Paul J. Thiner
6th Armored Division 603rd Tank Destroyer History
I am the daughter of service man, Paul J. Thiner. The bulk of this history was collected from my dad during an interview between us in 1994, and then posted on a host site no longer operational in the United States (http://www.geocities.ws/madonna_kellen/). However, some of these details were collected in conversations over a lifetime.
This page is dedicated to the 603rd Tank Destroyer Battalion, 6th Armored Division (http://www.super6th.org/) and to those who fought with my father, Paul Thiner, during his service to our country. During my research, I have had the opportunity to visit with Veteran’s of the 603rd Tank Battalion serving with my father, such as Nick Civarra, may he rest in peace. I found these conversations insightful, adding additional perspective to my father’s service. Per my research, there are no members of the 603rd Tank Destroyers living today. Also, every day the roll call of George S. Patton’s 6th Armored Division lengthens, with the passing of this generation of Veterans. May we remember and appreciate the freedoms their service has afforded us. May they rest in peace.
World War II began for the U.S. on Sunday, Dec. 7th, 1941 when Japanese air bombers surprised Pearl Harbor killing 2,403 United States service men/women and wounding nearly 2000. Just four days later the U.S. declared war on Japan. By Dec.18th, 1941, 38 nations of the world were divided in a war the world would not soon forget. Exactly four months later, on April 18th, 1942 my father, Paul Thiner, joined the United States Army. He was a 23 year old farmer who had never traveled farther than Iowa, about to embark on a journey that would change his life and the history of the world.
Paul’s service began with basic training at Fort Ord, CA. After spending some time in the sunny part of California, he moved up into the Salinas Mountains for more training. Paul was in several Army training camps before being shipped overseas, including 3 in Texas, 1 in Mississippi, 2 in California, 1 in Kansas, and 1 in Nebraska. However, most of his training took place at Fort Hood TX. While at Fort Hood, he was involved in testing equipment for tanks. Among the equipment tested were automatic transmissions and torsion bars, which first came out on “Buicks” after the war.
On Easter Sunday, April 10th, 1944 Paul rode by train to New York Harbor where he boarded the Queen Mary. This was one of the fastest ships of her day, with a length of 1,200 feet from her bow to her stern. After six days of zigzagging across the Atlantic (to avoid detection of enemy subs), with huge waves at times lifting their feet six inches off the bow, the 6th Armored finally dropped anchor near Glaskow, Scotland. After Scotland Paul went on to England where they helped prepare and unload 36 lightweight tanks for battle. The tanks were put aboard ships with winches used for crossing the English Channel. These light armored tanks, nicknamed the “Hellcats,” had the ability to move quickly over rough terrain, up to 70 mph. When the 6th Armored arrived near France later in July, the tanks were transferred to landing barges.
The fighting at Utah Beach Normandy, beginning June 6th 1944, established a base for the allied invasion of Europe. Paul and the 603rd landed at Normandy about a month later. The fighting was close to the beach when the 6th arrived and they could hear guns and tanks in the distance. The beach was littered with remnants of battle. Smoke signals that were used to alert allied bombers of their bombing targets, were sometimes carried off-course by the wind, causing bombers to accidentally “take out some of our front line,” said Paul.
After arriving at France, their orders took them to the town of Brest in the beginning of August. The Bridge there had been taken out by the German troops. Unable to cross the inlet into Brest, their mission was to draw fire from the enemy along the water, from the 12 inch German guns planted behind a wall of cement directly in front of them. This allowed the Air Corp’s bombers to come in with the “big guns.” 36 Battalions of field artillery were firing at Brest and the bombers came in about a half-mile apart in a circle dropping their bombs. The bombing went on for seven days and nights before they were ordered to pull out. Paul said, “I saw a U.S. fighter plane hit the dust 100 yards in front of me. We ran there to help the pilot but we never did find his boots.”
Paul soon advanced to Tank Commander. As Tank Commander, Paul stood in a ring of a 50 caliber machine gun at the top of the tank. “We loaded shells into the tank’s gun as long as a man’s arm, the noise at times was loud like thunder,” added Paul. They traveled 3,600 miles in nine months, over rough terrain, often living off the land.
In September Paul was involved in battle that resulted in his receiving the Silver Star Citation. He and his platoon were attempting to collect a tank from an enemy sector near Fossieux France. “It caught the other guys off guard. I went for the ammo and was pinned down,” he commented. “My three-inch gun was out of commission; my 50 caliber was out of commission, all I had was my rifle, so I used it.” He said of the enemy, “They were just like us trying to survive.”
Later that month, while standing atop the tank behind its gun, Paul was hit in the back of the head by a sniper. “Wrecked my helmet, and wounded one of my buddies riding along the outside of the tank. It came out of no-where. I remember a hot feeling on the back of my head and then I realized that I’d been hit.” The Staff Sgt. jumped into the Tank Commander position and after turning the tank around to head to a nearby Medic Station, they came around the corner only to meet head-on with a German tank. Both tanks were so surprised that neither one fired.
Paul spent a month in a hospital in England before returning to the Battle of the Bulge at Bastogne. Here he was involved in the Battle of the Bulge from late 1944, till spring 1945. During this battle the Allied soldiers wore green strips on their uniforms to identify them, because the German soldiers were taking uniforms off of “our” dead soldiers. The weather was very cold and snowy. After the cease fire was called, they found shelter of a cave and had pumpkin pie made from spiced carrots. The following morning, their tank slipped through about a half-mile opening in the German line, without a shot ever being fired at them.
Later on April 11th 1945, Paul with members of George S. Patton’s 6th Armored Division arrived at Buchenwald concentration camp near Weimar Germany. Here Paul described both living and decease inhabitants of the camp, still warm ovens, and evidence of experimental procedures directed at concentration camp prisoners. Here he witnessed the inhumanity of humanity, with no rules of war.
After the war, the U.S. Army and their Allies had to retreat about 20 miles back, to give the Russian’s the territory they had received in the Peace Agreement. Paul spent the next six months in Abensberg, Germany on peace keeping duty before returning to the United States. He returned home sleeping in the baggage compartment of a military cargo ship. He received a Purple Heart, Silver Star, European-African-Middle-Eastern Theater Medal, a Bronze Star from the French Gov. and a Good Conduct Medal for time served.
Paul standing relaxed at Bastogne with his buddy Delmar Whiteman sitting in the jeep.
Paul standing at the left, center Delmar Whiteman and Billy (William) Atkinson to the far right.
This was the tank that Paul commanded during his service. This photo was taken during Paul’s hospitalization after being wounded in September of 1945.
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