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644th Tank Destroyer Battalion

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Tank destroyers of Company B of the 644th Tank Destroyer Battalion (attached to the 8th Infantry Division, U.S. First Army) are the first allied armored group to enter the battered German city of Duren on February 24, 1945. A portion of this image was used on the cover of the March 11, 1945 issue of "Yank" magazine.

The 644th Tank Destroyer Battalion was a unit of the United States Army during World War II. The unit was activated in 1942 and trained through the end of 1943 in Texas and Washington states. The battalion boarded the RMS Aquitania and arrived in the British Isles January 1944. The unit debarked in Belfast where it continued training in Northern Ireland and then moved to England in May. The 644th TD Bn landed on Utah Beach in July, 1944, where it was attached to the 8th Infantry Division and participated in Operation Cobra. After the breakout the battalion moved with the allies southwest through France and participated in the Battle for Brest. It then moved east and participated in the Battle of Hurtgen Forest. The unit then moved south where it was attached to the 2nd Infantry Division just before the Battle of the Bulge. The 644th helped the 2nd and 99th Infantry Divisions to delay the German 12th SS Panzer Division advance giving time for these units to assemble at Elsenborn Ridge where American forces halted the German advance in this northernmost sector. The unit crossed the Roer River at Duren, Germany on February, 24, 1945, then on to Cologne capturing thousands of German soldiers as the unit fought its way moving east and then north through Germany along with other allied forces until its surrender.

644th Tank Destroyer Battalion
Unit Pin with Crest and Motto
Active 1942-1945
Country United States
Branch Army
Type Tank Destroyer (Self Propelled)
Commander Lt Col Ephraim F. Graham
Equipment M-10 Tank Destroyer
Motto "Fortune Favors the Brave"
Campaigns Normandy

Northern France



Central Europe

Unit Citations and

Awards Included[1]

Distinguished Unit Citation (less Company B)

Belgian Fourragère

Organization and Training[edit]

Tank Destroyer Patch - Worn on the left shoulder of soldiers assigned to a Tank Destroyer Battalion

On January 16, 1942, the 644th Tank Destroyer Battalion, Light (Towed) was separated from the 44th Infantry Division at Camp Claiborne, Louisiana. Tank destroyer battalions were now separate units and under War Department control. The weapons of the outfit were changed to include only 37 mm guns, towed by 1/2 ton weapons carriers, and the unit was compressed into Headquarters, A, B, and C Companies. Later is was augmented with the addition of a fifth company, called the pioneer company (later called Reconnaissance Company).

On February 25, 1942, the 644th Tank Destroyer Battalion moved by rail to Fort Lewis, Washington, where the unit participated in defensive operations which included guarding the Pacific coastline at North Cove near Aberdeen, Washington, and evacuating Japanese from Portland and Hood River, Oregon. Training was continuous during the stay at Fort Lewis. Cadres were furnished to create new units. On September 12, 1942 the battalion was moved to Texas by rail under Major Ephraim F. Graham, Jr., who assumed command in August, 1942.

On September 18, 1942 the unit arrived in Texas and went into a bivouac area on Georgetown Road, a few miles outside of Camp Hood where the battalion lived in tents and training was carried on with borrowed equipment. At this time the M3 half-track mounting a 75mm gun was supposed to be their primary weapon (but had 37mm guns blocked up on half tons). The motto “Seek, Stride, Destroy” was the basis for Tank Destroyer tactics.

During the stay in Texas, the battalion crest, designed by the men of the 644th Tank Destroyer Battalion, was approved by the War Department. The crest consists of a mailed fist superimposed on a red Norman shield with the motto: “Fortune Favors The Brave”. Each spike of the fist represents a company in the battalion, and the color of the shield represents the red of the artillery from which branch the Battalion originated. The mailed fist symbolizes the might of Tank Destroyer armament and the motto indicates the spirit of the unit.

The battalion moved into barracks in Camp Hood on December 26th and received replacements totaling over one hundred men, who were given basic training and assimilated into the organization. The unit also received six M-10’s changing its designation from Towed (T) to Self-Propelled (SP).

644th Tank Destroyer Battalion on the parade grounds of Fort Lewis, Washington on April 13, 1943.

During the latter part of January 1943, the battalion moved by three trains back to Fort Lewis. For the next three months, equipment was brought up to date, and training continued.

During the month of May 1943, still with only six tank destroyers, the battalion moved to Yakima, Washington, where it trained extensively in direct fire. Then preparations began for a move to the high desert of Oregon for large scale maneuvers to be held from July to November 1943. Prior to the move to Oregon the unit received its total complement of thirty-six M-10 Tank Destroyers.

Reconnaissance Company of the 644th Tank Destroyer Battalion on the parade grounds of Fort Lewis, Washington on April 13, 1943.

After detraining at Redmond, Oregon, the battalion made a long march across country through the dust for over forty miles of difficult ground, to Sisters, a town named after the Three Sisters, Oregon mountain peaks.

A three week period was utilized for direct and indirect fire training at Buffalo Crossing, Oregon, where the battalion became aware of the potency of its weapons. The unit moved cross country to Hole in the Ground, Oregon, and practiced combat plays and then entered the IV Corps maneuvers at Glass Buttes.

An eventual move was made to Lapine, Oregon, where the tracks were moved by rail and the balance of the unit moved by truck, arriving at Fort Lewis on September 29, 1943.

On December 22, 1943 the battalion boarded troop trains at Fort Lewis destined for Camp Kilmer, New Jersey. The battalion boarded RMS Aquitania on January 1, 1944 and sailed the next day.[2]

Arrival on Continent[edit]

On January 12, 1944 the RMS Aquitania anchored in an inlet outside of the Scottish town of Gourick and transferred the 644th Tank Destroyer Battalion to the U.S. Army Troop Transport Henry T. Gibbons. The transport docked the next day in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

The battalion then moved by train to Enniskillen, Northern Ireland, and then proceeded to two bivouac areas, part of the battalion to Crom Castle and the other part to Belle Isle Castle.

Another move by train on January 23, 1944 for Larne, to a new area at Kilwaughter Castle, in Country Antrim, for additional training in indirect fire. The unit fired at direct targets near Bushmills, and indirect at Collin Top and in the Sperrin Mountains.

On May 10, 1944 the battalion returned to Belfast and boarded ship to cross the Irish Sea to Newport, Wales and another train to Hungerford, England, where the unit arrived on the 13th. Here the unit made modifications of equipment, performed more firing, deployed camouflage, and finally waterproofing of vehicles in preparations to move to Southampton, on the 6th of July.

Here the entire unit was loaded onto LST’s and moved across the English Channel to the Normandy Peninsula landing on Utah Beach on July 11 and 12. The battalion assembled and moved on July 12 to a point near St. Sauveur du Pierre Point.

Assigned to the First United States Army and attached to the 8th Infantry Division, the 644th Tank Destroyer Battalion was ordered to relieve the 803rd Tank Destroyer Battalion in the line on July 15 and it moved into positions about three miles south of La Haye Du Puits. Company A was attached to the 121st Infantry Regiment, Company B to the 13th Infantry Regiment and Company C was held under battalion control to deliver indirect fire through division artillery. Later Company C was attached to the 28th Infantry Regiment and these attachments continued intermittently throughout the war, with one company sometimes under battalion control on artillery missions and two usually in infantry close support and anti-tank roles under regimental control. Elements of the Reconnaissance Company operated both as a company unit and with a platoon attached to each of the battalion's tank destroyer companies. The Reconnaissance Company also performed division missions as required.

The 644th Tank Destroyer Battalion participated in Operation “COBRA” beginning 0530 July 26, 1944, with Company B firing prearranged missions for 8th Infantry Division Artillery and Companies A and C in close support. The unit pushed forward in the advance of the division in pursuit of enemy forces and struck south of the Lessay-Periers line and beyond Coutances.

After August 1st, the unit continued advancing to the south with the leading forces of the division and reached Rennes on the 4th. During this movement, Company B and then Company A went ahead performing security missions in the forward areas of the division sector. Contact with the enemy was slight. Scattered pockets of German troops constituted the only resistance encountered by any elements of the battalion.

From August 4th to August 13th, the battalion (less Company C after August 8th) held positions in the vicinity of Rennes, prepared to meet an attack by armor from the south. On August 8th, Company C was attached to the 121st Infantry Regiment, and moved to the northwest for the capture of Dinard. Reconnaissance Company patrolled the area within a ten-mile radius of Rennes and performed three division reconnaissance missions to the south and east.[3]

Battle for Brest[edit]

Company A was attached to one battalion of the 28th Infantry Regiment to form in a task force which reduced the enemy position on Cape Frehel and then moved into the vicinity of Brest. The Rear Command Post sat in a position ahead of the infantry for several days. The battalion, less Company A, established itself in an area southwest of Lesneven on August 18th and began preparations for an attack on the German garrison at Brest. Company A went into assembly under enemy observation and was under fire by German artillery.

Prior to the attack on Brest, Reconnaissance Company, operating under division orders, patrolled the right flank of the division, twice engaging enemy patrols in the vicinity of St. Renan.

The attack on Brest started at 1300 hours on August 26, 1944. Companies B and C performed close support missions for the infantry while Company A acted in close support of the main attack and also in operations against minor pockets of enemy in fortified positions along the coast to the west of Brest. Lt. Stevenson of Company C was captured while on a foot patrol on August 26, 1944. He escaped to the Daoulas Peninsula and later rejoined the unit when it was moving to the Crozon Peninsula.

Company A remained attached to the 29th Infantry Division from the first part of September until September 21, 1944, performing close support missions with the infantry attacking Brest in fighting along the coast west of Brest.

The operation was more difficult than expected. The allied forces were facing a combination of paratroopers, marines, sailors, and fortress troops, well armed and dug in. Action at Hill 88, Kergroas, Pontanezen Barracks, the fort on the river, and other tight spots were some of the toughest in Europe. Reconnaissance Company dug Company C’s tank destroyers in on the outpost line at night, and Company B led the infantry from one critical point to the next.

The battalion moved (less Company A) to the Crozon Peninsula south of Brest on September 11th to finish off the German garrison. Company A stayed with the 29th Infantry Division, while Company B worked with the 28th Infantry Regiment and Company C with the 121st and finally the 13th. Reconnaissance Company fired continuous harassing missions with its 37mm guns. Reconnaissance Company also dug in again on the outpost line at night under fire and knocked out a 105mm anti-aircraft gun. The battalion entered the town of Crozon and dug in again to attack the big fort to the north, fired several hundred rounds of direct fire, broke through the defenses and witnessed General Charles Canham, 8th Infantry Division assistant commander, take General Hermann-Bernard Ramcke prisoner.

The battalion was assembled in a bivouac area in the vicinity of Treflevenez, France, on September 24 in preparation for movement to the east. The unit was soon off again on September 27 as part of the 8th Infantry Division movement across France to Luxembourg via Rennes, Laval, Le Mans, Chartres, Paris, Chalons, Sedan, and Wiltz, Luxembourg.

On October 1, 1944, the battalion arrived in Luxembourg where it was given a long front with a holding mission where it fired daily direct missions and artillery targets at German positions across the valley.[4]

Battle of Hurtgen Forest[edit]

November 1944, 2nd Platoon, Reconnaissance Company, 644th Tank Destroyer Battalion just before entering Hurtgen Forest

In mid-November the 644th Tank Destroyer Battalion took over west of Hurtgenwald, inside Germany, from the 630th Tank Destroyer Battalion. Company C's 1st Platoon took up positions in cellars in Vossenack and received thousands of rounds nearly every day. There was a march into Hurtgen after the Reconnaissance Company had dug all night up on the road that had S-mines all along it. Company C moved into Hurtgen with only three M-10s out of twelve operational while Company A created a road of its own through the minefields in the middle of the night. They were all under fire from 120mm mortars and ME 109’s flew over the town. Company A moved to Brandenberg and Bergstein, Reconnaissance Company set up regimental communication in the infantry forward command posts, Headquarters Company pulled M-10’s out of minefields, and Company A’s first platoon fought off the Germans.

Snow came to join the mud and both sides settled down to a holding situation.

The 644th TD Battalion (minus Company B) then moved out under orders to join the 2nd Infantry Division. Company B remained behind with other allied forces in the Hurtgen Forest in the stalemate.[5]

Actions During the Battle of the Bulge[edit]

The 644th Tank Destroyer Battalion (excluding Company B) arrived at Sourbrodt, Belgium and was attached to the 2nd Infantry Division Artillery on December 12, 1944.[6] The allied plan was to assist the 2nd and 99th Infantry Divisions and other American forces in the area to capture the Roer River dams from the south. It was about a 25 mile route passing through Monsonru, Butgenbach, Bullingen, and Krinkelt then into the woods to join other units of the 2nd Infantry Division at Wahlerscheid, Belgium, to launch an attack on the Westwall forts. Trudging through the mud and snow slowed the battalion's progress to a crawl.[7]

The Germans had other plans and on the morning of December 16, 1944 their Ardennes Counteroffensive started with an artillery barrage. Their infantry units began to advance toward American positions to the west and north in order to secure vital roads and junctions so their Panzers and other heavy weapons and vehicles would quickly penetrate in a Blitzkreig. The initial attack of the 277th Volksgrenadier Division and the 12th SS Panzer Division would be toward their objective of Elsenborn and would have to pass through Wirtzfeld and the twin villages of Krinkelt-Rocherath and the road running south from them to Bullingen.[8]

Panther Ausf. G Tank of SS Panzer Regiment 12 shown on the left was knocked out by an M10 of the 644th Tank Destroyer Battalion near Krinkelt on December18, 1944. One of the tankers is taken prisoner.

On December 17, 1944, the Commanding General of the 2nd Infantry Division, Major General Walter Robertson, was advised of the German attacks and ordered to suspend the planned attack on the Roer River dams. Robertson decided to move his division to Elsenborn and set up a defensive position on its imposing ridge. The only road to Elsenborn available for his heavy material and vehicles ran through Wirtzfeld and Krinkelt-Rocherath. These villages had to be defended until the last troops of the 99th and the 2nd Divisions had managed to pull back over this road on their way to Elsenborn.[8]

A defensive barrier was laid around Wirtzfeld and Krinkelt-Rocherath.[9]The Reconnaissance Company of the 644th Tank Destroyer Battalion was assigned to set up a command post in Krinkelt on the south edge of the village. On the afternoon of December 17, 1944, the CP noticed a motorized column moving through the town of Bullingen which was about 2 miles south. A platoon was sent to investigate and reported back that it was German armor. The company was positioned in the command post and another building across the street.

Later that evening, several German tanks moved into the south edge of Krinkelt where their Panthers shot up the exposed company reconnaissance vehicles. The Germans strolled the streets going from house to house but the men of the reconnaissance company were well concealed and kept quiet.

In the early morning, the Germans prepared for the day, got into their Panthers and began to move out of the village.

Vehicles of the 99th Infantry Division, 372nd Field Artillery, moving north through Wirtzfeld under the protection of an M10 (seen on the right) of the 644th Tank Destroyer Battalion - December 1944

Once they were gone, the men of the reconnaissance company came out and began searching the nearby houses for the enemy.

The Germans soon returned and the fighting began. The men of the reconnaissance company were armed with bazookas and their wits against the Germans in their Panthers. After the noise and excitement stopped it was found they had knocked out six German Panthers of the 12th SS Panzer Division and their crews and later learned that this action had saved two infantry battalions and a regimental headquarters. Lt. Robert Parker received the Distinguished Service Cross for his gallantry in this action.[10][11]

The Reconnaissance Company fell back to Wirtzfeld while Company C and A's 2nd Platoon of the 644th Tank Destroyer Battalion and other elements of the 2nd and 99th Infantry Divisions fought elements of the 12th Panzer Division amongst the ruins of Krinkelt for three more days before falling back.

Company A set up a ridgeline defense south of Wirtzfeld with its 1st and 3d platoons.[12]

The 644th Tank Destroyer Battalion then fell back to join forces with the 2nd and 99th Infantry Divisions and dug in on Elsenborn ridge, and things quieted down a bit for A and C Companies.[8]

Company B rejoined the 644th Tank Destroyer Battalion on December 23, 1944, and it was immediately attached to the 1st Infantry Division south of Butgenbach. The 3rd Platoon of Company B moved to the very corner of the bulge and took shelling day in and day out until the Germans were forced to retreat.[2]

The actions of these American forces at Elsenborn stopped the main path the Germans planned to use to take Antwerp - the prime objective of this major counteroffensive.[8]

Crossing the Roer River[edit]

A few members of the 644th Tank Destroyer Battalion just outside Duren before their crossing of the Roer River

The forward Command Post moved to Elsenborn. Company C went to the 9th Infantry Division and set up in Mutzenich in early January, 1945. Company B and then A were attached to the 99th Infantry Division and a new offensive began for the Roer River Dams. By the first part of February, 1945 the battalion reassembled and returned to the 8th Infantry Division and began a night march through Eupen, Aachen, and Stolberg for the Roer-to-Rhine Offensive.

From February 9th to the 24th the offensive waited just outside Duren for the Roer River to subside.

The crossing took place after an hour of artillery preparation and then over the bailey bridge into Duren under some artillery. The 644th Tank Destroyer M10s were the first armor over the Roer, and a photograph of them passing through Duren was used on the cover of the March 11, 1945 issue of “Yank”.

From then until the Rhine was reached, the warfare became a little more open. The battalion worked as a unit for division right flank defense and moved continuously day and night. From the end of February through the first half of March the battalion moved from Blatzheim to Kerpen, Modrath, Frechen and then fanned out to occupy the suburban villages west and south of Cologne as part of Operation Lumberjack.[13]

Ruhr Pocket and Central Europe campaign[edit]

The 644th Tank Destroyer Battalion occupied the west bank of the Rhine and did some maintenance while the Remagen bridgehead was being expanded. Company C went across at Bad Godesberg with the 104th Infantry Division. After the 3rd Armored Division punched a hole in the defenses and rumbled out into the Westerwald region in early April, Company C went to the 1st Infantry Division in a push northeast toward the Seig River. The battalion went over with the 8th Infantry Division, and Company C went to the 121st Regiment, A to the 28th and B to the 13th.

By this time, the Rurh Pocket and the Sauerland had become the biggest prize of the war, with a reported 60,000 to 80,000 troops in it. The 8th Infantry Division was assigned as one of the mop-up units. Company A went over to the newly arrived 86th Infantry Division and the offensive began. At first the going was as rough as ever. The Tank Destroyers operated as tanks, assault guns, personnel carriers, reconnaissance vehicles, etc. Reconnaissance Company showed the division how a cavalry troop ought to do it - capturing towns, leading the infantry, and going up side roads to notify the infantry of any enemy tanks in their area. Company C encountered a 128mm Jagdtiger in Netphen. Company B knocked out a paratroop counterattack and broke up the resistance around Siegen. The infantry performance was of the first order here, and the POW’s began to come back in company-sized groups. The battalion broke loose across the Sieg River and made up armored combat teams with the 740th Tank Battalion to move north during mid-April. The 8th Infantry Division was traveling faster than its flank divisions by this time, and reached the Rurh River in time to make first contact with the 79th Infantry Division moving down from the north. Instead of the expected 80,000, the advancing forces found 315,000 Germans in the pocket, and getting them and the liberated POW’s and displaced persons and the wrecked German vehicles off the roads so forward movement could continue became a problem.

In the middle of April the battalion went through Wuppertal to the Dusseldorf-Cologne area.

The battalion followed on a two day road march through the Ruhr, Paderborn, Hamelin and Braunschweig to the River Elbe. On May 1, 1945 the 644th Tank Destroyer Battalion was attached to the 82nd Airborne Division. When the paratroops had made their bridgehead and the engineers had put up a pontoon bridge, Company A went across in a shower of German light artillery, and was followed the next day by Reconnaissance Company, Companies B and C, and the Forward Command Post.

"Slow-n-Steady" the jeep used by T/5 James Lee of the Reconnaissance Company, 644th Tank Destroyer Battalion. Photo taken after V-E Day, July 1945, in Germany

The battalion “formed up” in two columns with the tanks, some armored artillery and the 121st Infantry Regiment to go from the Elbe to the Baltic Sea to meet the Russians. British paratroopers were doing the same thing to the west. The 644th Tank Destroyer Battalion marched up to the Schwerin area and took ten thousand prisoners but were stopped (by order) before it could get to the Baltic Sea.

In four days the 8th Infantry Division took 245,000 POW’s. The 644th Tank Destroyer Battalion liberated a camp of British and American prisoners. For the next few days the unit occupied the area around Schwerin, and waited for General Eisenhower to announce V-E Day.

After VE Day the 644th Tank Destroyer Battalion went to the Wobbelin concentration camp. Even in the excitement and elation of victory the weary soldiers were sobered and sickened by the piles of wretched bony corpses and the dying human skeletons. For three weeks the battalion tried military government by administering POW enclosures and helping to feed displaced persons.[14]

Commendations and Recognition[edit]

On June 17, 1946, The 644th Tank Destroyer Battalion was cited twice to the Order of the Belgian Army with attribution of the "Fourragere 1940" for its actions during the Battle of the Bulge.

On February 12, 1947, The 644th Tank Destroyer Battalion (less Company B) was awarded the Distinguished Unit Citation (now called Presidential Unit Citation) in General Orders No. 21 for its actions in the Battle of Hurtgen Forest.[1]


  1. 1.0 1.1 "644th Awards and Citations" (PDF). Unknown parameter |url-status= ignored (help)
  2. 2.0 2.1 644th Tank Destroyer Battalion. Gottingen, Germany: Muster-Schmidt. 1945. pp. 9–16. Search this book on
  3. 644th Tank Destroyer Battalion. Gottingen, German: Muster-Schmidt. 1945. pp. 16–21. Search this book on
  4. 644th Tank Destroyer Battalion. Gottingen, German: Muster-Schmidt. 1945. pp. 21–24. Search this book on
  5. 644th Tank Destroyer Battalion. Gottingen, Germany: Muster-Schmidt. 1945. pp. 24, 27. Search this book on
  6. "644th Tank Destroyer Battalion - After Action Report" (PDF). January 4, 1945. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2015-04-05. Unknown parameter |url-status= ignored (help)
  7. 644th Tank Destroyer Battalion. Gottingen, Germany: Muster-Schmidt. 1945. pp. 25, 28. Search this book on
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 A Time For Trumpets. New York: Bantam Books. 1984. pp. 30, 31, 162, 164, 370–411. ISBN 0-553-34226-6. Search this book on
  9. "Battle for the Elsenborn Ridge". Archived from the original on 2020-07-30. Unknown parameter |url-status= ignored (help)
  10. "Opening Hours of the Battle of the Bulge" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2021-06-02. Unknown parameter |url-status= ignored (help)
  11. "Robert A Parker". Archived from the original on 2020-09-19. Unknown parameter |url-status= ignored (help)
  12. 644th Tank Destroyer Battalion. Gottingen, Germany: Muster-Schmidt. 1945. p. 28. Search this book on
  13. 644th Tank Destroyer Battalion. Gottingen, Germany: Muster-Schmidt. 1945. pp. 28–31. Search this book on
  14. 644th Tank Destroyer Battalion. Gottingen, Germany: Muster-Schmidt. 1945. pp. 31–33. Search this book on

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