This is Part 2 of a story that ran in the March 24 edition of The Desert Sun
U.S. Army 1st Lt. Andy Allen served with the 7th Armored Division during World War II.
The division’s first major objective was the liberation of Paris.
On the march to Paris, “we never had any fixed battles—we had all these moving battles,” Allen said.
The division was the spearhead of the operation.
“I was leading the entire Allied Army — just like Mr. (Gen. George) Patton told me to do,” he said, laughing.
Allen came across a sign that said, “Paris, 10 kilometers,” and continued on.
“There was no shooting. I really didn’t know what to do. We were inside of the city limits of Paris by maybe 100 yards. I halted the column and called the battalion commander and he said to stop there. We sat there for well over an hour. Then word comes down, “Pull out, pull back to an assembly area. I got all my guys turned around.”
LINK: Gen. George Patton’s persuasion pushed Andy Allen to be young officer
At the assembly area, Allen found out why they were stopped.
The Allied high command said French army Gen. Charles de Gaulle wanted his own troops to recapture Paris.
Part of the deal included allowing the German army to withdraw to prevent the historic city from being destroyed in heavy fighting.
While the Germans retreated, the division started toward the Seine, and prepared to cross the river in row boats.
“It was barely daylight when the P-47s (fighter planes), started strafing the far shore. That was our key to put the boats in the water and paddle across.
“I was in the lead boat,” Allen said. “There was almost zero opposition. We got a little rife fire, nothing serious.”
The engineers quickly got to work building a pontoon bridge.
“Those guys, worked, worked, worked. They did it on the run. Battle is a very confusing situation. They were so well coordinated.
“The whole division came over and we continued the drive through France. Our next objective was Reims. There was a big, beautiful cathedral there … we were told under no circumstances were we to fire any shots at that cathedral.”
Again, the men encountered little fighting, and pushed through, but they soon ran low on fuel.
After siphoning all the gas out of about half the vehicles and filling up the remaining vehicles, they were on their way to Verdun. The division’s next obstacle was the Meuse River, where there was just one bridge remaining.
Patton wanted that bridge saved at all costs, Allen said. The Germans had retreated, but, “we knew the bridge was wired.”
They could be hiding on the opposite shore, waiting to blow it up if Allied troops attempted to cross.
“We had to sneak up on Verdun,” Allen said. “I don’t know how an armored division sneaks up on anything,” he said, laughing.
“Two Frenchmen from the French Underground — they were tough and smart and they knew the area — offered to take us through the back roads and come in from the west.”
A colonel in Allen’s division warily gave him the green light to take his company up to the river.
The Frenchmen had a plan. It was a risky move.
“The colonel said, ‘I don’t see any alternative.’”
He told Allen if the plan worked, he’d be a hero.
Allen stopped the column when they got close to the riverside, and they laid low, keeping out of sight.
The Frenchmen each asked for a length of hose, then walked down to the riverbank.
The men used the hose as a makeshift snorkel and ducked into the water.
“They got all the way underneath the bridge,” Allen said.
The were to give a signal when they cut the wires.
But the enemy was alarmingly close.
“It was late in the afternoon and there were still a few German troops going across the bridge.”
An hour passed, but it seemed like forever, Allen said.
He finally got the sign. The Frenchmen had been able to locate and cut the wires.
U.S. troops moved forward and the Germans that didn’t make it across were captured and taken prisoner.
“With all the tanks and everything there, it was pretty crowded,” he said, describing the scene as the division crossed the lone remaining bridge in the dark.
“In the morning, General Patton came down,” to thank whoever was responsible for saving the bridge, Allen said.
“He asked the colonel who was in charge, and he told him, ‘Lt. Allen.’ He didn’t recognize me from the last encounter,” Allen said, laughing.
“I picked up two medals, including the Silver Star. General Patton pinned it on me.”
“Two or three days later, I got a call from battalion headquarters. They said, ‘The French people want to talk to you.’ The river crossing, from a strategy sense, it was a big deal for the French. I had to go up to a castle to pick up the Croix de Guerre.”
Croix de Guerre
The Croix de Guerre, a French military decoration , is awarded to soldiers — often of foreign military forces — who “distinguish themselves by acts of heroism involving combat with the enemy.”
Later, they went back to get the vehicles that had been left behind — by then they’d been refueled — and the division pushed on again.
“That gave the Germans time to set up real, honest-to-God defenses.”
When the division got into Holland, the opposition got stronger, he said.
“We got hit by a German counterattack. They broke through the company on my right … they pushed through behind me.”
“We fought ’em off until dark. In the middle or late afternoon, we got into a fight with a German tank. I had a bazooka.
“I’m not that good of a shot,” he added.
The tank didn’t notice Allen and his sergeant getting ready to load and fire.
“The first one hit and bounced off. The second one hit and bounced off.”
The tank’s turret swung around and the big gun took aim at the men.
Allen fired a third shot — but it didn’t do any damage, either.
“The tank starts coming toward me. I have no idea what to do. I said, ‘Say your prayers, boy. You’ve had it.’”
Allen paused and then said, “There is a God.”
“The tank hits a ditch just as he fires. The shell hits the ground 50 yards in front of the tank …the tank got stuck — it couldn’t get out of that muck.”
“A piece of shrapnel hits me in the left leg. That was a pretty good hunk of metal. You feel shock, but you don’t feel the pain right away.”
He was taken from the battlefield on a stretcher and loaded into an ambulance. He ended up at St. Mary’s Hospital in Paris, where he had surgery on his leg.
“I wanted to get back to my unit,” he said. “Our division had just pulled out of Holland. They took some severe casualties in Holland.
“When the (Battle of the) Bulge hit, our division was ordered to St. Vith,” in Belgium. “We were told to try to hold it for 24 hours. We ended up holding it for three days — at a severe cost. We probably lost half of our battalion, not just in fighting, but the conditions — I can’t imagine worse conditions. The ground was frozen, there was an inch or two of snow. Our winter uniforms were not all that great.”
Later, after Allen rejoined his men, the division made it to the Mulde River in Germany, where they met up with the Russian army , as the war in Europe wound down.
The citation for Allen’s Silver Star Medal presented by Gen. Patton reads in part:
“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action against the enemy while serving with the 7th Armored Division, in action in France, on 18 September 1944. First Lieutenant (Infantry) Andrews’ (Allen) gallant actions and dedicated devotion to duty, without regard for his own life, were in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the U. S. Army.”
DATE OF BIRTH: March 24, 1923
HOMETOWN: Madison, Wis.
RESIDENCE: La Quinta
BRANCH OF SERVICE: U.S. Army; 7th Armored Division; 2nd Platoon leader, B Company, 48th Armored Infantry Battalion; 3rd Army
YEARS SERVED: June 1942 – December 1945
FAMILY: Marjorie (deceased); four children, Andrews Allen Jr., Genie Allen, John Allen and Philip Allen of St. Paul, Minn.; nine grandchildren