The Thunderbolt on the Move, 75 years ago

Just four days before VE-Day, a unit of late-model M4E8 (Easy Eight) Sherman medium tanks of the U.S. 11th Armored “Thunderbolt” Division are seen crossing the Muhl River near Neufelden, Austria, 4 May 1945. Note the exhausted tankers and open carton on C-rats on the front slope of the lead tank.

U.S. Signal Corps Photo now in the National Archives

Late to get into the war, the 11th AD landed in France on 16 December 1944 and saw their first combat just two weeks later defending the highway to Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge. Remaining in almost constant contact with the enemy for the next four months during which they suffered nearly 2,900 battle casualties, the Thunderbolt pierced the Siegfried Line, swept through the Rhine, and raced across Bavaria to Austria where it was thought the hardest cases of the SS would fight a last stand.

Instead, on 5 May 1945, the day after this picture was taken, units of the 11th liberated the Gusen concentration camp then swiftly moved on to the main camp at Mauthausen on the 6th. They had covered the 900 km from Bastogne through Germany and Austria in 126 days.

An M8 Greyhound armored car of the 11th Division entering the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria 6 May 1945.

As noted by the U.S. Holocaust Museum, “The division’s arrival prevented the SS guards from murdering thousands of concentration camp prisoners by dynamiting the underground tunnels and factories where the inmates had been forced to work.”

The 11th would remain in the area, where they helped process more than 19,000 prisoners, and would be disbanded 31 August 1945. The Thunderbolt was never reformed.

For more on the Army’s liberation on The Camps, see the CMH’s dedicated page full of resources on the matter. 

The Liberation of Major Nazi Camps 1944-1945 – Map is provided courtesy of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.