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.
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.
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.
Casualty figures for the 6th Armored Division, European theater of operations:
- Total battle casualties: 4,670
- Total deaths in battle: 993
"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.
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?