The brave men of 741st Tank Battalion

20151111_090528-1Once when I was little my grandma told me the story of my grandpa’s service in WW II and I didn’t believe her. I knew that my grandpa was considered a hero, and had a purple splotch across his hand, but the story my grandma told was unbelievable. She was a well-known embellisher of ideas, and even though I was only nine, I was wise enough to be skeptical. It turns out, every word my grandma told me was true.

On June 6, 1944, thirty two Duplex Drive Tanks from Company B of the 741st Tank Battalion entered the  waters of the English Channel, meant to swim across to the Easy Red sector of Omaha Beach and invade Normandy as part of D Day. The tanks were “30 tons of steel in a canvas bucket” (Vitamin Baker, p 13) and had never before practiced in waters so choppy, or weather conditions so poor. When the tanks hit the rough water the inflatable attachments ripped off. Tragically, all but three of those tanks sank.

My grandpa’s tank make it onto the beach, making him one of the first men to land on D Day.

His tank was critical in taking out pillboxes and other anti-aircraft artillery. At some point my grandpa was shot in the hand when he climbed out of the tank to reload, but he kept on fighting anyway. For my grandpa’s service that day he received both the Purple Heart and the Silver Star.

The 741st Tank Battalion went on to be part of several significant events in World War II including the Battle of the Bulge and Krinkelt/Rocherath. For their service during the violent counter-attack in the Krinkelt-Rocherath area of Belgium, the 741st Tank Battalion received a Presidential Citation which stated:

Again and again the infuriated enemy threw armor and infantry against the dauntless defenders but for three days and nights these assaults were turned back by the unwavering fortitude of the inspired position. The tank men covered the withdrawal and were the last to leave the scene of battle. During the bitter three day engagement they had destroyed twenty seven enemy tanks, five armored vehicles and two trucks. Their indomitable fighting spirit and unflinching devotion to duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of the armed forces.

20151111_090419-1Less than ten days later on Christmas Day 1944, my grandpa wrote the following letter to my grandma in the midst of the Battle of the Bulge:

Hiya Honey, Merry Christmas. It’s cold enough to snow on the ground and it could be like Christmas but instead it’s more like the fourth of July. This finds me well and going along pretty good. Last year at this time we were thinking that maybe we would be home for this Christmas but here we are still going.

My grandpa wrote this in the middle of terrible fighting, with bombs and artillery exploding everywhere. Did you ever see Band of Brothers? The 741st Tank Battalion were the men coming to the rescue.

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The 741st Tank battalion was also responsible for the liberation of Flossenburg Concentration Camp. Here is a description from page 33 of The Story of Vitamin Baker about Flossenbrrg:

The large German concentration camp of Hasag is near Flossberg. As such, members of the Battalion had the chance to see with their own eyes the brutal results of Nazi domination. Here huge amounts of political prisoners were kept. These were made to work the munitions factories and given the very minimum of food and care. The weak either died or were shot; the strong held on only to become sick, starving broken. Full evidence of these inhumanities was found all about the camp. The sights were horrible and unbelievable.

Of the original men in Company B of the 471st Tank Battalion, twenty nine were killed in action, five went missing, and three became prisoners of war. Fifty six soldiers were wounded or hospitalized in the line of duty. Only forty six of the original members came home.

My grandpa was lucky to return to America alive. The record of his service can be found in an out-of-print book called “741st Tank Battalion D-Day to V-E Day and the Story of Vitamin Baker ‘We’ll Never Go Overseas’.” It tells a story of incredible courage and sacrifice

My grandma knew all about the 741st Tank Battalion and I am forever grateful that she filled me in on the details. My grandpa, you see, never talked about it at all.

Published by Jennifer Bardsley

Jennifer Bardsley believes in friendship, true love, and the everlasting power of books. She lives in Edmonds, Washington with her her husband and two children, and walks from her house to the beach every chance she gets. When she’s not camping with her Girl Scout troop, you can find Jennifer curled up with a romance novel on Saturday night, diet soda in hand, secretly wishing bustles were back in fashion.

9 thoughts on “The brave men of 741st Tank Battalion

  1. Thank you for your comments about your grandfather. My father was in the 741st Tank Battalion, C Company. I’m finishing up a book about my dad’s life and his stories from the war. These men certainly gave a lot for our country and our freedoms.

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  2. Hi Jennifer,
    I just came across your article and was wondering where you got the book. My grandfather too was in one of the tanks that landed on Normandy that day. I am told his personal account is recorded in Vitamin Baker’s book. SSgt Paul Reagan is his name. The story that family tells is that he rested his hand on his gun on hip and threatened the commander of the boat to take them all the way in to the shore. He also received a Purple Heart when the tank door dropped on his finger as it crossed under a tree limb. He flicked the severed tip of his index finger off the tank and keep on going. Anyways I would love to hear from you so I can figure out how to get a copy of the book and a more accurate account of what he went through. Who knows our grandfathers may have been in the same tank?

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  3. Brave men. My grandfather Harry Kulick was part of the Omaha landing in the DD tank. He was 1 of the 4 tanks to make it ashore that day. He received the bronze star that day. When I was young he gave me that book “we’ll never go over sea again” writing, “ someday I hope my grandson will understand what we went through.” Interested to see if you have any personal photos you’d like to share. Always looking for pictures of grandpa.

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  4. Hi Jennifer, I am tearing up reading your story. My grandfather, James Daniel Nolan also served as a Private in Company B in the 1st Infantry 741st Batallion at Omaha Beach and returned to my grandmother, Dolores. My husband and I will be in Normandy next weekend to pay our respects. I wonder if our grandfathers crossed paths. Thanks again for sharing ❤

    http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2009-10-10/news/0910090127_1_daniel-nolan-d-day-1st-infantry-division

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  5. Hi Jennifer,

    I just finished reading your 2015 account of your grandfather’s heroism with the 741st. My Dad, George Rickett, was also a member of Company B. I know that the battalion finished the war in Pilsen, Czech. I know they were attached to Patton’s 3rd Army for the last days of the war and were part of the 2nd Cavalry. I just finished reading a book about the 2nd Cavalry’s role in rescuing the famous lipizzaner horses and bringing them safely into Germany after the war ended. I’m trying to find out if the 741st played a role in that horse rescue operation. Do you have any insight?

    Bill Rickett
    Wooster, Ohio

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    1. Remember June 6 th is coming soon.
      I met a man named Paul Ragan in the late 70s. He was visiting with my dad Willis Warren and Russell Vance all friends of the 741st . He told me how he got to shore. By tell the cox man to take them on in to shore. The cox man told him no and told him to get his tank off. So Ragan pulled his fur around and said take to sore or you can die here or there. Dad said he ment it.
      Have a great D day June 6th. 2019
      Carl Warren fifth son of Willis Warren
      If my dad was alive he would be 100 this year.

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  6. Hello Jennifer… first a minor, -yet important correction for you ;
    You wrote : ” On June 4, 1944, thirty two Duplex Drive Tanks from Company B of the 741st Tank Battalion entered the waters of the English Channel ” The date however, June 4 is incorrect…it was June 6. You may want to correct that for accuracy, -for posterity …

    Your account of your grandfather is a wonderful memorial. Thank you for writing it.

    My father, Richard E. Anderson -of Schenectady, NY was a driver in an A company Sherman, and he too survived the war. While young, I had a few conversations with him about his experiences,.. -but of course, no where near enough of them. These past few years I have been trying to re-trace his ‘tracks’ via the printed page, and have learned more of course. I have an 8-Day wind-up German clock on my wall, that he rescued from the wall of a blown up house they had found shelter in the basement of one night in Rocherath in the middle of the fighting there. Amazingly he somehow he managed to disassemble the clock ( 30″ tall X 10″ wide X 6″ deep!) and get all the pieces mailed to my mother…where after he came home, he managed to re-assemble in the beautiful working tribute to that terrible time that it is to this day…

    Thank you again for your memorial ….

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  7. My uncle, Corporal Anthony Kroeger was a gunner in Company B of the 741st tank battalion during WWII. They did amazing thins and we owe them our gratitude.

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