"THE THUNDERBOLTS"
This entire article is taken from an uncopyrighted 34" x 28" map I found in my father's possessions after his passing. The map shows the entire European area covered by this Division and the path they took. Information about this Division is taken from the front side of the map. The story that follows and the illustrations are taken from the back side of the map. Nowhere on the map can I find the author acknowledged, but the illustrations are signed by N.S. Firfires.
Patty Risvold has identified this artist for me. Further information updated from Lauren Mullins. Thanks Patty and Lauren!
Nicholas Samuel Firfires 1917-1990 a native Californian of Greek descent.

 The 83rd United States Infantry Division was reactivated at Camp Atterbury, Indiana, 15 August 1942. Participated in Tennessee Maneuvers from 22 June 1943 to 10 September 1943 and continued training at Camp Breckinridge, Kentucky, 4 September 1943. Departed for New York for England, 6 April 1944; Robert C. Macon, Major General US Army Commanding. The sailed from Southampton, England, 18 June 1944 for France. Landed on Omaha Beach, France, on 21-24 June 1944 (D Day +15). First attack launched 4 July 1944 southwest of Carentan. Attack continued until St. Lo-Periers Highway was severed. Moved on night of 3 August 1944 to Brittany Peninsula and continued the drive to the west. A battalion combat team was dispatched west on 5 August 1944 and continued to drive and capture the Crozon Peninsula in the vicinity of Brest. Citadel at St.Servan and St. Malo surrendered, 17 August 1944. On 18 August 1944 assumed responsibility of protecting the right flank of the Third United States Army along the Loire River for 275 miles. Isle de Cezembre surrendered on 2 September 1944 after continuous shelling from artillery and naval guns plus heavy aerial bombardment. Reconnaissance patrol reached Bordeaux, 8 September 1944. Reconnaissance patrol made contact with Seventh United States Army, 15 September 1944 near Lons le Saunier. Approximately twenty thousand German troops surrendered to the 83rd Division at Beaugency Bridge on the Loire River, 16 September 1944. Arrived Luxembourg, 23 September 1944, began clearing area to Moselle and Sauer Rivers. On 4 December 1944, moved to Germany. Attacked through Hurtgen Forest, captured the towns of Strass and Gey. On 18 December 1944, patrols entered Duren. Christmas night 1944 moved to hit Rundtstedt's Bulge. On 28 December 1944, Rochefort, Belgium was entered. Attacked on 7 January 1945 to cut German supply route; captured Langlir and Bihain. On 1 March 1945, committed in drive to Rhine. 83rd Division first to reach the Rhine River at 0930, 2 March 1945; city of Neus fell on that date. Crossed Rhine River, 29 March 1945 near Wesel. Crossed Weser River, 7 April 1945 between Bas Lippspringe and Eschershausen. Crossed Leine River, 8 April 1945 between Eschershausen and Goslar. Established bridgehead across the Elbe River near Calbe, 13 April 1945. Contacted Soviet Forces at Appolensdorf near Wittenberg, 1330 30 April 1945.

 From arrival in England to May, 1945, the Division changed armies 11 times and changed corps 11 times, was in the First, Third and Ninth Armies, and in the 12th Army Group and the 21st Army Group. From 18 June 1944 to 1 May 1945 this Division was in contact with the enemy 270 days; captured 82,146 prisoners; they fired 410,251 rounds of artillery fire and 21,899,955 rounds of small arms and mortar; laid 11,868 miles of wire; used 2,890,140 gallons of gasoline; constructed 55 bridges and distributed 534,500 maps. They consumed 24,688,785 pounds of food and purified 4,000,000 gallons of water.

This is their story as written by an unknown author taken from the back side of the map.

 This document tells a little of the life we have known during the past year. It is dedicated to all officers and men of the 83rd Infantry Division. We Thunderbolts are proud of the record we have made. We have contributed to the defeat of the enemy. We have grown a little older doing this and we have learned to understand a bit more about men. When finally we go home we shall have grown a little wiser.

"They are gone from us now but we shall never forget them."
"They are gone from us now but we shall never forget them."

This document is also dedicated to our dead and wounded, left behind along the highways and trails of six nations. Those once strong-fibered, America-loving men gave their lives or limbs that victory might be ours. We owe our stature, our existence to the blood they spilt, to the cries born of their pain. They are gone from us now but we shall never forget them.

"All around us the massive landing fleet" ENGLAND! We left her with mixed emotions. Some were glad the final period of training was ended, glad to get started in battle. Some regretted leaving England, kept remembering how Spring had grown full in May, kept remembering the peace in Midland villages on Sundays, the rain and mud in Wales, kept remembering the pubs, the inns, the girls. It was a little like leaving home.

We were headed straight for the enemy now. This was the move that would take us from a familiar life of training and playing to the unknown life of battle. This was it!

There would be no stopping off places like Stoke-on-Trent, Wrexham, Beston Castle, Shrewsbury, Senny Bridge, Keele Hall, Pleinau-Ffestiniogh, Hadley Hall, Stoke-on-Ter, Shavington Hall, Market Drayton, Newcastle-under-Lyme. The life coming up on the other side of the Channel was an unknown quantity. Quite privately we sensed the void in the pit of our stomachs. We wished, now that it was about to begin, that somehow we had never got tangled up in this thing. Many of us would be losing our lives very soon. Some of us would live to see the Division grow in strength and stature, come of age, rise to fame.

It was to have been short, that voyage across the Channel. Rushed through the staging areas near Stonehenge, the Thunderbolt Division had top priority in everything. The Thunderbolts were needed badly, in Normandy. The voyage was short in point of crossing. But we did not disembark. A storm rose out of nowhere and slashed at Omaha Beach and made life miserable for a week. We sat and stood and laid around on our ships. We sang songs, cleaned our weapons, used our bags vomit, ate our landing rations. We went down into the holds of the ships and drew more ten-in-ones. We steam-cooked and ate ten-in-ones until they were coming out of our ears. Still the days and nights passed.

And there were the sheer, forbidding cliffs of France, smack in front of us. Not two miles away. We wondered how in hell the D-day boys had managed them. All around us, to the horizon and beyond, were hundreds of other ships of the massive landing fleet. Scores of barrage balloons tugged with the wind, sometimes broke loose and floundered away. When the wind died down the muffled sound of gunfire could be heard. Some said it was fighting around Cherbourg. Others said it was around Caen. No one knew, really. None of us new anything about battle. If you were positive about it during the day, like as not you'd change your mind at night. For then the sounds grew louder, and there were fires everywhere along the horizon, east and west. And Jerry was always overhead, raising hell with someone.

Those were fantastic, those nights! The sky brilliant with tracer fire rising, it seemed, straight from the water itself. At first no one was sure about what to do during those raids. It became a question of going down into the bowels of the ship to escape the flak or staying on deck so if a hit was made you could jump into the water and swim for it. After a while, though, no one paid much attention. We grew impatient about landing. Anything would be better than sitting around in the Channel. Anything would be better than being part of this gigantic target for Goering's Luftwaffe.

"All the churches with their steeples blown off." The Fourth of July, 1944 is a day the Thunderbolts will never forget. This was the day we launched our first attack against the enemy. We were young, then. Innocent. In spite of all the talking we hadn't learned particularly to hate anyone. We had yet to see our buddies messed up bad. But we did now fear in those days between Carentan and Sainteny and Periers. The kind that hits you sharp in the groin and brings sweat to your face and hands.

 It was a fantastic existence. Everything was hedged or walled-in and mined. There was no room for breathing anything but air made putrid by carcasses of horses and cows and what remained of soldiers uniformed in khaki or green. The battle was everywhere, then. We had little desire to eat because, so we said, the food was monotonous. Really, we hadn't the appetite. Our guts hurt. Sometimes at night in slit trenches some of us remembered things we used to do as kids back home. And some of us prayed little and hoped to Christ Almighty we'd see tomorrow. There were many tomorrows: all alike. All living hell. Nerves stretched. Resistance worn.

 Those blood-wet, stinking hedgerows, those foul wrecks of villages! We can never forget them. And all the churches with their steeples blown off because we knew the enemy would use them for OPs.

"Those foul wrecks of villages, Normandy 1944" And then there was always that sickening feeling of claustrophobia. If for only an hour a fellow could get away from it all, back to England, back to anywhere, maybe he could get things straightened out in his mind and start fresh. Sometimes when we knew this was impossible, a bottle of Calvados was produced. Drained. It was all right for a little while, then. But still - it was no use. The battle was close, all around. There was nothing to do but fight on.

 But strange - those days we didn't realize how mightily we were striking the enemy. Our blows, our continual hammering did the trick. We knocked panzer and para troops to their smooth knees.

We beat them. We broke their backs. True we were losing our lives, losing our limbs, losing the things a young fellow values most in his body. But we were beating the hell out of the Germans. Their vaunted might, their pure Aryan strength was tottering before the prowess of us multi-raced Americans. Before a plain ordinary civilian army.

"Bombs in the pitch of night." It was a quick trip we had out of Normandy when the miracle of the Breakthrough finally occurred. We went through Coutances and down by Avranches and then west into Brittany. At the same time the Germans tried fiercely to break out to the sea again, to cut our forces in half. Those of us who made that trip in daylight saw the roads strewn with freshly-wrecked German tanks and trucks and staff cars and occasionally lined with good Germans. Men and women and children stood cheering us or bawling their eyes out with joy as we went by. They gave us wine and fruit and eggs. They threw us kisses. They threw us flowers.

 Then when the sun went down and it got dark, the French disappeared into their houses and we were alone in the night. The Luftwaffe was over, contesting our lines to Brittany. It was like the nights on the Channel. Ack ack wild in the sky. Searchlight batteries going full tilt. Crazy autographs of tracers. And bombs coming down in the pitch night with a hellish whistle, splashing too close to our columns and the bridges we had to cross.

 But we got through. The long night came at last to an end. We watched the first of many dawns rise out of the mist of Brittany. They said the mist was caused by a combination of the warmth of the soil, the height of the land and the winds of the Channel. But no matter. What sticks most in the memory was the space there in Brittany. It was good to be able to see for more than fifty feet. And there weren't dead animals and burnt-out villages, at first. To many of us the salt air coming from the Channel near Mont S. Michel, Pontorson and Dol was good to breathe. Good and clean. The kind of air that made you glad to be alive.

"Our guns gave it to the enemy positions." On the 14th of August the Citadel at S. Servan surrendered to the Thunderbolts. Unlike Normandy it was a short fight. About two weeks. We were a little excited by it. Being off by ourselves there in the St. Malo Peninsula while the rest of the Army was going east in France had somehow got us into the limelight. There were correspondents and photographers from the States around in the forward areas. Everyone wanted to know all about the Citadel and later about the tiny island offshore called Cezembre. We were still young enough to be embarrassed by the attention the world was paying us.

Those clear, clean days in August and September! Our planes came over in droves to dive-bomb the Citadel or the islands offshore. And the hotels we used as artillery OPs - luxury! Our guns gave to the Heine positions square on the button. It was that direct firing that cracked them. And then there was the way we got around the Rance Estuary by building over the one hundred seventy-five foot gorge at Dinan.

"A bridge at Dinan"

We remember those resort hotels along the beaches in Dinard! That was the life. Beds! Sometimes with sheets. We could have slept forever in one of those things, with the sea air coming in the open windows. And - there were good looking girls. We were learning to speak a little more French. That made it easy for us, sometimes.

Up at Pte de la Varde and Hill 48 we worked over those immense forts of the useless Atlantic Wall. The Germans had put up those forts, mined the beaches, erected big concrete obstacles in anticipation of a sea-borne attack. And then we crazy Americans came up from the south!
"We were learning to speak French."
Some of us weren't there for all that. We had other things to do farther west. Out through the high wooded and sometimes windswept hills of Brittany to the Crozon Peninsula. That was where we helped to break the back of the garrison defending Brest.

We were growing up. There were still kinks to be straightened out. But we were holding our own now.

 Late summer in the Loire Valley! We got to know France, then. We cannot recall place names without thinking of some neat little cafe, a restaurant with good French fries and steak and red wine of Anjou. Some bit of civilian and FFI gaiety. A shop filled with the very perfumes we wanted to buy. We had the job of protecting the enormous flank of the Third Army as it raced east. It extended for over two hundred miles.

And as we stretched out along that ancient, that noble river, we set up our headquarters in beautiful chateaux in the valley. Company CPs were often more luxurious than regiment. We had parties for the French, they entertained us in return. The opened the doors to their homes and their cellars. They greeted us as brothers.

F F I    "And - there were girls!"

In that great valley there was Nantes! Angers! Chateaubriant, Tours and Blois! Vendome and Orleans and Auxerre! And - there were girls. We were their liberators. That meant a lot. We forgot about the war when we tipped glasses at places like the American Bar in Angers and the Hotel Commerce in any town.

Some people talked about the hysteria of the Parisians when they were freed. It could not have been more sincere than the weeping, smiling, gurgling joy of the people in the little towns along the river and in the gentle hills to the north. Their handshake was warm. They took us into their homes, into their arms. Our French, of course, improved by strides.

We caught the eyes of the world for a moment while we were in the Loire country. The German front in France had collapsed and the Wehrmacht boys were rushing for the concrete comfort of the Siefried Line. But about twenty thousand of them had tired feet. They wandered around for a while, were made to twist and turn on roads south of the river by the FFI and our air force. Finally, they called it quits. At Beaugency Bridge on the 16th of September almost twenty thousand of them formally surrendered. Nothing like that had happened before. But this time we weren't embarrassed by the attention the world paid us. We hardly knew we were being watched. For we had come to know that there are other things in a soldiers life besides making history. And we were applying that knowledge, down there in Nantes and Angers and Orleans!

"The long hours wore on." Suddenly we were no longer needed in the Loire Country. Rumors flew from one corner of our vast area to another. We were going up to the front. We were headed into Germany. This was it. This was the drive that would end the war. Some of us felt a little like the way we had back in England, on the day we shoved off for Omaha Beach. For surely we would be hitting the Siegfried Line. And there would be the Germans themselves. It had us wondering.

So when word came around we pulled ourselves together, and hit the road. Began a three hundred mile journey to Luxembourg. It was a sight-seeing trip. It was an exhausting trip. It was a monument to logistics. Town after town, city after city, rolled by. We saw signs pointing to places our fathers used to talk about when they'd recall the First World War. Chalons. St. Dizier. Bar-le-Duc. St. Mihiel. Verdun. Conflans. All day we rolled on - and all night. And when from time to time we got fidgety and our posteriors ached, the convoys would stop and all of us would get out and stretch. And most of us would find a spot on the right shoulder of the roads.

We are our rations, shifted drivers, and were off again. The places we passed through were crowded with gay civilians, probably celebrating another of the endless series of holidays the French have. Or maybe they were just trying out their lately renewed right to walk in the open air, saying what they wanted to say, without being checked by Himmler's tough boys.

The long hours wore on. Night came. We were dirty and cold. It rained off and on. We turned on our headlights. And when the road curved and twisted, we could look ahead or behind and see that our convoy was endless. All through the night we drove, through the thick forest of the highland country east of Verdun. By morning most of us neared Luxembourg, the tiny country we knew nothing about. We felt in a few days we would be in Germany. We did not know we would be staying in Luxembourg longer than we had stayed in England!

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