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US Army

The 740th Tank Battalion in the Battle of the Bulge


 The 740th Tank Battalion in the Battle of the Bulge
Cecil Taylor was a tank commander and a member of the 740th Tank Battalion, a specialized unit that was assigned to different infantry divisions whenever extra armored support was needed.  Because the 740th was not permanently attached to a division, it was known as a "Bastard Battalion."

World War II veteran Cecil Taylor was a tank commander who fought in many of the major battles in the European Theater.  Photo: Alex McRae

After training at Fort Knox, the 740th traveled to Bouse, Arizona, just outside Phoenix, for months of specialized training.  The 740th returned to Fort Knox in April 1944.  In July, it sailed for England and continued to train until October 1944, when the 740th Tank Battalion crossed the English Channel and entered France.
The battalion traveled through Paris and passed through several French towns on the way to Neufchateau, Belgium, where they prepared men and equipment for the battles ahead.  On December 16, 1944, the call to action arrived when a huge German force pushed deep into Belgium on the first day of the Battle of the Bulge.  The 740th headed for the ordinance depot at Sprimont, Belgium, and after spending the night taking on fuel and arms, rolled for the Ambleve Valley, where the unit faced enemy fire for the first time.
On December 19, 1944, the 740th Tank Battalion encountered one of Germany's toughest tank units, the 1st SS Panzer Division.  By then, every American soldier was aware of the 1st Panzer Division -- and not just because of its battlefield reputation.  The 1st Panzer Division was also notorious for executing more than 80 captured American soldiers at the town of Malmedy.  Americans knew about the "Malmedy Massacre," and the 740th was ready for some revenge.  "We all knew about what happened at Malmedy and we were fighting mad," Taylor says.  "We hadn't been in battle before, but we went after them with all we had."  Taylor says his first enemy encounter was an eye-opener.  "At first we were all scared as hell," he says.  "But you got hard-hearted pretty quick.  Especially when you started seeing your friends get killed."
Once the battle began, the vaunted 1st Panzer Division was no match for the 740th, and began to retreat.  Taylor's unit chased the Germans for miles until the crippled 1st Panzer Division escaped.  No one in the 740th was killed during that initial action, but the unit lost six tanks and had 10 wounded.  Just a few days later, things got worse when a tank was taken out and three men wounded by an American pilot who mistook his troops for Germans.
The 740th Tank Battalion moved on to Spa, Belgium, and joined with the 82nd Airborne Division.  For weeks the fighting was fierce and the weather was worse as northern Europe was gripped by record-breaking cold.  Infantrymen hitched rides on tanks when the snow was too deep to walk.  Inside the tank, things were not much better.  The tank's heat was supplied by the engine, but the engine sucked cold air through the tank for combustion -- negating most of the engine's potential heat.
"Usually it was too cold to sleep,"  Taylor says.  "All we could do was curl up in the tank like dogs.  You even learned to sleep standing up."
The American Sherman tanks had enough firepower and maneuverability to go toe-to-toe with smaller German tanks.  But Taylor says they were completely outmatched by the Germans' massive Tiger tanks, heavily-armored monsters armed with the feared 88 mm guns.  Taylor says there was only one way to take on a Tiger.
"First of all, you hoped you saw it first," he says.  "If you came around a corner and ran into one of those things, you were in trouble.  We had to attack the Tigers in a group.  One tank would knock off the tracks to make it immobile, then other others would take it on and tear it up.  We were more maneuverable so once we got moving they couldn't keep up, but you couldn't go one-on-one with them."
On one occasion, Taylor's worst nightmare came true when he rounded a bend in the road and found himself staring straight at a Tiger tank.  Luckily, the Tiger's gun was turned the other way and before Taylor had time to give the order, his gunner blew out the Tiger's tracks. Moments later, another American tank joined the attack.
"We did what we could, but if that other tank hadn't shown up, I wouldn't be here today," Taylor says.
When the Battle of the Bulge ended in late January 1945, so many tanks had been destroyed, the 740th Tank Battalion was at half strength.
Source: Battle of the Bulge August 2009

Alex Mc RAE

 The Times Herald

of Cowetta County,



Battle of the Bulge,