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Patton's Secret Strike Toward Hammelburg : March 1945

Updated on April 25, 2017
Mark Caruthers profile image

Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Arkansas Fayetteville in Geography & History.

Patton's Third Army Strikes Deep into Germany

The story begins in North Africa in February 1943, where the United States Army suffered a dramatic defeat to Rommel's Africa Korps at the Battle for Kasserine Pass. Among the many American prisoners taken in the battle were General George S. Patton's son-in-law, Lieutenant Colonel John K. Waters. Waters would remain a captive of the German Army for the next two years, in early 1945 he was sent to a POW camp near Hammelburg. At that time Patton's 3rd Army was blasting its way across Europe, and in early 1945 it was battling its way over the Rhine River toward Frankfurt. The 4th Armored Division, the vanguard of the 3rd Army, its iron fist, led the way for Patton's Army as it thrust deep into the heart of Germany. The 4th Armored Division led Patton's famous push to relieve the 101st Airborne Division at Bastogne, during the Battle of the Bulge, it was the first unit to reach the beleaguered outpost. Patton had done his best to keep abreast of his son-in-laws fate as he marched into Germany, and was aware that his son-in-law Waters was at Hammelburg, just forty miles away from the 4th Armored Division's spearhead into Germany. On the day that the Third Army crossed the Rhine River, Patton would write his wife informing her his army was headed toward his son-in-law's POW camp 80 miles east of Maintz on the Main River, which Patton's troops crossed on the 25th of March 1945. That day Patton wrote his wife again expressing hope of sending an expedition the next day to retrieve John. He knew if it failed, he would be severely criticized. But he believed the fear of criticism shouldn't prevent an attempt to save American prisoners of war. He expressed concern that they could possibly be murdered in the chaos surrounding the last days of the Reich.

Task Force Baum

Task Force Baum breaks through the German lines.
Task Force Baum breaks through the German lines. | Source
The American column had the new Sherman tanks with up to date long barrel 75mm cannons.
The American column had the new Sherman tanks with up to date long barrel 75mm cannons. | Source

John Knight Waters

Patton's son-in-law after the Second World War he would command American forces in the Pacific during the Cold War with the Soviet Union. He was capture by German forces during the Battle of the Kasserine Pass Feburary 1943.
Patton's son-in-law after the Second World War he would command American forces in the Pacific during the Cold War with the Soviet Union. He was capture by German forces during the Battle of the Kasserine Pass Feburary 1943. | Source

John Knight Waters (December 20,1906 - January 9,1989)

Patton's son-in-law would survive the war and become a U.S. Army four-star general and later would assume the command of the United States Pacific Army from 1964-1966. He would die at the age of 82. Waters was captured in Tunisia at Dejebel Lassouda when German forces attacked Sidi bou Zid near the Kasserine Pass in February 1943.

George S. Patton

Patton led the evolution of the tank in the American Army, he's standing near his tank in the First World War. The American Army use French tanks in the First World War due to the fact the United States didn't have a tank in its arsenal.
Patton led the evolution of the tank in the American Army, he's standing near his tank in the First World War. The American Army use French tanks in the First World War due to the fact the United States didn't have a tank in its arsenal. | Source
Patton at a victory parade after the end of the Second World War.
Patton at a victory parade after the end of the Second World War. | Source
Patton in North Africa in 1942 after Operation Torch.
Patton in North Africa in 1942 after Operation Torch. | Source
A young Patton in the First World War.
A young Patton in the First World War. | Source
A picture of Patton after the Second World War.
A picture of Patton after the Second World War. | Source

General George S. Patton (Old Blood and Guts)

General George Smith Patton, was born November 11, 1885 in San Gabriel California to a privileged family with an extensive military background. Patton would attend the Virginia Military Institute, and later attend the United States Military Academy at West Point. He would become a United States Army General, who commanded the Seventh Army in Sicily, and afterward the Third Army in the European theater of the Second World War. Patton's philosophy was leading from the front, and his ability to inspire his troops with vulgarity-ridden speeches for which he would become famous for, and attracted much attention upon him. His emphasis on rapid and aggressive offensive action proved effective on the battlefield. He was well known for his breakout into France after the Normandy landings in the summer of 1944. Patton was injured in a strange auto accident on a road outside Mannheim Germany, near the Rhine River on the 8th of December 1945. Patton was the only passenger hurt that cold day in what essentially was described as a "fender bender". He would die 12 days later on the 21st of December 1945, and buried at the Luxemburg American Cemetery and Memorial in Hamm, Luxemburg with other wartime casualties of the Third Army.

Patton near Aachen 1945

General Patton with the Supreme Allied commander Dwight Eisenhower and General Bradley meet in Aachen Germany 1945.
General Patton with the Supreme Allied commander Dwight Eisenhower and General Bradley meet in Aachen Germany 1945. | Source

The Secret Hammelburg Raid

The Hammelburg Raid is a dramatic story that featured a colorful cast of characters some famous, and some not so famous, raising serious questions of morality and purpose. The die was cast when Patton ordered the commander of the 4th Armored Division to assemble a force to rescue the prisoners at the POW camp in Hammelburg, Germany. A small select force was put together led by Captain Abraham Braum, a tough decorated tank officer, who was also Jewish, thus adding a personal risk in a plunge so deep behind German lines.

Captain Abraham Baum

Captain Abraham Baum led his task force on a death ride behind German lines which began March 26, 1945.
Captain Abraham Baum led his task force on a death ride behind German lines which began March 26, 1945. | Source

Captain Abraham Baum

Captain Baum was chosen to lead the raid on Hammelburg, on the 26th of March 1945. Task for Baum would consist of 16 Sherman tanks, a platoon of light tanks, 27 halftracks, 3 motorized assault guns, 7 jeeps, and a total of 300 soldiers. The largest problem facing Task Force Baum would be the lack of maps and the Volksstrum (the peoples storm). Announced officially on the 18th of October 1944, the Volksstrum was not part of the regular German Army, but was established by the Nazi party on the orders of Adolf Hitler. It consisted of males between the ages of 16 and 60 years of age who were not already serving in some military unit as part of a German Home Guard. The Volksstrum was part of the Nazi's attempt to overcome their enemies military strength by force of will, as they termed it Total War.

The Sherman Tanks

The Sherman tank nicknamed the "Ronson Can" due to the fact the were so easy to set fight to. Ranson lighter fluid was use in zippo cigarette lighters in the 1940s.
The Sherman tank nicknamed the "Ronson Can" due to the fact the were so easy to set fight to. Ranson lighter fluid was use in zippo cigarette lighters in the 1940s. | Source
Sherman tank on fight in the streets of Aachen Germany 1945, they were so lightly armored most German anti-tank weapons easily pierced their armor. German hand held anti-tank weapons such as the Panzer-Faust proved deadly to Allied tank crews.
Sherman tank on fight in the streets of Aachen Germany 1945, they were so lightly armored most German anti-tank weapons easily pierced their armor. German hand held anti-tank weapons such as the Panzer-Faust proved deadly to Allied tank crews. | Source

The Sherman Tank

The Sherman tank was the main battle tank for American Army during the Second World War. The Sherman tank burning in this picture just above was knocked out by the German anti-tanks weapon, the panzerfaust. The danger of using this weapon was the you had to get within 100 feet of your target putting yourself in extreme danger before it was effective.

The Panzerfaust

The Path to Hammelburg

The map showing  the path of Task Force Baum.
The map showing the path of Task Force Baum. | Source

The Plan

The plan was for the rescue force to strike 60 miles behind German lines toward Hammelburg, liberate the POW camp, and return back to American lines. Also along for the ride was one of Patton's most trusted aides, a former Texas Ranger Major Alexander Stiller, who would inform Baum that Waters was at Hammelburg only after they had breached the German lines.

The German Panzerfaust in action on the Battlefield

At the end of the war the German Army had tens of thousand of Panzerfaust a recoilless anti-tank weapon.
At the end of the war the German Army had tens of thousand of Panzerfaust a recoilless anti-tank weapon. | Source
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The Panzerfaust

Toward the end of the war when Germany had very few tanks left to defend their homeland, to offset that shortfall the German Army handed out Panzerfaust to their home guard which consisted mostly of young boys and old men it was inexpensive and very effective against even the Allie armies most heavy tanks. Task Force Baum would lose half its tanks to this weapon during the battle for Berlin the Red Army would take heavy losses to this weapon.

German Tank Destroyers enter Hammelburg

German tank destroyers with sloped armor and the 76mm long barrel cannon.  The German Sturmgeschutz III was their most effect tank killer used mostly on the Eastern Front.
German tank destroyers with sloped armor and the 76mm long barrel cannon. The German Sturmgeschutz III was their most effect tank killer used mostly on the Eastern Front. | Source
The Ferdinand armed with the deadly German 88mm cannon.
The Ferdinand armed with the deadly German 88mm cannon. | Source

German Tanks Destroyers

Bad luck for Task Force Baum when a battalion of tank destroyers showed up at Hammelburg, it would mean the end for Baum and his soldiers.

Raid On Hammelburg

The Raid on Hammelburg

On the evening of March 26, 1945 Task Force Baum began its heroic journey across and behind German lines. The battle to break through the front line meant fighting a tough battle against Volksstrum armed with panzerfaust in the town of Schweinheim. Baum's attack was so aggressive and penetrated so far behind German lines so quickly, the Germans thought it was a spearhead of a major American offensive. In response to Baum's violent attack German generals began to move all available infantry, artillery, and armor against Baum's small task force. Despite desperate resistance all along the forty mile trek, including battling against an elite company of tank destroyers, Task Force Baum would reach the POW camp at Hammelburg on March the 27th, but with only half of his forces. The task force was being shadowed by a German observation plane while advancing toward the camp. A German assault gun battalion lumbered into Hammelburg from the east just as Baum and his men approached from the west. A running gun battle erupted forcing Baum to take what prisoners he could and retreat back toward the American lines. Patton's son-in-law had been shot while attempting to make contact with Baum's forces, forcing them to leave him behind at the hospital in the POW camp. Overwhelming German forces had moved into the area and had cut off the retreat for Task Force Baum. Baum's small command fought to the last man, a small number of Baum's troops and freed prisoners would make it back to American lines. Baum was shot in the groin while trying to flee back to American lines and was captured by German forces. He joined Waters at the POW camp in Hammelburg, which was liberated on the 6th of April 1945, just nine days after the failed mission. After Baum was evacuated, Patton would promote him to major, and personally pin the Distinguished Service Cross on his hospital pajamas. Patton put a lid on the heroic actions of Task Force Baum to save him from further embarrassment.

The Storch

The German light reconnaissance aircraft the Storch which could take off from a very short landing strip.
The German light reconnaissance aircraft the Storch which could take off from a very short landing strip. | Source
Color photo of the Storch.
Color photo of the Storch. | Source

The Storch

The storch was the type of German observation plane was used by German forces to keep an eye on Baum's task force as it advanced toward Hammelburg. It was used in the rescue of Mussolini by Otto Skorzeny and his commandos because of its ability to take off on a very short runway. Toward the end of the war the German Air Force used the autobahn for take offs and landings due to the fact most of their airports had been destroyed.




Hammelburg Raid Patton 360

Sources

Baron, Richard. Raid: The Untold Story Of Patton's Secret Mission. Dell Publishing Random House Inc. 1540 Broadway, New York , New York,. 10036 1981

Schillare, Quentin W. An Example Of Late World War II Urban Combat In Europe. Army Command And General Staff ., Fort Leavenworth Kansas 1989.

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    • Mark Caruthers profile image
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      Mark Caruthers 2 years ago from Fayetteville Arkansas

      So true, that is why I didn't explore it further, just interested to see what you thought about the matter, just bad luck. It was fitting for him to be buried with him men near the field of battle.

    • lions44 profile image

      CJ Kelly 2 years ago from Auburn, WA

      I absolutely don't believe any of the Patton conspiracies. It was a car accident, plain and simple. The amount of personnel who would have been involved in such a complicated assassination makes this scenario unlikely. Also, he survived the car accident. Many conspiracy theorists conveniently forget that. Why take that chance?

      Patton went hunting in the days after he was dismissed. Why not do it then? It could have been an accidental shooting. No one around except for one or two other people. Makes for a juicy topic.

    • Mark Caruthers profile image
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      Mark Caruthers 2 years ago from Fayetteville Arkansas

      Thanks for the information. In my research I also found that Patton's death was clouded with mystery, could he have known too much about people in high places?

    • lions44 profile image

      CJ Kelly 2 years ago from Auburn, WA

      Good summary of the raid. I got to interview a survivor of the Raid and it was fascinating. He actually ended up Lt. Lyle Bouck (99th ID) for a time. But he said it hopeless. Anger was widespread. Totally unnecessary. Patton made a major blunder and he should be condemned for it.

      But in my research I found something I did not know. His daughter, Bea, was a very bad alchoholic and suffered tremendous emotional problems. Letters from his wife about her were taking a toll on Patton. And I believe now, that this was the impetus for the raid. So Patton was a loving dad behind all the "blood and guts." Unfortunately, it led to a lot of unecessary deaths.