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.
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.
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.