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The Final Task Force 


The following story ran in the one and only issue of the 702nd Tank Battalion newspaper, written just after the war;


“It was May 4, 1945 when "D" Company was ordered to move into Austria and become part of a task force that 80th Recon formed.  Having been on different task forces before, and knowing they aren't always the healthiest form of exercise, most everyone was sweating out what kind of stuff they would run into.  When we took off from Polling, Austria, most of the boys felt in high spirits.  Perhaps they figured they had more protection from their armored bicycles than Captain Grimm had from his thin skinned peep, and he was out in front.  It was, what the boys commonly call a rat race for about sixty miles.  Here and there on the way you'd run into groups of Heinies flying their new battle colors, white.  It seemed strange to just ignore them and let them go unescorted to the rear.


After going all day, just about riding at will, we hit the first good size town, Schwanendorf.  Things in that town were going on as if the Allies were still in England. German soldiers were walking around as though on furlough.  Camouflaged vehicles were to be seen everywhere.  The extent of the surprise was topped off when a trainload of troops and German equipment pulled into the town station never expecting to see Americans.  The tanks covered the trains while our boys played conductor to the Heinies and showed them their place in the PW lineup.  When one of our boys, who speaks German, answered the station, he learned that another train was due about one hour later.  We waited for it, but that was too much to ask for; it never showed up.


When Recon learned of an airfield about three kilometers east of the town, some tanks took off, only to see there upon arriving, big bombers taking off.  One Heinie, "Recon Joe" was shot down by the tankers.  German supply trains and equipment captured in that day's work provided a feast for the Russian and Polish slave workers, who were set free in that day's operation.  Because of the distance traveled and the number of prisoners taken, the Task Force was forced to hold up in that town until relieved by the 317th  Infantry.


The days following up to VE Day were really days to sweat out. Various reports were being received and one couldn't tell official reports from rumors.  One thing was for certain, the SS troopers that were still in front of us were going to hold out.  This was the place where Hitler had always threatened to make his last ditch stand, and we wondered how long his ditch stand would last.


The main task force was split up into smaller task forces.  We had Task Force Sammons, Task Force James, and Task Force Black.  The leap frog method of movement was used. One task force would move out and reconnoiter a town, hold it, and then the next task force would pass them up to follow the same procedure in the next town.  Finally the news came that the war was over.  But after listening to so many rumors, no one would believe the stories.  When the official word came, everyone was happy.


It wasn't like you'd think it should be though.  No one jumped all over the place, they were just glad it was over.  Most of them spoke about the boys who were unfortunate enough to get it at the last minute.  Others thought of the friends they had lost in the many battles across France, Luxembourg, Germany and Austria.  One could easily see what the boys would most enjoy. They were hearing on the radio about the big celebrations back home, about the hot spots of Paris going wild, and all the men were wishing they were there.  But this was a different kind of a fight, you couldn't stand up and take a bow in front of your audience after beating your opponent."


On May 8, 1945 Associated Press carried a brief story that stated that the 80th Division was the last Allied combat unit to remain active against the Germans, firing the last shot of the war in Europe.  The article failed to go into details of that last shot.  The New York Times also carried a story stating that it was the 80th Division which was the last to remain in full contact with the Germans.  The Times article did go into the detail of mentioning that it was Task Force Smythe which fired the last shot.  The article also mentioned that fighter-bombers of the XIX Tactical Air Command were called upon to break up a concentration of two thousand elite SS Troops, but were subsequently "called off to avoid violating the truce."


An interesting side note to the matter of the XIX T.A.C. came to this writer's attention in a 1988 telephone interview with the former Intelligence Sergeant of the 702nd Tank Battalion, Otto "Ole" Olson.  It seems that the commanders of the above mentioned SS Troops (the 5th SS Panzer Division "VIKING") had balked at surrendering to the 702nd Tank Battalion, instead demanding that Col. Talbot have his men join the SS Troops in fighting the approaching Russians.  Col. Talbot told the SS Commander that if he did not convince his men to surrender immediately, Col. Talbot would call in an air strike to bomb the hell out of them.  Sgt. Olson told this writer that the idea of the air strike was a bluff as on that particular day air support was not possible.  In any case, the SS Commander was convinced and the SS "Viking" Division surrendered, so ending the war.


It is easy to see where the Associated Press and New York Times got the idea that it was the 80th Division who actually fired the final shot of the war, since the 702nd Tank Battalion was attached to the 80th.  Although the 702nd was technically a separate and independent unit, it had been an integral part of the 80th since entering the war zone in August, 1944.  The majority of the men of the 702nd  felt a part of the Division, and the majority of the infantry felt that the 702nd  was "their" tanks.  There were exceptions to this rule.  As a general rule, those infantry officers who disliked the tankers were high ranking rear-echelon types.



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