63rd Armored Infantry Battalion (AIB)
The 63rd Armored Infantry Battalion sprang from the first battalion of the 55th Armored Infantry Regiment, which was created as part of the 11th Armored Division at Camp Polk, Louisiana, on August 15, 1942. On September 20, 1943, at Camp Barkeley Texas, the 2nd Battalion of the 55th Armored Infantry Regiment became the 21st Armored Infantry Battalion and the 1st Battalion became the 63rd Armored Infantry Battalion.
At the battalion’s activation the commander was Lieutenant Colonel John W. Brady of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida and the executive officer was Major Carlton H. Sheely of Dallas. At Camp Polk, the men trained and also participated in the Third Army’s Louisiana-Texas Maneuvers in 1943. At Camp Barkeley, the 63rd AIB troops trained in September-October of 1943. Primarily, they fired for record on small-arms ranges.
In the fall of 1943, the 63rd AIB and the rest of the 11th Armored Division moved to the Army’s Desert Training Center near Needles, California. Training was rigorous for the division, which was based at Camp Ibis.
From Camp Ibis, the 11th AD migrated farther west to Camp Cooke, California. The battalion sharpened its skills in night attacks and also participated in a huge Army-Navy show in San Diego titled “San Diego Attacks.”
After Camp Cooke, the “Thunderbolts” headed east to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey in September 1944. Soon afterwards, the division sailed for England. After a short stay in camps in Southern England, the 11th Armored was order to France. Departing from Southampton, the 63rd AIB crossed the English Channel uneventfully on December 16th and 17th and landed in Cherbourg, France.
The German Army under Field Marshal Gerd Von Rundstedt had launched a massive counterattack in the Ardennes Forest of Belgium. The attack bent and threatened to break the American lines in what would be called the Battle of the Bulge.
American commanders on the Ardennes Front desperately needed help in stopping the Germans. Helpers would include the 11th Armored Division. The Thunderbolts were ordered to hold the Meuse River line between Sedan and Givet.
The 63rd AIB was in Bricquebec, France when orders came. The men clambered into their vehicles and set off on a 500-mile dash to the battlefront. On December 24, 1944 the battalion was organized as part of Task Force (TF) Blue and commanded by Colonel Brady. Reportedly, the Germans were driving on the Meuse River.
The TF massed around Vireux-Molhain but the Germans had their hands full elsewhere. On December 26th the 4th Armored Division broke through and relieved Bastogne, where the 101st Airborne division and other Army units had been surrounded. The Thunderbolts were ordered to move up and protect Bastogne’s crucial lifeline … the Bastogne-Neuchateau Road.
On December 29th the 63rd AIB moved with Combat Command “A” (CCA) to Tronquoy, Belgium. Most of the battalion joined TF White, which attacked the Germans around Remagne and Chenogne. On December 30th the TF attacked northeast at Nimbermont to secure the Ourthe River line. Casualties were heavy and the Thunderbolts had to withdraw. The Thunderbolts attacked again on December 31st and captured Lavaselle as light snow fell. The Germans feared they would be trapped and withdrew northeast to the Orthe River.
Meanwhile, Company “A” of the 63rd AIB was still with TF Blue. On January 1st the company captured Rechrival despite a strong German counterattack. The companies in TF White were under strong enemy artillery, mortar, and rocket fire as well. The battalion held its positions on January 2nd until it was relieved by the 550th Airborne Infantry Battalion and withdrew to reorganize. On January 4th the battalion moved to near Sibret as reserve troops for the 17th Airborne Division. The battalion remained in reserve until January 11th.
After Bastogne was relieved, the American counter-punch in the Ardennes gathered momentum and the Germans began to retreat. On January 15th the battalion received orders to move to near Longchamps to relieve the 502nd Airborne Battalion. On the same day TF Sheely, which included companies “B” and “C” of the 63rd, captured Compogne.
The next day the TF moved against Houffalize, capturing the high ground near the town and then rejoined the battalion. The 63rd AIB went on the defensive until January 20th when it was apparent that the Germans were retreating eastward. TF Sheely moved forward on January 21st but progress was slowed by mine fields near Bouer. Company “B” dismounted and moved cross-country to Buret.
The battalion remained in reserve at Buret until early February. The men repaired and refurbished their weapons and equipment. The Germans had retreated beyond the Westwall, a thick belt of pillboxes, bunkers, and other strong points the Americans and British dubbed the “Siegfried Line”. Cracking the line was the Thunderbolts’ next objective.
On February 6th the 11th Armored attacked Hill 568 in the Siegfried Line. The 63rd AIB was in reserve with CCA. On February 9th the battalion relieved the 21st Armored Infantry Battalion at Heckhuscheid, Germany. The next day the battalion captured and dynamited 10 enemy pillboxes and captured 15 German soldiers near Hill 568.
On February 15th the battalion was relieved and ordered back to Belgium for rest and maintenance. The respite was short; the battalion was ordered to attack toward Reiff, Germany on February 18th. The enemy resisted with small arms, automatic weapons, mortar, and artillery fire. The battalion continued to advance and Reiff was taken on February 22nd.
The Germans were pulling back to defensive positions behind the Prum and Kyll rivers. The battalion remained in a defensive posture until early March.
On March 7th elements of the battalion were split between TF Brady and TF Ahee for an attack toward Andernach on the Rhine River. Kelberg was captured that night. The next morning, TF Brady resumed its drive for Andernach. It soon became apparent that enemy resistance was crumbling. The TF reached the Rhine on the afternoon of March 9th; there was German resistance but it was disorganized. Andernach was cleared of enemy troops on March 10th; the battalion bagged 2,500 German prisoners.
On March 14th CCA ordered the battalion to move to Thur for extensive maintenance of radios, vehicles, and weapons. The 11th Armored had a new objective; the historic cathedral city of Worms, south of Andernach on the Rhine. First and Third Army planned to converge at Worms thereby cutting off large numbers of Germans still west of the Rhine.
For the move against Worms, a new TF Brady was formed. It included the 63rd AIB minus companies “A” and “B”. It moved out on the afternoon of March 17th behind TF Ahee. German defenses consisted of roadblocks covered by mines and some sniper fire. On March 18th the movements continued. At Rhorbach, anti-tank, small arms, and automatic weapons fire slowed the columns. But the next day the Thunderbolts continued forward crossing the Nahe River despite stiffening enemy resistance.
On March 21st the battalion helped mop up remaining enemy resistance around an airfield south of Worms. Mopping up continued the next day and on March 23rd the battalion caught up on maintenance.
The battalion crossed the Rhine on March 28th and bore down on a new objective … Fulda. On March 29th TF Ahee and TF Brady crossed the main river at Hanau. German resistance was stronger than expected. One enemy force that attacked Company “B” was wiped out to the man. On the Thunderbolts rolled, passed Rothenberger, Roth, Gelnhausen, Breitenback, Eliedon, and on to Fulda. March had witnessed the complete breakdown and destruction of the German Southern Army Group’s 1st and 7th Armies. The 63rd AIB killed a reported 370 enemy soldiers and captured 2,883.
As April began, there was no known enemy front line. It was evident to the officers and men of the 63rd AIB that the Germans could not hold out much longer. The battalion drove deep and fast into Germany while enjoying strong air support. Nowhere was the Nazi army able to coordinate its defenses.
CCA, which included the 63rd AIB, roared through Grossender, Sigles, Gotthards, Obrnust, Lahrbach, and Hendathurm. TFs Brady and Ahee closed in on Frankenheim at midnight on April 1st. Another 300 German prisoners were taken on April 1st and 2nd.
On April 3rd CCA attacked Suhl where the Germans fought back hard with anti-tank, bazooka, small arms, and mortar fire. Nazi party and city officials had fled Suhl, leaving the city to be defended by a hastily organized Volkssturm (or home guard) of old men and teenage boys. Suhl quickly fell to the Americans who captured a quantity of ammunition and equipment plus five military hospitals containing 600 wounded German soldiers.
On April 5th CCA organized TF Sheely, which included Company “B” of the 63rd AIB. TF Sheely was to follow TF Pickett, then break away and capture Stutgerbach.
The division was now in the Thuringia Wald, a hotbed of Nazism. The population was estimated to be nearly 100% pro-Nazi. Even so, German resistance was light and scattered. On April 7th TF Brady, with Company “C” of the 63rd AIB, followed TF Ahee south from Suhl and arrived in Birchofried. On the Thunderbolts drove, to Neahof, Siegritz, and Themar before reaching the CCA objective … Hildburghausen. The town was taken before nightfall.
The next day the Germans counterattacked with a platoon but were driven away. On April 9th TF Brady moved through Wohlsbach, Veilsdorf, and Oberleuter. Enemy resistance was reported light. It was not until the Americans reached the Neustadt-Coburg axis that German fire included anti-tank guns.
On April 11th patrols found that the Germans had left Neustadt and TF Brady took the town. But Coburg became the focal point for German attempts to stop the Thunderbolt advance. The Nazis mustered about 1,000 panzer grenadiers plus some convalescent troops and stragglers. About 600 were sent forward while the rest stayed to defend the city itself. Morale was low among the Nazis who were short on heavy weapons. The Thunderbolts easily penetrated the outer defenses; the Germans retreated leaving Coburg for the Americans.
TF Brady left Neustadt and moved to Bieberbach on April 12th. There was no enemy front line anywhere on the division front and enemy resistance was slight. On April 13th TF Brady seized Weissenbrumm and Kulmbach without firing a shot.
The next objective was the old Bavarian city of Bayreuth, home of German composer Richard Wagner. It was taken easily. On the 67-mile drive into Bavaria several thousand more German prisoners were taken. From Bayreuth the division advanced on Grafenwohr, meeting little or no resistance on the way. Grafenwohr had been an important replacement center and an infantry school. The city also included a chemical weapons dump with more than 3 million rounds of chemical-filled ammunition.
The division drove farther south, Cham fell on April 22nd. Afterwards the Thunderbolts drove hard for the Austrian border. The Germans fought back at Regen but were defeated. Renchnach, Grafenau, and Freyung fell to the Americans. On April 30th the 63rd AIB was at Dandelsbrum. On May 1st the battalion, minus Company “A”, formed TF Brady and moved into Austria. Little enemy resistance was encountered. On May 5th Linz, Austria surrendered to the Thunderbolts. On May 6th TF Brady maintained outposts and roadblocks in Zwettl, near Linz. At 2:00 pm on May 7th the battalion got the order to stop firing on the Germans. The next day brought the good news: the Germans had surrendered. In World War II the 63rd Armored Infantry Battalion lost 118 men killed or fatally wounded in action. Another 342 were wounded and 464 injured.
63rd AIB Strength on December 1, 1944
980 Enlisted Men
3 Warrant Officers
63rd AIB Strength on June 1, 1945
1183 Enlisted Men
3 Warrant Officers
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