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He fought “The Desert Fox” at Kasserine Pass – War Tales by Don Moore

Discussion in 'North Africa and the Mediterranean' started by PzJgr, Jan 2, 2013.

  1. PzJgr

    PzJgr Drill Instructor

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    [​IMG]
    Sgt. Mike Sovan, a Sherman tank commander, and his men had just crossed the Nied River in France during World War II as part of Gen. George Patton’s 3[SUP]rd[/SUP] Army when their third tank was shot out from under them.

    “It was right after Thanksgiving in ’44. A German 88 (cannon) was waiting for us on the other side of the river. They knocked us out,” the old soldier said recalling the deadly fight along the river that ensued after his tank was blown apart. The high-velocity German 88 millimeter projectile went in one side of their Sherman tank and came out the other side. Three of his buddies died. The lethal enemy gun was concealed along the river bank behind a wall in front of the oncoming 6[SUP]th[/SUP] Armored Division’s tanks.

    “Me and Jonesey, my loader, survived the hit,” Sovan recalled 60 years later. “Jonesey was from South Carolina. He couldn’t read or write, but he was the best damned loader I ever had. “We jumped out of our knocked-out tank with our grease guns and some hand grenades. We took on the German gun emplacement. Before we hit the 88 we had to knock out the enemy machine gun nest protecting the artillery piece.

    “We grenaded the machine gun nest and then we hit them with our grease guns,” he said. “After that we repeated the performance on the 88 crew. There were at least a half dozen Germans working the gun when we hit them. “The battle was over in a couple of minutes."

    “You don’t think much about what you’re doing while you’re doing it,” Sovan said. “When it was all over there were dead Germans everywhere. We sat down on the wall protecting the 88 and shook like hell Jonesey and me.” For his action at the Nied River — eliminating the German machine gun position and taking out the 88 millimeter artillery piece—Sgt. Mike Sovan, A-Company, 15[SUP]th[/SUP] Tank Battalion, 6[SUP]th[/SUP] Armored Division of Patton’s 3[SUP]rd[/SUP] Army received his first Silver Star.

    Today he is long retired and lives in a mobile home park in Englewood, Fla. Sovan spends much of his time fishing in nearby Lemon Bay for trout, redfish and snook. It had been two years since he lost his first tank at the Kasserine Pass in North Africa. At the time he was a tank commander in the 1[SUP]st[/SUP] Armored Division that took part in “Operation Torch,” the code name for the invasion of North Africa that began in November 1942. Gen. Erwin Rommel and his Afrika Korps were dug in and waiting for the 1[SUP]st[/SUP] Armored Division in the mountain pass. The “Desert Fox” out-generaled and out-gunned the green American troops. The 1[SUP]st[/SUP] Armored’s tanks were no match for the Germans tanks with their heavier armor and bigger guns.

    “We couldn’t go head-to-head with a Tiger tank. We were in open terrain when our tank got hit by an 88 from a Tiger,” Sovan recalled. “I never saw the German tank when I lost my first Sherman.” He was lucky during that attack. Sovan and one other member of his tank crew escaped the carnage inside the Sherman. The other three crew members were killed by the enemy shell.

    “I’ve got no use for that SOB (British Field Marshal Bernard) Montgomery,” he said emphatically. “He sent us up ahead through the Kasserine Pass like so much cannon fodder while he and his men regrouped and did nothing. We got chewed up by Rommel.”

    Shortly after the American 1[SUP]st[/SUP] Armored Division’s disaster at the Kasserine Pass in February 1943, Gen. Patton took command. The change in the division’s soldiers was swift under the leadership of “Ol’ Blood ‘n’ Guts.”

    “It was the difference between night and day in generalship,” Sovan said. “Gen. Patton told his division commanders, ‘If you can’t do it, we’ll get someone else who can.’” It wasn’t long after that Patton and his 1[SUP]st[/SUP] Armored Division spearheaded the Allied offensive and ran the Germans out of North Africa. They escaped by ship to Sicily. Patton was given command of the 7[SUP]th[/SUP] Army and he followed Rommel to Sicily along with Gen. Montgomery and the English 8[SUP]th[/SUP] Army. It was the first step in the invasion of the European Continent.

    The American general with his armored legions partially encircled the island from the west side. His objective: take Messina, one of the island’s major cities, that was held by the Germans. Montgomery attacked the “Desert Fox” from the east with the English 8[SUP]th[/SUP]Army. “We had the Big Red 1, the 1[SUP]st[/SUP] Infantry Division, with us in Sicily. They were good soldiers,” Sovan said. “We beat that SOB Montgomery to Messina, but I never made it. “I lost my second tank just before Messina when it was struck by another 88 shell. I was hit in the stomach and arms by shrapnel and pretty well torn up,” he said.

    “When I came to I was on an airplane headed for England. I don’t know what happened to the rest of my tank crew. I never saw them again. I spent the next six weeks in the hospital,” Sovan recalled. When he was released from the hospital he was transferred to the 6[SUP]th[/SUP] Armored Division in England that was preparing for the D-Day Invasion of Europe. Two weeks after that the first Allied troops hit the invasion beaches, Sovan and the 6[SUP]th[/SUP] Armored were part of Patton’s 3[SUP]rd[/SUP] Army that landed along the shore of Normandy, France

    "We were involved in the breakout at St. Lo. The 6[SUP]th[/SUP] Armored turned south toward Brest. It took us 10 days to cover the 250 miles from St. Lo to Brest, fighting all the way,” he said. Patton’s army then turned back north across France and headed toward Nancy, which became a major resupply depot for Allied forces in the middle of the country. “We sat there at Nancy for two months waiting to be resupplied. Gen. (Dwight) Eisenhower took all our ammunition and gasoline and gave it to that damned Montgomery.”

    It would be November 1944 before Patton and his 3[SUP]rd[/SUP] Army started advancing again. This is when Sovan lost his third tank and received his first Silver Star.
    “We could lose a tank in the morning and they would issue another one to us by the afternoon. That’s what beat the Germans,” the old tanker explained.
    The soldiers of the Third Reich were overwhelmed by American industrial production.

    They reached Metz in Southern France by late December ’44 when the Germans went on the offensive in the Ardennes Forrest launching the “Battle of the Bulge.” Before it was over more than a million soldiers on both side took part in the largest enemy offensive on the Western Front in World War II. The 7[SUP]th[/SUP] Armored Division took the 6[SUP]th[/SUP]’s place at Metz. Sovan and his division headed toward Bastogne and the “Battle of the Bulge.” They were sent to rescue the American 101[SUP]st[/SUP] Airborne Division encircled in the massive German offensive.

    “On Christmas Day we were on our way to Bastogne. I was having Christmas dinner in my tank as we rolled along. It consisted of a can of cheese and a couple of biscuits—we called ‘em dog bones."

    “When we reached Bastogne we replaced the 10[SUP]th[/SUP] Armored Division. The 4[SUP]th[/SUP] Armored had already broken through to the 101[SUP]st[/SUP] Airborne,” he said.
    “I was never as scared in my life as I was at Bastogne. It was freezing and I was afraid of dying from the cold. I don’t know how those 101[SUP]st[/SUP] Airborne guys survived the cold and the snow in foxholes.”
    After the German defeat at the “Battle of the Bulge,” Sovan and the 6[SUP]th[/SUP] Armored continued advancing from town to town on their way into Germany. The division crossed the Rhine River near Worms. They fought their way through the dragon teeth, concrete pylon-type tank barriers, forming part of the Siegfried Line of enemy fortifications along Germany’s Western border. It was more of the same for Sovan and his division as they advanced deeper and deeper into the Fatherland. They reached Leipzig, where Sovan received his second Silver Star.

    “Leipzig was bristling with anti-aircraft guns. I think they manufactured ball-bearings needed for war machinery. It was loaded with German troops, too,” Sovan said. Although he doesn’t like to talk about the engagement that resulted in his second Silver Star, Sovan did say, “I put my nose where it shouldn’t have been. We had a patrol that got in trouble. I took my tank out to rescue them. “We got shot up, too. I don’t know where it came from, but our tank was hit by another 88. Only two of us survived the attack. The other three guys were killed,” Sovan said softly. He looked down, tightly closed his eyes, grimaced and shook his head. The 88 attack on his tank near Leipzig was a lifetime ago, but it still brought back bad memories for the old soldier.

    The 6[SUP]th[/SUP] never took Leipzig, it bypassed the city and let the infantry solve the problem. “Patton saw our mission as coming in and disrupting everything,” Sovan explained. “If enemy resistance was too much we went around it. We were to keep going.”

    “We sat at the Elbe River for two weeks waiting for the Russians to arrive on the other side. It must have been late April or early May ’45 when they showed up,” he said. “You wouldn’t believe the bedraggled-looking outfits the Russians wore. They had horses pulling vehicles. I don’t know how they ever got to the Elbe. “When they told us the war was over, you know what we all did? We laid down and went to sleep near the river. We were tired.”
    Reminiscing about Patton, Sovan said of his commander, “He was Superman. A lot of people didn’t like Patton, but we did because he got things done. He was gung-ho and that’s what won the war.”

    Sovan’s File

    [​IMG]Name: Mike Sovan
    Address: Englewood, Fla.
    Entered service: 1942
    Discharged: 1945
    Age: 85
    Rank: Sergeant
    Unit: 15[SUP]th [/SUP]Tank Battalion, 6[SUP]th[/SUP] Armored Division, 3[SUP]rd[/SUP] Army
    Commendations: Three Purple Hearts, two Silver Stars, Bronze Star with V for Valor, four bronze service stars and a bronze arrowhead for four major battles and a beach landing; North Africa, Sicily, Normandy, Northern France, the Ardennes, Central Europe and Rhineland campaigns, European Campaign Medal, World War II Victory Medal, Good Conduct Medal
    Spouse: Daisy Finch
    Children: Michael
    Update: Sovan died on July 20, 2004. He was 86.
    Source:
    He fought “The Desert Fox” at Kasserine Pass « War Tales
     
    lwd likes this.
  2. scipio

    scipio Member

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    Strange how Monty get the blame for everything when he was not even in command of forces in Tunisia.

    Eisenhower was the overall commander and Anderson (British) of ground forces. Eisenhower visited Fredendall on 12th February and was unhappy about the dispersal of American Forces - the German attack started on the 14th February.
     
  3. KodiakBeer

    KodiakBeer Member

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    The average GI didn't know what was going on in the big picture. He got his news from Stars and Stripes which was twisted into the rumors that were passed around so often that they became "fact."

    He's earned the right to state his opinions, even if they veer off the facts occasionally!
     
  4. scipio

    scipio Member

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    Agreed - it just that some members may be less knowledgeable that yourself and I wanted to correct any false impression.

    Still it is sad how often good men on the same side thought poorly of the other ally or their commanders.
     
  5. KodiakBeer

    KodiakBeer Member

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    I don't think GI's thought poorly of the Brits or Commonwealth soldiers at all, in fact rather the opposite; they thought of them as great soldiers, only handicapped by Monty.

    The thing about Monty is just a jumbled rehash of what was going on up at the political level. The more Monty/Bradley/Patton fought over logistics and spheres of power the uglier it got, and the Monty-bashing tended to become part of the lore that GI's believed. The GI got his news from Stars and Stripes - Patton and Bradley were geniuses and Monty was off there on the left flank, doing something, somewhere, very slowly...

    We know the reality was different, but the GI didn't.
     
  6. Firefoxy

    Firefoxy Dishonorably Discharged

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    Germans thought very highly who they went up against in North Africa. British equipment, British commandment (Monty?) with New Zealand and Aussie troops.

    I dunno what the GI'S personal impressions of Monty were but I had read that the GI'S were not happy serving under a British commander? I think it was Monty. I think the GI's would prefer to fight under Patton IMHO.
     
  7. lwd

    lwd Ace

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    Well the Britt's had a fair amount of US equipment as well particularly tanks. In North Africa Monty arguably did exactly what he should have. He denied the Germans a chance of victroy and inflicted what losses he could without risking his command unduly.
    The only area I can think of where this happened to any great extent (I'm not an expert so there are probably others) was during the period just before and especially during and after the Battle of the Bulge. Some US officers were for a more aggressive counter attack than Monty executed. I'm not sure if the GI's under his command were of the same opinion or not. In other case (Slim) British commanders seem to have been quite well regarded. Of course no US troops were at Singapore.
     

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