The 6th Armored Division during World War II
As Allied troops moved across Europe in a series of offensives against Nazi Germany, they found tens of thousands of concentration camp prisoners in deplorable conditions. Malnutrition and disease were rampant, and corpses lay unburied. The soldiers reacted in shock and disbelief to the evidence of Nazi atrocities. In addition to burying the dead, the Allied forces attempted to help and comfort the survivors with food, clothing and medical assistance.
6th Armored Division Campaigns during World War II
On July 18, 1944, the 6th Armored Division landed on the Normandy beaches, some six weeks after the D-Day invasion of western Europe. The "Super Sixth" was subsequently assigned to General George S. Patton's Third Army, and took part in the Allied counteroffensive to stop the German advance during the Battle of the Bulge. At the end of March 1945, the unit crossed the Rhine River and moved quickly into central Germany.
The 6th Armored Division and the Liberation of Buchenwald
After fording the Werra River and advancing deeper into the German state of Thuringia, the 6th Armored Division overran the Buchenwald concentration camp on April 11, 1945. When the US troops arrived, the SS guards had fled and the prisoners had taken control of the camp. Several inmates had left the camp in the interim in order to contact the US troops in the vicinity. They approached members of the 6th Armored Division with information about the camp. The first US troops arrived in Buchenwald shortly thereafter, to be greeted by the cheers of the liberated prisoners. The "Super Sixth" reported that some 21,000 inmates were still in the camp. In the days preceding the camp's liberation, the SS had evacuated thousands of inmates on death marches.
Recognition as a Liberating Unit
The 6th 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 1985.
6th Armored Casualty Figures
Casualty figures for the 6th Armored Division, European theater of operations:
- Total battle casualties: 4,670
- Total deaths in battle: 993
6th Armored Division Nickname
"Super Sixth" became the nickname of the 6th Armored Division while the division was training in the United States, apparently to symbolize the division's spirit.
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?