Of all the U.S. Army units to serve in Czechoslovakia during 1945, none was as combat experienced as the 1st Infantry Division. From the assault landing at Oran, Algeria on 8 November 1942 to V-E Day in north-west Czechoslovakia on 8 May 1945, the “Big Red One” spent an astonishing 443 days in combat across two continents.
Since I was a kid one of my all time favorite WWII movies was "Patton." For those of you who have spent the past half century living under a rock the film, originally released in 1970, is not only about one of the most iconic and controversial Generals in U.S. Army history, but also starred George C. Scott, who deservedly won an Academy Award for his portrayal of U.S. Army Four Star General George S. Patton.
Now, there is no question the film is far from perfect.
Prologue – Plzen, Czech Republic, Saturday 6 May 2000,
On this warm sunny day, I stood among several hundred people who had gathered on Husova Street; several blocks from Plzen’s Republic Square. 55 years ago on this very day, soldiers of the U.S. 16th Armored Division had rolled into Plzen and liberated its people from six oppressive years of German occupation (pictured here - Photo Courtesy of Jaroslav Peklo). Later on that same day, other soldiers from the U.S. 97th and 2nd Infantry Divisions had arrived to help secure the city.
Holocaust survivor Ernie Gross, age 83, and U.S. Army WWII veteran Don Greenbaum, age 87, were able to meet late last year in Philadelphia some 66 years after they unwittingly shared a day at a place and time in history that few people would ever want to be; Dachau concentration camp in April of 1945.
On April 29, 1945 Greenbaum was a G.I. in U.S. General George S. Patton's Third Army when the Third Army reached Dachau and its surviving victims.
In World War Two’s waning days, during the fall of 1944, Adolf Hitler ordered up one last role of the dice designed to stave off final defeat. This plan sought to punch through the densely forested, hilly, but lightly guarded Ardennes and reach Antwerp – thereby cutting off numerous Allied armies in a massive pocket similar to what his armies had accomplished four years prior.
German plans called for Sepp Dietrich’s Sixth SS Panzer Army to lead the assault through the Ardennes; as the northern army of the three German assault army’s.
The failed Axis offensive at Kasserine Pass meant that by March of 1943 the Axis were doomed in North Africa. The Axis were trapped between two powerful armies and reliant on a logistical chain perpetually in crisis, as the Allies enjoyed overwhelming naval superiority and new air bases in Algeria and Libya to launch attacks on Axis shipping. The Axis had maneuvered a quarter of a million soldiers and huge stores of equipment and supplies into a dead end. General von Arnim, commanding Army Group Afrika, actually surmised the odious Axis supply situation meant U.S.