The book Paths
of Armor describes the events of the day:"Next
morning, 12 April, the tankers and infantrymen
struck toward the Elbe. [...]
The roaring column churned on toward Tangermunde.
The men did not have to be told that the Elbe
River bridge at Tangermunde was one of the most
important bridges in the world that day. They
knew that if the bridge could be taken, the
Fifth Armored would roll into Berlin without
waiting for orders or strategy.
The married C Cos. with Lt. Robert E. Nicodemus'
platoon leading, trundled into Tangermunde at
noon, shooting as they rolled. The town was
defended by four German battle groups, totaling
800 men with hundreds of panzerfausts. These
groups were supported by heavy flak guns firing
from across the river. One of the battle groups
came from the German officer candidate school at
The tanks thundered through the first four
blocks in Tangermunde without a shot being fired
at them. Suddenly the town's sirens began to
wail. It was the signal for the Germans to start
shooting with everything they had. Panzerfausts
rained on the tanks, some hitting, others
exploding against buildings and in the streets.
German burp guns splattered against tank
turrets. Sgt. Charles H. Householder, C Co.,
34th Tank Bn., was in the lead tank, followed by
Sgt. Leonard B. Haymaker's tank. As the Germans
lobbed panzerfausts at them. the two sergeants
started blasting the buildings with their tank
guns. Their machine guns poured tracers into
basement windows and through doors. Sgt.
Householder stood high in his turret, firing his
tommy gun while his gunner operated the machine
gun and 76 mm. While thus exposed, Sgt.
Householder was mortally wounded by sniper fire
and his tank was disabled by a panzerfaust.
Sgt. Haymaker moved up and took the lead. His
tank, too, was hit by a panzerfaust and burst
into flames. The sergeant bailed out and then
realized his crew could not escape under the
heavy fire. Firing his tommy gun in short
bursts, he moved toward the enemy, covering his
crew while they withdrew, letting the Germans
concentrate their fire on him. Sgt. Haymaker was
killed as his crew escaped. The medics ran to
the knocked-out tanks when they were hit. T/5
John A. Dunleavy left the shelter of a building
and dashed up the street to Sgt. Householder's
tank. He dragged a wounded tanker to the rear of
the tank and administered first aid. Picking up
the wounded man, he started down the street. As
he crossed an intersection Dunleavy was severely
wounded by an enemy sniper. The medic was
wounded a second time as he continued to drag
the tanker to safety.
Pvt. Robert G. Milliman also went to Sgt.
Householder's tank, pulled two wounded tankers
from the turret and carried one to the safety of
a building. He returned for the second man and
was carrying him to safety when he was mortally
wounded by sniper fire. Meanwhile, Lt.
Nicodemus' tank moved forward. At an
intersection the cross street was jammed with
German infantrymen with rifles and bazookas.
Pfc. Luther A. Parham, firing the machine gun
mounted in his tank, killed or wounded 75
Germans, relieving most of the enemy pressure in
C Co., 46th Infantry Bn., had dismounted and had
begun cleaning out the building one by one as
they moved toward the bridge. Reaching an
intersection, the 2nd Platoon was stopped by
sniper and bazooka fire from a house facing
them. The platoon leader, Lt. Edgar D. Swihart,
worked his way toward the house 150 yards away.
S/Sgt. Raymond J. Caplette covered him from the
other side of the street. Dodging from doorway
to doorway, they both got within 50 yards of the
house. Caplette fired four bazooka rounds into
the house and Lt. Swihart rushed the remaining
distance, entered the house and killed one
German bazookaman and two riflemen. [...]
Capt. Henry P. Halsell, CC A S-3 Air officer,
watched the fight from outside the city and
wrote this description:
"I was with CC A's command post about a mile and
a half outside Tangermunde. We were off the road
on both sides, and my halftrack was on the left
and nearest the town, The 47th Field Artillery
Bn. was across the road from me and the 71st
Field Artillery was behind me. The 557th Field
Artillery's 155 mm. self-propelled guns were
going into position further back. The weather
was beautiful, with the sun shining brightly.
"The artillery was firing every 30 seconds and I
could see the time fire burst over the bridge
site and the red dust of brick rise from the
town after each volley. Some of the artillerymen
were digging foxholes, for two planes had come
over us very low during the morning and some
artillery had landed near the engineers, on the
right of the road nearer the town. The vehicles
and guns, deployed in the flat fields, reminded
me of desert maneuvers.
"I looked toward the town, clearly visible, and
noticed a commanding rise of ground on the left
of the road and the headquarters of the 46th
Infantry Bn. on the road. I saw several people
come over the hill and picked up my field
glasses to watch. It was hard to tell what was
going on, for there was little traffic on the
radio. Gen. Regnier was in the town with Lt.
Col. Burton at this time.
"The people on the hill proved to be German
soldiers waving white handkerchiefs. As I
watched, four men from the 46th Infantry Bn.
detached themselves and went across the wheat
field toward the Germans. As they went, more and
more Germans popped out of foxholes, wanting
only to surrender. I guess this must have gone
on for at least an hour and that as many as 120
surrendered. The assault guns were in position
at the base of the hill, firing over their
heads. Perhaps they had a lot to do with the
Germans' surrender. [...]
Back in town, as the married C Cos. of the 34th
Tank Bn. and the 46th Infantry Bn. continued to
fight their way from house to house, the married
A Cos. moved up, circled and attacked the town
from the northwest, with two platoons of
infantry supported by tanks. Panzerfausts
exploded around the tanks and German snipers
kept heavy fire on the surging infantry, but
nothing could stop the drive. The married A's
pushed into the town, and were halfway into the
center of the city when two German officers were
captured. They told Capt. Devault that the
garrison wished to surrender. All firing ceased,
except for occasional sniping shots by the
fanatic SS, and negotiations began between Lt.
Col. Burton and the German commander, with Capt.
Georgi acting as interpreter. Agreement was made
for the garrison to surrender at 1745.
"When the German officer went back through the
city, he kept telling civilians that it was all
over. The people cheered and cried with joy,"
Capt. Georgi said.
The entire problem of attacking the town had
been made extremely difficult because of 500
American prisoners of war the Germans were
holding in the city. They were in two groups.
One group of 300 had been liberated by the
married A and C Cos. when they drove into the
town, but 200 more were still in the city under
SS guard. The SS troops were making their stand
in the very area where the Americans were
While the officers awaited an answer to their
surrender terms, they heard the mighty roar of
explosions. During the negotiations the word
came to them that the Tangermunde bridge, the
span that they had hoped would carry them on a
last lap to Berlin, had been blown. Haste was no
longer necessary now, and the most important
consideration was to get the American prisoners
The surrender negotiations hit a snag, however.
"The German colonel in charge of the city wanted
to surrender," Lt. Col. Burton said. "He went to
his subordinates, and most of them wanted to
surrender too. But some of the SS troops said
no, that they would defend the city. The mayor
pleaded with them, but they still refused. When
the German colonel demanded that they follow his
orders to surrender and turned to leave, one of
the SS men shot him. The colonel hit the ground,
crawled along the ditch and escaped. Lt. Ellis
R. McKay, Sgt. Woodrow Wilkinson and T/Sgt.
Harry Gannon went forward and helped bring him
Capt Georgi (left) and Lt. Col. Burton with the German commanders of Tangermunde. The Colonel on the right was shot by SS troops shortly after this picture was taken (unconfirmed picture via Mrs Susan Olney)
The men wanted nothing better than to blow down
the town, for two tankers had been shot while
negotiations were in progress, but the American
prisoners were the deciding factor in reopening
negotiations for the last time, The SS were
contacted once more and firing ceased again at
2100. Lt. Col. Burton, Major Fuller, Capt.
Georgi and Lt. Anesty made up the American team.
"The SS captain was arrogant," said Capt. Georgi.
"He said he refused to surrender the town
because he held the 200 Americans and he knew we
wouldn't attack for fear of killing them. I
reminded him that the town was also full of
civilians and that he was in no position to
bargain for anything. Lt. Col. Burton told him
flatly to deliver the Americans safely to our
lines by 2230, and in return we would allow the
civilians until 2300 to clear the town. Then we
were going to blow it apart."
This agreement was made, and at 2230 on the dot
the Americans were brought to the combat
command's lines. Civilians were streaming out of
the town to the outlying hills. The SS still
wanted to fight, and CC A was glad of it.
At 2315 the combat command was to begin its
systematic destruction of the city with its big
guns, Every gun and mortar was turned on the
town. The tank companies--34 tanks--were lined
up outside the city. Mortars and assault guns
were put in place. The tank destroyers brought
up their big 90 mm. guns. Three battalions of
artillery, the 47th and 71st battalions of 105
mm. howitzers and the 557th battalion of 155 mm.
self-propelled guns were alerted to fire.
The destruction started on schedule. For almost
an hour the earth trembled as the combined guns
tore the city apart. Houses caved in and streets
erupted. By 2400 the city was dead. The men
firing the guns thought with grim satisfaction
of the SS-troops still in the city. Everyone
else had fled.
During the barrage Capt. Biederman, A Co., 34th
Tank Bn., commander, was wounded for the third
time during the division's campaign and was
evacuated. Lt. Otho Thomas took charge of the
Meanwhile, Task Force Jones was waging another
fight for a railroad bridge north of Tangermunde;
it was the sole remaining Elbe River bridge in
the division's zone. By 1800 the married B Cos.,
under Lt. Col. Jones, had started their attack
on the railroad span. It was the start of a
dramatic, beautifully executed fight by the
Lt. Col. Jones moved his companies rapidly
through Ostheeren, Mitern, Langensalzwedel and
Staffelde to the main road junction west of the
bridge. A German infantry company, well dug in,
was waiting for the married B Cos. as they moved
toward the bridge.
The tanks deployed and started blasting the
dug-in Germans. The 46th infantrymen piled out
of their halftracks and began to work their way
forward. The area above the bridge was white
with air bursts as the artillery laid time fire
to drive the Germans away and prevent them from
blowing it. The infantry ploughed on, using
marching fire to clear out the defending
Germans. Lt. Champ Montgomery's leading platoon
had the bridge almost within their grasp and
were only 60 yards away when it exploded in
their faces. Lt. Col. Jones immediately recalled
his forces and pulled back to Staffelde and
In the fight the German company defending the
bridge was completely destroyed, with 110 killed
and 24 taken prisoner."
S/Sgt Robert G. Wold went missing most likely
during the fighting in Tangermunde and
is commemorated at the Margraten Wall of the