June 13, 2014

Train Ambush

Insignia VII Corps

James Howard Wellard was a journalist and a writer who, during WWII, served as a combat correspondent, attached to Patton’s Third Army. While following General Collins’ VII Corps, in late August 1944, he became aware of an episode characteristic of Patton’s rapid advance.

In his own words: “General Collins advised us to go to a little town called Braine to see two German trains his troops had ambushed. The ambushed trains were typical, he said, of what had been happening to the Germans in the last week. So we went to Braine, and pieced together the story of the ambushed trains.

In the little station at Braine stood one train of forty cars. Further along the line was a second train, of thirty cars. Both were still smoking.

The station master at Braine told us what had happened. The two trains, he said, were loaded with hundreds of the German Paris garrison, who had left the capital the night before the city fell. They brought with them their women, children, and loot. Also, the freight cars were loaded with Tiger tanks and anti-aircraft guns.

The trains had rolled out of the Gare du Nord at ten- thirty on Thursday night. By seven-thirty Monday evening they had been ambushed by American tanks and artillery, 120 miles east of Paris. The German trains had got as far as Braine. They were making for Reims, not knowing this city, too, was in our hands.

The ambushing of the trains was pure Hollywood—and pure Patton. As the first locomotive came round the hillside at Braine, a squadron of General Collins’ tanks came over the crest of the hill and opened fire, knocking out the engine just as its bogie wheels were on the level crossing. The Lieutenant Colonel in command of the American tank squadron said he had never seen anything like the astonishment and stupefaction on the faces of the Germans when his tanks suddenly swung over the hill and opened fire, knocking out the locomotive with the first shot and shooting up the entire length of the train over open sights.

Behind the engine were long freight cars, carrying three Tiger tanks, which were manned in the German manner and these Tigers fought back, knocking out two American tanks. Then the Americans closed in under the guns of these monsters to within fifty yards of the train, rapidly silencing the three Tigers and a fourth German tank further back along the train, Next, with their machine guns, they drilled the carriages, from which the German troops were firing with rifles and pistols. In half an hour it was all over and the entire personnel aboard the train surrendered.

Further down the line, the second Nazi train was being ambushed by American field guns, placed in position by the gunners who had been forewarned by the station master’s sixteen-year-old son, Hubert. Six tank destroyers moved into position, and demolished the second train –which was also carrying tanks- without loss.

The German engineer of the second train tried to keep up steam until his boiler exploded. The result of the ambush was five Tiger tanks destroyed and two Mark IVs, with 500 prisoners, fifty killed, and a hundred wounded.”  

Wellard, James. General George S. Patton, Jr.- Man Under Mars. New York: Dodd Mead & Company, 1946.

Photo attribution
Noclador, via Wikimedia Commons

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