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©2014, Aaron Elson



Dale Albee

712th Tank Battalion

©2014, Aaron Elson

Page 2

    Aaron Elson: Letís go up into the Battle of the Bulge.

    Dale Albee: Okay. Before that, we were in Dillingen and we pulled back across the river and made the run up in there.

    Aaron Elson: How were the light tanks on that 90- or 100-mile march? Iíve been told the medium tanks were all skidding off the road.

    Dale Albee: Same thing, because we had rubber pads on our light tanks, and rubber on ice, you know how they do. We skidded, but through the efforts of our damn good drivers we got darn near everything through. My platoon stopped at a barn. It was early in the orning; it must have been one or two oíclock, we were going to bed down for the rest of the night, and thatís when I got orders to report toÖI think it was the 359th battalion commander. And then we had to go up on the line, so we pulled out and went there.

    Aaron Elson: Is that when you went through Nothum?

    Dale Albee: Yes. We pulled through Nothum. I had orders to go up to a crossroad and contact this commander out of B Company.

    Aaron Elson: Jim Cary?

    Dale Albee: Thatís it. Let me write that down because Cary, I have a story on him. I was sailing down the road, and I noticed this German tank burning over in the ditch, and up ahead is a curve, and this captain stepped out and stopped me. And he said, "Where are you going?"

    I said, "Iíve got to go up to the corner and report."

    And he said, "If you do, youíre gonna be in enemy territory. Youíre on the front line now."

    I told him that I was supposed to come up, and he said, "Well, just pull on over here; we want you to guard the flank." I think Wiltz was over on the side there. So I pulled over there. And that night is the night that we had that firefight. The Germans went between us and the tank, and they had two columns, and the old German captain out there was hollering, "Donít shoot! Weíre Americans!"

    Aaron Elson: When you say the column went between you and the tank, were you outside sleeping?

    Dale Albee: Oh, no. We were in our tanks. [Walter] Galbraith, my gunner, was asleep, and it was my turn on guard, and I had a .50-caliber machine gun mounted on the turret of my tank. Between me and this burning German tank I could see this column moving, and they were wearing the Wehrmacht hat, with the brim. Americans donít wear brimmed hats, they wear the helmet. So I hollered to Galbraith. I opened up with my .50 and he jumped in on the coaxial .30, and we started firing. We got white tracer coming back at us. All of a sudden behind me I get white tracer coming at me too, and then my second tank starts red tracer. And what we had was two columns. One was between me and the burning tank and one was between me and my second tank. And then from out in the distance came this voice, "Donít shoot! Weíre Americans! Iím an American captain! Youíre killing your own men!"

    Americans donít fire white tracer. So we continued firing on them.

    Aaron Elson: But that must have made you think for a second.

    Dale Albee: No, uh-uh. You donít stop and think. See, in the first place, the minute you saw that first white tracer, as soon as I saw those caps, no American cap was gonna be out there with Germans and it had to be Germans to do it. Because they had that long brim on the Wehrmacht hat. So we just kept on fighting. And then later on they gave up and came in. I forget how many we captured and how many we killed, but this was a German captain that could speak English that we got.

    Aaron Elson: Galbraith said that right after that, somebody else came up to the tank and it was an American colonel.

    Dale Albee: I donít know. One that came up was from a .50-caliber machine gun that was dug in in the road right beside my tank, and he didnít fire a shot. Later he apologized to me and I said, "I donít blame you a damn bit." With all the stuff that was going on, if heíd have stuck his head up there heíd have got killed.

    I had told this story to my two sons, and when we went back to Fort Knox to the [1988] reunion, we were sitting at the table and my son who was in the Navy at Norfolk, and my younger son who was in basic training at Fort Knox both came to the reunion. We were sitting at this table, and across from me this guy says, "Youíre from D Company. I wonder who ever took over Coeís platoon?"

    And I said, "I did."

    And he says, "You know, Iíve always wondered; I was up on the line and here came this stupid ass down the line with these tanks Ė he only had four of them Ė and he was on his way up into the German lines when I stopped him."

    I said, "Oh?"

    My two kids are about to crack up, and he says, "I never knew what happened, because about fifteen minutes after that I was wounded, and I went to the rear and I never did find out."

    I looked at the two kids and kind of grinned at them and they grinned back, and I said, "Well, you know, youíre looking at that stupid ass. Iím the one that was in those tanks when you stopped us."

    He said, "I always wondered." But my kids were real interested in the war and it just kind of brought it out, well, Dad kind of told the truth once in a while.

    Aaron Elson: How was Coe wounded?

    Dale Albee: In a minefield. Two people got wounded out of recon, a lieutenant and a sergeant, and they went out and got them, and on the way back one of the guys that was helping hit another one. And it hit Coe in the hand. They evacuated Coe and they thought heíd be right back, but evidently he was wounded a lot harder than they thought. But it was in a minefield, because it blew the foot off of two of them. And then one of the guys that came up to help them set off the one that wounded Coe, and the guy that set it off lost a foot. So three people lost their feet in this little boobytrapped field. We had heard that his tank had been knocked out and he crawled over and went out the hatch, but we come to find out that he went out and was bringing back, I think the two from the recon platoon when this guy walked up to help and set off the other one.

    Aaron Elson: I noticed in the picture of Heckler standing in front of his tank that the tank was named Backbreaker. Do you remember any of the tanksí names?

    Dale Albee: Sure. When the cavalry went back to the 10th Armored Division, we were the 11th Armored Regiment and we were B Company.

    Aaron Elson: Thats why it started with a B?

    Dale Albee: Backbreaker Ö Bonehead. They were all Bís, but all our tanks were named in Benning. Everything youíd see would have a name on it.

    Aaron Elson: That explains why the D Company tanks had names beginning with B. The C Company tanks had names beginning with I, because they had been I Troop of the 11th Cavalry.

    Dale Albee: It wasnít until we went into the 712th that they changed everything over and then we went to D Company. They formed three battalions, and of the three battalions I think the 712th was the only one that went overseas.

    Aaron Elson: Do you remember the numbers of the others? Was one the 777th?

    Dale Albee: Triple-7 was one. Iím pretty sure thatís it, and I donít know who the other one was. The 777th never left the States. The old 712th went around, we went to Camp Gordon, Fort Jackson, South Carolina, then over to Gouroch, Scotland, and went down through there into Swindon. We stayed in Swindon, and then went to Southampton. We crossed the channel on an English landing craft-tank, LCT, and those dirty dogs, they fed us goat stew for breakfast the morning before we landed. And it was green. Jesus, we were scared shitless, with our stomach in a knot, and they came out with that smelly old goat stew. Thatís what we were supposed to eat before we landed. Choppy seas. A little LCT, you could put that aboard an LST, and thatís the way we went across. God damn, I never forgave the British for that. And I havenít eaten goat since. You could put the best piece of lamb, you could put in goat, and I donít care what it is in front of me Iíll back away, because they cured me forever.

    Aaron Elson: It was really green? Had it gone bad?

    Dale Albee: No, it hadnít. It was some way they had cooked it, made a stew out of it. And you looked at that and thatís just about the way your stomach felt anyway, and Jiminy Christmas, here the Limeys were walking around, and they had these little cans that you popped the lid and I donít know whether it had a little heating element or something like that, it would heat the soup, and then you just threw that lid away or whatever it was, then you drank soup. They were walking around with this soup, and feeding us that goat stew. Ach du lieber gott!

    Aaron Elson: When Colonel Randolph was killed, that must have been a terrible shock.

    Dale Albee: To the whole battalion, because the word came around, and it really made you sick, because I donít think there was a man in the whole battalion that disliked Colonel Randolph. He was such a fine man, and just so pleasant. He was firm but pleasant. He didnít take any bull and he protected his people. If they wanted to send tanks out without infantry, no way. If you want the use of our tanks youíve got to protect them. This is the reason why I think that the tank battalion and the infantry formed such a formidable team. Because he helped them form that. The infantry didnít want to work without tanks. Tanks didnt work without infantry. And as soon as we got to working together, it was just like a tank crew, you spent so much time together that finally you were a team in that tank. Like with me, I usually worked with the platoon in recon, Kellyís 90th Recon. I worked with Mike, with his third platoon. The only time I got in trouble was that damned second platoon. Mike could smell Germans, and we just worked like a team. Usually what he would do is he had a scout jeep, and a sergeant up there that just like him could smell the Germans, and they put him up in front. And maybe sometimes two jeeps, and then my tank. And then either my second tank or sometimes theyíd put an M-8 in there for radio contact.

    Aaron Elson: Whats an M-8?

    Dale Albee: Itís an eight-wheeled vehicle with a 37. And the damn thing you could pee in the road and itíd go in the ditch. I towed one of those suckers halfway across Europe. But they needed them with the recon because they didnt have any tank of their own, and they used the M-8. It had a 37, and a .50-caliber ring mount. So theyd put it up there. But usually it was either behind me or behind my second tank. Because ninety percent of the time you worked, you had a five-tank platoon but you always had one either knocked out or gone, or down with trouble. So you were working with four tanks most of the time, two in the first section and two in the second. Pat Shortall, my platoon sergeant, if I went left, he went right. Or excuse me, my second tank would go right, Iíd go left, and then Pat would go left or right, but they would stay as a base of fire. And that worked. The only time that it really hurt was once when the M-8 was right behind me. We got fired on in this little town, and for some reason I took off to the right. My second tank was behind the M-8, and cut to the left, and the M-8 instead of stopping kept on going, and he came up and was even with me, and an antitank gun hit the M-8. If heíd have stayed where he was, the gun would have taken me. But hereís this M-8 blocking me. And that was a flamer, just like McNultyís tank, when we pulled them out of there it was just, they were just burned.

    Aaron Elson: And that was infantry?

    Dale Albee: No, the M-8 was a recon vehicle.

    Aaron Elson: From the 712th?

    Dale Albee: No, the 90th Recon. Kelly was the 90th Infantry Recon. Because Captain Kelly was one and Mike was the name of the other, I donít know his last name, but I wish I did, because boy oh boy, we worked together and he was tops.

    Aaron Elson: Now, what happened when you got into trouble with the second platoon?

    Dale Albee: Oh, that little shit. His favorite words, you see, I would be attached to the recon, so I had to take orders from them. This one town, thatís the time I got bounced up with a panzerfaust. The little guy says, "You have to lead."

    I said, "No. You guys always lead into town."

    And he said, "No, youíll have to go in."

    I said, "I dont have any infantry support. We cant lead into a town."

    And he said, "Kelly said so."

    I said, "Iíve got to know that."

    He said, "Just a minute, Iíll go back and check."

    Like a damn fool I didnít follow him, and he came back and said, "Kelly says that youíre supposed to lead in, and weíll stand up here and guard, and then weíll come on in."

    Well, fine. We headed off and went into the town, and as soon as we got in Ė I always carried a bunch of guns in the back of the tank; I had an M-1, a bazooka, and a B.A.R. So I jumped out and grabbed the M-1 and I started leading my tank through there."

    Aaron Elson: You were acting as infantry?

    Dale Albee: Yeah. Thatís all we could do. I did that several times, dismount and lead your tank. Because that way you could spot mines, and at least you find out what in the hell is going ahead, sneak up to a corner and look around. But we came up, and its hard to explain, we came around this corner, and this is a corner of the house right here, and my tank came right up here like this. There was a railroad station here, and a big ditch that ran across right here. And why this German ever ran, but he came out the door and started running towards the ditch. Iím standing right here with the M-1. So I shot him.

    Just about the time I shot him and was starting to turn around and look, from somewhere over here they shot a panzerfaust, and it hit right in front of my light tank. It bounced me up against this brick building and put gravel Ė the panzerfaust, you know, those little pieces of tin Ė from my waist down it was just like Iíd been a pin cushion. It just splattered me. And I couldnít hear. They say that I just dropped my M-1 down and I turned around and I started walking back. I couldnít hear. I didnít know what was going on.

    Meanwhile my tank backed up, and back here they had two tank destroyers with us, so they sent one of them on in, and he went down the line with a .50-caliber gun and firing the big gun, the 76, and they went on in. After about ten minutes I kind of came around, and then we went ahead and cleared it. But Jiminy Christmas. The little devil, he lied to me because later on I asked Kelly, "Captain Kelly, what is this deal? Anytime Iím working with Mike, Mike always gives me support. If we have to go in, heíll send a jeep ahead so that those men can dismount and Iíll be right there with him, but Iíve got support." I said this Ė I wish I could remember his name Ė "Every time that we get into anything that he gets a little leery, he says that you said for me to go first."

    And Kelly said, "Iíll have a talk with him." He said, "You know I never said that." And he said its completely wrong. He said, "Let me handle it." Thatís all heíd say.

    Aaron Elson: How badly were you injured then?

    Dale Albee: From the waist down, it was just like you took a thousand needles and just threw them and then pulled them back out, because for years after that, Iíd be pulling these little pieces because the panzerfaust, they had this little piece of light aluminum that came out like a football that covered the shaped charge. And when that exploded, it just made itty bitty shrapnels, and it just peppered me to beat the living shit.

    Aaron Elson: Did you keep on going or were you evacuated?

    Dale Albee: I kept on going. After I came to my senses, I knew that I was bleeding, but I couldnít see any big gashes, so hell, Iím still able to move. We got in and we went on down about two more towns, then settled in for the night. And thatís when I grabbed a jeep and went back to the medics, and I think it was Harmon, the sergeant back there, I told him, "Donít you evacuate me, but I want you to look at this." So he iodined me and gave me a bunch of stuff so I could go back, because if you were evacuated you may not come back to your own company. But dang it, you know, itís little things like that. That was the second time that guy had lied to me.

    Aaron Elson: What happened the first time?

    Dale Albee: Same deal. I dismounted and led my tank through a minefield because he wouldnít go out and check the road ahead of us. Itís a funny feeling standing out in front of your tank, in wide open territory. Because you could see the dang things dug in.

    Aaron Elson: You could see the mines?

    Dale Albee: It was a hasty minefield. They didnít have time to camouflage it and they just dug holes and covered them, so you could see them, and you could guide your tank through it.

    One other time we were out there, and they threw an antitank gun. We came down, there was a curve and you had to go around the curve and go down a hill and then up, and there was an antitank gun and he threw one into the curve. So we stopped there and went over on this little rise and were trying to pinpoint, and trying to get some artillery in there. This jeep came up and it was an artillery colonel. He said, "Whatís happened?"

    And we said, "Weíve got an antitank gun up there, and were trying to get some artillery."

    He said, "Whatís the matter, are you yellow?"

    "No, weíre not yellow. Thereís an antitank gun and heís zeroed in on this corner."

    "Well, goddammit, youve got a tank. Get in your tank and go. Thatís an order!"

    I looked at him. I said, "All right."

    I turned, and Iíd just started down toward my tank Ė I wasnít going to, because Id have shot him before Id have done it Ė but I was obeying an order; I started for my tank, and bless that little German up there, about that time he laid one right on the corner. And that colonel just kind of turned white, walked over to his jeep, pffft. But you know, stupid things like that, and why he was up there nobodyíll ever know.

    We got some artillery, and there was no more firing, so we decided all right, fine. And Mike said, "You take one tank and go down and go into that," thereís a little town just around the curve. "If you can run your tank down into there, Iím pretty sure its clear. And if there is anything over there, usually they protect them with a machine gun, and my jeep would be wide open."

    Around the corner I go, down, and we pulled in there, and I think, "Iíve got this building between me and that antitank gun." And Iím looking out the turret and this sonofabitch over here let loose with another antitank gun that we didnít know about, and I swear, if Id have reached my hand up I could have caught it. And I tell you, you never saw a man go to the bottom of a turret so fast in all your life! "Boogedy! [his driver] Back up! Back up!"

    But I tell you, your heartís just about that dang big around. I felt so safe; weíd got around the corner and got behind that building.

    Aaron Elson: Tell me about Boogedy.

    Dale Albee: Boogedy?

    Aaron Elson: You said you had a bunch of stories about your driver.

    Dale Albee: Oh, that silly Boogedy! We were on recon this one time, and the .50-caliber sat right over so that if you fired, the muzzle blast went right in the hatch of the driver and the bow gunner. So weíd always tell Boogedy to button up before we fired the .50.

    We came around this corner and the jeep came around and as we came around, a platoon of Germans which we later found was a machine gun or a mortar platoon started running toward a building. And I said, "Hard left!" and I opened up with the .50. And then of course my gunner fired and in the meantime Iím giving orders for the second tank to fire. And I emptied that full 110-round belt. So we finally got the firefight over with, and I said, "Boogedy, move out!" and nothing happens.

    I thought, "Whatís going on now?"

    And I look over and Boogedyís standing over there with his arms folded.

    "Boogedy, what are you doing out there?"

    "I quit."

    "You what?"

    "I quit. Iím not driving anymore."

    I said, "How in the hell can you quit out here? Get back in the tank and letís get going."

    "No, sir. If you canít tell me to button up by God before you open up with that .50-caliber Iím not driving anymore. I quit."

    It took me about two minutes before I could convince him to get back in that tank. I said, "Where are you gonna go? Iíll have to leave you right out here alone if you donít get in the tank."

    But I tell you, Boogedy got it. We were firing on this town. Now your coaxial gun has a bag that has a zipper on the bottom, and when that bag fills up firing these .30-caliber rounds Ė these hot rounds Ė you call down, or the little bow gunner checks every once in a while, and his helmet is usually right there on the floorboard. He turns around, unzips the bag, takes the hot rounds and pours them on the floor until you get a chance to clean out your tank. So this one time, we could tell that it was getting real full. The gun was starting to catch every once in a while. So I called down to the bow gunner, "Empty the bag." And we went on firing. All of a sudden I heard the damnedest commotion you ever heard in your life.

    I said, "What the hellís going on down there?"

    "Iím gonna kill that little SOB. Iím gonna kill him!"

    And you almost felt the tank shake.

    What had happened, this little bow gunner, he looks over and hereís Boogedy sitting forward, looking to see whatís going on. He dumped that whole helmet full of hot rounds right down behind Boogedy.

    Later on I asked him, "Why in the hell did you do that?"

    "Lieutenant," he says, "I donít know. I just looked over there and I was thinking, and I did it before I ever thought not to do it."

    Again, it took me a long time to convince Boogedy that he shouldnít kill that little bow gunner.

    But we did get a train.

    Aaron Elson: How did you get a train?

    Dale Albee: We were about 15 miles ahead of our enemy, and we came down, and thereís a little river here, and there are some railroad tracks. And we were coming down this road, on recon again, and we heard this train whistle. So we stopped on the road and traversed, and I told everybody to wait until I fire, then open up. And as soon as the engine got near, I opened up on the engine and started this way, and my other tank at the end, he started that way. There were about five cars on the train, and we just worked that whole thing over.

    We got us a boat in the Rhine River, too.

    Aaron Elson: Do you know what was on the train?

    Dale Albee: There were some personnel, and then the second boxcar exploded and just raised hell down there. But other than that I donít know. There were some troops. We got them. I donít know what else, because things started burning. See, the thing about a 37, you couldnít knock out anything big; you couldnít knock a town down but you could sure burn it, because those armor-piercing shells were really good incendiary.

    We pulled in Ė somebody was talking about a mortar platoon that they said the second platoon got but they were wrong on that, it was the third platoon. We pulled up on the bluff overlooking the Rhine River and set up there, and then at night we opened up on a German car on a road across the river and started it on fire, and then during the night, anything that started we could hear it coming. As soon as that blacked out, weíd open up; we zeroed in on it. Except for one motorcycle. That sonofagun played games with us all night and we never did get him. Weíd hear him coming. It would be silent. All of a sudden youíd see the black, weíd open up and think by god, we got him! We never did get that guy.

    But we had fun. And then that night, we were sitting on a slope overlooking the Rhine, and we knew that we wanted to get out of there real early in the morning, but Boogedy had the levers locked, and he shifted and unlocked one and our tank pitched forward and we thought we were gonna go on over onto the road below. But the next morning we spotted a 40-man platoon with mortars. They were coming up this slope, and there was a town down there, and they were trying to set up the mortars. And we had good contact; I could call back to either Wagnon or Kelly. I called back to I think it was Wagnon and asked for artillery support.

    The first round came in, and it was way over to the right, so I told them move it left. Pretty soon one round hit in there, and I said, "Fire for effect."

    And that damn hillside just erupted. What I didnt know, they had two batteries of three guns, and when I was giving corrections one would fire, and Iíd correct it. And then this one would fire, and Iíd correct it. I was working back and forth. And when they opened up, my God, I had six guns that opened up on that platoon. We didnt see a single one get out of there.

    Then we saw this boat coming down the Rhine.

    We got airplanes. We got onto a field and captured three airplanes. Shot one up. ME-109s.

    Aaron Elson: Did you see any of the German jet planes?

    Dale Albee: Yes, the ME-209. The ME-109 was semi-jet. But right there toward the end of the war they had the ME-209 which is a fast sonofagun. The P-51 could really handle the 109, or the Focke-Wulf 190, but that 209 was, if the Germans had more time theyd have been pretty damn nasty. Especially with that damn buzz bomb. Boy, what they did to St. Vith. You know, you didnít worry too much about the V-1 because if you could see it and see that streak of flame, you could hear it for miles and see it coming. When it scared the hell out of you was when that fire stopped, it was just like a mortar. It nosed down; you knew that it had to come down somewhere. The V-2s, the Germans had some awful goods, just like that damn nebelwurfer, and the panzerfaust. The nebelwurfer was a rocket, just like a mortar. And the panzerfaust was one of the best things they had. That damn thing was just, did you ever have it described?

    Aaron Elson: Like a football?

    Dale Albee: Uh-huh. A little tube, a long tube and you just put it under your shoulder and fire. Three springed steel flanges. That looked like a football coming at you, not a good spiral because it would fishtail, but the thing about it is, if they were to shoot it at you, and it landed in front and you didnt see it, it looked like mortar, and so youíd keep going, thinking it was mortar fire. And shoot, then all of a sudden you see this football coming at you, and then you had your heart failure.

    Aaron Elson: Did you ever see them?

    Dale Albee: Oh, yeah. At Binscheid we just damn near ran into them. They threw two of them at me and hit right in front and I thought we were going into mortar. And then the third one I saw; it went over the tank on the right side but I saw the football, and then I backed up. The day before Iíd lost two tanks right there on the road to our left, but the second platoon was coming in from the right, so we just backed up and opened fire, and then moved on forward together.

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