World War II was the mightiest struggle humankind has ever seen. It killed more people, cost more money, damaged more property, affected more people, and caused more far-reaching changes in nearly every country than any other war in history. The number of people killed, wounded, or missing between September 1939 and September 1945 can never be calculated, but it is estimated that more than 55 million people perished.
More than 50 countries took part in the war, and the whole world felt its effects. Men fought in almost every part of the world, on every continent except Antarctica. Chief battlegrounds included Asia, Europe, North Africa, the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, and the Mediterranean Sea.
Most historians agree that war officially began on September 1, 1939, when Germany attacked Poland. Germany then crushed six countries in three months — Denmark, Norway, Belgium, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, and France — and proceeded to conquer Yugoslavia and Greece.
Japan invaded China in 1937 and their plans for expansion in the Far East led to the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, bringing the United States into the war. By early 1942, all major countries of the world were involved in the most destructive war in history.
When formed and activated for World War II, the 42ID was a unique unit, as it was a reconstitution of the Rainbow Division from World War I. Except for the division headquarters, none of its earlier elements had reformed in the interwar period, so the Army Ground Forces filled its new units with personnel from every state. To emphasize the 42ID lineage from the 42ID of World War I, Maj. Gen. Harry J. Collins activated the unit on July14, 1943, the eve of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Champagne-Marne campaign in France.
At the time the US entered the war in December 1941, our Army Ground Forces numbered about 867,000. By December 1943 Ground Forces were 2.5 Million. The Rainbow Division began basic training at Camp Gruber, near Muskogee OK, in October 1943. For the next several months the Rainbow provided replacements to other divisions. In the summer of 1944 General Collins received orders to bring the Division to full strength for deployment. In mid-November 1944, the Division boarded trains for Camp Kilmer in New Jersey. In late November the Division’s three infantry regiments (222nd, 232nd & 242nd) and a detachment of the 42ID Headquarters shipped out and arrived in France at Marseille on the 8th and 9th of December 1944.
On December 31, 1944, the German Army began the last major offensive of World War II along the Western Front, near Strasbourg, France, which they named Operation North Wind (Unternehmen Nordwind). The objective was to break through the lines of the US 7th Army and the French 1st Army and take control of the region, leaving the way open for a planned major thrust against the rear of the US 3rd Army. Earlier in the month the US 7th Army had sent troops, equipment and supplies north to reinforce the American armies in Ardennes involved in the Battle of the Bulge, so their forces in this region had been depleted.
The three infantry regiments of the 42nd Rainbow Division (222nd, 232nd & 242nd) designated “Task Force Linden” (under the Assistant Division Commander, Brigadier General Henning Linden) were assigned to the US 7th Army and rushed to the Strasbourg area on December 24, 1944, without artillery or other support, in relief of elements of the 36th Infantry Division. Defending a 31-mile sector along the Rhine, north and south of Strasbourg, the Task Force repulsed a number of enemy counterattacks, at Hatten and elsewhere. On January 24th and 25th 1945, in the Bois D’Ohlungen, and the vicinity of Schweighouse-sur-Moder and Neubourg, the 222nd Infantry Regiment repulsed repeated attacks by the German 7th Parachute and 47th VG Divisions. For this action the 222nd Infantry Regiment was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation (2001). The German offensive drew to a close on January 25, having failed to achieve its goals. Task Force Linden withdrew to a reserve area where it met up with the remainder of the Division and received replacements.
Liberation of Dachau Concentration Camp
Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany by President Paul von Hindenburg and sworn in on January 30, 1933. Hitler immediately urged President von Hindenburg to dissolve the German Parliament (the “Reichstag”) and hold new parliamentary elections with the hope of achieving a National Socialist majority and eliminating the Communist opposition. However, just four weeks later on February 27th, there was an arson fire at the Reichstag Building, which Hitler used as evidence that the Communists were beginning to plot against the German Government. The next day Hitler convinced President von Hindenburg to pass an emergency decree that suspended civil liberties and allowed the government to institute mass arrests of Communists and anyone else that they felt was a threat to the Nazi Party.
The internment of Political Prisoners gave rise to the need for “Concentration Camps”, the first of which was established on March 22, 1933, in the town of Dachau, about 10 miles northwest of Munich. The camp was located at the site of an abandoned WWI munitions factory and the first prisoners were housed in the old factory buildings. The operation and construction of Dachau was used as the model for other Nazi Concentration Camps. By 1937 new Barracks had been built (by the prisoners themselves) and the camp had accommodations for up to 5,000 people. In the 12 years the camp was used by the Nazis, over 200,000 prisoners were held there at some time and there are over 31,000 registered deaths at the camp, with many more deaths not registered.
In late April 1945, after fierce battles in Wurzburg, Schweinfurt and Furth, the Rainbow Division was advancing toward Munich. On April 29 General Henning Linden and his aide, Lieutenant Cowling arrived in Dachau and were enroute to meet up with the 222nd Infantry for the push into Munich. They were informed that just off the main road was the Dachau Concentration Camp. According to their Official Reports, each dated May 2, 1945, prior to finding the camp they discovered a railroad track with 30-50 boxcars all stacked with emaciated dead bodies. Their party proceeded to the Camp and as they approached the main gate a German lieutenant along with another German soldier and a Red Cross worker came forward with a flag of truce. While the American soldiers covered them, the German officer said he wished to surrender the camp.
General Linden officially accepted the surrender of the camp in the name of the Rainbow Division for the United States Army. General Linden sent Lt. Cowling into the camp for an inspection and he sent another officer to the 222nd to bring back two companies as soon as possible. At the time there were over 30,000 prisoners at the camp. After Dachau was liberated, the US Seventh Army took over the administration of the camp. A team of army doctors and other military personnel was formed as Displaced Persons team number 115 to take care of the prisoners and they arrived on April 30th with truckloads of food and medical supplies. On May 2nd, the 116th Evacuation Hospital arrived, followed by the 127th Evacuation Hospital, to give medical aid to the sick prisoners.