After staring down Field Marshall Erwin Rommel at the Kaserine Pass, Ernie Harmon was reassigned as commander of the First Armored Division (aka “Old Ironsides”) – recently labeled “non-combat worthy” by the British. Harmon’s solution was to train, train, train. By Autumn the First A.D. had captured over 40,000 Nazi soldiers including six commanding generals. Its next mission would be one of the bloodiest of the war – the invasion of Italy.
From Norwich Matters:
Harmon wasn’t expecting much resistance when his division crept ashore and established a beachhead in Anzio in the fall of 1943. As is turns out, Adolf Hitler was personally annoyed by the move, and Harmon’s division was soon greeted by a force of 120,000, led by Hermann Goering and carrying explicit instructions to remove the “abscess of Italy.” Months of bloody combat ensued as Harmon and the Nazis traded artillery barrages the likes of which had not been seen since World War I. In spite of heavy casualties, Harmon kept his men motivated by leading from the front; he frequently took to the air in a bullet-ridden, single-engine Piper Cub airplane to survey enemy positions and personally direct artillery fire.
The First A.D. eventually broke out of the beachhead and, soon thereafter, liberated Rome from Nazi occupation. After having barely enough time to call on Pope Pius XII at the Vatican, Harmon was reassigned at the personal request of Generals Eisenhower and Omar Bradley. The tanks of the Second Armored Division’s “Hell on Wheels” would roll once again under Ernie Harmon’s command…
… this time in western Europe where it would face the Second Panzer Division at the Battle of the Bulge.
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NOTE: I’ll be at the university book store this Friday (January 27th) from 9am-1030am to chat with students and sign copies of the book. I’m looking forward to spending a few days on campus. Essayons! – Randy
Combat Commander: An Autobiography of a Soldier, E.N. Harmon with Milton MacKaye and William Ross MacKaye, Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1970.
Norwich Matters, Copyright 2011 by Randall H. Miller.