Photo by Sgt. Anthony T. Martin (165th SPC)

741st Tank Battalion in World War II

D-Day to VE-Day

Writing in Progress

 

Bill McClintock spotted a soldier lying motionless on his back with the tide lapping at his knees. The sergeant crawled over to pull the soldier higher onto the shingle. “He was still alive,” McClintock later recalled, “but with a great gaping hole in his stomach and an expression of such complete wonderment in his eyes. He knew he was going to die--but no fear, just that astonished look.”


Technical Sergeant William D. McClintock served with the 741st Tank Battalion in World War II. The scene he described on Omaha beach typified his battalion’s first hours in combat.


The 741st waged a grueling war that began on D-Day when twenty-seven of its amphibious tanks sank and hapless crewmen perished in the frigid water. Other tanks from the battalion successfully landed that day. Their crews battled on the beach before carrying the fight into Normandy and the green Hell of hedgerow country.


After a hard-won victory in France, the battalion paraded through Paris, motoring down the Champs-Élysées, greeted by waving, screaming crowds. The euphoria of liberated people enveloped the tankmen, but the war and its agonies pulled them back.


The 741st plunged into combat along Germany’s Westwall, becoming ensnared in a muddy, grinding stalemate that dragged on through the autumn. The impasse finally ended when an SS Panzer Division slammed into the battalion during the Battle of the Bulge. The defending GIs prevailed during the swirling, wintertime struggle that ensued.


Afterward, the battalion swept across Germany, tangling with Tiger tanks and deadly Flak guns as the Third Reich died in a firestorm of its own making. The war ended for the 741st in Czechoslovakia on V-E Day, where the surviving tank crewmen found themselves mobbed by another exuberant population.


Fifty years later, I commenced work on a book about the valiant crewmen and their exploits. The project began by gathering memoirs, battle maps, wartime letters, official records, and other documents. Clues also lay in U.S. Army motion-picture film and still photographs, especially aerial-reconnaissance imagery. I hiked the former battlegrounds to familiarize myself with the terrain, architecture, and local cultures.

 

I also conducted nearly 100 interviews with 741st veterans during the 1990s, interviews now impossible to obtain since the “Greatest Generation” has largely passed on. The interviews add color and dimension to the story, something impossible to derive from the dry, laconic reports found in official records.


Every person I interviewed is now deceased, but their stories live on in this book. Its pages bring alive the savvy and raw courage it took to survive and achieve victory. Its words capture the sounds, images, and explicit details of armored warfare. As one veteran said, “God never made any finer men than good soldiers.” The 741st proved it, time and again.


Updates on the book will appear on this website. After its publication, I will begin posting primary-source material in the Archive. Photographs are already posted on Pinterest with more to come.

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