With the war clouds forming over Europe in 1939, the 5th Division (Regular) was called on again for service to the country. The 5th Division was reactivated 16 October 1939, at Fort McClellan, Alabama as a "triangular" division, i.e. three infantry regiments - the 2nd, 10th and 11th Regiments, with an authorized strength of approximately 15,000 officers and men. It is interesting to note that it was not the first time the three infantry regiments served together under one command. During the Civil War the 2nd, 10th and 11th Regiments composed the Second Brigade in the battle of Chancellorsville.
Immediately after activation, the division spent several months of intensive training, which culminated in a series of maneuvers. The Fifth went through further intensive training until the spring of 1940 when the various units returned to their home stations for a few months of garrison duty. In August 1940, the division again assembled at Camp McCoy, Wisconsin for field problems and firing of weapons. Following was another return to unit stations in preparation for final assembly at the division's new permanent station - Fort Custer, Michigan.
Major General Joseph M. Cummins assumed command of the Division on September 4, 1940 and established headquarters at Fort Custer. The first troops arrived in the middle of September. By April 1941, the arrival of the first Selective Service Selectees, 5,000 in number, arrived to bring the Division up to strength. Two maneuvers were held, Tennessee and Louisiana, during the spring and summer of 1941. In August, a Regimental Team, composed of the 10th Infantry Regiment and 46th FA Bn. with supporting units, was shipped out to Iceland arriving 16 September. The remainder of the Division, shipped out piecemeal, the last units arriving 16 May 1942.
The Division was under the command of Major General Charles H. Bonesteel, 24 July 1942 and almost immediately was replaced by the former artillery commander, Brigadier General Courtland Parker. While in Iceland, the 5th Division performed arduous and monotonous duties of manning observation posts, unloading boats, building roads and buildings and maintaining training schedules. Major General S. Leroy Irwin assumed command 3 July 1943, and remained in command until the final weeks of the war when he was promoted to command the XII Corps. He was replaced by Major General Albert E. Brown.
In August 1943 the Division moved from Iceland to Tidworth Barracks, England then in October 1943, to Northern Ireland for advanced training for the invasion of France. The 5th Division landed in France at Utah Sugar Red Beach, in the St. Mere Eglise area, 9 July 1944. It was assigned to the V Corps, First Army, and relieved the 1st Infantry Division in the Coumont area. The division launched its first attack on Vidouville on 26 July 1944.
Following the first successful attack the Division was assigned, 3 August 1944, to the XXth Corps of the newly operational Third Army, commanded by Lt. General George S. Patton, Jr. For the most part of the war the 5th Division remained in either the XIIth or the XXth Corps of the Third Army.
With the breakthrough at St. Lo of the First Army's "Operation Cobra," the 5th Division's orders were to proceed to the Vivre River and then to seize the bridges across the Maine and Loire Rivers and capture the city of Angeres, the principal exit for the German troops fleeing the Brest Peninsula.
After the capture of Angers, the Division moved to St. Calais and from there to Chartres, The City of Cathedrals, fifty miles to the northwest and had control of the city by August 19th. The next objectives of the Red Diamonds were Etamps, south of Paris, Fountainbleau, sixty miles distant on the Sein River, and Montereau, seventy-two miles away. These movements, when completed, would enable the Third Army to out flank Paris and sever northern and southern France.
Etamps fell to the 2nd RCT on August 22 and the 11th RCT attacked and captured Fountainbleau. It was at the 10th RCT action at the Seine River and capture of Montereau on August 25, 1944, that a Medic from the 5th Medical Battalion earned the Medal of Honor, the only one awarded to the Red Devils in World War II, for the following action.
During the German counterattacks against the bridgehead, casualties were being shuttled to the southern shore in assault boats by the litter bearers. Pvt. Harold A. Garmen, one of the litter bearers working on the friendly shore, swam to aid one of the boats; Garman towed the casualties back to the southern shore under accurately aimed German machine gun fire from the northern shore.
Although the Red Diamonds had advanced rapidly through France there was no rest period at this time. General Walker, XXth Corps commander, urged for more speed in the advance. The Division continued the drive eastward. The 2nd RCT crossed the Marne River and captured Reims on August 29th. The 11th RCT, on August 31, was alerted for a move to Verdun. The 11th attacked and captured the city on September 1. Verdun was where in World War I, the French had stopped the German drive.
In twenty-seven days the 5th Division had covered 700 miles. It was now preparing to enter Germany. However, presently at Verdun, all forward advance was halted due to having run out of supplies. The Third Army's rapid drive across France had outrun their supply lines. A resupply of ammunition and especially gasoline for the vehicles was received on September 6, allowed the Third Army to continue its drive eastward. However, the lull in the activities during this short period, enabled the Germans to halt their flight, stop and prepare a strong defensive line on the east side of the Moselle River. The next twenty-five days were the worst for the Division in establishing a bridgehead across the Moselle.
The 11th RCT first made the attempt on 7 September, at Dornot, and after a short advance encountered 26 enemy counterattacks and suffered heavy casualties. It was necessary to withdraw from the beachhead. The attacking battalion, the second of the 11th Regiment, had lost 50% of it's force in the beachhead attempt.
The 10th Regiment made a crossing several miles south of the initial crossing, near Arnaville and joined by the 1st and 3rd Battalions of the 11th spent five days overcoming the worst thrown at them by a fanatical enemy. The bridgehead was finally successful and secure by September 15 but the casualties were exceptionally high, 1400 of the Red Devils were killed or wounded in the Moselle bridgehead operation.
The 5th Division, after paying such a high price for the bridgehead, was now at Metz, the gateway to the Siegfried Line. The city was fortified by twenty-two forts assembled during the wars between France and Germany in 1870 and 1914. The bloodshed of the American troops to take the city of Metz was to continue through November and early December. The attack began on November 9th against a determined enemy. Some of the forts surrendered and others by-passed and the converging regiments of the Division closed in on the city forcing it to surrender on November 21, 1944. Fort Driant, the last of the forts to surrender, fell to the 2nd Infantry Regiment on December 8, 1944.
With Fort Driant's surrender, the Moselle Operation came to an end and the 5th Division, although having suffered heavy losses, had opened the road to the Saar River, the Siegfried Line and Germany. The Third Army plan was to attack the Siegfried Line along the Saar River and the drive eastward through the Saar-Palatinate to the Rhine River. The 5th Division was now in position, in the Saarlautern area, for the attack.
However, they were to be diverted from their planned attack. At 5:30 a.m. on the morning of December 16, 1944, the great concentration of German troops began their famous counteroffensive in the Ardennes Forest of Luxembourg. They struck in a sector known to be a quiet area with a very little military activity. The drive was on an 85-mile front from Echternach on the south to Monschau in the north.
The Third Army received orders to send relief by attacking the southern flank of the newly formed salient. The 5th Division received orders to withdraw from their positions at Saarlautern and make the one hundred mile move to the northwest on December 20. Making the motor move in the cold and snow of winter, the division arrived in the Luxembourg City area within a 24-hour period and relieved the hard hit 4th Division. The Division was given the order to strike the south flank of the new "Bulge" and hurl the Germans back across the Sauer River in the Echternach area. The divisionís attack protected Luxembourg City and sent two German divisions into confusion. They recaptured a great quantity of American equipment, captured 830 prisoners and wiped out the enemy threat to the southern flank of the salient.
Moving north the Division made a surprise crossing of the Sauer River near Diekirch, Luxembourg, on January 18. By the end of the Bulge campaign the Division had driven north to the Our River. The next assignment for the 5th Division was to drive into Germany.
Acting as the spearhead of the XII Corps, the 5th moved across the Sauer River, breach the Siegfried Line, drive north to Bitburg and attack eastward to the Rhine River. This was the course the Division followed, making assault crossings of the Sauer, Kyll and the Moselle Rivers and reaching the Rhine River near Oppenheim. At 2230 hours, March 22, 1945, the leading assault boat of K Company, 11th Regiment, paddled across the 800-foot Rhine River without a shot being fired from the far shore. They were followed by the remainder of Company K and Company I of the Third Battalion, 11th Regiment. The following day the entire division had crossed and the bridgehead was soon secured. Within 36 hours the bridgehead was five miles deep and seven miles wide.
The next objective was Frankfurt on Main. On March 27, 1945, the 5th Division entered the city over a bridge they had found still standing although it was under intensive artillery fire. Advancing between artillery barrages on the bridge, the troops entered the city against heavy tank and sniper fire and cleared the city of enemy troops within four days. The division had a short break in the liberated city of Frankfurt and enjoyed the relaxing inactivity.
The short break came to an end on April 7, 1945, when the 5th was ordered to move a hundred miles northward to join the III Corps of the First Army to assist in reducing what became known as "The Ruhr Pocket", three trapped German divisions who were working their way back to Germany for the defense of the Homeland. The 5th attacked the center of the "pocket" until all resistance ceased. What was left of the enemy in the area can be described as complete devastation they had also been attacked by the Allied Air Forces. The Ruhr Pocket had the 5th occupied until April 23 when relieved and returned to XII Corps control.
The commander of the 5th through its entire combat engagements, General S. Leroy Irwin, was advance to command the XII Corps at this time. The General's letter to the division upon his leaving expressed his feelings toward his troops. It said, in part, "I cannot adequately express the pride and admiration I feel for the Division. It is more than a great division - - it is a magnificent one. Thus ended the General's leadership of his beloved Red Diamonds. His replacement was Major General Albert E. Brown who led the 5th the remaining month of the war.
The next move for the Red Diamonds was to be a long one - - three hundred miles to the town of Regen, near a point where Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia joined borders, arriving on April 30, the division was ordered to attack eastward in southern Czechoslovakia and northern Austria to clear the area of German troops that had retreated to that area. Progress was rapid against light resistance.
The 2nd RCT, in the area of Volary Czechoslovakia on the morning of May 7, 1945, was loaded and on the road ready to continue the attack. Leading as "point" for the regiment was the reconnaissance platoon of Company C, 803rd Tank Destroyed Battalion. At 08:20 the platoon was ambushed northeast of Wallern, Czechoslovakia by elements of the 11th Panzer Division.
The commander of the platoon, Lt. Donald Warren, was wounded and the machine gunner in the lead Jeep, Pfc. Charles Havlat of Dorchester Nebraska, took a bullet through the helmet and died instantly. Ten minutes later, at 08:30, the platoon received word to cease fire, an armistice was in effect. It has been established that Pfc. Havlat was the last GI killed in action on the 5th Division front and possibly the last KIA in the European Theater.
The war ended in the European Theater on May 7, 1945 after the signing of "An unconditional surrender" by representatives of the German High Command. The surrender took place in a schoolhouse in Reims, France at 02:41 hours, May 7, 1945 in the city the 2nd Infantry Regiment had liberated on August 30, 1944. At the ending of hostilities, the 5th Division occupied positions in Bavaria from May 15 to June 13, 1945 when it was relieved by the 83d Infantry Division.
At the close of the 5th's occupation duty, an exchange of 4000 of its veterans with a like number of the 103d Division was made. The veterans, now with the 103d Division were to await transportation for the U.S. The 5th, with its new "replacements" prepared to return to the U.S. and to refit for further service in the Pacific Theater.
The 5th Division, from it's landing in Normandy July 9, 1944 to the last Division Headquarters in Vilshofen, Germany had traveled 2049 miles and had engaged in all five of the ETO's major campaigns: NORMANDY, NORTHERN FRANCE, RHINELAND, ARDENNES-ALSACE, CENTRAL EUROPE.
The 5th Division had served in the XII and XX Corps, Third Army from August 3, 1944 to the end of hostilities, May 7, 1945. General George S. Patton, Commander of the Third Army, had this to say, in part, in a letter dated November 17, 1945:
"Nothing I can say can add to the glory which you have achieved. Throughout the whole advance across France you spearheaded the attack of your Corps. You crossed so many rivers that I am persuaded many of you have webfeet and I know that all of you have dauntless spirit. To my mind history does not record incidents of greater valor than your crossing of the Sauer and Rhine."
The 5th, with it's new replacements, returned to the point of embarkation, LeHavre, France and sailed for the U.S. arriving at Camp Campbell Kentucky in late July, 1945. The troops were immediately given a 30-day leave for the purpose of "Rest, Recuperation, Rehabilitation and Recovery." At the conclusion of the leave period, the 5th assembled at Camp Campbell to be refitted and prepare for further service. By this time the war in the Pacific had come to an end with the signing of "An unconditional surrender" on Sept 2, 1945 by the Empire of Japan on the battleship USS Missouri anchored in Tokyo Bay.
The country now entered into a period of peace for the first time since the "Attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941" had entered the country into World War II.
The division, following the surrender of Japan and the ending of the country's wartime activities, was inactivated September 20, 1946 at Camp Campbell Kentucky. However, this was not the end of the Red Diamond's history. It was activated and inactivated many times in future years. It was a part of NATO forces in Germany in the mid 1950's, took part in the war in Vietnam as the Fifth Division (Mechanized) and was a part of the Panama Invasion in 1989. The last inactivation, at this date 1998, was on November 24, 1992, by coincidence, 75 years from the exact date of it's first order to activate, November 24, 1917.
TABLE OF ORGANIZATION
From 1942 to 1945 the Fifth Division served in the following countries, ICELAND, ENGLAND, NORTHERN IRELAND, FRANCE, LUXEMBOURG, GERMANY, AUSTRIA AND CZECHOSLOVAKIA.
U.S. Medals Awarded
THE RED DIAMOND'S FIRST FIFTY
History Of The 2nd Inf. Regiment. PR Section, HQ 2nd Inf. Regiment, 1946.
History Of The 11th Inf. Regiment. PR Section, HQ 11th Inf. Regiment, 1946.
The Fifth Infantry Division In The ETO, Fifth Division Historical Section, Arthur Love Enterprises, 1945.
Society of the Fifth Division Archives
Joseph Rahie, Society of the Fifth Division, Former National Historian