Company D - 709th Tank Battalion
Tanks In a Minefield
Mike in 1945 sitting on a German tank.
Hurtgen Forest, November, 1944
My company was equipped with light tanks, M5A1 Stuart tanks, which were easily penetrated by the enemy 88s. They called them crackerboxes because if you stalled and got hit, they went up like a firecracker.
Collection TANK MUSEUM - Brussels (Depot Kapellen Belgium)
In Hurtgen Forest, 1st Lt. Truman Sylvest temporarily replaced our 1st Lt. Charles Ellis, who was on reconnaissance. Our lead tank had already been knocked out. Lt. Sylvest replaced me and moved Sgt. Walter "Happy" Baun, who was my tank commander and 38 years old, to my position as gunner. Lt. Sylvest moved me to bow gunner in the second tank. We then proceeded up the road toward the village of Kleinhau where the lead tank became exposed to enemy fire.
They found themselves in a minefield with Teller mines surrounded by personnel mines. Lt. Sylvest's tank hit a mine and blew a track. The instant the tank blew the track, it got hit with an "88." The bow gunner, Francis Healer had his shoulder almost severed from that hit. The next 88 hit. Lt. Sylvest came out of the turret and jumped from the tank. He landed next to a foot mine, took one step and had his leg blown off at the ankle. The driver and the gunner were both trying to get out of the tank. Horace Barrett was in the process of straightening the turret when another "88" hit cutting Walter Baun in two. After that, the bow gunner came back and we backed off about 200 yards.
German Teller Mines
I was in the second tank. The driver had to come out over Sgt. Baun who was
cut in half. He came back to where we were.
I should have been where Walter Baun was. By moving me, Lt. Sylvest saved my life.
I got out of the tank and carried Francis Healer back to the rear tank for
evacuation to the pillbox where the medics were.
I returned to my tank. Dave Denardo, Murdock Mitchell and I went forward to help Lt. Sylvest. Truman had already used his belt as a tourniquet on his leg. He was concerned for us that we would also step on an anti-personnel mine as we carried him back to the tank.
When we got back to our tank we rested Truman on the side of the tank, but he got lightheaded. So we laid him in back of the turret on the third tank. They then evacuated him to the pillbox for treatment.
Stuart M5A1 Tanks at Kleinhau
Two tanks remained, another and mine. We returned to the fire break where the rest of the tanks were lined up. An unknown general from the 8th Infantry wanted us to return to the front, but that would have been suicide. The injured but conscious Lt. Sylvest tried to tell the general the situation was impossible but the general told the others to ignore Lt. Sylvest citing shock due to his injury.
At that point, Littleton, a tank driver from Tennessee, says, loud enough for the general to hear, "If that general says one more time to get the tanks ready to go back up, I'm throwing his ass in the tank and we'll win the war together." The general never gave the order.
Years later at my first reunion, I heard Francis Healer recounting how he crawled back to our tank after he was hit. I pulled out my 1944 letter to my mother recounting the event. I read to him what I had written. I told him you didn't crawl back, you walked until you got to the front of my tank, and then you collapsed against the tank.
A couple of days after the first incident, I was in the second tank again and we were going on our aerial bursts at nighttime. Lt. Charles Ellis had returned from reconnaissance. The Lt. was in the first tank. He got so excited as he was trying to navigate around a bomb crater, he misdirected the driver to 'left lever' instead of 'right lever.' I know because I was listening on the radio. We had intercom that could go to all 5 tanks. The tank slid into the hole. As the left track went in, the tank started to flip. The Lt. tried to get out of there. He was on the turret with his head exposed, his body half out and so he dove. He didn't make it. The tank flipped right on top of him and crushed him. The gunner that was sitting next to him drown in that 4 ft of water. We got two, the driver and the bow gunner out, but the gunner drowned. We couldn't get him out because he was in too precarious of a position to reach him in time.
~~~ Mike Kunnen ~~~
Many thanks Kathy for providing me your dad's story. Scorpio