The 14th Armored Division joined the Allied invasion of western Europe in October 1944, when it landed in Marseille in southern France. By early 1945, the "Liberators" had advanced as far as Alsace-Lorraine, provinces that had been incorporated into Germany after France's defeat in 1940. In March and April, the 14th penetrated the Rhineland and moved into Bavaria. By war's end, the division had reached the Danube River.
As the 14th advanced into southern Germany, it uncovered several subcamps of the Dachau concentration camp. Operating near the towns of Ampfing and Mühldorf, the unit discovered four large munitions plants built underground, some 15,000 tons of high explosive, and three large forced-labor camps, housing thousands of Polish and Soviet civilian workers. The 14th also liberated two other camps nearby, one holding 1,500 Jewish prisoners and the other filled with Jewish female inmates. The unit reported that of the 1,500 prisoners in the first camp, only 900 could walk, and that the lime pits were filled with the corpses of inmates.
The 14th Armored Division was recognized as a liberating unit by the US Army's Center of Military History and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 1991.
Casualty figures for the 14th Armored Division, European theater of operations:
- Total battle casualties: 2,690
- Total deaths in battle: 566
Although lacking a nickname during the war, the 14th became known as the "Liberators" soon afterward to signify its accomplishments in liberating hundreds of thousands of forced and slave laborers, concentration camp prisoners, and Allied prisoners of war in 1945.
Series: Liberation of Nazi Camps
Critical Thinking Questions
- What challenges did Allied forces face when they encountered the camps and sites of other atrocities?
- What challenges faced survivors of the Holocaust upon liberation?