Captain, commanding E Troop (Armored Assault Guns),
25th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron,
4th Armored Division, Patton’s Third Army
Silver Star, Bronze Star, Purple Heart
Practiced law after the war.
Grandfather to my son. Born on August 13, 1919 in Danville, Illinois. Graduated from the University of Illinois in 1941. Entered the service in June 1941 as a 2nd lieutenant, having completed the ROTC program while in college. Promoted to 1st lieutenant on May 1, 1942 and captain on October 5, 1942. He took command of E Troop on September 10, 1943.
Captain, Commanding E Troop, 25th Cavalry Recon Squadron, 4th Armored Division, George Patton’s fabled Third Army. 4th Armored Division spearheaded Third Army and 25th Cav was out ahead of 4th Armored Division. The distinction as to the front line was often vague. Units of the 25th Cav often found themselves separated from the main column by elements of the German Army. Officers found themselves constantly in situations requiring initiative.
E Troop was comprised of 123 men plus five officers – four platoon leaders plus Captain Hendrix. “Our eight assault guns had the old pack 75mm gun on a light tank chassis with an open turret. It also had a .50 caliber machine gun mounted on the turret. Every halftrack had a .50 caliber too. Each platoon, in addition to the two assault guns, had a halftrack command vehicle and a halftrack ammunition carrier and I had a halftrack. The maintenance section had a maintenance halftrack and a light tank.”
4th Armored advanced in two columns – Combat Command A (CCA) and Combat Command B (CCB). Each consisted of a tank battalion and an armored infantry battalion. Combat Command Reserve (CCR) supported whichever was engaged in a firefight. A recon troop from 25th Cav led CCA and CCB. An assault gun platoon followed the recon troop with each of the two combat commands. The other two platoons of assault guns covered the most vulnerable flank.
His Bronze Star citation reads:
A Cavalry officer, skilled in the employment of artillery, Captain Hendrix as commander of the Squadron’s assault gun troop, has largely been responsible for the close, accurate and effective artillery support provided the reconnaissance troops. On occasion, the Captain has commanded all the assault guns of the Division in battery. In other circumstances his own troops have been widely dispersed, therefore making control and coordination among his elements extremely difficult. Regardless of the difficulty of the situation, Captain Hendrix has proved himself a cool, competent, enthusiastic officer whose desire to destroy the enemy in support of the line troops has inculcated to his men an “esprit de corps” and a spirit of combat aggressiveness that is unsurpassable. No officer has served the Squadron more willingly and unselfishly nor more meritoriously than Captain Hendrix of E Troop.
“The recon troop had armored cars and jeeps. They had limited firepower. The emphasis was on speed. If they encountered minor resistance, we’d move up and take care of it. If we were hit hard, we’d fix the enemy position, try to pin them down, and a tank battalion would go around them and hit them on their flank.”
Captain Hendrix earned the Purple Heart for wounds received in action at Redon in the French province of Brittany on August 4, 1944.
The Battle of Arracourt during the Lorraine campaign in September 1944 was one of the larger tank battles of the Western Front. The struggle lasted eleven days. The Panzer Army had numerical advantage in infantryman and tanks, as well as tanks with thicker armor and more powerful guns. The Americans prevailed through superior tactics.
George Patton operated on the basis of mission-oriented orders. Subordinate officers were given wide latitude as to how to accomplish their missions. Initiative was encouraged. It was for action on the final day of Arracourt that Captain Hendrix was awarded the Silver Star “for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action against the enemy”. His Silver Star citation reads:
At about 1400, 29 September 1944, a task force commanded by Capt. Charles W. Hendrix, commanding officer E Troop, 25th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron, successfully attacked an enemy “dug-in” position on Hill 320, Benamon Hills. The enemy force, estimated as one infantry company supported by three Mark IV tanks, had successfully attacked positions held by elements of 51st Infantry and 24th Engineers during the night 28-29 September and forced the infantry and engineers to withdraw about 2500 yards. By daylight 29 September the enemy had established a strong “dug-in” position on Hill 320. Capt. Hendrix was given command of a task force composed of a task force composed of one tank platoon, one assault gun platoon and one reconnaissance platoon with the mission of destroying the enemy, occupying Hill 320, reconnoitering Benamon Hills for a distance of 1000 yards west of Hill 320 and establishing an outpost on Hill 320. The skillful employment of tanks and assault guns, followed up by a dismounted force and the careful coordination of supporting tank destroyers and assault guns, forced the enemy to route from their position with about twenty-five killed, ten captured, three Mark IV tanks abandoned. The remainder of the enemy force, hopelessly disorganized, fled from the position. The attack by the task force, the reconnaissance of Benamon Woods, the establishment of the outpost was bold and deliberate, and was completed without loss of personnel or equipment. The ferocity and success of the mission was inspired by the skillful, fearless leadership of the commander, Capt. Hendrix.
[Note by Colonel Charles W. Hendrix, USA, Retired, to his citation:
There is reference to our indirect fire capability, but at least 75% of all our action was of the direct fire variety. Also I should emphasize that awards are given to the person in charge when the troopers and not the guy with the Captain’s bars do what is done].
A good officer accepts more than his share of the blame for a setback and less than his share of the glory for a victory. Chuck Hendrix epitomized the citizen soldier, who rose to the occasion to serve his country in its time of need.
The action at Benamon Woods involved bitter fighting as each side struggled to control the key ground. CCB gained and then lost Hill 318, as fighting continued into the night of September 28. Elements of CCB dug in on the reverse slope near the crest. The Germans took Hill 293 to the southwest and reached the eastern edge of Bois du Benamont. Hugh Cole in his classic book The Lorraine Campaign (pp. 240-241) wrote:
When darkness came the Germans again sent a shock force, this time supported by a few tanks, up the forward slope of Hill 318. This assault force drove the Americans back over the crest and onto the reverse slope, where they were caught by a well-executed barrage laid down by German guns. Just before midnight the 51st Armored Infantry Battalion regained the crest after a preparatory shelling by four battalions of artillery had broken the German hold. The enemy retaliated promptly. CCB was hit by heavy-caliber artillery fire, which continued for nearly one hour – causing thirty-five casualties in one company alone. Under cover of this fire the 11th Panzer Division extended its hold on the camelback, took Hill 293 and drove on to seize the high ground at the eastern edge of the Bois du Benamont. However, the infantry from the 51st, crouched in foxholes close to the crest of Hill 318, refused to give ground.
The German attack had made important gains during the night of 28-29 September, but the 4th Armored Division had added to its estimable record as an assault force and had proved to be equally tough and stubborn on the defensive … The morning of 29 September broke with a thick fog obscuring the battlefield. The exhausted German infantry tried to push on toward Arracourt but made no headway. Meanwhile, a platoon of medium tanks from the 8th Tank Battalion moved up Hill 318 in the fog and when the haze finally lifted the tank commander directed the American planes onto the German tanks which had assembled under the screening fog in the valley below … By the middle of the afternoon the Germans were streaming back through Fourasse Farm … Remnants of the 2nd Battalion of the 110th Panzer Grenadier Regiment and a few tanks from the Reconnaissance Battalion, 11th Panzer Division held bravely to their positions in Bois du Benamont, all the while under heavy fire from American tank destroyers and cavalry assault guns.
In December, when the German Ardennes offensive resulted in a fifty mile “Bulge” in the American line, 4th Armored rushed up from the south to break the German stranglehold on Bastogne. The 25th Cav was holding the line on the road to Bastogne when “Old Abe” (Creighton Abrams and his 37th Tank Battalion) went through them and raced into Bastogne. His most intense memory of the Bulge was one often repeated by veterans of that colossal winter battle. “I remember being so cold and miserable and so depressed from people shooting at you all that time and I was laying in a wet sleeping bag in the snow and I just prayed for a tank to roll over me and end my misery.” He also recalled, “After the Bulge, we had heavy casualties.” He never elaborated any more than that as to the loss of American lives under his command. In a note to his children, written at their request, he noted:
Sometime someone might ask you what your old man did during the war and you can tell him he did what was expected of him.
Charles Wade Hendrix retired from the United States Army reserve in 1971 with the rank of colonel. He practiced law for many years in Champaign, Illinois. In retirement, among his favorite activities was fishing with his grandson. He was not one to talk much about the war. It took many years to extract his recollections.
Major, commanding 8th Tank Battalion,
4th Armored Division, Patton’sThird Army.
Distinguished Service Cross and
2 Silver Stars, 4 Bronze Stars, 2 Purple Hearts.
retired a brigadier general after 31 years
At the age of twenty-seven, Major Albin Irzyk commanded the 8th Tank Battalion, 4th Armored Division. He led an offensive thrust composed of seventy-some tanks manned by veteran troopers. 4th Armored was the advance unit of General George Patton’s Third Army. Irzyk has nothing but praise for the general. “Patton was the greatest warrior this country has ever had. He was the greatest field commander we ever had. He could not have been an Eisenhower or a Bradley, but no one could have done his job any better. He was the perfect commander for us.” He also acknowledged the valiant actions of the 25th Cavalry Recon Squadron, which led the way for the tank battalions of 4th Armored Division.
I corresponded several times with General (Retired) Irzyk. It was always a pleasure to speak with him, who always found time to talk and write, despite a very active life. He wrote in answer to my question as to how GI tankers in their Sherman tanks fared against the German Panther tanks:
It had a more powerful gun than ours and their front slope plate had thicker than armor than we did. So toe-to-toe, face-to-face, he had a tremendous advantage. He could stand back farther to get a kill, while we had to move much closer to get one. Yet, after the ten-day battles at Arracourt there were over two hundred knocked out German tanks, mostly Panthers. So we must have done something right. Our gunners were better and our tactics were better. We had 360-degree traverse, which enabled our gunners to get their rounds off much more quickly. Early on, we recognized that there were many ways to knock out or disable a German tank than through the front plate … We tried to get around him. Their armor on the side was thinner and easier to penetrate. Breaking their tracks would disable him. Getting behind him exposed his engine compartment, a quick kill. We fired at the turret, killing the exposed tank commander, leaving a disabled tank. All this with AP (armor piercing) ammunition. We fired HE (high explosive) over the tank. Hot fragments killed the tank commander, went down into the turret, killing crewmen and often setting fire to the tank. We fired WP (white phosphorous) and a hit surely set fire to a tank. So our resourceful gunners found many ways to knock out or disable German tanks.
In 1946, then Lt. Colonel Irzyk wrote a classic paper in Military Review (January 1946, volume XXV, number 10, pages 11-16) titled “Tank versus Tank”. Anyone on the internet, who is debating the merits or disadvantages of the Sherman tank, should read that article from one who knew the Sherman well. Irzyk praised the Sherman’s “simple yet tough and efficient engine and mechanical system … Mechanically, we had a tank that performed superbly”. Irzyk pointed out that a crew could change out a Sherman’s engine in little more than four hours. The Sherman could cross bridges that could not support a German Panther or Tiger. The 360-degree power traverse allowed a tank gunner “ … to swing his gun in any direction in a second or a fraction thereof … able to get the first round off and can usually score the first hit … enabled American tanks to move down roads at high speeds shooting from one die of the road to the other.”
Irzyk’s key point, often lost on those who have not studied their history, was this: “We were fighting an offensive war … an offensive, fast, deceptive and winning war.” More to the point, Irzyk wrote: “ … the tank is not a vehicle built primarily to fight other tanks. Rather, its mission above all others was to get into the enemy’s rear areas, to disorganize him, to destroy supply and communications and generally to wreak havoc there. This is done mainly with its 30-caliber machine guns.” Irzyk, like Creighton Abrams, another brilliant military commander, who served under Patton, understood Patton’s mandate: “There is only attack, attack and then attack some more.” Speed and violence were their creed. It was for this reason that veteran German panzer leaders feared 4th Armored Division.
As to my query regarding photos, General Irzyk commented (as had many before him to me):
The reason that you cannot find pictures of the 25th (Cav Recon Squadron) is that there are probably not many out there. The same is true of the 4th A.D. One of the main reasons is that Army Signal Corps photographers rarely came that far forward – it was a bit too dangerous … I had a Kodak camera in my tank, but never took a single picture.
Lt. Colonel Irzyk risked his life on many occasions. He led from the front, as Patton expected of all of his commanders. He was twice wounded in action.
The United States Army awarded Lieutenant Colonel Irzyk the Distinguished Service Cross for extraordinary heroism in Germany on 18 March 1945. The citation read:
During the advance of Colonel Irzyk’s battalion against Wolfsheim, Germany, four of the assaulting tanks were knocked out in a sudden enemy attack and the leading company was disorganized. Colonel Irzyk immediately advanced to the head of the column, and with all guns firing charged headlong against the opposing anti-tank guns. The guns were overrun, and pushing rapidly ahead, Colonel Irzyk led his command on into the town. When his tank was destroyed by enemy rocket fire, Colonel Irzyk dismounted, and although wounded, lead infantry forces forward through a hail of fire. He continued to direct the attack until the mission was accomplished.
The citation commended Lieutenant Colonel Irzyk for his courageous, inspiring leadership, his fearless determination and unswerving devotion to duty.
Albin Irzyk served his nation long after the defeat of Nazi Germany. In the Cold War’s final incidents, Irzyk was there for his nation. He commanded the 14th Armored Cavalry Regiment along the Iron Curtain during the Berlin Crisis in 1961. He spent two years in Vietnam, logging six hundred combat hours in a helicopter. He retired a retired in 1971 with the rank of brigadier general.
He and his wife have been blessed to live a long and healthy life, well into their 90s. His is a name that is not well enough known. For all the accolades laid upon Eisenhower, Bradley and Patton, there are thousands of men like Albin Irzyk and Chuck Hendrix, who won the war and preserved freedom and democracy for future generations.