An Army major of the 809th Tank Destroyer Battalion photographed his unit’s odyssey across Europe during World War II.
By Neal Fausset
The 809th Tank Destroyer Battalion was an independently attached unit of the U.S. Army. The battalion was activated on March 18, 1942, at Camp Forrest, Tennessee, and remained in the United States through most of the war. The unit shipped out for the European Theater of Operations (ETO), arriving in Liverpool, England, on December 8, 1944. The battalion arrived at the port of Le Havre, France, on January 20, 1945, equipped with M18 Hellcat tank destroyers, M8 Greyhound light armored cars, and M20 scout cars. The battalion commanding officer throughout the war was Lt. Col. W.R. Lawson, Jr.
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The Hellcat was manufactured by Buick, and was formally called the “76mm Gun Motor Carriage M18.” It weighed 17.7 tons, was lightly armored, and was the fastest tracked armored fighting vehicle during the war (top speed 60 mph). This high speed was useful in flanking German tanks, which had relatively slow turret traverse speeds, and allowed the tank destroyer to shoot at the enemy’s thinner side or rear armor.
On February 9, 1945, the 809th was attached to the 8th Armored Division and fought in the crossing of the Roer River, near the Holland-Germany border, in late February 1945. On March 20, the unit was attached to the 79th Infantry Division and crossed the Rhine River on the 27th at Bruckhausen, Germany, a suburb of Duisburg. The battalion was then attached to the 95th Infantry Division to participate in fighting around the Ruhr Pocket during early April. The unit was again attached to the 8th Armored Division on April 13, 1945.
In late April, the battalion converted to M36 Jackson tank destroyers and saw additional combat action in the Harz Mountains. Battalion campaign credits include the Rhineland (September 15, 1944, to March 21, 1945) and Central Europe (March 22 to May 11, 1945).
My father, Major Louis R. Fausset, was the battalion’s S-3 (operations officer) and took a number of photos of his unit’s time in the ETO. He attained the rank of full colonel and retired from the Army in 1972. He returned to college on the G.I. Bill, and graduated from the University of Idaho with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering in 1977, the same day I graduated from Boise State University. He passed away on November 10, 1999, at the age of 80, and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
After crossing the Rhine River on March 27 near Duisburg, my father accompanied the battalion’s reconnaissance company along the east side of the river for a brief trip south to Dusseldorf and Cologne. This photo shows some of the destruction in Dusseldorf.
My father, Major Louis R. Fausset, photographed on February 3, 1945 (his 26th birthday), near Maucomble, France. The battalion was en route to the front lines in Holland and bivouacked for 10 days in Maucomble (approximately 75 miles northeast of Le Havre, in upper Normandy). The battalion’s first combat action would occur on February 20 near the town of Berkelaar, Holland.
Troops of the 809th gather near the weather station tower (background) atop Brocken Peak, May 1, 1945. (The weather station is near the world’s first television transmission and radar tower, built in 1935; it transmitted broadcasts of the 1936 Summer Olympics from Berlin.) The capture of the peak was one of the last battles of the war in the ETO, and was the last combat action for the battalion. Brocken Peak is the highest point in the Harz Mountains (north-central Germany) at an elevation of 3,743 feet. Although other installations on the peak were destroyed in an April 17 Allied bombing raid, the tower survived intact and remains there today.
After the Allies began uncovering concentration camps, General Eisenhower directed that as many units as possible visit Buchenwald, outside of Weimar, to bear witness to Nazi atrocities. My father and other officers visited the camp in late May or early June of 1945. Here the visitors are snapping photos of Buchenwald’s main gate.
An unidentified 809th TD Battalion officer poses in front of an M36 Jackson tank destroyer. The battalion operated with M18 Hellcat tank destroyers from the beginning of their deployment until April 11, 1945 (Baker Company) and April 13, 1945 (Able and Charlie Companies), when they were replaced with M36 tank destroyers in Soest, Germany.
Three GIs inspect a Panzerkampfwagen Tiger Ausf. B (King Tiger, or Königstiger) heavy tank, disabled in the Harz Mountains of north-central Germany near the town of Schierke. Photographed on April 29, 1945.
Cologne was bombed 262 times during the war. This photograph (looking west) shows a destroyed bridge over the Rhine River with the Cologne Cathedral (built between 1248 and 1880) in the background. The cathedral was, and is, the largest Gothic cathedral in northern Europe. Although the cathedral did sustain damage, it was not destroyed and was restored in 1956.
The 809th Tank Destroyer Battalion prepares to move out from the French port of Le Havre on January 22, 1945. The equipment consists of M20 command and reconnaissance cars belonging to the 809th’s A Company. The M20 was a variant of the M8 Greyhound, with the turret and 37mm cannon removed.
A German medic lies dead near Linne, Holland, February 27, 1945. The 809th was supporting the 314th Infantry Regiment, 79th Infantry Division, attacking through Linne toward the Roer River, and stood ready to repel any German armored counterattacks. The battalion crossed the Roer River on February 28, 1945.
Members of the reconnaissance company (attached to
battalion headquarters) pose with a souvenir banner of the National Socialist Women’s League, an organization that collected scrap metal, provided refreshments to German troops at railroad stations, and disseminated Nazi propaganda materials to women.
The effects of what the Russians call rasputitsa (sea of mud) that occurs due to spring snowmelt. Here a kitchen truck belonging to the reconnaissance company attached to battalion headquarters is stuck in hardened mud. (Photo taken April 21, 1945, in Halberstadt, Germany.)
This photo, taken May 15, 1945, shows a captured Republic P-47 Thunderbolt fighter aircraft in German markings at Göttingen airfield in central Germany. Göttingen was a base for the Zirkus Rosarius, formed by Hauptmann Theodor Rosarius in 1943, a special test unit of the Luftwaffe high command. The unit tested captured British and American aircraft (called Beuteflugzeug) that were repainted with German insignia. The purpose was to discover the enemy aircraft design strengths, vulnerabilities, and performance, and to use the information to enable German pilots to develop countertactics.