Purple Heart 1st Lieutenant
Benjamin T. Potts

1912 - December 12, 1944

Winchester, Virginia - Huertgen Forest


 

 

Benjamin T. Potts was born in 1912 and was from Winchester, Frederick County, Virginia. He joined the army on 31 May 1941. According to his enlistment card he was at the time of his enlistment either a oboe player in a band or a Automobile part clerk.

After training he was attached to the 81st Tank battalion, 5th Armored Division. At Christmas 1942 he was attached to the Service Company. Later he became a platoon commander with D Light Tank Company.

The 5th Armored participated in the battles in France after the Normandy landings. In August, the Allies had broken out of the Normandy beachheads and were on the heels of the fast retreating Germans. In a few weeks, Large parts of France and Belgium would be liberated. Sometime in August 1944, Lt. Potts had one close call.




 

D Company

81st Tank Battalion

5th Armored Division

The 81st Tank Bn was fighting through France when it faced stiff resistance in the French town of Maigne, with many snipers shooting at the Americans. Heavy fighting continued during the day during which the 81st tanks demolished the town. The unit history states:

"During the fight Private Al Sherbing, who kept a watchful eye on the radios in the Battalion Headquarters was wounded. The medical peep, while evacuating Sherbing, was hit by sniper fire and the driver killed, the first death of the Battalion. Although the peep displayed a large Red Cross flag, the sniper kept firing. Sherbing was hit again and died shortly thereafter.

Later in the night Lieutenant Benjamin Potts from "D" Company drove through Maigne in a peep. As he turned a corner in the town a German soldier fired at him from the doorway of a burned out house. Immediately another shot rang out across the street. The sniper's quick shot missed Lieutenant Potts, but the FFI soldier, who had fired from across the street, didn't miss the German."

In December 1944, the division found itself in the fighting of the Huertgen forest.

Again the unit history:

"A portion of the west bank of the Roer River was still in German hands and it was to be the job of CCB to clear the enemy from their position in the vicinity of Winden. A platoon of tanks from each of the medium companies moved up to the Huertgen Forest under cover of darkness that night. The following day the remainder of the Battalion made the march, stopping to bivouac in the forest about a mile west of Kleinhau. This was to be principally an infantry fight, with support of tanks, and although the infantry and tanks worked together it was not in the old familiar married formation.

Battalion headquarters, and the major portion of the tanks, remianed in the forest during the operation. The orders received from Headquarters CCB were "to be prepared to displace forward in order to assist the 15th A.I.B., repel counter-attacks, or reinforce artillery fire." "D" Company would remain under CCB control in order to furnish light tank esorts to the service elements.

The forest was very muddy. Many of the trees had been destroyed by the artillery of the troops that had cleared the forest. Almost all of the trees had their upper branches blown off, and many were badly cut from artillery shrapnel. At first the road leading to the area was very difficult to traverse, as it was a mire of deep mud, but as the days passed by the weather grew colder and the mud froze.

The first night spent in the forest was very dark, and the steady breeze made the weakened trees creak and groan. Near midnight one of the larger trees bloke off at a bad cut near its base and crashed down onto a large tent being used by the I&R platoon. Two men were killed by the tree and two others, Private Yurko and Sergeant Romich, badly injured.

Early in the morning a platoon of tanks from each of the meduim companies moved forward with the 15th Infantry. While moving up to the line of departure, about a mile east of Kleinhau, the advancing force received very intense and accurate artillery and mortar fire. Two tanks from "A" Company hit mines and were disabled. A great many light casualties also were incurred. Initially eight o'clock had been set as the jump-off time from the line of departure, but this was soon changed. The hostile fire had so delayed the tanks and infantry that the attack was postponed for another day.

The hostile fire continued intermittently for the rest of the day, particularly along the road to the front. In order to get supplies of ammunition and food up to the front the light tanks were used in place of trucks. Artillery and mortar fire would be much less damaging to the tanks than to the trucks. Intense artillery and mortar fire made it impossible for trucks, peeps or other thin-skinned vehicles to haul badly-needed supplies up to the front. The 81st Tank Bn.'s D Co. was called on to do the job with its light tanks. Lt. Benjamin T. Potts had the men in his platoon load rations, water and clothing on the rear decks of their tanks and they started toward the forward positions.

In the darkness they missed the guide who was to show them where to unload the supplies. Going beyond the outposts, they went into territory still held by the enemy. Fired on by small arms and mortars, they turned around and started back up the road.

Going back, they found their route around two knocked-out Shermans was now blocked by a light tank from their platoon which had hit a mine. Climbing out of the turret, Lt. Potts got in front of his tank and started to lead it between the two Shermans when it, too, struck a mine. The explosion killed him and seriously wounded his driver, T/4 Peter J. Thauwald."

the fighting in the Huertgen forest was particular fierce and volatile. It apparently was not possible to recover Lt. Potts body as he is listed missing in action and is commemorated at the Margraten Wall of the Missing.


Margraten, The Netherlands

See Also:

Other casualties of the 5th Armored Division buried in The Netherlands

Sources and Acknowledgements:
Rick Stilley of www.5ad.org
History of the 81st Tank Battalion
Paths of Armor

Directions to Margraten American Military Cemetery

Posted 24 May 2006


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This website is dedicated to the men and women who died and/or are buried in The Netherlands during World War II.

 

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