Patton’s Ill-Fated Raid, By Harry A. Thompson

(Historical Resources Press, 2002; 271 pp; $29.95 — ISBN 0964251116).

The author, Harry A. Thompson, a World War II Chief Warrant Officer, was a German prisoner of war held in Oflag XIIIB, Hammelburg, an American officer’s prison camp. His outstanding book recounting his experiences is “must reading” for anyone interested in World War II.

In March, 1945 General George S. Patton, Jr. ordered a task force of the Fourth Armored Division to break through the front lines and race sixty miles to the Oflag at Hammelburg to rescue American officer prisoners held there.

The raid to liberate American prisoners at Hammelburg became known when it was learned that General Patton’s son-in-law, Lt. Colonel John K. Waters, was one of the prisoners there, having been captured two years earlier in North Africa.

The task force, commanded by Captain Abraham Baum, contained 300 men and 53 vehicles, including tanks, tank destroyers, trucks and half-tracks. The column fought its way through 60 miles of hostile German territory after breaking through the front lines at Ashaffenburg on the Main River. The column reached the prison camp in mid-afternoon 27 March.

Two previous books and several magazine articles regarding the raid have been written during the past 50 years. Anyone interested in World War II and especially the fighting in Germany and General “Blood and Guts” Patton will find this book outstanding. It is an excellent record of the raid on the prison camp where all of the men and vehicles of the task force were lost.

Space does not allow a complete review of Thompson’s book but I want to mention that, I, too was a lieutenant prisoner at Hammelburg having been captured in January during the Battle of the Bulge. When the tanks arrived at the Oflag, I, like him, went through the hole in the electrified fence to where the tanks were. I, too, climbed on a tank hoping to return to American lines. When it appeared that space was limited, Harry Thompson went back into the Oflag and was marched out with the main group of prisoners toward Nurnburg. The column of prisoners was later bombed by American planes when they passed through Nurnburg. Many of the prisoners were wounded or killed in the bombing. I chose to remain on a tank when the task force headed back toward the American lines. The column, after meeting fierce opposition, returned to the camp area after most of the vehicles were destroyed by the Germans and then were moved farther south.

When I arrived as a prisoner at Hammelburg in early March 1945, I was put in a room in an unheated building along with about 30 other prisoners. Chaplain Rolander Koscamp from the 28th Division was in our room and each night when the electricity for the only light bulb was cut off he conducted a prayer session. He also conducted Sunday services in the cold, unheated recreation room. Harry Thompson writes with deep sincerity about the death of Chaplain Koscamp in the bombing.

This book is well written, factual and further increases the knowledge of General Patton’s secret abortive raid that resulted with the loss of the task force of 300 men and 53 vehicles in the last few weeks of the war. I highly recommend it.