Bronze StarPurple Heart Staff Sergeant
Robert G. Wold

April 12, 1945

Cook County, Illinois - Tangermunde, Germany

 


Robert G. Wold was from Cook County, Illinois. Not much is known about him before he joined the 46th Infantry Battalion of the 5th Armored Division. He was a Staff Sergeant.

There is a possibility he was a S/Sgt with the 304th Infantry regiment, 76th Infantry Division, before he joined the 46th. the 46th Infantry was a battalion of Infantry soldiers trained in combat in cooperation with tanks. They would also be called Armored Infantry.

Early April, the Battalion had fought its way into Germany. The Rhine river was crossed and the American forces were in pursuit of the Germans towards the Elbe river.

 


 

46th Infantry Battalion

5th Armored Division
 

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 Brandenburg.[...]

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 that area.

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 imprisoned.

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 to safety,

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 to safety."
 


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 company.

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 married companies.

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 Langensalzwedel.

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 Missing
.


Margraten, The Netherlands

See Also:
Sgt Edward Fisher
Sgt Patsy Flamingo
Pvt Robert Milliman
S/Sgt Gilford Pulliam

Acknowledgements:
 

Sources:
5th Armored Division Association Website
Paths of Armor
After Action reports



Directions to Margraten American Military Cemetery

Posted 5 January 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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