.” Unnamed to the press in Patton's pre-operational press conference that March the “Hellcats” were only referred to as his "spearhead" armored division. "The 12th Armored Division “Hellcats” would spearhead Gen. Patton’s drive to the Rhine

12th AD Halftracks and Troops form up in a convoy ready to move out at dusk

Patton intended the Mystery Division to be used as a “secret tool” to confuse the enemy and would make quick moves at night. Gen. Patton would often pull them from the front, and being very mobile, would send the “Hellcats” miles up or down the front. The 12th Armored would travel at night in convoy using “cat eyes” for the vehicle’s lights. These were light covers with slits about three inches long installed over the front and rear lenses. Drivers had to very carefully follow the cat eyes of the vehicle in front of him. He usually could not see the road or anything else. They called the “Hellcats” the Mystery Division because they had to take all of their insignia off of their tanks so that the Germans didn't know what division they were. Patton’s hope was that Hitler would think, “Where did that army come from?” and “How many armies do the Americans have in the field?”


The initial order was received at 0230 hours on March 17, 1945. It ordered the 12th Armored to move from the area near St. Avold to the vicinity of Siereck Les Baines and to be attached to XX Corps under the Third Army. The 12th Armored quickly moved into jump off position at Trier, Germany with the mission of driving a spearhead on the Rhine River, under strict security. The 12th was ordered to pass through the 94th Infantry Division and to reach for the Rhine, leaving enemy strong points for infantry following in its wake to mop up, and secure crossing in the vicinity of Worms, Germany. At noon, March 19, the axis of advance was shifted southeast; the drive now pointed toward Ludwigshafen. Orders from XX Corps were: "Keep going. When you hit the Rhine, turn south and look for a bridge which is still intact in Ludwigshafen." If there were no bridges, the division was to proceed south as far as Germersheim. Patton's dash which started near Trier, Germany, on March 18 would reach the Rhine River in less than three days. The total six-day operation rivaled any mission in the ETO for speed and accomplishment. Germans threw everything they had into the battle in an effort to save their precious Rhineland, but the spearheading Hellcat Division couldn't be stopped. In less than three days, the 12th reached the Rhine; in three more, it occupied the important river cities of Ludwigshafen, Speyer and Germersheim. “Hellcat” soldiers after the war commented that “Gen Patton got the credit, and the 12th Armored Division did the work,"

12th AD Soldiers with German POW's

From start to finish the drive across the Palatinate was a test of human endurance. Progress was about 25 miles per day. Movement was so rapid that prisoners were merely disarmed and sent back to the west. Thousands of prisoners and pieces of enemy equipment were captured. The route was littered with smashed small arms, panzerfausts, artillery, and every type of German army vehicle from Volkswagens to Tiger tanks. Within three days, the Division had streaked from Trier, Germany, across the Saar Palatinate to the Rhine River. During that period over 7,000 Nazis were taken prisoner and numerous horses, wagons, supply trains, tanks, anti-aircraft guns, artillery pieces, rocket guns and trucks were seized or destroyed.

German POW's marching to the rear of the 12th AD advance

En route to their objectives that first day, "Hellcats" captured an estimated 2500 prisoners, three ammunition dumps, a regimental supply train, 400 horses, 700 trucks and wagons in addition to an enemy hospital, equipment and German patients. The bulk of prisoners and materiel was taken near Birkenfeld and Baumholder. March 20 was another field day for the "Mystery Division." Shoving ahead from Birkenfeld to Ramsen, the 12th scooped up another 2200 PWs, killed an estimated 1000 Nazis, destroyed a six-car train and blasted 20 tanks, 20 anti-aircraft guns, 15 artillery pieces and 50 wagons. Next day, 1000 more prisoners were taken, two enemy planes knocked down and 21 rocket guns captured. On March 21 the Mystery Division of General Patton's 3rd Army had taken the spotlight in the ETO by reaching the Upper Rhine, and entering the important chemical city of Ludwigshafen, Germany. The same armored division, which had played an anonymous role in the drive from the Moselle River, continued its spectacular race that had turned the German stand in the Saar Palatinate into a disastrous debacle. The Mystery Division reached the Rhine River and discovering all bridges blown in the Nazis retreat, erected two pontoon bridges near Worms and the 12th Armored Divsion crossed the Rhine on March 24, 1945.


Soldiers of the 12th AD by a knocked out German assault Gun

Forward elements of the division reached the Rhine at 2330, March 20. First to approach the river was a platoon from Co. B, 56th Armd. Inf. Bn., led by Lt. Charles Peischl, Nazareth, Pa. The following day CC A entered Ludwigshafen and, with a portion of the 94th Inf. Div. which had been mopping up in the Hellcats' wake, cleared the city. Climax of the drive came March 24 when CC B took Speyer, and CC R, commanded by Col. Richard A. Gordon, Fort Smith, Ark., entered Germersheim. Simultaneously, the 92nd Cav., which had led the Hellcat thrust much of the way, contacted the 14th Armd. Div. driving up from Seventh Army territory to the south. When Troop D, 92nd Cav. Recon, raced into one German town, all streets were blocked by enemy vehicles. Ordered not to fire unless fired upon, Lt. Roane C. Figg, Disputanta, Va., entered cafes and restaurants and ordered the beer drinking drivers to move their vehicles. Assuming their force had been captured, the surprised Germans obeyed. Troop D rolled through the town, leaving a bewildered enemy behind. On another occasion, this same troop by-passed a retreating enemy column, which had been holding up its advance. The Germans waved gaily until they recognized the swift unit as American. Nazis crashed their vehicles into ditches in an effort to get out of the way. Maintaining a blistering pace, the 12th caught the Germans flat-footed all the way across the basin.


Another German Tank put out of action during the 12th AD advance

At noon, March 24, the 12th Armored Division reverted from control of XXI Corps and the 3rd Army back to the Seventh Army, it's days as Patton's "Mystery Division" were at an end. Although efforts to secure a bridge over the Rhine were unsuccessful—all spans between Ludwigshafen and Germersheim had been blown by the retreating German forces—but all other phases of the operation were outstanding achievements. The enemy was cleared from the Saar Palatinate, losing more than 75 per cent of infantry elements in the 23 divisions which comprised the First and Seventh German Armies. A total of 7,211 POW's went into the cages.

12th AD Tanks moves across the Rhine River on 3-24-45

The 12th Armored Division had distinguished itself as Gen. George Patton's "Mystery Division" spearheading his 3rd Army across the Saar Palatinate to the banks of the Rhine River. The Hellcats days as General Patton’s “Mystery Division” were at an end. The Hellcats crossed the Rhine early March 28, 1945. Four days previously the division had reverted to Seventh Army and now was to spearhead Gen. Patch's forces across southern Germany into the heart of the Nazis' vaunted National Redoubt. After reorganizing near Diedesheim, the 12th Armored spanned Germany's principal river on two bridges erected at Worms. Operating under XV Corps and later under XXI Corps, the Hellcat Division pointed its guns towards Wurzburg and began another swift drive that swept aside all resistance. On its return to Seventh Army, the division blazed a route through the Redoubt into Austria. The “Hellcats” became one of the two most feared armored divisions on the Western Front. The other outfit was the fabulous 4th Armored.


Order of Battle
12th Armored Division
1944-45 European Theatre of Operations

HQ 12th Armored Division
* Combat Command "A"
* Combat Command "B"
* Combat Command "R"
Tank Battalions
23rd Tank Battalion
43rd Tank Battalion
714th Tank Battalion
Infantry Battalions
17th Armored Infantry Battalion
56th Armored Infantry Battalion
66th Armored Infantry Battalion
Divisional Artillery
* 493rd Armored Field Artillery Battalion
* 494th Armored Field Artillery Battalion
* 495th Armored Field Artillery Battalion

* Divisional Troops
* 152nd Armored Signals Company
* 92nd Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron (Mechanised)
* 119th Armored Engineer Battalion
* 82nd Armored Medical Battalion
* 134th Armored Ordnance Battalion
* Divisional Admin Troops

12th Armored Divsion M-5 Light Tanks

sources: http://www.12tharmoreddivision.com/