The 1st Armored Division, nicknamed "Old Ironsides," is
the oldest and most recognizable armor division in the United States Army. It
was the first armored division to see combat in World War II. Although
currently home based in Wiesbaden, Germany, the 1st Armor Division is scheduled
to move to Fort Bliss, Texas.
As part of the mechanization of the U.S. Army and the
buildup for WWII, cavalry and reconnaissance units were brought together to
form the 1st Armored Division at Fort Knox, Kentucky on July 15, 1940. Major
General Bruce R. Magruder was the Division's first commander, serving in that
capacity from July 1940 until March of 1942. General Magruder is also
responsible for the Division's famous nickname. In 1941, General George S.
Patton Jr. had just named his 2nd
Division "Hell on Wheels." The 1st Armored Division needed a nickname too, so
General Magruder held a contest to find a suitable name. Approximately two
hundred names were submitted including "Fire and Brimstone" and "Kentucky
Wonders." The General chose to study them over the weekend but none of the
suggestions appealed to him. It happened that General Magruder had just bought
a painting of the U.S.S. Constitution during a drive for funds for the
preservation of that famous fighting ship, which is nicknamed "Old Ironsides."
General Magruder was impressed with the parallel between the development of the
tank and the Navy's "Old Ironsides" spirit of daring and durability. He decided
the 1st Armored Division should also be named "Old Ironsides."
The 1st Armored Division boarded the Queen Mary at the New
York Port of Embarkation, Brooklyn Army Terminal on May 11, 1942. Five days
later the soldiers of the Division landed in Northern Ireland and trained on
the moors. On October 29, 1942 Old Ironsides moved to England to depart for
The 1st Armored Division's first contact with an enemy was
as part of the Allied invasion of North Africa, Operation Torch on November 8,
1942. The Allies did receive unexpected, and heavy, resistance from
Vichy-French units; however the invasion forces suppressed all resistance in
the beachhead area within three days. Old Ironsides then advanced toward
Tunisia. The soldiers of the Division learned hard lessons about armored
warfare and the harsh conditions of North Africa.
In January of 1943 Old Ironsides was part of II Corps and
received the mission of defending central Tunisia against an Axis
counterattack. In February the 1st Armored Division met with a superior German
armored force at Kasserine Pass. The Division sustained heavy losses in
personnel and equipment, and was forced to withdraw. Old Ironsides was
battered, but kept in mind its lessons learned. The Germans outran their supply
lines and faced determined Allied resistance. After three more months of hard
fighting, the Allies could finally claim victory in North Africa. Old Ironsides
was reorganized in French Morocco then moved to Naples, Italy on October 28,
1943 to support the Allied effort there.
As part of General Mark Clark's U.S. Fifth Army, the 1st
Armored Division took part in the attack on the infamous Winter Line in
November of 1943. Old Ironsides then flanked the Axis forces in the landings at
Anzio and moved on to participate in the liberation of Rome on June 4, 1944.
The 1st Armored Division continued to serve in the Italian Campaign until
German forces in Italy surrendered on May 2, 1945. In June of 1945, Old
Ironsides was moved to Germany as part of the U.S. Army occupation forces.
In the drawdown of forces after WWII, the 1st Armored
Division was deactivated on April 25, 1946. With the success of the Russian
made T-34 tank by the enemy at the outset of the Korean War in 1950, there was
a renewed enthusiasm for armored forces in the U.S. Army. As part of the new
buildup of forces, Old Ironsides was re-activated on March 7, 1951 at Fort
Hood, Texas and was the first U.S. Army unit to field the new M48 Patton tank.
Although the 1st Armored Division did not participate as a
division in the Vietnam War, two of their subordinate units did. Company A,
501st Aviation and 1st Squadron, 1st Cavalry served with distinction. Both
units earned Presidential Unit Citations and 1-1 Cavalry received tow Valorous
Unit Awards and three Vietnamese Crosses of Gallantry. Neither unit was
officially detached from the 1st Armored Division. Veterans of both units may
wear the Old Ironsides as a combat patch. Also, in 1967 three Old Ironsides
infantry battalions were formed into the 198th Infantry Brigade and deployed to
Vietnam. Two of those battalions, 1-6th Infantry and 1-52nd Infantry, were
returned to the 1st Armored Division.
As Vietnam wound down, the United States turned its
attention back to the Cold War in Europe. The 1st Armored Division was moved to
Germany in 1971, home based in the West German city of Ansbach. The Division
remained in Germany for the next twenty years as part of the American forces
committed to a NATO defense of Europe.
In November of 1990, Old Ironsides was alerted for
deployment to the Middle East in response to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. In
less than two months the Division moved 17,400 soldiers and 7.050 pieces of
equipment by rail, sea, and air to Saudi Arabia in support of Operation Desert
Shield. On February 24, 1991, the 1st Armored Division crossed into Iraq to
begin Operation Desert Storm as the leading unit in VII Corps' main flanking
attack. Its mission was to destroy the elite Iraqi Republican Guards Divisions.
In an 89-hour blitz across the desert, Old Ironsides traveled through 250
kilometers of enemy territory. They destroyed 768 tanks, armored personnel
carriers, and artillery pieces. The 1st Armored Division also captured 1,064
prisoners of war. Old Ironsides returned to Ansbach, Germany on May 8, 1991.
Their triumph was celebrated by a visit from the Vice President of the United
States and participation in victory parades in Washington D.C. and New York
The 1st Armored Division was called to serve once again,
this time in the Balkans. Old Ironsides was ordered to Bosnia-Herzegovina and
part of Operation Joint Endeavor on December 14, 1995. Task Force Eagle assumed
control of its area of responsibility during a ceremony with United Nations
forces at Eagle Base in Tuzla on December 20th. After the historic bridging of
the Sava River on December 31, 1995, the Old Ironsides Division and its
supporting elements from the U.S. V Corps were joined by forces from twelve
other nations. A brigade of Russians was part of this force. American and
Russian soldiers working together to keep the peace was a true sign that the
Cold War was at an end. Task Force Eagle enforced the cease fire, supervised
the marking of boundaries and the zone of separation between the former warring
factions, enforced withdrawal of the combatants, and the movement of the heavy
weapons to designated storage sites. Task Force Eagle also supported the
Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's efforts to administer the
country's first ever democratic national elections. The 1st Armored Division
was relieved by the 1st Infantry Division and returned to Germany in November
In 1999, Old Ironsides was deployed again. This time 1st
Armored Division was supporting Operations Allied Force and Joint Guardian.
Operation Allied Force took Old Ironsides soldiers to Albania in response to
the ethnic cleansing and fighting there. Operation Joint Guardian was to uphold
the United Nations Security Council resolution to bring peace back to the
The 1st Armored Division began its participation in the
global war on terrorism when it received deployment orders to the U.S. Central
Command on March 4, 2003. By April 15th Old Ironsides was moving out to
participate in Operation Iraqi Freedom. During their 15-month deployment, Task
Force 1st Armored Division was the largest division-based task force in U.S.
Army history. Units serving with the Task Force included brigade-sized elements
from the 82nd Airborne Division, the 3rd Infantry Division, the 1st Cavalry
Division, the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment, the 124th Infantry Battalion, the
18th and 89th Military Police Brigades and the 168th MP Battalion. At its
height, more than 39,000 soldiers were part of Task Force 1st Armored Division.
The Division took responsibility for Baghdad in April of 2003. Old Ironsides
was scheduled to return to Germany in April of 2004, but their tour was
extended by three months in order to defeat a Shia militia led by Moqtada Al
The Division's 3rd Brigade was deployed to Iraq once again
for Operation Iraqi Freedom III in January of 2005, this after only eight
months at home. They were attached to the 3rd Infantry Division as part of Task
Force Baghdad. The 2nd Brigade Combat Team (BCT) deployed to Kuwait in November
2005 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom IV. Old Ironsides' 1st Brigade
deployed again to Iraq in January 2006.
In 2005, the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC)
commission determined that the 1st Armored Division should leave their home
bases in Germany and move to Fort Bliss, Texas. There they will gain a 4th and
5th Brigade Combat Team. This move and reorganization will take place between
2008 and 2011.
Like their naval namesake, the 1st Armored Division
carries with it the traditions and military values for which Old Ironsides has
been known for over half a century. They also are the standing armor division
of the United States Army, on the cutting edge of technology and tactics, who
remain relentlessly strong today. Both active soldiers and veterans are proud
to wear the 1st Armored Division patch and say, "I was with Old Ironsides."
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