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83rd Infantry to Recreate 1945 'Rag Tag Circus' Dash Toward Berlin

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    83rd Infantry to Recreate 1945 'Rag Tag Circus' Dash Toward Berlin

    World War II's 83rd Infantry Division To Recreate at Reunion in Pennsylvania Their 1945 'Rag Tag Circus' Dash Toward Berlin

    August 2 Convoy of WWII Vehicles To Highlight Forgotten Feat of Victory in Europe

    CARLISLE, Pa., July 28 /PRNewswire/ -- The Army's 83rd Infantry Division of World War II, renowned as the Thunderbolt Division, will recreate its most famous lightning-fast maneuver when it holds its 62nd annual reunion July 30-Aug. 3 at the Hotel Carlisle.

    World War II veterans of the 83rd and many descendents and friends of Division members will recreate what war correspondents described as the "Rag Tag Circus." After receiving orders in late March 1945 to turn east from Germany's Ruhr River and race toward Berlin, the Division commandeered anything on wheels (and sometimes hooves) from the surrounding German countryside and made an incredible dash across northern Germany. In a span of only 13 days, the Thunderbolts fought their way across 280 miles of northern Germany as unit after unit within the 83rd leap-frogged and flanked one another to continuously press the attack east, outracing armored units to the Elbe River. There, the Division fought their way across the Elbe on April 13, 1945 -- the sole Allied crossing into the Eastern European theater -- and to within 40 miles of Berlin. Immortalized in The Last Battle by Cornelius Ryan, author of the books, The Longest Day and A Bridge Too Far, the "Rag Tag Circus" was labeled by Army Lt. General Raymond S. McLain in a recommendation for the Presidential Unit Citation as an "advance ... the speed of which has seldom, if ever, been equaled."

    Re-creation of the event on Saturday, August 2, will entail a five-mile convoy from the Hotel Carlisle to the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center. The convoy will begin at 10:30 a.m. when 83rd veterans will mount restored World War II vehicles in front of the hotel and pose for photos. The convoy will depart the hotel at 10:50 a.m. and re-enact the "Rag Tag Circus" for the five-mile journey to the U.S. Army Carlisle Barracks Post Exchange Complex. WWII vehicles scheduled to participate are a Military Police Harley Davidson WLA motorcycle, a Willys MB 1/4-ton jeep, a Dodge WC 52 3/4-ton Weapons Carrier, a "captured" German Ford troop truck, a GMC 21/2-ton hard cab truck, a "captured" German Kubelwagon, and leading the column will be "Mickey," a restored Willys jeep, owned by WWII re-enactor and history teacher Jim Swope of Reading, PA, which actually was assigned to the 83rd Division and utilized in the drive toward Berlin.

    At approximately 11:30 a.m., a small ceremony will recognize the achievements of the "Rag Tag Circus" and the Division's only known surviving "mechanical veteran." Members of the 83rd Division will then sign their names on "Mickey" which now serves as a rolling 83rd memorial in parades and museum/school events as part of the Archbury Foundation's mission to Preserve and Present the American Experience from 1935-45.

    Receiving orders that were originally intended for the 8th Armored Division, the 83rd disengaged from the Allied encirclement of the Nazis trapped in the Ruhr Pocket and turned east. The division advance kept pace with the 2nd Armored Division and then moved ahead. Utilizing tanks, tank destroyers, motorbikes, captured German Army vehicles, captured German civilian buses, trailers and fire trucks, the division rode herd against Nazi resistance for 215 miles to the Elbe. In accomplishing this feat, the 83rd wrote a new chapter in infantry history as in a span of 14 days they liberated over 75,000 Allied prisoners-of-war, took some 34,000 prisoners captive, and crossed four rivers. After winning the battle of Barby on the west bank of the Elbe, elements of the 83rd made assault-boat crossings of the river. After establishing the Allies' only permanent bridgehead across the Elbe (dubbed the Truman Bridge), the 83rd fought off several vicious enemy counter-attacks and defended the bridge against air attacks and floating mines. The pitched battles on the east bank of the Elbe took the 83rd as far east as Zerbst, Germany. However, because of the agreement among the Big 3 Allied powers at Yalta that the Russian Red Army would take Berlin and the areas east of the Elbe, the 83rd withdrew back to the Elbe River on May 6, 1945, as the war in Europe came to an end.

    Historical footnote: Members of the 83rd Division who fought on the east side of the Elbe River were technically the only American troops to fight on the Eastern Front. The 83rd Division eventually met Russian troops advancing east in late April 1945.

    The incredible drive to the Elbe bridgehead and beyond earned Division members 289 Bronze Stars, 132 Silver Stars, 1 Distinguished Service Cross and 1 Legion of Merit, but ironically no Presidential Unit Citation -- despite documentation found in the National Archives noting that Army Commander Lt. General W.H. Simpson had formally recommended the Division for the honor. Sen. Arlen Specter recently submitted his second application to the Army's Military Award Branch to recognize the Division, which was de-activated after World War II. The last remaining 83rd veterans continue to wait for a response.

    The 83rd engaged in 270 days of combat during World War II, with their tour of duty beginning in June 1944 at Omaha Beach and ending in April 1945 when it met allied Russian troops near the 83rd's Truman Bridge over the Elbe River at Barby, Germany.

    The Division lost 2,850 killed in action, suffered 15,013 battle casualties, and captured 82,000 prisoners in campaigns at Normandy, Brittany, Luxemburg, the Hurtgen Forest, the Ardennes Forest (the Battle of the Bulge), along the Rhine, in the Harz Mountains of Germany, and along the Elbe.

    The 83rd Infantry Division Association is a non-profit organization, based in Alton Bay, NH, dedicated to honoring the men who served in the Division during World War II. The organization has 680 members. Known initially as the OHIO Division and later as the Thunderbolt Division, the 83rd Infantry was first deployed in World War I and was deactivated after World War II. The Division's insignia, a graphic representation of the word O-H-I-O, reflects the home state from where the Division's original ranks were raised.

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