Task Force Brewster
Olin F. Brewster
(Interview took place at
Sparks, Nevada - 1990)
I am Olin F. Brewster, retired Lt. Col. I served with the Third Armored Division from June 1941 to 8th. of January, 1945 when I got wounded in Sart, Belgium. I spent the last six months in the hospital, and was discharged in the Fall of 1945. I joined the Texas National Guard and the 49th. Armored Division, and served in the capacity of n armor man and retired in 1969. Of course everyone knows the history of the 3 AD, going from Camp Polk to the Mojave Desert, to Camp Picket, VA and to Indian Town Gap of PA to the Downs of jolly old England. Then we went to the Normandy Beach and toward the Elbe River. That is the travel of the 3 AD.
I was company Commander of C Company, 32nd Armored Regiment, a light Tank Company of M-5 tanks. We joined the reorganization on the Normandy Beach, where C Company of the 1st. Battalion was sent down to join the Third Battalion of the 32nd. Our first combat was June 29th. 1944 at Villiers Fossard. We went from there through the hedgerows, skirted St. Lo, on into the Falaise Pocket and crossed the Seine River at Melun, France, and fought our way across France toward Sedan, and one of the feats of the war was when the 3 AD made a ninety degree turn from going East to North to go to Mons, Belgium, and that was done in a matter of hours. We had a jolly time in Mons killing and capturing Krauts that had been flushed our by the 2 AD on our left flank. Then on across Laon,
Liege, Verviers, Eupen, across the Siegfried Line into Stolburg, Germany and when we ran out of men and supplies we went into winter quarters in September. WE fought small unit action off and on until the Battle of the Bulge on December 16th.
When the 3 AD was alerted on December 19th. Combat Command A was ordered back to Europen and attached to Fifth Core Headquarters as Core Reserve and also to check out the area for German paratroops that had come in American uniforms. On the 21st. of December we were detached from V Core and attached to the 18th Airborne Core and moved down into the vicinity of Manhay, Belgium.
The Commanders of Task Forces were called into Manhay to meet with Gen. Rose. At that time He ordered Task Force Y or Richardson detached from Command A and move into the Manhay area. With some difficulty, because of troops on the road we close in to Manhay on the morning of 22nd. of December. After we closed in, we had orders to send I Company Infantry and I Company Armor to CCR near Hotton. Our orders on the 22 were to back up CCR where Orr had a roadblock in Amonines. I was ordered to take the remainder
Of the Battalion over to Erezee. After talking to Orr he ordered me to set up a defensive position in his rear, so if he had to give ground, he could pass through us. Nothing happened in Erezee and on the 23rd. of December we were called back to Manhay.
The roadblock up at the Crossroads was being badly mauled and Col. Richardson sent me up there to see what the situation was. When I got up there in the late afternoon I found that the Crossroads had been completely wiped out. A few of the men were trying to hold the line. One of them was Lt. Robert Bryan of I Company, 32nd. I talked with him and he told me He had lost all five of his tanks when the Crossroad was overrun. He made it through the war and now lives in Huston, TX. When I called Lt. Col. Richardson and told him that the Crossroads had been overrun, He called A Company of the 509 Paratroop Regiment that had been attached to the 3 AD, and also the remainder of tanks of H Company, third Battalion, 32nd Reg., Which was six M-4 Shamans. When I got back to Manhay Lt. Col. Richardson had Assembled them and told us our orders were to retake the Crossroads.
We moved out of the Manhay area shortly after dark, and by the way the sunset in December at Manhay just after 4:00 PM. After arriving at the Belle Haie crossroads our lead tank got hit by enemy fire. After proving I decided we could not advance and got permission from Richardson to set up a defensive position in the vicinity of Belle Haie. We had no problems the rest of the night of the 23rd, but early in the morning of the 24th. The Germans made a prove to come through our position. We had what was considered the poorest location in the world for an Armored unit. We were just about on the bottom of a steep hill, but with a cut in the road and the forest on each side, the enemy was channeled down the road, and we were able to stop any advance they tried to make. That morning I did get one Air Force strike of P47s over the Crossroads area, and apparently they did quite a bit of damage.
In the afternoon of the 24th, I was sent a company of men from the 289th. Infantry Regiment of the 75th. Infantry Division. The Company Commander brought his Company up and after I briefed him and gave him orders, He assured me he took no prisoners. He took off across open field that was white as snow. They never made it to the line of departure. I found out later; that was their first day in combat and had never heard a gun fired in anger. If I had known at the time, that the Company had not seen combat, I would have given them more instruction and leader ship.
The instructions had been coming through out the day we were going to be relived and change of orders to withdraw from our roadblock later on in the day of the 24th. Later on in the evening I got orders that there had been some change in orders and I was to hold the roadblock at Belle Haie until further notice. Later I got a report that we would hold at all cost. Sometime after midnight I got orders to get out if you can, but don't come straight back to Manhay, try going to Malempre, which I did. Several people have written up and including myself that I did not make it to Malempre but chose to come out on foot with the Colonel's permission. I went out on foot and got all the troops out of there and ended up in Bra early Christmas morning of the 25th. I made contact with the Regimental Task Force of the 82nd. Airborne Division there.
It might be noted I went up to the crossroads under the 18th. Airborne Core and while I was there, reversed back to the Seventh Core, and when I pulled out on the night of the 24th. my unit was part of the Seventh Core but the area that I was defending was that of the 18th core. A big fiasco took place and the Seventh Armored Division was supposed to set up a defensive position North of my position on hill 570, between my position and Manhay, and I was to pull back through them. General Montgomery came up into the area that day and decided to straighten the line. He pulled the 504th. Regiment of the 82nd. Division and part of the Ninth Armored Division that was in Malempre and elements of the Seventh Armored Division was to the rear and North of my position back to the North of Manhay to set up a new defensive position. All of this was unkowned to me and my orders were to hold until further orders. I had reported about dark that the enemy had bypassed me on my right flank to the town of Odeine and was crossing the crossroads ¾ mile to my rear but I had nothing to protect that crossroad. History will show that the 2nd. SS Panzer Division that I had been holding up with my small Task Force over 24 hours had gotten to my rear and moved into the Manhay area while the seventh and ninth Armored Divisions and the 82nd. Airborne Division was reorganizing a new defensive line and history will show that it was nothing but chaos and confusion took place in the Manhay and Grandenmier area that night of the 24th. and the morning of the 25th.
I got safely back to the Bra Area and got transportation to move back to our Division boundary late in the evening of the 25th. I got transportation to pick up the troops and then I reported to Division Headquarters.
Col. Brewster; can you tell us how many tanks you had when you left Belle Haie, and how many tanks got knocked out on the edge of Malempre and how many tanks you had to destroy?
BREWSTER: I went up with six Sherman tank of H Company of the 32nd. Armored Regiment, which were all the tanks we had left in the Company at that time. I had one tank hit on the night of the 23rd. when we were moving in but we were able to repair it and get it back into operation. So when I pulled out on the morning of the 25th. I started out with six tanks, and when I turned East to go to Malempre. I had my lead tank knocked out by a enemy tank judging from the projectile, and then the enemy armor moved in behind me and got my two rears tanks, which left me with three medium tanks at my disposal. The road was blocked in the front and the rear and the terrain was not suitable for cross-country maneuver .So it was agreed wisely that we should destroy the three remaining tanks. And one two and a half and two three quarter ton trucks and the troops walked out on foot safely.
CORBIN: Did you have M-5 Light tank with you?
BREWSTER: I stared out with one and sent it back before we got to the Belle Haie Crossroads.
CORBIN: When you had your roadblock set up, did you destroy any vehicles?
BREWSTER: Yes, we had pretty good luck. They ran quite a few reconnaissance vehicles toward us and with the position we had our tanks set up in with the cut in the road we piled up quite a few Germany vehicles. A German POW reported that the air strike knocked out nine German tanks at the Crossroad, so we knew the Air Force did some damage as we could see smoke coming from the top of the hill. Even thought it was not considered an ideal defensive position, and that was the first time that we had to go and put armor in a truly defensive set up, It did prove that every thing written in the book isn't always the best because we went against everything that had been written in the book but it did prove to be very successful.
CORBIN: What happened to Major. Goldstein who accompanied you on your recon trip toward the Crossroads?
BREWSTER: Major Goldstein had left his unit the 589th Artillery Battery, after Major Parker had been wounded on the morning of the 23rd. of December, and had come to Col. Richardson Headquarters in Manhay and asked for more tanks and troops. Major Goldstein accompanied me when I scouted the Crossroads. I did not see him again as it was impossible to reach the crossroads and it being overrun, I guessed he went back to the rear. I wrote to Major Goldstein a couple years age and received an answer that he remembered me the day of December 23rd, 1944.
Maj. General Maurice Rose was displeased that Maj. Brewster had withdrawn his roadblock
and destroyed his remaining tanks. Maj. Brewster told him he was surrounded and broke out after he received orders to get out the best way he could, and getting all my men out safely, was more important than those tanks. Gen. Rose threatened to court-martial Maj. Brewster, but relented when Col. Richardson told him he was proud of Maj. Brewster and the job he did. Gen. Rose had heard about the five tanks from the Seventh Armored Division that had been knocked out in a field just outside of Manhay on the road to Malempre, and may have thought they were of T F Brewster. Because of a planned withdraw to straighten out the 1st. Army's defensive position, The Seventh Armored Divison took over the defense of Manhay from Lt. Col. Richardson on December 24 and withdrew from Malempre late evening into Manhay. The Germans followed them in and captured Manhay.
Maj. Brewster jumped off with Task Force Richardson on the January 3rd. 1945 Offensive. For his action during the first week of the drive he was awarded the Bronze Star medal for bravery and on the eight of January a Purple Heart Medal for being wounded. It was the end of the war for Maj. Brewster.