World War II: The 83rd “Thunderbolt” Division of the U. S. Army Infantry crossed the English Channel to Normandy in June 1944. It fought through the Hedgerows, across France and into Germany, including the Battle of the Bulge.
In March 1945, the 83rd received orders to turn east and race toward Berlin.
The 83rd had to move fast, so its commanding general ordered his soldiers to “utilize to the fullest extent” commandeered German vehicles.
The Division was nicknamed “The Rag-Tag Circus” by wartime correspondents because of its resourceful commander, Major General Robert C. Macon, who ordered to add the division’s transport anything that moved; “no questions asked.”
They commandeered anything on wheels––from bicycles to motorcycles to horses from the surrounding German countryside––to make a mad dash across northern Germany.
Lineman Frank Fauver was there:
“…the Germans were already on the run, so we commandeered anything that had an engine and that would run…. They called us the Rag-Tag Circus because when you looked at our convoy you couldn’t tell if it was German or American.”
On motorcycles, cars, buses and Tiger tanks, the Thunderbolts raced. They had a fire engine with a banner reading, “Next Stop: Berlin.” Those fellows even captured an Me-109 fighter. And found someone to fly it!
At first glance, it really was hard to tell if it was an American or German division. Fauver tells a great story:
“One day when we were moving, we saw a German command car off to our rear. They were really making hay and when they came past us, I hollered ‘Germans!’ Then somebody fired just over their heads instead of shooting at them. Well, that got their attention. They thought that we were Germans but they took a second look at us and realized that the convoy that was moving was not German. So we commandeered their car, disarmed them, put them in the convoy, and took them with us, because we didn’t have time to take prisoners.”
One of Germans was a general.
In fourteen days the 83rd covered 280 miles, freed 75,000 Allied POWs and liberated several concentration camps. The papers called them “crack troops of the 83d,” and “ace shock troops,” but to those watching them it was “The Rag-Tag Circus.”
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