"Hell On Wheels"
The United States Army's 2nd Armored Division, nicknamed
"Hell On Wheels," is one of the most storied shoulder patches from World War
II. The Second Armored Division's combat history in WWII covered three years,
two continents, and ten countries. The 2nd A.D. is remembered by most Cold War
veterans for its service at Fort Hood, Texas, with a reinforced brigade forward
stationed in West Germany. After participating in the Persian Gulf War, the 2nd
Armor Division was deactivated as part of the downsizing of the Army in the
The 2nd Armored Division was formed on July 15, 1940 at
Fort Benning, Georgia. Then Colonel George S. Patton was in charge of training
the new division, and later that year was promoted to Brigadier General and
took command. The 2nd AD continued training through 1941 with maneuvers in
Tennessee, Louisiana, Texas, and the Carolinas. Reportedly, Patton boasted
during these maneuvers that the 2nd Armored Division would be "Hell on Wheels"
when it met the enemy. The moniker stuck and became the Division's nickname and
part of the unit shoulder sleeve insignia.
2nd Armored Division was organized as a "heavy" armored division that had two
armored regiments of four medium tank battalions and two light tank battalions.
Heavy division also maintained an "armored infantry regiment" organization.
Hell On Wheels and the 3rd Armored Division kept this structure throughout the
war; while the army's other 14 armored divisions were reorganized as "light"
The core units of 2AD were the 41st Armored Infantry
Regiment, the 66th Armored Regiment, the 67th Armored Regiment, the 17th
Armored Engineer Battalion, the 82nd Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, and the
142nd Armored Signal Company. The 2d Armored Division Artillery was composed of
the 14th, 78th, and 92nd Armored Field Artillery Battalions. However, there was
a variety of attachments throughout the war.
Some elements of the 2nd Armored Division saw combat for
the first time when Allied Forces landed at Casablanca, in North Africa, on
November 8, 1942. However, the Division as a whole did not enter combat until
the invasion of Sicily on July 10, 1943. The Hell On Wheels Division saw action
at Butera, Campobello, and through to Palermo. During the fight for Sicily, the
2nd AD fought against the German's elite Hermann Göring Panzer Division.
In November of 1943, the 2nd Armored Division was moved to England to train for
the invasion of Europe, Operation Overlord.
The 2AD was landed on Omaha Beach in Normandy on D-day
plus 3, June 9, 1944. Hell On Wheels raced across France with the rest of Third
Army during July and August. The Division reached the Albert Canal in Belgium
on September 8, 1944 and crossed the German border north of Schimmert on
September 18, 1944. On October 3, 1944, the 2nd Armor attacked the Siegfried
Line, breached it, and then crossed the Wurm River, seized Puffendorf on
November 16th, and Barmen on November 28th. The 2d Armor Division was holding
positions on the Roer River when ordered to help contain the German's Ardennes
offensive, the Battle of the Bulge.
During the Battle of the Bulge, Hell On Wheels fought in
eastern Belgium, blunting the German Fifth Panzer Army's penetration of
American lines. The Division helped reduce the Bulge in January, fighting in
the Ardennes forest in deep snow and freezing winter conditions. After a rest
in February, the Division drove on across the 1,153 foot wide Rhine River on
March 27, 1945 in an unprecedented seven hours while under mortar fire. On
April 11, 1945 the 2nd Armored Division was the first American Division to
reach the Elbe River. On orders, the Division halted on the Elbe. In July 2nd
A.D. was the first American unit to enter the German capital city of
During World War II, Hell On Wheels took 94,151
prisoners-of-war, liberated 22,538 Allied prisoners of war, shot down or
damaged on the ground 266 enemy aircraft, and destroyed or captured uncountable
thousands of enemy tanks and other equipment and supplies. 2nd Armored Division
soldiers had been awarded 9,369 awards for distinguished service and bravery
that included two Medals of Honor, twenty-three Distinguished Service Crosses,
two thousand three hundred and two Silver Stars, and not to mention nearly six
thousand Purple Hearts. In 238 battle days the 2nd Armored suffered 7,348
casualties, including 1,160 killed in action. After a brief period of
occupation duty, the 2nd Armored Division returned to Fort Hood, Texas in
Based at Fort Hood, the 2nd Armored Division furnished
thousands of trained replacements to units serving in the Korean War. In 1951
the Hell on Wheels division returned to Germany to serve for six years in
support of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and then returned to
Fort Hood. The 1/50 Infantry; 2/1 Cavalry; 1/40 Field Artillery; and 1/92 Field
Artillery fought in the war in Vietnam, but not the Division as a whole. The
main division, however, would spend much of the next 35 years at Fort Hood.
During the Cold War, the 2nd Armored Division's primary
mission was to prepare to conduct heavy armored combat against Warsaw Pact
forces in defense of NATO. Hell On Wheels formed a key component of the U.S.
military's plan to move "ten divisions in ten days" to Europe in the event of a
Soviet threat to NATO. The division practiced this task numerous times during
Exercise REFORGER (Return of Forces to Germany) from 1967 to 1988. To build and
maintain combat skills, the division's maneuver brigades deployed almost
annually to the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California, to face an
opposing force modeling Soviet military weapons and tactics.
In 1978 the 2nd Armored Division's 3rd Brigade deployed to
the Federal Republic of Germany and was assigned to NATO's Northern Army Group
(NORTHAG). The 3rd Brigade received additional aviation, engineer, military
intelligence, medical, and logistics support units. Now designated as 2nd
Armored Division (Forward), the unit was based at a new military facility near
the village of Garlstedt just north of the city of Bremen. The unit's primary
mission in the event of conflict with the Warsaw Pact was to either secure
airfields or staging areas for the deployment of III Corps from the United
States, or to deploy directly to the Inter-German Border (IGB) and establish a
blocking position as part of a NATO combat force. However, with the end of the
Cold War the U.S. military began to draw down its combat units. The 2nd Armored
Division was scheduled to inactivate in the spring of 1990.
The invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein in August 1990
caught the division in the midst of the post-Cold War draw down of the U.S.
military. On October 10, 1990, the division began to deploy more than 5,000
soldiers to Saudi Arabia to participate in Operations Desert Shield and Desert
Storm. The 2nd Armored Division's Second Brigade could not be deployed as it
was in the middle of deactivating. The Division's 1st Brigade deployed to Saudi
Arabia independently and participated in Operation Desert Storm by providing
heavy armor for USMC forces in their attack into Kuwait. The 3rd Brigade - 2nd
Armored Division (Forward) - based in Germany, conducted combat operations as
the third maneuver brigade of the 1st Infantry Division from Fort Riley,
Kansas. On February 24, 1991, the Second Armored entered Iraqi-held Kuwait. In
100 hours Allied Forces had taken back the country of Kuwait and defeated the
Between the cease-fire and the official end of the war in
April 1991, 2nd Armored Division (Forward) took part in security operations to
ensure peace in Kuwait. Hell On Wheels then redeployed to Saudi Arabia where
some of its soldiers established and ran three refugee camps near Raffia, Saudi
Arabia. Division relief workers processed over 22,000 Iraqi refugees between
April 15 and May 10, 1991.
Desert Storm had temporarily interrupted the inactivation
of the division that had begun in 1990. However, after the Persian Gulf War the
2nd Armored Division went through a confusing series of deactivations and
re-designations. The 1st Brigade returned to Fort Hood and was re-designated
the 3rd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division. On September 1, 1991 the 2nd Armored
Division (Forward) officially became the 2nd Armored Division (-). Over the
summer and fall of 1992 the 2nd Armored Division (-) was inactivated. In 1992,
the 5th Infantry Division (Mechanized) at Fort Polk, Louisiana was
re-designated the 2nd Armored Division. In 1993 that unit moved to Fort Hood.
In December 1995 the 2nd A.D. was again re-designated, this time as the 4th
Infantry Division. This ended more than 55 years of continuous active duty for
the "Hell On Wheels" Division.
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