The 8th Armored Division during World War II
In 1985, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the US Army's Center of Military History began a program to honor US Army divisions that took part in the liberation of Nazi camps. To date, 36 divisions, including the 8th Armored Division, have been recognized as liberating units.
8th Armored Division Campaigns during World War II
The 8th Armored Division landed in France in January 1945 and advanced rapidly to the Alsace region by the end of the month. From here, the "Iron Snake," or "Thundering Herd," division was deployed to the Netherlands in late February or early March 1945. In late March, the 8th crossed the Rhine River and moved into the industrial Ruhr region, where it took part in heavy fighting. By war's end, the division had advanced to the Harz Mountains.
The 8th Armored Division and the Liberation of Halberstadt-Zwieberge
As it moved into central Germany, the 8th liberated Halberstadt-Zwieberge, a subcamp of the Buchenwald concentration camp, between April 12 and 17, 1945. The area around the city of Halberstadt housed a number of Buchenwald subcamps that had been established in 1944 to provide labor for the German war effort, including Halberstadt-Zwieberge I and Halberstadt-Zwieberge II. More than 5,000 inmates were incarcerated in these two subcamps, where they were forced to hollow out massive tunnels and build underground factories for Junkers Aircraft of Aircraft Motors Construction Company, which produced military aircraft.
Recognition as a Liberating Unit
The 8th 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 1995.
8th Armored Casualty Figures
Casualty figures for the 8th Armored Division, European theater of operations:
- Total battle casualties: 2,011
- Total deaths in battle: 469
8th Armored Division Nickname
The nickname of the 8th Armored Division, the "Thundering Herd," was coined before the division went to Europe in late 1944. It was also known as the "Iron Snake" late in the war, after a correspondent for Newsweek likened the 8th to a "great ironclad snake" as it crossed the Rhine River in late March 1945.
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?