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Lt. William L. Harlow

By Terry D. Janes

 

 

I recently got an email request for help in finding information about the writer's grandfather.  The story of Lt. Harlow is both sad and inspirational.  The story involves the 80th Division at it's darkest hour, and General Patton in what some would say was his darkest hour.

 

To begin, it is best to quote from Lt. Harlow's obituary:

 

"Freed By Patton, Dies In Action As Volunteer

Hyde Park Officer Long Nazi Prisoner

After surviving a death-march across Germany and the miseries of a Nazi prison camp for nearly a year, Lt. William L. Harlow of Hyde Park was killed in action one day after he was released by General Patton's army.  He had volunteered to join Patton's spearhead pressing on the attack.

 

The 36 year-old infantry officer, husband of Mrs. Louise Dodge Harlow of 23 Albion Street, landed with invading armies in Normandy and was first wounded and then captured September 12, 1944 by the Germans.  He was imprisoned in a German camp, Auflag 64 in Poland.

 

When the Soviet armies swept into Poland, the Hyde Park lieutenant was moved with his comrades by a forced march across the whole of Germany to a new camp at Hammelburg.  There he was rescued by spearheads of the Third Army April 2.  The following day, he insisted on joining Patton's men and was killed in the attack.

 

Lt. Harlow was born in Hyde Park and was graduated from Hyde Park High School in 1928 and from Dartmouth in 1932.  He was employed in his father's lumber company before entering the service in March 1943.

 

Surviving are his wife; his Parents, Mr. and Mrs. William B. Harlow of 38 Milton Avenue, Hyde Park; three Daughters, Mary, Constance and Elizabeth; two Brothers, Richard and John; and a Sister, Mrs. Reed Freeman of Hyde Park.  Memorial services will be held at Christ Episcopal Church at 2:30 PM tomorrow with the Rev. F. Taylor Weil officiating."

 

The event when Lt. Harlow was captured; was the huge German counterattack against the 80th Division's 317th & 318th Regiments just after the Moselle River crossing.  Many others were killed there, and many were captured.  The division's two regiments would have been wiped out altogether, but for the desperate last stand at the bridgehead by tanks of B Company, 702nd Tank Battalion Red Devils, one battery of halftrack mounted quad-fifty 50 cal. Machine-gun anti-aircraft guns, and a handful of 318th Infantry.  Like many others in the 317th Infantry, Lt. Harlow found himself on his way to a German P.O.W. camp.

 

Of the Hammelburg Raid, General Patton, in his "War As I Knew It" says, "On March 26th, I crossed the Rhine with Codman and directed Eddy to send an expedition across the Main River to Hammelburg.  There were two purposes in this expedition: first, to impress the Germans with the idea that we were moving due east, whereas we intended to move due north, and second, to release some nine hundred American prisoners of war who were at Hammelburg.  I intended to send one combat command of the 4th Armored, but unfortunately, was talked out of it by Eddy and Hodge, commanding the 4th Armored Division, so I compromised by sending one armored company and one company of armored infantry."

 

Then, two days later, "…On the other hand, we were very much disturbed because we could get no information at all as to what had happened to the task force sent east from the 4th Armored Division."

 

Then on the 30th of March, "On the thirtieth, the German radio announced that the American armored division attacking Hammelburg had been captured and destroyed. (The actual composition of the task force was one company of tanks and one company of armored infantry, 11 officers and 282 men.)"

 

Then, the next day, "I made arrangements to reconstitute the two companies of the 4th Armored Division, which we now definitely knew had been captured.  After forcing a crossing over the Main east of Frankfort, in which the Captain in command was slightly wounded, they continued the attack and reached the outskirts of Hammelburg.  There they ran into elements of three German divisions, which, as we hoped, had been drawn by their attack.  While some of the tanks and some of the armored infantry engaged these divisions, other tanks went to the prison camp, some six miles to the north and released the prisoners.  These tanks, accompanied by some twelve hundred prisoners, rejoined the rest of the force in the vicinity of Hammelburg and started back over the road they had taken.  The following report was made by my Aide, Major Stiller, who was with them but not in command.  He suggested that, instead of returning over the road already used, the column strike north.  The officer in charge declined that advice and the column stopped to refuel.  While engaged in this refueling, they were attacked by three regiments of German infantry from three different directions, and scattered.  When the confusion had cleared, Major Stiller, the Captain in command of the force, and five enlisted men continued to fight until they had used up all their ammunition and had their vehicles destroyed, when they surrendered."

 

On April 4th, Patton writes, "That evening, two lieutenants, who had been liberated from Hammelburg and made their way across country to our lines, paid me a visit.  (These two lieutenants reported that General Patton's Son-in-law, Colonel J.K. Waters was a prisoner in the camp at Hammelburg and had been shot during the melee at the camp when the American troops arrived.)  Later that evening, Patch called up to say that three other officers from Hammelburg had reached his headquarters and told him Colonel Waters had been badly wounded.  Patch said he would do everything in his power to capture the camp on the fifth."

 

Then, on April 6th Patton writes, "Late in the evening, Patch telephoned that the 14th Armored Division (commanded by Major General A.C. Smith) had recaptured Hammelburg and that only about seventy American prisoners remained, among whom was Colonel Waters, critically wounded."

 

And finally, on April 8th Patton writes, "Mr. McCloy, at his own request, visited Colonel Waters in the hospital, and we also examined a number of wards and the operating rooms.  He was extremely complimentary in his remarks concerning the efficiency with which things were run.  After the Secretary left, I returned to the hospital and pinned the Silver Star and Oak Leaf Cluster on Waters.  He did not know that he had been awarded either decoration, having not lived, in an historical sense, for more than two years, since his capture in Tunisia. (Colonel Waters was captured in February 1943)"

 

To the casual reader of General Patton's words, it is fairly obvious that, his words to the contrary, he was more focused on saving his Son-in-law, Col. Waters than his claim of a tactical feint or rescuing the other 1200 Americans being held prisoner.  And what of those two companies of 4th Armored men he sent on this ill-conceived mission?  How many men died, so that General Patton's precious son-in-law could live to get his Silver Star Medal?  I am a huge fan of Patton in many ways, but in my humble opinion, this was his most shameful moment.  His concern for his family member seems to have overridden his better judgment as a General.  In the end, there were only 70 prisoners left to rescue.  Some, obviously made it back to American lines, but how many didn't?  Remember, there were roughly 1200 to begin with.  Lt. Harlow was one who didn't make it back.  Did he get a Silver Star?  Just what did he get for his bravery and sacrifice?  His family got a newspaper obituary to remember him by.  If you can help this family with information or photos of Lt. Harlow, please come forward.  Personally, I believe they deserve more than an obituary for their loss.  Lt. Harlow and all the men who attempted that rescue should have gotten the same medal Patton's son-in-law did, at the very least!

 

To read more about the Hammelburg Raid, visit the website of our friends at Task Force Baum".  This link will take you to a description of the site, and provide a direct link to it!

 

 

 

 

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