provided by Pete House
The Germans had a prisoner of war camp for officers south of Hammelburg, Germany, Stalag XIII-B. In it were about 1200 American Officers. Also held there were Serbian, Russian, British, and French POWS. Unknown to US Intelligence the camp also had an Officers’ Candidate School and major anti-tank training area. Hammelburg is approximately 120 km east of Frankfort am Main
The American Officers had been captured during the early days of the Battle of the Bulge around 19 December and had first been held at Stalag 9B, Bad Orb. They were transported by box car to Hammelburg January 10. Many were from the 28th Infantry Division’s 110th Infantry Regiment, and 106 Infantry Division’s 422nd and 423rd Infantry Regiments and 589th and 590st Field Artillery Battalions. Lt. Col. John Waters, General George Patton’s son in law, was one of the POWS. Lt. General George Patton was in command of the 3rd. Army.
On 25 March 1945, Gen. Patton ordered 4th Armored Division to send a task force to Hammelburg to liberate the US POWs there. Commanding Generals of XII Corps and 4th Armored Division wanted to send a combat command ( a strength of up 8,000 men and tanks.) General Patton refused. Plan was to leave assembly area south of Aschaffenburg late night 26 March, move eat under the cover of darkness, arrive Hammelburg ear4y next morning, 27 March, liberate POW, and return with these the same day.
Task Force Baum (named for Capt. Baum, the TF commander) left the assembly area 22:30 on 26 March with 53 armored vehicles (tanks, half tracks, jeeps) carrying 296 men. Ran into the enemy at Schweinheim (about two miles from the start.) Lost one tank, some men killed and wounded..
Departed Schweinheim 23:30 the same night. Reached Highway 26 four hours later at 02:30, continued east. German Army HO Berlin received word that US executed major break through near Aschaffenburg (could this have been Task Force Baum’ 53 armored vehicles?). First dawn the Task Force blasted through Laufach (should have been close to Hammelburg by this time.)
Task force ran into another road block at Lohr on the Lohr River. During this fire fight the task force lost one tank with men killed and wounded. After continuing on to Gemunden on the Saale River they lost two more tanks with more killed and wounded. The Germans were able to blow the critical bridge across the Saale River at 11:00. The task force then turned north following the west bank seeking another bridge to the east.
Crossed the Saale River at Burgsinn, headed east through Grafensdorf and at noon, 12:00, finally found highway 27 and turned south. The Germans had set up a road block just north of Hammelburg. In a major fire fight the task force lost 3 tanks, five half-tracks, truck loaded with much needed gasoline, more dead and wounded.
Task Force Baum broke through and attacked the POW Camp. Germans surrendered camp to senior American Officer (580) Col. Goode. Lt. Col. Waters and a party with a white flag went out to surrender to Capt. Baum. On route out, a German guard shot Waters. Although seriously wounded he was carried back into the camp to the Serbian POW Dispensary where he was treated by Serbian Army Doctors. He survived and was later liberated. The task force tanks rolled into the camp late in the afternoon.
The original plan was to bring out only 300 American POWS, however, 900 were eager to go. Darkness was closing in and after much confusion the task force began preparing for the trip back to the US lines. Reconnaissance units were sent out to find the best route to highway 27 south. As many POWS as possible got in or hung on to the sides of the armored vehicles. Some POWS decided to follow the task force on foot, some took off, and others returned to US compound.
The Germans took advantage of the time and set up anti-tank road blocks, mines, and infantry positions at all possible exits from the area. Capt. Baum had about 240 men left (out of 296 who started the night before.) He planned to move about 30 km before fuel would be expended, then destroy vehicles and head west on foot.
One Reconnaissance Unit lost two tanks at Hollrich along with dead and wounded. The main body lost 2 more tanks shortly after departure. They reached Hill 340 at 01:00 the following morning and proceeded to hill 427, where he arrived at 0230. Capt. Baum did not know that he was in the midst of a German anti-tank gun range.
The task force reorganized and prepared to move out at first light in the morning of the 28th. Meanwhile the Germans had encircled the task force with Tiger Tanks, 88 mm anti tank guns, and infantry. At daybreak when the task force started to move all hell broke loose. Every vehicle was destroyed! All US men involved were either killed, wounded, captured, or recaptured. Task Force Baum was gone forever. Capt. Baum was wounded and carried back to the camp. He lived and was liberated in April. Few men actually made it back to the US lines at this time
The Germans rounded up all the POWS. The American POWS were marched south to get away from the advancing 3rd US Army. They walked for 37 days until liberated on 3 May. During this time they lived off the land or some food farmers gave them. The columns were both bombed and strafed during the march. Many were killed and wounded. The German guards left the POWS at Gars on the Inns River near the Austrian Border. At last they were free!
Stalags 9A, 9B, I 3B, and Berga am Elster Association Press
Editor Pete House
|Page last revised 11/23/2006